Chapter XXII. The Man with the Yellow Face
 

In a narrow, drowsy side street at Rotterdam, bisected by a somnolent canal, stood flush with the red-brick sidewalk a small clean house. Wire blinds affixed to the windows of its ground and first floors gave it a curious blinking air as though its eyes were only half open. To the neat green front door was affixed a large brass plate inscribed with the single name: "Schulz."

A large woman, in a pink print dress with a white cloth bound about her head, was vigorously polishing the plate as, on the morning following her departure from London, Mary Trevert, Dulkinghorn's letter of introduction in her pocket, arrived in front of the residence of Mr. William Schulz. Euan MacTavish had, on the previous evening, seen her to her hotel and had then--very reluctantly, as it seemed to Mary--departed to continue his journey to The Hague, his taxi piled high with white-and-green Foreign Office bags, heavily sealed with scarlet wax.

Mary Trevert approached the woman, her letter of introduction, which Dulkinghorn, being an unusual person, had fastened down, in her hand.

"Schulz?" she said interrogatively.

"Nicht da," replied the woman without looking up from her rubbing.

"Has he gone out?" asked Mary in English.

"Verstehe nicht!" mumbled the woman.

But she put down her cleaning-rag and, breathing heavily, mustered the girl with a leisurely stare.

Mary repeated the question in German whereupon the woman brightened up considerably.

The Herr was not at home. The Herr had gone out. On business, jawohl. To the bank, perhaps. But the Herr would be back in time for Mittagessen at noon. There was beer soup followed by Rindfleisch ...

Mary hesitated an instant. She was wondering whether she should leave her letter of introduction. She decided she would leave it. So she wrote on her card: "Anxious to see you as soon as possible" and the name of her hotel, and gave it, with the letter, to the woman.

"Please see that Herr Schulz gets that directly he comes in," she said. "It is important!"

"Gut, gut!" said the woman, wiping her hands on her apron. She took the card and letter, and Mary, thanking her, set off to go back to her hotel.

About twenty yards from Mr. Schulz's house a narrow alley ran off. As Mary turned to regain the little footbridge across the canal to return to the noisy street which would take her back to the hotel, she caught sight of a man disappearing down this alley.

She only had a glimpse of him, but it was sufficient to startle her considerably. He was a small man wearing a tweed cap and a tweed travelling ulster of a vivid brown. It was not these details, however, which took her aback. It was the fact that in the glimpse she had had of the man's face she had seemed to recognize the features of Mr. Albert Edward Jeekes.

"What an extraordinary thing!" Mary said to herself. "It can't be Mr. Jeekes. But if it is not, it is some one strikingly like him!"

To get another view of the stranger she hurried to the corner of the alley. It was a mere thread of a lane, not above six yards wide, running between the houses a distance of some sixty yards to the next street. But the alley was empty. The stranger had disappeared.

Mary went a little way down the lane. A wooden fence ran down it on either side, with doors at intervals apparently giving on the back yards of the houses in the street. There was no sign of Mr. Jeekes's double, so she retraced her steps and returned to her hotel without further incident.

She had not been back more than half an hour when a waiter came in to the lounge where she was sitting.

"Miss Trevert?" he said. "Zey ask for you at ze delephone!"

He took her to a cabin under the main staircase.

"This is Miss Trevert speaking!" said Mary.

"I am speaking for Mr. Schulz," a man's voice answered--rather a nasal voice with a shade of foreign inflexion--"he has had your letter. He is very sorry he has been detained in the country, but would be very glad if you would lunch with him to-day at his country-house."

"I shall be very pleased," the girl replied. "Is it far?"

"Only just outside Rotterdam," the voice responded. "Mr. Schulz will send the car to the hotel to pick you up at 11.45. The driver will ask for you. Is that all right?"

"Certainly," said Mary. "Please thank Mr. Schulz and tell him I will expect the car at a quarter to twelve!"

Punctually at the appointed hour an open touring-car drove up to the hotel. Mary was waiting at the entrance. The driver was a young Dutchman in a blue serge suit. He jumped out and came up to Mary.

"Mees Trevert?" he said.

Mary nodded, whereupon he helped her into the car, then got back into the driving-seat and they drove away.

A run of about twenty minutes through trim suburbs brought them out on a long straight road, paved with bricks and lined with poplars. The day was fine with a little bright sunshine from time to time and a high wind which kept the sails of the windmills dotting the landscape turning briskly. They followed the road for a bit, then branched off down a side turning which led to a black gate. It bore the name "Villa Bergendal" in white letters. The gate opened into a short drive fringed by thick laurel bushes which presently brought them in view of an ugly square red-brick house.

The car drew up at a creeper-hung porch paved in red tiles. The chauffeur helped Mary to alight and, pushing open a glass door, ushered the girl into a square, comfortably furnished hall. Some handsome Oriental rugs were spread about: trophies of native weapons hung on the walls, and there were some fine specimens of old Dutch chests and blue Delft ware.

The chauffeur led the way across the hall to a door at the far end. As Mary followed him, something bright lying on one of the chests caught her eye. It was a vivid brown travelling ulster and on it lay a brown tweed cap.

Mary Trevert was no fool. She was, on the contrary, a remarkably quick-witted young person. The sight of that rather "loud" overcoat instantly recalled the stranger so strikingly resembling Mr. Jeekes who had disappeared down the lane as she was coming away from Mr. Schulz's house. Mr. Jeekes was in Rotterdam then, and had, of course, been sent by her mother to look after her. What a fool she had been to allow Euan MacTavish to persuade her to tell her mother of her plans!

Mary suddenly felt very angry. How dare Mr. Jeekes spy on her like this! She was quite capable, she told herself, of handling her own affairs, and she intended to tell the secretary so very plainly. And if, as she was beginning to believe, Mr. Schulz were acting hand in glove with Mr. Jeekes, she would let him know equally plainly that she had no intention of troubling him, but would make her own investigations independently. With a heightened colour she followed the chauffeur and passed through the door he held open for her.

She found herself in a small, pleasant room with a bright note of colour in the royal blue carpet and window-curtains. A log-fire burned cheerfully in the fireplace before which a large red-leather Chesterfield was drawn up. On the walls hung some good old Dutch prints, and there were a couple of bookcases containing books which, by their bindings at least, seemed old and valuable.

At the farther end of the room was another door across which a curtain of royal blue was drawn. Mary had scarcely entered the room when this door opened and a man appeared.

He was carefully dressed in a well-cut suit of some dark material and wore a handsome pearl pin in his black tie. He was a dark, sallow type of man, his skin yellowed as though from long residence in the tropics. A small black moustache, carefully trained outwards from the lips, disclosed, as he smiled a greeting at his visitor, a line of broken yellow teeth. His hair, which was grizzled at the temples, was black and oily and brushed right back off the forehead. With his coarse black hair, his sallow skin, and his small beady eyes, rather like a snake's, there was something decidedly un-English about him. As Mary Trevert looked at him, somewhat taken aback by his sudden appearance, she became conscious of a vague feeling of mistrust welling up within her.

The man closed the door behind him and advanced into the room, his hand extended. Mary took it. It was dank and cold to the touch.

"A thousand apologies, my dear Miss Trevert," he said in a soft, silky voice, a trifle nasal, with a touch of Continental inflexion, "for asking you to come out here to see me. The fact is I had an important business conference here this morning and I have a second one this afternoon. It was materially impossible for me to come into Rotterdam ... But I am forgetting my manners. Let me introduce myself. I am Mr. Schulz ..."

Mary Trevert looked at him thoughtfully. Was this the friend of Ernest Dulkinghorn, the man of confidence to whom he had recommended her? A feeling of great uneasiness came over her. She listened. The house was absolutely still. From the utter silence enveloping it--for aught she knew--she and her unsavoury-looking companion might be the only persons in it. And then she realized that, on the faith of a telephone call, she had blindly come out to a house, the very address of which was utterly unknown to her.

She fought down a sudden sensation of panic that made her want to scream, to bolt from the room into the fresh air, anywhere away from those snake eyes, that soft voice, that clammy hand. She collected her thoughts, remembered that Jeekes must be somewhere in the house, as his outdoor things were in the hall. The recollection reminded her of her determination to tolerate no interference from Jeekes or her mother.

So she merely answered: "It was no trouble to come," and waited for the man to speak again.

He pulled forward the Chesterfield and made her sit down beside him.

"I had the letter of introduction," he said, "and I want you to know that my services are entirely at your disposal. Now, what can I do for you?"

He looked at the girl intently--rather anxiously, she thought.

"That was explained in the letter," she answered, meeting his gaze unflinchingly.

"Yes, yes, of course, I know. I meant in what way do you propose to make use of my ... my local knowledge?"

"I will tell you that, Mr. Schulz," Mary Trevert said in a measured voice, "when you tell me what you think of the mission which has brought me here ..."

The snake's eyes narrowed a little.

"For a young lady to have come out alone to Holland on a mission of this description speaks volumes for your pluck and self-reliance, Miss Trevert ..."

"I asked you what you thought of my mission to Holland, Mr. Schulz," Mary interposed coldly.

It was beginning to dawn on her that Mr. Schulz did not seem to know anything about the object of her visit, but, on the contrary, was seeking to elicit this from her by a process of adroit cross-examination. She was rather puzzled, therefore, but also somewhat relieved when he said:

"I can give my opinion better after you have shown me the letter ..."

"What letter?" said the girl.

"The letter from Elias van der Spyck and Company, to be sure," retorted the other quickly.

Mary dipped her hand into her black fox muff. Then she hesitated. She could not rid herself of the suspicion that this man with the sallow face and the yellow fangs was not to be trusted. She withdrew her hand.

"This is a very delicate matter, Mr. Schulz," she said. "Our appointment was made by telephone, and I think therefore I should ask you to show me Mr. Dulkinghorn's letter of introduction before I go any further, so that I may feel quite sure in my mind that I am dealing with one in whom I know Mr. Dulkinghorn to have every confidence ..."

Mr, Schulz's yellow face went a shade yellower. His mouth twisted itself into a wry smile, his thin lips fleshing his discoloured teeth. He stood up rather stiffly.

"You are a guest in my house, Miss Trevert," he said with offended dignity, "I scarcely expected you to impugn my good faith. Surely my word is sufficient ..."

He turned his back on her and took a couple of paces into the room in apparent vexation. Then he returned and stood at the back of the Chesterfield behind her. His feet made no sound on the thick carpet, but some vague instinct made Mary Trevert turn her head. She saw him standing there, twisting his hands nervously behind his back.

"Surely my word is sufficient ..." he repeated.

"In business," said Mary boldly, "one cannot be too careful."

"Besides," Mr. Schulz urged, "this was a private letter which Mr. ... Mr. Dulkinghorn certainly did not expect you to see. That makes it awkward ..."

"I think in the circumstances," said Mary, "I must insist, Mr. Schulz!"

She was now feeling horribly frightened. She strained her ears in vain for a sound. The whole house seemed wrapped in a grave-like quiet. The smile had never left Mr. Schulz's face. But it was a cruel, wolfish grin without a ray of kindliness in it. The girl felt her heart turn cold within her every time her eyes fell on the mask-like face.

Mr. Schulz shrugged shoulders.

"Since you insist ..." he remarked. "But I think it is scarcely fair on our friend Dulkinghorn. The letter is in the safe in my office next door. If you come along I will get it out and show it to you ..."

He spoke unconcernedly, but stiffly, as though to emphasize the slight put upon his dignity. One hand thrust jauntily in his jacket pocket, he stepped across the carpet to the door with the blue curtain. He opened it, then stood back for the girl to pass in before him.

"After you!" he said.

He had placed himself so close to the doorway that the black fox about her neck brushed his face as she passed. Suddenly a warm, sickly whiff of some sweet-smelling odour came to her. She stopped on the instant, irresolute, alarmed. Then a dank hand was clapped on her face, covering nostrils and mouth with a soft cloth reeking with a horrible cloying drug. An arm with muscles like steel was passed round her waist and held her in a vice-like grip against which she struggled in vain. She felt her senses slipping, slipping ...