Bull-dog Drummond/Chapter 8
IN WHICH HE GOES TO PARIS FOR A NIGHT
Drummond had acted on the spur of the moment. It would have been manifestly impossible for any man, certainly of his calibre, to have watched the American being tortured without doing something to try to help him. At the same time the last thing he had wanted to do was to give away his presence on the roof. The information he had obtained that night was of such vital importance that it was absolutely essential for him to get away with it somehow; and, at the moment, his chances of so doing did not appear particularly bright. It looked as if it was only a question of time before they must get him.
But as usual with Drummond, the tighter the corner, the cooler his head. He watched Lakington dart from the room, followed more slowly by Peterson, and then occurred one of those strokes of luck on which the incorrigible soldier always depended. The girl left the room as well.
She kissed her hand towards him, and then she smiled.
"You intrigue me, ugly one," she remarked, looking up, "intrigue me vastly. I am now going out to get a really good view of the Kill."
And the next moment Potts was alone. He was staring up at the skylight, apparently bewildered by the sudden turn of events, and then he heard the voice of the man above speaking clearly and insistently.
"Go out of the room. Turn to the right. Open the front door. You'll see a house through some trees. Go to it. When you get there, stand on the lawn and call 'Phyllis.' Do you get me?"
The American nodded dazedly; then he made a great effort to pull himself together, as the voice continued:
"Go at once. It's your only chance. Tell her I'm on the roof here."
With a sigh of relief he saw the millionaire leave the room; then he straightened himself up, and proceeded to reconnoitre his own position. There was a bare chance that the American would get through, and if he did, everything might yet be well. If he didn't—Hugh shrugged his shoulders grimly and laughed.
It had become quite light, and after a moment's indecision Drummond took a running jump, and caught the ridge of the sloping roof on the side nearest the road. To stop by the skylight was to be caught like a rat in a trap, and he would have to take his chance of being shot. After all, there was a considerable risk in using firearms so near a main road, where at any time some labourer or other early riser might pass along. Notoriety was the last thing which Peterson desired, and if it got about that one of the pastimes at The Elms was potting stray human beings on the roof, the inquiries might become somewhat embarrassing.
It was as Hugh threw his leg over the top of the roof, and sat straddle-ways, leaning against a chimney-stack, that he got an idea. From where he was he could not see The Larches, and so he did not know what luck the American had had. But he realised that it was long odds against his getting through, and that his chief hope lay in himself. Wherefore, as has just been said, he got an idea—simple and direct; his ideas always were. It occurred to him that far too few unbiased people knew where he was; it further occurred to him that it was a state of affairs which was likely to continue unless he remedied it himself. And so, just as Peterson came strolling round a corner of the house, followed by several men and a long ladder, Hugh commenced to sing. He shouted, he roared at the top of his very powerful voice and all the time he watched the men below with a wary eye. He saw Peterson look nervously over his shoulder towards the road, and urge the men on to greater efforts, and the gorgeous simplicity of his manoeuvre made Hugh burst out laughing. Then, once again, his voice rose to its full pitch, as he greeted the sun with a bellow which scared every rook in the neighbourhood.
It was just as two labourers came to investigate the hideous din that Peterson's party discovered the ladder was too short by several yards.
Then with great rapidity the audience grew. A passing milkman; two commercial travellers who had risen with the lark and entrusted themselves and their samples to a Ford car; a gentleman of slightly inebriated aspect, whose trousers left much to the imagination; and finally more farm labourers. Never had such a tit-bit of gossip for the local pub been seen before in the neighbourhood; it would furnish a topic of conversation for weeks to come. And still Hugh sang and Peterson cursed; and still the audience grew. Then, at last, there came the police with notebook all complete, and the singer stopped singing to laugh.
The next moment the laugh froze on his lips. Standing by the skylight, with his revolver raised, was Lakington, and Hugh knew by the expression on his face that his finger was trembling on the trigger. Out of view of the crowd below he did not know of its existence, and, in a flash, Hugh realised his danger. Somehow Lakington had got up on the roof while the soldier's attention had been elsewhere; and now, his face gleaming with an unholy fury, Lakington was advancing step by step towards him with the evident intention of shooting him.
"Good morrow, Henry," said Hugh quietly. "I wouldn't fire if I were you. We are observed, as they say in melodrama. If you don't believe me," his voice grew a little tense, "just wait while I talk to Peterson, who is at present deep in converse with the village constable and several farm labourers."
He saw doubt dawn in Lakington's eyes, and instantly followed up his advantage.
"I'm sure you wouldn't like the notoriety attendant upon a funeral, Henry dear; I'm sure Peterson would just hate it. So, to set your mind at rest, I'll tell him you're here."
It is doubtful whether any action in Hugh Drummond's life ever cost him such an effort of will as the turning of his back on the man standing two yards below him, but he did it apparently without thought. He gave one last glance at the face convulsed with rage, and then with a smile he looked down at the crowd below.
"Peterson," he called out affably, 'there's a pal of yours up here—dear old Henry. And he's very annoyed at my concert. Would you just speak to him, or would you like me to be more explicit? He is so annoyed that there might be an accident at any moment, and I see that the police have arrived. So—er—"
Even at that distance he could see Peterson's eyes of fury, and he chuckled softly to himself. He had the whole gang absolutely at his mercy, and the situation appealed irresistibly to his sense of humour.
But when the leader spoke, his voice was as sauve as ever: the eternal cigar glowed evenly at its normal rate.
"Are you up on the roof, Lakington?" The words came clearly through the still summer air.
"Your turn, Henry," said Drummond. "Prompter's voice off—'Yes, dear Peterson, I am here, even upon the roof, with a liver of hideous aspect.'"
For one moment he thought he had gone too far, and that Lakington, in his blind fury, would shoot him then and there and chance the consequences. But with a mighty effort the man controlled himself, and his voice, when he answered, was calm.
"Yes, I'm here. What's the matter?"
"Nothing," cried Peterson, "but we've got quite a large and appreciative audience down here, attracted by our friend's charming concert, and I've just sent for a large ladder by which he can come down and join us. So there is nothing that you can do—nothing." He repeated the word with a faint emphasis, and Hugh smiled genially.
"Isn't he wonderful, Henry?" he murmured. "Thinks of everything; staff work marvellous. But you nearly had a bad lapse then, didn't you? It really would have been embarrassing for you if my corpse had deposited itself with a dull thud on the corns of the police."
"I'm interested in quite a number of things, Captain Drummond," said Lakington slowly, "but they all count as nothing beside one—getting even with you. And when I do …" He dropped the revolver into his coat pocket, and stood motionless, staring at the soldier.
"Ah! when!" mocked Drummond. "There have been so many 'whens," Henry dear. Somehow I don't think you can be very clever. Don't go—I'm so enjoying my heart-to-heart talk. Besides, I wanted to tell you the story about the girl, the soap, and the bath. That's to say, if the question of baths isn't too delicate."
Lakington paused as he got to the skylight.
"I have a variety of liquids for bathing people in," he remarked. "The best are those I use when the patient is alive."
The next instant he opened a door in the skylight which Hugh had failed to discover during the night, and, climbing down a ladder inside the room, disappeared from view.
"Hullo, old bean!" A cheerful shout from the ground made Hugh look down. There, ranged round Peterson, in an effective group, were Peter Darrell, Algy Longworth, and Jerry Seymour. "Birds'-nestin'?"
"Peter, old soul," cried Hugh joyfully, "I never thought the day would come when I should be pleased to see your face, but it has! For Heaven's sake get a move on with that blinking ladder; I'm getting cramp."
"Ted and his pal, Hugh, have toddled off in your car," said Peter, "so that only leaves us four and Toby."
For a moment Hugh stared at him blankly, while he did some rapid mental arithmetic. He even neglected to descend at once by the ladder which had at last been placed in position. "Ted and us four and Toby" made six—and six was the strength of the party as it had arrived. Adding the pal made seven; so who the deuce was the pal?
The matter was settled just as he reached the ground. Lakington, wild-eyed and almost incoherent, rushed from the house, and, drawing Peterson on one side, spoke rapidly in a whisper.
"It's all right," muttered Algy rapidly. "They're half-way to London by now, and going like hell if I know Ted."
It was then that Hugh started to laugh. He laughed till the tears poured down his face, and Peterson's livid face of fury made him laugh still more.
"Oh, you priceless pair!" he sobbed. "Right under your bally noses. Stole away. Yoicks!" There was another interlude for further hilarity. "Give it up, you two old dears, and take to knitting. Miss one and purl three, Henry my boy, and Carl in a nightcap can pick up the stitches you drop." He took out his cigarette-case. "Well, au revoir. Doubtless we shall meet again quite soon. And, above all, Carl, don't do anything in Paris which you would be ashamed of my knowing."
With a friendly wave he turned on his heel and strolled off, followed by the other three. The humour of the situation was irresistible; the absolute powerlessness of the whole assembled gang to lift a finger to stop them in front of the audience, which as yet showed no sign of departing, tickled him to death. In fact, the last thing Hugh saw, before a corner of the house hid them from sight, was the majesty of the law moistening his indelible pencil in the time-honoured method, and advancing on Peterson with his notebook at the ready.
"One brief interlude, my dear old warriors," announced Hugh, "and then we must get gay. Where's Toby?"
"Having his breakfast with your girl," chuckled Algy. "We thought we'd better leave someone on guard, and she seemed to love him best."
"Repulsive hound!" cried Hugh. "Incidentally, boys, how did you manage to roll up this morning?"
"We all bedded down at your girl's place last night," said Peter, "and then this morning, who should come and sing carols but our one and only Potts. Then we heard your deafening din on the roof, and blew along."
"Splendid!" remarked Hugh, rubbing his hands together, "simply splendid! Though I wish you'd been there to help with that damned gorilla."
"Help with what?" spluttered Jerry Seymour.
"Gorilla, old dear," returned Hugh, unmoved. "A docile little creature I had to kill."
"The man," murmured Algy, "is indubitably mad. I'm going to crank the car."
"Go away," said Toby, looking up as the door opened and Hugh strolled in. "Your presence is unnecessary and uncalled for, and we're not pleased. Are we, Miss Benton?"
"Can you bear him, Phyllis?" remarked Hugh with a grin. "I mean, lying about the house all day?"
"What's the notion, old son?" Toby Sinclair stood up, looking slightly puzzled.
"I want you to stop here, Toby," said Hugh, "and not let Miss Benton out of your sight. Also keep your eyes skinned on The Elms, and let me know by 'phone to Half Moon Street anything that happens. Do you get me?"
"I get you," answered the other, "but I say, Hugh, can't I do something a bit more active? I mean, of course, there's nothing I'd like better than to…" He broke off in mild confusion as Phyllis Benton laughed merrily.
"Do something more active!" echoed Hugh. "You bet your life, old boy. A rapid one-step out of the room. You're far too young for what's coming now."
With a resigned sigh Toby rose and walked to the door.
"I shall have to listen at the keyhole," he announced, "and thereby get earache. You people have no consideration whatever."
"I've got five minutes, little girl," whispered Hugh, taking her into his arms as the door closed. "Five minutes of Heaven….By Jove! But you look great—simply great."
The girl smiled up at him.
"It strikes me, Master Hugh, that you have failed to remove your beard this morning."
"Quite right, kid. They omitted to bring me my shaving water on to the roof."
After a considerable interval, in which trifles such as beards mattered not, she smoothed her hair and sat down on the arm of a chair.
"Tell me what's happened, boy," she said eagerly.
"Quite a crowded night." With a reminiscent smile he lit a cigarette. And then quite briefly he told her of the events of the past twelve hours, being, as is the manner of a man, more interested in watching the sweet colour which stained her cheeks from time to time, and noticing her quickened breathing when he told her of his fight with the gorilla, and his ascent of the murderous staircase. To him it was all over and now finished, but to the girl who sat listening to the short, half-clipped sentences, each one spoken with a laugh and a jest, there came suddenly the full realisation of what this man was doing for her. It was she who had been the cause of his running all these risks; it was her letter that he had answered. Now she felt that if one hair of his head was touched, she would never forgive herself.
And so when he had finished, and pitched the stump of his cigarette into the grate, falteringly she tried to dissuade him. With her hands on his coat, and her big eyes misty with her fears for him, she begged him to give it all up. And even as she spoke, she gloried in the fact that she knew it was quite useless. Which made her plead all the harder, as is the way of a woman with her man.
And then, after a while, her voice died away, and she fell silent. He was smiling, and so, perforce, she had to smile too. Only their eyes spoke those things which no human being may put into words. And so, for a time, they stood….
Then, quite suddenly, he bent and kissed her.
"I must go, little girl," he whispered. "I've got to be in Paris to-night. Take care of yourself."
The next moment he was gone.
"For God's sake take care of her, Toby!" he remarked to that worthy, whom he found sitting disconsolately by the front door. "Those blighters are the limit."
"That's all right, old man," said Sinclair gruffly. "Good huntin' !"
He watched the tall figure stride rapidly to the waiting car, the occupants of which were simulating sleep as a mild protest at the delay; then, with a smile, he rose and joined the girl.
"Some lad," he remarked. "And if you don't mind my saying so, Miss Benton, I wouldn't change him if I was you. Unless, of course," he added, as an afterthought, "you'd prefer me!"
"Have you got him all right, Ted?" Hugh flung the question eagerly at Ted Jerningham, who was lounging in a chair at Half Moon Street, with his feet on the mantelpiece.
"I've got him right enough," answered that worthy, "but he don't strike me as being Number One value. He's gone off the boil. Become quite gugga again." He stood up and stretched himself. "Your worthy servant is with him, making hoarse noises to comfort him."
"Hell!" said Hugh, "I thought we might get something out of him. I'll go and have a look at the bird. Beer in the corner, boys, if you want it."
He left the room, and went along the passage to inspect the American. Unfortunately Jerningham was only too right: the effects of last night's injection had worn off completely, and the wretched man was sitting motionless in a chair, staring dazedly in front of him.
" 'Opeless, sir," remarked Denny, rising to his feet as Hugh came into the room. "He thinks this 'ere meat juice is poison, and he won't touch it."
"All right, Denny," said Drummond. "Leave the poor blighter alone. We've got him back, and that's something. Has your wife told you about her little adventure?"
His servant coughed deprecatingly.
"She has, sir. But, Lor' bless you, she don't bear no malice."
"Then she's one up on me, Denny, for I bear lots of it towards that gang of swine." Thoughtfully he stood in front of the millionaire, trying in vain to catch some gleam of sense in the vacant eyes. "Look at that poor devil; isn't that enough by itself to make you want to kill the whole crowd?" He turned on his heel abruptly, and opened the door. "Try and get him to eat if you can."
"What luck?" Jerningham looked up as he came back into the other room.
"Dam' all, as they say in the vernacular. Have you blighters finished the beer?"
"Probably," remarked Peter Darrell. "What's the programme now?"
Hugh examined the head of his glass with a professional eye before replying.
"Two things," he murmured at length, "fairly leap to the eye. The first is to get Potts away to a place of safety; the second is to get over to Paris."
"Well, let's get gay over the first, as a kick-off," said Jerningham, rising. "There's a car outside the door; there is England at our disposal. We'll take him away; you pad the hoof to Victoria and catch the boat-train."
"It sounds too easy," remarked Hugh. "Have a look out of the window, Ted, and you'll see a man frightfully busy doing nothing not far from the door. You will also see a racing-car just across the street. Put a wet compress on your head, and connect the two."
A gloomy silence settled on the assembly, to be broken by Jerry Seymour suddenly waking up with a start.
"I've got the stomach-ache," he announced proudly. His listeners gazed at him unmoved.
"You shouldn't eat so fast," remarked Algy severely. "And you certainly oughtn't to drink that beer."
To avert the disaster he immediately consumed it himself, but Jerry was too engrossed with his brain-storm to notice.
"I've got the stomach-ache," he repeated, "and she ought to be ready by now. In fact I know she is. My last crash wasn't a bad one. What about it?"
"You mean…?" said Hugh, staring at him.
"I mean," answered Jerry, "that I'll go off to the aerodrome now, and get her ready. Bring Potts along in half an hour, and I'll take him to the Governor's place in Norfolk. Then I'll take you over to Paris."
"Great!—simply great!" With a report like a gun Hugh hit the speaker on the back, inadvertently knocking him down. Then an idea struck him. "Not your place, Jerry; they'll draw that at once. Take him to Ted's; Lady Jerningham won't mind, will she, old boy?"
"The mater mind?" Ted laughed. "Good Lord, no; she gave up minding anything years ago."
"Right!" said Hugh. "Off you go, Jerry. By the way, how many will she hold?"
"Two beside me," spluttered the proud proprietor of the Stomach-ache. "And I wish you'd reserve your endearments for people of your own size, you great, fat, hulking monstrosity."
He reached the door with a moment to spare, and Hugh came back laughing.
"Verily—an upheaval in the grey matter," he cried, carefully refilling his glass. "Now, boys, what about Paris?"
"Is it necessary to go at all?" asked Peter.
"It wouldn't have been if the Yank had been sane," answered Drummond. "As it is, I guess I've got to. There's something going on, young fellahs, which is big; and I can't help thinking one might get some useful information from the meeting at the Ritz to-night. Why is Peterson hand-in-glove with a wild-eyed, ragged-trousered crowd of revolutionaries? Can you tell me that? If so, I won't go."
"The great point is whether you'll find out, even if you do," returned Peter. "The man's not going to stand in the hall and shout it through a megaphone."
"Which is where Ted comes in," said Hugh affably. "Does not the Stomach-ache hold two?"
"My dear man," cried Jerningham, "I'm dining with a perfectly priceless she to-night!"
"Oh, no, you're not, my lad. You're going to do some amateur acting in Paris. Disguised as a waiter, or a chambermaid, or a coffee machine or something—you will discover secrets."
"But good heavens, Hugh!" Jerningham waved both hands in feeble protest.
"Don't worry me," cried Drummond, "don't worry me; it's only a vague outline, and you'll look great as a bath-sponge. There's the telephone…. Hullo!" He picked off the receiver. "Speaking. Is that you, Toby? Oh! the Rolls has gone, has it? With Peterson inside. Good! So-long, old dear."
He turned to the others.
"There you are, you see. He's left for Paris. That settles it."
"Conclusively," murmured Algy mildly. "Any man who leaves a house in a motor-car always goes to Paris."
"Dry up!" roared Hugh. "Was your late military education so utterly lacking that you have forgotten the elementary precept of putting yourself in the enemy's place? If I was Peterson, and I wanted to go to Paris, do you suppose that fifty people knowing about it would prevent me? You're a fool, Algy—and leave me some more beer."
Resignedly Algy sat down, and after a pause for breath, Drummond continued.
"Now listen—all of you. Ted—off you go, and raise a complete waiter's outfit, dicky and all complete. Peter—you come with me to the aerodrome, and afterwards look up Mullings, at 13 Green Street, Hoxton, and tell him to get in touch with at least fifty demobilised soldiers who are on for a scrap. Algy—you hold the fort here, and don't get drunk on my ale. Peter will join you, when he's finished with Mullings, and he's not to get drunk either. Are you all on?"
"On," muttered Darrell weakly. "My head is playing an anthem."
"It'll play an oratorio before we're through with this job, old son," laughed Hugh. "Let's get gay with Potts."
Ten minutes later he was at the wheel of his car with Darrell and the millionaire behind. Algy, protesting vigorously at being, as he said, left out of it, was endeavouring to console himself by making out how much money he would have won if he'd followed his infallible system of making money on the turf; Jerningham was wandering along Piccadilly anxiously wondering at what shop he could possibly ask for a dicky, and preserve his hitherto blameless reputation. But Hugh seemed in no great hurry to start. A whimsical smile was on his face, as out of the corner of his eye he watched the man who had been busy doing nothing feverishly trying to crank his car, which, after the manner of the brutes, had seized that moment to jib.
"Get away, man—get away," cried Peter. "What are you waiting for?"
"Peter," he remarked, "the refinements of this game are lost on you."
Still smiling, he got out and walked up to the perspiring driver.
"A warm day," he murmured. "Don't hurry; we'll wait for you." Then, while the man, utterly taken aback, stared at him speechlessly, he strolled back to his own car.
"Hugh—you're mad, quite mad, said Peter resignedly, as with a spluttering roar the other car started, but Hugh still smiled. On the way to the aerodrome, he stopped twice after a block in the traffic to make quite sure that the pursuer should have no chance of losing him, and, by the time they were clear of the traffic and spinning towards their destination, the gentleman in the car behind fully agreed with Darrell.
At first he had expected some trick, being a person of tortuous brain; but as time went on, and nothing unexpected happened, he became reassured. His orders were to follow the millionaire, and inform head-quarters where he was taken to. And assuredly at the moment it seemed easy money. In fact, he even went so far as to hum gently to himself, after he had put a hand in his pocket to make sure his automatic revolver was still there.
Then, quite suddenly, the humming stopped and he frowned. The car in front had swung off the road, and turned through the entrance of a small aerodrome. It was a complication which had not entered his mind, and with a curse he pulled up his car just short of the gates. What the devil was he to do now? Most assuredly he could not pursue an aeroplane in a motor—even a racer. Blindly, without thinking, he did the first thing that came into his head. He left his car standing where it was, and followed the others into the aerodrome on foot. Perhaps he could find out something from one of the mechanics; someone might be able to tell him where the 'plane was going.
There she was with the car beside her, and already the millionaire was being strapped into his seat. Drummond was talking to the pilot, and the sleuth, full of eagerness, accosted a passing mechanic.
"Can you tell me where that aeroplane is going to?" he asked ingratiatingly.
It was perhaps unfortunate that the said mechanic had just had a large spanner dropped on his toe, and his answer was not helpful. It was an education in one way, and at any other time the pursuer would have treated it with the respect it deserved. But, as it was, it was not of great value, which made it the more unfortunate that Peter Darrell should have chosen that moment to look round. And all he saw was the mechanic talking earnestly to the sleuth….Whereupon he talked earnestly to Drummond….
In thinking it over after, that unhappy man, whose job had seemed so easy, found it difficult to say exactly what happened. All of a sudden he found himself surrounded by people—all very affable and most conversational. It took him quite five minutes to get back to his car, and by that time the 'plane was a speck in the west. Drummond was standing by the gates when he got there, with a look of profound surprise on his face.
"One I have seen often," remarked the soldier; "two sometimes; three rarely; four never. Fancy four punctures—all at the same time! Dear, dear! I positively insist on giving you a lift."
He felt himself irresistibly propelled towards Drummond's car, with only time for a fleeting glimpse at his own four flat tyres, and almost before he realised it they were away. After a few minutes, when he had recovered from his surprise, his hand went instinctively to his pocket, to find the revolver had gone. And it was then that the man he had thought mad laughed gently.
"Didn't know I was once a pickpocket, did you?" he remarked affably. "A handy little gun, too. Is it all right, Peter?"
"All safe," came a voice from behind.
"Then dot him one."
The sleuth had a fleeting vision of stars of all colours which danced before his eyes, coupled with a stunning blow on the back of the head. Vaguely he realised the car was pulling up—then blackness. It was not till four hours later that a passing labourer, having pulled him out from a not over-dry ditch, laid him out to cool. And incidentally, with his further sphere of usefulness we are not concerned….
"My dear fellow, I told you we'd get here somehow." Hugh Drummond stretched his legs luxuriously. "The fact that it was necessary to crash your blinking bus in a stray field in order to avoid their footling passport regulations is absolutely immaterial. The only damage is a dent in Ted's dicky, but all the best waiters have that. They smear it with soup to show their energy….My God! Here's another of them."
A Frenchman was advancing towards them down the stately vestibule of the Ritz waving protesting hands. He addressed himself in a voluble crescendo to Drummond, who rose and bowed deeply. His knowledge of French was microscopic, but such trifles were made to be overcome.
"Mais oui, Monsieur mon Colonel," he remarked affably, when the gendarme paused for lack of breath, "vous comprenez que notre machine avait crashé dans un field des turnipes. Nous avons lost notre direction. Nous sommes hittés dans l'estomacs….Comme ci, comme ca….Vous comprenez, n'est-ce-pas, mon Colonel?" He turned fiercely on Jerry, "Shut up, you damn fool; don't laugh!"
"Mais, messieurs, vous n'avez pas des passeports." The little man, torn between gratification at his rapid promotion and horror at such an appalling breach of regulations, shot up and down like an agitated semaphore. "Vous comprenez; c'est defendu d'arriver en Paris sans des passeports?"
"Parfaitement, mon Colonel," continued Hugh, unmoved. "Mais vous comprenez que nous avons crashe dans un field des turnipes—non; des rognons….What the hell are you laughing at, Jerry?"
"Oignons, old boy," spluttered the latter. "Rognons are kidneys."
"What the dickens does that matter?" demanded Hugh. "Vous comprenez, mon Colonel, n'est-ce-pas? Vive la France! En-bas les Boches! Nous avons crashé."
The gendarme shrugged his shoulders with a hopeless gesture, and seemed on the point of bursting into tears. Of course this large Englishman was mad; why otherwise should he spit in the kidneys? And that is what he continued to state was his form of amusement. Truly an insane race, and yet he had fought in the brigade next to them near Montauban in July '16—and he had liked them—those mad Tommies. Moreover, this large, imperturbable man, with the charming smile, showed a proper appreciation of his merits—an appreciation not shared up to the present, regrettable to state, by his own superiors. Colonel—parbleu; eh bien! Pourquoi non?…
At last he produced a notebook; he felt unable to cope further with the situation himself.
"Vôtre nom, M'sieur, s'il vous plait?"
"Undoubtedly, mon Colonel," remarked Hugh vaguely. "Nous crashons dans—"
"Ah! Mais oui, mais oui, M'sieur." The little man danced in his agitation. "Vous m'avez déjà dit que vous avez craché dans les rognons, mais je désire votre nom."
"He wants your name, old dear," murmured Jerry, weakly.
"Oh, does he?" Hugh beamed on the gendarme. "You priceless little bird! My name is Captain Hugh Drummond."
And as he spoke, a man sitting close by, who had been an amused onlooker of the whole scene, stiffened suddenly in his chair, and stared hard at Hugh. It was only for a second, and then he was once more merely the politely interested spectator. But Hugh had seen that quick look, though he gave no sign; and when at last the Frenchman departed, apparently satisfied, he leaned over and spoke to Jerry.
"See that man with the suit of reach-me-downs and the cigar," he remarked. "He's in this game; I'm just wondering on which side."
He was not left long in doubt, for barely had the swing doors closed behind the gendarme, when the man in question rose and came over to him.
"Excuse me, sir," he said, in a pronounced nasal twang, "but I heard you say you were Captain Hugh Drummond. I guess you're one of the men I've come across the water to see. My card."
Hugh glanced at the pasteboard languidly.
"Mr. Jerome K. Green," he murmured. "What a jolly sort of name."
"See here, Captain," went on the other, suddenly displaying a badge hidden under his coat. "That'll put you wise."
"Far from it, Mr. Green. What's it the prize for—throwing cards into a hat?"
The American laughed.
"I guess I've sort of taken to you," he remarked. "You're real fresh. That badge is the badge of the police force of the United States of America; and that same force is humming some at the moment." He sat down beside Hugh, and bent forward confidentially. "There's a prominent citizen of New York City been mislaid, Captain; and, from information we've got, we reckon you know quite a lot about his whereabouts."
Hugh pulled out his cigarette-case.
"Turkish this side—Virginian that. Ah! But I see you're smoking." With great deliberation he selected one himself, and lit it. "You were saying, Mr. Green?"
The detective stared at him thoughtfully; at the moment he was not quite certain how to tackle this large and self-possessed young man.
"Might I ask why you're over here?" he asked at length, deciding to feel his way.
"The air is free to everyone, Mr. Green. As long as you get your share to breathe, you can ask anything you like."
The American laughed again.
"I guess I'll put my cards down," he said, with sudden decision. "What about Hiram C. Potts?"
"What, indeed?" remarked Hugh. "Sounds like a riddle, don't it?"
"You've heard of him, Captain?"
"Few people have not."
"Yes—but you've met him recently," said the detective, leaning forward. "You know where he is, and"—he tapped Hugh on the knee impressively—"I want him. I want Hiram C. Potts like a man wants a drink in a dry state. I want to take him back in cottonwool to his wife and daughters. That's why I'm over this side, Captain, just for that one purpose."
"There seems to me to be a considerable number of people wandering around who share your opinion about Mr. Potts," drawled Hugh. "He must be a popular sort of cove."
"Popular ain't the word for it, Captain," said the other. "Have you got him now?"
"In a manner of speaking, yes," answered Hugh, beckoning to a passing waiter. "Three Martinis."
"Where is he?" snapped the detective eagerly.
"Being wrapped up in cottonwool by somebody else's wife and daughters. You were a little too quick, Mr. Green; you may be all you say—on the other hand, you may not. And these days I trust no one."
The American nodded his head in approval.
"Quite right," he remarked. "My motto—and yet I'm going to trust you. Weeks ago we heard things on the other side, through certain channels, as to a show which was on the rails over here. It was a bit vague, and there were big men in it; but at the time it was no concern of ours. You run your own worries, Captain, over this side."
"Go on," he said curtly.
"Then Hiram Potts got mixed up in it; exactly how, we weren't wise to. But it was enough to bring me over here. Two days ago I got this cable." He produced a bundle of papers, and handed one to Drummond. "It's in cipher, as you see; I've put the translation underneath."
Hugh took the cablegram and glanced at it. It was short and to the point:
"Captain Hugh Drummond, of Half Moon Street, London, is your man."
He glanced up at the American, who drained his cocktail with the air of a man who is satisfied with life.
"Captain Hugh Drummond, of Half Moon Street, London, is my man," he chuckled. "Well, Captain what about it now. Will you tell me why you've come to Paris? I guess it's something to do with the business I'm on."
For a few moments Hugh did not reply, and the American seemed in no hurry for an answer. Some early arrivals for dinner sauntered through the lounge, and Drummond watched them idly as they passed. The American detective certainly seemed all right, but…Casually, his glance rested on a man sitting just opposite, reading the paper. He took in the short, dark beard—the immaculate, though slightly foreign evening clothes; evidently a wealthy Frenchman giving a dinner party in the restaurant, by the way the head waiter was hovering around. And then suddenly his eyes narrowed, and he sat motionless.
"Are you interested in the psychology of gambling, Mr. Green?" he remarked, turning to the somewhat astonished American. "Some people cannot control their eyes or their mouth if the stakes are big; others cannot control their hands. For instance, the gentleman opposite. Does anything strike you particularly with regard to him?"
The detective glanced across the lounge.
"He seems to like hitting his knee with his left hand," he said, after a short inspection.
"Precisely," murmured Hugh. "That is why I came to Paris."