Chapter Eighteen. Mr. Stuyvesant Guyler
 

Lauriston, surprised beyond a little at seeing Zillah, found his surprise turned into amazement as she seized his arm and forced him along the platform, careless of the groups of passengers and the porters, crowding about the baggage vans.

"What is it?" he demanded. "Has something happened? Where are we going?"

But Zillah held on determinedly, her eyes fixed ahead.

"Quick!" she said, pantingly. "A man I saw just now! He was there--he's gone--while I looked for you. We must find him! He must have gone this way. Andie!--look for him! A tall, clean-shaven man in a slouched hat and a heavy travelling coat--a foreigner of some sort. Oh, look!"

It was the first time she had called Lauriston by his name, and he gave her arm an involuntary pressure as they hastened along.

"But why?" he asked. "Who is he--what do you want with him? What's it all about?"

"Oh, find him!" she exclaimed. "You don't know how important it is! If I lose sight of him now, I'll very likely never see him again. And he must be found--and stopped--for your sake!"

They had come to the end of the platform, by that time, and Lauriston looked left and right in search of the man described. Suddenly he twisted Zillah round.

"Is that he--that fellow talking to another man?" he asked. "See him-- there?"

"Yes!" said Zillah. She saw the man of the platinum stud again, and on seeing him, stopped dead where she was, holding Lauriston back. The man, leisurely smoking his cigar, was chatting to another man, who, from the fact that he was carrying a small suit-case in one hand and a rug over the other arm, had evidently come in by the just-arrived express. "Yes!" she continued. "That's the man! And--we've just got to follow him wherever he goes!"

"What on earth for?" asked Lauriston. "What mystery's this? Who is he?"

At that moment the two men parted, with a cordial handshake; the man of the suit-case and the rug turned towards the stairs which led to the underground railway; the other man walked slowly away through the front of the station in the direction of the Great Northern Hotel. And Zillah immediately dragged Lauriston after him, keeping a few yards' distance, but going persistently forward. The man in front crossed the road, and strode towards the portico of the hotel--and Zillah suddenly made up her mind.

"We've got to speak to that man!" she said. "Don't ask why, now--you'll know in a few minutes. Ask him if he'll speak to me?"

Lauriston caught up the stranger as he set foot on the steps leading to the hotel door. He felt uncomfortable and foolish--but Zillah's tone left him no option but to obey.

"I beg your pardon," said Lauriston, as politely as possible, "but--this lady is very anxious to speak to you."

The man turned, glanced at Zillah, who had hurried up, and lifted his slouched hat with a touch of old-fashioned courtesy. There was a strong light burning just above them: in its glare all three looked at each other. The stranger smiled--a little wonderingly.

"Why, sure!" he said in accents that left no doubt of his American origin. "I'd be most happy. You're not mistaking me for somebody else?"

Zillah was already flushed with embarrassment. Now that she had run her quarry to earth, and so easily, she scarcely knew what to do with it.

"You'll think this very strange," she said, stammeringly, "but if you don't mind telling me something?--you see, I saw you just now in the station, when you were feeling for your match-box, and I noticed that you wore a platinum stud--with an unusual device on it."

The American laughed--a good-natured, genial laugh--and threw open his coat. At the same moment he thrust his wrists forward.

"This stud!" he said. "That's so!--it is platinum, and the device is curious. And the device is right there, too, see--on those solitaire cuff- studs! But--"

He paused looking at Zillah, whose eyes were now fastened on the cuff- studs, and who was obviously so astonished as to have lost her tongue.

"You seemed mighty amazed at my studs!" said the stranger, with another laugh. "Now, you'll just excuse me if I ask--why?"

Zillah regained her wits with an effort, and became as business-like as usual.

"Don't, please, think I'm asking idle and purposeless questions," she said. "Have you been long in London?"

"A few days only," answered the stranger, readily enough.

"Have you read of what's already called the Praed Street Murder in the papers?" continued Zillah.

"Yes--I read that," the stranger said, his face growing serious. "The affair of the old man--the pawnbroker with the odd name. Yes!"

"I'm the old man's granddaughter," said Zillah, brusquely. "Now, I'll tell you why I was upset by seeing your platinum stud. A solitaire stud, made of platinum, and ornamented with exactly the same device as yours, was found in our parlour after my grandfather's death--and another, evidently the fellow to it, was found in an eating-house, close by. Now, do you understand why I wished to speak to you?"

While Zillah spoke, the American's face had been growing graver and graver, and when she made an end, he glanced at Lauriston and shook his head.

"Say!" he said. "That's a very serious matter! You're sure the device was the same, and the material platinum?"

"I've been reared in the jewellery trade," replied Zillah. "The things I'm talking of are of platinum--and the device is precisely the same as that on your stud."

"Well!--that's mighty queer!" remarked the American. "I can't tell you why it's queer, all in a minute, but I do assure you it's just about the queerest thing I ever heard of in my life--and I've known a lot of queerness. Look here!--I'm stopping at this hotel--will you come in with me, and we'll just get a quiet corner and talk some? Come right in, then."

He led the way into the hotel, through the hall, and down a corridor from which several reception rooms opened. Looking into one, a small smoking lounge, and finding it empty, he ushered them aside. But on the threshold Zillah paused. Her business instincts were by this time fully aroused. She felt certain that whoever this stranger might he, he had nothing to do with the affair in Praed Street, and yet might be able to throw extraordinary light on it, and she wanted to take a great step towards clearing it up. She turned to the American.

"Look here!" she said. "I've told you what I'm after, and who I am. This gentleman is Mr. Andrew Lauriston. Did you read his name in the paper's account of that inquest?"

The American glanced at Lauriston with some curiosity.

"Sure!" he answered. "The man that found the old gentleman dead."

"Just so," said Zillah. "There are two friends of ours making enquiries on Mr. Lauriston's behalf at this moment. One of them's my cousin, Mr. Rubinstein; the other's Mr. Purdie, an old friend of Mr. Lauriston's. I've an idea where'll they'll be, just now--do you mind if I telephone them to come here, at once, so that they can hear what you have to tell us?"

"Not in the least!" assented the American heartily. "I'll be glad to help in any way I can--I'm interested. Here!--there's a telephone box right there--you go in now, and call those fellows up and tell 'em to come right along, quick!"

He and Lauriston waited while Zillah went into the telephone box: she felt sure that Melky and Purdie would have returned to Praed Street by that time, and she rang up Mrs. Goldmark at the Pawnshop to enquire. Within a minute or two she had rejoined Lauriston and the American--during her absence the stranger had been speaking to a waiter, and he now led his two guests to a private sitting-room.

"We'll be more private in this apartment," he observed. "No fear of interruption or being overheard. I've told the waiter man there's two gentlemen coming along, and they're to be brought in here as soon as they land. Will they be long?"

"They'll be here within twenty minutes," answered Zillah. "It's very kind of you to take so much trouble!"

The American drew an easy chair to the fire, and pointed Zillah to it.

"Well," he remarked, "I guess that in a fix of this sort, you can't take too much trouble! I'm interested in this case--and a good deal more than interested now that you tell me about these platinum studs. I reckon I can throw some light on that, anyway! But we'll keep it till your friends come. And I haven't introduced myself--my name's Stuyvesant Guyler. I'm a New York man--but I've knocked around some--pretty considerable, in fact. Say!--have you got any idea that this mystery of yours is at all connected with South Africa? And--incidentally--with diamonds?"

Zillah started and glanced at Lauriston.

"What makes you think of South Africa--and of diamonds?" she asked.

"Oh, well--but that comes into my tale," answered Guyler. "You'll see in due course. But--had it?"

"I hadn't thought of diamonds, but I certainly had of South Africa," admitted Zillah.

"Seems to be working in both directions," said Guyler, meditatively. "But you'll see that when I tell you what I know."

Purdie and Melky Rubinstein entered the room within the twenty minutes which Zillah had predicted--full of wonder to find her and Lauriston in company with a total stranger. But Zillah explained matters in a few words, and forbade any questioning until Mr. Stuyvesant Guyler had told his story.

"And before I get on to that," said Guyler, who had been quietly scrutinizing his two new visitors while Zillah explained the situation, "I'd just like to see that platinum solitaire that Mr. Rubinstein picked up--if he's got it about him?"

Melky thrust a hand into a pocket.

"It ain't never been off me, mister, since I found it!" he said, producing a little packet wrapped in tissue paper. "There you are!"

Guyler took the stud which Melky handed to him and laid it on the table around which they were all sitting. After glancing at it for a moment, he withdrew the studs from his own wrist-bands and laid them by its side.

"Yes, that's sure one of the lot!" he observed musingly. "I guess there's no possible doubt at all on that point. Well!--this is indeed mighty queer! Now, I'll tell you straight out. These studs--all of 'em--are parts of six sets of similar things, all made of that very expensive metal, platinum, in precisely the same fashion, and ornamented with the same specially invented device, and given to six men who had been of assistance to him in a big deal, as a little mark of his appreciation, by a man that some few years ago made a fortune in South Africa. That's so!"

Zillah turned on the American with a sharp look of enquiry.

"Who was he?" she demanded. "Tell us his name!"

"His name," replied Guyler, "was Spencer Levendale--dealer in diamonds."