Chapter 17




THE ANSWERING CABLE


Next morning, when it became known among the bankers and foreign agencies that a letter of credit for ten thousand pounds had been lost or stolen, there was more than a ripple of excitement. They searched records, but no loss as heavy as this came to light. Add to the flutter a reward of two hundred pounds for the recovery of the letter, and one may readily imagine the scrutinizing alertness of the various clerks and the subsequent embarrassments of peaceful tourists who wished to draw small sums for current expenses. Even the managing director of the Bank of Burma came in for his share of annoyance. He was obliged to send out a dozen cables of notification of the loss, all of which had to be paid out of accrued dividends. Thus Warrington had blocked up the avenues. The marvelous rapidity with which such affairs may be spread broadcast these days is the first wonder in a new epoch of wonders. From Irkoutsh to Aukland, from St. Johns to Los Angeles, wherever a newspaper was published, the news flew. Within twenty-four hours it would be as difficult to draw against that letter as it would be to transmute baser metals into gold.

At half past ten Warrington, apparently none the worse for a sleepless night, entered the private office of the consul-general who, gravely and with studied politeness, handed to him an unopened cablegram.

"I rather preferred to let you open it, Mr. Warrington," he said.

"Still, it might be something of your own," replied Warrington. He noted the lack of cordiality, but with passive regret.

"No cablegram would come to me from the department, especially as the diplomatic-pouch, as we call the mail-bag, arrives Monday. Open it. I wish you good luck," a little more kindly.

"May I sit down?"

"To be sure you may."

The consul-general recovered his pen and pretended to become absorbed in the litter of papers on his desk. But in truth he could see nothing save the young man's face: calm, unmoved, expressing negligent interest in what should be the most vital thing in his existence, next to life. If the man hadn't met Elsa, to her interest and to his own alarm, he would have been as affable as deep in his heart he wanted to be. A minute passed. It seemed to take a very long time. He tried to resist the inclination to turn his head, but the drawing of curiosity was irresistible. What he saw only added to his general mystification. The slip of paper hung pendulent in Warrington's hand; the other hand was hidden in his beard, while his eyes seemed to be studying seriously the medallion in the Kirmanshah. A fine specimen of a man, mused the consul-general, incredibly wholesome despite his ten years' knocking about in this ungodly part of the world. It was a pity. They had evidently refused to compromise.

"Bad news?"

Warrington stood up with sudden and surprising animation in his face. "Read it," he said.

"If Ellison will make restitution in person, yes.

"ANDES."

The consul-general jumped to his feet and held out his hand. "I am glad, very glad. Everything will turn out all right now. If you wish, I'll tell Miss Chetwood the news."

"I was going to ask you to do that," responded Warrington. The mention of Elsa took the brightness out of his face. "Tell her that Parrot & Co. will always remember her kindness, and ask her to forgive a lonely chap for having caused her any embarrassment through her goodness to him. I have decided not to see Miss Chetwood again."

"You are a strong man, Mr. Warrington."

"Warrington? My name is Ellison, Paul Warrington Ellison. After all, I'm so used to Warrington, that I may as well let well enough alone. There is one more favor; do not tell Miss Chetwood that my name is Ellison."

"I should use my own name, if I were you. Why, man, you can return to the States as if you had departed but yesterday. The world forgets quickly. People will be asking each other what it was that you did. Then I shall bid Miss Chetwood good-by for you?"

"Yes. I am going to jog it home. I want to travel first-class, here, there, wherever fancy takes me. It's so long since I've known absolute ease and comfort. I wish to have time to readjust myself to the old ways. I was once a luxury-loving chap. I sail at dawn for Saigon. I may knock around in Siam for a few weeks. After that, I don't know where I'll go. Of course I shall keep the Andes advised of my whereabouts, from time to time."

"Another man would be in a hurry." It was on the tip of his tongue to tell Warrington what he knew of the Andes Construction Company, but something held back the words, a fear that Warrington might change his mind about seeing Elsa.

"Well, wherever you go and whatever you do, good luck go with you."

"There are good men in this world, sir, and I shall always remember you as one of them."

"By the way, that man Mallow; have you met him yet?"

The quizzical expression in his eyes made Warrington laugh. "No."

"I was in hopes . . ." The consul-general paused, but Warrington ignored the invitation to make known his intentions.

He shunted further inquiry by saying: "A letter of credit of mine was stolen last night. I had a tussle in the room, and was rather getting the best of it. The thug slipped suddenly away. Probably hid the letter in his loin-cloth."

"That's unfortunate."

"In a way. Ten thousand pounds."

"Good lord!"

"I have sent out a general stop-order. No one will be able to draw against it. The sum will create suspicion anywhere."

"Have you any idea who was back of the thief? Is there any way I can be of service to you?"

"Yes. I'll make you temporary trustee. I've offered two hundred pounds for the recovery, and I'll leave that amount with you before I go."

"And if the letter turns up?"

"Send it direct to the Andes people. After a lapse of a few weeks the Bank of Burma will reissue the letter. It will simmer down to a matter of inconvenience. The offer of two hundred is honestly made, but only to learn if my suspicions are correct."

"Then you suspect some one?" quickly.

"I really suspect Mallow and a gambler named Craig, but no court would hold them upon the evidence I have. It's my belief that it's a practical joke which measures up to the man who perpetrated it. He must certainly realize that a letter so large will be eagerly watched for."

"I shall gladly take charge of the matter here for you. I suppose that you will eventually meet Mallow?"

"Eventually suggests a long time," grimly.

"Ah . . . Is there . . . Do you think there will be any need of a watch-holder?"

"I honestly believe you would like to see me have it out with him!"

"I honestly would. But unfortunately the dignity of my office forbids. He has gone up and down the Settlements, bragging and domineering and fighting. I have been given to understand that he has never met his match."

"It's a long lane that has no turning. After all," Warrington added, letting go his reserve; "you're the only friend I have. Why shouldn't I tell you that immediately I am going out in search of him, and that when I find him I am going to give him the worst walloping he ever heard tell of. The Lord didn't give me all this bone and muscle for the purpose of walking around trouble. Doesn't sound very dignified, does it? A dock-walloper's idea; eh? Well, among other things, I've been a dock-walloper, a beach-comber by force of circumstance, not above settling arguments with fists, or boots, or staves. No false modesty for me. I confess I've been mauled some, but I've never been whipped in a man to man fight. It was generally a scrap for the survival of the fittest. But I am going into this affair . . . Well, perhaps it wouldn't interest you to know why. There are two sides to every Waterloo; and I am going to chase Mallow into Paris, so to speak. Oh, he and I shall take away pleasant recollections of each other. And who's to care?" with a careless air that deceived the other.

"I don't believe that Mallow will fight square at a pinch."

"I shan't give him time to fight otherwise."

"I ought not to want to see you at it, but, hang it, I do!"

"Human nature. It's a pleasurable sensation to back up right by might. Four years ago I vowed that some day I'd meet him on equal terms. There's a raft of things on the slate, for he has been unspeakable kinds of a rascal; beating harmless coolies . . . and women. I may not see you again. If the letter of credit turns up, you know what to do with it. I'm keen to get started. Good-by, and thank you."

A hand-clasp, and he was gone.

"I wish," thought the consul-general, "I could have told him about the way the scoundrel spoke of Elsa."

And Warrington, as he sought the cafe-veranda, wished he could have told the basic truth of his fighting mood: the look Mallow had given Elsa that day in Penang. Diligently he began the search. Mallow and Craig were still in their rooms, doubtless sleeping off the debauch of the preceding night. He saw that he must wait. Luncheon he had in town.

At four o'clock his inquiries led him into the billiard-annex. His throat tightened a little as he discovered the two men engaged in a game of American billiards. He approached the table quietly. Their interest in the game was deep, possibly due to the wager laid upon the result; so they did not observe him. He let Mallow finish his run. Liquor had no effect upon the man's nerves, evidently, for his eyes and stroke were excellent. A miscue brought an oath from his lips, and he banged his cue upon the floor.

"Rotten luck," said Warrington sympathetically, with the devil's banter in his voice.




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