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Without disclaiming any credit that was rightly his due for making the performance possible, Lanyard felt obliged to concede that Liane's Delorme's confidence had been well reposed in the ability of Jules to drive by the clock. For when the touring car made, on a quayside of Cherbourg's avant port, what was for its passengers its last stop of the night, the hour of eight bells was being sounded aboard the countless vessels that shouldered one another in the twin basins of the commercial harbour or rode at anchor between its granite jetties and the distant bulwark of the Digue.
Nor was Jules disposed to deny himself well-earned applause. Receiving none immediately when he got down from his seat and indulged in one luxurious stretch, "I'll disseminate the information to the terrestrial universe," he volunteered, "that was travelling!"
"And now that you have done so," Liane Delorme suggested, "perhaps you will be good enough to let the stewards know we are waiting."
If the grin was impudent, the salute she got in acknowledgment was perfection; Jules faced about like a military automaton, strode off briskly, stopped at some distance to light a cigarette, and in effect faded out with the flame of the match.
Lanyard didn't try to keep track of his going. Committed as he stood to follow the lead of Liane Delorme to the end of this chapter of intrigue (and with his mind at ease as to Monsieur Dupont, for the time being at least) he was largely indifferent to intervening developments.
He had asked no questions of Liane, and his knowledge of Cherbourg was limited to a memory of passing through the place as a boy, with a case-hardened criminal as guide and police at their heels. But assuming that Liane had booked passages for New York by a Cunarder, a White Star or American Line Boat--all three touched regularly at Cherbourg, west bound from Southampton--he expected presently to go aboard a tender and be ferried out to one of the steamers whose riding lights were to be seen in the roadstead. Meanwhile he was lazily content....
Mellow voices of bell metal swelled and died on the midnight air while, lounging against the motor car--with Liane at his side registering more impatience than he thought the occasion called for--Lanyard listened, stared, wondered, the breath of the sea sweet in his nostrils, its flavour in his throat, his vision lost in the tangled web of masts and cordage and funnels that stencilled the moon-pale sky: the witching glamour of salt water binding all his senses with its time-old spell.
It was quiet there upon the quay. Somewhere a winch rattled drowsily and weary tackle whined; more near at hand, funnels were snoring and pumps chugging with a constant, monotonous noise of splashing. On the landward side, from wine shops across the way, came blurred gusts of laughter and the wailing of an accordeon. The footfalls of a watchman, or perhaps a sergent de ville, had lonely echoes. The high electric arcs were motionless, and the shadows cast by their steel-blue glare lay on the pave as if painted in lampblack.
Dupont, the road to Paris, seemed figments of some dream dreamed long ago...
The tip of a pretty slipper, tapping restlessly, continued to betray Liane's temper. But she said nothing. Privately Lanyard yawned. Then Jules, tagged by three men with the fair white jackets and shuffling gait of stewards, sauntered into view from behind two mountains of freight, and announced: "All ready, madame." Liane nodded curtly, lingered to watch the stewards attack the jumble of luggage, saw her jewel case shouldered, and followed the bearer, Lanyard at her elbow, Jules remaining with the car.
The steward trotted through winding aisles of bales and crates, turned a corner, darted up a gangplank to the main-deck of a small steam vessel, so excessively neat and smart with shining brightwork that Lanyard thought it one uncommon tender indeed, and surmised a martinet in command. It seemed curious that there were not more passengers on the tender's deck; but perhaps he and Liane were among the first to come aboard; after all, they were not to sail before morning, according to the women. He apprehended a tedious time of waiting before he gained his berth. He noticed, too, a life ring lettered SYBARITE, and thought this an odd name for a vessel of commercial utility. Then he found himself descending a wide companionway to one of the handsomest saloons he had ever entered, a living room that, aside from its concessions to marine architecture, might have graced a residence on Park Lane or on Fifth avenue in the Sixties.
Lanyard stopped short with his hand on the mahogany handrail.
"I say, Liane! haven't we stumbled into the wrong pew?"
"Wrong pew?" The woman subsided gracefully into a cushioned arm-chair, crossed her knees, and smiled at his perplexity. "But I do not know what is that 'wrong pew.'"
"I mean to say... this is no tender, and it unquestionably isn't an Atlantic liner."
"I should hope not. Did I promise you a--what do you say?--tender or Atlantic liner? But no: I do not think I told you what sort of vessel we would sail upon for that America. You did not ask."
"True, little sister. But you might have prepared me. This is a private yacht."
"Are you disappointed?"
"I won't say that..."
"It is the little ship of a dear friend, monsieur, who generously permits... But patience! very soon you shall know."
To himself Lanyard commented: "I believe it well!" A door had opened in the after partition, two men had entered. Above a lank, well-poised body clothed in the white tunic and trousers of a ship's officer, he recognised the tragicomic mask of the soi-disant Mr. Whitaker Monk. At his shoulder shone the bland, intelligent countenance of Mr. Phinuit, who seemed much at home in the blue serge and white flannels of the average amateur yachtsman.
From this last Lanyard received a good-natured nod, while Monk, with a great deal of empressement, proceeded directly to Liane Delorme and bowed low over the hand which she languidly lifted to be saluted.
"My dear friend!" he said in his sonorous voice. "In another hour I should have begun to grow anxious about you."
"You would have had good reason, monsieur. It is not two hours since one has escaped death--and that for the second time in a single day--by the slenderest margin, and thanks solely to this gentleman here."
Monk consented to see Lanyard, and immediately offered him a profound salute, which was punctiliously returned. His eyebrows mounted to the roots of his hair.
"Ah! that good Monsieur Duchemin."
"But no!" Liane laughed. "It is true, the resemblance is striking; I do not say that, if Paul would consent to grow a beard, it would not be extraordinary. But--permit me, Captain Monk, to present my brother, Paul Delorme."
"Your brother, mademoiselle?" The educated eyebrows expressed any number of emotions. Monk's hand was cordially extended. "But I am enchanted, Monsieur Delorme, to welcome on board the Sybarite the brother of your charming sister."
Lanyard resigned limp fingers to his clasp.
"And most public-spirited of you, I'm sure, Captain Monk... I believe I understood Liane to say Captain Monk?" The captain bowed. "Captain Whitaker Monk?" Another bow. Lanyard looked to Liane: "Forgive me if I seem confused, but I thought you told me Mister Whitaker Monk had sailed for America a week ago."
"And so he did," the captain agreed blandly, while Liane confirmed his statement with many rapid and emphatic nods. "Mr. Monk, the owner, is my first cousin. Fortune has been less kind to me in a worldly way; consequently you see in me merely the skipper of my wealthy kinsman's yacht."
"And your two names are the same--yours and your cousin's? You're both Whitaker Monks?"
"It is a favourite name in our family, monsieur."
Lanyard wagged his head in solemn admiration.
Phinuit had come to his side, and was offering his hand in turn.
"It's all gospel, Mr. Lanyard," he declared, with a cheerful informality which Lanyard found more engaging than Monk's sometimes laboured mannerisms. "He's sure-enough Captain Whitaker Monk, skipper of the good ship Sybarite, Mister Whitaker Monk, owner. And my name is really Phinuit, and I'm honest-to-goodness secretary to Mr. Monk. You see, the owner got a hurry call from New York, last week, and sailed from Southampton, leaving us to bring his pretty ship safely home."
"That makes it all so clear!"
"Well, anyway, I'm glad to meet you to your bare face. I've heard a lot about you, and--if it matters to you--thought a lot more."
"If it comes to that, Mr. Phinuit, I have devoted some thought to you."
"Oh, daresay. And now--if mademoiselle is agreeable--suppose we adjourn to the skipper's quarters, where we can improve one another's acquaintance without some snooping steward getting an unwelcome earful. We need to know many things you alone can tell us--and I'll wager you could do with a drink. What?"
"But I assure you, monsieur, I find your reception sufficiently refreshing."
"Well," said Phinuit, momentarily but very slightly discountenanced--"you've been uncommon' damn' useful, you know... I mean, according to mademoiselle."
"Useful?" Lanyard enquired politely.
"He calls it that," Liane Delorme exclaimed, "when I tell him you have saved my life!" She swept indignantly through the door by which Monk and Phinuit had come to greet them. Two ceremonious bows induced Lanyard to follow her. Monk and Phinuit brought up the rear. "Yes," the woman pursued--"twice he has saved it!"
"In the same place?" Phinuit enquired innocently, shutting the door.
"But no! Once in my home in Paris, this morning, and again to-night on the road to Cherbourg. The last time he saved his life, too, and Jules's."
"It was nothing," said the modest hero.
"It was nothing!" Liane echoed tragically. "You save my life twice, and he calls it 'useful,' and you call it 'nothing!' My God! I tell you, I find this English a funny language!"
"But if you will tell us about it..." Monk suggested, placing a chair for her at one end of a small table on which was spread an appetising cold supper.
Lanyard remarked that there were places laid for four. He had been expected, then. Or had the fourth place been meant for Jules? One inclined to credit the first theory. It seemed highly probable that Liane should have telegraphed her intentions before leaving Paris. Indeed, there was every evidence that she had. Neither Monk nor Phinuit had betrayed the least surprise on seeing Lanyard; and Phinuit had not even troubled to recognise the fiction which Liane had uttered in accounting for him. It was very much as if he had said: That long-lost brother stuff is all very well for the authorities, for entry in the ship's papers if necessary; but it's wasted between ourselves, we understand one another; so let's get down to brass tacks... An encouraging symptom; though one had already used the better word, refreshing....
Spacious, furnished in a way of rich sobriety, tasteful in every appointment, the captain's quarters were quite as sybaritic as the saloon of the Sybarite. A bedroom and private bath adjoined, and the open door enabled one to perceive that this rude old sea dog slept in a real bed of massive brass. His sitting-room, or private office, had a studious atmosphere. Its built-in-bookcases were stocked with handsome bindings. The panels were, like those in the saloon, sea-scapes from the hands of modern masters: Lanyard knew good painting when he saw it. The captain's desk was a substantial affair in mahogany. Most of the chairs were of the overstuffed lounge sort. The rug was a Persian of rare lustre.
Monk was following with a twinkle the journeys of Lanyard's observant eye.
"Do myself pretty well, don't you think?" he observed quietly, in a break in Liane's dramatic narrative; perforce the lady must now and again pause for breath.
Lanyard smiled in return. "I can't see you've much to complain of."
The captain nodded, but permitted a shade of gravity to become visible in his expression. He sighed a philosophic sigh:
"But man is never satisfied..."
Liane had got her second wind and was playing variations on the theme of the famous six bottles of champagne. Lanyard lounged in his easy chair and let his bored thoughts wander. He was weary of being talked about, wanted one thing only, fulfillment of the promise that had been implicit in Phinuit's manner. He was aware of Phinuit's sympathetic eye.
The woman sent the grey car crashing again into the tree, repeated Lanyard's quaint report of the business, and launched into a vein of panegyric.
"Regard him, then, sitting there, making nothing of it all--!"
"Sheer swank," Phinuit commented. "He's just letting on; privately he thinks he's a heluva fellow. Don't you, Lanyard?"
"But naturally," Lanyard gave Phinuit a grateful look. "That is understood. But what really interests me, at present, is the question: Who is Dupont, and why?"
"If you're asking me," Monk replied, "I'll say--going on mademoiselle's story--Monsieur Dupont is by now a ghost."
"One would be glad to be sure of that," Lanyard murmured.
"By all accounts," said Phinuit, "he takes a deal of killing."
"But all this begs my question," Lanyard objected. "Who is Dupont, and why?"
"I think I can answer that question, monsieur." This was Liane Delorme. "But first, I would ask Captain Monk to set guards to see that nobody comes aboard this ship before she sails."
"Pity you didn't think of that sooner," Phinuit observed in friendly sarcasm. "Better late than never, of course, but still--!"
The woman appealed to Monk directly, since he did not move. "But I assure you, monsieur, I am afraid, I am terrified of that one! I shall not sleep until I am sure he has not succeeded in smuggling himself on board--"
"Be tranquil, mademoiselle," Monk begged. "What you ask is already done. I gave the orders you ask as soon as I received your telegram, this morning. You need not fear that even a rat has found his way aboard since then, or can before we sail, without my knowledge."
"Thank God!" Liane breathed--and instantly found a new question to fret about. "But your men, Captain Monk--your officers and crew--can you be sure of them?"
"You haven't signed on any new men here in Cherbourg?" Lanyard asked.
Monk worked his eyebrows to signify that the question was ridiculous. "No such fool, thanks," he added.
"Yet they may have been corrupted while here in port," Liane insisted.
"That is what I would have said of my maid and footman, twenty-four hours ago. Yet I now know better."
"I tell you only what I know, mademoiselle. If any of my officers and crew have been tampered with, I don't know anything about it, and can't and won't until the truth comes out."
"And you sit there calmly to tell me that!" Liane rolled her lovely eyes in appeal to the deck beams overhead. "But you are impossible!"
"But, my dear lady," Monk protested, "I am perfectly willing to go into hysterics if you think it will do any good. As it happens, I don't. I haven't been idle or fatuous in that matter, I have taken every possible precaution against miscarriage of our plans. If anything goes wrong now, it can't be charged to my discredit."
"It will be an act of God," Phinuit declared: "one of the unavoidable risks of the business."
"The business!" Liane echoed with scorn. "I assure you I wish I were well out of 'the business'!"
"And so say we all of us," Phinuit assured her patiently; and Monk intoned a fervent "Amen!"
"But who is Dupont?" Lanyard reiterated stubbornly.
"An Apache, monsieur," Liane responded sulkily--"a leader of Apaches."
"Thank you for nothing."
"Patience: I am telling you all I know. I recognised him this morning, when you were struggling with him. His name is Popinot."
"Why do you say 'Ah!' monsieur?"
"There was a Popinot in Paris in my day; they nicknamed him the Prince of the Apaches. But he was an older man, and died by the guillotine. This Popinot who calls himself Dupont, then, must be his son."
"That is true, monsieur."
"Well, then, if he has inherited his father's power--!"
"It is not so bad as all that. I have heard that the elder Popinot was a true prince, in his way, I mean as to his power with the Apaches. His son is hardly that; he has a following, but new powers were established with his father's death, and they remain stronger than he."
"All of which brings us to the second part of my question, Liane: Why Dupont?"
Liane shrugged and studied her bedizened fingers. The heavy black brows circumflexed Monk's eyes, and he drew down the corners of his wide mouth. Phinuit fixed an amused gaze on a distant corner of the room and chewed his cigar.
"Why did Dupont--or Popinot," Lanyard persisted--"murder de Lorgnes? Why did he try to murder Mademoiselle Delorme? Why did he seek to prevent our reaching Cherbourg?"
"Give you three guesses," Phinuit offered amiably. "But I warn you if you use more than one you'll forfeit my respect forever. And just to show what a good sport I am, I'll ask you a few leading questions. Why did Popinot pull off that little affair at Montpellier-le-Vieux? Why did he try to put you out of his way a few days later?"
"Because he wanted to steal the jewels of Madame de Montalais, naturally."
"I knew you'd guess it."
"You admit, then, you have the jewels?"
"Why not?" Phinuit enquired coolly. "We took trouble enough to get them, don't you think? You're taking trouble enough to get them away from us, aren't you? You don't want us to think you so stupid as to be wasting your time, do you?"
His imperturbable effrontery was so amusing that Lanyard laughed outright. Then, turning to Liane, he offered her a grateful inclination of the head.
"Mademoiselle, you have kept your promise. Many thanks."
"Hello!" cried Phinuit. "What promise?"
"Monsieur Lanyard desired a favour of me," Liane explained, her good humour restored; "in return for saving me from assassination by Popinot this morning, he begged me to help him find the jewels of Madame de Montalais. It appears that he--or Andre Duchemin--is accused of having stolen those jewels; so it becomes a point of honour with him to find and restore them to Madame de Montalais."
"He told you that?" Monk queried, studiously eliminating from his tone the jeer implied by the words alone.
"But surely. And what could I do? He spoke so earnestly, I was touched. Regard, moreover, how deeply I am indebted to him. So I promised I would do my best. Et voila! I have brought him to the jewels; the rest is--how do you say--up to him. Are you satisfied with the way I keep my word, monsieur?"
"It's hard to see how he can have any kick coming," Phinuit commented with some acidity.
Lanyard addressed himself to Liane: "Do I understand the jewels are on this vessel?"
"In this room."
Lanyard sat up and took intelligent notice of the room. Phinuit chuckled, and consulted Monk in the tone of one reasonable man to his peer.
"I say, skipper: don't you think we ought to be liberal with Monsieur Lanyard? He's an awfully good sort--and look't all the services he has done us."
Monk set the eyebrows to consider the proposition.
"I am emphatically of your mind, Phin," he pronounced at length, oracular.
"It's plain to be seen he wants those jewels--means to have 'em. Do you know any way we can keep them from him?"
Monk moved his head slowly from side to side: "None."
"Then you agree with me, it would save us all a heap of trouble to let him have them without any more stalling?"
By way of answer Monk bent over and quietly opened a false door, made to resemble the fronts of three drawers, in a pedestal of his desk. Lanyard couldn't see the face of the built-in safe, but he could hear the spinning of the combination manipulated by Monk's long and bony fingers. And presently he saw Monk straighten up with a sizable steel dispatch-box in his hands, place this upon the desk, and unlock it with a key on his pocket ring.
"There," he announced with an easy gesture.
Lanyard rose and stood over the desk, investigating the contents of the dispatch-box. The collection of magnificent stones seemed to tally accurately with his mental memoranda of the descriptions furnished by Eve de Montalais.
"This seems to be right," he said quietly, and closed the box. The automatic lock snapped fast.
"Now what do you say, brother dear?"
"Your debt to me is fully discharged, Liane. But, messieurs, one question: Knowing I am determined to restore these jewels to their owner, why this open handedness?"
"Cards on the table," said Phinuit. "It's the only way to deal with the likes of you."
"In other words," Monk interpreted: "you have under your hand proof of our bona fides."
"And what is to prevent me from going ashore with these at once?"
"Nothing," said Phinuit.
"But this is too much!"
"Nothing," Phinuit elaborated, "but your own good sense."
"Ah!" said Lanyard--"ah!"--and looked from face to face.
Monk adjusted his eyebrows to an angle of earnestness and sincerity.
"The difficulty is, Mr. Lanyard," he said persuasively, "they have cost us so much, those jewels, in time and money and exertion, we can hardly be expected to sit still and see you walk off with them and say never a word in protection of our own interests. Therefore I must warn you, in the most friendly spirit: if you succeed in making your escape from the Sybarite with the jewels, as you quite possibly may, it will be my duty as a law-abiding man to inform the police that Andre Duchemin is at large with his loot from the Chateau de Montalais. And I don't think you'd get very far, then, or that your fantastic story about meaning to return them would gain much credence. D'ye see?"
"But distinctly! If, however, I leave the jewels and lay an information against you with the police----?"
"To do that you would have to go ashore...."
"Do I understand I am to consider myself your prisoner?"
"Oh, dear, no!" said Captain Monk, inexpressibly pained by such crudity. "But I do wish you'd consider favourably an invitation to be our honoured guest on the voyage to New York. You won't? It would be so agreeable of you."
"Sorry I must decline. A prior engagement...."
"But you see, Lanyard," Phinuit urged earnestly, "we've taken no end of a fancy to you. We like you, really, for yourself alone. And with that feeling the outgrowth of our very abbreviated acquaintance--think what a friendship might come of a real opportunity to get to know one another well."
"Some other time, messieurs...."
"But please!" Phinuit persisted--"just think for one moment--and do forget that pistol I know you've got in a handy pocket. We're all unarmed here, Mademoiselle Delorme, the skipper and I. We can't stop your going, if you insist, and we know too much to try. But there are those aboard who might. Jules, for instance: if he saw you making a getaway and knew it might mean a term in a French prison for him.... And if I do say it as shouldn't of my kid brother, Jules is a dead shot. Then there are others. There'd surely be a scrimmage on the decks; and how could we explain that to the police, who, I am able to assure you from personal observation, are within hail? Why, that you had been caught trying to stow away with your loot, which you dropped in making your escape. D'ye see how bad it would look for you?"
To this there was no immediate response. Sitting with bowed head and sombre eyes, Lanyard thought the matter over a little, indifferent to the looks of triumph being exchanged above his head.
"Obviously, it would seem, you have not gone to all this trouble--lured me aboard this yacht--merely to amuse yourselves at my expense and then knock me on the head."
"Absurd!" Liane declared indignantly. "As if I would permit such a thing, who owe you so much!"
"Or look at it this way, monsieur," Monk put in with a courtly gesture: "When one has an adversary whom one respects, one wisely prefers to have him where one can watch him."
"That's just it," Phinuit amended: "Out of our sight, you'd be on our nerves, forever pulling the Popinot stunt, springing some dirty surprise on us. But here, as our guest--!"
"More than that," said Liane with her most killing glance for Lanyard: "a dear friend."
But Lanyard was not to be put off by fair words and flattery.
"No," he said gravely: "but there is some deeper motive..."
He sought Phinuit's eyes, and Phinuit unexpectedly gave him an open-faced return.
"There is," he stated frankly.
"Then why not tell me--?"
"All in good time. And there'll be plenty of that; the Sybarite is no Mauretania. When you know us better and have learned to like us..."
"I make no promises."
"We ask none. Only your pistol..."
"Well, monsieur: my pistol?"
"It makes our association seem so formal--don't you think?--so constrained. Come, Mr. Lanyard! be reasonable. What is a pistol between friends?"
Lanyard shrugged, sighed, and produced the weapon.
"Really!" he said, handing it over to Monk--"how could anyone resist such disarming expressions?"
The captain thanked him solemnly and put the weapon away in his safe, together with the steel despatch-box and Liane Delorme's personal treasure of precious stones.
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