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   Chapter 32 ARRESTED!

A Maker of History By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 10338

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


One of his three visitors Duncombe recognized immediately. It was Monsieur Louis. Of the other two one was a Frenchman, a somewhat sombre-looking person, in a black beard and gold-rimmed eyeglasses, the other as unmistakably an Englishman of the lower middle class. His broad shoulders and somewhat stiff bearing seemed to suggest some sort of drill. Looking them over, Duncombe found himself instinctively wondering whether the personal strength of these two, which was obvious, might become a factor in the coming interview.

The Baron naturally was spokesman. He bowed very gravely to Duncombe, and did not offer his hand.

"I must apologize, Sir George," he said, "for disturbing you at such an inopportune hour. Our business, however, made it necessary for us to reach you with as little delay as possible."

"Perhaps you will be good enough to explain," Duncombe answered, "what that business is."

The Baron raised his hands with a little protesting gesture.

"I regret to tell you, Sir George," he announced, "that it is of a most unpleasant nature. I could wish that its execution had fallen into other hands. My companions are Monsieur Ridalle, of the French detective service, and our other friend here, whom I do not know, is a constable from the Norwich Police Court. My own connections with the police service of my country you have already, without doubt, surmised."

"Go on," Duncombe said.

"I regret to say," Monsieur Louis continued, "that my friends here are in charge of a warrant for your arrest. You will find them possessed of all the legal documents, French and English. We shall have to ask you to come to Norwich with us to-night."

"Arrest!" Duncombe repeated. "On what charge?"

"An extremely serious one," the Baron answered gravely. "The charge of murder!"

Duncombe stared at him in amazement.

"Murder!" he repeated. "What rubbish!"

"The murder of Mademoiselle de Mermillon in her lodging on the night of the seventh of June last," the Baron said gravely. "Please do not make any remarks before these men. The evidence against you is already sufficiently strong."

Duncombe laughed derisively.

"What sort of a puppet show is this?" he exclaimed. "You know as well as any man living how that poor girl came to her end. This is a cover for something else, of course. What do you want of me? Let's get at it without wasting time."

"What we want of you is, I am afraid, only too simple," the Baron answered, shrugging his shoulders. "We must ask you to accompany us at once to Norwich Castle. You will have to appear before the magistrates in the morning, when they will sign the extradition warrant. Our friend here, Monsieur Ridalle, will then take charge of you. Perhaps you would like to look through the documents. You will find them all in perfect order."

Duncombe mechanically glanced through the French and English papers which were spread out before him. They had certainly a most uncomfortable appearance of being genuine. He began to feel a little bewildered.

"You mean to say that you have come here to arrest me on this charge? That you want me to go away with you to-night?" he asked.

"It is not a matter of wanting you to come," the Baron answered coldly. "It is a matter of necessity."

Duncombe moved towards the fireplace.

"Will you allow me the privilege of a few moments' conversation with you in private?" he said to the Baron. "Your companions will perhaps excuse you for a moment."

The Baron followed without remark. They stood facing one another upon the hearthrug. Duncombe leaned one elbow upon the mantlepiece, and turned towards his companion.

"Look here," he said, "those papers seem genuine enough, and if you insist upon it I will go with you to Norwich. I shall take care not to let you out of my sight, and if when we get there I find that this is any part of one of your confounded conspiracies you will find that the penalties for this sort of thing in England are pretty severe. However, no doubt you are well aware of that. The question is this. What do you really want from me?"

Monsieur Louis, who had lit a cigarette, withdrew it from his mouth and examined the lighted end for a moment in silence.

"The documents," he said, "are genuine. You are arraigned in perfectly legal fashion. Upon the affidavits there the magistrates must grant the extradition warrant without hesitation. We have nothing to fear in that direction."

"The police," Duncombe remarked, "are perfectly aware of my innocence."

Monsieur shrugged his shoulders.

"The evidence," he said, "is remarkably convincing."

"Police-concocted evidence," Duncombe remarked, "would necessarily be so. I admit that you hold a strong card against me. I don't believe, however, that you have gone to all this trouble without some ulterior motive. What is it? What can I offer you in exchange for these documents?"

Monsieur Louis smiled.

"You are a man of common-sense, Sir George," he said. "I will speak to you without reserve. It is possible that you might be able to offer the Government department of my country to which I am attached an inducement to interest them

selves in your behalf. Mind, I am not sure. But if my information is correct there is certainly a possibility."

"The Government department of your country to which you are attached," Duncombe repeated thoughtfully. "Let me understand you. You mean the secret service police?"

Monsieur Louis glanced a little nervously over his shoulder.

"Never mind what I mean, Sir George," he said quickly. "There are things which we do not speak of openly. This much is sufficient. I represent a power which can influence and direct even the criminal courts of justice of France."

"What bribe have I to offer you?" Duncombe asked. "Information? You know more than I do. I am afraid you have been misled."

"I think not," Monsieur Louis said quickly. "I will tell you what we want. A paper was left in your charge by Miss Phyllis Poynton at the time she was visiting at Runton Place."

"What of it?" Duncombe asked.

The Frenchman's face was suddenly tense with excitement. He recovered himself almost at once, but his voice shook, and a new earnestness found its way into his manner.

"Miss Poynton and her brother are with us," he said. "It is we who have been their benefactors. You know a good deal of their peculiar circumstances. A sudden need has arisen for the production of that paper within twenty-four hours. Give it to me now, and I will run the greatest risk I have ever run in my career. I will tear those warrants through."

"Have you any authority from Miss Poynton?" Duncombe asked.

"There was no time to procure it," Monsieur Louis explained. "Events march rapidly to-day. To be effective that paper must be in Paris to-morrow. The necessity for its production arose only a few hours ago."

"You ask me, then," Duncombe said slowly, "to hand over to you a paper which was placed in my charge by Miss Poynton?"

"In effect-yes!"

"I cannot do it!"

Monsieur Louis shrugged his shoulders.

"I do not insist," he remarked. "I may be permitted to remind you, however, that I have offered a great price."

"Perhaps!" Duncombe answered quietly.

Monsieur Louis turned to his assistants.

"Sir George Duncombe will accompany us," he said. "I can give you ten minutes, Sir George," he added, "in case you care to change your clothes."

"And supposing I refuse to come?" Duncombe asked.

Monsieur Louis smiled.

"You would scarcely be so foolish," he remarked. "In that case I should send the policeman here to the nearest station with the warrants and a demand for help. Our documents are in perfect order, and our case complete. You would scarcely be so foolish, I think, as to set yourself in direct opposition to the law!"

Duncombe was silent for several moments. Then he rang the bell. Monsieur Louis looked at him inquiringly, but before he could frame a question the butler was in the room.

"Pack my things for a week, Groves," Duncombe ordered. "I am going away to-night."

The man bowed and withdrew. Monsieur Louis merely shrugged his shoulders.

"A week!" he remarked. "You will be fortunate if you ever see your home again. Come, Sir George, be reasonable! I give you my word of honor that it is altogether to the interest of Miss Poynton that those papers be immediately produced. If she were here herself she would place them in my hands without a moment's hesitation."

"Possibly!" Duncombe answered. "Suppositions, however, do not interest me. I undertook the charge of what she gave me, and I shall fulfil my trust."

Monsieur Louis turned to the policeman.

"Officer," he said, "this is Sir George Duncombe. Do your duty."

The man stepped forward and laid his hand upon Sir George's shoulder.

"Very sorry, sir," he said. "I am forced to arrest you on this warrant for the murder of Florence Mermillon on the night of the seventh of June. You will be brought before the magistrates at Norwich to-morrow."

Duncombe waved his hand towards the sideboard.

"If you gentlemen," he remarked, "would care for a little refreshment before you start?"

"It is against the rules, sir, thank you," the man answered. "I should be glad to get away as soon as possible."

Duncombe filled both his pockets with cigars and cigarettes. Then he turned towards the door.

"I am quite ready," he said.

They followed him out. There was a few minutes' delay waiting for Duncombe's bag.

"Your address, Sir George?" Groves inquired, as he brought it down.

"A little doubtful," Duncombe answered. "I will wire."

"In front, please, Sir George," Monsieur Louis insisted.

So they drove off, Duncombe in the front seat, the other three behind. The car gathered speed rapidly. In less than an hour they were half-way to Norwich. Then suddenly the driver took a sharp corner and turned down a long desolate lane.

"You're off the main road," Duncombe explained. "You should have kept straight on for Norwich."

The man took no notice. He even increased his speed. Duncombe was in the act of turning round when he felt the sudden swish of a wet cloth upon his face. He tried to break away, but he was held from behind as in a vise. Then his head fell back, and he remembered no more.

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