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   Chapter 6 THE VANISHING LADY

A Maker of History By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 11125

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


At precisely half-past nine on the following evening Duncombe alighted from his petite voiture in the courtyard of the Grand Hotel, and making his way into the office engaged a room. And then he asked the question which a hundred times on the way over he had imagined himself asking. A man to whom nervousness in any shape was almost unknown, he found himself only able to control his voice and manner with the greatest difficulty. In a few moments he might see her.

"You have a young English lady-Miss Poynton-staying here, I believe," he said. "Can you tell me if she is in now?"

The clerk looked at him with sudden interest.

"Miss Poynton is staying here, sir," he said. "I do not believe that she is in just now. Will you wait one moment?"

He disappeared rapidly, and was absent for several minutes. When he returned he came out into the reception hall.

"The manager would be much obliged if you would step into his office for a moment, sir," he said confidentially. "Will you come this way?"

Duncombe followed him into a small room behind the counter. A gray-haired man rose from his desk and saluted him courteously.

"Sir George Duncombe, I believe," he said. "Will you kindly take a seat?"

Duncombe did as he was asked. All the time he felt that the manager was scrutinizing him curiously.

"Your clerk," he said, "told me that you wished to speak to me."

"Exactly!" the manager answered. "You inquired when you came in for Miss Poynton. May I ask-are you a friend of hers?"

"I am here on behalf of her friends," Duncombe answered. "I have letters to her."

The manager bowed gravely.

"I trust," he said, "that you will soon have an opportunity to deliver them. We are not, of course, responsible in any way for the conduct or doings of our clients here, but I am bound to say that both the young people of the name you mention have been the cause of much anxiety to us."

"What do you mean?" Duncombe asked quickly.

"Mr. Guy Poynton," the manager continued, "arrived here about three weeks ago, and took a room for himself and one for his sister, who was to arrive on the following day. He went out that same evening, and has never since returned. Of that fact you are no doubt aware."

Duncombe nodded impatiently.

"Yes!" he said. "That is why I am here."

"His sister arrived on the following day, and was naturally very distressed. We did all that we could for her. We put her in the way of communicating with the police and the Embassy here, and we gave her every assistance that was possible. Four nights ago Mademoiselle went out late. Since then we have seen nothing of her. Mademoiselle also has disappeared."

Duncombe sprang to his feet. He was suddenly pale.

"Good God!" he exclaimed. "Four nights ago! She went out alone, you say?"

"How else? She had no friends here. Once or twice at my suggestion she had taken one of our guides with her, but she discontinued this as she fancied that it made her conspicuous. She was all the time going round to places making inquiries about her brother."

Duncombe felt himself suddenly precipitated into a new world-a nightmare of horrors. He was no stranger in the city, and grim possibilities unfolded themselves before his eyes. Four nights ago!

"You have sent-to the police?"

"Naturally. But in Paris-Monsieur must excuse me if I speak plainly-a disappearance of this sort is never regarded seriously by them. You know the life here without doubt, Monsieur! Your accent proves that you are well acquainted with the city. No doubt their conclusions are based upon direct observation, and in most cases are correct-but it is very certain that Monsieur the Superintendent regards such disappearances as these as due to one cause only."

Duncombe frowned, and something flashed in his eyes which made the manager very glad that he had not put forward this suggestion on his own account.

"With regard to the boy," he said, "this might be likely enough. But with regard to the young lady it is of course wildly preposterous. I will go to the police myself," he added, rising.

"One moment, Sir George," the manager continued. "The disappearance of the young lady was a source of much trouble to me, and I made all possible inquiries within the hotel. I found that on the day of her disappearance Mademoiselle had been told by one of the attendants in the barber's shop, who had waited upon her brother on the night of his arrival, that he-Monsieur Guy-had asked for the name of some cafés for supper, and that he had recommended Café Montmartre. Mademoiselle appears to have decided to go there herself to make inquiries. We have no doubt that when she left the hotel on the night of her disappearance it was to there that she went."

"You have told the police this?"

"Yes, I have told them," the manager answered dryly. "Here is their latest report, if you care to see it."

Duncombe took the little slip of paper and read it hastily.

"Disappearance of Mademoiselle Poynton, from England.-We regret to state no trace has been discovered of the missing young lady.

"(Signed) Jules Legarde, Superintendent."

"That was only issued a few hours ago," the manager said.

"And I thought," Duncombe said bitterly, "that the French police were the best in the world!"

The manager said nothing. Duncombe rose from his chair.

"I shall go myself to the Café Montmartre," he said. The manager bowed.

"I shall be glad," he said, "to divest myself of any further responsibility in this matter. It has been a source of muc

h anxiety to the directors as well as myself."

Duncombe walked out of the room, and putting on his coat again called for a petite voiture. He gave the man the address in the Rue St. Honoré and was driven to a block of flats there over some shops.

"Is Monsieur Spencer in?" he asked the concierge. He was directed to the first floor. An English man-servant admitted him, and a few moments later he was shaking hands with a man who was seated before a table covered with loose sheets of paper.

"Duncombe, by all that's wonderful!" he exclaimed, holding out his hand. "Why, I thought that you had shaken the dust of the city from your feet forever, and turned country squire. Sit down! What will you have?"

"First of all, am I disturbing you?"

Spencer shook his head.

"I've no Press work to-night," he answered. "I've a clear hour to give you at any rate. When did you come?"

"Two-twenty from Charing Cross," Duncombe answered. "I can't tell you how thankful I am to find you in, Spencer. I'm over on a very serious matter, and I want your advice."

Spencer touched the bell. Cigars and cigarettes, whisky and soda, appeared as though by magic.

"Now help yourself and go ahead, old chap," his host declared. "I'm a good listener."

He proved himself so, sitting with half-closed eyes and an air of close attention until he had heard the whole story. He did not once interrupt, but when Duncombe had finished he asked a question.

"What did you say was the name of this café where the boy had disappeared?"

"Café Montmartre."

Spencer sat up in his chair. His expression had changed.

"The devil!" he murmured softly.

"You know the place?"

"Very well. It has an extraordinary reputation. I am sorry to say it, Duncombe, but it is a very bad place for your friend to have disappeared from."

"Why?"

"In the first place it is the resort of a good many of the most dangerous people in Europe-people who play the game through to the end. It is a perfect hot-bed of political intrigue, and it is under police protection."

"Police protection! A place like that!" Duncombe exclaimed.

"Not as you and I understand it, perhaps," Spencer explained. "There is no Scotland Yard extending a protecting arm over the place, and that sort of thing. But the place is haunted by spies, and there are intrigues carried on there in which the secret service police often take a hand. In return it is generally very hard to get to the bottom of any disappearance or even robbery there through the usual channels. To the casual visitor, and of course it attracts thousands from its reputation, it presents no more dangers perhaps than the ordinary night café of its sort. But I could think of a dozen men in Paris to-day, who, if they entered it, I honestly believe would never be seen again."

Spencer was exaggerating, Duncombe murmured to himself. He was a newspaper correspondent, and he saw these things with the halo of melodrama around them. And yet-four nights ago. His face was white and haggard.

"The boy," he said, "could have been no more than an ordinary visitor. He had no great sum of money with him, he had no secrets, he did not even speak the language. Surely he would have been too small fry for the intriguers of such a place!"

"One would think so," Spencer answered musingly. "You are sure that he was only what you say?"

"He was barely twenty-one," Duncombe answered, "and he had never been out of England before."

"What about the girl?"

"She is two years older. It was her first visit to Paris." Spencer nodded.

"The disappearance of the boy is of course the riddle," he remarked. "If you solve that you arrive also at his sister's whereabouts. Upon my word, it is a poser. If it had been the boy alone-well, one could understand. The most beautiful ladies in Paris are at the Montmartre. No one is admitted who is not what they consider-chic! The great dancers and actresses are given handsome presents to show themselves there. On a representative evening it is probably the most brilliant little roomful in Europe. The boy of course might have lost his head easily enough, and then been ashamed to face his sister. But when you tell me of her disappearance, too, you confound me utterly. Is she good-looking?"

"Very!"

"She would go there, of course, asking for her brother," Spencer continued thoughtfully. "An utterly absurd thing to do, but no doubt she did, and-look here, Duncombe, I tell you what I'll do. I have my own two news-grabbers at hand, and nothing particular for them to do this evening. I'll send them up to the Café Montmartre."

"It's awfully good of you, Spencer. I was going myself," Duncombe said, a little doubtfully.

"You idiot!" his friend said cheerfully, yet with a certain emphasis. "English from your hair to your boots, you'd go in there and attempt to pump people who have been playing the game all their lives, and who would give you exactly what information suited their books. They'd know what you were there for, the moment you opened your mouth. Honestly, what manner of good do you think that you could do? You'd learn what they chose to tell you. If there's really anything serious behind all this, do you suppose it would be the truth?"

"You're quite right, I suppose," Duncombe admitted, "but it seems beastly to be doing nothing."

"Better be doing nothing than doing harm!" Spencer declared. "Look round the other cafés and the boulevards. And come here at eleven to-morrow morning. We'll breakfast together at Paillard's."

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