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   Chapter 12 THE SHADOWING OF DUNCOMBE

A Maker of History By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 8641

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


For three days Duncombe saw nothing of Spencer. Three long days devoid of incident, hopelessly dull, aimless, and uninteresting. On the fourth the only change in the situation was scarcely a reassuring one. He became aware that he was being watched.

There was no particular secrecy about it. Even in the hotel itself some one was always on his heels. The absence of any attempt at concealment convinced him that it was the authorized police who had thus suddenly showed their interest in him. The suspicion was soon to be confirmed. The manager called him on the fourth morning into his private office.

"Monsieur will pardon me, I trust," he said, "if I take the liberty of asking him a question."

"Certainly!" Duncombe answered. "Go ahead!"

"Monsieur is aware that he has been placed under the surveillance of the police?"

"The fact," Duncombe said, "has been borne in upon me during the last few hours. What of it?"

The manager coughed.

"This is a cosmopolitan hotel, Sir George," he said, "and we make no pretence at ultra-exclusiveness, but we do not care to see the police on the premises."

"Neither do I," Duncombe answered. "Can you suggest how we may get rid of them?"

"Monsieur does not quite understand," the manager said smoothly. "Clearly he has done something to bring him under the suspicion of the law. Under these circumstances it would be more agreeable to the management of the hotel if Monsieur would depart."

Duncombe did not wish to depart. The hotel at which Phyllis Poynton's trunks were still awaiting her return was the hotel at which he wished to stay.

"Look here, Monsieur Huber," he said. "I give you my word of honor that I have broken no law, nor engaged in any criminal action whatever since I came to Paris. This game of having me watched is simply a piece of bluff. I have done nothing except make inquiries in different quarters respecting those two young English people who are still missing. In doing this I seem to have run up against what is nothing more nor less than a disgraceful conspiracy. Every hand is against me. Instead of helping me to discover them, the police seem only anxious to cover up the tracks of those young people."

The manager looked down at his desk.

"We hotel-keepers," he said, "are very much in the hands of the police. We cannot judge between them and the people whom they treat as suspected persons. I know very well, Sir George, that you are a person of respectability and character, but if the police choose to think otherwise I must adapt my views to theirs. I am sorry, but we must really ask you to leave."

Sir George turned on his heel.

"Very good!" he said. "I will go and take rooms elsewhere."

He left the hotel, and walked towards the Ritz. At the corner of the Place Vend?me an automobile was pulled up with a jerk within a few feet of him. A tired-looking boy leaned over wearily towards him from the front seat.

"Sir George," he said, "can you give me five minutes?"

"With pleasure!" he answered. "I was going into the Ritz. Come and have something."

"To Maxim's, if you don't mind," the Vicomte said. "It will take us only a moment."

Sir George stepped in. The Vicomte, in whose fingers the wheel seemed scarcely to rest, so light and apparently careless was his touch, touched a lever by his side, released the clutch, and swung the great car round the corner at a speed which made Duncombe grasp the sides. At a pace which seemed to him most ridiculous, they dashed into the Rue de Rivoli, and with another sharp turn pulled up before Maxim's. The Vicomte rose with a yawn as though he had just awoke from a refreshing dream. His servant slipped off his fur coat, and he descended to the pavement faultlessly dressed and quite unruffled. The commissionaire preceded them, hat in hand, to the door. A couple of waiters ushered them to the table which the Vicomte intimated by a gesture.

"I myself," he remarked, drawing off his gloves, "take nothing but absinthe. What may I have the pleasure of ordering for you?"

Duncombe ordered a whisky and soda.

"I think," he said, "there is one thing which I ought to tell you at once. I am being shadowed by the police. The man who has just arrived, and who seems a little breathless, is, I believe, the person whose duty it is t

o dog my footsteps in the daytime."

"What a pity!" the Vicomte murmured. "I would at least have taken you a mile or so round the boulevards if I had known. But wait! You are sure-that it is the police by whom you are being watched?"

"Quite," Duncombe answered. "The manager of the hotel has spoken to me about it. He has asked me, in fact, to leave."

"To leave the hotel?"

"Yes! I was on my way to the Ritz to secure rooms when I met you."

The Vicomte sipped his absinthe gravely.

"I should not take those rooms," he said. "You will in all probability not occupy them."

"Why not?"

"It has been decided," the Vicomte said, "that you are to be driven out of Paris. In the end you will have to go. I think if I were you I would not wait. The train de luxe to Calais is more comfortable than a wet bench in the Morgue or a French prison."

"Who has decided this?" Duncombe asked. "What Emperor has signed the decree of my banishment?"

"There have been worse served Emperors," the Vicomte remarked, "than the, shall we say person, who bids you go!"

"What is my offence?" Duncombe asked.

"I know nothing," the Vicomte answered slowly, pouring himself out some absinthe.

"Who are my judges, then? What secret authorities have I incensed? I am an honest man, engaged in an honest mission. Why should I not be allowed to execute it?"

The Vicomte half closed his eyes. Duncombe was a little angry. The Vicomte regarded him with reproachful wonder.

"You ask me so many questions," he murmured, "and I tell you that I know nothing. I have asked you to come here with me because I had just this to say. I can answer no questions, offer no explanations. I have no particular liking for you, but I am afflicted with a cursedly sensitive disposition, and-there are things which I find it hard to watch with equanimity. There is a train for England at nine o'clock this evening, Sir George. Take it!"

Duncombe rose from his seat.

"I am very much obliged to you," he said. "I believe that you are giving me what you believe to be good advice. Whether I can follow it or not is a different matter."

The Vicomte sighed.

"You Englishmen," he said, "are so obstinate. It is the anxiety concerning your friends, I suppose, which keeps you here?"

"Yes!"

The Vicomte hesitated. He looked up and down the room, and especially at the man whom Duncombe had pointed out to him. He had edged nearer and nearer till he was almost within earshot. The Vicomte's voice, always low, became a whisper.

"I can tell you this much, at any rate," he said. "Whatever their present condition may be, it is more likely to be improved than made worse by your departure. You are a well-meaning person, Monsieur, but you do nobody any good here, and you risk-more than I dare tell you."

The Vicomte turned away to greet a little party of friends who had just entered. Duncombe strolled back to the hotel, and found Spencer walking restlessly up and down the hall waiting for him.

"At last!" he exclaimed, with a sigh of relief. "Come up into my room, Spencer. We can talk there."

He rang for the lift, and as they ascended he watched the other anxiously. Spencer was looking pale and disturbed. His eyes showed signs of sleeplessness, and he had not the air of a man who has good news to impart. As soon as they were inside the room he locked the door.

"Duncombe," he said, "there is a train which leaves Paris for London at four o'clock. You must catch it-if you are allowed to. Don't look like that, man. I tell you you've got to do it. If you are in Paris to-night you will be in prison."

"For what offence?" Duncombe asked.

"For the murder of Mademoiselle Flossie. They are training the witnesses now. The whole thing is as easy as A B C. They can prove you so guilty that not even your best friend would doubt it. Pack your clothes, man, or ring for the valet."

Duncombe hesitated, but he, too, was pale.

"Are you serious, Spencer?" he asked.

"I am so serious," Spencer answered, "that unless you obey me I will not move another finger in this matter. You lose nothing by going. All that a human being can do I will do! But you lose your life, or, at any rate, your liberty if you stay."

Duncombe bowed his head to fate.

"Very well!" he said. "I will go!"

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