Cleek stood a moment holding the burnt label between his thumb and forefinge_nd regarding it silently, his face a blank as far as any expression of hi_eelings was concerned. Then, of a sudden, his gaze transferred itself to on_f the two other labels which, like this one, had escaped entire destructio_y the fire; and carefully picking them up, he laid them inside his pocke_otebook, gave a casual, offhand sort of glance at the windows of Lord St.
Ulmer's room, and then quietly resumed his sauntering walk in the direction o_he house.
The twilight was now so rapidly fading that it might be said to be all bu_ark when he reached the main entrance to the building and found one of th_ootmen busily engaged in lighting up the huge electric chandelier whic_erved to illuminate the broad hallway of the Grange. But neither the Genera_or any of the ladies was visible, all, as he correctly surmised, bein_ngaged in the matter of dressing for dinner.
"Pardon me, sir," said the footman, turning at the sound of his step as h_ame in, "I was just about to step out into the grounds to ascertain if yo_ight not, by chance, have lost yourself or failed to hear the dressing gong, sir. It is quite half an hour since Miss Lorne requested me to be on th_ookout for you, and I was getting anxious."
"Extremely kind of you, I must say," said Cleek serenely. "But never giv_ourself any uneasiness upon my account so long as I remain here. I am give_o taking my time on all occasions, my man. I think out all the plots of m_ovels prowling about in silence and alone, and an interruption is apt t_estroy a train of thought forever." And having thus given the man an ide_hat he was an author—and accounted beforehand for any possible need fo_rowling about the place when the others were asleep—he went further, and gav_im half a crown to salve his injured feelings, and won in return for i_omething which he would have held cheaply bought at a sovereign.
"Now tell me," he went on, "why did Miss Lorne ask you to be 'on the lookout'
for me? Has anything extraordinary occurred?"
"Oh, no indeed, sir," replied the footman with a full half-crown's worth o_rbanity; the generosity of the gentleman had touched him on his weakest part.
"You see, sir, it being the butler's evening off, and Mr. Harry having bee_alled away before any arrangements were made with regard to your sleepin_uarters, sir, Miss Lorne requested me to say that she had spoken to mistress, and you were to have any vacant suite in the house which might best meet you_leasure, sir. I was to wait here and conduct you through all the unoccupie_nes in the house."
Cleek smiled. Oho! That was it, eh? Well, there was a thoughtful ally and n_istake! Knowing full well that it would be awkward for him to be put off int_ome inconvenient wing of the house, should he have cause to leave it secretl_nd to communicate with Dollops and Narkom at any time, she had taken thi_tep to serve and to assist him. What a woman! What a gem of a woman she was!
His thoughts worked rapidly, and his mind was made up in a twinkling.
"Quite so, quite so! Very kind and very thoughtful," he said composedly. "_lways prefer the second story of a building—it's a fad of mine, and Mis_orne recollects it. So if there are any rooms vacant upon the second floor——"
"Only one, sir, and it's the least comfortable one in the house, I'm afraid, being next to that occupied by Lord St. Ulmer."
"Lord St.—oh, ah—yes! That's the gentleman who is ill, isn't it?"
"Yes, sir. That's why I spoke of it as being uncomfortable. Butler says he's _ery crochety gentleman. But sick folk are always that, sir; so maybe you'd b_isturbed a deal in the night."
"Hum-m-m! Yes, that is a drawback, certainly. Might take it into his head t_et up and wander about during the night, and so keep one awake. Does he?"
"I couldn't say, sir; never set eyes on him since he arrived. Nobody in th_ouse has except master and butler. Don't think he would be likely to mov_bout much, though, sir, for I've heard his ankle's sprained and he can't pu_ foot to the ground. Butler always carries up his meals; at least, he ha_one it so far, his lordship having arrived only the night before last. Lik_s not I'll have to carry up his dinner to-night, this being, as I've said, sir, butler's evening off."
Cleek made a mental tally. Then if none of the servants at the Grange had see_is lordship, with the single exception of Johnston, the butler—— Quite so, quite so! His lordship wouldn't know what the other servants were like, so, o_ourse—— He glanced at the footman out of the tail of his eye. Livery, dar_ottle-green—almost black; would pass for black in anything but a brillian_ight. Waistcoat, narrow black and yellow stripes. No cords, no silve_uttons. Hum-m-m! With a black-and-yellow striped waistcoat and in a none to_rilliantly lighted room—and a sickroom was not likely to be anything els_nless the man was too much of an ass to keep up the illusion by attending t_etails—an ordinary suit of evening clothes would do the trick. And h_ouldn't have a doctor and wouldn't see any outsiders, this Lord St. Ulmer, eh? Oh, well—you never know your luck, my lord; you never do!
Mental processes are more rapid in the action than in the recording. Not te_econds had passed from the time the footman ceased speaking when Clee_nswered him.
"Oh, well, if it's a case like that, and his lordship isn't likely to distur_e by wandering round his room in the night, I dare say I can risk the rest, as I'm a very sound sleeper. The room's on the second floor; that's the mai_hing," he said offhandedly. "So you may show me to it at once."
"Very good, sir; this way if you please, sir," the footman replied, an_orthwith led him to the room in question.
It was one immediately adjoining that occupied by Lord St. Ulmer, bu_nfortunately, having no connection with it, the wall which divided the tw_as quite solid. Had there been a door—— But there was not. Cleek saw at _lance that matters were not to be simplified in that way; whoever might wis_o see into that room must first _get_ into it: there was no other way.
"All right, this will do; you may go," he said as soon as he was shown to th_lace he had chosen; and taking him at his word, the footman gently closed th_oor and disappeared. Cleek gave him but a minute or two to get below stairs, then slipped out on tiptoe and followed, getting out of the house unseen an_unning at all speed in the direction of the stables.
At the angle of the wall he stopped suddenly, and began to whistle "Kathlee_avourneen." He hadn't rounded off the third bar before the wall door clicke_nd swung open, and Dollops was beside him.
"Kit bag—quick!" whispered Cleek. "Need an evening suit, and the chap who wa_oing to lend me one went off and forgot all about it. Move sharp, I'm in _urry."
"Right ho!" said Dollops, and vanished like a blown-out light. In half _inute's time he was back again, and the kit bag with him.
"Here you are, gov'ner. Shall I get out the evenin' clothes, and put the ba_ack under the hedge, or will you take it with you?"
"I'll take it. There are other things I shall want. Where's Mr. Narkom?"
"Gone back to town, sir—to the Yard. Want him?"
"No, not yet; maybe not to-night at all. Nip off and get yourself something t_at and be back here by nine o'clock at the latest. I shall very likely nee_ou. Cut along!" Then he caught up the kit bag, whisked away with it into th_arkness, and five minutes later stood again in the room which he had s_ecently left.
Accustomed to rapid dressing, he got into his evening clothes in less tim_han it would have taken most men to unpack and lay them out ready for us_hen required; and then, taking the half-burnt labels from his pocketbook, carried them to the light and studied them closely. None was so big as the on_hich he had first inspected nor bore so much printed matter; but fortunatel_ne was a fragment of the exactly opposite side, so that by joining the tw_ogether he was able to make out the greater part of it.
Clearly, then, the original label, making allowance for what had been totall_estroyed by the flames, must have read:
**JETANOLA** **AN UNRIVALLED PREPARATION**
For Boots, Shoes, and All Leather
MANUFACTURED SOLELY BY
63 ESSEX ROW
After all, the imaginative reporter had not been so far out when he figure_hose mysterious markings upon the dead man's shirt bosom to read "63 Esse_ow," an address where one Ferdinand Lovetski once did manufacture a certai_ind of blacking for boots, shoes, etc. Not that they really did stand fo_hat, of course, or that this ingenious person had done anything more tha_ork out as a solution to the riddle of the marks a name and an address tha_ere eventually to come into the case—as they now had done—but in a totall_ifferent manner from what the author of the theory intended or supposed.
Of two things Cleek was certain beyond all question of error. First: that th_ead man was not Ferdinand Lovetski—not in any way connected with Ferdinan_ovetski to be precise; second: that the markings on the shirt were not mad_ith "Jetanola" or any other kind of blacking; and ingenious as the theor_as, he was willing to stake his life that those marks no more stood for 6_ssex Row than they did for 21 Park Lane. For one thing, what would be th_ense of smearing them on the dead man's shirt bosom if they merely stood fo_hat? It was all very well for that imaginative reporter to suggest that i_as a sign given by the assassin to the whole anarchistical brotherhood that _ebt of vengeance had been paid and a traitor punished; but the brotherhoo_id not need any such sign. If the man were Lovetski it would know of hi_eath without any such silly nonsense as that. It knew the men it "marked,"
and it knew when those men died, and by whose hand, too; and it did not g_bout placarding its victims with clues to their identity or signs of whos_ands had directed the exterminating blow.
And Ferdinand Lovetski it never had "marked"—never had issued any deat_entence against, never had sought to punish, never, indeed, had taken an_nterest in—for the simple reason that, as Cleek knew, the man had been in hi_rave these seven years past! He knew that beyond all question; for in thos_ark other times that lay behind him forever—in his old "Vanishing Cracksman"
days, in those repented years when he and Margot had cast their lot togethe_nd he had been the chosen consort of the queen of the Apaches—in those wil_imes Lovetski, down on his luck, bankrupt through dissipation, a thief b_ature, and a lazy vagabond at heart, had joined the Apaches and become one o_hem. Not for long, however. Within six months word had come to him of th_eath of a relative in his native Russia, and of a little property that wa_ow his by right of inheritance; and he was for saying good-bye to his ne_olleagues and journeying on to Moscow to claim his little fortune. But th_aw of the Apaches is the law of the commonwealth, and Margot and her band ha_emanded the usual division. Lovetski had rebelled against it; he had swor_hat he would not share; that what was his should remain his only as long a_e lived and—it did. But five days later his knife-jagged body was fished ou_f the Seine and lay in the morgue awaiting identification; Margot went thric_o see it before it went into the trench with others that were set down in th_ecords as unknown.
That was seven years ago; and now here was Lord St. Ulmer, or some one in hi_oom, burning labels that had to do with the days when that dead man was i_onest business, and had lost it simply through dissipation after the polic_ad discovered that 63 Essex Row was used in part as a meeting place fo_everal "wanted" aliens, and had raided it and closed it up.
Lovetski had never belonged to the brotherhood; he had never even known tha_hey met under that roof until the time of the raid; but he had been arreste_ith every other inmate of the house, held as a suspect to await examinatio_t the hands of a magistrate, and in the meantime his business had gone to th_ogs. After that drink got him, and acquaintances made in the place o_etention became associates and pals. It was only a step from that to th_paches, and from the Apaches to the Seine and the trench; and the littl_ortune in Russia was never claimed.
And now this Lord St. Ulmer was burning labels that once had been the propert_f that man, was he? And burning them at this particular period, of al_thers, when somebody, who evidently had some undesirable knowledge regardin_im, had been mysteriously done to death and the Yard was out on the trail o_he crime!
What did that mean? How did Lord St. Ulmer come into possession of thos_abels? And having come into possession of them, why had he suddenly becom_nxious to get rid of them?
What few paltry effects Lovetski had possessed when he joined the Apaches wer_eft in the room he hired from old Marise—Madame Serpice's mother—at the in_f the "Twisted Arm." The Apaches had gone through them, and voted them no_orth ten sous the lot—and very probably they were not. Still there might hav_een letters, and there might have been some unused labels; fellows of tha_ort would be apt to keep things of that kind merely to back up maudlin boast_f former standing. And if there had been, if this Lord St. Ulmer had com_nto possession of things that were left in the secret haunts of the Apaches—— Decidedly it would be an advantage to get a look at his lordship, and that, too, as expeditiously as possible.
A footman's waistcoat—merely that. He had one, that he knew; but was it in th_it bag? He went over and reopened the bag, and examined its contents. Goo_ld Dollops! What strokes of inspiration the chap sometimes had! There it was, the regulation thing—the stripes, perhaps, a trifle broader than those th_eneral's servants wore, but quite near enough to pass muster with a stranger.
Now, then, upon what pretext? How? When? Hullo! What was that? The dinne_ong, by Jupiter!
Certainly! The very thing. "Master wishes to know if there is any especia_ish your lordship fancies, or shall I bring up just what cook has prepared?"
That would do the trick to a turn; and he need be only four or five minute_ate in going down to join his host and the ladies.
He whisked off his coat, waistcoat, and necktie, and made the change in _winkling. Another and more subtle "change"—yet made even quicker—altered hi_ountenance so completely that not one trace of likeness to Mr. Philip Barc_emained. A moment later he had passed swiftly out of the room and was tappin_pon Lord St. Ulmer's door.