Peter Ruff and the Double Four by E. Phillips Oppenheim
Chapter X. Wonderful John Dory
The woman who had been Peter Ruff's first love had fallen upon evil days. Her prettiness was on the wane - powder and rouge, late hours, and excesses of many kinds, had played havoc with it, even in these few months. Her clothes were showy but cheap. Her boots themselves, unclean and down at heel, told the story. She stood upon the threshold of Peter Ruff's office, and looked half defiantly, half doubtfully at Violet, who was its sole occupant.
"Can I do anything for you?" the latter asked, noticing the woman's hesitation.
"I want to see Mr. Ruff," the visitor said.
"Mr. Ruff is out at present," Violet answered.
"When will he be in?"
"I cannot tell you," Violet said. "Perhaps you had better leave a message. Or will you call again? Mr. Ruff is very uncertain in his movements."
Maud sank into a chair.
"I'll wait," she declared.
"I am not sure," Violet remarked, raising her eyebrows, "whether that will be convenient. There may be other clients in. Mr. Ruff himself may not be back for several hours."
"Are you his secretary?" Maud asked, without moving.
"I am his secretary and also his wife," Violet declared. The woman raised herself a little in her chair.
"Some people have all the luck," she muttered. "It's only a few months ago that Mr. Ruff was glad enough to take me out. You remember when I used to come here?"
"I remember," Violet assented.
"I was all right then," the woman continued, "and now - now I'm down and out," she added, with a little sob. "You see what I am like. You look as though you didn't care to have me in the office, and I don't wonder at it. You look as though you were
afraid I'd come to beg, and you are right - I have come to beg."
"I am sure Mr. Ruff will do what he can for you," Violet said, "although - "
"I see you know all about it," Maud interrupted, with a hard little laugh. "I came once to wheedle information out of him. I came to try and betray the only man who ever really cared for me. Mr. Ruff was too clever, and I am thankful for it. I have been as big a fool as a woman can be, but I am paying - oh, I am paying for it right enough!"
She swayed in her chair, and Violet was only just in time to catch her. She led the fainting woman to an inner room, made her comfortable upon a sofa, and sent out for some food and a bottle of wine. Down in the street below, John Dory, who had tracked his wife to the building, was walking away with face as black as night. He knew that Maud had lost her position, that she was in need of money - almost penniless. He had waited to see to whom she would turn, hoping - poor fool as he called himself - that she would come back to him. And it was his enemy to whom she had gone! He had seen her enter the building; he knew that she had not left it. In the morning they brought him another report - she was still within. It was the end, this, he told himself! There must be a settlement between him and Peter Ruff!
Mr. John Dory, who had arrived at Clenarvon Court in a four-wheel cab from the nearest railway station, was ushered by the butler to the door of one of the rooms on the ground floor, overlooking the Park. A policeman was there on guard - a policeman by his attitude and salute, although he was in plain clothes. John Dory nodded, and turned to the butler.
"You see, the man knows me," he said. "Here is my card. I am John Dory from Scotland Yard. I want to have a few words with the sergeant."
The butler hesitated.
"Our orders are very strict, sir," he said. "I am afraid that I cannot allow you to enter the room without a special permit from his lordship. You see, we have had no advice of your coming."
John Dory nodded.
"Quite right," he answered." If every one were to obey his orders as literally, there would be fewer robberies. However, you see that this man recognizes me."
The butler turned toward an elderly gentleman in a pink coat and riding-breeches, who had just descended into the hall.
"His lordship is here," he said. "He will give you permission, without a doubt. There is a gentleman from Scotland Yard, your lordship," he explained, "who wishes to enter the morning-room to speak with the sergeant."
"Inspector John Dory, at your lordship's service," saluting. "I have been sent down from town to help in this little business."
Lord Clenarvon smiled.
"I should have thought that, under the circumstances," he said, "two of you would have been enough. Still, it is not for me to complain. Pray go in and speak to the sergeant. You will find him inside. Rather dull work for him, I'm afraid, and quite unnecessary."
"I am not so sure, your lordship," Dory answered. "The Clenarvon diamonds are known all over the world, and I suppose there isn't a thieves' den in Europe that does not know that they will remain here exposed with your daughter's other wedding presents."
Lord Clenarvon smiled once more and shrugged his shoulders. He was a man who had unbounded faith in his fellow-creatures.
"I suppose," he said, "it is the penalty one has to pay for historical possessions. Go in and talk to the sergeant, by all means, Mr. Dory. I hope that Graves will succeed in making you comfortable during your stay here."
John Dory was accordingly admitted into the room which was so jealously guarded. At first sight, it possessed a somewhat singular appearance. The windows had every one of them been boarded up, and the electric lights consequently fully turned on. A long table stood in the middle of the apartment, serving as support for a long glass showcase, open at the top. Within this, from end to end, stretched the presents which a large circle of acquaintances were presenting to one of the most popular young women in society, on the occasion of her approaching marriage to the Duke of Rochester. In the middle, the wonderful Clenarvon diamonds, set in the form of a tiara, flashed strange lights into the somberly lit apartment. At the end of the table a police sergeant was sitting, with a little pile of newspapers and illustrated journals before him. He rose to his feet with alacrity at his superior's entrance.
"Good morning, Saunders," John Dory said. "I see you've got it pretty snug in here."
"Pretty well, thank you, sir," Saunders answered. "Is there anything stirring?"
John Dory looked behind to be sure that the door was closed. Then he stopped for a moment to gaze at the wonderful diamonds, and finally sat on the table by his subordinate's side.
"Not exactly that, Saunders," he said. "To tell you the truth, I came down here because of that list of guests you sent me up."
"I think I can guess the name you singled out, sir," he said.
"It was Peter Ruff, of course," Dory said. "What is he doing here in the house, under his own name, and as a guest?"
"I have asked no questions, sir," Saunders answered. "I underlined the name in case it might seem worth your while to make inquiries."
John Dory nodded.
"Nothing has happened, of course?" he asked.
"Nothing," Saunders answered. "You see, with the windows all boarded up, there is practically only the ordinary door to guard, so we feel fairly secure."
"No one hanging about?" the detective asked. "Mr. Ruff himself, for instance, hasn't been trying to make your acquaintance?"
"No sign of it, sir," the man answered. "I saw him pass through the hall yesterday afternoon, as I went off duty, and he was in riding clothes all splashed with mud. I think he has been hunting every day."
John Dory muttered something between his lips, and turned on his heel.
"How many men have you here, Saunders?" he asked.
"Only two, sir, beside myself," the man replied.
The detective went round the boarded windows, examining the work carefully until he reached the door.
"I am going to see if I can have a word with his lordship," he said.
He caught Lord Clenarvon in the act of mounting his horse in the great courtyard.
"What is it, Mr. Dory?" the Earl asked, stooping down.
"There is one name, your lordship, among your list of guests, concerning which I wish to have a word with you," the detective said - "the name of Mr. Peter Ruff."
"Don't know anything about him," Lord Clenarvon answered, cheerfully. "You must see my daughter, Lady Mary. It was she who sent him his invitation. Seems a decent little fellow, and rides as well as the best. you'll find Lady Mary about somewhere, if you'd like to ask her.
Lord Clenarvon hurried off, with a little farewell wave of his crop, and John Dory returned into the house to make inquiries respecting Lady Mary. In a very few minutes he was shown into her presence. She smiled at him cheerfully.
"Another detective!" she exclaimed. "I am sure I ought to feel quite safe now. What can I do for you, Mr. Dory?"
"I have had a list of the guests sent to me," Dory answered, "in which I notice the name of Mr. Peter Ruff."
Lady Mary nodded.
"Well?" she asked.
"I have just spoken to his lordship," the detective continued, "and he referred me to you."
"Do you want to know all about Mr. Ruff?" Lady Mary asked, smiling.
"If your ladyship will pardon my saying so, I think that neither you nor any one else could tell me that. What I wished to say was that I understood that we at Scotland Yard were placed in charge of your jewels until after the wedding. Mr. Peter Ruff is, as you may be aware, a private detective himself."
"I understand perfectly," Lady Mary said. "I can assure you, Mr. Dory, that Mr. Ruff is here entirely as a personal and very valued friend of my own. On two occasions he has rendered very signal service to my family - services which I am quite unable to requite."
"In that case, your ladyship, there is nothing more to be said. I conceive it, however, to be my duty to tell you that in our opinion - the opinion of Scotland Yard- there are things about the career of Mr. Peter Ruff which need explanation. He is a person whom we seldom let altogether out of our sight."
Lady Mary laughed frankly.
"My dear Mr. Dory," she said, "this is one of the cases, then, in which I can assure you that I know more than Scotland Yard. There is no person in the world in whom I have more confidence, and with more reason, than Mr. Peter Ruff."
John Dory bowed.
"I thank your ladyship," he said. "I trust that your confidence will never be misplaced. May I ask one more question?"
"Certainly," Lady Mary replied, "so long as you make no insinuations whatever against my friend."
"I should be very sorry to do so," John Dory declared. "I simply wish to know whether Mr. Ruff has any instructions from you with reference to the care of your jewels?"
"Certainly not," Lady Mary replied, decidedly. "Mr. Ruff is here entirely as my guest. He has been in the room with the rest of us, to look at them, and it was he, by the bye, who discovered a much more satisfactory way of boarding the windows. Anything else, Mr. Dory?"
"I thank your ladyship, nothing!" the detective answered. "With your permission, I propose to remain here until after the ceremony."
"Just as you like, of course," Lady Mary said. "I hope you will be comfortable."
John Dory bowed, and returned to confer with his sergeant. Afterwards, finding the morning still fine, he took his hat and went for a walk in the park.
As a matter of fact, this, in some respects the most remarkable of the adventures which had ever befallen Mr. Peter Ruff, came to him by accident. Lady Mary had read the announcement of his marriage in the paper, had driven at once to his office with a magnificent present, and insisted upon his coming with his wife to the party which was assembling at Clenarvon Court in honor of her own approaching wedding. Peter Ruff had taken few holidays of late years, and for several days had thoroughly enjoyed himself. The matter of the Clenarvon jewels he considered, perhaps, with a slight professional interest; but so far as he could see, the precautions for guarding them were so adequate that the subject did not remain in his memory. He had, however, a very distinct and disagreeable shock when, on the night of John Dory's appearance, he recognized among a few newly-arrived guests the Marquis de Sogrange. He took the opportunity, as soon as possible, of withdrawing his wife from a little circle among whom they had been talking, to a more retired corner of the room. She saw at once that something had happened to disturb him.
"Violet," he said, "don't look behind now - "
"I recognized him at once," she interrupted. "It is the Marquis de Sogrange."
Peter Ruff nodded.
"It will be best for you," he said, "not to notice him. Of course, his presence here may be accidental. He has a perfect right to enter any society he chooses. At the same time, I am uneasy."'
She understood in a moment.
"The Clenarvon diamonds!" she whispered. He nodded.
"It is just the sort of affair which would appeal to the 'Double-Four,' " he said. "They are worth anything up to a quarter of a million, and it is an enterprise which could scarcely be attempted except by some one in a peculiar position. Violet, if I were not sure that he had seen me, I should leave the house this minute."
"Why?" she asked, wonderingly.
"Don't you understand," Peter Ruff continued, softly, "that I myself am still what they call a corresponding member of the 'Double-Four,' and they have a right to appeal to me for help in this country, as I have a right to appeal to them for help or information in France? We have both made use of one another, to some extent. No doubt, if the Marquis has any scheme in his mind, he would look upon me as a valuable ally."
She turned slowly pale.
"Peter," she said, "you wouldn't dream - you wouldn't dare to be so foolish?"
He shook his head firmly.
"My dear girl," he said, "we talked that all out long ago. A few years since, I felt that I had been treated badly, that I was an alien, and that the hand of the law was against me. I talked wildly then, perhaps. When I put up my sign and sat down for clients, I meant to cheat the law, if I could. Things have changed, Violet. I want nothing of that sort. I have kept my hands clean and I mean to do so. Why, years ago," he continued, "when I was feeling at my wildest, these very jewels were within my grasp one foggy night, and I never touched them."
"What would happen if you refused to help?"
"I do not know," Peter Ruff answered. "The conditions are a little severe. But, after all, there are no hard and fast rules. It rests with the Marquis himself to shrug his shoulders and appreciate my position. Perhaps he may not even exchange a word with me. Here is Lord Sotherst coming to talk to you, and Captain Hamilton is waiting for me to tell him an address. Remember, don't recognize Sogrange."
Dinner that night was an unusually cheerful meal. Peter Ruff, who was an excellent raconteur, told many stories. The Marquis de Sogrange was perhaps the next successful in his efforts to entertain his neighbors. Violet found him upon her left hand, and although he showed not the slightest signs of having ever seen her before, they were very soon excellent friends. After dinner, Sogrange and Peter Ruff drifted together on their way to the billiard-room. Sogrange, however, continued to talk courteously of trifles until, having decided to watch the first game, they found themselves alone on the leather divan surrounding the room.
"This is an unexpected pleasure, my friend," Sogrange said, watching the ash of his cigar. "Professional?"
Peter Ruff shook his head. "Not in the least," he answered. "I have had the good fortune to render Lady Mary and her brother, at different times, services which they are pleased to value highly. We are here as ordinary guests - my wife and I." The Marquis sighed.
"Ah, that wife of yours, Ruff " he said. "She is charming, I admit, and you are a lucky man; but it was a price - a very great price to pay."
" You, perhaps, are ambitious, Marquis," Peter Ruff answered. "I have not done so badly. A little contents me."
Sogrange looked at him as though he were some strange creature.
"I see!" he murmured. "I see! With you, of course, the commercial side comes uppermost. Mr. Ruff, what do you suppose the income from my estate amounts to?" Peter Ruff shook his head. He did not even know that the Marquis was possessed of estates!
"Somewhere about seven millions of francs," Sogrange declared. "There are few men in Paris more extravagant than I, and I think that we Frenchmen know what extravagance means. But I cannot spend my income. Do you think that it is for the sake of gain that I have come across the Channel to add the Clenarvon diamonds to our coffers?"
Peter Ruff sat very still.
"You mean that?" he said.
"Of course!" Sogrange answered. "Didn't you realize it directly you saw me? What is there, do you think, in a dull English house-party to attract a man like myself? Don't you understand that it is the gambler's instinct - the restless desire to be playing pitch-and-toss with fate, with honor, with life and death, if you will - that brings such as myself into the ranks of the 'Double-Four'? It is the weariness which kills, Peter Ruff. One must needs keep it from one's bones."
"Marquis," Peter Ruff answered, "I do not profess to understand you. I am not weary of life, in fact I love it. I am looking forward to the years when I have enough money - and it seems as though that time is not far off - when I can buy a little place in the country, and hunt a little and shoot a little, and live a simple out-of-door life. You see, Marquis, we are as far removed as the poles."
"Obviously!" Sogrange answered.
"Your confidence," Peter Ruff continued, "the confidence with which you have honored me, inspires me to make you one request. I am here, indeed, as a friend of the family. You will not ask me to help in any designs you may have against the Clenarvon jewels?"
Sogrange leaned back in his chair and laughed softly. His lips, when they parted from his white teeth, resolved themselves into lines which at that moment seemed to Peter Ruff more menacing than mirthful. Sogrange was, in many ways, a man of remarkable appearance.
"Oh, Peter Ruff," he said, "you are a bourgeois little person! You should have been the burgomaster in a little German town, or a French mayor with a chain about your neck. We will see. I make no promises. All that I insist upon, for the present, is that you do not leave this house-party without advising me - that is to say, if you are really looking forward to that pleasant life in the country, where you will hunt a little and shoot a little, and grow into the likeness of a vegetable. You, with your charming wife! Peter Ruff, you should be ashamed to talk like that! Come, I must play bridge with the Countess. I am engaged for a table."
The two men parted. Peter Ruff was uneasy. On his way from the room, Lord Sotherst insisted upon his joining a pool.
"Charming fellow, Sogrange," the latter remarked, as he chalked his cue. "He has been a great friend of the governor's - he and his father before him. Our families have intermarried once or twice."
"He seems very agreeable," Peter Ruff answered, devoting himself to the game.
The following night, being the last but one before the wedding itself, a large dinner-party had been arranged for, and the resources of even so princely a mansion as Clenarvon Court were strained to their utmost by the entertainment of something like one hundred guests in the great banqueting-hall. The meal was about half-way through when those who were not too entirely engrossed in conversation were startled by hearing a dull, rumbling sound, like the moving of a number of pieces of heavy furniture. People looked doubtfully at one another. Peter Ruff and the Marquis de Sogrange were among the first to spring to their feet.
"it's an explosion somewhere," the latter cried. "Sounds close at hand, too."
They made their way out into the hall. Exactly opposite now was the room in which the wedding presents had been placed, and where for days nothing had been seen but a closed door and a man on duty outside. The door now stood wide open, and in place of the single electric light which was left burning through the evening, the place seemed almost aflame.
Ruff, Sogrange and Lord Sotherst were the first three to cross the threshold. They were met by a rush of cold wind. Opposite to them, two of the windows, with their boardings, had been blown away. Sergeant Saunders was still sitting in his usual place at the end of the table, his head bent upon his folded arms. The man who had been on duty outside was standing over him, white with horror. Far away in the distance, down the park, one could faintly hear the throbbing of an engine, and Peter Ruff, through the chasm, saw the lights of a great motor-car flashing in and out amongst the trees. The room itself - the whole glittering array of presents - seemed untouched. Only the great center-piece - the Clenarvon diamonds - had gone. Even as they stood there, the rest of the guests crowding into the open door, John Dory tore through, his face white with excitement. Peter Ruff's calm voice penetrated the din of tongues.
"Lord Sotherst," he said, "you have telephones in the keepers' lodges. There is a motor-car being driven southwards at full speed. Telephone down, and have your gates secured. Dory, I should keep every one out of the room. Some one must telephone for a doctor. I suppose your man has been hurt."
The guests were wild with curiosity, but Lord Clenarvon, with an
insistent gesture, led the way back to the diningroom.
"Whatever has happened," he said, "the people who are in charge there know best how to deal with the situation. There is a detective from Scotland Yard and his subordinates, and a gentleman in whom I also have most implicit confidence. We will resume our dinner, if you please, ladies and gentlemen."
Unwillingly, the people were led away. John Dory was already in his great-coat, ready to spring into the powerful motor-car which had been ordered out from the garage. A doctor, who had been among the guests, was examining the man Saunders, who sat in that still, unnatural position at the head of the table.
"The poor fellow has been shot in the back of the head with some peculiar implement," he said. "The bullet is very long - almost like a needle - and it seems to have penetrated very nearly to the base of the brain."
"Is he dead?" Peter Ruff asked.
The doctor shook his head.
"No!" he answered. "An inch higher up and he must have died at once. I want some of the men-servants to help me carry him to a bedroom, and plenty of hot water. Some one else must go for my instrument case."
Lord Sotherst took these things in charge, and John Dory turned to the man whom they had found standing over him.
"Tell us exactly what happened," he said, briefly.
"I was standing outside the door," the man answered. "I heard no sound inside - there was nothing to excite suspicion in any way. Suddenly there was this explosion. It took me, perhaps, thirty or forty seconds to get the key out of my pocket and unlock the door. When I entered, the side of the room was blown in like that, the diamonds were gone, Saunders was leaning forward just in the position he is in now, and there wasn't another soul in sight. Then you and the others came."
John Dory rushed from the room; they had brought him word that the car was waiting. At such a moment, he was ready even to forget his ancient enmity. He turned towards Peter Ruff, whose calm bearing somehow or other impressed even the detective with a sense of power.
"Will you come along?" he asked.
Peter Ruff shook his head.
"Thank you, Dory, no!" he said. "I am glad you have asked me, but I think you had better go alone."
A few seconds later, the pursuit was started. Saunders was carried out of the room, followed by the doctor. There remained only Peter Ruff and the man who had been on duty outside. Peter Ruff seated himself where Saunders had been sitting, and seemed to be closely examining the table all round for some moments. Once he took up something from between the pages of the book which the Sergeant had apparently been reading, and put it carefully into his own pocketbook. Then he leaned back in the chair, with his hands clasped behind his head and his eyes fixed upon the ceiling, as though thinking intently.
"Hastings," he said to the policeman, who all the time was pursuing a stream of garrulous, inconsequent remarks, "I wonder whether you'd step outside and see Mr. Richards, the butler. Ask him if he would be so good as to spare me a moment."
"I'll do it, sir," the man answered, with one more glance through the open space. "Lord!" he added, "they must have been in through there and out again like cats!"
"It was quick work, certainly," Peter Ruff answered, genially, "but then, an enterprise like this would, of course, only be attempted by experts."
Peter Ruff was not left alone long. Mr. Richards came hurrying in.
"This is a terrible business, sir!" he said. "His lordship has excused me from superintending the service of the dinner. Anything that I can do for you I am to give my whole attention to. These were my orders."
"Very good of you, Richards," Peter Ruff answered, "very thoughtful of his lordship. In the first place, then, I think, we will have the rest of this jewelry packed in cases at once. Not that anything further is likely to happen," he continued, "but still, it would be just as well out of the way. I will remain here and superintend this, if you will send a couple of careful servants, In the meantime, I want you to do something else for me."
"Certainly, sir," the man answered.
"I want a plan of the house," Peter Ruff said, "with the names of the guests who occupy this wing."
The butler nodded gravely.
"I can supply you with it very shortly, sir," he said. "There is no difficulty at all about the plan, as I have several in my room; but it will take me some minutes to pencil in the names."
Peter Ruff nodded.
"I will superintend things here until you return," he said.
"It is to be hoped, sir," the man said, as he retreated, "that the gentleman from Scotland Yard will catch the thieves. After all, they had n't more than ten minutes' start, and our Daimler is a flyer."
"I'm sure I hope so," Peter Ruff answered, heartily.
But, alas! no such fortune was in store for Mr. John Dory. At daybreak he returned in a borrowed trap from a neighboring railway station.
"Our tires had been cut," he said, in reply to a storm of questions." They began to go, one after the other, as soon as we had any speed on. We traced the car to Salisbury, and there isn't a village within forty miles that isn't looking out for it."
Peter Ruff, who had just returned from an early morning walk, nodded sympathetically.
"Shall you be here all day, Mr. Dory?" he asked. "There's just a word or two I should like to have with you."
Dory turned away. He had forced himself, in the excitement of the moment, to speak to his ancient enemy, but in this hour of his humility the man's presence was distasteful to him.
"I am not sure," he said, shortly. "It depends on how things may turn out."
The daily life at Clenarvon Court proceeded exactly as usual. Breakfast was served early, as there was to be big day's shoot. The Marquis de Sogrange and Peter Ruff smoked their cigarettes together afterwards in the great hall. Then it was that Peter Ruff took the plunge.
"Marquis," he said, "I should like to know exactly how I stand with you - the 'Double-Four,' that is to say - supposing I range myself for an hour or so on the side of the law?"
"You amuse yourself, Mr. Ruff," he remarked genially.
"Not in the least," Peter Ruff answered. "I am serious."
Sogrange watched the blue cigarette smoke come down his nose.
"My dear friend," he said, "I am no amateur at this game. When I choose to play it, I am not afraid of Scotland Yard. I am not afraid," he concluded, with a little bow, "even of you!"
"Do you ever bet, Marquis?" Peter Ruff asked.
"Twenty-five thousand francs," Sogrange said, smiling, "that your efforts to aid Mr. John Dory are unavailing."
Peter Ruff entered the amount in his pocketbook. "It is a bargain," he declared. "Our bet, I presume, carries immunity for me?"
"By all means," Sogrange answered, with a little bow.
The Marquis beckoned to Lord Sotherst, who was crossing the hall.
"My dear fellow," he said, "do tell me the name of your hatter in London. Delions failed me at the last moment, and I have not a hat fit for the ceremony to-morrow."
"I'll lend you half-a-dozen, if you can wear them," Lord Sotherst answered, smiling." The governor's sure to have plenty, too."
Sogrange touched his head with a smile.
"Alas!" he said. "My head is small, even for a Frenchman's. Imagine me - otherwise, I trust, suitably attired - walking to the church to-morrow in a hat which came to my ears!"
Lord Sotherst laughed.
"Scotts will do you all right," he said. "You can telephone."
"I shall send my man up," Sogrange determined. "He can bring me back a selection. Tell me, at what hour is the first drive this morning, and are the places drawn yet?"
"Come into the gun-room and we'll see," Lord Sotherst answered.
Peter Ruff made his way to the back quarters of the house. In a little sitting-room he found the man he sought, sitting alone. Peter Ruff closed the door behind him.
"John Dory," he said, "I have come to have a few words with you."
The detective rose to his feet. He was in no pleasant mood. Though the telephone wires had been flashing their news every few minutes, it seemed, indeed, as though the car which they had chased had vanished into space.
"What do you want to say to me?" he asked gruffly.
"I want, if I can," Peter Ruff said earnestly, "to do you a service."
Dory's eyes glittered.
"I think," he said, "that I can do without your services."
"Don't be foolish," Peter Ruff said. "You are harboring a grievance against me which is purely an imaginary one. Now listen to the facts. You employ your wife - which after all, Dory, I think, was not quite the straight thing - to try and track down a young man named Spencer Fitzgerald, who was formerly, in a small way, a client of mine. I find your wife an agreeable companion - we become friends. Then I discover her object, and know that I am being fooled. The end of that little episode you remember. But tell me why should you bear me ill-will for defending my friend and myself?"
The detective came slowly up to Peter Ruff. He took hold of the lapel of the other's coat with his left hand, and his right hand was clenched. But Peter Ruff did not falter.
"Listen to me," said Dory. "I will tell you what grudge I bear against you. It was your entertainment of my wife which gave her the taste for luxury and for gadding about. Mind, I don't blame you for that altogether, but there the fact remains. She left me. She went on the stage."
"Stop!" Peter Ruff said. "You must still hold me blameless. She wrote to me. I went out with her once. The only advice I gave her was to return to you. So far as I am concerned, I have treated her with the respect that I would have shown my own sister."
"You lie!" Dory cried, fiercely. "A month ago, I saw her come to your fiat. I watched for hours. She did not leave it - she did not leave it all that night!"
"If you object to her visit," Peter Ruff said quietly, "it is my wife whom you must blame."
John Dory relaxed his hand and took a quick step backwards.
"Your wife?" he muttered.
"Exactly!" Peter Ruff answered. "Maud - Mrs. Dory - called to see me; she was ill - she had lost her situation - she was even, I believe, faint and hungry. I was not present. My wife talked to her and was sorry for her. While the two women were there together, your wife fainted. She was put to bed in our one spare room, and she has been shown every attention and care. Tell me, how long is it since you were at home?"
"Not for ten days," Dory answered, bitterly." Why?"
"Because when you go back, you will find your wife there," Peter Ruff answered. "She has given up the stage. Her one desire is to settle down and repay you for the trouble she has caused you. You needn't believe me unless you like. Ask my wife. She is here. She will tell you."
Dory was overcome. He went back to his seat by the window, and he buried his face for a moment in his hands.
"Ruff," he said, "I don't deserve this. I've had bad times lately, though. Everything has gone against me. I think I have been a bit careless, with the troubles at home and that."
"Stop!" Peter Ruff insisted. "Now I come to the immediate object of my visit to you. You have had some bad luck at headquarters. I know of it. I am going to help you to reinstate yourself brilliantly. With that, let us shake hands and bury all the soreness that there may be between us."
John Dory stared at his visitor.
"Do you mean this?" he asked.
"I do," answered Peter. "Please do not think that I mean to make any reflection upon your skill. It is just a chance that I was able to see what you were not able to see. In an hour's time, you shall restore the Clenarvon diamonds to Lord Clenarvon. You shall take the reward which he has just offered, of a thousand pounds. And I promise you that the manner in which you shall recover the jewels shall be such that you will be famous for a long time to come."
"You are a wonderful man!" said Dory, hoarsely. "Do you mean, then, that the jewels were not with those men in the motor-car?"
"Of course not!" Peter Ruff answered. "But come along. The story will develop."
At half-past ten that morning, a motor-car turned out from the garage at Clenarvon Court, and made its way down the avenue. In it was a single passenger - the dark-faced Parisian valet of the Marquis de Sogrange. As the car left the avenue and struck into the main road, it was hailed by Peter Ruff and John Dory, who were walking together along the lane.
"Say, my man," Peter Ruff said, addressing the chauffeur, "are you going to the station?"
"Yes, sir!" the man answered. "I am taking down the Marquis de Sogrange's servant to catch the eleven o'clock train to town."
"You don't mind giving us a lift?" Peter Ruff asked, already opening the door.
"Certainly not, sir," the man answered, touching his hat.
Peter Ruff and John Dory stepped into the tonneau of the car. The man civilly lifted the hatbox from the seat, and made room for his enforced companions. Nevertheless, it was easy to see that he was not pleased.
"There's plenty of room here for three," Peter Ruff said, cheerfully, as they sat on either side of him. "Drive slowly, please, chauffeur. Now, Mr. Lemprise," Peter Ruff added, " we will trouble you to change places."
"What do you mean?" the man called out, suddenly pale as death.
He was held as though in a vice. John Dory's arm was through his on one side, and Peter Ruff's on the other. Apart from that, the muzzle of a revolver was pressed to his forehead.
"On second thoughts," Peter Ruff said, "I think we will keep you like this. Driver," he called out, "please return to the Court at once."
The man hesitated.
"You recognize the gentleman who is with me?" Peter Ruff said. "He is the detective from Scotland Yard. I have full authority from Lord Clenarvon over all his servants. Please do as I say."
The man hesitated no more. The car was backed and turned, the Frenchman struggling all the way like a wild cat. Once he tried to kick the hatbox into the road, but John Dory was too quick for him. So they drove up to the front door of the Court, to be welcomed with cries of astonishment from the whole of the shooting party, who were just starting. Foremost among them was Sogrange. They crowded around the car. Peter Ruff touched the hatbox with his foot.
"If we could trouble your Lordship," he said, "to open that hatbox, you will find something that will interest you. Mr. Dory has planned a little surprise for you, in which I have been permitted to help."
The women, who gathered that something was happening, came hastening out from the hall. They all crowded round Lord Clenarvon, who was cutting through the leather strap of the hatbox. Inside the silk hat which reposed there, were the Clenarvon diamonds. Monsieur le Marquis de Sogrange was one of the foremost to give vent to an exclamation of delight.
"Monsieur le Marquis," Peter Ruff said, "this should be a lesson to you, I hope, to have the characters of your servants more rigidly verified. Mr. Dory tells me that this man came into your employ at the last moment with a forged recommendation. He is, in effect, a dangerous thief."
"You amaze me!" Sogrange exclaimed.
"We are all interested in this affair," Peter Ruff said, "and my friend John Dory here is, perhaps, too modest properly to explain the matter. If you care to come with me, we can reconstruct, in a minute, the theft."
John Dory and Peter Ruff first of all handed over their captive, who was now calm and apparently resigned, to the two policemen who were still on duty in the Court. Afterwards, Peter Ruff led the way up one flight of stairs, and turned the handle of the door of an apartment exactly over the morning-room. It was the bedroom of the Marquis de Sogrange.
"Mr. Dory's chase in the motor-car," he said, "was, as you have doubtless gathered now, merely a blind. It was obvious to his intelligence that the blowing away of the window was merely a ruse to cover the real method of the theft. If you will allow me, I will show you how it was done."
The floor was of hardwood, covered with rugs. One of these, near the fireplace, Peter Ruff brushed aside. The seventh square of hardwood from the mantelpiece had evidently been tampered with. With very little difficulty, he removed it.
"You see," he explained, "the ceiling of the room below is also of paneled wood. Having removed this, it is easy to lift the second one, especially as light screws have been driven in and string threaded about them. There is now a hole through which you can see into the room below. Has Dory returned? Ah, here he is!"
The detective came hurrying into the room, bearing in his hand a peculiar-shaped weapon, a handful of little darts like those which had been found in the wounded man's head, and an ordinary fishing-rod in a linen case.
"There is the weapon," Peter Ruff said, "which it was easy enough to fire from here upon the man who was leaning forward exactly below. Then here, you will see, is a somewhat peculiar instrument, which shows a great deal of ingenuity in its details."
He opened the linen case, which was, by the bye, secured by a padlock, and drew out what was, to all appearance, an ordinary fishing-rod, fitted at the end with something that looked like an iron hand. Peter Ruff dropped it through the hole until it reached the table, moved it backwards and forwards, and turned round with a smile.
"You see," he said, " the theft, after all, was very simple. Personally, I must admit that it took me a great deal by surprise, but my friend Mr. Dory has been on the right track from the first. I congratulate him most heartily."
Dory was a little overcome. Lady Mary shook him heartily by the hand, but as they trooped downstairs she stooped and whispered in Peter Ruff's ear.
"I wonder how much of this was John Dory," she said, smiling.
Peter Ruff said nothing. The detective was already on the telephone, wiring his report to London. Every one was standing about in little knots, discussing this wonderful event. Sogrange sought Lord Clenarvon, and walked with him, arm in arm, down the stairs.
"I cannot tell you, Clenarvon," he said, "how sorry I am that I should have been the means of introducing a person like this to the house. I had the most excellent references from the Prince of Strelitz. No doubt they were forged. My own man was taken ill just before I left, and I had to bring some one."
"My dear Sogrange," Lord Clenarvon said, "don't think of it. What we must be thankful for is that we had so brilliant a detective in the house."
"As John Dory?" Sogrange remarked, with a smile. Lord Clenarvon nodded.
"Come," he said, " I don't see why we should lose a day's sport because the diamonds have been recovered. I always felt that they would turn up again some day or other. You are keen, I know, Sogrange."
"Rather!" the Marquis answered. "But excuse me for one moment. There is Mrs. Ruff looking charming there in the corner. I must have just a word with her."
He crossed the room and bowed before Violet.
"My dear lady," he said, "I have come to congratulate you. You have a clever husband - a little cleverer, even, than I thought. I have just had the misfortune to lose to him a bet of twenty-five thousand francs."
Violet smiled, a little uneasily.
"Peter doesn't gamble as a rule," she remarked.
"This, alas, was no gamble!" he said. "He was betting upon certainties, but he won. Will you tell him from me, when you see him, that although I have not the money in my pocket at the moment, I shall pay my debts. Tell him that we are as careful to do that in France as we are to keep our word!"
He bowed, and passed out with the shooting-party on to the terrace. Peter Ruff came up, a few minutes later, and his wife gave him the message.
"I did that man an injustice," Peter Ruff said with a sigh of relief. "I can't explain now, dear. I'll tell you all about it later in the day."
"There's nothing wrong, is there?" she asked him, pleadingly.
"On the contrary," Peter Ruff declared, "everything is right. I have made friends with Dory, and I have won a thousand pounds. When we leave here, I am going to look out for that little estate in the country. If you come out with the lunch, dear, I want you to watch that man Hamilton's coat. It's exactly what I should like to wear myself at my own shooting parties. See if you can make a sketch of it when he isn't looking."
"I'll try," she promised.