The Yellow Crayon by E. Phillips Oppenheim
Mr. Sabin, although he had registered at the hotel under his accustomed pseudonym, had taken no pains to conceal his identity, and was well known to the people in authority about the place. He was received with all the respect due to his rank.
"Your Grace will, I trust, accept my most sincere apologies for disturbing you," Mr. Hertz, the manager, said, rising and bowing at his entrance. "We have here, however, an emissary connected with the police come to inquire into the sad incident of this afternoon. He expressed a wish to ask your Grace a question or two with a view to rendering your Grace's attendance at the inquest unnecessary."
Mr. Sabin nodded.
"I am perfectly willing," he said, "to answer any questions you may choose to put to me."
A plain, hard-featured little man, in a long black overcoat, and holding a howler hat in his hand, bowed respectfully to Mr. Sabin.
"I am much obliged to you, sir," he said. "My name is John Passmore. We do not of course appear in this matter unless the post-mortem should indicate anything unusual in the circumstances of Duson's death, but it is always well to be prepared, and I ventured to ask Mr. Hertz here to procure for me your opinion as regards the death of your servant."
"You have asked me," Mr. Sabin said gravely, "a very difficult question."
The eyes of the little detective flashed keenly.
"You do not believe then, sir, that he died a natural death?"
"I do not," Mr. Sabin answered.
Mr. Hertz was startled. The detective controlled his features admirably.
"May I ask your reasons, sir?"
Mr. Sabin lightly shrugged his shoulders.
"I have never known the man to have a day's illness in his life," he said. "Further, since his arrival in England he has been acting in a strange and furtive manner, and I gathered that he had some cause for fear which he was indisposed to talk about."
"This," the detective said, "is very interesting."
"Doubtless," Mr. Sabin answered. "But before I say anything more I must clearly understand my position. I am giving you personally a few friendly hints, in the interests of justice perhaps, but still quite informally. I am not in possession of any definite facts concerning Duson, and what I say to you here I am not prepared to say at the inquest, before which I presume I may have to appear as a witness. There, I shall do nothing more save identify Duson and state the circumstances under which I found him."
"I understand that perfectly, sir," the man answered. "The less said at the inquest the better in the interests of justice."
Mr. Sabin nodded.
"I am glad," he said, "that you appreciate that. I do not mind going so far then as to tell you that I believe Duson died of poison."
"Can you give me any idea," the detective asked, "as to the source?"
"None," Mr. Sabin answered. "That you must discover for yourselves. Duson was a man of silent and secretive habits, and it has occurred to me more than once that he might possibly be a member of one of those foreign societies who have their headquarters in Soho, and concerning which you probably know more than I do."
The detective smiled. It was a very slight flicker of the lips, but it attracted Mr. Sabin's keen attention.
"Your suggestions," the detective said, "are making this case a very interesting one. I have always understood, however, that reprisals of this extreme nature are seldom resorted to in this country. Besides, the man's position seems scarcely to indicate sufficient importance - perhaps - "
"Well?" Mr. Sabin interjected.
"I notice that Duson was found in your sitting-room. It occurs to me as a possibility that he may have met with a fate intended for some one else - for yourself, for instance, sir!"
"But I," Mr. Sabin said smoothly, "am a member of no secret society, nor am I conscious of having enemies sufficiently venomous to desire my life."
The detective sat for a moment with immovable face.
"We, all of us, know our friends, sir," he said. "There are few of us properly acquainted with our enemies."
Mr. Sabin lit a cigarette. His fingers were quite steady, but this man was making him think.
"You do not seriously believe," he asked, "that Duson met with a death which was intended for me?"
"I am afraid," the detective said thoughtfully, "that I know no more about it than you do."
"I see," Mr. Sabin said, "that I am no stranger to you."
"You are very far from being that, sir," the man answered. "A few years ago I was working for the Government - and you were not often out of my sight."
Mr. Sabin smiled.
"It was perhaps judicious," he remarked, "though I am afraid it proved of very little profit to you. And what about the present time?"
"I see no harm in telling you, sir, that a general watch is kept upon your movements. Duson was useful to us ... but now Duson is dead."
"It is a fact," Mr. Sabin said impressively, "that Duson was a genius. My admiration for him continually increases."
"Duson made harmless reports to us as we desired them," the detective said. "I have an idea, however, that if this course had at any time been inimical to your interests that Duson would have deceived us."
"I am convinced of it," Mr. Sabin declared.
"And Duson is dead!"
Mr. Sabin nodded gravely.
The little hard-visaged man looked steadily for a moment upon the carpet.
"Duson died virtually whilst accepting pay from if not actually in the employ of our Secret Service Department. You will understand, therefore, that we, knowing of this complication in his life, naturally incline towards the theory of murder. Shall I be taking a liberty, sir, if I give you an unprofessional word of warning?"
Mr. Sabin raised his eyebrows.
"By no means," he answered. "But surely you cannot - "
The man smiled.
"No, sir," he said drily. "I do not for one moment suspect you. The man was our spy upon your movements, but I am perfectly aware that there has been nothing worth reporting, and I also know that you would never run such a risk for the removal of so insignificant a person. No, my warning comes to you from a different point of view. It is, if you will pardon my saying so, none the less personal, but wholly friendly. The case of Duson will be sifted to the dregs, but unless I am greatly mistaken, and I do not see room for the possibility of a mistake, I know the truth already."
"You will share your knowledge?" Mr. Sabin asked quietly.
The detective shook his head.
"You shall know," he said, "before the last moment. But I want to warn you that when you do now it - it will be a shock to you."
Mr. Sabin stood perfectly still for several moments. This little man believed what he was saying. He was certainly deceived. Yet none the less Mr. Sabin was thoughtful.
"You do not feel inclined," he said slowly, "to give me your entire confidence."
"Not at present, sir," the man answered. "You would certainly intervene, and my case would be spoilt."
Mr. Sabin glanced at the clock.
"If you care to call on me to-morrow," he said, "I could perhaps show you something which might change your opinion."
The detective bowed.
"I am always open, sir," he said, "to conviction. I will come about twelve o'clock."
Mr. Sabin went back to the palm lounge. Lucille and Reginald Brott were sitting together at a small table, talking earnestly to one another. The Prince and Lady Carey had joined another party who were all talking together near the entrance. The latter, directly she saw them coming, detached herself from them and came to him.
"Your coffee is almost cold," she said, "but the Prince has found some brandy of wonderful age, somewhere in the last century, I believe."
Mr. Sabin glanced towards Lucille. She appeared engrossed in her conversation, and had not noticed his approach. Lady Carey shrugged.
"You have only a few minutes," she said, "before that dreadful person comes and frowns us all out. I have kept you a chair."
Mr. Sabin sat down. Lady Carey interposed herself between him and the small table at which Lucille was sitting.
"Have they discovered anything?" she asked.
"Nothing!" Mr. Sabin answered.
She played with her fan for a moment. Then she looked him steadily in the face.
He glanced towards her.
"Why are you so obstinate?" she exclaimed in a low, passionate whisper. "I want to be your friend, and I could be very useful to you. Yet you keep me always at arm's length. You are making a mistake. Indeed you are. I suppose you do not trust me. Yet reflect Have I ever told you anything that was not true? Have I ever tried to deceive you? I don't pretend to be a paragon of the virtues. I live my life to please myself. I admit it. Why not? It is simply applying the same sort of philosophy to my life as you have applied to yours. My enemies can find plenty to say about me - but never that I have been false to a friend. Why do you keep me always at arm's length, as though I were one of those who wished you evil?"
"Lady Carey," Mr. Sabin said, "I will not affect to misunderstand you, and I am flattered that you should consider my good will of any importance. But you are the friend of the Prince of Saxe Leinitzer. You are one of those even now who are working actively against me. I am not blaming you, but we are on opposite sides."
Lady Carey looked for a moment across at the Prince, and her eyes were full of venom.
"If you knew," she murmured, "how I loathe that man. Friends! That is all long since past. Nothing would give me so much pleasure as never to see his face again."
"Nevertheless," Mr. Sabin reminded her, "whatever your private feelings may be, he has claims upon you which you cannot resist."
"There is one thing in the world," she said in a low tone, "for which I would risk even the abnegation of those claims."
"You would perjure your honour?"
"Yes - if it came to that."
Mr. Sabin moved uneasily in his chair. The woman was in earnest. She offered him an invaluable alliance; she could show him the way to hold his own against even the inimical combination by which he was surrounded. If only he could compromise. But her eyes were seeking his eagerly, even fiercely.
"You doubt me still," she whispered. "And I thought that you had genius. Listen, I will prove myself. The Prince has one of his foolish passions for Lucille. You know that. So far she has shown herself able to resist his fascinations. He is trying other means. Lucille is in danger! Duson ! - but after all, I was never really in danger, except the time when I carried the despatches for the colonel and rode straight into a Boer ambush."
Mr. Sabin saw nothing, hut he did not move a muscle of his face. A moment later they heard the Prince's voice from behind them.
"I am very sorry," he said, "to interrupt these interesting reminiscences, but you see that every one is going. Lucille is already in the cloak-room."
Lady Carey rose at once, but the glance she threw at the Prince was a singularly malicious one. They walked down the carpeted way together, and Lady Carey left them without a word. In the vestibule Mr. Sabin and Reginald Brott came face to face.