Read TWENTY-FIFTH CHAPTER - THE MAN CATALDI of Mademoiselle of Monte Carlo, free online book, by William Le Queux, on ReadCentral.com.

On the day that Hugh was travelling in hot haste to Paris, Charles Benton arrived in Nice early in the afternoon.

Leaving the station it was apparent he knew his way about the town, for passing down the Avenue de la Gare, with its row of high eucalyptus trees, to the Place Massena, he plunged into the narrow, rather evil-smelling streets of the old quarter.

Before a house in the Rue Rossette he paused, and ascending to a flat on the third floor, rang the bell.  The door was slowly opened by an elderly, rather shabbily-attired Italian.

It was Yvonne’s late servant at the Villa Amette, Giulio Cataldi.

The old man drew back on recognizing his visitor.

“Well, Cataldi!” exclaimed the well-dressed adventurer cheerily.  “I’m quite a stranger ­am I not?  I was in Nice, and I could not leave without calling to see you.”

The old man, with ill-grace scarcely concealed, invited him into his shabby room, saying: 

“Well, Signor Benton, I never thought to see you again.”

“Perhaps you didn’t want to ­eh?  After that little affair in Brussels.  But I assure you it was not my fault.  Mademoiselle Yvonne made the blunder.”

“And nearly let us all into the hands of the police ­including The Sparrow himself!” growled the old fellow.

“Ah!  But all that has long blown over.  Now,” he went on, after he had offered the old man a cigar.  “Now the real reason I’ve called is to ask you about this nasty affair concerning Mademoiselle Yvonne.  You were there that night.  What do you know about it?”

“Nothing,” the old fellow declared promptly.  “Since that night I’ve earned an honest living.  I’m a waiter in a cafe in the Avenue de la Gare.”

“A most excellent decision,” laughed the well-dressed man.  “It is not everyone who can afford to be honest in these hard times.  I wish I could be, but I find it impossible.  Now, tell me, Giulio, what do you know about the affair at the Villa Amette?  The boy, Henfrey, went there to demand of Mademoiselle how his father died.  She refused to tell him, angry words arose ­and he shot her.  Now, isn’t that your theory ­the same as that held by the police?”

The old man looked straight into his visitor’s face for a few moments.  Then he replied quite calmly: 

“I know nothing, Signor Benton ­and I don’t want to know anything.  I’ve told the police all I know.  Indeed, when they began to inquire into my antecedents I was not very reassured, I can tell you.”

“I should think not,” laughed Benton.  “Still, they never suspected you to be the man wanted for the Morel affair ­an unfortunate matter that was.”

“Yes,” sighed the old fellow.  “Please do not mention it,” and he turned away to the window as though to conceal his guilty countenance.

“You mean that you know something ­but you won’t tell it!” Benton said.

“I know nothing,” was the old fellow’s stubborn reply.

“But you know that the young fellow, Henfrey, is guilty!” exclaimed Benton.  “Come! you were there at the time!  You heard high words between them ­didn’t you?”

“I have already made my statement to the police,” declared the old Italian.  “What else I know I shall keep to myself.”

“But I’m interested in ascertaining whether Henfrey is innocent or guilty.  Only two persons can tell us that ­Mademoiselle, who is, alas! in a hopeless mental state, and yourself.  You know ­but you refuse to incriminate the guilty person.  Why don’t you tell the truth?  You know that Henfrey shot her!”

“I tell you I know nothing,” retorted the old man.  “Why do you come here and disturb me?” he added peevishly.

“Because I want to know the truth,” Benton answered.  “And I mean to!”

“Go away!” snapped the wilful old fellow.  “I’ve done with you all ­all the crowd of you!”

“Ah!” laughed Benton.  “Then you forget the little matter of the man Morel ­eh?  That is not forgotten by the police, remember!”

“And if you said a word to them, Signor Benton, then you would implicate yourself,” the old man growled.  Seeing hostility in the Englishman’s attitude he instantly resented it.

“Probably.  But as I have no intention of giving you away, my dear Giulio, I do not think we need discuss it.  What I am anxious to do is to establish the guilt ­or the innocence ­of Hugh Henfrey,” he went on.

“No doubt.  You have reason for establishing his guilt ­eh?”

“No.  Reasons for establishing his innocence.”

“For your own ends, Signor Benton,” was the shrewd old man’s reply.

“At one time there was a suspicion that you yourself had fired at Mademoiselle.”

“What!” gasped the old man, his countenance changing instantly.  “Who says that?” he asked angrily.

“The police were suspicious, I believe.  And as far as I can gather they are not yet altogether satisfied.”

“Ah!” growled the old Italian in a changed voice.  “They will have to prove it!”

“Well, they declare that the shot was fired by either one or the other of you,” Benton said, much surprised at the curious effect the allegation had upon the old fellow.

“So they think that if the Signorino Henfrey is innocent I am guilty of the murderous attack ­eh?”

Benton nodded.

“But they are seeking to arrest the signorino!” remarked the Italian.

“Yes.  That is why I am here ­to establish his innocence.”

“And if I were to tell you that he was innocent I should condemn myself!” laughed the crafty old man.

“Look here, Giulio,” said Benton.  “I confess that I have long ago regretted the shabby manner in which I treated you when we were all in Brussels, and I hope you will allow me to make some little amend.”  Then, taking from his pocket-book several hundred-franc notes, he doubled them up and placed them on the table.

“Ah!” said the old man.  “I see!  You want to buy my secret!  No, take your money!” he cried, pushing it back towards him contemptuously.  “I want none of it.”

“Because you are now earning an honest living,” Benton sneered.

“Yes ­and Il Passero knows it!” was Cataldi’s bold reply.

“Then you refuse to tell me anything you know concerning the events of that night at the Villa Amette?”

“Yes,” he snapped.  “Take your money, and leave me in peace!”

“And I have come all the way from England to see you,” remarked the disappointed man.

“Be extremely careful.  You have enemies, so have I. They are the same as those who denounced the signorino to the police ­as they will no doubt, before long, denounce you!” said the old man.

“Bah!  You always were a pessimist, Giulio,” Benton laughed.  “I do not fear any enemies ­I assure you.  The Sparrow takes good care that we are prevented from falling into any traps the police may set,” he added after a moment’s pause.

The old waiter shook his head dubiously.

“One day there may be a slip ­and it will cost you all very dearly,” he said.

“You are in a bad mood, Giulio ­like all those who exist by being honest,” Benton laughed, though he was extremely annoyed at his failure to learn anything from the old fellow.

Was it possible that the suspicions which both Molly and he had entertained were true ­namely, that the old man had attempted to kill his mistress?  After all, the hue-and-cry had been raised by the police merely because Hugh Henfrey had fled and successfully escaped.

Benton, after grumbling because the old man would make no statement, and again hinting at the fact that he might be the culprit, left with very ill grace, his long journey from London having been in vain.

If Henfrey was to be free to marry Louise, then his innocence must first be proved.  Charles Benton had for many weeks realized that his chance of securing old Mr. Henfrey’s great fortune was slowly slipping from him.  Once Hugh had married Louise and settled the money upon her, then the rest would be easy.  He had many times discussed it with Molly, and they were both agreed upon a vile, despicable plot which would result in the young man’s sudden end and the diversion of his father’s fortune.

The whole plot against old Mr. Henfrey was truly one of the most elaborate and amazing ones ever conceived by criminal minds.

Charles Benton was a little too well known in Nice, hence he took care to leave the place by an early train, and went on to Cannes, where he was a little less known.  As an international crook he had spent several seasons at Nice and Monte Carlo, but had seldom gone to Cannes, as it was too aristocratic and too slow for an escroc like himself.

Arrived at Cannes he put up at the Hotel Beau Site, and that night ate an expensive dinner in the restaurant at the Casino.  Then, next day, he took the train-de-luxe direct for Calais, and went on to London, all unconscious of the sensational events which were then happening.

On arrival in London he found a telegram lying upon his table among some letters.  It was signed “Shaw,” and urged him to meet him “at the usual place” at seven o’clock in the evening.  “I know you are away, but I’ll look in each night at seven,” it concluded.

It was just six o’clock, therefore Benton washed and changed, and just before seven o’clock entered a little cafe off Wardour Street, patronized mostly by foreigners.  At one of the tables, sitting alone, was a wiry-looking, middle-aged man ­Mr. Howell, The Sparrow’s friend.

“Well?” asked Howell, when a few minutes later they were walking along Wardour Street together.  “How did you get on in Nice?”

“Had my journey for nothing.”

“Wouldn’t the old man tell anything?” asked Howell eagerly.

“Not a word,” Benton replied.  “But my firm opinion is that he himself tried to kill Yvonne ­that he shot her.”

“Do you really agree with me?” gasped Howell excitedly.  “Of course, there has, all along, been a certain amount of suspicion against him.  The police were once on the point of arresting him.  I happen to know that.”

“Well, my belief is that young Henfrey is innocent.  I never thought so until now.”

“Then we must prove Cataldi guilty, and Henfrey can marry Louise,” Howell said.  “But the reason I wanted to get in touch with you is that the police went to Shapley.”

“To Shapley!” gasped Benton.

“Yes.  They went there the night you left London.  Evidently somebody has given you away!”

“Given me away!  Who in the devil’s name can it be?  If I get to know who the traitor is I ­I’ll ­by gad, I’ll kill him.  I swear I will!”

“Who knows?  Some secret enemy of yours ­no doubt.  Molly has been arrested and has been up at Bow Street.  They also arrested Louise, but there being no charge against her, she has been released.  I’ve sent her up to Cambridge ­to old Mrs. Curtis.  I thought she’d be quite quiet and safe there for a time.”

“But Molly arrested!  What’s the charge?”

“Theft.  An extradition warrant from Paris.  That jeweller’s affair in the Rue St. Honore, eighteen months ago.”

“Well, I hope they won’t bring forward other charges, or it will go infernally bad with her.  What has The Sparrow done?”

“He’s abroad somewhere ­but I’ve had five hundred pounds from an unknown source to pay for her defence.  I saw the solicitors.  Brigthorne, the well-known barrister, appeared for her.”

“But all this is very serious, my dear Howell,” Benton declared, much alarmed.

“Of course it is.  You can’t marry the girl to young Henfrey until he is proved innocent, and that cannot be until the guilt is fixed upon the crafty old Giulio.”

“Exactly.  That’s what we must do.  But with Molly arrested we shall be compelled to be very careful,” said Benton, as they turned toward Piccadilly Circus.  “I don’t see how we dare move until Molly is either free or convicted.  If she knew our game she might give us away.  Remember that if we bring off the Henfrey affair Molly has to have a share in the spoils.  But if she happens to be in a French prison she won’t get much chance ­eh?”

“If she goes it will be ten years, without a doubt,” Howell remarked.

“Yes.  And in the meantime much can happen ­eh?” laughed Benton.

“Lots.  But one reassuring fact is that, as far as old Henfrey’s fate is concerned, Mademoiselle’s lips are closed.  Whoever shot her did us a very good turn.”

“Of course.  But I agree we must fix the guilt upon old Cataldi.  He almost as good as admitted it by his face when I taxed him with it.  Why not give him away to the Nice police?”

“No, not yet.  Certainly not,” exclaimed Howell.

“It’s a pity The Sparrow does not know about the Henfrey business.  He might help us.  Dare we tell him?  What do you think?”

“Tell him!  Good Heavens!  No!  Surely you are fully aware how he always sets his face against any attempt upon human life, and no one who has taken life has ever had his forgiveness,” said Howell.  “The Sparrow is our master ­a fine and marvellous mind which has no equal in Europe.  If he had gone into politics he could have been the greatest statesman of the age.  But he is Il Passero, the man who directs affairs of every kind, and the man at the helm of every great enterprise.  Yet his one fixed motto is that life shall not be taken.”

“But in old Henfrey’s case we acted upon our own initiative,” remarked Benton.

“Yes.  Yours was a wonderfully well-conceived idea.  And all worked without a hitch until young Henfrey’s visit to Monte Carlo, and his affection for that girl Ranscomb.”

“We are weaning him away from her,” Benton said.  “At last the girl’s suspicions are excited, and there is just that little disagreement which, broadening, leads to the open breach.  Oh! my dear Howell, how could you and I live if it were not for that silly infection called love?  In our profession love is all-conquering.  Without it we could make no progress, no smart coups, no conquests of women who afterwards shed out to us money which at the assizes they would designate by the ugly word ‘blackmail.’”

“Ah!  Charles.  You were always a philosopher,” laughed his companion ­the man who was a bosom friend of The Sparrow.  “But it carries us no nearer.  We must, at all costs, fix the hand that shot Yvonne.”

“Giulio shot her ­without a doubt!” was Benton’s quick reply.

They were standing together on the kerb outside the Tube station at Piccadilly Circus as Benton uttered the words.

“Well, my dear fellow, then let us prove it,” said Howell.  “But not yet, remember.  We must first see how it goes with Molly.  She must be watched carefully.  Of course, I agree that Giulio Cataldi shot Yvonne.  Later we will prove that fact, but the worst of it is that the French police are hot on the track of young Henfrey.”

“How do you know that?” asked his companion quickly.

“Well,” he answered, after a second’s hesitation, “I heard so two days ago.”

Then Howell, pleading an urgent meeting with a mutual friend, also a crook like themselves, grasped the other’s hand, and they parted.