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A Maker of History By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 11081

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

Duncombe had the nerves and temperament of the young Englishman of his class, whose life is mostly spent out of doors, and who has been an athlete all his days. But nevertheless at that moment he was afraid. Something in the stillness of the room oppressed him. He could see nothing, hear nothing except the clock ticking upon the mantlepiece. And yet he was afraid.

He fumbled desperately in his pocket for his matchbox. When he had found it he discovered that it was empty. With a sense of positive relief he backed out of the room and hastily descended the stairs. The old lady was still in her sitting-room reading the paper. She set it down at his entrance, and looked at him over the top of her spectacles.

"Pardon, Madame," he said, removing his hat, "I find the rooms of Mademoiselle are open, but all is in darkness. I cannot make any one hear."

Madame took up her paper.

"Then Mademoiselle is probably out," she declared. "It is generally so at this hour. Monsieur can leave his name."

"But the doors are all open!" Duncombe said.

"I go presently and close them," Madame answered. "The careless hussy!"

Duncombe produced a small piece of gold. Madame laid down the paper at once. She looked at it as though ready to snatch it from his hand.

"Madame would oblige me very much if she would ascend with me at once," Duncombe said. "I should like to make quite sure whether the young lady is there or not."

Madame was on her feet with remarkable celerity. She accepted the coin and carefully placed it in a purse drawn from somewhere amongst the folds of her voluminous skirts.

"We shall need a candle," Duncombe reminded her.

She lit a lamp, talking all the while.

"Monsieur is very generous," she declared. "Mademoiselle Flossie is a charming young lady. No wonder she has many friends. There was one," she continued, "who came here with her this afternoon-but he left almost at once," she added hastily, aware of her indiscretion. "Ah, these stairs! They grow steeper for one so corpulent. At last!"

She pushed open the door and went sideways down the narrow passage. Directly they had entered it they had a view of the room beyond. Madame cried out, and Duncombe felt all his vague fears spring into a terrified apprehension of actual evil.

The curtain before the window had been hastily drawn, but the lamp which the portress carried was sufficient feebly to illuminate the room. The table-cloth and a broken vase lay upon the floor. A few feet off was an overturned chair. Upon the canopied bed lay a prostrate figure, the head thrown back at an unnatural angle, the eyes open but glazed. Duncombe dared do no more than cast one single horrified glance at it. Madame set down the lamp upon the table, and made the room hideous with shrieks.

"Good God!" she cried. "It is the little one who is dead!"

Duncombe himself fetched in the gendarmes, and waited whilst they took voluminous notes of the occurrence. The murder seemed to them and to Madame to be one of a very common class. The assassin had left no clue whatever behind him. The poor girl's rings had been torn from her fingers, her little stock of jewellery ransacked, her purse was empty, everything of value had been taken. There was not a shred of evidence against any one. Madame, who had seen the man upon the stairs, could only say that he was short, and wore a black felt hat. The officer who took down what they had to say shrugged his shoulders as he replaced the book in his pocket. The affair would pass most certainly, he feared, into the long list of undiscoverable crimes.

Duncombe left his name and address, and enough money for the funeral. Then he returned to his hotel. This was the end, then, of the clue from which he had hoped so much. Spencer's warning as to what would surely happen to those whom he might succeed in bribing came back into his mind with sickening insistence. In a measure he was responsible for the girl's death. After all, what chance had he? He was fighting against powers which, moving always in the darkness, seemed able with the most ridiculous ease to frustrate his every move. He re-entered the hotel in a state of complete nervous depression. For the first time he had forebodings on his own account. What had happened to Mademoiselle Flossie might happen so easily to himself.

A man rose quickly from the lounge in the hotel as he entered. Duncombe greeted him with a little expression of wonder.

"Spencer!" he exclaimed. "Were you waiting to see me?"

The journalist nodded. He was not in evening dress, and he too had the appearance of a man who has received something of a shock.

"Yes. The café is closed, I suppose. Let us go down into the smoke-room. I want to talk to you."

Duncombe led the way. They found two easy-chairs, and despatched a waiter for whiskies and soda. Then Spencer turned to his friend.

"Have you met," he asked, "with any success?"

"None!" Duncombe answered gloomily.

"I have something to tell you," Spencer continued. "No, it is not good news," he added hastily. "It is more a personal matter. It is of something which has happened to myself."

Duncombe sighed.

"Go on!" he said.

"For twenty-two and a half years," Spencer said, "I have lived in Paris as the correspondent to various English journals. I have made many friends, and it has been considered amongst all my fellow journalists that I had the ear of more influential people in politics and society here than any other writer. To-day I have resigned my


Duncombe managed to summon up enough interest to be surprised.

"I had no idea," he said, "that you were contemplating anything of the sort."

"I was not!" Spencer answered grimly. "I am as much surprised myself as all my friends will be."

Duncombe was puzzled.

"I am afraid I don't quite understand," he said. "You can't mean that your people--"

"No! My people have nothing to do with it," Spencer answered. "I have had the sack, but not from them. It is Paris which will have no more of me. I live here, of course, on my faculties for obtaining information, and my entrée into political and social life. To-day the Minister of Police has declined to receive me, or at any future time-my cards of entry into the chamber and half a dozen places have been revoked, my name has been expunged from the visiting list of the President, and practically of every other person of importance. All that I may see of Paris now is from the outside. And there is no appeal!"

"But what is the reason of it, Spencer? What have you done? How have you offended all these people?"

Spencer hesitated.

"I don't want you to blame yourself in any way, Duncombe," he said. "You could not possibly have guessed the sort of thing you were up against. But the fact remains that my offence is in having sent my friends to the Café Montmartre on your account, and in being suspected of rendering you further assistance in your search for those two marvellous young English people!"

"You are not joking by any chance, are you?" Duncombe asked gravely.

"The matter," Spencer replied, "does not appear to me to lend itself to anything of the sort."

Duncombe buried his head in his hands for several moments.

"Great Heavens!" he murmured. "Let me think! I can't tell you how sorry I am, old chap. Can't the thing be explained? As a matter of fact, you were discretion itself."

"I don't want it explained," Spencer said, "even if it would do any good-which it wouldn't! I should have retired in any case in less than a year, and, as it is, I believe my successor is on his way over already. Now would you like to know why I have come here at this hour of the night to tell you this?"

Duncombe nodded.

"Go on!" he said. "Afterwards I've something to tell you."

"I've come," Spencer said, "because I'm free now, if you like, to help you. I was interested in your story before. I am ten times more interested in it now. If you still want me I'll do what I can for you."

"Want you! Spencer, do you mean it?" Duncombe exclaimed. "Want you! Why, there's no one I'd rather interest in the affair than you."

"Well, I can promise you my interest is pretty well excited already," Spencer answered. "I'm with you right along. Now tell me where you've been this evening, and what's happened."

Duncombe recounted the evening's events. His new ally listened and afterwards smoked for a moment or two in silence.

"It is simply wonderful," he declared. "The whole secret-service system of Paris is working to cover up the traces of this boy and girl. Their spies, of course, are everywhere, and their organization perfect. The first one of their creatures who tries to break away is Mademoiselle Flossie. The poor little fool lived for only a few hours afterwards. Your bribe was high, but she ought to have known better."

"You mean--"

"Why, of course! The theft of her poor little jewels was only a blind. It was to deceive the public, for, as a matter of fact, her murderer would have been perfectly safe if he had strolled into the nearest police station and made his report. She was killed because she was going to give you certain information."

Duncombe shuddered.

"Great Heaven!" he exclaimed. "Tell me, Spencer, who or what can be at the back of all this? Guy Poynton was simply a healthy-minded, not over-intelligent, young Saxon, unambitious, and passionately fond of his home and his country life. He had no friends over here, no interests, no ties of any sort. He was abroad for the first time of his life. He regarded foreign countries and people simply with the tolerant curiosity of the untravelled Britisher. He appears in Paris for one night and disappears, and forthwith all the genius of French espionage seems to have combined to cover up his traces. It is the same with his sister, only as she came afterwards it was evidently on his account that she also is drawn into the mystery. What can be the meaning of it, Spencer?"

"My young friend," Spencer said, "I will be frank with you. I have not the least idea! I only know that somehow or other you're up against a big thing. In a week-perhaps a day-I may know more. Meanwhile I want you to go on your way precisely as though you and I had not discussed this matter."

"We may not work together then?" Duncombe asked.

"Certainly not! You are a marked man everywhere. Every door is closed to you. I shall nominally stick to my post. You must be content to be the actual looker-on, though you had better not abandon your inquiries altogether. I will put you up at the Cercle Anglais. It will serve to pass the time, and you may gain information at the most unlikely places. And now good-bye."

The liftman thrust a pencilled note into Duncombe's hand as he ascended to his room.

"From I do not know whom, Monsieur," he announced. "It was left here by some one! Whom I cannot say."

Duncombe opened it in his dressing-room. There was only one sentence:-

"Monsieur would be well advised to leave Paris to-night."

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