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I was fortunate enough to find a disengaged omnibus, and filled it with our rugs and smaller belongings. Then we made our way slowly back to the little space prepared for the reception of the heavier baggage, and around which a barrier had already been erected. There was a slight nervousness in my companion's manner which made conversation difficult. I, too, could not help feeling that the situation was a difficult one for her.
"I am afraid," I remarked, "that you are worried about your uncle. Is his health really bad, or is this just a temporary attack? I thought he looked well enough in the train on the other side."
"He suffers sometimes," she answered, "but I do not think it is anything really serious."
"He will be all right by the time we get to the hotel," I declared.
"Very likely," she answered. "For myself, I think that I always feel a little nervous when I arrive at a strange place. I have never been here before, you know, and I could not help wondering, for a moment, what would become of me if my uncle were really taken ill. Everyone says that London is so big and cold and heartless."
"You would have nothing to fear," I assured her. "You forget, too, that your uncle has friends here."
We leaned over the barrier and watched the luggage being handed out of the vans and thrown on to the low wooden platforms. By my side a dark young man, with sallow features and pince nez, was apparently passing his time in the same manner. My companion, who was restless all the time, glanced at him frequently, or I should scarcely have noticed his existence. In dress and appearance he resembled very much the ordinary valet in private service, except for his eye-glasses, and that his face lacked the smooth pastiness of the class. For some reason or other my companion seemed to take a dislike to him.
"Come," she said to me, "we will move over to the other side. I think we shall get in quicker."
I followed her lead, and I saw her glance back over her shoulder at the young man, who seemed unaware, even, of her departure.
"I do hate being listened to," she said, "even when one is talking about nothing in particular!"
"Who was listening to us?" I asked.
"The young man next to you," she answered. "I could see him look up in that horrid stealthy way from under his eyelids."
"You are a very observant person," I remarked.
She drew a little closer to me. Somehow or other I found the sense of her near presence a delightful thing. All her garment seemed imbued with a faint perfume, as though of violets.
"I think that I have only become so quite lately," she said. "Perhaps it is because I have lived such a quiet life, and now things are so different. My uncle has been so mysterious, especially during the last few days, and I suppose it has made me suspicious. Wherever we go, I always seem to fancy that some one is watching us. Besides, I am sure that that young man was a South American, and I hate South Americans!"
"I fancy," I said, "that the attention he bestowed upon us was due to a more obvious cause."
"Please do not talk like that," she begged. "I do not wish for compliments from you. I have been told always that Englishmen are so truthful. One has compliments from Frenchmen, from Spaniards, and from South Americans. They fall like froth from their lips, and one knows all the time that it means nothing, and less than nothing. It is such a pity!"
"Why a pity?" I asked, more for the sake of keeping her talking than anything. "Certainly it is a picturesque habit of speech."
She shrugged her shoulders.
"I do not like it," she said quietly. "By degrees, one comes to believe nothing that any man says, even when he is in earnest. Remember, Capitaine Rotherby, I hope that I shall never hear a compliment from you."
"I will be careful," I promised her, "but you must remember that there is sometimes a very fine distinction. I may be driven to say something which sounds quite nice, because it is the truth."
She laughed at me with her eyes, a habit of hers which from the first I had admired. For the moment she seemed to have forgotten her anxieties.
"You are worse than these others," she murmured. "I believe--no, I am quite sure, that you are more dangerous! Come, they are ready for us."
The barriers were thrown open, and a little stream of people entered the enclosed space. My companion's trunks were all together, and easily found. The officer bent over, chalk in hand, and asked a few courteous questions. At that moment I became aware that the young man in eye-glasses was standing once more by my side. Her trunks were promptly marked, and I directed the porter to take them to our omnibus. Then we moved on a little to where my things were. The young man sauntered behind us, and stopped to light a cigarette. My companion's fingers fell upon my arm.
"He is everywhere!" she murmured. "What does he want?"
I turned round sharply and caught him in the act of inspecting my labels. I was beginning now to lose my temper.
"May I ask," I said, standing in his way, "to what we owe--this young lady and I--your interest in us and our concerns?"
He stared at me blankly.
"I do not understand you, sir," he said.
I was foolish enough to lose my temper. A policeman was standing within a few feet of us, and I appealed to him.
"This person annoys us," I said, pointing him out, "by following us everywhere we go. The young lady is carrying a jewel-case, and I have papers of some importance myself. Will you kindly ask him to move on, or ascertain whether he is a bona fide traveller?"
The young man smiled faintly. The policeman answered me civilly, but I knew at once that I had made a mistake.
"This gentleman is well known to us, sir," he said. "I do not think you will find him causing you any trouble."
"I hope, at any rate," I said, turning away, "that we have seen the last of him."
Apparently we had,--for the moment, at any rate. I claimed my own belongings, and had them sent down to the omnibus. Then I handed my companion in and was on the point of joining her, when I saw walking along the platform, within a few feet of us, the policeman to whom I had appealed. I turned back to him.
"I wonder," I said, drawing him a little on one side, "if you would care to earn a sovereign without committing a breach of duty?"
He looked at me stolidly. Apparently he thought that silence was wisest.
"You said that that young man who followed us about here was well known to you," I said. "Who is he?"
"It is not my place to tell you, sir," the man answered, and passed on.
I stepped into the 'bus and we drove off. As we turned out of the station I caught a last glimpse of our shadower. He was standing close to the main exit with his hands behind him, looking up to the sky as though anxious to discover whether it were still raining. He looked into our 'bus as it clattered by, and my companion, who caught sight of him, leaned back in her seat.
"I am sure," she declared firmly, "that that is a detective."
I was equally certain of it, but I only laughed.
"If he is," I said, "it is certainly not you who needs to be anxious. There can be no question as to whom he is watching. You must remember that although those mysterious people up at the Place d'Anjou may be powerful in their way, they would have to be very clever indeed to protect me absolutely. It is pretty well known over here that I had threatened to kill Tapilow wherever I met him."
She looked at me for a moment, doubtfully, and then she shook her head.
"It is not you whom they are watching," she said.
"Who, then?" I asked.
"My uncle and me," she answered.
I looked at her curiously.
"Tell me," I said, "why you think that? Your uncle is a man of position, and has legitimate business here. Why should he be watched by detectives?"
She shook her head.
"I suppose it is because we are foreigners," she said, "but ever since my uncle fetched me from Bordeaux we seem to have been watched by some one wherever we go."
"You will not suffer much from that sort of thing over here," I remarked cheerfully. "England is not a police-ridden country like Germany, or even France."
"I know," she answered, "and yet I have told you before how I feel about arriving in England. There seems something unfriendly in the very atmosphere, something which depresses me, which makes me feel as though there were evil times coming."
I laughed reassuringly.
"You are giving way to fancies," I said. "I am sure that London is doing its best for you. See, the rain is all over. We have even continental weather to welcome you. Look at the moon. For London, too," I added, "the streets seem almost gay."
She leaned out of the window. A full moon was shining in a cloudless sky. The theatres were just over. The pavements were thronged with men and women, and the streets were blocked with carriages and hansoms on their way to the various restaurants. At the entrance to the Milan our omnibus was stopped for several moments whilst motors and carriages of all descriptions, with their load of men and women in evening clothes, passed slowly by and turned in at the courtyard. We found ourselves at last at the doors of the hotel, and I received the usual welcome from my friend the hall-porter.
"Back again once more, you see, Ashley," I remarked. "I have brought Miss Delora on from the station. Her uncle is here already. We came over by the same train."
The reception clerk stepped forward and smilingly acknowledged my greeting. He bowed, also, to my companion.
"We are very pleased to see you, Miss Delora," he said. "We were expecting you and Mr. Delora to-night."
"My uncle came on at once from the station," she said, "He was not feeling very well."
The clerk bowed, but seemed a little puzzled.
"Will you tell me where I can find Mr. Delora?" she asked.
"Mr. Delora has not yet arrived, madam," the clerk answered.
She looked at him for a moment, speechless.
"Not arrived?" I interrupted. "Surely you must be mistaken, Dean! He left Charing Cross half an hour before us."
The clerk shook his head.
"I am quite sure, Captain Rotherby," he said, "that Mr. Delora has not been here to claim his rooms. He may have entered the hotel from the other side, and be in the smoking-room or the American bar, but he has not been here."
There was a couch close by, and my companion sat down. I could see that she had turned very white.
"Send a page-boy round the hotel," I told the hall-porter, "to inquire if Mr. Delora is in any of the rooms. If I might make the suggestion," I continued, turning towards her, "I would go upstairs at once. You may find, after all, that Mr. Dean has made a mistake, and that your uncle is there."
"Why, yes!" she declared, jumping up. "I will go at once. Do you mind--will you come with me?"
"With pleasure!" I answered.
I paused for a moment to give some instructions about my own luggage. Then I stepped into the lift with the clerk and her.
"Your uncle, I hope, is not seriously indisposed, Miss Delora?" he asked.
"Oh, no!" she answered. "He found the crossing very rough, and he is not very strong. But I do not think that he is really ill."
"It is a year since we last had the pleasure," the clerk continued.
"My uncle was over then," she remarked. "For me this is the first time. I have never been in England before."
The lift stopped.
"What floor are we on?" the girl asked.
"The fifth," the clerk answered. "We have quite comfortable rooms for you, and the aspect that your uncle desired."
We passed along the corridor and he opened the door, which led into a small hall and on into a sitting-room. The clerk opened up all the rooms.
"You will see, as I told you before, Miss Delora," he said, "that there is no one here. Your uncle's rooms open out from the right. The bathroom is to the left there, and beyond are your apartments."
She peered into each of the rooms. They were indeed empty.
"The apartments are very nice," she said, "but I do not understand what has become of my uncle."
"He will be up in a few minutes, without a doubt," the clerk remarked. "Is there anything more that I can do for you, madam? Shall I send the chambermaid or the waiter to you?"
"Not yet," she answered. "I must wait for my uncle. Will you leave word below that he is to please come up directly he arrives?"
"Certainly, madam!" the clerk answered, turning towards the door.
I should have followed him from the room, but she stopped me.
"Please don't go," she said. "I am very foolish, I know, but I am afraid!"
"I will stay, of course," I answered, sitting down by her side upon the couch, "but let me assure you that there is nothing whatever to fear. Your uncle may have had a slight cab accident, or he may have met with a friend and stopped to talk for a few minutes. In either case he will be here directly. London, you know, is not the city of mysteries that Paris is. There is very little, indeed, that can happen to a man between Charing Cross Station and the Milan Hotel."
She leaned forward a little and buried her face in her hands.
"Please don't!" I begged. "Indeed, I mean what I say! There is no cause to be anxious. Your uncle spoke of stopping at a chemist's. They may be making up his prescription. A hundred trivial things may have happened to keep him."
"You do not know!" she murmured.
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