The Yellow Crayon by E. Phillips Oppenheim
At precisely ten o'clock on the following morning Duson brought chocolate, which he had prepared himself, and some dry toast to his master's bedside. Upon the tray was a single letter. Mr. Sabin sat up in bed and tore open the envelope. The following words were written upon a sheet of the Holland House notepaper in the same peculiar coloured crayon.
"The first warning addressed to you yesterday was a friendly one. Profit by it. Go back to Lenox. You are only exposing yourself to danger and the person you seek to discomfort. Wait there, and some one shall come to you shortly who will explain what has happened, and the necessity for it."
Mr. Sabin smiled, a slow contemplative smile. He sipped his chocolate and lit a cigarette.
"Our friends, then," he said softly, "do not care about pursuit and inquiries. It is ridiculous to suppose that their warning is given out of any consideration to me. Duson!"
"My bath. I shall rise now."
Mr. Sabin made his toilet with something of the same deliberation which characterised all his movements. Then he descended into the hall, bought a newspaper, and from a convenient easy-chair kept a close observation upon every one who passed to and fro for about an hour. Later on he ordered a carriage, and made several calls down town.
At a few minutes past twelve he entered the bar of the Fifth Avenue Hotel, and ordering a drink sat down at one of the small tables. The room was full, but Mr. Sabin's attention was directed solely to one group of men who stood a short distance away before the counter drinking champagne. The central person of the group was a big man, with an unusually large neck, a fat pale face, a brown moustache tinged with grey, and a voice and laugh like a fog-horn. It was he apparently who was paying for the champagne, and he was clearly on intimate terms with all the party. Mr. Sabin watched for his opportunity, and then rising from his seat touched him on the shoulder.
"Mr. Skinner, I believe?" he said quietly.
The big man looked down upon Mr. Sabin with the sullen offensiveness of the professional bully.
"You've hit it first time," he admitted. "Who are you, anyway?"
Mr. Sabin produced a card.
"I called this morning," he said, "upon the gentleman whose name you will see there. He directed me to you, and told me to come here."
The man tore the card into small pieces.
"So long, boys," he said, addressing his late companions. "See you to-night."
They accepted his departure in silence, and one and all favoured Mr. Sabin with a stare of blatant curiosity.
"I should be glad to speak with you," Mr. Sabin said, "in a place where we are likely to be neither disturbed nor overheard."
"You come right across to my office," was the prompt reply. "I guess we can fix it up there."
Mr. Sabin motioned to his coachman, and they crossed Broadway. His companion led him into a tall building, talking noisily all the time about the pals whom he had just left. An elevator transported them to the twelfth floor in little more than as many seconds, and Mr. Skinner ushered his visitor into a somewhat bare-looking office, smelling strongly of stale tobacco smoke. Mr. Skinner at once lit a cigar, and seating himself before his desk, folded his arms and leaned over towards Mr. Sabin.
"Smoke one?" he asked, pointing to the open box.
Mr. Sabin declined.
"Get right ahead then."
"I am an Englishman," Mr. Sabin said slowly, "and consequently am not altogether at home with your ways over here. I have always understood, however, that if you are in need of any special information such as we should in England apply to the police for, over here there is a quicker and more satisfactory method of procedure."
"You've come a long way round," Mr. Skinner remarked, spitting upon the floor, "but you're dead right."
"I am in need of some information," Mr. Sabin continued, "and accordingly I called this morning on Mr. - "
Mr. Skinner held up his hand.
"All right," he said. "We don't mention names more than we can help. Call him the boss."
"He assured me that the information I was in need of was easily to be obtained, and gave me a card to you."
"Go right on," Mr. Skinner said. "What is it?"
"On Friday last," Mr. Sabin said, "at four o'clock, the Duchess of Souspennier, whose picture I will presently show you, left the Holland House Hotel for the New York, New Haven & Hartford Depot, presumably for her home at Lenox, to which place her baggage had already been checked. On the way she ordered the cabman to set her down at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, which he did at a few minutes past four. The Duchess has not returned home or been directly heard from since. I wish to ascertain her movements since she arrived at the Waldorf."
"Sounds dead easy," Mr. Skinner remarked reassuringly. "Got the picture?"
Mr. Sabin touched the spring of a small gold locket which he drew from an inside waistcoat pocket, and disclosed a beautifully painted miniature. Mr. Skinner's thick lips were pursed into a whistle. He was on the point of making a remark when he chanced to glance into Mr. Sabin's face. The remark remained unspoken.
He drew a sheet of note-paper towards him and made a few notes upon it.
"The Duchess many friends in New York?"
"At present none. The few people whom she knows here are at Newport or in Europe just now."
"Any idea whom she went to the Waldorf to see? More we know the better."
Mr. Sabin handed him the letter which had been picked up in the cab. Mr. Skinner read it through, and spat once more upon the floor.
"What the h---'s this funny coloured pencil mean?"
"I do not know," Mr. Sabin answered. "You will see that the two anonymous communications which I have received since arriving in New York yesterday are written in the same manner."
Mr. Sabin handed him the other two letters, which Mr. Skinner carefully perused.
"I guess you'd better tell me who you are," he suggested.
"I am the husband of the Duchess of Souspennier," Mr. Sabin answered.
"The Duchess send any word home at all?" Mr. Skinner asked.
Mr. Sabin produced a worn telegraph form. It was handed in at Fifth Avenue, New York, at six o'clock on Friday. It contained the single word 'Good-bye.'"
"H'm," Mr. Skinner remarked. "We'll find all you want to know by to-morrow sure."
"What do you make of the two letters which I received?" Mr. Sabin asked.
"Bunkum!" Mr. Skinner replied confidently.
Mr. Sabin nodded his head.
"You have no secret societies over here, I suppose?" he said.
Mr. Skinner laughed loudly and derisively.
"I guess not," he answered. "They keep that sort of rubbish on the other side of the pond."
Mr. Sabin was thoughtful for a moment. "You expect to find, then," he remarked, "some other cause for my wife's disappearance?"
"There don't seem much room for doubt concerning that, sir," Mr. Skinner said; "but I never speculate. I will bring you the facts to-night between eight and eleven. Now as to the business side of it."
Mr. Sabin was for a moment puzzled.
"What's the job worth to you?" Mr. Skinner asked. "I am willing to pay," Mr. Sabin answered, "according to your demands."
"It's a simple case," Mr. Skinner admitted, "but our man at the Waldorf is expensive. If you get all your facts, I guess five hundred dollars will about see you through."
"I will pay that," Mr. Sabin answered.
"I will bring you the letters back to-night," Mr. Skinner said. "I guess I'll borrow that locket of yours, too."
Mr. Sabin shook his head.
"That," he said firmly, "I do not part with." Mr. Skinner scratched his ear with his penholder. "It's the only scrap of identifying matter we've got," he remarked. "Of course it's a dead simple case, and we can probably manage without it. But I guess it's as well to fix the thing right down."
"If you will give me a piece of paper," Mr. Sabin said, "I will make you a sketch of the Duchess. The larger the better. I can give you an idea of the sort of clothes she would probably be wearing."
Mr. Skinner furnished him with a double sheet of paper, and Mr. Sabin, with set face and unflinching figures, reproduced in a few simple strokes a wonderful likeness of the woman he loved. He pushed it away from him when he had finished without remark. Mr. Skinner was loud in its praises.
"I guess you're an artist, sir, for sure," he remarked. "This'll fix the thing. Shall I come to your hotel?"
"If you please," Mr. Sabin answered. "I shall be there for the rest of the day."
Mr. Skinner took up his hat.
"Guess I'll take my dinner and get right to work," he remarked. "Say, you come along, Mr. Sabin. I'll take you where they'll fix you such a beefsteak as you never tasted in your life."
"I thank you very much," Mr. Sabin said, "but I must beg to be excused. I am expecting some despatches at my hotel. If you are successful this afternoon you will perhaps do me the honour of dining with me to-night. I will wait until eight-thirty."
The two men parted upon the pavement. Mr. Skinner, with his small bowler hat on the back of his head, a fresh cigar in the corner of his mouth, and his thumbs in the armholes of his waistcoat, strolled along Broadway with something akin to a smile parting his lips, and showing his yellow teeth.
"Darned old fool," he muttered. "To marry a slap-up handsome woman like that, and then pretend not to know what it means when she bolts. Guess I'll spoil his supper to-night."
Mr. Sabin, however, was recovering his spirits. He, too, was leaning back in the corner of his carriage with a faint smile brightening his hard, stern face. But, unlike Mr. Skinner, he did not talk to himself.