Upon the night following the ill-omened
banquet in Park Lane was held a second dinner party,
in Cadogan Gardens. Like veritable gourmets, we
must be present.
It is close upon the dining hour.
“Zoe is late!” said Lady Vignoles.
“I think not, dear,” her
husband corrected her, consulting his celebrated chronometer.
“They have one minute in which to demonstrate
the efficiency of American methods!”
smiled her vivacious ladyship, whose husband’s
love of punctuality was the only trace of character
which six months of marital intimacy had enabled her
to discover in him.
“You know,” said Lord
Vignoles to Zimmermann, the famous litterateur
of the Ghetto, “she is proud of Yankee smartness.
Only natural.” And his light blue eyes
followed his wife’s pretty figure as she flitted
hospitably amongst her guests. Admiration beamed
through his monocle.
“Lady Vignoles is a staunch
American,” agreed the novelist. “I
gather that your opinion of that nation differs from
“Well, you know,” explained
his host, “I don’t seriously contend-that
is, when Sheila is about-I don’t contend
that their methods aren’t smart. But it
seems to me that their smartness is all-just-well,
d’you see what I mean? Look at these Pinkerton
“Those who you were telling
me called upon you this morning?”
“Yes. They came over with
Oppner to look for this Severac Bablon.”
“What is your contention?”
“Well,” said Vignoles,
rather flustered at being thus pinned to the point,
“I mean to say-they haven’t
“Neither has Scotland Yard!”
“No, by Jove, you’re right! Scotland
“Do you think it likely that Scotland Yard will?”
asked the other.
But Lord Vignoles, having caught his
wife’s eye, was performing a humorous grimace,
and, watch in hand, delivering a pantomimic indictment
of American unpunctuality. At which moment Miss
Oppner was announced, and Lady Vignoles made a pretty
moue of triumph.
Zoe Oppner entered the room, regally
carrying her small head crowned with the slightly
frizzy mop of chestnut hair, conscious of her fine
eyes, her perfect features, and her pretty shoulders,
happy in her slim young beauty, and withal wholly
unaffected. Therein lay her greatest charm.
A beautiful woman, fully aware of her loveliness, she
was too sensible to be vain of a gift of the gods-to
pride herself upon a heavenly accident.
“Why, Zoe!” said Lady Vignoles, “what’s
become of uncle?”
“Pa couldn’t get,”
announced Zoe composedly; “so I came along without
him. Told me to apologise, but didn’t explain.
I’ve promised to rejoin him early, so I shall
have to quit directly after dinner. The car is
coming for me.”
Lord Vignoles looked amused.
“Les affaires!” he said resignedly.
Dinner was announced.
The usual air of slightly annoyed
surprise crept over the faces of the company at the
announcement, so that to the uninitiate it would have
seemed that no one was hungry. However, they accepted
Then Vignoles made a discovery.
“I say, Sheila,” he exclaimed,
“where is your American efficiency? We’re
His wife made a rapid mental calculation and flushed
“Anybody might do it!” she pouted; “and
it’s uncle’s fault, anyway!”
“Why!” exclaimed Zoe Oppner,
“you’re surely not going to make a fuss
over a silly thing like that!”
“A lot of people don’t
like it,” declared Lady Vignoles hurriedly.
“I shouldn’t mind, of course, if it happened
at somebody else’s house.”
Zimmermann strolled up to the group.
“I gather that we number thirteen?” he
“That is so,” replied
Vignoles; “but,” dropping his voice, “I
don’t think anyone else has noticed it yet.”
“A romantic idea occurs to me!”
smiled the novelist. “I submit it in all
“Oh, go on, Mr. Zimmermann!”
cried Zoe, with sparkling eyes.
“Why not, upon the precedent
of our ancient Arabian friend, Es-Sindibad of
the Sea, summon to the feast some chance wayfarer?”
“Oh, I say!” protested
the host mildly. “Do you mean to go outside
in Cadogan Gardens and stop anybody that comes along?”
“Well,” said Zimmermann,
“it should, strictly, be some pious person who
tarries there to extol Allah! But if we waited
for such a traveller I fear the soup would be spoiled!
You are a gentleman short, I think? So make it,
simply, the first gentleman.”
“But he might be a tramp or
a taxi-driver, or worse!” protested Vignoles.
“That is true,” agreed
the other. “So let us determine upon a criterion
of respectability. Shall we say the first man,
provided he be agreeable, who wears a dress-suit?”
“That’s just grand!”
cried Zoe Oppner enthusiastically. “It’s
too cute for anything! Oh, Jerry, let’s!
Make him do it, Sheila!”
Jerry, otherwise Lord Vignoles, clearly
regarded the projected Oriental experiment with no
“I mean to say
“That’s settled, Zoe!”
said the pretty hostess calmly. “Never mind
The footman addressed came forward.
“You will step out on the front
porch, Alexander, and say to the first gentleman who
passes, if he’s in evening dress: ’Lady
Vignoles requests the pleasure of your company at
dinner.’ If he says he doesn’t know
me, reply that I am quite aware of that! Do you
Alexander was shocked.
“I mean to say, Sheila -”
began his lordship.
“Did you hear me, Alexander?”
“I’ve got to stand out in Cadogan Gardens
“Shall I repeat it again, slowly?”
“I heard you, my lady.”
“Very well. Show the gentleman
into the library. You have only five minutes.”
With an appealing look towards Lord
Vignoles, who, having ostentatiously removed and burnished
his eyeglass, seemed to experience some difficulty
in replacing it, Alexander departed.
“I claim him!”
cried Zoe, as the footman disappeared. “Whoever
he is or whatever he’s like, he shall take me
in to dinner!”
“What I mean to say is”
blurted Vignoles “that it would be all right
at a country-house party at Christmas say
“It’s going to be all
right here, dear!” interrupted his wife, affectionately
squeezing his arm. “Why, think of the possibilities!
New York would just go crazy on the idea!”
A silence fell between them as, with
Zoe Oppner and the Zimmermanns, they made their way
to the library. Only a few minutes elapsed, to
their surprise, ere Alexander reappeared. Martyr-like,
he had performed his painful duty, and a beatific
consciousness of his martyrdom was writ large upon
him. In an absolutely toneless voice he announced:
“Here! I mean to say-we
can’t have a policeman -”
began Vignoles, but his wife’s little hand was
laid upon his lips.
Zoe Oppner, with brimming eyes, made
a brave attempt, and then fled to a distant settee,
striving with her handkerchief to stifle her laughter.
The guest entered.
From her remote corner Zoe Oppner
peeped at him, and her laughter ceased. Lady
Vignoles looked pleased; her husband seemed surprised.
Zimmermann watched the stranger with a curious expression
in his eyes.
Detective-Inspector Pepys was a tall
man of military bearing, bronzed, and wearing a slight
beard, trimmed to a point. He was perfectly composed,
and came forward with an easy smile upon his handsome
face. His clothes fitted him faultlessly.
Even Lord Vignoles (a sartorial connoisseur) had to
concede that his dress-suit was a success. He
looked a wealthy Colonial gentleman.
“This pleasure is the greater
in being unexpected, Lady Vignoles!” he said.
“I gather I am thus favoured that I may take
the place of an absentee. Shall I hazard a guess?
Your party numbered thirteen?”
His infectious smile, easy acceptance
of a bizarre situation, and evident good breeding,
bridged a rather difficult interval. Lord Vignoles
had had an idea that detective-inspectors were just
ordinary plain-clothes policemen, and had determined,
a second before, to assert himself, give the man half-a-sovereign,
and put an end to this ridiculous extravaganza.
Now he changed his mind. Detective-Inspector
Pepys was a revelation.
Vignoles (to his own surprise) offered his hand.
“It is very good of you,”
he said, rather awkwardly. “You are sure
you have no other dinner engagement, Inspector?”
“None,” replied the latter.
“I am, strictly speaking, engaged upon official
duty; but bodily nutriment is allowed-even
by Scotland Yard!”
“You don’t mind my presenting
you to-the other guests-in your-ah-unofficial
capacity-as plain Mr. Pepys? They might-think
there was something wrong!”
He felt vaguely confused, as though
he were insulting the visitor by his request, and
with the detective’s disconcerting eyes fixed
upon his face was more than half ashamed of himself.
“Not in the least, Lord Vignoles.
I should have suggested it had you not done so.”
The host was resentfully conscious
of a subtle sense of inward gratitude for this concession.
Of the easy assumption of equality by the detective
he experienced no resentment whatever. The circumstances
possibly warranted it, and, in any event, it was assumed
so quietly and naturally that he accepted it as a
matter of course.
Since Lord Vignoles’ marriage
with an American heiress the atmosphere of his establishments
had grown very transatlantic; so much so, indeed,
that someone had dubbed the house in Cadogan Gardens
“The Millionaires’ Meeting House,”
and another wit (unknown) had referred to his place
in Norfolk as “The Week-end Synagogue.”
Furthermore, Lady Vignoles had a weakness for “odd
people,” for which reason the presence of a guest
hitherto socially unknown occasioned no comment.
Mr. Pepys having brought in Zoe Oppner,
everyone assumed the late arrival to be one of Lady
Vignoles’ odd people, and everyone was pleasantly
surprised to find him such a charming companion.
Zoe Oppner, for her part, became so
utterly absorbed in his conversation that her cousin
grew seriously alarmed. Zoe was notoriously eccentric,
and, her cousin did not doubt, even capable of forming
an attachment for a policeman.
In fact, Lady Vignoles, who was wearing
the historic Lyrpa Diamond-her father’s
wedding-present-was so concerned that she
had entirely lost track of the general conversation,
which, from the great gem, had drifted automatically
Zimmermann was citing the famous case
of the Kimberley mail robbery in ’83.
“That was a big haul,”
he said. “Twelve thousand pounds’
worth of rough diamonds!”
“Fifteen!” corrected Bernard
Megger, director of a world-famed mining syndicate.
“Oh, was it fifteen?”
continued Zimmermann. “No doubt you are
correct. Were you in Africa in ’83?”
“No,” replied Megger;
“I was in ’Frisco till the autumn of ’85,
but I remember the affair. Three men were captured-one
dead. The fourth-Isaac Jacobsen-got
away, and with the booty!”
“Never traced, I believe!” asked the novelist.
“Never,” confirmed Megger; “neither
the man nor the diamonds.”
“It was a big thing, certainly,”
came Vignoles’ voice; “but this Severac
Bablon has beaten all records in that line!”
The remark afforded his wife an opportunity,
for which she had sought, to break off the too confidential
tete-a-tete between Zoe and the detective.
“Zoe,” she said, “surely
Mr. Pepys can tell us something about this mysterious
“Oh, yes!” replied Zoe.
“He has been telling me! He knows quite
a lot about him!”
Now, the dinner-table topic all over
London was the mystery of Severac Bablon, and Lady
Vignoles’ party was not exceptional in this respect.
It had already been several times referred to, and
at Miss Oppner’s words all eyes were directed
towards the handsome stranger, who bore this scrutiny
with such smiling composure.
“I cannot go into particulars,
Lady Vignoles,” he said; “but, as you are
aware, I have a kind of official connection with the
This was beautifully mysterious, and
everyone became intensely interested.
“Of such facts as have come
to light you all know as much as I, but there is a
certain theory which seems to have occurred to no one.”
He paused impressively, throwing a glance around the
table. “What is the notable point in regard
to the victims of Severac Bablon?”
“They are Jews-or
of Jewish extraction,” said Zoe Oppner promptly.
“Pa has noticed that! He’s taken
considerable interest since his mills were burned
“And what is the conclusion?”
“That he hates Jews!”
snapped Bernard Megger hotly. “That he has
a deadly hatred of all the race!”
“You think so?” said Pepys
softly, and turned his eyes upon the gross, empurpled
face of the speaker. “It has not occurred
to you that he might himself be a Jew?”
That theory was so new to them that
it was received in silent astonishment. Lady
Vignoles, though her mother was Irish, had a marked
leaning towards her father’s people, and, as
was usually the case, that ancient race was fairly
represented at her dinner-table. Lord Vignoles,
on the contrary, was not fond of his wife’s Semitic
friends-in fact, was ashamed of them; and
he accordingly felt the present conversation to be
drifting in an unpleasant direction.
“Consider,” resumed Pepys,
before the host could think of any suitable remark,
“that this man wields an enormous and far-reaching
influence. No door is locked to him! From
out of nowhere he can summon up numbers of willing
servants, who obey him blindly, and return-whence
“He would seem, then, to be
served by high and low, and-a notable point-no
one of his servants has yet betrayed him! His
wealth clearly is enormous. He invites the rich
to give-as he gives-and
if they decline he takes! For what purpose?
That he may relieve the poor! No friend of the
needy yet has suffered at the hands of Severac Bablon.”
“I believe that’s a fact!”
agreed Zoe Oppner. “He’s my own parent,
but Pa’s real mean, I’ll allow!”
Her words were greeted with laughter;
but everyone was anxious to hear more from this man
who spoke so confidently upon the topic of the hour.
“You may say,” he continued,
“that he is no more than a glorified Claude
Duval, but might he not be one who sought to purge
the Jewish name of the taint of greed-who
forced those responsible for fostering that taint
to disburse-who hated those mean of soul
and loved those worthy of their ancient line?
It is thus he would war! And the price of defeat
would be-a felon’s cell! Whom
would he be-this man at enmity with all
who have brought shame upon the Jewish race? Whom
could he be, save a monarch with eight millions of
subjects-a royal Jew? I say that such
a man exists, and that Severac Bablon, if not that
man himself, is his chosen emissary!”
More and more rapidly he had spoken,
in tones growing momentarily louder and more masterful.
He burned with the enthusiasm of the specialist.
Now, as he ceased, a long sigh arose from his listeners,
who had hung breathless upon his words, and one lady
whispered to her neighbour, “Is he something
to do with the Secret Service?”
“Mr. Bernard Megger is wanted on the telephone!”
“How annoying!” ejaculated Lady Vignoles
at this sudden interruption.
“Oh, I have said my say,”
laughed Pepys. “It is a pet theory of mine,
that’s all! I am alone in my belief, however,
save for a writer in the Gleaner, who seems
to share it.”