Chapter XXVI. Participants in the Secret
 

Allerdyke was scarcely prepared for the feverish energy with which Fullaway dragged him out of the hotel, forced him into the first taxi-cab they met, and bade the driver make haste to the Waldorf. He knew by that time that the American was a nervous, excitable individual who now and then took on tremendous fits of work in which he hustled and bustled everybody around him, but he had never seen him quite so excited and eager as now. The discovery at that shabby hotel which they had just quitted seemed to have acted on him like the smell of powder on an old war-horse; he appeared to be positively panting for action.

"Allerdyke!" he almost shouted as the cab moved away, and he himself smote one clenched fist upon the other. "Allerdyke--this thing has got to go through! I resign all claim to that reward. Allerdyke!--this affair is too serious for any hole-and-corner work. I shall tell Van Koon that what we know, or fancy, must be thrown into the common stock of knowledge! The thing is to get at the people who've been behind this poor chap Ebers, or Federman, or Herman, or whatever his name is. Allerdyke!--we must go right into things."

Allerdyke laughed sardonically. When Fullaway developed excitement, he developed coolness, and his voice became as dry and hard as the other's was fervid and eloquent.

"Aye!" he said in his most phlegmatic tones. "Aye, just so! And where d'ye intend to cut in, now, like? Is it a sort of Gordian knot affair that you're thinking of? Going to solve this difficulty at one blow?"

"Don't be sarcastic," retorted Fullaway. "I'm going to take things clean up from this Federman or Ebers affair. I'm going deep--deep! You'll see in a few minutes."

"Willing to see--and to hear--aught," remarked Allerdyke laconically. "I've been doing naught else since I got that wireless telegram."

Then they relapsed into silence until the Waldorf was reached. There Fullaway raced his companion upstairs to his rooms and burst in upon Mrs. Marlow like a whirlwind. The pretty secretary, busied with her typewriter, looked up, glanced at both men, and calmly resumed her labours.

"Mrs. Marlow!" exclaimed Fullaway. "Just step to Mr. Van Koon's rooms and beg him to come back here to my sitting-room with you--important business, Mrs. Marlow--I want you, too."

Allerdyke, closely watching the woman around whom so much mystery centred, saw that she did not move so much as an eyelash. She laid her work aside, left the room, and within a minute returned with Van Koon, who gazed at Fullaway with an air of half-amused inquiry.

"Something happened?" he asked, nodding to Allerdyke. "Town on fire?"

"Van Koon, sit down," commanded Fullaway, pushing his compatriot into the inner room. "Mrs. Marlow, fasten that outer door and come in here. We're going to have a stiff conference. Sit down, please, all of you. Now," he went on, when the other three had ranged themselves about the centre table, "There is news, Van Koon. Allerdyke and I have just come away from an hotel in the Docks where we've seen the dead body of a young man who's been found dead there under precisely similar circumstances to those which attended the death of the French maid in Eastbourne Terrace. We've also heard a description of a man who was at this hotel in the Docks last night--it corresponds to that of the fellow who accompanied Lisette Beaurepaire. I, personally, have no doubt that this man, whoever he is, is the murderer of Lisette and of this youngster whose body we've just seen. Mrs. Marlow, this dead young fellow, from whose death-chamber we've just come, is that valet I used to have here--Ebers. You remember him?"

"Sure!" answered Mrs. Marlow, quite calmly and unconcernedly. "Very well indeed."

"This Ebers," continued Fullaway, turning to Van Koon, "was a young fellow, Swiss, German, something of that sort, who acted as valet to me and to some other men here in this hotel for a time. I needn't go into too many details now, but there's no doubt that he knew, and was in touch with, Lisette Beaurepaire, and Miss Lennard positively identifies him as the man who met her and Lisette at Hull, and represented himself as Lisette's brother. Now then, Ebers--we'll stick to that name for the sake of clearness--was in and out of my rooms a good deal, of course. And what I want to know now, Mrs. Marlow, is--do you think he got access to our letters, papers, books? Could he find out, for instance, that I was engaged in this deal between the Princess Nastirsevitch and Mr. Delkin, and that Miss Lennard had bought the Pinkie Pell pearls? Think!"

Mrs. Marlow had evidently done her thinking; she replied without hesitation.

"If he did, or could, it would be through your own carelessness, Mr. Fullaway," she said. "You know that I am ridiculously careful about that sort of thing! From the time I come here in the morning--ten-o'clock--until I leave at five, no one has any chance of seeing our papers, or our letter book, or our telegram-copies book. They are always on my desk while I am in the office, and when I go downstairs to lunch I lock them up in the safe. But--you're not careful! How many times have I come in the morning, and found that you've taken these things out of the safe over-night and left them lying about for anybody to see? Dozens of times!"

"I know--I know!" admitted Fullaway with a groan. "I'm frightfully careless--always was. I quite admit it, Mrs. Marlow, quite!"

"Of course," continued Mrs. Marlow, in precise, even tones, "of course if you left the letter-book lying round, and the book in which the duplicates of all our telegrams and cablegrams are kept, too--why, this Ebers man could easily read what he liked for himself when he was in here of a morning before you got up. He was in and out a great deal, that's certain. And as regards those two affairs, the documents we have about them are pretty plain, Mr. Fullaway. Anybody of average intelligence could find out in ten minutes from our letter-book and telegram-book that we negotiated the sale of the Pinkie Pell pearls to Miss Lennard, and that Mr. James Allerdyke was bringing here a valuable parcel of jewels from Russia. And," concluded Mrs. Marlow quietly, "from what I saw of him, Ebers was a smart man."

Van Koon, who had been listening attentively to all this, turned a half-whimsical, half-reproving glance on Fullaway, who sat in a contrite attitude, drumming his fingers on the polished table.

"I guess you're a very careless individual, my friend," he said, shaking his head. "If you will leave your important papers lying about, as this lady says you're in the habit of doing, what do you expect? Now, you've been wondering who got wind of this jewel deal, and here's the very proof that you gave every chance to this Ebers to acquaint himself with it! And what I'd like to know now, Fullaway, is this--what use do you suppose this young fellow made of the information he acquired? That seems to me to be the point."

"Yes!" exclaimed Allerdyke suddenly. "That is the point!"

Fullaway smote the table.

"The thing's obvious!" he cried. "He sold his information to a gang. There must have been--I mean must be--a gang. It's utterly impossible that all this could have been worked by one man. The man we've heard of in connection with the deaths of Lisette Beaurepaire and of Ebers himself is only one of the combination. I'm as sure of that as I am that I see you. But--who are they?"

Nobody answered this question. Allerdyke plunged his hands in his pockets and stared at Fullaway; Mrs. Marlow began to trace imaginary patterns on the surface of the table; Van Koon produced a penknife and began to scrape the edges of his filbert nails with a preoccupied air.

"There's the thing I've insisted on all along, Fullaway, you know," he said at last, finding that no one seemed inclined to speak. "I've insisted on it, but you've always put it off. I don't care what you say--it'll have to come to it. Let me suggest it, now, to our friends here--they're both cute enough, I reckon!"

"Oh, as you please, as you please!" replied Fullaway, with a wave of his hands. "Say anything you like, Van Koon--it seems as if too much couldn't be said at this juncture."

"All right," answered Van Koon. He turned to Allerdyke and Mrs. Marlow. "Ever since this affair was brought under my notice," he said, "I've pointed out to Fullaway certain features in connection with it. First--there's no evidence whatever that this plot originated in or was worked from Russia. Second--there is evidence that it began here in London and was carried out from London. And following on that second proposition comes another. Fullaway knew that these jewels were coming--"

He paused and gave the secretary a keen look. And Allerdyke, watching her just as keenly, saw her face and eyes as calm and inscrutable as ever; it was absolutely evident that nothing could move this woman, no chance word or allusion take her unawares. Van Koon smiled, and leaned nearer.

"But," he said, tapping the table in emphasis of his words, "there was somebody else who knew of this deal, somebody whose name Fullaway there steadfastly refuses to bring in. Delkin!"

Fullaway suddenly laughed, throwing up his arms.

"Delkin!" he exclaimed satirically. "A millionaire several times over! The thing's ridiculous, Van Koon! Delkin would kick me out if I went and asked him--"

"Delkin will have to be asked," interrupted Van Koon. "You will not face the facts, Fullaway. Millionaire, multimillionaire, Delkin was the third person (I'm leaving this valet, Ebers, clean out, though I've not the slightest doubt he was one of the pieces of the machine) who knew that James Allerdyke was bringing two hundred and fifty thousand pounds' worth of jewels for his, Delkin's approval! That's a fact, Fullaway, which cannot be got over."

"Psha!" exclaimed Fullaway. "I suppose you think Delkin, who could buy up the best jeweller's shop in London or Paris and throw its contents to the street children to play with--"

"What is it that's in your mind, Mr. Van Koon?" asked Allerdyke, interrupting Fullaway's eloquence. "You've some theory?"

"Well, I don't know about theory," answered Van Koon, "but I guess I've got some natural common sense. If Fullaway there thinks I'm suggesting that Delkin organized a grand conspiracy to rob James Allerdyke, Fullaway's wrong--I'm not. What I am suggesting, and have been suggesting this last three days, is that Delkin should be asked a plain and simple question, which is this--did he ever tell anybody of this proposed deal? If so--whom did he tell? And if that isn't business," concluded Van Koon, "then I don't know business when I see it!"

"What's your objection?" asked Allerdyke, looking across at Fullaway. "What objection can you have?"

Fullaway shook his head.

"Oh, I don't know!" he said. "Except that it seems immaterial, and that I don't want to bother Delkin. I'm hoping that these jewels will be found, and that I'll be able to complete the transaction, and--besides, I don't believe for one instant that Delkin would tell anybody. I only had two interviews with Delkin--one at his hotel, one here. He understood the affair was an entirely private and secret transaction."

Mrs. Marlow suddenly raised her head, and spoke quickly.

"You're forgetting something, Mr. Fullaway," she said. "You had a letter from Mr. Delkin confirming the provisional agreement, which was that he should have the first option of buying the Princess Nastirsevitch's jewels, then being brought by Mr. James Allerdyke from Russia."

"True--true!" exclaimed Fullaway, clapping a hand to his forehead. "So I had! I'd forgotten that. But, after all, it was purely a private letter from Delkin, and--"

"No," interrupted Mrs. Marlow. "It was written and signed by Mr. Delkin's secretary. So that the secretary knew of the transaction."

Van Koon shook his head and glanced at Allerdyke.

"There you are!" he said. "The secretary knew--Delkin's secretary! How do we know that Delkin's secretary--?"

"Oh, that's all rot, Van Koon!" exclaimed Fullaway testily. "Delkin's secretary, Merrifield, has been with him for years to my knowledge, and--"

But Allerdyke had suddenly risen and was picking up his hat from a side table. He turned to Fullaway as he put it on.

"I quite agree with Mr. Van Koon," he said, "and as I'm James Allerdyke's cousin and his executor, I'm going to step round and see this Mr. Delkin at his hotel--the Cecil, you said. It's no use trifling, Fullaway--Delkin knew, and Mrs. Marlow now tells us his secretary knew. All right!--my job is to see, in person, anybody who knew. Then, maybe, I myself shall get to know."

Van Koon, too, rose.

"I know Delkin, slightly," he said. "I'll go with you."

At that, Fullaway jumped up, evidently annoyed and unwilling, but prepared to act against his own wishes.

"Oh, all right, all right!" he exclaimed. "In that case we'll all go. Come on--it's only across the Strand. Back after lunch, Mrs. Marlow, if anybody wants me."

The three men marched out, and left the pretty secretary standing by the table from which they had all risen. She stood there for a few minutes in deep thought--stood until a single stroke from the clock on the mantelpiece roused her. At that she walked into the outer office, put on her coat and hat, and, leaving the hotel, went sharply off in the direction of Arundel Street.