WHEN DICK Martin left England on his curious quest, the Pheeney murder bulked largely in the newspapers, and almost as largely in his mind. There were other thoughts and other fancies to occupy the voyage, and, long after the memory of the murdered cracksman had faded, there remained with him the vision of two grey eyes that were laughing at him all the time, and the sound of a low, sweet, teasing voice.
If he had only had the sense to discover her name before he left. He might have written to her, or, or least, sent her picture postcards of the strange lands through which he travelled. But, in the hurry of his departure, and occupied as he was with the Pheeney crime, though he played no official part in the inevitable inquiries which followed, he had neither the time nor the excuse to call upon her. A letter addressed to 'the pretty lady with the grey eyes at the Bellingham Library' might conceivably reach her, if there were no other lady employed in the building who also was favoured with eyes of that hue. On the other hand (he argued this quite gravely, as though it were an intelligent proposition) she might conceivably be annoyed.
From Chicago he sent a letter to the secretary of the library, enclosing a subscription, though he had no more need of scientific volumes than a menagerie of wild cats. But he hoped that he would see her name on the receipt - it was not until the letter was posted that he realized that by the time the receipt returned to Chicago he would be thousands of miles away, and cursed himself for his folly.
Naturally he heard nothing from Sneed, and was compelled to depend upon such stray English papers as came his way to discover how the Pheeney mystery had developed. Apparently the police had made no arrest, and the record of the crime had dwindled to small paragraphs in odd comers of the newspapers.
He came to Cape Town from Buenos Aires, to miss his man by a matter of days, and there had the first cheerful news he had received since his search began. It was a cable from Havelock asking him to return home at once, and with a joyful heart he boarded the Castle boat at the quay. On that day he made his second important discovery, the first having been made in Buenos Aires.
In all his travels he had not once come up with the will - o' - the - wisp lordling whom he had followed half round the world, and the zest of the chase had already departed from him. From Cape Town to Madeira was a thirteen - day voyage by the intermittent steamer on which he travelled, having missed the mail by four days. To a man with other interests than deck sports, the peculiar characteristics of passengers, and the daily sweepstake, those thirteen days represented - the dullest period Dick Martin had ever endured. And then, when the ship stopped to coal, the miracle happened. Just before the steamer left, a launch came alongside; half a dozen passengers mounted the stairs, and for a moment Dick thought he was dreaming.
It was she! There was no mistaking her. He could have picked her out of a million. She did not see him, nor did he make himself known to her. For now that they were, so to speak, under one roof, and the opportunity that he dreamed of had presented itself in such an unexpected fashion, he was curiously shy, and avoided her until almost the last day of the voyage.
She was coolness itself when at last they met. "Ah yes, I knew you were on board. I saw your name in the passenger list," she said, and he was so agitated that he did not even resent the amusement in her eyes.
"Why didn't you speak to me?" he asked brazenly, and again she smiled.
"I thought you were here - on business," she said maliciously. "My steward told me that you spent most of your evenings in the smokeroom watching people play cards. I was wondering when you were coming into the library. You're a subscriber now, aren't you?"
"Yes," he said awkwardly; "I believe I am."
"I know because I signed your receipt," she said. "Oh, then, you're - - "He paused expectantly. "I'm the person that signed the receipt." Not a muscle of her face moved. And then: "What is your name?" he asked bluntly.
"My name is Lansdown - Sybil Lansdown."
"Of course, I remember!"
"You saw it on the receipt, of course?" He nodded.
"It was returned to the library through the Dead Letter Office!" she went on ruthlessly.
"I never knew a human being who could make a man feel quite as big a fool as you," he protested, laughing. "I mean, as you make me fed," he corrected hastily.
And that ended the conversation until the evening. On the dark deck, side by side, they talked commonplaces, until - -
"Start Light on the port bow, sir," said a muffled voice on the bridge deck above.
The two people leaning over the rail in the narrow deck space forward saw a splash of light quiver for the fraction of a second on the rim of the dark sea and vanish again. "That is a lighthouse, isn't is?"
Dick edged himself a little closer to the girl, sliding himself stealthily along the broad rail.
"Start Light," he explained. "I don't know why they call it 'Start' - 'Finish' would be a better word, I guess." A silence, then:
"You are not American, are you?"
"Canadian by habit, British by birth - mostly anything people want me to be. A kind of renegade." He laughed softly in the darkness.
"I don t think that is a nice word. I wondered if I should meet you when I came aboard at Madeira. There are an awful queer lot of people on board this ship."
"Thank you for those kind words," said Dick gravely, and she protested. He went on: "There never was an ocean - going ship that wasn't full of queer people. I'll give you a hundred million if you can travel on a packet where some passenger doesn't say, 'My, what a menagerie!' about the others. No, Miss Lansdown, you're not being trite. Life's trite anyway. The tritest thing you can do is to eat and sleep. Try living originally and see how quick you go dead. Here's another queer thing about ships - you never have the nerve to talk to the people you like till you're only a day from port. What they do with themselves the rest of the time, I've never found out. Five days from Madeira - and I never spoke to you till this afternoon. That's proof."
She drew a little farther from him and straightened herself.
"I think I'll go below now," she said. "It is rather late and we have to get up early - -"
"What you're really thinking," said Dick, very gently, "is that in a second or so I'll be pawing your hand and saying wouldn't it be wonderful if we could sail on like this for ever under the stars and everything. I'm not. Beauty attracts me, I admit it. I know you're beautiful because I couldn't find anything odd about your face." He heard her laughing. "That's beauty in a sentence - something that isn't odd. If your nose was fat and your eyes little and squeeny and your complexion like one of these maps that show the density of population, I'd have admired you for your goodness of heart, but I shouldn't have raved you into the Cleopatra class. I'll bet she wasn't much to look at if the truth was known."
"Are you going abroad again?" She turned the talk into a way that was less embarrassing, but regretted the necessity.
"No - I'm staying in London: in Claygate Gardens. I've got a pretty nice little flat; you can sit in the middle of any room and touch the walls without stretching. But it's big enough for a man without ambitions. When you get to my age - I'll be thirty on the fourteenth of September: you might like to send me flowers - you're content to settle down and watch the old world wag around. I'll be glad to get back. London takes a hold of you, and just when you're getting tired of it, up comes a fog like glue - gas and you can't find your way out."
"Our flat is smaller than yours. Madeira was heaven after Coram Street!"
"What number?" asked Dick brazenly.
"One of the many," she smiled. "And now I really must go. Goodnight."
He did not walk back with her to the companionway, but strolled to the ship's side, where he could watch the slim figure as it passed quickly along the deserted deck.
He wondered what had taken her to Madeira, for he guessed that she was not one of those fortunate people who, to escape the rigours of an English winter, could afford to follow the path of the vernal equinox. She was much more pretty than he had thought - - beautiful in a pale, Oriental way - it was the slant of her grey eyes that suggested the East - not pale exactly - and yet not pink. Perhaps it was the geranium red of her lips that, by contrast, gave the illusion of pallor. Thin? He decided that she was not that. He thought of thin people in terms of brittleness - and she was supple and plastic.
Amazed to find himself analyzing her charm, he strolled along the deck and turned into the smoking - room. Although the hour was past eleven, the tables were occupied, and by the usual crowd. He walked to one in the corner and stood watching the play until, after many uneasy and resentful glances, the big man who, up till his arrival, had been the most jovial and the most successful player threw down his cards.
"Goin' to bed," he growled, gathered up his winnings and rose.
He stopped before Slick.
"You won a hundred from me last week," he said. "You pay that back before you leave this ship."
"Will you have it in notes or money?" asked Dick Martin politely. "Or maybe you'd prefer a cheque?"
The big man said nothing for a moment, then: "Come outside," he said.
Dick followed him to the dim lights of the promenade deck.
"See here, mister. I've been waitin' a chance to talk to you - I don't know you, though your face is kind of familiar. I've been working this line for ten years and I'll stand for a little competition, but not much. What I won't stand for is a cheap skate like you takin' me on and stunnin' me for a century with a stacked deck of cards. Get me?"
"In fact, what your soul kind of pines for is honour amongst card - sharps," said Dick. "Ever seen this?"
He took a metal badge from his pocket, and the big man gurgled apprehensively.
"I'm not entitled to wear that now, because I've left the Royal Canadian Police," said Dick Martin, replacing the badge. "I carry it around for old times' sake. You remember me? I'd say you did! I pinched you in Montreal eight winters ago for selling mining stock that was unattached to any mine."
"Dick Martin - - " The big man invoked a great personage.
In the seclusion of his cabin, which he shared with two of his confederates, the big fellow wiped the perspiration from his forehead and grew biographical.
"He's the feller that went up to the Klondyke and took Harvey Wells. He had a moustache then, that's why I didn't recognize him. That feller's mustard! His father was governor of the gaol at Fort Stuart and used to allow his kid to play around with the boys. They say he can do anything with a pack of cards except make it sing. He caught Joe Haldy by pickin' his pocket for the evidence, and Joe's as wide as Bond Street."
Next morning, Mr Martin came down the gangway plank of the Grail Castle carrying a suitcase in each hand. One of the Flack gang that attends all debarkations to look over likely suckers, marked his youth and jauntiness and hooked his friend, the steward, who was usually a mine of information.
"Mr Richard Martin; he's a reg'lar time chaser - came to the Cape from the Argentine; got to the Argentine from Peru an' China - been down to New Zealand and India - God knows where?"
"Got any stuff?"
The steward was dubious.
"Must have - no, he's not a drummer - he had the best cabin on the ship and tipped well. Some boys came aboard at Cape Town and tried to catch him at bridge, but he beat 'em."
The prospecting member of the Flack crowd sneered.
"Card people scare suckers," he said, with all the contempt which a land thief has for his seagoing brother. "Besides, these Cape boats are too small, and everybody knows everybody else. A card man could starve on that line. So long. Harry."
Harry, the steward, returned the farewell indifferently and watched the tout hurry down to the examining shed. Martin was waiting for the arrival of the Customs officer with a bored expression on his lean brown face.
"Mr Martin, isn't it?" The advance guard of the confidence men smiled pleasantly as he offered his hand. "I'm Bursen - met you at the Cape," said the newcomer, keeping the high note of heartiness. "Awfully glad to see you again."
His hand was not taken. Two solemn blue eyes surveyed him thoughtfully. The tout was well dressed; his linen was expensive, the massive gold cigarette - case that peeped from his waistcoat pocket was impressive.
"We must meet in town - -"
"At Wandsworth Gaol - or maybe Pentonville," said Dick Martin deliberately. "Get to blazes out of this, you amateur tale - teller!"
The man's jaw dropped.
"Go back to your papa" - Dick's long forefinger dug the man's waistcoat, keeping time with his words - "or to the maiden aunt who taught you that line of talk, and tell him or her that suckers are fetching famine prices at Southampton."
"See here, my friend - " The shoreman began to bluster to cover his inevitable retreat.
"If I kick you into the dock, they'll hold me for the inquest - seep!"
The 'con' man seeped. He was a little angry, a little scared, and very hot under the collar, but he kept well away from the brown - faced man until he saw the first train pull out.
"If he's not a copper, I'm a Dutchman," he said, and felt for his cigarette - case and the solace of shredded Virginia. The case was gone! Precisely at that moment Mr Martin was extracting a cigarette from its well - filled interior, and, weighing the gold in his hand, had concluded that it was at least 15 carat and worth money.
"What a beautiful case!"
The girl sitting opposite to him stretched out her hand, a friendly assurance that was very pleasing to Dick Martin. In her simple tailored costume and a close - fitting little hat she was another kind of girl, radiating a new charm and a new fragrance.
"Yes, it's rather cute," Dick answered soberly. "I got it from a friend. Glad your holiday is over?"
She stifled a sigh as she gave the case back to him. "Yes, in a way. It wasn't exactly a holiday, and it was dreadfully expensive. I can't speak Portuguese either, and that made it difficult."
He raised his eyebrows at that. "But all the hotel folk speak English," he said, and she smiled ruefully.
"I wasn't one of the hotel folk. I lived in a little boarding - house on the Mount, and unfortunately the people I had to see spoke only Portuguese. There was a girl at the boarding - house who knew the language a little, and she was helpful. I might have stayed at home for all the good I did."
He chuckled. "We're in the same boat. I've been thirty thousand miles rustling shadows!"
She smiled whimsically. "Were you looking for a key, too?" she asked, and he stared at her.
"A which?" She opened the patent leather bag that rested on her knees and took out a small cardboard box. Removing the lid, she shook into her hand a flat key of remarkable shape. It was rather like an overgrown Yale, except that the serrations were not confined to one edge, but were repeated in complicated ridges and protuberances on the other.
"That's certainly a queer - looking object," he said. "Was that what you were looking for?"
"Yes - though I didn't know this was all I should get from my trip. Which sounds a little mad, doesn't it? Only - there was a Portuguese gardener named Silva who knew my father. He used to be in the service of a relative of ours. Didn't I boast once that I was related to Lord Selford - by the way, what is he like?"
"Like the letter O, only dimmer," he said. "I never saw him."
She asked a question and then went on: "About three months ago a letter came to my mother. It was written in very bad English by a priest, and said that Silva was dead, and that before he died he asked her forgiveness for all the harm he had done to us. He left something which was only to be given into the hand of a member of our family. That sounds remarkable, doesn't it?"
Dick nodded, impatient for her to continue.
"Of course, it was out of the question for mother or me to go - we have very little money to spare for sea trips. But the day after we got the letter, we had another, posted in London and containing a hundred pounds in notes and a return ticket to Madeira!"
She shook her head.
"I don't know. At any rate, I went. The old priest was very glad to see me; he told me that his little house had been burgled three times in one month, and that he was sure the burglars were after the little package he was keeping for me. I expected something very valuable, especially as I learnt that Senhor Silva was a very rich man. You can imagine how I felt when I opened the box and found - this key."
Dick turned the key over in his hand.
"Silva was rich - a gardener, you said? Must have made a lot of money, eh? Did he leave a letter?"
She shook her head.
"Nothing. I was disappointed and rather amused. For some reason or other, I put the key into the pocket of the coat I was wearing, and that was lucky or unlucky for me. I had hardly left the priests' house before a man came out of a side alley, snatched my bag, and was out of sight before I could call for help. There was nothing very valuable in the bag, but it was all very alarming. When I got on board ship, I put the key in an envelope and gave it to the purser."
"Nobody bothered you on the ship?" She laughed quietly as at a good joke. "Not unless you would call the experience of finding your trunk turned out and your bed thrown on to the floor a 'bother'. That happened twice between Madeira and Southampton. Is it sufficiently romantic?"
"It certainly is!" said Dick, drawing a long breath. He looked at the key again. "What number Coram Street?" he asked.
She told him before she realized the impertinence of the question.
"What do you think is the meaning of these queer happenings?" she asked as he passed the cardboard box back to her.
"It's surely queer. Maybe somebody wanted that key badly."
It seemed to her a very lame explanation. She was still wondering what had made her so communicative to a comparative stranger when the train ran into Waterloo Station. She felt a little nettled by his casual farewell; a nod and he had disappeared behind the screen of other passengers and their friends who crowded the platform.
It was a quarter of an hour later before she retrieved her baggage from the welter of trunks that littered the vicinity of the baggage van. A porter found her a cab, and she was tipping him, when a man brushed past her, jostling her arm, whilst a second man bumped into her from the opposite side. Her bag slipped from her hand and fell to the pavement. Before she could stoop, a third man had snatched it from the ground, and, quick as lightning, passed it to an unobtrusive little man who stood behind him. The thief turned to fly, but a hand grasped his collar and jerked him round, and as his hands came up in defence, a fist as hard as ebony caught him under the jaw and sent him flying.
"Get on your feet, thief, and produce your bag - snatching permit!" said Dick Martin sternly.