THE ILLUSTRIOUS PRINCE
By E. Phillips Oppenheim
I Mr. Hamilton Fynes, Urgent II The End of the Journey III An Incident and an Accident IV Miss Penelope Morse V An Affair of State VI Mr. Coulson Interviewed VII A Fatal Despatch VIII An Interrupted Theatre Party IX Inspector Jacks Scores X Mr. Coulson Outmatched XI A Commission XII Penelope Intervenes XIII East and West XIV An Engagement XV Penelope Explains XVI Concerning Prince Maiyo XVII A Gay Night in Paris XVIII Mr. Coulson is Indiscreet XIX A Momentous Question XX The Answer XXI A Clue XXII A Breath From the East XXIII On the Trail XXIV Prince Maiyo Bids High XXV Hobson's Choice XXVI Some Farewells XXVII A Prisoner XXVIII Patriotism XXIX A Race XXX Inspector Jacks Importunate XXXI Good-Bye! XXXII Prince Maiyo Speaks XXXIII Unafraid XXXIV Banzai
CHAPTER I. MR. HAMILTON FYNES, URGENT
There was a little murmur of regret amongst the five hundred and eighty-seven saloon passengers on board the steamship Lusitania, mingled, perhaps, with a few expressions of a more violent character. After several hours of doubt, the final verdict had at last been pronounced. They had missed the tide, and no attempt was to be made to land passengers that night. Already the engines had ceased to throb, the period of unnatural quietness had commenced. Slowly, and without noticeable motion, the great liner swung round a little in the river.
A small tug, which had been hovering about for some time, came screaming alongside. There was a hiss from its wave-splashed deck, and a rocket with a blue light flashed up into the sky. A man who had formed one of the long line of passengers, leaning over the rail, watching the tug since it had come into sight, now turned away and walked briskly to the steps leading to the bridge. As it happened, the captain himself was in the act of descending. The passenger accosted him, and held out what seemed to be a letter.
"Captain Goodfellow," he said, "I should be glad if you would glance at the contents of that note."
The captain, who had just finished a long discussion with the pilot and was not in the best of humor, looked a little surprised.
"What, now?" he asked.
"If you please," was the quiet answer. "The matter is urgent."
"Who are you?" the captain asked.
"My name is Hamilton Fynes," the other answered. "I am a saloon passenger on board your ship, although my name does not appear in the list. That note has been in my pocket since we left New York, to deliver to you in the event of a certain contingency happening."
"The contingency being?" the captain asked, tearing open the envelope and moving a little nearer the electric light which shone out from the smoking room.
"That the Lusitania did not land her passengers this evening."
The captain read the note, examined the signature carefully, and whistled softly to himself.
"You know what is inside this?" he asked, looking into his companion's face with some curiosity.
"Certainly," was the brief reply.
"Your name is Mr. Hamilton Fynes, the Mr. Hamilton Fynes mentioned in this letter?"
"That is so," the passenger admitted.
The captain nodded.
"Well," he said, "you had better get down on the lower deck, port side. By the bye, have you any friends with you?"
"I am quite alone," he answered.
"So much the better," the captain declared. "Don't tell any one that you are going ashore if you can help it."
"I certainly will not, sir," the other answered. "Thank you very much."
"Of course, you know that you can't take your luggage with you?" the captain remarked.
"That is of no consequence at all, sir," Mr. Hamilton Fynes answered. "I will leave instructions for my trunk to be sent on after me. I have all that I require, for the moment, in this suitcase."
The captain blew his whistle. Mr. Hamilton Fynes made his way quietly to the lower deck, which was almost deserted. In a very few minutes he was joined by half a dozen sailors, dragging a rope ladder. The little tug came screaming around, and before any of the passengers on the deck above had any idea of what was happening, Mr. Hamilton Fynes was on board the Anna Maria, and on his way down the river, seated in a small, uncomfortable cabin, lit by a single oil lamp.
No one spoke more than a casual word to him from the moment he stepped to the deck until the short journey was at an end. He was shown at once into the cabin, the door of which he closed without a moment's delay. A very brief examination of the interior convinced him that he was indeed alone. Thereupon he seated himself with his back to the wall and his face to the door, and finding an English newspaper on the table, read it until they reached the docks. Arrived there, he exchanged a civil good-night with the captain, and handed a sovereign to the seaman who held his bag while he disembarked.
For several minutes after he had stepped on to the wooden platform, Mr. Hamilton Fynes showed no particular impatience to continue his journey. He stood in the shadow of one of the sheds, looking about him with quick furtive glances, as though anxious to assure himself that there was no one around who was taking a noticeable interest in his movements. Having satisfied himself at length upon this point, he made his way to the London and North Western Railway Station, and knocked at the door of the station-master's office. The station-master was busy, and although Mr. Hamilton Fynes had the appearance of a perfectly respectable transatlantic man of business, there was nothing about his personality remarkably striking,—nothing, at any rate, to inspire an unusual amount of respect.
"You wished to see me, sir?" the official asked, merely glancing up from the desk at which he was sitting with a pile of papers before him.
Mr. Hamilton Fynes leaned over the wooden counter which separated him from the interior of the office. Before he spoke, he glanced around as though to make sure that he had not forgotten to close the door.
"I require a special train to London as quickly as possible," he announced. "I should be glad if you could let me have one within half an hour, at any rate."
The station-master rose to his feet.
"Quite impossible, sir," he declared a little brusquely. "Absolutely out of the question!"
"May I ask why it is out of the question?" Mr. Hamilton Fynes inquired.
"In the first place," the station-master answered, "a special train to London would cost you a hundred and eighty pounds, and in the second place, even if you were willing to pay that sum, it would be at least two hours before I could start you off. We could not possibly disorganize the whole of our fast traffic. The ordinary mail train leaves here at midnight with sleeping-cars."
Mr. Hamilton Fynes held out a letter which he had produced from his breast pocket, and which was, in appearance, very similar to the one which he had presented, a short time ago, to the captain of the Lusitania.
"Perhaps you will kindly read this," he said. "I am perfectly willing to pay the hundred and eighty pounds."
The station-master tore open the envelope and read the few lines contained therein. His manner underwent at once a complete change, very much as the manner of the captain of the Lusitania had done. He took the letter over to his green-shaded writing lamp, and examined the signature carefully. When he returned, he looked at Mr. Hamilton Fynes curiously. There was, however, something more than curiosity in his glance. There was also respect.
"I will give this matter my personal attention at once, Mr. Fynes," he said, lifting the flap of the counter and coming out. "Do you care to come inside and wait in my private office?"
"Thank you," Mr. Hamilton Fynes answered; "I will walk up and down the platform."
"There is a refreshment room just on the left," the station-master remarked, ringing violently at a telephone. "I dare say we shall get you off in less than half an hour. We will do our best, at any rate. It's an awkward time just now to command an absolutely clear line, but if we can once get you past Crewe you'll be all right. Shall we fetch you from the refreshment room when we are ready?"
"If you please," the intending passenger answered.
Mr. Hamilton Fynes discovered that place of entertainment without difficulty, ordered for himself a cup of coffee and a sandwich, and drew a chair close up to the small open fire, taking care, however, to sit almost facing the only entrance to the room. He laid his hat upon the counter, close to which he had taken up his position, and smoothed back with his left hand his somewhat thick black hair. He was a man, apparently of middle age, of middle height, clean-shaven, with good but undistinguished features, dark eyes, very clear and very bright, which showed, indeed, but little need of the pince-nez which hung by a thin black cord from his neck. His hat, low in the crown and of soft gray felt, would alone have betrayed his nationality. His clothes, however, were also American in cut. His boots were narrow and of unmistakable shape. He ate his sandwich with suspicion, and after his first sip of coffee ordered a whiskey and soda. Afterwards he sat leaning back in his chair, glancing every now and then at the clock, but otherwise manifesting no signs of impatience. In less than half an hour an inspector, cap in hand, entered the room and announced that everything was ready. Mr. Hamilton Fynes put on his hat, picked up his suitcase, and followed him on to the platform. A long saloon carriage, with a guard's brake behind and an engine in front, was waiting there.
"We've done our best, sir," the station-master remarked with a note of self-congratulation in his tone. "It's exactly twenty-two minutes since you came into the office, and there she is. Finest engine we've got on the line, and the best driver. You've a clear road ahead too. Wish you a pleasant journey, sir."
"You are very good, sir," Mr. Hamilton Fynes declared. "I am sure that my friends on the other side will appreciate your attention. By what time do you suppose that we shall reach London?"
The station-master glanced at the clock.
"It is now eight o'clock, sir," he announced. "If my orders down the line are properly attended to, you should be there by twenty minutes to twelve."
Mr. Hamilton Fynes nodded gravely and took his seat in the car. He had previously walked its entire length and back again.
"The train consists only of this carriage?" he asked. "There is no other passenger, for instance, travelling in the guard's brake?"
"Certainly not, sir," the station-master declared. "Such a thing would be entirely against the regulations. There are five of you, all told, on board,—driver, stoker, guard, saloon attendant, and yourself."
Mr. Hamilton Fynes nodded, and appeared satisfied.
"No more luggage, sir?" the guard asked.
"I was obliged to leave what I had, excepting this suitcase, upon the steamer," Mr. Hamilton Fynes explained. "I could not very well expect them to get my trunk up from the hold. It will follow me to the hotel tomorrow."
"You will find that the attendant has light refreshments on board, sir, if you should be wanting anything," the station-master announced. "We'll start you off now, then. Good-night, sir!"
Mr. Fynes nodded genially.
"Good-night, Station-master!" he said. "Many thanks to you."
CHAPTER II. THE END OF THE JOURNEY
Southward, with low funnel belching forth fire and smoke into the blackness of the night, the huge engine, with its solitary saloon carriage and guard's brake, thundered its way through the night towards the great metropolis. Across the desolate plain, stripped bare of all vegetation, and made hideous forever by the growth of a mighty industry, where the furnace fires reddened the sky, and only the unbroken line of ceaseless lights showed where town dwindled into village and suburbs led back again into town. An ugly, thickly populated neighborhood, whose area of twinkling lights seemed to reach almost to the murky skies; hideous, indeed by day, not altogether devoid now of a certain weird attractiveness by reason of low-hung stars. On, through many tunnels into the black country itself, where the furnace fires burned oftener, but the signs of habitation were fewer. Down the great iron way the huge locomotive rushed onward, leaping and bounding across the maze of metals, tearing past the dazzling signal lights, through crowded stations where its passing was like the roar of some earth-shaking monster. The station-master at Crewe unhooked his telephone receiver and rang up Liverpool.
"What about this special?" he demanded.
"Passenger brought off from the Lusitania in a private tug. Orders are to let her through all the way to London."
"I know all about that," the station-master grumbled. "I have three locals on my hands already,—been held up for half an hour. Old Glynn, the director's, in one of them too. Might be General Manager to hear him swear."
"Is she signalled yet?" Liverpool asked.
"Just gone through at sixty miles an hour," was the reply. "She made our old wooden sheds shake, I can tell you. Who's driving her?"
"Jim Poynton," Liverpool answered. "The guvnor took him off the mail specially."
"What's the fellow's name on board, anyhow?" Crewe asked. "Is it a millionaire from the other side, trying to make records, or a member of our bloated aristocracy?"
"The name's Fynes, or something like it," was the reply. "He didn't look much like a millionaire. Came into the office carrying a small handbag and asked for a special to London. Guvnor told him it would take two hours and cost a hundred and eighty pounds. Told him he'd better wait for the mail. He produced a note from some one or other, and you should have seen the old man bustle round. We started him off in twenty minutes."
The station-master at Crewe was interested. He knew very well that it is not the easiest thing in the world to bring influence to bear upon a great railway company.
"Seems as though he was some one out of the common, anyway," he remarked. "The guvnor didn't let on who the note was from, I suppose?"
"Not he," Liverpool answered. "The first thing he did when he came back into the office was to tear it into small pieces and throw them on the fire. Young Jenkins did ask him a question, and he shut him up pretty quick."
"Well, I suppose we shall read all about it in the papers tomorrow," Crewe remarked. "There isn't much that these reporters don't get hold of. He must be some one out of the common—some one with a pull, I mean,—or the captain of the Lusitania would never have let him off before the other passengers. When are the rest of them coming through?"
"Three specials leave here at nine o'clock tomorrow morning," was the reply. "Good night."
The station-master at Crewe hung up his receiver and went about his duties. Twenty miles southward by now, the special was still tearing its way into the darkness. Its solitary passenger had suddenly developed a fit of restlessness. He left his seat and walked once or twice up and down the saloon. Then he opened the rear door, crossed the little open space between, and looked into the guard's brake. The guard was sitting upon a stool, reading a newspaper. He was quite alone, and so absorbed that he did not notice the intruder. Mr. Hamilton Fynes quietly retreated, closing the door behind him. He made his way once more through the saloon, passed the attendant, who was fast asleep in his pantry, and was met by a locked door. He let down the window and looked out. He was within a few feet of the engine, which was obviously attached direct to the saloon. Mr. Hamilton Fynes resumed his seat, having disturbed nobody. He produced some papers from his breast pocket, and spread them out on the table before him. One, a sealed envelope, he immediately returned, slipping it down into a carefully prepared place between the lining and the material of his coat. Of the others he commenced to make a close and minute investigation. It was a curious fact, however, that notwithstanding his recent searching examination, he looked once more nervously around the saloon before he settled down to his task. For some reason or other, there was not the slightest doubt that for the present, at any rate, Mr. Hamilton Fynes was exceedingly anxious to keep his own company. As he drew nearer to his journey's end, indeed, his manner seemed to lose something of that composure of which, during the earlier part of the evening, he had certainly been possessed. Scarcely a minute passed that he did not lean sideways from his seat and look up and down the saloon. He sat like a man who is perpetually on the qui vive. A furtive light shone in his eyes, he was manifestly uncomfortable. Yet how could a man be safer from espionage than he!
Rugby telephoned to Liverpool, and received very much the same answer as Crewe. Euston followed suit.
"Who's this you're sending up tonight?" the station-master asked. "Special's at Willington now, come through without a stop. Is some one trying to make a record round the world?"
Liverpool was a little tired of answering questions, and more than a little tired of this mysterious client. The station-master at Euston, however, was a person to be treated with respect.
"His name is Mr. Hamilton Fynes, sir," was the reply. "That is all we know about him. They have been ringing us up all down the line, ever since the special left."
"Hamilton Fynes," Euston repeated. "Don't know the name. Where did he come from?"
"Off the Lusitania, sir."
"But we had a message three hours ago that the Lusitania was not landing her passengers until tomorrow morning," Euston protested.
"They let our man off in a tug, sir," was the reply.
"It went down the river to fetch him. The guvnor didn't want to give him a special at this time of night, but he just handed him a note, and we made things hum up here. He was on his way in half an hour. We have had to upset the whole of the night traffic to let him through without a stop."
Such a client was, at any rate, worth meeting. The station-master brushed his coat, put on his silk hat, and stepped out on to the platform.
CHAPTER III. AN INCIDENT AND AN ACCIDENT
Smoothly the huge engine came gliding into the station—a dumb, silent creature now, drawing slowly to a standstill as though exhausted after its great effort. Through the windows of the saloon the station-master could see the train attendant bending over this mysterious passenger, who did not seem, as yet, to have made any preparations for leaving his place. Mr. Hamilton Fynes was seated at a table covered with papers, but he was leaning back as though he had been or was still asleep. The station-master stepped forward, and as he did so the attendant came hurrying out to the platform, and, pushing back the porters, called to him by name.
"Mr. Rice," he said, "If you please, sir, will you come this way?"
The station-master acceded at once to the man's request and entered the saloon. The attendant clutched at his arm nervously. He was a pale, anaemic-looking little person at any time, but his face just now was positively ghastly.
"What on earth is the matter with you?" the station-master asked brusquely.
"There's something wrong with my passenger, sir," the man declared in a shaking voice. "I can't make him answer me. He won't look up, and I don't—I don't think he's asleep. An hour ago I took him some whiskey. He told me not to disturb him again—he had some papers to go through."
The station-master leaned over the table. The eyes of the man who sat there were perfectly wide-open, but there was something unnatural in their fixed stare,—something unnatural, too, in the drawn grayness of his face.
"This is Euston, sir," the station-master began,—"the terminus—"
Then he broke off in the middle of his sentence. A cold shiver was creeping through his veins. He, too, began to stare; he felt the color leaving his own cheeks. With an effort he turned to the attendant.
"Pull down the blinds," he ordered, in a voice which he should never have recognized as his own. "Quick! Now turn out those porters, and tell the inspector to stop anyone from coming into the car."
The attendant, who was shaking like a leaf, obeyed. The station-master turned away and drew a long breath. He himself was conscious of a sense of nausea, a giddiness which was almost overmastering. This was a terrible thing to face without a second's warning. He had not the slightest doubt but that the man who was seated at the table was dead!
At such an hour there were only a few people upon the platform, and two stalwart station policemen easily kept back the loiterers whose curiosity had been excited by the arrival of the special. A third took up his position with his back to the entrance of the saloon, and allowed no one to enter it till the return of the station-master, who had gone for a doctor. The little crowd was completely mystified. No one had the slightest idea of what had happened. The attendant was besieged by questions, but he was sitting on the step of the car, in the shadow of a policeman, with his head buried in his hands, and he did not once look up. Some of the more adventurous tried to peer through the windows at the lower end of the saloon. Others rushed off to interview the guard. In a very few minutes, however, the station-master reappeared upon the scene, accompanied by the doctor. The little crowd stood on one side and the two men stepped into the car.
The doctor proceeded at once with his examination. Mr. Hamilton Fynes, this mysterious person who had succeeded, indeed, in making a record journey, was leaning back in the corner of his seat, his arms folded, his head drooping a little, but his eyes still fixed in that unseeing stare. His body yielded itself unnaturally to the touch. For the main truth the doctor needed scarcely a glance at him.
"Is he dead?" the station-master asked.
"Stone-dead!" was the brief answer.
"Good God!" the station-master muttered. "Good God!"
The doctor had thrown his handkerchief over the dead man's face. He was standing now looking at him thoughtfully.
"Did he die in his sleep, I wonder?" the station-master asked. "It must have been horribly sudden! Was it heart disease?"
The doctor did not reply for a moment. He seemed to be thinking out some problem.
"The body had better be removed to the station mortuary," he said at last. "Then, if I were you, I should have the saloon shunted on to a siding and left absolutely untouched. You had better place two of your station police in charge while you telephone to Scotland Yard."
"To Scotland Yard?" the station-master exclaimed.
The doctor nodded. He looked around as though to be sure that none of that anxious crowd outside could overhear.
"There's no question of heart disease here," he explained. "The man has been murdered!"
The station-master was horrified,—horrified and blankly incredulous.
"Murdered!" he repeated. "Why, it's impossible! There was no one else on the train except the attendant—not a single other person. All my advices said one passenger only."
The doctor touched the man's coat with his finger, and the station-master saw what he had not seen before,—saw what made him turn away, a little sick. He was a strong man, but he was not used to this sort of thing, and he had barely recovered yet from the first shock of finding himself face to face with a dead man. Outside, the crowd upon the platform was growing larger. White faces were being pressed against the windows at the lower end of the saloon.
"There is no question about the man having been murdered," the doctor said, and even his voice shook a little. "His own hand could never have driven that knife home. I can tell you, even, how it was done. The man who stabbed him was in the compartment behind there, leaned over, and drove this thing down, just missing the shoulder. There was no struggle or fight of any sort. It was a diabolical deed!"
"Diabolical indeed!" the station-master echoed hoarsely.
"You had better give orders for us to be shunted down on to a siding just as we are," the doctor continued, "and send one of your men to telephone to Scotland Yard. Perhaps it would be as well, too, not to touch those papers until some one comes. See that the attendant does not go home, or the guard. They will probably be wanted to answer questions."
The station-master stepped out to the platform, summoned an inspector, and gave a few brief orders. Slowly the saloon was backed out of the station again on to a neglected siding, a sort of backwater for spare carriages and empty trucks,—an ignominious resting place, indeed, after its splendid journey through the night. The doors at both ends were closed and two policemen placed on duty to guard them. The doctor and the station-master seated themselves out of sight of their gruesome companion, and the station-master told all that he knew about the despatch of the special and the man who had ordered it. The attendant, who still moved about like a man in a dream, brought them some brandy and soda and served them with shaking hand. They all three talked together in whispers, the attendant telling them the few incidents of the journey down, which, except for the dead man's nervous desire for solitude, seemed to possess very little significance. Then at last there was a sharp tap at the window. A tall, quietly dressed man, with reddish skin and clear gray eyes, was helped up into the car. He saluted the doctor mechanically. His eyes were already travelling around the saloon.
"Inspector Jacks from Scotland Yard, sir," he announced. "I have another man outside. If you don't mind, we'll have him in."
"By all means," the station-master answered. "I am afraid that you will find this rather a serious affair. We have left everything untouched so far as we could."
The second detective was assisted to clamber up into the car. It seemed, however, as though the whole force of Scotland Yard could scarcely do much towards elucidating an affair which, with every question which was asked and answered, grew more mysterious. The papers upon the table before the dead man were simply circulars and prospectuses of no possible importance. His suitcase contained merely a few toilet necessaries and some clean linen. There was not a scrap of paper or even an envelope of any sort in his pockets. In a small leather case they found a thousand dollars in American notes, five ten-pound Bank of England notes, and a single visiting card on which was engraved the name of Mr. Hamilton Fynes. In his trousers pocket was a handful of gold. He had no other personal belongings of any sort. The space between the lining of his coat and the material itself was duly noticed, but it was empty. His watch was a cheap one, his linen unmarked, and his clothes bore only the name of a great New York retail establishment. He had certainly entered the train alone, and both the guard and attendant were ready to declare positively that no person could have been concealed in it. The engine-driver, on his part, was equally ready to swear that not once from the moment when they had steamed out of Liverpool Station until they had arrived within twenty miles of London, had they travelled at less than forty miles an hour. At Willington he had found a signal against him which had brought him nearly to a standstill, and under the regulations he had passed through the station at ten miles an hour. These were the only occasions, however, on which he had slackened speed at all. The train attendant, who was a nervous man, began to shiver again and imagine unmentionable things. The guard, who had never left his own brake, went home and dreamed that his effigy had been added to the collection of Madame Tussaud. The reporters were the only people who were really happy, with the exception, perhaps of Inspector Jacks, who had a weakness for a difficult case.
Fifteen miles north of London, a man lay by the roadside in the shadow of a plantation of pine trees, through which he had staggered only a few minutes ago. His clothes were covered with dust, he had lost his cap, and his trousers were cut about the knee as though from a fall. He was of somewhat less than medium height, dark, slender, with delicate features, and hair almost coal black. His face, as he moved slowly from side to side upon the grass, was livid with pain. Every now and then he raised himself and listened. The long belt of main road, which passed within a few feet of him, seemed almost deserted. Once a cart came lumbering by, and the man who lay there, watching, drew closely back into the shadows. A youth on a bicycle passed, singing to himself. A boy and girl strolled by, arm in arm, happy, apparently, in their profound silence. Only a couple of fields away shone the red and green lights of the railway track. Every few minutes the goods-trains went rumbling over the metals. The man on the ground heard them with a shiver. Resolutely he kept his face turned in the opposite direction. The night mail went thundering northward, and he clutched even at the nettles which grew amongst the grass where he was crouching, as though filled with a sudden terror. Then there was silence once more—silence which became deeper as the hour approached midnight. Passers-by were fewer; the birds and animals came out from their hiding places. A rabbit scurried across the road; a rat darted down the tiny stream. Now and then birds moved in the undergrowth, and the man, who was struggling all the time with a deadly faintness, felt the silence grow more and more oppressive. He began even to wonder where he was. He closed his eyes. Was that really the tinkling of a guitar, the perfume of almond and cherry blossom, floating to him down the warm wind? He began to lose himself in dreams until he realized that actual unconsciousness was close upon him. Then he set his teeth tight and clenched his hands. Away in the distance a faint, long-expected sound came travelling to his ears. At last, then, his long wait was over. Two fiery eyes were stealing along the lonely road. The throb of an engine was plainly audible. He staggered up, swaying a little on his feet, and holding out his hands. The motor car came to a standstill before him, and the man who was driving it sprang to the ground. Words passed between them rapidly,—questions and answers,—the questions of an affectionate servant, and the answers of a man fighting a grim battle for consciousness. But these two spoke in a language of their own, a language which no one who passed along that road was likely to understand.
With a groan of relief the man who had been picked up sank back amongst the cushioned seats, carefully almost tenderly, aided by the chauffeur. Eagerly he thrust his hand into one of the leather pockets and drew out a flask of brandy. The rush of cold air, as the car swung round and started off, was like new life to him. He closed his eyes. When he opened them again, they had come to a standstill underneath a red lamp.
"The doctor's!" he muttered to himself, and, staggering out, rang the bell.
Dr. Spencer Whiles had had a somewhat dreary day, and was thoroughly enjoying a late rubber of bridge with three of his most agreeable neighbors. A summons into the consulting room, however, was so unexpected a thing that he did not hesitate for a moment to obey it, without even waiting to complete a deal. When he entered the apartment, he saw a slim but determined-looking young man, whose clothes were covered with dust, and who, although he sat with folded arms and grim face, was very nearly in a state of collapse.
"You seem to have met with an accident," the doctor remarked. "How did it happen?"
"I have been run over by a motor car," his patient said, speaking slowly and with something singularly agreeable in his voice notwithstanding its slight accent of pain. "Can you patch me up till I get to London?"
The doctor looked him over.
"What were you doing in the road?" he asked.
"I was riding a bicycle," the other answered. "I dare say it was my own fault; I was certainly on the wrong side of the road. You can see what has happened to me. I am bruised and cut; my side is painful, and also my knee. A car is waiting outside now to take me to my home, but I thought that I had better stop and see you."
The doctor was a humane man, with a miserable practice, and he forgot all about his bridge party. For half an hour he worked over his patient. At the end of that time he gave him a brandy and soda and placed a box of cigarettes before him.
"You'll do all right now," he said. "That's a nasty cut on your leg, but you've no broken bones."
"I feel absolutely well again, thank you very much," the young man said. "I will smoke a cigarette, if I may. The brandy, I thank you, no!"
"Just as you like," the doctor answered. "I won't say that you are not better without it. Help yourself to the cigarettes. Are you going back to London in the motor car, then?"
"Yes!" the patient answered. "It is waiting outside for me now, and I must not keep the man any longer. Will you let me know, if you please, how much I owe you?"
The doctor hesitated. Fees were a rare thing with him, and the evidences of his patient's means were somewhat doubtful. The young man put his hand into his pocket.
"I am afraid," he said, "that I am not a very presentable-looking object, but I am glad to assure you that I am not a poor man. I am able to pay your charges and to still feel that the obligation is very much on my side."
The doctor summoned up his courage.
"We will say a guinea, then," he remarked with studied indifference.
"You must allow me to make it a little more than that," the patient answered. "Your treatment was worth it. I feel perfectly recovered already. Good night, sir!"
The doctor's eyes sparkled as he glanced at the gold which his visitor had laid upon the table.
"You are very good, I'm sure," he murmured. "I hope you will have a comfortable journey. With a nerve like yours, you'll be all right in a day or so."
He let his patient out and watched him depart with some curiosity, watched until the great motor-car had swung round the corner of the street and started on its journey to London.
"No bicycle there," he remarked to himself, as he closed the door. "I wonder what they did with it."
CHAPTER IV. MISS PENELOPE MORSE
It was already a little past the customary luncheon hour at the Carlton, and the restaurant was well filled. The orchestra had played their first selection, and the stream of incoming guests had begun to slacken. A young lady who had been sitting in the palm court for at least half an hour rose to her feet, and, glancing casually at her watch, made her way into the hotel. She entered the office and addressed the chief reception clerk.
"Can you tell me," she asked, "if Mr. Hamilton Fynes is staying here? He should have arrived by the Lusitania last night or early this morning."
It is not the business of a hotel reception clerk to appear surprised at anything. Nevertheless the man looked at her, for a moment, with a curious expression in his eyes.
"Mr. Hamilton Fynes!" he repeated. "Did you say that you were expecting him by the Lusitania, madam?"
"Yes!" the young lady answered. "He asked me to lunch with him here today. Can you tell me whether he has arrived yet? If he is in his room, I should be glad if you would send up to him."
There were several people in the office who were in a position to overhear their conversation. With a word of apology, the man came round from his place behind the mahogany counter. He stood by the side of the young lady, and he seemed to be suffering from some embarrassment.
"Will you pardon my asking, madam, if you have seen the newspapers this morning?" he inquired.
Without a doubt, her first thought was that the question savored of impertinence. She looked at him with slightly upraised eyebrows. She was slim, of medium complexion, with dark brown hair parted in the middle and waving a little about her temples. She was irreproachably dressed, from the tips of her patent shoes to the black feathers in her Paris hat.
"The newspapers!" she repeated. "Why, no, I don't think that I have seen them this morning. What have they to do with Mr. Hamilton Fynes?"
The clerk pointed to the open door of a small private office.
"If you will step this way for one moment, madam," he begged.
She tapped the floor with her foot and looked at him curiously. Certainly the people around seemed to be taking some interest in their conversation.
"Why should I?" she asked. "Cannot you answer my question here?"
"If madam will be so good," he persisted.
She shrugged her shoulders and followed him. Something in the man's earnest tone and almost pleading look convinced her, at least, of his good intentions. Besides, the interest which her question had undoubtedly aroused amongst the bystanders was, to say the least of it, embarrassing. He pulled the door to after them.
"Madam," he said, "there was a Mr. Hamilton Fynes who came over by the Lusitania, and who had certainly engaged rooms in this hotel, but he unfortunately, it seems, met with an accident on his way from Liverpool."
Her manner changed at once. She began to understand what it all meant. Her lips parted, her eyes were wide open.
"An accident?" she faltered.
He gently rolled a chair up to her. She sank obediently into it.
"Madam," he said, "it was a very bad accident indeed. I trust that Mr. Hamilton Fynes was not a very intimate friend or a relative of yours. It would perhaps be better for you to read the account for yourself."
He placed a newspaper in her hands. She read the first few lines and suddenly turned upon him. She was white to the lips now, and there was real terror in her tone. Yet if he had been in a position to have analyzed the emotion she displayed, he might have remarked that there was none of the surprise, the blank, unbelieving amazement which might have been expected from one hearing for the first time of such a calamity.
"Murdered!" she exclaimed. "Is this true?"
"It appears to be perfectly true, madam, I regret to say," the clerk answered. "Even the earlier editions were able to supply the man's name, and I am afraid that there is no doubt about his identity. The captain of the Lusitania confirmed it, and many of the passengers who saw him leave the ship last night have been interviewed."
"Murdered!" she repeated to herself with trembling lips. "It seems such a horrible death! Have they any idea who did it?" she asked. "Has any one been arrested?"
"At present, no, madam," the clerk answered. "The affair, as you will see if you read further, is an exceedingly mysterious one."
She rocked a little in her chair, but she showed no signs of fainting. She picked up the paper and found the place once more. There were two columns filled with particulars of the tragedy.
"Where can I be alone and read this?" she asked.
"Here, if you please, madam," the clerk answered. "I must go back to my desk. There are many arrivals just now. Will you allow me to send you something—a little brandy, perhaps?"
"Nothing, thank you," she answered. "I wish only to be alone while I read this."
He left her with a little sympathetic murmur, and closed the door behind him. The girl raised her veil now and spread the newspaper out on the table before her. There was an account of the tragedy; there were interviews with some of the passengers, a message from the captain. In all, it seemed that wonderfully little was known of Mr. Hamilton Fynes. He had spoken to scarcely a soul on board, and had remained for the greater part of the time in his stateroom. The captain had not even been aware of his existence till the moment when Mr. Hamilton Fynes had sought him out and handed him an order, signed by the head of his company, instructing him to obey in any respect the wishes of this hitherto unknown passenger. The tug which had been hired to meet him had gone down the river, so it was not possible, for the moment, to say by whom it had been chartered. The station-master at Liverpool knew nothing except that the letter presented to him by the dead man was a personal one from a great railway magnate, whose wishes it was impossible to disregard. There had not been a soul, apparently, upon the steamer who had known anything worth mentioning of Mr. Hamilton Fynes or his business. No one in London had made inquiries for him or claimed his few effects. Half a dozen cables to America remained unanswered.
That papers had been stolen from him—papers or money—was evident from the place of concealment in his coat, where the lining had been torn away, but there was not the slightest evidence as to the nature of these documents or the history of the murdered man. All that could be done was to await the news from the other side, which was momentarily expected.
The girl went through it all, line by line, almost word by word. Whatever there might have been of relationship or friendship between her and the dead man, the news of his terrible end left her shaken, indeed, but dry-eyed. She was apparently more terrified than grieved, and now that the first shock had passed away, her mind seemed occupied with thoughts which may indeed have had some connection with this tragedy, but were scarcely wholly concerned with it. She sat for a long while with her hands still resting upon the table but her eyes fixed out of the window. Then at last she rose and made her way outside. Her friend the reception clerk was engaged in conversation with one or two men, a conversation of which she was obviously the subject. As she opened the door, one of them broke off in the midst of what he was saying and would have accosted her. The clerk, however, interposed, and drew her a step or two back into the room.
"Madam," he said, "one of these gentlemen is from Scotland Yard, and the others are reporters. They are all eager to know anything about Mr. Hamilton Fynes. I expect they will want to ask you some questions."
The girl opened her lips and closed them again.
"I regret to say that I have nothing whatever to tell them," she declared. "Will you kindly let them know that?"
The clerk shook his head.
"I am afraid you will find them quite persistent, madam," he said.
"I cannot tell them things which I do not know myself," she answered, frowning.
"Naturally," the clerk admitted; "yet these gentlemen from Scotland Yard have special privileges, of course, and there remains the fact that you were engaged to lunch with Mr. Fynes here."
"If it will help me to get rid of them," she said, "I will speak to the representative of Scotland Yard. I will have nothing whatever to say to the reporters."
The clerk turned round and beckoned to the foremost figure in the little group. Inspector Jacks, tall, lantern-jawed, dressed with the quiet precision of a well-to-do-man of affairs, and with no possible suggestion of his calling in his manner or attire, was by her side almost at once.
"Madam," he said, "I understand that Mr. Hamilton Fynes was a friend of yours?"
"An acquaintance," she corrected him.
"And your name?" he asked.
"I am Miss Morse," she replied,—"Miss Penelope Morse."
"You were to have lunched here with Mr. Hamilton Fynes," the detective continued. "When, may I ask, did the invitation reach you?"
"Yesterday," she told him, "by marconigram from Queenstown."
"You can tell us a few things about the deceased, without doubt," Mr. Jacks said,—"his profession, for instance, or his social standing? Perhaps you know the reason for his coming to Europe?"
The girl shook her head.
"Mr. Fynes and I were not intimately acquainted," she answered. "We met in Paris some years ago, and when he was last in London, during the autumn, I lunched with him twice."
"You had no letter from him, then, previous to the marconigram?" the inspector asked.
"I have scarcely ever received a letter from him in my life," she answered. "He was as bad a correspondent as I am myself."
"You know nothing, then, of the object of his present visit to England?"
"Nothing whatever," she answered.
"When he was over here before," the inspector asked, "do you know what his business was then?"
"Not in the least," she replied.
"You can tell us his address in the States?" Inspector Jacks suggested.
She shook her head.
"I cannot," she answered. "As I told you just now, I have never had a letter from him in my life. We exchanged a few notes, perhaps, when we were in Paris, about trivial matters, but nothing more than that."
"He must at some time, in Paris, for instance, or when you lunched with him last year, have said something about his profession, or how he spent his time?"
"He never alluded to it in any way," the girl answered. "I have not the slightest idea how he passed his time."
The inspector was a little nonplussed. He did not for a moment believe that the girl was telling the truth.
"Perhaps," he said tentatively, "you do not care to have your name come before the public in connection with a case so notorious as this?"
"Naturally," the girl answered. "That, however, would not prevent my telling you anything that I knew. You seem to find it hard to believe, but I can assure you that I know nothing. Mr. Fynes was almost a stranger to me."
The detective was thoughtful.
"So you really cannot help us at all, madam?" he said at length.
"I am afraid not," she answered.
"Perhaps," he suggested, "after you have thought the matter over, something may occur to you. Can I trouble you for your address?"
"I am staying at Devenham House for the moment," she answered.
He wrote it down in his notebook.
"I shall perhaps do myself the honor of waiting upon you a little later on," he said. "You may be able, after reflection, to recall some small details, at any rate, which will be interesting to us. At present we are absurdly ignorant as to the man's affairs."
She turned away from him to the clerk, and pointed to another door.
"Can I go out without seeing those others?" she asked. "I really have nothing to say to them, and this has been quite a shock to me."
"By all means, madam," the clerk answered. "If you will allow me, I will escort you to the entrance."
Two of the more enterprising of the journalists caught them up upon the pavement. Miss Penelope Morse, however, had little to say to them.
"You must not ask me any more questions about Mr. Hamilton Fynes," she declared. "My acquaintance with him was of the slightest. It is true that I came here to lunch today without knowing what had happened. It has been a shock to me, and I do not wish to talk about it, and I will not talk about it, for the present."
She was deaf to their further questions. The hotel clerk handed her into a taximeter cab, and gave the address to the driver. Then he went back to his office, where Inspector Jacks was still sitting.
"This Mr. Hamilton Fynes," he remarked, "seems to have been what you might call a secretive sort of person. Nobody appears to know anything about him. I remember when he was staying here before that he had no callers, and seemed to spend most of his time sitting in the palm court."
The inspector nodded.
"He was certainly a man who knew how to keep his own counsel," he admitted. "Most Americans are ready enough to talk about themselves and their affairs, even to comparative strangers."
The hotel clerk nodded.
"Makes it difficult for you," he remarked.
"It makes the case very interesting," the inspector declared, "especially when we find him engaged to lunch with a young lady of such remarkable discretion as Miss Penelope Morse."
"You know her?" the clerk asked a little eagerly.
The inspector was engaged, apparently, in studying the pattern of the carpet.
"Not exactly," he answered. "No, I have no absolute knowledge of Miss Penelope Morse. By the bye, that was rather an interesting address that she gave."
"Devenham House," the hotel clerk remarked. "Do you know who lives there?"
The inspector nodded.
"The Duke of Devenham," he answered. "A very interesting young lady, I should think, that. I wonder what she and Mr. Hamilton Fynes would have talked about if they had lunched here today."
The hotel clerk looked dubious. He did not grasp the significance of the question.
CHAPTER V. AN AFFAIR OF STATE
Miss Penelope Morse was perfectly well aware that the taxicab in which she left the Carlton Hotel was closely followed by two others. Through the tube which she found by her side, she altered her first instructions to the driver, and told him to proceed as fast as possible to Harrod's Stores. Then, raising the flap at the rear of the cab, she watched the progress of the chase. Along Pall Mall the taxi in which she was seated gained considerably, but in the Park and along the Bird Cage Walk both the other taxies, risking the police regulations, drew almost alongside. Once past Hyde Park Corner, however, her cab again drew ahead, and when she was deposited in front of Harrod's Stores, her pursuers were out of sight. She paid the driver quickly, a little over double his fare.
"If any one asks you questions," she said, "say that you had instructions to wait here for me. Go on to the rank for a quarter of an hour. Then you can drive away."
"You won't be coming back, then, miss?" the man asked.
"I shall not," she answered, "but I want those men who are following me to think that I am. They may as well lose a little time for their rudeness."
The chauffeur touched his hat and obeyed his instructions. Miss Penelope Morse plunged into the mazes of the Stores with the air of one to whom the place is familiar. She did not pause, however, at any of the counters. In something less than two minutes she had left it again by a back entrance, stepped into another taxicab which was just setting down a passenger, and was well on her way back towards Pall Mall. Her ruse appeared to have been perfectly successful. At any rate, she saw nothing more of the occupants of the two taxicabs.
She stopped in front of one of the big clubs and, scribbling a line on her card, gave it to the door keeper.
"Will you find out if this gentleman is in?" she said. "If he is, will you kindly ask him to step out and speak to me?"
She returned to the cab and waited. In less than five minutes a tall, broad-shouldered young man, clean-shaven, and moving like an athlete, came briskly down the steps. He carried a soft hat in his hand, and directly he spoke his transatlantic origin was apparent.
"Penelope!" he exclaimed. "Why, what on earth—"
"My dear Dicky," she interrupted, laughing at his expression, "you need not look so displeased with me. Of course, I know that I ought not to have come and sent a message into your club. I will admit at once that it was very forward of me. Perhaps when I have told you why I did so, you won't look so shocked."
"I'm glad to see you, anyway," he declared. "There's no bad news, I hope?"
"Nothing that concerns us particularly," she answered. "I simply want to have a little talk with you. Come in here with me, please, at once. We can ride for a short distance anywhere."
"But I am just in the middle of a rubber of bridge," he objected.
"It can't be helped," she declared. "To tell you the truth, the matter I want to talk to you about is of more importance than any game of cards. Don't be foolish, Dicky. You have your hat in your hand. Step in here by my side at once."
He looked a little bewildered, but he obeyed her, as most people did when she was in earnest. She gave the driver an address somewhere in the city. As soon as they were off, she turned towards him.
"Dicky," she said, "do you read the newspapers?"
"Well, I can't say that I do regularly," he answered. "I read the New York Herald, but these London journals are a bit difficult, aren't they? One has to dig the news out,—sort of treasure-hunt all the time."
"You have read this murder case, at any rate," she asked, "about the man who was killed in a special train between Liverpool and London?"
"Of course," he answered, with a sudden awakening of interest. "What about it?"
"A good deal," she answered slowly. "In the first place, the man who was murdered—Mr. Hamilton Fynes—comes from the village where I was brought up in Massachusetts, and I know more about him, I dare say, than any one else in this country. What I know isn't very much, perhaps, but it's interesting. I was to have lunched with him at the Carlton today; in fact, I went there expecting to do so, for I am like you—I scarcely ever look inside these English newspapers. Well, I went to the Carlton and waited and he did not come. At last I went into the office and asked whether he had arrived. Directly I mentioned his name, it was as though I had thrown a bomb shell into the place. The clerk called me on one side, took me into a private office, and showed me a newspaper. As soon as I had read the account, I was interviewed by an inspector from Scotland Yard. Ever since then I have been followed about by reporters."
The young man whistled softly.
"Say, Penelope!" he exclaimed. "Who was this fellow, anyhow, and what were you doing lunching with him?"
"That doesn't matter," she answered. "You don't tell me all your secrets, Mr. Dicky Vanderpole, and it isn't necessary for me to tell you all mine, even if we are both foreigners in a strange country. The poor fellow isn't going to lunch with any one else in this world. I suppose you are thinking what an indiscreet person I am, as usual?"
The young man considered the matter for a moment.
"No," he said; "I didn't understand that he was the sort of person you would have been likely to have taken lunch with. But that isn't my affair. Have you seen the second edition?"
The girl shook her head.
"Haven't I told you that I never read the papers? I only saw what they showed me in at the Carlton."
"The Press Association have cabled to America, but no one seems to be able to make out exactly who the fellow is. His letter to the captain of the steamer was from the chairman of the company, and his introduction to the manager of the London and North Western Railway Company was from the greatest railway man in the world. Mr. Hamilton Fynes must have been a person who had a pretty considerable pull over there. Curiously enough, though, only the name of the man was mentioned in them; nothing about his business, or what he was doing over on this side. He was simply alluded to as 'Mr. Hamilton Fynes—the gentleman bearing this communication.' I expect, after all, that you know more about him than any one."
She shook her head.
"What I know," she said, "or at least most of it, I am going to tell you. A few years ago he was a clerk in a Government office in Washington. He was steady in those days, and was supposed to have a head. He used to write me occasionally. One day he turned up in London quite unexpectedly. He said that he had come on business, and whatever his business was, it took him to St. Petersburg and Berlin, and then back to Berlin again. I saw quite a good deal of him that trip."
"The dickens you did!" he muttered.
Miss Penelope Morse laughed softly.
"Come, Dicky," she said, "don't pretend to be jealous. You're an outrageous flirt, I know, but you and I are never likely to get sentimental about one another."
"Why not?" he grumbled. "We've always been pretty good pals, haven't we?"
"Naturally," she answered, "or I shouldn't be here. Do you want to hear anything more about Mr. Hamilton Fynes?"
"Of course I do," he declared.
"Well, be quiet, then, and don't interrupt," she said. "I knew London well and he didn't. That is why, as I told you before, we saw quite a great deal of one another. He was always very reticent about his affairs, and especially about the business which had taken him on the Continent. Just before he left, however, he gave me—well, a hint."
"What was it?" the young man asked eagerly.
"He didn't put it into so many words," she said, "and I am not sure, even now, that I ought to tell you, Dicky. Still, you are a fellow countryman and a budding diplomatist. I suppose if I can give you a lift I ought to."
The taxi was on the Embankment now, and they sped along for some time in silence. Mr. Richard Vanderpole was more than a little puzzled.
"Of course, Penelope," he said, "I don't expect you to tell me anything which you feel that you oughtn't to. There is one thing, however, which I must ask you."
"I should like to know what the mischief my being in the diplomatic service has to do with it?"
"If I explained that," she answered, "I should be telling you everything I haven't quite made up my mind to do that yet."
"Tell me this?" he asked. "Would that hint which he dropped when he was here last help you to solve the mystery of his murder?"
"It might," she admitted.
"Then I think," he said, "apart from any other reason, you ought to tell somebody. The police at present don't seem to have the ghost of a clue."
"They are not likely to find one," she answered, "unless I help them."
"Say, Penelope," he exclaimed, "you are not in earnest?"
"I am," she assured him. "It is exactly as I say. I believe I am one of the few people who could put the police upon the right track."
"Is there any reason why you shouldn't?" he asked.
"That's just what I can't make up my mind about," she told him. "However, I have brought you out with me expecting to hear something, and I am going to tell you this. That last time he came to England—the time he went to St. Petersburg and twice to Berlin—he came on government business."
The young man looked, for a moment, incredulous.
"Are you sure of that, Pen?" he asked. "It doesn't sound like our people, you know, does it?"
"I am quite sure," she declared confidently. "You are a very youthful diplomat, Dicky, but even you have probably heard of governments who employ private messengers to carry despatches which for various reasons they don't care to put through their embassies."
"Why, that's so, of course, over on this side," he agreed. "These European nations are up to all manner of tricks. But I tell you frankly, Pen, I never heard of anything of the sort being done from Washington."
"Perhaps not," she answered composedly. "You see, things have developed with us during the last twenty-five years. The old America had only one foreign policy, and that was to hold inviolate the Monroe doctrine. European or Asiatic complications scarcely even interested her. Those times have passed, Dicky. Cuba and the Philippines were the start of other things. We are being drawn into the maelstrom. In another ten years we shall be there, whether we want to be or not."
The young man was deeply interested.
"Well," he admitted, "there's a good deal in what you say, Penelope. You talk about it all as though you were a diplomat yourself."
"Perhaps I am," she answered calmly. "A stray young woman like myself must have something to occupy her thoughts, you know."
"That's not bad," he asserted, "for a girl whom the New York Herald declared, a few weeks ago, to be one of the most brilliant young women in English society."
She shrugged her shoulders scornfully.
"That's just the sort of thing the New York Herald would say," she remarked. "You see, I have to get a reputation for being smart and saying bright things, or nobody would ask me anywhere. Penniless American young women are not too popular over here."
"Marry me, then," he suggested amiably. "I shall have plenty of money some day."
"I'll see about it when you're grown up," she answered. "Just at present, I think we'd better return to the subject of Hamilton Fynes."
Mr. Richard Vanderpole sighed, but seemed not disinclined to follow her suggestion.
"Harvey is a silent man, as you know," he said thoughtfully, "and he keeps everything of importance to himself. At the same time these little matters get about in the shop, of course, and I have never heard of any despatches being brought across from Washington except in the usual way. Presuming that you are right," he added after a moment's pause, "and that this fellow Hamilton Fynes really had something for us, that would account for his being able to get off the boat and securing his special train so easily. No one can imagine where he got the pull."
"It accounts, also," Penelope remarked, "for his murder!"
Her companion started.
"You haven't any idea—" he began.
"Nothing so definite as an idea," she interrupted. "I am not going so far as to say that. I simply know that when a man is practically the secret agent of his government, and is probably carrying despatches of an important nature, that an accident such as he has met with, in a country which is greatly interested in the contents of those despatches, is a somewhat serious thing."
The young man nodded.
"Say," he admitted "you're dead right. The Pacific cruise, and our relations with Japan, seem to have rubbed our friends over here altogether the wrong way. We have irritations enough already to smooth over, without anything of this sort on the carpet."
"I am going to tell you now," she continued, leaning a little towards him, "the real reason why I fetched you out of the club this afternoon and have brought you for this little expedition. The last time I lunched with Mr. Hamilton Fynes was just after his return from Berlin. He intrusted me then with a very important mission. He gave me a letter to deliver to Mr. Blaine Harvey."
"But I don't understand!" he protested. "Why should he give you the letter when he was in London himself?"
"I asked him that question myself, naturally," she answered. "He told me that it was an understood thing that when he was over here on business he was not even to cross the threshold of the Embassy, or hold any direct communication with any person connected with it. Everything had to be done through a third party, and generally in duplicate. There was another man, for instance, who had a copy of the same letter, but I never came across him or even knew his name."
"Gee whiz!" the young man exclaimed. "You're telling me things, and no mistake! Why this fellow Fynes made a secret service messenger of you!"
"It was all very simple," she said. "The first Mrs. Harvey, who was alive then, was my greatest friend, and I was in and out of the place all the time. Now, perhaps, you can understand the significance of that marconigram from Hamilton Fynes asking me to lunch with him at the Carlton today."
Mr. Richard Vanderpole was sitting bolt upright, gazing steadily ahead.
"I wonder," he said slowly, "what has become of the letter which he was going to give you!"
"One thing is certain," she declared. "It is in the hands of those whose interests would have been affected by its delivery."
"How much of this am I to tell the chief?" the young man asked.
"Every word," Penelope answered. "You see, I am trying to give you a start in your career. What bothers me is an entirely different question."
"What is it?" he asked.
She laid her hand upon his arm.
"How much of it I shall tell to a certain gentleman who calls himself Inspector Jacks!"
CHAPTER VI. MR. COULSON INTERVIEWED
The Lusitania boat specials ran into Euston Station soon after three o'clock in the afternoon. A small company of reporters, and several other men whose profession was not disclosed from their appearance, were on the spot to interview certain of the passengers. A young fellow from the office of the Evening Comet was, perhaps, the most successful, as, from the lengthy description which had been telegraphed to him from Liverpool, he was fortunate enough to accost the only person who had been seen speaking to the murdered man upon the voyage.
"This is Mr. Coulson, I believe?" the young man said with conviction, addressing a somewhat stout, gray-headed American, with white moustache, a Homburg hat, and clothes of distinctly transatlantic cut.
That gentlemen regarded his interlocutor with some surprise but without unfriendliness.
"That happens to be my name, sir," he replied. "You have the advantage of me, though. You are not from my old friends Spencer & Miles, are you?"
"Spencer & Miles," the young man repeated thoughtfully.
"Woollen firm in London Wall," Mr. Coulson added. "I know they wanted to see me directly I arrived, and they did say something about sending to the station."
The young man shook his head, and assumed at the same time his most engaging manner.
"Why, no, sir!" he admitted. "I have no connection with that firm at all. The fact is I am on the staff of an evening paper. A friend of mine in Liverpool—a mutual friend, I believe I may say," he explained—"wired me your description. I understand that you were acquainted with Mr. Hamilton Fynes?"
Mr. Coulson set down his suitcase for a moment, to light a cigar.
"Well, if I did know the poor fellow just to nod to," he said, "I don't see that's any reason why I should talk about him to you newspaper fellows. You'd better get hold of his relations, if you can find them."
"But, my dear Mr. Coulson," the young man said, "we haven't any idea where they are to be found, and in the meantime you can't imagine what reports are in circulation."
"Guess I can figure them out pretty well," Mr. Coulson remarked with a smile. "We've got an evening press of our own in New York."
The reporter nodded.
"Well," he said, "They'd be able to stretch themselves out a bit on a case like this. You see," he continued confidentially, "we are up against something almost unique. Here is an astounding and absolutely inexplicable murder, committed in a most dastardly fashion by a person who appears to have vanished from the face of the earth. Not a single thing is known about the victim except his name. We do not know whether he came to England on business or pleasure. He may, in short, have been any one from a millionaire to a newspaper man. Judging from his special train," the reporter concluded with a smile, "and the money which was found upon him, I imagine that he was certainly not the latter."
Mr. Coulson went on his way toward the exit from the station, puffing contentedly at his big cigar.
"Well," he said to his companion, who showed not the slightest disposition to leave his side, "it don't seem to me that there's much worth repeating about poor Fynes,—much that I knew, at any rate. Still, if you like to get in a cab with me and ride as far as the Savoy, I'll tell you what I can."
"You are a brick, sir," the young man declared. "Haven't you any luggage, though?"
"I checked what I had through from Liverpool to the hotel," Mr. Coulson answered. "I can't stand being fussed around by all these porters, and having to go and take pot luck amongst a pile of other people's baggage. We'll just take one of these two-wheeled sardine tins that you people call hansoms, and get round to the hotel as quick as we can. There are a few pals of mine generally lunch in the cafe there, and they mayn't all have cleared out if we look alive."
They started a moment or two later. Mr. Coulson leaned forward and, folding his arms upon the apron of the cab, looked about him with interest.
"Say," he remarked, removing his cigar to the corner of his mouth in order to facilitate conversation, "this old city of yours don't change any."
"Not up in this part, perhaps," the reporter agreed. "We've some fine new buildings down toward the Strand."
Mr. Coulson nodded.
"Well," he said, "I guess you don't want to be making conversation. You want to know about Hamilton Fynes. I was just acquainted with him, and that's a fact, but I reckon you'll have to find some one who knows a good deal more than I do before you'll get the stuff you want for your paper."
"The slightest particulars are of interest to us just now," the reporter reminded him.
Mr. Coulson nodded.
"Hamilton Fynes," he said, "so far as I knew him, was a quiet, inoffensive sort of creature, who has been drawing a regular salary from the State for the last fifteen years and saving half of it. He has been coming over to Europe now and then, and though he was a good, steady chap enough, he liked his fling when he was over here, and between you and me, he was the greatest crank I ever struck. I met him in London a matter of three years ago, and he wanted to go to Paris. There were two cars running at the regular time, meeting the boat at Dover. Do you think he would have anything to do with them? Not he! He hired a special train and went down like a prince."
"What did he do that for?" the reporter asked.
"Why, because he was a crank, sir," Mr. Coulson answered confidentially. "There was no other reason at all. Take this last voyage on the Lusitania, now. He spoke to me the first day out because he couldn't help it, but for pretty well the rest of the journey he either kept down in his stateroom or, when he came up on deck, he avoided me and everybody else. When he did talk, his talk was foolish. He was a good chap at his work, I believe, but he was a crank. Seemed to me sometimes as though that humdrum life of his had about turned his brain. The last day out he was fidgeting all the time; kept looking at his watch, studying the chart, and asking the sailors questions. Said he wanted to get up in time to take a girl to lunch on Thursday. It was just for that reason that he scuttled off the boat without a word to any of us, and rushed up to London."
"But he had letters, Mr. Coulson," the reporter reminded him, "from some one in Washington, to the captain of the steamer and to the station-master of the London and North Western Railway. It seems rather odd that he should have provided himself with these, doesn't it?"
"They were easy enough to get," Mr. Coulson answered. "He wasn't a worrying sort of chap, Fynes wasn't. He did his work, year in and year out, and asked no favors. The consequence was that when he asked a queer one he got it all right. It's easier to get a pull over there than it is here, you know."
"This is all very interesting," the reporter said, "and I am sure I'm very much obliged to you, Mr. Coulson. Now can you tell me of anything in the man's life or way of living likely to provoke enmity on the part of any one? This murder was such a cold-blooded affair."
"There I'm stuck," Mr. Coulson admitted. "There's only one thing I can tell you, and that is that I believe he had a lot more money on him than the amount mentioned in your newspapers this morning. My own opinion is that he was murdered for what he'd got. A smart thief would say that a fellow who takes a special tug off the steamer and a special train to town was a man worth robbing. How the thing was done I don't know—that's for your police to find out—but I reckon that whoever killed him did it for his cash."
The reporter sighed. He was, after all, a little disappointed. Mr. Coulson was obviously a man of common sense. His words were clearly pronounced, and his reasoning sound. They had reached the courtyard of the hotel now, and the reporter began to express his gratitude.
"My first drink on English soil," Mr. Coulson said, as he handed his suitcase to the hall-porter, "is always—"
"It's on me," the young man declared quickly. "I owe you a good deal more than drinks, Mr. Coulson."
"Well, come along, anyway," the latter remarked. "I guess my room is all right, porter?"—turning to the man who stood by his side, bag in hand. "I am Mr. James B. Coulson of New York, and I wrote on ahead. I'll come round to the office and register presently."
They made their way to the American bar. The newspaper man and his new friend drank together and, skillfully prompted by the former, the conversation drifted back to the subject of Hamilton Fynes. There was nothing else to be learned, however, in the way of facts. Mr. Coulson admitted that he had been a little nettled by his friend's odd manner during the voyage, and the strange way he had of keeping to himself.
"But, after all," he wound up, "Fynes was a crank, when all's said and done. We are all cranks, more or less,—all got our weak spot, I mean. It was secretiveness with our unfortunate friend. He liked to play at being a big personage in a mysterious sort of way, and the poor chap's paid for it," he added with a sigh.
The reporter left his new-made friend a short time afterwards, and took a hansom to his office. His newspaper at once issued a special edition, giving an interview between their representative and Mr. James B. Coulson, a personal friend of the murdered man. It was, after all, something of a scoop, for not one of the other passengers had been found who was in a position to say anything at all about him. The immediate effect of the interview, however, was to procure for Mr. Coulson a somewhat bewildering succession of callers. The first to arrive was a gentleman who introduced himself as Mr. Jacks, and whose card, sent back at first, was retendered in a sealed envelope with Scotland Yard scrawled across the back of it. Mr. Coulson, who was in the act of changing his clothes, interviewed Mr. Jacks in his chamber.
"Mr. Coulson," the Inspector said, "I am visiting you on behalf of Scotland Yard. We understand that you had some acquaintance with Mr. Hamilton Fynes, and we hope that you will answer a few questions for us."
Mr. Coulson sat down upon a trunk with his hairbrushes in his hand.
"Well," he declared, "you detectives do get to know things, don't you?"
"Nothing so remarkable in that, Mr. Coulson," Inspector Jacks remarked pleasantly. "A newspaper man had been before me, I see."
Mr. Coulson nodded.
"That's so," he admitted. "Seems to me I may have been a bit indiscreet in talking so much to that young reporter. I have just read his account of my interview, and he's got it pat, word by word. Now, Mr. Jacks, if you'll just invest a halfpenny in that newspaper, you don't need to ask me any questions. That young man had a kind of pleasant way with him, and I told him all I knew."
"Just so, Mr. Coulson," the Inspector answered. "At the same time nothing that you told him throws any light at all upon the circumstances which led to the poor fellow's death."
"That," Mr. Coulson declared, "is not my fault. What I don't know I can't tell you."
"You were acquainted with Mr. Fynes some years ago?" the Inspector asked. "Can you tell me what business he was in then?"
"Same as now, for anything I know," Mr. Coulson answered. "He was a clerk in one of the Government offices at Washington."
"Government offices," Inspector Jacks repeated. "Have you any idea what department?"
Mr. Coulson was not sure.
"It may have been the Excise Office," he remarked thoughtfully. "I did hear, but I never took any particular notice."
"Did you ever form any idea as to the nature of his work?" Inspector Jacks asked.
"Bless you, no!" Mr. Coulson replied, brushing his hair vigorously. "It never entered into my head to ask him, and I never heard him mention it. I only know that he was a quiet-living, decent sort of a chap, but, as I put it to our young friend the newspaper man, he was a crank."
The Inspector was disappointed. He began to feel that he was wasting his time.
"Did you know anything of the object of his journey to Europe?" he asked.
"Nary a thing," Mr. Coulson declared. "He only came on deck once or twice, and he had scarcely a civil word even for me. Why, I tell you, sir," Mr. Coulson continued, "if he saw me coming along on the promenade, he'd turn round and go the other way, for fear I'd ask him to come and have a drink. A c-r-a-n-k, sir! You write it down at that, and you won't be far out."
"He certainly seems to have been a queer lot," the Inspector declared. "By the bye," he continued, "you said something, I believe, about his having had more money with him than was found upon his person."
"That's so," Mr. Coulson admitted. "I know he deposited a pocketbook with the purser, and I happened to be standing by when he received it back. I noticed that he had three or four thousand-dollar bills, and there didn't seem to be anything of the sort upon him when he was found."
The Inspector made a note of this.
"You believe yourself, then, Mr. Coulson," he said, closing his pocketbook, "that the murder was committed for the purpose of robbery?"
"Seems to me it's common sense," Mr. Coulson replied. "A man who goes and takes a special train to London from the docks of a city like Liverpool—a city filled with the scum of the world, mind you—kind of gives himself away as a man worth robbing, doesn't he?"
The Inspector nodded.
"That's sensible talk, Mr. Coulson," he acknowledged. "You never heard, I suppose, of his having had a quarrel with any one?"
"Never in my life," Mr. Coulson declared. "He wasn't the sort to make enemies, any more than he was the sort to make friends."
The Inspector took up his hat. His manner now was no longer inquisitorial. With the closing of his notebook a new geniality had taken the place of his official stiffness.
"You are making a long stay here, Mr. Coulson?" he asked.
"A week or so, maybe," that gentleman answered. "I am in the machinery patent line—machinery for the manufacture of woollen goods mostly—and I have a few appointments in London. Afterwards I am going on to Paris. You can hear of me at any time either here or at the Grand Hotel, Paris, but there's nothing further to be got out of me as regards Mr. Hamilton Fynes."
The Inspector was of the same opinion and took his departure. Mr. Coulson waited for some little time, still sitting on his trunk and clasping his hairbrushes. Then he moved over to the table on which stood the telephone instrument and asked for a number. The reply came in a minute or two in the form of a question.
"It's Mr. James B. Coulson from New York, landed this afternoon from the Lusitania," Mr. Coulson said. "I am at the Savoy Hotel, speaking from my room—number 443."
There was a brief silence—then a reply.
"You had better be in the bar smoking-room at seven o'clock. If nothing happens, don't leave the hotel this evening."
Mr. Coulson replaced the receiver and rang off. A page-boy knocked at the door.
"Young lady downstairs wishes to see you, sir," he announced.
Mr. Coulson took up the card from the tray.
"Miss Penelope Morse," he said softly to himself. "Seems to me I'm rather popular this evening. Say I'll be down right away, my boy."
"Very good, sir," the page answered. "There's a gentleman with her, sir. His card's underneath the lady's."
Mr. Coulson examined the tray once more. A gentleman's visiting card informed him that his other caller was Sir Charles Somerfield, Bart.
"Bart," Mr. Coulson remarked thoughtfully. "I'm not quite catching on to that, but I suppose he goes in with the young lady."
"They're both together, sir," the boy announced.
Mr. Coulson completed his toilet and hurried downstairs
CHAPTER VII. A FATAL DESPATCH
Mr. Coulson found his two visitors in the lounge of the hotel. He had removed all traces of his journey, and was attired in a Tuxedo dinner coat, a soft-fronted shirt, and a neatly arranged black tie. He wore broad-toed patent boots and double lines of braid down the outsides of his trousers. The page boy, who was on the lookout for him, conducted him to the corner where Miss Penelope Morse and her companion were sitting talking together. The latter rose at his approach, and Mr. Coulson summed him up quickly,—a well-bred, pleasant-mannered, exceedingly athletic young Englishman, who was probably not such a fool as he looked,—that is, from Mr. Coulson's standpoint, who was not used to the single eyeglass and somewhat drawling enunciation.
"Mr. Coulson, isn't it?" the young man asked, accepting the other's outstretched hand. "We are awfully sorry to disturb you, so soon after your arrival, too, but the fact is that this young lady, Miss Penelope Morse,"—Mr. Coulson bowed,—"was exceedingly anxious to make your acquaintance. You Americans are such birds of passage that she was afraid you might have moved on if she didn't look you up at once."
Penelope herself intervened.
"I'm afraid you're going to think me a terrible nuisance, Mr. Coulson!" she exclaimed. Mr. Coulson, although he did not call himself a lady's man, was nevertheless human enough to appreciate the fact that the young lady's face was piquant and her smile delightful. She was dressed with quiet but elegant simplicity. The perfume of the violets at her waistband seemed to remind him of his return to civilization.
"Well, I'll take my risks of that, Miss Morse," he declared. "If you'll only let me know what I can do for you—"
"It's about poor Mr. Hamilton Fynes," she explained. "I took up the evening paper only half an hour ago, and read your interview with the reporter. I simply couldn't help stopping to ask whether you could give me any further particulars about that horrible affair. I didn't dare to come here all alone, so I asked Sir Charles to come along with me."
Mr. Coulson, being invited to do so, seated himself on the lounge by the young lady's side. He leaned a little forward with a hand on either knee.
"I don't exactly know what I can tell you," he remarked. "I take it, then, that you were well acquainted with Mr. Fynes?"
"I used to know him quite well," Penelope answered, "and naturally I am very much upset. When I read in the paper an account of your interview with the reporter, I could see at once that you were not telling him everything. Why should you, indeed? A man does not want every detail of his life set out in the newspapers just because he has become connected with a terrible tragedy."
"You're a very sensible young lady, Miss Morse, if you will allow me to say so," Mr. Coulson declared. "You were expecting to see something of Mr. Fynes over here, then?"
"I had an appointment to lunch with him today," she answered. "He sent me a marconigram before he arrived at Queenstown."
"Is that so?" Mr. Coulson exclaimed. "Well, well!"
"I actually went to the restaurant," Penelope continued, "without knowing anything of this. I can't understand it at all, even now. Mr. Fynes always seemed to me such a harmless sort of person, so unlikely to have enemies, or anything of that sort. Don't you think so, Mr. Coulson?"
"Well," that gentleman answered, "to tell you the honest truth, Miss Morse, I'm afraid I am going to disappoint you a little. I wasn't over well acquainted with Mr. Fynes, although a good many people seemed to fancy that we were kind of bosom friends. That newspaper man, for instance, met me at the station and stuck to me like a leech; drove down here with me, and was willing to stand all the liquor I could drink. Then there was a gentleman from Scotland Yard, who was in such a hurry that he came to see me in my bedroom. He had a sort of an idea that I had been brought up from infancy with Hamilton Fynes and could answer a sheaf of questions a yard long. As soon as I got rid of him, up comes that page boy and brings your card."
"It does seem too bad, Mr. Coulson," Penelope declared, raising her wonderful eyes to his and smiling sympathetically. "You have really brought it upon yourself, though, to some extent, haven't you, by answering so many questions for this Comet man?"
"Those newspaper fellows," Mr. Coulson remarked, "are wonders. Before that youngster had finished with me, I began to feel that poor old Fynes and I had been like brothers all our lives. As a matter of fact, Miss Morse, I expect you knew him at least as well as I did."
She nodded her head thoughtfully.
"Hamilton Fynes came from the village in Massachusetts where I was brought up. I've known him all my life."
Mr. Coulson seemed a little startled.
"I didn't understand," he said thoughtfully, "that Fynes had any very intimate friends over this side."
Penelope shook her head.
"I don't mean to imply that we have been intimate lately," she said. "I came to Europe nine years ago, and since then, of course, I have not seen him often. Perhaps it was the fact that he should have thought of me, and that I was actually expecting to have lunch with him today, which made me feel this thing so acutely."
"Why, that's quite natural," Mr. Coulson declared, leaning back a little and crossing his legs. "Somehow we seem to read about these things in the papers and they don't amount to such a lot, but when you know the man and were expecting to see him, as you were, why, then it comes right home to you. There's something about a murder," Mr. Coulson concluded, "which kind of takes hold of you if you've ever even shaken hands with either of the parties concerned in it."
"Did you see much of the poor fellow during the voyage?" Sir Charles asked.
"No, nor any one else," Mr. Coulson replied. "I don't think he was seasick, but he was miserably unsociable, and he seldom left his cabin. I doubt whether there were half a dozen people on board who would have recognized him afterwards as a fellow-passenger."
"He seems to have been a secretive sort of person," Sir Charles remarked.
"He was that," Mr. Coulson admitted. "Never seemed to care to talk about himself or his own business. Not that he had much to talk about," he added reflectively. "Dull sort of life, his. So many hours of work, so many hours of play; so many dollars a month, and after it's all over, so many dollars pension. Wouldn't suit all of us, Sir Charles, eh?"
"I fancy not," Somerfield admitted. "Perhaps he kicked over the traces a bit when he was over this side. You Americans generally seem to find your way about—in Paris, especially."
Mr. Coulson shook his head doubtfully.
"There wasn't much kicking over the traces with poor old Fynes," he said. "He hadn't got it in him."
Somerfield scratched his chin thoughtfully and looked at Penelope.
"Scarcely seems possible, does it," he remarked, "that a man leading such a quiet sort of life should make enemies."
"I don't believe he had any," Mr. Coulson asserted.
"He didn't seem nervous on the way over, did he?" Penelope asked,—"as though he were afraid of something happening?"
Mr. Coulson shook his head.
"No more than usual," he answered. "I guess your police over here aren't quite so smart as ours, or they'd have been on the track of this thing before now. But you can take it from me that when the truth comes out you'll find that our poor friend has paid the penalty of going about the world like a crank."
"A what?" Somerfield asked doubtfully.
"A crank," Mr. Coulson repeated vigorously. "It wasn't much I knew of Hamilton Fynes, but I knew that much. He was one of those nervous, stand-off sort of persons who hated to have people talk to him and yet was always doing things to make them talk about him. I was over in Europe with him not so long ago, and he went on in the same way. Took a special train to Dover when there wasn't any earthly reason for it; travelled with a valet and a courier, when he had no clothes for the valet to look after, and spoke every European language better than his courier. This time the poor fellow's paid for his bit of vanity. Naturally, any one would think he was a millionaire, travelling like that. I guess they boarded the train somehow, or lay hidden in it when it started, and relieved him of a good bit of his savings."
"But his money was found upon him," Somerfield objected.
"Some of it," Mr. Coulson answered,—"some of it. That's just about the only thing that I do know of my own. I happened to see him take his pocketbook back from the purser, and I guess he'd got a sight more money there than was found upon him. I told the smooth-spoken gentleman from Scotland Yard so—Mr. Inspector Jacks he called himself—when he came to see me an hour or so ago."
Penelope sighed gently. She found it hard to make up her mind concerning this quondam acquaintance of her deceased friend.
"Did you see much of Mr. Fynes on the other side, Mr. Coulson?" she asked him.
"Not I," Mr. Coulson answered. "He wasn't particularly anxious to make acquaintances over here, but he was even worse at home. The way he went on, you'd think he'd never had any friends and never wanted any. I met him once in the streets of Washington last year, and had a cocktail with him at the Atlantic House. I had to almost drag him in there. I was pretty well a stranger in Washington, but he didn't do a thing for me. Never asked me to look him up, or introduced me to his club. He just drank his cocktail, mumbled something about being in a hurry, and made off.
"I tell you, sir," Mr. Coulson continued, turning to Somerfield, "that man hadn't a thing to say for himself. I guess his work had something to do with it. You must get kind of out of touch with things, shut up in an office from nine o'clock in the morning till five in the afternoon. Just saving up, he was, for his trip to Europe. Then we happened on the same steamer, but, bless you, he scarcely even shook hands when he saw me. He wouldn't play bridge, didn't care about chess, hadn't even a chair on the deck, and never came in to meals."