BY THE SAME AUTHOR
THE MIND-READER, BEING SOME PAGES FROM THE LIFE OF DR XAVIER WYCHERLEY, PSYCHOLOGIST AND MENTAL HEALER.
AUTHOR OF "THE MIND-READER," "THE COCKATOO," ETC.
METHUEN & CO. LTD. 36 ESSEX STREET W.C. LONDON
First Published July 3rd 1913 Second Edition August 1913
MY DEAR MOTHER
WHOSE ADVICE AND CRITICISM HAVE HELPED SO GREATLY IN MY WORK, AND ESPECIALLY IN THE MAKING OF THIS BOOK; WHOSE COMPANIONSHIP HAS BEEN A CONSTANT INSPIRATION TO ME
I. The Whirlpool 1
II. A L5,000,000 Deal 7
III. Shadowed 17
IV. On the Scent of a Mystery 19
V. The First Move in the Game 29
VI. The Beginning of a New Life 42
VII. A Seat by the Arena 50
VIII. Who and where is Riviere? 61
IX. At Monte Carlo 69
X. Larssen turns another Corner 73
XI. A Letter From Riviere 83
XII. The Second Meeting 87
XIII. At the Maison Carree 100
XIV. By the Druids' Tower 107
XV. Waiting the Verdict 111
XVI. Only Pity! 123
XVII. Riviere is Called Back 127
XVIII. Not Wanted! 138
XIX. A Throne-Room 148
XX. Beaten to Earth 153
XXI. The Bolted Door 171
XXII. The Chameleon Mind 184
XXIII. Larssen's Man Once Again 197
XXIV. Confession 205
XXV. White Lilac 216
XXVI. A Challenge 221
XXVII. Women's Weapons 225
XXVIII. The Counter-Move 235
XXIX. The Parting 247
XXX. Heir to a Throne 254
XXXI. The Reins had Slipped 264
XXXII. The New Scheme 273
XXXIII. Larssen's Appeal 278
XXXIV. On Board the "Starlight" 285
XXXV. Intervention 297
XXXVI. Finality 304
On the crucial night of his career, 14 March, 191-, Clifford Matheson, financier, was speeding in a taxi-cab to the Gare de Lyon.
He was a clean-limbed man of thirty-seven. There was usually a look of masterfulness in the firm lines of his face, the straight, direct glance, the stiff, close-cut moustache. But to-night his eyes were tired, very tired. He leant back in a corner of the cab with drooping shoulders as though utterly world-weary.
At the station his wife and father-in-law were looking impatiently for his arrival. They stood at the door of their wagon-lit in the Cote d'Azur Rapide, searching the crowded platform for him. It was now ten to eight, and the express was timed to pull out of the Gare de Lyon at eight o'clock sharp.
"Late again!" growled Sir Francis Letchmere. "Clifford makes a deuced casual sort of husband. Bad form, you know!"
Good form and bad form were the foot-rules by which he measured mankind.
Olive bit her lip. It galled her pride that Clifford should not be early on the platform to see to her comforts. The attentions of her father and maid did not satisfy her; she wanted Clifford to be there to fetch and carry for her.
Pride was the keynote of her character. It was pride and not love that had decided her, five years before, to marry the financier. She had admired the way in which he had slashed out for himself his place in the world of London and Paris finance, from his humble beginning as a clerk in a Montreal broker's office. It ministered to her pride to be the wife of a man who had plucked success from the whirlpool of life. As to the methods by which he had amassed his money, with these she was not concerned. She knew, of course, that there were many who had bitter things to say about his methods.
"Probably it's his brother who's delayed him," said Olive, looking for an explanation which would salve her amour propre. "They both seem to be crazy over their rubbishy scientific experiments."
"Who's this brother?"
"I know scarcely anything about him. His name's Riviere—he's a half-brother. He turns up unexpectedly from the wilds of Canada, and lives like a hermit, so Clifford tells me, in some tumbledown villa outside Paris."
"What's he like?"
"I've never seen him."
"What's the scientific experiment?"
"Clifford told me something about it, but I forgot. I wasn't interested in the slightest. No money in it, I could see at once. I told Clifford so."
Sir Francis tugged at his watch impatiently. "He'll miss this train for certain!"
"No; there he is!"
Matheson was striding rapidly through the press of people on the platform. He quickly caught sight of his wife and father-in-law, and came up with a gesture of apology.
"Sorry I'm so late. Very sorry, too, I shan't be able to travel with you to-night."
"Experiment to finish?" queried Olive, with an unconcealed note of contempt in her voice.
"A very important business engagement for this evening. Will you excuse me? I can follow to-morrow."
"Can't it wait?"
"It's highly important."
"There's the 'phone to speak over."
"I have to come face to face with my man. Surely, Olive, you can spare me for a day? Have you everything you want for the journey?"
"Who is the man?"
"Lars Larssen," answered Matheson. He lowered his voice slightly, though on the bustling railway platform there was no likelihood of anyone listening to the conversation.
Sir Francis nodded his head. He was heavily interested in company-promoting himself, as a means of swelling an inadequate property income, and Lars Larssen was a magic name.
"Hudson Bay scheme?" he asked.
"Well, business before pleasure," he remarked sententiously.
Olive cut in with a question. "Have you finished your experiments with your brother?"
"No," answered Matheson evenly.
"When will they be finished?"
"I can't say. There's a great deal to be discussed and planned."
"Then bring him with you to-morrow. You can plan together whatever it is you have to plan at Monte. Besides, I want to see him."
"John is a busy man," protested Matheson. "I don't think he can leave his laboratory."
"Give him my invitation, and make it a pressing one," pursued Olive, careless of anything but her own whim. "Tell him—tell him I particularly want him to explain his experiments to me himself."
At this moment the little horn of departure sounded its quaint note from the end of the platform, and a porter hurried to lock the door of the wagon-lit.
"Have you everything you want for the journey?" asked Matheson.
"I have everything I want," replied his wife coldly. "My father has seen to that.... Good-bye."
She did not offer to kiss him, and he for his part drew back into a shell of reserve. Many thoughts were buzzing through his mind as they exchanged the commonplaces of a railway station good-bye from either side of a compartment window.
Olive's last words were: "Remember, I'm expecting you to bring your brother with you to-morrow."
A very tired look was in Matheson's eyes, and a weary droop on his shoulders, as the train pulled out and he was left alone on the platform.
Two Frenchmen whispered to one another about him. "The milord Matheson, see you! The very rich milord Matheson."
"Ah, if I were only a rich man too!"
"What would you do?"
"I should spend. How I should spend!" He licked his lips at the thought of the pleasures of body that money could buy him.
"I should save," said the other. "I should make myself the richest man in the world. That would be glorious!"
These last words reached the ears of Matheson, and set up a curious train of thought as he drove in his cab to his office in the Rue Laffitte. The words carried him back to a forest-clearing in the backwoods of Ontario, where he and his half-brother had made holiday camp some eighteen years before. They were comparing ambitions—two young men unusually alike in features but very different in temperament and will-power. John Riviere, the elder of the two, was dreaming of fame in the paths of science—he had worked his way through M'Gill University and was hoping for a demonstratorship to keep him in living expenses. Clifford Matheson, a clerk in a broker's office, planned his life in terms of cities and money. "To make big money—that's what I call success."
In the rapids of the stream by their feet was a swirl of waters covering a sunken rock, and Riviere had thrown on to it a chip of wood. The chip was whirled round and round, nearer and nearer to the centre, until finally it was sucked under with a sudden extinguishment.
"There's the life you plan," he had said to Clifford....
A L5,000,000 DEAL
When Matheson reached his office, he was told by a clerk that Mr Lars Larssen was already waiting to see him. He threw off his gloves and fur-lined coat and adjusted the lights before he answered that his visitor could be shown in. He added that the clerk could lock up his own rooms and leave, as he would not be wanted any longer that evening.
There was a quiet simplicity in Matheson's office that one would scarcely associate with the operations of high finance. One might have looked for costly furnishings and an atmosphere redolent of big money. Yet here was a simple rosewood desk with a bowl of mimosa on it, and around the walls were a few simple landscapes from recent salons.
If Lars Larssen were a magic name to Sir Francis Letchmere, it was a magic name also to many other men of affairs. From cabin-boy to millionaire shipowner was his story in brief. But that does not tell one quarter. The son of Scandinavian immigrants to the States, factory-workers, he had run away to sea at the age of fourteen, with the call of the ocean ringing in his ears from the Viking inheritance that was his. But on this was superposed the fierce desire for success that formed the psychical atmosphere of the new American environment. As a boy in the smoke-blackened factory town, he had breathed in the longing to make money—big money—to use men to his own ends, to be a master of masters.
With precocious insight he quickly learnt that money is made not by those who go out upon the waters, but by those who stay on land and send them hither and thither. He soon gave up the seafaring life and entered a shipbroker's office. He starved himself in order to save money to speculate in shipping reinsurance. An uncanny insight had guided him to rush in when shrewdly prudent business men held aloof.
He had emphatically "made good." Each fresh success had given him new confidence in himself and his judgment and his powers. He would allow nothing to stand in his path. Scruples were to him the burden of fools.
A fair-haired giant in build, with inscrutable eyes and mouth set grim and straight—such was Lars Larssen.
Though Matheson was in no way a small man, yet he seemed somehow dwarfed when Larssen entered the room. The financier was a self-made master, but the shipowner was a born master of men—perhaps one's instinctive contrast lay there. The one had the strength of finished steel, but the other was rugged granite.
Lars Larssen said quietly: "Your letter brought me over to Paris. I don't usually waste time in railway trains myself when I have men I can pay to do it for me. So you can judge that I consider your letter mighty important."
"I'm sorry if you have given yourself an unnecessary journey," returned Matheson. "I had intended my letter to make my attitude clear to you."
"Then you missed fire."
"My attitude is simply this: I want to call the deal off."
"Not enough in it for you?" cut in Larssen.
"Not enough in it for the public."
The shipowner surveyed the other man through half-closed lids, weighing up how far this declaration might be a genuine expression of opinion and how far a mere excuse to cover some hidden motive.
"Talk it longer," he said.
For reply Matheson drew out a large-scale map of Canada from a drawer and unfolded it with a decisive deliberation. He laid a finger on the south-western corner of Hudson Bay. "Here is Fanning trading station, the terminus of your five-hundred-mile railway. The land you run it over is mostly lakes, rivers, and frozen swamps for three-quarters of the year. The line is useless except for your own purpose—to carry wheat for the Hudson Bay steamship route to England. You agree?"
"Agreed." Larssen was not the man to waste argument over minor points when a vital matter was under discussion.
"Then the scheme centres on the practicability of making the arctic Hudson Bay passage a commercial highway. It means the creating of a modern port at Fanning. It means the lighting of a whole coast-line"—his finger travelled to the north of Hudson Bay and the northern coast of Labrador—"before a cargo of wheat leaves Port Fanning."
"I'll build lighthouses myself by the dozen if the Canadian Government won't. I'll equip every one with long-range wireless."
"The cost will be tremendous."
"There will be a differential of sixpence a bushel on wheat over my route. That talks down fifty lighthouses."
"But it makes no allowance for rate-cutting by the big men on the present routes. Further, if the Canadian Government are not with you on this scheme, they'll be against you. There are a dozen ways in which you might be frozen out. In that case the Hudson Bay Route will be the biggest fiasco that ever happened."
"Nothing I've yet touched has been a fiasco," answered Lars Larssen with a grim tightening of jaw. "Leave that end to me.... Now your end is to get the money."
"From the English and Canadian public."
"You came to me because the English and Canadian public are prejudiced against 'Yankee propositions.' You yourself couldn't float it in England. On the other hand, I'm Canadian-born, and my name carries weight both in England and in Canada."
"With the public," added Larssen, and there was a subtle emphasis on the word "public," which carried a world of hidden meaning. Matheson had been associated with other schemes which had a bad odour in the nostrils of City men.
"With the public who provide the capital," answered the financier, and his emphasis was on the word "capital." He continued. "With myself and Sir Francis Letchmere and a few titled dummies on the Board—which is what you want from me—the public will tumble over one another to take up stock."
"The capitalization you propose is L5,000,000 in Ordinary L1 Shares, which the public will mostly take up. Also L200,000 in Deferred Shares of the nominal value of one shilling each, which are to be allotted to yourself as vendor. That gives you four million votes out of a total of nine million, and for practical purposes means control."
"The Deferred Shares are not to get a cent of dividend until a fifteen per cent. dividend is paid on the Ordinary Shares. That's the squarest deal for the public that ever was," retorted Larssen.
"But you hold control."
Both men knew the tremendous import of that word. The fortunes of the world's financial giants have all been built up on "control." Dwarfing "capital" and "credit" it stands—that word "control." If the wild gamble of the Hudson Bay scheme were to rush through to commercial success—if the limitless wheat-lands of Canada were to pour their mighty torrent of life into Europe through the channel of Hudson Bay—it would be Lars Larssen who would hold the key of the sluice-gate. Directly, he would be master of the wheat of Canada. Indirectly, he could turn his master-position to financial gain in scores of ways. The L200,000 to be allotted him as vendor was a bagatelle; but to hold four million votes out of nine million was to control an empire.
He replied evenly: "I keep control on any proposition I touch. That's creed with me. Creed."
"We split on that," answered Matheson.
"You want control for yourself?"
"Then what is it you do want?"
"I want half the Deferred Shares in the hands of Lord ——." He named a Canadian statesman and empire-builder whose integrity was beyond all suspicion. "I want him to hold them as trustee for the ordinary shareholders. He will consent if I ask him."
"No doubt he will!" commented Larssen ironically. He drew up his chair closer to the other man. There was a dangerous gleam in his eye as he said: "Now see here. All the points you've put up were known to you months ago. What's happened to make you switch at the last moment?"
He had put his finger on the very core of the matter, but Matheson met his searching gaze without flinching. "What's happened is an entirely private matter. I've reasons for not wishing to be associated with your scheme unless you agree to half the Deferred Shares being held by Lord —— as trustee. These reasons of mine have only arisen during the last few weeks. Circumstances are different with me from what they were when you first broached the plan. If you don't care to agree to my suggestion, I call the deal off. As regards the expenses you've incurred, I'll go halves."
For comment, the shipowner flicked thumb and forefinger together.
"No, I'll do more," pursued Matheson. "I'll make you a more than fair offer—shoulder the whole expenses myself."
Larssen ignored the offer. "I went into the preliminaries of the scheme on the understanding that we were to pull together."
"It means big money for you—enough to retire on."
"Then what the hell's the reason for this sudden attack of scruples?"
For a moment Matheson's eyes blazed black anger, but the anger died out of them and the tired look of the platform of the Gare de Lyon took its place. "You wouldn't understand," he answered. "The whirlpool."
"It would be useless to explain. I have private reasons.... I've made you a thoroughly fair offer, and I don't think there's anything more to be said." Matheson rose and walked to the window, pulling up the blind and gazing out on the sombre splendour of the big banking houses of the Rue Laffitte and the Rue Pillet-Will.
Larssen looked at the silhouette of his antagonist with a tense set of his jaws. Many plans were revolving in his mind. Moralists might have labelled them "blackmail," but Lars Larssen was utterly free from scruples where his own interests were concerned. Honesty with him was a mere matter of policy. To a man with the average sense of honour, such an attitude of mind is scarcely realisable, but Lars Larssen was no normal man. In him the Napoleonic madness—or genius—burned fiercely. He had ambitions colossal in scale—he regarded his present wealth and power as a mere stepping-stone to the realisation of his Great Idea.
That great ultimate purpose of his life he had never revealed to man or woman—save only to his dead wife. He aimed to be controlling owner of the world's carrying trade; to hold decision on peace and war between nation and nation because of that control of the vital food supply. To be Emperor of the Seven Seas.
He had one child only—his boy Olaf, now aged twelve, at school in the States. Olaf was to hold the seat of power after him and perpetuate his dynasty.
That was Larssen's life-dream.
Any man or woman who stood between him and his great goal was to be thrust aside or used as a stepping-stone. Matheson, for instance—he was to be used. There must be something underlying Matheson's sudden access of scruples—what was it? A case of cherchez la femme? Or political ambitions, perhaps? If he could arrive at the motive, it might open up a new avenue for persuasion.
He searched the silhouette of the man at the window for an answer to the riddle. But Matheson's face was set, and the answer to the riddle was such as Lars Larssen could never have guessed. It lay outside the shipowner's pale of thought—beyond the limitations of his mind.
For Matheson also had his big life-scheme, and it now filled his mind with a blaze of light as he stood by the window, silent.
Larssen resolved to play for time while he set to work to ferret out his antagonist's motive for the sudden change of plan. He did not dream for a moment of relinquishing control on the Hudson Bay scheme. As he had stated openly, control was creed to him.
He broke the long silence with a conciliatory remark. "Let's think matters over for a day or two. My scheme might be modified on the financial side. I'm prepared to make concessions to what you think is fair to the shareholders. We shall find some common ground of agreement."
The smooth words did not deceive Matheson. So his answer came with deliberate finality: "I've said my last word."
"Well, I'll consider it carefully. Meanwhile, doing anything to-night? I hear that Polaire is on at the Folies Bergeres with her opium-den scene. A thriller, I'm told."
Theatres and music-halls were nothing to the shipowner; his idea was to keep Matheson under observation if possible, and try to solve the riddle.
"Thanks, but I've got to get away from Paris," answered Matheson with his tired droop of the shoulders. "I have to join my wife and father-in-law at Monte Carlo."
"Very well, then, I'll say good-bye for the present."
When Larssen had left the office, he hurried into a taxi and was whirled to the Grand Hotel near at hand. Here he found his secretary turning over the illustrated papers in the hall lounge, and gave a few curt directions. "Drive round to the Rue Laffitte—a hurry case. On the second floor of No. 8 is the office of Clifford Matheson. He may be still there—you'll know by the light in the window. Wait till he comes out, and follow him. Find out where he goes. If it's to a woman's house—good. In any case shadow him to-night wherever he goes."
Matheson, alone in his office, thought deeply for a long while, pacing to and fro, grappling with a life-decision. To and fro, from door to windows, from windows to door, he paced, until the narrow confines of the office thrust at him subconsciously and drove him to the open streets.
At his desk he made out a cheque in favour of Lars Larssen to the amount of twenty thousand pounds, enclosed it with a brief note in an addressed envelope, and put it away in a drawer. It was shortly after eleven when he took up his hat, fur-lined coat and heavy gold-mounted stick, clicked out the lights, and made his way down to the Rue Laffitte.
At the corner of the Rue Laffitte he passed a young man lounging in the shadows, who presently turned and followed him at a sober distance. Matheson made up towards the heights of Montmartre, crowned by the white Basilique of the Sacred Heart. The great church stood out in cold white beauty—serene and pure—above the feverish glitter of Paris. Up there a man might attune himself to the message of the stars—might weigh duty against duty in the balance of the infinite.
He walked deep in thought, with shoulders drooping.
Beyond the clamorous glitter of the Place Pigalle, with its garish entertainment halls and all-night restaurants, there is a dark, narrow, winding lane ascending steeply to the great white sentinel church on the heights. Up this Matheson strode, still deep in thought, and his shadower followed. But, half-way up, a new factor cut sharply into the situation. Out of a ruelle crept two apaches with the stealthy glide of their class. One followed close behind Clifford Matheson, while the other stopped to watch the lane against the possible arrival of an agent de police.
The young man who had followed from the Rue Laffitte paused irresolute. On the one hand were his orders to shadow Matheson wherever he might go that night; on the other hand was his personal safety. He was keenly alive to the merciless ferocity of the Parisian apache, and he was unarmed. The wicked curved knife doubtless concealed under the belt of the apache turned the scale decisively in the mind of the shadower. He saw no call to risk his own life.
He gave up and retraced his steps, leaving Matheson to his fate.
ON THE SCENT OF A MYSTERY
The name of the young man who had shadowed Matheson was Arthur Dean, and his position in life was that of a clerk in the Leadenhall Street office of Lars Larssen. The latter had brought him over to Paris as temporary secretary because the confidential secretary had happened to be ill and away from business at the moment when Matheson's letter arrived.
Young Dean bitterly repented his cowardice before he was five minutes distant from the narrow lane on the heights of Montmartre.
Not only had he left a fellow-countryman to possible violence and robbery, but his action would inevitably recoil on himself. To be even a temporary secretary to the great shipowner was a chance, an opportunity that most young business men of twenty-four would eagerly grasp at. He was throwing away his chance by this cowardly disobedience to orders—Lars Larssen was not the man to forgive an offence of that kind.
Dean turned on his tracks and again crossed the Place Pigalle. The lane behind was deserted. He mounted it and searched eagerly. His search was fruitless. Matheson was nowhere visible—nor the two apaches. To what had happened in that interval of ten minutes there was no clue.
The young fellow did not dare to go back to the Grand Hotel and report his failure. He wandered about aimlessly and miserably, until a flaunting poster outside an all-night cafe chantant caught his eye and decided him to enter and kill time until some plan for retrieving his failure might occur to him.
As he entered the swinging doors a cheery hand was laid on his shoulders. "Hullo, old man! Hail and thrice hail!"
"Jimmy!" There was a note of pleasure in the young man's voice.
"The same," confirmed Jimmy Martin. He was a tubby, clean-shaven, rosy-faced little fellow of thirty odd, with an inexhaustible fund of good spirits. Everyone called him "Jimmy." Dean had known him as a reporter on a London daily paper and a fellow-member of a local dramatic society in Streatham.
"Why are you here?" asked Dean.
"Strictly on business, my gay young spark. My present owners, the Europe Chronicle, bless their dear hearts, want to know if La Belle Ariola"—he waved his hand towards a poster which showed chiefly a toreador hat, a pair of flashing eyes, and a whirl of white draperies—"is engaged or no to the Prince of Sardinia. I find the maiden coy, not to say secretive——"
"I wish you could help me," interrupted Dean eagerly.
"If four francs seventy will do it—my worldly possessions until next pay-day——"
"No, no, this is quite different." He drew Martin outside into the street and whispered. "To-night, as I happen to know, an Englishman walking along a back street by the Place Pigalle was followed by two apaches."
"A week-end tripper, or somebody with a flourish at each end of his name?"
"Somebody worth while. Now I want to know particularly if anything happened."
Martin nodded in full understanding. "Come along to the office about ten to-morrow morning, and I'll tell you if anything's been fired in from the gendarmeries or the hospitals. What did you say the man's name was?"
Dean shook his head.
"Imitaciong oyster?" commented Martin cheerfully. "Very well, see you to-morrow. Meanwhile, be good. Flee the giddy lure. Go home to your little bed and sleep sweet." There was seriousness under his good-natured banter. "Come along and I'll see you as far as the bullyvards."
Arthur Dean went with him, but did not return to the Grand Hotel. He found a small hotel for the night, and next morning at ten o'clock he was at the office of the Europe Chronicle, an important daily paper published simultaneously in Paris, Frankfort, and Florence.
Martin came out from the news room into the adjoining ante-room with a slip of "flimsy" in his hand.
"Was your man hefty with the shillelagh?" he asked.
"He carried a big, gold-mounted stick."
"Then here's your bird." He read out from the slip of paper: "Last night, shortly after twelve, a certain Gaspard P—— was brought to the Hopital Malesherbes suffering from a fractured skull. This morning, on recovering consciousness, he states that he was attacked without cause by a drunken Englishman, and struck over the head with a heavy stick. His state is grave."
Dean felt a warm wave of relief. He thanked the journalist cordially and was about to leave, when the telephone bell rang sharply in the adjoining news room. The sub-editor in charge took up the receiver.
"Ullo, ullo! C'est ici le Chronicle," said the sub-editor, and after listening for a moment signed imperatively to Martin to come in and shut the door.
Presently Martin came out from the news room bustling with energy and took Dean by the arm. "You specified two apaches, didn't you?" he asked, and hurried on without waiting for an answer. "One was probably the injured innocence now at the Malesherbes and cursing those sacres Angliches, but the other lies low and says nuffink. That's the one that interests me. Come along in my taxi and watch me chase a story."
Stopping only to borrow fifty francs for expenses from the cashier's wicket, Martin hurried his friend into a taximeter cab and gave the brief direction: "Pont de Neuilly."
Three-quarters of an hour later they had reached the bridge at the end of the long avenue of the suburb of Neuilly and had dismissed the cab.
"Now for our imitaciong Sherlock Holmes," said Martin. "The 'phone message was that a man had found a fur coat and a gold-mounted stick under some bushes by the left bank of the Seine four hundred metres down stream. He was apparently some sort of workman, and explained that he had no wish to be mixed up with the police. On the other hand, he felt he had to do his duty by the civilization that provides him with a blue blouse, bread, and bock, so he 'phoned the news to us.... Wish everyone was as sensible," he added, viewing the matter from a professional standpoint.
Three hundred yards down, they began to look very carefully amongst the bushes that line the water's edge. It was not long before they came to the object of their search. Under an alder-bush they found it—a heavy fur-lined coat sodden with the river water, and a gold-mounted stick.
The maker's name had been cut out of the overcoat; its pockets were empty.
Martin held it up. "Did this belong to your man?" he asked, as though sure of the answer.
"No," answered Dean decisively.
The journalist whisked around in complete surprise and looked at him keenly. "Sure?"
"Positive. There was astrakhan on the collar and cuffs of the coat my man was wearing."
"And this stick?"
"It looks much the same kind, but then there are thousands of sticks like this in use."
The stout little journalist looked pathetically disappointed. For the moment he had no thought beyond the professional aspect of the matter—the unearthing of a "good story"—and the human significance of what he had found was entirely out of mind. He turned over the coat and stick in obvious perplexity, as though they ought somehow to contain the key to the puzzle if only he could see it. Then he examined the traces of footsteps on the damp earth by the water-side. There was another set of footprints beside their own—no doubt the footprints of the man who had first found the objects and 'phoned to the Chronicle.
"What are you going to do next?" asked the young clerk.
"Take them to the police?"
Martin looked up and down the river bank. That part of the Seine is usually deserted except for nursemaids and children and an occasional workman. At the moment there was apparently no one in sight.
"You don't know the Paris police—that's evident," returned the journalist. "They would throw fits on the floor if I were so much as to carry off a coat-button. No, we must hide the coat and stick in the bushes again, and tell them to-morrow."
"Twenty-four hours' start is due to my owners, bless their sensational little hearts. If nothing further comes to light, then the press steps aside and allows the law to take its course. Meanwhile to the Morgue and the Malesherbes. We'll pick up a cab on the Avenue de Neuilly. Newspaper life, my young friend, is one dam taxi after another."
The Morgue is, of course, no longer the public peep-show that it used to be, but Martin's card procured him instant admission. On the inclined marble slabs, down which ice water gently trickles, were two ghastly white figures of women which had been waiting identification for some days. The object of their search was not at the Morgue.
They proceeded across Paris to the Hopital Malesherbes, but at the Place de l'Opera Dean asked to be put down. The journalist promised to 'phone to the Grand Hotel if anything of interest came to light, and Arthur Dean went to make his report to Lars Larssen. It was already past mid-day, and without doubt the shipowner would be impatient to hear news.
Only stopping at a telephone call office for a few minutes, Dean hurried to his employer's suite of rooms.
"Well?" asked Lars Larssen.
"To begin at the beginning, sir, I waited last night in the Rue Laffitte until Mr Matheson came out of his office. It was not long before he appeared, and then——"
The shipowner interrupted curtly. "I want the heart of the matter."
Dean gulped and answered: "I believe Mr Matheson has been murdered."
"Believe! Do you know?"
"Of course I don't know for certain, sir; but this morning I assisted at the finding of his coat and stick on the banks of the Seine."
"Sure they were his?"
"Yes, quite sure. I was with a journalist friend of mine, but I didn't let him know that I recognized the coat and stick. I thought perhaps you would like me to tell you before the matter was made public."
"Good! Now give me the full story."
Arthur Dean summoned up his nerve to tell the connected tale he had thought out during the long cab rides that morning. It was essential that he should disguise his cowardice and his failure to carry out orders of the night before. With that exception, his account was a truthful and detailed story of all that had happened. He concluded with:—
"I 'phoned up Mr Matheson's office—without telling my name—and asked if he was in or had been to the office this morning. They said no. I got his hotel address from them and 'phoned the hotel. They also could tell me nothing about Mr Matheson."
Lars Larssen paced the room in silence for some time. Finally he shot out a question.
"Your salary is?"
"L100 a year, sir."
"Engaged, or likely to be?"
The young man blushed deeply as he replied: "I hope to be shortly."
"You can't marry on two pound a week."
"I am hoping to get promotion in the office, and then——"
"Do you understand how to get promotion?"
"Of course, sir. I intend to work hard and study the details of the business outside my own department, and learn Spanish as well as French——"
Lars Larssen flicked thumb and finger together contemptuously. "The men I pay real money to are not that kind of men."
Arthur Dean looked in surprise.
"Now see here," pursued the shipowner, fixing his eyes deep into the young man's, "why did you lie to me just now?"
Dean went deathly white, and began to falter a denial.
"Don't lie any further! Something happened last night that you haven't told me of. I know, because you brought in no report last night. Out with it!"
Under that merciless look the young clerk made a clean breast of the matter. His voice shook as he realized that it probably meant instant dismissal for him. Here was the end of all his hopes.
Lars Larssen made no comment until the last details had been faltered out. Then he said abruptly: "I propose to raise you L300 a year."
Dean stared at him in silent amazement.
"L300 a year is good salary for a young man. If I pay it, I want it earned. Now understand this: what I want in my men is absolute loyalty, absolute obedience to orders, and absolute truthfulness to me. Lie to others if you like—that's no concern of mine—but not to me. Further, understand what orders mean. If I tell you to do a thing, I am wholly responsible for its outcome. The responsibility is not yours—it's mine. Got that?"
"It's very generous of you to give me such a chance, sir. It's much more than I have the right to expect. You can count on my loyalty and obedience to the utmost—of course, provided that——"
"The men I want to raise in my employ, and the men I have raised, leave fine scruples to me. That's my end. Your end is to carry out orders. If you're going to set store on niceties of truthfulness when business interests demand otherwise, you'll remain a two-pound-a-week clerk all your life."
Dean's weakness of moral fibre had been shrewdly weighed up by Larssen. The young man was plastic clay to be moulded by a firm grasp. L300 a year opened out to him a vista of roseate possibilities. L300 a year was his price.
The colour came and went in his face as he thought out the meaning of what his employer had just said. At length he answered: "I owe you many thanks, sir. What do you want me to do?"
"Understand this: L300 a year is your starting salary. If I find you after trial to be the man I think you are, you can look forward to bigger money.... Now my point lies here; Mr Matheson was engaged with me in a large-scale enterprise. Alive, he would have been useful to me. I intend to keep him alive!"
THE FIRST MOVE IN THE GAME
At the great Leadenhall Street office of the shipowner, an office which bore outside the simple sign—ostentatious in its simplicity—of "Lars Larssen—Shipping," Arthur Dean had looked upon his employer from afar as some demi-god raised above other business men by mysterious gifts from heaven. A modern Midas with the power of turning what he touched to gold.
Now he was granted an intimate glimpse into the workings of his employer's mind that came to him as a positive revelation. Larssen's were no mysterious powers, but the powers that every man possessed worked at white heat and with an extraordinary swiftness and exactitude. The revelation did not sweep away the glamour; on the contrary, it increased it. Lars Larssen was a craftsman taking up the commonest tools of his craft and using them to create a work of art of consummate build.
His present work was to keep alive the personality of Clifford Matheson until the Hudson Bay scheme should be launched. To use Matheson's name on the prospectus, and to use his influence with Sir Francis Letchmere and others. Dead, Matheson was to serve him better than alive.
But the shipowner did not build his edifice on the foundation merely of what Arthur Dean had told him. He had to satisfy himself more accurately.
A string of rapid, apparently unconnected orders almost bewildered the young secretary:—
"First, get a list of the big hotels at Monte Carlo. Engage the trunk telephone and call up each hotel until you find where Sir Francis Letchmere is staying. Give no name.... Buy a pair of workman's boots to fit you. Get them in some side street shop. Bring them with you—don't ask them to send.... Take this typewriting"—he took a letter from his pocket and carefully clipped off a small portion—"and match it with a portable travelling machine. Can you recognize the make of machine off-hand?"
Dean examined the portion of typed matter, and shook his head.
"You must train yourself to observe detail. Looks to me like the type on a 'Thor' machine. Try the Thor Co. first. If not there, go to every typewriter firm in Paris until it matches.... Go to the offices of the Compagnie Transatlantique and get a list of sailings on the Cherbourg-Quebec route. Give no name.... Meanwhile, 'phone your journalist friend and have him call on me."
"What reason shall I give him, sir?"
"Anything that will pull him here. Tell him I'm willing to be interviewed on the proposed international agreement about maritime contraband in time of war. Quite sure you remember all my orders?"
"I think so, sir."
The young man did so.
Dean flushed with pleasure at the commendation.
"Had lunch yet?"
Lars Larssen smiled as he said: "Well, postpone lunch till to-night, or eat while you're hustling around in cabs. This is a hurry case. Here's an advance fifty pounds to keep you in expense money."
As the crisp notes were put into his hand, Arthur Dean felt that he was indeed on the ladder which led to business status and wealth. His thoughts went out to a little girl in Streatham who was waiting, he knew, till he could ask her to be his wife. If Daisy could see how he was being taken into his employer's confidence!
Lars Larssen startled him with a remark that savoured of thought-reading. "My three-hundred-a-year men," he said, "don't write home about business matters."
"I quite understand, sir."
Later in the afternoon, Jimmy Martin of the Europe Chronicle sent in his card at the Grand Hotel, and Lars Larssen did not keep him waiting beyond a few moments.
The tubby little journalist was no hero-worshipper. Few journalists can be—they see too intimately the strings which work the affairs of the world for the edification of a trustful public. Consequently, Martin's attitude in the presence of the millionaire shipowner was as free from constraint or subservience as it would be in the dressing-room of La Belle Ariola, who danced the bolero at a cafe chantant, or in the ward of the Malesherbes Hopital, interviewing an apache with a cracked skull.
Lars Larssen summed him up with lightning rapidity of thought, and adjusted his own attitude to a friendly, confidential basis.
Said Martin: "You want to talk about contraband of war? I'd better tell you the Chronicle's red-hot against the olive-branch merchants, so I hope you're not one of them. Say you agree with us, and I can spread you over half a column."
The shipowner smiled. "That's the talk I like. Make a policy and set the buzzer going. Now see here...."
At the end of half an hour he had established a link of easy friendship, and had brought the conversation round without difficulty to the matter which was the real object of the interview.
"Dean was telling me about the help you gave him on his wild-goose chase to-day. Many thanks. He's a steady young fellow and will get on—but a little too ready to jump at conclusions. Of course you found nothing at the hospital?"
On the answer much depended, but no one could have guessed it from the shipowner's face, which was smilingly confident.
"Nothing doing!" answered Martin. "Our young friend with the cracked skull met the holy Tartar last night. He's raving sore—wants to prosecute him for assault, if he can find out who he is."
"Exactly. But there's a disappointment in store for him. I met my friend to-day going off to Canada. What are you going to do about the coat and stick at Neuilly?"
"Hunt around for a few more clues before turning it over to the police." There was a tired disappointment in the journalist's voice that Lars Larssen noted with keen satisfaction. "I doubt if the police'll do much unless the relations kick up a shindy. Paris is the finest place in Europe to get murdered in peacefully and without a lot of silly fuss. You see, it might be a hoax. Your Parisian hoaxer likes a dash of Grand Guignol horrors in his jokelet. The police have been had several times, and they're very much hoax-shy. I could tell you some pretty tales about mysterious disappearances that never get into the papers."
A little later the journalist took his departure. As the great shipowner shook hands at the door, he said cordially: "If you want news from me when I'm in Paris any time, come straight to me. I like your paper; I like your methods."
Martin left without a suspicion that he had been "pumped" for vital information.
Now the shipowner had to wait patiently for nightfall before the first definite move of his game could be played. One of his secrets of success was that he never allowed his mind to worry him. He shut the matter completely out of his conscious thoughts; got a trunk telephone call to his London office; sent off some cables to his New York office; and generally immersed himself on business matters quite unrelated to the Matheson case.
It was nearly ten o'clock that night before Arthur Dean returned from an errand on which he had been sent. In his arms was a bulky brown-paper parcel.
He opened it in the privacy of his employer's sitting-room, and remembering the advice given him that morning as to the way to present a business report, pointed silently to a small slit in the side of the fur-lined coat, where it would cover a man's ribs. On the inner lining of the coat there was a dark stain around the slit, though the immersion in the river had of course washed away any definite blood-clot.
Lars Larssen nodded appreciation of the young fellow's method of going straight to the heart of the subject. "Good!" said he. "Now for details."
"I carried out your orders exactly, sir. Took a cab to Neuilly, dismissed it, put on the pair of workman's boots when I was in the darkness of the river bank, and found the coat and stick just where Martin and I had hidden them in the bushes. The trees make it quite dark along that part of the Seine, and I am certain no one saw me taking them and wrapping them in my brown paper. The coat was nearly dry."
"Did you find the stick broken?"
"No. I broke it in two so that it could be wrapped in the same parcel as the coat."
"Did you examine footprints?"
"Yes. The only ones around the bushes were Martin's and mine made this morning, and the prints of the man who first discovered them. Of course my own prints this time were made by the boots you told me to buy and put on."
"I went along the river bank for a couple of miles with my parcel until I came to some other suburb, and then I caught a cab to the Arc de Triomphe, and there I took another cab to here."
"The workman's boots?"
"After I changed back to my ordinary boots, I threw them in the river, as you told me to."
"Nothing else worth reporting, I think.... Do you recognize this coat and stick as belonging to Mr Matheson, sir?"
Lars Larssen nodded non-committally, and ordered the young fellow to get a trunk telephone call through to Sir Francis Letchmere at Monte Carlo. Dean had already found out that he was staying at the Hotel des Hesperides.
But when the telephone connexion had been made, it was Olive who answered from the other end of the wire:—
"This is Mrs Matheson. Who is speaking?"
"Mr Larssen. I want Sir Francis Letchmere."
"He's out just now. Shall I take your message?"
"Have you heard yet from your husband?"
"He's off to Canada. I thought he would have wired you."
"That's just like Clifford!" There was an angry sharpness in the voice over the wire.
"I reckon he was in too much of a hurry. It's in connexion with the Hudson Bay scheme—you know about that?"
"Yes. Has anything gone wrong with it?" Now there was anxiety in the voice.
"A new situation has arisen. Your husband suggested to me that he had better hurry across the pond and straighten up matters." Larssen lowered his voice. "Somebody in the Canadian Government wants oiling. Of course he will have to work the affair very quietly."
"It's too annoying! Clifford had promised me faithfully to come on to Monte by to-night's train. I wanted him here."
"That's rough on you!"
"What message did you wish to give to my father?"
"About the Hudson Bay deal. I want to meet Sir Francis and talk business."
"You're not going to drag him back to Paris!"
Again there was annoyance in her voice, and Lars Larssen made a quick resolution. He answered: "Certainly not, if you don't wish it. Rather than that, I'll come myself to Monte."
"That's charming of you!"
"The least I can do. I'll wire later when to expect me."
When the conversation had concluded, the shipowner called the young secretary and asked him to bring in the new "Thor" travelling typewriter he had purchased that afternoon. Larssen had proved right in his guess of the make of machine with which his scrap of typing had been done.
"Take a letter. Envelope first," said Larssen.
"You want me to take it direct on the machine, sir?"
"Yes." The shipowner began to dictate. "Monsieur G. R. Coulter, Rue Laffitte, 8, Paris.... Now for the letter.... Cherbourg, March 15th."
"Any address above Cherbourg?"
"Not at present. 'Cherbourg, March 15th. Dear Coulter, I am called away to Canada on business. The matter is very private, and I want my trip kept very quiet. I leave affairs in your hands until my return. Get my luggage from my hotel and keep it in the office. If anything urgent arises, my name and address will be Arthur Dean, Hotel Ritz-Carlton, Montreal.'"
The young secretary went white, and his fingers dropped from the keys of the typewriter.
It was a moment of crisis.
"Well?" asked Lars Larssen sharply.
"A letter like that, sir...!"
"You don't care to go to Canada?"
"It's not that, but——" He stammered, and stopped short.
Lars Larssen allowed a moment of silence to give weight to his coming words. He drew out a cheque-book from his breast-pocket and very deliberately said: "Make yourself out a cheque for a usual month's wages, and bring it to me to sign. That will be in lieu of notice."
Arthur Dean took the cheque-book with shaking fingers and went to the adjoining room.
When at length he came back, he found the shipowner making out a telegram. He stood in silence until the telegram was given into his hand, open, with an order to send it off to London. His glance fell involuntarily on the writing, and he could see that the wire was to call over somebody to replace him.
"I don't think this will be necessary, sir," said Dean, with a tremor in his voice which told of the mental struggle he had been through in the adjoining room, when his career lay staked on the issue of a single decision.
It was not without definite purpose that Lars Larssen had put the cheque-book into his hands. He knew well the power of suggestion, and used it with a master-hand. He could almost see the young secretary torn between the thoughts of a miserable L8 on the one hand, and the illimitable wealth suggested by a blank cheque-book on the other.
"Understand this," answered Larssen. "Whichever way you decide matters nothing to me from the business point of view. I can get a dozen, twenty men to replace you at a moment's notice. If you don't care to go to Canada, you're perfectly free to say so. Then we part, because you're useless to me. Aside from the purely business point of view, I should be sorry. I like you; I see possibilities in you; I could help you up the business ladder."
"That's very good of you, sir."
"Wait. I want you to see this matter in the proper light. You have an idea that what that letter represents could get you into trouble with the law. That's it, isn't it?"
"Now see here. I stand behind that letter. My reputation is worth about ten thousand times yours in hard cash. Would I be mad enough to risk my reputation unless I had looked at every move on the board?"
"I didn't think of that at the time."
"Exactly. Now you see the other side of the picture. If you want half an hour to make up your mind once and for all, take it. Consider carefully what you'd like to be in the future: clerk or business man. Two pound a week; or six, ten, twenty, fifty a week. That represents the difference between the clerk and the business man in cold cash."
"I've made up my mind, sir," answered Dean firmly.
"Good!" said Lars Larssen, and held out his hand to his young employee. "There's the right stuff in you!"
To have his hand shaken in friendship by the millionaire shipowner was as strong wine to Arthur Dean. He flushed with pleasure as he stammered out his thanks.
A couple of hours packed with feverish activity followed. Lars Larssen knew that Clifford Matheson had the habit of carrying a small typewriter with him on his journeys, in order to get through correspondence while on trains and steamers. Many busy men carry them. This habit of Matheson's was exceedingly useful for his present purpose. The letter that Arthur Dean was to post off at Cherbourg—one to the Paris office of Clifford Matheson and one of similar purport to the London office—would only need the signature in holograph. Larssen had several of Matheson's signatures on various letters that had passed between them, and these he cut off and gave to his employee to copy.
He criticised the spacing and the general lay-out of the letter already typed, showed Dean how to imitate Matheson's little habits of typing, and arranged that the letters dictated should be retyped on hotel paper at Cherbourg and posted there. Dean was to catch a night train to Cherbourg, take steamer ticket there for Quebec, and proceed to Montreal. There were a host of directions as to his conduct while in Canada, and as Larssen poured out a stream of detailed orders, searching into every cranny and crevice of the situation, the young clerk felt once more the glamour of the master-mind.
Here was an employer worth working for!
Early next morning Dean was at grimy Cherbourg, and after posting off his letters he sent the following telegram to Mrs Matheson at Monte Carlo:—
"Sailing this morning for Canada on 'La Bretagne.' Urgent and very private business. Larssen, Grand Hotel, Paris, will explain. Sailing as Arthur Dean to avoid Canadian reporters. Good-bye. Much love."
As the liner lay by the quayside with smoke pouring from her funnels and the bustle of near departure on her decks, a telegram in reply was brought to Arthur Dean. He opened and read:—
"Most annoying. Cannot understand why business could not have been given to somebody else. However, expect nothing from you nowadays. Where is Riviere? Not arrived, and no line from him."
Riviere? Who was this man? Lars Larssen had made no mention of this name. It was the one facet of the situation of which the shipowner knew nothing—the one unknown link in the chain of circumstance.
Arthur Dean could only send a frantic wire to Lars Larssen, and the liner had cast off from her moorings before an answer came. This is what the shipowner found awaiting him at his hotel:—
"Mrs M. wants to know where is Riviere. Reply urgent. Who is Riviere?"
THE BEGINNING OF A NEW LIFE
On the morning of March 15th, Clifford Matheson lit a blazing fire in the laboratory of a tumbledown villa in Neuilly in order to destroy the clothes and other identity marks of the financier.
For some months past he had been leading a double life—as Clifford Matheson the financier, and as John Riviere the recluse scientist. He had chosen to take up the name of his dead half-brother because he had been taking up the latter's life-work.
The motives that had urged him to this strange double life were such as a Lars Larssen could scarcely comprehend. Every man has his mental as well as his physical limitations. The keenest brain, if trained on some specialized line, will fail to understand what to the dabbler in many lines seems perfectly natural and reasonable. Larssen, a master-mind, had his peculiar limitations as well as smaller men. His brain had been trained to see the world as an ant-heap into which some Power External had stamped an iron heel. The ants fought blindly with one another to reach the surface—to live. That was the law of life as he saw it—to fight one's way to the open.
The world he looked upon breathed in money through eager nostrils. Money was the oxygen of civilization. Without money a man slowly asphyxiated. It must be every man's ambition to own big money—to breathe it in himself with full-lunged, lustful, intoxicating gulps, and to dole it out as master to dependents pleading for their ration of life. That was the meaning of power: to give or withhold the essentials of life at one's pleasure.
Consequently he had failed to read the riddle of Matheson's motive at that crucial interview in the financier's office on the Rue Laffitte. He had failed to realize that a man might be as eager to give as to grasp. He had failed to reckon on altruism as a possible dominating factor in the decisions of a successful man of business.
Further than that, it lay entirely outside Lars Larssen's plane of thought that a man who had fought his way up to worldly success from a clerk's stool in a Montreal broker's office, who had made himself a power in the world of London and Paris finance, could voluntarily give up money and power and bury himself in obscurity.
Larssen judged that Matheson had been murdered and robbed by the apaches. It was possible, though extremely improbable, that he might have committed suicide. Which it was, mattered nothing to the shipowner. But he did not dream for one instant that Matheson might have thrown up place and power to disappear into voluntary exile.
* * * * *
Clifford Matheson had set himself from the age of eighteen to achieve a money success. At thirty-seven, he had achieved it. He had slashed out for himself a path to power in the financial world. He was rich enough to satisfy the desires of most men.
Five years ago he had married into a well-known English family, and the doors of society had been opened wide to him. But his marriage had been a ghastly mistake. Olive, after marriage, had showed herself entirely out of sympathy with the idealism that formed so large a part of the complex character of her husband. She wanted money and power, and she drove spurs into her husband that he might obtain for her more and more money, more and more power. Any other ambition in Clifford she tried to sneer down with the ruthlessness of an utterly mercenary woman.
He had come to loathe the sensuous artificiality of his life. He had come to loathe the ruthless selfishness of finance. He was sick with the callousness of that stratum of the world in which he moved.
In the last couple of years he had found himself drawn powerfully towards the calm, passionless atmosphere of science in which his elder brother, John Riviere, had found his life-work. Riviere had made no worldly success for himself. The scientific researches he had undertaken made no stir when they found light in the pages of obscure quarterlies circulating amongst a few dozen other men engaged in similar research. Riviere had not the temperament to push himself or the children of his brain. He had settled into a solitary bachelor life in a small Canadian college—an unknown, unrecognized man—and yet the calm, steady purpose and the calm, passionless happiness of the life had made a deep impression on Clifford Matheson.
Riviere had come to an accidental death on a holiday with his brother in the wilds of northern Canada. Few knew of it beyond Matheson.
The financier had been drawn towards one special problem of science, and on this he had studied deeply the last few years. From his studies, an idea had developed which could only be worked out by experiments. Many years of patient research would be needed, for this thought-child of Matheson's was a master-idea, an idea which meant the exploring of a practically uncharted sea of knowledge.
In brief, it was an attack of root-problem of human disease. Doctors and pathologists had hitherto been viewing disease from the aspect of its myriad effects on the highly complex human being. It was as though one were to attempt to understand the subtleties of some full-grown language without first learning its elementary grammar—the foundations on which its super-structure is reared.
Now Matheson, coming to the problem with a strong, fresh mind unhampered by the swaddling clothes of a college training, saw it from a view-point entirely different to that of the doctors. He wanted to know the elementary grammar of human disease. He found that no book dealt with it—nor attempted to deal with it. No recognized department of a medical course took as its province the root-causes of disease. Pathology was a study of effects. Bacteriology—that again was merely a study of effects.
He had read widely amongst a variety of scientific research-matter, and had found that here and there an isolated attack was being made on the problem of causes. But nothing strong-planned—as any one of his financial schemes would be planned—nothing co-ordinated. The researches of the day were starting at points too complex, before the basic conditions of the problem were known.
He wanted to learn, and to give to the world, the basic facts.
Disease, as he viewed it, was primarily the result of abnormal conditions of living. His idea was to study it in its simplest possible form. To study the effects of abnormal conditions of life on the lowest living organisms—the microscopic blobs of life whose structure is elemental. From his wide reading of the last couple of years, he knew what little was already known and the vast field that was unexplored territory. He need not waste time over what others had already dealt with—the new territory offered sufficient field for a life-work.
Once he could get at the basic facts of disease as it related to the very simplest organisms, he could progress upwards to the higher organisms, and so eventually to man. What could be learnt from the pathological condition of an amoeba might lay the foundations for the conquering of cancer in man, and a hundred other diseases as well. Matheson's idea was a revolutionary one—a master-idea like a master-patent. It held limitless possibilities for the alleviation of human pain and suffering.
It was an idea to which a man might well devote his whole intellect and energies.
* * * * *
Some months before, the financier had bought, in the name of John Riviere, a tumbledown villa on the outskirts of Neuilly. In it he had fitted up a research laboratory in which to pursue the experimental end of the problem which had such vital interest for him.
A high wall surrounded a garden overgrown with weeds and a villa falling to decay. At one time, no doubt, the house had formed a nest for the petite amie of some rich Parisian, but now the owner of the property was only too glad to sell it at any price, and without asking any but the most perfunctory questions of the man who had offered to buy. In the solitude of the ruined villa, Matheson had been pursuing his scientific research at such times as he could snatch from his financial business. He had been leading a "double life"—from a motive far different to the double life of other married men. There was no woman in the case. There was no secret scheme of money-making. There was no solitary pandering to the senses with drink or drugs.
But the financier had been finding that the leading of a double life bristled with practical difficulties. Apart from the calls of his business, there were the insistent demands of his wife. The position was becoming an intolerable one. He had to choose between the life of the money-maker or that of the creator of a new field of knowledge.
On the night of 14th March the conversation on the platform of the Gare de Lyon and the fight with Lars Larssen had brought the question of decision to a head. He had grappled with it in his office, pacing to and fro long after the shipowner had left. He had turned his steps towards the heights of Montmartre so that he might carry his problem up to the solitude of a high place, in the peace of the eternal stars.
He was deep in the question of decision when the two apaches had attacked him in the narrow lane leading to the Basilique of the Sacred Heart. Matheson was a man of considerable strength and alertness. He had felled one of the two apaches with his heavy gold-mounted stick; the other one had sent through the fur-lined coat a knife-thrust which had grazed his ribs. Matheson had beaten him off, and had then continued his path to the Basilique.
But the attack had brought a vivid inspiration for the solution of his personal problem.
He would slip off the personality of Clifford Matheson and take up completely that of John Riviere. He would leave his overcoat and stick by the riverside at Neuilly, and 'phone information about them to the police or to a newspaper. That knife-slit in his overcoat would be taken as evidence of murder. They would judge him murdered, with robbery as motive. The courts would give leave for Olive to presume death. She would be freed; she would come into her husband's fortune; she could marry again if she chose to.
Surely that was the solution of his personal problem!
For his part he could live his life unshackled, and there was sufficient money already standing in the name of Riviere at a Paris bank to give him a modest income on which to keep himself and pay for the materials of research.
No one would be the worse for his disappearance; his wife would be the gainer; and mankind, he hoped, would be the gainer through the research to which he could henceforth devote his life.
Yes, that was assuredly the solution.
A SEAT BY THE ARENA
Riviere had bought fresh clothes and other necessities at the suburban shops of Neuilly. He had shaved off his moustache; arranged his hair differently; put on a new shape of collar. It is curious how the shape of a collar is associated in most minds with the impression of a man's features. To change into another shape is to make a very noticeable difference to one's appearance.
He had also bought travelling necessities. His intention was to wander for a couple of months. It would help him to clear his brain from the tangle of financial matters which still obsessed it against his will. He wanted to sweep out the Hudson Bay scheme, Lars Larssen, Olive, and many other matters from the living-room of his mind. He wanted a couple of months in which to settle himself in the new personality; plan out his future work in detail; set the mental fly-wheel turning, so as to concentrate his energies undividedly on the work to come.
In the afternoon, old Mme Dromet entered the villa to scrub and clean. She had a standing arrangement to come two or three afternoons a week.
"Are you going away from Paris?" shouted old Mme Dromet to her employer, seeing the portmanteau and the other signs of departure. She was stone-deaf, and in the manner of deaf people always shouted what she had to say.
Riviere nodded assent, and produced a paper of written instructions. These he read through with her, so as to make sure that she thoroughly understood. Then he gave her a generous allowance to cover the next few months.
Later in the afternoon, he was seated with his modest travelling equipment in a cab, driving to No. 8, Rue Laffitte. He mounted to the offices of the financier and, in order to test the efficacy of his changed appearance, asked to see Mr Clifford Matheson.
For a moment the clerk stared at the visitor. The resemblance to his employer was certainly very striking. Yet there were differences. Mr Matheson wore a close-cut moustache, while this man was clean-shaven. The commanding look, the hard-set mask of the financier were softened away; there was joy of life, there was freedom of soul in the features and in the attitude of this visitor.
"I am Mr John Riviere, his half-brother. Will you tell him that I am here?"
The clerk felt somehow relieved. That of course explained the striking resemblance. He replied: "Mr Matheson has not been at the office to-day, sir. I fancy he has left for Monte Carlo. I am not sure, but I believe that was his intention."
"Has he left no message for me?"
"I will see, sir. Please take a seat."
Presently the clerk returned. "I am sorry, sir, but there doesn't seem to be any message left for you."
"Tell him I called," said Riviere, and went back to his cab. In it he was driven to the Gare de Lyon. At the booking-office he asked for a ticket for Arles. His intention was to travel amongst the old cities of Provence, and then make his way to the Pyrenees and into Spain. There was no definite plan of journey; he wanted only some atmosphere which would help him to clear his mind for the work to come. In the Midi the early Spring would be breathing new life over the earth.
About midnight the southern express stopped at some big station. The rhythmic sway and clatter of a moving train had given place to a comparative stillness that awoke John Riviere from sleep. He murmured "Dijon," and composed himself to a fresh position for rest. Some hours later there was again a stoppage, and instinctively he murmured "Lyon-Perrache." The phases of the journey along the main P.L.M. route had been burnt into him from the visits with Olive to Monte Carlo.
In the morning the strange land of Provence opened out under mist which presently cleared away beneath the steady drive of the sun. The low hills that border the valley of the Rhone cantered past him—quaint, treeless hills here scarped and sun-scorched, there covered with low balsam shrubs. Now and again they passed a straggling white village roofed with big, curved, sun-mellowed tiles. Around the village there would be a few trees, and on these the early Spring of the Midi had laid her fingers in tender caress.
The air was keen and yet strangely soft; to Riviere it was wine of life. He drew it in thirstily; let the wind of the train blow his hair as it listed; watched greedily the ever-changing landscape. The strange bare beauty of this land of sunshine and romance brought him a keen thrill of happiness.
It was as though he had loosed himself from prison chains and had emerged into a new life of freedom.
In full morning they reached Arles, the old Roman city in the delta of the Rhone. It clusters, huddles around the stately Roman arena on the hill in the centre of the town—a place of narrow, tortuous ruelles where every stone cries out a message from the past. In the lanes, going about the business of the day, were women and girls moulded in the strange dark beauty of the district—the "belles Arlesiennes" famous in prose and verse.
Yet chiefly it was the arena that fascinated him. All through the afternoon he wandered about the great stone tiers, flooded in sunlight, and reconstructed for himself a picture of the days when gladiators down below had striven with one another for success—or death. The arena was the archetype of civilized life.
Now he was a spectator, one of the multitude who look on. It was good to sit in the flooding sunlight and know that he was no longer a gladiator in the arena. There was higher work for him to do, away from the merciless stabbing sword and the cunning of net and trident.
At intervals during the afternoon a few tourists—mostly Americans—rushed up in high-powered, panting cars to the gateway of the arena; gave a hurried ten minutes to the interior; and then whirled away across the white roads of the Rhone delta in a scurry of dust.
Only one visitor seemed to realize, like himself, the glamour of the past and to steep the mind in it. This was a woman. Her age was perhaps twenty-five, in her bearing was that subtle, scarcely definable, sureness of self which marks off womanhood from girlhood. She climbed from tier to tier of the amphitheatre with firm confident step; stood gazing down on her dream pictures of the scene in the arena; moved on to a fresh vantage-point. She wore a short tailored skirt which ignored the ugly, skin-tight convention of the current fashion. Her cheeks were fresh with a healthy English colour; her eyes were deep blue, toning almost to violet; her hair was burnished chestnut under the soft felt hat curled upwards in front; a faint odour of healthy womanhood formed as it were an aura around her.
All this John Riviere had noticed subconsciously as she passed close by him on the ledge where he sat, walking with her firm, confident step. Though he noted it appreciatively, yet it disturbed him. He did not want to notice any woman. He had big work to do, and on that he wanted to concentrate all his faculties. He had had no thought of a woman in his life when he broke the chains that shackled him to the Clifford Matheson existence. He purposed to have no call of sex to divert him from the realization of his big idea.
Presently she had climbed to the topmost ledge of the amphitheatre, and stood out against the sky-line of the sunset-to-be, deep-chested, straight, clean-limbed, a very perfect figure of a modern Diana.
It is a dangerous place on which to stand, that topmost ledge of the amphitheatre, with no parapet and a sheer drop to the street below. Almost against his will, Riviere mounted there.
But there was no occasion for his help, and they two stood there, some yards apart, silent, watching the red ball of the sun sink down into the limitless flats of the Camargue, and the grey mist rising from the marshes to wrap its ghostly fingers round this city of the ghostly past.
Twice she looked towards him as though she must speak out the thoughts conjured up by this splendid scene. It wanted only some tiny excuse of convention to bridge over the silence between them, but Riviere on his side would not seek it, and the woman hesitated to ask him to take up the thread that lay waiting to his hand.
A cold wind sprang up, and she descended and made her way to her hotel on the Place du Forum.
At dinner in the deserted dining-room of his hotel, Riviere found himself seated at the next table to her. There are only two hotels worthy of the name in Arles, and the coincidence of meeting again was of the very slightest. Yet somehow he felt subconsciously that the arm of Fate was bringing their two lives together, and he resented it.
The silence between them remained unbroken.
In the evening he wrapped himself in a cloak against the bitter wind rushing down the valley of the Rhone and spreading itself as an invisible fan across the delta, and wandered about the dark alleys of the town, twisting like rabbit-burrows, lighted only here and there with a stray lamp socketed to a stone wall. Now he had left the big-thoughted age of the Romans, and was carried forward to the crafty, treacherous Middle Ages. In such an alley as this, bravos had lurked with daggers ready to thrust between the shoulder-blades of their victims. Now he was in a wider lane through which an army had swept pell-mell to slay and sack, while from the overhanging windows above desperate men and women shot wildly in fruitless resistance. Now he was in another of the lightless rabbit-burrows....
A sudden sharp cry of fear cut out like a whip-lash into the blackness. A woman's cry. There were sounds of angry struggle as Riviere made swiftly to the aid of that woman who cried out in fear.
Stumbling round a corner of the twisting alley, he came to where a gleam from a shuttered window showed a slatted glimpse of a woman struggling in the arms of a lean, wiry peasant of the Camargue. Riviere seized him by the collar and shook him off as one shakes a dog from the midst of a fray. The man loosed his grip of the woman, and snarling like a dog, writhed himself free of Riviere. Then, whipping out a knife from his belt, he struck again and again. Riviere tried to ward with his left arm, but one blow of the knife went past the guard and ripped his cheek from forehead to jawbone.
At that moment a shutter thrown open shot as it were a search-light into the blackness of the alley, full on to the man with the knife, and Riviere, putting his whole strength into the blow, sent a smashing right-hander straight into the face of his adversary. Thrown back against the alley-wall, the man rebounded forward, and fell, a huddled, nerveless mass, on the ground.
From doorways near men came out with lights ... there was a hubbub of noise ... excited questions eddied around Riviere.
But the latter made no answer. He turned to find the woman who had been attacked.
It was the woman who had stood by him on the topmost ledge of the amphitheatre, drinking in that glorious fiery sunset over the grey Camargue. She was flushed, but very straight and erect.
"That brute was attacking me. Oh, if only I had had some weapon!" Then she noticed the blood dripping from the gash in his forehead, and cried out: "You're hurt! Take this."
Her handkerchief was pressed into his hand. He answered as he took it: "It's nothing. Fortunately it missed the eye. And you?"
"I'm not hurt, thanks. Oh, you were splendid! It makes one feel proud to be an Englishwoman."
"Come to the hotel," he said, and ignoring the excited questioning of the knot of men, took her arm and led her rapidly to their hotel on the Place du Forum.
"Let me dress your wound until the doctor can come."
"I don't want a doctor," he replied coldly. A sudden aloofness had come into his voice.
Her eye sought his with a piqued curiosity. For a moment, forgetting that here was a man who had rescued her from insult at considerable bodily risk, she saw him only as a man of curious, almost boorish brusqueness. Why this sudden cold reserve?
Then, with a reddening of cheek at her momentary lapse from gratitude, she began to thank him for his timely help.
Riviere cut her short. "There is nothing to thank me for. I didn't even know it was you. I heard a woman's cry—that was all. You ought not to go about these dark ruelles alone at night-time."
They were at the door of their hotel by now.
"Can't I dress the wound for you?" she asked. "I've had practice in first aid, Mr Riviere."
He paused suddenly in the doorway and asked her abruptly: "How do you know my name?"
"I know more than your name. When your cut has been dressed, I'll explain in full."
"Thank you, but I can manage quite well myself. Let us meet again in the salon in, say, half an hour's time."
They parted in the corridor and went to their respective rooms.
When they met again, he had his head bound up with swathes of linen. His face was white with the loss of blood, and she gave a little cry of alarm.
"You were badly hurt!"
"No; merely a surface cut. But please tell me what you know about me."
There was a quick change in her to a smiling gaiety. The man was human again—he had at all events a very human curiosity.
"The name was from the hotel register, naturally," she answered. "But I know also that you are on your way to Monte Carlo, which certainly can't come from the register."
Riviere's face became coldly impassive as he waited for her to explain further.
"You are a scientist," she continued slowly, watching him to note the effect of her words. "You are to meet a lady for the first time at Monte Carlo. Yet she knows you by your first name, John. You see that I know a good deal about you."
She waited for him to question her further, but he remained silent, deep in thought.
More than a little piqued that he would not question further, she gave him abruptly the solution of the riddle.
"Two nights ago I travelled here from Paris in the same train with an Englishwoman and her father. They took breakfast at the table near to mine in the restaurant car, and I could scarcely help overhearing what they were saying. They chatted about you. Then I found your name in the hotel register."
"But why did you look it up?" he challenged abruptly.
She parried the question. "The name caught my eye by accident. Naturally I was interested by the coincidence."
Riviere turned the conversation to the impersonal subject of Arles and its Roman remains, and soon after they said good-night.
"Shall I see you at breakfast?"
"I hope so," he answered.
As she moved out of the room, a splendidly graceful figure radiating health and energy and life full-tide, Riviere could not help following her with his eyes. His innermost being thrilled despite himself to the magic of her splendid womanhood.
It plucked at the strings of the primitive man within him.
In his room that evening he took up the blood-drenched handkerchief. In the corner was the name "Elaine Verney." The name conveyed nothing to him. He threw the handkerchief away, and shut her from his thoughts. He wanted no woman in this new life of his.
With the morning came a resolution to avoid her altogether. He rose very early and took the first train out of Arles.
It took him to Nimes.
WHO AND WHERE IS RIVIERE?
"Who is Riviere?"
Here was a new factor in the situation. Lars Larssen mentally docketed it as a matter to be dealt with immediately. After sending off a reply telegram to Cherbourg (which reached the quayside too late and was afterwards returned to him), the shipowner got a telephone call through to Olive at the Hotel des Hesperides.
"This is Mr Larssen speaking. Are you Mrs Matheson?"
"Yes. Good morning."
"Good morning. I called you up to say that your husband has sailed for Canada on 'La Bretagne.' I had a line from Cherbourg this morning."
"So had I."
"I suppose he explained matters to you?"
"No, he referred me to you for explanations. Just like Clifford!... What about Riviere—is he coming to Monte?"
Lars Larssen had to tread warily here. So he answered: "I didn't quite catch that name."
"John Riviere, my husband's half-brother. He lives in some suburb of Paris, I forget where, and Clifford was to bring him along to Monte."
The shipowner decided that he must find this man and discover if he knew anything. The words of Jimmy Martin flashed through his brain: "I doubt if the police'll do much unless the relatives kick up a shindy." Meanwhile, there was nothing to do but tell the truth, which was his usual resource when in an unforeseen difficulty.
"Don't know anything about him. If you give me his Paris address I'll dig him out."
"We don't know his address."
"Then I'll find it at the office. As soon as I get a line on him I'll wire you. Riviere? The name sounds French."
"French-Canadian. He's a couple of years older than Clifford, I believe.... When are you coming yourself?"
"To-night's train or to-morrow. I'm not sure if I can get away to-night."
"Do you play roulette?"
"No. Never been at the tables."
"Then I must teach you," said Olive gaily.
After the telephone conversation, Larssen went straight to No. 8, Rue Laffitte. He had wired the night before to London to have a secretary sent over—Sylvester, his usual confidential man, if the latter were back at business; if not, another subordinate he named. Catching the nine o'clock train from Charing Cross, the secretary would arrive in Paris about five in the afternoon. Meanwhile, Larssen, had to make his search for Riviere in person.
The business of a financier differs radically from a mercantile business on the point of staff. The main work of negotiation can only be carried out by the head of the firm himself, as a rule, and the routine work for subordinates is small, except when a public company flotation is being made. Matheson had found that his Paris office needed only a manager, Coulter, and a couple of clerks, one English and one French. Coulter was a steady-going, reliable man of forty odd, extremely trustworthy and not too imaginative.
He knew Lars Larssen, of course, and received him deferentially.
"What can I have the pleasure of doing for you, sir?"
"I want the address of Mr John Riviere. Or rather, Mrs Matheson wants it."
"Who is Mr John Riviere?"
This came as a fresh surprise to Lars Larssen, and made him doubly anxious to discover the man. Why all this mystery surrounding him?
"I understand from Mrs Matheson that Mr Riviere is her husband's half-brother. Lives somewhere around Paris."
"Strange! I've never heard of him myself. I'll make enquiries if you'll wait a moment."
Presently Coulter returned with the young English clerk of the office.
"It seems that Mr Riviere called here yesterday afternoon and enquired for Mr Matheson," explained Coulter.
Lars Larssen turned to the young clerk with a questioning look. "It was the first time I had ever seen him, sir," said the clerk. "He came in and asked quite naturally for Mr Matheson. There was an astonishing likeness between them, but that was explained at once when he told me they were half-brothers."
"An astonishing likeness?"
"When I say a likeness, sir, I mean of course in a general way. Mr Riviere is younger and different in many ways."
The clerk did so to the best of his ability.
"Did he leave an address?"
"Or a message?"
"Or say where he was going?"
The clerk could offer no clue to the whereabouts or intentions of John Riviere. Repeated questioning added little to the meagre information already given.
"Mr Matheson has not been at the office to-day or yesterday. Have you seen anything of him?" asked Coulter of the shipowner.
"I know. He's away to Canada."
"Yes. We discussed the matter the night I was here. Hasn't he written you?"
"We've heard nothing."
"Reckon you will to-day.... Say, couldn't you look in Mr Matheson's desk to find the address of this Mr Riviere?"
Coulter was the financier's confidential man. He had full power to go over his employer's desk except for certain drawers labelled "Private," and he did so now.
When he came back from the search, he had an envelope in his hand addressed "Lars Larssen, Esq."
"All I could find was this envelope for you, sir. There seems to be no record of Mr Riviere's address."
The shipowner slit open the letter and read it with a countenance that gave no clue whatever to what was passing in his mind.
"My dear Larssen," it ran, "I estimate your expenses on the Hudson Bay scheme at roughly L20,000, and I enclose cheque for that amount. If this is right, please let me have a formal receipt and quittance. I want you to understand that my decision on the matter is final. I regret that I am obliged to back out at the last moment, but no doubt you will be able to proceed without my help."
The letter was in handwriting, and had not been press-copied. Larssen noted that point at once with satisfaction. But the letter itself gave him uneasiness. It explained nothing of Matheson's motives. From the 'phone conversation with Olive, it was clear that she had no suspicion that her husband wanted to withdraw from the Hudson Bay deal. In fact, she had asked anxiously if anything had gone wrong with the scheme. Sir Francis Letchmere might of course be closer in Matheson's business confidence, and that was one of the reasons for travelling to Monte Carlo and talking to him face to face.
But with his keen intuitive sense, Lars Larssen felt that the explanation was in some way connected with this mysterious John Riviere. It was imperative to get in touch with the man.
Where was Riviere? Was there nobody who could throw light on his whereabouts? His jaw tightened as he began to chew on the problem. Paris is too big a city in which to hunt for a mere name.
After thanking the manager, Larssen withdrew from the room. Passing through the outer office, he was addressed by the other of the two clerks, a young Frenchman.
"Monsieur," said he in French, "here is a point which perhaps will be of service. I am at the window when Monsieur Riviere arrives en taxi-auto. On the imperiale I see a portmanteau. Doubtless Monsieur Riviere journeys away from Paris."
"Did you note the number of the cab?"
The young Frenchman made a gesture of sympathetic negation. There had been no reason to look at the number, even if he could have read it from a window on the second story.
"Thanks," said Larssen, but the information seemed at first sight valueless. A man takes an unknown cab from an unknown house in an unknown suburb to an unknown terminus, when he buys a ticket for an unknown destination. Sheer waste of energy to hunt for a needle in that haystack!
Yet his bulldog mind would not let go of the problem. Presently he had found a new avenue of approach to it. If Riviere had travelled away from Paris on the evening of the 15th, probably he stayed that night or the next day at some hotel. There he would have to fill in his name, etc., in the hotel register according to the strict requirements of the French law.
Advertise in the papers for one John Riviere from Paris, age thirty-seven, staying at a hotel in the provinces on the 15th or 16th. Offer a reward for information. The average Frenchman is very keen on money; without a doubt he would answer the advertisement if he knew anything of John Riviere. Advertise in Le Petit Journal, Le Petit Parisien and a few other dailies which cover France from end to end, as no English or American journals do in their respective countries.
That was the right solution!
Larssen did not pay the cheque for L20,000 into his bank. He was after big game, and a mere L20,000 was a jack-rabbit. It would be safer, he felt, to let it lie amongst his secret papers.