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It was past one o'clock in the morning when I returned to the hotel, yet the porter who admitted me pointed toward the figure of a man who stood waiting in the dimly lit hall.
"There is a person here who has been waiting to see you for some hours, sir," he said. "His name is Fritz."
"To see me?" I repeated.
The man came a step forward and saluted. I recognized him at once. It was the commissionnaire at the Cafe Universel.
"It is quite right," I told the porter. "You had better come up to my rooms," I added, turning to Fritz.
I led the way to the lift and on to my sitting-room. There I turned up the electric lights and threw myself into an easy-chair.
"Well, Fritz," said I, "I hope that you have brought me some news."
"I have lost my job, sir," the man answered, a little sullenly.
"How much was it worth to you?" I asked.
"It was worth nearly two pounds a week with tips," he declared, speaking with a strong foreign accent.
"Then I take you into my service at two pounds ten a week from to-night," I said. "The engagement will not be a long one, but you may find it lucrative."
The man fingered his hat and looked at me stolidly.
"I am not a valet, sir," he replied.
"If you were I should not employ you," I answered. "You can make yourself very useful to me in another direction, if you care to."
"I am very willing, sir," the man declared,--"very willing indeed. I have a wife and children, and I cannot afford to be out of employment."
"Come, then," I said. "The long and short of it is this. I want to discover the whereabouts of the man who was with the Chinaman at your restaurant last evening."
The man looked at me with something like surprise in his face.
"You do not know that?" he said.
"I do not," I admitted. "Your business will be to find out."
"And what do I get," the man asked, "if I do discover the staying place of that gentleman?"
"A ten-pound note," I answered, "down on the nail."
A slow smile suffused Fritz's face.
"I will tell you now," he said. "You have the ten pounds, so?"
"I have it ready," I answered, rising to my feet. "Come on, Fritz, you are a brave fellow, and I promise you it shall not end at ten pounds."
"You are serious?" Fritz persisted. "This is not a joke?"
"Not in the least," I assured him. "Why should you think so?"
The smile on the man's face broadened.
"Because," he said, "that gentleman--he is staying here, in this very hotel."
For a moment I was silent. The thing seemed impossible!
"How on earth do you know that, Fritz?" I asked.
"I will tell you," Fritz answered. "There was a night, not long ago, when he did come to the restaurant with the Chinese gentleman. They talked for a long time, and then I was sent for into the private room where they were taking dinner. The gentleman he wrote a note and he gave it to me. He said, 'You will take a hansom cab and you will drive to Claridge's Hotel. You will give this to the cashier, and he will hand you a small parcel which you will bring here.' I told him that I could not leave my post, but he had already seen the proprietor. So I came to this very hotel with that note, and I did take back to the restaurant a small parcel wrapped in brown paper."
"Fritz," I said, "sit down in that easy-chair and help yourself to whiskey and soda. I am sorry that I have not beer, but you must do the best you can with our own national drink. Take a cigar, too. Make yourself quite comfortable. I am going downstairs to the reception office. If I find that what you have told me is true, there will be two five-pound notes in my hand for you when I come back."
"So!" Fritz declared, accepting my hospitality with calm satisfaction.
I descended into the hall of the hotel and made my way to the reception office. The one clerk on duty was reading a novel, which he promptly laid aside at my approach. It occurred to me that my task, perhaps, might not prove so easy, as Delora would scarcely be staying here under his own name.
"I wanted to ask you," I said, "if you have a gentleman here named Delora."
The man shook his head.
"There is no one of that name in the hotel, sir," he answered.
"I scarcely expected that there would be," I remarked. "The fact is, the gentleman whom I want to find, and whom I know is or was staying here, is using another name which I have not heard. You know who I am?"
"Certainly, Captain Rotherby!" the man replied. "You are Lord Welmington's brother."
"You will understand, then," I said, "that if I ask questions which seem to you impertinent, I do so because the matter is important, and not from any idle curiosity."
"Quite so, sir," the man answered. "I shall be pleased to tell you anything I can."
"This gentleman of whom I am in search, then," I answered, "he would have arrived probably last Wednesday evening from the Continent. I do not know what name he would give, but it would probably not be the name of Delora. He is rather tall, pale, thin, and of distinctly foreign appearance. He has black eyes, black imperial, and looks like a South American, which, by the bye, I think he is. Does that description help you to recognize him?"
"I think so, sir," the man answered. "Do you happen to know whether, by any chance, he would be a friend of the Chinese ambassador?"
"I should think it very likely," I answered. "He is staying here, then?"
"He was staying here until a few hours ago, sir," the man answered. "He came in about ten o'clock and went at once to his rooms, sent for his bill, and left the hotel in a great hurry. I remember the circumstance particularly, because he had said nothing about his going, and from the manner of his return and his hasty departure it is quite clear that he had not expected to leave so soon himself."
I was a little staggered. It seemed hard luck to have so nearly succeeded in my search, only to have failed at the last moment. It was maddening, too, to think that for all these hours I had been in the same hotel as the man whom I so greatly desired to find!
"Tell me, did he leave any address?" I asked.
"None whatever, sir," the man answered. "Our junior clerk here asked him where he would wish letters to be forwarded, and he replied that there would not be any. I think he said that he was leaving for abroad almost at once, but would call before he sailed in case there were any letters or messages for him."
"Tell me under what name he stayed here?" I asked.
"Mr. Vanderpoel," the man told me.
"He was quite alone, I suppose?" I asked.
"Absolutely," the man answered. "He had a few callers at different times, but he spent most of his time in his rooms. If you are particularly anxious to discover his whereabouts," the clerk continued, "the night porter who would have started him off is still on duty."
"I should like very much to speak to him," I said.
The clerk touched a bell, and the porter came in from outside.
"You remember Mr. Vanderpoel leaving this evening?" the clerk asked.
"Certainly, sir," the man answered. "He went at about eleven o'clock."
"Did he go in a cab?" the clerk asked.
"In a four-wheeler, sir," the porter answered.
"Do you remember what address he gave?"
The porter looked dubious for a moment.
"I don't absolutely remember, sir," he said, "but I know that it was one of the big railway stations."
The clerk turned to me.
"Is there anything else you would like to ask?" he inquired.
I shook my head.
"No, thanks!" I answered. "I am afraid there is nothing more to be learned."
The porter went back to his duties, and I bade the clerk good night. Up in my room Fritz was waiting anxiously.
"You were right and wrong," I announced. "Mr. Delora has been staying here and left to-night."
"He has gone!" Fritz exclaimed.
"He left at eleven o'clock," I answered. "He saw me, and I suppose he knew that I was looking for him. Here's half your money, anyhow," I continued, giving him a five-pound note. "The next thing to do is to find out where he has gone to. I think you could help here, Fritz."
"What must I do?" the man asked.
"First of all," I said, "go to the big railway hotels and try and find out from one of the porters--you Germans all stick together--whether any one arrived in a four-wheel cab at between eleven and twelve this evening, whose description coincides with that of Mr. Delora. I reckon that will take you most of to-morrow. When you have finished come to me at the Milan Court, and let me know how you have got on."
"So!" the man remarked, rising from his seat. "To-morrow morning I will do that. They will tell me, these fellows. I know many of them."
"Good night, Fritz, then!" I said. "Good luck!"
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