The Rayner-Slade Amalgamation by J. S. Fletcher
Chapter VIII. The Jewel Box
Mademoiselle Zelie de Longarde, utterly careless of the fact that her toilette was but half complete, that she wore no gown, and that the kimono which she had hastily assumed on discovering her loss had slipped away from her graceful figure to fall in folds about her feet, interrupted the torrent of her eloquence to stare at the three men whom a startled waiter ushered into her sitting-room. Her first glance fell on the concert-director, and she shook her fist at him.
"Go away, Weiss!" she commanded, accompanying the vigorous action of her hand with an equally emphatic stamp of a shapely foot. "Go away at once--go and play on the French horn; go and do anything you like to satisfy your audience! Not one note do I sing until somebody finds me my jewels! Edinburgh's stole them, and Edinburgh'll have to give them back. It's no use your waiting here--I won't budge an inch. I--"
She paused abruptly, suddenly catching sight of Fullaway, who at once moved towards her with a confidential and reassuring smile.
"You!" she exclaimed. "What brings you here? And who's that with you--surely the gentleman of whom I asked my way in some wild place the other night! What--"
"Mademoiselle," said Fullaway, with a deep bow, "let me suggest to you that the finest thing in this mundane state of ours is--reason. Suppose, now, that you complete your toilet, tell us what it is you have lost; leave us--your devoted servants--to begin the task of finding it, and while we are so engaged, hasten with Mr. Weiss to the hall to fulfil your engagement? A packed audience awaits you--palpitating with sympathy and--"
"And curiosity," interjected the aggrieved prima donna, as she threw a hasty glance at her deshabille and snatched up the kimono. "Pretty talk, Fullaway--very, and all intended to benefit Weiss there. Lost, indeed!--I've lost all my jewels, and up to now nobody"--here she flashed a wrathful glance at the hotel manager and the two detectives--"nobody has made a single suggestion about finding them!"
Fullaway exchanged looks with the other men. Once more he assumed the office of spokesman.
"Perhaps you have not told them precisely what it is they're to find," he suggested. "What is it now, Mademoiselle? The Pinkie Pell necklace for instance!"
The prima donna, who was already retreating through the door of the bedroom on whose threshold she had been standing, flashed a scornful look at her questioner over the point of her white shoulder.
"Pinkie Pell necklace!" she exclaimed. "Everything's gone! The whole lot! Look at that--not so much as a ring left in it!"
She pointed a slender, quivering finger to a box which stood, lid thrown open, on a table in the sitting-room, by which the detectives were standing, open-mouthed, and obviously puzzled. Allerdyke, following the pointing finger, noted that the box was a very ordinary-looking affair--a tiny square chest of polished wood, fitted with a brass swing handle. It might have held a small type-writing machine; it might have been a medicine chest; it certainly did not look the sort of thing in which one would carry priceless jewels. But Mademoiselle de Longarde was speaking again.
"That's what I always carried my jewels in--in their cases," she said. "And they were all in there when I left Christiania a few days ago, and that box has never been out of my sight--so to speak--since. And when I opened it here to-night, wanting the things, it was as empty as it is now. And if I behave handsomely, and go with Weiss there, to fulfil this engagement, it'll only be on condition that you stop here, Fullaway, and do your level best to get me my jewels back. I've done all I can--I've told the manager there, and I've told those two policemen, and not a man of them seems able to suggest anything! Perhaps you can."
With that she disappeared and slammed the door of the bedroom, and the six men, left in a bunch, looked at each other. Then one of the detectives spoke, shaking his head and smiling grimly.
"It's all very well to say we suggest nothing," he said. "We want some facts to go on first. Up to now, all the lady's done is to storm at us and at everybody--she seems to think all Edinburgh's in a conspiracy to rob her! We don't know any circumstances yet, except that she says she's been robbed. Perhaps--"
"Wait a bit," interrupted Fullaway. "Let us get her off to her engagement. Then we can talk. I suppose," he continued, turning to the manager, "she first announced her loss to you?"
"She announced her loss to the whole world, in a way of speaking," answered the manager, with a dry laugh.
"She screamed it out over the main staircase into the hall! Everybody in the place knows it by this time--she took good care they should. I don't know how she can have been robbed--so far as I can learn she's scarcely been out of these rooms since she came into them yesterday afternoon. The grand piano had been put in for her before she arrived, and she's spent all her time singing and playing--I don't believe she's ever left the hotel. And as I pointed out to her when she fetched me up, she found this box locked when she went to it--why didn't the thieves carry it bodily away? Why--"
"Just so--just so!" broke in Fullaway. "I quite appreciate your points. But there is more in this than meets the first glance. Let us get Mademoiselle off to her engagement, I say--that's the first thing. Then we can do business. Weiss," he continued, drawing the concert-director aside, "you must arrange to let her appear as soon as possible after you get back to the hall, and to put forward her appearance in the second half of your program, so that she can return here as soon as possible--she'll only be in irrepressible fidgets until she knows what's been done. And--you know what she is!--you ought to be very thankful that she's allowed herself to be persuaded to go with you. Mademoiselle," he went on, as the prima donna, fully attired, but innocent of jewelled ornament, swept into the room, "you are doing the right thing--bravely! Go, sing--sing your best, your divinest--let your admiring audience recognize that you have a soul above even serious misfortune. Meanwhile, allow me to order your supper to be served in this room, for eleven o'clock, and permit me and my friend, Mr. Allerdyke, to invite ourselves to share it with you. Then--we will give you some news that will interest and astonish you."
"That only makes me all the more frantic to get back," exclaimed the prima donna. "Come along, now, Weiss--you've got a car outside, I suppose? Hurry, then, and let me get it over."
When the vastly relieved concert-director had led his bundle of silks and laces safely out, Fullaway laughed and turned to the other men.
"Now, gentlemen," he said, "perhaps we can have a little quiet talk about this affair." He flung himself into a seat and nodded at the hotel-manager. "Just tell us exactly what's happened since Mademoiselle arrived here," he said. "Let's get an accurate notion of all her doings. She came--when?"
"She got here about the beginning of yesterday afternoon," answered the manager, who did not appear to be too well pleased about this disturbance of his usual proceedings. "She has always had this suite of rooms whenever she has sung in Edinburgh before, and it was understood that whenever she wrote or wired for them we were to arrange for a grand piano, properly tuned to concert-pitch, to be put in for her. She wrote for the suite over a fortnight ago from Russia, and, of course, we had everything in readiness for her. She turned up, as I say, yesterday, alone--she explained something about her maid having been obliged to leave her on arrival in England, and since she came she's had the services of one of our smartest chambermaids, whom she herself picked out after carefully inspecting a whole dozen of them. That chambermaid can tell you that Mademoiselle's scarcely left her rooms since then, and it's an absolute mystery to me that any person could get in here, open this box, and abstract its contents. As I say--if anybody wanted to steal her jewels, why didn't he pick up this box and carry it bodily off instead of hanging about to pick the lock? I don't believe--"
"Ah, quite so!" interrupted Fullaway. "I quite agree with you. Now, at what time did Mademoiselle announce the loss of her jewels?"
"Oh, about--say, an hour ago. This chambermaid--she's there in the bedroom now--was helping her to dress for the concert. She--Mademoiselle--went to this box to get out what ornaments she wanted. According to the girl, she let out an awful scream, and, just as she was, rushed to the head of the main stairs--these rooms, as you see, are on our first floor--and began to shout for me, for anybody, for everybody. The hall below was just then full of people--coming in and out of the dining-room and so on. She set the whole place going with the noise she made," added the manager, visibly annoyed. "It would have been far better if she'd shown some reserve--"
"Reserve is certainly an admirable quality," commented Fullaway, "but it is foreign to young ladies of Mademoiselle's temperament. Well--and then?"
"Oh, then, of course, I came up to her suite. She showed me this box. It had stood, she declared, on a table by her bedside, close to her pillows, from the moment she entered her rooms yesterday. She swore that it ought to have been full of her jewels--in cases. When she had opened it--just before this--it was empty. Of course, she demanded the instant presence of the police. Also, she insisted that I should at once, that minute, lock every door in the hotel, and arrest every person in it until their effects and themselves could be rigorously searched and examined. Ridiculous!"
"As you doubtless said," remarked Fullaway.
"No--I said nothing. Instead I telephoned for police assistance. These two officers came. And," concluded the manager, with a sympathetic glance at the detectives, "since they came Mademoiselle has done nothing but insist on arresting every soul within these walls--she seems to think there's a universal conspiracy against her."
"Exactly," said Fullaway. "It is precisely what she would think--under the circumstances. Now let us see this chambermaid."
The manager opened the door of the bedroom, and called in a pretty, somewhat shy, Scotch damsel, who betrayed a becoming confusion at the sight of so many strangers. But she gave a plain and straightforward account of her relations with Mademoiselle since the arrival of yesterday. She had been in almost constant attendance on Mademoiselle ever since her election to the post of temporary maid--had never left her save at meal-times. The little chest had stood at Mademoiselle's bed-head always--she had never seen it moved, or opened. There was a door leading into the bedroom from the corridor. Mademoiselle had never left the suite of rooms since her arrival. She had talked that morning of going for a drive, but rain had begun to fall, and she had stayed in. Mademoiselle had seemed utterly horrified when she discovered her loss. For a moment she had sunk on her bed as if she were going to faint; then she had rushed out into the corridor, just as she was, screaming for the manager and the police.
When the pretty chambermaid had retired, Fullaway took up the box from which the missing property was believed to have been abstracted. He examined it with seeming indifference, yet he announced its particulars and specifications with business-like accuracy.
"Well--this chest, cabinet, or box," he observed carelessly. "Let us look at it. Here, gentlemen, we have a piece of well-made work. It is--yes, eighteen inches square all ways. It is made of--yes, rosewood. Its corners, you see, are clamped with brass. It has a swing handle, fitted into this brass plate which is sunk into the lid. It has also three brass letters sunk into that lid--Z. D. L. Its lock does not appear to be of anything but an ordinary nature. Taking it altogether, I don't think this is the sort of thing in which you would believe a lady was carrying several thousand pounds' worth of pearls and diamonds. Eh?"
One of the detectives stirred uneasily--he did not quite understand the American's light and easy manner, and he seemed to suspect him of persiflage.
"We ought to be furnished with a list of the missing articles," he said. "That's the first thing."
"By no means," replied Fullaway. "That, my dear sir, is neither the first, nor the second, nor the third thing. There is much to do before we get to that stage. At present, you, gentlemen, cannot do anything. To-morrow morning, perhaps, when I have consulted with Mademoiselle de Longarde, I may call you in again--or call upon you. In the meantime, there's no need to detain you. Now," he continued, turning to the manager, when the detectives, somewhat puzzled and bewildered, had left the room, "will you see that your nicest supper is served--for three--in this room at eleven o'clock, against Mademoiselle's return? Send up your best champagne. And do not allow yourself to dwell on Mademoiselle's agitation on discovering her loss. That agitation was natural. If it is any consolation to you, I will give you a conclusion which may be satisfactory to your peace of mind as manager. What is it? Merely this--that though Mademoiselle de Longarde has undoubtedly lost her jewels, they were certainly not stolen from her in this hotel!"