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Chapter 21

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« on: January 30, 2023, 05:08:20 am »

ROLFE went to Hyde Park next day and walked from the Tube station to Holymead's house at Princes Gate. The servant who answered his ring informed him, in reply to his question, that Mrs. Holymead was "Not at home."

"Do you know when she will be home?" persisted Rolfe, forestalling an evident desire on the servant's part to shut the door in his face.

The man looked at Rolfe doubtfully. Well-trained English servant though he was, and used to summing up strangers at a glance, he could not quite make out who Rolfe might be. But before he could come to a decision on the point a feminine voice behind him said:

"What is it, Trappon?"

The servant turned quickly in the direction of the voice. "It's a er—er—party who wants to see Madam, mademoiselle," he replied.

"Parti? What mean you by parti? Explain yourself, Trappon."

"A person—a gentleman, mademoiselle," replied Trappon, determined to be on the safe side.

"Open the door, Trappon, that I may see this gentleman."

Trappon somewhat reluctantly complied, and a young lady stepped forward. She was tall and dark, with charming eyes which were also shrewd; she had a fine figure which a tight-fitting dress displayed rather too boldly for good taste, and she was sufficiently young to be able to appear quite girlish in the half light.

"You wish to see Madame Holymead?" she said to Rolfe. Her manner was engagingly pleasant and French.

Rolfe felt it incumbent upon him to be gallant in the presence of the fair representative of a nation whom he vaguely understood placed gallantry in the forefront of the virtues. He took off his hat with a courtly bow.

"I do, mademoiselle," he replied, "and my business is important."

"Then, monsieur, step inside if you will be so good, and I will see you."

She led Rolfe to a small, prettily-furnished room at the end of the hall, and carefully shut the door. Then she invited Rolfe to be seated, and asked him to state his business.

But this was precisely what Rolfe was not anxious to do except to Mrs. Holymead herself.

"My business is private, and must be placed before Mrs. Holymead," he said firmly. "I wish to see her."

"I regret, monsieur, but Madame Holymead is out of town. She went last week. If you had only come before she went"—Mademoiselle Chiron looked genuinely sorry.

Rolfe was a little taken aback at this intelligence, and showed it.

"Out of town!" he repeated. "Where has she gone to?"

She looked at him almost timidly.

"But, monsieur, I do not know if I ought to tell you without knowing who you are. Are you a friend of Madame's?"

"My name is Detective Rolfe—I come from Scotland Yard," replied Rolfe, in the authoritative tone of a man who knew that the disclosure was sure to command respect, if not a welcome.

"Scotland? You come from Scotland? Madame will regret much that she has missed you."

"Scotland Yard, I said," corrected Rolfe, "not Scotland."

"Is it not the same?" Mademoiselle Chiron looked at him helplessly.
"Scotland Yard—is it not in Scotland? What is the difference?"

Rolfe, with a Londoner's tolerance for foreign ignorance, painstakingly explained the difference. She looked so puzzled that he felt sure she did not understand him. But that, he reflected, was not his fault.

"So you see, mademoiselle, my business with Mrs. Holymead is important, therefore I'll be obliged if you will tell me where I can find her," he said. "In what part of the country is she?"

Mademoiselle Chiron looked distressed. "Really, monsieur, I cannot tell you. She is motoring, and I should have been with her but that I have un gros rhume"—she produced a tiny scrap of lace handkerchief and held it to her nose as though in support of her statement—"and she rings me on the telephone from different places and tells me the things she does need, and I do send them on to her."

"Where does she ring you up from?" asked Rolfe, eyeing Mademoiselle Chiron's handkerchief intently.

"From Brighton—from Eastbourne—wherever she stops."

"What place was she stopping at when you heard from her last?"

"Eastbourne, monsieur."

"And when will she return here?"

"That, monsieur, I do not know. To-night—to-morrow—next week—she does not tell me. If Monsieur will leave me a message I will see that she gets it, for it is always me she wants, and it is always me that talks to her. What shall I tell her when next she rings the telephone? If Monsieur will state his business I will tell Madame what he tells me. I am Madame's cousin by marriage—in me she has confidence."

She spoke in a tone which invited confidence, but Rolfe was not prepared to go to the length of trusting the young woman he saw before him, despite her assurance that she was in the confidence of Mrs. Holymead. He rose to his feet with a keen glance at Mademoiselle Chiron's handkerchief, which she had rolled into a little ball in her hand.

"I cannot disclose my business to you, mademoiselle," he said courteously. "I must see Mrs. Holymead personally, so I shall call again when she has returned."

"But, monsieur, why will you not tell me?" she asked coaxingly. "You are a police agent? Have you therefore come to see Madame about the case?"

Rolfe showed that he was taken aback by the direct question.

"The case!" he stammered. "What case?"

"Why, monsieur, what case should it be but that of which I have so often heard Madame speak? Le judge—the good friend of Monsieur and Madame Holymead, who was killed by the base assassin! Madame is disconsolate about his terrible end!" Mademoiselle Chiron here applied the handkerchief to her eyes on her own account. "Have you come to tell her that you have caught the wicked man who did assassinate him? Madame will be overjoyed!"

"Why, hardly that," replied Rolfe, completely off his guard. "But we're on the track, mademoiselle—we're on the track."

"And is it that you wanted me to tell Madame?" persisted Mademoiselle Chiron.

"I wanted to ask her a question or two about several things," said Rolfe, who had determined to disclose his hand sufficiently to bring Mrs. Holymead back to London if she had anything to do with the crime. "I want to ask her about some letters that were stolen—no, I won't say stolen—letters that were removed from Riversbrook. I have been informed that even if these letters are no longer in existence she can give the police a good idea of what was in them."

The telephone bell in the corner of the room rang suddenly. Mademoiselle Chiron ran to answer it, and accidentally dropped her handkerchief on the floor in picking up the receiver.

Mademoiselle Chiron began speaking on the telephone, but she stopped suddenly, staring with frightened eyes into the mirror at the other side of the room. The glass reflected the actions of Rolfe at the table. Seated with his back towards her, he had taken advantage of her being called to the telephone to examine her handkerchief, which he had picked up from the floor. He had produced from his pocketbook the scrap of lace and muslin which he had found in the murdered man's hand. He had the two on the table side by side comparing them, and Mademoiselle Chiron noticed a smile of satisfaction flit across his face as he did so. While she looked he restored the scrap to his pocket-book, and the pocket-book to his pocket. Hastily she turned to the telephone again and continued, in a voice which a quick ear would have detected was slightly hysterical.

Then she hung up the receiver and turned to Rolfe.

"But, monsieur, you were saying—"

Rolfe handed the handkerchief to its owner with a courtly bow which he flattered himself was equal to the best French school.

"I picked this up off the floor, mademoiselle. It is yours, I think?"

"This?" Mademoiselle Chiron touched the handkerchief with a dainty forefinger. "It is my handkerchief. I dropped it."

"It is very pretty," said Rolfe, with simulated indifference. "I suppose you bought that in Paris. It does not look English,''

"But no, monsieur, it is quite Engleesh. I bought it in the shop."

"Indeed! A London shop?" inquired Rolfe, with equal indifference.

"The lingerie shop in Oxford Street—what do you call it—Hobson's?"

"I'm sure I don't know—these ladies' things are a bit out of my line," said Rolfe, rising as he spoke with a smile, in which there was more than a trace of self-satisfaction.

He felt that he had acquitted himself with an adroitness which Crewe himself might have envied. He had made an important discovery and extracted the name of the shop where the handkerchief had been bought without—so he flattered himself—arousing any suspicions on the part of the lady. Rolfe knew from his inquiries in West End shops that handkerchiefs of that pattern and quality were stocked by many of the good shops, but the fact that he had found a handkerchief of this kind in the house of a lady who had abstracted secret letters from the murdered man's desk, and had, moreover, discovered the name of the shop where she bought her handkerchiefs, convinced him that he had struck a path which must lead to an important discovery.

Mademoiselle Chiron followed Rolfe into the hall and watched his departure from a front window. When she saw his retreating figure turn the corner of the street she left the window, ran upstairs quickly, and knocked lightly at the closed door.

The door was opened by Mrs. Holymead, who appeared to be in a state of nervous agitation. Her large brown eyes were swollen and dim with weeping, her hair had become partly unloosened, her face was white and her dress disordered. She caught the Frenchwoman by the wrist and drew her into the bedroom, closing the door after her.

"What did he want, Gabrielle?" she gasped. "What did he say? Has he come about—that?"

Gabrielle nodded her head.

"Gabrielle!" Mrs. Holymead's voice rose almost to a cry. "Oh, what are we to do? Did he come to arrest—"

"No, no! He was not so bad. He did not come to do dreadful things, but just to have a little talk.''

"A little talk? What about?"

"He wanted to see you, and ask you one or two little questions. I put him off. He was like wax in my hands. Pouf! He has gone, so why trouble?"

"But he will come again! He is sure to come again!"

"No doubt. He says he will come again—in a week—when you return."

Mrs. Holymead wrung her hands helplessly.

"What are we to do then?" she wailed.

"We will look the tragedy in the face when it comes. Ma foi! What have you been doing to yourself? For nothing is it worth to look like that." With deft and loving fingers Gabrielle began to arrange Mrs. Holymead's hair. "We will have everything right before this little police agent returns. We will show him he is the complete fool for suspecting you know about the murder."

"But what can you do, Gabrielle?" asked Mrs. Holymead.

She looked at Gabrielle with her large brown eyes, as though she were utterly dependent on the other's stronger will for support and assistance. Mademoiselle Chiron stopped in her arrangement of Mrs. Holymead's hair and, bending over, kissed her affectionately.

"Ma petite," she said, "do not worry. I have thought of a plan—oh, a most excellent plan—which I will myself execute to-morrow, and then shall all your troubles be finished, and you will be happy again."

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