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«Published: 1897 Categorie(s): Fiction, Mystery & Detective Source: About Allen: Charles Grant Blairfindie Allen ...»

-- [ Page 18 ] --

He took the elevator down to the "Bureau," as they call it, and complained to the manager. The manager, a sharpfaced New Y orker, smiled as he remarked in a nonchalant way that guests with valuables were required to leave them in charge of the management, in which case they were locked up in the safe and duly returned to the depositor on leaving. Charles declared somewhat excitedly that he had been robbed, and demanded that nobody should be allowed to leave the hotel till the dispatch-box was discovered. The manager, quite cool, and obtrusively picking his teeth, responded that such tactics might be possible in an hotel of the European size, putting up a couple of hundred guests or so; but that an American house, with over a thousand visitors—many of whom came and went daily—could not undertake such a quixotic quest on behalf of a single foreign complainant.

That epithet, "foreign," stung Charles to the quick. No Englishman can admit that he is anywhere a foreigner. "Do you know who I am, sir?" he asked, angrily. "I am Sir Charles Vandrift, of London—a member of the English Parliament."

"Y may be the Prince of Wales," the man answered, ou "for all I care. Y get the same treatment as anyone else, ou'll in America. But if you're Sir Charles Vandrift," he went on, examining his books, "how does it come you've registered as Mr. Peter Porter?" Charles grew red with embarrassment. The difficulty deepened.

The dispatch-box, always covered with a leather case, bore on its inner lid the name "Sir Charles Vandrift, K.C.M.G.," distinctly painted in the orthodox white letters.

This was a painful contretemps: he had lost his precious documents; he had given a false name; and he had rendered the manager supremely careless whether or not he recovered his stolen property. Indeed, seeing he had registered as Porter, and now "claimed" as Vandrift, the manager hinted in pretty plain language he very much doubted whether there had ever been a dispatch-box in the matter at all, or whether, if there were one, it had ever contained any valuable documents.

We spent a wretched morning. Charles went round the hotel, questioning everybody as to whether they had seen his dispatch-box. Most of the visitors resented the question as a personal imputation; one fiery Virginian, indeed, wanted to settle the point then and there with a six-shooter.

Charles telegraphed to New Y to prevent the shares and ork coupons from being negotiated; but his brokers telegraphed back that, though they had stopped the numbers as far as possible, they did so with reluctance, as they were not aware of Sir Charles Vandrift being now in the country. Charles declared he wouldn't leave the hotel till he recovered his property; and for myself, I was inclined to suppose we would have to remain there accordingly for the term of our natural lives—and longer.

That night again we spent at the Lakeside Hotel. In the small hours of the morning, as I lay awake and meditated, a thought broke across me. I was so excited by it that I rose and rushed into my brother-in-law's bedroom. "Charles, Charles!" I exclaimed, "we have taken too much for granted once more. Perhaps Elihu Quackenboss carried off your dispatch-box!" "Y fool," Charles answered, in his most unamiable ou manner (he applies that word to me with increasing frequency); "is thatwhat you've waked me up for? Why, the Quackenbosses left Lake George on Tuesday morning, and I had the dispatch-box in my own hands on Wednesday."

"We have only their word for it," I cried. "Perhaps they stopped on—and walked off with it afterwards!" "We will inquire to-morrow," Charles answered. "But I confess I don't think it was worth waking me up for. I could stake my life on that little woman's integrity."

We did inquire next morning—with this curious result: it turned out that, though the Quackenbosses had left the Lakeside Hotel on Tuesday, it was only for the neighbouring Washington House, which they quitted on Wednesday morning, taking the same train for Saratoga which Charles and I had intended to go by. Mrs.

Quackenboss carried a small brown paper parcel in her hands—in which, under the circumstances, we had little difficulty in recognising Charles's dispatch-box, loosely enveloped.

Then I knew how it was done. The chambermaid, loitering about the room for a tip, was—Mrs. Quackenboss!

It needed but an apron to transform her pretty travellingdress into a chambermaid's costume; and in any of those huge American hotels one chambermaid more or less would pass in the crowd without fear of challenge.

"We will follow them on to Saratoga," Charles cried. "Pay the bill at once, Seymour."

"Certainly," I answered. "Will you give me some money?" Charles clapped his hand to his pockets. "All, all in the dispatch-box," he murmured.

That tied us up another day, till we could get some ready cash from our agents in New Y for the manager, already ork;

most suspicious at the change of name and the accusation of theft, peremptorily refused to accept Charles's cheque, or anything else, as he phrased it, except "hard money." So we lingered on perforce at Lake George in ignoble inaction.

"Of course," I observed to my brother-in-law that evening, "Elihu Quackenboss was Colonel Clay."

"I suppose so," Charles murmured resignedly.

"Everybody I meet seems to be Colonel Clay nowadays— except when I believe they are, in which case they turn out to be harmless nobodies. But who would have thought it was he after I pulled his hair out? Or after he persisted in his trick, even when I suspected him—which, he told us at Seldon, was against his first principles?" A light dawned upon me again. But, warned by previous ebullitions, I expressed myself this time with becoming timidity. "Charles," I suggested, "may we not here again have been the slaves of a preconception? We thought Forbes-Gaskell was Colonel Clay—for no better reason than because he wore a wig. We thought Elihu Quackenboss wasn't Colonel Clay—for no better reason than because he didn't wear one. But how do we know he ever wears wigs? Isn't it possible, after all, that those hints he gave us about make-up, when he was Medhurst the detective, were framed on purpose, so as to mislead and deceive us? And isn't it possible what he said of his methods at the Seamew's island that day was similarly designed in order to hoodwink us?" "That is so obvious, Sey," my brother-in-law observed, in a most aggrieved tone, "that I should have thought any secretary worth his salt would have arrived at it instantly."





I abstained from remarking that Charles himself had not arrived at it even now, until I told him. I thought that to say so would serve no good purpose. So I merely went on: "Well, it seems to me likely that when he came as Medhurst, with his hair cut short, he was really wearing his own natural crop, in its simplest form and of its native hue. By now it has had time to grow long and bushy. When he was David Granton, no doubt, he clipped it to an intermediate length, trimmed his beard and moustache, and dyed them all red, to a fine Scotch colour. As the Seer, again, he wore his hair much the same as Elihu's; only, to suit the character, more combed and fluffy. As the little curate, he darkened it and plastered it down. As Von Lebenstein, he shaved close, but cultivated his moustache to its utmost dimensions, and dyed it black after the Tyrolese fashion. He need never have had a wig; his own natural hair would throughout have been sufficient, allowing for intervals."

"You're right, Sey," my brother-in-law said, growing almost friendly. "I will do you the justice to admit that's the nearest thing we have yet struck out to an idea for tracking him."

On the Saturday morning a letter arrived which relieved us a little from our momentary tension. It was from our enemy himself—but most different in tone from his previous bantering communications:— "Saratoga, Friday.

"SIR CHARLES VANDRIFT—Herewith I return your dispatch-box, intact, with the papers untouched. As you will readily observe, it has not even been opened.

"You will ask me the reason for this strange conduct.

Let me be serious for once, and tell you truthfully.

"White Heather and I (for I will stick to Mr. Wentworth's judicious sobriquet) came over on the Etruria with you, intending, as usual, to make something out of you. We followed you to Lake George—for I had 'forced a card,' after my habitual plan, by inducing you to invite us, with the fixed intention of playing a particular trick upon you.

It formed no part of our original game to steal your dispatch-box; that I consider a simple and elementary trick unworthy the skill of a practised operator. We persisted in the preparations for our coup, till you pulled my hair out. Then, to my great surprise, I saw you exhibited a degree of regret and genuine compunction with which, till that moment, I could never have credited you. You thought you had hurt my feelings; and you behaved more like a gentleman than I had previously known you to do. You not only apologised, but you also endeavoured voluntarily to make reparation. That produced an effect upon me.

You may not believe it, but I desisted accordingly from the trick I had prepared for you.

"I might also have accepted your offer to go to South Africa, where I could soon have cleared out, having embezzled thousands. But, then, I should have been in a position of trust and responsibility—and I am notquite rogue enough to rob you under those conditions.

"Whatever else I am, however, I am not a hypocrite. I do not pretend to be anything more than a common swindler. If I return you your papers intact, it is only on the same principle as that of the Australian bushranger, who made a lady a present of her own watch because she had sung to him and reminded him of England. In other words, he did not take it from her.

In like manner, when I found you had behaved, for once, like a gentleman, contrary to my expectation, I declined to go on with the trick I then meditated. Which does not mean to say I may not hereafter play you some other. That will depend upon your future good behaviour.

"Why, then, did I get White Heather to purloin your dispatch-box, with intent to return it? Out of pure lightness of heart? Not so; but in order to let you see I really meant it. If I had gone off with no swag, and then written you this letter, you would not have believed me.

You would have thought it was merely another of my failures. But when I have actually got all your papers into my hands, and give them up again of my own free will, you must see that I mean it.

"I will end, as I began, seriously. My trade has not quite crushed out of me all germs or relics of better feeling;

and when I see a millionaire behave like a man, I feel ashamed to take advantage of that gleam of manliness.

"Yours, with a tinge of penitence, but still a rogue, CUTHBERT CLAY."

The first thing Charles did on receiving this strange communication was to bolt downstairs and inquire for the dispatch-box. It had just arrived by Eagle Express Company. Charles rushed up to our rooms again, opened it feverishly, and counted his documents. When he found them all safe, he turned to me with a hard smile. "This letter," he said, with quivering lips, "I consider still more insulting than all his previous ones."

But, for myself, I really thought there was a ring of truth about it. Colonel Clay was a rogue, no doubt—a most unblushing rogue; but even a rogue, I believe, has his better moments.

And the phrase about the "position of trust and responsibility" touched Charles to the quick, I suppose, in re the Slump in Cloetedorp Golcondas. Though, to be sure, it was a hit at me as well, over the ten per cent commission.

Chapter

THE EPISODE OF THE GAME

OF POKER

"Seymour," my brother-in-law said, with a deep-drawn sigh, as we left Lake George next day by the Rennselaer and Saratoga Railroad, "no more Peter Porter for me, if you please! I'm sick of disguises. Now that we know Colonel Clay is here in America, they serve no good purpose; so I may as well receive the social consideration and proper respect to which my rank and position naturally entitle me."

"And which they secure for the most part (except from hotel clerks), even in this republican land," I answered briskly.

For in my humble opinion, for sound copper-bottomed snobbery, registered A1 at Lloyd's, give me the free-born American citizen.

We travelled through the States, accordingly, for the next four months, from Maine to California, and from Oregon to Florida, under our own true names, "Confirming the churches," as Charles facetiously put it—or in other words, looking into the management and control of railways, syndicates, mines, and cattle-ranches. We inquired about everything. And the result of our investigations appeared to be, as Charles further remarked, that the Sabeans who so troubled the sons of Job seemed to have migrated in a body to Kansas and Nebraska, and that several thousand head of cattle seemed mysteriously to vanish, à la Colonel Clay, into the pure air of the prairies just before each branding.

However, we were fortunate in avoiding the incursions of the Colonel himself, who must have migrated meanwhile on some enchanted carpet to other happy hunting-grounds.

It was chill October before we found ourselves safe back in New Y ork, en route for England. So long a term of freedom from the Colonel's depredations (as Charles fondly imagined—but I will not anticipate) had done my brother-in-law's health and spirits a world of good; he was so lively and cheerful that he began to fancy his tormentor must have succumbed to yellow fever, then raging in New Orleans, or eaten himself ill, as we nearly did ourselves, on a generous mixture of clam-chowder, terrapin, soft-shelled crabs, Jersey peaches, canvas-backed ducks, Catawba wine, winter cherries, brandy cocktails, strawberryshortcake, ice-creams, corn-dodger, and a judicious brew commonly known as a Colorado corpse-reviver. However that may be, Charles returned to New Y in excellent trim;

ork and, dreading in that great city the wiles of his antagonist, he cheerfully accepted the invitation of his brother millionaire, Senator Wrengold of Nevada, to spend a few days before sailing in the Senator's magnificent and newlyfinished palace at the upper end of Fifth Avenue.

"There, at least, I shall be safe, Sey," he said to me plaintively, with a weary smile. "Wrengold, at any rate, won't try to take me in—except, of course, in the regular way of business."

Boss-Nugget Hall (as it is popularly christened) is perhaps the handsomest brown stone mansion in the Richardsonian style on all Fifth Avenue. We spent a delightful week there. The lines had fallen to us in pleasant places. On the night we arrived Wrengold gave a small bachelor party in our honour. He knew Sir Charles was travelling without Lady Vandrift, and rightly judged he would prefer on his first night an informal party, with cards and cigars, instead of being bothered with the charming, but still somewhat hampering addition of female society.

The guests that evening were no more than seven, all told, ourselves included—making up, Wrengold said, that perfect number, an octave. He was a nouveau riche himself —the newest of the new—commonly known in exclusive old-fashioned New Y society as the Gilded Squatter; for ork he "struck his reef" no more than ten years ago; and he was therefore doubly anxious, after the American style, to be "just dizzy with culture." In his capacity of Mæcenas, he had invited amongst others the latest of English literary arrivals in New Y ork—Mr. Algernon Coleyard, the famous poet, and leader of the Briar-rose school of West-country fiction.

"Y know him in London, of course?" he observed to ou Charles, with a smile, as we waited dinner for our guests.

"No," Charles answered stolidly. "I have not had that honour. We move, you see, in different circles."



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