The Closing Net/Part 1/Chapter 10

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search


When I went to bed that night I moved a chair against the bolted door and balanced the water-pitcher so that it would fall at the least jar. I also rigged a simple but effective burglar alarm on the windows, then went to sleep with the pistol under my pillow. My dreams were not pleasant.

When the garçon brought me the newspaper with my coffee at eight in the morning, here on the first page, in big scare-heads, was the following news:

"Daring Robbery On Channel Steamer. Jewels worth £12,000 stolen on Dover-Calais Passage. Victim, Hon. Mrs. Allerton-Staire May Die. No trace of Thief."

So this was Chu-Chu's errand to Boulogne. Without reading farther, I laid down the paper to think.

Chu-Chu's business then had nothing to do with the pearls. He had bigger game afoot. I saw Ivan's hand in this job. Chu-Chu had probably taken the boat which left Boulogne at seven, crossed to Folkestone, then gone to Dover, where he had awaited the train which left London at nine.

I picked up the paper and ran quickly through the account. The victim, it appeared, was on her way to Paris, accompanied by her maid. She carried her jewels in a small valise, which she never permitted to leave her hand in travelling. The crossing had been rough, and the maid had immediately succumbed to sea-sickness and gone into her mistress's state-room to lie down. Mrs. Allerton-Staire had walked for a few minutes on deck, then seated herself in a deck-chair. Growing suddenly ill she had gone to her cabin, assisted by a gentleman who had been sitting next her. She had the satchel containing the jewels in her hand at the time. Immediately on reaching her state-room she had fallen in a syncope from which she could not be roused on reaching Calais. It was then discovered that the bottom of the satchel had a long incision, the jewel-case being gone. Suspicion was at once directed against the man who had been sitting beside the unfortunate woman on deck, and who was described as a gentlemanly looking person with a square black beard. In assisting the lady he had been heard to remark that he was a physician. It was supposed that he had given her some powerful hypnotic, probably asserting it to be a remedy for sea-sickness. This was, however, mere surmise, as the victim was still unconscious and in a very low condition. When the theft was discovered, this man was not to be found, either aboard the boat nor in Calais, where a thorough search was made for him by the police. It was thought that he had left the town in an automobile—and there was the usual amount of speculation, and theories.

Reading the article through I regretted more than ever my failure of the afternoon before. It was really unnecessary to poison the poor woman, and I could think of nobody but Chu-Chu who would have been apt to do so. The doctors, however, hoped for her recovery.

Well, Chu-Chu had pulled off his job and was probably at the present moment in Paris, where he would turn his immediate attention to squaring his account with me. He had now a double reason for doing this, because my attempt of the day before would have shown him that I had no intention of waiting to be killed.

There was no time to be lost. First of all, John must be warned and persuaded to get out of Paris at once. I dressed hurriedly and went around to the office, where I found a note from Edith saying that he was ill in bed and asking me to call at the house at noon as John wished to have a talk with me, and hoped that by that time he would be fit for an interview.

There was nothing in particular to do at the office, so at about eleven I ran down to the Automobile Club, hoping to find our client of the day before and apologise for having disappointed him. He was not in the lounge, but over in the corner, smoking a huge cigar, I saw an old acquaintance. This was none other than the Baron Isidor Rosenthal, of Buda Pest and Hayti.

Perhaps you know Rosenthal. Everybody knows him. No? Well, my friend, a part of your education has been lacking. Rosenthal is a big brawny giant of a Jew who has amassed an enormous fortune in all sorts of adventurous promoting schemes, principally in the financing of revolutions. Some time ago he was created a Papal Baron. That sounds funny for a Jew, but Rosenthal had fairly earned his title by saving the lives of a whole community of Bulgarian Christians during the raid of a fanatical Moslem outfit which was on a jehad, or holy war. Rosenthal had stood off this outfit at the cost of great personal danger and considerable financial expense. He had stopped a bullet for his pains, but this had not stopped Rosenthal. The Vatican had made him a baron and the French had created him an officer of the Légion d'Honneur.

Rosenthal was a man of big heart and big ideas. I had known him quite well in Buenos Ayres, and he had stood my friend in a nasty business which might otherwise have cost me dear. This he had done out of sheer kind-heartedness and a personal liking that he had conceived for me. I had not seen him since, so I crossed the room to pass the time o' day.

When he saw me his big, bushy eyebrows went up with surprise.

"How do you do, Baron?" I said, and held out my hand.

Rosenthal flung down his morning paper and, without rising, held out his great, hairy paw.

"Py Chingo," says he, "it is Fr'rank. Vell, vell. And how do you do, and whom? The last time we met vas in Buenos Ayres. And how haf you been, my yoong frendt?"

I told him that I had been very well and was now in the motor-car business.

"Goot!" says he. "That is a better business than you were in down there in South America." He grinned. "I am glad to learn that you have taken to more honest vor'rk—alt'ough the last man who sold me a car vas a t'ief. He r'robbed me—oh, my fr'rendt—und it vas not der last time." His big sardonic face lengthened and he gave a groan like a dying horse. "I have been r'robbed again. It is terrible. I am sick from it." He pulled out a handkerchief and mopped his face, and for the moment he actually looked sick. "I haf been r'robbed of gems vort twenty t'ousand pounds."

"What!" I cried.

"Yes. I am sick from it—very sick. I cannot eat nor dr'rink. It seems there is an epidemic of r'robbery. Yoost now I r'read in der paper of this dirty Channel business. Mein Gott!"

"What!" I cried again. "Did those jewels belong to you?"

"Dose jewels? No. But I haf lost some of my own—vort twenty t'ousand pounds"; he brought the figure out with a gasp. "Two great rubies and an emerald."

There are times, my friend, when even the training of one's whole life is scarcely enough to enable a man to keep his face. My grip tightened on the arms of the big leathern chair and I felt the blood leaving my face. But my expression exactly coincided with the baron's feelings, and he did not notice anything amiss.

"Yes," said he, "it is terrible, is it not? Efery year ven I go home I take a pr'resent to my dear vife in Pest. This time I got vat I have been long looking for. I found a goot bargain. Nefer haf I seen such stones in pr'rivate hands. But I vas a fool. I carried t'em about in my pocket. It is a bad habit of mine. Der odder day I vent to der races und dere my pocket vas picked. It is that vich so hurts. Isidor Rosenthal to haf his pocket picked like any fool of a tourist avay from home for der feerst time."

"That is horrible, Baron," said I. "What have you done about it. Notified the police?"

"Yes. Und I haf had descriptions of t'ose gems sent to all der lapidaries. But I haf not much hope." And he mopped his big satanic face again, for the thought of his loss brought out the sweat.

"It is rough on Madame la Baronne," I muttered.

"It's awful. But, of course, she vill nefer know. I meant to gif her a surprise. Now I haf bought somet'ing else. It vas der best I could do, and I found anot'er bargain. Do you know anyt'ing about pearls? Dese are very fine."

He hauled a packet from an inner pocket, opened it and laid upon the little table—Edith's string of pearls.

Lord o' life! but two such shocks in ten minutes are bad for a man! It ain't good for his heart. This time Rosenthal's keen, mottled eyes saw the wild look in my face, and the big, bushy eyebrows went up again.

"Vat's der matter?" he asked.

I did not answer. My mouth felt dry. To most people one string of pearls looks very like another, but to an expert like myself they have as much individual expression as a horse to a racing man, or a boat to a sailor. I had noticed Edith's pearls minutely, and the moment my eyes rested on them there was no more doubt than a mother has when she looks into the face of her babe.

"Vell?" inquired Rosenthal, "you don't answer."

"I'm too much jolted," said I. "Baron, that string of pearls was stolen two nights ago from the wife of my half-brother, Mrs. Cuttynge."

Rosenthal pushed himself back in his chair and stared at me. His eyes, which were of a light hazel colour, slightly bulging and curiously mottled with dark-brown spots, opened until they looked like the glass ones you see in opticians. His tufty, grizzled eyebrows went up, and his jaw dropped. Then he burst into his big, raucous laugh.

"What is this you are singing me?" he cried. "But no. You are mistaken, my fr'rent. Stolen pearls? That is goot. That cannot be. I bought t'em from a man I haf traded wit' for many years. He is a careful man. He knows der history of all he buys."

"Nevertheless, these are Mrs. Cuttynge's pearls," I answered. "I am a bit of a connoisseur myself, and I sat for three hours behind these at the opera. There can be no doubt. They were stolen the night before last. The worst of it is, I am in some measure suspected of the theft."

Rosenthal stared for an instant, then burst out:

"Py Chingo, but ve vill soon know." He gathered up the pearls, wrapped them hastily in the cotton and paper, and shoved them into his pocket.

"Come, my fr'rendt," says he; "ve vill yoomp in a taxi and go right down. Py Chingo, vas eferybody stealing jewels? Come!"

So out we went. It didn't take us long to get down to the place where Rosenthal had bought the pearls. The house was a buyer and seller of precious stones, he told me, and had been established for over fifty years.

"It is impossible," said the baron, "that this man vould buy pearls he did not know all about. I haf been a good client for fery many years."

Rosenthal was a connoisseur of jewels, and usually had a few gems sprinkled about his person. I had heard it said in Buenos Ayres that the big Jew was usually to be found about the gambling places with hard cash to pay for a ring or scarf-pin in case any unfortunate gambler wanted to get the price to continue the game. This was a sort of fad of Rosenthal's, and when he found anything particularly fine it usually went to add to the collection of his wife in Buda Pest.

"Here ve are," said the baron, and flung open the door of the taxi.

The shop was quiet and unassuming, and unlike the pretentious places on the Rue de la Paix, with scarcely any of its wares in evidence. The proprietor, a middle-aged man of genteel appearance, came forward from a room in the rear, and on catching sight of Rosenthal, smiled affably.

"Bon jour, M. le Baron," he began, then shot a look at me. His smile vanished, and in its place there came an expression that was more like fright than anything else.

"Bon jour, M. Cuttynge," says he, nervously.

Rosenthal gave me a swift look. As for my part, let me tell you, my friend, that of the series of jolts I had received in the last forty-eight hours, that "M. Cuttynge" was perhaps the hardest to sit tight under.

Rosenthal, keen-witted old adventurer that he was, had not missed the dealer's frightened look and the "M. Cuttynge." What he thought I could not guess. But he went ahead warily.

"About those pearls you sold me this morning, my dear Delmas," said he, in his harsh voice.

The man s nervousness increased. He glanced at me.

"Will you give yourselves the trouble to enter my private room," says he, and led the way into a sort of office, richly furnished in Louis XIV. In the centre stood a heavy table with a few chairs about it, and a studio window let in the light from over head. There were a couple of large hand-lenses and some different coloured stuffs against which to show the jewels.

As we entered the room Rosenthal gave me a bit of a nudge, which I took to mean that I was to leave the talking to him. We seated ourselves—the Baron and I on one side of the table, the dealer opposite us.

"About this little purchase of mine," said Rosenthal, taking out the pearls and laying them on the table. "My friend is not quite content. He is inclined to doubt your right to sell them."

The dealer looked very much upset.

"Mr. Cuttynge is right," said he, in an agitated voice. We were speaking in French. "It is true that when he sold me the pearls it was understood between us that I was not to sell them for a year. I also assured M. Cuttynge that I would not sell the string exactly as it was when worn by Madame Cuttynge, but would make certain substitutions which should render it impossible to recognise the string. I am overwhelmed with regret and remorse."

Rosenthal turned to me. There was a curious, baffled look in his mottled eyes, but he said nothing. I also remained silent. The dealer looked from one to the other of us with a pale, agitated face.

"Of course," said he, "when a lady is unfortunately compelled to part with her jewels, she does not care to have them recognised elsewhere. I quite understood this, and although I bought the pearls outright, I had no intention of not keeping my verbal agreement. But when I came to make the substitution, I found that I had nothing available with which to replace a few of the larger pearls, which are uncommonly fine. Nevertheless, I should have held strictly to my word had the purchaser been any other than Baron Rosenthal." He turned to me with a look of entreaty. "M. le Baron," said he, "is one of my most valued customers. When he assured me that the rope was for his wife and that he was leaving to-night for Buda Pest, I was so weak as to sell the string as it was. It was very wrong of me and I am desolated. If there is any thing that I can do in the way of making amends, rest assured, M. Cuttynge, I will do it, even at a considerable personal sacrifice."

He paused and took out his handkerchief. Rosenthal sat heavy and immobile. I said nothing, but drummed on the table with my fingers.

The dealer looked from one to the other of us. Being French, he did not wait for us to speak, feeling, perhaps, that it would only be to hear something disagreeable.

"I assure you, Messieurs," said he, "this is the first time that I have ever allowed myself to be placed in so embarrassing a position."

Rosenthal threw me a swift look. I gave my shoulders a slight shrug. My friend, although I looked impassive enough, I was all in a turmoil. So John was the thief. John had stolen his wife's pearls, brought them to this man Delmas, and sold them outright on Delmas' verbal agreement that he would not dispose of them for twelve months, and then only after making such changes as would render it impossible to recognise the string.

As this went through my head, the first emotion was a hot, furious rage against my thieving sot of a half-brother. It was for this that I had bearded Ivan in his den and tried to assassinate Chu-Chu. It was for this that my life must hang in the balance until I should either kill or be killed. Now that I knew I wanted to get out of the place and mentally digest the situation.

The dealer saw the blood surging into my face. Perhaps he saw the fury behind my eyes, for he began to renew his apologies and regrets and offers to make what amends he could for having broken his given word. I had no doubt that he was a fairly honest man. But he had lacked the force to resist Rosenthal's insistence. He reasoned that since he had bought the pearls outright and was under no written bond, and as the pearls were going to Buda Pest to adorn the large person of such a be-jewelled woman as he knew the Baroness Rosenthal to be, their non-recognition would be practically assured. John, I thought, had probably sold the pearls outright because he was in need of every bit of money that he could get.

As for Rosenthal, he had been quick to appreciate the perfection of the string and had no doubt made Delmas a good offer. With a profit of perhaps ten or twenty thousand francs before his eyes, and being bound only by his verbal agreement, the dealer had decided to take a chance.

The Baron had pushed back his chair and was staring up at the ceiling. The big Jew was sadly puzzled. Knowing nothing of the striking resemblance between John and myself, he had no solution to the mystery. There was no way of his guessing that the dealer had taken me for Mr. Cuttynge, and Rosenthal was at a loss to understand why it was that when I had apparently stolen the jewels and then sold them, as "Mr. Cuttynge," I should lug him down there to row the dealer. But he felt that there was something behind it all, so he merely sat tight and kept his mouth shut and waited for the mystery to clear.

There was nothing I cared to say to the dealer just then, so I merely remarked: "Well, M. Delmas, as you say, you have not acted properly in this matter. A man with such a reputation as yours ought to stick to his word. It is because of that reputation that the people having business with you do not demand written agreements. I must think over this affair. As a matter of fact, since you bought the pearls certain events have occurred which would enable Mrs. Cuttynge to buy them back. It is possible that Baron Rosenthal and I may be able to arrange the matter between ourselves."

"In that case," said the dealer, eagerly, "you may count upon me to forego my own profit in the transaction."

"That is all that one could ask," I answered, "and your offer is accepted in the same spirit as are your apologies. We will inform you later as to the upshot of the affair."

I arose. The Baron followed my example, and with M. Delmas still pattering his apologies behind us, we went out and got into our taxi. I told the chauffeur to go first to my office.

As soon as we were seated, Rosenthal broke into his harsh, discordant laugh.

"Herr Gott!" he rumbled, "I am not a fool, but belief me, I can make neither head nor tail of this affair."

"It will become more clear," said I, "when I tell you that Mr. Cuttynge is my half-brother, and that we are almost as alike, outwardly, as a pair of twins."

For a moment he stared. Then I saw the light of understanding glow out of his mottled eyes. He burst again into his great, harsh laugh.

"Py Chingo," says he, "Vat a business—vat a business. It vas this man Cuttynge that stole his vife's pearls. Himmel."

For a while he chewed on this idea in silence. Presently he said:

"Fere ve going now?"

"We will pass my office," said I, "and then return to the Club. There is a lot I want to say to you, and a taxi is no place to talk. Can you give me an interview, my dear Baron?"

"Sure," said he, and lighted a big cigar. When we reached the office I scribbled a brief note to John, saying that I was engaged but would get in to see him at three. Then, going to our little safe, I got Rosenthal's gems and dropped them into my pocket.

We spun back to the Club, neither of us saying more than commonplaces on the way. I paid off the cab and sent the note to John by one of the Club's chasseurs. It was then about one o clock, and Rosenthal asked me to lunch with him, suggesting that we have our talk afterward. Knowing him for a man who took the care of his body as seriously in civilisation as he did lightly when on the trail, I agreed, and we spent a pleasant hour over our déjeuner, talking of various unimportant things. The repast over, the Baron said:

"I am putting up in this place. Come up to my r'rooms. There ve may talk in no danger of disturbance."

So up we went, and when we had settled ourselves and Rosenthal had set fire to the end of one of his mainyard cigars, I said:

"Now, my dear Baron, you are going to get the surprise of your life. So prepare yourself for a jolt."

His eyes flashed at mine and I saw the big muscles of jaw and temple harden.

"Vell?" says he, harshly, and rolled his huge cigar between his lips.

I reached in my pocket, drew out the packet which contained his gems, unfolded the paper and held out to him in the hollow of my hand his two great rubies and the emerald.

"Here you are," said I. "Don't ever say again that a kind act does not meet with its reward—not but what I'd given them to you, anyway," said I.

Rosenthal froze into a colossus in stone. The rosy, after-eating glow faded from his face, leaving it an ivory yellow. The big, bushy eyebrows went up at least three inches and he cocked his head to one side, while the staring, mottled eyes bulged at the gems. Then, back came the colour into the big, heavy-lined face. His thick tongue wagged like the tongue of a parrot, but only gurgles came. He reached for the cognac which had been served with our coffee and took a gulp straight from the decanter.

"Sapristi!" he rumbled, "sapristl!"

Suddenly he reached for the stones and turned them lovingly in his huge hand.

"It is too much," he muttered. "It is a leetle too mooch for Isidor Rosenthal."

"When you have recovered from your shock, Baron," said I, "let me tell you a story."

"Go on," he growled. "Dis is not the kind of a shock to injure the health. I am mooch more knocked aback dan ven I lost der stones, but I am not at all sick." He gave a ferocious grin.

"One usually looks to be robbed," said I, "but you don't often think of restitution."

"No," says he. "Now let us haf der story."

So without any more preliminary I started in and gave him the whole yarn from the very start, holding back neither facts nor names. Rosenthal leaned back in his big chair and rolled the huge cigar in his thick lips and listened, giving me now and again a quick glance from his keen eyes, which were almost hid under the down-drawn bushy eyebrows and folds of leathery skin.

Only at the start did he make the slightest sign of emotion, and that was when I told him frankly that I was an ex-cracksman. This information he received with a sudden opening of his eyes, then closing them again. Rosenthal had previously regarded me as a sort of gentleman adventurer, not over-scrupulous, perhaps, in the matter of business, but a gentleman born, well-bred, and not fudamentally dishonest. He himself was absolutely honest in his personal affairs, but had a wide margin of ethics when it came to a really big commercial deal. His world-wide reputation was that a man would be safe in placing any amount of cold cash in his hands without asking for a receipt, but if anybody sat in a game of high finance with him, he needed to play mighty close to his belt. Rosenthal would plunder the coffers of a country with the same ruthlessness that a cracksman would go through a safe. I remarked a little while ago that for men there were no half-measures of honesty; that a man was either honest or dishonest. Perhaps I should amend that statement by adding, "with himself." Rosenthal was absolutely honest with himself. He had his own peculiar code and he was true to it. Moreover, the Jew was a big man and a man of heart. He was generous and liberal, and his motto was, "live and let live." I knew that my story was as safe with him as though sealed in a leaden casket and dropped into the sea.

So I told him everything, talking slowly and with care, while Rosenthal leaned back and smoked and listened without interrupting the narrative by so much as a "Sapristi." When I had finished, he sat for several minutes in silence, blowing the smoke from his thick lips.

Suddenly he leaned over and laid his hand on my knee.

"My fr'riendt," says he, "this is a wicked vorld, and there are many wicked people in it. But there are some good ones, too. As a man gets older he appreciates these. There are not so many people whom I am proud to know. I could count t'em on the fingers of von hand, and haf left der thumb. Dr. Leyden is von, and Mallock is von, und dere is anodder now in pr'rison, serving a life sentence for a fr'riendt. You also are von, und if you efer need a fr'riendt, call on Isidor Rosenthal."

"Thank you, Baron," said I. "One always needs a good friend. I am going to take you at your word. Now listen: John Cuttynge must redeem those pearls. His wife must never know what he has done. It would kill her. I don't know how he stands financially; pretty badly, I suppose, or he would never have stolen the pearls. Now, I am going to ask you to turn over those pearls to me, taking my note for what you paid and letting us pay it off as we are able."

Rosenthal struck his big chest a thump with his fist.

"I vill do it," says he. "Und I vill char'rge you no interest. Besides, you are entitled to a reward for getting me my rubies und emerald. I vill figure that in."

I thanked him again. Rosenthal knit his big brows.

"Your life is in gr reat danger," he said.

"It sure is," I answered. "So is Chu-Chu's."

He raised his brows. "You intend to kill him?" he asked.

"I intend to try."

He nodded. "Dere is not'ing else to do," says he. "How about dis Ivan und his gang?"

"Ivan will stand pat, I think," said I. "To tell the truth, he would probably be quite content to have Chu-Chu removed. Between you and me, I think that Ivan is afraid of him. A man like that is a constant source of danger to the organisation. I am going to see Ivan and tell him how things stand and ask him to keep out of it."

Rosenthal looked at me, thoughtfully.

"Py Chingo," says he, "I belief you are r'right." He poured himself another glass of cognac. "Herr Gott! vat a vorld! vat a vorld!"

I got up out of my chair. Rosenthal stared at me for a moment, then reached in his pocket, drew out the package containing the pearls and tossed it to me.

"Tell your haf-brudder to come and see me," he said. "I vill gif him some advice. You are a goot boy, Fr'rank."

I thanked him and took the pearls. We shook hands.

"And now," said I, "for a bad quarter-hour with Mr. Cuttynge."