Read TWENTY-EIGHTH CHAPTER - THE SPARROW’S NEST of Mademoiselle of Monte Carlo, free online book, by William Le Queux, on ReadCentral.com.

Mademoiselle Lisette met her two guests at Vian’s small but exclusive restaurant in the Rue Daunou, and all three had a merry meal together.  Afterwards The Sparrow smoked a good cigar and became amused at the young girl’s chatter.

She was a sprightly little person, and had effectively brought off several highly successful coups.  Before leaving his cosy flat in the Rue des Petits Champs, The Sparrow had sat for an hour calmly reviewing the situation in the light of what Lisette had told him and of Hugh’s exciting adventure on the Arles road.

That he had successfully escaped from a very clever trap was plain, but who was the traitor?  Who, indeed, had fired that shot which, failing to kill Yvonne, had unbalanced her brain so that no attention could be paid to her wandering remarks?

He had that morning been on the point of trying to get into touch with his friend Howell, but after Lisette’s disclosures, he was very glad that he had not done so.  His master-mind worked quickly.  He could sum up a situation and act almost instantly where other men would be inclined to waver.  But when The Sparrow arrived at a decision it was unalterable.  All his associates knew that too well.  Some of them called him stubborn, but they had to agree that he was invariably right in his suspicions and conclusions.

He had debated whether he should tell Hugh what Lisette had alleged concerning the forgery of his father’s will, but had decided to keep the matter to himself and see what further proof he could obtain.  Therefore he had forbidden the girl to tell Henfrey anything, for, after all, it was quite likely that her statements could not be substantiated.

After their coffee all three returned to the Rue des Petits Champs where Lisette, merry and full of vivacity, joined them in a cigarette.

The Sparrow had been preoccupied and thoughtful the whole evening.  But at last, as they sat together, he said: 

“We shall all three go south to-morrow ­to Nice direct.”

“To Nice!” exclaimed Lisette.  “It is hardly safe ­is it?”

“Yes.  You will leave by the midday train from the Gare de Lyon ­and go to Madame Odette’s in the boulevard Gambetta.  I may want you.  We shall follow by the train-de-luxe.  It is best that Mr. Henfrey is out of Paris.  The Sûreté will certainly be searching for him.”

Then, turning to Hugh, he told him that he had better remain his guest that night, and in the morning he would buy him another suit, hat and coat.

“There will not be so much risk in Nice as here in Paris,” he added.  “After all, we ought not to have ventured out to Vian’s.”

Later he sat down, and after referring to a pocket-book containing certain entries, he scribbled four cryptic telegrams which were, apparently, Bourse quotations, but when read by their addressees were of quite a different character.

He went out and himself dispatched these from the office of the Grand Hotel.  He never entrusted his telegrams of instructions to others.

When he returned ten minutes later he took up Le Soir, and searching it eagerly, suddenly exclaimed: 

“Ah!  Here it is!  Manfield has been successful and got away all right with the German countess’s trinkets!”

And with a laugh he handed the paper to Lisette, who read aloud an account of a daring robbery in one of the best hotels in Cologne ­jewels valued at a hundred thousand marks having mysteriously disappeared.  International thieves were suspected, but the Cologne police had no clue.

“M’sieur Manfield is always extremely shrewd.  He is such a real ladies’ man,” laughed Lisette, using some of the argot of the Montmartre.

“Yes.  Do you recollect that American, Lindsay ­with whom you had something to do?”

“Oh, yes, I remember.  I was in London and we went out to dinner together quite a lot.  Manfield was with me and we got from his dispatch-box the papers concerning that oil well at Baku.  The company was started later on in Chicago, and only two months ago I received my dividend.”

“Teddy Manfield is a very good friend,” declared the man with the gloved hand.  “Birth and education always count, even in these days.  To any ex-service man I hold out my hand as the unit who saved us from becoming a German colony.  But do others?  I make war upon those who have profited by war.  I have never attacked those who have remained honest during the great struggle.  In the case of dog-eat-dog I place myself on the side of the worker and the misled patriot ­not only in Britain, but in all the countries of the Allies.  If members of the Allied Governments are profiteers what can the man-in-the-street expect of the poor little scraping-up tradesman oppressed by taxation and bewildered by waste?  But there!” he added, “I am no politician!  My only object is to solve the mystery of who shot poor Mademoiselle Yvonne.”

The pretty decoy of the great association of escrocs smoked another cigarette, and gazed into the young man’s face.  Sometimes she shuddered when she reflected upon all she knew concerning his father’s unfortunate end, and of the cleverly concocted will by which he was to marry Louise Lambert, and afterwards enjoy but a short career.

Fate had made Lisette what she was ­a child of fortune.  Her own life would, if written, form a strange and sensational narrative.  For she had been implicated in a number of great robberies which had startled the world.

She knew much of the truth of the Henfrey affair, and she had now decided to assist Hugh to vanquish those whose intentions were distinctly evil.

At last she rose and wished them bon soir.

“I shall leave the Gare de Lyon at eleven fifty-eight to-morrow, and go direct to Madame Odette’s in Nice,” she said.

“Yes.  Remain there.  If I want you I will let you know,” answered The Sparrow.

And then she descended the stairs and walked to her hotel.

Next evening Hugh and The Sparrow, both dressed quite differently, left by the Riviera train-de-luxe.  As The Sparrow lay that night in the wagon-lit he tried to sleep, but the roar and rattle of the train prevented it.  Therefore he calmly thought out a complete and deliberate plan.

From one of his friends in London he had had secret warning that the police, on the day he left Charing Cross, had descended upon Shapley Manor and had arrested Mrs. Bond under a warrant applied for by the French police, and he also knew that her extradition for trial in Paris had been granted.

That there was a traitor in the camp was proved, but happily Hugh Henfrey had escaped just in time.

For himself The Sparrow cared little.  He seemed to be immune from arrest, so cleverly did he disguise his true identity; yet now that some person had revealed his secrets, what more likely than the person, whoever it was, would also give him away for the sake of the big reward which he knew was offered for his apprehension.

Before leaving Paris that evening he had dispatched a telegram, a reply to which was handed him in the train when it stopped at Lyons early next morning.

This decided him.  He sent another telegram and then returned to where Hugh was lying half awake.  When they stopped at Marseilles, both men were careful not to leave the train, but continued in it, arriving at the great station of Nice in the early afternoon.

They left their bags at a small hotel just outside the station, and taking a cab, they drove away into the old town.  Afterwards they proceeded on foot to the Rue Rossetti, where they climbed to the flat occupied by old Giulio Cataldi.

The old fellow was out, but the elderly Italian woman who kept house for him said she expected him back at any moment.  He was due to come off duty at the cafe where he was employed.

So Hugh and his companion waited, examining the poorly-furnished little room.

Now The Sparrow entertained a strong suspicion that Cataldi knew more of the tragedy at the Villa Amette than anyone else.  Indeed, of late, it had more than once crossed his mind that he might be the actual culprit.

At last the door opened and the old man entered, surprised to find himself in the presence of the master criminal, The Sparrow, whom he had only met once before.

He greeted his visitors rather timidly.

After a short chat The Sparrow, who had offered the old man a cigarette from a cheap plated case much worn, began to make certain inquiries.

“This is a very serious and confidential affair, Cataldi,” he said.  “I want to know the absolute truth ­and I must have it.”

“I know it is serious, signore,” replied the old man, much perturbed by the unexpected visit of the king of the underworld, the elusive Sparrow of whom everyone spoke in awe.  “But I only know one or two facts.  I recognize Signor Henfrey.”

“Ah!  Then you know me!” exclaimed Hugh.  “You recognized me on that night at the Villa Amette, when you opened the door to me.”

“I do, signore.  I recollect everything.  It is all photographed upon my memory.  Poor Mademoiselle!  You questioned her ­as a gentleman would ­and you demanded to know about your father’s death.  She prevaricated ­and ­”

“Then you overheard it?” said Hugh.

“Yes, I listened.  Was I not Mademoiselle’s servant?  On that night she had won quite a large sum at the Rooms, and she had given me ­ah! she was always most generous ­five hundred francs ­twenty pounds in your English money.  And they were acceptable in these days of high prices.  I heard much.  I was interested.  Mademoiselle was my mistress whom I had served faithfully.”

“You wondered why this young Englishman should call upon her at that hour?” said The Sparrow.

“I did.  She never received visitors after her five o’clock tea.  It was the habit at the Villa Amette to lunch at one o’clock, English tea at five o’clock, and dinner at eight ­when the Rooms were slack save for the tourists from seven till ten.  Strange!  The tourists always think they can win while the gambling world has gone to its meals!  They get seats, it is true, but they always lose.”

“Yes,” replied The Sparrow.  “It is a strange fact that the greatest losses are sustained by the players when the Rooms are most empty.  Nobody has yet ever been able to account for it.”

“And yet it is so,” declared old Cataldi.  “I have watched it day by day.  But poor Mademoiselle!  What can we do to solve the mystery?”

“Were you not with Mademoiselle and Mr. Benton when you both brought off that great coup in the Avenue Louise, in Brussels?” asked The Sparrow.

“Yes, signore,” said the old man.  “But I do not wish to speak of it now.”

“Quite naturally.  I quite appreciate it.  Since Mademoiselle’s ­er ­accident you have, I suppose, been leading an honest life?”

“Yes.  I have tried to do so.  At present I am a cafe waiter.”

“And you can tell me nothing further regarding the affair at the Villa Amette?” asked The Sparrow, eyeing him narrowly.

“I regret, signore, I can tell you nothing further,” replied the staid, rather sad-looking old man; “nothing.”  And he sighed.

“Why?” asked the man whose tentacles were, like an octopus, upon a hundred schemes, and as many criminal coups in Europe.  He sought a solution of the problem, but nothing appeared forthcoming.

He had strained every effort, but he could ascertain nothing.

That Cataldi knew the key to the whole problem The Sparrow felt assured.  Yet why did not the old fellow tell the truth?

At last The Sparrow rose and left, and Hugh followed him.  Both were bitterly disappointed.  The old man refused to say more than that he was ignorant of the whole affair.

Cataldi’s attitude annoyed the master criminal.

For three days he remained in Nice with Hugh, at great risk of recognition and arrest.

On the fourth day they went together in a hired car along the winding road across the Var to Cannes.

At a big white villa a little distance outside the pretty winter town of flowers and palms, they halted.  The house, which was on the Frejus road, was once the residence of a Russian prince.

With The Sparrow Hugh was ushered into a big, sunny room overlooking the beautiful garden where climbing geraniums ran riot with carnations and violets, and for some minutes they waited.  From the windows spread a wide view of the calm sapphire sea.

Then suddenly the door opened.