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A Maker of History By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 10743

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

"Mademoiselle," the young man said, with an air of somewhat weary politeness, "I regret to say that there is nothing more to be done!"

He was grieved and polite because Mademoiselle was beautiful and in trouble. For the rest he was a little tired of her. Brothers of twenty-one, who have never been in Paris before, and cannot speak the language, must occasionally get lost, and the British Embassy is not exactly a transported Scotland Yard.

"Then," she declared, with a vigorous little stamp of her shapely foot, "I don't see what we keep an Ambassador here for at all-or any of you. It is scandalous!"

The Hon. Nigel Fergusson dropped his eyeglass and surveyed the young lady attentively.

"My dear Miss Poynton," he said, "I will not presume to argue with you. We are here, I suppose, for some purpose or other. Whether we fulfil it or not may well be a matter of opinion. But that purpose is certainly not to look after any young idiot-you must excuse my speaking plainly-who runs amuck in this most fascinating city. In your case the Chief has gone out of his way to help you. He has interviewed the chief of police himself, brought his influence to bear in various quarters, and I can tell you conscientiously that everything which possibly can be done is being done at the present moment. If you wish for my advice it is this: Send for some friend to keep you company here, and try to be patient. You are in all probability making yourself needlessly miserable."

She looked at him a little reproachfully. He noticed, however, with secret joy that she was drawing on her gloves.

"Patient! He was to meet me here ten days ago. He arrived at the hotel. His clothes are all there, and his bill unpaid. He went out the night of his arrival, and has never returned. Patient! Well, I am much obliged to you, Mr. Fergusson. I have no doubt that you have done all that your duty required. Good afternoon!"

"Good afternoon, Miss Poynton, and don't be too despondent. Remember that the French police are the cleverest in the world, and they are working for you."

She looked up at him scornfully.

"Police, indeed!" she answered. "Do you know that all they have done so far is to keep sending for me to go and look at dead bodies down at the Morgue? I think that I shall send over for an English detective."

"You might do worse," he answered; "but in any case, Miss Poynton, I do hope that you will send over for some friend or relation to keep you company. Paris is scarcely a fit place for you to be alone and in trouble."

"Thank you," she said. "I will remember what you have said."

The young man watched her depart with a curious mixture of relief and regret.

"The young fool's been the usual round, I suppose, and he's either too much ashamed of himself or too besotted to turn up. I wish she wasn't quite so devilish good-looking," he remarked to himself. "If she goes about alone she'll get badly scared before she's finished."

Phyllis Poynton drove straight back to her hotel and went to her room. A sympathetic chambermaid followed her in.

"Mademoiselle has news yet of her brother?" she inquired.

Mademoiselle shook her head. Indeed her face was sufficient answer.

"None at all, Marie."

The chambermaid closed the door.

"It would help Mademoiselle, perhaps, if she knew where the young gentleman spent the evening before he disappeared?" she inquired mysteriously.

"Of course! That is just what I want to find out."

Marie smiled.

"There is a young man here in the barber's shop, Mademoiselle," she announced. "He remembers Monsieur Poynton quite well. He went in there to be shaved, and he asked some questions. I think if Mademoiselle were to see him!"

The girl jumped up at once.

"Do you know his name?" she asked.

"Monsieur Alphonse, they call him. He is on duty now."

Phyllis Poynton descended at once to the ground floor of the hotel, and pushed open the glass door which led into the coiffeur's shop. Monsieur Alphonse was waiting upon a customer, and she was given a chair. In a few minutes he descended the spiral iron staircase and desired to know Mademoiselle's pleasure.

"You speak English?" she asked.

"But certainly, Mademoiselle."

She gave a little sigh of relief.

"I wonder," she said, "if you remember waiting upon my brother last Thursday week. He was tall and fair, and something like me. He had just arrived in Paris."

Monsieur Alphonse smiled. He rarely forgot a face, and the young Englishman's tip had been munificent.

"Perfectly, Mademoiselle," he answered. "They sent for me because Monsieur spoke no French."

"My chambermaid, Marie, told me that you might perhaps know how he proposed to spend the evening," she continued. "He was quite a stranger in Paris, and he may have asked for some information."

Monsieur Alphonse smiled, and extended his hands.

"It is quite true," he answered. "He asked me where to go, and I say to the Folies Bergères. Then he said he had heard a good deal of the supper cafés, and he asked me which was the most amusing. I tell him the Café Montmartre. He wrote it down."

"Do you think that he meant to go there?" she asked.

"But certainly. He promised to come and tell me the next day how he amused himself."

"The Café Montmartre. Where is it?" she asked.

"In the Place de Montmartre. But Mademois

elle pardons-she will understand that it is a place for men."

"Are women not admitted?" she asked.

Alphonse smiled.

"But-yes. Only Mademoiselle understands that if a lady should go there she would need to be very well escorted."

She rose and slipped a coin into his hand.

"I am very much obliged to you," she said. "By the bye, have any other people made inquiries of you concerning my brother?"

"No one at all, Mademoiselle!" the man answered.

She almost slammed the door behind when she went out.

"And they say that the French police are the cleverest in the world," she exclaimed indignantly.

Monsieur Alphonse watched her through the glass pane.

"Ciel! But she is pretty!" he murmured to himself.

* * *

She turned into the writing-room, and taking off her gloves she wrote a letter. Her pretty fingers were innocent of rings, and her handwriting was a little shaky. Nevertheless, it is certain that not a man passed through the room who did not find an excuse to steal a second glance at her. This is what she wrote:-

"My dear Andrew,-I am in great distress here, and very unhappy. I should have written to you before, but I know that you have your own trouble to bear just now, and I hated to bother you. I arrived here punctually on the date arranged upon between Guy and myself, and found that he had arrived the night before, and had engaged a room for me. He was out when I came. I changed my clothes and sat down to wait for him. He did not return. I made inquiries and found that he had left the hotel at eight o'clock the previous evening. To cut the matter short, ten days have now elapsed and he has not yet returned.

"I have been to the Embassy, to the police, and to the Morgue. Nowhere have I found the slightest trace of him. No one seems to take the least interest in his disappearance. The police shrug their shoulders, and look at me as though I ought to understand-he will return very shortly they are quite sure. At the Embassy they have begun to look upon me as a nuisance. The Morgue-Heaven send that I may one day forget the horror of my hasty visits there. I have come to the conclusion, Andrew, that I must search for him myself. How, I do not know; where, I do not know. But I shall not leave Paris until I have found him.

"Andrew, what I want is a friend here. A few months ago I should not have hesitated a moment to ask you to come to me. To-day that is impossible. Your presence here would only be an embarrassment to both of us. Do you know of any one who would come? I have not a single relative whom I can ask to help me. Would you advise me to write to Scotland Yard for a detective, or go to one of these agencies? If not, can you think of any one who would come here and help me, either for your sake as your friend, or, better still, a detective who can speak French and whom one can trust? All our lives Guy and I have congratulated ourselves that we have no relation nearer than India. I am finding out the other side of it now.

"I know that you will do what you can for me, Andrew. Write to me by return.

"Yours in great trouble and distress,

"Phyllis Poynton."

She sealed and addressed her letter, and saw it despatched. Afterwards she crossed the courtyard to the restaurant, and did her best to eat some dinner. When she had finished it was only half-past eight. She rang for the lift and ascended to the fourth floor. On her way down the corridor a sudden thought struck her. She took a key from her pocket and entered the room which her brother had occupied.

His things were still lying about in some disorder, and neither of his trunks was locked. She went down on her knees and calmly proceeded to go through his belongings. It was rather a forlorn hope, but it seemed to her just possible that there might be in some of his pockets a letter which would throw light upon his disappearance. She found nothing of the sort, however. There were picture postcards, a few photographs, and a good many restaurant bills, but they were all from places in Germany and Austria. At the bottom of the second trunk, however, she found something which he had evidently considered it worth while to preserve carefully. It was a thick sheet of official-looking paper, bearing at the top an embossed crown, and covered with German writing. It was numbered at the top "seventeen," and it was evidently an odd sheet of some document. She folded it carefully up, and took it back with her to her own room. Then, with the help of a German dictionary, she commenced to study it. At the end of an hour she had made out a rough translation, which she read carefully through. When she had finished she was thoroughly perplexed. She had an uncomfortable sense of having come into touch with something wholly unexpected and mysterious.

"What am I to do?" she said to herself softly.

"What can it mean? Where on earth can Guy-have found this?"

There was no one to answer her, no one to advise. An overwhelming sense of her own loneliness brought the tears into her eyes. She sat for some time with her face buried in her hands. Then she rose up, calmly destroyed her translation with minute care, and locked away the mysterious sheet at the bottom of her dressing-bag. The more she thought of it the less, after all, she felt inclined to connect it with his disappearance.

* * *

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