By Sax Rohmer
PART FIRST—KAZMAH THE DREAM-READER
CHAPTER I. A MESSAGE FOR IRVIN
Monte Irvin, alderman of the city and prospective Lord Mayor of London, paced restlessly from end to end of the well-appointed library of his house in Prince's Gate. Between his teeth he gripped the stump of a burnt-out cigar. A tiny spaniel lay beside the fire, his beady black eyes following the nervous movements of the master of the house.
At the age of forty-five Monte Irvin was not ill-looking, and, indeed, was sometimes spoken of as handsome. His figure was full without being corpulent; his well-groomed black hair and moustache and fresh if rather coarse complexion, together with the dignity of his upright carriage, lent him something of a military air. This he assiduously cultivated as befitting an ex-Territorial officer, although as he had seen no active service he modestly refrained from using any title of rank.
Some quality in his brilliant smile, an oriental expressiveness of the dark eyes beneath their drooping lids, hinted a Semitic strain; but it was otherwise not marked in his appearance, which was free from vulgarity, whilst essentially that of a successful man of affairs.
In fact, Monte Irvin had made a success of every affair in life with the lamentable exception of his marriage. Of late his forehead had grown lined, and those business friends who had known him for a man of abstemious habits had observed in the City chophouse at which he lunched almost daily that whereas formerly he had been a noted trencherman, he now ate little but drank much.
Suddenly the spaniel leapt up with that feverish, spider-like activity of the toy species and began to bark.
Monte Irvin paused in his restless patrol and listened.
"Lie down!" he said. "Be quiet."
The spaniel ran to the door, sniffing eagerly. A muffled sound of voices became audible, and Irvin, following a moment of hesitation, crossed and opened the door. The dog ran out, yapping in his irritating staccato fashion, and an expression of hope faded from Irvin's face as he saw a tall fair girl standing in the hallway talking to Hinkes, the butler. She wore soiled Burberry, high-legged tan boots, and a peaked cap of distinctly military appearance. Irvin would have retired again, but the girl glanced up and saw him where he stood by the library door. He summoned up a smile and advanced.
"Good evening, Miss Halley," he said, striving to speak genially—for of all of his wife's friends he liked Margaret Halley the best. "Were you expecting to find Rita at home?"
The girl's expression was vaguely troubled. She had the clear complexion and bright eyes of perfect health, but to-night her eyes seemed over-bright, whilst her face was slightly pale.
"Yes," she replied; "that is, I hoped she might be at home."
"I am afraid I cannot tell you when she is likely to return. But please come in, and I will make inquiries."
"Oh, no, I would rather you did not trouble and I won't stay, thank you nevertheless. I expect she will ring me up when she comes in."
"Is there any message I can give her?"
"Well"—she hesitated for an instant—"you might tell her, if you would, that I only returned home at eight o'clock, so that I could not come around any earlier." She glanced rapidly at Irvin, biting her lip. "I wish I could have seen her," she added in a low voice.
"She wishes to see you particularly?"
"Yes. She left a note this afternoon." Again she glanced at him in a troubled way. "Well, I suppose it cannot be helped," she added and smilingly extended her hand. "Good night, Mr. Irvin. Don't bother to come to the door."
But Irvin passed Hinkes and walked out under the porch with Margaret Halley. Humid yellow mist floated past the street lamps, and seemed to have gathered in a moving reef around the little runabout car which was standing outside the house, its motor chattering tremulously.
"Phew! a beastly night!" he said. "Foggy and wet."
"It's a brute isn't it?" said the girl laughingly, and turned on the steps so that the light shining out of the hallway gleamed on her white teeth and upraised eyes. She was pulling on big, ugly, furred gloves, and Monte Irvin mentally contrasted her fresh, athletic type of beauty with the delicate, exotic charm of his wife.
She opened the door of the little car, got in and drove off, waving one hugely gloved hand to Irvin as he stood in the porch looking after her. When the red tail-light had vanished in the mist he returned to the house and re-entered the library. If only all his wife's friends were like Margaret Halley, he mused, he might have been spared the insupportable misgivings which were goading him to madness. His mind filled with poisonous suspicions, he resumed his pacing of the library, awaiting and dreading that which should confirm his blackest theories. He was unaware of the fact that throughout the interview he had held the stump of cigar between his teeth. He held it there yet, pacing, pacing up and down the long room.
Then came the expected summons. The telephone bell rang. Monte Irvin clenched his hands and inhaled deeply. His color changed in a manner that would have aroused a physician's interest. Regaining his self-possession by a visible effort, he crossed to a small side-table upon which the instrument rested. Rolling the cigar stump into the left corner of his mouth, he took up the receiver.
"Hallo!" he said.
"Someone named Brisley, sir, wishes—"
"Put him through to me here."
"Very good, sir."
A short interval, then:
"Yes?" said Monte Irvin.
"My name is Brisley. I have a message for Mr. Monte Irvin."
"Monte Irvin speaking. Anything to report, Brisley?"
Irvin's deep, rich voice was not entirely under control.
"Yes, sir. The lady drove by taxicab from Prince's Gate to Albemarle Street."
"Went up to chambers of Sir Lucien Pyne and was admitted."
"Twenty minutes later came out. Lady was with Sir Lucien. Both walked around to old Bond Street. The Honorable Quentin Gray—"
"Ah!" breathed Irvin.
"—Overtook them there. He got out of a cab. He joined them. All three up to apartments of a professional crystal-gazer styling himself Kazmah 'the dream-reader.'"
A puzzled expression began to steal over the face of Monte Irvin. At the sound of the telephone bell he had paled somewhat. Now he began to recover his habitual florid coloring.
"Go on," he directed, for the speaker had paused.
"Seven to ten minutes later," resumed the nasal voice, "Mr. Gray came down. He hailed a passing cab, but man refused to stop. Mr. Gray seemed to be very irritable."
The fact that the invisible speaker was reading from a notebook he betrayed by his monotonous intonation and abbreviated sentences, which resembled those of a constable giving evidence in a police court.
"He walked off rapidly in direction of Piccadilly. Colleague followed. Near the Ritz he obtained a cab. He returned in same to old Bond Street. He ran upstairs and was gone from four-and-a-half to five minutes. He then came down again. He was very pale and agitated. He discharged cab and walked away. Colleague followed. He saw Mr. Gray enter Prince's Restaurant. In the hall Mr. Gray met a gent unknown by sight to colleague. Following some conversation both gents went in to dinner. They are there now. Speaking from Dover Street Tube."
"Yes, yes. But the lady?"
"A native, possibly Egyptian, apparently servant of Kazmah, came out a few minutes after Mr. Gray had gone for cab, and went away. Sir Lucien Pyne and lady are still in Kazmah's rooms."
"What!" cried Irvin, pulling out his watch and glancing at the disk. "But it's after eight o'clock!"
"Yes, sir. The place is all shut up, and other offices in block closed at six. Door of Kazmah's is locked. I knocked and got no reply."
"Damn it! You're talking nonsense! There must be another exit."
"No, sir. Colleague has just relieved me. Left two gents over their wine at Prince's."
Monte Irvin's color began to fade slowly.
"Then it's Pyne!" he whispered. The hand which held the receiver shook. "Brisley—meet me at the Piccadilly end of Bond Street. I am coming now."
He put down the telephone, crossed to the wall and pressed a button. The cigar stump held firmly between his teeth, he stood on the rug before the hearth, facing the door. Presently it opened and Hinkes came in.
"The car is ready, Hinkes?"
"Yes, sir, as you ordered. Shall Pattison come round to the door?"
"Very good, sir."
He withdrew, closing the door quietly, and Monte Irvin stood staring across the library at the full-length portrait in oils of his wife in the pierrot dress which she had worn in the third act of The Maid of the Masque.
The clock in the hall struck half-past eight.
CHAPTER II. THE APARTMENTS OF KAZMAH
It was rather less than two hours earlier on the same evening that Quentin Gray came out of the confectioner's shop in old Bond Street carrying a neat parcel. Yellow dusk was closing down upon this bazaar of the New Babylon, and many of the dealers in precious gems, vendors of rich stuffs, and makers of modes had already deserted their shops. Smartly dressed show-girls, saleswomen, girl clerks and others crowded the pavements, which at high noon had been thronged with ladies of fashion. Here a tailor's staff, there a hatter's lingered awhile as iron shutters and gratings were secured, and bidding one another good night, separated and made off towards Tube and bus. The working day was ended. Society was dressing for dinner.
Gray was about to enter the cab which awaited him, and his fresh-colored, boyish face wore an expression of eager expectancy, which must have betrayed the fact to an experienced beholder that he was hurrying to keep an agreeable appointment. Then, his hand resting on the handle of the cab-door, this expression suddenly changed to one of alert suspicion.
A tall, dark man, accompanied by a woman muffled in grey furs and wearing a silk scarf over her hair, had passed on foot along the opposite side of the street. Gray had seen them through the cab windows.
His smooth brow wrinkled and his mouth tightened to a thin straight line beneath the fair "regulation" moustache. He fumbled under his overcoat for loose silver, drew out a handful and paid off the taximan.
Sometimes walking in the gutter in order to avoid the throngs upon the pavement, regardless of the fact that his glossy dress-boots were becoming spattered with mud, Gray hurried off in pursuit of the pair. Twenty yards ahead he overtook them, as they were on the point of passing a picture dealer's window, from which yellow light streamed forth into the humid dusk. They were walking slowly, and Gray stopped in front of them.
"Hello, you two!" he cried. "Where are you off to? I was on my way to call for you, Rita."
Flushed and boyish he stood before them, and his annoyance was increased by their failure to conceal the fact that his appearance was embarrassing if not unwelcome. Mrs. Monte Irvin was a petite, pretty woman, although some of the more wonderful bronzed tints of her hair suggested the employment of henna, and her naturally lovely complexion was delicately and artistically enhanced by art. Nevertheless, the flower-like face peeping out from the folds of a gauzy scarf, like a rose from a mist, whilst her soft little chin nestled into the fur, might have explained even in the case of an older man the infatuation which Quentin Gray was at no pains to hide.
She glanced up at her companion, Sir Lucien Pyne, a swarthy, cynical type of aristocrat, imperturbably. Then: "I had left a note for you, Quentin," she said hurriedly. She seemed to be in a dangerously high-strung condition.
"But I have booked a table and a box," cried Gray, with a hint of juvenile petulance.
"My dear Gray," said Sir Lucien coolly, "we are men of the world—and we do not look for consistency in womenfolk. Mrs. Irvin has decided to consult a palmist or a hypnotist or some such occult authority before dining with you this evening. Doubtless she seeks to learn if the play to which you propose to take her is an amusing one."
His smile of sardonic amusement Gray found to be almost insupportable, and although Sir Lucien refrained from looking at Mrs. Irvin whilst he spoke, it was evident enough that his words held some covert significance, for:
"You know perfectly well that I have a particular reason for seeing him," she said.
"A woman's particular reason is a man's feeble excuse," murmured Sir Lucien rudely. "At least, according to a learned Arabian philosopher."
"I was going to meet you at Prince's," said Mrs. Irvin hurriedly, and again glancing at Gray. There was a pathetic hesitancy in her manner, the hesitancy of a weak woman who adheres to a purpose only by supreme effort.
"Might I ask," said Gray, "the name of the pervert you are going to consult?"
Again she hesitated and glanced rapidly at Sir Lucien, but he was staring coolly in another direction.
"Kazmah," she replied in a low voice.
"Kazmah!" cried Gray. "The man who sells perfume and pretends to read dreams? What an extraordinary notion. Wouldn't tomorrow do? He will surely have shut up shop!"
"I have been at pains to ascertain," replied Sir Lucien, "at Mrs. Irvin's express desire, that the man of mystery is still in session and will receive her."
Beneath the mask of nonchalance which he wore it might have been possible to detect excitement repressed with difficulty; and had Gray been more composed and not obsessed with the idea that Sir Lucien had deliberately intruded upon his plans for the evening, he could not have failed to perceive that Mrs. Monte Irvin was feverishly preoccupied with matters having no relation to dinner and the theatre. But his private suspicions grew only the more acute.
"Then if the dinner is not off," he said, "may I come along and wait for you?"
"At Kazmah's?" asked Mrs. Irvin. "Certainly." She turned to Sir Lucien. "Shall you wait? It isn't much use as I'm dining with Quentin."
"If I do not intrude," replied the baronet, "I will accompany you as far as the cave of the oracle, and then bid you good night."
The trio proceeded along old Bond Street. Quentin Gray regarded the story of Kazmah as a very poor lie devised on the spur of the moment. If he had been less infatuated, his natural sense of dignity must have dictated an offer to release Mrs. Irvin from her engagement. But jealousy stimulates the worst instincts and destroys the best. He was determined to attach himself as closely as the old Man of the Sea attached himself to Es-Sindibad, in order that the lie might be unmasked. Mrs. Irvin's palpable embarrassment and nervousness he ascribed to her perception of his design.
A group of shop girls and others waiting for buses rendered it impossible for the three to keep abreast, and Gray, falling to the rear, stepped upon the foot of a little man who was walking close behind them.
"Sorry, sir," said the man, suppressing an exclamation of pain—for the fault had been Gray's.
Gray muttered an ungenerous acknowledgment, all anxiety to regain the side of Mrs. Irvin; for she seemed to be speaking rapidly and excitedly to Sir Lucien.
He recovered his place as the two turned in at a lighted doorway. Upon the wall was a bronze plate bearing the inscription:
KAZMAH Second Floor
Gray fully expected Mrs. Irvin to suggest that he should return later. But without a word she began to ascend the stairs. Gray followed, Sir Lucien standing aside to give him precedence. On the second floor was a door painted in Oriental fashion. It possessed neither bell nor knocker, but as one stepped upon the threshold this door opened noiselessly as if dumbly inviting the visitor to enter the square apartment discovered. This apartment was richly furnished in the Arab manner, and lighted by a fine brass lamp swung upon chains from the painted ceiling. The intricate perforations of the lamp were inset with colored glass, and the result was a subdued and warm illumination. Odd-looking oriental vessels, long-necked jars, jugs with tenuous spouts and squat bowls possessing engraved and figured covers emerged from the shadows of niches. A low divan with gaily colored mattresses extended from the door around one corner of the room where it terminated beside a kind of mushrabiyeh cabinet or cupboard. Beyond this cabinet was a long, low counter laden with statuettes of Nile gods, amulets, mummy-beads and little stoppered flasks of blue enamel ware. There were two glass cases filled with other strange-looking antiquities. A faint perfume was perceptible.
Sir Lucien entering last of the party, the door closed behind him, and from the cabinet on the right of the divan a young Egyptian stepped out. He wore the customary white robe, red sash and red slippers, and a tarbush, the little scarlet cap commonly called a fez, was set upon his head. He walked to a door on the left of the counter, and slid it noiselessly open. Bowing gravely, "The Sheikh el Kazmah awaits," he said, speaking with the soft intonation of a native of Upper Egypt.
It now became evident, even to the infatuated Gray, that Mrs. Irvin was laboring under the influence of tremendous excitement. She turned to him quickly, and he thought that her face looked almost haggard, whilst her eyes seemed to have changed color—become lighter, although he could not be certain that this latter effect was not due to the peculiar illumination of the room. But when she spoke her voice was unsteady.
"Will you see if you can find a cab," she said. "It is so difficult at night, and my shoes will get frightfully muddy crossing Piccadilly. I shall not be more than a few minutes." She walked through the doorway, the Egyptian standing aside as she passed. He followed her, but came out again almost immediately, reclosed the door, and retired into the cabinet, which was evidently his private cubicle.
Silence claimed the apartment. Sir Lucien threw himself nonchalantly upon the divan, and took out his cigarette-case.
"Will you have a cigarette, Gray?" he asked.
"No thanks," replied the other, in tones of smothered hostility. He was ill at ease, and paced the apartment nervously. Pyne lighted a cigarette, and tossed the extinguished match into a brass bowl.
"I think," said Gray jerkily, "I shall go for a cab. Are you remaining?"
"I am dining at the club," answered Pyne, "but I can wait until you return."
"As you wish," jerked Gray. "I don't expect to be long."
He walked rapidly to the outer door, which opened at his approach and closed noiselessly behind him as he made his exit.
CHAPTER III. KAZMAH
Mrs. Monte Irvin entered the inner room. The air was heavy with the perfume of frankincense which smouldered in a brass vessel set upon a tray. This was the audience chamber of Kazmah. In marked contrast to the overcrowded appointments, divans and cupboards of the first room, it was sparsely furnished. The floor was thickly carpeted, but save for an ornate inlaid table upon which stood the tray and incense-burner, and a long, low-cushioned seat placed immediately beneath a hanging lamp burning dimly in a globular green shade, it was devoid of decoration. The walls were draped with green curtains, so that except for the presence of the painted door, the four sides of the apartment appeared to be uniform.
Having conducted Mrs. Irvin to the seat, the Egyptian bowed and retired again through the doorway by which they had entered. The visitor found herself alone.
She moved nervously, staring across at the blank wall before her. With her little satin shoe she tapped the carpet, biting her under lip and seeming to be listening. Nothing stirred. Not even an echo of busy Bond Street penetrated to the place. Mrs. Irvin unfastened her cloak and allowed it to fall back upon the settee. Her bare shoulders looked waxen and unnatural in the weird light which shone down upon them. She was breathing rapidly.
The minutes passed by in unbroken silence. So still was the room that Mrs. Irvin could hear the faint crackling sound made by the burning charcoal in the brass vessel near her. Wisps of blue-grey smoke arose through the perforated lid and she began to watch them fascinatedly, so lithe they seemed, like wraiths of serpents creeping up the green draperies.
So she was seated, her foot still restlessly tapping, but her gaze arrested by the hypnotic movements of the smoke, when at last a sound from the outer world, penetrated to the room. A church clock struck the hour of seven, its clangor intruding upon the silence only as a muffled boom. Almost coincident with the last stroke came the sweeter note of a silver gong from somewhere close at hand.
Mrs. Irvin started, and her eyes turned instantly in the direction of the greenly draped wall before her. Her pupils had grown suddenly dilated, and she clenched her hands tightly.
The light above her head went out.
Now that the moment was come to which she had looked forward with mingled hope and terror, long pent-up emotion threatened to overcome her, and she trembled wildly.
Out of the darkness dawned a vague light and in it a shape seemed to take form. As the light increased the effect was as though part of the wall had become transparent so as to reveal the interior of an inner room where a figure was seated in a massive ebony chair. The figure was that of an oriental, richly robed and wearing a white turban. His long slim hands, of the color of old ivory, rested upon the arms of the chair, and on the first finger of the right hand gleamed a big talismanic ring. The face of the seated man was lowered, but from under heavy brows his abnormally large eyes regarded her fixedly.
So dim the light remained that it was impossible to discern the details with anything like clearness, but that the clean-shaven face of the man with those wonderful eyes was strikingly and intellectually handsome there could be no doubt.
This was Kazmah, "the dream reader," and although Mrs. Irvin had seen him before, his statuesque repose and the weirdness of his unfaltering gaze thrilled her uncannily.
Kazmah slightly raised his hand in greeting: the big ring glittered in the subdued light.
"Tell me your dream," came a curious mocking voice; "and I will read its portent."
Such was the set formula with which Kazmah opened all interviews. He spoke with a slight and not unmusical accent. He lowered his hand again. The gaze of those brilliant eyes remained fixed upon the woman's face. Moistening her lips, Mrs. Irvin spoke.
"Dreams! What I have to say does not belong to dreams, but to reality!" She laughed unmirthfully. "You know well enough why I am here."
"Why are you here?"
"You know! You know!" Suddenly into her voice had come the unmistakable note of hysteria. "Your theatrical tricks do not impress me. I know what you are! A spy—an eavesdropper who watches—watches, and listens! But you may go too far! I am nearly desperate—do you understand?—nearly desperate. Speak! Move! Answer me!"
But Kazmah preserved his uncanny repose.
"You are distracted," he said. "I am sorry for you. But why do you come to me with your stories of desperation? You have insisted upon seeing me. I am here."
"And you play with me—taunt me!"
"The remedy is in your hands."
"For the last time, I tell you I will never do it! Never, never, never!"
"Then why do you complain? If you cannot afford to pay for your amusements, and you refuse to compromise in a simple manner, why do you approach me?"
"Oh, my God!" She moaned and swayed dizzily—"have pity on me! Who are you, what are you, that you can bring ruin on a woman because—" She uttered a choking sound, but continued hoarsely, "Raise your head. Let me see your face. As heaven is my witness, I am ruined—ruined!"
"I cannot wait for tomorrow—"
That quivering, hoarse cry betrayed a condition of desperate febrile excitement. Mrs. Irvin was capable of proceeding to the wildest extremities. Clearly the mysterious Egyptian recognized this to be the case, for slowly raising his hand:
"I will communicate with you," he said, and the words were spoken almost hurriedly. "Depart in peace—"; a formula wherewith he terminated every seance. He lowered his hand.
The silver gong sounded again—and the dim light began to fade.
Thereupon the unhappy woman acted; the long suppressed outburst came at last. Stepping rapidly to the green transparent veil behind which Kazmah was seated, she wrenched it asunder and leapt toward the figure in the black chair.
"You shall not trick me!" she panted. "Hear me out or I go straight to the police—now—now!" She grasped the hands of Kazmah as they rested motionless, on the chair-arms.
Complete darkness came.
Out of it rose a husky, terrified cry—a second, louder cry; and then a long, wailing scream... horror-laden as that of one who has touched some slumbering reptile....
CHAPTER IV. THE CLOSED DOOR
Rather less than five minutes later a taxicab drew up in old Bond Street, and from it Quentin Gray leapt out impetuously and ran in at the doorway leading to Kazmah's stairs. So hurried was his progress that he collided violently with a little man who, carrying himself with a pronounced stoop, was slinking furtively out.
The little man reeled at the impact and almost fell, but:
"Hang it all!" cried Gray irritably. "Why the devil don't you look where you're going!"
He glared angrily into the face of the other. It was a peculiar and rememberable face, notable because of a long, sharp, hooked nose and very little, foxy, brown eyes; a sly face to which a small, fair moustache only added insignificance. It was crowned by a wide-brimmed bowler hat which the man wore pressed down upon his ears like a Jew pedlar.
"Why!" cried Gray, "this is the second time tonight you have jostled me!"
He thought he had recognized the man for the same who had been following himself, Mrs. Irvin and Sir Lucien Pyne along old Bond Street.
A smile, intended to be propitiatory, appeared upon the pale face.
"No, sir, excuse me, sir—"
"Don't deny it!" said Gray angrily. "If I had the time I should give you in charge as a suspicious loiterer."
Calling to the cabman to wait, he ran up the stairs to the second floor landing. Before the painted door bearing the name of Kazmah he halted, and as the door did not open, stamped impatiently, but with no better result.
At that, since there was neither bell nor knocker, he raised his fist and banged loudly.
No one responded to the summons.
"Hi, there!" he shouted. "Open the door! Pyne! Rita!"
Again he banged—and yet again. Then he paused, listening, his ear pressed to the panel.
He could detect no sound of movement within. Fists clenched, he stood staring at the closed door, and his fresh color slowly deserted him and left him pale.
"Damn him!" he muttered savagely. "Damn him! he has fooled me!"
Passionate and self-willed, he was shaken by a storm of murderous anger. That Pyne had planned this trick, with Rita Irvin's consent, he did not doubt, and his passive dislike of the man became active hatred of the woman he dared not think. He had for long looked upon Sir Lucien in the light of a rival, and the irregularity of his own infatuation for another's wife in no degree lessened his resentment.
Again he pressed his ear to the door, and listened intently. Perhaps they were hiding within. Perhaps this charlatan, Kazmah, was an accomplice in the pay of Sir Lucien. Perhaps this was a secret place of rendezvous.
To the manifest absurdity of such a conjecture he was blind in his anger. But that he was helpless, befooled, he recognized; and with a final muttered imprecation he turned and slowly descended the stair. A lingering hope was dispelled when, looking right and left along Bond Street, he failed to perceive the missing pair.
The cabman glanced at him interrogatively. "I shall not require you," said Gray, and gave the man half-a-crown.
Busy with his poisonous conjectures, he remained all unaware of the presence of a furtive, stooping figure which lurked behind the railings of the arcade at this point linking old Bond Street to Albemarle Street. Nor had the stooping stranger any wish to attract Gray's attention. Most of the shops in the narrow lane were already closed, although the florist's at the corner remained open, but of the shadow which lay along the greater part of the arcade this alert watcher took every advantage. From the recess formed by a shop door he peered out at Gray, where the light of a street lamp fell upon him, studying his face, his movements, with unrelaxing vigilance.
Gray, following some moments of indecision, strode off towards Piccadilly. The little man came out cautiously from his hiding-place and looked after him. Out of a dark porch, ten paces along Bond Street, appeared a burly figure to fall into step a few yards behind Gray. The little man licked his lips appreciatively and returned to the doorway below the premises of Kazmah.
Reaching Piccadilly, Gray stood for a time on the corner, indifferent to the jostling of passers-by. Finally he crossed, walked along to the Prince's Restaurant, and entered the lobby. He glanced at his wrist-watch. It registered the hour of seven-twenty-five.
He cancelled his order for a table and was standing staring moodily towards the entrance when the doors swung open and a man entered who stepped straight up to him, hand extended, and:
"Glad to see you, Gray," he said. "What's the trouble?"
Quentin Gray stared as if incredulous at the speaker, and it was with an unmistakable note of welcome in his voice that he replied:
"Seton! Seton Pasha!"
The frown disappeared from Gray's forehead, and he gripped the other's hand in hearty greeting. But:
"Stick to plain Seton!" said the new-comer, glancing rapidly about him. "Ottoman titles are not fashionable."
The speaker was a man of arresting personality. Above medium height, well but leanly built, the face of Seton "Pasha" was burned to a deeper shade than England's wintry sun is capable of producing. He wore a close-trimmed beard and moustache, and the bronze on his cheeks enhanced the brightness of his grey eyes and rendered very noticeable a slight frosting of the dark hair above his temples. He had the indescribable air of a "sure" man, a sound man to have beside one in a tight place; and looking into the rather grim face, Quentin Gray felt suddenly ashamed of himself. From Seton Pasha he knew that he could keep nothing back. He knew that presently he should find himself telling this quiet, brown-skinned man the whole story of his humiliation—and he knew that Seton would not spare his feelings.
"My dear fellow," he said, "you must pardon me if I sometimes fail to respect your wishes in this matter. When I left the East the name of Seton Pasha was on everybody's tongue. But are you alone?"
"I am. I only arrived in London tonight and in England this morning."
"Were you thinking of dining here?"
"No; I saw you through the doorway as I was passing. But this will do as well as another place. I gather that you are disengaged. Perhaps you will dine with me?"
"Splendid!" cried Gray. "Wait a moment. Perhaps my table hasn't gone!"
He ran off in his boyish, impetuous fashion, and Seton watched him, smiling quietly.
The table proved to be available, and ere long the two were discussing an excellent dinner. Gray lost much of his irritability and began to talk coherently upon topics of general interest. Presently, following an interval during which he had been covertly watching his companion:
"Do you know, Seton," he said, "you are the one man in London whose company I could have tolerated tonight."
"My arrival was peculiarly opportune."
"Your arrivals are always peculiarly opportune." Gray stared at Seton with an expression of puzzled admiration. "I don't think I shall ever understand your turning up immediately before the Senussi raid in Egypt. Do you remember? I was with the armored cars."
"I remember perfectly."
"Then you vanished in the same mysterious fashion, and the C. O. was a sphinx on the subject. I next saw you strolling out of the gate at Baghdad. How the devil you'd got to Baghdad, considering that you didn't come with us and that you weren't with the cavalry, heaven only knows!"
"No," said Seton judicially, gazing through his uplifted wine-glass; "when one comes to consider the matter without prejudice it is certainly odd. But do I know the lady to whose non-appearance I owe the pleasure of your company tonight?"
Quentin Gray stared at him blankly.
"Really, Seton, you amaze me. Did I say that I had an appointment with a lady?"
"My dear Gray, when I see a man standing biting his nails and glaring out into Piccadilly from a restaurant entrance I ask myself a question. When I learn that he has just cancelled an order for a table for two I answer it."
Gray laughed. "You always make me feel so infernally young, Seton."
"Yes, it's good to feel young, but bad to feel a young fool; and that's what I feel—and what I am. Listen!"
Leaning across the table so that the light of the shaded lamp fell fully upon his flushed, eager face, Gray, not without embarrassment, told his companion of the "dirty trick"—so he phrased it—which Sir Lucien Pyne had played upon him. In conclusion:
"What would you do, Seton?" he asked.
Seton sat regarding him in silence with a cool, calculating stare which some men had termed insolent, absently tapping his teeth with the gold rim of a monocle which he carried but apparently never used for any other purpose; and it was at about this time that a long low car passed near the door of the restaurant, crossing the traffic stream of Piccadilly to draw up at the corner of old Bond Street.
From the car Monte Irvin alighted and, telling the man to wait, set out on foot. Ten paces along Bond Street he encountered a small, stooping figure which became detached from the shadows of a shop door. The light of a street lamp shone down upon the sharp, hooked nose and into the cunning little brown eyes of Brisley, of Spinker's Detective Agency. Monte Irvin started.
"Ah, Brisley!" he said, "I was looking for you. Are they still there?"
"Probably, sir." Brisley licked his lips. "My colleague, Gunn, reports no one came out whilst I was away 'phoning."
"But the whole thing seems preposterous. Are there no other offices in the block where they might be?"
"I personally saw Mr. Gray, Sir Lucien Pyne and the lady go into Kazmah's. At that time—roughly, ten to seven—all the other offices had been closed, approximately, one hour."
"There is absolutely no possibility that they might have come out unseen by you?"
"None, sir. I should not have troubled a client if in doubt. Here's Gunn."
Old Bond Street now was darkened and deserted; the yellow mist had turned to fine rain, and Gunn, his hands thrust in his pockets, was sheltering under the porch of the arcade. Gunn possessed a purple complexion which attained to full vigor of coloring in the nasal region. His moustache of dirty grey was stained brown in the centre as if by frequent potations of stout, and his bulky figure was artificially enlarged by the presence of two overcoats, the outer of which was a waterproof and the inner a blue garment appreciably longer both in sleeve and skirt than the former. The effect produced was one of great novelty. Gunn touched the brim of his soft felt hat, which he wore turned down all round apparently in imitation of a flower-pot.
"All snug, sir," he said, hoarsely and confidentially, bending forward and breathing the words into Irvin's ear. "Snug as a bee in a hive. You're as good as a bachelor again."
Monte Irvin mentally recoiled.
"Lead the way to the door of this place," he said tersely.
"Yes, sir, this way, sir. Be careful of the step there. You may remark that the outer door is not yet closed. I am informed upon reliable authority as the last to go locks the door. Hence we perceive that the last has not yet gone. It is likewise opened by the first to come of a mornin'. Here we are, sir; door on the right."
The landing was in darkness, but as Gunn spoke he directed the ray of a pocket lamp upon a bronze plate bearing the name "Kazmah." He rested one hand upon his hip.
"All snug," he repeated; "as snug as a eel in mud. The decree nisi is yours, sir. As an alderman of the City of London and a Justice of the Peace you are entitled to call a police officer—"
"Hold your tongue!" rapped Irvin. "You've been drinking: and I place no reliance whatever in your evidence. I do not believe that my wife or any one else but ourselves is upon these premises."
The watery eyes of the insulted man protruded unnaturally. "Drinkin'!" he whispered, "drink—"
But indignation now deprived Gunn of speech and:
"Excuse me, sir," interrupted the nasal voice of Brisley, "but I can absolutely answer for Gunn. Reputation of the Agency at stake. Worked with us for three years. Parties undoubtedly on the premises as reported."
"Drink—" whispered Gunn.
"I shall be glad," said Monte Irvin, and his voice shook emotionally, "if you will lend me your pocket lamp. I am naturally upset. Will you kindly both go downstairs. I will call if I want you."
The two men obeyed, Gunn muttering hoarsely to Brisley; and Monte Irvin was left standing on the landing, the lamp in his hand. He waited until he knew from the sound of their footsteps that the pair had regained the street, then, resting his arm against the closed door, and pressing his forehead to the damp sleeve of his coat, he stood awhile, the lamp, which he held limply, shining down upon the floor.
His lips moved, and almost inaudibly he murmured his wife's name.
CHAPTER V. THE DOOR IS OPENED
Quentin Gray and Seton strolled out of Prince's and both paused whilst Seton lighted a long black cheroot.
"It seems a pity to waste that box," said Gray. "Suppose we look in at the Gaiety for an hour?"
His humor was vastly improved, and he watched the passing throngs with an expression more suited to his boyish good looks than that of anger and mortification which had rested upon him an hour earlier.
Seton Pasha tossed a match into the road.
"My official business is finished for the day," he replied. "I place myself unreservedly in your hands."
"Well, then," began Gray—and paused.
A long, low car, the chauffeur temporarily detained by the stoppage of a motorbus ahead, had slowed up within three yards of the spot where they were standing. Gray seized Seton's arm in a fierce grip.
"Seton," he said, his voice betraying intense excitement, "Look! There is Monte Irvin!"
"In the car?"
"Yes, yes! But—he has two police with him! Seton, what can it mean?"
The car moved away, swinging to the right across the traffic stream and clearly heading for old Bond Street. Quentin Gray's mercurial color deserted him, and he turned to Seton a face grown suddenly pale.
"Good God," he whispered, "something has happened to Rita!"
Neglectful of his personal safety, he plunged out into the traffic, dodging this way and that, and making after Monte Irvin's car. Of the fact that his friend was close beside him he remained unaware until, on the corner of old Bond Street, a firm grip settled upon his shoulder. Gray turned angrily. But the grip was immovable, and he found himself staring into the unemotional face of Seton Pasha.
"Seton, for God's sake, don't detain me! I must learn what's wrong."
"Pull up, Gray."
Quentin Gray clenched his teeth.
"Listen to me, Seton. This is no time for interference. I—"
"You are about to become involved in some very unsavory business; and I repeat—pull up. In a moment we shall learn all there is to be learned. But are you determined openly to thrust yourself into the family affairs of Mr. Monte Irvin?"
"If anything has happened to Rita I'll kill that damned cur Pyne!"
"You are determined to intrude upon this man in your present frame of mind at a time of evident trouble?"
But Gray was deaf to the promptings of prudence and good taste alike.
"I'm going to see the thing through," he said hoarsely.
"Quite so. Rely upon me. But endeavor to behave more like a man of the world and less like a dangerous lunatic, or we shall quarrel atrociously."
Quentin Gray audibly gnashed his teeth, but the cool stare of the other's eyes was quelling, and now as their glances met and clashed, a sympathetic smile softened the lines of Seton's grim mouth, and:
"I quite understand, old chap," he said, linking his arm in Gray's. "But can't you see how important it is, for everybody's sake, that we should tackle the thing coolly?"
"Seton"—Gray's voice broke—"I'm sorry. I know I'm mad; but I was with her only an hour ago, and now—"
"And now 'her' husband appears on the scene accompanied by a police inspector and a sergeant. What are your relations with Mr. Monte Irvin?"
They were walking rapidly again along Bond Street.
"What do you mean, Seton?" asked Gray.
"I mean does he approve of your friendship with his wife, or is it a clandestine affair?"
"Clandestine?—certainly not. I was on my way to call at the house when I met her with Pyne this evening."
"That is what I wanted to know. Very well; since you intend to follow the thing up, it simplifies matters somewhat. Here is the car."
"At Kazmah's door! What in heaven's name does it mean?"
"It means that we shall get a very poor reception if we intrude. Question the chauffeur."
But Gray had already approached the man, who touched his cap in recognition.
"What's the trouble, Pattison?" he demanded breathlessly. "I saw police in the car a moment ago."
"Yes, sir. I don't rightly know, sir, what's happened. But Mr. Irvin drove from home to the corner of old Bond Street a quarter of an hour ago and told me to wait, then came back again and drove round to Vine Street to fetch the police. They're inside now."
Even as he spoke, with excitement ill-concealed, a police-sergeant came out of the doorway, and:
"Move on, there," he said to Seton and Gray. "You mustn't hang about this door."
"Excuse me, Sergeant," cried Gray, "but if the matter concerns Mrs. Monte Irvin I can probably supply information."
The Sergeant stared at him hard, saw that both he and his friend wore evening dress, and grew proportionately respectful.
"What is your name, sir?" he asked. "I'll mention it to the officer in charge."
"Quentin Gray. Inform Mr. Monte Irvin that I wish to speak to him."
"Very good, sir." He turned to the chauffeur. "Hand me out the bag I gave you at Vine Street." Pattison leaned over the door at the front of the car, and brought out a big leather grip. With this in hand the police-sergeant returned into the doorway.
"We're in for it now," said Seton grimly, "whatever it is."
Gray returned no answer, moving restlessly up and down before the door in a fever of excitement and dread. Presently the Sergeant reappeared.
"Step this way, please," he said.
Followed by Seton and Gray he led the way up to the landing before Kazmah's apartments. It was vaguely lighted by two police-lanterns. Four men were standing there, and four pairs of eyes were focussed upon the stair-head.
Monte Irvin, his features a distressing ashen color, spoke.
"That you, Gray?" Quentin Gray would not have recognized the voice. "Thanks for offering your help. God knows I need all I can get. You were with Rita tonight. What happened? Where is she?"
"Heaven knows where she is!" cried Gray. "I left her here with Pyne shortly after seven o'clock."
He paused, fixing his gaze upon the face of Brisley, whose shifty eyes avoided him and who was licking his lips in the manner of a dog who has seen the whip.
"Why," said Gray, "I believe you are the fellow who has been following me all night for some reason."
He stepped toward the foxy little man but:
"Never mind, Gray," interrupted Irvin. "I was to blame. But he was following my wife, not you. Tell me quickly: Why did she come here?"
Gray raised his hand to his brow with a gesture of bewilderment.
"To consult this man, Kazmah. I actually saw her enter the inner room, I went to get a cab, and when I returned the door was locked."
"Of course. I made no end of a row. But I could get no reply and went away."
Monte Irvin turned, a pathetic figure, to the Inspector who stood beside him.
"We may as well proceed, Inspector Whiteleaf," he said. "Mr. Gray's evidence throws no light on the matter at all."
"Very well, sir," was the reply; "we have the warrant, and have given the usual notice to whoever may be hiding inside. Burton!"
The Sergeant stepped forward, placed the leather bag on the floor, and stooping, opened it, revealing a number of burglarious-looking instruments.
"Shall I try to cut through the panel?" he asked.
"No, no!" cried Monte Irvin. "Waste no time. You have a crowbar there. Force the door from its hinges. Hurry, man!"
"It doesn't work on hinges!" Gray interrupted excitedly. "It slides to the right by means of some arrangement concealed under the mat."
"Pass that lantern," directed Burton, glancing over his shoulder to Gunn.
Setting it beside him, the Sergeant knelt and examined the threshold of the door.
"A metal plate," he said. "The weight moves a lever, I suppose, which opens the door if it isn't locked. The lock will be on the left of the door as it opens to the right. Let's see what we can do."
He stood up, crowbar in hand, and inserted the chisel blade of the implement between the edge of the door and the doorcase.
"Hold steady!" said the Inspector, standing at his elbow.
The dull metallic sound of hammer blows on steel echoed queerly around the well of the staircase. Brisley and Gunn, standing very close together on the bottom step of the stair to the third floor, watched the police furtively. Irvin and Gray found a common fascination in the door itself, and Seton, cheroot in mouth, looked from group to group with quiet interest.
"Right!" cried the Sergeant.
The blows ceased.
Firmly grasping the bar, Burton brought all his weight to bear upon it. There was a dull, cracking sound and a sort of rasping. The door moved slightly.
"There's where it locks!" said the Inspector, directing the light of a lantern upon the crevice created. "Three inches lower. But it may be bolted as well."
"We'll soon get at the bolts," replied Burton, the lust of destruction now strong upon him.
Wrenching the crowbar from its place he attacked the lower panel of the door, and amid a loud splintering and crashing created a hole big enough to allow of the passage of a hand and arm.
The Inspector reached in, groped about, and then uttered an exclamation of triumph.
"I've unfastened the bolt," he said. "If there isn't another at the top you ought to be able to force the door now, Burton."
The jimmy was thrust back into position, and:
"Stand clear!" cried Burton.
Again he threw his weight upon the bar—and again.
"Drive it further in!" said Monte Irvin; and snatching up the heavy hammer, he rained blows upon the steel butt. "Now try."
Burton exerted himself to the utmost.
"Take hold up here, someone!" he panted. "Two of us can pull."
Gray leapt forward, and the pair of them bent to the task.
There came a dull report of parting mechanism, more sounds of splintering wood... and the door rolled open!
A moment of tense silence, then:
"Is anyone inside there?" cried the Inspector loudly.
Not a sound came from the dark interior.
"The lantern!" whispered Monte Irvin.
He stumbled into the room, from which a heavy smell of perfume swept out upon the landing. Quentin Gray, snatching the lantern from the floor, where it had been replaced, was the next to enter.
"Look for the switch, and turn the lights on!" called the Inspector, following.
Even as he spoke, Gray had found the switch, and the apartment of Kazmah became flooded with subdued light.
A glance showed it to be unoccupied.
Gray ran across to the mushrabiyeh cabinet and jerked the curtains aside. There was no one in the cabinet. It contained a chair and a table. Upon the latter was a telephone and some papers and books. "This way!" he cried, his voice high pitched and unnatural.
He burst through the doorway into the inner room which he had seen Mrs. Irvin enter. The air was laden with the smell of frankincense.
"A lantern!" he called. "I left one on the divan."
But Monte Irvin had caught it up and was already at his elbow. His hand was shaking so that the light danced wildly now upon the carpet, now upon the green walls. This room also was deserted. A black gap in the curtain showed where the material had been roughly torn. Suddenly:
"My God, look!" muttered the Inspector, who, with the others, now stood in the curious draped apartment.
A thin stream of blood was trickling out from beneath the torn hangings!
Monte Irvin staggered and fell back against the Inspector, clutching at him for support. But Sergeant Burton, who carried the second lantern, crossed the room and wrenched the green draperies bodily from their fastenings.
They had masked a wooden partition or stout screen, having an aperture in the centre which could be closed by means of another of the sliding doors. A space some five feet deep was thus walled off from this second room. It contained a massive ebony chair. Behind the chair, and dividing the second room into yet a third section, extended another wooden partition in one end of which was an ordinary office door; and immediately at the back of the chair appeared a little opening or window, some three feet up from the floor. The sound of a groan, followed by that of a dull thud, came from the outer room.
"Hullo!" cried Inspector Whiteleaf. "Mr. Irvin has fainted. Lend a hand."
"I am here," replied the quiet voice of Seton Pasha.
"My God!" whispered Gray. "Seton! Seton!"
"Touch nothing," cried the Inspector from outside, "until I come!"
And now the narrow apartment became filled with all the awe-stricken company, only excepting Monte Irvin, and Brisley, who was attending to the swooning man.
Flat upon the floor, between the door and the ebony chair, arms extended and eyes staring upward at the ceiling, lay Sir Lucien Pyne, his white shirt front redly dyed. In the hush which had fallen, the footsteps of Inspector Whiteleaf sounded loudly as he opened the final door, and swept the interior of an inner room with the rays of the lantern.
The room was barely furnished as an office. There was another half-glazed door opening on to a narrow corridor. This door was locked.
"Pyne!" whispered Gray, pale now to the lips. "Do you understand, Seton? It's Pyne! Look! He has been stabbed!"
Sergeant Burton knelt down and gingerly laid his hand upon the stained linen over the breast of Sir Lucien.
"Dead?" asked the Inspector, speaking from the inner doorway.
"You say, sir," turning to Quentin Gray, "that this is Sir Lucien Pyne?"
Inspector Whiteleaf rather clumsily removed his cap. The odor of Seton's cheroot announced itself above the oriental perfume with which the place was laden.
"See if this telephone in the office is in order. It appears to be an extension from the outer room."
While the others stood grouped about that still figure on the floor, Sergeant Burton entered the little office.
"Hello!" he cried. "Yes?" A momentary interval, then: "It's all right, sir. What number?"
"Gentlemen," said the Inspector, firmly and authoritatively, "I am about to telephone to Vine Street for instructions. No one will leave the premises."
Amid an intense hush:
"Regent 201," called Sergeant Burton.
CHAPTER VI. RED KERRY
Chief Inspector Kerry, of the Criminal Investigation Department, stood before the empty grate of his cheerless office in New Scotland Yard, one hand thrust into the pocket of his blue reefer jacket and the other twirling a malacca cane, which was heavily silver-mounted and which must have excited the envy of every sergeant-major beholding it. Chief Inspector Kerry wore a very narrow-brimmed bowler hat, having two ventilation holes conspicuously placed immediately above the band. He wore this hat tilted forward and to the right.
"Red Kerry" wholly merited his sobriquet, for the man was as red as fire. His hair, which he wore cropped close as a pugilist's, was brilliantly red, and so was his short, wiry, aggressive moustache. His complexion was red, and from beneath his straight red eyebrows he surveyed the world with a pair of unblinking, intolerant steel-blue eyes. He never smoked in public, as his taste inclined towards Irish twist and a short clay pipe; but he was addicted to the use of chewing-gum, and as he chewed—and he chewed incessantly—he revealed a perfect row of large, white, and positively savage-looking teeth. High cheek bones and prominent maxillary muscles enhanced the truculence indicated by his chin.
But, next to this truculence, which was the first and most alarming trait to intrude itself upon the observer's attention, the outstanding characteristic of Chief Inspector Kerry was his compact neatness. Of no more than medium height but with shoulders like an acrobat, he had slim, straight legs and the feet of a dancing master. His attire, from the square-pointed collar down to the neat black brogues, was spotless. His reefer jacket fitted him faultlessly, but his trousers were cut so unfashionably narrow that the protuberant thigh muscles and the line of a highly developed calf could quite easily be discerned. The hand twirling the cane was small but also muscular, freckled and covered with light down. Red Kerry was built on the lines of a whippet, but carried the equipment of an Irish terrier.
The telephone bell rang. Inspector Kerry moved his square shoulders in a manner oddly suggestive of a wrestler, laid the malacca cane on the mantleshelf, and crossed to the table. Taking up the telephone:
"Yes?" he said, and his voice was high-pitched and imperious.
He listened for a moment.
"Very good, sir."
He replaced the receiver, took up a wet oilskin overall from the back of a chair and the cane from the mantleshelf. Then rolling chewing-gum from one corner of his mouth into the other, he snapped off the electric light and walked from the room.
Along the corridor he went with a lithe, silent step, moving from the hips and swinging his shoulders. Before a door marked "Private" he paused. From his waistcoat pocket he took a little silver convex mirror and surveyed himself critically therein. He adjusted his neat tie, replaced the mirror, knocked at the door and entered the room of the Assistant Commissioner.
This important official was a man constructed on huge principles, a man of military bearing, having tired eyes and a bewildered manner. He conveyed the impression that the collection of documents, books, telephones, and other paraphernalia bestrewing his table had reduced him to a state of stupor. He looked up wearily and met the fierce gaze of the chief inspector with a glance almost apologetic.
"Ah, Chief Inspector Kerry?" he said, with vague surprise. "Yes. I told you to come. Really, I ought to have been at home hours ago. It's most unfortunate. I have to do the work of three men. This is your department, is it not, Chief Inspector?"
He handed Kerry a slip of paper, at which the Chief Inspector stared fiercely.
"Murder!" rapped Kerry. "Sir Lucien Pyne. Yes, sir, I am still on duty."
His speech, in moments of interest, must have suggested to one overhearing him from an adjoining room, for instance, the operation of a telegraphic instrument. He gave to every syllable the value of a rap and certain words he terminated with an audible snap of his teeth.
"Ah," murmured the Assistant Commissioner. "Yes. Divisional Inspector—Somebody (I cannot read the name) has detained all the parties. But you had better report at Vine Street. It appears to be a big case."
He sighed wearily.
"Very good, sir. With your permission I will glance at Sir Lucien's pedigree."
"Certainly—certainly," said the Assistant Commissioner, waving one large hand in the direction of a bookshelf.
Kerry crossed the room, laid his oilskin and cane upon a chair, and from the shelf where it reposed took a squat volume. The Assistant Commissioner, hand pressed to brow, began to study a document which lay before him.
"Here we are," said Kerry, sotto voce. "Pyne, Sir Lucien St. Aubyn, fourth baronet, son of General Sir Christian Pyne, K.C.B. H'm! Born Malta.... Oriel College; first in classics.... H'm. Blue.... India, Burma.... Contested Wigan.... attached British Legation. ... H'm!..."
He returned the book to its place, took up his overall and cane, and:
"Very good, sir," he said. "I will proceed to Vine Street."
"Certainly—certainly," murmured the Assistant Commissioner, glancing up absently. "Good night."
"Good night, sir."
"Oh, Chief Inspector!"
Kerry turned, his hand on the door-knob.
"I—er—what was I going to say? Oh, yes! The social importance of the murdered man raises the case from the—er—you follow me? Public interest will become acute, no doubt. I have therefore selected you for your well known discretion. I met Sir Lucien once. Very sad. Good night."
"Good night, sir."
Kerry passed out into the corridor, closing the door quietly. The Assistant Commissioner was a man for whom he entertained the highest respect. Despite the bewildered air and wandering manner, he knew this big, tired-looking soldier for an administrator of infinite capacity and inexhaustive energy.
Proceeding to a room further along the corridor, Chief Inspector Kerry opened the door and looked in.
"Detective-Sergeant Coombes." he snapped, and rolled chewing-gum from side to side of his mouth.
Detective-Sergeant Coombes, a plump, short man having lank black hair and a smile of sly contentment perpetually adorning his round face, rose hurriedly from the chair upon which he had been seated. Another man who was in the room rose also, as if galvanized by the glare of the fierce blue eyes.
"I'm going to Vine Street," said Kerry succinctly; "you're coming with me," turned, and went on his way.
Two taxicabs were standing in the yard, and into the first of these Inspector Kerry stepped, followed by Coombes, the latter breathing heavily and carrying his hat in his hand, since he had not yet found time to put it on.
"Vine Street," shouted Kerry. "Brisk."
He leaned back in the cab, chewing industriously. Coombes, having somewhat recovered his breath, essayed speech.
"Is it something big?" he asked.
"Sure," snapped Kerry. "Do they send me to stop dog-fights?"
Knowing the man and recognizing the mood, Coombes became silent, and this silence he did not break all the way to Vine Street. At the station:
"Wait," said Chief Inspector Kerry, and went swinging in, carrying his overall and having the malacca cane tucked under his arm.
A few minutes later he came out again and reentered the cab.
"Piccadilly corner of Old Bond Street," he directed the man.
"Is it burglary?" asked Detective-Sergeant Coombes with interest.
"No," said Kerry. "It's murder; and there seems to be stacks of evidence. Sharpen your pencil."
"Oh!" murmured Coombes.
They were almost immediately at their destination, and Chief Inspector Kerry, dismissing the cabman, set off along Bond Street with his lithe, swinging gait, looking all about him intently. Rain had ceased, but the air was damp and chilly, and few pedestrians were to be seen.
A car was standing before Kazmah's premises, the chauffeur walking up and down on the pavement and flapping his hands across his chest in order to restore circulation. The Chief Inspector stopped, "Hi, my man!" he said.
The chauffeur stood still.
"Mr. Monte Irvin's."
Kerry turned on his heel and stepped to the office door. It was ajar, and Kerry, taking an electric torch from his overall pocket, flashed the light upon the name-plate. He stood for a moment, chewing and looking up the darkened stairs. Then, torch in hand he ascended.
Kazmah's door was closed, and the Chief Inspector rapped loudly. It was opened at once by Sergeant Burton, and Kerry entered, followed by Coombes.
The room at first sight seemed to be extremely crowded. Monte Irvin, very pale and haggard, sat upon the divan beside Quentin Gray. Seton was standing near the cabinet, smoking. These three had evidently been conversing at the time of the detective's arrival with an alert-looking, clean-shaven man whose bag, umbrella, and silk hat stood upon one of the little inlaid tables. Just inside the second door were Brisley and Gunn, both palpably ill at ease, and glancing at Inspector Whiteleaf, who had been interrogating them.
Kerry chewed silently for a moment, bestowing a fierce stare upon each face in turn, then:
"Who's in charge?" he snapped.
"I am," replied Whiteleaf.
"Why is the lower door open?"
"Don't think. Shut the door. Post your Sergeant inside. No one is to go out. Grab anybody who comes in. Where's the body?"
"This way," said Inspector Whiteleaf hurriedly; then, over his shoulder: "Go down to the door, Burton."
He led Kerry towards the inner room, Coombes at his heels. Brisley and Gunn stood aside to give them passage; Gray and Monte Irvin prepared to follow. At the doorway Kerry turned.
"You will all be good enough to stay where you are," he said. He directed the aggressive stare in Seton's direction. "And if the gentleman smoking a cheroot is not satisfied that he has quite destroyed any clue perceptible by the sense of smell I should be glad to send out for some fireworks."
He tossed his oilskin and his cane on the divan and went into the room of seance, savagely biting at a piece of apparently indestructible chewing-gum.
The torn green curtain had been laid aside and the electric lights turned on in the inside rooms. Pallid, Sir Lucien Pyne lay by the ebony chair glaring horribly upward.
Always with the keen eyes glancing this way and that, Inspector Kerry crossed the little audience room and entered the enclosure contained between the two screens. By the side of the dead man he stood, looking down silently. Then he dropped upon one knee and peered closely into the white face. He looked up.
"He has not been moved?"
Kerry bent yet lower, staring closely at a discolored abrasion on Sir Lucien's forehead. His glance wandered from thence to the carved ebony chair. Still kneeling, he drew from his waistcoat pocket a powerful lens contained in a washleather bag. He began to examine the back and sides of the chair. Once he laid his finger lightly on a protruding point of the carving, and then scrutinised his finger through the glass. He examined the dead man's hands, his nails, his garments. Then he crawled about, peering closely at the carpet.
He stood up suddenly. "The doctor," he snapped.
Inspector Whiteleaf retired, but returned immediately with the clean-shaven man to whom Monte Irvin had been talking when Kerry arrived.
"Good evening, doctor," said Kerry. "Do I know your name? Start your notes, Coombes."
"My name is Dr. Wilbur Weston, and I live in Albemarle Street."
"Who called you?"
"Inspector Whiteleaf telephoned to me about half an hour ago."
"You examined the dead man?"
"You avoided moving him?"
"It was unnecessary to move him. He was dead, and the wound was in the left shoulder. I pulled his coat open and unbuttoned his shirt. That was all."
"How long dead?"
"I should say he had been dead not more than an hour when I saw him."
"What had caused death?"
"The stab of some long, narrow-bladed weapon, such as a stiletto."
"Why a stiletto?" Kerry's fierce eyes challenged him. "Did you ever see a wound made by a stiletto?"
"Several—in Italy, and one at Saffron Hill. They are characterised by very little external bleeding."
"Right, doctor. It had reached his heart?"
"Yes. The blow was delivered from behind."
"How do you know?"
"The direction of the wound is forward. I have seen an almost identical wound in the case of an Italian woman stabbed by a jealous rival."
"He would fall on his back."
"Oh, no. He would fall on his face, almost certainly."
"But he lies on his back."
"In my opinion he had been moved."
"Right. I know he had. Good night, doctor. See him out, Inspector."
Dr. Weston seemed rather startled by this abrupt dismissal, but the steel-blue eyes of Inspector Kerry were already bent again upon the dead man, and, murmuring "good night," the doctor took his departure, followed by Whiteleaf.
"Shut this door," snapped Kerry after the Inspector. "I will call when I want you. You stay, Coombes. Got it all down?"
Sergeant Coombes scratched his head with the end of a pencil, and:
"Yes," he said, with hesitancy. "That is, except the word after 'narrow-bladed weapon such as a' I've got what looks like 'steelhatto.'"
"Try taking the cotton-wool out of your ears," he suggested. "The word was stiletto, s-t-i-l-e-t-t-o—stiletto."
"Oh," said Coombes, "thanks."
Silence fell between the two men from Scotland Yard. Kerry stood awhile, chewing and staring at the ghastly face of Sir Lucien. Then:
"Go through all pockets," he directed.
Sergeant Coombes placed his notebook and pencil upon the seat of the chair and set to work. Kerry entered the inside room or office. It contained a writing-table (upon which was a telephone and a pile of old newspapers), a cabinet, and two chairs. Upon one of the chairs lay a crush-hat, a cane, and an overcoat. He glanced at some of the newspapers, then opened the drawers of the writing-table. They were empty. The cabinet proved to be locked, and a door which he saw must open upon a narrow passage running beside the suite of rooms was locked also. There was nothing in the pockets of the overcoat, but inside the hat he found pasted the initials L. P. He rolled chewing-gum, stared reflectively at the little window immediately above the table, through which a glimpse might be obtained of the ebony chair, and went out again.
"Nothing," reported Coombes.
"What do you mean—nothing?"
"His pockets are empty!"
"All of them?"
"Good," said Kerry. "Make a note of it. He wears a real pearl stud and a good signet ring; also a gold wrist watch, face broken and hands stopped at seven-fifteen. That was the time he died. He was stabbed from behind as he stood where I'm standing now, fell forward, struck his head on the leg of the chair, and lay face downwards."
"I've got that," muttered Coombes. "What stopped the watch?"
"Broken as he fell. There are tiny fragments of glass stuck in the carpet, showing the exact position in which his body originally lay; and for God's sake stop smiling."
Kerry threw open the door.
"Who first found the body?" he demanded of the silent company.
"I did," cried Quentin Gray, coming forward. "I and Seton Pasha."
"Seton Pasha!" Kerry's teeth snapped together, so that he seemed to bite off the words. "I don't see a Turk present."
Seton smiled quietly.
"My friend uses a title which was conferred upon me some years ago by the ex-Khedive," he said. "My name is Greville Seton."
Inspector Kerry glanced back across his shoulder.
"Notes," he said. "Unlock your ears, Coombes." He looked at Gray. "What is your name?"
"Who are you, and in what way are you concerned in this case?"
"I am the son of Lord Wrexborough, and I—"
He paused, glancing helplessly at Seton. He had recognized that the first mention of Rita Irvin's name in the police evidence must be made by himself.
"Speak up, sir," snapped Kerry. "Sergeant Coombes is deaf."
Gray's face flushed, and his eyes gleamed angrily.
"I should be glad, Inspector," he said, "if you would remember that the dead man was a personal acquaintance and that other friends are concerned in this ghastly affair."
"Coombes will remember it," replied Kerry frigidly. "He's taking notes."
"Look here—" began Gray.
Seton laid his hand upon the angry man's shoulder.
"Pull up, Gray," he said quietly. "Pull up, old chap." He turned his cool regard upon Chief Inspector Kerry, twirling the cord of his monocle about one finger. "I may remark, Inspector Kerry—for I understand this to be your name—that your conduct of the inquiry is not always characterised by the best possible taste."
Kerry rolled chewing-gum, meeting Seton's gaze with a stare intolerant and aggressive. He imparted that odd writhing movement to his shoulders.
"For my conduct I am responsible to the Commissioner," he replied. "And if he's not satisfied the Commissioner can have my written resignation at any hour in the twenty-four that he's short of a pipe-lighter. If it would not inconvenience you to keep quiet for two minutes I will continue my examination of this witness."
CHAPTER VII. FURTHER EVIDENCE
The examination of Quentin Gray was three times interrupted by telephone messages from Vine Street; and to the unsatisfactory character of these the growing irascibility of Chief Inspector Kerry bore testimony. Then the divisional surgeon arrived, and Burton incurred the wrath of the Chief Inspector by deserting his post to show the doctor upstairs.
"If inspired idiocy can help the law," shouted Kerry, "the man who did this job is as good as dead!" He turned his fierce gaze in Gray's direction. "Thank you, sir. I need trouble you no further."
"Do you wish me to remain?"
"No. Inspector Whiteleaf, see these two gentlemen past the Sergeant on duty."
"But damn it all!" cried Gray, his pent-up emotions at last demanding an outlet, "I won't submit to your infernal dragooning! Do you realize that while you're standing here, doing nothing—absolutely nothing—an unhappy woman is—"
"I realize," snapped Kerry, showing his teeth in canine fashion, "that if you're not outside in ten seconds there's going to be a cloud of dust on the stairs!"
White with passion, Gray was on the point of uttering other angry and provocative words when Seton took his arm in a firm grip. "Gray!" he said sharply. "You leave with me now or I leave alone."
The two walked from the room, followed by Whiteleaf. As they disappeared:
"Read out all the times mentioned in the last witness's evidence," directed Kerry, undisturbed by the rencontre.
Sergeant Coombes smiled rather uneasily, consulting his notebook.
"'At about half-past six I drove to Bond Street,'" he began.
"I said the times," rapped Kerry. "I know to what they refer. Just give me the times as mentioned."
"Oh," murmured Coombes, "Yes. 'About half-past six.'" He ran his finger down the page. "'A quarter to seven.' 'Seven o'clock.' 'Twenty-five minutes past seven.' 'Eight o'clock.'"
"Stop!" said Kerry. "That's enough." He fixed a baleful glance upon Gunn, who from a point of the room discreetly distant from the terrible red man was watching with watery eyes. "Who's the smart in all the overcoats?" he demanded.
"My name is James Gunn," replied this greatly insulted man in a husky voice.
"Who are you? What are you? What are you doing here?"
"I'm employed by Spinker's Agency, and—"
"Oh!" shouted Kerry, moving his shoulders. He approached the speaker and glared menacingly into his purple face. "Ho, ho! So you're one of the queer birds out of that roost, are you? Spinker's Agency! Ah, yes!" He fixed his gaze now upon the pale features of Brisley. "I've seen you before, haven't I?"
"Yes, Chief Inspector," said Brisley, licking his lips. "Hayward's Heath. We have been retained by—"
"You have been retained!" shouted Kerry. "You have!"
He twisted round upon his heel, facing Monte Irvin. Angry words trembled on his tongue. But at sight of the broken man who sat there alone, haggard, a subtle change of expression crept into his fierce eyes, and when he spoke again the high-pitched voice was almost gentle. "You had employed these men, sir, to watch—"
He paused, glancing towards Whiteleaf, who had just entered again, and then in the direction of the inner room where the divisional surgeon was at work.
"To watch my wife, Inspector. Thank you, but all the world will know tomorrow. I might as well get used to it."
Monte Irvin's pallor grew positively alarming. He swayed suddenly and extended his hands in a significant groping fashion. Kerry sprang forward and supported him.
"All right, Inspector—all right," muttered Irvin. "Thank you. It has been a great shock. At first I feared—"
"You thought your wife had been attacked, I understand? Well—it's not so bad as that, sir. I am going to walk downstairs to the car with you."
"But there is so much you will want to know—"
"It can keep until tomorrow. I've enough work in this peep-show here to have me busy all night. Come along. Lean on my arm."
Monte Irvin rose unsteadily. He knew that there was cardiac trouble in his family, but he had never realized before the meaning of his heritage. He felt physically ill.
"Inspector"—his voice was a mere whisper—"have you any theory to explain—"
"Mrs. Irvin's disappearance? Don't worry, sir. Without exactly having a theory I think I may say that in my opinion she will turn up presently."
"God bless you," murmured Irvin, as Kerry assisted him out on to the landing.
Inspector Whiteleaf held back the sliding door, the mechanism of which had been broken so that the door now automatically remained half closed.
"Funny, isn't it," said Gunn, as the two disappeared and Inspector Whiteleaf re-entered, "that a man should be so upset about the disappearance of a woman he was going to divorce?"
"Damn funny!" said Whiteleaf, whose temper was badly frayed by contact with Kerry. "I should have a good laugh if I were you."
He crossed the room, going in to where the surgeon was examining the victim of this mysterious crime. Gunn stared after him dismally.
"A person doesn't get much sympathy from the police, Brisley," he declared. "That one's almost as bad as him," jerking his thumb in the direction of the landing.
Brisley smiled in a somewhat sickly manner.
"Red Kerry is a holy terror," he agreed, sotto voce, glancing aside to where Coombes was checking his notes. "Look out! Here he comes."
"Now," cried Kerry, swinging into the room, "what's the game? Plotting to defeat the ends of justice?"
He stood with hands thrust in reefer pockets, feet wide apart, glancing fiercely from Brisley to Gunn, and from Gunn back again to Brisley. Neither of the representatives of Spinker's Agency ventured any remark, and:
"How long have you been watching Mrs. Monte Irvin?" demanded Kerry.
"Nearly a fortnight," replied Brisley.
"Got your evidence in writing?"
"Up to tonight?"
"Dictate to Sergeant Coombes."
He turned on his heel and crossed to the divan upon which his oilskin overall was lying. Rapidly he removed his reefer and his waistcoat, folded them, and placed them neatly beside his overall. He retained his bowler at its jaunty angle.
A cud of presumably flavorless chewing-gum he deposited in a brass bowl, and from a little packet which he had taken out of his jacket pocket he drew a fresh piece, redolent of mint. This he put into his mouth, and returned the packet to its resting-place. A slim, trim figure, he stood looking round him reflectively.
"Now," he muttered, "what about it?"
CHAPTER VIII. KERRY CONSULTS THE ORACLE
The clock of Brixton Town Hall was striking the hour of 1 a.m. as Chief Inspector Kerry inserted his key in the lock of the door of his house in Spenser Road.
A light was burning in the hallway, and from the little dining-room on the left the reflection of a cheerful fire danced upon the white paint of the half-open door. Kerry deposited his hat, cane, and overall upon the rack, and moving very quietly entered the room and turned on the light. A modestly furnished and scrupulously neat apartment was revealed. On the sheepskin rug before the fire a Manx cat was dozing beside a pair of carpet slippers. On the table some kind of cold repast was laid, the viands concealed under china covers. At a large bottle of Guinness's Extra Stout Kerry looked with particular appreciation.
He heaved a long sigh of contentment, and opened the bottle of stout. Having poured out a glass of the black and foaming liquid and satisfied an evidently urgent thirst, he explored beneath the covers, and presently was seated before a spread of ham and tongue, tomatoes, and bread and butter.
A door opened somewhere upstairs, and:
"Is that yoursel', Dan?" inquired a deep but musical female voice.
"Sure it is," replied Kerry; and no one who had heard the high official tones of the imperious Chief Inspector would have supposed that they could be so softened and modulated. "You should have been asleep hours ago, Mary."
"Have ye to go out again?"
"I have, bad luck; but don't trouble to come down. I've all I want and more."
"If 'tis a new case I'll come down."
"It's the devil's own case; but you'll get your death of cold."
Sounds of movement in the room above followed, and presently footsteps on the stairs. Mrs. Kerry, enveloped in a woollen dressing-gown, which obviously belonged to the Inspector, came into the room. Upon her Kerry directed a look from which all fierceness had been effaced, and which expressed only an undying admiration. And, indeed, Mary Kerry was in many respects a remarkable character. Half an inch taller than Kerry, she fully merited the compliment designed by that trite apothegm, "a fine woman." Large-boned but shapely, as she came in with her long dark hair neatly plaited, it seemed to her husband—who had remained her lover—that he saw before him the rosy-cheeked lass whom ten years before he had met and claimed on the chilly shores of Loch Broom. By all her neighbors Mrs. Kerry was looked upon as a proud, reserved person, who had held herself much aloof since her husband had become Chief Inspector; and the reputation enjoyed by Red Kerry was that of an aggressive and uncompanionable man. Now here was a lover's meeting, not lacking the shy, downward glance of dark eyes as steel-blue eyes flashed frank admiration.
Kerry, who quarrelled with everybody except the Assistant Commissioner, had only found one cause of quarrel with Mary. He was a devout Roman Catholic, and for five years he had clung with the bull-dog tenacity which was his to the belief that he could convert his wife to the faith of Rome. She remained true to the Scottish Free Church, in whose precepts she had been reared, and at the end of the five years Kerry gave it up and admired her all the more for her Caledonian strength of mind. Many and heated were the debates he had held with worthy Father O'Callaghan respecting the validity of a marriage not solemnized by a priest, but of late years he had grown reconciled to the parting of the ways on Sunday morning; and as the early mass was over before the Scottish service he was regularly to be seen outside a certain Presbyterian chapel waiting for his heretical spouse.
He pulled her down on to his knee and kissed her.
"It's twelve hours since I saw you," he said.
She rested her arm on the back of the saddle-back chair, and her dark head close beside Kerry's fiery red one.
"I kenned ye had a new case on," she said, "when it grew so late. How long can ye stay?"
"An hour. No more. There's a lot to do before the papers come out in the morning. By breakfast time all England, including the murderer, will know I'm in charge of the case. I wish I could muzzle the Press."
"'Tis a murder, then? The Lord gi'e us grace. Ye'll be wishin' to tell me?"
"Yes. I'm stumped!"
"Ye've time for a rest an' a smoke. Put ye're slippers on."
"I've no time for that, Mary."
She stood up and took the slippers from the hearth.
"Put ye're slippers on," she repeated firmly.
Kerry stooped without another word and began to unlace his brogues. Meanwhile from a side-table his wife brought a silver tobacco-box and a stumpy Irish clay. The slippers substituted for his shoes, Kerry lovingly filled the cracked and blackened bowl with strong Irish twist, which he first teased carefully in his palm. The bowl rested almost under his nostrils when he put the pipe in his mouth, and how he contrived to light it without burning his moustache was not readily apparent. He succeeded, however, and soon was puffing clouds of pungent smoke into the air with the utmost contentment.
"Now," said his wife, seating herself upon the arm of the chair, "tell me, Dan."
Thereupon began a procedure identical to that which had characterized the outset of every successful case of the Chief Inspector. He rapidly outlined the complexities of the affair in old Bond Street, and Mary Kerry surveyed the problem with a curious and almost fey detachment of mind, which enabled her to see light where all was darkness to the man on the spot. With the clarity of a trained observer Kerry described the apartments of Kazmah, the exact place where the murdered man had been found, and the construction of the rooms. He gave the essential points from the evidence of the several witnesses, quoting the exact times at which various episodes had taken place. Mary Kerry, looking straightly before her with unseeing eyes, listened in silence until he ceased speaking; then:
"There are really but twa rooms," she said, in a faraway voice, "but the second o' these is parteetioned into three parts?"
"A door free the landing opens upon the fairst room, a door free a passage opens upon the second. Where does yon passage lead?"
"From the main stair along beside Kazmah's rooms to a small back stair. This back stair goes from top to bottom of the building, from the end of the same hallway as the main stair."
"There is na either way out but by the front door?"
"Then if the evidence o' the Spinker man is above suspeecion, Mrs. Irvin and this Kazmah were still on the premises when ye arrived?"
"Exactly. I gathered that much at Vine Street before I went on to Bond Street. The whole block was surrounded five minutes after my arrival, and it still is."
"What ither offices are in this passage?"
"None. It's a blank wall on the left, and one door on the right—the one opening into the Kazmah office. There are other premises on the same floor, but they are across the landing."
"A solicitor and a commission agent."
"The floor below?"
"It's all occupied by a modiste, Renan."
"The top floor?"
"Cubanis Cigarette Company, a servants' and an electrician."
"Where does yon back stair open on the topmaist floor?"
"In a corridor similar to that alongside Kazmah's. It has two windows on the right overlooking a narrow roof and the top of the arcade, and on the left is the Cubanis Cigarette Company. The other offices are across the landing."
Mary Kerry stared into space awhile.
"Kazmah and Mrs. Irvin could ha' come down to the fairst floor, or gene up to the thaird floor unseen by the Spinker man," she said dreamily.
"But they couldn't have reached the street, my dear!" cried Kerry.
"No—they couldn'a ha' gained the street."
She became silent again, her husband watching her expectantly. Then:
"If puir Sir Lucien Pyne was killed at a quarter after seven—the time his watch was broken—the native sairvent did no' kill him. Frae the Spinker's evidence the black man went awe' before then," she said. "Mrs. Irvin?"
Kerry shook his head.
"From all accounts a slip of a woman," he replied. "It was a strong hand that struck the blow."
"Mr. Quentin Gray came back wi' a cab and went upstairs, free the Spinker's evidence, at aboot a quarter after seven, and came doon five meenites later sair pale an' fretful."
Kerry surrounded himself and the speaker with wreaths of stifling smoke.
"We have only the bare word of Mr. Gray that he didn't go in again, Mary; but I believe him. He's a hot-headed fool, but square."
"Then 'twas yon Kazmah," announced Mrs. Kerry. "Who is Kazmah?"
Her husband laughed shortly.
"That's the point at which I got stumped," he replied. "We've heard of him at the Yard, of course, and we know that under the cloak of a dealer in Eastern perfumes he carried on a fortune-telling business. He managed to avoid prosecution, though. It took me over an hour tonight to explore the thought-reading mechanism; it's a sort of Maskelyne's Mysteries worked from the inside room. But who Kazmah is or what's his nationality I know no more than the man in the moon."
"Pairfume?" queried the far-away voice.
"Yes, Mary. The first room is a sort of miniature scent bazaar. There are funny little imitation antique flasks of Kazmah preparations, creams, perfumes and incense, also small square wooden boxes of a kind of Turkish delight, and a stock of Egyptian mummy-beads, statuettes, and the like, which may be genuine for all I know."
"Nae books or letters?"
"Not a thing, except his own advertisements, a telephone directory, and so on."
"The inside office bureau?"
"Empty as Mother Hubbard's cupboard!"
"The place was ransacked by the same folk that emptied the dead man's pockets so as tee leave nae clue," pronounced the sibyl-like voice. "Mr. Gray said he had choc'lates wi' him. Where did he leave them?"
"Mary, you're a wonder!" exclaimed the admiring Kerry. "The box was lying on the divan in the first room where he said he had left it on going out for a cab."
"Does nane o' the evidence show if Mrs. Irvin had been to Kazmah's before?"
"Yes. She went there fairly regularly to buy perfume."
"No' for the fortune-tellin'?"
"No. According to Mr. Gray, to buy perfume."
"Had Mr. Gray been there wi' her before?"
"No. Sir Lucien Pyne seems to have been her pretty constant companion."
"Do ye suspect she was his lady-love?"
"I believe Mr. Gray suspects something of the kind."
"And Mr. Gray?"
"He is not such an old friend as Sir Lucien was. But I fancy nevertheless it was Mr. Gray that her husband doubted."
"Do ye suspect the puir soul had cause, Dan?"
"No," replied Kerry promptly; "I don't. The boy is mad about her, but I fancy she just liked his company. He's the heir of Lord Wrexborough, and Mrs. Irvin used to be a stage beauty. It's a usual state of affairs, and more often than not means nothing."
"I dinna ken sich folk," declared Mary Kerry. "They a'most desairve all they get. They are bound tee come tee nae guid end. Where did ye say Sir Lucien lived?"
"Albemarle Street; just round the corner."
"Ye told me that he only kepit twa sairvents: a cook, hoosekeper, who lived awe', an' a man—a foreigner?"
"A kind of half-baked Dago, named Juan Mareno. A citizen of the United States according to his own account."
"Ye dinna like Juan Mareno?"
"He's a hateful swine!" flashed Kerry, with sudden venom. "I'm watching Mareno very closely. Coombes is at work upon Sir Lucien's papers. His life was a bit of a mystery. He seems to have had no relations living, and I can't find that he even employed a solicitor."
"Ye'll be sairchin' for yon Egyptian?"
"The servant? Yes. We'll have him by the morning, and then we shall know who Kazmah is. Meanwhile, in which of the offices is Kazmah hiding?"
Mary Kerry was silent for so long that her husband repeated the question:
"In which of the offices is Kazmah hiding?"
"In nane," she said dreamily. "Ye surrounded the buildings too late, I ken."
"Eh!" cried Kerry, turning his head excitedly. "But the man Brisley was at the door all night!"
"It doesna' matter. They have escapit."
Kerry scratched his close-cropped head in angry perplexity.
"You're always right, Mary," he said. "But hang me if—Never mind! When we get the servant we'll soon get Kazmah."
"Aye," murmured his wife. "If ye hae na' got Kazmah the now."
"But—Mary! This isn't helping me! It's mystifying me deeper than ever!"
"It's no' clear eno', Dan. But for sure behind this mystery o' the death o' Sir Lucien there's a darker mystery still; sair dark. 'Tis the biggest case ye ever had. Dinna look for Kazmah. Look tee find why the woman went tee him; and try tee find the meanin' o' the sma' window behind the big chair.... Yes"—she seemed to be staring at some distant visible object—"watch the man Mareno—"
"Is in God's guid keepin'—"
"You don't think she's dead!"
"She is wairse than dead. Her sins have found her out." The fey light suddenly left her eyes, and they became filled with tears. She turned impulsively to her husband. "Oh, Dan! Ye must find her! Ye must find her! Puir weak hairt—dinna ye ken how she is suffering!"
"My dear," he said, putting his arms around her, "What is it? What is it?"
She brushed the tears from her eyes and tried to smile. "'Tis something like the second sight, Dan," she answered simply. "And it's escapit me again. I a'most had the clue to it a' oh, there's some horrible wickedness in it, an' cruelty an' shame."
The clock on the mantel shelf began to peal. Kerry was watching his wife's rosy face with a mixture of loving admiration and wonder. She looked so very bonny and placid and capable that he was puzzled anew at the strange gift which she seemingly inherited from her mother, who had been equally shrewd, equally comely and similarly endowed.
"God bless us all!" he said, kissed her heartily, and stood up. "Back to bed you go, my dear. I must be off. There's Mr. Irvin to see in the morning, too."
A few minutes later he was swinging through the deserted streets, his mind wholly occupied with lover-like reflections to the exclusion of those professional matters which properly should have been engaging his attention. As he passed the end of a narrow court near the railway station, the gleam of his silver mounted malacca attracted the attention of a couple of loafers who were leaning one on either side of an iron pillar in the shadow of the unsavory alley. Not another pedestrian was in sight, and only the remote night-sounds of London broke the silence.
Twenty paces beyond, the footpads silently closed in upon their prey. The taller of the pair reached him first, only to receive a back-handed blow full in his face which sent him reeling a couple of yards.
Round leapt the assaulted man to face his second assailant.
"If you two smarts really want handling," he rapped ferociously, "say the word, and I'll bash you flat."
As he turned, the light of a neighboring lamp shone down upon the savage face, and a smothered yell came from the shorter ruffian:
"Blimey, Bill! It's Red Kerry!"
Whereupon, as men pursued by devils, the pair made off like the wind!
Kerry glared after the retreating figures for a moment, and a grin of fierce satisfaction revealed his gleaming teeth. He turned again and swung on his way toward the main road. The incident had done him good. It had banished domestic matters from his mind, and he was become again the highly trained champion of justice, standing, an unseen buckler, between society and the criminal.
CHAPTER IX. A PACKET OF CIGARETTES
Following their dismissal by Chief Inspector Kerry, Seton and Gray walked around to the latter's chambers in Piccadilly. They proceeded in silence, Gray too angry for speech, and Seton busy with reflections. As the man admitted them:
"Has anyone 'phoned, Willis?" asked Gray.
"No one, sir."
They entered a large room which combined the characteristics of a library with those of a military gymnasium. Gray went to a side table and mixed drinks. Placing a glass before Seton, he emptied his own at a draught.
"If you'll excuse me for a moment," he said, "I should like to ring up and see if by any possible chance there's news of Rita."
He walked out to the telephone, and Seton heard him making a call. Then:
"Hullo! Is that you, Hinkes?" he asked.... "Yes, speaking. Is Mrs. Irvin at home?"
A few moments of silence followed, and:
"Thanks! Good-bye," said Gray.
He rejoined his friend.
"Nothing," he reported, and made a gesture of angry resignation. "Evidently Hinkes is still unaware of what has happened. Irvin hasn't returned yet. Seton, this business is driving me mad."
He refilled his glass, and having looked in his cigarette-case, began to ransack a small cupboard.
"Damn it all!" he exclaimed. "I haven't got a cigarette in the place!"
"I don't smoke them myself," said Seton, "but I can offer you a cheroot."
"Thanks. They are a trifle too strong. Hullo! here are some."
From the back of a shelf he produced a small, plain brown packet, and took out of it a cigarette at which he stared oddly. Seton, smoking one of the inevitable cheroots, watched him, tapping his teeth with the rim of his eyeglass.
"Poor old Pyne!" muttered Gray, and, looking up, met the inquiring glance. "Pyne left these here only the other day," he explained awkwardly. "I don't know where he got them, but they are something very special. I suppose I might as well."
He lighted one, and, uttering a weary sigh, threw himself into a deep leather-covered arm-chair. Almost immediately he was up again. The telephone bell had rung. His eyes alight with hope, he ran out, leaving the door open so that his conversation was again audible to the visitor.
"Yes, yes, speaking. What?" His tone changed "Oh, it's you, Margaret. What?... Certainly, delighted. No, there's nobody here but old Seton Pasha. What? You've heard the fellows talk about him who were out East.... Yes, that's the chap.... Come right along."
"You don't propose to lionise me, I hope, Gray?" said Seton, as Gray returned to his seat.
The other laughed.
"I forgot you could hear me," he admitted. "It's my cousin, Margaret Halley. You'll like her. She's a tip-top girl, but eccentric. Goes in for pilling."
"Pilling?" inquired Seton gravely.
"Doctoring. She's an M.R.C.S., and only about twenty-four or so. Fearfully clever kid; makes me feel an infant."
"Flat heels, spectacles, and a judicial manner?"
"Flat heels, yes. But not the other. She's awfully pretty, and used to look simply terrific in khaki. She was an M.O. in Serbia, you know, and afterwards at some nurses' hospital in Kent. She's started in practice for herself now round in Dover Street. I wonder what she wants."
Silence fell between them; for, although prompted by different reasons, both were undesirous of discussing the tragedy; and this silence prevailed until the ringing of the doorbell announced the arrival of the girl. Willis opening the door, she entered composedly, and Gray introduced Seton.
"I am so glad to have met you at last, Mr. Seton," she said laughingly. "From Quentin's many accounts I had formed the opinion that you were a kind of Arabian Nights myth."
"I am glad to disappoint you," replied Seton, finding something very refreshing in the company of this pretty girl, who wore a creased Burberry, and stray locks of whose abundant bright hair floated about her face in the most careless fashion imaginable.
She turned to her cousin, frowning in a rather puzzled way.
"Whatever have you been burning here?" she asked. "There is such a curious smell in the room."
Gray laughed more heartily than he had laughed that night, glancing in Seton's direction.
"So much for your taste in cigars!" he cried
"Oh!" said Margaret, "I'm sure it's not Mr. Seton's cigar. It isn't a smell of tobacco."
"I don't believe they're made of tobacco!" cried Gray, laughing louder yet, although his merriment was forced.
Seton smiled good-naturedly at the joke, but he had perceived at the moment of Margaret's entrance the fact that her gaiety also was assumed. Serious business had dictated her visit, and he wondered the more to note how deeply this odor, real or fancied, seemed to intrigue her.