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XVIII. Brother and Sister

The storm had passed off, an ardent noonday sun was collaborating with a coquettish breeze to make gay the window awnings of the chamber where Lanyard, in borrowed pyjamas and dressing-gown of silk, lay luxuriously bedded, listening to the purr of wide-awake Paris and, with an excellent cigar to chew on, ruminating upon the problematic issue of his latest turn of fortune, and not in the least downhearted about it.

Before turning in he had soaked and steamed most of the ache out of bone and muscle in the hottest water his flesh would suffer; and six hours unbroken slumber had done wonders toward lessening the distress his exertions last night had occasioned in the frail new tissues of his wound. Now, fresh from a cold shower following a second hot bath, and further comforted by a petit dejeuner served in bed, he felt measurably sane again, and sound in wind and limb as well, barring a few deep bruises whose soreness would need several days to heal.

A pleasant languour, like a light opiate, infused his consciousness; yet he was by no means mentally inactive.

The morning papers were scattered over the counterpane. Lanyard had diligently scanned all the stories that told of the identification of the murdered man of the Lyons rapide as the Comte de Lorgnes; and inasmuch as these were of one voice in praising the Prefecture for that famous feat of detective work, and not one line suggested that it did not deserve undivided credit, Lanyard had nothing to complain of there.

As for the Montalais robbery it was not even mentioned. The restricted size imposed upon French newspapers by the paper shortage of those days crowded out of their columns everything but news in true sense, and there could be none of that in connection with the Montalais affair until either Andre Duchemin had been arrested or the jewels recovered from the real thief or thieves. And Lanyard was human enough to be almost as willing to have the first happen as the last, if it were not given to him to be the prime factor in their restoration.

For the time being--if he must confess the truth--he was actually rather enjoying himself, rather exhilarated than otherwise by the swiftly shifting scenes and characters of his unfolding investigations and by the brisk sword-play of wits in which he was called upon constantly to engage; both essential ingredients of the wine of life according to the one recipe he knew.

And then a review of recent events seemed to warrant the belief that, all things considered, he had thus far made fair progress toward his goal.

While it was true he did not as yet know what had become of the Montalais jewels, he had gathered together an accumulation of evidence which, however circumstantial and hypothetical, established acceptably to his intelligence a number of interesting inferences, to wit:

That Dupont had not left the neighbourhood of the Chateau de Montalais, after haunting it for upwards of a month, without definite knowledge that he would gain nothing by staying on, or without an equally definite objective, some motive more inspiring than such simple sensuousness as he might find in assassinating inoffensive folk indiscriminately.

That his attempt upon the life of Liane Delorme within twenty-four hours of the murder of de Lorgnes indicated conviction on his part that the two were coupled in some enterprise inimical to his personal interests.

That in spite of his mask of a stupid pig Dumont was proving himself mentally as well as physically an adversary worthy of all respect, and was--what was worse--still to be reckoned with.

That, as Lanyard had suspected all along, the Monk party had been visited upon the Chateau de Montalais through no vagary of chance whatever but as part of a deliberate design whose ulterior motive had transpired only with the disappearance of the jewels--to Dupont's vast but understandable vexation of spirit.

That the several members of the Monk party had been working in entire accord, as a close corporation; in which case the person whom the Comte de Lorgnes had expected to meet in Lyons must have been Monk Phinuit or Jules.

Consequently that at least one of the three last named had been the actual perpetrator of the robbery; and by the same token, that Liane had lied in asserting that Monk and retinue had sailed for America nearly a week prior to its commission.

That Liane herself had not so suddenly decided to leave France, where she was after a fashion somebody, and journey to America, where she would be nobody, except in stress of mortal fear lest the fate that had befallen de Lorgnes befall her in turn--as would surely have been the case last night but for Lanyard.

That she must therefore have had a tolerably accurate knowledge either of Dupont's identity or of the opposition interests which that one so ably represented; and thus was better informed than poor de Lorgnes, to whom Dupont had been unknown; which argued that Liane's role in the intrigue was that of a principal, whereas de Lorgnes had figured only as a subordinate.

That even if the woman did mean well toward Lanyard she was bound by stronger ties to others, whom she must consider first, and who were hardly likely to prove so well disposed; that her protestations of friendship and gratitude must be valued accordingly.

Summing up, Lanyard told himself he could hardly be said to have let grass grow under his feet since leaving Chateau de Montalais.

Now he found himself with a solitary care to nurse, the question: What had her pillow advised Liane Delorme?

He was going to be exceedingly interested to learn what she, in the maturity of her judgement, had decided to do about this man who ingenuously suggested that she requite him for saving her life by helping him recover the Montalais jewels.

On the other hand, since Lanyard had quite decided what he meant to do about Liane in any event, her decision really didn't matter much; and he refused to fret himself trying to forecast it. Whatever it might turn out to be, it would find him prepared, he couldn't be surprised. There Lanyard was wrong. Liane was amply able to surprise him, and did. Ultimately he felt constrained to concede a touch to genius in the woman; her methods were her own and never poor in boldness and imagination.

It was without ceremony that she walked in on him at length, having kept him waiting so long that he had begun to wonder if she meant to try on anything as crude as abandoning him, and posting off to Cherbourg without a word to seek fancied immunity in New York, while he remained in an empty house without money, papers of identification, or even fit clothing for the street; for, on coming out of his bath, Lanyard had found all of these things missing, the valet de chambre presumably having made off with his evening clothes, to have them pressed and repaired.

Liane was dressed for travelling, becomingly if with a sobriety that went oddly with her cultivated beaute du diable, and wore besides a habit of preoccupation which, one was left to assume, excused the informality of her unannounced entrance.

"Well, my dear friend!" she said gravely, halting by the bedside.

"It's about time," Lanyard retorted.

"I was afraid you might be growing impatient," she confessed. "I have had so much to do..."

"No doubt. But if you had neglected me much longer I should have come to look for you regardless of consequences."

"How is that?" she enquired with knitted brows--"regardless of what consequences?"

"Any damage one might do to the morale of your menage by toddling about in the voluptuous deshabille in which you behold me--my sole present apology for a wardrobe."

She found only the shadow of a smile for such frivolity. "I have sent for clothing for you," she said absently. "It should be here any minute now. We only wait for that."

"You mean you have sent to the Chatham for my things?"

"But certainly not, monsieur!" Liane Delorme lied without perceptible effort. "That would have been too injudicious. It appears you were not mistaken in thinking you were recognized as Andre Duchemin last night. Agents of the Prefecture have been all day watching at the Chatham, awaiting your return."

"How sad for them!" In as much as he had every reason to believe this to be outright falsehood, Lanyard didn't feel called upon to seem downcast. "But if my clothing there is unavailable, I hardly see..."

"But naturally I have commissioned a person of good judgement to outfit you from the shops. Your dress clothes--which seemed to suit you very well last night--gave us your measurements. The rest is simplicity; my orders were to get you everything you could possibly require."

"It's awfully sporting of you," Lanyard insisted. "Although it makes one feel--you know--not quite respectable. However, if you will be so gracious as to suggest that your valet de chambre return my pocketbook and passports..."

"I have them here." The woman turned over the missing articles. "But," she demanded with an interest which was undissembled if tardy in finding expression, "how are you feeling to-day?"

"Oh, quite fit, thank you."

"In good spirits, I know. But that wound--?"

Lanyard chose to make more of that than it deserved; one couldn't tell when an interesting disability might prove useful. "I have to be a bit careful," he confessed, covering the seat of injury with a tender hand, "but it's nothing like so troublesome as it was last night."

"I am glad. You feel able to travel?"

"Travel?" Lanyard made a face of dismay. "But one is so delightfully at ease here, and since the Prefecture cannot possibly suspect... Are you then in such haste to be rid of me, Liane?"

"Not at all. It is my wish and intention to accompany you."

"Well, let us trust the world will be broad-minded about it. And--pardon my not rising--won't you sit down and tell me what it is all about."

"I have so little time, so many things to attend to."

Nevertheless, Liane found herself a chair and accepted a cigarette.

"Does one infer that we start on our travels to-day?"

"Within the hour; in fact, as soon as you are decently clothed."

"And where do we go, mademoiselle?"

"To Cherbourg, there to take steamer for New York."

Fortunately it was Lanyard's cue to register shock; it would have cost him something to have kept secret his stupefaction. He sank back upon his pillows and waggled feeble hands, while his respect for Liane grew by bounds. She had succeeded in startling and mystifying him beyond expression.

What dodge was this that cloaked itself in such anomalous semblance of good faith? She had not known he was acquainted with her plan to leave France; he had discounted a hundred devices to keep it from his knowledge. And now she not only confessed it openly, but invited him to go with her! In the name of unreason--why? She knew, for he had owned, his possessing purpose. He did not for an instant believe Liane Delorme would fly France and leave behind the Montalais jewels. Did she think he did not suspect her of knowing more about them than she had chosen to admit? Did she imagine that he was one of those who can see only that which is in the distance? Did she do him the injustice to believe him incapable of actually smelling out the jewels if ever he got within range of them?

But conjecture was too idle, Liane was too deep for him; her intent would declare itself when she willed it, not before, unless he could lull her into a false sense of faith in him, trick her into betraying herself by inadvertence.

"But, my dear friend, why America?"

"You recall asking me to help you last night? Did I not promise to do what I could? Well, I am not one to forget my promise. I know something, monsieur."

"I believe you do!"

"You gave me credit for having some little influence in this world of Paris. I have used it. What I have learned--I shall not tell you how, specifically--enables me to assure you that the Montalais jewels are on their way to America."

"And I am to believe you make this journey to help me regain them?"

"What do you think, then?"

"I do not know what to think, mademoiselle. I am overwhelmed--abashed and humbled by contemplation of such generosity."

"You see, you do not know me, monsieur. But you shall know me better before we are finished."

"One does not question that." Nor did one! "But if I am to sail for America to-day--"

"To-morrow, from Cherbourg, at eight in the morning."

"Well, to-morrow, then: but how am I to get my passport vised?"

"I have seen to that. If you will look over your papers, monsieur, you will see that you are no longer Paul Martin alias Andre Duchemin, but Paul Delorme, my invalid brother, still suffering from honourable wounds sustained in the Great War and ordered abroad for his health."

To this Lanyard, hastily verifying her statement by running an eye through the passport, found nothing more appropriate than a wondering "Mon dieu!"

"So you see, everything is arranged. What have you to say?"

"Only that mademoiselle sweeps one off one's feet."

"Do you complain about that? You no longer doubt my devotion, my gratitude?"

"Do not believe me capable of such stupidity!"

"That is very well, then. Now I must run." Liane Delorme threw away her cigarette and rose. "I have a thousand things to do.... And, you understand, we leave as soon as you are dressed?"

"Perfectly. By what train?"

"By no train. Don't you know there is a strike to-day? What have you been reading in those newspapers? It is necessary that we motor to Cherbourg."

"That is no little journey, dear sister."

"Three hundred and seventy kilometres?" Liane Delorme held this equivalent of two-hundred and thirty English miles in supreme contempt. "We shall make it in eight hours. We leave at four at latest, possibly earlier; at midnight we are in Cherbourg. You shall see."

"If I survive..."

"Have no fear. My chauffeur drives superbly."

She was at the door when Lanyard stayed her with "One moment, Liane!" With fingers resting lightly on the knob she turned.

"Speak English," he requested briefly. "What about Dupont?"

Simple mention of the man was enough to make the woman wince and lose colour. Before she replied Lanyard saw the tip of her tongue furtively moisten her lips.

"Well, and what of him?"

"Do you imagine he has had enough?"

"Who knows? I for one shall feel safe from him only when I knew he is in the Sante or his grave."

"Suppose he tries to follow us to Cherbourg or to stop us on the way..."

"How should he know?"

"Tell me who left the doors open for him last night, and I will answer that question." The woman looked more than ever frightened, but shook her head. "You didn't fail to question the servants this morning, yet learned nothing?"

"It was impossible to fix the blame..."

"Have you used all your intelligence, I wonder?"

"What do you mean?"

"Have you reflected that, since Dupont got in after you came home, his accomplice in your household is most probably one of those who were up at that hour. Who were they?"

"Only two. The footman, Leon..."

"You trust him?"

"Not altogether. Now you make me think, I shall discharge him when I leave, without notice."

"Wait. Who else?"

"Marthe, my maid."

"You have confidence in her loyalty?"

"Implicit. She has been with me for years."

Lanyard said "Open that door!" in a tone sharp with such authority that Liane Delorme instinctively obeyed, and the woman whom Lanyard had seen that morning coming down the stairs with the lighted candle entered rather precipitately, carrying over one arm an evening wrap of gold brocade and fur.

"Pardon, madame," she murmured, and paused. Aside from the awkwardness of her entrance, she betrayed no confusion. "I was about to knock and ask if madame wished me to pack this..."

"You know very well I shall need it," Liane said ominously. A look from Lanyard checked a tirade, or more exactly compressed it into a single word: "Imbecile!"

"Yes, madame."

Marthe hinted at rather than executed a courtesy and withdrew. Liane shut the door behind her, and reapproached the bed, trembling with an anger that rendered her forgetful, so that she relapsed into French.

"You think she was listening?"

"English, please!" To this Lanyard added a slight shrug..

"It is hard to believe," Liane averred unhappily. "After all these years... I have been kind to that one, too!"

"Ah, well! At least you know now she will bear watching. You mean to take her with you?"

"I did, until this happened. We quarrelled about it, last night. I think she has a lover here in Paris and doesn't want to leave him."

"And now will you tell me that Dupont knows nothing of your intention to motor to Cherbourg today?"

"No..." Disconsolate, Liane sank down into the chair and, resting an elbow on the arm, clipped her chin in one hand. "Now I dare not go," she mused aloud. "Yet I must!... What am I to do?"

"Courage, little sister! It is I who have an idea." Liane lifted a gaze of mute enquiry. "I think we are now agreed it rests between Marthe and the footman Leon, this treachery." She assented. "Very well. Then let them run the risks any further disloyalty may have prepared for us."

"I do not understand..."

"What automobile are you using for our trip this afternoon?"

"My limousine for you and me."

"And Marthe: how is she to make the journey?"

"In the touring car, which follows us with our luggage."

"It is fast, this touring car?"

"The best money can buy."

"Now tell me what you know about the chauffeur who drives the limousine?"

"He is absolutely to be trusted."

"You have had him long in your employ?"

The woman hesitated, looked aside, bit her lip.

"As a matter of fact, monsieur," she said hastily, trying to cover her loss of countenance with rapid speech--"it is the boy who drove us through the Cevennes. Monsieur Monk asked me to keep him pending his return to France, You understand, he is not to be away long--Monsieur Monk--only a few weeks; so it would have been extravagant to take Jules back to America for that little time. You see?"

Lanyard had the grace to keep a straight face. He nodded gravely.

"You make it all perfectly clear, little sister. And the driver of the touring car: are you sure of him?"

"I think so. But you do not tell me what you have in mind."

"Simply this: At the last moment you will decide to take Leon with you. Give him no more time than he needs to pack a handbag. Trump up some excuse and let him follow with Marthe..."

"No difficulty about that. He is an excellent driver, Leon; he served me as chauffeur--and made a good one, too--for a year before I took him into the house, at his request; he said he was tired of driving. But if the man I had meant to use is indisposed--trust me to see that he is--I can call on Leon to take care of Marthe and our luggage in the touring car."

"Excellent. Now presuming Dupont to be well informed, we may safely bank on his attempting nothing before nightfall. Road traps can be too easily perceived at a distance by daylight. Toward evening then, we will let the touring car catch up. You will express a desire to continue in it, because--because of any excuse that comes into your head. At all events, we will exchange cars with Marthe and Leon, leaving the latter to bring on the limousine while Jules drives for us. Whatever happens then, we may feel sure the touring car will get off lightly; for whether they're involved with Dupont or not, Leon and Marthe are small fry, not the fish he's angling for."

"But will not Leon and Marthe suspect and refuse to follow?"

"Perhaps they may suspect, but they will follow out of curiosity, to see how we fare, if for nothing else. You may lose a limousine, but you can afford to risk that as long as you are not in it--eh, little long-lost sister?"

"My dear brother!" Liane cried, deeply moved. She leaned forward and caressed Lanyard's hand with sisterly warmth, in her admiration and gratification loosing upon him the full candle-power of the violet eyes in their most disastrous smile. "What a head to have in the family!"

"Take care!" Lanyard admonished. "I admit it's not half bad at times, but if this battered old headpiece of mine is to be of any further service to us, Liane, you must be careful not to turn it!"

Louis Joseph Vance