The Three Hostages, by John Buchan

Chapter XIV

Sir Archibald Roylance Puts His Foot in it

Three minutes later I was back in the curiosity shop. I switched off my light, and very gently opened the street door. There was a sound of footsteps on the pavement, so I drew back till they had passed. Then I emerged into the quiet street, with Abel’s little brazier glowing in front of me, and Abel’s little sharp face poked out of his pent-house.

“All right, sir?” he asked cheerfully.

“All right,” I said. “I have found what I wanted.”

“There was a party turned up not long after you had gone in. Lucky I had locked the door after you. He wasn’t inside more than five minutes. A party with a black topcoat turned up at the collar — respectable party he looked — oldish — might have been a curate. Funny thing, sir, but I guessed correctly when you were coming back, and had the door unlocked ready for you. . . . If you’ve done with me I’ll clear off.”

“Can you manage alone?” I asked. “There’s a good deal to tidy up.”

He winked solemnly. “In an hour there won’t be a sign of anything. I have my little ways of doing things. Good night, sir, and thank you.” He was like a boots seeing a guest off from an hotel.

I found that the time was just after half-past eleven, so I walked to Tottenham Court Road and picked up a taxi, telling the man to drive to Great Charles Street in Westminster. Mary was in London, and I must see her at once. She had chosen to take a hand in the game, probably at Sandy’s instigation, and I must find out what exactly she was doing. The business was difficult enough already with Sandy following his own trail and me forbidden to get into touch with him, but if Mary was also on the job it would be naked chaos unless I knew her plans. I own I felt miserably nervous. There was nobody in the world whose wisdom I put higher than hers, and I would have trusted her to the other side of Tophet, but I hated to think of a woman mixed up in something so ugly and perilous. She was far too young and lovely to be safe on the back-stairs. And yet I remembered that she had been in uglier affairs before this and I recalled old Blenkiron’s words: “She can’t scare and she can’t soil.” And then I began to get a sort of comfort from the feeling that she was along with me in the game; it made me feel less lonely. But it was pretty rough luck on Peter John. Anyhow I must see her, and I argued that she would probably be staying with her Wymondham aunts, and that in any case I could get news of her there.

The Misses Wymondham were silly ladies, but their butler would have made Montmartre respectable. He and I had always got on well, and I think the only thing that consoled him when Fosse was sold was that Mary and I were to have it. The house in Great Charles Street was one of those tremendously artistic new dwellings with which the intellectual plutocracy have adorned the Westminster slums.

“Is her ladyship home yet?” I asked.

“No, Sir Richard, but she said she wouldn’t be late. I expect her any moment.”

“Then I think I’ll come in and wait. How are you, Barnard? Found your city legs yet?”

“I am improving, Sir Richard, I thank you. Very pleased to have Miss Mary here, if I may take the liberty of so speaking of her. Miss Claire is in Paris still, and Miss Wymondham is dancing to-night, and won’t be back till very late. How are things at Fosse, sir, if I may make so bold? And how is the young gentleman? Miss Mary has shown me his photograph. A very handsome young gentleman, sir, and favours yourself.”

“Nonsense, Barnard. He’s the living image of his mother. Get me a drink, like a good fellow. A tankard of beer, if you have it, for I’ve a throat like a grindstone.”

I drank the beer and waited in a little room which would have been charming but for the garish colour scheme which Mary’s aunts had on the brain. I was feeling quite cheerful again, for Peter John’s photograph was on the mantelpiece and I reckoned that any minute Mary might be at the doorway.

She came in just before midnight. I heard her speak to Barnard in the hall, and then her quick step outside the door. She was preposterously dressed, but she must have done something to her face in the taxi, for the paint was mostly rubbed from it, leaving it very pale.

“Oh, Dick, my darling,” she cried, tearing off her cloak and running to my arms. “I never expected you. There’s nothing wrong at home?”

“Not that I know of, except that it’s deserted. Mary, what on earth brought you here?”

“You’re not angry, Dick?”

“Not a bit — only curious.”

“How did you know I was here?”

“Guessed. I thought it the likeliest cover to draw. You see I’ve been watching you dancing to-night. Look here, my dear, if you put so much paint and powder on your face and jam it so close to old Turpin’s chest, it won’t be easy for the poor fellow to keep his shirt-front clean.”

“You — watched — me — dancing! Were you in that place?”

“Well, I wouldn’t say IN it. But I had a prospect of the show from the gallery. And it struck me that the sooner we met and had a talk the better.”

“The gallery! Were you in the house? I don’t understand.”

“No more do I. I burgled a certain house in a back street for very particular reasons of my own. In the process I may mention that I got one of the worst frights of my life. After various adventures I came to a place where I heard the dickens of a row which I made out to be dance music. Eventually I found a dirty little room with a window and to my surprise looked down on a dancing-hall. I know it, for I had once been there with Archie Roylance. That was queer enough, but imagine my surprise when I saw my wedded wife, raddled like a geisha, dancing with an old friend who seemed to have got himself up to imitate a wax-work.”

She seemed scarcely to be listening. “But in the house! Did you see no one?”

“I saw one man and I heard another. The fellow I saw was a man I once met in the small hours with Medina.”

“But the other? You didn’t see him? You didn’t hear him go out?”

“No.” I was puzzled at her excitement. “Why are you so keen about the other?”

“Because I think — I’m sure — it was Sandy — Colonel Arbuthnot.”

This was altogether beyond me. “Impossible!” I cried. “The place is a lair of Medina’s. The man I saw was Medina’s servant or satellite. Do you mean to say that Sandy has been exploring that house?”

She nodded. “You see it is the Fields of Eden.”

“Oh, I know. I found that out for myself. Do you tell me that Sandy discovered it too?”

“Yes. That is why I was there. That is why I have been living a perfectly loathsome life and am now dressed like a chorus girl.”

“Mary,” I said solemnly, “my fine brain won’t support any more violent shocks. Will you please to sit down beside me, and give me the plain tale of all you have been doing since I said good-bye to you at Fosse?”

“First,” she said, “I had a visit from a dramatic critic on holiday, Mr. Alexander Thomson. He said he knew you and that you had suggested that he should call. He came three times to Fosse, but only once to the house. Twice I met him in the woods. He told me a good many things, and one was that he couldn’t succeed and you couldn’t succeed, unless I helped. He thought that if a woman was lost only a woman could find her. In the end he persuaded me. You said yourself, Dick, that Nanny was quite competent to take charge of Peter John, with Dr. Greenslade so close at hand. And I hear from her every day, and he is very well and happy.”

“You came to London. But when?”

“The day you came back from Norway.”

“But I’ve been having letters regularly from you since then.”

“That is my little arrangement with Paddock. I took him into my confidence. I send him the letters in batches and he posts one daily.”

“Then you’ve been here more than a fortnight. Have you seen Sandy?”

“Twice. He has arranged my life for me, and has introduced me to my dancing partner, the Marquis de la Tour du Pin, whom you call Turpin. I think I have had the most horrible, the most wearing time that any woman ever had. I have moved in raffish circles and have had to be the most raffish of the lot. Do you know, Dick, I believe I’m really a good actress? I have acquired a metallic voice, and a high silly laugh, and hard eyes, and when I lie in bed at night I blush all over for my shamelessness. I know you hate it, but you can’t hate it more than I do. But it had to be done. I couldn’t be a ‘piker,’ as Mr. Blenkiron used to say.”

“Any luck?”

“Oh, yes,” she said wearily. “I have found Miss Victor. It wasn’t very difficult, really. When I had made friends with the funny people that frequent these places it wasn’t hard to see who was different from the others. They’re all mannequins, but the one I was looking for was bound to be the most mannequinish of the lot. I wanted someone without mind or soul, and I found her. Besides, I had a clue to start with. Odell, you know.”

“It was the green girl.”

She nodded. “I couldn’t be certain, of course, till I had her lover to help me. He is a good man, your French Marquis. He has played his part splendidly. You see, it would never do to try to AWAKE Adela Victor now. We couldn’t count on her being able to keep up appearances without arousing suspicion, till the day of release arrived. But something had to be done, and that is my business especially. I have made friends with her, and I talk to her and I have attached her to me just a little, like a dog. That will give me the chance to do the rest quickly when the moment comes. You cannot bring back a vanished soul all at once unless you have laid some foundation. We have to be very, very careful, for she is keenly watched, but I think — yes, I am sure — it is going well.”

“Oh, bravo!” I cried. “That makes Number Two. I may tell you that I have got Number One.” I gave her a short account of my doings in Norway. “Two of the poor devils will get out of the cage anyhow. I wonder if it wouldn’t be possible to pass the word to Victor and the Duke. It would relieve their anxiety.”

“I thought of that,” she replied, “but Colonel Arbuthnot says No, on no account. He says it might ruin everything. He takes a very solemn view of the affair, you know. And so do I. I have seen Mr. Medina.”

“Where?” I asked in astonishment.

“I got Aunt Doria to take me to a party where he was to be present. Don’t be worried. I wasn’t introduced to him, and he never heard my name. But I watched him, and knowing what I did I was more afraid than I have ever been in my life. He is extraordinarily attractive — no, not attractive — seductive, and he is as cold and hard as chilled steel. You know these impressions I get of people which I can’t explain — you say they are always right. Well, I felt him almost superhuman. He exhales ease and power like a god, but it is a god from a lost world. I can see that, like a god too, it is souls that he covets. Ordinary human badness seems decent in comparison with that Lucifer’s pride of his. I think if I ever could commit murder it would be his life I would take. I should feel like Charlotte Corday. Oh, I’m dismally afraid of him.”

“I’m not,” I said stoutly, “and I see him at closer quarters than most people.” The measure of success we had attained was beginning to make me confident.

“Colonel Arbuthnot is afraid for you,” she said. “The two times I have seen him in London he kept harping on the need of your keeping very near to him. I think he meant me to warn you. He says that when you are fighting a man with a long-range weapon the only chance is to hug him. Dick, didn’t you tell me that Mr. Medina suggested that you should stay in his house? I have been thinking a lot about that, and I believe it would be the safest plan. Once he saw you secure in his pocket he might forget about you.”

“It would be most infernally awkward, for I should have no freedom of movement. But all the same I believe you are right. Things may grow very hectic as we get near the day.”

“Besides, you might find out something about Number Three. Oh, it is the little boy that breaks my heart. The others might escape on their own account — some day, but unless we find HIM he is lost for ever. And Colonel Arbuthnot says that, even if we found him, it might be hard to restore the child’s mind. Unless — unless —”

Mary’s face had become grim, if one could use the word of a thing so soft and gentle. Her hands were tightly clasped, and her eyes had a strained far-away look.

“I am going to find him,” she cried. “Listen, Dick. That man despises women and rules them out of his life, except in so far as he can make tools of them. But there is one woman who is going to stop at nothing to beat him. . . . When I think of that little David I grow mad and desperate. I am afraid of myself. Have you no hope to give me?”

“I haven’t the shadow of a clue,” I said dolefully. “Has Sandy none?”

She shook her head. “He is so small, the little fellow, and so easy to hide.”

“If I were in Central Africa, I would get Medina by the throat, and peg him down and torture him till he disgorged.”

Again she shook her head. “Those methods are useless here. He would laugh at you, for he isn’t a coward — at least I think not. Besides, he is certain to be magnificently guarded. And for the rest he has the entrenchments of his reputation and popularity, and a quicker brain than any of us. He can put a spell of blindness on the world — on all men and nearly all women.”

The arrival of Miss Wymondham made me get up to leave. She was still the same odd-looking creature, with a mass of tow-coloured hair piled above her long white face. She had been dancing somewhere, and looked at once dog-tired and excited. “Mary has been having such a good time,” she told me. “Even I can scarcely keep pace with her ardent youth. Can’t you persuade her to do her hair differently? The present arrangement is so démodé and puts her whole figure out of drawing. Nancy Travers was speaking about it only to-night. Properly turned out, she said, Mary would be the most ravishing thing in London. By the way, I saw your friend Sir Archie Roylance at the Parminters’. He is lunching here on Thursday. Will you come, Richard?”

I told her that my plans were vague and that I thought I might be out of town. But I arranged with Mary before I left to keep me informed at the Club of any news that came from Sandy. As I walked back I was infected by her distress over little David Warcliff. That was the most grievous business of all, and I saw no light in it, for though everything else happened according to plan, we should never be able to bring Medina to book. The more I thought of it the more hopeless our case against him seemed to be. We might free the hostages, but we could never prove that he had had anything to do with them. I could give damning evidence, to be sure, but who would take my word against his? And I had no one to confirm me. Supposing I indicted him for kidnapping and told the story of what I knew about the Blind Spinner and Newhover and Odell? He and the world would simply laugh at me, and I should probably have to pay heavy damages for libel. None of his satellites, I was certain, would ever give him away; they couldn’t, even if they wanted to, for they didn’t know anything. No, Sandy was right. We might have a measure of success, but there would be no victory. And yet only victory would give us full success, for only to get him on his knees, gibbering with terror, would restore the poor little boy. I strode through the empty streets with a sort of hopeless fury in my heart.

One thing puzzled me. What was Sandy doing in that house behind the curiosity shop, if indeed it was Sandy? Whoever had been there had been in league with the sad grey man whom I watched from behind the bedroom door. Now the man was part of Medina’s entourage: I had no doubt about the accuracy of my recollection. Had Sandy dealings with someone inside the enemy’s citadel? I didn’t see how that was possible, for he had told me he was in deadly danger from Medina, and that his only chance was to make him believe that he was out of Europe. . . . As I went to bed, one thing was very clear in my mind. If Medina asked me to stay with him, I would accept. It would probably be safer, though I wasn’t so much concerned about that, and it would possibly be more fruitful. I might find out something about the grey man.

Next day I went to see Medina, for I wanted him to believe that I couldn’t keep away from him. He was in tremendous spirits about something or other, and announced that he was going off to the country for a couple of days. He made me stay to luncheon, when I had another look at Odell, who seemed to be getting fat. “Your wind, my lad,” I said to myself, “can’t be as good as it should be. You wouldn’t have my money in a scrap.” I hoped that Medina was going to have a holiday, for he had been doing a good deal lately in the way of speaking, but he said “No such luck.” He was going down to the country on business — an estate of which he was a trustee wanted looking into. I asked in what part of England, and he said Shropshire. He liked that neighbourhood and had an idea of buying a place there when he had more leisure.

Somehow that led me to speak of his poetry. He was surprised to learn that I had been studying the little books, and I could see took it as a proof of my devotion. I made a few fulsome observations on their merits, and said that even an ignorant fellow like me could see how dashed good they were. I also remarked that they seemed to me a trifle melancholy.

“Melancholy!” he said. “It’s a foolish world, Hannay, and a wise man must have his moods of contempt. Victory loses some of its salt when it is won over fools.”

And then he said what I had been waiting for. “I told you weeks ago that I wanted you to take up your quarters with me. Well, I repeat the offer and will take no refusal.”

“It is most awfully kind of you,” I stammered. “But wouldn’t I be in the way?”

“Not in the least. You see the house — it’s as large as a barracks. I’ll be back from Shropshire by Friday, and I expect you to move in here on Friday evening. We might dine together.”

I was content, for it gave me a day or two to look about me. Medina went off that afternoon, and I spent a restless evening. I wanted to be with Mary, but it seemed to me that the less I saw her the better. She was going her own way, and if I showed myself in her neighbourhood it might ruin all. Next day was no better; I actually longed for Medina to return so that I might feel I was doing something, for there was nothing I could turn my hand to, and when I was idle the thought of David Warcliff was always present to torment me. I went out to Hampton Court and had a long row on the river; then I dined at the Club and sat in the little back smoking-room, avoiding anyone I knew, and trying to read a book of travels in Arabia. I fell asleep in my chair, and, waking about half-past eleven, was staggering off to bed, when a servant came to tell me that I was wanted on the telephone.

It was Mary; she was speaking from Great Charles Street and her voice was sharp with alarm.

“There’s been an awful mishap, Dick,” she said breathlessly. “Are you alone? You’re sure there’s no one there? . . . Archie Roylance has made a dreadful mess of things. . . . He came to that dancing-place to-night, and Adela Victor was there, and Odell with her. Archie had seen her before, you know, and apparently was much attracted. No! He didn’t recognise me, for when I saw him I kept out of range. But of course he recognised the Marquis. He danced with Adela, and I suppose he talked nonsense to her — anyhow he made himself conspicuous. The result was that Odell proposed to take her away — I suppose he was suspicious of anybody of Archie’s world — and, well, there was a row. The place was very empty — only about a dozen, and mostly a rather bad lot. Archie asked what right he had to carry off the girl, and lost his temper, and the manager was called in-the man with the black beard. He backed up Odell, and then Archie did a very silly thing. He said he was Sir Archibald Roylance and wasn’t going to be dictated to by any Jew, and, worse, he said his friend was the Marquis de la Tour du Pin, and that between them they would burst up this show, and that he wouldn’t have a poor girl ordered about by a third-rate American bully. . . . I don’t know what happened afterwards. The women were hustled out, and I had to go with the rest. . . . But, Dick, it’s bad trouble. I’m not afraid so much for Archie, though he has probably had a bad mauling, but the Marquis. They’re sure to know who he is and all about him and remember his connection with Adela. They’re almost certain to make certain in some horrible way that he can’t endanger them again.

“Lord,” I groaned, “what a catastrophe! And what on earth can I do? I daren’t take any part!”

“No,” came a hesitating voice. “I suppose not. But you can warn the Marquis — if nothing has happened to him already.”

“Precious poor chance. These fellows don’t waste time. But go to bed and sleep, my dear. I’ll do my best.”

My best at that time of night was pretty feeble. I rang up Victor’s house and found, as I expected, that Turpin had not returned. Then I rang up Archie’s house in Grosvenor Street and got the same answer about him. It was no good my going off to the back streets of Marylebone, so I went to bed and spent a wretched night.

Very early next morning I was in Grosvenor Street, and there I had news. Archie’s man had just had a telephone message from a hospital to say that his master had had an accident, and would he come round and bring clothes. He packed a bag and he and I drove there at once, and found the miserable Archie in bed, the victim officially of a motor accident. He did not seem to be very bad, but it was a rueful face, much battered about the eyes and bandaged as to the jaw, which was turned on me when the nurse left us.

“You remember what I said about the pug with the diamond studs,” he whistled through damaged teeth. “Well, I took him on last night and got tidily laid out. I’m not up to professional standards, and my game leg made me slow.”

“You’ve put your foot into it most nobly,” I said. “What do you mean by brawling in a dance-club? You’ve embarrassed me horribly in the job I’m on.”

“But how?” he asked, and but for the bandage his jaw would have dropped.

“Never mind how at present. I want to know exactly what happened. It’s more important than you think.”

He told me the same story that I had heard from Mary, but much garlanded with objurgations. He denied that he had dined too well — “nothing but a small whisky-and-soda and one glass of port.” He had been looking for the girl in green for some time, and having found her, was not going to miss the chance of making her acquaintance. “A melancholy little being with nothin’ to say for herself. She’s had hard usage from some swine — you could see it by her eyes — and I expect the pug’s the villain. Anyway, I wasn’t goin’ to stand his orderin’ her about like a slave. So I told him so, and a fellow with a black beard chipped in and they began to hustle me. Then I did a dam’ silly thing. I tried to solemnise ’em by sayin’ who I was, and old Turpin was there, so I dragged his name in. Dashed caddish thing to do, but I thought a Marquis would put the wind up that crowd.”

“Did he join in?”

“I don’t know — I rather fancy he got scragged at the start. Anyhow I found myself facin’ the pug, seein’ bright red, and inclined to fight a dozen. I didn’t last for more than one round — my game leg cramped me, I suppose. I got in one or two on his ugly face, and then I suppose I took a knock-out. After that I don’t remember anything till I woke up in this bed feelin’ as if I had been through a mangle. The people here say I was brought in by two bobbies and a fellow with a motor-car, who said I had walked slap into his bonnet at a street corner and hurt my face. He was very concerned about me, but omitted to leave his name and address. Very thoughtful of the sweeps to make sure there would be no scandal. . . . I say, Dick, you don’t suppose this will get into the newspapers? I don’t want to be placarded as havin’ been in such a vulgar shindy just as I’m thinkin’ of goin’ in for Parliament.”

“I don’t think there’s the remotest chance of your hearing another word about it, unless you talk too much yourself. Look here, Archie, you’ve got to promise me never to go near that place again, and never on any account whatever to go hunting for that girl in green. I’ll tell you my reasons some day, but you can take it that they’re good ones. Another thing. You’ve got to keep out of Turpin’s way. I only hope you haven’t done him irreparable damage because of your idiocy last night.”

Archie was desperately penitent. “I know I behaved like a cad. I’ll go and grovel to old Turpin as soon as they let me up. But he’s all right — sure to be. He wasn’t lookin’ for a fight like me. I expect he only got shoved into the street and couldn’t get back again.”

I did not share Archie’s optimism, and very soon my fear was a certainty. I went straight from the hospital to Carlton House Terrace, and found Mr. Victor at breakfast. I learned that the Marquis de la Tour du Pin had been dining out on the previous evening and had not returned.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:50