XXII. M. Max Mounts Cagliostro's Staircase
 

At a few minutes before midnight, Helen Cumberly and Denise Ryland, escorted by the attentive Frenchman, arrived at Palace Mansions. Any distrust which Helen had experienced at first was replaced now by the esteem which every one of discrimination (criminals excluded) formed of M. Max. She perceived in him a very exquisite gentleman, and although the acquaintance was but one hour old, counted him a friend. Denise Ryland was already quite at home in the Cumberly household, and she insisted that Dr. Cumberly would be deeply mortified should M. Gaston take his departure without making his acquaintance. Thus it came about that M. Gaston Max was presented (as "M. Gaston") to Dr. Cumberly.

Cumberly, who had learned to accept men and women upon his daughter's estimate, welcomed the resplendent Parisian hospitably; the warm, shaded lights made convivial play in the amber deeps of the decanters, and the cigars had a fire-side fragrance which M. Max found wholly irresistible.

The ladies being momentarily out of ear-shot, M. Gaston glancing rapidly about him, said: "May I beg a favor, Dr. Cumberly?"

"Certainly, M. Gaston," replied the physician--he was officiating at the syphon. "Say when."

"When!" said Max. "I should like to see you in Harley Street to- morrow morning."

Cumberly glanced up oddly. "Nothing wrong, I hope?"

"Oh, not professionally," smiled Max; "or perhaps I should say only semi-professionally. Can you spare me ten minutes?"

"My book is rather full in the morning, I believe," said Cumberly, frowning thoughtfully, "and without consulting it--which, since it is in Harley Street, is impossible--I scarcely know when I shall be at liberty. Could we not lunch together?"

Max blew a ring of smoke from his lips and watched it slowly dispersing.

"For certain reasons," he replied, and his odd American accent became momentarily more perceptible, "I should prefer that my visit had the appearance of being a professional one."

Cumberly was unable to conceal his surprise, but assuming that his visitor had good reason for the request, he replied after a moment's reflection:

"I should propose, then, that you come to Harley Street at, shall we say, 9.30? My earliest professional appointment is at 10. Will that inconvenience you?"

"Not at all," Max assured him; "it will suit me admirably."

With that the matter dropped for the time, since Helen and her new friend now reentered; and although Helen's manner was markedly depressed, Miss Ryland energetically turned the conversation upon the subject of the play which they had witnessed that evening.

M. Max, when he took his departure, found that the rain had ceased, and accordingly he walked up Whitehall, interesting himself in those details of midnight London life so absorbing to the visitor, though usually overlooked by the resident.

Punctually at half-past nine, a claret-colored figure appeared in sedate Harley Street. M. Gaston Max pressed the bell above which appeared:

     DR. BRUCE CUMBERLY.

He was admitted by Garnham, who attended there daily during the hours when Dr. Cumberly was visible to patients, and presently found himself in the consulting room of the physician.

"Good morning, M. Gaston!" said Cumberly, rising and shaking his visitor by the hand. "Pray sit down, and let us get to business. I can give you a clear half-hour."

Max, by way of reply, selected a card from one of the several divisions of his card-case, and placed it on the table. Cumberly glanced at it and started slightly, turning and surveying his visitor with a new interest.

"You are M. Gaston Max!" he said, fixing his gray eyes upon the face of the man before him. "I understood my daughter to say" . . .

Max waved his hands, deprecatingly.

"It is in the first place to apologize," he explained, "that I am here. I was presented to your daughter in the name of Gaston-- which is at least part of my own name--and because other interests were involved I found myself in the painful position of being presented to you under the same false colors" . . .

"Oh, dear, dear!" began Cumberly. "But--"

"Ah! I protest, it is true," continued Max with an inimitable movement of the shoulder; "and I regret it; but in my profession" . . .

"Which you adorn, monsieur," injected Cumberly.

"Many thanks--but in my profession these little annoyances sometimes occur. At the earliest suitable occasion, I shall reveal myself to Miss Cumberly and Miss Ryland, but at present,"--he spread his palms eloquently, and raised his eyebrows--"morbleu! it is impossible."

"Certainly; I quite understand that. Your visit to London is a professional one? I am more than delighted to have met you, M. Max; your work on criminal anthroposcopy has an honored place on my shelves."

Again M. Max delivered himself of the deprecatory wave.

"You cover me with confusion," he protested; "for I fear in that book I have intruded upon sciences of which I know nothing, and of which you know much."

"On the contrary, you have contributed to those sciences, M. max," declared the physician; "and now, do I understand that the object of your call this morning?" . . .

"In the first place it was to excuse myself--but in the second place, I come to ask your help."

He seated himself in a deep armchair--bending forward, and fixing his dark, penetrating eyes upon the physician. Cumberly, turning his own chair slightly, evinced the greatest interest in M. Max's disclosures.

"If you have been in Paris lately," continued the detective, "you will possibly have availed yourself of the opportunity--since another may not occur--of visiting the house of the famous magician, Cagliostro, on the corner of Rue St. Claude, and Boulevard Beaumarchais" . . .

"I have not been in Paris for over two years," said Cumberly, "nor was I aware that a house of that celebrated charlatan remained extant."

"Ah! Dr. Cumberly, your judgment of Cagliostro is a harsh one. We have no time for such discussion now, but I should like to debate with you this question: was Cagliostro a charlatan? However, the point is this: Owing to alterations taking place in the Boulevard Beaumarchais, some of the end houses in Rue St. Claude are being pulled down, among them Number 1, formerly occupied by the Comte de Cagliostro. At the time that the work commenced, I availed myself of a little leisure to visit that house, once so famous. I was very much interested, and found it fascinating to walk up the Grande Staircase where so many historical personages once walked to consult the seer. But great as was my interest in the apartments of Cagliostro, I was even more interested in one of the apartments in a neighboring house, into which--quite accidentally, you understand--I found myself looking."