Peter Ruff and the Double Four by E. Phillips Oppenheim
Chapter III. Vincent Cawdor, Commission Agent
For the second time since their new association, Peter Ruff had surprised that look upon his secretary's face. This time he wheeled around in his chair and addressed her.
"My dear Violet," he said, "be frank with me. What is wrong?"
Miss Brown turned to face her employer. Save for a greater demureness of expression and the extreme simplicity of her attire, she had changed very little since she had given up her life of comparative luxury to become Peter Ruff's secretary. There was a sort of personal elegance which clung to her, notwithstanding her strenuous attempts to dress for her part, except for which she looked precisely as a private secretary and typist should look. She even wore a black bow at the back of her hair.
"I have not complained, have I?" she asked.
"Do not waste time," Peter Ruff said, coldly. "Proceed."
"I have not enough to do," she said. "I do not understand why you refuse so many cases."
Peter Ruff nodded.
"I did not bring my talents into this business," he said, "to watch flirting wives, to ascertain the haunts of gay husbands, or to detect the pilferings of servants."
"Anything is better than sitting still," she protested.
"I do not agree with you," Peter Ruff said. "I like sitting still very much indeed - one has time to think. Is there anything else?"
"Shall I really go on?" she asked.
"By all means," he answered.
"I have idea," she continued, "that you are subordinating your general interests to your secret enmity - to one man. You are waiting until you can find another case in which you are pitted against him."
"Sometimes," Peter Ruff said, "your intelligence surprises me!"
"I came to you," she continued, looking at him earnestly, "for two reasons. The personal one I will not touch upon. The other was my love of excitement. I have tried many things in life, as you know, Peter, but I have seemed to carry always with me the heritage of weariness. I thought that my position here would help me to fight against it."
"You have seen me bring a corpse to life," Peter Ruff reminded her, a little aggrieved.
"It was a month ago," she reminded him.
"I can't do that sort of thing every day," he declared.
"Naturally," she answered; "but you have refused four cases within the last five days."
Peter Ruff whistled softly to himself for several moments.
"Seen anything of our new neighbour in the flat above?" he asked, with apparent irrelevance.
Miss Brown looked across at him with upraised eyebrows.
"I have been in the lift with him twice," she answered.
"Fancy his appearance?" Ruff asked, casually.
"Not in the least!" Violet answered. "I thought him a vulgar, offensive person!"
Peter Ruff chuckled. He seemed immensely delighted.
"Mr. Vincent Cawdor he calls himself, I believe," he remarked.
"I have no idea," Miss Brown declared. The subject did not appeal to her.
"His name is on a small copper plate just over the letter-box," Ruff said. "Rather neat idea, by the bye. He calls himself a commission agent, I believe."
Violet was suddenly interested. She realized, after all, that Mr. Vincent Cawdor might be a person of some importance.
"What is a commission agent?" she asked.
Peter Ruff shook his head.
"It might mean anything," he declared. "Never trust any one who is not a little more explicit as to his profession. I am afraid that this Mr. Vincent Cawdor, for instance, is a bad lot."
"I am sure he is," Miss Brown declared.
"Looks after a pretty girl, coughs in the lift - all that sort of thing, eh?" Peter Ruff asked.
"Disgusting!" she exclaimed, with emphasis.
Peter Ruff sighed, and glanced at the clock. The existence of Mr. Vincent Cawdor seemed to pass out of his mind.
"It is nearly one o'clock," he said. "Where do you usually lunch, Violet?"
"It depends upon my appetite," she answered, carelessly. "Most often at an A B C."
"To-day," Peter Ruff said, "you will be extravagant - at my expense."
"I had a poor breakfast," Miss Brown remarked, complacently.
"You will leave at once," Peter Ruff said, "and you will go to the French Café at the Milan. Get a table facing the courtyard, and towards the hotel side of the room. Keep your eyes open and tell me exactly what you see."
She looked at him with parted lips. Her eyes were full of eager questioning.
"Mere skirmishing," Peter Ruff continued, "but I think - yes, I think that it may lead to something."
"Whom am I to watch?" she asked.
"Any one who looks interesting," Peter Ruff answered. "For instance, if this person Vincent Cawdor should be about."
"He would recognize me!" she declared.
Peter Ruff shrugged his shoulders.
"One must hold the candle," he remarked.
"I decline to flirt with him," she declared. "Nothing would induce me to be pleasant to such an odious creature."
"He will be too busy to attempt anything of the sort. Of course he may not be there. It may be the merest fancy on my part. At any rate, you may rely upon it that he will not make any overtures in a public place like the Milan. Mr. Vincent Cawdor may be a curious sort of person, but I do not fancy that he is a fool!"
"Very well," Miss Brown said, "I will go."
"Be back soon after three," Peter Ruff said. "I am going up to my room to do my exercises."
"And afterwards?" she asked.
"I shall have my lunch sent in," he answered. "Don't hurry back, though. I shall not expect you till a quarter past three."
It was a few minutes past that time when Miss Brown returned. Peter Ruff was sitting at his desk, looking as though he had never moved. He was absorbed by a book of patterns sent in by his new tailor, and he only glanced up when she entered the room.
"Violet," he said, earnestly, "come in and sit down. I want to consult you. There is a new material here - a sort of mouse-coloured cheviot. I wonder whether it would suit me?"
Violet was looking very handsome and a little flushed. She raised her veil and came over to his side.
"Put that stupid book away, Peter," she said. "I want to tell you about the Milan."
He leaned back in his chair.
"Ah!" he said. "I had forgotten! Was Mr. Vincent Cawdor there?"
"Yes!" she answered, still a little breathless. "There was some one else there, too, in whom you are still more interested."
"Go on," he said.
"Mr. Vincent Cawdor," she continued, "came in alone. He looked just as objectionable as ever, and he stared at me till I nearly threw my wine glass at him."
"He did not speak to you?" Peter Ruff asked.
"I was afraid that he was going to," Miss Brown said, "but fortunately he met a friend who came to his table and lunched with him."
"A friend," Ruff remarked. "Good! What was he like?"
"Fair, slight, Teutonic," Miss Brown answered. "He wore thick spectacles, and his moustache was positively yellow."
"Go on," he said.
"Towards the end of luncheon," she continued, "an American came up to them."
"An American?" Peter Ruff interrupted. "How do you know that?"
Miss Brown smiled.
"He was clean-shaven and he wore neat clothes," she said. "He talked with an accent you could have cut with a knife and he had a Baedeker sticking out of his pocket. After luncheon, they all three went away to the smoking room."
Peter Ruff nodded.
"Anything else?" he asked.
The girl smiled triumphantly.
"Yes!" she declared. "There was something else - something which I think you will find interesting. At the next table to me there was a man - alone. Can you guess who he was?"
"John Dory," Ruff said, calmly.
The girl was disappointed.
"You knew!" she exclaimed.
"My dear Violet," he said, "I did not send you there on a fool's errand."
"There is something doing, then?" she exclaimed.
"There is likely," he answered, grimly, "to be a great deal doing!"
The two men who stood upon the hill, and Peter Ruff, who lay upon his stomach behind a huge boulder, looked upon a new thing.
Far down in the valley from out of a black shed - the only sign of man's handiwork for many miles - it came - something grey at first, moving slowly as though being pushed down a slight incline, then afloat in the air, gathering speed - something between a torpedo with wings and a great prehistoric insect. Now and then it described strange circles, but mostly it came towards them as swift and as true as an arrow shot from a bow. The two men looked at one another - the shorter, to whose cheeks the Cumberland winds had brought no trace of colour, gave vent to a hoarse exclamation.
"He's done it!" he growled.
"Wait!" the other answered.
Over their heads the thing wheeled, and seemed to stand still in the air. The beating of the engine was so faint that Peter Ruff from behind the boulder, could hear all that was said. A man leaned out from his seat - a man with wan cheeks but blazing eyes.
"Listen," he said. "Take your glasses. There - due north - can you see a steeple?"
The men turned their field glasses in the direction toward which the other pointed. "Yes!" they answered. "It is sixteen miles, as the crow flies, to Barnham Church - thirty-two miles there and back. Wait!"
He swung round, dived till he seemed about to touch the hillside, then soared upwards and straight away. Peter Ruff took out his watch. The other two men gazed with fascinated eyes after the disappearing speck.
"If he does it - " the shorter one muttered.
"He will do it!" the other answered.
He was back again before their eyes were weary of watching. Peter Ruff, from behind the boulder, closed his watch. Thirty-two miles in less than half an hour! The youth leaned from his seat.
"Is it enough?" he asked, hoarsely.
"It is enough!" the two men answered together. "We will come down."
The youth touched a lever and the machine glided down towards the valley, falling all the while with the effortless grace a parachute. The shed from which his machine had issued was midway down a slope, with a short length of rails which ran, apparently, through it. The machine seemed to hover for several moments above the building, then descended slowly on to the rails and disappeared in the shed. The two men were already half-way down the hill. Peter Ruff rose from behind the boulder, stretched himself with a sense of immense relief, and lit a pipe. As yet he dared not descend. He simply changed his hiding place for a spot which enabled him to command a view of the handful of cottages at the back of the hill. He had plenty to think about. It was a wonderful thing - this - which he had seen!
The youth, meanwhile, was drinking deep of the poisonous cup. He walked between the two men - his cheeks were flushed, his eyes on fire.
"If all the world to-day had seen what we have seen," the older man was saying, "there would be no more talk of Wilbur Wrights or Farmans. Those men are babies, playing with their toys."
"Mine is the ideal principle," the youth declared. "No one else has thought of it, no one else has made use of it. Yet all the time I am afraid - it is so simple."
"Sell quick, then," the fair-headed man advised. "By to-morrow night I can promise you fifty thousand pounds."
The youth stopped. He drew a deep breath.
"I shall sell," he declared. "I need money. I want to live. Fifty thousand pounds is enough. Eleven weary months I have slept and toiled there in the shed."
"It is finished," the older man declared. "To-night you shall come with us to London. To-morrow night your pockets shall be full of gold. It will be a change for you."
The youth sobbed.
"God knows it will," he muttered. "I haven't two shillings in the world, and I owe for my last petrol."
The two men laughed heartily. The elder took a little bundle of notes from his pocket and handed them to the boy.
"Come," he said, "not for another moment shall you feel as poor as that. Money will have no value for you in the future. The fifty thousand pounds will only be a start. After that, you will get royalties. If I had it, I would give you a quarter of a million now for your plans; I know that I can get you more."
The youth laughed hysterically. They entered the tiny inn and drank home-made wine - the best they could get. Then a great car drew up outside, and the older - the clean-shaven man, who looked like an American - hurried out, and dragging a hamper from beneath the seat returned with a gold-foiled bottle in his hand.
"Come," he said, "a toast! We have one bottle left - one bottle of the best!"
"Champagne!" the youth cried eagerly, holding out his hand.
"The only wine for the conquerors," the other declared, pouring it out into the thick tumblers. "Drink, all of you, to the Franklin Flying Machine, to the millions she will earn - to to-morrow night!"
The youth drained his glass, watched it replenished, and drained it again. Then they went out to the car.
"There is one thing yet to be done," he said. "Wait here for me."
They waited whilst he climbed up toward the shed. The two men watched him. A little group of rustics stood open-mouthed around the great car. Then there was a little shout. From above their heads came the sound of a great explosion - red flames were leaping up from that black barn to the sky. The two men looked at one another. They rushed to the hill and met the youth descending.
"What the - "
He stopped them.
"I dared not leave it here," he explained. "It would have been madness. I am perfectly certain that I have been watched during the last few days. I can build another in a week. I have the plans in my pocket for every part."
The older man wiped the perspiration from his forehead.
"You are sure - that you have the plans?" he asked.
The youth struck himself on the chest.
"They are here," he answered, "every one of them!"
"Perhaps you are right, then," the other man answered. "It gave me a turn, though. You are sure that you can make it again in the time you say?"
"Of course!" the youth answered, impatiently. "Besides, the thing is so simple. It speaks for itself."
They climbed into the car, and in a few minutes were rushing away southwards.
"To-morrow night - to-morrow night it all begins!" the youth continued. "I must start with ready-made clothes. I'll get the best I can, eat the best I can, drink wine, go to the music halls. To-morrow night."
His speech ended in a wail - a strange, half-stifled cry which rang out with a chill, ghostly sound upon the black silence. His face was covered with a wet towel, a ghastly odor was in his nostrils, his lips refused to utter any further sound. He lay back among the cushions, senseless. The car slowed down.
"Get the papers, quick!" the elder man muttered, opening the youth's coat. "Here they are! Catch hold, Dick! My God! What's that?"
He shook from head to foot. The little fair man looked at him with contempt.
"A sheep bell on the moor," he said. "Are you sure you have everything?"
"Yes!" the other muttered.
They both stood up and raised the prostrate form between them. Below them were the black waters of the lake.
"Over with him!" the younger said. "Quick!"
Once more his companion shrank away.
"Listen!" he muttered, hoarsely.
They both held their breaths. From somewhere along the road behind came a faint sound like the beating of an engine.
"It's a car!" the elder man exclaimed. "Quick! Over with him!"
They lifted the body of the boy, whose lips were white and speechless now, and threw him into the water. With a great splash he disappeared. They watched for a moment. Only the ripples flowed away from the place where he had sunk. They jumped back to their seats.
"There's something close behind," the older man muttered. "Get on! Fast! Fast!"
The younger man hesitated.
"Perhaps," he said slowly, "it would be better to wait and see who it is coming up behind. Our young friend there is safe. The current has him, and the tarn is bottomless."
There was a moment's indecision - a moment which was to count for much in the lives of three men. Then the elder one's counsels prevailed. They crept away down the hill, smoothly and noiselessly. Behind them, the faint throbbing grew less and less distinct. Soon they heard it no more. They drove into the dawn and through the long day.
Side by side on one of the big leather couches in the small smoking room of the Milan Hotel, Mr. James P. Rounceby and his friend Mr. Richard Marnstam sat whispering together. It was nearly two o clock, and they were alone in the room. Some of the lights had been turned out. The roar of life in the streets without had ceased. It was an uneasy hour for those whose consciences were not wholly at rest!
The two men were in evening dress - Rounceby in dinner coat and black tie, as befitted his r(le of travelling American. The glasses in front of them were only half-filled, and had remained so for the last hour. Their conversation had been nervous and spasmodic. It was obvious that they were waiting for some one.
Three o'clock struck by the little timepiece on the mantel shelf. A little exclamation of a profane nature broke from Rounceby's lips. He leaned toward his companion.
"Say," he muttered, in a rather thick undertone, "how about this fellow Vincent Cawdor? You haven't any doubts about him, I suppose? He's on the square, all right, eh?"
Marnstam wet his lips nervously.
"Cawdor's all right," he said. "I had it direct from headquarters at Paris. What are you uneasy about, eh?"
Rounceby pointed towards the clock.
"Do you see the time?" he asked.
"He said he'd be late," Marnstam answered.
Rounceby put his hand to his forehead and found it moist.
"It's been a silly game, all along," he muttered. "We'd better have brought the young ass up here and jostled him!"
"Not so easy," Marnstam answered. "These young fools have a way of turning obstinate. He'd have chucked us, sure. Anyhow, he's safer where he is."
They relapsed once more into silence. A storm of rain beat upon the window. Rounceby glanced up. It was as black out there as were the waters of that silent tarn! The man shivered as the thought struck him. Marnstam, who had no nerves, twirled his moustache and watched his companion with wonder.
"You look as though you saw a ghost," he remarked.
"Perhaps I do!" Rounceby growled.
"You had better finish your drink, my dear fellow," Marnstam advised. "Afterwards - "
Suddenly he stiffened into attention. He laid his hand upon his companion's knee.
"Listen!" he said. "There is some one coming."
They leaned a little forward. The swing doors were opened. A girl's musical laugh rang out from the corridor. Tall and elegant, with her black lace skirt trailing upon the floor, her left hand resting upon the shoulder of the man into whose ear she was whispering, and whom she led straight to one of the writing tables, Miss Violet Brown swept into the room. On her right, and nearest to the two men, was Mr. Vincent Cawdor.
"Now you can go and talk to your friends!" she exclaimed, lightly. "I am going to make Victor listen to me."
Cawdor left his two companions and sank on to the couch by Rounceby's side. The young man, with his opera hat still on his head, and the light overcoat which he had been carrying on the floor by his side, was seated before the writing table with his back to them. Miss Brown was leaning over him, with her hand upon the back of his chair. They were out of hearing of the other three men.
"Well, Rounceby, my friend," Mr. Vincent Cawdor remarked, cheerfully, "you're having a late sitting, eh?"
"We've been waiting for you, you fool!" Rounceby answered. "What on earth are you thinking about, bringing a crowd like this about with you, eh?"
Cawdor smiled, reassuringly.
"Don't you worry," he said, in a lower tone. "I know my way in and out of the ropes here better than you can teach me. A big hotel like this is the safest and the most dangerous place in the world - just how you choose to make it. You've got to bluff 'em all the time. That's why I brought the young lady - particular friend of mine - real nice girl, too!"
"And the young man?" Rounceby asked, suspiciously.
Cawdor grew more serious.
"That's Captain Lowther," he said softly - "private secretary to Colonel Dean, who's the chief of the aeronaut department at Aldershot. He has a draft in his pocket for twenty thousand pounds. It is yours if he is satisfied with the plans."
"Twenty thousand pounds!" Marnstam said, thoughtfully. "It is very little - very little indeed for the risks which we have run!"
Cawdor moved his place and sat between the men. He laid a hand upon Marnstam's shoulder - another on Rounceby's knee.
"My dear friends," he said, impressively, "if you could have built a model, or conducted these negotiations in the usual way, you might have asked a million. As it is, I think I am the only man in England who could have dealt with this matter - so satisfactorily."
Rounceby glanced suspiciously at the young man to whom Miss Brown was still devoting the whole of her attention.
"Why don't he come out and talk like a man?" he asked. "What's the idea of his sitting over there with his back to us?"
"I want him never to see your faces - to deal only with me," Cawdor explained. "Remember that he is in an official position. The money he is going to part with is secret service money."
The two men were beginning to be more reassured. Rounceby slowly produced a roll of oilskin from his pocket.
"He'll look at them as he sits there," he insisted. "There must be no copying or making notes, mind."
Cawdor smiled in a superior fashion.
"My dear fellow," he said, "you are dealing with the emissary of a government - not one of your own sort."
Rounceby glanced at his companion, who nodded. Then he handed over the plans.
"Tell him to look sharp," he said. "It's not so late but that there may be people in here yet."
Cawdor crossed the room with the plans, and laid them down before the writing table. Rounceby rose to his feet and lit a cigar. Marnstam walked to the further window and back again. They stood side by side. Rounceby's whole frame seemed to have stiffened with some new emotion.
"There's something wrong, Jim," Marnstam whispered softly in his ear. "You've got the old lady in your pocket?"
"Yes!" Rounceby answered thickly, "and, by Heavens, I'm going to use it!"
"Don't shoot unless it's the worst," Marnstam counselled. "I shall go out of that window, into the tree, and run for the river. But bluff first, Jim - bluff for your life!"
There were swinging doors leading into the room from the hotel side, and a small door exactly opposite which led to the residential part of the place. Both of these doors were opened at precisely the same moment. Through the former stepped two strong looking men in long overcoats, and with the unmistakable appearance of policemen in plain clothes. Through the latter came John Dory! He walked straight up to the two men. It spoke volumes for his courage that, knowing their characters and believing them to be in desperate straits, he came unarmed.
"Gentlemen," he said, "I hold warrants for your arrest. I will not trouble you with your aliases. You are known to-day, I believe, as James Rounceby and Richard Marnstam. Will you come quietly?"
Marnstam's expression was one of bland and beautiful surprise.
"My dear sir," he said, edging, however, a little toward the window - "you must be joking! What is the charge?"
"You are charged with the wilful murder of a young man named Victor Franklin," answered Dory. "His body was recovered from Longthorp Tarn this afternoon. You had better say nothing. Also with the theft of certain papers known to have been in his possession."
Now it is possible that at this precise moment Marnstam would have made his spring for the window and Rounceby his running fight for liberty. The hands of both men were upon their revolvers, and John Dory's life was a thing of no account. But at this juncture a thing happened. There were in the room the two policemen guarding the swing doors, and behind them the pale faces of a couple of night porters looking anxiously in. Vincent Cawdor and Miss Brown were standing side by side, a little in the background, and the young man who had been their companion had risen also to his feet. As though with some intention of intervening, he moved a step forward, almost in line with Dory. Rounceby saw him, and a new fear gripped him by the heart. He shrank back, his fingers relaxed their hold of his weapon, the sweat was hot upon his forehead. Marnstam, though he seemed for a moment stupefied, realised the miracle which had happened and struck boldly for his own.
"If this is a joke," he said, "it strikes me as being a particularly bad one. I should like to know, sir, how you dare to come into this room and charge me and my friend - Mr. Rounceby - with being concerned in the murder of a young man who is even now actually standing by your side."
John Dory started back. He looked with something like apprehension at the youth to whom Marnstam pointed.
"My name is Victor Franklin," that young man declared. "What's all this about?"
Dory felt the ground give beneath his feet. Nevertheless, he set his teeth and fought for his hand.
"You say that your name is Victor Franklin?" he asked.
"You are the inventor of a flying machine?"
"You were in Westmoreland with these two men a few days go?"
"I was," the young man admitted.
"You left the village of Scawton in a motor car with them?"
"Yes! We quarrelled on the way, and parted."
"You were robbed of nothing?"
Victor Franklin smiled.
"Certainly not," he answered. "I had nothing worth stealing except my plans, and they are in my pocket now."
There was a few moments' intense silence. Dory wheeled suddenly round, and looked to where Mr. Vincent Cawdor had been standing.
"Where is Mr. Cawdor?" he asked, sharply.
"The gentleman with the grey moustache left a few seconds ago," one of the men at the door said. Dory was very pale.
"Gentlemen," he said, "I have to offer you my apologies. I have apparently been deceived by some false information. The charge is withdrawn."
He turned on his heel and left the room. The two policemen followed him.
"Keep them under observation," Dory ordered shortly, "but I am afraid this fellow Cawdor has sold me."
He found a hansom outside, and sprang into it.
"Number 27, Southampton Row," he ordered.
Rounceby and his partner were alone in the little smoking room. The former was almost inarticulate. The night porter brought them brandy, and both men drank.
"We've got to get to the bottom of this, Marnstam," Mr. Rounceby muttered.
Mr. Marnstam was thinking.
"Do you remember that sound through the darkness," he said - "the beating of an engine way back on the road?"
"What of it?" Rounceby demanded.
"It was a motor bicycle," Marnstam said quietly. "I thought so at the time."
"Supposing some one followed us and pulled him out," Rounceby said, hoarsely, "why are we treated like this? I tell you we've been made fools of! We've been treated like children - not even to be punished! We'll have the truth somehow out of that devil Cawdor! Come!"
They made their way to the courtyard and found a cab.
"Number 27, Southampton Row!" they ordered.
They reached their destination some time before Dory, whose horse fell down in the Strand, and who had to walk. They ascended to the fourth floor of the building and rang the bell of Vincent Cawdor's room - no answer. They plied the knocker - no result. Rounceby peered through the keyhole.
"He hasn't come home yet," he remarked. "There is no light anywhere in the place."
The door of a flat across the passage was quietly opened. Mr. Peter Ruff, in a neat black smoking suit and slippers, and holding a pipe in his hand, looked out.
"Excuse me, gentlemen," he said, "but I do not think that Mr. Cawdor is in. He went out early this evening, and I have not heard him return."
The two men turned away.
"We are much obliged to you, sir," Mr. Marnstam said.
"Can I give him any message?" Peter Ruff asked, politely. "We generally see something of one another in the morning."
"You can tell him - " Rounceby began.
"No message, thanks!" Marnstam interrupted. "We shall probably run across him ourselves to-morrow."
John Dory was nearly a quarter of an hour late. After his third useless summons, Mr. Peter Ruff presented himself again.
"I am afraid," he said, "you will not find my neighbour at home. There have been several people enquiring for him to-night, without any result."
John Dory came slowly across the landing.
"Good evening, Mr. Ruff!" he said.
"Why, it's Mr. Dory!" Peter Ruff declared. "Come in, do, and have a drink."
John Dory accepted the invitation, and his eyes were busy in that little sitting room during the few minutes which it took his host to mix that whisky and soda.
"Nothing wrong with our friend opposite, I hope?" Peter Ruff asked, jerking his head across the landing.
"I hope not, Mr. Ruff," John Dory said. "No doubt in the morning he will be able to explain everything. I must say that I should like to see him to-night, though."
"He may turn up yet," Peter Ruff remarked, cheerfully. "He's like myself - a late bird."
"I fear not," Dory answered, drily. "Nice rooms you have here, sir. Just a sitting room and bedroom, eh?"
Peter Ruff stood up and threw open the door of the inner apartment.
"That's so," he answered. "Care to have a look round?"
The detective did look round, and pretty thoroughly. As soon as he was sure that there was no one concealed upon the premises, he drank his whisky and soda and went.
"I'll look in again to see Cawdor," he remarked - "to-morrow, perhaps, or the next day."
"I'll let him know if I see him about," Peter Ruff declared. "Sorry the lift's stopped. Three steps to the left and straight on. Good-night!"
Miss Brown arrived early the following morning, and was disposed to be inquisitive.
"I should like to know," she said, "exactly what has become of Mr. Vincent Cawdor"
Peter Ruff took her upstairs. There was a little mound of ashes in the grate.
"I imagined that," she said. "But why did you send me out to watch yourself?"
"My dear Violet," Peter Ruff answered, "there is no man in the world to-day who is my equal in the art of disguising himself. At the same time, I wanted to know whether I could deceive you. I wanted to be quite sure that my study of Mr. Vincent Cawdor was a safe one. I took those rooms in his name and in his own person. I do not think that it occurred even to our friend John Dory to connect us in his mind."
"Very well," she went on. "Now tell me, please, what took you up to Westmoreland?"
"I followed Rounceby and Marnstam," he answered, "I knew them when I was abroad, studying crime - I could tell you a good deal about both those men if it were worth while - and I knew, when they hired a big motor car and engaged a crook to drive it, that they were worth following. I saw the trial of the flying machine, and when they started off with young Franklin, I followed on a motor bicycle. I fished him out of the tarn where they left him for dead, brought him on to London, and made my own terms with him."
"What about the body which was found in the Longthorp Tarn?" she asked.
"I had that telegram sent myself," Peter Ruff answered.
She looked at him severely.
"You went out of your way to make a fool of John Dory!" she said, frowning at him.
"That I admit," he answered.
"It seems to me," she continued, "that that, after all, has been the chief object of the whole affair. I do not see that we - that is the firm - profit in the least."
Peter Ruff chuckled.
"We've got a fourth share in the Franklin Flying Machine," he answered, "and I'm hanged if I'd sell it for a hundred thousand pounds."
"You've taken advantage of that young man's gratitude," she declared.
Peter Ruff shook his head.
"I earned the money," he answered.