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AN INTERESTING DAY
It was a little after seven o'clock the next morning when we turned into the courtyard of the County Hotel in Newcastle. Immediately in front of us was the car in which we had seen Delora on the previous afternoon. The chauffeur was at work upon it, and although he looked up at our entrance, he paid no particular attention to us.
I blew through the whistle to Ferris.
"Back out of the yard at once," I said, "and go to another hotel."
Dalton looked at me in surprise.
"Forgive my ordering your chauffeur about," I said, as we glided backwards into the street. "That's the car we've come up after, and I don't want the people who travelled in it to know that we are on their heels."
Dalton whistled softly.
"So we are on a chase, are we?" he asked. "You might tell me about it, Austen."
"I can't," I answered. "It's altogether too indefinite. I shouldn't tell you anything which would sound like common sense except this,--that I am exceedingly curious, for several reasons, to know what those two men who came up in that car have to do in Newcastle."
"Who are they?" Dalton asked.
"One is a rich Brazilian named Delora, and the other the Chinese ambassador," I answered.
The names seemed to convey nothing to my companion, who merely nodded. We had now arrived at the other hotel, and the prospects of breakfast were already claiming our attention. We sat down in the coffee-room and attacked our bacon and eggs and coffee with zest.
"How long do you want to stay here?" Dalton asked.
"I am not quite sure," I answered. "Look here, Jacky," I continued, "supposing I wanted to stay all day and to go back to-night, so that we got home to breakfast to-morrow morning, would that be too long for you?"
"That would do me splendidly," Dalton declared. "I have never been in this part of the world, and I should like to look round. We must be back for to-morrow morning, you know, because all those fellows are coming to shoot from Horington's."
"We will make that the latest," I said.
Jacky left me, a few minutes later, to visit the local garage. Without any clear idea as to what was best to be done, I still felt that I was justified in making a few inquiries as to the cause of Delora's presence in Newcastle with that particular companion. I went to the telephone, therefore, and rang up the County Hotel. I asked to speak to the manager, who came at once to the instrument.
"I understand," I said, "that the Chinese ambassador has just arrived at your hotel. Would you be so kind as to ask him whether he would consent to be interviewed as to the reasons of his visit?"
I waited several minutes for a reply. When it came it was at least emphatic. The visit of the ambassador, the manager told me, was entirely a private one. He was simply on a motor tour with a friend, and they had called at Newcastle as it was an interesting city which the ambassador had never seen. He declined most firmly to have anything to do with any interviewer.
The reply being exactly what I had expected, I was not in the least disappointed.
"Perhaps," I said to the manager, "you can tell me how long he is staying."
"I have no idea, sir," the manager answered. "They have just ordered a carriage to make a call in the town."
I thanked him, and left the hotel at once on foot. When I arrived near the County Hotel a four-wheel cab was drawn up at the entrance. From a safe distance I stood watching it, and in a few minutes I saw the ambassador and Delora come swiftly out of the hotel and step inside. I waited till they had driven off, and then crossed the road to where the hall-porter was still standing on the pavement. I put five shillings into his hand.
"I am a reporter," I said. "Can you tell me where the ambassador has gone to?"
He smiled, and touched his hat.
"They are going to the offices of Messrs. Halliday & Co., the great shipbuilders, in Corporation Street," he answered.
I thanked him, and walked slowly away. I found plenty of material for thought, but it seemed to me that there was nothing more which I could do. Nevertheless, I walked along towards the address which the porter had given me, and found, as I had expected, that the cab was standing empty outside. Opposite was a small public-house. I went in, ordered a whiskey and soda, and lit a cigarette. Then I sat down facing the window. Half an hour passed, and then an hour. It was one o'clock before the two men reappeared. They were accompanied by a third person, whom I judged to be a member of the firm, and who entered the cab with them. On the pavement they were accosted by a young man in spectacles, who look off his hat and said a few words to the ambassador. The latter, however, shaking his head, stepped into the cab. The young man pushed forward once more, but the cab drove off. As soon as it had turned the corner I hurried out and addressed him.
"His Excellency does not care to be spoken to," I remarked.
The reporter--his profession was quite obvious--shook his head.
"I only wanted a word or two," he said, "but he would not have anything to say to me."
"I wonder if he is going to look over any of the ships that are building," I remarked.
"There is nothing much in the yards," the young man said, "except the two Brazilian battleships. I don't think that Hallidays are allowed to show any one over them unless they have a special permit from the Brazilian Government."
"Fine ships, aren't they?" I asked.
"The finest that have ever left the Tyne," the young man answered enthusiastically. "What a little country like Brazil can possibly want with the most powerful warships in the world no one can guess. Are you on a London paper?" he asked me.
"I have followed them all the way down here," I said, "but they have not a word to say. By the bye," I added, "did you know that the gentleman with the Chinese ambassador was a very prominent Brazilian?"
The reporter whistled softly.
"I wonder what that means!" he said. "It sounds interesting, somehow."
"Come and have a drink," I said.
He accepted at once.
"What paper are you on?" he asked, as we crossed the street.
"To be honest with you," I replied, "I am not on a paper at all. I am not even a reporter. I am interested in the visit of these two men to Newcastle for more serious reasons."
The young man looked at me thoughtfully. He slipped his arm through mine as though he intended never to let me go. Evidently he scented a story.
"I suppose," he said, "you mean that you are a detective?"
"No!" I answered, "scarcely that. I can only tell you that it is my business to watch the movements of those two men."
I could see from his manner that he believed me to be a government spy, or something of the sort. We ordered our drinks and then turned, as though by common consent, once more to the window. A motor-car was drawn up in front of the place, and an elderly man was descending hurriedly.
"Hullo!" the reporter exclaimed. "That's Mr. Halliday, the head of the firm! They must have telephoned for him. He never comes down except on a Thursday. Let's watch and see what happens."
The shipbuilder entered his offices, and was gone for about a quarter of an hour. When he reappeared he was followed by two clerks, one of whom was carrying a great padlocked portfolio under each arm, and the other a huge roll of plans. They entered the motor-car and drove off.
"Come on," I said, finishing my drink hurriedly, "they are off to the County Hotel."
We took a hansom at the corner of the street, and, sure enough, when we arrived at the hotel Mr. Halliday's motor-car was waiting outside. We went at once into the office, where my companion was quite at home.
"Who's with the Chinaman?" he asked the manager, who greeted him cordially.
"A whole crowd," he answered. "First of all, Dickinson--Halliday's manager--came back with him, and the old man himself has just arrived with a couple of clerks."
"What's the game, do you suppose?" the reporter asked.
The hotel manager shrugged his shoulders.
"We're hoping it means orders," he said. "We can do with them. Hallidays could put on another twelve hundred men and not be crowded, and China's about the most likely customer they could get hold of just now."
"Which sitting-room are they in?" my friend asked.
"Number 12," the manager answered. "I can't do anything for you, though, Charlie," he added. "I'd do anything I could, but they have given special orders that no one is to interrupt them, and they decline to be interviewed by or communicate with any strangers."
"I shall see the thing out, nevertheless," my friend announced.
"And I," I answered. "Let's have lunch together. Is there a smart boy in the place who could let us know directly any one leaves the sitting-room?"
The manager smiled.
"Mr. Sinclair knows all about that, sir," he said, pointing to my friend. "I have nothing to say about it, of course."
Sinclair left the room for a minute or two. When he came back he nodded confidentially.
"I have a boy watching the door," he said. "The moment any one leaves we shall hear of it."
We went into the restaurant and ordered lunch. In about half an hour a small boy came hastily in and addressed Sinclair.
"They have ordered luncheon up in the sitting-room, sir," he said. "I thought I'd better let you know."
"For how many?" Sinclair asked quickly.
"For four, sir," he answered. "I fancy the two clerks are coming out. The door opened once, and they had their hats on."
"Run along," Sinclair said, "and let us know again directly anything happens."
The boy returned almost at once.
"The clerks have left," he said. "The other four are going to lunch together."
"Did the clerks take the plans with them?" I asked.
"Not all," the boy answered. "They left two portfolios behind."
We finished our luncheon and returned to the bar. It was more than two hours before anything else happened. Then the boy entered a little hurriedly.
"Mr. Halliday has telephoned for his car, and is just leaving, sir," he said. "The two gentlemen from London have just ordered theirs, and I believe it looks as though Mr. Dickinson were going with them. He has telephoned for a bag from his house."
I shook hands with my friend the reporter, and we parted company. I left the hotel quickly and returned to the King's Arms, where we were staying. I was lucky enough to find Jack just finishing lunch.
"I say, old man," I exclaimed, "I wish you'd start for home at once!"
"Right away!" he answered. "We'll ring for Ferris."
The chauffeur came in and received his orders. We got into our coats and walked out toward the front door. Suddenly I drew Jacky back and stood behind a pillar. A great touring car had turned the corner and was passing down the street. In it were three men,--the Chinese ambassador, Delora, and the man who had left the offices of Messrs. Halliday with them.
"Is that the road to London?" I asked the porter.
"It is the way into the main road, sir," he answered,--"two hundred and sixty-five miles."
They swung round the corner and disappeared. Our own car was just drawing up. I turned to Jacky.
"We'd better wait a few minutes," I said, "and tell your man not to overtake that car!"
Jacky looked at me in surprise. He was by no means a curious person, but he was obviously puzzled.
"What a mysterious person you have become, Austen!" he said. "What's it all about?"
"You will know some day," I answered, as we made ourselves comfortable,--"perhaps before many hours are past!"
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