The Yellow Crayon

E. Phillips Oppenheim

Chapter 8


I regret," Mr. Sabin said to Felix as they sat side by side in the small coupe, "that your stay in this country will be so brief."

"Indeed," Felix answered. "May I ask what you call brief?"

Mr. Sabin looked out of the carriage window.

"We are already," he said, "on the way to England."

Felix laughed.

"This," he said, "is like old times."

Mr. Sabin smiled.

"The system of espionage here," he remarked, "is painfully primitive. It lacks finesse and judgment. The fact that I have taken expensive rooms on the Campania, and that I have sent many packages there, that my own belongings are still in my rooms untouched, seems to our friends conclusive evidence that I am going to attempt to leave America by that boat. They have, I believe, a warrant for my arrest on some ridiculous charge which they intend to present at the last moment. They will not have the opportunity."

"But there is no other steamer sailing to-morrow, is there?" Felix asked.

"Not from New York," Mr. Sabin answered, "but it was never my intention to sail from New York. We are on our way to Boston now, and we sail in the Saxonia at six o'clock to-morrow morning.

"We appear to be stopping at the Waldorf," Felix remarked.

"It is quite correct," Mr. Sabin answered. "Follow me through the hall as quickly as possible. There is another carriage waiting at the other entrance, and I expect to find in it Duson and my dressing-case.

They alighted and made their way though the crowded vestibules. At the Thirty-fourth Street entrance a carriage was drawn up. Duson was standing upon the pavement, his pale, nervous face whiter than ever under the electric light. Mr. Sabin stopped short.

"Felix," he said, "one word. If by any chance things have gone wrong they will not have made any arrangements to detain you. Catch the midnight train to Boston and embark on the Saxonia. There will be a cable for you at Liverpool. But the moment you leave me send this despatch."

Felix nodded and put the crumpled-up piece of paper in his pocket. The two men passed on. Duson took off his hat, but his fingers were trembling. The carriage door was opened and a tall, spare man descended.

"This is Mr. Sabin?" he remarked.

Mr. Sabin bowed.

"That is my name," he admitted, "by which I have been generally called in this democratic country. What is your business with me?"

"I rather guess that you're my prisoner," the man answered. "If you'll step right in here we can get away quietly."

"The suggestion," Mr. Sabin remarked, "sounds inviting, but I am somewhat pressed for time. Might I inquire the nature of the charge you have against me?"

"They'll tell you that at the office," the man answered. "Get in, please."

Mr. Sabin looked around for Felix, but he had disappeared. He took out his cigarette-case.

"You will permit me first to light a cigarette," he remarked.

"All right! Only look sharp."

Mr. Sabin kept silence in the carriage. The drive was a long one. When they descended he looked up at Duson, who sat upon the box.

"Duson," he said, and his voice, though low, was terrible, "I see that I can be mistaken in men. You are a villain."

The man sprung to his feet, hat in hand. His face was wrung with emotion.

"Your Grace," he said, "it is true that I betrayed you. But I did it without reward. I am a ruined man. I did it because the orders which came to me were such as I dare not disobey. Here are your keys, your Grace, and money."

Mr. Sabin looked at him steadily.

"You, too, Duson?"

"I too, alas, your Grace!"

Mr. Sabin considered for a moment.

"Duson," he said, "I retain you in my service. Take my luggage on board the Campania to-morrow afternoon, and pay the bill at the hotel. I shall join you on the boat."

Duson was amazed. The man who was standing by laughed.

"If you take my advice, sir," he remarked, "you'll order your clothes to be sent here. I've a kind of fancy the Campania will sail without you to-morrow."

"You have my orders, Duson," Mr. Sabin said. "You can rely upon seeing me."

The detective led the way into the building, and opened the door leading into a large, barely furnished office.

"Chief's gone home for the night, I guess," he remarked. "We can fix up a shakedown for you in one of the rooms behind."

"I thank you," Mr. Sabin said, sitting down in a high-backed wooden chair; "I decline to move until the charge against me is properly explained."

"There is no one here to do it just now," the man answered. Better make yourself comfortable for a bit."

"You detain me here, then," Mr. Sabin said, "without even a sight of your warrant or any intimation as to the charge against me?"

"Oh, the chief'll fix all that," the man answered. "Don't you worry."

Mr. Sabin smiled.

In a magnificently furnished apartment somewhere in the neighbourhood of Fifth Avenue a small party of men were seated round a card table piled with chips and rolls of bills. On the sideboard there was a great collection of empty bottles, spirit decanters and Vichy syphons. Mr. Horser was helping himself to brandy and water with one hand and holding himself up with the other. There was a knock at the door.

A man who was still playing looked up. He was about fifty years of age, clean shaven, with vacuous eyes and a weak mouth. He was the host of the party.

"Come in!" he shouted.

A young man entered in a long black overcoat and soft hat. He looked about him without surprise, but he seemed to note Mr. Horser's presence with some concern. The man at the table threw down his cards.

"What the devil do you want, Smith?"

"An important despatch from Washington has just arrived, sir. I have brought it up with the codebook."

"From Washington at this time of the night," he exclaimed thickly. "Come in here, Smith."

He raised the curtains leading into a small anteroom, and turned up the electric light. His clerk laid the message down on the table before him.

"Here is the despatch, Mr. Mace," he said, "and here is the translation."

"English Ambassador demands immediate explanation of arrest of Duke Souspennier at Waldorf to-night. Reply immediately what charge and evidence. Souspennier naturalised Englishman."

Mr. Mace sprang to his feet with an oath. He threw aside the curtain which shielded the room from the larger apartment.

"Horser, come here, you damned fool!"

Horser, with a stream of magnificent invectives, obeyed the summons. His host pointed to the message.

"Read that!"

Mr. Horser read and his face grew even more repulsive. A dull purple flush suffused his cheeks, his eyes were bloodshot, and the veins on his forehead stood out like cords. He leaned for several moments against the table and steadily cursed Mr. Sabin, the government at Washington, and something under his breath which he did not dare to name openly.

"Oh, shut up!" his host said at last. "How the devil are we going to get out of this?"

Mr. Horser left the room and returned with a tumbler full of brandy and a very little water.

"Take a drink yourself," he said. "It'll steady you.

"Oh, I'm steady enough," Mr. Mace replied impatiently. "I want to know how you're going to get us out of this. What was the charge, anyhow?"

"Passing forged bills," Horser answered. "Parsons fixed it up."

Mr. Mace turned a shade paler.

"Where the devil's the sense in a charge like that?" he answered fiercely. "The man's a millionaire. He'll turn the tables on us nicely."

"We've got to keep him till after the Campania sails, anyhow," Horser said doggedly.

"We're not going to keep him ten minutes," Mace replied. "I'm going to sign the order for his release."

Horser's speech was thick with drunken fury. "By --- I'll see that you don't!" he exclaimed.

Mace turned upon him angrily.

"You selfish fool!" he muttered. "You're not in the thing, anyhow. If you think I'm going to risk my position for the sake of one little job you're wrong. I shall go down myself and release him, with an apology."

"He'll have his revenge all the same," Horser answered. "It's too late now to funk the thing. They can't budge you. We'll see to that. We hold New York in our hands. Be a man, Mace, and run a little risk. It's fifty thousand."

Mace looked up at him curiously.

"What do you get out of it, Horser?"

Horser's face hardened.

"Not one cent!" he declared fiercely. "Only if I fail it might be unpleasant for me next time I crossed."

"I don't know!" Mace declared weakly. "I don't know what to do. It's twelve hours, Horser, and the charge is ridiculous."

"You have me behind you."

"I can't tell them that at Washington," Mace said.

"It's a fact, all the same. Don't be so damned nervous."

Mace dismissed his clerk, and found his other guests, too, on the point of departure. But the last had scarcely left before a servant entered with another despatch.

"Release Souspennier.

Mace handed it to his companion.

"This settles it," he declared. "I shall go round and try and make my peace with the fellow."

Horser stood in the way, burly, half-drunk and vicious. He struck his host in the face with clenched fist. Mace went down with scarcely a groan. A servant, hearing the fall, came hurrying back.

"Your master is drunk and he has fallen down," Horser said. "Put him to bed - give him a sleeping draught if you've got one."

The servant bent over the unconscious man.

"Hadn't I better fetch a doctor, sir?" he asked. "I'm afraid he's hurt."

"Not he!" Horser answered contemptuously. "He's cut his cheek a little, that's all. Put him to bed. Say I shall be round again by nine o'clock."

Horser put on his coat and left the house. The morning sunlight was flooding the streets. Away down town Mr. Sabin was dozing in his high-backed chair.