THE TRAIL OF JEOPARDY
By H. Bedford-Jones
Author of “Captain No More,” “Malay Gold, etc.
PARISIAN JEWEL THIEVES SUDDENLY DISCOVER THAT AN AMERICAN REPORTER AND AN AMERICAN DETECTIVE ARE ON THEIR TRAIL TO ADD TO THE ALREADY SOMEWHAT COMPLEX LIFE OF A CROOK IN THE FRENCH CAPITAL
THE Gaulois was only half a day from Havre, her voyage all but over, when Ogilvy noticed something wrong in packing his kit-bag for shore.
His passport had vanished.
Assured that it was gone from the side pocket of his bag, together with his letter of credit and his travelers' cheques, Ogilvy shut the cabin door, sat down, lighted his pipe, and reflected. Then he rang for the steward, and sent him for the purser. This was like Ogilvy—he had his own way of doing things.
The purser arrived, his whiskers freshly pomaded and brushed, and shook hands warmly. He liked Ogilvy, as did most of the officers aboard; this young American spoke good French, had won the Legion of Honor in the French air service, and was also a war correspondent—a combination absolutely unbeatable from the French point of view.
“Well, my friend?” said the purser, when he was seated.
“Not at all well,” said Ogilvy. “My passport, letter of credit, and checks have been stolen within the past three hours. They were here this morning.”
The purser stiffened, his eyes widened, and he uttered a tragic, “Oh! La, la!” Then he began to question. Ogilvy took it much more calmly than he did, in fact.
Ogilvy usually took things calmly. He was tall, dark, rather saturnine at times; not of the ballyhoo correspondent type but rather chary of his opinions, and was somewhat noted for being perpetually in hot water somewhere or somehow—and enjoying it.
“Take it easy, now,” he observed. “First, it isn't the steward, because I happen to have known him in the service, and he's a fine chap. Rule him out.”
“Is a Brooklyn Jew, a student at the Sorbonne, and a remarkably good sort,” said John Ogilvy. “Rule him out.”
“But, m'sieu! Whom do you suspect?”
“Not a soul,” said Ogilvy cheerfully. “If you raise a rumpus over this, it means a lot of fourth-rate publicity and nothing gained. If you keep quiet, we may get somewhere. There's nothing lost, exactly. Send a radio at once to Paris, Havre and Washington regarding the passport; that's up to the consulates, and I can get an emergency passport at Paris. Radio my bank regarding the letter of credit and checks, I've plenty of cash for the present.”
The purser nodded, lighted a cigarette, and frowned.
“You suspect no one?” he said again.
“No.” Ogilvy puffed at his pipe. “Somebody wanted the passport to help him get ashore at Havre. He took the checks and letter of credit to make it look like robbery. Therefore, it is someone who looks enough like me to get by on the passport. Now, if you'll observe, I'm very ordinary in appearance. I know a dozen men aboard here who could pass the passport window on my picture and never be stopped.”
“Your consulate at Havre will have a man there,” said the purser, “when we land. Our officials will be on watch. Whoever presents your passport will be arrested.”
Ogilvy shook his head, his eyes narrowed thoughtfully.
“No chance. Only a fool would try that, and it was no fool who pulled off this little stunt. He may alter the passport; he may not present it at Havre at all, but may use it later; he'll know, of course, that inside twenty-four hours that particular passport will mean arrest for the bearer unless it's altered. Where he may plan to use it, is in other ways.”
The purser nodded to this. Passport bureaus and consulates would be on the lookout, but banks, post offices, the dozen other places where identification by means of a passport is necessary in France, would be easily taken in. Particularly by an American passport, for to American tourists all the rules are off.
“What do you want done, then?” asked the purser.
“Nothing. I can get ashore without a passport—have done it before, by means of this,” and Ogilvy touched the ribbon of the Legion in his buttonhole. “You and the captain both know me, and so do one or two of the officials at Le Havre.”
The two men were silent for a space. As Ogilvy said, without a clue to work on, any search was sure to be futile. The thief might not even look like Ogilvy; might be a woman, for that matter, intending the passport for use by a third party.
“Someone who knew you, perhaps?” asked the purser reflectively.
“I fancy not. I'm down in the passport as traveling for pleasure and business; he might not know I was a correspondent, at take me for a simple tourist. That's why——”
Ogilvy checked himself, but not soon enough. The other regarded him sharply.
“Ah! That's why you do suspect somebody, eh?”
“No. Suspicion needs some sure base.” Ogilvy smiled, and his wide-mouthed, friendly grin was good to see, “It just popped into my head, that's all, and I don't intend naming any names.”
“Then I shall merely send the radios?” The purser shrugged. “Give me the number of the passport and I'll attend to it.”
Half an hour later, he sauntered into the smoking room, sought a corner table where two other men sat, and nodded.
“Exact to the minute, as usual!” one of them said, laughing. “You haven't seen Marmont?”
Ogilvy dropped into a chair and picked up the cards.
“He'll be along—there he is, now! Cut for deal.”
The fourth approached, bowed smilingly, and took the vacant chair. He was easily the most distinguished of the four in appearance—one of the most distinguished men aboard, in fact. He was French-Hungarian, an exiled noble of Hungary domiciled in France; tall, dark, proudly handsome, he was instinct with courtesy and had a winning smile which made friends for him on all sides. It was generally understood he had been in the diplomatic service. He seemed little over thirty-five, of extremely powerful build, and was an excellent bridge player.
It was this man whom Ogilvy half suspected—without any real basis. Since Ogilvy very rarely named himself as a newspaperman, preferring the rôle of tourist, Marmont had no reason to guess the fact. Certainly the thief did not know it, for in France a journalist of any standing is not a man to be lightly played with. He can usually pull too many strings.
These four men had played together frequently in the past few days, having gravitated out of the mass as is the shipboard custom. One was an elderly manufacturer from Chicago—a good hand at the game, but otherwise with little personality. Not so Keene, however, the fourth of the quartette. A hard-bitten man of fifty, Keene had been all over the world and had done everything, spoke half a dozen languages, and now very frankly made a large living in the racing game. He played polo and had a horse-raising outfit in India for the game, and was now on a leisurely return to the Far East after a year spent at home. Crude in some ways, he was in others astonishingly cultured, and Ogilvy had long since marked him down as that rarest of men—utterly dependable and a good sport.
A rubber finished, they ordered drinks while waiting for the second dinner-call, and settled up. The manufacturer departed in search of his family, and the other three at once settled into last-night intimacy. Cards were exchanged, and Ogilvy perceived that Marmont was a count—which did not prepossess him in the least.
“You are both going to Paris?” queried Marmont, in his fluent English.
“I have business there in three days,” Keene nodded. “Then I may come back to Le Toquet and Deauville for a swing around the racing circuit—it's about the end of the season and I'd like to hit the Grand Prix at Deauville. No telling, though.”
Marmont glanced at Ogilvy
“And you to Paris?” he questioned.
“I'm not sure,” said Ogilvy. “I may have to meet a man in Havre, and may drift up or down the coast, depending on business.”
“Well,” said Marmont warmly, “I have an old chalet down Villers way—not far from Deauville, you know—and shall be there for the rest of the summer, If either of you come that way I shall be honored to have you visit me; we usually have a gay time of it, and I can promise you an entertaining stay. Wire me at Villers—no other address is necessary—and I'll meet you at Deauville with the car. We might make a party of it for the Grand Prix, eh? Be sure, now! I'll look forward to it?”
So hearty was his invitation, so sincere were his level, humorous eyes and his warm words that there was no doubting his friendliness. For an instant Ogilvy felt shame for his suspicions; then he steeled himself. He had a rather hard view of most people, did John Ogilvy, and inclined to a cynical criticism of too profuse friendship.
Marmont rose and swung lithely away to dress, promising to see them later. Ogilvy fingered his glass and glanced after him, then was surprised by a sharp word from Keene.
He started, and for a moment locked eyes with the other. In that pock-marked, aquiline countenance, with the thick lips and masterful eyes and strong keen nose, he read a strange comprehension. Keene was smiling at him—had somehow read his thoughts.
“You don't like him?”
“Yes and no,” Ogilvy nodded. “Anyone would like him, but I seldom give way to likings.”
“So I've noticed,” Keene grinned. “He's a good scout, but up in the air. Said his wife had left him a year or two ago—probably had reason. Believe me, that bird is a deep one, a hell of a lot deeper than he looks on the surface! He talks a lot about himself, but says not a word. You don't talk, and say less. Newspaperman?”
“Hm!” said Keene. “I'd set you down as a pilot, now—flyer, I mean. You're the type.”
“That used to be my line,” confessed Ogilvy. “Crashed and I lost my nerve for it, somehow. Here's how!”
“How,” said Keene, and finished his drink. “You and I—we get on, eh? How long you going to be in Havre?”
Ogilvy looked at him for a moment.
“No telling, as you said. I may be there a day or a week. I rather think I'll put straight over to Deauville, though.”
“You damned bird-dog!” exclaimed Keene admiringly. “Oh, you don't fool me—you're on a trail, I know you! Tell you what I'll do. I'll be at loose ends for a fortnight if I stop over for the Grand Prix. None of these other races are worth a damn, but I'll bring back a line of hot stuff from Paris on the big one at Deauville. Be back Monday. If you feel like it, look in at the Hotel Fonduc in Trouville—it's a little hole but comfortable, and cheap—on Monday night about seven, and we'll go out and do the show. If you don't feel like it, then don't. Ta-ta! See you later.”
With this, Keene rose and was gone. Ogilvy glanced after him, smiling a little.
THE boat docked early in the morning, and Ogilvy, who had expected some little trouble, found himself the first passenger to step ashore. The chief of the passport bureau was on hand, summoned by officials of the line, and when Ogilvy had thoroughly established his identity, he scrawled his name on a document and was through. With the slightly bored courtesy of the French official, the chief shook his hand, welcomed him to France, and bade him go.
“So much for wearing a red ribbon in my button-hole!” thought Ogilvy, and took his kit-bag in to the customs shed, where he had finished in five minutes.
Evading the eager porters, eager for the money of tourists who pay ten times the proper charges, Ogilvy turned aside from the waiting boat-train in the long shed, and sought one of the taxicabs outside. On all of these the tops were down, French fashion. Ogilvy selected one, took the driver aside, gave him a cigarette, and confided in him.
“Look you, mon gars—there is a man whom I would follow, you comprehend? Put up the top of your cab, then we can post ourselves down the street at the end of the sheds, where one turns for downtown. I think he will go to the Quai de Southampton, for the Trouville boat; but let us wait and see.”
“Ah!” said the driver, and winked broadly. “A jealous husband, eh?”
“Not a bit of it,” said Ogilvy, and returned the wink. “Shall we say—a rival?”
Thus put into an excellent humor the chauffeur raised the top of his cab, Ogilvy entered, and presently they drew away from the line of taxicabs and private vehicles. The landing quay was at some distance from the town proper, and after a moment the driver halted the car just around a sharp turn. Here Marmont would either bear off to the left, if bound for Trouville, or would go on downtown if heading for the town itself.
Presently taxies and victorias began to file past. Ogilvy watched them narrowly. He had no definite reason for his present action, and indeed was proceeding in a very vague fashion, content to follow his hunch and see what turned up. If Marmont had a chateau down the coast at Villers, he would be known in Havre, and Ogilvy wanted some information about the man. As he waited, he reflected on Keene's invitation. Today was Friday—well, why not? He liked Keene. If Monday found him in Deauville, he might keep that appointment.
“There's our man!” Ogilvy tapped on the window, the driver nodded, the car moved. It wheeled into line behind that of Marmont—no easy task, for there was now a solid stream of vehicles leaving the quay.
Marmont looked extremely pleased to be back in France, beaming on all around. As usual, he was impeccably dressed and groomed, and had a good deal of baggage heaped on and around his taxicab. His driver turned to the right and headed for the town. Passing the wide gardens of the Hotel de Ville, the first car halted before a little dram-shop in a dirty and obscure street. Marmont got out, took one of his suitcases, and entered the place. It was anything but a choice establishment, being a hang-out of chauffeurs.
Ogilvy's driver went on to the next corner, turned up the street, turned around and came back, and waited. Almost immediately Marmont's car passed—the count must have taken in the suitcase and then left at once. Now his taxi headed back to the square at the end of the yacht-basin, and turned down for the Quai de Southampton. At the shed devoted to the Trouville-Deauville ferry, he alighted with all his baggage. One of the little black steamers that plied across the Seine estuary was waiting, and Marmont hustled aboard.
Having discovered this much, Ogilvy paid off his own driver, took his bag, and settled himself over coffee and rolls in a corner of a nearby restaurant. He waited there, and saw the Trouville boat depart with Marmont perched in all his glory on the solitary first-class deck. Then he relaxed and began to reflect on the situation. Why had Marmont dumped that one suitcase at the anything-but-respectable dram-shop?
Ogilvy found it worth pondering. He knew what queer things might happen in this town. Le Havre is a survival of the days when packet rats afloat were the prime seamen of the world, and ashore were the veriest dregs of humanity. There is nothing cheerful about the dull gray city; it holds an aspect of neglect and hopeless dreariness and grime, while its Norman folk are noted for their incivility.
Along the byways of the town may be seen odd human flotsam. Battered fair-haired Scandinavians two by two, seaman's duffle-bags over shoulder, purplish bruises and old scars marking faces and warped hands; negroes from Senegal or Virginia, dungarees oil-smeared, teeth flashing white with gay impudence and brotherhood of man; lagging wrecks drifting about the quays, brown Algerines, huge side-shouldered slouchers with dirty fez and a bundle of gaudy rugs and mangy furs, and sorrowful-eyed Hindus. The tiny, narrow streets are lined with boozing dens, the doorways know blowsy, beckoning women; here are money-changers and pallid, furtive-eyed men with faces of preying birds, and worse. This town is a center for many things—sea-trade, traffic with America and England, the coast resorts lying all around—and is on the line between Paris and London and New York. Havre in the west, like Marseilles in the south, has its finger on the very pulse of France.
He paid for his breakfast, arranged to leave his bag here until the next boat for the twin ports across the bay, and set off uptown at a rapid, swinging pace.
Retracing the course followed by his taxi, he presently sighted the chauffeurs' hang-out. He went straight to it, and much to his satisfaction found it empty of clients. The woman behind the bar gave him a greeting as he entered, and Ogilvy, playing the Frenchman, made answer.
“Good morning, madame! A café fine, if you please, and then we'll relieve you of the suitcase and be on our way.”
Mechanically drawing his coffee, the woman checked herself, gave him a sharp look, then called for “Jules!” From the rear appeared an unkempt, red-haired Norman, who regarded Ogilvy suspiciously.
“So!” he observed, with Norman abruptness. “Of what suitcase is it a question?”
Ogilvy smiled eee at him.
“Sacred name oe a dog! Were you not told to expect me?”
“No,” growled the other. “Unless you are the maggot and have changed your skin since we last met!”
For an instant Ogilvy was stumped, despite his thrill at finding his main conjecture correct. The maggot! A nickname? No—suddenly he remembered his Parisian slang, and laughed heartily at his own denseness.
“Maggot?” he repeated, leaning over the bar and fingering his glass. “Not yet, my old one! There is nothing of the Chinaman about Georges Picard, I assure you! Here's to you, madame, with my compliments.”
The Norman's scowl did not lighten as Ogilvy drank his coffee.
“Exactly,” he said. “There is nothing of a maggot about you, my Georges Picard, and I never heard of you before, Certainly, the master did not mention you.”
“How should he, when he has been in America?” said Ogilvy. Then he regarded the other seriously. “Listen, mon gars! I am in a hurry, for I have to catch the rapide for Paris and there is not too much time. Here's the master's card, if that will convince you. If it won't, then I shall go direct across the bay to the master and hand in a report on you that will make somebody's hair curl. So trot out the suitcase or take the consequences!”
Ogilvy tossed Count de Marmont's card down the bar with a flourish.
The Norman read it, and nodded heavily. Obviously this Georges Picard had been sent—did he not know the master, did he not have Marmont's card and know all about him and where he was? It was certainly all right.
“One moment,” growled the Norman, and shuffled into the rear room.
Ogilvy lighted a cigarette, and not a trace of his inward excitement showed itself in his lean, large-boned features. Nothing venture, nothing win! He had plunged on a wild guess, and apparently had won. Marmont might have smuggled something past the customs—no matter. He was known as “the master,” and therefore was clearly the head of a gang, and this gang comprised at least one Chinaman.
Thus ran suspicion. After all, the whole game might be an innocent one. Marmont might be leaving the suitcase for a Chinese servant to pick up and take to a friend. There were a dozen possible explanations, but all of them were discounted by the low character of this dram-shop. A gentleman of Marmont's appearance would certainly choose another rendezvous unless there were something shady going on. Ogilvy chuckled at thought of Keene—how that hard-bitten rascal would enjoy such a game as this!
Two men sauntered in, greeted the lady behind the bar, and lined up for drinks. They were not chauffeurs, but workmen of a sort, as their baggy corduroys and red sashes indicated; from the fact that they were in no hurry and evidently not at work, Ogilvy's alert brain took sharp warning. He was rather relieved when the Norman appeared, carrying the same suitcase which Marmont had deposited here earlier.
As he set down the grip, he shoved Marmont's card back at Ogilvy.
“Sign it,” he growled.
Was this a test? It was hard to say. Very likely the gang, if there were one, had some secret system of numbers or names. Ogilvy wagged his head with a knowing wink.
“Sign the honest name of Georges Picard?” he said, knowing that the others were drinking in every word. “Name of a black dog—I am no such fool! No, no, il pleut!”
And taking the card, he scrawled across it the nickname of “Le Minuit”—thieves' argot for “The Nigger”—a name which might easily be applied to him because of his dark. The Norman glanced at it and nodded with an air of satisfaction. Once more, Ogilvy had scored a bull's-eye with his scraps of slang.
He shook hands with the Norman and his wife, while the others watched him curiously, then picked up the suitcase and departed.
He found the suitcase unexpectedly heavy and started for the Hotel de Ville to get a tram, then changed his intention. Beyond doubt, he would be followed—therefore he must go to the railroad station as though heading for Paris. So, instead of hopping the down-bound tram, he struck one bound for the station and climbed aboard.
Ogilvy knew perfectly welt that he dared not take any chances at the present stage of the game; he was, as yet, absolutely in the dark on many heads, and needed information. So he inquired as to the Paris express, found it left in ten minutes, bought a ticket, passed through the gates to the platform—and then promptly doubled on his tracks. He emerged through the side entrance of the restaurant, found a taxi-cab ten feet away, and climbed in.
“American Express,” he said, and then bent over in order to conceal himself until the taxi had left the station square.
Five minutes later he climbed out and paid the driver. Instead of entering the building before him, he turned away from the wide open space before the Bourse, crossed the bridge spanning the basin where ships were closely laid up, and then plunged through the waterfront section beyond. He came out on the Quai de Southampton, feeling certain that his tracks had been lost, and hurried on to the restaurant where he had left his bag.
The big blackboard at the wharf entrance across the street told him that the next ferry left in fifteen minutes. He ordered an, drank it, then departed. Once aboard the boat he ensconced himself in the second-class cabin, out of sight from the quay above, and settled down to wait. He was tempted to open Marmont's suitcase, but refrained.
The boat was comfortably crowded when she worked her way out past the fishing craft and mole, until she left the harbor behind and headed for the green hills on the other side of the Seine estuary, on her forty-minute trip. From the depths appeared an old hag, clad in black, with the usual lace cap of Normandy. She was serving coffee, and Ogilvy ordered a cup, which she brought him after a time, with crescent rolls. As it was boiling hot, Ogilvy laid it aside for the moment.
He smoked for a little, ironically watching the cabin empty, for the craft was catching a heavy Atlantic swell, and was rolling badly, so that the rails were quickly lined with unhappy mortals paying their debt to Neptune. After a time Ogilvy sipped his coffee, and found it vile—so strong as to have an acrid taste. However, he put it down, left his two grips, and strolled out for a glance at a fishing lugger bound up for Rouen.
And as he stood there, he glimpsed a red-sashed man up forward on the barred-off third class portion of the deck.
Ogilvy turned and leaned over the rail, startled. He recognized the figure instantly. It was one of the pseudo-workmen he had seen in the dram-shop. Either he was being shadowed with astonishing skill, or this was a chance encounter—the man might be going to Deauville for any one of a score of reasons, perhaps to seek Marmont.
Almost on the heels of the thought, Ogilvy had his answer. This came in a sudden swirl of giddiness, gone at once—but here was enough to give him sharp alarm. Instinctively he knew he was less clever than he had deemed; he had been shadowed after all, and the bitter taste of that coffee——
Reacting at once to the least divergence from his normal state of perfect physical well-being, Ogilvy did not. He knew he had been drugged; unless he acted swiftly, he was lost. So he rammed fingers down throat, and leaned far over the rail—and remained there a good five minutes. He was so placed, however, that, from the corner of his eye he could keep watch on the cabin where his grips reposed.
When he had done the best he could for himself, Ogilvy staggered in, got his two bags, brought them out in the open, and sat on them. He was feeling as though he had been dragged through a knot-hole, his senses were all swimming, and his legs were weak; the drug must have been powerful to act so rapidly. With an effort he took stock of the situation. The little steamer was nearing the end of her trip.
As it was low tide, she could not enter the Trouville harbor, and was heading for the long pier a mile to the east, on the other side of the town. She turned slowly and drifted in under the high steel framework; lines were flung and made fast, the gangplank was presently in place, and the passengers began to file ashore, presenting their tickets as they left.
Ogilvy stayed where he was until the worst of the shoving throng was gone, then rose and forced himself to the effort. It was a tremendous one, for his head was reeling, his brain had nearly lost coherence, and he seemed to have gone to pieces physically. Only by summoning up every atom of will-power did he manage to get across the gangplank with his two bags.
There faced him the steep climb to the wharf above. He negotiated the narrow iron steps slowly, yet for all his condition he had kept track of the red-sashed workman. He saw that the man had waited, also, and was now following him with a negligent air. No question about it all now!
Somehow the man must be got rid of. Ogilvy groaned to himself, but faced the problem squarely. The man was waiting for him to collapse, and he certainly would collapse if he did not get to bed in a hurry. The drug must have gone through his whole system most viciously to leave him in such condition.
Now he was up on the wharf, a long file of people streaming ahead of him toward shore where carriages and taxicabs were waiting. He took a few steps, then staggered and set down the grips. Turning, he found the workman close behind him. Ogilvy, gray-faced, appealed to him.
“My friend, will you give me a lift? I'm very ill——”
“Of course, of course!” exclaimed the other heartily. “Give me the bag, m'sieu—now put your arm around my neck and lean on me—so! Lean well. My faith, I am no weakling!”
Ogilvy complied, and thus they slowly proceeded toward shore. The workman looked well pleased with himself—more so than he would have done had he known John Ogilvy's mind.
OGILVY knew that he must win or lose everything at one blow, and faced the ordeal grimly enough, hanging on by sheer will-power.
Leaning heavily on the workman, staggering as he pulled himself along, he found the end of the pier in sight. Half a dozen taxi drivers were beckoning and shouting. He selected one, motioned, and the man sprang forward to take the bags. Ogilvy followed to his car, which was on open touring model, and turned to the workman.
“M'sieu, perhaps you'll accompany me?”
“With the greatest of pleasure!” replied the other, eagerly enough. Ogilvy motioned him in, seized the car door to steady himself, and looked at the driver.
“I am ill—I need air,” he said. “Drive out a little way along the coast road, then back to town.”
The driver assented, helped him in, and Ogilvy collapsed on the cushions. The workman at his side quite obviously considered all this a providential occurrence.
The car started up, gained the highway leading from town along the shore, turned into it, and everyone was happy; the chauffeur, for his extra fare, the workman, for the way Ogilvy was playing into his hands, and the American, for the impression of extreme exhaustion he had conveyed. He was badly off enough, but not nearly so badly as he appeared.
Within half a mile they reached a deserted spot with no chalet in sight, the long reaches of black rocks studding the exposed shore to the left. Ogilvy, bracing himself, saw the workman gazing off across the sparkling waters toward the Havre headland, and loosed his blow. His fist took the man accurately at the angle of the heavy jaw, and the workman limply collapsed. Ogilvy tapped on the glass, the driver glanced around, and then put on his brakes.
“Mon Dieu m'sieu, what has happened!” he exclaimed, staring at the senseless figure.
“Listen to me,” said Ogilvy curtly. “This man was one of a gang that tried to rob me, you comprehend? They misjudged their prey. Now if I turn him over to the police, you and I will both be questioned and caused trouble. So I propose that we leave him here beside the road and let it end there. Speak up—yes or no? If you refuse, go to the prefecture of police and turn him in.”
Naturally, the driver was only too anxious to escape the red-tape and inquisitions of a police inquiry; moreover, his hesitation was dispelled by sight of a hundred-franc note which Ogilvy was fingering. So, making sure no other car was in sight, he offered no further protest but opened a door, lifted out the body of the workman, made sure the man was no more than stunned, and set him beside the road. Then he leaped back to his seat, swung the car around, and headed back for Trouville at his best pace.
Ogilvy gazed out across the sands at the gaily colored tents and umbrellas on the beach near the casino, and with a last effort of will kept himself in hand. He was, now that the crisis had passed, gradually failing, and recurrent vertigo seized upon him. As the car approached the cathedral, he sighted by pure chance, the sign of a small hotel on a side street up the hill—the Hotel Fonduc. Swiftly, he tapped on the glass.
The chauffeur obeyed, then protested. M'sieu was obviously ill—and the bags were——
Ogilvy shook his head, paid the promised fee, then stood beside his bags until the car had departed on toward the casino. The final spurt remained before him, and he managed it somehow—but when he reached the little hotel he was staggering, and stars were dancing before his eyes.
He did not argue over the price of a room, but made out the regulation police card and then followed his host, who bore the bags. He found himself taken to a large, neat corner room, and expressed himself as well pleased.
“I was very seasick crossing from Havre,” he said, “and I must sleep—perhaps until tomorrow morning. Do not disturb me. I'll ring when I want anything.”
“Very good, m'sieu—our good Trouville air will soon put you in shape!”
Alone, Ogilvy locked the door; then leaned against it, trembling, reeling. He jerked off hat and coat, tried to undress—and collapsed across the bed.
When he opened his eyes again darkness was falling; the day had gone. He sat up, and immediately fell back under an access of giddiness while pain darted through him. He did not doubt now that but for his prompt action he would have been dead; no ordinary knockout drops would have thus affected him. It was an alarming thought, but he wasted no time on it—he managed to undress, and then crawled into bed. He was asleep almost at once.
He wakened again, to find the sun up—morning had come and half gone. When he rose, he found himself better, but extremely shaky. He rang for his breakfast, bathed and shaved, and after a bite to eat, got out his pipe and reviewed the situation,
“This bird traced me to the station, then to the Trouville boat, and knew I had tricked them regarding the suitcase,” he reflected. “Then what? He arranged with the old dame on the boat to fix my coffee, and did it with a heavy hand. He was taking no chances. Well, we've established the fact that Count Marmont is at the head of a cheerful bunch of cut-throats—and nothing else. Now for the grip.”
He pulled out Marmont's grip and attacked it. The affair was a cheap one, poorly constructed—not at all the sort which a customs officer would search, especially when his palm was greased. Besides which, as Ogilvy knew, American tourists were not bothered by the customs people unless some under-tipped porter drew down the official notice.
Thus, finding the suitcase locked, Ogilvy attacked it and speedily wrenched out the flimsily riveted fastenings on either side. He flung back the lid, then stared down at the contents, brows wrinkled in astonishment.
The suitcase was filled with soiled clothes.
Ogilvy broke out laughing. Shirts, pajamas, handkerchiefs, collars—his hand rumpled up the articles, and amusement seized on him. Here he had expended wits and strategy, had all but lost his life, over a suitcase filled with Count de Marmont's dirty linen awaiting the wash! No wonder it had been left at the dram-shop—probably it was to be taken to some particular blanchisseuse——
“But Chinamen don't do washing in France,” reflected Ogilvy, and his frown returned.
He untied the strips of cloth holding the contents of the suitcase in place, and ruthlessly tumbled out the articles. His half-suspicion was startlingly verified. Something dropped to the floor—he was looking at the dark green folder of his own passport! And now the cloth-lined bottom of the suitcase—yet not the bottom, surely! Too shallow for that——
Five minutes later, John Ogilvy leaned back, relighted his pipe, and regarded the row of little boxes on the table before him. They had been exhumed from the false bottom of the suitcase, and he was filled with admiration for the ingenuity of Marmont—not as to the false bottom, but the affair as a whole.
Slight attention is paid by the customs to the tourists who arrive from America, and the chances were ten thousand to one against any customs searcher giving a grip filled with soiled things a second glance, even if he opened it at all. As for considering that such a bag could have a false bottom, that was out of the question. The French have no organized system of rewards and reports such as the American government puts into play on its returning tourists, and Marmont could carry the thing off with practically no danger whatever.
It paid him well, too, since the French levy a high duty on precious stones. Ogilvy whistled in astonishment as he eyed the contents of the little boxes—unset stones of all descriptions, but none of them negligible; diamonds in platinum settings, tiny watch-bracelets, and one necklace of blazing sapphires whose sheer beauty held him spellbound. He examined one or two of the articles, found where names had been engraved and later erased, and sat back to figure it out.
“Why would he jeopardize this batch of stuff for the sake of stealing a passport?” he cogitated. “Of course, a passport would be of prime value in the hands of a crook over here, and perhaps Marmont has particular need for such an article at the moment; or one of his outfit might need it. Hm! He's certainly the head of an organization.”
As for the stones, these explained everything. They must undoubtedly be the loot of some American gang, stones too valuable to be easily disposed of at home. Marmont had taken them over, perhaps for a French syndicate, and after smuggling them into France could turn them over at good profit. There was the thing in a nutshell.
“How does it affect me?” thought Ogilvy, “I've got the loot, and there's going to be a large slice of hell raised over its disappearance, I don't want it particularly, but there's sure to be a large reward for it, and I want that reward, What's more—look at the front page story, exclusive with John Ogilvy! I'll bet the count has been dined and wined by half the would-be society in New York, too. What'll I do with the stuff?”
It was a poser. Ogilvy was not at all the sort to hand over conscientiously every lost umbrella he found to the police, but he had no desire to retain the jewels of other people. If he turned in these stones, the first thing he would be up against would be an inquiry as to how he got them, and he had no intention of explaining. He wanted to keep the whole thing tight until he could get the story on the wire. If he called in the police this would be impossible.
The thing to do, then, was to cable his New York paper, briefly describing the stones, let them take up the matter with the police, using their influence at home and in Paris to keep the story exclusive—and await developments, which should come within a day or so. To go over to Deauville and find the cable office meant the risk of being seen and recognized by Marmont's gang, who were undoubtedly moving heaven and earth to find him; but this risk must be run.
So much for the stones, but what about himself? He was in no shape to run down the story, as he realized when he began to dress. Once Marmont located him, recognized him as the man who had relieved him of the loot, it would be war; sharp and deadly. Perhaps he had already been traced to this hotel.
Glancing around the room, Ogilvy went to the old-fashioned washstand in the corner, pulled out its bottom drawer, piled the little boxes in it, and shut it again. This must serve for the present, Then he dressed, alarmed by his own weakness and lack of energy, and after replacing the soiled clothes in Marmont's suitcase, took it and left the hotel.
In five minutes he reached the line of waiting carriages beside the cathedral, and hired one to take him to the station. He chucked in the suitcase, settled back on the cushions, and was soon rolling along the main street of Trouville, with the walled river-channel on his right. Crossing the bridge, the carriage took him to the side door of the station, and Ogilvy got out.
“Now,” he said to the driver, “there is a noon train for Paris, eh? Good. You know the chalet of Count de Marmont, at Viller?”
The driver shrugged.
“One can always find, m'sieu.”
“Here's a hundred francs. Drive there and deliver this suitcase at the chalet. Any time this afternoon will do.”
The driver nodded, pocketed the money, and turned out of the big enclosure.
After five minutes, Ogilvy hired a taxi-cab and was taken to the cable office in Deauville, the more aristocratic of the twin resort towns. Here he sent off wires to announce his recovery of the passport, and filed a long cable in code to his own newspaper in New York.
These things took considerable time. When they were finished, noon had arrived. He left the office and made his way to the Potinière, the café across the street from the casino, where the so-called society of Deauville gathered each day. Ogilvy knew that in this assemblage of actresses, society loafers and pleasure-seekers, he was effectually concealed, so he made himself comfortable at a table beneath the trees, had a drink and a bite to eat, and presently paid his score and sauntered over to the casino. Finding that this would not open up for real business until late in the afternoon, he turned aside to hail a carriage—and things went black.
When he recovered, two men were reviving him and a small crowd had collected. Ogilvy, furious with himself for fainting, realizing that he had miscalculated his strength, was helped into a carriage, and perforce gave the driver the address of his hotel. He had left a trail now which would be impossible to cover, he knew, but there was no help for it.
Twenty minutes later, a touch of fever burning at his temples; he entered the Hotel Fonduc and went to his room. He locked the door, undressed, and crawled into bed after dosing himself copiously with whisky and quinine. In two minutes he was fast asleep. He wakened in mid-afternoon, found himself bathed in a profuse sweat, turned over and went to sleep again.
At seven that evening he wakened, sat up, and realized that he was extremely hungry. He rose, felt nearly himself, and began to dress. Then he found an envelope that had been shoved under the door, and seized upon it. The reply from New York was to the point:
- Get the story. Arranging with Paris prefecture. Congratulations.
Ogilvy grinned, stretched, and threw on his clothes.
“Congratulations, eh?” he reflected. “That means it's big stuff and I'll hear more later. Now for dinner and a plan of campaign!”
He need not have worried over the plan of campaign. It was already headed straight for him.
WITHIN half an hour Ogilvy assured himself that the effects of the poison had been thoroughly worked off. He was by no means himself, but another twenty-four hours would see this rectified.
He strolled over to the Trouville casino, far less pretentious than its Deauville sister and catering to the cheaper class of tripper, the bourgeois Parisian, and then along the café-lined square until he came to a brasserie. As it was just the dinner hour, the tables in front were partly occupied, but the corner table at the end of the terrace was empty, and Ogilvy made his way to it.
Fresh from unconventional America, he was anew amused by the stiff dressiness of the French summer resorts, and was watching the people around when a man approached and bowed in the courteous fashion of the country.
“Is m'sieu occupying the entire table?” he asked. “Or may I have his permission to take the opposite chair?”
“By all means,” said Ogilvy.
The other seated himself. Waiter and bus appeared, the table was laid, the orders were given. Ogilvy lighted a cigarette, which the Frenchman eyed with the usual compassion of his race for those who spoiled their gustatory organs with smoke before a meal.
He was a tall, immaculately attired gentleman, in white flannels, the highest of high collars, and white spats. In his button-hole were the ribbons of several decorations. His air was severe and lofty; his face grave and dignified. Ogilvy set him down as possibly a lawyer, or even a magistrate.
The two fell into conversation over their meal. M. Bacqueville de Morant proved to be a lawyer of the court of appeals in Paris, and Ogilvy congratulated himself on being a good guesser. Further, M. Bacqueville had a chalet down the coast, but was in Trouville to give his aid in a local court. His car had broken down—an ill to which French cars are heir—in the course of the afternoon, and he was forced to wait until after dinner to return home.
Cards were exchanged. Upon perceiving the miniature Croix on Ogilvy's card, M. Bacqueville thawed perceptibly; he became friendly, even ardent, insisted on touching glasses, and spoke of his warm feelings toward all Americans. He was obviously a man of great culture, highly educated, and mentioned his collection of relics. All Frenchmen are collectors, and M. Bacqueville, it appeared, gathered historic relics; he had recently acquired Marie Antoinette's lace nightcap, and spoke of it with pride.
The coffee and liqueurs appeared, and being somewhat loosened by his bottle of 1906 Vouvray, M. Bacqueville proposed that Ogilvy accompany him to his chalet for the week-end,
“It is only two or three miles down the coast, toward Blonville,” he said eagerly. “My car is repaired and waiting; we can be there in ten minutes! It would give me great pleasure to present you to Madame, and she would be charmed to have the honor of your acquaintance! You may return here very easily, whenever you are ready. If you would care to visit the Deauville casino, I have a card to the baccarat rooms——”
Ogilvy scarcely listened to all this, for he instantly perceived the timeliness of this invitation to him personally. By Monday he would be certain to hear from the Paris police, and Keene would also be along on Monday; he rather fancied Keene would make an excellent partner in this affair, and would jump at the chance to get in on it, So, on all counts, he might very well let things rest until Monday, and himself remain out of sight.
“I should be delighted,” he responded, “but I shall have to pack a few things——”
“The Hotel Fonduc.”
It was arranged, and after receiving a bow and a handshake, Ogilvy strode off toward his hotel, whistling as he went.
Arrived there, he informed the proprietor that he would be absent until Monday, then ascended to his room. A glance showed him that the stones were intact in the drawer, and he first considered taking them with him, then rejected the impulse. Glancing around the room, he went to one of the windows, which faced the hillside behind. Opening this, he found a wide sill outside, and arranged the little boxes there. Screens being unknown in France, and windows opened only in case of necessity, the boxes were as safe as though in a vault.
“Even if I've been seen and traced here, even if they search the room,” he reflected, “they'll never find the stuff here! So I'm off, to vanish until Monday.”
Two minutes afterward, he left the hotel, bag in hand.
There was but one way Bacqueville could come, turning out of the main street, and when his white figure showed up in a car, Ogilvy was at the corner waiting. Bacqueville stopped, and Ogilvy got in. The car was a two-seater Renault, powerful enough to eat up the hilly roads of Normandy with ease, In two minutes they were thrumming toward the bridge and Deauville; and once out of traffic, Bacqueville opened her up and they went down the long straight stretch toward Blonville at fifty miles an hour.
Ogilvy was astonished at the man's driving. Something in the way he tooled the car did not jibe with his grave dignity—it was more as Ogilvy himself would drive. He had slight time to wonder, however, for when the steep hill showed ahead, the pace slowed and Bacqueville waved his hand toward the left.
“Over there—a charming little place—the turn ahead——”
He made the turn, striking into a narrow little road at a speed that made Ogilvy gasp. For some minutes the car mounted steadily, winding among thick trees, shot over a final grade, and came into sight of a cluster of lights.
“There we are!” exclaimed Bacqueville. “And just under eleven minutes from Deauville, I think. Not so bad, all things considered. Ah, we have guests from Paris, it seems!”
The lights of several cars showed before a long, low building of some size. Off to the left, Ogilvy caught the dark sheen of a small lake. In between high gates they passed, a stone wall on either hand running into darkness, and on up to the house. Bacqueville tooted his horn.
For the first time, Ogilvy's suspicions leaped into life. No ordinary blast of the horn, but an irregular, rhythmic tooting—obviously a signal. On the instant, half a dozen other things occurred to him; notably, why should Bacqueville have remained to dine in Trouville, when any of these other cars might have brought him home—even a hired car?
Too late now; Bacqueville halted, leaving the motor running, and climbed out. A door opened, flooding a flight of steps with light. The long windows, uncurtained, showed glimpses of men and women, and a tinkle of music rippled out.
“Welcome, my friend!” exclaimed Bacqueville, coming around to Ogilvy's side of the car. “Here, let me take your bag.”
Ogilvy looked up at the nearest window—he could have sworn that the figure, coming and going again, had been that of Count de Marmont! Then, on the steps, came a man, to whom Bacqueville turned with a word of greeting.
Swift as light, Ogilvy's wakened brain leaped at the truth. Decoyed, trapped, snared like a foolish bird! What a silly ass he had been!
He acted by sheer instinct—it was a split second of time, a crisis on which everything hinged. Only instinct served now. He struck like a flash for Bacqueville's jaw, and as the Frenchman reeled back, flung himself under the steering wheel, threw in the clutch, threw off the brake, opened up the throttle. The powerful car whirled like a top and roared for the entrance.
From behind came a shot—answer enough to all doubts. The bullet went wide. Next instant Ogilvy was out in the winding road, thrumming along on second speed, shifting swiftly to third, then taking the dip beyond on full high.
Marmont was here, then—the whole gang was here, and he had been fetched along to be recognized, forced to give up the stones, probably murdered in the end! Fool that he had been, to think himself secure with such brains pitted against him! He crouched low, face set in a grim mask, and a snarling smile wrenched at his lips.
“Brains, eh?” he thought. “By George, if they want a fight they'll get it now!”
First it was a run, however. Over the crest, and from behind he caught the roar of an engine. He smiled again, threw in the gas, and took the narrow road like a madman. Drive? Let them try it with him! The night and the road ahead, his faculties all alert again, and untold horsepower at his fingers' ends!
Sickening swoop, wild lurching climb, wild curves—he covered the winding road at full speed, and only slowed for the descent into the highway. Then, for an instant, his mind paused. Which way? Instinct again—instead of turning to the right for Trouville, as he would be expected to do, as he had himself meant to do, he swung sharply to the left and swooped at the steep hill.
Part way up was an abrupt curve. As he neared this, he glanced backward and saw the headlights of a car swerve into the road from the same side road he had followed. Many cars were passing, and he did not bother to switch off his lights. As he had expected, the pursuing car turned in the opposite direction, toward Deauville and Trouville.
Ogilvy laughed, turned again, and changed gears to roar up the hill.
Now what? He knew subconsciously, and it came clearly to him as he reasoned it out. The entire gang was collected here at this chalet. Now that he had vanished, their whole effort would be, first, to find him, and second, to go through his room at the Hotel Fonduc. They were welcome to do that, he reflected. He himself was heading for Villers and Cabourg—and for Marmont's chalet. If the man really had one near Villers, it would be empty.
“They want action, do they?” and Ogilvy chuckled. “All right, let's have it!”
He settled down to his task. He was over the Blonville hill now, shooting down the long descent to the village beyond, whence the road crossed the sand flats to Villers like a ribbon unwound. Ogilvy had once toured through all this section, and now sharp memory of it swept back to him.
He slowed for the dangerous corner at the village, opened up again, and shot like an arrow for Villers. The speedometer quivered—thirty kilometers—forty—seventy—then eighty—a mad thing hurtled through the early night across the ribbon of macadam. The spurt ended when the straggling cottages of Villers swept up on either hand, and next moment Ogilvy was speeding along the esplanade and slowing for the hill and town beyond.
Fortunately, he knew exactly where to go here for information. Reaching the square of the town, he swung the car aside, left it, and turned to the café that served as headquarters and stop for the motorbus lines. Any inquiries elsewhere would be dangerous, but Marmont would never ask here.
In two minutes a blond Norman was pointing to a wall map and showing him exactly where the villa of Count de Marmont lay, three miles outside town.
In five minutes Ogilvy was tooling his borrowed car out and away. He intended to carry the fight into the enemy's country.
THE Chalet de Souvenir, as Marmont's villa was termed, was situated on an unpaved hill road. Leaving his car drawn up against a hedge, lights out, Ogilvy approached the place and examined it carefully.
The environing fence was a high one, of iron, and the massive iron gates were securely locked. This evidence that no one was about the place was borne out by its general appearance. The house was dark, and was on the hillside above the road, a hundred feet back. Not a light showed anywhere.
“Hm! Getting over that fence will take some doing,” thought Ogilvy. “And I'll need a light!”
Struck by an idea, he returned to the car and searched it carefully. To his delight he came upon an electric torch of the pistol-shaped variety which produced its own light when the handle was worked; further, upon a vacuum bottle filled with excellent coffee, of which he partook liberally. Thus provided without and within, he sought one extremity of the high iron fence, and found that it adjoined a low wall of stone. Climbing this wall easily enough, he gained the top of the fence and jumped.
Ogilvy made the circuit of the house, found it unlighted except for an attic window where a servant's room must be located, and set about entering. One servant, obviously, was here. An unlocked window swung open to his hand, and Ogilvy was in.
Now he dared not use his electric torch, because of the grinding whirr it made when being operated. With a shrug, he located an electric switch, turned it, found he was in a salon that opened into a library, and turned off the light. In the library, he closed the doors, switched on the lights, and set about exploration.
A glance showed that this was the room he sought. A desk was littered with papers. In the wall was set a large safe. The pictures and furnishings were rich, costly rugs covered the floor; lying on the desk, holding down a pile of papers, was a Luger pistol and a box of cartridges as though brought out for use and then left hurriedly. Ogilvy pocketed it, pocketed the box, then sat down at the desk and began to investigate the papers.
Ten minutes after, he switched out the lights, buttoned his bulging coat, and left the house as he had come. Leaving the grounds was another matter, but he made it at the expense of a ripped sleeve, and regained the car.
It was with a feeling of exultance that he turned on his car lights, started the motor, and began the delicate business of getting the car turned about on the narrow road without going into a ditch. What mattered now? Nothing! In his pockets were letters and papers, cables, telegrams, a complete cipher code. One glance at them had told they dealt with police matters and he had bundled up everything within reach, Those papers, bulging out his coat, meant that Marmont's whole gang lay in the hollow of his hand!
So great was his eagerness to be off that Ogilvy did not even don his light overcoat, but wrenched at the wheel and got the car half across the road. As he threw in the reverse gear, a sharp hail leaped out of the night at him. He backed, halted—was in the act of changing gears to go off like a shot, when another car without lights loomed up dead ahead, coming from the direction of Villers. As Ogilvy swung his car, his own lights picked up the other and showed it to be a small open Citroen bearing two men. It halted, and both of them leaped out, their car blocking the road.
In the very moment of victory, Ogilvy saw himself cornered. There was no time to smash the little Citroen aside—the two men were already springing for him.
He writhed out from under the seat, the gears in neutral, just as the man on the right leaped on the running-board with a sharp query. For reply, Ogilvy struck at him—the Luger was in his pocket. A hand caught at him and dragged him out the open doorway of the car.
He let himself go, with a savage blow to the face of the man below him, and both of them went rolling in the road. A kick in the side apprised Ogilvy that the other had come up, and now the man was on top en him. They struck and tore at him wildly, vehemently, a torrent of profanity emphasizing their blows; the three of them came half erect and then went down again, and rolled into the ditch.
Ogilvy struck his head against a stone, and for an instant was dazed. He dug one hand into his pocket, trying to get out the Luger, while both his assailants wrenched at him. Even in this moment, their manner of fighting struck him with contemptuous amusement,
“They're like a couple of old women and——”
As though in response to his unspoken thought, a pistol roared, but left him untouched. He had his own Luger now, but for an instant more could not use it. One of the two men had him by the coat and was jerking him aside with desperate wrenches.
Then, abruptly, Ogilvy flung himself backward. There was a ripping, rending tear, and he was free—half his coat was gone. He pressed trigger, then fired a second shot. Out into the road staggered one figure, and fell in the full glare of the headlights, and lay quiet. The other darted off into the darkness. Ogilvy fired after him, but without apparent result.
Panting, the American came to the prostrate figure and turned it over. The man was dead—it was the same workman who had poisoned him. He dragged the body to one side, then straightened up with an oath of dismay. The whole front of his coat had been ripped away; and with it had gone the precious papers, the price of triumph!
Ogilvy hesitated. He knew how far the sound of shots carry at night, and knew, too, how thoroughly these Norman roads were patroled by bicycle police; whoever was in the house would certainly be coming in another moment. None the less, Ogilvy dashed back to the ditch and made swift but vain search. The escaped man had doubtless carried off the fragments of coat, dropping them as he ran. Search were futile now, delay perilous in the extreme. The whole pack would be on his trail within half an hour, for he had seen a telephone in the library.
He jumped into his car, threw in the low gear, and stepped on the gas. A wild crash, a lurch, and the Citroen was rammed out of the road and turned over in the ditch. The big Renault leaped into speed and fled for Villers like a wild thing.
As he drove Ogilvy came to swift decision. Return to Trouville, for the moment, was out of the question—would be only tempting fate. Now he must await Keene, and whomever might come from the Paris prefecture, for the game had grown beyond his single handling. The main thing was to wash out his tracks as completely as possible and lie hidden until Monday night; and to this end he had laid his plans with some care while on the road.
Accordingly, he flashed through Villers, avoiding the main street and taking the side street to the right, which brought him out on the coast highway below the village. Now he opened up the Renault once more, heading for Blonville. To his right were wide marshy flats, to his left were sand dune or open stretches with the shore directly beyond. He was a good halfway to Blonville when he found his chance—a moment when the road was empty of cars ahead and behind. He switched off his lights, slowed down until he found a gap in the dunes, and then put the car at it.
With a plunging leap, the Renault was out of the road, roared over the low four-foot sandhill, and took the shore beyond. Ahead was a wide expanse of sands with the ripple of water in the starlight. Ogilvy tossed out his bag and topcoat, poised himself on the running-board, opened the hand-wide, and jumped.
He fell heavily, rolled over, then sat up and watched. The car's black mass ploughed over the wet sands, struck the water with a high splash, seemed to go on interminably—and then halted far out. Ogilvy rose, found his coat, donned it, picked up his bag, and struck out along the curving line of shore, well satisfied. The tide was creeping in, most of the coast along here was quicksand, and he felt certain that by morning there would be nothing of the Renault in sight.
Ahead of him was scarcely a mile, and he could see the blaze of lights from the new Parisian hotel of Blonville. He plodded along until he neared this hotel, then struck back to the highway. He had no idea of applying at the fashionable tourist caravansary. Instead he came to the crossroads of the tiny village, and just off to his right saw the place he had previously noted; an old-fashioned country tavern of brick.
The dining rooms of this little inn opened on the street and were ablaze with lights, while thehammering of an electric piano showed a dance was in progress. It was Saturday night, Ogilvy remembered. Inspecting the place, he avoided the noisy crowd and found a side entrance. This brought him into a wide courtyard, and he spoke to a woman who was at a doorway.
“Where can I find the proprietor? I have just arrived by motorbus, and want a room.”
“I will call him, m'sieu.”
She departed, and presently returned with a smiling young fellow who heard Ogilvy's request and then nodded.
“A room? But yes. M'sieu is an American, by his accent?”
“You're a good guesser,” said Ogilvy in surprise. “Usually I can fool anyone but a Parisian.”
“But I am a Parisian, m'sieu! You see, I married the daughter of the house, here, and in the summers this is my profession. At other times—I am an artist. Come, let us see what room you would like! After next week we shall be full up. The Grand Prix week——”
“It is for a few days only,” said Ogilvy. “I am ill, and must have complete rest.”
He followed his host up a flight of steps, and found himself fifteen minutes later in possession of a small but scrupulously clean chamber on the second floor. Ogilvy removed his light overcoat, and an exclamation broke from the proprietor at sight of his half-coated shape.
“Why—m'sieu has lost half his coat” he exclaimed, and laughed. “Now, I have heard of a coat being lost, but never the front half of a coat!”
“Then you've learned something,” and Ogilvy chuckled. “This afternoon in Caen, when I left the train to take the motor bus, I shut the compartment door without seeing that a corner of my coat was in it. Pouf! It happened. So I put on my overcoat and came along. Perhaps you can lend me a jacket of some sort, until I buy a new suit?”
“With pleasure.” The proprietor did not inquire too closely into Ogilvy's none too probable story, but accepted it at face value. “The fit will not be good, but it will serve, I think.”
“Can you get a letter into the post for me tonight?” asked Ogilvy. “I'll give it to you in half an hour. I'd like to have it registered if possible——”
“I can get it registered in the morning,” said the other, with a wink. “No letters are accepted for registry on Sunday—but our postmaster here will arrange it for me.”
This put the last link in the chain of Ogilvy's plan, for he knew with what extreme caution the French postal service will deliver no registered letter except to the party addressed. Accordingly, he sat down and wrote without reserve:
- My dear Keene:
- This should reach you Monday. on your arrival. Go to my room at the Fonduc, open the second window on the left, and you will find a number of small boxes on the window sill. Pocket them and bring them along to me at the White Horse Tavern in Blonville.
- You will probably find a gentleman seeking some word of me at the Fonduc. Sound him out with great care. If he is from the Paris prefecture, bring him along. But do not open your head to another soul about me—deny that you know me! And if you haven't a pistol, get one.
He addressed the envelope to Keene at the Fonduc Hotel in Trouville, sealed the letter, put the return address as Jean Fouquieres at the White Horse, and sought the proprietor below.
When he returned to his room he glanced at his watch, and whistled with surprise. It was not yet ten o'clock. He went through what was left of his coat, and found just one thing remaining of his loot, besides the Luger, the extra cartridges of which were gone. This object was a flat notebook containing not more than a score of entries, some rather lengthy. Ogilvy found it absolutely unintelligible, being in a language which he could only conjecture to be Hungarian. He laid it aside, and with a sigh for what had been lost, turned in for much-needed sleep.
Ogilvy had by this time entirely forgotten his recent illness.
JOHN OGILVY spent Sunday in strict seclusion, not leaving the tavern. When he went down to the dining-room for breakfast, the genial host handed him a receipt for the registered letter, showing it had departed safely.
Ogilvy spent the afternoon in his room or in the courtyard of the inn—a cobbled, tree-shaded space. From his window he commanded a view of the cross-roads and the highway, where the usual miracle by which French tourists avoid bad smash-ups was of hourly occurrence. There was a constant flood of traffic, and from behind his curtains Ogilvy wondered amusedly how many of Marmont's gang had passed his shelter. That a furious search was being made for him he had no doubt.
He kept his ears open that day, but heard no mention of an auto having been found in the sands at low tide. As such a discovery would have thrown the village into a ferment he was reasonably certain that the car had sunk in the sand.
Monday he was up early, obtained a bathing suit, or what passed for such, from the proprietor, and spent an hour on the surfless sands, seeing nothing of the Renault and returning with a hearty appetite for breakfast. He retired to his room again for the morning, and on inquiring into train arrivals, figured that Keene should show up here late in the afternoon, He would reach Trouville from Paris about three; allowing two hours to get the registered letter, obey instructions and come along to Blonville, he should be here by five. All of which was entirely satisfactory.
At twelve-thirty Ogilvy left his room, having delayed to finish a letter to the Paris office of his newspaper, and descended the narrow stairs to the courtyard. A number of peasants were gathered about the wagons and sheds in the rear, engaged in some dispute. Ogilvy entered the hotel office and deposited his letter in the box for mail, returned to the courtyard, and headed for the dining-room. As he came to the door, he noticed a man sitting near it reading a newspaper, but paid him no attention. He entered the dining-room, which had another entrance on the street, and had been floridly decorated by the proprietor with scenes of classical deities in undress costume.
At the first glance, Ogilvy perceived that he was trapped. The man outside had risen and was standing by the door; inside, a number of men seated about the room had looked up sharply. One of them was Count de Marmont.
It was a stiff shock, but in the flash of a split second, Ogilvy chose his course. Escape was impossible and would mean a bullet. The important thing was that flat notebook, which reposed on his dresser. As though he had discerned nothing unusual, Ogilvy turned to the genial proprietor, who was standing behind a cigar counter andhim.
“I'll return this coat you lent me, immediately after luncheon, as I must get the first train to Paris. Will you have a car brought, to take me to the station? I believe it's some distance from here. I have no luggage, so that will save bother.”
The proprietor was about to speak, then checked himself and looked past Ogilvy. The latter turned, to see Marmont approaching. He gave a start of assumed astonishment.
“My dear M. Ogilvy!” exclaimed Marmont, beaming, hand extended. “This is indeed a delight! I heard that you were here, so in passing through I stopped for luncheon, hoping to see you. Come, you must join me! What was this I heard you saying about Paris?”
Ogilvy shook hands gravely.
“I meant to get up to Paris tonight——”
“Impossible, my dear fellow! You must come home with me; my car is outside. My chauffeur is there—Henri!” At the word, one of the seated men rose. “Go to M. Ogilvy's room and pack his things——”
“No use, my dear Marmont,” said Ogilvy, meeting the man's eyes and smiling, so that the double meaning of his words might be apparent. “No use, I assure you—I have nothing to pack! Half naked I came into Blonville, and half naked I go—you see, my luggage went on to Paris, and Saturday night I lost even the little I had, in an accident. I've had to borrow a coat from our host, here. If you insist, of course I can't very well refuse.”
“I do insist!” said Marmont at once. “Never mind, Henri. M. Ogilvy will accompany us home. Come, my friend—I have not yet begun my repast. A bottle of your best Burgundy, host! Now, then, let us have a chat.”
Behind the surface cordiality Ogilvy plainly discerned the menace. Marmont was bland, smiling, impeccably groomed; but in the liquid depths of his dark eyes glowed a tiny flame that spoke louder than words.
As he sat down opposite Marmont, Ogilvy glanced around and took count. Four men besides Marmont in the room, and one at the courtyard door.
“You do me great honor, my dear Marmont!” he observed ironically.
“You are worthy of it,” said the other gravely, dropping his light manner. They could talk without danger of being overheard. “I am sorry that I must interrupt your journey to Paris, my friend.”
Ogilvy smiled. “We are proceeding on a friendly basis?”
“On an amicable basis.” Marmont spoke English now. He regarded Ogilvy curiously. “You did not tell us, on the Gaulois, that you were a newspaper correspondent among other things.”
“And that led to errors?”
“Regrettably, yes.” Marmont shook his head. “Errors must be admitted frankly when they occur.”
“Upon my word, I'm beginning to like you!” drawled Ogilvy. He perceived that Marmont now knew all about him, and that any subterfuge could be discarded.
“I return the compliment.”
“Thank you. The mutual admiration society is now disbanded. To tell the truth, I am rather anxious to reach Paris as soon as possible. My passport was lost on the boat, but has fortunately been recovered, so nothing detains me.”
“As to that, I must be permitted a difference of opinion,” said Marmont, affably. “But you mentioned an accident the other night—you were not hurt, I trust?”
“No, but I lost all the valuables I had with me. Some of them I had just obtained.”
Marmont gave him a sharp, keen look, so unmistakably tinged with astonishment that Ogilvy was promptly puzzled. Surely the man who escaped, the man who had half torn off his coat, would have reported what had happened?
“We are both gentlemen, Mr. Ogilvy,” said the Hungarian slowly. “That is, in a certain acceptance of the term. For my part, I should accept your pledged word as beyond any equivocation. Perhaps, in what you have just said, you are joking?”
“Not at all.” Ogilvy paused as the waiter hovered near, knowing that two out of three Frenchmen have a working knowledge of English, though they usually deny it. As to the papers he had looted, he promptly accepted their relinquishment as a necessary evil. He was in a very tight place, and had no choice.
“Saturday night,” he resumed, “I had received some papers which might be very valuable, though I had no opportunity of perusing them. Two men attacked me. One of them tore away the whole front of my coat, and carried it off with him. With the coat went the pockets.”
Marmont sipped his wine, but his dark eyes were piercing.
“Hm! That is singular, indeed,” he returned slowly. “Now, I know that two men seem to have also met with an accident the other night. One of them was found, but the other seems to have been lost. Odd, how accidents could happen here in Normandy!”
Ogilvy's brows went up. What of the man who had escaped him, with the half of his coat?
“Lost? That is strange. Perhaps he found himself with valuables in his possession, and decamped?”
“No, he was not that kind,” said Marmont, then added grimly, “And he knew better.”
For a space the two devoted themselves to the excellent repast before them. Then Marmont opened fire.
“Odd, the amount of crime going on in Calvados at present!” he observed with an air of detachment. “In Havre, across the bay, I lost a suitcase—it was later returned, but with certain things missing. And only the other night my little chalet was entered and pillaged of some valuable documents.”
Marmont regarded him steadily, a glimmer of amusement growing in his eyes; then both men broke into a laugh.
“Come!” Marmont flung off all pretence. “You're a good enemy; I'd prefer not to have you as a bad enemy, Mr. Ogilvy! I want the stones and the papers. I think you quite comprehend what I am willing to pay for them—a journey to Paris, let us say?”
Ogilvy shook his head.
“Impossible. I left the stones in Trouville.”
“Not in your room at the Hotel Fonduc, certainly.”
“No. You see, I did not want to be connected with the affair, so I turned them over to a friend, who will, I believe, give them to the police. Probably he has already done so.”
“A friend? Keene?”
“Eh? Keene?” Ogilvy concealed his alarm at this deadly shot. “I haven't seen Keene since landing, or heard from him. He's only a boat acquaintance. No, believe me, the stones are beyond recovery. You deserve it, Marmont. One who makes errors, must pay!”
Marmont lost his calm air for an instant. His mouth tightened into cruel lines, the affability of his eyes became a wickedly vicious flame of anger; then, with an effort, he was in control of himself again.
“So!” he observed. “What, then, of the papers?”
“I don't know,” said Ogilvy frankly. “I've told you exactly what happened.”
Marmont looked down at his wine glass for a long moment, and slowly a pallor crept into his face.
“So that's it!” he murmured, as though speaking to himself. “There were four shots heard—Raoul had fired one, you the others. One did for Raoul; the other two? They explain everything.”
Marmont looked up, caught the eye of a man at another table, and beckoned. The man came over to them and leaned above their table. Marmont spoke softly, rapidly.
“Go, find Tsing Li, take his car. Look through the woods at the side fence of the chalet grounds. You'll find Foucher's body there. In his hand, or somewhere in the woods, will be a piece of a coat. Preserve it carefully. Look for any papers that may have been scattered. Make haste!”
The man nodded, gave Ogilvy one dark glance, and departed.
As for Ogilvy, he was a little startled at this evidence of the enemy's discernment. He could reason it out for himself as well—the lost Foucher must have got over the low wall adjoining Marmont's fence, with one bullet in him. He must have tried to get into the chalet grounds from the rear, but death's hand was the speedier.
“Good reasoning,” said Ogilvy reflectively. “I believe you're right.”
Marmont looked at him, with eyes that had become bloodshot.
“Yes. Here comes the coffee. Drink it and we'll be off.”
“And shall I see the charming M. Bacqueville?”
“You'll be lucky if you ever see anyone again!” Marmont snarled, as the mask slipped. “Now that you're taken care of, we'll go into this thing from the ground up.”
Ogilvy shrugged, and beckoned to the proprietor. He quite understood that this keen-witted Parisian had been astonished when he disclaimed having any baggage, and he resolved to take a chance on the man's acuteness of perception. Marmont watched him suspiciously, but Ogilvy only lighted a cigarette and smiled at the proprietor.
“There is nothing in my room except my light overcoat,” he said. “Will you have the kindness to bring it down for me? Then I'll give you back your coat, and put it on instead. Let me have my bill also. I may return in a few days, but it is uncertain.”
For an instant Ogilvy thought the ruse would work; then Marmont motioned to the proprietor.
“No, no! I cannot cause you such trouble. My chauffeur will get the coat—he is well acquainted with your hotel. What is the room?”
Ogilvy gave the number.
“Henri!” Marmont beckoned one of his men from another table, and sent for the coat. In the puzzled eyes of the proprietor, Ogilvy read the feeling that something was amiss, but this hope was smashed; he could say no more, do no more, except leave a trail in case Keene came along. The notebook was lost.
“I'm off to Paris with Count de Marmont,” he said, as he paid his bill. “In case any mail comes, hold it. I may return.”
Marmont smiled thinly. A moment later the chauffeur appeared. The very fact that he did not bring Ogilvy's bag, showed that he had heard all the conversation and was managing the matter very quietly. He held the coat for Ogilvy, then turned to Marmont.
“Here, m'sieu, is your notebook. I believe you left it in the car this morning.”
Marmont nodded, pocketed it, gave Ogilvy a significant glance, then took him by the arm with an air of friendliness and they turned to the door.
“Good player, eh?” he observed. “Well, our car's waiting—another Renault. I do not depend on one alone, be it cars or men.”
This hint, and the accompanying pressure of the fingers, was significant. At the door one of the other men was at Ogilvy's elbow. Before them was standing a large closed car, and the chauffeur and a second man took the front seat. Marmont ushered in his guest most impressively, and they turned into the highway. Another car followed, with Marmont's other men.
Then, as they flashed out the tong level stretch toward Villers, Marmont turned and faced the American, with an abrupt change of front.
“You're a clever rascal,” he said, a sneer on his lips and in his eyes. “I've been trying you out a bit—having a little fun with you. So you really thought you could match your wits against mine? You fool! I've had every hole blocked, every alley searched, every contingency provided against. In proof—look at this.”
He held out the letter which Ogilvy had sent to Keene at the Hotel Fonduc.
THIS was a terrific blow—about the hardest Ogilvy ever had received. From the instant he found himself ensnared he had built every hope upon Keene, and now the whole structure was tumbled over like a house of cards! The stark reality of the situation was frightful. Marmont had played him cleverly there in the hotel, not daring to push him too far lest he take a desperate chance—and he would have taken it had he known all was lost. For now he admitted to himself that all was lost.
“You have found the stones, then?” he asked.
“Yes, thanks to your kindness in sending us straight to them!” Marmont laughed, and the scornful contempt in his voice stung deeply. “There remained to get the papers and notebook, and since you seem to have told the truth about them—we'll see! Did you really think we'd leave that hotel without searching your room? I'm afraid you're a bigger fool than I thought.”
Ogilvy resisted the temptation to turn and strike that sneering face.
As things now stood Keene could not know where to meet him—would not even know Ogilvy expected to meet him. In a flash Ogilvy perceived with fatal clarity how he had absolutely cut himself off from every hope, every chance. Probably in the course of the morning Marmont had caught that registered letter. That he had secured it, whether by bribery or strategy, in the face of the stringent postal regulations was proof enough of his ability.
“When you set out to measure swords with me, Ogilvy, you picked the wrong man!” said Marmont, a hint of steel in his voice. “I picked the wrong man when I secured your passport, I admit; but I'm equal to coping with errors. You're not. You ran your head into a game that's far beyond you, and you know what to expect.”
Ogilvy stared out at the flitting shores, and said nothing. Despite his impassive mien, the very sting of the jeers served to rouse him. He could now depend on no one, had only himself to count on. Was he such a fool, indeed, as he seemed to this man? The thought was like a spur to him, a burning goad stirring him to action.
Yet he sat in silence, his face a stony mask of defeat, while Marmont outlined his victory step by step, and gloated over it. The car headed into Villers, unhurried, passed through the sleepy little town, and turned out for Marmont's villa.
“Your letter would indicate,” said Marmont suddenly, “that Keene is as yet unconnected with this affair. Eh?”
Ogilvy told him frankly of his half-understood rendezvous with Keene, and was relieved to see that Marmont accepted his explanation.
“Very fortunate for Mr. Keene,” said the Hungarian dryly.
“What's your program, so far as I'm concerned?” demanded Ogilvy. The other regarded him for a moment, then made a slight gesture as of one who has no choice.
“Is it not obvious? You declared war. Vae victis!”
“You mean—murder?” said Ogilvy steadily. “You would not dare.”
“My dear fellow, don't be childish!” Marmont laughed. “Dare? Nonsense. I am quite impervious to the law, rest assured on that head. You are too brutal in your choice of words; murder is one thing, removal is another thing. I prefer removal, always. First we must see about those papers. Once this delicate point is settled the rest can be determined. You have learned far too much to be permitted to go at liberty, as you can readily understand.”
Ogilvy made no response, for on this point could be no argument. Marmont had, indeed, only one course. In self defense, he must shut the mouth of this American who had pried open his coffer of secrecy.
Ahead of them now showed the villa, its gates open, The Citroen had been pulled out of the ditch long since; indeed, it or a sister car now stood before the entrance of the villa, with three figures around it. One was a Chinaman. They were the two sent from Blonville, conjectured Ogilvy, and the servant of the house. She was a peasant woman, gnarled and stooped from labor in the fields. When the big Renault halted, she turned and scurried into the house. The two men came forward, and the man sent from Blonville made report.
“Well, we found Foucher just where you said, Master. Sacred name of a pipe! The whole back of his head was stove in.”
“Eh?” Marmont, in the act of leaving the car, halted. Ogilvy heard the words with astounded incredulity. “The bullet had stove in his head?”
“Hardly. Something bigger than a bullet!” The other laughed. “He's dead enough. Not a bullet in him, either.”
Marmont alighted and turned to Ogilvy.
“You smashed him, eh? I thought it was a bullet.”
“Hard to say. I did all the smashing I could. Naturally there was no time to be very nice about it.”
Marmont turned to the men.
“And the letters?” he asked.
“We found part of a coat near him,” said Tsing Li, the Chinaman—a broad-faced, slant-eyed fellow who spoke very beautiful French. Obviously a man of education. “Letters and papers were strewn around. They have all been collected and put on your desk.”
“Ah, good!” Marmont relaxed in very evident relief, and turned to Ogilvy with a smile. “Come along, my friend! You shall appear before the council and plead your own cause. Every justice shall be done you. Ready, gentlemen?”
Council? This was a new phase of the matter, and for the moment a puzzling one. Ogilvy left the car, and glanced around. Escape was impossible. The following car had come up and now six men, besides Marmont himself, were around him. Without wasting words on protest Ogilvy accompanied his captor up the steps and into the house, the others following. Marmont led him into the library. On the large flat-topped desk lay a pile of papers, with the box of Luger cartridges holding them down, and the fragments of Ogilvy's coat. Marmont stood for an instant surveying. them, then turned.
“Very good. I think we need not waste time sorting them over. Apparently the pistol is still missing. You have it!”
“In my room at the Blonville hotel,” said Ogilvy. “I did not anticipate your call, you see.”
“Well, let it go,” Marmont .chuckled. “Henri! Come and make certain our friend is not armed. You may remove your coat, Mr. Ogilvy. Chairs, gentlemen, and close the doors.”
Ogilvy flung off his light coat. One of the men advanced, frisked him, and retired with a nod of satisfaction. The others drew up chairs in a semi-circle. Marmont seated himself at the desk and opened a box of excellent cigars, which were passed around. Then the count took from Tsing Li a package, and opened it to disclose the little boxes of stones and jewelry, which he placed on the desk. Ogilvy lighted a cigar and waited.
Studying the faces around him, he found all of them strange to him. None of them were criminal; a party of business men gathered to discuss their affairs, one would have said. Among them was M. Bacqueville de Morant, solemn as ever, but he did not favor Ogilvy with any sign of recognition nor return his nod.
“Now, Mr. Ogilvy, let's get down to business,” said Marmont, leaning forward in his chair. “You are in the presence of the council or governing body of a little society of which I am the head. As you speak French perfectly, we shall continue in that language. You will pardon us if we attend to one or two slight matters of business before proceeding to your case. M. Bacqueville, you will now take charge of the consignment I brought from America. For the moment, leave them as evidence. Arrangements are made?”
“Fully,” said the lawyer, for such Ogilvy judged him really to be. “If they answer the description previously sent, I am offered the sum of four million, three hundred thousand francs for the lot; one third cash, the balance within three months. They will go to thefor disposal.”
“Very well,” said Marmont, with a nod. “An excellent bargain, in my opinion. Shall we approve the terms, gentlemen?”
A word of assent passed around the circle.
“Agreed, then. Now, as you know, our colleague Foucher was recently killed in the performance of his duty. He leaves a widow and two children in Caen. What is your wish?”
“I move,” said one of the men, without emotion, “that we grant the widow Foucher the usual subsidy, and a further pension of ten thousand francs per annum, in view of the fact that Foucher recovered these stolen papers.”
“Your pleasure, messieurs?” Marmont glanced around the circle and met a general nod. “Approved, then. With Foucher was killed Raoul Hougant, an employee of the Havre agency; he also leaves a widow. The usual compensation, I presume? Agreed, then. We now have to fill the place left vacant by Foucher's death. Suggestions?”
“I propose M. Lebrun of the Brussels agency,” said one.
Other names were proposed, and there ensued a most animated discussion, waged with as much freedom as though no outsider were present—an ominous sign. Ogilvy might have thought himself the victim of some hoax, had it not been for the deadly gravity of those around, and the obvious sincerity of all that had previously taken place.
A criminal society organized on business lines, then? Incredible as it seemed, here was proof enough before him. Very well organized, too, he inferred, and headed by well-chosen men of ability. He was speedily given more evidence of this, for as soon as a ballot had been taken and a successor chosen to the defunct Foucher, Tsing Li spoke up blandly.
“As I understand it, our esteemed M. de Marmont obtained an American passport, neglecting to estimate the danger involved, and thereby nearly wrecked the important enterprise on which he was engaged. Before moving for a vote of censure, I should like to inquire why he thus imperiled a large thing for the sake of a small thing?”
“Because,” said Marmont, “I received an urgent radio from M. de Nesle, who sits yonder, stating that the Paris agency had immediate need of such a passport.”
“That is true,” spoke up one of the others, thus appealed to. “It is pressingly needed in the affair of the Cellini urn, and I am the one to blame for demanding a passport if such a thing were possible.”
“I am satisfied,” said Tsing Li. “My apologies, M. de Marmont.”
The count waved his hand grandly, yet he had looked undeniably startled. Ogilvy listened to all this with mingled emotions. Tempted to laugh, he none the less realized the deadly gravity of it all.
“We now come to the case of M. Ogilvy, here before us,” said Marmont. “He is charged, first, with the murder of M. Foucher and the man Raoul Hougant. Do you deny it, m'sieu?”
“No,” said Ogilvy calmly.
“You have, perhaps, some defense?”
“If you seek a pretext to murder me, why defend myself? The two men attacked me as I was leaving here, pulled me out of my car, fired on me. That is all.”
To the utter astonishment of Ogilvy, Tsing Li spoke up.
“M. Ogilvy clains self-defense. From the scene of the struggle and other evidence, he speaks the truth. Therefore I move that the charge of murder be dismissed.”
There was a murmur of assent. Marmont glanced around.
“Agreed? Then, M. Ogilvy, I take pleasure in informing you that the charge is dismissed by unanimous consent of the council.”
Ogilvy was speechless, incredulous. Yet in Marmont's benign gaze he read dark things.
“Thank you, gentlemen,” he said, with faint irony. One or two of the men smiled, and in this smile Ogilvy perceived a frightful menace.
JOHN OGILVY saw plainly enough that he was being played with, and that there was something more to come. Since being shown his letter to Keene he had been at high tension, every nerve keyed up, every sense on the alert to seize some straw of advantage; all in vain. Now he sat smoking, outwardly imperturbable, inwardly at desperate extremity, every faculty centered on Marmont. He gave himself up for lost, and his one resolve was to drag down this man with him if he reached the end of things.
Therein lay his one and only possible vantage-point. He was an American, these other men were all Europeans, with the exception of Tsing Li. They enjoyed a Latin sense of the dramatic, of the theatrical. If they condemned him to death, they could only conceive him as going to that death with dramatic dignity; knowing himself surrounded, outnumbered, lost beyond hope, he must accept his fate. But John Ogilvy had no intention of doing anything of the sort.
“It is human nature,” said Marmont suavely, “to desire the inaccessible, to seek what is unattainable, from a superficial viewpoint. That is why, for example, a bad man usually loves a good woman. That is why I fastened my desires upon certain things, and attained them despite obstacles. That is why our friend Ogilvy was tempted to take over single-handed a task at which all the police of Europe had failed ignominiously.”
He paused, selected a fresh cigar, lighted it, and resumed.
“M. Ogilvy, gentlemen, is a newspaper correspondent. When he found himself injured, he set out to regain what he had lost. He regained it. Not content with this, he gained possession of those stones yonder. He then laid information with the Paris police against us, and this is the first charge against him.”
M. Bacqueville spoke up gravely.
“If we war against society, we cannot blame that society for arming itself against us. He did his duty as he saw it. I move the charge be dismissed.”
There was a murmur of assent.
“Approved,” went on Marmont, and gave Ogilvy his winning but dangerous smile. “M Ogilvy then opened a campaign against us, came here, looted my correspondence——”
“You forget,” put in Ogilvy suddenly, “that this was after you tried to entrap me by means of M. Bacqueville yonder.”
There was an exchange of glances, and despite his situation Ogilvy smiled to see how seriously these men took each other and the farce they were playing.
“To the vote,” said Marmont. “All in favor of dismissing the charge, aye!”
The charge was dismissed by a majority of two votes, one being that of Marmont. Ogilvy's ironic smile greeted the verdict.
“The final charge,” said Marmont placidly, “is that M. Ogilvy has attained to a fund of information about our society which imperils us all.”
As Marmont paused, Ogilvy perceived that the farce was ended, the crisis at hand.
“This,” went on the Hungarian, “is in my opinion a most dangerous situation. We cannot silence this man without keeping him imprisoned and thus causing a search to be made. We are of course unable to turn him loose with such information in his possession. M. Tsing, what is your opinion in the matter?”
“I think,” said Tsing Li, staring unblinkingly at the American, “that the body of M. Ogilvy should be found tomorrow morning on the sands of Deauville. It will help to advertise the resort, and I happen to know that the proprietor of the casino is very hard up for press-agent material just now.”
No one smiled at this speech except Ogilvy himself.
“And you, M. Bacqueville?” asked Marmont.
“I fully agree with M. Tsing.”
“Have you,” and Marmont turned to the American, “anything to suggest in this matter? Is there any guarantee you can give as to your silence?”
Ogilvy knocked the ash from his cigar.
“None,” he said.
“Then I put the motion of M. Tsing to the vote. Is there any dissenting voice?” Marmont glanced around the circle and met none. “The motion is approved.”
“And how,” demanded Ogilvy, with sarcasm, “do you propose to carry it out? By putting cyanide in my coffee, or by staking me out on the sands to drown with the tide?”
“Neither,” said Marmont, and chuckled. “You will be put in a certain room. After dinner tonight the room will be flooded with a certain gas; when your body is found, it will be seen clearly that you died by drowning. We can even manage to flood the lungs with water by a simple device invented by M. de Nesle yonder, who is a physician.”
“Then at least,” observed Ogilvy, “I shall have a good dinner?”
“Of the best,” said Marmont. “I regret that it must be solitary, but I draw your particular attention to the Tokay that will be served.”
“I shall endeavor to appreciate it,” said Ogilvy.
He caught a nod exchanged between two of the men, and felt satisfied that he was playing the part they had expected. Already had come into his mind the desperate scheme that would let him go down fighting, instead of like a rat in a trap; but the time was not yet. He would not attempt it until the very last moment—surely somewhere he would find a straw!
He found none.
Marmont and two of the other men escorted him from the room and up two low flights of stairs to a mansard room under the roof. Marmont. pointed to a bell-pull and told him to ring if he required anything; then closed the door. It shut when a subdued click that told of a spring lock.
Alone, Ogilvy threw off his mask of self-control and darted to the window. It was small, overlooked the winding road and tree-clad slopes, and three heavy transverse bars crossed outside the glass—which was thick and blown over wire. Only a hammer could smash that glass. Nor did the window open.
Satisfied that he was powerless so far as the window was concerned, Ogilvy looked around the room. Here was nothing that could serve him as a weapon. An electric light was in a solid wall-socket; an iron table, bolted to the floor, held magazines and newspapers; an iron cot, likewise bolted down, invited to repose. There was nothing else in the room—absolutely nothing.
For half an hour Ogilvy worked desperately at bed and table; then, panting and bathed in sweat, he desisted and flung himself on the cot. It was useless. He had only his bare hands with which to fight against the doom that was upon him.
The little room was stifling hot, situated as it was under the roof and without ventilation. As he lay, Ogilvy examined the walls and ceiling; he struck them with his fist, then relaxed again in despair, They were solid, as though plastered against solid boards. In each corner of the ceiling he discerned a small hole from which protruded the edge of a rubber tube, sharply discolored.
This discovery proved that Marmont's threats were not futile.
Ogilvy realized the fact calmly. At first it had seemed ludicrous, unreal, even as the farcical trial by the council appeared unnatural; but this had now simplified into cold fact. Regarding the matter from a criminal standpoint, indeed, Ogilvy could see that it was the essence of simplicity. His body would be found on the Deauville sands, and that would be the end of the matter.
The prospect of being gassed like a rat in a trap, however, made no appeal. The more Ogilvy thought about it, the less appeal it made.
Struggle as he might, he could evoke no hope of escape. Even the prospect of going down fighting was a forlorn chance. The heat in the room sapped his mental and physical vigor; it became intolerable, until it was as though he were enclosed in an oven. The lack of air was insufferable. Remembering the bell-pull, he jerked it, then waited.
After an interval he heard a sound and lifted his head. The door did not open; but a small square in its upper panel slid away, and he saw the face of the old woman servant.
“Air!” exclaimed Ogilvy, panting. “Bring me a drink—beer—and leave the door open or I'll suffocate here!”
“I will tell the Master,” was the reply, and the panel was closed again.
Another interminable wait. Presently the square in the door slid open again; through this opening, about six inches square, the old woman pushed two bottles of beer and a glass, Ogilvy taking them from her.
“The master says the door must remain shut, but this little door can be open,” she said, and departed down the stairs, which led directly from the door.
Ogilvy's first thought was to get his arm through the hole and see what he could effect, but the result was futile. Marmont knew what he was doing in letting the panel remain open. Giving it up, Ogilvy opened a bottle of beer, and experienced enough relief from the slight ventilation to make himself comfortable in comparison with his former state. He could do nothing except wait the appointed time, and then make his try for Marmont.
Time passed. It was after four o'clock when Ogilvy suddenly sat bolt upright, then leaped from the cot, went to the iron table, and mounted on it. Directly above this, set in the ceiling, was the single electric bulb. Putting his hand up, Ogilvy tried to unscrew it, then remembered it was of French make and gave it a twist. The bulb came away in his hand, and he took it back to the cot, a sudden thrill of savage triumph coursing through his veins.
The bulb was of the ordinary mazda type. Carefully wrapping it in the folds of a blanket from the cot, Ogilvy placed it against the wall and struck it a sharp blow with his fist. The report of the exploding bulb, despite the muffling effect of the blanket, was sharp, but he did not think it would reach the ears of those on the lowest floor of the villa.
Swiftly unwrapping the remains of the bulb and breaking off the fragments of glass adhering to the brass base, he dumped all these shards behind the bed and inspected his prize. There remained the base, and from this projected the long round-tipped glass column that had held the outspread filament; placing this under his heel, Ogilvy pressed with care until the tip broke. The column was now transformed into a spike; the electric bulb had become a weapon. Fragile, true, yet far less fragile than human life.
As he contemplated his work, then put it under the pillow of the cot, Ogilvy suddenly straightened up, listening. On the wall beside him had come a sharp tap, not loud but distinct. It came again and again, with pauses. Someone, then, was in an adjoining room or chamber—no doubt a similar death-cell to this one—and had heard the report of the bursting bulb! And as he listened, Ogilvy suddenly recognized what those taps were saying, over and over, in Morse.
“OG! OG! OG!”
He rapped sharply with his knuckles, a blaze of excitement firing him, and tapped out a question. The response came at once, and left him dismayed, aghast, stupefied.
So they had Keene after all, then—despite all their fine talk! Dejection seized upon Ogilvy, then alarm at hearing voices and steps on the stairs. He rapped sharply, swiftly, and Keene took warning. The tapping ceased.
Marmont came to the door, and with him, Tsing Li.
IF OGILVY were disconcerted and aghast at finding Keene also in this trap, he was more put out by the inopportune coming of Marmont and Tsing Li. Given a little time, he would have been able to exchange stories with Keene, at least; and the very possession of his fragile weapon, good only for one blow, had heartened him enormously.
On the other hand, here Marmont had come to him, when he had been pondering how he would get the man to his prison-room. Well, why not take the plunge now? There was nothing to be gained except a fighting end, and that was well worth the effort. Keene was no doubt prisoned and perhaps slated for murder as well.
So, when Marmont looked in through the opening, Ogilvy, sitting om the cot, looked up and nodded calmly.
“Thanks for the beer,” he observed, “but I can't recommend your ventilation system.”
“It will serve,” said Marmont. “I came to ask whether yow know a gentleman connected with the Paris prefecture, by the name of Lanvier.”
“Never heard of him,” said Ogilvy promptly. “Hold on, though—wasn't he the chap who ferreted out that pearl mystery last spring?”
“The same.” Marmont regarded him with grave eyes. “He arrived in Trouville last night and then disappeared. It occurred to me that you might be responsible for his arrival. If you can throw any light on it, I'll pay you well—in hours of life. Until midnight, let us say.”
“Generous, aren't you?”smiled. “However, the atmosphere of this room is extremely impressive, my dear Marmont. I had already made up my mind to strike a bargain with you, if possible. As for this Lanvier, I believe he came to Trouville as a result of the information I sent Paris—those jewels, yow know. He is no doubt waiting there to see me.”
“He'll see you tomorrow morning,” said Marmont, an ugly note in his voice. “What sort of a bargain did you have in mind?”
“Nothing to discuss for the whole house to hear,” said Ogilvy. “If I offered you something big—let us say, as big as those jewels downstairs—would you consider setting me at liberty? I might add that this affair would act in your hands as a perpetual check on me in the future, an assurance of my silence.”
Marmont studied him a moment.
“Hm! I might propose it to the council,” he said. “What is the affair of which you speak?”
Ogilvy grinned at him and fumbled for a cigarette.
“Think I'm going to shout it out for all the world? Not much. I'll tell you privately what it is; then, if you find it's worth paying for, go ahead with your blessed council!”
This hint of mystery brought into the dark liquid eyes of Marmont a mixture of suspicion and interest.
“Hm!” he returned slowly, staring at the lanky figure of Ogilvy. “Just what is in your mind, my friend?”
“Life,” said Ogilvy simply, and with a terrible earnestness that was very convincing. “Those four pipes in the ceiling, Marmont, present an argument which grows stronger with each half hour of reflection.”
“So I would imagine,” said the other. “You must let M. Tsing into this dread secret of yours, or I refuse to consider it. We of the council do not have secrets from each other very often. Yes or no?”
Ogilvy shrugged. To himself he reflected that this decision meant the speedy death of Tsing Li, in a most disagreeable fashion; but there was no help for it. Perhaps Marmont suspected his real purpose and would not trust himself alone in the room with Ogilvy.
“Bah! I can't afford to be stubborn,” replied the American. “Come in, and leave the door open, if you will. It's devilish hot in this room.”
Marmont turned to the yellow man. The panel in the door clicked shut. A moment later, the door opened and Marmont entered. As Ogilvy had foreseen, his very request that the door be left open reached in the minds of the two men so that when Tsing Li came in, he swung the door shut—as Ogilvy wanted it.
“Have you a match?” Ogilvy stood up. In his sleeve, the spike up his arm, lay the fragment of the bulb. He held his unlighted cigarette and turned to the Chinaman, who remained beside the door.
“I think so,” said Tsing Li, and felt in his pocket.
As he did so, Ogilvy seized the bulb-base, and thrust—a motion lightning-swift.
Nor did he stay to see the effect of that lunge; the feel of it was enough. He whirled like a cat and flung himself bodily upon Marmont. No chance for blows here, no time for them—he could only grapple the man, bear him back on the cot with his weight, so that the two fell headlong across it and crashed against the wall.
Marmont, already striving to get at a pistol, was too slow. Ogilvy's hands got him by the wrist, and as they twisted, Ogilvy's knee drove into him. With this, Marmont wrenched his hands. up, let go the pistol half-drawn, and began to fight.
And he could fight after his own fashion. The Hungarian was a bundle of muscle and knew how to use it. He wrenched clear of Ogilvy's grip and smashed in short-arm jolts that hurt; the two men rolled from the cot and fell to the floor. As they did so Ogilvy had one horrible glimpse of Tsing Li standing against the door, both hands clutching at his throat where showed the brass base of the electric bulb, blood streaming over his chest, death in his face, knees sagging as he stood. A moment afterward he must have fallen, for Ogilvy heard the sound of it, but was too busy to look.
Marmont, with a furious burst of energy, came clear and was on his feet. With a leap he was across the room, reaching for his pistol as he did so, but he had to throw off the safety catch—and this lost him the play. Ogilvy was on him like a wildcat, struck him hard under the wrist on the inside—a blow that will knock any pistol clear—and the weapon whirled across the room. Then a spat-spat of fists, heavy pounding blows, merciless, unguarded, the two men slugging with every ounce of strength.
Neither of them could stand such furious expenditure for long. Human flesh and muscle could not stand it. Twice Marmont opened his mouth, drew back his head to utter a shout; each time Ogilvy smashed him square in the teeth. His face was a white-and-red mask. Abruptly he got in a straight left to the chin and Ogilvy was hurled backward. In this instant Marmont got out one hoarse, panting shout; then Ogilvy had him again, head under chin, arms around, throttling him and almost breaking his back.
Somehow Marmont got out of that; went limp, tripped his opponent, let himself fall heavily to the floor. Striking, he wrenched about like a steel spring, writhed clear. Ogilvy let him go, leaped aside, stood waiting, poised, for him to rise. Marmont, watching him, came to one knee, gathered himself, timed his spring to escape the coming blow—leaped!
And as he leaped from the door came the burst of a pistol-shot, thunderous in the muffled room.
Tsing Li lay there on one elbow, in his hand the fallen pistol. Death was rattling in his throat. With the supreme effort he had caught up the pistol and fired point-blank at Ogilvy—and Marmont had leaped between, unseeing. The yellow face sank down, blank in death. Ogilvy, panting, saw Marmont spin around once, then fall across the cot and lie there motionless.
And as Ogilvy strove to realize what had happened, the door quietly opened and Keene came into the room, his eyes striking around.
“Congratulations,” he said.
Ogilvy stared at him, astounded, incredulous, Keene's flannels were natty, his attire was fresh; his air was entirely composed, as—though he had slight concern with what was going on here. It was unreal, this attitude. Ogilvy panted out an oath.
“You—are you crazy?”
Keene smiled. “I couldn't be sure of what was going on, you see, until it sounded like a real fight. Then it was hard to get the door open; these French spring locks are the devil!”
“Eh?” Ogilvy's eyes widened. “Thought you were next door——”
“I was,” said Keene. “I've been there since two this morning—only place in the house I could hide. I owe you a good deal for putting Marmont out. Hope you haven't killed him. He was the one we expected most trouble with.”
“We?” repeated Ogilvy. “Look here, who——”
“Take it easy,” said Keene with maddening calm. “Yow see, I was out in back on Saturday night when you broke into the place, but was not sure that it was you until too late to take a hand. The chap who grabbed your coat came along, and I soaked him. You were off in that car before I could hail you. Well, I got the best of the letters you looted, and they showed me everything. So I sent a wire to Paris, some of the boys there came—ah!”
He cocked his head to one side, listening. From somewhere below came a shot, then another shot, followed by a wild cry. Then silence. Keene nodded.
“That'll be Lanvier and his men. The place should have been surrounded half an hour ago, but I gave them a bit extra time to make sure—no two clocks are the same, in France. Is our friend there dead? I trust not.”
Keene moved suddenly, darted to the cot, turned over the figure of Marmont, whose coat was reddened with spreading blood. Keene felt the injury, then laughed, and took a set of jingling handcuffs from his pocket. He locked them about the wrists of the senseless Marmont.
“There!” Keene straightened up. “Scrape across the ribs, nothing bad. He'll go back all right to stand trial.”
“See here, who the devil are you!” cried Ogilvy, half angrily.
Keene flipped open his coat. “Police department, New York. Your report on those jewels showed I had the right man—was never quite sure until then. I hadn't expected such quick work, you see.”
“Gosh!” Ogilvy relaxed, seated himself on the table, swung one leg, and stared at Keene. Then he came to life. “Look here, old man, you fooled us all, no doubt of that! Now get me a coat and a car, will you? I have to rush into town—just time to make it——”
“Eh?” Keene's brows went up. “Make what?”
“The story and the morning New York edition,” said Ogilvy, and grinned. “Gosh, what a story! Lets go.”
“Agreed,” said Keene. “Yes, I rather think you have a pretty good story here. What's the idea of this room? Prison cell?”
Ogilvy glanced around, looked at the pipes in the corner of the ceiling, and shivered a little,
“No,” he said gravely. “Summer resort. Ready? Let's go.”
So they did.
This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published in 1926, before the cutoff of January 1, 1928.
The longest-living author of this work died in 1949, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 73 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.
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