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A LETTER IN THE GRATE
Grimm's Hotel is in reality a block of flats, with a restaurant attached. The restaurant is little more than a kitchen from whence meals are served to residents in their rooms. Frank's suite was on the third floor, and Mr. Mann, paying his cabman, hurried into the hall, stepped into the automatic lift, pressed the button, and was deposited at Frank's door. He knocked with a sickening sense of apprehension that there would be no answer. To his delight and amazement, he heard Frank's firm step in the tiny hall of his flat, and the door was opened. Frank was in the act of dressing for dinner.
"Come in, S. A. M.," he said cheerily, "and tell me all the news."
He led the way back to his room and resumed the delicate task of tying his dress bow.
"How long have you been here?" asked Mr. Mann.
Frank looked at him inquiringly.
"How long have I been here?" he repeated. "I cannot tell you the exact time, but I have been here since a short while after lunch."
Mr. Mann was bewildered and still unconvinced.
"What clothes did you take off?"
It was Frank's turn to look amazed and bewildered.
"Clothes?" he repeated. "What are you driving at, my dear chap?"
"What suit were you wearing to-day?" persisted Saul Arthur Mann.
Frank disappeared into his dressing room and came out with a tumbled bundle which he dropped on a chair. It was the blue suit which he usually affected.
"Now what is the joke?"
"It is no joke," said the other. "I could have sworn that I saw you less than half an hour ago in Camden Town."
"I won't pretend that I don't know where Camden Town is," smiled Frank, "but I have not visited that interesting locality for many years."
Saul Arthur Mann was silent. It was obvious to him that whoever was the occupant of 69 Flowerton Road, it was not Frank Merrill. Frank listened to the narrative with interest.
"You were probably mistaken; the light played you a trick, I expect," he said.
But Mr. Mann was emphatic.
"I could have taken an oath in a court that it was you," he said.
Frank stared out of the window.
"How very curious!" he mused. "I suppose I cannot very well prosecute a man for looking like me--poor girl!"
"Of whom are you thinking?" asked the other.
"I was thinking of the unfortunate woman," answered Frank. "What brutes there are in the world!"
"You gave me a terrible fright," admitted his friend.
Frank's laugh was loud and hearty.
"I suppose you saw me figuring in a court, charged with common assault," he said.
"I saw more than that," said the other gravely, "and I see more than that now. Suppose you have a double, and suppose that double is working in collusion with your enemies."
Frank shook his head wearily.
"My dear friend," he said, with a little smile, "I am tired of supposing things. Come and dine with me."
But Mr. Mann had another engagement. Moreover, he wanted to think things out.
Thinking things out was a process which brought little reward in this instance, and he went to bed that night a vexed and puzzled man. He always had his breakfast in bed at ten o'clock in the morning, for he had reached the age of habits and had fixed ten o'clock, since it gave his clerks time to bring down his personal mail from the office to his private residence.
It was a profitable mail, it was an exciting mail, and it contained an element of rich promise, for it included a letter from Constable Wiseman:
DEAR SIR: Re our previous conversation, I have just come across one of the photographs of the young lady--Sergeant Smith's daughter. It was given to the private detective who was searching for her. It was given to my wife by her cousin, and I send it to you hoping it may be of some use.
PETER JOHN WISEMAN.
The photograph was wrapped in a piece of tissue paper, and Saul Arthur Mann opened it eagerly. He looked at the oblong card and gasped, for the girl who was depicted there was the girl he had seen on the steps of 69 Flowerton Road.
A telephone message prepared Frank for the news, and an hour later the two men were together in the office of the bureau.
"I am going along to that house to see the girl," said Saul Arthur Mann. "Will you come?"
"With all the pleasure in life," said Frank. "Curiously enough, I am as eager to find her as you. I remember her very well, and one of the quarrels I had with my uncle was due to her. She had come up to the house on behalf of her father, and I thought uncle treated her rather brutally."
"Point number one cleared up," thought Saul Arthur Mann.
"Then she disappeared," Frank went on, "and Jasper came on the scene. There was some association between this girl and Jasper, which I have never been able to fathom. All I know is that he took a tremendous interest in her and tried to find her, and, so far as I remember, he never succeeded."
Mr. Mann's car was at the door, and in a few minutes they were deposited before the prim exterior of Number 69.
The door was opened by a girl servant, who stared from Saul Arthur Mann to his companion.
"There is a lady living here," said Mr. Mann.
He produced the photograph.
"This is the lady?"
The girl nodded, still staring at Frank.
"I want to see her."
"She's gone," said the girl.
"You are looking at me very intently," said Frank. "Have you ever seen me before?"
"Yes, sir," said the girl; "you used to come here, or a gentleman very much like you. You are Mr. Merrill."
"That is my name," smiled Frank, "but I do not think I have ever been here before."
"Where has the lady gone?" asked Saul Arthur.
"She went last night. Took all her boxes and went off in a cab."
"Is anybody living in the house?"
"No, sir," said the girl.
"How long have you been in service here?"
"About a week, sir," replied the girl.
"We are friends of hers," said Saul Arthur shamelessly, "and we have been asked to call to see if everything is all right."
The girl hesitated, but Saul Arthur Mann, with that air of authority which he so readily assumed, swept past her and began an inspection of the house.
It was plainly furnished, but the furniture was good.
"Apparently the spurious Mr. Merrill had plenty of money," said Saul Arthur Mann.
There were no photographs or papers visible until they came to the bedroom, where, in the grate, was a torn sheet of paper bearing a few lines of fine writing, which Mr. Mann immediately annexed. Before they left, Frank again asked the girl:
"Was the gentleman who lived here really like me?"
"Yes, sir," said the little slavey.
"Have a good look at me," said Frank humorously, and the girl stared again.
"Something like you," she admitted.
"Did he talk like me?"
"I never heard him talk, sir," said the girl.
"Tell me," said Saul Arthur Mann, "was he kind to his wife?"
A faint grin appeared on the face of the little servant.
"They was always rowing," she admitted. "A bullying fellow he was, and she was frightened of him. Are you the police?" she asked with sudden interest.
Frank shook his head.
"No, we are not the police."
He gave the girl half a crown, and walked down the steps ahead of his companion.
"It is rather awkward if I have a double who bullies his wife and lives in Camden Town," he said as the car hummed back to the city office.
Saul Arthur Mann was silent during the journey, and only answered in monosyllables.
Again in the privacy of his office, he took the torn letter and carefully pieced it together on his desk. It bore no address, and there were no affectionate preliminaries:
You must get out of London. Saul Arthur Mann saw you both to-day. Go to the old place and await instructions.
There was no signature, but across the table the two men looked at one another, for the writing was the writing of Jasper Cole.
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