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AN APPOINTMENT WITH DELORA
My Riz Diane duly arrived, but was served, I noticed, by a different waiter. It looked very tempting, and it was indeed a dish of which I was particularly fond, but I realized that it had been specially ordered by Louis, and with a sigh I pushed it on one side. I finished my luncheon with rolls and butter, and took care to procure my coffee before Louis returned.
"Well," I asked, as he stopped once more before me, "what is it to be? Are you going to give me Delora's address?"
"That is not the trouble, monsieur," Louis declared. "Mr. Delora is away from London."
"I think you will find that he is back again, Louis," I answered. "It was a very interesting trip to Newcastle, but it was soon over. He arrived in London with his illustrious companion last night."
This time I had really astonished Louis! He looked at me with a genuine expression of profound surprise.
"You are under the impression," he said slowly, "that Mr. Delora has been to Newcastle!"
"That is scarcely the way I look at it, Louis," I answered. "You see I was in Newcastle myself and saw him."
I fancy that Louis' manner toward me, from this time onward, acquired a new respect, but I recognized the fact that there was danger greater than ever before under his increasing suaveness.
"Captain Rotherby," he said, "you were not meant to be an idle man. You have gifts of which you should make use!"
"In the meantime," I said, "when can I see Mr. Delora?"
"This afternoon, if you like," Louis answered. "Here is his address."
He scribbled a few words down on a piece of paper and passed it to me. When I had received it I did not like it. It was an out-of-the-way street in Bermondsey, in a quarter of which I was absolutely ignorant except by repute.
"Couldn't we arrange, don't you think, Louis," I asked, "to have Mr. Delora come up here?"
"You could send down a note and ask him," Louis answered. "He is staying at that address under the name of Hoffmeyer."
"I will write him a letter," I decided, signing my bill.
"You will let me know the result?" Louis asked, looking at me anxiously.
"Certainly," I answered.
I rose to my feet, but Louis did not immediately stand aside.
"Captain Rotherby," he said, "there is one thing I should like to ask you. How did you know of Mr. Delora's projected visit to Newcastle?"
"Why should I give away my methods, Louis?" I said. "You know very well that the movements of Mr. Delora have become very interesting to me. You and I are on opposite sides. I certainly do not feel called upon to disclose my sources of information."
I passed out of the restaurant, and ascended to my own room. There I drew a sheet of paper toward me and wrote.
I trust you will recognize the fact that although I am writing to you from London, and from the Milan Hotel, I have not intentionally broken the compact I made with you. The fact is, a somewhat singular thing has occurred. My brother--Mr. Richard Rotherby--whom you will doubtless remember, and who speaks most gratefully of your hospitality in Brazil, has sent me a cable on behalf of your brother--Mr. Nicholas Delora. It seems that you have not kept him acquainted with your doings here, and that you have failed to make use of a certain cipher that was agreed upon. He is, therefore, exceedingly anxious to know of your doings, and has begged me to see you at once and report. Will you, for that purpose, be good enough to grant me a five minutes' interview?
I sealed this letter, and addressed it to the very obscure street in Bermondsey which Louis had designated. Then I procured a messenger boy and sent it off, with instructions that the bearer must wait for an answer. Afterwards there was little for me to do but wait. I tried to see Felicia, but I only succeeded in having the door of her rooms practically slammed in my face by Madame Muller. I was too anxious for a reply to my letter to go round to the club, so I simply hung about the place, smoking and waiting. When at last the messenger boy came back, however, it was only to report a certain amount of failure. He had found the right address and delivered the note, but the gentleman was out, and not expected in till the evening. After this, I went round to my club, leaving an order that any note or message was to be sent after me. I cut into a rubber of bridge, but I had scarcely finished my second game before a telegram was brought in for me, sent on from the Milan. I tore it open. It was from Delora.
Have received your note. Will see you at this address ten o'clock this evening.
I thrust the telegram into my waistcoat pocket and finished the rubber. Soon afterwards I cut out and took a hansom round to Claridge's Hotel. I found my brother in and expecting to hear from me.
"Ralph," I said, "I can't bring you any news just now. If you must cable Dicky, you had better just cable that we are making inquiries. I have an appointment to see Delora at ten o'clock to-night."
"Where is he?" Ralph asked, with interest.
"The address he has sent me is some low street in Bermondsey," I answered. "It is absolutely impossible that he should have chosen such a place to stop in except as a hiding-place. I don't like the look of it, Ralph."
"Then don't go," Ralph said quickly. "There is no need for you to run into danger for nothing at all."
"I am not afraid of that," I answered. "What really bothers me is that I am up against a problem which seems insoluble. Frankly, I don't believe a snap of the fingers in Delora. No man, however secret or important his business might be, would descend to such subterfuges. The only point in his favor is that this dodging about may be all due to political reasons. I cannot understand his friendship with the Chinese ambassador."
"Can't you?" Ralph answered. "I have been thinking over what you told me, Austen, and I fancy, perhaps, I can give you a hint. Do you know that at the present moment the two most powerful battleships in the world are being built on the Tyne for Brazil?"
"I know that," I admitted. "Go on."
"What does Brazil want with battleships of that class?" my brother continued. "Obviously they would be useless to her. She could not man them. It would be a severe strain to her finances even to put them into commission. I am of opinion that the order to build them was given as a speculation by a few shrewd men in the Brazilian Government who foresaw unsettled times ahead, and they are there to be disposed of to the highest European or Asiatic bidder!"
I saw Ralph's point at once.
"By Jove!" I exclaimed. "You think, then, that Delora is over here to arrange for the sale of them to some other Government--presumably to China?"
"Why not?" Ralph asked. "It is feasible, and to some extent it explains a good deal of what has seemed to you so mysterious. There could be no more possible purchaser of the battleships than China, except, perhaps, Russia, and transactions of that sort are always attended with a large amount of secrecy."
"Of course, if you are on the right track," I admitted, "everything is explained, and Delora is justified. There is just one thing which I do not understand, and that is why he should have associated with such a pack of thieves as the people at the Cafe des Deux Epingles, and why he should be forced to make an ally--I had almost said accomplice--of Louis."
"Well, you can't understand everything all at once," Ralph answered. "At the same time, if I were you, I would try and see if the hint I have given you fits in with the rest of the puzzle."
"I'll get the truth out of Delora to-night!" I declared. "And, Ralph!"
"Well?" he asked.
"I have asked Felicia Delora to marry me," I continued.
Ralph looked at me for a moment, doubtfully.
"Wouldn't it have been better to have had this matter cleared up first?" he asked.
"I couldn't help it," I answered. "The child is all alone, and it makes my heart ache to think what a poor little pawn she is in the game these men are playing. I'd like to take her right away from it, Ralph, but she is staunch. She fancies that she is indebted to her uncle, and she will obey his orders."
"You can't think any the worse of her for that," Ralph remarked.
"I don't," I answered, sighing, "but it makes the position a little difficult."
"Come and see me to-morrow morning," Ralph said, "and tell me exactly what passes between you and Delora. We must cable Dicky some time soon."
"I will," I promised, taking up my hat. "Good-day, Ralph!"
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