“Now, who talks first?”
Brett cried, once the door was fairly closed behind
“I do,” burst forth Fairholme.
“My story will not take long to tell, and if
I do not get it off my chest, I shall simply explode.”
“We must not have any more tragedies,”
said Brett, “so proceed.”
“Well, thanks to your foresight,
I found the two servants and your ex-policeman waiting
for me on the platform at Charing Cross. As I
only carried a handbag, I had no trouble with the
Customs, and we walked straight out of the station.
In less than five minutes we were standing outside
the building which contained the invalid lady’s
flat. Your agent told me that, so far as he knew,
there were no other persons in the place except the
tenant and her two servants, an elderly French or
Italian married couple. Our collective wits could
not devise a plausible pretext for gaining access
to the lady, so I determined to settle the business
in the brutal British fashion. We marched quietly
up the stairs to the second storey, and your assistant
pointed out the right door. There were only two
flats on that landing, and the other one was apparently
empty. Your man had made a somewhat important
discovery since he wrote to you. This empty flat
had been taken by the agent who acted for the parties
opposite, and although the place was not tenanted,
the landlord was, of course, satisfied, as the rent
had been paid in advance. This seemed to indicate
that the place was left vacant simply to prevent the
others from being overlooked.”
Brett marked his appreciation of Fairholme’s
sagacity by a nod, and the earl continued
“I rang the bell and promptly
put my ear to the keyhole. It seemed to me that
a couple of doors were hastily closed, and then someone
slowly approached. The outer door was opened
and a man’s head appeared. I could only
see his face and a portion of his left shoulder, because
the chain was on the door, and the opening was not
more than eight or ten inches. Speaking in broken
English he said ’Vat you vant?’
His accent showed that he was a Frenchman.
“I answered in my best French,
’I wish to see madame, your mistress, at
“‘It is impossible,’
he said in the same language, and simultaneously he
tried to shut the door in my face. I shoved my
foot against the jamb and prevented him. At the
same instant my own servant and I as, if
there was to be trouble, I thought it best to keep
the others out of it applied our utmost
force to the door and succeeded in snapping the chain.
It might have been a tough job, as you know that to
force a way through anything that yields slightly
and yet holds fast is much more difficult than to
smash a lock or a couple of bolts. Luckily the
flats were jerry built, so the chain broke, and so
suddenly that the Frenchman was pitched violently
backwards. We nearly fell after him. The
ex-policeman was a splendid chap. His first idea
was to jump towards the switch of the electric lights
and turn on every lamp in the place.
“I shouted, ‘Talbot, are you there?
It is I, Fairholme.’
“I got no answer, but a woman
darted out of a room which proved to be the kitchen,
screamed something which I could not catch, and handed
a revolver to the Frenchman, who was just struggling
to his feet. That was where my prize-fighting
butler came in useful. Before you could say ‘Wink’
he gave the man an upper-cut that settled him effectually
for the next minute. Almost with the same movement
he caught the woman a slap over the ear that upset
her nerves considerably. She had a revolver in
her hand too. It fell to the floor, and Smith,
your servant, seized both weapons.
“The ex-policeman called out ’I
do not think we are making any mistake, sir.
They would not act after this manner if they were on
“I must say it seemed to me
that so far it was we who had been acting in an extraordinary
way, but there was no time to discuss the ethics of
the case then. Whilst my butler and Smith took
care of the couple, your assistant and I hastily examined
three rooms. They were empty, save for a small
quantity of furniture. The fourth door resisted
our efforts, so, of course, we burst it open.
And the first thing that met our eyes was poor old
Jack lying on his back on the bed, and glaring at us
in a way that made me think at first he was mad.”
“I should think so,” interrupted
Talbot. “I would like to see your face
if you were trussed up as I was not able
to speak a word and a fiendish row going
on in the passage outside.”
“You were gagged,” questioned
Brett, “and your wrists and ankles were secured
to the four corners of the bed, your limbs being distended
in the form of an X?”
Fairholme glanced round admiringly.
“Of course,” he cried delightedly, “I
knew you would guess it. That is the pleasant
way these Turks have of securing their prisoners.”
“It is an awfully uncomfortable
one,” said Talbot. “My joints are
still stiff at the mere recollection of it. I
have lain in that way, Mr. Brett, for countless hours.
Occasionally the brutes would allow me to change my
posture, but the moment anyone came to the door I was
strapped up in an instant and a gag slipped into my
mouth. What used to make me so furious was the
knowledge that if only I got the chance of a second
I could have broken that Frenchman’s neck and
escaped, but he and his wife always took such precautions
that I never had the liberty to do more than reach
with some difficulty the food that they gave me.
However, I must not interrupt.”
“I really have not much more
to say,” went on Fairholme. “You may
be sure it did not take me long to release Talbot,
and what do you think his first words were when he
slowly sat up in bed and tried if his legs would bend?”
“I cannot guess,” said Brett.
“He said: ‘Have they got the diamonds?’
“I answered ‘Yes.’
“‘But it was impossible,’
he said. ’They could not have mastered all
“‘But they did,’
I replied, and then and there, before he would budge
an inch, he made me tell him the whole story.
Just as I had ended we heard a scuffle in the passage.
We went out, though Jack was hardly able to walk at
first. It was Smith wrestling with the woman,
who was a regular wild cat, and who would, even then,
have done us any mischief in her power. There
was nothing for it but to tie her hands behind her
back, and then fasten her securely in a chair.
After this was done we took counsel as to our next
“Wait a little,” said
Brett. “How many rooms were there in the
flat? You have accounted for four.”
“I forgot,” said Fairholme.
“The place had six rooms. The small apartment
in which Jack was confined was a sort of dressing-room,
and the bedroom beyond looked out into the well of
the block of flats. They had carefully nailed
the blind of this dressing-room, so that not even a
chance puff of wind could blow it aside and reveal
its secret to anyone in the flats on the opposite
storey or higher. The remaining room was empty.
Your friend the policeman subsequently searched the
place from top to toe, but he found nothing.
The only document of any importance was an address
on a card which he discovered in the Frenchman’s
“Ah,” said Brett, “what was that
“Here it is.”
The earl produced a small piece of
pasteboard on which was scribbled, “Monsieur
Jean Beaujolais, chez Monsieur
Henri de Lisle, 41, Rue Bonnerie, Paris.”
“That is important,” said
the barrister. “Why did you not wire it
to me last night?”
“I had a reason,” said
the earl eagerly, “but that comes in with Jack’s
part of the story.” And he turned towards
Talbot, who, thus summoned to the stage, began to
“I understand, Mr. Brett,”
he said, “that you are accurately acquainted
with all that transpired until the moment when I entered
the Albert Gate mansion on that remarkable night?”
“That is so,” said Brett.
“Well, when Inspector Sharpe
met me at the door on my arrival he told me that his
Excellency Mehemet Ali, with three strange gentlemen
and the junior members of the commission, awaited
me in the dining-room. I went in and was surprised
to find the three visitors, for during the preceding
month not a single stranger had entered the house save
a member of the Government and one or two important
officials of the Foreign Office, who came with me
out of sheer curiosity to see a collection of remarkable
“The strangers bowed politely
when I was introduced. Two of them spoke neither
French nor English, but the third man spoke French
fluently. He had, by the way, a somewhat peculiar
accent, different from that to which I was accustomed
in the Turks. It was softer, more sibilant, and
impressed me as that of a man who was accustomed to
speak Italian. He was a good-looking chap, about
my height and build, and were it not for his brown
skin, one would not have regarded him as a Turk.
One side of his face was deeply scarred with a sword-cut,
but, if anything, this did not detract from his appearance,
and it gave a manly aspect to an otherwise effeminate
Brett could not help smiling involuntarily.
“Are you sure it was a sword-cut?”
“It certainly looked like one.”
“And his skin was very brown?”
“Oh, quite. Indeed it was
a shade deeper than that of most Turks. I have
seen very many of them. Although dark-featured,
they are often pallid enough in reality, and their
deep-hued complexion is due more to their black hair
and eyebrows than to the mere colour of the skin.”
Brett smiled again.
“I think,” he said, “I
will show you the same gentleman in a somewhat different
aspect. But proceed.”
“The explanation given to me
by Mehemet Ali was both extraordinary and disconcerting,
especially at such a late hour. He told me that
the three gentlemen to whom I had been introduced I
am sorry, by the way, that I cannot remember their
names, as they were all Mohammeds, or Rasuls, or Ibrahims,
and the dramatic events of the night subsequently drove
them from my mind had been sent post haste
from Constantinople on a special mission. They
had only reached London that night, and they bore with
them a special mandate, signed by the Sultan himself,
directing Mehemet Ali to hand over the diamonds to
their charge, and to at once return with his assistants
to Yildiz Kiosk.
“There could be no questioning
the authenticity of the Sultan’s instructions.
The document was in his own handwriting, was endorsed
with his private seal, and conveyed other distinguishing
marks which rendered his Excellency assured on this
important point. He told me that he was compelled
to obey implicitly, and were it possible he would have
started from London that night. This, however,
was out of the question, but he had not lost a moment
in sending for me and acquainting me with his Majesty’s
“You will readily perceive that
the affair placed me in an awkward predicament.
I was, so to speak, representing the British Government
in the matter, and the Foreign Office had pledged
itself, through our Ambassador at Constantinople,
to undertake all the precautions for safeguarding
the diamonds with which you are acquainted. It
seemed to me that notwithstanding the urgency of the
Sultan’s order, I should not be doing my duty
to permit the transfer to be made in such an irregular
manner. So I said quite plainly that the matter
could not be settled that night. They must all
wait until the morning, when I would consult my Department,
and Mehemet Ali, together with his aides, could leave
for Constantinople by the evening train, after my
superiors had been acquainted with the Sultan’s
“Turks are difficult people
to understand. It seemed to me that my decision
gave some satisfaction to Mehemet Ali, who was undoubtedly
very much upset by the queer manner in which he had
been deposed from his important trust. At once
an animated discussion took place.”
“In French?” interrupted Brett.
“No; in Turkish.”
“Did the gentleman with the
sabre-cut on his face take any part therein?”
“Not in the least. He sat
and smoked cigarettes in the most unconscious manner
possible, leaving his two associates to carry on the
As the barrister appeared to have
no further question to ask at the moment, Talbot continued
“Several times Mehemet Ali appealed
to me to change my mind and formally ratify the transfer
at once. I was quite firm in my refusal, and did
not hesitate to describe the Sultan’s demands
as ridiculous. I was rendered more determined,
if anything, in this attitude by a growing certainty
in my mind that his Excellency himself approved of
my attitude. Ultimately, it seems, they hit upon
a compromise. The whole party would remain together
all night in a sort of dual control, and then the change
of guardianship would take place next day in accordance
with my views as to what was right and proper.
I must admit I was intensely relieved when this decision
was arrived at. Looking back now over the events
of the night, I can perceive that from that moment
the gang who effected the murders and the robbery
had me in their power, for they had completely succeeded
in allaying my suspicions, and I can only plead in
extenuation of my shortsightedness that Mehemet Ali
himself, and the other gentlemen with whom I had been
acquainted during the past month, were willing accessories
to the arrangement.”
“I do not see,” said Brett,
“that you have the slightest cause to reproach
yourself. You acted quite properly throughout,
and I am sure that when all the facts are known your
status at the Foreign Office will be improved rather
than diminished by this incident.”
The other man’s face flushed
with pleasure as he heard these words.
“Thank you,” he replied
simply. “I certainly took every precaution
that suggested itself to me. Subsequently I was
the victim of circumstances. The French-speaking
Turk, as I have told you, took no part whatever in
the negotiations, and when he became aware of the modus
operandi determined upon ”
“By the way,” said Brett,
“how did he become aware of it?”
“Oh, Mehemet Ali told him in French.”
“Didn’t that strike you as curious?”
“Most certainly it did.
But the scoundrel explained it afterwards by telling
me that although a Turkish subject, he had lived in
Algiers and France since he was a child, and had quite
forgotten his mother tongue. But he was employed
in a confidential position in the Turkish Embassy at
Paris, owing not only to family influence, but to his
intimate acquaintance with the French language.”
“Ah!” said Brett, “Monsieur Henri
Dubois has a ready wit.”
“What!” cried Edith, who
naturally enough was following each word with the
utmost interest, “do you already know his name?”
“Not only his name,” replied
Brett, “but his identity, Miss Talbot. You
shall see him in another skin and without the sword-cut.
It is possible, however, that before we meet, this
distinguishing mark may be replaced by a fractured
skull or a bullet wound.”
Fairholme suddenly clenched his right
fist and examined his knuckles, his unconscious action
causing the others to laugh.
“Is he a Frenchman, then?” said Talbot.
“Unquestionably a most modern product.”
“And his name is Dubois?”
“All right. In future I
will allude to him by his proper title. Well,
Monsieur Dubois strolled towards me with the easy confidence
of a man who was sure of himself.
“‘This affair bores me,’
he said. ’I see no reason why I, who am
in no way concerned with the Sultan’s collection
of precious stones, should sit up all night keeping
guard over them with these very earnest gentlemen
here. I am going to my hotel. I have sent
my portmanteau to the Carlton. Will you honour
me by driving there and telling me something about
your wonderful London as we go?’
“The man looked at me with a
meaning in his eyes that conveyed quite plainly the
“’We can talk quietly
in the cab, and I can explain much that is at present
hidden.’ Unfortunately I fell in with his
“We crossed the dining-room
together. We were searched by the police in the
hall, much to his apparent surprise, and then we drove
off through St. George’s Place.
“He at once aroused my curiosity
by telling me sensational details of a widespread
plot to dethrone the Sultan. An essential part
of the conspiracy was to obtain possession of the
diamonds before they had been cut, as they were an
heirloom from the Prophet, and it would be a terrible
thing in the eyes of the more fanatical section of
the Mohammedans if they were tampered with in any
“This sounded reasonable enough,
as the same story had been dinned in my ears for several
“He made out that for reasons
of State the Sultan had decided to change the Minister
Plenipotentiary charged with secret mission to London.
“Altogether he talked so candidly,
and with such an air of treating the whole business
as the bugbear of a timid monarch, that I really believed
“At last we reached the Carlton.
We got out and he paid the cabman, who drove off round
the corner; then my new acquaintance explained to me
that he placed no greater trust in his fellow-countrymen
than did their ruler. Therefore he had led them
to believe he was staying at that hotel, whereas he
had in reality taken up his abode in the flat of a
French family with whom he was acquainted. If
I would come with him for a moment he promised to
place me in possession of certain documents which
would render easy my explanations to the Foreign Office
“I accompanied him without hesitation,
secure in the knowledge that a strong force of police
guarded my charge at Albert Gate, both inside and
outside the house. We went to the mansions where
he said he lived. The place had a perfectly respectable
exterior, and is situated, as you know, in a reputable
thoroughfare. We ascended to the second floor,
entered the flat, and were ushered by a middle-aged
Frenchwoman into a sort of sitting-room.
“Dubois turned to a writing-desk and unlocked
“‘Here are the documents
I promised you, Mr. Talbot,’ he said; but, to
my amazement, he whipped out a revolver and held it
within two feet of my breast.
“‘If you move, or attempt
to cry out, you are a dead man!’ he cried.
“At the same instant a door
behind me opened and some three or four persons entered.
I was so furious at the trick that had been played
upon me that I disregarded his threat and sprang at
him, but he did not fire. Flinging the revolver
behind him on the writing-table he closed with me.
Before I well knew what had happened I was tied hand
and foot, gagged, and placed helpless in a chair.
A few minutes later, after a muttered consultation
between my captors, I was taken to the room in which
Fairholme found me, and I never left the place until
nearly nine o’clock last night.
“It was a most ghastly experience.
I would sooner die than go through it again.
“If ever I get within measurable
distance of Monsieur Henri Dubois I promise you that
I will repay him with interest some of the agony he
inflicted on me. I never thought I should hate
a man as I hate that Frenchman. I do not want
to kill him. I want to torture him!”
This was the first sign that Talbot
had given of the anger that filled his soul.
For a moment no one spoke. Edith stifled a sob,
and Sir Hubert Fitzjames broke the tension by swearing
as vehemently as ever did the army in Flanders.
“You have suffered,” said
Brett quietly, “but not in vain. It is only
by the manner in which these blackguards treated you
that we have obtained so much knowledge. Your
capture was a necessary part of their scheme.
I wonder now that after you had served their purpose
they did not kill you. It was not out of pity,
believe me. The fact that you were spared confirms
me in the opinion that the Albert Gate murders were
a gigantic blunder, never contemplated by the expert
criminal who planned the theft. But continue.
What happened afterwards?”
Talbot almost summoned up a smile
as he said “Really, the next thing
was so grotesque that were not the whole business so
serious a one you would be compelled to laugh at it.
“Looking back now to those first
ghastly hours when I laid on the bed tied hand and
foot, I find it difficult to recall any definite impressions.
It would be absurd to say that I suffered, either mentally
or physically. I was sunk in a sort of stupor
of rage, and my bonds did not hurt me so long as I
kept quiet. Curiously enough, my thoughts were
somewhat altruistic. Instead of speculating as
to my own fate I rather wondered what would be the
outcome of the whole mysterious business. I could
not bring myself to believe that, cleverly as the rogues
had outwitted me, they would be able to similarly
dupe a strong body of Metropolitan police, not to
mention Mehemet Ali and his assistants.
“At last I fell asleep, dozing
fitfully at first, but finally giving way to the deep
slumber of exhaustion.
“I was awakened by someone shaking
me, though not roughly. It took me some time
to recover my scattered senses, and at first I was
almost unable to move, owing to the constrained position
of my limbs. As well as I could judge it was
not yet daylight, for the electric lamps were turned
on, and I subsequently found that such rays of natural
light as penetrated into my room during the day did
not arrive for a considerable time.
“Thenceforth, of course, my
sole method of judging the progress of time was by
the alternation of meals and the difference of light
between day and night.
“Someone assisted me to assume
a sitting posture, the cords attached to my wrists
were relaxed, and I was firmly held by two men one
a Turk whom I had not seen before, the other a Frenchman
whom you found in the flat.
“At the foot of the bed were
standing Dubois and a closely-veiled female a
young woman, as well as I could judge, and a person
of tall and elegant stature, who, it would appear,
spoke only French.
“Dubois addressed me calmly.
“‘I hope,’ he said, ‘you are
in a better temper, my dear Talbot?’
“’It does not appear to
me that the state of my temper is of any material
significance,’ I answered.
“‘No,’ he replied
nonchalantly. ’The game is in my hands,
and will probably remain there for a considerable
period. But I do not wish to be unkind.
You have, I am given to understand, a highly respectable
uncle and a very charming sister, who will no doubt
suffer much perturbation owing to your mysterious
disappearance. Now, you may not think it, but
I am a very humane sort of fellow. Consequently,
I am quite agreeable that you should write them a
brief note, omitting of course all superfluous information,
such as dates, addresses, and other embarrassing facts,
but simply telling them that you are well. I
will guarantee its safe delivery.’
“Naturally, I jumped at the
offer. The veiled lady supplied me with a sheet
of notepaper and an envelope, and I scribbled the unfortunate
letter which was subsequently posted in Paris and caused
such a sensation. I had only one hand at liberty,
so Dubois politely offered to seal the envelope for
me, first, however, reading carefully what I had written.
“‘That is quite correct,’
he said; ’it will relieve their feelings and
prove at the same time highly serviceable to me, as
the letter will be posted in Paris and not in London.
You see, my dear Talbot, how readily you fall in with
my plans. You are as putty in my hands. Now,
I suppose, being a brave Englishman, you would sooner
have died than written this letter if you had guessed
it would prove of material assistance to me?’
“I fear I used some very bad
language to Dubois, notwithstanding the presence of
the lady, but he paid little heed to me, and the pair
at once undertook the most curious proceedings I have
“They had before them a table
set out with all sorts of paint, paste, and powders,
such as one might expect to find in an actor’s
“Sitting himself astride a chair
so that the light fell on his face, Dubois submitted
himself to the skilful hands of the woman, who forthwith
began to make him up in an exact resemblance to me.
The right side of his face was towards me, but when,
in obedience to her requirements, he turned somewhat,
I noticed to my astonishment that the scar which I
have mentioned had completely disappeared, and then
I saw that his Turkish complexion had also vanished,
leaving him a particularly white-skinned Frenchman,
with a high colour.”
“Ah!” said Brett, leaning
back in his chair and attentively surveying the ceiling.
“You must remember,” went
on Talbot, “that my wits were somewhat confused
by the extraordinary circumstances of the hour.
Having been so suddenly awakened from a sound sleep,
and subsequently annoyed by the incident of the letter,
it took me some moments to recognize these discrepancies
in his appearance. At first, so to speak, I knew
him immediately as Dubois, but the more I looked at
him the less confident I would have been were it not
that his voice and manner supplied unerring indications
of his identity.
“The lady proceeded with her
work in the most business-like fashion, and to my
intense amazement he quickly assumed a marked resemblance
to myself. Not such, perhaps, as would bear close
scrutiny, but rather the effect attained by a skilful
artist in a rapid sketch, or caught by a fleeting
glance whilst passing a mirror.
“‘What is the game now?’
I cried, when the true nature of their purpose dawned
“‘Oh, just the same,’
replied Dubois, grinning, ’I merely wish to puzzle
the thick-headed brains of you Englishmen a little
more. That is all.’
“‘Halloa!’ I cried, ‘you understand
“‘Yes,’ he answered coolly.
‘It is frequently necessary in my business.’
“‘Well,’ I said,
’there can be no doubt that you are an accomplished
villain. What you intend to achieve by masquerading
in this fashion I utterly fail to understand.
You can never be such a fool as to think that you
will be able to gain admittance to Albert Gate by impersonating
me. Were you even to succeed you would still be
as far off as ever from securing your booty, which,
I suppose, is the Imperial diamond and its companions.’
“‘Really,’ he said,
with a sneer, ’I thought that you, Mr. Talbot,
were endowed with a little more intelligence than
the average. Pardon, Mignon, pour un moment.’
“He rose from his chair, unfastened
a case which he took from the breast-pocket of his
overcoat, and showed me the diamonds which had been
the object of so much care and solicitude on my part
during many weeks.
“‘You see,’ he continued,
seating himself again, whilst the lady resumed her
task without a word, ’the business has been satisfactorily
accomplished, Mr. Talbot. The diamonds are here;
so are you. Unfortunately his Excellency and
the secretaries are with the Prophet. You will,
I am sure, express my regrets to the police, to the
Foreign Office, and to all concerned, that the Sultan’s
commissionaries should have been so unceremoniously
despatched to Paradise. It was not my fault,
believe me, nor was it altogether necessary. I
am in no way responsible for the bungling measures
adopted by my Turkish assistants. You see, in
Constantinople they are accustomed to these drastic
means of settling disputes.’
“He rattled on so pleasantly
that I hardly grasped the true significance of his
words, so I replied with almost equal flippancy
“’I will be most pleased
to convey your regrets to the proper authorities.
May I ask when I shall be at liberty to do so?’
“‘Ah,’ he said,
’there you puzzle even my intelligence.
It will certainly be days, it may be weeks, before
you can communicate with your friends.’”
“A sudden frenzy seized me at
those words, and I endeavoured to smash the heads
of my two gaolers together by throwing them off their
balance outwards, and then rapidly contracting my
arms. Thereupon I made another discovery.
A cord lying loosely round my neck was suddenly tightened,
and I was thrown back choking. A fourth man, of
whose presence I was unconscious, was stationed behind
me and held the noose in his hands.
“It was some time before I recovered
my breath or my speech.
“At last I was allowed to rise
again, and Dubois said with a quiet smile which was
“’By this time, Mr. Talbot,
you should have realized that you have not fallen
into the hands of children. We do not wish to
do you a mischief. Indeed, it would not suit
our purpose. It is far from our desire to quarrel
with the British Government or to take the life of
one of its rising young diplomatists. The dispute
in which you are unfortunately involved is between
a certain section of the Sultan’s subjects and
that potentate himself. But really you must recognize
the absolute helplessness of your position. You
have just received a stern reminder. Let it be
the last, for if you give us any more trouble we may
end a difficult situation by effectively cutting your
throat. Such an operation would be distasteful
to us and most distressing to you. So please
do not compel us to perform it.’
“I glared at him viciously.
Speak I could not, but he paid no further attention
to me, and his make-up was now pronounced to be perfect
by his critical companion.
“‘Vous étés un très
bel Anglais, mon vieux,’ she cried, coquettishly
setting her head on one side and glancing first at
him and then at me.”
“The cat!” cried Edith.
“She evidently thought you good-looking, Jack.”
Talbot blushed and laughed at the involuntary slip.
“I am not responsible for her
opinions,” he said. “I am simply telling
you what happened.
“Dubois left the room,”
he continued, “and returned in a few moments,
dressed in an English tweed suit, with my overcoat
and a deerstalker cap. Upon my honour, he was
so like me that, notwithstanding my rage, I was compelled
to smile at him. He caught my transient mood for
he cried, ’that is better. The surgical
operation is beginning to take effect. You see
“‘It is a somewhat bitter
species of humour,’ I replied. ’Perhaps
in the future it may have a sequel.’
“‘Life is made up of sequels,’
was the airy answer. ’Events generally
turn out to be so completely opposite to that which
I anticipated that I no longer give them a thought.
I live only for the present, and at this moment I
am victorious. But now, Mr. Talbot, I purpose
taking a little trip to the Continent on your account.
I hope, therefore, for your sake, that the Channel
will be smooth.’
“With a mock bow of much politeness
he took his leave, carrying with him the case of diamonds.
I have never seen him since. Last night in the
Foreign Office I met Captain Gaultier, who told me
of the rencontre on the steamer. I readily
forgave him for the mistake he had made with reference
to my appearance, but it was too bad that he should
imagine I would bolt to Paris with a lady of theatrical
appearance in broad daylight.”
“Yes,” cried Fairholme,
“if it had been the night steamer ”
“Bobby!” exclaimed Edith.
“Oh, I meant, of course,”
stammered Fairholme, “that by night Gaultier
might have been more easily mistaken.”
“Well, and what happened at the Foreign Office?”
Brett’s question recalled the
younger people to the gravity of the conclave.
“First of all,” said Talbot,
“Fairholme drove me straight home, where it
was necessary to give some slight preliminary explanation
before I made a too sudden appearance, so I remained
in the cab outside whilst Fairholme went in and found
“Ah!” said Brett, still
surveying the ceiling; but there was so much meaning
in his voice that this time it was the turn of the
young couple to blush.
“We did not take long to explain
matters,” continued Talbot. “I sent
off messengers post-haste to the Under-Secretary and
others suggesting that if possible we should meet
at the Foreign Office. Within an hour my chiefs
were good enough to fall in with my views, and therefore
I had an opportunity to tell them my story exactly
as I have repeated it to you. The result is that
I carry with me a letter from the Under-Secretary in
which he explains his views. I am already acquainted
with his reasons, but I have no doubt that he puts
them before you quite clearly.”
He handed a letter to Brett.
Its contents were laconic, but unmistakable
“The inquiry in which you are
engaged,” it read, “must be conducted with
the utmost secrecy and discretion. The gravest
political importance is attached to its outcome.
No trouble or expense should be allowed to interfere
with the restoration of the diamonds to their rightful
owner. The British Government will regard this
as a most valuable service to the State, and Mr. Talbot
is commissioned to place at your disposal the full
resources of the Foreign Office. You will also
find that his Majesty’s Ministers throughout
Europe have been advised to give you every assistance,
whilst there is little reason to doubt that the various
European Governments will be ready to offer you all
possible support. The first consideration is
the restoration of the gems intact to the Sultan;
the second, absolute secrecy as to the whole of the
“Whew!” whistled Brett.
“Read between the lines, this communication
shows the serious nature of our quest. If those
diamonds are not recovered, a revolution in Turkey
is the almost certain outcome, and Heaven alone knows
what that means to the European Powers most concerned.”
“If you succeed,” said
Sir Hubert Fitzjames, “the Government will make
you a baronet.”
“If you succeed,” growled
Talbot, “I will get even with that Frenchman.”
“And when you succeed,”
said Fairholme, in a matter-of-fact tone that indicated
the wild improbability of any other outcome, “Edith
and I will get married!”