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THE MAN WHO CAME TO MONTREUX
It was two months after the great trial, on a warm day in October, when Frank Merrill stepped ashore from the big white paddle boat which had carried him across Lake Leman from Lausanne, and, handing his bag to a porter, made his way to the hotel omnibus. He looked at his watch. It pointed to a quarter to four, and May was not due to arrive until half past. He went to his hotel, washed and changed and came down to the vestibule to inquire if the instructions he had telegraphed had been carried out.
May was arriving in company with Saul Arthur Mann, who was taking one of his rare holidays abroad. Frank had only seen the girl once since the day of the trial. He had come to breakfast on the following morning, and very little had been said. He was due to leave that afternoon for the Continent. He had a little money, sufficient for his needs, and Jasper Cole had offered no suggestion that he would dispute the will, in so far as it affected Frank. So he had gone abroad and had idled away two months in France, Spain, and Italy, and had then made his leisurely way back to Switzerland by way of Maggiore.
He had grown a little graver, was a little more set in his movements, but he bore upon his face no mark to indicate the mental agony through which he must have passed in that long-drawn-out and wearisome trial. So thought the girl as she came through the swing doors of the hotel, passed the obsequious hotel servants, and greeted him in the big palm court.
If she saw any change in him he remarked a development in her which was a little short of wonderful. She was at that age when the woman is breaking through the beautiful chrysalis of girlhood. In those two months a remarkable change had come over her, a change which he could not for the moment define, for this phenomenon of development had been denied to his experience.
"Why, May," he said, "you are quite old."
She laughed, and again he noticed the change. The laugh was richer, sweeter, purer than the bubbling treble he had known.
"You are not getting complimentary, are you?" she asked.
She was exquisitely dressed, and had that poise which few Englishwomen achieve. She had the art of wearing clothes, and from the flimsy crest of her toque to the tips of her little feet she was all that the most exacting critic could desire. There are well-dressed women who are no more than mannequins. There are fine ladies who cannot be mistaken for anything but fine ladies, whose dresses are a horror and an abomination and whose expressed tastes are execrable.
May Nuttall was a fine lady, finely appareled.
"When you have finished admiring me, Frank," she said, "tell us what you have been doing. But first of all let us have some tea. You know Mr. Mann?"
The little investigator beaming in the background took Frank's hand and shook it heartily. He was dressed in what he thought was an appropriate costume for a mountainous country. His boots were stout, the woolen stockings which covered his very thin legs were very woolen, and his knickerbocker suit was warranted to stand wear and tear. He had abandoned his top hat for a large golf cap, which was perched rakishly over one eye. Frank looked round apprehensively for Saul Arthur's alpenstock, and was relieved when he failed to discover one.
The girl threw off her fur wrap and unbuttoned her gloves as the waiter placed the big silver tray on the table before her.
"I'm afraid I have not much to tell," said Frank in answer to her question. "I've just been loafing around. What is your news?"
"What is my news?" she asked. "I don't think I have any, except that everything is going very smoothly in England, and, oh, Frank, I am so immensely rich!"
"The appropriate thing would be to say that I am immensely poor," he said, "but as a matter of fact I am not. I went down to Aix and won quite a lot of money."
"Won it?" she said.
He nodded with an amused little smile.
"You wouldn't have thought I was a gambler, would you?" he asked solemnly. "I don't think I am, as a matter of fact, but somehow I wanted to occupy my mind."
"I understand," she said quickly.
Another little pause while she poured out the tea, which afforded Saul Arthur Mann an opportunity of firing off fifty facts about Geneva in as many sentences.
"What has happened to Jasper?" asked Frank after a while.
The girl flushed a little.
"Oh, Jasper," she said awkwardly, "I see him, you know. He has become more mysterious than ever, quite like one of those wicked people one reads about in sensational stories. He has a laboratory somewhere in the country, and he does quite a lot of motoring. I've seen him several times at Brighton, for instance."
Frank nodded slowly.
"I should think that he was a good driver," he said.
Saul Arthur Mann looked up and met his eye with a smile which was lost upon the girl.
"He has been kind to me," she said hesitatingly.
"Does he ever speak about--"
She shook her head.
"I don't want to think about that," she said; "please don't let us talk about it."
He knew she was referring to John Minute's death, and changed the conversation.
A few minutes later he had an opportunity of speaking with Mr. Mann.
"What is the news?" he asked.
Saul Arthur Mann looked round.
"I think we are getting near the truth," he said, dropping his voice. "One of my men has had him under observation ever since the day of the trial. There is no doubt that he is really a brilliant chemist."
"Have you a theory?"
"I have several," said Mr. Mann. "I am perfectly satisfied that the unfortunate fellow we saw together on the occasion of our first meeting was Rex Holland's servant. I was as certain that he was poisoned by a very powerful poisoning. When your trial was on the body was exhumed and examined, and the presence of that drug was discovered. It was the same as that employed in the case of the chauffeur. Obviously, Rex Holland is a clever chemist. I wanted to see you about that. He said at the trial that he had discussed such matters with you."
"We used to have quite long talks about drugs," he said. "I have recalled many of those conversations since the day of the trial. He even fired me with his enthusiasm, and I used to assist him in his little experiments, and obtained quite a working knowledge of these particular elements. Unfortunately I cannot remember very much, for my enthusiasm soon died, and beyond the fact that he employed hyocine and Indian hemp I have only the dimmest recollection of any of the constituents he employed."
Saul Arthur nodded energetically.
"I shall have more to tell you later, perhaps," he said, "but at present my inquiries are shaping quite nicely. He is going to be a difficult man to catch, because, if all I believe is true, he is one of the most cold-blooded and calculating men it has ever been my lot to meet--and I have met a few," he added grimly.
When he said men Frank knew that he had meant criminals.
"We are probably doing him a horrible injustice," he smiled. "Poor old Jasper!"
"You are not cut out for police work," snapped Saul Arthur Mann; "you've too many sympathies."
"I don't exactly sympathize," rejoined Frank, "but I just pity him in a way."
Again Mr. Mann looked round cautiously and again lowered his voice, which had risen.
"There is one thing I want to talk to you about. It is rather a delicate matter, Mr. Merrill," he said.
"It is about Miss Nuttall. She has seen a lot of our friend Jasper, and after every interview she seems to grow more and more reliant upon his help. Once or twice she has been embarrassed when I have spoken about Jasper Cole and has changed the subject."
Frank pursed his lips thoughtfully, and a hard little look came into his eyes, which did not promise well for Jasper.
"So that is it," he said, and shrugged his shoulders. "If she cares for him, it is not my business."
"But it is your business," said the other sharply. "She was fond enough of you to offer to marry you."
Further talk was cut short by the arrival of the girl. Their meeting at Geneva had been to some extent a chance one. She was going through to Chamonix to spend the winter, and Saul Arthur Mann seized the opportunity of taking a short and pleasant holiday. Hearing that Frank was in Switzerland, she had telegraphed him to meet her.
"Are you staying any time in Switzerland?" she asked him as they strolled along the beautiful quay.
"I am going back to London to-night," he replied.
"To-night," she said in surprise.
"But I am staying here for two or three days," she protested.
"I intended also staying for two or three days," he smiled, "but my business will not wait."
Nevertheless, she persuaded him to stay till the morrow.
They were at breakfast when the morning mail was delivered, and Frank noted that she went rapidly through the dozen letters which came to her, and she chose one for first reading. He could not help but see that that bore an English stamp, and his long acquaintance with the curious calligraphy of Jasper Cole left him in no doubt as to who was the correspondent. He saw with what eagerness she read the letter, the little look of disappointment when she turned to an inside sheet and found that it had not been filled, and his mind was made up. He had a post also, which he examined with some evidence of impatience.
"Your mail is not so nice as mine," said the girl with a smile.
"It is not nice at all," he grumbled; "the one thing I wanted, and, to be very truthful, May, the one inducement--"
"To stay over the night," she added, "was--what?"
"I have been trying to buy a house on the lake," he said, "and the infernal agent at Lausanne promised to write telling me whether my terms had been agreed to by his client."
He looked down at the table and frowned. Saul Arthur Mann had a great and extensive knowledge of human nature. He had remarked the disappointment on Frank's face, having identified also the correspondent whose letter claimed priority of attention. He knew that Frank's anger with the house agent was very likely the expression of his anger in quite another direction.
"Can I send the letter on?" suggested the girl.
"That won't help me," said Frank, with a little grimace. "I wanted to settle the business this week."
"I have it," she said. "I will open the letter and telegraph to you in Paris whether the terms are accepted or not."
"It hardly seems worth that," he said, "but I should take it as awfully kind of you if you would, May."
Saul Arthur Mann believed in his mind that Frank did not care tuppence whether the agent accepted the terms or not, but that he had taken this as a Heaven-sent opportunity for veiling his annoyance.
"You have had quite a large mail, Miss Nuttall," he said.
"I've only opened one, though. It is from Jasper," she said hurriedly.
Again both men noticed the faint flush, the strange, unusual light which came to her eyes.
"And where does Jasper write from?" asked Frank, steadying his voice.
"He writes from England, but he was going on the Continent to Holland the day he wrote," she said. "It is funny to think that he is here."
"In Switzerland?" asked Frank in surprise.
"Don't be silly," she laughed. "No, I mean on the mainland--I mean there is no sea between us."
She went crimson.
"It sounds thrilling," said Frank dryly.
She flashed round at him.
"You mustn't be horrid about Jasper," she said quickly; "he never speaks about you unkindly."
"I don't see why he should," said Frank; "but let's get off a subject which is--"
"Which is--what?" she challenged
"Which is controversial," said Frank diplomatically.
She came down to the station to see him off. As he looked out of the window, waving his farewells, he thought he had never seen a more lovely being or one more desirable.
It was in the afternoon of that day which saw Frank Merrill speeding toward the Swiss frontier and Paris that Mr. Rex Holland strode into the Palace Hotel at Montreux and seated himself at a table in the restaurant. The hour was late and the room was almost deserted. Giovanni, the head waiter, recognized him and came hurriedly across the room.
"Ah, m'sieur," he said, "you are back from England. I didn't expect you till the winter sports had started. Is Paris very dull?"
"I didn't come through Paris," said the other shortly; "there are many roads leading to Switzerland."
"But few pleasant roads, m'sieur. I have come to Montreux by all manner of ways--from Paris, through Pontarlier, through Ostend, Brussels, through the Hook of Holland and Amsterdam, but Paris is the only way for the man who is flying to this beautiful land."
The man at the table said nothing, scanning the menu carefully. He looked tired as one who had taken a very long journey.
"It may interest you to know," he said, after he had given his order and as Giovanni was turning away, "that I came by the longest route. Tell me, Giovanni, have you a man called Merrill staying at the hotel?"
"No, m'sieur," said the other. "Is he a friend of yours?"
Mr. Rex Holland smiled.
"In a sense he is a friend, in a sense he is not," he said flippantly, and offered no further enlightenment, although Giovanni waited with a deferential cock of his head.
Later, when he had finished his modest dinner, he strolled into the one long street of the town, returning to the writing room of the hotel with a number of papers which included the visitors' list, a publication printed in English, and which, as it related the comings and goings of visitors, not only to Lausanne, Montreux, and Teritet, but also to Evian and Geneva, enjoyed a fair circulation. He sat at the table, and, drawing a sheet of paper from the rack, wrote, addressed an envelope to Frank Merrill, esquire, Hotel de France, Geneva, slipped it into the hotel pillar box, and went to bed.
"There's a letter here for Frank," said the girl. "I wonder if it is from his agent."
She examined the envelope, which bore the Montreux postmark.
"I should imagine it is," said Saul Arthur Mann.
"Well, I am going to open it, anyway," said the girl. "Poor Frank! He will be in a state of suspense."
She tore open the envelope, and took out a letter. Mr. Mann saw her face go white, and the letter trembled in her hand. Without a word she passed it to him, and he read:
"Dear Frank Merrill," said the letter. "Give me another month's grace and then you may tell the whole story. Yours, Rex Holland."
Saul Arthur Mann stared at the letter with open mouth.
"What does it mean?" asked the girl in a whisper.
"It means that Merrill is shielding somebody," said the other. "It means--"
Suddenly his face lit up with excitement.
"The writing!" he gasped.
Her eyes followed his, and for a moment she did not understand; then, with a lightning sweep of her arm, she snatched the letter from his hand and crumpled it in a ball.
"The writing!" said Mr. Mann again. "I've seen it before. It is--Jasper Cole's!"
She looked at him steadily, though her face was white, and the hand which grasped the crumpled paper was shaking.
"I think you are mistaken, Mr. Mann," she said quietly.
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