Chapter XXIV. The Metamorphosis of Mr. Schulz
 

As the girl collapsed, the yellow-faced man, with an adroit movement, whisked the handkerchief off her face and crammed it into his pocket. Then, while he supported her with one arm, with the other he thrust at the door to close it. Without paying further attention to it, he turned and, bending down, lifted the girl without an effort off her feet and carried her across the room to the Chesterfield, upon which he laid her at full length. Then he seized her muff, which dangled from her neck by a thin platinum chain.

Suddenly he heard the door behind him creak. In a flash he remembered that he had not heard the click of the lock as he had thrust the door to. He was springing erect when a firm hand gripped him by the back of the collar and pulled him away from the couch. He staggered back, striving to regain his balance, but then a savage shove flung him head foremost into the fireplace. He fell with a crash among the fire-irons. But he was on his feet again in an instant.

He saw a tall, athletic-looking young man standing at the couch. He had a remarkably square jaw; his eyes were shining and he breathed heavily. He wore a blue serge suit which was heavily besmeared with white plaster and the trousers were rent across one knee. Straight at his throat sprang the yellow-faced man.

Something struck him halfway. The young man had waited composedly for his coming, but as his assailant advanced, had shot out his left hand. There was a sharp crack and the yellow-faced man, reeling, dropped face downwards on the carpet without a sound. In his fall his foot caught a small table on which a vase of chrysanthemums stood, and the whole thing went over with a loud crash. He made a spasmodic effort to rise, hoisted himself on to his knees, swayed again, and then collapsed full length on the floor, where he lay motionless.

The sound of the fall seemed to awaken the girl. She stirred uneasily once or twice.

"What ... what is it?" she muttered, and was still again.

Bending down, the young man gathered her up in his arms and bore her out through the door with the blue curtain, through a plainly furnished sort of office with high desks and stools, and out by a side door into a paved yard. There an open car was standing. The fresh air seemed to revive the girl further. As the young man laid her on the seat, she struggled up into a sitting position and passed her hand across her forehead.

"What is the matter with me?" she said in a dazed voice; "I feel so ill!"

Then, catching sight of the young man as he peered into her face, she exclaimed:

"Robin!"

"Thank God, you're all right, Mary," said Robin. "We've not got a moment to lose. We must get away from here quick!"

He was at the bonnet cranking up the car. But the engine, chilled by the cold air, refused to start. As he was straining at the handle, a man dashed suddenly into the yard by the office door.

It was Jeekes. The little secretary was a changed man. He still wore his pince-nez. But his mild air had utterly forsaken him. His face was livid, the eyes bulged horribly from his head, and his whole body was trembling with emotion. In his hand he held an automatic pistol. He came so fast that he was at the car and had covered Robin with his weapon before the other had seen him come.

Mr. Jeekes left Robin no time to act. He called out in a voice that rang like a pistol shot:

"Hands up, Mr. Smartie! Quick, d'you hear? Put 'em up, damn you!"

Slowly, defiantly the young man raised his arms above his head.

Mr. Jeekes stood close to the driver's seat, having prudently put the car between himself and Robin. As he stood there, his automatic levelled at the young man, a remarkable thing happened. A black, soft surface suddenly fell over his face and was pulled back with a brisk tug. Mary Trevert, standing up in the back seat of the car, had flung her fur over the secretary's head from behind and caught him in a noose. Before Mr. Jeekes could disentangle himself, Robin was at his throat and had borne him to the ground. The pistol was knocked skilfully from his hand and fell clattering on the flags. Robin pounced down on it. Then for the first time he smiled, a sunny smile that lit up his blue eyes.

"Bravo, Mary!" he said. "That was an idea! Now, then, Jeekes," he ordered, "crank up that car. And be quick about it! We want to be off!"

The little secretary was a lamentable sight. He was bleeding from a cut on the forehead, his clothes were covered with dust, and his glasses had been broken in his fall. Peering helplessly about him, he walked to the bonnet of the car and sullenly grasped the handle. The smile had left Robin's face, and Mary noticed that he looked several times anxiously at the office door.

And then suddenly the engine bit. Handing the pistol to the girl, Robin warned her to keep the secretary covered and, leaping into the driving-seat, turned the car into the avenue which curved round the house.

Mr. Jeekes made no further show of fight. He remained standing in the centre of the courtyard, a ludicrous, rather pathetic, figure. As the tyres of the car gritted on the gravel of the drive, the office door was flung open and the yellow-faced man ran out, brandishing a big revolver.

"Stop!" he shouted and levelled his weapon. The car seemed to leap forward and took the sharp turn on two wheels just as the man fired. The bullet struck the wall of the house and sent up a shower of plaster. Before he could fire again the car was round the house and out of sight. But as the car whizzed round the turn an instant before the yellow-faced man fired, the girl heard a sharp cry from Jeekes:

"Don't, Victor ...!"

The rest of the sentence was lost in the roar of the engine as the car raced away down the drive.

They left the avenue in a splutter of wet gravel. The gate still stood open. They wheeled furiously into the side road and regained the chaussée. As yet there was no sign of pursuit. The car rocked dangerously over the broken pavé, so Robin, after a glance behind, steadied her down to an easier pace. Mary, who looked very pale and ill, was lying back on the back seat with her eyes closed.

They ran easily into Rotterdam as, with a terrific jangle of tunes played jerkily on the chimes, the clocks were striking two. Robin slowed down as they approached the centre of the city.

"Where are you staying, Mary?" he asked.

He had to repeat the question several times before she gave him the address. Then he found himself in a quandary. He was in a strange town and did not know a word of the language so as to be able to ask the way. However, he solved the difficulty without great trouble. He beckoned to a newspaper boy on the square outside the Bourse and, holding up a two-gulden piece, indicated by signs that he desired him as a guide. The boy comprehended readily enough and, springing on the footboard of the car, brought them safely to the hotel.

Robin left Mary and the car in charge of the boy and went to the office and asked to see the manager. He had decided upon the story he must tell.

"Miss Trevert," he said, when the manager, a blond and suave Swiss, had presented himself, "has been to the dentist and has been rather upset by the gas. Would you get one of the maids to help her up to her room and in the meantime telephone for a doctor. If there is an English doctor in Rotterdam, I should prefer to have him!"

The manager clicked in sympathy. He despatched a lady typist and a chambermaid to help Mary out of the car.

"For a doctor," he said, "it ees fortunate. We 'ave an English doctor staying in ze hotel now--a sheep's doctor. He is in ze lounge. Eef you come, hein?"

The "sheep's doctor" proved to be a doctor off one of the big liners, a clean-shaven, red-faced, hearty sort of person who readily volunteered his services. As Robin was about to follow him into the lift, the manager stopped him.

"Zere was a shentleman call to see Mees Trevert," he said, "two or three time 'e been 'ere ... a Sherman shentleman. 'E leave 'er a note ... will you take it?"

Greatly puzzled, Robin Greve balanced in his hands the letter which the manager produced from a pigeon-hole. Then he tore open the envelope.

DEAR MISS TREVERT [he read], I was extremely sorry to miss you this morning. Directly I received your message I called at your hotel, but, though I have been back twice, I have not found you in. Circumstances have arisen which make it imperative that I should see you as soon as possible. This is most urgent. I will come back at four o'clock, as I cannot get away before. Do not leave the hotel on any pretext until you have seen me and Dulkinghorn's letter as identification. You are in grave danger.

The note was signed "W. Schulz."

"H'm," was Robin's comment; "he writes like an Englishman, anyway."

He ascertained the number of Mary Trevert's room and went up to her floor in the lift. He waited in the corridor outside the room for the doctor to emerge, and lit a cigarette to while away the time. It was not until he had nearly finished his second cigarette that the doctor appeared.

The doctor hesitated on seeing Robin. Then he stepped close up to him. Robin noticed that his red face was more flushed than usual and his eyes were troubled.

"What's this cock-and-bull story about gas you've put up to the manager?" he said bluntly in a low voice. "The girl's been doped with chloroform, as well you know. You'll be good enough to come downstairs to the manager with me ..."

Robin took out his note-case and produced a card.

"That's my name," he said. "You'll see that I'm a barrister ..."

"Well?" said the doctor in a non-committal voice after he had read the card.

"I'm not surprised to hear you say that Miss Trevert has been doped," Robin remarked. "I found her here in a house on the outskirts of Rotterdam in the hands of two men, one of whom is believed to be implicated in a mysterious case of suspected murder in England. Through the part he played this morning, he has probably run his head into the noose. But he'll have it out again if we delay an instant. I told the manager that yarn about the dentist to avoid enquiries and waste of time. I have here a note from some man I don't know, addressed to Miss Trevert, warning her of a grave danger threatening her. It corroborates to some extent what I have told you. Here ... read it for yourself!"

He handed the doctor the note signed "W. Schulz."

The doctor read it through carefully.

"What I would propose to you," said Robin, "is that we two should go off at once to this Herr Schulz and find out exactly what he knows. Then we can decide what action there is to be taken ..."

He paused for the doctor's reply. The latter searched Robin's face with a glance.

"I'm your man," he said shortly. "And, by the way, my name's Collingwood ... Robert Collingwood."

"There's a car downstairs," said Robin, "and a guide to show us the way. Shall we go?"

Five minutes later, under the newsboy's expert guidance, the car drew up in front of the small clean house with the neat green door bearing the name of "Schulz." Leaving the boy to mind the car, they rang the bell. The door was opened by the fat woman in the pink print dress.

Robin gave the woman his card. On it he had written "About Miss Trevert." Speaking in German the woman bade them rather roughly to bide where they were, and departed after closing the front door in their faces. She did not keep them waiting long, however, for in about a minute she returned. Herr Schulz would receive the gentlemen, she said.

Within, the house was spotlessly clean with that characteristic German house odour which always seems to be a compound of cleaning material and hot grease. Up a narrow staircase, furnished in plain oil-cloth with brass stair-rods, they went to a landing on the first floor. Here the woman motioned them back and, bending her head in a listening attitude, knocked.

"Herein!" cried a guttural German voice.

The room into which they entered would have been entitled to a place in any museum for showing the mode of life of the twentieth-century Germans. With its stuffy red rep curtains, its big green majolica stove, its heavy mahogany furniture, its oleographs of Bismarck, Roon, and Moltke, it might have been lifted bodily from a bourgeois house in the Fatherland.

A man was sitting at a mahogany roll-top desk as they entered. The air in the room was thick with the fumes of the cheap Dutch cigar he was smoking. He was a sturdily built fellow with blond hair shaven so close to the skull that at a distance he seemed to be bald.

At the sound of their entrance, he rose and faced them. When he stood erect the sturdiness of his build became accentuated, and they saw he was a man of medium height, but so muscular that he looked much shorter. A pair of large tortoise-shell spectacles straddled a big beak-like nose, and he wore a heavyish blond moustache with its points trained upwards and outwards rather after the fashion made famous in the Fatherland by William Hohenzollern. In his ill-cut suit of cheap-looking blue serge, which he wore with a pea-green tie, Robin thought he looked altogether a typical specimen of the German of the non-commissioned officer class.

"You ask for me?" he said in deep guttural accents, looking at Robin; "I am Herr Schulz!"

The German's manner was cold and formal and Robin felt a little dashed.

"My name is Greve," he began rather hurriedly. "I understand you received a visit to-day from a young English lady, a Miss Trevert ..."

The German let his eyes travel slowly from Robin to the doctor and back again. He did not offer them a chair and all three remained standing.

"Ye-es, and what if I did?"

Robin felt his temper rising.

"You wrote a note to Miss Trevert at her hotel warning her that she was in danger. I want to know why you warned her. What led you to suppose that she was threatened?"

Herr Schulz made a little gesture of the hand.

"Wass I not right to warn her?"

"Indeed, you were," Robin asserted with conviction. "She was spirited away and drugged."

The German started. A frowning pucker appeared just above the bridge of his big spectacles and he raised his head quickly,

"Drugged?" he said.

"Certainly," said Robin. "This gentleman with me is a doctor ... Dr. Robert Collingwood, of the Red Lion Line. He has examined Miss Trevert and can corroborate my statement."

"By Gad!" exclaimed Herr Schulz--and this time his English was faultless and fluent--"Shut that door behind you, Mr. Greve, and shoot the bolt--that's it just below the knob! Sit down, sit down, and while I mix you a drink, you shall tell me about this!"