«Published: 1897 Categorie(s): Fiction, Mystery & Detective Source: About Allen: Charles Grant Blairfindie Allen ...»
The fact that we had tracked the rascal to earth at last, and were within an hour of apprehending him, was in itself enough to raise his courage greatly. We found, as we expected, that the number given in the Rue Jean Jacques was that of an hotel, not a private residence. Medhurst went in first, and inquired of the landlord whether our man was at home, at the same time informing him of the nature of our errand, and giving him to understand that if we effected the capture by his friendly aid, Sir Charles would see that the expenses incurred on the swindler's bill were met in full, as the price of his assistance. The landlord bowed; he expressed his deep regret, as M. le Colonel—so we heard him call him—was a most amiable person, much liked by the household; but justice, of course, must have its way;
and, with a regretful sigh, he undertook to assist us.
The police remained below, but Charles and Medhurst were each provided with a pair of handcuffs. Remembering the Polperro case, however, we determined to use them with the greatest caution. We would only put them on in case of violent resistance. We crept up to the door where the miscreant was housed. Charles handed the notes in an open envelope to Medhurst, who seized them hastily and held them in his hands in readiness for action. We had a sign concerted. Whenever he sneezed—which he could do in the most natural manner—we were to open the door, rush in, and secure the criminal!
He was gone for some minutes. Charles and I waited outside in breathless expectation. Then Medhurst sneezed.
We flung the door open at once, and burst in upon the creature.
Medhurst rose as we did so. He pointed with his finger.
"This is Colonel Clay!" he said; "keep him well in charge while I go down to the door for the police to arrest him!" A gentlemanly man, about middle height, with a grizzled beard and a well-assumed military aspect, rose at the same moment. The envelope in which Charles had placed the notes lay on the table before him. He clutched it nervously. "I am at a loss, gentlemen," he said, in an excited voice, "to account for this interruption." He spoke with a tremor, yet with all the politeness to which we were accustomed in the little curate and the Honourable David.
"No nonsense!" Charles exclaimed, in his authoritative way. "We know who you are. We have found you out this time. Y are Colonel Clay. If you attempt to resist—take ou care—I will handcuff you!" The military gentleman gave a start. "Y I am Colonel es, Clay," he answered. "On what charge do you arrest me?" Charles was bursting with wrath. The fellow's coolness seemed never to desert him. "Y are Colonel Clay!" he ou muttered. "Y have the unspeakable effrontery to stand ou there and admit it?" "Certainly," the Colonel answered, growing hot in turn. "I have done nothing to be ashamed of. What do you mean by this conduct? How dare you talk of arresting me?" Charles laid his hand on the man's shoulder. "Come, come, my friend," he said. "That sort of bluff won't go down with us. Y know very well on what charge I arrest you; and ou here are the police to give effect to it."
He called out "Entrez!" The police entered the room.
Charles explained as well as he could in most doubtful Parisian what they were next to do. The Colonel drew himself up in an indignant attitude. He turned and addressed them in excellent French.
"I am an officer in the service of her Britannic Majesty," he said. "On what ground do you venture to interfere with me, messieurs?" The chief policeman explained. The Colonel turned to Charles. "Your name, sir?" he inquired.
"Y know it very well," Charles answered. "I am Sir ou Charles Vandrift; and, in spite of your clever disguise, I can instantly recognise you. I know your eyes and ears. I can see the same man who cheated me at Nice, and who insulted me on the island."
"You Sir Charles Vandrift!" the rogue cried. "No, no, sir, you are a madman!" He looked round at the police. "Take care what you do!" he cried. "This is a raving maniac. I had business just now with Sir Charles Vandrift, who quitted the room as these gentlemen entered. This person is mad, and you, monsieur, I doubt not," bowing to me, "you are, of course, his keeper."
"Do not let him deceive you," I cried to the police, beginning to fear that with his usual incredible cleverness the fellow would even now manage to slip through our fingers. "Arrest him, as you are told. We will take the responsibility." Though I trembled when I thought of that cheque he held of mine.
The chief of our three policemen came forward and laid his hand on the culprit's shoulder. "I advise you, M. le Colonel," he said, in an official voice, "to come with us quietly for the present. Before the juge d'instruction we can enter at length into all these questions."
The Colonel, very indignant still—and acting the part marvellously—yielded and went along with them.
"Where's Medhurst?" Charles inquired, glancing round as we reached the door. "I wish he had stopped with us."
"Y are looking for monsieur your friend?" the landlord ou inquired, with a side bow to the Colonel. "He has gone away in a fiacre. He asked me to give this note to you."
He handed us a twisted note. Charles opened and read
it. "Invaluable man!" he cried. "Just hear what he says, Sey:
'Having secured Colonel Clay, I am off now again on the track of Mme. Picardet. She was lodging in the same house. She has just driven away; I know to what place; and I am after her to arrest her. In blind haste, MEDHURST.' That's smartness, IF you like. Though, poor little woman, I think he might have left her."
"Does a Mme. Picardet stop here?" I inquired of the landlord, thinking it possible she might have assumed again the same old alias.
He nodded assent. "Oui, oui, oui," he answered. "She has just driven off, and monsieur your friend has gone posting after her."
"Splendid man!" Charles cried. "Marvillier was quite right. He is the prince of detectives!" We hailed a couple of fiacres, and drove off, in two detachments, to the juge d'instruction. There Colonel Clay continued to brazen it out, and asserted that he was an officer in the Indian Army, home on six months' leave, and spending some weeks in Paris. He even declared he was known at the Embassy, where he had a cousin an attaché;
and he asked that this gentleman should be sent for at once from our Ambassador's to identify him. The juge d'instruction insisted that this must be done; and Charles waited in very bad humour for the foolish formality. It really seemed as if, after all, when we had actually caught and arrested our man, he was going by some cunning device to escape us.
After a delay of more than an hour, during which Colonel Clay fretted and fumed quite as much as we did, the attaché arrived. To our horror and astonishment, he proceeded to salute the prisoner most affectionately.
"Halloa, Algy!" he cried, grasping his hand; "what's up?
What do these ruffians want with you?" It began to dawn upon us, then, what Medhurst had meant by "suspecting everybody": the real Colonel Clay was no common adventurer, but a gentleman of birth and high connections!
The Colonel glared at us. "This fellow declares he's Sir Charles Vandrift," he said sulkily. "Though, in fact, there are two of them. And he accuses me of forgery, fraud, and theft, Bertie."
The attaché stared hard at us. "This is Sir Charles Vandrift," he replied, after a moment. "I remember hearing him make a speech once at a City dinner. And what charge have you to prefer, Sir Charles, against my cousin?" "Y cousin?" Charles cried. "This is Colonel Clay, the our notorious sharper!" The attaché smiled a gentlemanly and superior smile.
"This is Colonel Clay," he answered, "of the Bengal Staff Corps."
It began to strike us there was something wrong somewhere.
"But he has cheated me, all the same," Charles said —"at Nice two years ago, and many times since; and this very day he has tricked me out of two thousand pounds in French bank-notes, which he has now about him!" The Colonel was speechless. But the attaché laughed.
"What he has done to-day I don't know," he said; "but if it's as apocryphal as what you say he did two years ago, you've a thundering bad case, sir; for he was then in India, and I was out there, visiting him."
"Where are the two thousand pounds?" Charles cried.
"Why, you've got them in your hand! Y ou're holding the envelope!" The Colonel produced it. "This envelope," he said, "was left with me by the man with short stiff hair, who came just before you, and who announced himself as Sir Charles Vandrift. He said he was interested in tea in Assam, and wanted me to join the board of directors of some bogus company. These are his papers, I believe," and he handed them to his cousin.
"Well, I'm glad the notes are safe, anyhow," Charles murmured, in a tone of relief, beginning to smell a rat. "Will you kindly return them to me?" The attaché turned out the contents of the envelope. They proved to be prospectuses of bubble companies of the moment, of no importance.
"Medhurst must have put them there," I cried, "and decamped with the cash."
Charles gave a groan of horror. "And Medhurst is Colonel Clay!" he exclaimed, clapping his hand to his forehead.
"I beg your pardon, sir," the Colonel interposed. "I have but one personality, and no aliases."
It took quite half an hour to explain this imbroglio. But as soon as all was explained, in French and English, to the satisfaction of ourselves and the juge d'instruction, the real Colonel shook hands with us in a most forgiving way, and informed us that he had more than once wondered, when he gave his name at shops in Paris, why it was often received with such grave suspicion. We instructed the police that the true culprit was Medhurst, whom they had seen with their own eyes, and whom we urged them to pursue with all expedition. Meanwhile, Charles and I, accompanied by the Colonel and the attaché—"to see the fun out," as they said—called at the Bank of France for the purpose of stopping the notes immediately. It was too late, however. They had been presented at once, and cashed in gold, by a pleasant little lady in an American costume, who was afterwards identified by the hotel-keeper (from our description) as his lodger, Mme. Picardet. It was clear she had taken rooms in the same hotel, to be near the Indian Colonel; and it was she who had received and sent the letters. As for our foe, he had vanished into space, as always.
Two days later we received the usual insulting communication on a sheet of Charles's own dainty note.
Last time he wrote it was on Craig-Ellachie paper: this time, like the wanton lapwing, he had got himself another crest.
"MOST PERSPICACIOUS OF MILLIONAIRES!—Said I not well, as Medhurst, that you must distrust everybody? And the one man you never dreamt of distrusting was—Medhurst. Yet see how truthful I was! I told you I knew where Colonel Clay was living—and I did know, exactly. I promised to take you to Colonel Clay's rooms, and to get him arrested for you—and I kept my promise. I even exceeded your expectations;
for I gave you two Colonel Clays instead of one—and you took the wrong man—that is to say, the real one.
This was a neat little trick; but it cost me some trouble.
"First, I found out there was a real Colonel Clay, in the Indian Army. I also found out he chanced to be coming home on leave this season. I might have made more out of him, no doubt; but I disliked annoying him, and preferred to give myself the fun of this peculiar mystification. I therefore waited for him to reach Paris, where the police arrangements suited me better than in London. While I was looking about, and delaying operations for his return, I happened to hear you wanted a detective. So I offered myself as out of work to my old employer, Marvillier, from whom I have had many good jobs in the past; and there you get, in short, the kernel of the Colonel.
"Naturally, after this, I can never go back as a detective to Marvillier's. But, on the large scale on which I have learned to work since I first had the pleasure of making your delightful acquaintance, this matters little. To say the truth, I begin to feel detective work a cut or two below me. I am now a gentleman of means and leisure. Besides, the extra knowledge of your movements which I have acquired in your house has helped still further to give me various holds upon you.
So the fluke will be true to his own pet lamb. To vary the metaphor, you are not fully shorn yet.
"Remember me most kindly to your charming family, give Wentworth my love, and tell Mlle. Césarine I owe her a grudge which I shall never forget. She clearly suspected me. You are much too rich, dear Charles; I relieve your plethora. I bleed you financially. Therefore I consider myself—Your sincerest friend, "CLAY-BRABAZON-MEDHURST, "Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons."
Charles was threatened with apoplexy. This blow was severe. "Whom can I trust," he asked, plaintively, "when the detectives themselves, whom I employ to guard me, turn out to be swindlers? Don't you remember that line in the Latin grammar—something about, 'Who shall watch the watchers?' I think it used to run, 'Quis custodes custodiet ipsos?'" But I felt this episode had at least disproved my suspicions of poor Césarine.
THE EPISODE OF THE
SELDON GOLD-MINEOn our return to London, Charles and Marvillier had a difference of opinion on the subject of Medhurst.
Charles maintained that Marvillier ought to have known the man with the cropped hair was Colonel Clay, and ought never to have recommended him. Marvillier maintained that Charles had seen Colonel Clay half-a-dozen times, at least, to his own never; and that my respected brother-in-law had therefore nobody on earth but himself to blame if the rogue imposed upon him. The head detective had known Medhurst for ten years, he said, as a most respectable man, and even a ratepayer; he had always found him the cleverest of spies, as well he might be, indeed, on the familiar set-a-thief-to-catch-a-thief principle. However, the upshot of it all was, as usual—nothing. Marvillier was sorry to lose the services of so excellent a hand; but he had done the very best he could for Sir Charles, he declared; and if Sir Charles was not satisfied, why, he might catch his Colonel Clays for himself in future.
"So I will, Sey," Charles remarked to me, as we walked back from the office in the Strand by Piccadilly. "I won't trust any more to these private detectives. It's my belief they're a pack of thieves themselves, in league with the rascals they're set to catch, and with no more sense of honour than a Zulu diamond-hand."
"Better try the police," I suggested, by way of being helpful. One must assume an interest in one's employer's business.
But Charles shook his head. "No, no," he said; "I'm sick of all these fellows. I shall trust in future to my own sagacity.
We learn by experience, Sey—and I've learned a thing or two. One of them is this: It's not enough to suspect everybody; you must have no preconceptions. Divest yourself entirely of every fixed idea if you wish to cope with a rascal of this calibre. Don't jump at conclusions. We should disbelieve everything, as well as distrust everybody.
That's the road to success; and I mean to pursue it."
So, by way of pursuing it, Charles retired to Seldon.
"The longer the man goes on, the worse he grows," he said to me one morning. "He's just like a tiger that has tasted blood. Every successful haul seems only to make him more eager for another. I fully expect now before long we shall see him down here."
About three weeks later, sure enough, my respected connection received a communication from the abandoned swindler, with an Austrian stamp and a Vienna post-mark.