Chapter VII. The Frantic Impresario
 

Fullaway slowly read this announcement aloud. When he had made an end of it he laughed.

"So your mysterious lady of the midnight motor, your Miss Celia Lennard of the Hull hotel, is the great and only Zelie de Longarde, eh?" he said. "Well, I guess that makes matters a lot easier and clearer. But you're sure it isn't a case of striking resemblance?"

"I only saw that woman for a minute or two, by moonlight, when she stuck her face out of her car to ask the way," replied Allerdyke, "but I'll lay all I'm worth to a penny-piece that the woman I then saw is the woman whose picture we're staring at. Great Scott! So she's a famous singer, is she? You know of her, of course? That sort of thing's not in my line--never was--I don't go to a concert or a musical party once in five years."

"Oh, she's great--sure!" responded Fullaway. "Beautiful voice--divine! And, as I say, things are going to be easy. I've met this lady more than once, though I didn't know that she'd any other name than that, which is presumably her professional one, and I've also had one or two business deals with her. So all we've got to do is to find out which hotel she's stopping at in this city, and then we'll go round there, and I'll send in my card. But I say--do you see, this affair's to-night, this very evening, and at eight o'clock, and it's past seven now. She'll be arraying herself for the platform. We'd better wait until--"

Allerdyke's practical mind asserted itself. He twisted the American round in another direction, and called to a porter who had picked up their bags.

"All that's easy," he said. "We'll stick these things in the left-luggage spot, dine here in the station, and go straight to the concert. There, perhaps, during an interval, we might get in a word with this lady who sports two names. Come on, now."

He hurried his companion from the cloak-room to the dining-room, gave a quick order on his own behalf to the waiter, left Fullaway to give his own, and began to eat and drink with the vigour of a man who means to waste no time.

"There's one thing jolly certain, my lad!" he said presently, leaning confidentially across the table after he had munched in silence for a while. "This Miss Lennard, or Mamselle, or Signora de Longarde, or whatever her real label is, hasn't got those jewels--confound 'em! Folks who steal things like that don't behave as she's doing."

"I never thought she had stolen the jewels," answered Fullaway. "What I want to know is--has she seen them, and when, and where, and under what circumstances? You've got her shoe-buckle all safe?"

"Waistcoat-pocket just now," replied Allerdyke laconically.

"That'll be an extra passport," observed Fullaway. "Not that it's needed, because, as I said, I've done business for her. Oddly enough, that was in the jewel line--I negotiated the sale of Pinkie Pell's famous pearl necklace with Mademoiselle de Longarde. You've heard of that, of course?"

"Never a whisper!" answered Allerdyke. "Not in my line, those affairs. Who was Pinkie Pell, anyhow!"

"Pinkie Pell was a well-known music-hall artiste, my dear sir, once a great favourite, who came down in the world, and had to sell her valuables," replied the American. "To the last she stuck to a pearl necklace, which was said to have been given to her by the Duke of Bendlecombe--Pinkie, they said, attached a sentimental value to it. However, it had to be sold, and I sold it for Pinkie to the lady we're going to see to-night. Seven thousand five hundred--it's well worth ten. Mademoiselle will be wearing it, no doubt--she generally does, anyway--so you'll see it."

"Not unless we get a front pew," said Allerdyke. "Hurry up, and let's be off! Our best plan," he went on as they made for a cab, "will be to get as near the platform as possible, so that I can make certain sure this is the woman I saw at Howden yesterday morning--when I positively identify her, I'll leave it to you to work the interview with her, either at this concert place or at her hotel afterwards. If it can be done at once, all the more to my taste--I want to be knowing things."

"Oh, we're going well ahead!" said Fullaway. "I'll work it all right. I noticed on that poster that this affair is being run by the Concert-Director Ernest Weiss. I know Weiss--he'll get us an interview with the great lady after she's appeared the first time."

"It's a fortunate thing for me to have a man who seems to know everybody," remarked Allerdyke. "I suppose it's living in London gives you so much acquaintance?"

"It's my business to know a lot of people," answered Fullaway. "The more the better--for my purposes. I'll tell you how I came to know your cousin later that's rather interesting. Well, here's the place, and it's five to eight now. We've struck it very well, and the only trouble'll be about getting good seats, especially as we're in morning dress."

Allerdyke smiled at that--in his opinion, money would carry a man anywhere, and there was always plenty of that useful commodity in his pockets. He insisted on buying the seats himself, and after some parleying and explaining at the box-office, he and his companion were duly escorted to seats immediately in front of a flower-decked platform, where they were set down amidst a highly select company of correctly attired folk, who glanced a little questioningly at their tweed suits, both conspicuous amidst silks, satins, broadcloths, and glazed linen. Allerdyke laughed as he thrust a program into Fullaway's hand.

"I worked that all right," he whispered. "Told the chap in that receipt of custom that you were a foreigner of great distinction travelling incognito in Scotland, and I your travelling companion, and that our luggage hadn't arrived from Aberdeen, so we couldn't dress, but we must hear this singing lady at all cost and in any case. Then I slapped down the brass and got the tickets--naught like brass in ready form, my lad! Now, then, when does the desired party appear?"

Fullaway unfolded his program and glanced over the items. The Concert-Direction of Ernest Weiss was famous for the fare which it put before its patrons, and here was certainly enough variety of talent to please the most critical--a famous tenor, a popular violinist, a contralto much in favour for her singing of tender and sentimental songs, a notable performer on the violincello, a local vocalist whose speciality was the singing of ancient Scottish melodies, and--item of vast interest to a certain section of the audience--a youthful prodigy who was fondly believed to have it in her power to become a female Paderewski. These performers were duly announced on the program in terms of varying importance; outstanding from all of them, of course, was the great star of the evening, the one and only Zelie de Longarde, acknowledged Queen of Song in Milan and Moscow, Paris and London, New York and Melbourne.

"Comes on fifth, I see," observed Allerdyke, glancing over his program unconcernedly. "Well, I suppose we've got to stick out the other four. I'm not great on music, Fullaway--don't know one tune from another. However, I reckon I can stand a bit of noise until my lady shows herself."

He listened with good-natured interest, which was not far removed from indifference, to the contralto, the 'cellist, the violinist, only waking up to something like enthusiasm when the infant prodigy, a quaint, painfully shy little creature, who bobbed a side curtsey at the audience, and looked much too small to tackle the grand piano, appeared and proceeded to execute wonderful things with her small fingers.

"That's a bit of all right!" murmured Allerdyke, when the child had finished her first contribution. "That's a clever little party! But she's too big in the eye, and too small in the bone--wants plenty of new milk, and new-laid eggs, and fresh air, and not so much piano-thumping, does that. Clever--clever--but unnatural, Fullaway!--they mustn't let her do too much at that. Well, now I suppose we shall see the shoe-buckle lady."

The packed audience evidently supposed the same thing. Over it--the infant prodigy having received her meed of applause and bobbed herself awkwardly out of sight--had come that atmosphere of expectancy which invariably heralds the appearance of the great figure on any similar occasion. It needed no special intuition on Allerdyke's part to know that all these people were itching to show their fondness for Zelie de Longarde by clapping their hands, waving their program, and otherwise manifesting their delight at once more seeing a prime favourite. All eyes were fixed on the wing of the platform, all hands were ready to give welcome. But a minute passed--two minutes--three minutes--and Zelie de Longarde did not appear. Another minute--and then, endeavouring to smile bravely and reassuringly, and not succeeding particularly well in the attempt, a tall, elaborately attired, carefully polished-up man, unmistakably German, blonde, heavy, suave, suddenly walked on to the platform and did obeisance to the audience.

"Weiss!" whispered Fullaway. "Something's wrong! Look at his face--he's in big trouble."

The concert-director straightened himself from that semi-military bow, and looked at the faces in front of him with a mute appeal.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he said, "I have to entreat the high favour of your kind indulgence. Mademoiselle de Longarde is not yet arrived from her hotel. I hope--I think--she is now on her way. In the meantime I propose, with your gracious consent, to continue, our program with the next item, at the conclusion of which, I hope, Mademoiselle will appear."

The audience was sympathetic--the audience was ready to be placated. It gave cordial hearing and warm favour to the singer of Scottish melodies--it even played into Mr. Concert-Director Weiss's hands by according the local singer an encore. But when he had finally retired there was another wait, a longer one which lengthened unduly, a note of impatience sounded from the gallery; it was taken up elsewhere. And suddenly Weiss came again upon the platform--this time with no affectation of suave entreaty. He was plainly much upset; his elegant waistcoat seemed to have assumed careworn creases, his mop of blonde hair was palpably rumpled as if he had been endeavouring to tear some of its wavy locks out by force. And when he spoke his fat voice shook with a mixture of chagrin and anger.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he said, "I crave ten thousand--a million--pardons for this so-unheard-of state of affairs! The--the truth is, Mademoiselle de Longarde is not yet here. What is more--I have to tell you the truth--Mademoiselle refuses to come--refuses to fulfil her honourable engagement. We are--have been for some time--on the telephone with her. Mademoiselle is at her hotel. She declares she has been robbed--her jewels have all been stolen from their case in her apartments. She is--how shall I say?--turning the hotel upside down! She refuses to budge one inch until her jewels are restored to her. How then?--I cannot restore her jewels. I say to her--my colleagues say to her--it is not your jewels we desire--it is your so beautiful, so incomparable voice. She reply--I cannot tell you what she reply! In effect--no jewels, no song! Ladies and gentlemen, once more!--your most kind, most considerate indulgence! I go there just now--I fly; swift, to the hotel, to entreat Mademoiselle on my knees to return with me! In the meantime--"

As Weiss retired from the platform, and the longhaired 'cellist came upon it, Fullaway sprang up, dragging Allerdyke after him. He led the way to a sidedoor, whispered something to an attendant, and was quickly ushered through another door to an ante-room behind the wings, where Weiss, livid with anger, was struggling into an opera-cloak. The concert-director gasped as he caught sight of the American.

"Ah, my dear Mr. Fullaway!" he exclaimed. "You here! You have heard?--you have been in front. You hear, then--she will not come to sing because her jewels are missing, eh? She--"

"What hotel is Mademoiselle de Longarde stopping at, Weiss?" asked Fullaway quietly.

"The North British and Caledonian--I go there just now!" answered Weiss. "I am ruined if she will not appear--ruined, disgraced! Jewels! Ah--!"

"Come on--we're going with you," said Fullaway. "Quick now!"

Allerdyke got some vivid impressions during the next few minutes, impressions various, startling. They began with a swift whirl through the lighted streets of the smoky old city, of a dash upstairs at a big hotel; they ended with a picture of a beautiful, highly enraged woman, who was freely speaking her mind to a dismayed hotel manager and a couple of men who were obviously members of the detective force.