Chapter IX. A Packet of Cigarettes




Following their dismissal by Chief Inspector Kerry, Seton and Gray walked around to the latter's chambers in Piccadilly. They proceeded in silence, Gray too angry for speech, and Seton busy with reflections. As the man admitted them:

"Has anyone 'phoned, Willis?" asked Gray.

"No one, sir."

They entered a large room which combined the characteristics of a library with those of a military gymnasium. Gray went to a side table and mixed drinks. Placing a glass before Seton, he emptied his own at a draught.

"If you'll excuse me for a moment," he said, "I should like to ring up and see if by any possible chance there's news of Rita."

He walked out to the telephone, and Seton heard him making a call. Then:

"Hullo! Is that you, Hinkes?" he asked. . . . "Yes, speaking. Is Mrs. Irvin at home?"

A few moments of silence followed, and:

"Thanks! Good-bye," said Gray.

He rejoined his friend.

"Nothing," he reported, and made a gesture of angry resignation. "Evidently Hinkes is still unaware of what has happened. Irvin hasn't returned yet. Seton, this business is driving me mad."

He refilled his glass, and having looked in his cigarette-case, began to ransack a small cupboard.

"Damn it all!" he exclaimed. "I haven't got a cigarette in the place!"

"I don't smoke them myself," said Seton, "but I can offer you a cheroot."

"Thanks. They are a trifle too strong. Hullo! here are some."

From the back of a shelf he produced a small, plain brown packet, and took out of it a cigarette at which he stared oddly. Seton, smoking one of the inevitable cheroots, watched him, tapping his teeth with the rim of his eyeglass.

"Poor old Pyne!" muttered Gray, and, looking up, met the inquiring glance. "Pyne left these here only the other day," he explained awkwardly. "I don't know where he got them, but they are something very special. I suppose I might as well."

He lighted one, and, uttering a weary sigh, threw himself into a deep leather-covered arm-chair. Almost immediately he was up again. The telephone bell had rung. His eyes alight with hope, he ran out, leaving the door open so that his conversation was again audible to the visitor.

"Yes, yes, speaking. What?" His tone changed "Oh, it's you, Margaret. What? . . . Certainly, delighted. No, there's nobody here but old Seton Pasha. What? You've heard the fellows talk about him who were out East. . . . Yes, that's the chap. . . . Come right along."

"You don't propose to lionise me, I hope, Gray?" said Seton, as Gray returned to his seat.

The other laughed.

"I forgot you could hear me," he admitted. "It's my cousin, Margaret Halley. You'll like her. She's a tip-top girl, but eccentric. Goes in for pilling."

"Pilling?" inquired Seton gravely.

"Doctoring. She's an M.R.C.S., and only about twenty-four or so. Fearfully clever kid; makes me feel an infant."

"Flat heels, spectacles, and a judicial manner?"

"Flat heels, yes. But not the other. She's awfully pretty, and used to look simply terrific in khaki. She was an M.O. in Serbia, you know, and afterwards at some nurses' hospital in Kent. She's started in practice for herself now round in Dover Street. I wonder what she wants."

Silence fell between them; for, although prompted by different reasons, both were undesirous of discussing the tragedy; and this silence prevailed until the ringing of the doorbell announced the arrival of the girl. Willis opening the door, she entered composedly, and Gray introduced Seton.

"I am so glad to have met you at last, Mr. Seton," she said laughingly. "From Quentin's many accounts I had formed the opinion that you were a kind of Arabian Nights myth."

"I am glad to disappoint you," replied Seton, finding something very refreshing in the company of this pretty girl, who wore a creased Burberry, and stray locks of whose abundant bright hair floated about her face in the most careless fashion imaginable.

She turned to her cousin, frowning in a rather puzzled way.

"Whatever have you been burning here?" she asked. "There is such a curious smell in the room."

Gray laughed more heartily than he had laughed that night, glancing in Seton's direction.

"So much for your taste in cigars!" he cried

"Oh!" said Margaret, "I'm sure it's not Mr. Seton's cigar. It isn't a smell of tobacco."

"I don't believe they're made of tobacco!" cried Gray, laughing louder yet, although his merriment was forced.

Seton smiled good-naturedly at the joke, but he had perceived at the moment of Margaret's entrance the fact that her gaiety also was assumed. Serious business had dictated her visit, and he wondered the more to note how deeply this odor, real or fancied, seemed to intrigue her.

She sat down in the chair which Gray placed by the fireside, and her cousin unceremoniously slid the grown packet of cigarettes across the little table in her direction.

"Try one of these, Margaret," he said. "They are great, and will quite drown the unpleasant odor of which you complain."

Whereupon the observant Seton saw a quick change take place in the girl's expression. She had the same clear coloring as her cousin, and now this freshness deserted her cheeks, and her pretty face became quite pale. She was staring at the brown packet. "Where did you get them?" she asked quietly.

A smile faded from Gray's lips. Those five words had translated him in spirit to that green-draped room in which Sir Lucien Pyne was lying dead. He glanced at Seton in the appealing way which sometimes made him appear so boyish.

"Er--from Pyne," he replied. "I must tell you, Margaret--"

"Sir Lucien Pyne?" she interrupted.

"Yes."

"Not from Rita Irvin?"

Quentin Gray started upright in his chair.

"No! But why do you mention her?"

Margaret bit her lip in sudden perplexity.

"Oh, I don't know." She glanced apologetically toward Seton. He rose immediately.

"My dear Miss Halley," he said, "I perceive, indeed I had perceived all along, that you have something of a private nature to communicate to your cousin."

But Gray stood up, and:

"Seton! . . . Margaret!" he said, looking from one to the other. "I mean to say, Margaret, if you've anything to tell me about Rita . . . Have you? Have you?"

He fixed his gaze eagerly upon her.

"I have--yes."

Seton prepared to take his leave, but Gray impetuously thrust him back, immediately turning again to his cousin.

"Perhaps you haven't heard, Margaret," he began. "I have heard what has happened tonight--to Sir Lucien."

Both men stared at her silently for a moment.

"Seton has been with me all the time," said Gray. "If he will consent to stay, with your permission, Margaret, I should like him to do so."

"Why, certainly," agreed the girl. "In fact, I shall be glad of his advice."

Seton inclined his head, and without another word resumed his seat. Gray was too excited to sit down again. He stood on the tiger-skin rug before the fender, watching his cousin and smoking furiously.

"Firstly, then," continued Margaret, "please throw that cigarette in the fire, Quentin."

Gray removed the cigarette from between his lips, and stared at it dazedly. He looked at the girl, and the clear grey eyes were watching him with an inscrutable expression.

"Right-o!" he said awkwardly, and tossed the cigarette in the fire. "You used to smoke like a furnace, Margaret. Is this some new 'cult'?"

"I still smoke a great deal more than is good for me," she confessed, "but I don't smoke opium."

The effect of these words upon the two men who listened was curious. Gray turned an angry glance upon the brown packet lying on the table, and "Faugh!" he exclaimed, and drawing a handkerchief from his sleeve began disgustedly to wipe his lips. Seton stared hard at the speaker, tossed his cheroot into the fire, and taking up the packet withdrew a cigarette and sniffed at it critically. Margaret watched him.

He tore the wrapping off, and tasted a strand of the tobacco.

"Good heavens!" he whispered. "Gray, these things are doped!"



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