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   Chapter 5 A VISIT TO THE COUNT

Elusive Isabel By Jacques Futrelle Characters: 7502

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


The bland serenity of Mr. Campbell's face was disturbed by thin, spidery lines of perplexity, and the guileless blue eyes were vacant as he stared at the top of his desk. Mr. Grimm was talking.

"From the moment Miss Thorne turned the corner I lost all trace of her," he said. "Either she had an automobile in waiting, or else she was lucky enough to find one immediately she came out. She did not return to the embassy ball last night-that much is certain." He paused reflectively. "She is a guest of Se?orita Inez Rodriguez at the Venezuelan legation," he added.

"Yes, I know," his chief nodded.

"I didn't attempt to see her there last night for two reasons," Mr. Grimm continued. "First, she can have no possible knowledge of the fact that she is suspected, unless perhaps the man who slammed the door-" He paused. "Anyway, she will not attempt to leave Washington; I am confident of that. Again, it didn't seem wise to me to employ the ordinary crude police methods in the case-that is, go to the Venezuelan legation and kick up a row."

For a long time Campbell was silent; the perplexed lines still furrowed his benevolent forehead.

"The president is very anxious that we get to facts in this reported Latin alliance as soon as possible," he said at last, irrelevantly. "He mentioned the matter last night, and he has been keeping in constant communication with Gault, in Lisbon, who, however, has not been able to add materially to the original despatch. Under all the circumstances don't you think it would be best for me to relieve you of the investigation of this shooting affair so that you can concentrate on this greater and more important thing?"

"Will Se?or Alvarez die?" asked Mr. Grimm in turn.

"His condition is serious, although the wound is not necessarily fatal," was the reply.

Mr. Grimm arose, stretched his long legs and stood for a little while gazing out the window. Finally he turned to his chief:

"What do we know, here in the bureau, about Miss Thorne?"

"Thus far the reports on her are of the usual perfunctory nature," Mr. Campbell explained. He drew a card from a pigeonhole of his desk and glanced at it. "She arrived in Washington two weeks and two days ago from New York, off the Lusitania, from Liverpool. She brought some sort of an introduction to Count di Rosini, the Italian ambassador, and he obtained for her a special invitation to the state ball, which was held that night. Until four days ago she was a guest at the Italian embassy, but now, as you know, is a guest at the Venezuelan legation. Since her arrival here she has been prominently pushed forward into society; she has gone everywhere, and been received everywhere in the diplomatic set. We have no knowledge of her beyond this."

There was a question in Mr. Grimm's listless eyes as they met those of his chief. The same line of thought was running in both their minds, born, perhaps, of the association of ideas-Italy as one of three great nations known to be in the Latin compact; Prince Benedetto d'Abruzzi, of Italy, the secret envoy of three countries; the sudden appearance of Miss Thorne at the Italian embassy. And in the mind of the younger man there was more than this-a definite knowledge of a message cunningly transmitted to Mr. Rankin, of the German embassy, by Miss Thorne there in the ball-room.

"Can you imagine-" he asked slowly, "can you imagine a person who would be of more value to the Latin governments in Washington right at this stage of the negotiations than a brilliant woman agent?"

"I most certainly can not," was the chief's unhesitating response.

"In that case I don't think it would be wise to transfer the investigation of the shooting affair to another man," said Mr. Grim

m emphatically, reverting to his chief's question. "I think, on the contrary, we should find out more about Miss Thorne."

"Precisely," Campbell agreed.

"Ask all the great capitals about her-Madrid, Paris and Rome, particularly; then, perhaps, London and Berlin and St. Petersburg."

Mr. Campbell thoughtfully scribbled the names of the cities on a slip of paper.

"Do you intend to arrest Miss Thorne for the shooting?" he queried.

"I don't know," replied Mr. Grimm frankly. "I don't know," he repeated musingly. "If I do arrest her immediately I may cut off a clue which will lead to the other affair. I don't know," he concluded.

"Use your own judgment, and bear in mind that a man-a man slammed the door in the maid's face."

"I shall not forget him," Mr. Grimm answered. "Now I'm going over to talk to Count di Rosini for a while."

The young man went out, thoughtfully tugging at his gloves. The Italian ambassador received him with an inquiring uplift of his dark brows.

"I came to make some inquiries in regard to Miss Thorne-Miss Isabel Thorne," Mr. Grimm informed him frankly.

The count was surprised, but it didn't appear in his face.

"As I understand it," the young man pursued, "you are sponsor for her in Washington?"

The count, evasively diplomatic, born and bred in a school of caution, considered the question from every standpoint.

"It may be that I am so regarded," he admitted at last.

"May I inquire if the sponsorship is official, personal, social, or all three?" Mr. Grimm continued.

There was silence for a long time.

"I don't see the trend of your questioning," said the ambassador finally. "Miss Thorne is worthy of my protection in every way."

"Let's suppose a case," suggested Mr. Grimm blandly. "Suppose Miss Thorne had-had, let us say, shot a man, and he was about to die, would you feel justified in withdrawing that-that protection, as you call it?"

"Such a thing is preposterous!" exclaimed the ambassador. "The utter absurdity of such a charge would impel me to offer her every assistance."

Mr. Grimm nodded.

"And if it were proved to your satisfaction that she did shoot him?" he went on evenly.

The count's lips were drawn together in a straight line.

"Whom, may I ask," he inquired frigidly, "are we supposing that Miss Thorne shot?"

"No one, particularly," Mr. Grimm assured him easily. "Just suppose that she had shot anybody-me, say, or Se?or Alvarez?"

"I can't answer a question so ridiculous as that."

"And suppose we go a little further," Mr. Grimm insisted pleasantly, "and assume that you knew she had shot some one, say Se?or Alvarez, and you could protect her from the consequences, would you?"

"I decline to suppose anything so utterly absurd," was the rejoinder.

Mr. Grimm sat with his elbows on his knees, idly twisting a seal ring on his little finger. The searching eyes of the ambassador found his face blankly inscrutable.

"Diplomatic representatives in Washington have certain obligations to this government," the young man reminded him. "We-that is, the government of the United States-undertake to guarantee the personal safety of every accredited representative; in return for that protection we must insist upon the name and identity of a dangerous person who may be known to any foreign representative. Understand, please, I'm not asserting that Miss Thorne is a dangerous person. You are sponsor for her here. Is she, in every way, worthy of your protection?"

"Yes," said the ambassador flatly.

"I can take it, then, that the introduction she brought to you is from a person whose position is high enough to insure Miss Thorne's position?"

"That is correct."

"Very well!"

And Mr. Grimm went away.

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