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   Chapter 11 A WORD OF WARNING

A Maker of History By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 9567

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


"In the most unlikely places!" Duncombe murmured to himself as he bowed to the Frenchman, whose name his friend had mentioned. "I am very glad to meet you again, Monsieur le Baron!" he said, aloud.

They were in the covered garden at the Ritz. Duncombe had accepted the pressing invitation of an old college friend, whom he had met on the boulevards to drop in and be introduced to his wife. And the third at the tea-table was Monsieur Louis, known in society apparently as Monsieur le Baron de Seurs.

Lady Hadley, his friend's wife, smiled languidly upon them both. She was a frail pink and white little woman, with the reputation of a beauty to sustain, wherein lay her life's work.

"You two know one another, of course!" she remarked. "Paris is no larger than London, after all."

"Sir George and I have met once at least," the Baron said, smiling. "I am glad that he does me the honor of remembering the occasion."

Duncombe felt himself no match for his companion with the foils. He let the conversation drift, and waited for his opportunity. Presently some more guests arrived, and Duncombe drew his host on one side.

"Hadley," he said, "how long have you known the Baron?"

"Met him at Dorset House about two years ago, I think," Hadley answered. "He was doing a round of country-houses. I'm not sure that he didn't stay at Sandringham. One of the real old French families, you know, De Seurs."

Duncombe nodded. There did not seem to be much that he could say. He mingled with the other guests, and observed his social duties. But he watched the Baron, and he took care that they left together.

"Are you going my way, Baron?" he asked, as they stepped into the Place Vend?me.

"I was going to the Cercle Anglais," the Baron answered. "Do you belong?"

"I am up for a month's membership, but I am not elected yet," Duncombe answered.

"Then you shall come in as my guest," the Baron declared.

"You are exceedingly kind," Duncombe answered. "I wonder whether I might presume still further upon your good nature and ask you a question."

"The asking," the Baron murmured, "involves nothing."

"You bear, I am told, an honored name, and you are well received in society. Why do you associate with murderers and thieves in that hell of a café where I saw you first?"

The Baron smiled.

"My friend," he said, "I seek always the life amusing, and I find it there."

"I was robbed before your eyes, Baron."

The Frenchman sighed.

"I am so sorry," he said, "that I did not see it. That indeed would have been amusing."

"You know that the young lady who sat with us is dead?"

"A most bizarre happening," the Baron assented with a little sigh. "I cannot imagine how it occurred. The newspaper reports are not convincing. One would like to reconstruct the story. Poor little Flossie! She was most amusing, but just a little, a very little, too fond of flourishing her jewellery. One will miss her, though."

"Referring for one moment to our meeting at the café. You told me a story there-you and your friend Madame-of a young English lady-which the facts seem scarcely to sustain."

The Baron sighed.

"My friend," he said, "we did the best we could at a moment's notice. I rather fancied the story myself. As to facts-what have they to do with it? You demanded a story, and you got it. I rather flattered myself that under the circumstances it was not bad."

"You admit now, then, that it was not the truth!"

"The truth! My dear Sir George! Supposing that the whereabouts of your charming young friend had been known to me, do you suppose that I should have permitted myself to be bullied into disclosing it? Forgive me if I speak plainly, but if you really wished for information which you supposed that I had, your method of seeking it put you at once out of court. A French gentleman does not permit himself to be bullied."

Duncombe was silent for several moments. There were many things which he could have said, but where was the use?

"As a French gentleman, then," he said at last, "will you permit me to make a personal appeal to you? Miss Phyllis Poynton is a young lady in whom I am deeply interested. She was last seen at the Café Montmartre, from which place she disappeared. I am an Englishman of your own station. Tell me where I can find her, or what has become of her."

"My dear Sir George," the Baron said, "you might have saved yourself a great deal of trouble if you had spoken like this to me at the first. Frankly, then, I have not the least idea. Young English ladies come and go every evening at the Café Montmartre, and such places. One remembers only those who happen to have amused one, and not always those. Forgive me if I speak plainly. A young lady who had visited the Café Montmartre

alone-well, you might look for her anywhere, but most assuredly in that case if your anxiety was to induce her to return to her friends, you would be a little too late. Ah! We have arrived. Now, my friend, I must make you free of the place."

Duncombe was fuming with anger, but he had discretion enough to remain silent.

"Do you play Bridge?" the Baron asked, as they entered the card-room.

"Occasionally," Duncombe assented.

"I will go and see if I can find any men," the Baron remarked. "I will leave my young friend De Bergillac to entertain you. The Vicomte de Bergillac-Sir George Duncombe."

Duncombe shook hands with a pale, weary-looking youth, whose whole appearance was distinguished by marked symptoms of lassitude and ill-health. They sat in easy-chairs almost opposite to one another, and Duncombe found the other's scrutiny almost embarrassing.

"You speak French, perhaps-yes?" the young man asked at length.

"Yes! I speak French," Duncombe admitted.

"Then listen to me," the Vicomte said slowly. "I speak as one man of honor to another. Do not play cards in this club!"

"Not play cards? Why not?" Duncombe asked, amazed.

"You can take my advice or leave it," the Vicomte answered calmly. "I have no explanation to offer you. If you chose to repeat my remark you would place me in an exceedingly awkward position. You see, I rely upon you as a man of honor."

"I am only too much obliged to you for the hint," Duncombe declared. "But this club-the Cercle Anglais--"

"The club is all right," the Vicomte admitted calmly. "Unfortunately there is no place in Paris which would be entirely safe for you. You have the misfortune, you see, to be in opposition to some of my friends, who have really unlimited opportunities for making things disagreeable for you. Now I am beginning to talk, and it is very foolish of me. Why don't you leave Paris, Sir George?"

"Why should I?" Duncombe asked, a little sharply. "I break no laws here, I wrong no one. I am here on my own business, and I only ask to be let alone."

The Vicomte regarded him as one might look at a spoilt child whom it was yet advisable to humor.

"Ah," he said, "they will not let you alone. You are so obstinate, like all your country-people, or you would recognize it without my risking so much by speaking. You will have to leave Paris, and very soon. It is so easily to be managed. A dispute at cards here-you would certainly be in the wrong, and an ugly scandal if you were not away in twenty-four hours. It is one method of a thousand."

"You know so much," Duncombe said. "I have no doubt that you know the one thing which I would give years of my life to be satisfied about."

The boy's dark eyes were fixed steadily upon his.

"Sir George," he said, "there is nothing which I can possibly say to you. My warning has been exceeding foolish, but after all if I can persuade you to leave Paris I shall have done no great harm. As for the cards-well, I must plead guilty to weakness there. I have not the slightest objection to taking the life of a man who is making a nuisance of himself, but his honor I think one should not tamper with. May I offer you a cigarette? Well, Louis, what luck?"

The Baron had strolled back into the room, and was sitting on the arm of a chair.

"It will be all right directly," the Baron answered. "We have three, and old D'Arcon has telephoned that he will be here in five minutes."

Duncombe rose to his feet.

"It was really very careless of me," he said, "but I completely forgot that I had an engagement at the hotel at six o'clock. I am afraid that I shall not be able to stop."

The Baron glanced quickly at his young friend. There was nothing whatever to be learnt, though, from his pale, boyish face. His own countenance had darkened for the moment, but he recovered his composure immediately.

"As you will," he answered carelessly. "Perhaps you can drop in later. Come and dine, will you, at half-past eight?"

"I am much obliged to you, Baron," Duncombe said, "but I cannot accept your invitation. I am a lover of plain speaking, so I will not plead a previous engagement. But the one thing I want from you, the thing which I have almost a right to demand, you will not give. I do not feel, therefore, that any more than ordinary intercourse is possible between us."

The Baron bowed gravely.

"My dear Sir George," he said, "I am answered. I wish I could drive out of your mind that extraordinary hallucination relative to my supposed knowledge of your young English friend. It is impossible! Very good! I shall look forward to a time, Sir George, when we may meet on a better footing."

Duncombe left the hotel with the recollection of that curiously ironic smile fresh in his mind.

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