Saturday, 4 October 2014
Five For One
This old novel should be available at the Lulu store in printed format soon/drf
Five for One
by Luke Allan
NATHAN HORNBAKER, broker.
JULIA HORNBAKER, his wife.
CLIFFORD CRINGAN, “artist,” Julia’s brother.
QUEENIE CRINGAN, his wife.
SHIRLEY CRINGAN, their daughter.
ROLAND LYSTER, alias Halton, alias Simpson, personal secretary to Hornbaker.
REDFERN, a private detective.
THE SKUNK, a Syrian perfume seller from
TONI PENSA, alias Boitani.
DAGO GEORGE, alias Sydney.
FRENCHY, "Marius Rivaud ” at home in Banyuls-sur-Mer.
HUTTON, a faithful butler.
HANNAH, the Hornbaker cook.
Women of the Harem, a negro eunuch, etc.
The ornate façade of the opera house, record of an earlier taste in architecture, lifted itself with absurd arrogance above the ferment of the street. From a street-wall of heterogeneous ugliness it flashed a hundred pinnacles, a hundred bizarre projections and gaudy dimples that, before its recent restoration, had been chastened by the kindly hand of Time and a dirty city’s accretions.
During the past fortnight a score of workmen had swarmed over the capricious front, so that to-day pedestrians paused to slant a curious glance at it, and motor windows framed many an appraising face. The opera house had become once more the Opera House.
In the stream of pedestrians who stopped before the yawning entrance to exclaim were two men of unusual appearance. The taller, a broad-shouldered giant, straight as an arrow but developing a paunch, his large head smothered in a monstrous black hat, swung a ponderous hand theatrically toward a rising row of posters that blocked the doorway.
“After all,” he said, in the throaty voice of one whose voice is his living, “you have to hand it to Hornbaker. Whatever we think of the complete scheme, he has an idea now and then. Look at those bills. They do add a new touch. More harmonious, don't you think, Farruchi?”
His companion, a small man, almost drowned in a voluminous cape and slightly out of breath from keeping pace with his long-legged friend, sniffed.
“I don’t. Do you sing any the better for remembering that the old simple, straight lines of the posters of the day when music was appreciated, and the public knew where to get it, have been kicked aside for these sweeping curves and didoes by a gold-lined autocrat like Hornbaker? Do you, Solokoff?”
Solokoff chuckled. “It’s the gold lining that makes music profitable to you and me, Farruchi. Different age, different system.”
Something about it seemed to touch a raw spot in the little Italian. “Different age!” He snorted.
"I should say it is. A different public, dancing to the tune of a man like Hornbaker.”
Solokoff shook his head. “We just don’t understand energy as a part of art. We’re babies in the knack of reaching the public. And, after all, the public must be reached or we go hungry.”
Farruchi was not listening. “It’s'that damned puppy-dog of his, that Lyster fellow! I see red when he blathers that
accent over me. Some day I'll blow up and—”
They passed along, Farruchi gesticulating violently his companion laughing.
A heavy truck, held up by the traffic, slid closer to the curb, and a shock of red hair appeared from beneath the ramshackle cab. The owner pointed.
“I say, Pat, I ain’t never noticed this place before.”
The man at the wheel tilted his head toward the gleaming pinnacles. “Ye show yer ign’rance, Bill. That’s the opery.” He lifted his shoulders. “Me and the missus is goin’ to-night. The missus she’s strong on music. Ye should hear her play the pianner. Something in music, ye know.”
Bill eyed him contemptuously. “Sure! Must be!” He pointed to the bills. “There’s fifteen bucks, I see. So that’s why you’ve cut out the nags—and things. Well, you are a sap!”
“No fifteen bucks for me, Bill. I ain’t seen a fiver in two years that wasn’t ear-marked by the missus. There’s a thousand seats in there at half a buck. Only the big guys pays the fifteen—so they can see the wigs and dresses on the stage, and smell the flowers, I guess. That’s one thing old Hornbaker did—he’s got a lot of cheap seats for guys like you and me. they do say he’ll lose a grand or two every night. I got to quit early to-night for a bath.”
Bill spat noisily. “All I see in it is wot you’d win with that buck on the nags at
New Orleans or Tee Wanna.
. . . But if I could get my fists on some of the di’muns and jools they’ll be
wearin’ in them fifteen-buck seats!”
The traffic line started, the truck jerked forward. Three drifters idled along the pavement, their faces down-turned, but their uneasy eyes shifted from side to side. At the edge of the sidewalk before the opera house they grouped. The largest of the three leaned toward his companions, and the corner of his lips moved. Then, with a quick glance about, they moved along in their soundless way and were lost in the crowd.
NATHAN HORNBAKER let his hands drop wearily from his white bow tie and stood for a moment staring at himself in the mirror. A smile crept slowly over his lips. It was not so very long, as memory went, since he purchased his first “swallow-tail,” and a hundred years would fail to dispel the wonder of his image in full dress, the mark, in those days back on the farm, of a gentleman of wealth and position.
Brought up at the verge of the northern woods, the isolation of the farm had left time to dream—dreams that were still real as ever, not one to be forgotten or even dimmed. Some of the dreams had come true, but their coming had served only to emphasize the tardiness of others. One other result—the order of their importance had altered. Materially he had outrun his wildest dreams, and now that he had it wealth was so immaterial.
Memory still ranging the years, he touched the white bow to greater symmetry and shrugged his shoulders to sense the comfortable cling of his coat. Wealth? Was it material to happiness? In his own mind all his happiness had come from other sources. A slight frown appeared for an instant on his forehead, and he shook his head irritably against the vagrant thoughts that had induced it. Why, for instance, didn’t someone invent an evening shirt that did not bulge at the sides? Why couldn’t his barber effect discipline in his unruly hair? He hated it short like that. So did Julia, but—
Dimly from somewhere in the rear downstairs came the tinkle of a bell, and unconsciously he started for the hall. This would be Clifford, Julia’s brother, and his family. Julia had asked them to a family dinner, from which they would go directly to the opera.
Hornbaker had reached the top of the stairs as Hutton, the butler, hurried through the lower hall. Unconsciously he waited, leaning his elbows on the railing. Julia appeared from the living-room—Julia in a new dress of hydrangea blue, a necklace of graduated diamonds sparkling against the white of her neck. Hornbaker forgot everything else. How beautiful she was! How exquisite in every line and movement! Except for those diamonds! In the surge of his first “killing” on the market he had grabbed them at an expensive jeweller’s and hurried them to her, striving to satisfy a craving—reward to a faithful, loving wife, as he rewarded everyone to whom he felt an obligation.
He shuddered, and one of his hands crept to a vest pocket to fondle a tissue-paper parcel. Only in a vague way did the scene in the hall below, apart from his wife, register in his mind.
Shirley Cringan, a beautiful girl of nineteen, entered first, the light reflected in soft waves from her freshly-dressed hair. In her hurry she almost collided with the staid Hutton, who grinned lovingly as she reached up to pat his cheek in passing. She threw her arms about Julia’s neck, all the time chattering excitedly.
Queenie, her mother, was next, even more twittery than Shirley, her pretty face awreath with excitement. Everyone called Queenie Cringan “pretty.” She failed to notice Hutton, who stood waiting for their wraps.
Clifford Cringan brought up the rear—Clifford ponderous, solemn, “arty.” He was more solemn than ever to-night or was it in contrast to wife and daughter?—more erect, more ponderous, looking his best in evening dress, though he insisted on a flowing black tie and huge black studs. “Art,” in Clifford Cringan’s creed, was indistinguishable from art.
The group remained for a time talking in the hall, Queenie and Shirley chattering at the same time, while Clifford stood apart in his superior way. Hornbaker was unconscious of anyone but Julia. How alike were aunt and niece, though outwardly Julia was all sweet dignity, Shirley reckless youth! But beneath the girl’s wild pursuit of excitement was, her uncle knew, a stratum of the same solid worth that made Julia what she was.
As the four in the lower hall turned toward the living-room, Julia glanced up the stairs. But her husband had already retired to the bedroom, the fingers of one hand still touching the package in his pocket. He would wait until they were settled.
He dropped into a chair and leaned his head on his hands. Through the woof of pleasant thoughts ran a warp of anxiety. To-night was opening night at the opera, the opera he was backing, backing with money, yes, but much more with hope. At the best the season would cost him a small fortune, but nothing mattered except that his faith in public taste should be justified. Did the public want real music, or had taste died with reading, and evenings at home, and modesty, and discipline, and respect for one’s elders, and business honesty? He did not think so—and he had had few important failures in his diagnoses of events.
His is mind wandered—it returned to the scene in the hall below. To his surprise, and somewhat to his consternation, he found he remembered every word they said. Shirley had spoken first:
"Oh, auntie, isn’t it wonderful?”
Julia had smiled and agreed that it appeared that way whatever it was.
"We’re going on a trip around the world!”
Julia’s smile had vanished, leaving her face still and cold. Slowly she had turned her searching eyes to Clifford, but her brother was intent on his flowing black tie before the hall mirror—oddly intent.
He must have felt her gaze, for he blustered an explanation:
"A stroke of luck—on the market.”
Julia had asked with telling calmness: “Short or long?" For Julia knew the market as her brother could never hope to know it; her husband had often marvelled at, as he was willing to profit from, her prescience.
"Urn—uh—now you’re asking,” Clifford replied, with clumsy mystery. “An amateur now and then strikes gold.”
"There are many ways of striking gold,” Julia retorted. And Hornbaker knew she was not deceived as to the source of the gold Clifford had struck. After all, helping Clifford was, in a way, something he could do for Julia.
Clifford, too, must have known his sister knew, for he continued to bluster: “My great opportunity. Stimulus—the urge of new schemes—colour—atmosphere—something at last to direct my brush—perhaps a new technique, who knows?”
“And the broadening influence of travel,” Julia added dryly.
Hornbaker rose and, taking another glance at himself in the mirror, started down the winding stairs. As he went he threw his shoulders back. Those gracefully curving stairs had fed another ambition, fulfilled another youthful dream. Once, as a lad, he had seen such a stairway pictured and had thrilled to its imposing immensity.
Rounding the last curve, he was able to look through the open door of the living-room, and his eyes alighted on the pair of black glass seals supporting glass balls on their uplifted noses that adorned either end of the carved stone mantel. Those seals, too, had ended a vague quest. The moment he had seen them in the window of a speciality shop he had ordered the chauffeur to stop and, paying a fantastic price, had tenderly brought them home. Only then did he realize that another dream was responsible. The seals recalled, in a dim way, the pair of celery glasses that had stood on the oak sideboard on the farm, each gaping mouth filled with a coloured glass ball.
With the passing years he found himself missing so much that had been neglected or scarcely noticed on the farm. It accounted for the purchase of the estate where he had built his house, twenty miles from his office. Twenty miles—tedious drive each morning, but at night the road to
The fingers of his right hand still lingered in his vest pocket, and the smile so often misunderstood by his enemies and loved by his friends twisted his hard-bitten face. At his entrance the group in the living room looked up.
"I'm sorry,” he murmured. For a moment he thought of excusing himself by delay at the office, but it would not be the truth. “I hope, my dear,” to Julia, "the duck won’t be ruined. Hello, Queenie! Looking your best—as usual. I hope you’ll enjoy The Barber of Seville to-night, Clifford. Shirley, I don't see why you don’t wear more of that—apricot.”
A glow suffused him as he realized that, after a moment's panic, he had named the colour correctly.
"It’s for your sake, Uncle Nathan,” Shirley replied. “The Cringans have to live up to the patron of the opera to-night.” She kissed him, as she always did when they met. “The women in your box daren’t be outshone. We’ll place Aunt Julia in front to dazzle them. Just the same,” touching her aunt’s cheek lovingly, “it’s a shame to blind them to her other beauties by that blaze.”
Hornbaker winced. “Where’s Lyster?” he asked.
“Probably pressing the suit you just took off,” the girl said, making a wry face, “or—”
"If you had as important a job as Lyster, my girl,” her uncle broke in. He eyed her so intently that she turned away. “As a matter of fact, I suppose I am to blame—but in a quite different way.”
“I called to him as I came down,” Julia said. “He had just started to dress.”
Hornbaker heard the slight note of rebuke in his wife’s voice. “I didn’t intend he should finish that work to-night—”
The curtains parted and a young man entered the room. Hornbaker broke off what he was about to say and turned to the doorway. If only he could wear evening dress as did Lyster! The young man looked so much at home; his shirts never seemed to bulge, his collars to scratch, his hands to be in the way. Queenie Cringan rushed forward.
“Oh, Mr. Lyster, we must have a long talk, a long, long talk. We want to know all about
Europe. We’re going on a trip, around the world most
Lyster smiled ever so little. “I’m afraid I’m not the traveller you think me. Apart from a few early years in
I’ve seen only Italy, France, and Switzerland,
with a flying trip to Berlin.
“But you can tell us so much—so much we ought to know—to save time.”
“—and money,” Shirley put in. “There’s a fairy somewhere for the Cringans, but there must be a limit. Don’t you think we’d better wait, mumsie? You might call on Mr. Lyster at his office—with uncle’s consent. Or he might come along as courier—if the fairy’s good for that expense too. In fact, being courier to new-rich, like the Cringans, might be a profitable profession for a young man. Of course, it would be a real profession—and hard work.”
Lyster’s face flushed, and his lips parted as if to speak, but he said nothing.
Hornbaker said: “I find him too useful to lend him for any such purpose, Shirley,” and the subject dropped. But something of the atmosphere the girl’s words had created remained.
Roland Lyster showed it most, and that in itself made it the more apparent, for Lyster, until Shirley spoke, had looked the cool, composed, self-reliant young man Nathan Hornbaker—and everyone else but Shirley Cringan—knew him. With the long, lean, unemotional face of the travelled, educated Englishman, he conveyed an impression of restrained capacity, of unruffled poise in emergency, a man who had proved himself under trying conditions.
India, his father an officer in the Indian Army,
he had been carried off to England
by his mother “to be educated.” But the boy soon discovered that his education,
so far as it concerned his mother, ceased with his disposal in a Public School;
it was one of the first things he learned. Thereafter his mother, far from
being a guardian, became a care. The discovery had developed a cynicism
difficult to conceal. In no slight degree it left its lines in his face.
Misfortune had pursued him. During his final year at
his father had retired from the Service and, driven by his pleasure-loving
wife, had pledged his pension to the limit and promptly lost it. Everything,
including the market, had turned against him.
And so the son, emerging with a blank future but only the more determined, had struck out for himself. Within a week he was on his way to the
States with a small heritage left by a grandmother, and
after a year’s business training in the new land, during which he discarded
most of what he had acquired at Oxford
except diction, had presented himself at the office of the big broker, Nathan
Nathan Hornbaker had received him, as he received everyone but pretenders, affably, curiously, analytically. Human nature was a study to him.
Perhaps it was the “accent” did it. Certainly the cultured, restrained intonation had touched a receptive chord in the hungry man, had woven subtly into the dreams that lingered from his youth back on the farm. In a few casual-sounding questions he had drawn aside the veil Lyster had dropped in the last year over his wide culture, his quick mind, his interest in art and music.
And the big broker, though he had a fairly suitable secretary, had found a place for the transplanted Englishman much more intimate than an office secretary, for in some way Lyster seemed to show the way to the fulfilment of dreams infinitely more important than those that had come to fruition through his own efforts. The new assistant was an authority on subjects Hornbaker had no time to master, and in his new employee he saw a windbreak against the cavillings and selfishness of adepts in the arts he revered but did not understand.
“You needn’t have worked late to-night, Lyster,” he said.
Lyster’s reply, his apology, was to Julia: “ I hope I’m not late. I’m afraid I lost track of time.” The blame was solely his own.
Julia smiled on him affectionately. “We’re short-staffed to-night, and I’m worrying for fear we’ll be late anyway. Since we were going to be out all the evening we let all but Hannah and Hutton go for the night.” She looked at a minute watch set in a ring. “If we get away by eight we’re all right.”
“The last minute grand entry,” Shirley laughed.
"With Aunt Julia’s diamonds and dad’s tie to lead the way we’ll—”
"Shirley!” her mother chided, while Clifford Cringan tried to look only contemptuous and superior.
Shirley grinned. “If only I weren’t too big to spank!”
"The man who invented evening dress, so-called—” her father began.
"Was thinking only of Mr. Lyster,” Shirley said. But she said it too low for that young man to hear; he had been button-holed by Queenie and led away to a chatter of questions about
Shirley and her father joined them, and Hornbaker, with an inviting glance at Julia, disappeared behind a bank of ferns in the window. There, in the curving window-seat, he drew her down beside him. The voices of the others reached them distantly.
"You think I work Lyster too hard?” he questioned, a little hurt.
She nestled back against his shoulder and reached up to pat his cheek. “Work is good for youth—and he likes it. My one worry is that Hannah may be tardy with dinner. And,” she laughed, “the Hornbakers are part of the show to-night.” Unconsciously her hand went up to the diamond necklace.
Nathan Hornbaker shifted uneasily. “Does it—hurt dear? Those sharp points—”
"Not a bit. Anyway, it’s a small price to pay for such magnificence.” She looked down at her ring-laden hands. “I never wore so much jewellery before. But then, there never was a night like this.”
Her husband was not deceived. He knew, had known it from the first, that Julia was not happy about that necklace. He had bought it in the days when his gropings were more clumsy than to-day, time had revalued the necklace in his mind.
“Let me, dear.” He unfastened the safety clasp and gathering the necklace in his hand, slid it into a vest pocket.
She turned to him, wondering. Something crackled in another vest pocket, and he firmly turned her face away, while his awkward hands fumbled at the back of her neck and something exquisitely cold dropped on her chest.
She opened a dainty blue and white enamelled compact and stared into the little mirror.
A gleam of molten gold, of xanthic fire, nestled into the V of her evening gown. She gasped. Hornbaker stared at his finger-nails.
He chuckled. “I’m just trying it out for the other woman."
“But where—where did you get it?”
London. The same old
“Then you've carried it all these months!” The eyes she turned on him were wet with tears. What a son he would have had, if Luck had been kind!
No, I’m no hoarder. I bought it from a photograph. It came only last week. That place has never let me down. I don’t think it did this time, do you?"
For answer she caught his face in her hands and kissed him on the lips, a demonstration that made him flush and tingle. Julia was always so quiet in her affections.
Hutton appeared in the doorway and announced dinner.
As the others stepped aside to make way for Julia, the fire of the new jewel seemed to fill the room with a lambent flame. Shirley darted forward.
“Oh—oh, Aunt Julia!” She turned the stone tenderly to the light. “A canary diamond!”
“They describe it as more than a century old,” Hornbaker said modestly, but his veins had not ceased to tingle. “Eh, Lyster?”
“It’s exquisite.” Lyster leaned nearer. “I should say the cutting is perfect, and shape and colour. The Roman chain, at least, is ancient. But the sparkle—no, the glow!” He swung his head about, as if observing an emanation. “Like a gossamer veil over molten gold—the stored fire of a million years of darkness, the treasured brilliance of a century of light. It—”
“Bought with a rich man’s thousands,” Cringan murmured coldly, fingering his flowing tie and not even looking at the jewel.
“As for me,” Queenie broke in quickly, “give me the other necklace. One could at least pawn it in bits. Only another Nathan Hornbaker could take a stone like this off my hands when I had to sell.” She giggled.
The awkward silence that followed was broken by Lyster:
“The things one wants must be paid for. My mother had an amethyst no larger than you see in the five-and-tens at fifty cents, yet it was—well, worth half a year at
Oxford. That little word
“Your mother did that?” Hornbaker had managed to piece together a fair picture of Lyster’s mother. “She sold it to send you to college?”
"She sold it,” Lyster said, and stepped back.
They were in the dining-room. Soft light from half a dozen candles in Sheffield-plate candlesticks and several wooden sconces accentuated the gleam of silver and white napery. A great silver bowl, in which floated white water-lilies, centred the mahogany table. Shirley drew an audible breath of delight, and Hornbaker, hearing it, smiled lovingly on his’ wife, and his eye caught once more the glow of the canary diamond.
He had never felt so contented.
Hutton moved inconspicuously about the table. He was a short, thick-set man, with stooping but broad shoulders and surprisingly slender hands. He had been with the Hornbakers since the house was built, engaged by Nathan as a new conception of his obligations to his wife. Julia had not thought of a butler, for her tastes were simple, had not, indeed, wished one, and her husband’s inability to explain introduced for several months a strange and uncomfortable embarrassment concerning discussions of staff.
In that time Hutton had justified himself, a source of never-ending satisfaction to his employer.
As the butler passed behind Shirley’s chair she lifted her face to him and smiled, and Hutton’s round cheeks flushed with pleasure. He always felt that he had much to do with the girl’s upbringing, though it had consisted of little more than devotion and defence in her many escapades.
Cringan was discussing the coming season of opera:
“It’s a big risk, Nathan. It’s not even that: it’s certain loss—a tremendous hand-out before it’s over.” He shook his leonine head, so that a lock of hair fell over one eye. “The world has got away from opera. It’s got away from real art of any kind. All it thinks of is automatic control, liquor legislation, and the day’s markets, and that—”
“It’s the market got us this trip, Clifford,” Queenie reminded him.
Her husband coughed and started a new sentence:
“Any attempt to bring the world back to culture, to—to spirituality in these days should be tackled only after much consideration. It’s so easy to waste good money on misdirected effort.”
“Then you think opera—music—misdirected effort,” Hornbaker remarked idly. Clifford’s opinions counted little with his friends.
“The money might be spent more—judiciously.”
Hornbaker smiled. “As Lyster says, the things one wants must be paid for.”
“Mr. Lyster,” said Shirley, her eyes on her plate, “is a whole library of aphorisms and quotations.”
Hornbaker glanced at Lyster, expecting a retort, but none came. Somewhat irritated by the young man’s silence under Shirley’s goading, he said: “A good memory, if one has read, saves a lot of talk, Shirley.”
Lyster found his tongue. “Perhaps I should credit my quotations for Miss Cringan’s benefit—or put them in quotation marks.”
Shirley shot him an angry glance, but before she could reply her father was away again:
“Fifty thousand—that’s what it’s likely to cost you—fifty thousand that might be expended on more permanent results. To-night a lot of expensive artists open their throats—and to-morrow the public has forgotten. Don’t misunderstand me, Nathan—”
“We don’t, Clifford,” Julia broke in dryly. “Help yourself to the olives, or shall I call Hutton?”
She turned to Lyster and the two commenced to talk. Hornbaker dimly heard his brother-in-law elaborate his pet theme. Art was painting, always painting, and nothing else—pictures, as he said, that would always be in sight, impossible to forget like the best of singing. Hornbaker was thinking more of his wife and Lyster.
They had so much in common, those two. Nothing so justified his precipitancy in engaging the young man, nothing so endeared Lyster to him. Endlessly Julia and Lyster could talk, touching with light grace but deep intelligence subjects on which Hornbaker knew himself so ignorant. Endlessly he was content to listen, basking in cleverly turned phrases and glints of unexpected insight. He did not realize that his very appreciation ranked him higher than his own estimate of himself.
Clifford ranted on. Queenie and Shirley broke into spasms of discussion centring on the contemplated trip, but for the most part the girl was silent. Hutton entered with the dessert, a half melon rounded out with pistachio ice, and departed.
“Utilize the same money in encouraging art that lasts,” Clifford declaimed, “and watch the results.”
“I try it now and then,” Hornbaker replied, with the first note of sharpness. He had tried it so often with Clifford that he was losing hope, and that meant losing faith in himself.
Julia looked at her watch. “We must hurry. Shall we have the coffee here?” She pressed the electric button with her toe.
For several moments there was no response, then an inexplicable flurry of noise from the butler’s pantry, and the door flew open, banging against the rubber stop. They all looked up, Julia turning protestingly in her chair. Four strange men poured into the room. They were masked. They carried guns.
“Stick ’em up!” ordered one, “and make it snappy!”
For a moment or two the group about the table sat transfixed. Hornbaker moved first. With flashing eyes he rose, sweeping the chair back with his knees.
“What does this mean?”
The one who had spoken, smallest of the four, wearing a red mask, came round the table, gun levelled. “Whadyu think? You got brains. Use ’em. We mean business.”
Hornbaker’s fury was at fever heat, but, though he did not look at her, he felt Julia’s eyes pleading with him, and slowly he sat down.
“What do you want?”
“Put your hands on the table, all of you, and keep ’em there.”
Queenie Cringan only partly stifled a scream, and Lyster, seizing her hand, drew it up on the table with his own.
“That’s better. Th’ ain’t no use kickin’. We got the staff tied, and four more pals out there. Now empty yer pockets, and no monkey-work.”
Clifford Cringan set about obeying with such haste that he could scarcely find his pockets. His usually ruddy face was white and scared. His nervous fussiness drew the attention of the four robbers as he produced two handkerchiefs, a solitary dollar bill, a few pieces of small silver, a quill toothpick, half a dozen business cards of unrecognizable origin, and a small silver cigarette case. A dusky-skinned robber ran expert hands over Cringan’s body, and added to the pile a tiny lucky elephant in rose quartz. Cringan breathed heavily; he looked ready to cry.
“You don’t—want that,” he whined.
The robber examined it curiously through the holes in his mask.
“Bah! ” he snarled, and hurled it with all his might on the nearest plate, where it shattered itself and the plate.
Shirley’s eyes flashed. “You’re a brute, as well as a burglar!” she cried out.
“Oh, I am, am I?” The robber started round the table toward her, but one of his companions, a man with an odd fringe of grey hair protruding round his cap, blocked the way.
“Aw, get along with the job,” he growled.
The gang spread about the table. The one with the grey fringe passed behind Julia’s chair toward Lyster. As he rounded the corner he wheeled abruptly, and his head went forward. The flash of the canary diamond had caught his eye. With a whistling breath he bent over Julia, covering the gem with one large hand, while with the other he released the snap at the back of her neck. The diamond cupped in his hand, he stepped away, his back to the table, and beneath one of the sconces stared down on it. Then his hand disappeared in his pocket. But when he turned back to the table a new light was in his eyes.
His comrades paid little attention. The one in the red mask stood over Hornbaker, and another had passed on to Queenie. The fourth, a big, bull-necked man, who had thus far kept in the background, moved silently around Julia. He seemed to be taking little interest in the affair. But suddenly he sprang forward to clutch Lyster’s arms in his powerful hands.
“No, you don’t.” For one of Lyster’s hands had crept dangerously close to a heavy candlestick.
Lyster, taken by surprise, did not struggle. His arms were jerked behind him and tied, and his assailant lifted him to his feet, dragged him to the wall, and there bound him to a heavy chair.
Shirley looked on, at first with surprise, then with curling lip. “There are two glass seals in the other room,” she sneered. “Look out for them too.”
The nearest robber glared down on her.
“You dames, yer all the same,” he growled. “That guy’s the only dangerous thing in this house—and he’s damned lucky he wasn’t drilled.” He strode to where Lyster was bound helplessly and, jerking a handkerchief from the young man’s pocket, bound it over his eyes. “You seen them eyes, my gal. Well, we ain’t takin’ no chances—Smarty.”
The larger robber who had leaped on Lyster had withdrawn, but his eyes missed nothing. One of his mates unfastened from Queenie’s neck a string of pearls and tossed it on the table.
“Woolworth’s!” he snorted. “And they done you then.”
The red mask had returned to Hornbaker’s side. As he felt at the latter’s pockets Hornbaker made an angry move, only to be prodded to submission by the gun.
“A move from you and it’s all over. Put them hands on the table.”
Hornbaker obeyed slowly, his fists clenching and unclenching, his face almost purple with restrained fury. Julia pleaded with him:
“What does it matter, Nathan? Let them finish and go.”
Cringan whined: “Yes, yes. They’ll shoot us all. Let them have all they want.”
“Yer right. Some sense in that.”
The robber lifted his gun and fired, and a beautiful cloisonne vase dropped from the mantel to the floor. Queenie screamed and pressed her hands to her eyes.
Shirley glared her contempt. “So spectacular, so brave—but such a waste of powder.”
The robber took a furious step toward her, but as Hornbaker made a move to rise he turned back with pointing gun. In a moment his prying hands found the diamond necklace. A single glance, and he tried to hide it negligently in his pocket, but in four strides his larger companion, who held himself so retired but so intent, swept round the table, jerked the necklace from his hand, and held it aloft with a delighted chuckle.
“That isn’t of any value to you,” Hornbaker warned. “You can’t sell it. The larger stones are photographed and on record. No one would dare buy them. Besides, they’re insured, and they’ll be advertised immediately.”
“Zat so?” jeered the one in the red mask.
“But,” Hornbaker offered, “if you want them, with no danger to yourselves, give back the stone my wife was wearing.”
The jeer was repeated, more loudly than before, and the small robber in the red mask stepped to the wall and switched on the centre chandelier. For several moments the pair stood appraising the stones. An amethyst necklace was taken from Shirley’s neck and two rings from her mother, while the large robber went through Lyster’s pockets. Having cleaned them out, he turned and nodded peremptorily toward the hall. The one in the red mask tapped Hornbaker on the shoulder with his gun.
“Now, you, we’ll go upstairs.”
Hornbaker looked at the French clock on the mantel. "I'll make it worth your while to go now. I must be in the city in an hour or so.”
“Oh, yeah? Don’t we know it? By God, I wish we could lay our hands on the women that’ll be loaded with sparklers at that opera to-night. Now, trot,” as the silent leader made an impatient movement of his head.
A look from Julia started Hornbaker for the hall, the red mask ahead, the big leader bringing up the rear. One of the pair left on guard in the dining-room helped himself to a cigar from a silver box and seated himself at the end of the room. The one with the fringe of grey hair leaned dreamily against the wall, finger and thumb caught in the pocket where he had dropped the canary diamond.
In fifteen minutes the three who had gone upstairs returned. Lyster was released from the chair, his arms still bound, and the whole group started toward the kitchen.
"We’ve just begun,” the one in the red mask, who did most of the talking, announced. “We’re goin’ downstairs.”
Nathan and Julia exchanged a quick glance. The robber must have seen it, for he laughed.
“Sure thing. We know you rich guys. There’s a vault or somethin’ somewheres down there.”
Hornbaker pleaded that they take him and leave the others where they were, but a painful poke with the end of a gun closed his lips.
“You git talky,” threatened the red mask, “and it’ll just cost a bullet.”
Julia, head high, started for the kitchen. The lights were all on in pantry and kitchen, and in the latter room they found Hannah, the cook, and Hutton bound and guarded by another of the gang. At sight of them Hannah broke into wailing protest, but Hutton hung his head.
The man in the red mask led down the basement steps, turned to the right and passed through two or three thick brick arches. As he went he switched on the lights.
Hornbaker was thinking. With the first spasm of fury spent, he realized that an injudicious move might result in tragedy for them all. After all, what did a few thousands mean to him? There was, of course, the canary diamond, and his heart sank as he thought of it. But if they came through the adventure unscathed. There was the vault, too; but even that—
He knew the vault would be found, and in a few seconds they stood before the great steel door at the darkest corner of the basement, the light gleaming from its chromium-plated lock. He was thrust forward.
“Open it, damn you!”
Hornbaker hesitated. Every instinct was for delay, but it could avail nothing.
“My small stock of wines can't be worth all this,” he protested. “You can't carry much of it away, and you’ve a thousand times its value already.”
The big leader caught his shoulder and flung him at the vault, and Hornbaker set to work. As the heavy door swung open the leader flashed a pocket light into the black hole and entered. The one in the red mask crowded close behind.
The leader wheeled on him. “Get out!” he snarled.
“Oh, yeah?” The other held his ground.
They glared at each other through their masks, then, with a laugh and a fling of his great hand, the leader went into the vault. He did not go alone.
The group outside heard them moving about—rattle of bottles and papers and boxes. Presently they emerged, each bearing a heavy sack.
“Some vault!” exulted the one in the red mask.
Shirley made a contemptuous sound with her lips. “Some job! Five of you—with a whole battery of guns—and you’re all so frightened you’d run if anyone said 'boo!’”
The red mask pushed into her face. “You say ‘boo,’ miss, just try it.” His gun covered her heart.
Shirley did not flinch, but she only smiled and lifted her hands with a scornful gesture.
In the movement the light caught the facet of a ring she had managed to conceal by clenching her fists. The robber grabbed it and, with a wrench, tore it off. Shirley uttered a cry and a trickle of blood ran down her fingers over her palm.
With a bellow of rage Hutton, bound as he was, flung himself headlong at the robber and sent him hurtling against the brick wall. The latter turned as he lay and fired, and Hutton, without a murmur, crumpled to the floor and lay still.
Hornbaker took a quick step forward, but the gun was turned on him. Julia stepped between.
But the robber with the fringe of grey hair intercepted her. “Cut that out, you fool!” he hurled at his threatening companion. He held his own gun ready. “You’re just a damned brute, like the girl said!” He bent over the dead butler. “You sure done it this time.”
The brute’s spirit had died, the bravado that had made him the most hateful and dangerous of the five. “You seen what he done,” he snarled.
“And you earned it.” The other turned his back.
“Hurt you much, miss?”
But Shirley was on her knees beside the dead butler. “Hutton, Hutton, you aren’t—” She read the tragedy in the white face and twisted body, and with a low sob she covered her face with her hands.
The burly leader stepped forward and lifted her to her feet.
“Get in there,” he ordered, “all of you,” pointing to the vault.
Hornbaker’s eyes widened. “You can’t—do that.”
The red-masked bully pushed up to him, eager to reinstate himself.
“We can’t, eh? Well, we’re doin’ just that.” He charged into Hornbaker, knocking him into the vault. The others were herded after him.
“But you can’t leave us in here,” Hornbaker protested. “We’ll smother!”
“Aw, shut up! We’ll telephone the police.”
The door clanged shut on an awful darkness, the bolts rattled into their sockets.
It was dark in the vault, dark with the horrible dank earthiness of the grave. For several breaths they stood still, seven panic-stricken human beings pressed against one another. Suddenly someone stirred. Clifford Cringan screamed.
“I’m smothering! I’m smothering!” He fought toward the door, clawing at his throat.
“Clifford!” Julia’s stern voice rang through the darkness, and Clifford, always afraid of his sister, subsided.
Hannah’s voice broke out in a low, quavering mumble: “My God! Oh, my God! Oh, my God!” It was terrifying.
“Do you believe in Him?” Hornbaker asked. “Then don’t be a whiner.”
Shirley cleared her throat composedly. “Now we've got rid of them, let’s all be comfortable. Mr. Lyster can’t play the hero with his hands tied.”
Her uncle felt his way toward Lyster. “Sometimes I wish I was your father, Shirley.”
“My apologies,” she said, with a short laugh. “Perhaps he wasn’t a hero, after all.” Abruptly her manner changed. “Poor Hutton!”
“And he died for you,” Hornbaker reminded her. “You infuriated them with your—”
She cut him short with a cry of horror. “Oh—Uncle—Nathan!” A sob was stifled in her throat.
“I'm sorry, Shirley,” Hornbaker apologized. “We must keep our sense of proportion—now, particularly.”
Julia touched his arm. “Don't worry, Nathan. The police will know in time.”
Cringan wailed: “They won’t tell them—they won't tell them! They daren't! We’ll all be smothered to death in a few minutes!”
“We will, daddy, if you keep on breathing so hard,” Shirley said. “You're using more than your share. I can hear you—I can't hear much else. What did they take away in the sacks, uncle?”
“The family plate, I suppose. The gold plate we haven't had much chance to use. . . . And a bit of loot I kept there.”
Only Julia, besides himself, was aware that the “loot” was some fifty thousand dollars in gold and banknotes Hornbaker kept on hand to facilitate market deals that must be concealed temporarily from the public to prevent a stampede.
“Oh, my God! Oh, my God! ” Hannah breathed.
“It's easy enough for you small people,” Cringan moaned.
“Let's have two heroes in the caste,” Shirley suggested. “Try what it feels like, daddy. And couldn't we have less jostling?”
“I’m afraid,” Lyster apologized, “that I can’t get to the door without it.”
“Some of us are trying to be content where we are,” Shirley said scornfully.
A blubbering scream from her father sent a shudder through them all. “Where we are! Where we are! Where we’ll soon be dead! I can’t stand it! I can’t stand it! Why did you have a place like this, Nathan. We’ll all be dead in a few minutes. It’ll be murder, and on your head.”
Before anyone could speak Hannah uttered a piercing shriek. It was cut short to a choking gurgle.
“My God, what’s that?” Cringan quavered.
“Just a touch of what you’ll experience yourself, Clifford,” Hornbaker replied grimly, “if you aren’t still. Hannah, do you want to be choked to death right now, or would you rather live to get out with us? Because we’re going to get out. Stop that pushing!” he thundered. “The quieter we are the longer the air will last. Lyster, Lyster, where are you?”
Lyster replied from near the door: “I’m here. I’m examining the lock.” The calmness of his tone soothed them.
“But you can’t get at it. The inner door— But, no, they didn’t close that. It hasn’t been closed for a year; it’s warped. What have you found, Lyster?”
“Perhaps a mite of fresh air through the keyhole,” Shirley suggested scornfully.
“Stop it!” It was the first time anyone had ever spoken to her like that, and the girl was too surprised to make a retort.
Julia broke the space of silence that followed: “We make every allowance for nerves, Shirley, but if you and your father would learn a lesson from your mother we’d all be more comfortable.”
“I'm sorry, auntie,” Shirley breathed. “That wasn’t—exactly—what I had in mind.”
“Do you remember how this lock was covered from the inside, Mr. Hornbaker? ” Lyster asked.
“I’ve never even noticed it.”
A deep, breathless silence dropped over them, broken only by the sound of Lyster’s hand feeling over the steel door.
“I think I know now,” he murmured.
They heard the rattle of metal on metal, scraping, clicking, and for a time no one spoke.
Clifford Cringan could stand it no longer. “It’s no use, I tell you!” he screamed. “In another minute we’ll be dead! It’s stifling—I’m choking—I—Let me go! Stop it!”
“I stop,” Hornbaker replied grimly, “when you do—or when there’s one less exhausting the air in this place. If we’re to smother, you go first.”
The click of a small piece of metal striking the cement floor drove them to silence, and Hornbaker leaned dizzily against the shelves that lined the sides.
“The second screw!” Lyster announced, in a matter-of-fact tone.
They listened breathlessly as the work proceeded. Lyster commenced to talk, a running comment, broken by the panting of his efforts:
“If only I could see! . . . No, don’t strike a match; we need all the oxygen. . . . The lock—it’s in good condition—that’s the chromium—it never rusts—or stainless steel—have to be something like that in a place like this.” Another tinkle of falling metal, and Lyster laughed. “Number three. . . . Three more, I should say, . . . Never found money so useful . . . especially small silver. This dime is worth a million. . . . Found it in a corner of a pocket.. . . Always thought it one of my bad habits to keep a piece in every pocket, . . . Even bad habits have their virtues. . . . And that, so far as I know, is an aphorism that isn’t a quotation.”
An audible breath came from Shirley Cringan, but she said nothing.
“This little dime makes a satisfactory screwdriver—for these special screws. . . . I suppose those fellows, when they went through me, thought a dime beneath their notice. . . . Strange how casual these impressive locks are on the inside—where they can’t be seen. . . . Mass production again. . . . I’m all in favour of it hereafter.”
They listened—listened to his rambling comment as much as for the fall of the screws as they were released. Only Hannah whimpered now and then, choking off the sound with her own hand. Once the wail got away from her.
“I’m all right, Mr. Hornbaker,” she whispered. “Don’t you worry about me. I’m just praying—like you said.”
Hornbaker patted her shoulder. “You’re a brick, Hannah.”
Another tinkle . . . another. . . . A louder grating of heavy metal, and then a crash. Lyster drew a sharp breath of pain.
“It got away from me,” he laughed, “and fell on my foot. Oh, well!”
A ray of light appeared—the door swung open.
Lyster flattened himself against the wall and let them precede. As Hornbaker passed, he touched his secretary on the arm.
"I'll frame that dime,” he said with a short laugh.
"If you don't mind, Mr. Hornbaker,” Lyster returned firmly, “I'll keep it as a memento of the one time I was ever called a hero.”
Hutton lay where he had fallen. Death had been instantaneous. With bent heads, the whole night’s events still little more than an ugly dream, they stood about the body. Tears streamed down Shirley Cringan’s cheeks, but she made no sound. Nathan Hornbaker’s face was set.
Suddenly he lifted his clenched fists. “Before God, I’ll get them, to the last man!” His teeth closed with an audible click.
Julia crept to his side, a little frightened, and gently pressed his arm. “He died as he would wish to die, Nathan—for us.”
“And for him, Julia, I’ll spend my last cent to run down his murderers. I swear it. I’ll clear the world of brutes like that. At last my money will buy something I want.”
He wheeled and led through the basement to the stairs. In the kitchen above he pulled up abruptly and bent over the floor.
“What’s this?” A line of fresh bloodstains led to right and left. “Were any of you hurt up here?” he demanded of Hannah.
“No, sir. They done everything but that. Hutton, he put up a bit of a fight out on the step, but they roped him up. He didn’t bleed, though.”
Hornbaker pointed toward the front of the house.
“The women will go in there—to the living-room. Lyster and I will be busy here for a time.”
Lyster already was on the trail of blood, and Hornbaker kept close to him. To the left it led to the kitchen sink, which was splattered with watery stains. On the table lay shreds of torn towels.
“Something,” Lyster said, “has happened here on their way out.”
Hannah, noting the rags on the table, ran to the towel drawer. “They've stolen the towels,” she wailed. “The dirty thieves!”
In the other direction the trail led through to the front hall, where it ended near the front door. Lyster studied the stains.
“Whatever it was it happened here,” he decided, “for the drops splash a little toward the kitchen.”
He looked about and, with an exclamation, pounced on a small, fresh, splintered hole in the jamb of the living-room doorway.
“A bullet-hole. Someone was shot here and made for the kitchen to treat his wounds—or he was carried there.”
A cold smile appeared on Hornbaker's face. “The best clue we could hope for. It's a wound that won't heal quickly, by the quantity and the colour of that blood. I hope,” his teeth gritted together, “it wasn't too bad.”
He started into the living-room, and met Shirley in the doorway.
“Tell them to get ready. We must hurry or we’ll be late.”
Julia opened her eyes. “Surely you're not going to the opera?”
“If we hurry we can yet make it in time. We can do it in forty minutes.”
“But I’ve telephoned the police.”
Hornbaker frowned. “The police! My dear, this is much too serious for the police . . . though you did right, of course. They’ll send a gang of blue-coats out here—and that’ll about end it. Well, Hannah will be here to attend to them. She knows as much as we do—at least enough to bewilder them till we get back. We can’t miss the opera.”
“But Hutton was to drive us. Stapleton was let off for the night, you know.”
“I’ll drive myself.”
Lyster raised his head from the bullet-hole in the door-jamb. “How about letting me drive? I’ll be ready in a few minutes.”
He disappeared up the stairs three steps at a time. They were waiting for him when he returned, fretting a little at the delay. They stared, for Lyster was dressed in the immaculate uniform of their chauffeur.
“I think, sir,” Lyster interrupted, “formality is part of the affair on this the opening night. Stapleton’s clothes fit me none too badly, don’t you think?”
“I always thought you’d missed your calling,” Shirley said.
Without a word Lyster clicked his heels, bowed and wheeled toward the kitchen. When he was gone Hornbaker took Shirley by the arm.
“My girl, hadn’t you better leave your remarks about Lyster till you know him better?”
Shirley made a face at him. “Don’t you think he’s worth studying, uncle? I’m always open to correction . . . and I’m waiting.”
Lincoln drew up before the
opera house, almost the last of a line of cars that, twenty minutes earlier,
had stretched around two blocks A tremendous crowd milled about the
brilliantly-lighted entrance, held to a semblance of order only by a strong
force of police. A thin passage to the door was with difficulty kept clear.
The glare of the new installation blinded Lyster so that he drove a few feet too far and was forced to back into place. Through the glass partition that separated the driver’s seat from the rear he heard Shirley laugh.
A gold-braided attendant opened the car door with an elaborate flourish that lifted Clifford Cringan’s shoulders another inch and delayed his ponderous exit. Indignantly he had refused to occupy the empty seat beside Lyster, so that the inside of the car was crowded.
Lyster sat stiffly erect, staring straight before him, the perfect chauffeur. But only sub-consciously was he thinking of that. In the glare of the lights he realized for the first time since the robbery how well they had come through it. It was almost incredible. The five ruffians, all armed and reckless—Hutton’s brutal murder before their eyes—the stain of blood on Shirley Cringan’s fingers—that crowding, terrible panicky darkness of the vault.
And here they were in the glare of the lights, surrounded by hundreds of interested onlookers, with a squad of police within touch, and obsequious servants bowing before them. And Shirley Cringan laughing at his back because of a little slip with the brakes. But Shirley had never ceased to laugh and scoff at the most critical moments of the ugly affair.
How, he wondered, had he come through it—really? There was Nathan Hornbaker’s pat on the shoulder—and the spot still tingled; but there was, too, Shirley’s scorn openly directed at him. Had he betrayed the craven terror that flooded him at moments during the robbery? Like Clifford Cringan, he could have screamed in that thick blackness of the vault, with a bolted steel door closing them in—three women who could do nothing for themselves, and a kindly employer who had come to lean on him in emergency. And must he fail them in the only real emergency that had come his way? Then a roving hand had encountered the dime. Suppose the burglars had taken that small coin! Suppose he had not thought of its possible use! He shuddered, and his eyes shifted. Suddenly he stiffened.
Shirley, standing within the car at his back until the others alighted, slid the glass partition back a few inches.
“Our hero has a thought,” she murmured.
“In the crowd,” he murmured back, without moving his head, “is a man you’d be interested in. He has a mole on the side of his chin, and, I believe, hairy ears.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Just one of the robbers. You didn’t notice—”
“I’ll tell Uncle Nathan,” she declared excitedly. “The police—”
“If you do, I was wrong. I saw no one. This is Hornbaker night; nothing must upset it. Please get out.”
For a moment Shirley hesitated, then, gathering up her skirts, stepped out on the running-board.
“Better wear armour,” she said, as she looked back in the car as if seeking something she had forgotten.
Their arrival had been heralded through the opera house, for they were forced to run the gauntlet of a double line of ushers standing stiffly to attention. A pair escorted them formally to their box through a heavy silence, and they had just entered the box when the entire caste, in costume, marched on the stage, and the orchestra struck into one of the choruses. The audience rose en masse.
Nathan Hornbaker gritted his teeth. “Damn Dustin! I'll get him for this.” He dropped into the nearest chair.
Julia, her small form erect, her face wreathed in smiles, beckoned him forward. “You must come, dear.”
Hornbaker stumbled to her side, blushing like a schoolgirl. A double line of bows greeted him from the stage, Farruchi's almost touching the floor.
“Oh, my! Oh, my!” Hornbaker groaned. “If only I could wipe my neck! I’ll be a rag before it's over. For heaven's sake, Julia,” as the applause continued, “throw them a bow. I'd topple over that railing if I tried it. I feel like a glass case, with those eyes on me.”
Julia smiled down on the crowd and bowed. The curtain fell, and Hornbaker, calling Queenie forward, took a chair beside Shirley.
“Where's Lyster?” he inquired.
“You mean our chauffeur? Doing his job, I suppose. You won’t need a new uniform when you let Stapleton go, uncle.”
Her uncle frowned on her. “Shirley, you ’re a cat. What did you expect of him to-night?”
“To wield that candlestick,” Shirley replied dramatically, “as Joshua—or who was it?—did with the jawbone of an ass—or whatever it was—to put the Egyptians to flight—if it was the Egyptians.”
He chuckled and pinched her arm. She pulled away petulantly.
“Uncle Nathan, you spoil that young man.”
“Who’s going to suffer for it?”
“His—his friends. He rides too high—and he’s in for a fall.”
“He has friends who’ll stick to him when he does, don’t forget that, my girl. And don’t think it’s your duty to bring him down. You can’t do it. Did you ever notice that he doesn’t seem to know you’re around? You’ve heard the story of the fly and the ox—or is it the ant and the elephant?”
The curtain rose, preventing further conversation. Hornbaker leaned forward.
“Lyster would have enjoyed this,” he whispered.
“He enjoys everything—in his placid way,” Shirley threw back, “even chauffeuring.”
Hornbaker was watching Julia. She sat with one arm on the velvet-covered railing, her eyes on the stage. But her husband knew her mind was far away. Through the succession of scenes her face was a mask, her applause perfunctory. As the curtain dropped at the end Hornbaker took her arm.
“You shouldn't have come, my dear,” he whispered. “It was too much for you after what happened.”
She flashed around at him, her eyes ablaze with excitement, and, clutching his hand, squeezed it spasmodically.
“Don't talk, dear,” she whispered. “I've so much to tell you later.”
The thrill of the opera over, the trying event of the early evening laid a depressing hand on the car. Throughout the return trip scarcely a word was spoken, except when Cringan, who had taken the seat beside Lyster, slid the glass partition back to exult on the homage of the crowd. Julia lay with her head snuggled into Nathan’s shoulder, sending tingles through him at intervals by squeezing his arm. Hornbaker had never seen her quite like that, and it alarmed him.
The house, when they reached it, was overrun with police, and Inspector of Detectives Stayner grumbled at the delay. But a look from Hornbaker silenced him. Julia retired almost immediately, and her husband, after telling all he knew, left Lyster to the police and followed to the room he shared with his wife.
He found her curled on the window-seat, still fully dressed, and he took her tenderly in his arms. The loss of the canary diamond affected him strangely, for it had given him his first feeling of satisfaction with the few adequate tributes he was able to pay her.
“You should be in bed, dear,” he whispered into her hair. “It’s been a terrible evening for you. I shouldn’t have let you go to the opera. Hasn’t
Charlotte come in yet?”
“I sent her to bed. I wanted to talk to you, Nathan.” She raised herself abruptly and caught him by the lapels. “Nathan, I’ve been thinking.”
He smiled down on her, but he was aware of a tingle of the excitement so evident in her entering his own veins.
“I knew it, Julia. You didn’t hear a note of the opera, even when Solokoff was singing his best right at you. . . . At least, by the applause it must have been his best. To tell the truth, I was too busy watching you to listen.”
She shook him impatiently. “Never mind all that. I know who the robber in the red mask was!”
He blinked at her. “You know—who he was?”
“Yes. It was Toni—Toni Boitani!”
“Toni—Boitani! . . . Why—why, of course, you’re right!”
He could not have told how he knew, but, all in a flash, with Julia’s identification before him, he was as certain of it as if the man stood there admitting his guilt. Though he had never paid more than passing attention to the under-gardener who, engaged by the gardener as assistant and extra houseman, had vanished after two months of service, he recalled him now as a ratty little fellow with shifty eyes, whose presence about the place always irritated him.
“Of course you’re right,” he repeated. “I should have known.”
“It was Toni, Nathan. Didn’t you notice that he knew where every electric switch was. He knew the layout of the whole house, the vault, our room and the safe there. Only someone who had lived in the house could know all that, or any of it.”
Hornbaker got to his feet. “I'll tell the Inspector. He’s still downstairs, poking about for the usual finger-prints they’ll never find, because those fellows wore gloves. We’ll get after Toni right away."
But Julia caught his arm. “The police will want something more than a hunch, Nathan, and that's all we have. We musn’t warn Toni too soon.”
“That’s right.” Hornbaker re-seated himself.
“Let’s see. It’s only two weeks or so since Toni cleared out, isn’t it?”
“A week ago last Thursday.”
Hornbaker considered. “I know little about finger-prints, but there may be some of Toni’s about somewhere—in his old room, or on the garden tools."
“There’ll be no finger-prints downstairs, though.”
“No,” Hornbaker explained, “but the old fingerprints will show if he has a police record. If it was Toni, he’ll have a record. Those fellows were no amateurs. That’ll give the police excuse for getting after him. I’ll catch the Inspector before he leaves. This looks like the one occasion where the police can be of use—till I call them to make an arrest.”
Early next morning a couple of officials arrived. They combed the room Toni had occupied and that had been vacant since, and examined the garden tools. They questioned the gardener, who admitted that he knew nothing of Toni’s past. They obtained a composite description of the men. In reality, they needed no more than Lyster’s. In the few minutes before he was blindfolded Lyster seemed to have taken in everything about the robbers not covered by their masks
And two days later, as Hornbaker was leaving the office for the day, Inspector Stayner was shown in. He dropped his hat on the desk with a flourish.
"Well, Mr. Hornbaker, that was a great hunch of your wife's. Your Toni Boitani is no other than Toni Pensa a rogue with a long police record. Served three terms for robbery, one in this city. We lost track of him several months ago, and we thought he’d left the city. We really had no cause to keep him under surveillance."
"You have him?” Hornbaker asked.
"The only news I want, Inspector, is his capture. I know it was Toni—and I knew he’d have a police record.”
"We'll find him,” the Inspector promised confidently. “That is, if he’s in the city.”
"If he isn’t, I’ll find him,” Hornbaker promised, with equal confidence.
"Of course"—Inspector Stayner shook his head—"we've nothing really to charge him with, nothing definite, I mean. We can keep an eye on him, and if he gets into trouble again—”
Hornbaker leaned across the desk. “May I hope for such a favour as that the police will stay out of this altogether till I call on them? Stayner, I’ll handle this myself. I’m going to run these men down, if it takes every hour of my life and every dollar I own. I swore it over the body of a faithful servant they murdered before my eyes, and, as far as they are concerned, they murdered all the rest of us in that vault. I can afford to hire my own detectives, and I will. I'll have them followed to the ends of the earth. Stayner, I'll find them. See?”
The Inspector, who had flushed at first, let his resentment cool.
“I can’t say I blame you, Mr. Hornbaker, but you see our position. We can’t trail a criminal outside the city—that is, ourselves; there are others to do that. But in the city—well, leave it to us. We’ve a way of finding Toni. He has a girl here. He’s bound to keep in touch with her. Give us two weeks.”
The fortnight lacked two days when the telephone on Hornbaker’s desk rang. He was absorbed on a big deal, and he answered the ring crossly.
“This is Inspector Stayner. Can you be ready to come with me in twenty minutes, Mr. Hornbaker?”
“Is it in connection with the robbery?”
“I’m ready now.”
Hornbaker turned to his two market representatives who, their hair awry and flushed by the twists of a worrying market, wriggled in their chairs.
“That’ll do. The deal’s off.”
“But, Mr. Hornbaker, you stand to lose a quarter of a million if you drop out now.”
“The deal’s off, I tell you. Now, I’m busy.”
He rose, and the pair slunk away, tip-toeing as if it were a chamber of death. Hornbaker pressed a button and Lyster appeared.
“Inspector Stayner is coming for me in twenty minutes. I’d like you to join us.”
The police-car bore them to the poorer part of the city, while Hornbaker lay back in his corner silent and grim. They drew up before a row of cheap shops. A policeman on the pavement outside, after a glance at the car licence, lounged away. They entered a narrow doorway and climbed a dark stairway to a darker hall, where a second policeman leaned against the wall, half asleep. He straightened at sight of the Inspector, and touched his helmet.
“Everything all right, Flintop?”
“Yes, sir. The girl’s in there.”
Inspector Stayner opened a door softly and ushered his companions into a gloomy, dirty bedroom. The only light entered through a single dirty window in one corner. It fell on a bulky policeman seated in a chair tilted against the wall. In the corner nearest the window, beneath the sloping roof, a bed stood, and at its side sat a girl with bleached hair and a face that had once been pretty. On the bed lay a man, only his flushed face, that seemed to be all eyes, visible above the grimy bedding, which the girl was trying to hold about him.
The girl greeted them with a scowl. The eyes of the sick man were fixed on them with the fire of fever. Inspector Stayner waved the girl away and drew two chairs beside the bed. Lyster took his stand at the footboard.
"This is Mr. Hornbaker, Toni,” the Inspector said, not unkindly, leaning over the bed. “You wished to see him.”
The sick man’s eyes burned more brightly. “You bet I do. He'll get 'em all right—like they got me. I thought the mask would work. I don’t see how—But it don’t matter now. I’m done for, and all I want is them that done for me to get theirs too. You’ll do it, Mr. Hornbaker. I seen it in your eyes that night. I was scared. That’s why—I fired so quick. And this guy, too”—he nodded toward Lyster—“he spotted me. He was takin’ us all in. That’s why we blindfolded him.”
The Inspector interrupted. “Tell your story, Toni.”
Hornbaker felt himself bracing against the pathos of the scene. It tugged at his heart—the vile little room, the filthy bed, the fevered face on the pillow, the girl with one soft streak, the shuddery presence of the police where Death was so near.
Toni moved his head restlessly.
“I came clean, Inspector,” he said, with something like a whimper in his voice.
“It’s the only way to get the man who shot you, Toni. Tell Mr. Hornbaker who did it. You wouldn’t tell me.”
“Yes, yes, I’ll tell him, ’cause I know he’ll get him. It was Baldy bumped me off.”
“Baldy? Baldy who? What’s his real name?”
Toni shook his head. “I don’t know. If I did it wouldn’t be no good. Boitani ain’t my name. Everybody knows Baldy—if you can get the gang to squeal. Baldy’s a sly one. He’ll lie doggo. He’s got that sparkler—the big yellow one. Least he had it when he plugged me, the dirty skunk!”
The girl stepped forward and leaned over the footboard at Lyster’s side.
“Don’t get worked up, Toni, please don’t. Just tell them. We’ll get Baldy. I’ll help.”
“They robbed me, cleaned me out, they did,” Toni hissed. “They got that fifty thousand. I ain’t got nothin’—nothin’.”
For a moment the girl leaned over the bed, her eyes burning into her lover’s. Then, with a blaze of chance, she thrust her hand into the bosom of her dress and produced a small cotton bag. Into the other hand she poured two rings.
"There’s these,” she said, dropping the rings on the bed. "It s all right, Toni. They ain’t no use to me without you. If it’ll help you any with the police, that's all I want.” She faced Hornbaker. “That’s all he has, ’fore God it is. You’ll remember I gave them back, Inspector, for Toni’s sake.”
Hornbaker regarded the rings vaguely.
“They’re Mrs. Cringan’s,” Lyster explained, and put them in his pocket.
“Who were the others, Toni?” Hornbaker asked.
Tom looked at the ceiling. “Aw, I ain’t got much agin them. I ain’t splittin’. It’s Baldy—he’s all I want. You get him, Mr. Hornbaker.”
"I'll get him,” Hornbaker promised, “but only if you tell me everything. I’ll see you have a doctor too, and the best of care.”
“Doctors!” Toni laughed harshly. “It’s too late now. I was too scared to see one when it might have been some use. They always tell the police—the good ones." He closed his eyes.
The girl touched his cheek gently with her fingers.
"Toni, tell them, tell them everything. We got to get Baldy. . . . If you don’t tell, I will.”
The dying man opened his burning eyes. “You goin back on me too, Jinny?”
“It’s not going back on you, Toni, it’s for your good." Her eyes filled with tears. “I want to make it easier for you; you know it’s that.”
For a full minute no one spoke or stirred. Toni lay with his gaze fixed on the ceiling, his forehead wrinkled. The girl leaned over him, sobbing.
"Yer a good girl, Jinny, If I’m goin’—someone must get Baldy for it. I’ll tell.” For a space only his breathing was audible. “No, you tell them. You know all I do—and you can tell it better.”
The girl turned to the two men seated beside the bed and talked for several minutes. Inspector Stayner made swift notes and asked a few questions. Toni listened uneasily.
“They’ll make for
Europe,” he said. “They got enough to keep
out of the way for a year or two.”
“But,” Hornbaker said, “that’s only four of you. There were five.”
Toni shook his head irritably. “The other one—I don’t know no name, just 'The Skunk.’ That’s all I ever heard him called.”
Inspector Stayner watched the wounded man’s face intently. “You’re sure that’s all? The Skunk? Why did you call him that—what did it mean?”
“I dunno. I never worked with him before, but I've heard lots about him. It was Frenchy got him with us. Friend of Frenchy’s, I guess. The Skunk was the big guy. He only does the big jobs.”
"You saw him only once?” the Inspector asked.
“Oh, I seen him oftener. He used to come to town three or four times a year, to pull off a big job. Then he'd clear out. He had the brains—always bossed the jobs, they told me.”
Inspector Stayner slid forward in his chair. “You say he came to town three or four times a year, and always for a big job. When was he here last—I mean, before the Hornbaker robbery?”
But Toni shook his head stubbornly. “That’s all. I never thought I'd be a squealer.” He regarded the girl reproachfully. “You done this, Jinny. It’s dirty.”
The girl flung her head defiantly. “It was dirtier trying to bump you off. I’ll do anything to pay them back.”
“It’s only Baldy I want,” Toni repeated. “You won’t never catch up with The Skunk. He’s too slippery.”
Lyster stepped round the bed where he could see Toni s face. It was Baldy shot you. He shot you in the front hall, and they took you back to the kitchen to tie your wound up. Wasn’t that it? They tore up the towels—”
“They?” Toni swore viciously. “They—nothin’. They all skipped out and left me to look after myself. They took everythin’ but them two rings, and they ain’t real stones. The dirty rats!”
The girl turned pleading eyes on them. “Why don’t you go now? You’ve got all we know. Can’t you see it’s bad for him? Give him a chance.”
“Did he give Hutton a chance?” Hornbaker asked bitterly. “Did he give any of us a chance?” But he got to his feet and made for the door.
As they left the room, the Inspector caught the girl’s eye and beckoned her toward the hall. In a few moments she joined them there.
“Do you know who The Skunk is?” the Inspector asked.
“I’ve seen him once. That’s all.”
“What does he look like?”
“He’s a big, burly fellow, with an awful thick neck, and a sort of nasty smile mostly. Foreigner—dark-skinned, but not Italian. Mostly he wears nice clothes, but sometimes, when he’s on a job, they say, he looks like a tough. When he’s dressed up he smells—sweet-like, scenty.”
A gleam shot into the official’s eyes. “I know him! Now, my girl, you can help a lot, and it won’t hurt your friend in there. I’ll be here to-morrow at this hour. Think up all you can about The Skunk, and get what you can from Toni.”
As they rolled back in the police-car the Inspector made no effort to conceal his excitement.
“By Jove, this looks good. We’ve been after that fellow for two years—if it’s the one I mean. He’s a perfume seller—or he makes out to be that—Syrian or something. Every few months he flies to town with his bag of perfumes. Nothing fast or swell enough for him but a plane. We’ve had our eye on him, because there seemed something fishy about him, but we could never connect him with anything. Happened to be at the airport once when he landed. ‘The Skunk,’ eh? I see where he got his nickname. He’s the man we want most. The others are small fish. . . . Of course, there’s Baldy. In a day or so he’ll be a murderer. That puzzles me. Why did Baldy, whoever he is, shoot Toni Pensa?”
“ I wonder if I don’t know the answer,” Hornbaker mused.
ROLAND LYSTER drew the Chrysler runabout against the curb before the Cringans’ apartment, and, reaching across Shirley Cringan, opened the door. But she made no move to alight. Instead, she braced her feet comfortably before her and leaned back.
“That,” she remarked, stooping to examine the speedometer, “was a long way around to get home.”
Lyster stared straight before him. “Oh?”
“Of course, I’m in no hurry—we’re in no hurry,” she said sarcastically. “This fortnight of helping us get ready must have taught you that.” She laughed. “Of course, mumsie would be in a hurry if we weren’t to start for a year.”
“If it had been your mother—” he began, and ended with a shrug.
“I see. Because you’d know she was in a hurry.” When he made no reply she continued: “One can’t blame her. The Cringans have never been vagabonds—we never had the money for it. Really, you know, I’m as excited about it as mumsie. I should be in a hurry.”
Lyster said nothing, and the girl turned irritably to face him.
“Why don’t you say something? Why are you so—so dumb with me?” By her tone she could have slapped him.
“Self-preservation,” he replied. “One proof that silence is golden.”
“Don’t exert yourself to prove it to me. Seeing that we’ll be gone in two days, further proof is unnecessary. . . . You forget that you may provide another reason for our eagerness to get away.”
“I don’t flatter myself—though you’ve made it evident enough.”
“It would have been less evident,” she retorted, “if you hadn’t acted all the time like a martyr. You can’t be goaded to retaliate, can you?”
“Not with you—not with a woman.”
“So that,” her mood changing quickly, in the way she had, “all my efforts have been wasted! Let’s hope some day you’ll find your tongue.”
“I’ve found it better that you should not find it, Miss Cringan. It’s more comfortable for us all. . . . So now you’ll be without a purpose in life. Things will be dull for you.”
She tossed her head. “It’s a broad world we’re going to, a well-peopled world—variety and all that. Don’t over-estimate your place in it.”
“I try not to. You’ll enjoy the change—the broadness, I mean, and the well-peopled places. I always found change good.”
“Oh?” She said nothing for a time, one hand toying with the red patent leather bag on her knee.
“Evidently you’ve revised your opinion of it.”
He faced her, surprised. “What do you mean?”
“You’re content with things as they are, a fatalist.”
“Content so far as things go,” he agreed.
“Content,” she insisted. . . . “ Yet I understand you’ve had a varied career—before you came to Uncle Nathan.”
He shook his head doubtfully. “Varied—in a way. But the undercurrent was usually the same, the atmosphere in which I lived.”
“Yet you talk to me of the benefits of change. You don’t need to. If you’d lived your life in the Cringan household you’d know that—that any change held out hope . . . too much hope. I’m hoping now. Daddy’s hoping. Mumsie’s hoping—and praying. . . . It’s only daddy that counts. He hasn’t had a chance, he says; bad environment, and all that. . . . Perhaps he’s right. He looks for heaven from this trip, a heaven happier than you and I can imagine.”
She peered at him with tilted head, waiting for him to speak. But he remained silent.
“And,” she went on, “you think I’m not angel enough to fit into that heaven; I’m certain to disrupt it.”
“Why should I think that?”
“If for no other reason, for talking like this to—to a stranger.”
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“Sorry you think so?” she demanded fiercely.
“Sorry I’m a stranger—after two years.”
The fact was that for one of the few times in his life Roland Lyster was upset, unsure of himself, unsure even of what he was saying. Shirley Cringan’s confidences were too rare, her moods too uncertain, to give an unprepared young man a chance.
The girl let it pass. “If this is daddy’s chance, mother and I are happy, whatever the cost.”
"You’ll find living on the continent cheaper,” he said inanely.
"So soothing,” she scoffed. “Indeed, almost hypnotic.” She glanced at him sideways, half amused, half irritated at his obtuseness. “You know, of course, that not the stock market but Uncle Nathan is the fairy godmother.”
The bluntness of it, its hurt concealed beneath a conversational tone, startled Lyster. Though his employer had told him nothing, he had suspected it from the first.
“You’re the only child Mr. Hornbaker knows, Miss Cringan,” he said. “Nothing delights him more than—”
She tapped her foot impatiently. “You’re so—so damned proper!” she blazed. “Did you ever say the wrong thing?”
“Apparently. . . . And when I’m silent I’m wrong.”
She threw him a frowning glance, then laughed. “Well, there’s the story of the Cringan adventure, its origin and its hopes. I’ve wanted so long to unburden myself. Thanks for letting me. . . . I don’t believe we’ll keep going long enough to circle the globe. Daddy will tire of it—and the very thought of returning here would kill every ambition he ever had, at least until he’s made his name. What I’m afraid of is that we’ll land at one of those horrible art colonies where they stroke one another’s back and scoff through their rags and their vices at the outside world. Can Shirley Cringan stand against it? What’s to become of her?”
Lyster said: “I’ve no fear for you, Miss Cringan.”
“Of course not. Fear wouldn’t be the word—because it’s not a matter of personal concern to you. You’ve set me down in your mind as a scatter-witted, feather-brained kid who’ll fit herself into any nasty life there is, so long as it’s exciting. . . . and the way I’m talking I don’t blame you.”
“At least,” he commented, “it’s one time you don’t blame me. But you go out of your way to impress on me what you think of me.”
“What I think of you! What does that matter? You’re what you are—and it’s as difficult to be deceived in you as it is to change you. You talk of fear. What right have you to fear for me—or not to fear?” She was working herself into a fine fury.
“I gathered that you thought I’d be interested or you wouldn’t have told me so much,” he said helplessly. “This stranger that I am—well, I justify my concern for the Cringans by my association with your uncle. You can’t bully me out of that,” he ended doggedly.
“Did anyone ever bully you into or out of anything?”
“They’ve been known to try. Let’s see, I think we did all we set out to do—the tickets, the stickers, the route maps, the itinerary, the berths, the phrase books, the—”
Shirley put her hands to her ears. “You sound like a voters’ list, or a dictionary. You’re the perfect valet. No wonder you’re content with your job.”
“Content as far as things go, I said,” he corrected.
“And they’ve gone as far as they’ll ever go. What do you expect? That Uncle Nathan will fold up his arms and hand over to you?” She went on in a breathless voice before he had a chance to speak: “That’s crude, isn’t it? And Shirley Cringan, for the first time in her life, apologizes. But you do nag one to extravagances.”
“I’m sorry,” he said, but not at all humbly.
Shirley laughed. But as suddenly she sobered. "Taking advantage of your expression of concern for the Cringans, may one ask if you have no higher ambition than to end your days as Uncle Nathan’s valet?”
It was Lyster’s turn to smile. “You’ve heard that stock unanswerable: Have you stopped beating your wife?”
Someone rapped on a window, and Shirley looked up and waved to her mother, but made no other move.
“Mr. Lyster, you can be as—as discourteous as I am, but in an oily way I never attained.”
“I’m at your mercy,” he said shortly.
Shirley sighed. “The truly English retort. Oh, well, the Cringans will be footloose day after to-morrow, so why waste the remaining hours in wrangling?"
Neither spoke for some time.
“So I’m to take it that you’re settled, Mr. Lyster —Uncle Nathan’s social secretary, tutor, reference library, consultant, shield, or what have you if you dislike to be called a valet.”
“If I were all that it would be a life’s work to be proud of,” he replied. “There’s only one Nathan Hornbaker. Am I wrong?”
“Emphatically so!” she stormed. Her tone was like the crack of a whip. “Have you no higher ambition than that? Have you never thought of a bigger job, a real man’s job? Will you slink in the shadow of his skirts all your life? You must have saved enough to take a chance.”
She glared at him, awaiting a reply.
“Go on,” he urged.
“Or do you expect your friends to hunt a job for you, a real job, one of the many big jobs that are looking for big men?”
“Have I asked assistance?”
"If you had there’d be some hope for you,” she retorted crisply. “Why don’t you break away and look for them? Get out and search—travel—run them down. Have you less ambition than daddy? You're young and—” She hesitated.
"Timid," he suggested, smiling. “Are you suggesting that I throw up this job and—try a trip around he world—perhaps to settle down in some colony of lofty noses and low morals? I might even act as courier to the Cringans.”
"You might do worse," she snapped. “ But don’t be silly."
“How can I help it—being what I am?” He faced her squarely at last. “Miss Cringan, I’ve a big job on hand right now. It’s none the less big because it concerns the Cringans. And I don’t have to be traitor to your uncle to carry it through. I’m out to run down the robbers who killed Hutton, who made your finger bleed, who left us all to smother in that vault. That’s my job. Does it look worth while?”
A wave of red had leaped to her face as he talked, but at the end her eyes flashed angrily.
"Uncle Nathan has no right to ask it of you. It’s dangerous. Those men won’t be taken alive. There are professionals trained for such work, men whose life-calling it is. They take the risk for pay.” The red of her cheeks deepened as he continued to stare at her, and she turned her face away. “Oh, well, if you prefer being a bloodhound.”
She leaped lightly out. As she ran up the steps he called after her:
“So long as I’ve ceased to be a hero.”
But she had the last word:
“Good-bye—and don’t forget to keep your powder dry—and put on your flannels next month.”
The Platonia, a cabin-class steamship, cast its last hawser and slipped into the bay, to the noisy chugging of a pair of powerful tugboats. In the gloom of midnight the skyline of
was little more than specks of light that might have been stars. The decks were
almost empty, for most of the passengers had come on board earlier and gone to
bed, and the later arrivals had been driven indoors by a chill wind blowing
through the Narrows.
On the highest covered deck, his hands clutching the railing, Roland Lyster stood looking forward into the night. Now and then he glanced casually about the deck, but he remained where he was until the open sea was reached. Then, alone at last, he walked slowly to the nearest doorway and vanished.
Dropping down a flight of stairs, he reached his cabin and entered. For several minutes he sat on the edge of the berth in the dark, then, rising, he switched on a light and stood before the little mirror over the basin. As he looked he smiled lugubriously.
“Another week, Roland, my lad, and you’ll look respectable enough to pass the police.” He rubbed a fortnight’s beard. “And think of the razor-blades you save—with such a fine place to get rid of them. By the time you reach
you may even get over laughing at yourself. Roland Lyster with a vandyke. Ye
gods! If some frank young thing like Shirley Cringan could only see me now! . .
. I’ll hike back a monocle with me, too . . . if ever I go back.” He went and
leaned his elbows in a porthole. "At any rate, there’s sure to be slashes
of colour in my life before it’s over.”
He remained for several minutes staring into the night. Now and then a flash of white swept within his view and swift drops of water slashed against the glass. He turned and approached the door, standing there for a time, his ear to the crack.
No sound but the thudding of the engines reached him, and presently he switched off the light and opened the door an inch or two to peer along the narrow passage. Seizing a dressing-gown, he strolled out and made for the nearest washroom. As he turned to the door, he could see both ways along the passage. It was empty. Darting into a narrow branching passage, he opened a door at the end without knocking and entered.
The room was in darkness, but as the door closed a switch clicked and a man, fully dressed, put his finger to his lips and nodded toward the partition behind the berths.
Ten minutes later Lyster reappeared in the passage. Once more he made for the washroom, and this time he entered. A man in trousers and shirt was wiping his hands beside one of the basins. Lyster, paying no attention, went on. But as he passed a single spark of light on the man’s finger caught his attention. A moment later the man was gone.
For a long time Lyster stood leaning against the wall, his eyes dancing, breathing as if he had been running. Then, passing through the opposite door, he rounded the bow and reached his own room.
In the morning he was up early and rang for his breakfast.
“When does the barber’s shop open?” he asked of the steward.
“Get me the first chair promptly on time. If I can be served sooner all the better.”
To the minute he found his way to the barber’s shop, meeting only two women and a strange man on the way.
“I want a haircut,” he said. “I want it cut so I can part it in the centre. And this beard—trim it so it won’t look too juvenile.”
The barber stood away and looked him over.
“You’re going to have trouble, sir. That hair’s been parted where it is now most of your life, I guess. A bottle of brilliantine, now—”
"All right—anything to make it stay parted as I wish it. I’m tired of this way.”
Half an hour later he emerged, his beard trimmed, his hair parted in the centre and glued down to a black sheen. “Makes a big difference,” the barber had confided as he removed the apron.
Lyster went on deck. Several men were grouped about the deck-steward. As Lyster passed one of the men reached out and caught his sleeve.
“Want to get in on this?” he asked. “It’s the day’s pool.”
The man rolled a big cigar between his lips and scowled. “You that kind of a sport?”
"It’s always been ’arf a quid,” explained the steward, “but this gentleman ’e wants it a quid—a pound, I mean.”
“Hell!” scoffed the “gentleman,” jerking the cigar over the railing, “who wants to foozle with pennies? Make it five dollars, I say. Call it a pound if you like, it’s all the same to me. There’s mine.” He drew a roll from his pocket and, tearing a bill from it, shoved it into the steward’s reluctant hand. “What say, mates?” glaring around on the group.
No one dared to be a piker, and the amount was fixed. The one who had stopped Lyster looked him over.
“You act like a sport. I’ll go you one better: Here’s ten to bet the figure’s under five, leaving out the nothing. Are you on?”
Lyster laughed and laid a ten dollar bill beside the one jabbed at the steward.
“Say, you’re a guy after my own heart.” The man grasped Lyster’s hand. “My name’s
Sydney. What’s yours?”
“Halton—Merrill Halton,” Lyster said.
Lyster broke away after a time and mingled with the promenading crowd. As he went along he examined the names on the deck-chairs. Stopping before one, he waited for the deck-steward to pass.
“I want a chair,” he said. “That one suits me.”
The steward lifted a label attached to the chair.
Sorry, sir, but it’s taken. Lady ast for it last night—just there.”
Lyster slid a bill into his hand. “I want that one.”
“Yes, sir. I think I can manage it. Your name? Oh yes, you said ’
Alton, didn’t you? I’d suggest sir, you sit
there right away, so the lady will see you when she comes on deck. She ain’t
come out yet.”
Lyster seated himself and closed his eyes. After a time a thud in the chair on his left told him that someone of weight and self-indulgence had landed there. A heavy hand clutched his wrist.
"Say’ is what I call luck. A dame on one side’s enough for me, and I guess I’d pick you for the other I can get all the dames I want when I want ’em ”
Lyster opened his eyes with an affected start. "Oh, Mr. Sydney! That’s—”
Aw, cut the mister. How about a cigar? I’ve three pet vices—cigars, gambling, and—well, the other isn't women.” He chuckled.
Through half-closed eyes Lyster was taking him in. "One of mine is cigarettes,” he said, taking out his case.
"I wouldn’t size you up that way,” said
biting off the end of a cigar and spitting it noisily over his feet.
They talked as they smoked, in the intermittent way of men with much in common, congenial friends amidst a city of strangers.
Next day Lyster did not appear on deck until noon, having avoided his new friend most of the previous day. The same group of men was gathered about the deck-steward.
Sydney bellowed a welcome
and waved a handful of bills.
"Say, I knew what I was doing when I made it a fiver. Two hundred bucks! It almost pays for there and back. You’ve ponied up fifteen of it, by God! Now I’ll take you on for a game of shuffleboard for a fiver. Are you on?”
Lyster agreed, and
caught him by the arm and dragged him away, leaving a score of disapproving and
disappointed eyes staring after him. The way to the bar was in the other
They found another pair willing to play, and the game ran the usual uncertain course until one of the strangers, named Redfern, on the last end made a remarkable shot and cleaned off a big score that looked certain for Sydney and Lyster.
Sydney, soured by the
defeat, paid the bet they had made and dragged Lyster away without another word
to their opponents.
Lyster suggested eating. “I’m hungry. This is the shortest way down.” He led to a companion-way in the bow and started down the steep steps.
Sydney was next, and behind him their late
Lyster had descended four steps when, at a shout from above, he turned, clutching the iron rail with all his strength. He was just in time to brace himself against the heavy body of his partner. Above them Redfern stared down on them with wide, frightened eyes.
“I’m—so—sorry!” he stammered.
With an oath
Sydney regained his feet
on the companion-way and started furiously back. But Lyster took hold of him.
“It was an accident,” he said.
Redfern had retreated a step. “I’m so sorry,” he repeated. "I stumbled.” One finger scratched in an embarrassed way at the corner of his mouth.
"I should say you did,”
snarled. “You damned near broke my neck! If Halton hadn’t been there I’d—"
“I tripped over the ledge,” the agitated man explained. “I almost fell myself.” Redfern was a broad-shouldered man, with a square jaw and bushy brows, and his agitation was almost ludicrous in a man of his size.
"I don't care what you almost did.”
Sydney replied brutally.
"I can’t do more than apologize, gentlemen,” Redfern said more coldly.
"Too damned near a thing to be comfortable!” he growled to Lyster. “I don’t like that Redfern.”
Lyster admitted that it was clumsy. “But on shipboard one can’t get away from people one doesn’t like."
"Looks like a racketeer to me,”
murmured glowering after the retreating Redfern. “I know the breed, I do.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised,” Lyster agreed slyly, and smiled up at his new friend. “I happen to know a bit about them myself.”
“Education has many uses,” Lyster said, and returned the wink.
Day by day their intimacy increased. Now and then they came in contact with Redfern, who seemed to be one of those over-friendly men who make bores of themselves on shipboard. Distress at his clumsiness, too, drove him to frequent apologies and an irritatingly humble manner with
The latter frankly dismissed the man, but nothing could hold him off. It was
only when Lyster explained Redfern’s ways that Sydney came to endure him.
Twenty times a day
something fresh to bet on. Betting was a passion with him, and he won more than
he lost. He suggested a club that he christened “The Racketeers,” a club that
seemed to have no object but to bet, and he managed to attract half a dozen of
his fellow-passengers to it. But the name did not hold after Lyster proposed
calling it “The Sabbatarians.” The name, when Sydney understood it, caught his fancy.
Redfern was bluntly excluded.
There came a day, a week out from
when the intimacy of the two friends ripened to confidences. They were seated in
their deck-chairs, smoking, Sydney
in a jovial mood over a bet he had just won. Lyster was thoughtful, and Sydney teased about it.
At last Lyster rolled his head where he could see his friend. "As a man of experience,
Sydney, where would you
advise a friend to go to get out of the way for a time?”
"Not likely. . . . More serious than that. Suppose the police were after you. I’m just asking.”
drew three long breaths and expelled the smoke noisily. “Depends. . . . Depends
on many things. If you’ve the jack, you’ve got the world before you. Some
countries won’t give a guy up. Extraditions, they call it. But you’ll know
about that. Look at Insull. . . . Depends, too, if you want to enjoy life while
“Naturally I do.”
An explosive chuckle broke from
lips. "Say, buddy, you and me’s in the same boat, looks like. I’m not
travelling for my health, you bet your life. Me, I’m looking for peace—for a
while—and a bit of fun thrown in. I can afford it. When I’ve scouted about a
bit, looking the scenery over back home, I’m making for Monte Carlo. Oodles of sport there, a man s
chance to do some betting. If you’ve got the jack they don’t ask no questions
there. When I’ve broke the bank I’ll shoot back to God’s country I guess.”
Lyster jerked a hand toward a diamond ring on
little finger. It had been cut on the inside to enlarge it.
“Yours is girl trouble,” he said.
“Oh, that! ”
Sydney lifted his hand.
Lyster lazily reached toward it. “Looks like a sparkler.”
“Sure it’s a sparkler.”
took it off and passed it over.
“Want to sell it? I’ve a girl back home could wear it.”
“What d’yuh reckon it’s worth?”
Lyster examined it closely, his head bent to hide his eyes. “To you, do you mean?”
“Oh, I’ll be on the level with a friend.”
“Give you a couple of hundred for it.”
“Maybe. But it’s not worth that to either of us. It’s hard to sell a stone like that. Too easily kept track of. And to me it’s only worth giving away. A bit shallow, too, isn’t it? There are certain proportions that have to be followed in a good stone.” He held it close to his eyes. “What’s this on the band—rust? I thought it was platinum.”
Lyster nodded affably. “That’s right. . . . I might make it two-fifty.”
“I ain’t giving it away, not to nobody.”
thrust the ring in his pocket, and Lyster knew he had lost his chance. “I don’t
need the dough now. I’ll keep it till I do. It’s brought me luck.”
“When you think of selling,” Lyster said idly, “give me first chance.”
The tone belied his feelings, for he had seen the ring on
Sydney’s finger in the wash-room that first
night, and inside he had read: “ Shirley, from Uncle.” And the stain was
Shirley Cringan’s blood. On the side of George Sydney’s chin, too, was a mole
he had fixed in his mind that memorable night, and the man’s ears were hairy.
As the journey drew to an end Redfern’s attentions increased, and gradually
Sydney melted to his advances.
The two, with Lyster a moderate partner, spent much of the time drinking in the smoking-room,
dislike of Redfern vanishing before the latter’s willingness to foot the bills.
Redfern’s apologetic approach, one finger modestly scratching his cheek, became
a familiar introduction to a night’s carousal.
It was the night before they were due to reach
The Cornish coast lay on their left, a broken line of cliff and upland, with
scattered white homes and unobtrusive lighthouses. Friends of the voyage were
vowing everlasting memory in last-minute intimacies, and even persistent
strangers smiled on one another.
Lyster, Sydney and Redfern met in the smoking-room. For an hour they drowned old antagonisms and pledged eternal friendship in succeeding glasses. Sydney and Redfern showed unmistakable signs of over-indulgence, but Lyster had quietly kept his head clear by confining himself to a single drink. But he had smoked a lot, and his eyes appeared heavy with sleep. The other two almost ignored him. He yawned flagrantly.
“If you don’t mind,” he murmured sleepily, “I’ll turn in. See you in the morning,
Sydney, and don’t forget
lunch at the Strand Corner House day after to-morrow, if we get separated at
the wharf. I’ll be taking a later train to London. A friend I want to see in Southampton.”
But Lyster, with a wave of his hand, withdrew. Redfern called for another bottle.
half-heartedly to interpose. It was his turn. But Redfern would not consider
it. “Make it two Scotches instead, buddy,” he ordered of the bar-tender. “And
have one yourself.” He flung a ten-shilling note toward the counter.
Sydney reached for his
glass Redfern thrust his hand back.
“One minute, ol’ friend, one minute. This one’s a toast." He nestled the two glasses in the crook of one arm and laid his other hand over them. “Whadyu say? Le’s have one, a big one. Here ’tis: ‘To future meetings, over here and back home.’ You’ll be back in God’s country soon, eh?”
“You bet yer life—some time.”
“Well, there 'tis: ‘Future meetings, and may we know each other better.' Drink, you sponge!”
With a maudlin chuckle he shoved one of the glasses across the table.
Sydney swallowed his in two gulps, and at the
end licked his lips with a slight frown.
“Damn poor stuff they serve here!” he grumbled.
Redfern wiped his forehead. “Hot in here, ain’t it, buddy?”
“How about some air ? Do us both good. Then a night-cap and we’ll call it a day.”
They linked arms and staggered to the open deck, while the bar-tender winked after them.
“The worst of this job,” he grumbled, “is I lose my best customers every nine days.”
Through the porthole Lyster watched the sun rise. Land lay on either side as they slid slowly along. The
he had left in something of a panic three years ago lay before him, but he was
not thinking of it. He wondered what lay ahead, what adventures, but
principally what success. With some trepidation he realized how little he had
to ensure success, though he had left New
York with less prospect than now.
Someone knocked on the cabin door, and he called: "Come in.” He did not turn, thinking it was the steward.
He heard the door open and close, and he turned to see
standing against it, his face red with anger. Lyster’s heart missed a beat.
“All ready to land?” he asked.
Lyster’s eyes widened with surprise. “Plucked? You mean you’ve been robbed?”
“That ring’s gone.”
“You mean—the ring you showed me the other day?”
“Wait a minute. You don’t mean you think Redfern stole that ring?”
“That’s what. He got me spifled—drugged me or something. I think I can drink anyone under the table. But I just remember getting out on deck, feeling like the devil—and this morning I wake up on my bunk with my clothes all on, and the ring’s gone. Three hundred bucks gone. That’s what you offered, wasn’t it?”
Lyster did not correct him. “What are you going to do about it?”
“I’m looking for him, damn his hide! I’ll make him come across, or I’ll hand him to the police—if I don’t cut his blasted liver out!” His eyes were suddenly bloodshot with the intensity of his fury. “The damned, dirty thief! That’s what he’s been working me for all the time. He wanted that ring.”
“But how did he know—Oh, I see. He’d seen it on your finger. But you haven’t worn it for days.”
“Did he clean you out—your money, I mean?”
Sydney shook his head.
“That’s the funny part of it. He just took the ring.”
“But a thief would take your money first. Are you sure you haven’t mislaid it?”
He stormed from the cabin. Lyster followed. As if the scene was prepared, they came face to face with Redfern in the passage.
clutched him by the shoulder and dragged him back into Lyster’s cabin and
slammed the door.
He thrust his red face into Redfern’s. “Now, you dirty thief, come across with that ring!”
With no apparent effort Redforn threw his hand off. “Just what are you talking about?” he demanded. He turned to glower at Lyster. “Say, what is this, anyway? Better spill it, and make it short. The boat lands in a few minutes. I’m waiting.” He folded his arms, and as he stood he towered two inches above his accuser.
But the latter was too furious to notice what little chance he would have in a clash. He strode up to Redfern and shook his fist in his face.
“You know what I mean. If you don’t hand over that ring, Redfern, I’ll get the police on you the minute we land.”
“What ring?” Redfern remained calm.
It only added to
anger. “The ring you stole last night, you damned thief, after you doped my
whisky! You got me drunk and cleaned me out.”
“I did, did I?” Redfern remained undisturbed. “Well, it’s funny I spent so much money on you if I doped you. One drink would have been enough for that. You speak of a ring. Is that the girl’s ring you were wearing? I haven’t seen it on you lately. I thought maybe you’d found a skirt on the boat who liked it.”
“It was stolen off me last night, I tell you,”
raved, “and you did it. If you don’t pony up you’ll be in the hoosegow the
minute we land.”
Redfern thrust his face forward, and his eyes flashed.
"I will, will I? You’d get me into a row, would you, whether I stole your ring or not? You’d accuse me of theft, and I’d have to wriggle out of it by myself. Well,
Sydney, I haven’t time for
that. I haven’t time to bother with you. Go ahead and hand me over to the police.
Then come along and explain where you got that girl’s ring. It might even be
that the ring would turn up, and the police would ask questions about it. That
ring didn’t belong to you. All one needed to know that is your ugly mug and the
kind of ring it was. And the English police are a nosy lot. All right, go
ahead. I’m easily found.”
He wheeled and stalked from the cabin, slamming the door behind him.
For a moment or two
glared at the closed door, and the colour left his face. Lifting his fists, he
“If I ever lay eyes on Redfern again I’ll drill a hole in him!”
LYSTER saw no more of
Avoiding him while passing the Customs, he left the wharf as quickly as he
could and seated himself in the lounge of an hotel. There he waited, his eye on
the door. An hour later Redfern entered. He looked about, saw Lyster, and made
straight for him.
“Well,” he said, with a shrug, “so far so good.” He drew the diamond ring from his pocket and dropped it in Lyster’s hand. “This may look all right to you. It doesn’t to me. Getting the ring doesn’t bother me. It’s the man I’m after. What’s the big idea, anyway?” He sank morosely into a chair. “We start out to get The Skunk, run into a bit of wonderful luck, and you refuse to make the most of it. My job is to get these men, and it doesn’t matter a damn the order in which I get them! That’s what I’m paid for—”
“You’re paid, Redfern,” Lyster replied, “to get the gang that killed poor Hutton, but you’re also paid to do what I say.”
Redfern bounced forward. “I do what you say so long as it doesn’t interfere with my duty. Mr. Hornbaker gave me a job. If any scheme of yours threatens to block that, I’d rather throw the whole thing up than lend myself to it.”
Lyster leaned back in the chair and tipped his fingers together.
“Don’t imagine I’m going to interfere with our final success. I’m more concerned with that than you. If I happen to have a different idea of the way to carry it through, I have to be convinced I’m wrong. We’re after The Skunk, of course. But we’re as near him now as ever, and will be next week, if we follow my plan. The Skunk can wait. He won’t if we proceed too precipitately. This stroke of luck means more than you imagine, Redfern, and we must look at all the possible contingencies. I don’t propose to lose sight of
“You’d have no further worry about him, and we could have gone straight on for The Skunk, if you’d let me hand him over to the police right here. But you let him get away, and—who knows?”
Lyster spoke in a lower tone, for there were several seated in the lounge.
“Listen, Redfern, and try to look ahead. We’re after the whole gang, not just one here and there. Mr. Hornbaker will not be satisfied if a single one escapes—as dissatisfied as if the whole lot evade the punishment they deserve. We haven’t let
escape. He’ll meet me to-morrow at the Corner House in London.”
“You’ve a vast and surprising credulity,” Redfern scoffed, “if you think so. He’s half warned now, and he’s wholly frightened. He’ll beat it out of the country straight off. I know these chaps.”
“Did he take the
train?” Lyster asked, feeling less confident.
He did, Redfern admitted. “I trailed him from the moment we landed. And
Sydney is always on the
look-out for that. He’s no fool, and no novice. I’m convinced we’ll never have
such a chance at him again.”
Lyster shook his head. “I’ve several reasons for letting him go now. We can’t afford to be held up in
at this time, perhaps for months, fooling about with extradition, partly
because we haven’t the time, more because the publicity of it would warn the
others. If they know we’re on their trail, to the extent of following them
abroad, our chances for taking them are slim. They’d avoid the only spots we
know to search for them. That girl gave us the only clues we have to go by, and
if we came out into the papers now they’d know what’s in for them.”
"But we have to start with one some time,” Redfern grumbled, more than half convinced.
“I’m hoping,” Lyster said, “that their association in
America will bring them together
over there, and that we’ll be on hand at the meeting. Remember that Sydney has no cause, that
he knows of, to be frightened of me. That’s what I count on.”
“Then you and I must separate again.”
“Certainly. Until we’re through with
“My inclination is to make a job as cheap as possible for my employer, and this means uncertainty and loss of valuable time.”
“My one consideration,” Lyster said, “is final success.”
They sat in silence for a time, Redfern’s disquiet displayed by his habit of scratching his cheek.
“We got to keep this in mind,” Lyster went on. "We’re going to find ourselves in countries none too kindly disposed toward the
United States. There isn’t one of
them but would be able to do what Greece did with Insull and refuse
to hand our men over. Besides, we have to confess that we show too little
enthusiasm and success in convicting and punishing our own criminals to expect
other countries to do our work for us.”
Redfern smiled. “You speak as an American.”
“I’m doing an American job—for an American employer.”
“All right. I’m content to let it run for a time to see how your plan works, but I’m afraid you’re dreaming.”
“If I am I hope I find it out soon enough to alter my plan. If I knew you were with me to the end I’d feel safer.”
Redfern grasped his hand without a word.
“I’ll put up at the
Lyster said. “There are several entrances, to different streets. You’ll stop at
another hotel, but you can get to me without being seen. Call me up and I’ll
give you my room number.”
Redfern, experienced detective that he was, knew his man.
Sydney failed to keep the appointment at the
Corner House. Lyster, disturbed and not a little chagrined by this further
evidence of his associate’s superior wisdom, was for the moment inclined to
alter his plans immediately. But Redfern did not rub it in, and Lyster,
encouraged thereby, recovered some of his confidence.
“We’ll find him.”
In their long talks
Sydney had mentioned a little Soho restaurant where he hoped to get some of his
favourite Italian dishes. His mouth watered for his beloved ravioli. Lyster
recalled the name of the restaurant, and for dinner next day visited it in the
hope that his quarry might not have been in too great a hurry to gratify his
He found it a small place, with only half a dozen tables and two waiters. But the meal was excellent, and Lyster lingered over it, betraying his satisfaction so frankly that waiter and proprietor beamed on him.
He hoped that
Sydney might appear.
Balked of that, he engaged the waiter in conversation.
“Your ravioli is all it was described,” he declared.
“The gentleman has heard of us?” the waiter asked, delighted.
“Indeed I have. A friend of mine, coming over on the boat, spoke of you in glowing terms.”
“We have a reputation, sir,” the waiter glowed. "We use the real Italian recipes. You notice the menu? Perhaps you missed the number of Italian cities mentioned. Every city at home has its own special dish named after it. But it’s our ravioli that brings us our patrons mostly.” He chuckled. “We had a man yesterday—no, day before yesterday—he ordered four dishes of it and cleaned them all up. Said he was making up for years of American food. I hope you’re not American, sir?” apologetically.
Lyster’s ears pricked up. “I’ve lived there, but I’m English born. . . . This man—he was here day before yesterday, you say. I wonder—but it couldn’t be. I was wondering—but it's absurd—if he’s the man who recommended you to me. We crossed together—just reached
day before yesterday. What did he look like?”
The waiter considered. “He was a biggish chap, sort of rough-looking. I don’t mean he wasn’t well dressed, but he looked as if he’d led a hard life.”
“Did you notice his ears?”
“His ears?” The waiter was puzzled.
“Were they hairy?”
“Come to think of it, I believe they were.”
“And did he have a mole on his chin?”
The waiter beamed. “That’s right. He did. I remember now.”
Sydney,” Lyster exclaimed
Sydney? But this man was
certainly an Italian. He talked of Italy all the time. He was born
there—lived there until ten years ago, then he went to America. He was born not far from
my own native village. Chiavari, it was, a town on the coast between Genoa and Pisa.
I was born at Zoagli, the old home of velvet. They don’t do much there now—not
in velvet, I mean; the factories have cut out the house-looms.” He chattered
on, for the restaurant had emptied.
Lyster listened, asked questions, and left a-tingle, after leaving a handsome tip.
Chiavari blazed in the sun as Roland Lyster dropped from the train, and with the assistance of a phrase-book found his way to an hotel. Fluent at French, he had little knowledge of Italian, though he could gather its meaning in type.
He chose the best hotel, situated on the main street, a half mile of over-hanging buildings designed to protect the sidewalks from the summer sun. Great stone columns between walk and roadway supported the projections, so that the shops were dark, and pedestrians almost invisible from the passing traffic. Though it was late December, the day was hot, the shade of the covered street not unwelcome.
The desk-clerk saw the phrase-book and grinned. “Gosh, it’s good to see someone from dear ole Lunnun.” Lyster did not smile. Even three years in
America had failed to reconcile him
to such a wide familiarity. But he took the extended hand. He wondered, too,
that he retained so plainly the marks of his origin.
When the clerk learned that his guest had lived in
America he became more friendly.
“Lived there twelve years myself,” he confided. “Worked in a restaurant on
State Street in old
Chi. Came over during the war, and now I can’t get back. The town is full of
fellows in the same fix. Most of us got crocked up fighting for America
and her allies, but because we were away more than a year they wouldn’t let us
back. That’s gratitude for you. But we’re getting reconciled to it after
fifteen years. You won’t need a phrase-book in Chiavari. In any crowd there’ll
be someone who speaks English. How'd you come to strike this place?”
Lyster had but one thought in mind—to find
and with difficulty he restrained himself from starting in immediately to ask
questions. But “ Sydney,”
he knew, was only a boat-name, and Toni had known him only as Dago George.
Besides, Chiavari was too small to hope to conceal his curiosity. It was small
enough, he concluded, to find Sydney,
if he was there, by merely keeping his eye on the main street.
All that day and the next he wandered about, window-shopping, visiting the churches, but missing nothing about him. He drank chianti before outdoor cafés, and always dined in public where he could watch the street. He was the curious tourist.
On the third day he was strolling in the shade of the overhanging buildings, a little discouraged, undecided what to do should he fail to locate his man. A window of antiques attracted his attention, and he paused before it. A man passed behind him, and he caught the reflection in the glass. In a moment, without so much as looking around, he turned away and crossed the street to the other pavement. Seating himself before a café, he called for café latta.
Through the thick stone pillars he saw
enter a shop at the corner. A waiter filled a glass at his hand half with
coffee, half with milk, and Lyster raised it automatically to his lips. At that
emerged, and Lyster, setting down the glass, dropped a two-lire piece on the
table and departed.
The end of his quest had come so unexpectedly that he was unprepared for it. All he could think of was that he must not lose sight of his man, now that he had found him again. As he crossed the street he was held up for several seconds by a team of slow-moving oxen, and he grated his teeth. To run ahead would attract attention, and all he could do was wait.
At that moment a motor horn blared furious warning, and he looked around to see a large open car, with a “G.B.” above the licence plate, bearing down on him. He stepped back, and as it passed he leaped to the running-board. The driver, a young man, hatless and fair-haired, turned to stare at him. Beyond him a pretty girl looked surprised but not protestant.
“What the devil!”
Lyster opened the rear door. “As a fellow- countryman,” he pleaded hurriedly, “give me a lift for a moment. I’ll explain.”
The excitement of his manner, his obvious seriousness, had its immediate effect.
“Help yourself,” said the girl. “This is my car, Jack, you know,” as her companion seemed about to protest. “Now what’s your special trouble? Mussolini?”
“There’s a man gone up the street there,” Lyster explained, “and I want him badly.”
“Want me to run him down—in a strange land?” the young man laughed. “Who’d he murder?”
“He was with a gang that did commit murder,” Lyster told him. “And he locked half a dozen of us in a vault to smother to death.”
“Good Lord! All right, if the curb’s not too high I can manufacture an accident. Where is he?” He pressed the accelerator.
But the answer was not forthcoming.
had vanished. They could see along both sides of the street now, and Sydney was not in sight.
“He’s gone again,” Lyster murmured miserably.
“Well, you can’t lose him in a village this size. I’ll run up and down the street for a month if you say so. We’re sure to catch him at a crossing some time. You stick to us. Marjorie and I were on the way to
by way of Pisa,
but what’s a leaning tower to the nice fresh corpse of a murderer?”
Lyster laughed. It was his first real laugh since leaving
New York, and he felt better for it.
“No,” he said, “this is too serious to bring strangers into it. But you don’t know how it bucks me up to know we Britishers can yet stick together.” He opened the door. “Trot along to your leaning tower. You’ll probably be dizzy—and disappointed. An oddity in a cornfield—and the dullest of towns. Thanks awfully, old chap. And,” with a laugh, “I haven’t permitted myself to say that for three years.”
The car pulled to a stop, and Lyster, with a deep bow to Marjorie, dropped to the roadway. He felt brighter, more confident, brisker. He returned straightway to the shop he had seen
enter, but when he found himself inside he felt helpless. He fumbled for his
phrase-book, but a phrase-book is noted for the number of things it contains
that no one wishes to say, and the number it lacks that one cannot get along
A man came forward and with a laugh pointed to the little book. “Say it in English,” he advised in perfect English. “I’m one of the thousands of unfortunates stranded in
Italy because we fought
on the same side as America.”
Lyster felt like throwing his arms about the man’s neck.
“I was passing in a car a few minutes ago,” he said, a little breathlessly, “and I saw a man leaving your store that I used to know. He looked like a man I met on board ship a week or so ago. I’d have got out, but I was with friends who were in a hurry.”
“That would be Giuseppi—Giuseppi Anselmi. He’s just back from
America on a visit.”
“Is he staying here—in the town?”
“He lives here. At least, his mother does. Giuseppi was born here. He wasn’t in the war; he was lucky—too young.”
“Where does his mother live?"
The man told him. Lyster thanked him and went. He decided that he could not draw back now—no half-way measures. To act with boldness was best and safest. He made straight for Giuseppi Anselmi's mother’s home.
A block behind him a man in a soft hat pulled well down over his eyes kept pace with him.
As Roland Lyster followed the directions he had received he began to realize the task he had set himself. He needed none of Hornbaker’s inflexible determination to hold him to his task, but these operations in foreign lands offered special perils, not so much to himself as to his purpose. He was not up on international law, and he knew how consuls the world over dislike the diplomatic complications that arise from their nationals making themselves conspicuous by infringing the local laws, even innocently. And consuls the world over look on their jobs as well-salaried sinecures not to be agitated by incidents that alone justify their position. Besides, the impossibility of providing in advance for the difficulties that were bound to crop up in the chase made of every incident an emergency for Lyster.
He began to wonder if he was not taking too much on himself and leaving too little to Redfern, the professional.
It was not that he anticipated any immediate embarrassment in meeting
again, but he had no way of foreseeing what Sydney would do to block or assist him in the
end. The Italian would not suspect him, in spite of the unpleasant incident
that had marked their last meeting on the boat, but Lyster was not so certain
that he could satisfy his quarry concerning a visit to such an unfrequented
town as Chiavari.
There was no alternative, however, to renewing their acquaintance in order to maintain contact.
The Anselmi home was a typical Italian house of the lower middle class. A high stone wall extended across its front, with a heavy iron gate that opened on a flagstone walk. Through the gate he could see an orchard of orange trees, and grape vines were trained over a trellis. The wall was overgrown with heliotrope, a curtain of colour that rose as well over one side of a summer-house perched on the wall beside the gate and reached by a flight of wooden steps.
So peaceful it looked, so calmly isolated, that Lyster felt his heart sicken for his task. The house was well cared for, a bower of green, with spots of yellow oranges gleaming through the leaves. On the covered platform over the gate were two cane chairs, and before the door was another pair. Potted plants lined the steps to the summer-house. Two lizards chased themselves over the rough wall in the sun. A cat lay basking on a window-sill.
Lyster tore himself away. He could envision the mother, gentle, kindly, friendly Northern Italian, so different from the Sicilians and Neapolitans that made up the Italians America knew, the foundation for so much misunderstanding of the Latin nation. Yet there were exceptions, Giuseppi for one.
Lyster turned and walked back to the gate. And as he walked he saw Hutton’s crumpled body and the blood on Shirley Cringan’s hand—the stain on the ring he carried at that moment in his pocket.
Those high stone walls, too, and those iron gates, locked, of course—in them was a story of a life that differed from his conception of the Northern Italian. Lawlessness there, too.
He found the gate locked, as he expected. The bell-wire hung down the side of the wall, and when he pulled it a small black-and-white terrier dashed from the house with a shrill outcry that made further summons redundant. It slithered to a stop just through the iron bars and continued to bark.
A chair scraped beyond the open door, and a small, old woman appeared, wiping her hands on her apron. Old as she was, she carried herself erect, with the poise of the woman who has borne her burdens on her head, the carriage of the queen among peasants.
“Buon’ giorno,” she murmured, in a soft voice.
Lyster mustered a stumbling reply, and her face wrinkled understandingly.
“You no spik Italiano,” she said. “I spik Eengleesh. She took a huge iron key from the door-jamb and trotted down the flagged walk, the sunlight flickering dizzily on her through the leaves as she came.
"I'm glad of that," Lyster said. "We can get along better in English. I was wanting to see your son,” he said, as she hesitated inside the gate, with the key in the lock. “I happened to see him on the street to-day, I think. I met him on the boat coming across.”
The old woman unlocked the gate, smiling and excited. “Giuseppi?” she asked, and her tone trembled with affection. “My Giuseppi come home few days. I learn Eengleesh when Giuseppi over there, so maybe I go some day. I call him. He sleeps! Come een, per piacere—plees.”
The terrier smelled doubtfully at Lyster’s leg, but decided it was none of his business and trotted back to lie in the sun. The woman directed the visitor to one of the wicker chairs before the door and went inside.
Lyster sat where she had left him, strangely upset, uncertain of himself, the peaceful scene tugged at his heart, the mother’s crying affection. The terrier lay watching him, this stranger from a foreign land, distrustful, unfriendly, but remote. The cat, irresponsible, rose from the sill, stretched itself, and, leaping to the flags, came to rub itself against Lyster’s ankles. Lyster stooped to fondle it.
A window opened softly over his head, and Lyster, looking up, caught a glimpse of
Sydney’s retiring face.
“Hello, Syd—Anselmi! What luck! I happened to see you in town—”
head reappeared, none too welcoming. “I’ll come down.” The window dropped.
In a few minutes
appeared in the doorway, a chill, speculative, somewhat suspicious look in his
“How the devil did you run across me here?”
Lyster told the story he had prepared. “This is a small world, isn’t it,
Sydney? It’s funny how—”
“Better call me by my right name around here,”
"Sure. You didn’t keep our lunch engagement at the Corner House. I was disappointed.”
Sydney took a long time
lighting a cigar; he did not offer Lyster one. “When I found myself so near
home I couldn’t wait: I just cut for Chiavari. Where are you going?”
“Nowhere in particular.” Lyster shrugged. “So long as I can keep out of the way of certain people, I’m enjoying myself—comparatively. This place is out of the tourist track. That suits me—for a while.” “But how did you come to stop off here?”
Sydney was not satisfied.
“I heard something about it in
I’ve a girl with expensive tastes. One of them is lace and linens. You’ve got
them here better than anywhere else in Europe,
I’m told. I missed out on that diamond. By the way, did you ever find it?”
“Not a chance. That thief Redfern got his hands on it for good. I only hope I meet up with him soon.”
“He looked like a nasty man to cross,” Lyster warned. “There isn’t much he wouldn’t do to get a fellow into trouble, I’d say.”
“If I run across him he won’t have a chance to get anyone into trouble again.”
The old mother appeared in the doorway, smiling blandly on them. She addressed her son in Italian, and
“She wants you to stay to supper,” he told Lyster. “You won’t get what you’re used to—”
“Thank you and her, no. I’m paying for my meals at the hotel, whether I eat them or not. But I’d like you to come down and dine with me to-night.” For a moment he fought with himself. “If your mother would come, too, I’d be delighted.” It burst from him, in spite of a crowding terror that the invitation would be accepted, for he had an old-fashioned respect for the claims of one who had broken bread as his guest.
Sydney’s reply was prompt
enough. “No, she wouldn’t like it.” He said something laughingly to his mother
in Italian, and the old woman smiled at Lyster and returned to the house after
a friendly "riverderci! You come
“The old woman wouldn’t like it if I ate out,
said. “I’ll just hang around here as long as I’m in Chiavari.”
“Are you thinking of leaving soon?” Lyster asked, relieved by the man’s refusal, but disturbed by the prospect of further wandering that could only complicate his plan.
They had reached the main street and turned into the shade of the projecting buildings. The traffic of the roadway, from ox-carts to the grandest automobiles, most of the latter containing tourists passing through from
toward the Riviera,
was oddly excluded by the intermittent pillars supporting the projecting
structures overhead. Lyster began to realize that he had reached an impasse. If
Chiavari how could he hope to keep in touch with him without exciting
suspicion? And if he remained he had a shrewd suspicion that Mussolini would be
hard to convince that he should give Sydney
To gain time to think, Lyster drew up before a window in which an elaborate lace bed-spread was on display, and
stood waiting, slightly amused.
“Betcha a fiver your girl wouldn’t know the difference between Chiavari lace and—”
Lyster turned at the sudden silence, to see
creeping along the wall. He stared, and as Sydney started swiftly away he followed,
completely puzzled. Around the first corner they went, Sydney still several paces ahead.
Sydney! Sydney! What’s the hurry? I thought we were—”
“Oh, I’m that way,” he laughed. “You were more interested in a bit of lace. I was tired waiting. But it’s later than I thought. Mother’ll be waiting supper for me. Good-bye.” He walked abruptly away.
“Don’t forget to-morrow,” Lyster called. “I must taste some of the real native wine. You promised.”
Lyster sighed. “That did it. He saw you.”
“It’s too big a job for any man to keep out of sight in this town of a fellow like
Sydney, who’s always
looking for trouble. It’s so dark under these buildings—and I didn’t see you’d
stopped until I was almost on you.” He drew up to examine himself in a store
window. “I thought this make-up might pass. I see I must be more careful. I’ll
clear out now. I'll make for Rapallo—the
Savoia Hotel. You’ll have to keep him in sight yourself until this scare wears
Sydney was already out of
sight. Next day he did not keep their appointment, and Lyster, calling at his
home, was told that he had gone away.
“Just a little visit to
his mother said. “He won’t be long.” And from its wording Lyster knew it was a
message passed on from her son.
A wire to Redfern brought him back and they set out for
Florence; there was nowhere else to go. But
two weeks of persistent search failed to find the man they sought.
The pair put their heads together, but they could think of nothing except that
Sydney, frankly suspicious
and frightened of Redfern, and now eluding Lyster as well, introduced a new and
It was then that Lyster thought of
BRUCE REDFERN’S experience in the criminal world was wide and his reputation excellent, but in the pursuit of the gang that had brought on itself the vendetta of Nathan Hornbaker he had often thus far found himself at a loss. He was to find himself in greater and more threatening dilemmas before the chase was finished.
Accustomed to planning his own campaigns, he found it difficult to mould his ideas to Lyster’s. The result was an unwonted succession of emergencies for which he was not prepared. It did not do him justice, and he worried under it.
Lyster’s plan was not his from the first, and the very fact that it fitted in neither to his conception of success nor of economy irritated him, and at times made him difficult to work with. To see known criminals going their way when they might have been arrested with more assurance of success, as he thought, and great saving of expense decreased at times his own effectiveness.
Lyster’s suggestion of
therefore, he seized with the eagerness of one who had no clues of his own. Sydney’s gambling
proclivities, added to his enthusiastic approval of the resort to Lyster,
inclined him to think the suggestion worth more than some others of his
“But,” he warned, “we’re up against a new condition with
Sydney. I must not only keep under cover, but
he suspects me now of disguise and of pursuing him . . . and I don’t see how
you’re going to make contact without establishing a suspicion that must already
be in his mind. Don’t forget, too, that the man’s desperate.”
That, indeed, worried him not a little—that the dangerous work must, in this case, be taken from his shoulders and placed on another’s.
But Roland Lyster was not without a plan, and without consulting Redfern he set about putting it into operation.
It was one of the French Riviera’s few winter rainy days when he and Redfern alighted at Mentone. In separate taxis, a couple of hours apart, they motored to
Monte Carlo, putting up at
different hotels. Lyster chose the Hôtel de Paris, sending Redfern to another
close by. Sydney
was not likely to appear in either, and they were close enough to keep in touch
and get together at a moment’s notice.
Securing a room overlooking the entrance to the Casino, Lyster set himself to watch the stream of gamblers entering and leaving. For an afternoon and a morning
Sydney did not appear, or
if he did he was submerged in the crowds. At lunch, served in his room, Lyster
discussed it with Redfern.
It was then that the experience and patience of the trained detective came to the fore. He was not depressed. Standing at the window, he watched the milling crowd dropping down the Casino steps and hurrying to lunch, some stopping at the café. It required no experience to pick out the habitues. The open space before the Café de Paris was black with diners.
“There are five hundred in sight all the time at these hours,” he encouraged. “It’s humanly impossible to be certain of noticing them all. Are there not, too, other entrances?” He paced the length of the room and back. “I hate to advise it, but the only thing I see is for you to visit the gambling-rooms. You must take the chance. Monte Carlo is on the usual route of the wanderer, as you’re supposed to be; so that even if he sees you it may be all right. I’m out of the question. I’m sorry, but—”
“Why sorry?” Lyster asked.
“Because there’s danger in it. I mean physical danger. No, not right there in the Casino, but
the sort of man that if he is convinced you’re trailing him will do something
desperate. And I don’t think you’re competent to anticipate his deviltries.
He’d get you out somewhere and kill you—just like that.” He snapped his
Lyster smiled. “Are you jealous? Do you think I came on this chase without some sense of the character of these men? Your turn will come, Redfern Sydney happens, by force of circumstances, to be my meat."
He sat for some time thinking. He was not satisfied. He was not sure that his plan might not be advanced by Redfern exposing himself.
“Suppose he sees me?” he said.
“That’s a risk we must take. You'll have to act according to the emergency that arises. I’m reluctant to throw this on you, Lyster, but I see no other way. If you wish, it’s always easy to escape in that crowd. The rooms will be packed. My own impression, from what I know of
is that he’ll be too deeply absorbed in the tables to notice anyone.
Lyster waited for the busiest hour, about half-past three, before purchasing his entrance ticket. "The kitchen,” the first and cheaper gambling section, was so crowded that he felt his heart sink. He could scarcely advance between the tables, and among those hundreds
might well escape him. A cruise-boat had arrived, and the half thousand
passengers had flocked to the tables. All about him he heard the familiar
American voice, made more audible by the excitement and the strangeness of the
Slowly he made his way among the tables, eyeing their groups in detail, striving to conceal his interest. His beard had grown by this time to a neatly-trimmed wedge, so that he had no fear of being recognized by anyone but
At a table in the south room, called into use only for the afternoon crowds, he found the man he sought.
Lyster had been twice to
before, taken there during the Christmas holidays by his pleasure-loving
mother, so that the scene was not new to him. He recognized immediately that Sydney was working a
“system.” He saw, too, that the odds of his system, playing transversal simple,
were too small to mean anything but that the man’s funds were low. Sydney was a plunger. His
bloodshot eyes and nervous mien verified the suspicion.
For a few turns of the wheel Lyster watched, then, having learned what he came for, he retired. Redfern immediately took up the trail, this time carefully disguised. So that when
left the Casino at six o’clock an awkward-looking, absent-minded professor was
not far behind him. Mingling with the emerging crowd, Sydney passed around to the terrace and
dropped down the long flight of stairs toward the station, from there climbing
to a small hotel in Beausoleil.
Redfern returned to the Hôtel de Paris. “And now what?” He was impatient, throwing the responsibility on Lyster’s shoulders.
Lyster had little to say. In his own mind he had to confess that their repeated good fortune gave no promise of final success.
could go about his business in Monte
Carlo in the open and snap his fingers in their faces.
“We must keep in touch with him,” he replied lamely. “Something is bound to turn up.”
“There was a character in Dickens like that,” Redfern retorted in some disgust. “Don’t you think you’d better come clean about this wonderful plan of yours? If I’m to help, it looks nothing but reasonable that I should know my part.”
Lyster explained. His idea was, he said, to keep in contact with their quarry until he returned to
That he was bound to do sooner or later. Nothing in Europe would satisfy him
after a lifetime in the United
“And so we’re to make a life job of it? Not I.”
“Then we must do something to hasten their return.”
“How? The plan is admirable—if it works. What can I do?”
Lyster squirmed. “I’m working on that. Give me a day or two. Between us we can surely think of some way.”
Next afternoon Lyster again visited the Casino. The crowd was not so great, for the cruise-boat was gone to the next hectic shore amusement, but there were gamblers and spectators enough to make him feel safe.
Sydney in the same chair
at the same table. The crowd at his back was so thick that it was several
minutes before Lyster could get more than a glimpse of his rounded shoulders
and one hairy ear. For a better view he worked around the end of the table. One
of the players seated beside the croupier at that end rose in disgust, cleaned
out, and pushed through the crowd, leaving a temporary view of Sydney’s side of the
Lyster took one look and dropped abruptly away and fled.
Redfern was not in his room where he had left him, but the telephone brought him from his hotel on the run. Lyster met him at the door and clutched his arm. His face was flushed with excitement.
“God, Redfern! What luck! Frenchy is there with him! They’re playing together, Sydney and he!”
“Did you see Frenchy? How would you recognize him?”
Lyster smiled. “I couldn’t mistake those ears—protruding, with wide lobes. A mask never covers the ears. It was the ears of the gang I fixed in my mind that night. Besides, I recognize his manner of holding himself, and a habit he has of jerking his head.”
Redfern leaped to action. “Cut across there again and keep them in sight till I join you. I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.”
Lyster hurried back to the Casino. The pair were still at the table, Sydney red-eyed and intent, Frenchy fidgety and bad-tempered.
it was plain, was gambling with Frenchy’s money, too—and losing. Lyster kept
them in sight. In half an hour an elderly man, with bent shoulders and
eye-glasses, strolled into the room and looked contemptuously about. As he
passed Lyster he pinched his arm.
Lyster left the Casino. The elderly man remained.
“THERE’S something in the air, Lyster, and when a pair like that get their heads together it’s a dirty sign. They have long confabs in
Sydney’s room, but I can hear only a word now
and then. I’m afraid the clerk suspects I had a reason for insisting on the
Redfern and Lyster were talking it over in the latter’s quarters. He had changed his room to a corner one, where he could see the door of the Casino, the Café de Paris, the
Mediterranean, and a bit of the terrace
that, in the morning, was always thronged Redfern was in his old-man disguise,
which he kept in Lyster’s room to avoid unpleasant inquiries in his own hotel.
The detective lolled in one of the easy-chairs, eyeing Lyster with some impatience. The latter had taken his stand before the window over the water, a view of which he never tired. The sea glistened in the sun, shafts of shifting light against a background of brilliant blue. The
Côte d’Azur. A yacht race was in
progress, the line of white-winged butterflies leaning before the wind.
“We don’t need to worry,” Lyster said, "as long as they’re content to stay in
“But what good does that do us?"
“Something will turn up—we’ll find a way out. Time plays into our hands more than into theirs. In a few days they’ll be penniless.”
“They’ll make for the one country where they know how to make easy money.”
“And how will they get there—without money?” No answer forthcoming, he continued. “No, I’ll tell you what will happen: we’ll never have a chance to lay hands on them.”
“Lawlessness gets short shift in
The Casino can stand anything but that.”
Lyster asked nervously: “What do you mean?”
Sydney and Frenchy will
try other means of making money—and that will end our game. There’s too much
money about this place for them to go straight for long, even if they don’t
lose at the tables. But every franc that comes to Monte Carlo belongs to the Casino—or they
think it does. The first move these crooks make to clean someone out they’ll
find themselves in jail for life, or thereabouts. . . . If they had their
choice I’m sure they’d prefer American justice to the Casino’s.”
“Do you think we might—” Lyster saw the twinkle in the detective’s eyes. “All right, then we must keep them out of a
Redfern scoffed. “Can a leopard change his spots?”
Lyster was back at the window again, his eyes unfocused, thinking hard. “Couldn’t we frighten them away—somehow?”
“Of course. I might introduce myself. They’d be sure to skip out—and leave us cold. But sooner or later these scamps are bound to get up against the law and when they do we might as well bid them good-bye. I’m afraid the
United States and its law
enforcement has roused an unfortunate appetite in them. There are so many ways
to make a living out there—most of them shady.”
Lyster couldn’t face it. “There’s another tourist boat dropping anchor off the harbour, he said inanely. “It’s the picture I like best to look at in all
Monte Carlo. There must be
another in, too; I heard a strange whistle early this morning. The crowds, too,
Redfern had seen it. “It’s hidden from here by the Casino—a big white boat. Well, I must get on my job again. I’m getting a permanent quaver in my voice with this disguise. But I warn you, Lyster,
and Frenchy have something on their mind; they’re up to some deviltry. Between
their losses at roulette and this plot they’re discussing they have some hot
words. I only hope it doesn’t break into too hot a flame before we’re through
with them. Anyone can see they hate the sight of each other, but a common past,
criminal association, binds them together. I'm off. And you’d better get some
exercise. I’ll have you sick on my hands if you sit all day at these windows.
Try a climb to La Turbie. It might clear your head."
Lyster ignored the hint in the detective’s final words. He did not climb to La Turbie. Instead, something drew him to the terrace, where the usual mid-forenoon crowd was airing itself and its foibles—actresses and their outlandish pets, old men and women with cats and dogs on leash, a woman in white with a parakeet on her shoulder, badly-dressed English women, garrulous Americans settling the woes of the world for the public to hear, demure French damsels with an eye to the easy mark, dusky Italians; officers of two nations, the French heavily gilded, the Italian with high grey caps and natty caped uniforms; Algerian rug-peddlars, bulgy-necked Germans.
Roland Lyster was not interested. He leaned on the stone railing and looked out over the most beautiful waterscape in the world. The yacht race was over, but the yachts lay at anchor like butterflies on a bank of flowers. Two great steamships were anchored off-shore. Against the towering white side of the larger hugged a little steam tender, and Lyster could see the passengers crowding into her for a day ashore. The other tourist boat, rebelling against the exorbitant fees asked by the tender—owned by the Casino, as is everything else in
Monaco operated at a profit—was
sending its passengers ashore in its own boats.
As the tender started toward the harbour Lyster detached himself from the railing and set out more or less aimlessly for the wharf. Taking his stand on a landing of the winding stair that dropped from the upper road to the wharf, he watched the passengers come ashore. Americans, of course. He recognized them by their eager manner, their unrestrained greetings and banter, their contagious acceptance of
Monte Carlo as
a creation for their special amusement.
Suddenly he started, almost losing his balance. Then, three steps at a time, he plunged downward, almost upsetting two men he passed on the way and bringing on his unobservant head the maledictions of an old woman who aimed a blow at him with her umbrella. A long line of taxis was drawn up on the wharf, and a group of three was climbing into one when Lyster rushed up to them.
“Well!” he exclaimed, choking for words, extending his hand to a lovely young girl who, turning her head ever so little, eyed him coldly.
“I think,” she said, “you’ve made a mistake,” and lifted her foot to the running-board.
The man of the party, already seated in the taxi, thrust his head out. “What do you want?"
Lyster’s face paled. Bewildered, he stepped back, his hand still extended. “ I—beg—your pardon, ’ he murmured.
The lips of the girl parted, and her eyes widened.
“Why—mumsie—if it isn’t Mr. Lyster!”
Only then did Lyster remember his disguising beard. “Another moment and I’d have doubted it myself, Miss Cringan,” he laughed. “How are you, Mrs. Cringan—and Mr. Cringan? I’d forgotten my adornment. Please tell me what you think of it."
“Mr. Lyster,” Shirley replied solemnly, “you’re a changed man.”
“Which, you’ll agree, is all to the good,” he returned. “But what are you doing here?”
Shirley waved a despairing hand. “Don’t ask that or there’ll be another change of itinerary. You remember the one we laid out? Well, it's been so useful to daddy—to tell him where he didn’t wish to go. The Cringans are like that—strong, independent, born of the soil, and all that. And now that we’ve told you everything, everything, give us a chance. What are you doing here? Have you taken that last desperate step we discussed, and broken away from uncle’s apron-strings? Have you a system to break the bank of
Monte Carlo? Have your
ambitions climbed to that lofty pinnacle?”
“Perhaps,” her mother broke in, “Mr. Lyster doesn’t wish to tell all he knows in one breath.”
“He’s been two years telling it to Uncle Nathan, and at the last reports he was still going strong. Such a widely-informed young man!”
Lyster ached to hit back, but for the life of him he couldn’t think of anything that fitted the case. He was always thus with Shirley.
“You’ll be at the Casino later, Mrs. Cringan,” he said, ignoring her daughter. “I’ll see you then. You’re driving along the Grande Corniche, of course. All tourists do.”
He was moving away when Shirley stopped him. “Perhaps you were going to invite us to dine at the Café de Paris,” she suggested dryly. “Don’t let us interfere with your plans.”
“I had thought of the Hôtel de Paris,” he said. Shirley frowned. “Beggars can’t be choosers, of course, but I’ve dreamed of the open before the café. Shall we say the café, then?”
“I’m afraid not. I’ve engaged a table at the hotel.” Lyster had no thought of exposing himself to discovery by
by eating in the open anywhere. “I would strongly recommend the hotel.”
“And I would strongly recommend the café, and since we originated the invitation—even at your expense—But, I see: your system at the tables doesn’t permit entertaining friends, even old friends. The alternative is that you be our guest.”
Lyster looked straight into her eyes. “There are some things you have yet to learn, Miss Cringan—such simple things as the relative cost of dining at the café and at the hotel. But I see the line is waiting to start. Ask for me at the hotel, please, when you return.” He lifted his hat and started away. “By the way” he turned back to call it at them—“ask for Mr. Simpson, Mr. Jasper Simpson.”
He had reached the foot of the steps when his arm was caught from behind, and he looked around into Shirley’s flushed cheeks.
“Plainly you need a chaperon, Mr. Lyster. ‘Jasper Simpson,’ forsooth! No, don’t worry about me. Mumsie and daddy were quite content to go without me. I’ve been a bore, I guess and you see the reputation you have for stodgy trustworthiness. It isn’t many men they’d entrust me to—being what I am. I can only gather they were gay young sparks themselves in their youth. Those whiskers just breathe stability and sobriety and stodginess.”
Lyster looked her over in some alarm. For the life of him he had no idea what to do with her.
“Monte Carlo is no place for a real lady alone,” she said demurely, linking her arm in his. “I feel like a plucked pigeon in all this gilded vice.”
“I notice how the Americans take to it,” he said. She retorted: “What do you know about the Americans? You’ve been there only three years. We talk about the great American melting-pot for Poles and Italians and Hungarians and other outlandish people. I suppose it’s because we know a melting-pot isn’t hot enough to melt the English.”
“We encountered the flux of that melting-pot on a certain night a few weeks ago at your uncle’s.” She winced elaborately. “Either you’ve developed an art since we last met, or I’ve become more intelligent and notice it. Or perhaps it's just plain stupidity—I’ve lost the knack of dodging. By the way, we’re leaving the boat here.”
“Then the trip around the world is off?”
“Definitely. It was never really on. I warned you. Daddy, you may have observed, is a genius. Temperament, you know, temperament. He still thinks, more than ever I may say, that he sees his Great Chance. . . . So we’re going to settle down at Collioure.”
She shrugged her pretty shoulders. “Does it matter? Your guess is as good as mine. We heard about it on the boat. It’s somewhere in
France—not far, I heard someone say
vaguely, from the Spanish border. What an inspiration to Art—the influence of
two nations steeped in Art—even if it’s bull-fighting in one and the making of
wine—and money—in the other. I warned you it would happen. In Collioure, it
seems, Art flourishes like a bad weed—no fertilizing, no cultivation, no
watering. It’s the soil—or the air. That and a lot of back-scratching from
kindred spirits. Oh, well, let’s forget it. Whence the ‘Simpson’?”
“I told you what I was going to do, Miss Cringan. I’m doing it.”
She stopped on the stairs above him and looked down on him. “The bloodhound?”
“You might call it that.”
She climbed on. “And,” she murmured over her shoulder, “the fact that you’re still the Roland Lyster of vague dreams and dreamy ambitions proves that the job is—just another job. You’ve been— let’s see—two months and a half on it. May I ask what you’ve accomplished—besides winning for yourself a pleasant, luxurious holiday at uncle’s expense?”
They had reached the sloping road that rounded toward the Casino. He drew up beside her, and without a word dropped into her hand the diamond ring Toni Pensa had torn from her finger.
“Oh!” she murmured, and was silent.
THE afternoon “séance” at the Casino had not yet begun. Out in the main room of “the kitchen” three roulette tables played sleepily. At Number 2, “the suicides’ table,” four chairs were empty. In the side-rooms the extra tables were being prepared for the afternoon crowd.
A young lady entered and conferred for a few moments in imperfect French with an attendant, and a fifty-franc note exchanged hands. A few moments later a small white square lay on the table before a certain chair. Before the two to the right lay other white squares. The young lady wandered about the outer room.
In twenty minutes every chair in the larger room was occupied, and the side-rooms had begun to fill.
and Frenchy hurried in, picked up two of the white squares, and sat down. Most
of the other chairs filled almost immediately, and a small crowd gathered in
the rear. At the first call of “faites vos jeux, messieurs” the young lady
worked her way through the crowd and dropped into the empty chair with the
remaining white square before it. She did not glance at her neighbours.
She commenced to play, hesitatingly, fussily, mussily. Placing a mise on a number, she removed it in a panic as the croupier called “rien ne va plus,” and sat ogling the jumping marble.
Losses raked in and winnings thrown across the table, the game proceeded. “Faites vos jeux, messieurs.” The girl placed a white disc, and as the croupier called to stop the play she grabbed a red disc from the table and sat back.
“Here, here, miss!” Frenchy, her neighbour on the right, protested. “That’s mine! You’ve got my chip. Say, mister,” to the chef, “she’s taken my chip.”
The chef looked coldly from one to the other. The young woman stiffened indignantly. “Excuse me,” she said, and stilled Frenchy’s protest with a look.
But he continued to grumble, and
on his right, threw the girl a murderous glare. The game proceeded. The young
woman played a few more turns and withdrew. She had lost every time.
Sydney and Frenchy secured
their usual places with the opening of the door, but in the main room, since
the side-rooms were open only in the afternoon. Across the table the same girl
faced them, fumbling her chips as usual, placing several and withdrawing them.
A pile of Sydney’s
won, but the girl gathered in the winnings so quickly that she had them in her
hand before the two men could intercept her.
This time they made a determined howl. Frenchy stormed to his feet, his face red with rage. “She’s a thief!” he shouted. “That’s the second time she’s done it. She goes around stealin’ chips. Why don’t you stop it?”
But his very noise defeated his purpose. A corps of attendants swarmed about him from nowhere and he found himself hustled away.
Sydney followed. They met in the lobby.
“The damned thief!”
snarled. “But what’s the use? They’ll play up to a skirt every time, these
crooked croupiers. We got to keep away from her. But when I get the chance—” He
ground his teeth.
The girl passed, making for the front door.
edged up beside her.
“You'll play that game once too often, miss,” he threatened.
The girl looked through him without a word and continued her way. Frenchy scowled after her.
“What the hell’s it mean? Looks to me’s if she’s playin’ us for suckers.”
They had taken their stand near one of the marble pillars. Both were in a vile temper.
“I’m clearin’ out,” Frenchy said. “You hand over my split, Dago George, and I’ll pull out for Banyuls. I’m scared of things—I’m scared of everything. We ain’t got out of that Hornbaker job yet, not by a damn sight! I’m safe in Banyuls—among friends, too. Nobody’d think of lookin’ for me in my old home town. If you guys had split fair what Toni and The Skunk got from that vault I’d be sittin’ pretty for the rest of my life. Oh, you didn’t fool me—”
“Oh, yeah? Don’t try to pull my leg. You frisked Toni clean, too, you and The Skunk. I seen it—but I didn’t get a damn cent of that!” He glared at Sydney, who made a futile gesture with his hands and moved toward the cloak-counter.
They handed over their checks. An attendant disappeared and in a moment returned with their hats. In the band of
was thrust an envelope. Sydney
jerked it out.
“It was left for you,” said the attendant in English.
“What d’you think of this?” he snarled, handing the note to Frenchy.
The latter read and, lifting his head, cast a frightened glance about the lobby.
“Me,” he said in a loud whisper, “I’m pullin’ out. But you got to come across with a couple of grand or there’ll be trouble. It’s not half what’s comin’ to me, neither; but I’ll call it square.”
“I tell you I didn’t get more’n my share,”
growled. “Besides, I’ve lost it all in this damned place! You’ve got plenty.”
“You double-crossed me, you did,” Frenchy insisted. “Yer a damned liar!”
Frenchy sneered. “Sure. Doin’ a stretch in
Carlo don’t look none too good, does it?”
“You ask Toni or The Skunk if we weren’t on the level,”
said, choking back his anger.
“Yeah, and Toni dead, and The Skunk vamoosed. You can skip all over the country and burn the jack, you can. I can’t afford it.”
“You can if you’ve got the guts,”
declared. He seized the other’s arm. “You come in on that little job to-night,
then we can clear out.”
They disappeared through the main door. From behind a pillar a man who looked like an absent- minded professor stepped out. He went straight to the Hôtel de Paris.
In the lounge a young woman sat nursing a swinging foot. The professor approached and bowed.
“If you’ll come up with me to Mr. Lyster’s room, Miss Cringan,” he said in a low voice, “you won’t have to wait. Oh, I forgot to introduce myself. I’m Professor Mitchell, alias Redfern. My name-in-character will get me upstairs without delay.”
In Lyster’s room Shirley opened her purse. “Here’s seventy francs that isn’t mine. But if you had your deserts you’d be arrested for receiving stolen goods. I’m not sure if it’s Dago George’s or Frenchy’s. I could make an easy living at the roulette tables, but I’m through. I couldn’t work it again, because they’d never play at a table with me. Besides, it’s accomplished all it can hope for.”
“Do you think they didn’t recognize you?” Lyster asked.
“I’m sure they didn’t. I was in evening dress that night at Uncle Nathan’s.”
Redfern listened with a bewilderment that changed to indignation.
“I seem to be a gooseberry in this little game," he said with some bitterness. “Hadn't you better let me in somewhere, Lyster? I saw Miss Cringan’s little play at the table yesterday and this morning. I was on my way to get the low-down on it. Whatever the game is, it seems a desperate idea to use Miss Cringan for such a dangerous purpose.”
Lyster shook his head apologetically. “I know I should have told you before, but I knew you’d object. Your methods are different from mine, Redfern—the difference between the professional and the amateur, I suppose. Miss Cringan and I agreed that there might be something in this. We hope to worry these men back to the
United States, to hound them out of Europe.”
“I’m still of the opinion,” Redfern objected, “that all you’ll accomplish is to hound them out of our sight. My idea is to keep track of them, not to risk losing them in this big continent.”
“I’ve too much confidence in Bruce Redfern to believe they can give us the slip.”
Redfern was unmoved. “How do you think I got my reputation? Certainly not by permitting amateurs to lay my course. . . . It just happens that this twist won’t probably go wrong. I know where Frenchy will make for. By sheer luck I heard much of their discussion in the Casino lobby. Frenchy will make for some place called Banyuls, wherever it is. He called it his home town, yet it can’t be French with that final ‘s’ pronounced. And there’s something more you can explain:
Sydney received a letter
with his hat at the cloak-counter. Yours, of course. It upset them badly.”
“That’s good.” Lyster smiled happily. “I haven’t much faith in Casino servants, but that one got a cool hundred from me. You must see, Redfern, that as long as these fellows are in
we can do nothing.”
“Perhaps you’ll tell me what the letter contained.”
“A gentle reminder of the robbery we’re working on. I don’t want them to feel they’ve thrown off pursuit. Now they’ll leave
Carlo. You’ll see. We’ll follow—wherever they go. And
they’ll leave that place, too, and keep on moving, until the bloodhounds get
their nerve. There’ll be but one haven left—the United States. It’s a risk, but we
have to take a risk whatever we do. I’d like to convince you I’m right, Redfern.
Miss Cringan agrees with me.”
Redfern shrugged. “Then what does it matter what I think?”
SHIRLEY returned to the Hôtel des Anglais, where the Cringans were staying before going to Collioure. Redfern, the professor, departed to make contact once more with his men. Lyster, fuming at his enforced seclusion, decided to risk another airing, and, as usual, he sought the terrace.
The morning promenaders were more numerous than ever, but Lyster, looking out over the lower drive, was unconscious of it. The yacht race was in progress again, the tiny white triangles dotting the brilliantly-coloured sea. A steamship lay at anchor, but the one that had brought the Cringans had departed long ago for
Naples. The crunch of feet
at his back, the chatter of voices in a dozen tongues, the rumble of trains,
the screech of trams rounding the climb from the Condamine, was drowsy symphony
to his dreams.
Roland Lyster was thinking, not of the task that had brought him to Monte Carlo, but of the girl who laid so unexpectedly been injected once more into his life in that absorbing city. Save that her restless gaiety was heightened, flavoured, indeed, by a recklessness that sometimes shocked him, she had not changed in the ten weeks since he saw her last. She was still the alluring creature of startling moods and wild enthusiasms, so inexplicable that he sometimes trembled before them—though he took care that she should not suspect—so unreasonable that often he longed to spank her.
The worrying of the robbers at the gaming tables, while an offshoot of his own plan, originated with Shirley, and she had undertaken it with her usual ardour. Indeed, he had found it difficult to restrain her to the point where its object would not be too apparent. But even as she worked with him, supported him against the more practical Redfern, added touches of ingenuity beyond his imagination, he was not blind to the fact that she still was the annoying young woman who took pleasure in tantalizing him.
On the bench nearest to where he stood looking out over the sea sat a party of Americans. He recognized them by their accent and by their frank enjoyment of the coloured scene. Without interest, at intervals he heard them discussing their trip, criticizing the boat and its passengers, and comparing experiences at the roulette tables.
A patter of broken English interrupted:
“Pairfoom, madam. You buy pairfoom? Good pairfoom—jasmine, chypre, lilac, hyacinthe. Pairfoom de Grasse. Cheep pairfoom. I sell cheep.”
Lyster recognized the studied ingenuousness that so often caught the credulous tourist. Vaguely he wondered if the Americans would fall for it. But they were not interested.
“Run along,” a man’s voice said. “Nothing doing. We got enough junk now to sink the ship.”
Lyster turned indifferently. What he saw was the usual dark-skinned “Algerian,” in big, baggy, brightly-coloured trousers and sloppy tunic. To-morrow, failing sales for his perfume, he would probably be offering the gaudy Oriental rugs—made in Paris or Belgium—with the same ingenuous-sounding English but a different wording. Lyster strolled away and climbed the steps beside the Casino. There he stopped, leaning on the stone railing above the terrace.
The perfume-seller hopefully plied his trade, though he seemed to be meeting with little success. Bench after bench heard his practised jargon without interest.
Lyster watched incuriously. The man was not a good salesman; he lacked the persistence of his fellows. At the end of the terrace he turned back.
At that moment a man in the moving crowd about him shifted his direction and pulled up beside Lyster. It was Redfern, still the professor. Neither spoke, but Lyster read that the detective was more than ordinarily interested in the crowd below.
The perfume-seller, discouraged at last, had closed his little valise and taken the one vacant bench immediately below where Lyster and Redfern stood leaning over the railing. A moment later Lyster, looking around, missed the detective. His eyes fell once more on the perfume-seller—and suddenly his bands gripped so tightly over the railing that the knuckles stood out white.
Someone touched him on the shoulder, and he whirled about. Redfern was beckoning him back.
“So you recognize him now?”
“I don’t see how I failed to so long,” Lyster whispered back. “I’d know those small ears anywhere, with that bull neck and square jaw—and the way he moves, like a panther. The Skunk!”
Redfern’s lips twisted to a smile. He turned away, making a slight gesture for Lyster to follow. They talked only as gaps in the crowd permitted.
“Would you have missed him if I hadn’t wakened you?”
“Perhaps. It keyed me up a little.”
“And he’s still selling perfume, the one job within the law that he knows! I ran across him once on another case back home. We’re in luck—such luck that I can’t imagine it will last.”
They moved about the upper terrace, Lyster two paces behind. Now and then Redfern made his way back to the railing and looked over.
In an uncrowded spot he paused to light a cigarette. “I’m wondering if it is luck,” he murmured, shaking his head. “I’m afraid we’ve such a big mouthful we’ll choke ourselves. I can’t understand what The Skunk is doing here. . . . At the best it means a big task for us, because there are three of them now to keep track of . . . I’ve a feeling there’s something serious in the air, perhaps tragedy—and that means disaster to us. The Skunk has bigger things in mind than the sale of perfume. He wasn’t anxious about sales, anyway.”
“What do you suspect?” Lyster inquired.
“He’s looking for someone. I’m here to see who it is—and for what.”
The railing was crowded enough now to risk a franker inspection of their man.
The Skunk was still there, now plainly impatient and angry, and not a little disturbed. His satchel of perfume lay on the ground beside him, and his eyes were fixed on the steps at the west end of the terrace.
Lyster was excited, though, as usual, he did not show it. His reputation for self-possession was based hugely on his unemotional expression that so often failed to record the tumult within. He considered Redfern’s inquietude. Were they, indeed, involved now in a task too big for them? Were they by The Skunk’s unexpected appearance on the scene pitched headlong into an entanglement with which they were, only by numbers, unable to cope? How could a pair of them keep in touch with three, especially as Lyster, at least, must remain unseen by one of them, and Redfern was forced to trust to a disguise.
A tingle ran through his veins. Here in
were three of the four men they sought! He straightened his shoulders.
That the three knew of one another’s presence there could be no doubt. The
Carlo meeting was not accidental. But what did their meeting
imply? What did it portend? That, Lyster knew, was as great a puzzle to
Redfern. How could they hope to uncover the answer, when mere exposure meant
that the three would scatter and elude them? That more drastic means might be
taken by such men to escape pursuit did not occur to him.
It did not surprise him, therefore, when Frenchy’s jerking head and stooped shoulders appeared at the lop of the steps at the end of the terrace, and after a quick glance about, made straight for The Skunk. Lyster drew back. He noticed, too, that Redfern was taking no chances.
When they dared to look again Frenchy was seated beside The Skunk rolling a cigarette. They might have been any two casuals of the throng, for they seemed to pay no attention to each other for a long time. Then a close observer—like the two over their heads—would have noticed that, though the pair never looked at each other, their lips moved. Presently they forgot their caution. They seemed to be quarrelling, though they continued to keep their voices low. After a time Frenchy threw a furious look at his companion, plunged to his feet and stalked away.
The Skunk glowered after him, then, jerking his satchel to his shoulder, he moved off in the other direction, prattling his wares.
REDFERN wandered about “the kitchen” of the Casino. He had taken more pains than usual with his disguise, for he felt less confident of passing the inquiring eyes of The Skunk, though that cunning rogue had seen him only once, a year before. The Skunk’s presence had impelled him to urge once more that official action should be taken without loss of time, but Lyster remained firm, and Shirley Cringan, who never failed to impress on her companions that she knew her Uncle Nathan better than either, supported him.
“If extradition failed,” she warned, “Uncle Nathan would never rest. He’d be sure to take desperate means to get hold of them. And you,” flashing a look at Lyster, “would be foolish enough to do what he asked. No one knows better than you, Mr. Redfern, how small a chance a foreigner has in these courts, and we’ve only the word of a dead man to back up a demand for extradition. Yes, I know you’d identify him, Mr. Lyster, but what weight would that carry when it was pointed out that they were all masked? At the best the affair would drag on and on, to the profit of no one but the French. The contents of American pockets are heaven-sent manna to the French.”
Lyster argued that with the funds of at least two of the three members of the gang getting low, they would be forced to return to
America before long. To that extent
the Casino was playing their game. In the end Redfern gave grudging consent to
And so in “the kitchen” he searched for his men. He had been on their track since noon, had followed them to and fro from the Casino, and now they were back at the tables, having returned before the evening rush in order to get seats.
He found them without trouble. They were seated side by side, Sydney with a pile of discs before him, while Frenchy kept clumsy record in a dirty note-book. The brightness of their eyes, their twitchings and eagerness, proved that they were having a run of luck.
But success went to
head, and after a time he abandoned the system as too slow and began to play
all around the number seventeen. On the very next turn the ball settled in
fourteen, and Sydney, with a grin, perspiring profusely, gathered in his
winnings. He repeated the play and lost. But the next fling of the ball brought
a killing, seventeen itself. The two men breathed audibly, while the crowd
Frenchy, more phlegmatic than his companion, less the confirmed gambler, had time to note that across the table an elderly man was experiencing a run of luck equal to their own and much more consistent. And he used hundred franc discs, unobtrusively raking in his winnings and surreptitiously dropping them in his pocket, so that the pile before him was no record of his good fortune. The very time
Sydney scored so heavily the old man had a
single piece en plein on seventeen,
but it won him more than Sydney’s
cluster of red discs.
Frenchy’s eyes glistened, and he let the lids droop over them. He whispered to his companion, but
drowned in his own play, shook him off. Luck was turning. Time after time the
lucky number hugged the ends of the table, and the pair saw their pile
diminish, until only half a dozen discs remained.
With a whispered word Frenchy left the table and was swallowed in the crowd.
Redfern kept him in sight, puzzled and disturbed. That the fellow had something in mind was evident, and anything in that man’s mind boded ill for someone. The detective watched him for a time, then hurried from the Casino. Lyster was not in his room, nor was he to be found by paging. Redfern had never been more excited. He wanted Lyster badly, for there was work for both of them. Those two or three minutes of keeping Frenchy in sight had warned him.
He hastened back to the Casino.
But Sydney and his companion had disappeared. A glance at the other side of the table brought a familiar tingle to the detective’s veins, and again he raced for the hotel to see if Lyster had yet returned. Not finding him he began to be alarmed. Where could he be at such an hour? It was almost midnight, and Lyster had been so careful to remain indoors except for necessary exercise and air. Redfern wandered out and watched the thinning crowd leaving the Casino.
The streets grew quieter, more deserted. Redfern set out for the slope leading down to the Condamine. Lyster did much of his walking there, crowding his limited exercise into climbing the hill where he was not likely to meet Dago George. In the Hôtel de Paris many a window was still lighted, but the cliff below the hotel, along the roadway, lay in black shadow. On the other side of the roadway was a precipitous drop to the harbour.
Redfern had the street to himself, save for three figures moving down the slope before him. He stepped into the landing at the head of a flight of stairs dropping to the wharf and leaned over the railing. He felt unaccountably uneasy. Something was happening, or about to happen—he had learned to trust that throbbing in his veins—and he had no idea what it was, or how to go about finding out. Had it anything to do with Lyster’s inexplicable absence from the hotel at such an hour? Should he—
He was brought sharply upright by a cry—a cry choked off half-way. As he stood trying to locate it he plainly heard the scuffle of feet, and he dashed into the roadway and looked down the hill.
A confused group was in sight, and he knew they must be the three he had seen ahead of him a few seconds before. Almost at the same instant a man moved out from the shadow of the cliff into the roadway. After a few steps he pulled up, then, crouched a little, he crept nearer and nearer the group on the pavement.
Suddenly one of them turned, uttered a smothered curse, and the hand that flew out in the dim light was readily intelligible to the detective. At the end of that hand, he knew, was a gun. It covered the men in the roadway, who stopped but did not retreat.
The retirement forced on him sometimes irritated Lyster beyond endurance. At such times the one relief was to get out and walk. But he could never get enough of it, and the care with which he must choose his streets and the continued vigilance wore on him. It made his temper short, his patience thin. The Cringans were remaining in town a couple of days more, but he had only once or twice seen Shirley without the unromantic presence of the detective.
On this night he watched the movement about the Casino, the lights, the intermittent stream of customers at the café, until he could stand it no longer. He called up Shirley Cringan at her hotel and proposed a stroll, but she was tied by a game of double dummy with her father, a plan of her mother’s to keep him from the gaming tables. Accordingly Lyster set out alone.
It was a balmy night, and the wind came softly over the sea. With the settled instinct of concealment he started down the slope to the Condamine, and presently found himself on the wharf. The stillness of the night, the lights of the rock of
the flashing passage of a train, the twinkling portholes of a yacht anchored in
the harbour, and the broad planks of the wharf all to himself—he lost track of
A gust of wind that almost dislodged his hat brought him to himself. Looking at his watch as he came to the street end of the wharf, he saw that it was almost midnight. Accordingly he turned back and started to climb the stairs to the street, avoiding the long slope. As he reached a landing near the top a man passed down the slope. Instinctively Lyster stopped. A moment later two men moved along in the same direction. Lyster had reached a point where he could just see above the upper landing, and something in their manner made him look more closely.
Sydney and Frenchy!
Making no sound, Lyster climbed to the street. He crossed it and disappeared in the shadows under the cliff. He saw the three men now plainly, one twenty paces ahead and alone. The broken group went on. Lyster kept pace with them under the cliff, his heart beating fast.
He had begun to wonder if his nerves were not getting the better of him, when the pair in the rear quickened their pace. They neared the lone man ahead. Lyster grasped his stick by the end. He carried no gun, partly because he had never carried one, partly because he had no wish to become involved with inquisitive officials. The three across the street were almost merged into a mass when
Their victim’s outcry was cut off, choked by a violent hand. The next instant he lay on the walk, and while Frenchy held him powerless
Sydney went through his pockets.
Lyster started to the rescue.
But half-way across the street it flashed on him what his interference would mean. Momentarily he drew up. Though it did not appear that the two ruffians were unduly maltreating their victim, he could not remain a mere observer. He might have cried out, but the instinct of secrecy was too strong, the desire to do something more effective too urgent.
Sydney nor Frenchy heard
him until he was only a few steps away. Then it was Sydney who whirled on him,
at the same time drawing a gun.
Lyster was too near to leave doubt as to his identity, and
Sydney, after a gasp of surprise, uttered a
“Aha! So it’s you, is it? I begin to see daylight. So you’ve been trailing me all the time. That’s why we meet so often.”
He had transferred a great roll of notes to his left hand, while his right held the gun steadily pointing. Lyster saw that Frenchy had made a complete job of binding their victim, only muffled cries coming through the gag. At Lyster’s appearance Frenchy had leaped away on the run, but with
Sydney so plainly in control of the situation
he stopped and slowly returned, hugging the wall that cut off the pavement from
the drop to the harbour.
He never completed the sentence. There was a quick movement at his back, a flash, and a stunning report whanged into the cliff. And as
Sydney, his lips parted in surprise, toppled
forward, Frenchy leaped on him, wrenched from his hand the roll of French
notes, and ran.
“That for you!” he hissed. “I get my share at last.”
Lyster started after him, but a grip of steel closed on his wrist.
“Stay where you are,” Redfern whispered. “There’s a policeman coming. That shot would be heard a mile.” He edged to the wall and, drawing a gun from his pocket, dropped it over. “Now help me untie this old man. Remember, we just happened to be out for a walk. We know nothing—nothing—nobody. And if you’ve a gun, for God’s sake get rid of it right away. I hope this old chap doesn’t understand English. Is
Sydney done for? It looks
An under-sized policeman in a comic-opera uniform came running down the street, gun in hand. Redfern called to him in English to hurry, and pointed to Frenchy, far down the street and making fast time.
“He shot this man,” Lyster explained in French, pointing to
Sydney’s twisted body. “They were robbing
this other man, and then one shot the other and got away with the money. We
were too late to stop it.” He told their story, and the old man, who understood
no English, confirmed it. The policeman officiously searched them for weapons
nevertheless, and only then, when pursuit was obviously hopeless, set out after
Lyster knelt beside the dead man and struck a match. Several notes lay scattered about, and these their owner pounced on and started to leave the scene. But Redfern intercepted him.
“Tell him he’ll have to stay till the policeman returns,” he told Lyster. “My French isn’t quite up to it. There’ll be a volume of questions to answer, damn it!”
The policeman puffed up the slope, empty-handed, pompously earnest in pursuing the least dangerous course. For almost an hour three or four officials pestered them with questions before they were permitted to go.
When they were alone Lyster took Redfern’s arm. He sighed.
“Toni Boitani gone. Now
two. And Mr. Hornbaker won’t be satisfied with the way they went.”
LYSTER himself was disappointed. He knew Nathan Hornbaker was more anxious to see the gang punished for what it had done to him and his than for even more brutal crimes. He concerned himself only with a single crime. The one relieving feature of
Sydney’s death was that it
simplified the pursuit of his companions. Instead of three, they now had but
two to deal with, and two who introduced no such complication as Lyster’s
previous acquaintance with the murdered man. That Frenchy would not recognize
him again he felt assured; until he grabbed the notes from Sydney’s hand he was too distant to see
features in detail, and at that moment his one thought was to escape with his
Next day the Cringans left for Collioure, their stay cut short by a warning from Redfern.
“Might as well clear out,” he said, “before the police learn that you’re friends of ours. Goodness knows what a siege of questioning we have before us.”
The publicity of it appealed to Clifford at first, but when Redfern grew solemn about its dangers, and feigned fear even for himself, there was no question of further delay.
An hour before the train was due to leave Shirley and Lyster met on the terrace.
“You’re in on all the fun,” she complained. “ I can see myself settling down in an isolated village, with nothing to do but watch the family budget and daddy’s moods. I must keep mumsie from extravagance and daddy from despair. That’s a job in itself without—without having to amuse myself amidst the erotic excesses of every art colony I ever heard of . . . I wish I was a man.”
“There’d be disadvantages,” Lyster replied, tongue-tied as usual before her, and hating himself for it.
“That opens an endless discussion—and we’ve only an hour.”
His heart leaped, but he knew Shirley meant less than he wished to take from it. “Yes,” he agreed, “it’s far too short.”
A train rumbled beneath them, and they waited for it to pass.
“Too short for what?” she asked, not looking at him.
“For—for anything—anything important, I mean.”
“Is there anything important to be said?”
His lips parted in a gush of words: “Many things. Important to me, at any rate. You think certain things of me. Please don’t interrupt. I know you think them; you make no effort to conceal it.”
“Oh,” she cut in, tapping the stone railing with her finger-tips, “does it matter what I think?”
“It does. It would matter to any man.”
“Oh—to any man?” Her tone was frigid now. “An academic discussion, a beautifully impersonal conversation to fill our last hour.”
“Academic, if you like, but vital . . . and not impersonal.” He was finding his tongue. “You’ve sneered at me persistently. Once, at a trying moment, you called me a hero.”
She clacked her tongue impatiently. “Can you never forget that?”
“Would you expect me to? Would you wish me to?”
“To me it seems the least important subject we could discuss, Mr. Lyster. You’re concerned only with your reputation—”
“With you,” he broke in.
She ignored it. “Concerned with your reputation—at last. How encouraging! I imagined you had such a big job on your hands that my words and thoughts would be immaterial.”
“They’re never immaterial. I couldn’t have a job big enough for that.”
Shirley shifted her head away, to look over the rock of
Monaco. “And to think we never
found time to visit the oceanographic museum! But then, that too is
unimportant. . . . What do you plan to do now?”
“Redfern and I must remain for certain tiresome official formalities in connection with
Sydney’s murder, then we
start for Banyuls.”
“You think Frenchy will stick to that plan?”
“He can’t have reason for changing it. He doesn’t know Redfern heard him mention the place that day in the Casino lobby—and with
dead it looks like a safer hiding-place than ever. At any rate, it’s the one
place to look for him.”
“What about The Skunk?”
Lyster thought for a moment. “Of course, we won’t let him escape us. He’s our first care, the one we want most. I’m not likely to forget the part he played.”
She asked where Banyuls was.
“I haven’t any idea yet. We’ve had no time to go into that. When you’re gone we’ll—”
“I’m sorry to have been such a nuisance,” she laughed. “I hope you’ll keep us informed at Collioure how things are going.”
“But you haven’t been a nuisance,” he protested. “Not here,” he added thoughtlessly. “Redfern and I owe you something—though Redfern still doesn’t quite fall in with our plan. . . . He has a talking point now, because he contends we might have had
Sydney back alive in the United States
if we’d done as he wished.”
“And have missed Frenchy and The Skunk.”
“I’ll remind him of that.”
“So that,” with a fling of her head, as she turned to move away, “our hour has not been wasted. You have an argument for your friend. So glad we met, so important that we should have met. Now the taxi will be waiting at the hotel, and mumsie will be fuming. So kind of you to give us this time, when you might have been searching the map for Banyuls—and Collioure. I suppose you never once thought of Collioure.”
“I—I—” he stammered.
“Let’s drop the subject,” she laughed, and hurried on.
Roland Lyster was not disturbed about The Skunk; he felt certain of the Syrian’s destination. A native of North Africa, though born of Syrian parents, he was certain to return there at the end of the winter
season, if only to renew his supplies of perfume. But Lyster had no intention
of letting him out of his sight if he could help it.
An intensive search of three days, however, failed to locate his man, and he was almost on the point of handing everything over to Redfern to decide, when The Skunk wandered once more into the picture. He was in the park before the Casino, following his occupation of desultory perfume vending. The slack way in which he went about his only apparent method of making a living in itself aroused suspicion, and Lyster followed him toward the terrace with heightened curiosity.
No one so much as glanced at his wares, or paused to listen to his patter. But it did not seem to depress or discourage him. Again and again he walked the length of the terrace, holding up long tubes of colour, leering and jabbering. At length, after a careful look about, he found an empty bench and sat down, placing his satchel beside him and spreading himself to discourage company.
Lyster passed on—returned—seemed only then to notice the almost empty bench, and seated himself at the other end, the satchel between them. For a time he did not so much as look at his companion, but as he shifted his knees his eye fell on the satchel that lay open beside him, a wooden rack inside filled with bottles and vials.
He nodded toward it. “
perfume, I suppose?”
The Skunk started. “Yaiz—
Some from Tunis.”
Tunis, eh? That’s
interesting. I thought it all came from Grasse.
Let’s see, where is Tunis?
In Africa somewhere, isn’t it? I didn’t know
niggers made perfume.”
The Skunk straightened. “Me, I come from
Only some niggers there—like everywhere. The souks—none there—just servants.
The Souk El Attarine—all big pairfoom men there.” He was having trouble with
his dialect, and he knew it.
“Souk El Attarine, eh? Sounds foreign and interesting. Anything to see there—worth going for?”
“Mooch—everything.” The Skunk spread his hands in some excitement. “Grandest souks in the world in
Tunis, the biggest
perfume street in the world.” He realized that he had forgotten his role and
added in the customary jargon, “goot pairfoom.”
Grasse made most of the
perfume of the world. So they grow the flowers and all that in Tunis?”
“No, no. No grow flowers—no make—but best pairfoom there. Most sell in all the world maybe. Sell and sell and sell. Attar of roses too!” He rolled his eyes.
Lyster laughed indulgently. “Come, come, now, one can’t buy attar of roses like that. It takes a ton of roses, I’m told, to make two ounces of attar—worth a king’s ransom. I’ve been to
Grasse!” The Skunk spat
contemptuously. “Roumania—that’s where they grow the real flowers, make the
real perfume. Grasse—bah!”
He returned nervously to the jargon. “ Grasse
cheep. Some pretty goot, most cheep.” He dived a big hand into the satchel and
produced a yellow vial, tilting it from side to side. The yellow contents did
not flow. “Pairfoom, that. No make like it in Grasse. Sell in Tunis. See.” He wrapped his long fingers
about the vial for a few moments, and when he released it again the fluid
flowed sluggishly. “One drop—that’s enough for a week.”
“You speak good English,” Lyster applauded.
The Skunk shook his head. “No, no. No goot Eengleesh. I spik a leetle—to sell pairfoom."
Lyster nodded. Suddenly he faced the man. "As long as you understand it,” he said pointedly.
The Skunk did not move, his hand half-way into the satchel, but a vein in his neck swelled and beat visibly. “What do you mean?”
“The other day you were sitting on that bench with a man the police want.”
Still The Skunk did not move. “You mak beeg meestake.” He picked up the satchel. “No friends, me, in
I sit—anywhere. Sell pairfoom, that’s all.”
Lyster ignored it. “The police, I said, are looking for your friend. He killed a man the night of the day you were talking to him, and he got something like fifty thousand francs off his victim.”
The Skunk stared at him. “You mak beeg meestake,” he repeated vaguely, “beeg meestake.”
“All right, I’m warning you, that’s all. The police will be interested in the friend of a murderer. I wouldn’t like to see you jugged for nothing—in this place. They’re apt to forget a prisoner, I’m told.”
“You mak meestake,” The Skunk kept repeating, starting away.
“But the police never admit they do,” Lyster called after him.
He watched the baggy blue trousers disappear at the end of the terrace. The crowd had thinned, for it was lunch-time. Not once had The Skunk stopped to display his wares.
“I think,” Lyster mused, “there’ll be one fewer pairfoom-seller in
IN a groove of the eastern Pyrenees, down which rushes a seasonal mountain torrent that disappears in summer-time, lies the quaint all-year fishing village and summer bathing resort of Banyuls-sur-Mer. Hugging tightly the roundest little harbour in the world, with mountains piled about its other three sides, and the Spanish border only six miles away, it is known elsewhere only for its medicinal wine.
With its dozen small fishing-boats drawn up on the wide shingly beach after a night’s catch of the most outlandishly coloured fish, with the “Dutch” auction in progress to the tune of the local dialect, with perhaps a game of bowls blocking the main street that curves about the beach, it is like no other village in the world.
That is before the rush of bathers in July.
After that for two months the village is a welter of skimpily-clad children, of almost as skimpily-clad adults who, attracted by the sea breeze and the shallow water, crowd the place out of all semblance to its real self, packing the scores of apartments beyond comfort and good sanitation; noisy, not over-clean, living on snatched meals, sleeping almost in layers, but completely and drowsily happy.
flocks across the border to join its French neighbour where children can wander
safely so far into the sea that they tire before passing beyond their depth.
And then the hamlet settles back to ten months of its own peculiar life. Rugged fishermen, of generations of fishermen, dump their cargoes of blue and scarlet and green and purple fish on the beach, each kind carefully stored in its respective box; and beside them are boxes of hideous octopi and their kind that figure so frequently as entries on the menus of cheaper hotels. Fish-merchants from Perpignan are there to buy as the price rattled off by the auctioneer descends to their estimate of value, while the main street is cluttered with shouting men rolling metal-studded wooden bowls for dix sous a count, with the spectators often joining in the betting.
Often during those ten months a wind howls down the mountain gorges, bending the trees and raising a thick cloud of dust, always a chill wind that makes the snowless winter bleak and trying.
Roland Lyster dropped from the train before the small station on the hill above the village and stared about him. From where he stood he could see no more than half a dozen buildings, decrepit and for the most part deserted, and out beyond, far below, the blue
Mediterranean. But as he moved
along the platform the roofs of other houses under the slope came into view. A
chill wind blew down from the mountains on his back, and the two
fellow-passengers who had alighted with him hurried away.
He felt more foreign than ever before in his life. The station appeared empty, the part of the village within sight untenanted, and the cold glimpse of house-tops unwelcoming. But as he stood wondering what to do the stationmaster appeared and glanced inquiringly at him.
“Will you please tell me if there is a good hotel here?” Lyster inquired in French.
“Oui, oui, oui, monsieur.” The stationmaster hurried toward him. “A very, very good hotel indeed. Voilà!”
He pointed to a large building perched on a knob beyond the village. It had evidently once been a residence.
"It is not cheap, monsieur, but perhaps you won’t think so. You're American—no, English.”
Lyster was accustomed to the change of mind. His American clothes failed to conceal his English origin from more than a casual glance.
“Yes, I’m English. Thank you.”
The stationmaster put his fingers to his lips and whistled, as a bus, previously hidden by the building started away. The rattly old car pulled up.
"You'd better take the bus,” he advised. “ It's quite a walk, and the streets are none too clean.”
“Thank you, but I prefer to walk—if the bus will carry my bags.”
The stationmaster himself lifted the two suitcases to the bus and gave directions, and the car moved off, its two visitors now frankly curious.
“Do you intend to stay long, monsieur? We don’t have many visitors at this time of the year. But in the summer!” He lifted eyes and hands dramatically. “They say,” he grinned, “the summer bathers in Banyuls raise the tide across the sea at
Lyster duly laughed, though he had heard the same charge brought against at least two other bathing resorts.
“Did you say you were staying?” the man repeated, not to be put off.
“I don’t know—I don’t think so. I’m just wandering about.” They had moved out to the verge of the slope and stood now looking down on the village. “A pretty place,” Lyster approved, “and such a quaint harbour. But why should it be favoured in the summer? People winter all along this coast.”
For answer the stationmaster lifted his hand and looked toward the mountains. “That wind. It’s bad in winter, and very cold. . . . One or two of the apartments are let through the winter. A Canadian has one—a painter he is. Two Englishmen, too, come off and on, without regard to season. You may not like it—at first. But to-morrow it will be fine. And when it’s fine!” He held up both hands, as if blessing the place.
“I see you like it,” Lyster said.
“We Banyulites think there’s nothing like it on earth. Some go—many return. Something about it—Only a few days ago one who was born here returned from
America. He’s been away twelve
years, too—but he had to come back. He’s here to stay now, he says. . . . He
can afford it—he made a fortune over there, of course.” He sighed.
Lyster was more than interested. “I’ve lived in
America myself for several years.
It’s a great country, but few make a fortune in twelve years. Your friend must
“Marius Rivaud never had much of a reputation for cleverness when he was here,” the stationmaster declared. “Just an ordinary boy, a bit wild and all that, but over there they all have a chance, I’m told. He must have changed his name in
they say he left another name at the post office.”
He looked Lyster over again. “I’m afraid you may have some difficulty understanding the people at first. They talk a mixture of French and Spanish, but they can speak French, of course, and they’ll understand you. You speak the language well. I hope you like the hotel, sir.”
With a low bow, shivering a little in the wind, he trotted back to the shelter of the station.
Lyster could scarcely believe his good fortune. Though Toni's girl had been able to give them no more of Frenchy’s real name than Marius, even without that Lyster knew now that the man he sought was in Banyuls. Luck was with him once more.
He dropped down a winding flight of stone steps from the edge of the road and followed a tangle of dirty streets, without sidewalks, open gutters of running waste water on either side, to the beach. Odour and filth all about, but a naive frankness about it that robbed it of some of its repulsiveness. The sharp slope of the streets deprived it of some of its unsanitariness.
He was immensely interested in all he saw. Bake-shops and stables, metal-workers and flowering gardens, butcher-shops and wine-shops, open kitchens and yards piled with every manner of junk—they were jumbled together in a hopelessly unpromising mess, but, strangely enough, Lyster was not shocked. “À louer” signs stared at him from scores of windows; the whole village seemed to be made up of apartments to let. He could well credit the stationmaster’s dramatic gesture.
The main street he found by simply continuing downward. It skirted the beach, the other side lined irregularly with stores, several of them cafés and drinking-places. The “à louer” signs stretched to the horizon. Far at the end a sturdy stone breakwater was visible, at its inner end an imposing stone building that seemed out of place in such an unimposing hamlet. A circle of cement in the heart of the main square puzzled him. Its use he was to discover later, for it was to play a part in the coming adventure.
He attracted no attention whatever, so far as he could see, though he was not sure that it was more than politeness; and presently he reached the foot of the hill on which perched the hotel he sought. He climbed the steep road and entered a long winding walk between green shrubs that formed an almost solid hedge on either side.
The hotel, he found, was promising enough, but almost deserted. Indeed, but for three boarders who seemed to have settled there, none of them speaking English, he was alone. One other hotel he had seen at a distance, at the end of the road near the breakwater.
Established in a tower room, he set out to explain his presence. He had, he told the proprietor, heard of Banyuls from a friend, an archaeological student. (From the train he had seen the old Moorish towers on the mountain tops, and lines of ancient roads leading to them.) The proprietor was satisfied. Fortunately, too, Lyster knew something of Banyuls wine from a conversation with a passenger on the way from
The proprietor launched into eulogies of the wine, though Lyster discovered
later that the product of the adjacent mountain slopes was merely doctored with
herbs to give it individuality, a clever trick of the natives, because they
could not hope otherwise to compete with the prolific vineyards of other parts
Lyster need not have worried explaining; his presence was accepted as routine.
That he would have no trouble locating Frenchy was certain. The village was small and tight, and most of the business was done within the space of two hundred yards on the main street and on one immediately behind. And since Frenchy would not know him, he could search for him openly.
That evening he contented himself with a stroll to the upper end of the village along the breakwater. The huge stone building, he learned, was an aquarium, a research department in connection with a distant university.
Next morning he rose late, the lazy tourist, and, breakfasting at his leisure, strolled down to the harbour and turned toward the shops. It was after ten, and in the distance the fishing-boats were making for the harbour with their morning catch. A small crowd was gathering on the beach, and a few business cars from other towns were lined up awaiting the auction that would start immediately on the arrival of the fish. He walked out on the shingle with the crowd.
One by one the boats were beached, the crowd tugging at the ropes. The fish were unloaded and the auction began.
A voice at his elbow sent the blood pounding to his temples.
“You’ve been a long time, Mr. Lyster. Don’t look at me. We’d better not be seen talking together.”
It was Shirley Cringan!
For several seconds Lyster could not speak. Then: “I’m going up there among the hills. I’ll wait for you beyond the village.” He indicated with a nod of his head the road to the west.
Shirley pursed her lips. “Aha! A clandestine tryst! How you’ve altered! I see you didn’t escape the contaminating influence of
Carlo. Well, after a couple of weeks of Collioure I’m
reckless. I’ll be there.”
He turned and sauntered back to the street and followed it to the west, past the aquarium, up the winding hill beyond, and at the crest turned into an almost invisible path through the vineyards.
As he walked he thought of the girl who had once more appeared so unexpectedly. He did not wonder how she came to be there. He knew. He remembered the eagerness with which she joined their plans at
Carlo, the sparkle in her eyes when something was
given her to do, the gravity with which she discussed the next step.
Shirley Cringan was determined to be in at the death! He closed his teeth against it, for she could not realize the peril they faced with such a ruthless rogue as Frenchy.
Seating himself on a rock where he could watch the road, he waited for her.
He saw her climbing the dusty road with her muscular stride, looking about for him, and he rose and made a signal for her to follow him higher on the slope. They found a spot among the low, prickly scrub that covered the mountain-side and sat down.
“You’re mad, Miss Cringan!” he burst out. “I shouldn’t have told you of Banyuls.”
She regarded his anxious face for a moment with laughing eyes. “So you think I followed you here, that I deserted my fond and protecting parents for the unknown perils of a young man with a desperate purpose in mind? Or is it a quasi-elopement, with me the Amazon?”
He flushed. “I wish you’d be serious,” he chided.
“You knew we were coming to Banyuls—”
“Where’s your detective friend?” she broke in.
“Redfern will be here to-day.”
“Indeed! And so tardy of both of you. . . . I’ve been here every day for a week—every day since I discovered where Banyuls is. I was so hungry to see you again,” she teased, “you and Mr. Redfern. But let’s be serious: I’m quite as anxious as you to run down Hutton’s murderers. Uncle Nathan will never smile till we do.”
“We?” he protested. “You have nothing to do with it. It’s no job for you. Besides—”
She interrupted again, this time more impatiently.
“We won’t argue that now. I suppose you didn’t take the trouble to find out where Collioure is. I see you didn’t. Thanks for your interest in the Cringans. Well, it’s only a few miles away, toward
You must have come through it; but apparently you weren’t interested.”
“I was—thinking only of Banyuls,” he stammered, overwhelmed with the old tongue-tied helplessness she could so easily impose on him.
“Of course. But why delay the chase?”
Lyster told of the curiosity and persistence of the
police, and of his search for The Skunk. It had, indeed, looked as if he, “one
of those rich Americans,” would have to bribe someone to get away at all.
Because what are Americans for in Europe but
to share their wealth with the French and the Swiss? There with her alone on
the silent mountain-side, with a world of furze about them and the colourful
sea stretched below them, he knew how lame it sounded. He knew, too, that
Shirley had seldom been out of his mind since he saw her last.
“I’ve been running about,” she said, taking pity on him, “seeing the country. It explains my daily absences from home. . . . If I’d been picking a spot for a visit it would have been Banyuls-sur-Mer, though Collioure is pretty enough. . . . I’ve seen Frenchy.”
He frowned. “But that’s dangerous, foolishly rash. He might—”
“Sh-sh!” She held up a silencing hand. “Don’t tempt me too far. I’m just dying for excitement. Of course, he’d know me if he saw me. . . . It struck me we might turn that to account. I decided to do nothing until I talked with you.” She caught her knees in her clasped hands and stared out to sea. “I like your ways much better than Mr. Redfern’s.”
“And my way,” he told her firmly, “is for you to stay out of this. It’s a man’s job. These fellows are desperate; they’ll stop at nothing. Marius is a brute.”
The gravity and unwonted determination in his tone impressed her. Suddenly she burst out:
“I can’t just hang around Collioure, Mr. Lyster, I can’t. You don’t know. I see what it’s coming to . . . and it isn’t good for any of us. But mumsie and daddy must decide for themselves. With me it’s different. I must go my own way—and what way that is depends . . . a little . . . on you. I’ve thought and thought, but there’s no thinking in Collioure, just dawdling and dreaming and painting vivid word-pictures of the future that never comes. Would you like me to settle down to that?”
“What have I to do with it, Miss Cringan?”
She shook herself irritably. “It’s not as personal as that. I was counting on your interest in Uncle Nathan’s relatives. To that extent it’s personal. You can help—if you will.”
“I’m waiting to hear how,” he said, his heart beating fast.
“Let me help you,” she cried. “Daddy and mumsie don’t need me. I’m rather in the way, a cold blanket on their enthusiasms. I need what only you can give me—occupation, something to fill my time, to keep my mind from dry-rot. I helped a little in
Monte Carlo, you said.
Frenchy is here in Banyuls. I’ve been thinking of that. Listen, and don’t say a
word till I’m through.”
Shirley Cringan found her way to the railway station by following a path along the mountain-side; she did not touch the village. Lyster returned to his hotel by the road.
NEXT day Lyster came face to face with Frenchy and passed the test of recognition with satisfying success.
Frenchy was standing on the sidewalk, watching the game of primitive bowls indulged in by rural
Europe. In this case the “green” was the
uneven main street, the bowls of wood thickly studded with nails. What little
traffic there was had to turn out on the beach to pass. It was a noisy game,
clamorous of disappointment or elation, spectators equally vocal with the
players. Pieces of copper passed from hand to hand.
Frenchy was betting boisterously, rattling a pocketful of coins. He had tried for days to find takers in notes, then in bronze, smiling superiorly at the pettiness of the stakes. Driven finally to copper, he wagered with abandon. He became as much part of the game as the bowlers themselves.
Roland Lyster worked his way to his side. Frenchy had become in these few days a local institution. A millionaire, of course, one who had seen the great world; he was even called on to settle disputes, which he did impartially and often to his own loss. Frenchy was having the time of his life.
Lyster placed a bet with him, lost, and retired.
At the same hour of the following afternoon the game was on again, and Frenchy was there to rattle his coins and to bask in the reverence of his less fortunate fellow-townspeople. Lyster, too, was on hand, but he contented himself with watching the game from the table of a nearby café. As he sipped his citronade Shirley Cringan came down the street and stopped to watch the game. Lyster saw her cleverly working her way nearer Frenchy, who was betting largely and recklessly.
As the latter lifted a coin and asked for takers Shirley opened her purse and extracted a two-franc piece. She held it before Frenchy’s face. The latter turned to her, started visibly, and a black frown spread over his face. The hand that held the coin slowly dropped.
The crowd watched without understanding. Frenchy recovered himself. He fixed his eyes on the two-franc piece.
"Madame is a born gambler,” he said in French with a leer.
Shirley shook her head. “I don’t speak French, but I'm willing to bet either way—and any amount.” She drew from her purse a roll of notes.
The crowd whispered audibly that here was another American millionaire. Frenchy hesitated, but among his townspeople he could not pretend that he did not understand English.
"I don’t bet with women,” he said contemptuously in English. "This is just for fun.” He edged away from her.
Shirley did not insist. Instead she pocketed the coin and, smiling significantly at the faces about her, turned to watch the game. Frenchy, lingering only a moment or two on the outskirts of the crowd, strolled away and started up the steep, rocky slope at the end of the street. Lyster addressed a fellow- patron at an adjoining table:
“He speaks English,” he said in French. “Is his home here?”
“Yes, monsieur, but he has lived in
Marius Rivaud has come back with his pockets lined with gold. They say he could
buy out the town. He was born in that house up there—you see it, monsieur?—it
has a small balcony before it there where the washing hangs. Oh, yes,"
with a sigh, “Marius has done well for himself. But everyone does in America.”
Lyster paid his bill and left. Shirley wandered into a side-street, but he did not follow. He looked about for Redfern, who should have arrived a couple of hours before, but the crowd had almost disappeared for the night meal before the detective came through an archway that led to a back street and turned along the harbour-front. Lyster started after him, keeping his distance. But on the breakwater at the end of the harbour they were able to exchange a few words.
Frenchy was not a spectator of the game on the next afternoon. It was a disagreeable day, with a bitter wind roaring down the mountain valleys, bending the trees and driving the café patrons indoors. Lyster was alarmed. Had their plan failed? Had Frenchy taken fright and fled? That he had recognized Shirley as the girl who stole the discs at the Casino could not be doubted, but that in itself should not alarm him; there was no reason why he should connect the girl with
At last, driven by the uncertainty, Lyster climbed the rocky street to the house that had been pointed out, and was relieved to behold Frenchy on the balcony staring down the street toward the village. Lyster walked on.
That night he and Redfern met after dark on the breakwater.
“I don’t like it,” the detective grumbled. “It isn’t that I stand out against your plan, but it’s too dangerous to let Miss Cringan in on it.”
“For Heaven’s sake don’t tell her that, or we couldn’t keep her out. At any rate, the whole thing depends on her at this point. Frenchy has no immediate intention of leaving town, so we can go on as we are.”
On the fifth day something happened that made him less confident. Indeed, it threatened to upset everything and certainly crowded the issue.
The Skunk appeared in Banyuls!
Lyster’s luck was with him again, for he saw him in time to avoid him. But it alarmed him more than a little that while the Syrian remained in Banyuls everything must be left to Redfern and Shirley.
After dark he and the detective met again. Redfern, too, had seen The Skunk and had not yet decided what to do about it. He had managed to keep him in sight and had seen the pair meet. That it was unexpected and unwelcome on Frenchy’s part was evident. Already upset by Shirley’s appearance on the scene, he greeted his old friend with frank suspicion and dislike. But The Skunk had passed it off, acting the jovial friend. It had not gone down well, and the two had gone off together in no mutual friendliness. The big Syrian’s hand dropped once on Frenchy’s shoulder, only to be shaken off angrily.
“I’d rather,” Redfern declared gloomily, “that for the time being they were friends. It begins to look as if we’ll have to split our forces. I’m not prepared to lose sight of The Skunk again. He seems in no hurry to get to this
Tunis of yours. We must keep in mind that
he’s the one we want most—”
“And the easiest to trace,” Lyster interjected.
“But also the cleverest. And once he finds we’re on his trail he’ll throw us off more easily than Frenchy could. No, I’ll keep in touch with him. You must look after Frenchy. And I want to impress on you that you’re in more danger than I will be. Frenchy will murder in a panic, recklessly. The Skunk will at least use cunning about it.”
“I can see our plan,” Lyster declared, “ already beginning to work on Frenchy. He s uneasy. Miss Cringan has—”
“You propose to keep on using her?”
Lyster shrugged. “I’ve no choice in the matter. . . . So long as The Skunk is here we’ll at least be within reach of each other, you and I.”
The following day Lyster spent prowling about the village, as inconspicuous as possible. For the most part he kept to the wide beach, where he could see all that went on along the street without himself attracting attention. There were always strollers on the shingle.
Thus, as darkness fell, he saw the two men meet at a table before a café, and he took his stand in the shadows and watched.
They were evidently on no better terms than the day before. Frenchy was sullen, The Skunk the annoyingly boisterous friend. Frenchy was suspicious and took no pains to conceal it. He knew the ways of The Skunk. They conversed intermittently, and when at last they parted, the Syrian paying the bill, Frenchy set off alone at a rapid pace. Lyster followed.
He overtook him shortly before the main road branched to the left up the slope, with Frenchy’s street continuing steeply straight ahead. It was the time of the after-glow, with the western sky reflected blindingly in the white walls at the foot of the hill.
“I think,” Lyster said, dropping in at Frenchy’s side, “I think I saw you not long ago in
Frenchy whirled, his hand sliding to a pocket. “Who the devil—!” he began in English, the language Lyster had used. Then his manner changed. “You’re makin’ a mistake. Never was in
in my life.”
“Oh, yeah?” Lyster laughed lazily. “I don’t make mistakes like that. But you needn’t get starchy. I’m not going to give you away. I saw you in the Casino several times. You were with a man who was murdered later on the road down to the Condamine.” Lyster stepped aside to let two men pass.
“If I’d cared to,” he went on, rejoining Frenchy, “I could have told that to the police. I might even have told them who murdered that man—though they don't need much telling. You see, someone saw the murdered man and his murderer holding up an old man who had made a killing at the tables. The French police are clever.”
Frenchy glared at him. “I don’t know what you’re talkin about,” he snarled. “You’re all wet.”
“All right,” indifferently, “but listen. It makes an interesting story, at any rate. The French police happen to know that the two friends I speak of conversed in English, and they ve traced the record of the murdered man. . . . I think you see the point.”
For several moments Frenchy was silent, then he laughed nastily. “Do I look woolly? Wot’s yer game?”
“Oh, nothing—if you prefer to take it that way. What do you think would be my game? If I wished, I could hand you over any time. But don’t be alarmed. I know what it is to be dodging the police . . .I thought I could escape them over home by skipping out.” He managed a bitter laugh. “I’d hate a lot worse to have the French police on my heels. If that happened to me I’d make for the good old United States, where a fellow has a chance—with a bit of money, and old pals to help, and smart lawyers to get him off if he’s caught. Here? Say, once they know you’ve lived in
they’ll milk you dry—and give you a long stretch besides.”
“Nobody can prove nothin’ on me. I ain’t got nothin’ to hide, anyway.”
“Is that so?” Lyster caught his arm in a confidential way. “All right,” as Frenchy wrenched himself free, “have it your own way. But, say, what about that girl that’s trailing you?”
Frenchy pulled up sharply. “You mean that—Wot girl?” he growled suspiciously.
“The one that tried to bet with you day before yesterday.”
“Wot about her? ” Frenchy was listening soberly now.
“Know anything about her? Ever see her before?”
“Yer damn right I did! She stole my chips—Say,” he demanded, “you tryin’ to put one over?”
“I wouldn’t be so foolish. I don’t need to. And what about that big guy I saw you with just now, drinking at the café?”
“Well, wot about him? I just ran across him—had a drink.”
“Perhaps. But did he just run across you? I’ve a great memory for faces. He was selling perfume on the terrace in
Monte Carlo a couple of
weeks ago. You happened to be there at the same time. You just ran across him
there too, I suppose. You see how much I know—or a little of it. But don’t
worry about me; it’s the French police you should worry about.”
Frenchy’s hand crept toward his pocket. “Say, what are you—a dick?”
Lyster only laughed. “You think that because I try to warn you. Sounds foolish, doesn’t it? Perhaps you didn’t know the French police are offering twenty-five thousand francs for the murderer of Dago George.”
“You mean—twenty-five thousand—for me?”
“I wonder how well your friend back there knows it. There isn’t an easier way to make a thousand dollars, is there?”
Frenchy lost control of himself. “By God, the guy that tries that is in for a bellyful!” He drew an automatic; Lyster saw the light flash from the barrel. “I thought The Skunk had something up his sleeve, damn him! All right,” throwing his shoulders back, “I’ll give him a chance to hang himself. I can tell things on him. Sure I knew him—and I never liked him. He’s always on the look for an easy mark. I thought I knew what he was after, but maybe you’re right." He shoved the gun into his pocket, and without another word plunged up the rocky slope toward his home.
Lyster made no attempt to follow.
The next day was Saturday, and Lyster kept under cover, leaving Redfern to the double task of keeping an eye on the pair. Would his warning, he wondered, accomplish his purpose? Thinking it over, he convinced himself that Frenchy had no intention of fleeing immediately. Treachery, to men like Frenchy, was the one unforgivable crime, to be punished at any cost and, since The Skunk had no immediate thought of handing him over to the police, Frenchy would remain to exact vengeance. He would know, too, that he would never be safe as long as The Skunk was alive.
That thought, relieving as it was in one respect, introduced a new fear: vengeance would mean death to one or the other of the pair. Lyster had no wish to let another of the gang escape in that way.
With darkness he set out for a walk. The sound of music from the main street turned his feet toward the heart of the village. There the purpose of the circular cement floor in the little square was explained. It was a dancing platform. A dance was in progress now. Lights were set up about the circle, and a not unmusical orchestra was seated just outside. The entire village seemed to have turned out, either to watch or to dance. A rope held by temporary posts encircled the platform, and benches were set about inside.
Lyster was not surprised to see Frenchy the centre of a throng of young people as each dance ended. His swarthy face was wreathed in smiles as he turned from one admiring girl to another, but underneath Lyster read a certain amount of restraint, of guardedness. Now and then a searching glance went over the crowd.
His manner puzzled Lyster a little. There was bravado in it, the expression, Lyster decided, of his purpose of punishing The Skunk. But there was something more—an eagerness, a more sustained inspection of the faces beyond the ropes than seemed to be called for in a search for the conspicuous person of his burly comrade. Lyster retired to the shadows.
Returning after a few minutes, he missed the Frenchman. Then he saw him standing among the ticket-sellers. He saw him look up and make a sudden move out into the throng, and Lyster, looking ahead, saw with a start of alarm Shirley Cringan.
The girl moved forward, and with a teasing smile stopped before the man Lyster had warned against her. Frenchy’s face was dark as a thunder-cloud. But Shirley smiled up at him, and for a moment they conversed, the crowd closing about them. Then, to Lyster’s stunning amazement, she took the man’s arm and they turned back to the dancing floor.
But Frenchy had other plans. As they neared the entrance through the ropes his arm closed more tightly over Shirley’s hand, and he led away through the crowd to the open street. A quick look of alarm showed for a moment in Shirley’s face, and her glance ranged swiftly about, as if for help. Then she was her smiling self once more.
Lyster acted quickly. They had taken no more than a dozen steps beyond the edge of the crowd when he stood before them.
“Excuse me, monsieur,” he said in rapid French. “May I have a word with you?”
Shirley, hanging slightly back, flashed him a look of gratitude. Frenchy scowled, but a tinge of fear and embarrassment held him silent. The silence became embarrassing.
“Can’t you see,” he growled, "I'm busy?" He started to draw Shirley away.
“But it’s most important, monsieur."
“Don’t let me interfere,” Shirley broke in, speaking in English of course. “Does he want to speak to you?"
Frenchy looked down on her, his lip curling. "So you do understand French, after all."
The girl reddened, and the light was not too dim to see it. “It’s plain enough he wants something that doesn’t concern me.”
“If you please, miss,” Lyster said in English, looking at her for the first time. “Just for a few minutes.” He glanced about; he had no wish, at that moment particularly, to be seen by The Skunk.
Shirley released her hand from Frenchy’s arm, and Lyster, as if it were settled, stepped into her place. Laying his hand on the arm Shirley had dropped, he directed their way to a side-street that led along the deep, empty course of the river.
“Surely,” he chided, in a low voice, “you aren't fool enough to take up with that girl again!”
“Wot’s the matter with her—if I can stand her?" Frenchy demanded belligerently.
“I warned you.”
“You didn’t. Go on, spill it.”
“She’s trailing you.”
Frenchy jeered. “You said so. But it ain't no news to me. I can add two and two. If you hadn’t butted in she’d be on the spot damn soon! I don’t see why she’d be after me, but I ain’t takin’ no chances, I ain’t.”
“The French police,” Lyster warned, “have cunning ways. That girl can talk French as well as you or I. Why does she let on she doesn’t? She’d like to pass as an ordinary American tourist. Well, I ask you, do American women run about this way alone?”
“You mean she’s a French dick?”
“You can add two and two. Do it now. Wasn’t she in
Carlo? You know as well as I that the police never
lose sight of what goes on in the Casino. Dick or not, that twenty-five
thousand francs is too good to miss. But if you’re going to give her a chance
to get it—or that big guy I saw you with—well, I might as well get it myself.”
They had left the main street and the crowd and lights far behind, and had come through the houses to a lonely path that skirted the edge of the river-bed. Fifteen feet and more below them lay the dry, stony course, edged by thick retaining walls of stone. Scarcely a light was visible, but the night was bright.
As he snapped out the final words Lyster lunged forward and threw his arms about Frenchy’s shoulders. With a snarling curse the man wrenched himself free, tossing Lyster toward the wall. On the instant his gun was out, and as Lyster tumbled over the wall he fired.
Frenchy crept to the wall and looked over. Far below on the stony bed Lyster’s crumpled body lay in plain sight. Frenchy took aim. At that moment, close beside him, a woman screamed. And Frenchy straightened and ran.
Lyster was on his feet with a bound.
But she did not hear. She was running along the path to find the steps that, here and there, led to the river-bed for the use of wash-women. Recklessly she tumbled down the first flight she reached.
When she saw Lyster hurrying toward her she pulled up and laughed, a laugh that puzzled Lyster.
“Working a little game of your own, Mr. Lyster?" she said indignantly.
“I’m sorry if I frightened you, Miss Cringan.
“Well,” she said, “it’s out of the routine to see a friend, in’ this skeery light, shot at and fall over a fifteen-foot wall.”
“I’m sorry,” he repeated, “but I couldn t let him get away with you alone. I had no idea you’d follow us. Yes, it was a game of my own—to fit a pressing emergency. If he’d got you out here—well!
“You think I’d have got into trouble."
“You seem to delight in trouble. It was no part of our plan for you to be in Banyuls to-night. I had to do something.”
"You did,” she said dryly, “a whole succession of things. Are you hurt?”
Lyster felt his shoulder. “I had no idea it was such a long fall—or so hard at the bottom. I had to let myself go a bit recklessly; I saw him reach for his gun. It seemed a grand chance to give him the scare of his life. I think I succeeded—or we did, between us. Frenchy is sure to clear out now. And, by the way, there’s a train at eleven o’clock for Collioure. You re taking it. No use to argue—you’re going. The station is in that direction. Keep going. I’ll be within call.
“Why, Mr. Lyster,” she mocked, “you're getting positively garrulous.”
IN the meantime Redfern had not lost sight of The Skunk. The latter witnessed from a safe distance all that happened, but, fortunately, the meeting with Lyster was too distant to recognize faces. Nevertheless, he followed the pair as they set out along the street beside the river.
Redfern was in a quandary. Not a twist of the scene was intelligible to him—Shirley’s laughing meeting with Frenchy, their departure together. The injection of Lyster was not so puzzling, but when the two set out along the darker side-street, the detective was annoyed by evidence of a plan that had not been divulged to him. He was fair enough, however, to suspect that much of it was unpremeditated, the result of an emergency.
When The Skunk started after them Redfern felt better. At least he would be near for anything that might happen. Second thoughts, however, warned him that the whole affair might be a plot of the two rogues.
So intent was he on The Skunk and his own reflections that he did not see Shirley, after walking a few yards along the main street, turn and follow them all.
Redfern knew the street they were in. A quarter of a mile it advanced between houses, then petered out into a mere path that hugged the chasm of the river. It was no place for Lyster, unarmed and reckless, and inexperienced of such men as these. The detective felt that something drastic must be done about it.
The Skunk, creeping along the darker side of the street, did not neglect his back, and Redfern, at a moment when his quarry glanced behind him, darted across in plain view. It was enough. The Syrian skipped around the first corner, and by the time Redfern reached it he was only a shadow far up the street and on the run.
Redfern too ran, but he made no effort to cut down the distance between them. Satisfied at last that The Skunk was out of the picture for the night, he hastened back to take up the trail of the other two.
He heard the shot far ahead of him, heard Shirley scream, but by the time he reached the spot Lyster and Shirley had vanished. Assured that at least neither had been killed, he continued along the path until he overtook them.
From a distance he and Lyster watched Shirley board the night train for Collioure.
Early next morning Roland Lyster was at the station, more solemn than ever, impatiently awaiting the first train east. Alighting half an hour later at Collioure, he started down the hill to the village. Midway he met Shirley Cringan. She greeted him in great surprise.
"Mr. Lyster! Which of us is Mohammed, which the mountain? I was coming to you.” She saw him frown at her flippancy and she sobered. “What has happened?”
“I want to talk to you and your mother, Miss Cringan.”
Her laugh tinkled above the drone of a car climbing the hill, and she tilted her head teasingly at him. “This is so sudden, Mister Lyster. But mumsie’s the one to see, all right.”
“I wish you’d be serious,” he chided, feeling his cheeks flush.
“Well, you might tell me first what all the news is. It must somehow concern me.”
“It would only be waste of time—and words. Your mother and you and I will talk about it together.”
She feigned a deep solemnity and they descended the hill side by side in complete silence. Only once, without a word, she swept out her arm toward the sparkling blue sea beyond the village. Little wavelets rippled the surface, and a flight of water-birds swept in a flowing sheet across the horizon. The village was fresh and clean, striking contrast to its neighbour Banyuls.
At the door of the house Shirley stopped.
“You still insist on surprising me?”
“Surprising you?” he repeated, puzzled.
“Springing it on me before mumsie—whatever it is.”
Queenie Cringan appeared at the door before Lyster could reply.
“Why, Mr. Lyster—Shirley!” She placed her hands on her hips. “It isn’t possible we’re going to be favoured with our daughter’s society to-day! Soon we’ll have to be introduced to her.”
Shirley swept past her, head up.
“Mr. Lyster is so mysterious this morning, mumsie."
"He’s got something to say, and it isn’t fit to be said before an innocent girl without her mother around. All right,” tossing her hat on a couch, “fire away. Mumsie’ll censor it.”
“Mrs. Cringan,” Lyster began, “I want you to keep your daughter away from Banyuls."
Shirley’s lips parted in surprise, then her face flushed angrily.
“Wouldn’t it be well, especially for Uncle Nathan's valet, to let the Cringans decide that for themselves?" she asked coldly. “They can attend to their own business”.
Lyster bowed. “That’s precisely what I ask. This affair is Redfern’s and mine alone.”
“And my uncle’s—and therefore mine, if I wish it."
“Tut, tut!” Queenie held up her hands to silence them. “Mr. Lyster, I quite agree with you. But,” pathetically, “if you knew the number of things I know I should do but can’t!” But it was not Queenie Cringan’s habit to grieve. “At least I can give you some advice—from long experience: don’t ever marry and raise a family.” She threw a hand out helplessly toward Shirley.
“You flatter Mr. Lyster, mumsie," Shirley said scornfully. “Besides, you waste words. Mr. Lyster is far too comfortable tied to Uncle Nathan's apron-strings to assume any such responsibilities. Don’t you see the purpose of this visit, mumsie? It’s all a nice extravagant holiday for him, and anything that threatens to shorten it arouses his indignation, of course.”
“Do you call the affair of last night an ingredient of a nice holiday, Miss Cringan?” Lyster demanded.
She waved a finger at him. “You know you never had a more thrilling time in your life.”
Queenie Cringan looked from one to the other with questioning eyes. “What happened last night, may I ask? All I know is that Shirley came home at an indecent hour—as usual.”
“A real movie stunt, mumsie—without cameras. Perhaps I do Mr. Lyster injustice, after all, in accusing him of lack of ambition.”
Lyster ignored it. “May I ask what you have to do with shortening my ‘holiday,’ as you call it, whether you keep out of the affair or not?”
“You don’t wish new ideas. You don’t wish the help I can give. Anything that would shorten the chase, simplify it—”
“Simplify? Mrs. Cringan, if you and your daughter only knew how her interference threatens to complicate things!”
“I helped you at
Shirley flamed. “You said I did. And I’ve done a certain amount at Banyuls. You
even approved of my plans.”
Lyster forbore reminding her that the plans were largely his. “We used you because you insisted.”
“I still insist. Why is it so different now? That little affair last night—”
“Pardon me, it’s very different now. Half a dozen hours ago there were two of us to protect you. Now I’m alone.”
“Exactly. Frenchy has skipped out and Redfern is after him.”
Queenie demanded the story of the night before, and Shirley, making light of it, told her. “I played a lone part, mumsie, perfectly. I was the one female character in the caste, and I did what was expected of me—I screamed at the right place.”
“And there are a hundred places where a scream may spoil everything,” Lyster objected. “Last night it happened to fit in.”
“I may fit in again, don’t you think?”
Lyster shook his head stubbornly. “I must be free for my work.” The significance of it came home to him when he saw Shirley laughing.
“Don’t worry about me,” she said. “I’ll stay under the bright lights hereafter. Mumsie, I put it to you: here’s Mr. Lyster, Uncle Nathan’s agent, left alone on a big task he cannot hope to carry through alone. He knows why he can’t, so take my word for it. Now see: when he fails, when he hasn’t the luck of last night, there won’t be anyone to take care of the corpse. Uncle would be awfully put out.”
Queenie Cringan shook her head hopelessly. “You don’t seem to know Shirley, Mr. Lyster. You’d have had some chance of attaining your end if you hadn't talked about the danger of it. I’ve given my daughter everything she desired, that I could afford. I've never been able to give her excitement mixed with danger. You have. And what lies ahead looks even to me to be packed with it. If you’d only seen me alone first I’d have shown you how to go about it. You didn’t.” She sighed and flung out her hands. “Well, there it is. I’ve troubles of my own.”
“Indeed you have, mumsie.” Shirley took her mother by the shoulder and ushered her to the door. “Daddy will want your advice on that ultramarine blue, and for goodness’ sake steer him off violet.”
Queenie went with a helpless laugh.
“At any rate,” Shirley said, as she closed the door and took a chair in a business-like way, “we’ve got what we set out to do; we’ve frightened Frenchy into flight. And, having set out to do it, you must have been prepared for it—or you should have been. Whence the surprise—the new move? After what I’ve seen the last couple of nights in Banyuls—”
“Were you there any night but last night?” Lyster demanded.
“I was there when you and Frenchy had your little talk, after he’d split a bottle with The Skunk. Anyone could see then that Banyuls had ceased to be the haven Frenchy anticipated. . . . And now where will he make for?”
"We must—I must leave that to Redfern.”
A slight smile crossed Shirley’s lips at the plural pronoun, but she dropped her eyes demurely to the tip of one shoe. “So it means that you’re left all alone to trail The Skunk?”
“What else was there to do?”
“And The Skunk is the most dangerous of the lot.”
“That’s why you must stay out of it, Miss Cringan.”
“So you said. As I see it, it’s another reason why I must offer my services. No, listen.” She was serious enough now. “You’re taking up alone the trail of a devil, a clever one, a man who knows you and who, with his suspicious nature, will suspect you if he sees you again. Don’t forget that last night his suspicions were aroused; and if he recognized you with Frenchy—”
“I don’t think he could have—there was no one near enough. Redfern, too, is certain of it.”
“Then why did he follow?”
Lyster had no convincing answer to that.
“Even if he didn’t recognize you, the warning you gave him in
Monte Carlo will make him doubt you. Don’t
you see how that will handicap you? The Skunk will either move on—and if he
does he’ll vanish—or he’ll get rid of you by more violent means. That’s where I
fit in. You can’t go on alone. Besides, how can we keep track of you, if you
have to keep track of The Skunk alone? See what almost happened last night.
Suppose you took sick. Suppose you needed help in an emergency—even the little
I can give.”
Her face was pale with the earnestness of her plea, and Lyster, who had never seen her like that before, listened without grasping much of what she said. He came to himself, to see her eyeing him inquiringly.
“The more you enlarge on its dangers, Miss Cringan, the more determined you make me to keep you out of it. One thing, it makes the job worth while, an ambition even you might not condemn. But what a fine ambition it would be to let you share the danger!"
“Let me decide about that. Now, Mr. Lyster, I’m not dropping out. Do I continue with your consent or without it? Do we work together and accomplish something, or are we against each other—with me probably gumming the works?”
He saw she was immovable. Her jaw was set, and she sprang to her feet and went to the window to stare out to sea, one foot tapping the carpet. Lyster too rose and paced about the room. He felt so helpless, so limp in this unexpected emergency. Shirley whirled about.
“Why do you worry? You know Uncle Nathan wants nothing so badly as to get those men. . . . Unless it’s you back safe and sound. He can’t get along without you now.” She came and stood with her hands resting on his arm. “Take me along, please. I promise to obey orders, to take no unreasonable chances. Any order I disobey,” she corrected, “will be for good and sudden reason.
“Mr. Lyster, I can’t stay here, I just can’t. And you know I shouldn’t. It’s no place for a girl. Collioure has had its effect already—you think so yourself or you wouldn’t be so—so nasty. I’m too young, yes, and too pretty, to live through it without disaster. Or I’m too weak-minded to resist it, if you like. They think they want to paint. They don’t. It’s a club of cynics, of misanthropes, of mis-everything but themselves and their petty accomplishments.”
She stormed to the door and threw it open. “Mumsie! Oh, mumsie!” Her clear young voice echoed through the house.
Queenie Cringan hurried in, and Shirley, feet braced, stood before her.
“Mumsie, lift the lid a little—for once. Tell him the truth. Tell him something of the true Collioure—what it looks like to you, what it is sure to do to the morons who live here. Let loose, just this time.”
“Why—why—” Queenie stared at them, her face working pitifully.
Shirley caught her arm and shook her. “Go on. Out with it—for my sake. This is your chance to save me. Would you have chosen this place, or any ‘art’ colony in the world, to bring your daughter up in?”
A quick look of pain crossed her mother’s face, and her eyes were wet. Then slowly: “It may be—good—for your father, dearie. He’s doing so well—we hope.”
Shirley touched the quivering lips to silence. “That’s enough. I’m sorry, mumsie, but it had to be done.” Gently she showed her mother out.
“Well?” she asked, crossing the room to stand before Lyster. Her own eyes were wet.
He made no reply.
“You make things so—so damned hard for a girl!” she complained. “You’re so hard to move.”
“I used to think I was,” he murmured.
SHIRLEY CRINGAN took up her abode in the hotel at the end of the breakwater in Banyuls. It was off by itself, at the west end of the village, and offered seclusion and a chance to meet Lyster unobserved. Her presence was readily explained by the box of paints and folding stool she carried everywhere. Artists, especially English artists, are a passing part of the local life of every quaint spot in
Europe, and Collioure was wont to spray them over the
At that Shirley Cringan was no mean artist. She had taken lessons from her father, so that she had no fear of being detected in merely playing a role.
The scene she chose to paint was the west end of the harbour, with its vari-coloured cliff rising steeply behind the aquarium, and a jumble of brown rocks visible through the spray that dashed over the far side of the breakwater. She opened her chair, therefore, and set up her easel on the beach before the main street, where she was in a position to see everyone that passed and all that happened.
A visit to the little wine-shop beneath Frenchy’s home assured Lyster that the man was gone. Gone on business, they told him, big business, of course, since he was almost an American. It left Lyster free to concentrate on The Skunk. The Syrian, he was convinced, would not linger in Banyuls without his old companion in crime.
That was where Shirley was to justify herself.
For a day nothing was seen of The Skunk, and Lyster began to tremble for the success of his quest. He could not imagine anyone hiding for a whole day in such a small village as Banyuls except deliberately, and if The Skunk was sufficiently alarmed for that he would leave without delay.
It was Shirley saw him first. Her wandering eye picked him out as he climbed the hill toward Frenchy’s old home, and she gathered up her equipment and walked back to the hotel. Lyster, watching from the breakwater, saw the arranged signal and was relieved. That night they met.
Next day she seated herself on the beach nearer the street and set to work with her paints, and as the fishing-boats came in a crowd collected about her. She feigned not to notice it, but not a face escaped her.
At last The Skunk strolled down on the shingle.
She saw that he watched her with more than casual interest, yet she could not be sure that he recognized her as the girl Frenchy had been with for a few minutes on the night of the dance.
Running her eye impersonally over the crowd, she asked in stumbling French: “Does anyone speak English?”
For a few moments no one replied. The French, unlike the Italians, are more intent on a foreigner’s mistakes in the language than on his meaning. The question was repeated in another form, almost equally imperfect, and a woman pointed to The Skunk.
“Il parle Anglais,” she said.
The Skunk tried to shrink out of sight, but the crowd separated, leaving a clear lane between him and Shirley.
“You speak English?” she asked, with a friendly smile.
“I spik—” he began in his practised jargon.
But when the crowd, recognizing the dialect, laughed, he said: “Yes, I understand it,” and frowned.
“I scarcely know a word of French,” Shirley said, ignoring the change of tone. “I want to ask them if some morning one of the fishing-boats would be good enough to draw up just there, between me and the cliff over there. I’d like to work it into the picture—to give it life. You see what I mean?”
Sullenly The Skunk translated, and two grizzled sailors pushed forward with offers.
“He says he’ll do it to-morrow,” The Skunk interpreted, pointing to the older man, and immediately pushed away through the crowd. After a smiling “merci” Shirley went on with her painting.
In the afternoon she met The Skunk face to face on the street.
“It was so good of you to help me out this morning,” she said. “You didn’t give me a chance to thank you. You’ve lived in
America, I see.”
“Not long,” he growled, and would have passed on had she not stood directly before him and continued to speak.
“It’s so pleasant to be able to talk to someone at last. I’m having a terrible time making myself understood, and I simply can’t make out what they say to me. Is it French? I’m muscle-bound making gestures. I’m American—lived out in
Los Angeles. Do you know
The Skunk did not. He would not have known any place Shirley mentioned. Then he was gone.
Next day Shirley was in her place once more, except that she was nearer the street. The boat was drawn up where she had indicated. The Skunk did not make an appearance. But in the afternoon he passed, and Shirley, gathering up her paints and stool, ran after him.
“I just can’t let you pass,” she laughed, “without the one chance I have to speak my own language again. I’ll forget it if you don’t help me out. It’s desperately lonesome, too.”
“Then why did you come?”
“Because—because it’s such a romantic spot.”
He made a grimace. “There was an Englishman—or an American—back there in an hotel a few days ago. You should talk to him.” He pointed through an archway to the street on which Redfern's hotel was located. “They say there’s another at the big hotel on the hill. I haven’t seen him. You needn’t forget your English.”
“Will you come and have a cup of coffee with me?” she pleaded.
“Coffee!” he snorted. “My dear girl, you won’t like the coffee you get here, not after
“Then tea—how about tea?”
The Skunk laughed. “They’ll serve it in a glass—if they know what you mean. If you want anything to drink that isn’t wine, ask for citronade or limonade. And you needn’t be afraid to drink alone." Without so much as a bow he left her.
Shirley looked after him. “Such a slap!” she said to herself. “To be turned down—and by him! Between The Skunk and Roland Lyster I’m on a fair way to humility.”
“The perfume-seller,” she opined to Lyster that night, when they met on the breakwater, “is getting touchy about me.”
“For Heaven’s sake don’t overdo it,” Lyster pleaded miserably.
“How can I?”
“You can make him suspect that you wish him to suspect you.”
She threw up her head. “I lack your fine Italian hand, is that it?” Then she remembered her promise. “All right, what do you wish me to do?”
He didn’t quite know—except the one thing she refused—and he stumbled as he talked, realizing suddenly how dependent he had grown on her, how little he would be able to accomplish without her or Redfern. She heard him through soberly.
Next day they thought they understood why The Skunk lingered after Frenchy was gone. Shirley saw him enter the little wine-shop beneath Frenchy’s old home. The latter had gone without informing his old friend, and The Skunk was trying to trace him.
Their suspicions were confirmed two days later when, The Skunk not having been seen in the meantime, Shirley boldly went to his stopping-place and asked for him. Yes, monsieur had gone, the old woman did not know where, but he had left at half-past seven in the morning, so that he must have taken the train west.
Shirley, without concealment now, made for Lyster’s hotel. And later in the morning Lyster himself made inquiries, first of the old woman where The Skunk had had a room, then of the stationmaster. The old woman elaborated proudly on having made monsieur pay a week in advance before he left, but it took a deal of time and patience to elicit the information that the man they sought had spoken once of Barcelona and Palma. The stationmaster confirmed the western destination.
A skirmish with maps located
A line of boats ran from Barcelona to the
Balearic Islands, landing at Palma, on the . island of Majorca
That night they set out, Lyster torn between his anxiety about The Skunk and his helplessness to restrain Shirley from what, he felt, was to her only another exciting escapade. Shirley was disarmingly demure—and that did not add to Lyster’s peace of mind. At
they parted company. Shirley took the night boat for Palma.
IT was not quite as simple as that. After much uneasy protesting and criticizing on Lyster’s part, it was agreed that it would not be wise to travel to
Palma together. And
Shirley earned her point that she had better go first, partly because “ Barcelona is no city for a
young girl alone,” partly because as yet she played the major part in their
scheme, and it was unnecessary as part of that scheme to conceal herself as it
was for Lyster.
Too late Lyster discovered that the next boat did not leave for two days, a period of fretting and selfcensure, while he wandered up and down the Rambla, wondering why he had been so easy.
Why should Shirley have preceded him? How could he have forgotten that for two days she would face the dangers of the chase alone, the very dangers that had made him so insistent that she should leave everything to him and Redfern? She had succeeded in making him see things through her eyes, had, indeed, from the first, taken charge of the whole affair.
Two days of inactivity, when he could hear nothing from her, could not be near if she should need him! And she would be alone on a foreign island, without a word of Spanish at her command! To Lyster it was two days of self-humiliation, of agony.
Though the boat did not leave till nine at night, he was aboard by half-past six, having snatched a night meal that left no memory. As the little ship struck the open beyond the breakwater he was glad of the strong wind that blew and the rough sea that dashed over the bow. He did not undress.
In the early morning light the boat slipped into
harbour and drew up against a wharf lined with hotel runners and carrajue drivers. The great cathedral
lay like a giant beetle close to the shore, and the mountains backing the town
A strange and absorbing scene, but Lyster saw none of it. He was searching the faces along the wharf for one that had not been out of his mind for two days—and much longer. And the face was not The Skunk’s.
Shirley was not there.
They had, from a Cook’s list, selected the Grand Hotel for Shirley, while Lyster would put up at the
The two hotels were, they were told, in the city and close together, not out at
El Terreno, where the tourists congregated. The Skunk, they decided, would
avoid the tourist hotels.
Having dropped his suit-cases at the
Lyster hurried to the Grand. Discretion, secrecy be damned! A cloud seemed to
have settled over the city, a sultry stillness, so that he breathed fast and
The clerk at the Grand spoke halting English. Yes, there had been an American girl there, but only for a day—no, two days; she had left that very morning. He did not know where she had gone, perhaps back to
to Iviza. The latter suggestion was made with
some confidence, as if a girl like Shirley Cringan was bound to choose some
outlandish place like Iviza, the third island
of the group.
“But surely she said where she was going!”
“Not to me. I was not on duty when she went.” The clerk dropped his face over a newspaper, as if nothing more was to be had from him. Lyster was not going to register, that was plain.
After several misunderstandings, some coldness, a certain amount of irritation, and a stagger at Spanish that failed, Lyster elicited the information that the clerk who was on duty when Shirley departed, and who might know something, had gone to Pollensa for a couple of days. Anyway, what was all the fuss about? A guest had come and gone. She had paid her bill. What more? If there was any trouble about it for the young man, well, there was always mañana to go more fully into the affair.
Lyster prowled about the city. He visited the Ingles Hotel, the Mediterranee and the
Victoria at El Terreno,
but Shirley Cringan was unknown to them. In a fever he began to make inquiries
about the long trip across the island to Pollensa, where the clerk who might
know was visiting, but no one could tell him where to find exactly the man he
Accordingly he was forced to wait, all the time wandering about, making inquiries, fussing, working himself into a panic. Reason warned him at last that he was making himself a nuisance.
Everything was explained with the return of the absent hotel clerk—except the casual carelessness of his substitute. Shirley had left a letter for Lyster, and the clerk had thrust it into the “H” box, curiously enough where a “Halton” letter should be put, and Lyster had not had imagination enough to ask for it.
The letter contained only a score of words, scrawled almost illegibly:
Algiers on a moment’s
notice. Pick me up there. At least they’ll speak French.—S.”
Lyster was out of the door before he had finished reading. He knew of the air mail line between
Marseilles and Algiers,
stopping at Palma
for passengers and mail. Ignoring his suit-cases at the Alhambra, he rushed to the harbour. The plane
he had seen alight on the water not two hours ago.
He was in time to see it taxi across the bay and rise in a graceful curve toward
For the first time in his life Roland Lyster exhausted a vocabulary of oaths unconsciously acquired in four or five countries. The blast ceased abruptly, and fear crowded out his anger and disappointment.
now! Shirley had come alone to Palma—and gone on
alone to North Africa!
All day he fretted. His mind dwelt on the implications of that short note. The Skunk, too, had gone to
and since Shirley would not dare to take the same plane, he must have gone two
days earlier. Shirley would be searching Algiers
There was no Cook’s office in
but another tourist office where they spoke French and a little English
informed him of the times of boats and planes. The next plane did not leave for
He could return to
Barcelona, take train to Marseilles, and cross from
there by boat, but that would gain him nothing. There was, of course, the
chance that he might be able to charter a plane at Barcelona,
but that was too uncertain, and its arrival in Algiers would create a stir.
It meant that Shirley would be on her own for ten days, with a murderous gangster to contact!
Not knowing where he went, he found himself entering the Alhambra Hotel. The clerk beckoned to him.
“A cable for you, Mr. Halton.”
Lyster seized it. It was from Shirley.
“Gone on to
Tunis,” it said.
And he might have caught that plane whose roar was scarcely out of hearing, and have reached
Algiers to find
“When did this arrive?” he inquired.
“Last night. The other clerk forgot to mention it.”
Lyster ground his teeth, and after a furious look rushed back to the tourist agency. As he climbed the slope a plane soared over his head, swooping toward the bay.
“Where does that plane go?” he demanded of the clerk.
“It’s the return plane from
Algiers, starting in an hour
In a flash Lyster had boats and trains and planes fixed in his mind and was running for his hotel. He would fly to
Marseilles and catch
a boat straight to Tunis, saving two days over
plane to Algiers and train to Tunis.
The pilot of the plane had information for him too. The Skunk had gone to
with him, and in their talk had spoken of going on to Tunis. It was from him, the pilot, that
Shirley had extracted the same information.
“Those American girls!” the pilot sighed. “They don’t let a man throw them down, do they? And, by God, she was too pretty for him! Turned me down cold too, she did.” He braced his shoulders proudly.
“I’d smack you one on the jaw,” Lyster fumed to himself, “if I didn’t need you so badly.”
For the thousandth time he upbraided himself for the spineless part he had played. For that, too, he would have to answer to Nathan Hornbaker.
Camels—veiled women—red-fezzed Arabs—turbaned Bedouins—busy Israelites—silent Italians—negroes of a dozen tints—French police—outlandish soldiers dirt and noise—shouting taxi-drivers—a beautifully-treed boulevard sweeping past—the walls of a city enclosed in a city. It all flickered before his eyes with only one significance: where in all this was Shirley?
He had chosen an hotel at random from the driver’s patter, and his first concern—with his suit-cases thumped against his legs to remind him that he had not paid his fare—was to examine the register.
Shirley's name was not there; there was no American girl at the hotel. She would have no reason for an alias, since the robbers, now that Toni was dead, would never connect the Cringans with the Hornbakers!
Without pausing even to look at his room, Lyster sent his bags up and started out to find her.
It was not difficult. At the second hotel he visited there on the register was her easy scroll.
The Majestic was a large, showy hostelry that enabled tourists to send imposing picture postcards back home, its clientele the sort who record their progress by such a display. But, having found where she was staying, Lyster dared not make too many inquiries. He was told by the head porter, a large man in a long frock-coat loaded with gold braid, that Miss Cringan had gone out early, as she always did. And his extended hand more than hinted for the pourboire befitting such an hotel. Lyster, aware that the man might prove useful, paid and took a seat in the lobby.
It was one o’clock before Shirley, weary and spiritless, appeared. She carried her sketching kit and dropped it in the first empty chair with a sigh that tore at Lyster’s heart. He hurried to her.
She exhibited no surprise, but her body visibly relaxed, and her head sank restfully against the back of the chair.
“Well,” she said, with a thin smile, “you look a bit haggard yourself, Mr. Lyster. Have you missed your breakfast?”
He dropped beside her and peered into her face. “I’m—just—sorry.”
“Why should you be? The Skunk and I are much too fast for a stern chase. Incidentally he was too fast for me. I’ve lost him. But,” bracing against her fatigue, “he’s somewhere in
And now, if you please, a bit to eat, and then sleep—sleep.” She roused herself
and tipped the sketching kit to the floor. “I’ve got neuritis, too, lugging
that damned thing around. You can carry on now. I’m for the downy—till
They lunched together at the hotel. Lyster, as usual, was tongue-tied before her, stricken by her exhaustion, the heavy eyes and limp lips, shamed by the ignominious part she had forced on him. She saw it in his eyes.
“Don’t look like that!” she pleaded. “You’ve nothing to blame yourself for. Can’t you see I’m trouble enough to myself without having to worry about you?”
“I’m so sorry,” was all he could say.
“Yes,” she agreed, “I am a bit weary. How far have I wandered?” She stifled a yawn. “How long have I slept? I don’t know. Oh, well, I’m young. And,” more brightly, “this isn’t a joy-ride, is it? . . . But I hope you’ve enjoyed your travels.” She did not look at him; her eyes were on a dish of creamed spinach.
“It’s been agony,” he cried, “every moment of it . . . except when I received the note you left at the Grand Hotel in Palma.”
“Such a snippy note, too. Did they tell you I was so rushed I hadn't time to pack? I left everything but what I could throw in a bag. Even then I had to bribe a boatman to take me out to the aeroplane after it had started to taxi, and I just managed to make it. We had a rocky passage, too. I was disgustingly sick. It wasn’t a good start.”
“But how did you keep in touch with The Skunk?”
She told her story. She had wasted no time in
From an Englishman who ran a sort of general agency for everything she got a
list of the native hotels. There were not many, and she had little difficulty
in running down the man she was after.
But The Skunk had checked out. Two days had already passed. On the way back to the hotel she saw the little tender landing a passenger from the plane, and she hurried down and talked—in French—to the boatman. It was a lucky interview, for she learned that a passenger who could not be mistaken had taken the previous plane for
Algiers. Thereupon she had
rushed back to the hotel to leave a note for Lyster and grab a bag, and had
almost missed the plane.
Algiers she had less
trouble. Tracing the aeroplane by which The Skunk had crossed the
Mediterranean, she learned that the Syrian had talked of going straight to Tunis.
“That was all I needed,” she said between yawns. “We were expecting him to make for
Tunis, so I jumped on
the next train and followed. And now,” her eyes half closed, “if you’ll hand
across about five thousand francs I’ll buy myself a toothbrush and a fresh pair
of stockings and make myself look respectable. The Grand Hotel at Palma owes me quite a bit
for what I left. There are a couple of fair stores here, though I expect to
spend more in the souks. You must see the souks!
“That’s the whole story. The rest is just one long sleep—and thank God someone turned up. Settle the bill, will you? I’ve been neglecting to pay, since I had only two hundred francs in my pocket when I arrived. And,” as she rose from the table, “would you be good enough to look me up here to-night when I’ve slept myself back to something resembling sanity? Have I been talking wildly? I’m too tired to know what I’m saying. It’s been so thrilling meeting you again, Mr. Lyster.”
And Roland Lyster, watching her sway from the dining-room, realized that, as usual, she had taken charge. What a dub he was with her—yes, and about her! While he had been worrying himself sick about her, she had been—just tired.
He paid the bill, made a note of the number of Shirley's room, and went out into the sunlit streets, to be struck to a staggering surprise that Tunis was what it was, “le blanc burnous du Prophète.” Until an hour ago it had been only another city to search.
Roaming along the Avenue Jules Ferry, with its beautiful boulevard of trees, to the Avenue de France, he came at last to the Port de France, the ancient gateway to the walled city, and for a long time he stood in its shadow watching the teeming life that washed past him.
Vivid, alien, ceaseless; black and white and brown; Arab and Bedouin, Israelite and Turk, East Indian and negro, with here and there a Frenchman or a tourist; money-changers, guides, powerful porters with their incredible burdens slung in ropes over their backs; sly women in haiks, with seductively manipulated veils; dusky giants in burnous or gandourah; a beautiful, silver-trimmed Arab charger; a funeral cortège, and a wedding party in carriages.
For an hour, his mind relieved of its more pressing anxiety, he lost himself in the kaleidoscope scene. Strolling through into the Bourse, he found himself in the old slave-market, with an hotel straight before him, the British Consulate on his right, and a line of shops along the left side. And on either side of the hotel a narrow, mysterious, dark little street diving away with its hordes into more mysterious depths.
Struck by a sudden idea, he rushed back to his hotel, paid the bill, and in half an hour was settled in the hotel within the walled city. Only then, seated before the projecting window, looking straight down into the Port de France, the one entrance on that side to the walled city, did he realize how wisely he had chosen. All the life of
used that gate. And it was the living part of the city alone that had brought
More mature consideration weakened his assurance. Would he recognize The Skunk amid that never-ending procession? Here were thousands who in stature resembled the Syrian, and if the latter chose to assume the slightest disguise only close contact would pierce it. Another worry: with such an absorbing scene before him, would he be able to concentrate on his task?
He went out to the French city, found a café, drank a glass of café au lait, and set out for the narrow streets that led to the souks. In a few minutes he was completely lost, but, refusing to ask directions and defying the advances of innumerable bazaar merchants seated in their narrow stalls, he rambled about. Only as darkness fell did he find his way back by following the crowd.
Shirley was at dinner when he arrived. He had not eaten since noon, but he felt no hunger as he sat in the lobby where he could see her at her meal. She saw him almost as soon as he entered, but she merely nodded and continued through the courses, taking her time, not even looking at him again. At the end she lit a cigarette and sat back. She was dressed in a new old gold evening dress, and even in an hotel that went extravagantly to dress she shone.
Lyster noticed that, though she lit the cigarette, after the first two or three puffs she let it go out.
It was almost an hour after his entrance before she came to him, still carrying the dead cigarette. With a lazy smile—she was still tired—she waved him back to his seat and dropped on the couch beside him. Neither spoke. The cigarette rolled over and over in her fingers as she fixed her eyes on a floor-lamp and appeared not to notice their silence. Lyster eyed her furtively.
“Well,” she said at last, facing him, “do you like it?”
“An exquisite shade,” he murmured.
“That’s nice. I found it in a duck of a place on the Avenue. But, you know, it’s something more than a shade; it’s a dress. Never mind. I know its faults, but if you’d been travelling and living for a week in one outfit, right through to the skin, you’d kid yourself into thinking that anything new is entrancing. I did. You’ve confirmed the subsequent disillusion. Oh, well, I’ve a thousand or two left for another—and now you for a bank. Got a fresh cigarette?”
He drew out an enamelled case and held a match for her. His fingers trembled.
“You’re not quite yourself, are you?” she asked, looking away. “We’re both off colour—till we get settled and rested . . . I suppose you’ve been doing the sights—while I slept.”
“It’s a very interesting old city,” he said.
“I thought—I feared—it might be. But, you know, there’s more in this than
Tunis, and you and I running about together
in a shocking way. Have you seen enough of le
blanc burnous to get to work?”
“I’m not likely to forget that,” he told her stiffly. “I’ve one reminder—my responsibility for you.”
She waved an indifferent hand. “Don’t let that worry you. You’re responsible for nothing. I forced my way in. In your stubborn, unimaginative way, your English way, you did your darnedest to keep me out. . . . There are several things you have yet to learn about me.”
“As you’re talking, yes! ” he retorted shortly.
“Oh, that!” She waved her cigarette airily. It had gone out again. “That was just introductory. I was merely anticipating your own conscience. Some of these days you’re going to have an awful time with it. You’ve that kind of a conscience.”
“Why should it trouble me?”
“Well, it may be the custom in your country for young couples to trot away for a holiday together—week-ends, and all that—but surely you know the United States well enough by this time to be aware that it just isn’t done—except in Hollywood—and Reno. Yes, I know all you’ll say: we make a fetish of respectability—in theoretical ethics; and then we go on to break every law of decency with the eagerness of a child playing truant. But it’s there—the ostentation of decency, I mean. I suppose,” with a sigh, “you’ve been just long enough in
to get confused about morals. But in about a day and a half I expect you to
break out as a male Mrs. Grundy. I’m just hastening the attack, so we can get
it over and be free to concentrate on our work.”
"I'm afraid,” was all he said, “you’ve slept too long this afternoon, Miss Cringan. You’re too farsighted for me.”
“Have it your own way, Mr. Lyster. But there’s one place I draw the line: you must put up at some other hotel.”
He studied her, uncertain whether she was teasing or not.
"That’s a point I’ve done some anticipating about. I’m staying almost a mile away.”
“So proper. I knew you’d think of it.”
“But I didn’t. I—”
"Of course, we might call it expediency rather than inherent virtue, if you will. We mustn’t forget The Skunk is presumably the purpose of our wanderings. But I see how all this shocks you. Well,” briskly, “how did you spend your afternoon?”
“I wish you’d be serious,” he protested.
"I've heard that so often. And I wish you’d be less serious.” She straightened and frowned at him. "But that would be too much to expect. Some day I'm going to shock you terribly; I could almost die happy then.”
"Your wants are so few—and so easily satisfied.”
“You conceal it admirably, Mr. Lyster. By the way, I suppose you cabled Cook’s, at
Monte Carlo, to see what
has happened to Mr. Redfern?”
“I—I quite forgot.”
“Yet you expect me to sit and take orders, nothing more! Don't you think it might be well, just for its news-value, to know something about our detective friend’s movements?”
"I'll do it right away,” he promised, realizing once more that beneath her banter lay a steadfastness of purpose and a depth of discernment that often made him feel shallow.
He rose, his eyes on the head porter, but she caught his sleeve.
“I don’t wish you to do anything rash,” she said. “Do I need to remind you that any money that gets into the hands of hotel porters the world over sticks there? We want that cablegram to reach its destination. Now, I suppose, the decks are cleared for our real task. I take it you lost no time this afternoon—while I slept.”
“No—no. But I found a room that may be useful.” He told her proudly of his location just within the Port de France, and was surprised when she shook her head sadly.
“Then I suppose I must move,” she said.
“But I don’t see—”
“I took a room in the same hotel the first day I came. I never slept there, of course. Pleasant, sort of exciting location, isn’t it? You’ll enjoy it. Very—exotic. I won’t need to keep my room now. It’ll be more proper and less expensive. Fortunately, I got away from Collioure in time.”
“It might have been better if you’d stayed,” he growled. “I don’t know what has come over you since you left
“It’s the ocean voyage,” she laughed. “Salt water is bad for us. That’s why the very nicest Americans are disliked when they get to
THERE followed a week of more or less undirected wandering, during which Lyster convinced himself he had no excuse to visit Shirley Cringan again.
The cable had brought a reply from Redfern, forwarded from Cook’s: “En route
New York from Barcelona
with friend. Cheerio.”
Lyster dropped the cable in an envelope and mailed it to Shirley at the Majestic Hotel. There was no reply.
Day after day he wandered about, disturbed that his mind, too, wandered at times. The Skunk, he was convinced, would take refuge in the native city, but there was an outer native quarter as well as the walled city, and it meant miles and miles of streets and hundreds of groups varying in size, as well as crowded thoroughfares to inspect.
The souks he found of never-failing interest, and most of the time he spent there. Twice he saw Shirley. Once he hurried after her, but lost her in the crowd, and was glad of it.
Then he found the Souk El Attarine, and with it The Skunk. Rather, The Skunk found him.
Lyster was strolling through the tangle of narrow streets within the walled city, jostled by the crowd, making way for the porters, marvelling vaguely at the wealth of these narrow bazaars, when he came out on a wider, more formal covered street, one of the souks arched over with a roof from the sun, and holed here and there to admit the light.
Of tourists in
were few, for the city is off the beaten track, and selfish monopoly of the
wharves keeps out the tourist boats; and the street was wide and dusky, so that
the crowd was less noticeable. He had been over it often enough before, but had
paid no attention to it.
Ahead of him a group of tourists moved slowly from bazaar to bazaar, the guide pausing before those from which he, like all his kind, received a commission on purchases. Lyster watched with a superior smile, near enough to observe the clever indifference of the guide and the guilelessness of his party.
Someone touched him on the shoulder, and he turned—to see The Skunk leaning over the railing of a bazaar and beckoning to him. Restraining his surprise, he entered.
“You’re American, aren’t you?” The Skunk inquired.
Evidently he did not recognize Lyster; but the latter took no chances. He peered into The Skunk’s face, and a frown of struggling memory gathered on his forehead.
“Say, haven’t we met before? I seem to have seen you—but not exactly under these conditions.” He scratched his chin thoughtfully. “I know—it was at
The Skunk started back.
“You no see me,” he contradicted, in broken English. “You been here long time mebbe.” Plainly he was trying to place Lyster and, in the interval, taking no chances himself.
Lyster paid no attention. He grinned and held out his hand. “It was you all right.” Why, of course; this was the souk of the perfume-sellers—and he had not thought to give it special attention! “Don’t you remember? I wouldn’t be here if it hadn’t been for you. You were selling perfume on the Casino terrace, and you told me of
Tunis. You got me
interested. Say, did you get away without the police bothering you? About that
murder, you know.”
The Skunk, seeing that denial was useless, only winked.
“That’s fine. You were wise to clear out, as I advised. Those French police! And now I want to see some of that fine perfume you boasted about—some of your very best.”
Instantly The Skunk was all business. With a flourish he swept his hand along a shelf laden with bottles and vials. “Damn it! ” he said fervently,“if it isn’t good to talk to someone from God’s country. I haven't had a chance to talk real American in weeks. But,” looking Lyster over more closely, “you don’t look like the real goods.”
“I was born in
Lyster told him. “But America’s
the country for me. There’s a real he-man land! This is all right for a while,
but it doesn’t last long. I don’t see how you can settle down here. You, too,
have lived in America.”
The Skunk sighed. “I wish to God I was back there now!”
“Me, too. How are things going?”
"Just so-so. There ain’t many tourists this winter, and the season’s about over. This was my old stand years ago, and it might be worse. I’ve rented it for a while—something to keep me busy. But in a couple of weeks or so it’s going to be damned hot, and I guess I’ve got out of the way of it.” He caught hold of the baggy trousers he wore. “These, too—they ain’t so easy to wear as they were once, but they’re cooler. You’ll smother in those if you stay much longer."
“But you want perfume, and I’m telling the world you’ve come to the right spot. These other crooks, they’d pull their own mother’s teeth for the gold in them. Perfume—bah! All they got’s a drop of extract in a pint of alcohol and stuff. Th’ain’t one tourist in a million knows the difference between extract and essence. And that gummy stuff they fool the tourist with! Nothing but gelatine and wax!”
He snapped his fingers loudly, and a negro appeared through a curtain in the darkness at the rear of the bazaar. The Skunk jerked an order in Arabic, and the negro, bowing deeply, retired on silent feet.
“You’ll have a cup of coffee? Sure you will! Turkish coffee. You mightn’t like it at first, but you’ll get to look for it, and it’s part of the game we play in the souks.”
He grinned, his big mouth widening in an oddly straight line. Lyster could not keep his eyes from the absurdly small ears of the man.
“Now, me, I don’t need to fool the tourists—and I wouldn’t try to fool a fellow-countryman like you. I sell the real stuff; I sell it all over the world. Here’s a bottle would earn a kiss from any dame.”
He selected from an upper shelf an eight-ounce bottle containing some liquid of sparkling amber hue and held it tenderly between finger and thumb, so that the light played on it.
“One hundred francs a quarter-ounce. But it’ll last till—well, till you want another girl’s kiss. I know: I’ve tried it! ” He winked clumsily with both eyes.
Lyster pursed his lips. “Four dollars for a girl’s kiss? And you couldn’t get away with one ounce, either. Kisses come high in your world.”
“It doesn’t cost me a hundred francs, of course. And you can have an ounce for—oh, say two hundred francs, and that’s giving it away and throwing in the bottle. Eh, what say? By the way, what’s your name?”
“Call me Jones,” Lyster answered, with a meaning wink. “I’m forgetting my right name for a while. It mightn’t be healthy. All right, I’ll take an ounce. And put it in a ten-dollar box. And do it up strong. I’ll keep it till it’s safe to get back to
“Expect to make it soon?” The Skunk asked enviously.
“The minute things blow over. You don’t think I’d stay away a second longer?”
“No . . . no.” The Skunk’s eyes were dreamy as he dropped the little bottle in a gaudy paste-board box and wrapped it in blue paper.
He turned to take a great brass tray from the negro. On the tray was a brass coffee-pot and two tiny handle-less cups of native pottery in brass holders. He placed the tray thoughtfully on an inlaid folding coffee-stand the negro opened.
“No . . . no,” he repeated. “God, I wish I could get back with you!”
“Why can’t you?”
The Syrian shook his head and poured a thick brown liquid from the pot into one of the cups. Lyster waited until the two cups were filled, then, picking up his own, slopped some of the steaming fluid over the edge from which he was to drink. The Skunk saw it and smiled.
“You’re right—and you’re sure American. But you needn’t be scared here. I’ve taught the nig. to wash things properly. All you got to be scared of in
Tunis is the water and the flies; and the
water’s all right if you draw it yourself in things you’ve washed yourself. The
flies ain’t so bad yet, and they’ve cleaned out most of the sore-eyed beggars.
But you should oughta see the south, down in the desert!”
“Been down there recently?” Lyster asked, sipping the coffee tentatively.
“Just got back two days ago. Couldn’t stick it. . . . And even here I’m so homesick I could cry. I’d give half an arm to be hearing the newsies again, and doging cars, and meeting the boys for a game. You’re right—a guy with any guts can’t stay away long.”
He sipped thoughtfully and smacked his lips.
“Can a guy get away by himself anywhere else in the world?” he continued. “I don’t think so. And you’ll find it out, Jones. I’m beginning to think a fellow’s safer back there than anywhere.”
Lyster said nothing, but he managed to look sad. The Syrian braced himself, and took a paper from his pocket.
“This is what I stopped you for.” He spread the paper on a corner of the coffee-stand. “I got this to-day from the American consul; it says I have to fill it out if I’m keeping my American nationality, my citizenship. God, how they keep track of a guy!”
Lyster scanned the paper. “I guess that’s so. This is the way they keep track of their nationals. I’ve just taken out first papers. But how did the consul know you were here?”
“That’s what’s bothering me.”
“He must have seen the papers you signed to rent this place. Yes, that’s it.”
The Skunk looked happier. “Let’s see, what name did I sign? Oh, yes, it’s there on the paper. Have I got to answer all them questions?”
“If you wish to get back some time.”
The Syrian stumbled to his feet. “You bet I want to get back; I got to get back. I can’t live here the rest of my days—not now, not after
America. And I can’t make half a
Lyster read over the questions. “These shouldn’t be hard to answer—”
A chatter of voices at the door sent the Syrian hastening forward, to greet the party of tourists returning. The guide was enthusiastically pointing out the perfumes.
"If the ladies and gentlemen will come into my humble place." The Skunk bowed and backed away. He snapped his fingers, and the negro appeared.
Lyster went, pinching the Syrian in a friendly way as he passed.
DAY after day Lyster returned for an hour’s chat with The Skunk, adding to his welcome by purchases of the perfumes their owner recommended. He even exuded an odour of jasmine himself.
The Syrian had not yet filled in the document that worried him.
“I’ve had a few names in my time,” he explained, “and I ain’t sure what one I used in my naturalization papers. I haven’t them here.”
Lyster soothed him by assuring him that the consul would never check up, even if he could.
“Then they want to know if I’m married, and the woman’s name, and where she is, and all that. Lots of things I don’t want to tell.”
“Then tell the truth when you wish to, and fill the rest in anyhow. It’ll just be filed and forgotten.”
The Skunk considered. “I’ve been married—two or three times—and I don’t know which one’s legal. Besides, I don’t remember their names before I married them, and I ain’t seen any of them in three years. Maybe,” more hopefully, “I won’t need to sign if I go back soon enough.”
A week later Lyster sat in the little bazaar, wiping his face.
“Phew, this is getting hot! I’m not going to be able to stick it much longer. What do you say to getting out? There can’t be much more business for you till next season.”
The Skunk shook his head. “I can’t go back yet— if that’s what you mean. And business ain’t too bad. Those Arab women, they use a lot of perfume. They have to to keep their men. I guess some of them tickle his nose when they haven’t much for his eyes. You put four women with one man, like they all have here when they can afford it, and there’s competition for you. It pays me. Oh, these women! They’re the same all over the world.”
Lyster was seated on a camp-stool, his back against one side of the bazaar, where he could see far down the souk.
“I guess you’re right, Fazal.” It was the one name The Skunk had given him. “Arab or English or American, they put it on for the men, eh? . . . There’s that girl again down there.” He pointed to Shirley, seated on a folding-chair a hundred yards away, a canvas set up before her on a light easel. “Painting, eh? Must be English. I’ve seen her there every morning for a week.”
The Skunk leaned carefully out. He frowned. “I’ve seen her, too, damn her!”
Lyster regarded him inquiringly, and The Skunk scowled. “Say, you stay here for a few minutes, will you? I’m going to have a look-see. And, by God, I believe I’m right!”
He strolled out, walked in the opposite direction to Shirley, and disappeared at the first corner. Five or six minutes passed, then, close behind the girl, Lyster saw him. Slowly he crept nearer, Shirley unconscious of his presence. Lyster held himself ready.
But he was not called on to act, for presently The Skunk turned and left. He reached the bazaar by the same route he had used to approach Shirley from behind. His face was black as a thundercloud.
Lyster inquired what was up.
For answer The Skunk shook his fist in the direction of the girl. “It’s her, damn her eyes, the very same girl!”
“What girl do you mean?”
“She’s following me. I saw her in
and then—another place. She tagged after me. And now she’s here.”
“So she’s one of the girls who won’t let you forget her?” Lyster teased.
“That skirt? I never snuggled up to her, not me. She’s a dick, that’s what she is.”
“A—dick!” Lyster slunk to the darker end of the bazaar. The Skunk sneered.
“It ain’t you she’s after. You needn’t worry! She’s a dick them smart French police got on my tracks.”
Lyster’s eyes widened understanding. “The
Carlo murder, eh? Well, I warned you.”
The Skunk’s heavy hand clamped on his shoulder. “Say, buddy, what d’you know of the French police?”
“Several useful things, Fazal. I’m using that information myself—and the main part of it is not to let them get their hands on me. I have influence—and friends—everywhere. That’s what I depend on. I left
for good reason, but my friends don’t forget me—anywhere in the world.”
The Syrian eyed him with growing respect. “One of them international fellows, eh?”
“I’ve worked in many countries—if that’s what you mean. . . . And I’ve use for men like you.”
"And maybe,” The Skunk returned, all his native suspicion coming to the surface, “maybe I’ll have use for you.”
Next day Lyster reached the bazaar late. He was surprised and not a little disturbed at the perfume-seller's utter composure. The Skunk lolled back in the entrance, smiling now and then, smoking a long hookah—and Lyster had never seen him smoking the native pipe before.
“I thought you might have cleared out,” Lyster said, with a laugh.
The Skunk drew a long puff and emitted it slowly through his nostrils.
“Why should I?”
"I thought that girl had you all worked up.”
"The painter one—the one you took a good look at yesterday.”
“Oh.” airily, “I made a mistake.”
For a reason he did not then understand, Lyster’s heart seemed to drop to his boots. “How—how did you find that out?”
The Skunk waved the tube of the pipe toward the spot where Shirley had been seated for a week.
“You can see for yourself she ain’t there to-day And such a nice day, too.”
Lyster had seen, long before he reached the bazaar.
“Hasn’t she shown up at all?”
"Not that I've seen.” The Skunk’s eyes were half closed; he continued to smoke. Lyster could scarcely restrain himself from leaping on him and choking an explanation from him.
“I guess you’re right,” he said. “If she was after you she’d be there. I’m sure she didn’t see you yesterday taking a peep at her. These perambulating painters cover a lot of ground. I’m told they never finish their work, and when they do it goes to the attic. Even if you’d seen her before, it mightn’t mean anything.”
He was impelled by a sudden desire to allay The Skunk’s suspicions about Shirley.
His stay was short that morning, and when he left he made straight for the Majestic Hotel.
Shirley had not slept at the hotel the night before! Nor had anyone seen her since!
“YOU’RE looking tough, Jones,” The Skunk said sympathetically, as Lyster walked into his bazaar and dropped into his usual chair. “You need something stronger than coffee—and perfume ain’t it!”
He snapped his fingers, and the negro appeared soundlessly and salaamed. The Skunk jabbered something, and the servant disappeared.
Lyster ran his hand over his forehead. “I guess it’s the heat. I’m not sleeping, and I ate something at the Chianti last night that didn’t agree with me.”
“Take my advice,” The Skunk warned, “and steer clear this hot weather of grub you ain’t used to. No cous-cous, or anything like that. You got to live with that to stand it—and then it’s best to close your eyes.
America has spoiled me for the old
life, too. But, say, if it’s too hot for you, why don’t you clear out? You
don’t seem so eager lately.”
Lyster was not too miserable to be aware of something unusual in The Skunk’s tone.
“I’m going to skip,” he said. “But I thought I’d be able to stay till it’s safe to get back to
sort of got hold of me. They say it does.”
“It hasn’t got me.”
“But you’ve had it—you’ve lived here and it’s nothing new to you. Anyway, I’ve got to get back some time soon to make some more money. I don't know how to make a living anywhere else—and it’s so easy there and—and exciting.”
“You done pretty well over there?” The Skunk asked.
“Getting my hooks on a grand now and then got me along nicely, thank you. Over here there’s no one to fleece.”
The Syrian winked. “A con. man, eh? Well, it’s a good enough game, but me—”
A veiled woman appeared at the entrance, and The Skunk rose to attend to her. In a moment or two he was back.
“Me, I never went in for the con. stuff myself,” he said. But Lyster’s silence induced no further confession.
“Of course,” Lyster said presently, “there was kidnapping, too, and blackmail. There’s a lot of money in that. And hold-ups. . . . That's why I’m travelling.”
But The Skunk was not to be drawn. The negro entered with two very small glasses containing a reddy-brown liquid. The Skunk passed the tray to Lyster, who helped himself, as if absent-mindedly, to the glass farthest from him. The Skunk accepted the other without hesitation and sipped it. Lyster did the same with his glass, and a warm glow shot through him.
“Mighty fast stuff,” he declared, holding the glass to the light.
Algiers,” his host
explained. “You can’t buy it. I happen to know the man who makes it for his own
use—or I know his daughter." He winked. “But you were talking of hold-ups.
Ever strike it rich that way?”
Lyster smiled, as if he, too, could hold his tongue. "I know some that did,” he said. “There was one a few months ago I’d like to have been in on—a man named—I forget—some funny name—Horn-something. A big broker, I think he was. They say the gang got away with fifty thousand from a vault in the house.”
"Hmm! I seem to remember something about that,” said The Skunk innocently. “Know the guys in that?”
Lyster shook his head. “They bumped off the butler or someone. One of them got drilled himself, and the police nabbed him and he squealed. The gang made their getaway to
Europe, they think. Anyway, they have the
dicks working all over Europe, an army of them,
The Skunk said nothing, but he had placed his glass back on the tray, half full. Lyster continued:
"They say the gang got quarrelling among themselves; that's how one got shot. It seems they didn't split fairly. One of them is said to have got away with a jewel worth a fortune. They weren’t any of my friends. The one that got the jewel was called Baldy, I think. I’ve heard of him before. Then there was twenty grand or so in a box on a mantel in the house somewhere, and they say Baldy got that too, and kept it.”
The Skunk’s eyes blazed. “The dirty dog did that—Baldy did that?”
“So they say. I just picked it up before I had to get out in a hurry.” Lyster’s eyes were fixed on the glass he held.
“I’d hate to work with a gang like that,” The Skunk said venomously. “One squeals, and another double-crosses his mates. I hope, by God, they get him! They will if they’ve the guts of a kitten.”
“Sure. I don’t see how they’d let him get away with it.”
“They won’t,” The Skunk promised him.
“But if they’re scared away to Europe—and they think Baldy stayed in
“They’ll go back,” The Skunk assured him, and the set of his big jaw gave point to the threat.
They talked for a while, both deliberately concealing personal experiences, both scouting about crimes in which they might well have participated. At last Lyster rose to leave.
“I guess I’ll have to get away from this heat pretty soon,” he said, wiping his face. “If I stay much longer I’ll be conspicuous. I’ve no hankering to draw the attention of the police. . . . Funny about that girl,” he mused, “the painter one. Her picture wasn’t nearly finished when I saw it yesterday.”
“Maybe she won’t finish it.” The Skunk drained his glass.
“And we took her for a dick!” Lyster laughed. “But it sure did look queer, if you saw her in all those places. But then, you and I got together twice, didn’t we? Everyone goes to
as a matter of course. Then if they come here—well, there you are.”
“But they don’t turn up, too, at a little village like Banyuls,” The Skunk burst out. “But then,” hastily, “it doesn’t matter now.”
Lyster heard that “now” and the sigh of relief that went with it.
In the week Shirley had been missing Roland Lyster had lost weight. Sleepless nights, days of persistent but clueless search, snatched meals, walking—walking—walking, had taken their toll. And April was blazing hot, though, in a way, he was growing acclimatized.
On the discovery that Shirley had not returned to the hotel, his first impulse was to rush to the police. He had even stopped before one of the small but efficient French police on the Avenue de France before his alarm became more reasonable. What, he asked himself, could he hope to gain by enlisting the services of the regular police? Shirley was being held somewhere by force, and in that warren of a city within the walls not all the police in the world could hope to find her. Mystery was too deep there, and the anxiety of official
France not to rouse public
resentment too great, to promise success. The Arab home, because of its harem
and the privacy of its women, was inviolate, and the French authorities went to
almost any length to preserve the illusion that the Tunisians were a free
people. Lyster had been long enough in Tunis
to note the subterranean rumble of the Nationalist cause, ready to break into
open revolt at some such provocation.
And the very search might well be Shirley Cringan’s greatest danger, since, warned by it, her captors might find it necessary to get rid of her in the one way that would seal her lips.
There was, too, an unwillingness to bring under the official eye the pursuit on which he was engaged; it would block all his plans and force him into the open.
Shirley, he felt certain on reflection, was in little physical danger unless she confessed her identity and her purpose; and that they would never drag from her.
That The Skunk was at the bottom of it Lyster did not doubt, and at first he took courage from the hope of trailing him to Shirley’s prison, but a week’s fruitless effort convinced him that The Skunk was taking no chances. Directly from his bazaar the man, when business was over, took his daily walk, ending at the bazaar where he slept. To persist in following him threatened exposure.
Never for a moment did Lyster doubt that Shirley was still alive. At times The Skunk was flagrantly composed, at other times nervous. He would not have been so uneasy had the girl been put out of the way, the simplicity of disposing of a body in that great city, or away toward the desert, providing against any chance of discovery. Shirley might be in danger, but as yet no harm had come to her.
So Lyster had continued his daily visits to the bazaar; and he prided himself that, considering the strain, he carried a difficult situation off rather well. But that, too, told on his physique, a change not to be hidden from the perfume-seller.
Afternoons and evenings were spent in a ceaseless search, most of it within the walled city, but extending at times to the Arab city to the west. It was then he realized more than ever the maze of blind and twisting streets, narrow and dark at night, that wound in every direction, crowded by enormous houses with great iron-studded gates.
By day these gates were for the most part open, and Lyster would dive through them into beautiful, palm-lined courts, where he would stand for minutes listening with bated breath to the low voices of women behind closed doors. It was the one sound that soothed his fever and sustained his hope. It kept him braced against his fears. Persistently he told himself that thus—or somehow—he would find Shirley, that he would feel if she were near, that the complement of their natures, the harmony of their aims, would touch a responsive chord in him. And any disaster to her would strike him to instant understanding.
One afternoon he spent in the Arab city outside the walls. Here the houses were newer and smaller, the secretiveness and mystery less oppressive. With almost no downstairs windows, the upper windows were covered with bulging iron grilles, through which veiled women laughed down on him, drawing their veils seductively aside in the security of their isolation. Lyster eyed them all, often urged almost beyond control to ask questions. Two or three fondouks swarming with lazing Arabs he passed by as of no interest, and a band of Arab musicians he heard with meagre attention.
He realized suddenly that the afternoon was passing that the swift night of the desert would catch him far from home. Emerging on the street skirting the walled city, one of the four entrance gates stood before him. If he cut through he would reach his hotel more quickly and escape the dusty road around the wall. Besides, he was in a hurry to make further inquiries at Shirley’s hotel. He had explained her absence as a sudden desire to visit the desert, and he did not know when she would be back. Her room he paid for each week, so that the manager did not concern himself.
With the thought that once he reached the souks he would know his way, he left the main street beyond the wall and struck off in what he thought was the direction of the Port de France.
How different the light was in there, amid those towering buildings that almost touched his shoulders as he walked! How bewildering the twists and turns! What a host of blind streets that sent him hurrying back to find an outlet! How deserted the whole dark, mysterious city at that hour! . . . How rash for a foreigner to risk himself in that silent, uncharted maze!
The street swung round a corner and ended suddenly in a great, metal-studded door. Lyster turned, feeling like a trapped animal. As he rounded the corner a large figure leaped on him from the darkness and gripped his arms to his side. Another clapped a hand over his mouth, while a third looped a rope about him with one dexterous toss. That they were in Arab attire Lyster felt as he struggled.
HE did not resist blindly. He realized what was happening and that he had always feared it. He knew how useless it would be to cry out, even had they permitted it. Never once had he seen a French policeman within the walled city, another police fiction that the conqueror was not oppressive. What happened in those dark streets and closed houses was the private business of Tunisians. No foreigner would be involved for no foreigner would risk the quarter by night.
And here he, an Anglo-American, had with open eyes run his head into a noose, he who had special reason for caution!
As the ropes tightened on arms and legs he ceased to struggle. A bandage was drawn over his eyes and he was picked up in powerful arms and borne away.
This was no common street robbery. They could have cleaned him out in a few seconds and escaped in the darkness. Nor was it an outburst of Arab fury at the intrusion of the hated foreigner. They handled him with no unnecessary roughness.
No, they were taking him captive. Why? They had done the same to Shirley. The association of thoughts sent a tingle through him. In all that great city they two knew only one man with a shadow of motive—The Skunk!
Blindfolded and gagged, wrists and ankles bound, he was carried for what seemed fifteen minutes or more, the footsteps of his captors echoing against tight walls along empty streets. No one spoke, no one so much as coughed. Only the breathing of the one who carried him, and their steady, hurried steps, were audible. It was uncanny.
Lyster tried to fix the route in his mind, but in a minute or two he gave it up as useless. Presently, by the sound, he knew they had entered a courtyard. A heavy gate clanged behind them. He could hear the soft rustle of palms, the soothing drip of water.
He knew these retired courts. He had stepped into a hundred of them in his search for Shirley Cringan—great palaces built about open squares, with palm trees growing around the walls, and a fountain in the centre. By day open to the passer-by, by night closed off by great studded gates, like the doors of a fort; a stone stairway often led up at one side to the upper rooms.
He was in such a court now, for his legs were released and he was led up a flight of stone steps, along a gallery, and through a doorway into a hall. Then through another door, all the time blindfolded. The door closed, gag and blindfold were removed, and Lyster found himself in a long, narrow room with a huge negro eunuch.
The room was softly lighted by an electric bulb in a heavy brass Turkish lamp suspended from the ceiling. It was an exquisite room, the walls smothered in expensive rugs, the ceiling vague through a fine vari-coloured net. The corners were squared off with arches, the ends of which were supported by coloured Moorish pillars, high up in one wall were three small grilled windows, while along two walls pillow-piled divans extended. At each end was a Turkish table bearing a hookah. The floor was deep with rugs.
Lyster looked about for the door, but saw none. It was, of course, concealed by the hanging rugs.
More curious than alarmed, he turned to the eunuch.
“A bit rough as an introduction to all this luxury,” he said, “What’s the answer?”
The negro eunuch paid no attention.
"What’s the rent?” Lyster persisted. “It beats the hotel into a cocked hat!”
The eunuch continued in silence to gather up the ropes with which Lyster had been bound.
"Don't be so talkative,” Lyster chided, this time in French. He tapped the negro on the chest. “Don’t you understand?”
The negro opened his mouth and pointed, and Lyster shuddered. A vast, black opening filled with gleaming teeth—but no tongue!
“Anyway, you can hear,” Lyster said. “I want to talk to your master. Send him here!”
But the eunuch only shook his head with a troubled frown and walking to the wall at the end opposite the windows, drew back a rug and disappeared behind it. Lyster heard a click, then the soft closing of a door.
He made a more detailed survey of his prison then, but he found nothing new. As he roamed about he shuddered. The room breathed of sensuality, of debasing voluptuousness, so that for a moment he was conscious of a terrifying limpness and langour. It was not hardship he would have to fight, but luxury.
He thought of Shirley and shuddered again.
Bracing himself against the atmosphere of the place, he began to search for something he might use as a weapon. But there was not a movable object except the hookahs, the two tables, and the rugs and cushions.
Behind the curtain where the eunuch had disappeared was no trace of the door, and, for the time being, he spent no time trying to probe its secret. His first care was to work out some sort of answer to the queries flooding his mind, then to decide his course.
Why was he there? What did they plan to do with him? Was Shirley, too, there? Who was responsible for it all?
Only one question brought an answer. Of course, The Skunk was behind everything. Though he could not be certain, he felt satisfied that The Skunk was personally present at his capture. Beyond that, all he knew was that his own captivity and Shirley’s disappearance were connected. But how had The Skunk succeeded in associating them, since he, Lyster, had seen Shirley only four times since his arrival?
Of one thing he was certain, and it encouraged him to hope: no immediate physical injury was planned; their treatment of him thus far proved that.
But he upbraided himself now for not having gone to the police. As things stood there was not in all
a single person to worry about them, even to ask questions. Their possessions
at the hotels would be confiscated to pay their bills, but hotels accepted that
as part of the business.
After an hour’s cogitation he set himself to find the door. The wall was of heavy woodwork, and here and there slight chinks were visible, but nothing resembling the outline of a doorway, and the whole wall sounded solid. Neither did he find anything suggesting a hidden spring or mechanism.
Fearing that ears might be listening outside, he spent little time on the search, but he made the round of the four walls, pulling back the rugs as he went, the investigation was fruitless.
He looked at his watch. It was almost nine o’clock.
The night wore on. He dared not sleep. Someone was sure to come to him, he reasoned. There could be no sense in leaving him there without a word all night. But no one came, and daylight showed through the three little windows before his eyes closed.
He wakened to the daylight streaming through the windows, and as he lay trying to recall what had happened, the distant, ringing call of a muezzin brought him quickly to his feet. He recognized that voice—he knew the minaret. It was in the western part of the walled city. But he could not be sure how distant it was or in what direction.
As the first sound from the outer world, it comforted him. His watch told him that he had slept well into the forenoon. Physically and mentally he must have been more weary than he realized. And now he was hungry.
His captors had provided for that. On the end of a divan, near the end of the room, rested a brass tray and on it was set out a heavy breakfast. Years in
had modified his English appetite for the morning meal, but this ample
breakfast he consumed to the last crumb. It consisted of an American breakfast
food with goat’s milk and sugar, a baked apple, three slices of bacon, and
toast that, while made from coarse bread and now almost cold, was agreeable
enough. Its American trend once more brought The Skunk into the picture.
But one thing made him uneasy—they could enter the room and leave without awakening him.
He had just finished when a sound behind the rug made him lift his head hopefully. But it was only the negro. The big fellow grinned as his eye lit on the empty tray, and he beckoned to Lyster to follow.
The latter, as he went through the secret door, now wide open, took careful note of its exact location. On the other side as well, in the hall he entered, the door was hidden by rugs. Since the door was left open after them Lyster saw that he was not to learn on his return how it was opened. The eunuch led along the hall and out on the gallery surrounding the court; and Lyster, seeing the closed gates, knew they were to go no farther.
This, then, was to be his outing, a provision that prophesied extended captivity; and, since he had seen no one but the mute eunuch, who seemed to understand neither English nor French, Lyster saw before him a stretch of inexplicable imprisonment.
The eunuch descended to the floor of the court and seated himself indifferently on the wall about the fountain, leaving Lyster to wander where he pleased. The court was the most luxurious and refreshing he had ever seen. The palms were large and green, the fountain elaborate, and a crescent flower-bed at one end was bright with flowers. Over the gallery a roof extended, shading it from the sun on three sides at any hour of the day. Nothing else was visible but a square of sky. Lyster made sure of this by circling the gallery to see if he could catch sight of a recognizable tower or minaret. From the roof of his hotel he had often looked out over the city, and his endless walks had made him familiar with every landmark and much of the skyline.
His guard remained beside the fountain, dabbling his big hands in the water, paying no attention to his prisoner. And Lyster, taking advantage of it, examined the walls about him. They were like prison walls. The one door was that by which he had emerged, but high over his head were a number of small windows resembling those in his own room.
On an impulse he cleared his throat loudly. The eunuch looked up and frowned, and Lyster, leaning over the railing, called in an unnecessarily loud voice:
“May I have a drink of water? I’m thirsty.” He spoke in English.
The eunuch rose and ran up the stairs, his heavy face clouded. Roughly he caught Lyster by the shoulder and thrust him back into the hall and closed the door. A thrilling deduction: someone was in a position to hear him out there, someone the eunuch did not wish to hear!
In the afternoon he was permitted another quarter of an hour of exercise in the court, but the eunuch’s grim demand for silence by placing his fingers tightly over Lyster's lips as they came into the open warned him not to do anything to deprive himself of the one time of comparative freedom. He must not arouse the suspicion of his guard.
His meals were brought at regular hours, and after a few days a sort of communication was carried on by signs, the big eunuch’s face lighting with pleasure when he understood. But there were to be no favours: the eunuch was a faithful servant.
Only once more did Lyster brave his guard’s displeasure during the time of his outing. He was wont to walk about the gallery while the eunuch sat beside the fountain, and one morning he broke into a low whistle. It was a song popular in
he had often heard Shirley humming it. For some time the eunuch appeared not to
notice, but presently he looked up and made a peremptory sign for silence.
Lyster stopped immediately.
Next morning he awaited his regular outing with an impatience inexplicable even to himself. It was a beautiful, bright day, the late morning sun slanting sharply down to draw a clean-cut line along the floor of the Western gallery. The shadowed half against the wall was the darker by contrast. It was breathlessly hot, and the eunuch hurried down to dabble his hands in the cooling water, leaving Lyster to roam about the gallery.
Lyster was thinking. Why did he feel so excited, so hopeful, this morning? The heat was beginning to tell on him. Worn down, even when he was taken prisoner, by anxiety and broken sleep and meals, he wondered how long he could stand the African heat.
Suddenly, from a window above the gallery across the court, came the sound of women laughing. The eunuch heard and raised his head, but he did nothing. Lyster had heard every note—and Shirley’s voice was not there. But then she would not laugh at such a time. Giving no sign of having heard, he strolled on.
As he entered the side of the gallery, half of which lay in shade, he leaned for a few minutes against the wall. He had no idea why until he noticed a tiny piece of leather tight against the wall, the lower layer of the heel of a woman’s shoe. His heart beat wildly. He walked past it. But on the next round he managed to pick it up without breaking his steady pace. Down below the eunuch watched the gold-fish in the water. Lyster felt suddenly limp.
For the bit of fawn-coloured leather in his pocket, he knew, came from Shirley Cringan’s shoe!
Out of sight of the eunuch he drew from his pocket his note-book and tore from it a tiny piece of paper. On the next round he dropped it in the spot where he had found the piece of leather. He dared not risk so much as a mark on it.
Shirley knew he was there! She had heard his cough, his call to the eunuch, his whistle! She was somewhere behind those walls!
SHIRLEY’S reply was another piece of paper left in the same spot, a flimsy dot of white that would escape the notice of anyone but Lyster. Besides, the promenaders would avoid the sunny side of the gallery.
That was in the morning. In the afternoon nothing happened. Their post-office was, in the afternoon, the shaded side and would be used by the women on their way to the fountain and the lower shade. Next morning, too, brought at first no further sign of Shirley’s presence, and Lyster’s heart sank. His anxiety was not deep enough to make him reckless, and, as he strolled about, he noticed that the eunuch was watching him.
The quarter of an hour ended. The eunuch was mounting the stairs to return him to his prison, when Lyster’s eye caught a streak of white in a crack in the stone wall close beside him. He managed to stoop and pull the paper from its hiding-place.
In his room he opened it. It bore only the initials “S.C.”
He realized then how uncertain he had been, after all, that Shirley was really under the same roof. This final proof sent him pacing feverishly about the room, grinding his teeth at his helplessness. The evidence that Shirley was at least well calmed him somewhat in time.
But what could he do? How could he help her? How get to her? It was even certain that further communication was dangerous, if not impossible. That the eunuch’s suspicions were growing was plain enough, for the fellow was more sullen, less friendly and indifferent. A single slip on his or Shirley’s part might deprive one or both of those few minutes in the court.
Depression even deeper than his early elation settled over him, so that he slept not at all that night. Sitting with his head in his hands, or roving restlessly about, perspiring and weak, gasping with the heat of the night, he fretted himself almost to illness. Shirley would expect him to do something. She made no allowances, asked and gave no quarter.
Next morning he managed to slip a paper bearing his own initials in the crack. In the afternoon it was still there. But the following morning it was gone. He slept most of the afternoon, except for the fifteen minutes in the court.
He had not neglected the door. Each time the eunuch entered or left, Lyster arranged to be lounging on the divan where he could best see. But his curiosity netted him nothing. The rug hid everything. Lyster fretted, called himself names, worried about Shirley and his failure to reach her. There were times when he restrained himself with difficulty from throwing himself on the eunuch and staking everything on such a one-sided struggle. But reason prevailed. The eunuch was enough for two ordinary men.
The days grew warmer, the nights smothering, though the thick walls of the room protected him from extremes. But how was Shirley standing it? Had she the comfort of the presence of the other women he had heard laughing, or was she kept by herself? Laughter proved, at least, that gladness was not unknown within those sombre walls.
It was the day after Shirley’s initialled slip of paper was left for him that Lyster set himself more seriously to solve the mystery of the hidden door. He began to study the movements of the eunuch as revealed by the concealing rug.
Sometimes the big negro came and went with heavy trays that required both hands, yet the door was opened without difficulty.
Choosing a late hour at night, Lyster pulled the rug back as far as it would go and, dropping to his knees, examined the floor. It seemed solid as elsewhere. The narrow baseboard, too, showed only the thinnest crack where he now knew the door to be. What else was there to do? He sat back on his heels and pondered. As he moved to rise, feeling more helpless and stupid than ever, a flash of reflected light from a bit of bright metal attracted his attention and he bent nearer. A narrow strip of moulding edged the baseboard, and the head of one of the nails affixing it glistened like silver.
There was only one answer. That nail was rubbed to brightness by repeated rubbing or pressure! The other nails were covered with varnish and almost invisible. The nail that interested him projected slightly.
Lyster staggered to his feet, his heart pounding. Dare he risk all just now when he was feeling so limp? He gripped his fists, reached out his foot, and pressed.
There was a familiar rasping sound, and the edge of the door moved outward.
With a gasp Lyster drew it shut. He could not go on then. His knees shook, and a cold sweat had broken out all over him until he thought he was going to faint.
He threw himself on the divan and slept as he had not slept since his imprisonment.
Next day the quarter hour of exercise was a time of abject dread. The eunuch watched his every move and finally beckoned him down to the court. Lyster was almost too weak to cover his dread. Had anyone heard him open that door? Shirley, too, had left no sign. Was she, too, under suspicion? Had they managed things so clumsily that contact was to be denied them hereafter by solitary confinement for Shirley? Had something even more tragic happened to her?
Once more in his room, he listened at the wall for the passing of the women of the harem to their outing in the court. He had long since learned their hour of coming and going. He had heard, too, that following their return they were not locked in the harem but were permitted the run of the hall for a time.
Lyster heard them return. By pressing his ear against the wall he was aware of their voices in the hall. Waiting for several minutes, his heart in his throat, he pressed the nail.
As the door opened, a sudden hush fell over the chatter of women's voices. As yet Lyster could see nothing, for the rug and the door hid his view, but that abrupt, tense silence almost unnerved him. He pushed aside the rug and stepped out.
Instantly there was a scurry of feet, and from the far end of the hall five veil-less women, clustered together, peered at him. There was no window in the hall, and the outer door was closed, but two hanging lamps cast sufficient light to show Lyster that the women were not so much alarmed as curious and excited. He saw enough for that, but little more. These were Arab women.
One of them, the eldest, came forward.
“Who are you?” she demanded in French.
Lyster scarcely heard, for at that moment one of the women at her back moved quickly. It was Shirley—Shirley dressed in Arab garb like her companions. Something about it made Lyster faint with dread. Something, too, gave him the idea that Shirley was warning him not to recognize her.
“Who are you?” the woman demanded again, standing directly before him now. “How did you get here? You’re English!”
“Yes,” Lyster replied. “I’m English—a stranger.” He was confused by the thought that, with all his plans and hopes, he had not prepared himself for this, though he knew the women were there.
The woman looked fearfully toward a door that led from the side of the hall. “Go quickly! You’re in danger, terrible danger! They mustn’t see you here! It's death—death!”
“It’s death to remain where they keep me. I’m a prisoner, and I don’t know why.”
A slight noise from beyond the door brought a look of terror to the woman’s faded face.
“Go—go! To-morrow!” she whispered. “I’ll knock three times on the wall when it’s safe.”
She hastened to her companions, chattering loudly. Lyster stepped back through the door and closed it behind him.
That night was most uncomfortable of all. Though he had seen Shirley and knew her to be well, his mind refused to function. Shirley was there, one of the harem, and, though he might see her, what could he hope to do to free her? Sleeping—dreaming disturbed dreams—walking about—sleeping again, he tossed and fretted. His dreams were of Shirley in an Arab harem! Finally he forced himself to remain awake, unable to face the nightmare of it.
Next day the eunuch did an unaccustomed thing—he remained in the room while Lyster ate. And the latter, with no appetite, steeled himself to clean the tray. When they went out in the court for the morning exercise, Lyster was marched straight down to the fountain and kept there.
The perspiring captive wiped his wet forehead and nodded toward the sky. It was the heat, he wished to say. But no longer was there sympathy in the eunuch’s face. The time in the court, too, was cut short, but that Lyster did not mind; he boiled and fretted for the signal that was to tell him the way was clear to see Shirley again.
He heard the women pass through the hall to the court. He heard them return. A terrifying thought came to him: could he trust them? Were they not likely to betray him to their master, rather than help him? His body was wet with perspiration, his nerves were on edge.
A slight knock, twice repeated, revived the struggle of hope and fear, but he pressed the nail and the door opened.
The five women were there, but this time scattered over the hall. One, seated near the only other inner door, was, Lyster decided, a look-out. His hopes rose. From the five Shirley’s face stood out with a beauty so startling that he could not keep his eyes from her.
The oldest woman addressed him:
“Don’t be afraid. We’re all on guard. Why do they keep you in there?”
“I don’t know. I was walking along the street when some men jumped on me. They brought me here.”
“When was that?”
Lyster tried to remember. “It seems like months. It must be less than two weeks ago.”
The women jabbered together in a low tone.
“Do you know where you are?”
“No. All I know is it’s near a minaret, but I can’t tell how far or even in what direction it is. It’s in the walled city, of course. Please tell me where I am!”
The woman dropped her eyes and seemed to debate with herself. "No it would do no good to tell you. If you escape all will be well. If—" she shrugged. "Do you know who lives here—our master?"
"If I did I might have some idea why I was brought here. I'm just a tourist. I like
Tunis, and I
stayed after most of the tourists had gone. I don't think I can stand the heat
much longer. I'm not used to it."
The woman spoke in Arabic to her companions, and they regarded him with pity in their eyes.
"If you're English," the woman said, "you can speak to this woman here." She beckoned to Shirley, who came toward her. "She's American."
Lyster restrained himself. Something in the woman's manner, in the keen glance she gave him, warned him that he had a part to play. He looked from face to face. They were very ugly—and Shirley was so beautiful.
"I know her." he said "That's why they captured me, I suppose. I was to marry her. Perhaps—they wanted to make sure of stopping that. Perhaps your master wants her for himself."
He knew the Mohammedian law of four wives. It would mean that one of these women must be divorced to make room for the new wife. Though Shirley's eyes flashed for a moment, so that he found she might ruin everything, she managed to control herself.
"Yes," the woman said "there are already four of us." She might have read his thoughts. Her face was black with anger.
"I understand." Lyster shook his head sadly. "And your master may divorce any of you with a word—"
"It would be me," the woman said bitterly. "I was the first. The oldest goes first—and I've borne him children, four of them."
"Who is your master?"
The woman shook her head. "He's a kaid—down in the desert."
"Then he isn't a perfume-seller?"
"Indeed, no." The woman stiffened. "A perfume-seller, indeed!"
The women chattered in great excitement for a time.
"Who is the perfume-seller you speak of?" the woman asked, eyeing him suspiciously.
Lyster saw his mistake. "Oh, I've talked to one of them in the Souk El Attarine. I never liked him."
"And you are not married yet to this girl?"
"No, not yet."
"Yet you travel together! I don't understand the English."
"You'd better let it go at that," Shirley said in English, "or blame it on the Americans. You're getting out of your depth. Funny, when you come to think of it—one of a quartette of wives reminding us of propriety."
The woman asked what Shirley said.
"She says," Lyster lied, "that you don't understand. We aren't travelling together; we just happened to meet in
"And you're to be married so quickly—after just meeting?"
"Better call off the wedding," Shirley laughed. "It doesn't seem to satisfy any of us. Isn't there something we can do—beside romance? I'm rather anxious to get away."
“I’m thinking,” he replied helplessly. “I’ll find a way.”
“I've been thinking for several weeks,” she said.
"I hope your thoughts are more productive. But whatever happens now we must take no further risks out in the court. It was clever of you to arouse their jealousy of me—even with the explanation you made. It wasn’t hard, for I’ve worked on that theme myself from the first. I’ve developed into a regular
Hollywood vamp. And their master isn’t such a gargoyle,
either. Much more of this and I don’t know what might happen. It’s an
“Have you seen The Skunk?”
“Not once. I’ve no proof that he’s concerned. Have you seen him?”
Lyster told her he had not, and was more troubled than ever. "Do you live with these women?”
“Only for this hour. The rest of the time I’m locked in a room away through that door. That’s another hall. My door is the third on the left.”
The look-out hissed a warning and waved frantically.
"I'll keep on thinking,” Shirley whispered as the women ran to the end of the hall, and Lyster stepped back into his own room.
ROLAND LYSTER dropped back on a divan. He was wet with perspiration and oddly limp. He wondered if the heat and the excitement had affected his heart. The hand he held before him trembled, and he could not control it. The air in the narrow room was stifling. The persistent call of the muezzin, drifting through the open window, depressed him. It was fatalism made audible, driving his sense of helplessness so deep that sometimes he cursed himself, and his lips were cracked and bleeding where he bit them.
He had built so much on uncovering the mystery of the door through which the eunuch came and went. Yet, now that he could open it at will, what good did it do? Even with the sympathy of the women of the harem, their unconcealed desire to get rid of a rival, there were other doors between him and liberty, doors he saw no way of opening. All he had been able to do was to widen the walls of his own prison; nothing whatever had been accomplished for Shirley.
Without doubt the women of the harem were permitted a certain liberty abroad, but always under guard. Such a big man as their master would see to that. Shirley had never been allowed outside the building, of course, all these weeks, her one taste of outside air being the restricted range of the court, with its big locked gates, the keys of which always hung from the eunuch’s belt. The palace in which they were held was a veritable prison, the home of a grandee, built to protect its privacy and his possessions.
After a tearing spam of impatience his nerves calmed a little. The door opened and the eunuch entered with his supper.
That something upset the big fellow Lyster read immediately. His ugly black face was twisted to a furious scowl, not so much in anger as in excitement. He dropped the tray on the divan so that the coffee slopped over, and a dish of candied dates slid to the cushions. For several moments he stood before Lyster, staring down on him, his lips working with the effort to convey something of importance to the prisoner.
With a gesture of helpless impatience he stalked to the end of the room, his great fists clenching and unclenching. As he reached Lyster once more he pointed to the door and shook his head. Lyster's heart sank. Did he know? Was he warning him not to attempt it again? But a moment later he gathered, by the movement of the eunuch's hand, that the big fellow was trying to warn him against someone who would presently visit him. Both hands lifted in a peculiarly expressive gesture of angry importance.
Lyster wondered. There were only two visitors who could be interested in him, The Skunk and the owner of the palace, and how the latter was concerned, other than as The Skunk's friend, he could not understand. Since his talk with the woman of the harem, the position of The Skunk was a greater mystery than ever, for he had accepted it from the first that the Syrian was the master of the place.
If only the eunuch could speak! If only he understood any language in which Lyster could make inquiries! That the big fellow bore him no ill will, indeed, was rather friendly to him, was certain, but they had no method of communication apart from gestures, and they were so inadequate.
At any rate, the promised visit would furnish an explanation. Most important of all, it would enable him to estimate the danger to Shirley Cringan.
The eunuch continued to gesticulate. He went to the rug concealing the entrance and, wheeling about, returned to Lyster, with a glowering look on his fat face. That, Lyster gathered, was someone entering in an angry or dangerous mood. Then the eunuch patted Lyster on the shoulder and, extending his hands palm downwards, moved them slowly about. Lyster, it said, must be calm about it. With a circle of his arms, his eyes fixed on the windows, he made it plain that the sun must sink once more before the threatened visit.
Lyster nodded understandingly, and the eunuch's face cleared. But as he picked up the tray and started for the door he shook his head and sighed.
Strangely enough, that night Lyster slept soundly. Strange—until he reasoned that for the first time, the mystery promised to be cleared within a few hours. Then he wondered if it was merely the kindness of Provenance preparing him for the worst.
He wakened with new life flowing through him. Through the high windows in his room he saw that the sky was overcast. The day would be less oppressive at least. He forgot the eunuch's warning and looked forward to the coming encounter with a lift to his shoulders and a brighter face than he had had for days.
Breakfast arrived, so exactly an American meal that Lyster might have been back at Nathan Hornbaker’s, but for the hovering eunuch and the rug-lined room. In the breakfast he read the menu of one who had lived in
America—The Skunk, of course.
Once more he tried to wring something intelligible from the eunuch, but the negro was a different man this morning. He only stared and shook his head. Lyster was not deceived. The man was frightened—he had been given orders he dared not disobey. And, above all, the eunuch would be faithful.
So that breakfast was not a success. The bacon and coffee cooled, and the toast went tough. At last Lyster with a despairing gesture, invited the eunuch to finish what he had left.
As some sort of reward the eunuch looked back pityingly as he left the room.
The moment his guard was gone Lyster hurried to the door and pressed his ear against it. He had a feeling that he would that morning miss his usual exercise, and he was right. The hour came and went and presently he heard the passing of the women to the court.
He stood still behind the curtain when a slight sound in the outer hall sent him tumbling back to the divan. A moment later the rug turned back and The Skunk entered.
Lyster feigned to be too surprised to speak, then, as The Skunk grinned a little shamefacedly he leaped indignantly to his feet.
"What does this mean?” he demanded.
The Skunk waved him back and seated himself on the opposite divan. To hide his embarrassment he proceeded clumsily to light a cigar, now and then glancing nervously at Lyster.
Lyster adopted a new line of attack. "How did you find me?” He whispered it, glancing toward the door. “How did you find I was here? What is it all about, anyway?”
“Say,” snarled The Skunk, “I wanta know who the devil you are!”
Lyster sat open-mouthed. “Who—I am? What does it matter? I’ve told you all you need to know.”
The Skunk bounded up and stood over him. “Are you a dick—I wanta know that?”
“A—dick! Good Lord!” Lyster threw back his head and laughed.
“All right, but you don’t fool me. I’ve cut my eye teeth! You and that girl are in cahoots. She was staying at the ‘Majestic,’ and you used to go to see her there. Never mind how I know. You don’t think you could get away with that in this burg and hide it, surely? We’ve got eyes in every hotel and restaurant and fondouk and boarding-house in the country. Every foreigner that lands here is spotted and trailed."
“I should think you’re right.” Lyster threw himself back on the divan and locked his hands behind his head. He smiled sarcastically. “I ought to know. It was how you got me here. But the rest—all this bunk you’re rambling about! ” He shrugged his shoulders.
“I’m not asking,” The Skunk scowled, “I’m telling. Now I want to know who you are, and why you’re in
“Such a small thing, too, between friends,” Lyster scoffed. “You grab me on the street and lug me here, just to ask a simple question like that—after you've kept me a prisoner for a couple of weeks. Well you can go on asking. And you can go to Hell! You have eyes everywhere—you know everything. All right, answer your own questions!" he turned his face away.
The Skunk scowled and fumed; plainly he was not sure of himself. "I wish to God I knew the answers," he exclaimed angrily. "You ain't any French dick. That girl—she may be. Anyways, she was on my trail. And that means you must have been doing the same. And," with a nasty leer, "see the mess you got yourself into."
Lyster waved an indifferent hand. "You've got it all settled, so what's the use of me saying anything? But you've something else on your mind. Sort of frightened, aren't you? Well . . . I'm not."
"Yeah, but you don't need to be frightened at the same thing as me."
"Think not? . . . Did it ever strike you that the girl may have been trailing me, not you? I saw her at the Majestic, yes but—sometimes—I play a desperate game."
"I suppose that's why you hunted in the city for her when she-disappeared."
"Why do you think I did that?"
The Skunk shook his fist in Lyster's calm face. "You ain't fooling me, young man. Now—I want-to know—who you are!"
"And I want to know what the stock market will do next June. Go on-ask and ask and ask. If I'm what you think I am I wouldn't tell you. I wouldn't admit it. If I'm not I don't care a cuss what you think. I suppose you think it silly of me to be suspicious of you. I was in
Carlo before you were. Then I came to Tunis, and you turn up
"I was here before you were."
"So you say. And you were down in the desert. All I know is you talked to a man in
Monte Carlo whom the
police want . . . So did I."
"You mean you talked to Frenchy?"
"That's what I said. We knew each other in
America." Lyster was so
impressed with the new slant he was giving his story that he failed to notice
the thin ice ahead. "I'll tell you something more: I followed him to
Banyuls . . . I saw you there."
The Syrian stared. Lyster continued: "I followed him—trailed him, if you like. Frenchy, you see, tried to double cross me. He didn't divvy fairly on a job we worked together in
. . . and I don't let anyone get away with that."
"Anything Frenchy got was more than his share," The Skunk said scornfully. "He never was any good, and he was always yellow."
"Ah! So he did it to you too? Our mutual friend seems to be a bit of a snake."
"He's worse!" The Skunk exploded. "Say, we were in a job together too, Frenchy and me, and I did all the planning and dirty work. All Frenchy did was to tag along." His face took on a look of new interest. "Say, don't mean to say you bumped him off in Banyuls? I couldn't find him—"
"I hadn't the chance—but he nearly got me instead."
"Then where did he go?"
"Back to the
He knows it's the safest place in the world to hide."
The Skunk stood thinking.
“Then what about the girl?” he demanded, "You called on her at her hotel. And you want me to believe she was trailing you. Well, tell it to your grandmother!”
He stamped to the door. As he drew back the rug he turned.
“I know damn well you won’t peep. But maybe the girl will—maybe there’s a way of making her. Rot here and think over that!”
Lyster hurried to the wall and pressed his ear against it. After a time he heard the women enter the hall from the court. Taking a long breath, he pressed the spring.
To his surprise the hall was empty, and the change in the routine alarmed him. The Skunk’s threat to force Shirley’s lips terrified him. Whatever happened, he must somehow get to her, for The Skunk would stop at nothing.
There was but the one inner door from this hall and it, Shirley had told him, admitted to another hall on which her room opened. He looked about for a weapon of some kind, but there were only four chairs at the far end of the hall. Making his way softly along, he picked up the nearest, thrilling to a new vigour in his veins His muscles felt keen and strong. With set face he approached the door to the other hall.
His hand was on the copper knob when it was opened abruptly from the other side and the eunuch faced him.
At the same moment a woman screamed somewhere, it was Shirley Cringan’s voice.
LYSTER leaped back, whirling the chair aloft. The eunuch, equally surprised, his mouth wide open and his eyes goggling incredulously, himself retreated a step or two. It was the one moment of the gory fight that followed when Lyster had the advantage. Had he attacked instantly the result might have been different.
It was the eunuch who recovered first. A look of animal fury swept over his heavy face, and his fingers curled like claws. With it was a tinge of fear, but not of the man before him.
“Get back!” Lyster held the chair ready to strike. “Get back, or I’ll brain you! Show me where The Skunk is, and get out of my way!”
In his excitement and blind recklessness, tingling with inhuman strength and determination, he spoke in English. The chair felt light as a feather, so light that he feared for its effectiveness as he waved it about his head.
The eunuch, with a snarl, came on, crouched like a tiger, his great curving fingers before him. Lyster steadily retreated. That swollen face of rage thrust forward, those terrible eyes, that bent body balanced on muscular toes, beat through his grimness, so that he could almost feel the black fingers at his throat. Besides, he had no wish to stage a fight before that open door.
Watching every move, he stepped back and back. He had a momentary thought of retreating to his own room, the door of which he had left ajar, but once in there the eunuch would have him at his mercy; the door would be locked against him, and never again would he have a chance like this.
The eunuch paused, then, with the leap of a cat, was over Lyster. The latter brought the chair crashing on his opponent's arm, where it shattered, but the heavy seat swept over the guard and caught the negro on the cheek-bone. A gush of blood flowed down the black face and the eunuch staggered. Lyster leaped to the attack. He had dropped the chair. His fingers reached for the eunuch's throat. Perhaps he could get a hold on that ebony pillar before its owner recovered sufficiently to defend himself.
His fingers reached their goal and closed. The neck that had been wet with perspiration was wetter now. Blood dripped over his wrists as he clung. It splattered into his face as his thumbs pressed hard against the Adam's apple, and he closed his eyes.
For a moment the eunuch seemed about to fall, but with a chocking bellow his great muscles surged and his hands closed over his attacker's wrists.
Lyster closed his teeth. If he could hold on—hold on—hold on! Nothing else mattered, blows or kicks or bellows. The grip on his wrists was like twin iron hands. He felt his fingers swell with the pressure, the flow of blood seemed to hesitate throughout his body. But he hung on, murmuring fantastic prayers. The smell of blood almost made him sick, the warm drip of it, the sliminess.
He was vaguely conscious of the presence of the others in the hall and opened his eyes.
In the doorway four startled faces peered at him, the women of the harem. But what he noticed more particularly, and his heart sank, was that Shirley was not with them. The mouths of three of the women opened as if about to scream, but the oldest held up a silencing hand and jerked a short command.
Lyster called to them in French. He felt his strength going. His hands felt as if they would burst, and his temples pounded so that he could scarcely hear the sound of his own voice. The women made no move. Lyster closed his eyes again; he could hold out no longer.
At that moment, above the hubbub of the fight, there came a pounding on the outer door leading to the court. Lyster heard it, and renewed strength flowed through him. The negro, too was feeling the strain, for he staggered. The pair stumbled toward where the women stood, their faces ghastly with terror.
Suddenly the oldest of them darted forward. From the eunuch's belt she snatched the bunch of keys and ran toward the outer door.
Lyster's burst of strength was short-lived. His fingers were numb, his knees buckled under him, and he was flung against the wall. As he fell the door of the court was flung open and a man stood framed against the light. It was Frenchy!
At that moment the woman snapped off the hall lights.
For a moment no one moved. Lyster lay limply against the wall, staring at the new-comer. The woman who had opened the door crowded into a corner, terrified at the part she had played. Frenchy remained where he was, his forehead wrinkled with the effort to see within the darker hall.
The eunuch hesitated, startled and confused, then, crouching again, his throat gurgling with animal snarls, he started forward. Lyster struggled to his knees, but he could do nothing more. What was there to do? Frenchy was no more likely to help than was The Skunk, and much less likely than the eunuch. He knelt, waiting for things to happen.
The eunuch moved slowly forward on muscles of steel. Whatever Frenchy was to Lyster, he was no more welcome to the negro.
Suddenly the man in the doorway whipped out an automatic. The eunuch did not even hesitate; he was no longer human. Frenchy held his ground, but his glance moved for a moment to Lyster, as if with appeal.
The eunuch crept on. The gun pointed, and a shot crashed through the hall. The eunuch crept on. A second shot. Still the eunuch advanced. Lyster marvelled.
"If you must!” Frenchy breathed, and fired again.
And as the big black body of the negro slumped sideways to the floor, in the midst of a leap, Lyster knew that the first two shots had not been aimed to kill.
No one moved. Six pairs of eyes were fixed on the twitching body. Then a step sounded along the branching hall and through the grouped women The Skunk pushed his way. The light from the open door fell full on him. Frenchy stiffened, and with a quick breath rushed forward, gun levelled.
“Aha!” he grated in English. “At last I’ve got you! You thought you’d get away with it. You thought you’d get more’n your share, and mine too. I fooled you. Now, you’ll split—or I’ll drill you, like I did this nigger of yours! You got the diamond necklace from Toni—”
Instinctively The Skunk’s hands had gone up before the gun. He seemed numbed with surprise.
“Frenchy, Frenchy,” he cried, “you got it all wrong! I didn’t get the diamonds. I don’t know where they are. I split fair, I tell you! I ain’t—”
“You lie! You and Toni, you got a lot out of that vault you never shared. I’m here to get it. And damn quick about it!”
But Frenchy was not listening.
“All right.” The Skunk beckoned and stepped back toward the door. “I’ll give you something, anyway. I’m always ready to help a buddy.”
He had reached the door. A swift step and the women were between him and the gun. Then, with a thrust of his big arm, he sent them staggering into the outer hall and slammed the door behind him.
But Lyster was prepared; he had looked for some trick. With a lucky toss he managed to get the leg of the broken chair into the opening in time to block the door.
Forgetting Frenchy then, he rushed after The Skunk, but the Frenchman was too quick for him. A shot went clanging into the dark passage, but a door far away banged and all was silence. Lyster hesitated to advance in the darkness, where he would be outlined against the lighter hall at his back. He saw Frenchy herding the women through a door on the left, and he watched, puzzled. For some reason he had no fear now of the man, but he had picked up the chair leg, determined to fight it out if he must to get to Shirley Cringan.
Frenchy closed the door behind the women and turned—smiled—removed hat and wig.
The detective wiped his face with a handkerchief and shuddered. “I didn’t like it, Lyster, but I had to do it. If it had been The Skunk I wouldn’t have batted an eye—except that Mr. Hornbaker wants him back alive. But,” catching Lyster’s arm, “we must hurry. Do you know where Miss Cringan is? We must get away before the police arrive; they’d upset everything.”
Lyster pointed along the hall. “She was in the third room on the left. But she may not be there now. The Skunk was going to her.”
They started on, to the light of a flashlight Redfern carried. A door behind them opened, and Redfern whirled about. But it was only the woman who spoke French. In her hand she held the bunch of keys taken from the eunuch’s belt. Holding one out, she pointed to the third door. Redfern took the key.
Shirley stood at the far side of the room, pressed tight against the wall. Her head was tilted, her eyes flashed, and her little mouth was set in a thin, hard line. Her haik had been torn from her and lay trampled on the floor, and her hair tumbled about her eyes. At sight of them a slight tremor passed through her. Then she laughed, a pitiful, half-hysterical laugh, and from behind her she drew her hand and lifted it before them. From it dangled the diamond necklace.
“ALLAH is good!” Shirley sighed. “I could almost be a Mohammedan, just to utter that with fervour—if I hadn’t seen so much of their seamy side. The fifth in a Mohammedan harem has no bed of roses.”
They were seated in Shirley’s room at the Majestic. Lyster had paid the delayed bill with the money orders he carried. They had not been taken from him, probably because they were non-negotiable by a stranger. Redfern was silent. The crumpled body of the eunuch was before his eyes, and a gnawing fury that The Skunk had escaped.
“What did The Skunk do?” Lyster asked. “He left me to go to you. I was trying to get to you when the negro caught me.”
“The Skunk?” Shirley tossed the diamond necklace in the air and caught it. “Oh, he just gave me this. Conscience, I suppose. . . . Well, no, not quite that. We must do The Skunk credit. He seemed anxious to find out who you and I are. Offered me this necklace as a bribe. Thought I was an ordinary, mercenary detective, I gather. When I grabbed it, he was quite indignant. In fact, we had something of a tussle for it. And my fighting weight is only about one hundred and twenty-four.
“We were at it, hammer and tongs, when we heard the first shot. He tried to get away to see what was happening, but I managed to hold him. I never was so anxious to keep a man. I never had a man so anxious to get away from me. He seemed quite annoyed with me. He even scratched!” She exhibited a red mark on her right wrist. “Oh, well, it’s been a wonderful experience. But it’s more comfortable here.”
She waved toward a pair of fans, one at either end of the room, their hum making the hot air more somnolent. Summer curtains were down over the windows.
“I suppose we must be about the last tourists left in
she said. “ I wouldn’t choose it myself for comfort at this time of the year.
And when it comes to being closed in a harem, the fifth—”
“There is no fifth,” Lyster broke in.
“That’s what saved me. The old woman knew it. She knew she’d be kicked out if I stayed. It accounts for her willingness to help us out. They’re a faithful lot, those women. I rather worked on the idea. I had no idea what a vamp I could be. Their lord and master came to see me twice. Not such a bad old fellow, either—with the proper wife.” She leaned forward to examine herself in the mirror. “You saw what Collioure was doing to me, Mr. Lyster. Well, this climate is worse, a hundred times worse!” An involuntary shiver exposed the effort to laugh it all away. “That’s all I have to tell. What about you, Mr. Redfern? How did you happen to be on hand to rob Mr. Lyster of some of the glory?”
Redfern’s story was simple enough. He had had no difficulty in keeping Frenchy in sight in
Barcelona, and he had taken passage to New York on the boat on
which his quarry was returning steerage. During the voyage he had managed to
pick up an acquaintance with the man he trailed, and had thus enabled himself
to adopt the disguise that deceived even Lyster. Handing over his man to the
police at New York, he had returned
immediately to Naples and taken the first boat
“Lyster’s cables had told me enough to put me on your trail. I found where you were stopping, Miss Cringan, or had been. Lyster, of course, was easy to trace. When I found you both missing I was at a loss for a time. The Skunk’s perfume booth was not hard to find, and thereafter I scarcely lost sight of him.”
“But how did you do it?” Lyster puzzled. “In that warren of streets—”
“I had the advantage of you in that he did not know me. It wasn’t easy, but I managed to keep it up. When the trail led nowhere for three days, I began to despair. I was certain he was not seeing either of you, and I could not imagine he would not visit you if he knew where you were—was concerned, I mean, with your capture . . . unless he had done away with both of you.”
“Neither of us saw him until to-day,” Lyster said.
“Luckily I was on his heels to-day. When he set out into a new part of the walled city I began to hope. That he was going somewhere was plain from the way he strode along, also that he felt none too comfortable about it. He almost got away from me, but I was lucky. I lost sight of him round a corner, and when I reached it he had disappeared, but I heard his footsteps inside a court, ascending a flight of stone steps. By that time I knew the sound of his feet.”
“What time was that?” Lyster asked.
"It must have been before nine. I had picked him up at his bazaar. If I hadn’t been about earlier than usual this morning I’d have missed him. After prowling uneasily about his place for an hour or so he closed the front and departed. That in itself was significant, for he had always been on duty before.
“By the way he climbed those steps I deduced that he was not going to leave in a hurry, so I rushed back to the hotel and made myself up to resemble Frenchy. I’ve had it in mind ever since the trip to
We’re about the same build and the same shape of face. I got back only in time
to hear the row you were having with the negro. You know the rest. Thank God it
turned out as it did! You’re both well out of it. Another five minutes—”
“But,” Shirley interjected, “we’re not out of it yet! We have still The Skunk to get. And then there’s Baldy.”
“You’re out of it, Miss Cringan! ” Lyster declared.
“That’s for me to say. . . . And I’ve said. For detectives it strikes me the pair of you are—well, a little careless. Without doubt The Skunk knows we’re here right here in this room—talking things over. He has eyes and ears all over the city.”
Redfern shook his head. “All The Skunk is thinking of right now is saving his hide. It was too narrow a squeak to take further chances. He knows what the French authorities would do if they knew what happened. There’s a boat leaving for
Palermo and Naples
this evening. I figured at first he would make for the desert, but he’s been
too long in America
to stand the heat—or the isolation. The train to Algiers is too exposed. But his first thought
will be to get out of French jurisdiction. That means the Italian boat. I’ll
watch that boat—not as Frenchy, of course, but as myself. I left my bag at a
small restaurant near the wharf, so I can pick it up at a moment’s notice. Now
I’ll be moving.”
“But what are we to do?” Shirley inquired. “Mr. Lyster and I can’t just joy-ride about the world together. You didn’t happen to bring a chaperon with you, Mr. Redfern?”
“Stay here,” Redfern said, “till you hear from me. If I don’t turn up I’ll cable.”
“I hoped The Skunk would lead us eventually to Baldy,” Lyster sighed.
“Are you forgetting that Toni said Baldy often spoke of
Palermo? If The Skunk takes the Italian boat,
the first stop is Palermo;
and who knows? Fortunately Toni had Baldy’s real name—he thought of it before
the end—so it shouldn’t be hard to run him down if he’s there.”
He got to his feet, squared his shoulders, stood for a moment in the breeze of the fan, and with a bow left the room.
“He might be going to lunch! ” Shirley said. “Help yourself to the cigarettes.”
But Lyster was already up and making for the door. “Thanks, no.”
Shirley’s eyes crinkled. “By the way, are you going?”
“Shall I call for help—or a chaperon? Are you afraid of the fifth woman in a Mohammedan harem?”
“I’m not fool enough,” Lyster said stiffly, “to think you’d consider it worth while to vamp me, Miss Cringan.” He dropped his hat and sat down. “I thought it might be—better—”
She tossed him a cigarette. “Put that between your lips. It might make you more reckless. Now, what shall we talk about?”
“It was you who had something to say, I thought.”
“So I have. I’ve got so much to say to anyone who can speak English that I’m going to lose my reputation for silence. Don’t forget I’ve been three weeks and more among foreigners—or alone. By the way, you haven’t told me your own experiences. You never do—till it’s dragged from you.”
“Mine are so uninteresting compared with yours.” He told what had happened in the days of his captivity, but he saw that she was not interested.
“It looks,” she mused, “as if our little thrill is over. With Mr. Redfern to do the trailing there’s not much left for us. . . . And I enjoyed it. I don’t mind admitting that working with you is much more exciting than with Mr. Redfern. He’s too—too official, too humdrum and cut-and-dried in his methods. Two and two always make four with him, and the cure for toothache is to yank it. You’d try a counter-irritant: it’s so much more uncertain and exciting. That’s why I like it.”
“You like it because it’s more dangerous!” he blurted out. “I don’t know the game well enough to be reasonable and safe about it. See the mess we got into—and Redfern had to come along to save us.”
“But he did save us. That’s what I think would always happen—like what happens to the English— you muddle along . . . to success. Now, what I’d like better than anything is to strike out on a plan of our own to find Baldy. Leave The Skunk to Mr. Redfern. He seems fairly efficient, in his way, on a straight case of sleuthing. But when it comes to a really heady plan that avoids the beaten track we make modern improvements. There’s still a man we want somewhere. My idea is that Redfern would have done better to have let Frenchy lead us to him. These men are bitter enemies now, for each suspects the others. Baldy is probably in
too—and he got the biggest reward of all, the canary diamond. The others will
think so now, with their own money gone.”
“But where does all this lead?” Lyster asked.
Shirley stretched her arms over her head. “Only to the fact that you’re my dinner-guest to-night. Come on! I’m hungry.”
“No—I—will—not!” Lyster stood up. “You’re coming with me to the ‘Japon.’ They've the best vol au vent you ever tasted.”
She pursed her lips at him. “Oho! The caveman! What a lot you learned in that Arab prison! That must have been some fight you had with the negro. I hope the ‘Japon’ is respectable!”
THE peculiar, misty brilliance of the Chianti country; the May sun softly shining over the distant
city of lurid history, of ancient and modern Pallio, of one-time feudal lords
and faithful vassals, city that shook defiant fist in the lordly face of Rome at its greatest.
Country of hill villages that were once nations in themselves, of wine and
sunshine, of famous cathedrals, of priceless art, of execrable train-service.
Shirley Cringan leaned from the window of her baronial room and sighed. Beyond a flowering garden was the city wall, to the left rose a quaint church-tower that was part of the wall itself, and away through the haze the mountains. It was too beautiful to do anything but sit and look—and look again.
But there was work to do. Sighing again, she rose. The sound of a footstep on the brick terrace below turned her back to the window. She leaned out, took a hasty glance, and retreated. But she must have changed her mind, for she reseated herself on the sill.
“Oh, Mr. Halton!”
Lyster looked up and reddened. He had been pacing one end of the garden for some time, seeing nothing of its beauty.
Shirley swept her arm across the horizon. “Don't you see? Don’t you see? Isn’t it too lovely? If you can’t see over the wall down there, come up here. Or, no, of course not. The idea! But perhaps the gentleman in the next room will let you look from his window.”
“I wasn’t thinking of the view,” Lyster replied shortly, and resumed his pacing.
“Evidently not. Will my lord’s sense of propriety permit me to suggest that I come down there, then?”
“If I were your lord—” he began, with a frown.
She shook a reproving finger at him. “No, no. Lords didn’t do that! You’d have to be my daddy—or my schoolmaster.” She disappeared.
He was seated on a stone bench, relic of ancient times, when she emerged through the large glass doors. His chin was in his hand, and he stared at the coloured tiling at his feet, so that he did not see her until she stood beside him. He rose hastily and waved her to another bench, but she seated herself on the end of the one he had vacated. He did not sit down.
“All right,” she said, “if you talk better standing. You haven’t been wandering about all day without something on your mind. Give it air!”
He paced the tiling before her, his hands clasped at his back. A heavy stone railing cut them off from the garden six feet below. The flower-beds and the paths were dotted with stone figures, and along the city-wall grew fruit vines, now in full leaf.
“I’ve been wondering,” he began, “wondering when the chase will end.”
“Are you so tired of your companion?” she asked toying with the handle of the crocheted bag she carried.
“I’m tired of—of playing the bloodhound. You called it that once.”
“You never forget the nasty things I say, do you, Mr.—Halton?”
“You give me no chance—there are so many. . . . And when you don’t say them you act them.” He seemed surprised at his own temerity, for he stopped and glanced at her in some alarm. “But it isn’t that, it isn’t that—not only that. I’m fed up. I want to get back to work.”
Shirley ran a finger along the rounded edge of the stone. “Most people would call this work—rather hard work.”
“Thank you. It’s your first admission that it isn't just a holiday jaunt.”
“I’ve been through some of it since myself,” she said. “But may I ask what is the added attraction back home? I didn’t know you had friends—like that.”
He shook his head irritably. “I want to get back, that’s all.”
“To the valeting?”
“If you wish to call it that. . . . When we get The Skunk I’m through. Someone else can take up Baldy’s trail.”
“You’d go back on Uncle Nathan—break your promise to finish the work?”
“I didn’t expect it to run on like this,” he retorted uneasily.
“You mean you didn’t expect to be bullied into working with me. I see.”
He strode to the end of the terrace and back before answering.
“You’ve added an unforeseen complication.”
“I thought I’d helped a little,” she murmured.
He saw her eyes suddenly grow wet with tears, but he turned stubbornly away. “You have helped, but I’d rather go on another year without you than—than risk you in it again. The danger is as great as ever—and the men we’re after are more desperate.”
He could not see her eyes now, for she was looking at the finger rubbing along the edge of the seat.
“If I enjoy it,” she said, “why should you care?”
“I do care. I care so much—” He stopped and turned away.
“I’m the modern girl,” she said, ignoring the pause. “The only life for me is the one with thrills. Mad, yes, perhaps, but so very conventional to-day. I want thrills—thrills!” She lifted both arms.
Lyster planted himself before her and glared into her eyes. “Yes, and by God some day you’ll get them—and you’ll wonder why you thought this thrilling!” He strode away from her, his hands working at his back.
“Nothing you’d understand, Miss Cringan. . . . Only some day a man is going to take hold of you—mercilessly—and spank you. . . . And you’ll like it. Thrills? You don’t know what a thrill is, you cold-blooded, calculating—” He broke off. “Pardon me. My nerves are on edge.”
She sat with tilted head, examining him through half-closed eyes.
“Odd, isn’t it? . . . You talk so feelingly of thrills. Did you ever feel one yourself, I wonder? I can’t imagine anything in your life that wouldn’t be routine—to you. You don’t know how to drag the best from life. You’re fossilized, frozen. You talk of some new kind of thrill. But what do you know of it yourself? . . . I could imagine you sitting down on a free night and coming deliberately to the conclusion that it would be better to—to take a wife—or to know a girl better. And, once decided, you’d set about it like—like a robot. You laid your course in
like a Finance Minister budgeting the year’s expenses, and you followed that
course as if it were walled in. . . . Even the raid—the robbery. You passed
through it as coolly as if you’d planned it yourself. And when Uncle Nathan
asked you to take up the trail, you merely substituted it for your other duties
for the time being.
“You’ll never have time for anything but ritual, ceremonial, duty. Life, work, yes, and even love—they’ll be cold-blooded, yes, and calculated—you provided the adjectives yourself—calculated duties. You’ll ration your kisses, you’ll probably write out your proposal, with every comma in place. As a husband you’ll be a piece of household furniture—or your wife will be; as a father an institution. And your wife will either leave you the first week or keep you as she’d keep a family heirloom. Why, you couldn’t—”
His eyes had come nearer hers, glaring furiously, and his fists were clenched at his sides.
“And as a lover?” he demanded fiercely.
She rose with an indolent movement and strolled toward the door.
“I can’t imagine it,” she drawled. “Too fantastic, much too fantastic. Thrills? Leave me to my little ones. And the little one just now is finding that elusive villain, The Skunk. Ah, here’s our confederate.”
Redfern had hurried into the garden. He caught Shirley by the arm and drew her toward Lyster.
“I’ve found where he lives,” he whispered, wiping his forehead with the edge of one finger. “Now we must lose no time.”
They put their heads together.
In the early afternoon The Skunk wandered into the streets of
Siena, his big figure conspicuous in the
crowd. The way cleared before him as he went, and he smiled proudly.
He had led his pursuers a long and arduous chase since leaving
Tunis. So fast had he travelled, so well had
he covered his trail, that he had days before dismissed any idea of being
followed. But Redfern had picked up the scattered clues, patient and untiring.
Shirley Cringan and Lyster had awaited in
the cable Redfern promised. The heat had become almost unbearable, and they
were in constant dread that the dead eunuch might be traced to them. Redfern
they had not seen again, so that it seemed certain he had taken passage on the
The cable, from
merely asked them to follow, and to inquire at the American Express Office
there. At Palermo Lyster was handed a short note. The Skunk had gone on to Rome by train. At Rome the American Express had another note for them that
sent them forward to Siena.
There Shirley had made inquiries for Redfern, Lyster remaining under cover. The detective reported dismally that the trail seemed to have broken off; he could learn nothing of The Skunk. When Shirley told the plan she and Lyster had formed he shook his head. He had fallen in with their idea of dogging the heels of the robbers until they landed in
as he felt certain they would sooner or later, but his two companions had grown
The Skunk strolled along the street and came at last before an outdoor café largely frequented by visitors. He paused for a moment to run his eye over the crowd seated in the shade of the over-hanging upper story, an instinct of his kind. Satisfied, he picked his way through the tables to an empty one in the darkest corner. His order was for the same as his nearest neighbour, a black fluid he did not recognize.
The glass had just been placed before him when Shirley Cringan sauntered through between the tables, looking for an empty chair. She spied what she wanted at The Skunk’s table and made for it. The Syrian was unaware of her until she was only two steps away. When he saw her he started to his feet, his face white and his eyes wide with surprise and alarm.
Shirley’s eyebrows lifted.
Tunis friend!” She
seated herself across the table. “How interesting! We can talk of old times,
can’t we? I’ve wanted so much to see you since that little affair. . . . Did
you know the police, too, were anxious about you? I believe there’s even a
reward. It would be easy money—Why, what’s the hurry? The police of Italy and France,
of anywhere in Europe, will have your
description by this time, so I wouldn’t do anything conspicuous if I were you.”
The Skunk, with a heavy scowl, more of fear than of anger, stumbled away and disappeared. Redfern detached himself from a doorway across the street and followed. A few moments later Lyster occupied the seat The Skunk had vacated.
“He’s on the hoof again,” Shirley said, with a laugh. “Itchy feet. Poor Skunk! Yes,” to the waiter, “I’ll take the same, and make it two.”
They met that night at Shirley’s hotel.
“He bought a ticket for
Redfern reported. “That means America.
A boat leaves in three days for New
York. I can take the next train and pick him up. Wait
here till you get definite word from me. If he takes that boat, you can take
the next one.”
“But what about Baldy?” Shirley asked. “ ‘We— want—Baldy!’ as the collegians chant.”
Redfern considered. “I’m convinced that the only way to pick up Baldy’s trail is from
I’ve about come to the conclusion that your way is the best—to leave these men
free to lead us to the others. We take a long chance with a clever rogue like
The Skunk, but it seems the only way. I never thought I’d weary so quickly of
travel. But I'm a married man; it doesn’t seem right to jaunt about the world’s
resorts without wife and family.”
Shirley lifted her eyes to the ceiling. “Please don’t get personal!” she said.
THREE weeks later they landed in
To Lyster the voyage was a nightmare, not because the boat was not all that
could be desired or that the sea was uneasy. But a coolness had sprung up
between him and Shirley Cringan, and the girl seemed not to wish to have him
around. His misery was none the less acute when he saw her dancing every night
with gay companions whom she did not introduce to him. He had arranged their
deck-chairs together, but Shirley seldom occupied hers, so that he was left to
They were seated together on the last day of the voyage. Shirley was unusually gay.
“You’re glad it’s over!” Lyster grumbled.
“I’m glad for your sake, at any rate,” she returned. “You’ve wished it ever since Banyuls. Besides, you were fed up—you wanted to get back to work. That’s why I can’t fathom this moroseness. Perhaps,” leaning toward him anxiously, “you need yeast—or is it aspirin? Perhaps you don’t use the proper toothpaste twice a day and see your dentist twice a year. There are so many possible reforms in your case.”
“Rattle on,” he scowled. “Get it off your chest! You’ve been bubbling with drivel like that since we left
She held up her hands in dismay. “And you came from
My, oh my! I must tell Uncle Nathan!”
“To hell with Uncle Nathan!” he exploded, and stamped away.
She overtook him at the turn of the deck. “Why,” she whispered, “you’re getting almost human! At any rate, you and I have seen something of the world together.”
He turned to her a face red with anger. “Stop it! For God’s sake stop it!”
“Dear me!” She fell into step beside him. “It sort of puts me in my place, doesn’t it? Yes, I know, and no one better, the unladylike part I’ve played from the beginning. But,” slyly, “it’s been part of the fun . . . I’ve even enjoyed browbeating you.”
Suddenly she clutched his arm and drew him to a stop. He saw her eyes blazing. “Do you know,” she hissed, “sometimes I could—I could bite you! But I know I’d get hydrophobia.” Her face crinkled. “My best chance would be when you’re spanking me. Well, good bye. Daddy and mumsie will be there to meet me, I suppose. You’ll be too busy to look after me.”
Clifford and Queenie Cringan had returned from Collioure two weeks before and had remained in
Lyster had only a few minutes with them: he was in a hurry to get home, as he
explained—while Shirley stood silently by, a slight smile twisting her lips.
Word was received that Redfern and The Skunk had arrived, and the detective had
kept on the trail.
Next day Hornbaker and his wife welcomed Lyster. The former stared, then laughed explosively.
“Great Scott, Lyster, it’s quite distinguished. With a beard like that I can’t hope to hold you to your old job.”
“I was thinking of that myself,” Lyster said, his lips in a hard line.
Husband and wife regarded him inquiringly.
“A disguise, I suppose,” Julia said. “But now that you’re back you can dispose of it. The police will attend to everything now.”
“The job is not yet complete, Mrs. Hornbaker.”
“You’ve had a stirring time, at any rate,” Hornbaker said. “And I’m willing to bet that niece of mine provided some of the excitement.”
“She was a real assistance at times, invaluable indeed. I don’t know that might have happened without her.”
“Humph! I’ve heard from Redfern some of the things that happened with her. . . . And did you ever stop to consider what might have happened to her, young man?”
Lyster lifted helpless hands. “My thinking of it did no good. Miss Cringan took the bit in her teeth and ran away with us. She merely informed us now and then what she planned to do. Any danger there was presented itself to her only as another incentive to get into the thick of it. I’m sorry we haven’t the whole affair cleaned up.”
“We’ll get Baldy yet,” Hornbaker declared confidently. “Redfern tells me The Skunk seems to have given up the perfume business over here. It looks as if he had something more serious in mind. Which means that he’s up to some devilment.”
“If you’ll permit, sir, I’ll stick to the job till we get Baldy. I’d like to be in at the death. But I’d like more help. I want to get this business out of the way.”
Hornbaker frowned. “Out of the way? What’s crowding you, Lyster?”
“I was hoping to get free—right away.”
“A holiday? Well, you deserve it. Take a month—two, if you like—”
“I was going to quit, sir. I want to resign.”
Nathan and Julia stared at him as if they could not believe their ears.
“Resign? You mean—leave me? Julia, Julia, did you ever hear the like?”
Julia nodded: she was the calmest of the three.
“I’m not surprised.”
A look passed between husband and wife. Hornbaker chuckled.
“All right. But you’re still my man till we run Baldy down. There’s time then to discuss the future.”
The next two weeks was a time of inactivity, during which Lyster fretted and fumed. Three detectives were working on The Skunk in relays, and they never lost track of him. For a few days the Syrian was plainly uneasy, keeping himself to unfrequented places and appearing little abroad. Events at
and Siena had
undermined his confidence. But a week of apparent freedom in the United States
revived his courage, and he began to move about without selfconsciousness.
It made the work of the detectives simpler. Redfern had settled down grimly to the chase, with the patience of his kind. Frenchy was still in jail, unable to provide bail, his case postponed from week to week at Hornbaker’s assurance that evidence was being collected.
At the end of the fortnight Redfern walked into Lyster’s office and announced without excitement that Baldy was found.
“You’ve arrested him?”
“No.” The detective stormed to the window and back, now really excited. “No, we haven’t arrested him, because The Skunk has eluded us. Damn it, this thing promises to run on to eternity! We let one go to lead us to another, and then we lose the first. My plan was the best from the first, I see that now.”
Lyster was appalled. The announcement of Baldy’s discovery had raised a hope in his mind, not unmixed with misgiving, for to break with his employer was, as he thought of it, no pleasant prospect. And now it looked as if the whole chase must be resumed, for The Skunk must have suspected, and they could not hope to have such good fortune again in finding him.
Redfern saw his disappointment. “We’ve done the best we could. We’ve pretty nearly eaten and slept with him, yet I don’t think he was aware of it. What it looks like to me is that he had some big job on hand and is in hiding till he’s ready to act. It’s the way of criminals. His money must be running out, and that means another job. Until it’s pulled off he can’t lead us to
again, and he’ll find it difficult now to leave the country, even if he wished.
Whatever happens he must look on America as the safest place to
Lyster asked what was to be done with Baldy.
“That’s up to Mr. Hornbaker.”
“But we can’t sit still!” Lyster protested, rising and plunging about the room. “We must do something about Baldy, even if, for the time being, we have lost The Skunk.”
“Perhaps you have another plan?” Redfern asked dryly.
Lyster faced him. “You know where Baldy is! Can you take me to him?”
“Certainly. But what for? What good would it do? Are you thinking you can coax him to tell where The Skunk is—even if he knew? They haven’t met once since The Skunk returned. I imagine he’s the last one Baldy would wish to meet.”
“But you’re keeping him under surveillance?”
“Of course. I have a room across a back-yard from Baldy’s, and one of us is always there, while another keeps watch on the street. The two of us on duty can signal to each other through a lane running back from the street beside the house where Baldy has his room. It’s in
“I must go to that room,” Lyster said.
That evening three men sat in a small, dirty, unfurnished room overlooking a littered back-yard between two dingy buildings facing on parallel streets. The room was in darkness. Across in the other building several rooms were lighted, but the eyes of the three were fixed on a solitary window. One of the three held in his hand a small flashlight with which he twice sent a signal down a lane across the back-yard.
In the room they watched a man came into view. He was pale and thin, his face haggard and lined. Seating himself at a table, he commenced to eat from a loaf of bread, wolfing it, varying the meal with huge bites from a piece of cheese.
“The man’s hungry, starving!” Hornbaker, one of the three, whispered.
Redfern said: “Baldy is worse than starving, he’s been ill.”
The man they watched thrust the remains of the bread and cheese to the back of the table, wiped the oilcloth with a towel, and going to a chipped enamel basin, poured water into it and carefully washed his hands.
“Humph! ” Lyster murmured. “That’s strange. After eating!”
They continued to watch as Baldy seated himself once more at the table and drew from his pocket a small package. At that point his hands moved forward out of sight of the watchers.
“What does it mean?” Hornbaker asked.
“He’s done that twenty times a day,” Redfern puzzled. “We can’t make it out. It’s about all he does do, besides nibble a light meal now and then. The fellow’s starving to death. He seldom goes out, and only to buy bread and cheese, and the pennies he counts laboriously again and again. He isn’t up to his old tricks for making a living, that’s sure.”
Lyster was curious. “If we could find a room farther along there we might see what it is.”
“That’s right.” Redfern was on his feet. “We chose this one because it gives a view of more of the room. I’ll see the janitor and get a key. Most of the rooms in this building are empty.”
He hurried away. Hornbaker sighed.
“These unimaginative detectives!”
Baldy remained where he was, his hands outstretched before him, still as a statue. Redfern returned with a key and called to them. They followed him along the dark hall. As they neared the next door someone hurried from it and made off in the darkness toward the stairs. Redfern looked after him.
“That’s funny. This room is supposed to be empty; at least, the janitor said so. Perhaps it isn’t the right room. We’ll know in a moment.”
He inserted the key to the light of the flashlight. But the door was not locked. Hornbaker and Lyster hurried in, leaving Redfern frowning toward the stairs.
“I don’t like it,” he growled as he joined the other two at the window. “Who could it be?—though I’ve no right to stop him and ask.”
But neither Hornbaker nor Lyster heard. They were staring at Baldy. The man’s hands were cupped before him, and a strange, fascinated, half-hypnotized look made his coarse face almost gentle. In his hands was a ball of cotton-wool, and as he moved them a flash of light like a physical prick shot across the ugly back-yards to the three men in the darkened room.
“The canary diamond!”
Lyster was on his feet instantly.
Suddenly they saw Baldy’s head jerk round toward the door of his room. Then, hastily folding the diamond in its wool, he wrapped about it several layers of tissue paper and thrust it in his pocket. His hands trembled. One wild look he threw about the room before creeping to the door, where he stood for a time listening. Slowly he turned the key.
The door flew open and The Skunk rushed in!
REDFERN and Lyster made for the hall. Hornbaker, less active, followed, but in the race to the street he was left behind. Picking up a policeman and the other detective, the two younger men climbed the stairs to Baldy’s room.
As they went they could hear loud, angry voices from above. The Skunk had slammed the door behind him so hard that it failed to catch, and it now stood open an inch, leaving a narrow crack of light to percolate into the outer hall. But the two men in the room were too excited, too concerned with their own affairs to notice; nor did they hear the soft approach of the four outside.
Redfern, first to reach the door, lifted his hand for silence.
In the centre of the room stood The Skunk, an automatic in his hand. Cowering against the wall, Baldy faced him; but there was defiance, too, in his eyes.
“You come across, you double-crosser!” The Skunk snarled. “Where’s that diamond?”
“What—diamond?” Baldy quavered.
“Don’t try that on me, damn you! I saw it in your hand not three minutes ago. I’m going to get my share, or I’ll drill you like the dog you are!”
“But—but you got your share,” Baldy protested, “more’n your share! You got the diamond necklace and—”
The Skunk’s teeth grated together. “I lost that—and nearly lost my head with it. I got to have money!”
“But you got money, you and Toni; you got all there was. And then when I shot Toni you and Dago George got his money too. I saw you take it off him. I never got a cent, and you know it.”
Hornbaker had come up, and Lyster moved to let him see.
“That ain’t my fault,” The Skunk jeered. “You took the diamond! It’s worth more than all the rest put together, that sparkler is. When you croaked Toni we should have shared everything—sold that sparkler and divvied. If you didn’t get your share it’s your own fault. But I guess you got it bumping Toni off. What the hell did you do that for, if you weren’t after your share?”
“You wouldn’t understand why,” Baldy sighed.
“Maybe. But I understand, and so do you, I’m getting in on that diamond! They’ve been hounding me all over
Europe, the dicks have,
and now I’ve thrown them off I got to lie low, and I can’t without the jack.
Here,” as Baldy began to move along the wall, “ stand where you are or I won’t
wait! I’ll plug you and take the whole damned thing! By God, that’s what I’ll
He took steady aim.
But Redfern was too quick for him. He fired through the crack of the door, and The Skunk’s gun clattered to the floor. With an oath he whirled about, reaching to a pocket with his left hand. They were on him then, and in a moment the handcuffs were on his wrists and the extra gun taken from his pocket.
The policeman approached Baldy in a business-like way. “Here, you, hold out your hands for the bracelets! This is going to make some fine reading for the papers to-morrow. The Hornbaker hold-up gang cleaned up! Well, it’s been a long chase, they tell me, but all’s well that ends well. Come along, you!”
But Nathan Hornbaker stepped between them and, reaching out, caught Baldy as he swayed. Gently he eased him to the bed.
“No, you aren’t arresting this man, officer. He was working for me—a decoy. It was the only way we could get The Skunk. And that isn’t the canary diamond, but only an imitation I had made for the purpose. I knew it would draw the gang. You’ve got the last of them there.” He pointed to The Skunk, who, foaming at the mouth, was led away by the triumphant policeman and the second detective. Only Redfern and Lyster remained.
Baldy, trembling weakly, dropped to the edge of the bed, his face working, staring incredulously up at Hornbaker. The latter laid a gentle hand on his shoulder.
“Never mind, Baldy! I had to lie to save you. You’re different from the others.” He held out his hand. “Sorry, but it’s mine, you know. There are so many things you need more badly than that diamond. The first is a good meal. Come out and eat it with me! You may have been a crook, but you were never a brute. I know why you shot Toni Boitani. You’re too decent at heart to hand over to the police. I’ll see you won’t need to fear them again.”
The lump in Baldy’s throat moved up and down. With shaking hand he drew the parcel from his pocket, opened it, looked with moist eyes for a long time at the diamond, and handed it over.
“I knew I’d never be able to keep it,” he whispered. “But don’t ever let me see it again. I think I’d commit any crime to get my hands on it again. . . . I’ve never been so happy—or so miserable.”
“You were never a brute, Baldy, but why did you let them leave us to die in the vault?”
For answer Baldy rolled up his sleeve and pointed to an ugly wound that was not yet quite healed.
“Toni got me there. I lost a lot of blood. I was in bed for a week, out of my head a little, I think.”
As they went down the stairs Hornbaker sighed. “The chapter ends. I said I’d get them and I did. . . . Rather, you did, Lyster. You’ll come back to the house to-night—and shave?”
But Lyster shook his head. “No, I’m not coming back! I must get out for myself. I can’t—”
His employer patted him on the shoulder. “All right, all right! But you’ll drop in at the office to-morrow, won’t you, and bid me good-bye?”
ROLAND LYSTER drove up to the door of the Cringan apartments and, leaping from the car, entered the lobby and pressed the button beneath the name “Clifford Cringan.” Shirley spoke through the tube.
“I’ve called for you,” Lyster announced.
“Oho! So your new job is with the police, is it, Mr. Lyster?”
“The police be darned! This is more peremptory.”
Silence for a moment. “Cave-man stuff, eh?"
“Whatever you prefer.”
“Well. . . . I think I’ll come down to see what you look like playing the part. I’ll take a chance.”
Lyster stood beside the car and watched her descend the steps. She came slowly, and her eyes were fixed on him inquiringly as she fumbled with her gloves. At the foot of the steps she stopped and lifted her hands in amazement.
“My, oh, my! You looked far more the cave-man when you had that swamp on your face and forgot to trim it. I recalled a scene in a
palace—Why, you’re looking quite—civilized!”
He caught her arm and almost dragged her to the car. She bounced on the seat.
“And a nice new, expensive Studebaker! Has uncle gone in for a new stable of cars?”
“The car is mine. Now, draw in your skirt; I want to close this door.”
He walked around the car and climbed in. With a surge they shot forward. Shirley pursed her lips as she looked at the speedometer.
“Perhaps a new car is too much of a novelty for you to know that it shouldn’t go faster than thirty miles an hour for the first five hundred. Pardon me for reminding you, but budgets are the dickens in these days of depression—and you’ll wish to turn this car in next year. . . . I suppose it’s uncle’s reward for a good boy.”
He pressed the accelerator. “Another word from you, Shirley Cringan,” he warned, “and I’m apt to damn your uncle! And I don’t wish to. I—bought—this car—myself—with my own—money! I’ll buy you one, too, if you wish. I’m no longer your uncle’s valet!”
She rolled her eyes sideways toward him, and a troubled look wrinkled her face. Neither spoke for some time. The car gathered speed. Shirley sighed.
“I hoped you’d help me arrange that budget—Roland. A woman can’t do it all alone.”
His foot slipped from the accelerator so abruptly that Shirley was jerked forward. He caught her in his arms and held her.
“Because,” she murmured into his neck, “we’ve just got to be married. It wouldn’t be decent not to, you know, after travelling all over the world together! One might say we almost lived together in that palace. At least, that’s what my friends will say. And I haven’t even a husband to divorce. Besides,” easing away from him, “there’s probably a friend or two in those cars honking behind us to get out of their way. It almost sounds like a wedding send-off. So please be considerate to our new car, our reputations, and our budget."
Lyster snapped his fingers. “Bah for the budget! I could buy a car every month and have enough left for any budget. Bah for our friends! You see, I’m the
in the firm of Nathan Hornbaker and Co.”
Shirley gurgled. “I knew it was coming—but I had to be brutal to you to make you drive him to think of it. You see, I didn’t want to wait too long—my hero!
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- As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.