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   Chapter 26 WE COME TO A HALT.

The Last Tenant By B. L. Farjeon Characters: 15765

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


The indefinite replies to our questions at the two hotels rendered us helpless. It was not even certain whether the men we were pursuing had left Paris, and Bob privately threw out to me an uncomfortable suggestion that Mr. Nisbet might have discovered we were watching him, and was turning the tables by watching us. Ronald was not in hearing when this was said; he was in a state of extreme agitation; and we were careful to do or say nothing to excite him. Despite his perturbation, however, he was the only one of our party whose reasoning on the position of affairs was fairly logical, and who made a sensible attempt to arrive at a probable sequence of events. Sitting down in the courtyard of the H?tel de Bade for the purpose of discussing matters, Bob and I proceeded to plunge them into further confusion by our wild conjectures, and Ronald, after listening to us in silence for a few minutes, brought us to order.

"All this talk is useless," he said; "let us argue like reasonable beings. The first thing we have to decide is whether Mr. Nisbet and his confederate have left Paris. What is your opinion?"

"I have none," I said.

"I am in the same predicament," said Bob.

"But we can be logical, at all events," said Ronald. "Compelled for a time to remain idle and in the dark, we can put flint and steel together in the endeavor to produce a light. I am inclined to the belief that they are no longer in the city. For what reason should they change hotels? Whatever may be the cause of their sudden association they would certainly wish to keep their movements quiet, and they would frustrate their wish by flitting from one hotel to another. From what I learned, Mr. Nisbet has paid frequent visits to Paris, and as his name appears frequently on the books of the H?tel Chatham it is natural to suppose he has been in the habit of putting up there. If he had any fear that he was being followed, he would not yesterday have gone to an hotel where he was well known, but would have chosen another which was not in the center of the city, and where he would be less open to observation. The time they left the hotel favors the conclusion that they were bound for a railway station, and this conclusion is strengthened by the early departure of Mr. Rivers, whose occupations have made him more methodical than ourselves. We are apprentices in the craft; he is an expert. The inquiry agent in London has doubtless telegraphed him of our arrival here, and where we are staying--in which case he would have called upon us long before now. Yes, the tracked and the tracker are no longer in the city."

"You have convinced me," said Bob, and I also recorded my conviction.

"The point to determine is," continued Ronald, "for what place they are bound. No person in Paris can assist us. Our only hope is in Mr. Dickson. Let us wire to him at once."

He and I went off straightway to the telegraph office, where we dispatched a message to Mr. Dickson. Bob remained in the hotel with Barbara, in order to receive a possible caller, who, it is needless to say, did not make his appearance. The answer to our telegram was that Mr. Dickson had received no information from his agent Rivers, that he had every confidence in his man, and that the moment he heard from him he would send us another wire. Meanwhile, we were to remain where we were, at the H?tel de Bade. Nothing further reached us until nine o'clock at night, and then a welcome telegram, to the effect that the party were on their way to Lucerne, whither we had better follow them by the earliest train. "Put up at H?tel National," were the concluding words of the message. Upon studying the railway trains we found that nothing was to be gained by starting in the night, and early the following morning we were on the road to Lucerne. At the H?tel National a telegram from Mr. Dickson awaited us, instructing us to remain at the hotel until we heard from Mr. Rivers, whom we might now consider in direct communication with us, and before many hours had passed we received a note from that gentleman. "Take the boat" (wrote Mr. Rivers) "to Tell's Platte. I am stopping at the H?tel-Pension zur Tellsplatte, and shall be happy to see you there. From, indications we have reached the terminus." This was agreeable news, and seemed to hold out the promise that we had at length tracked Mr. Nisbet down. We wasted no time, but took the first boat, and were presently steaming down the enchanting lake, the beauties of which perhaps only one of us thoroughly enjoyed, the little girl Barbara. "Oh," she sighed, "if Molly's 'ere, I don't wonder she never came back to London." It was three in the afternoon when we landed at Tell's Platte. We were in no mood for sightseeing, and did not therefore visit the chapel, but ascended the hill that led to the hotel, where we found Mr. Rivers waiting for us.

He came forward to greet us, a short, wiry man, with clean-shaved face, browned with exposure to the sun, and a bright eye. He addressed me by name.

"Mr. Emery?"

"Yes."

"May I ask the name of the gentleman who is doing business for you in London?"

"Mr. Dickson."

"Have you anything you can show me from him?"

I produced telegrams and letters, and he looked over them and returned them to me.

"Quite right, sir. My employer told me there were four in your party. It is always necessary to make sure in such an affair as ours. We have a sharp gentleman to deal with, and there's no saying what tricks he might be up to, and what he knows or doesn't know. I am Mr. Rivers."

As I shook hands with him, I started, and he looked at me suspiciously.

"Anything the matter?" he inquired suspiciously.

"No," I replied, "nothing, nothing."

I introduced Ronald and Bob to him, and then Barbara.

"I've a little girl at home," he said in a kind tone, laying his hand on Barbara's head, "just your age and build." Then addressing me, "I have arranged rooms for you here. Very moderate--six francs a day; they must make a reduction for the girl."

"You anticipate that we shall remain here some time," I said.

"Until the business is finished, I expect. I should have liked a more retired spot, and perhaps it would have been as well if there were not so many of you; but that can't be helped, I suppose. There is no other place we could all have stopped at, and as we are to work together we must keep together. I will show you your rooms, and after you have had a wash we gentleman will have a chat, while Barbara can run about and amuse herself. By the way, you will be asked for your names. Don't give your own; I haven't given mine; never throw away a chance."

I must explain what caused me to start as I shook hands with Mr. Rivers. From the time we left London I had not seen the spectral cat, and I had an idea that it had taken its leave for good. But at that moment, casting my eyes to the ground, there was the apparition in full view. Much as it had troubled me during the first days of our acquaintanceship I had by this time grown accustomed to it, and no longer regarded it with fear and aversion. In stating that I was glad to see it now, I am stating the truth, for it was to me an assurance that we had "reached the terminus," as Mr. Rivers expressed it in his note, and that we had been led in the right direction.

"Now we can have our chat," said Mr. Rivers, as we left the hotel together. "According to present appearances we have plenty of time before us, and nothing certainly can be done to-day. Whether anything at all can be done remains to be seen. Sometimes in an inquiry of a delicate nature we come to a block, and the next step depends entirely upon chance; it may be so in this case. I had best commence by telling you my position in the affair, and it will do no harm if I am quite frank with you. First and foremost, then, I am totally i

gnorant of what it is you wish to discover. My employer calls me into his private room, and gives me certain instructions. 'A gentleman has just arrived from the Continent,' he says, 'and is stopping at the Métropole. You will take him in hand, and keep close watch upon his movements. You are not to leave him a moment, and you are not for one moment to lose sight of him.' We generally hunt in couples when instructions like those are given, because it isn't possible for one man to keep watch day and night, so while I was in London on the job I had a comrade, and we divided the watch so that we could get some sleep. I asked my employer if the instructions were to be carried out to the strict letter. 'To the strict letter,' he answered. 'Suppose the gentleman suddenly goes abroad?' I asked. 'You are to follow him,' he answered. That was the reason of my sudden disappearance from London, without having had time to consult my employer. I went alone, without my comrade; I did not feel warranted in incurring double expenses, and I thought I could manage the affair by myself when we were out of England. I was right, as it has turned out. Mr. Nisbet is here with another gentleman, and has taken up his quarters in a house about two miles away, which he has inhabited on and off for several years."

"Is that your idea of shadowing a man," asked Ronald, "when you are instructed not to lose sight of him for a moment and to keep close watch upon all his movements?"

"Begging your pardon, sir," replied Mr. Rivers, not the least ruffled by the rather sharp manner in which the question was asked, "a man can do no more than his best, and I have done that. Then he must be guided by circumstances. Keeping a watch upon a man in London is one thing; keeping watch upon him in a village like this is another. There is no place in the world in which a man can lose himself so easily, if he is inclined that way, as London. I tell you, it's a difficult job to carry out properly, to keep your eye on a man in a large city, with its windings and turnings and crowds of people pushing this way and that. He gives you the slip when you least expect it, and there's the labor of days and weeks thrown away. It is quite a different matter here. A man comes and a man goes, and he can't keep his coming and going from the few people there are about. There are no cabs and omnibuses, no crowds to worry you and put you off the scent. When he moves from one spot to another he has to make preparations; he has to walk along unfrequented roads where he is in full sight of anyone interested in him. There are other drawbacks which one who knows the ropes has to reckon with. He can't keep watch here as he does in a large city; if he prowls and sneaks about, if he's seen haunting a particular spot for days, if he shadows a particular house and keeps his eye on it continually, he draws notice to himself. People ask what for? It comes to the ears of the man he's observing who, in turn, shadows him, and there's his apple cart upset. Another consideration. Strike a man in a street in London, and a crowd collects. Strike a man on the head here when he's prowling up and down a lonely road, and no one sees it. Down he goes like a stone, and he can be done to death, and his body hidden in a hundred holes--and who's the wiser? That couldn't well be done, I grant you, to man, woman, or child who lives here; the absence is remarked, and the relations don't rest till they've found out what has become of the missing one. It's different with a stranger, who stops a day or so, or a week or so, and then, without a word, disappears. So long as he's here the hotel keeper takes an interest in him, because of the bill; the moment he's gone he's forgotten, and it's make way for the next. I've been employed on some difficult jobs in my time, and I'm not sure that this is not going to beat the record."

"What makes you think so?" inquired Ronald.

"I don't like the looks of the gentleman for one thing," replied Mr. Rivers, "and for the second thing I don't like the little I've found out about him since I've been here. But that's running ahead of my story. I'll get back to the London part of it, and make a finish of that. I suppose that is necessary, for my employer has written to me to put myself into your hands entirely, and to tell you everything I know. Well, in London a remarkable thing happened. There's a house in Lamb's Terrace--79's the number--that is almost as lonely as any house round about us now. On the first day I shadowed Mr. Nisbet he paid three visits to Lamb's Terrace, and it was as much as I could do to keep myself out of his sight. I succeeded, though, because I was on my guard, and he never set eyes on me. The first visit he paid he did nothing more than reconnoiter; I put a reason to that. There happened to be an old man poking about the ground there for bits of rags and bones, and Mr. Nisbet didn't seem to relish his company. So, after reconnoitering ten or fifteen minutes, and as the old ragpicker didn't seem as if he was going to leave in a hurry, Mr. Nisbet cut his lucky, and walked out of the neighborhood. On his second visit there was no one in sight, and Mr. Nisbet, looking carefully around, took a key from his pocket, and let himself in. He remained in the house half an hour by my watch, and he came out with a bundle. There was something suspicious in that, I thought, but it was not my business to inquire into it. My instructions were clear, and I couldn't go beyond them. Besides, what call had I to tap the gentleman on the shoulder and say, 'I'll trouble you to tell me what you have under your arm?' I should only have got myself in trouble, because our concern is a private one, and we haven't got the law to back us up. He took the bundle with him to the Métropole and left it there. He paid his third visit to Lamb's Terrace in the night, and this time he didn't go into the house. He didn't go to the front at all, but made his way to the back, and scrambled over the wall. He kept in the garden there, which is just choked up with weeds, for a precious long time, and all he did was to look up at the windows. I thought his going into an empty house in daylight and bringing out a bundle was queer, but I thought this last move a good deal queerer, for he kept quite still, and never took his eyes off the windows. When he'd had his fill he scrambled back over the wall and came away. From there he went straight to Theobald Row, South Lambeth, and knocked at the door of a chemist's shop kept by a doctor. The name over the shop window was Cooper. He stayed there an hour, and then returned to the Métropole. On the morning we left London I hadn't the ghost of an idea that he intended to start for Paris, and I followed him out of the Métropole to St. George's Hospital, outside of which he met the gentleman who has traveled with him to this place. I watched them pretty narrowly when we were on the steamer, but I didn't venture into the same carriage with them when we traveled by rail. On the steamer and in Paris, and wherever I could keep my eyes on them, they seemed pretty thick, and I fancied once or twice that they didn't quite agree with each other. Whenever they talked it was away from people, and I knew that it was not accidental that they should always choose spots where they couldn't be overheard. On those occasions I wouldn't risk discovery by going near them, but watched them from a distance, and once or twice I saw Mr. Nisbet look at his companion in a way that made me think, 'I shouldn't like to meet you on a dark road, my friend, and for you to know that I was shadowing you.' There was a cold glitter in his eyes which might easily mean murder, and that is what makes me say again to you, gentlemen, that we shall have to be very careful in what we do in this part of the world."

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