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AN ABORTIVE ATTEMPT
Immediately I arrived at my brother's hotel I rang up the hall-porter of the Milan and informed him of my whereabouts. Afterwards Ralph and I between us concocted a cable to Dicky, for which I was thankful that I had not to pay. I had now taken Ralph into my entire confidence, and I found that he took very much the same view of Delora's behavior as I did. This is what we said,--
Have seen Delora. Behavior very mysterious. Is living apart from niece in secrecy. Seen several times with Chinese ambassador. Offered me large bribe refrain cabling you till Thursday. Fear something wrong.
"Do you think that you could give me a bed here to-night, Ralph?" I asked.
"By all means, old fellow," my brother answered. "To tell you the truth, I think you are better here than at the Milan. You can have the rooms you had the other night."
I had had a tiring day, and I dropped off to sleep almost as soon as my head touched the pillow. I was awakened by the sound of the telephone bell close to my head. I had no idea as to the time, but from the silence everywhere I judged that I had been asleep for several hours. I took up the receiver and held it to my ear.
"Hullo!" I exclaimed.
"Is that Captain Rotherby?" a familiar voice asked.
"Yes!" I said. "That's Ashley, isn't it?"
"Yes, sir!" the man answered. "I am on night duty here. Will you excuse my asking you, sir, if you have lent your room to any one?"
"Certainly not!" I replied. "Why?"
"It's a very odd thing, sir," he continued. "A person arrived here with a small bag a little time ago and presented your card,--said that you had given him permission to sleep in your room. I let him go up, but I didn't feel altogether comfortable about it, so I took the liberty of ringing up Claridge's to see if you were there. I thought that as you were here this evening, you would have told us if you had proposed lending it."
"You are quite right, Ashley," I declared. "I have lent the room to no one. You had better go and see who it is at once. Shall I come round?"
"I will ring you up again, sir," the man answered, "as soon as I have been upstairs."
"By the bye," I asked, "he didn't look like a Frenchman, did he?"
"I could not say so," Ashley replied. "I will ring you up in a few minutes. I shall go up and inquire into this myself."
I sat on the edge of the bed, waiting. In less than ten minutes the telephone bell rang again. Once more I heard Ashley's voice.
"I am ringing up from your sitting-room, sir," he said. "There is no one here at all, but the room has been opened. So far as I can see, nothing has been taken, but a bottle of chloroform has been dropped and broken upon the floor in your bedroom, and I have a strong idea that some one left the room by the other door as I entered the sitting-room."
"I'll come along at once, Ashley," I said,--"that is, as soon as I can get dressed."
"I was wondering, sir," was the quiet reply, "whether I would advise you to do so. I did not like the look of the man who came, and I am afraid he was not up to any good here. He is somewhere in the hotel now."
"You say that nothing has been disturbed?" I asked.
"Nothing at all, sir. It wasn't for robbery he came!"
"I think I can guess what he wanted, Ashley," said I. "Perhaps you are right. I won't come round till the morning."
"If anything fresh happens, sir, I will let you know," the man said. "Good night, sir!"
"Good night, Ashley!" I answered.
I got back into bed, but I did not immediately fall off to sleep again. There was no doubt at all that my visitor had come at the instigation of Delora, and that his object had been to prevent my sending that cable, which was already on its way. I got up and saw that my door was securely fastened. I am ashamed to confess that at that moment I felt a tremor of fear! I no longer had the slightest doubt that Delora, if not an impostor, was engaged in some great criminal operation. And Felicia! I thought of the matter in every way. It was impossible that Delora could be an impostor pure and simple. Felicia was content to travel with him. She knew him for her uncle. He must be her uncle, unless she herself had deceived me! I felt my blood run cold at the thought. I flung it from me. I would have no more of it. Felicia, at least, was above suspicion! Delora had, perhaps, been led into this enterprise, whatever it might be, by Louis and his friends. At any rate, the morrow was likely to clear things up. I was the more convinced of that when I remembered that it was one day's grace only that Delora had begged of me. I went off to sleep again soon, and only woke when my brother's servant called me for my bath. At half-past ten, after a consultation with my brother, I drove to the Brazilian Embassy. I sent in my card, and asked to see Mr. Lamartine. He came to me in a few minutes.
"Captain Rotherby!" he exclaimed, holding out his hand. "You have some news?"
"I am not sure whether you will call it news," I answered. "I came to see you about this man Delora."
"Sit down," Lamartine said. "I only wish that you had given me all your confidence the other day."
"To tell you the truth, I am not sure whether I have any to give now," I answered. "There are just one or two facts which seem to me so peculiar that I decided to look you up."
"I am very glad indeed to see you, Captain Rotherby," Lamartine said. "Something is happening in connection with this person which I am afraid may lead to very serious trouble. I know now more than I did when I hung around you and Miss Delora at Charing Cross Station, and in the course of the day I hope to know more."
"I should have washed my hands of the whole affair," I told him, "before now, but from the fact that I have received a cable from my brother, who is in Rio, concerning these very people. He had first of all, in a letter, asked me to be civil and to look them up. His cable begged me, on behalf of an elder brother out there, to look after Delora, find out what he was doing, and report. I gathered that he was over here on some special mission as to the progress of which he should have made reports to his brother in Brazil. He has not done so, nor has he used the private code agreed upon between those two."
"This is very interesting," Lamartine said,--"very interesting indeed!"
"I came to you," I said, "because, since the receipt of this cable, I have convinced myself that Delora is engaged in some sort of underground work the crisis of which must be very close at hand. I found him last night in a miserable, deserted sort of building down near the river in Bermondsey. He offered me ten thousand pounds not to reply to his brother's cable, I think that he would have done his best to have detained me there but for the fact that I had taken precautions before I started."
"Have you any idea," Lamartine asked, "what the nature of this underground business is?"
"I cannot imagine," I answered. "In some way it seems to me that it is connected with the Chinese ambassador, because I have seen them several times together. That, however, is only surmise. I can give you one more piece of information," I added, "and that is that the Chinese ambassador and Delora have recently visited Newcastle."
"I know everything except one thing," he said, "and that we shall both of us know before the day is out. Our friend Delora has played a great game. Even now I cannot tell you whether he has played to win or to lose. Since you have been so kind as to look me up, Captain Rotherby," he went on, "let us spend a little time together. Do me, for instance, the honor to lunch with me at the Milan at one o'clock."
"With Louis?" I asked grimly.
"I do not think that Louis will hurt us," Lamartine answered. "There is just a chance, even, that we may not find him on duty to-day."
"I will lunch with you with pleasure," I said, "but there is one thing which I must do first."
Lamartine looked at me narrowly.
"You want to see Miss Delora?" he asked.
It was foolish to be offended. I admitted the fact.
"Well," he said, "it is natural. Miss Delora is a very charming young lady, and, so far as I know, she believes in her uncle. At the same time, I am not sure, Captain Rotherby, that the neighborhood of the Milan is very safe for you just now."
"At this hour of the morning," I said, "one should be able to protect one's self."
"It is true," Lamartine answered. "Tell me, Captain Rotherby, at what hour did you send that cable last night?"
"At midnight," I answered.
Lamartine glanced at the clock.
"Soon," he said, "we shall have an official cable here, and then things will be interesting. Shall we meet, then, at the Milan?"
"Precisely," I answered. "You don't feel inclined," I added, "to be a little more candid with me? My head has ached for a good many days over this business."
"A few hours longer won't hurt you," Lamartine answered, laughing. "I can promise you that it will be worth waiting for."
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