The Rome Express by Arthur Griffiths
Ripaldi's diary--its ownership plainly shown by the record of his name in full, Natale Ripaldi, inside the cover--was a commonplace note-book bound in shabby drab cloth, its edges and corners strengthened with some sort of white metal. The pages were of coarse paper, lined blue and red, and they were dog-eared and smirched as though they had been constantly turned over and used.
The earlier entries were little more than a record of work to do or done.
"Jan. 11. To call at Cafe di Roma, 12.30. Beppo will meet me.
"Jan. 13. Traced M. L. Last employed as a model at S.'s studio, Palazzo B.
"Jan. 15. There is trouble brewing at the Circulo Bonafede; Louvaih, Malatesta, and the Englishman Sprot, have joined it. All are noted Anarchists.
"Jan. 20. Mem., pay Trattore. The Bestia will not wait. X. is also pressing, and Mariuccia. Situation tightens.
"Jan. 23. Ordered to watch Q. Could I work him? No. Strong doubts of his solvency.
"Feb. 10, 11, 12. After Q. No grounds yet.
"Feb. 27. Q. keeps up good appearance. Any mistake? Shall I try him? Sorely pressed. X. threatens me with Prefettura.
"March 1. Q. in difficulties. Out late every night. Is playing high; poor luck.
"March 3. Q. means mischief. Preparing for a start?
"March 10. Saw Q. about, here, there, everywhere."
Then followed a brief account of Quadling's movements on the day before his departure from Rome, very much as they have been described in a previous chapter. These were made mostly in the form of reflections, conjectures, hopes, and fears; hurry-scurry of pursuit had no doubt broken the immediate record of events, and these had been entered next day in the train.
"March 17 (the day previous). He has not shown up. I thought to see him at the buffet at Genoa. The conductor took him his coffee to the car. I hoped to have begun an acquaintance.
"12.30. Breakfasted at Turin. Q. did not come to table. Found him hanging about outside restaurant. Spoke; got short reply. Wishes to avoid observation, I suppose.
"But he speaks to others. He has claimed acquaintance with madame's lady's maid, and he wants to speak to the mistress. 'Tell her I must speak to her,' I heard him say, as I passed close to them. Then they separated hurriedly.
"At Modane he came to the Douane, and afterwards into the restaurant. He bowed across the table to the lady. She hardly recognized him, which is odd. Of course she must know him; then why--? There is something between them, and the maid is in it.
"What shall I do? I could spoil any game of theirs if I stepped in. What are they after? His money, no doubt.
"So am I; I have the best right to it, for I can do most for him. He is absolutely in my power, and he'll see that--he's no fool-- directly he knows who I am, and why I'm here. It will be worth his while to buy me off, if I'm ready to sell myself, and my duty, and the Prefettura--and why shouldn't I? What better can I do? Shall I ever have such a chance again? Twenty, thirty, forty thousand lire, more, even, at one stroke; why, it's a fortune! I could go to the Republic, to America, North or South, send for Mariuccia-- no, cos petto! I will continue free! I will spend the money on myself, as I alone will have earned it, and at such risk.
"I have worked it out thus:
"I will go to him at the very last, just before we are reaching Paris. Tell him, threaten him with arrest, then give him his chance of escape. No fear that he won't accept it; he must, whatever he may have settled with the others. Altro! I snap my fingers at them. He has most to fear from me."
The next entries were made after some interval, a long interval, --no doubt, after the terrible deed had been done,--and the words were traced with trembling fingers, so that the writing was most irregular and scarcely legible.
"Ugh! I am still trembling with horror and fear. I cannot get it out of my mind; I never shall. Why, what tempted me? How could I bring myself to do it?
"But for these two women--they are fiends, furies--it would never have been necessary. Now one of them has escaped, and the other-- she is here, so cold-blooded, so self-possessed and quiet--who would have thought it of her? That she, a lady of rank and high breeding, gentle, delicate, tender-hearted. Tender? the fiend! Oh, shall I ever forget her?
"And now she has me in her power! But have I not her also? We are in the same boat--we must sink or swim, together. We are equally bound, I to her, she to me. What are we to do? How shall we meet inquiry? Santissima Donna! why did I not risk it, and climb out like the maid? It was terrible for the moment, but the worst would have been over, and now--"
There was yet more, scribbled in the same faltering, agitated handwriting, and from the context the entries had been made in the waiting-room of the railroad station.
"I must attract her attention. She will not look my way. I want her to understand that I have something special to say to her, and that, as we are forbidden to speak, I am writing it herein--that she must contrive to take the book from me and read unobserved.
" Cos petto! she is stupid! Has fear dazed her entirely? No matter, I will set it all down."
Now followed what the police deemed such damaging evidence.
"Countess. Remember. Silence--absolute silence. Not a word as to who I am, or what is common knowledge to us both. It is done. That cannot be undone. Be brave, resolute; admit nothing. Stick to it that you know nothing, heard nothing. Deny that you knew him, or me. Swear you slept soundly the night through, make some excuse, say you were drugged, anything, only be on your guard, and say nothing about me. I warn you. Leave me alone. Or--but your interests are my interests; we must stand or fall together. Afterwards I will meet you--I must meet you somewhere. If we miss at the station front, write to me Poste Restante, Grand Hotel, and give me an address. This is imperative. Once more, silence and discretion."
This ended the writing in the note-book, and the whole perusal occupied Sir Charles from fifteen to twenty minutes, during which the French officials watched his face closely, and his friend Colonel Papillon anxiously.
But the General's mask was impenetrable, and at the end of his reading he turned back to read and re-read many pages, holding the book to the light, and seeming to examine the contents very curiously.
"Well?" said the Judge at last, when he met the General's eye.
"Do you lay great store by this evidence?" asked the General in a calm, dispassionate voice.
"Is it not natural that we should? Is it not strongly, conclusively incriminating?"
"It would be so, of course, if it were to be depended upon. But as to that I have my doubts, and grave doubts."
"Bah!" interposed the detective; "that is mere conjecture, mere assertion. Why should not the book be believed? It is perfectly genuine--"
"Wait, sir," said the General, raising his hand. "Have you not noticed--surely it cannot have escaped so astute a police functionary--that the entries are not all in the same handwriting?"
"What! Oh, that is too absurd!" cried both the officials in a breath.
They saw at once that if this discovery were admitted to be an absolute fact, the whole drift of their conclusions must be changed.
"Examine the book for yourselves. To my mind it is perfectly clear and beyond all question," insisted Sir Charles. "I am quite positive that the last pages were written by a different hand from the first."