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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » The Yellow Face » CHAPTER IV. THE SPEAKING LIKENESS.
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CHAPTER IV. THE SPEAKING LIKENESS.
Masefield looked at the figure on the pavement in a dazed kind of way. Beyond all question there lay the embodiment of the famous Nostalgo poster. London had been discussing the mystery of the poster for weeks already. The amazing hideous cleverness of it had struck the popular imagination, the artistic side of it had appealed to those of culture. Nobody had the least idea what it was intended to convey. Every daily paper promising a correct solution on a certain day would have added tremendously to its circulation.

Then there had been those who had declared that the poster was a portrait; they had held that no artist could imagine a face quite like that. And here was dread confirmation of the theory. Absolutely the poster and the dead man were identical. The same long, thin nose, the same starting eyes, the same suggestion of diabolical cunning in the smile.

In the poster Nostalgo wore a turn-down collar and a loosely-knotted red tie. It was the same with the dead man on the pavement. As to the rest, his dress was conventional enough--a frock coat and gray trousers, a tall silk hat which had rolled into the road.

"Don't you think that you had better search his pockets?" Jack suggested.

The constable replied that it was not a bad idea. But a close examination produced no definite result. There were no papers on the body, nothing beyond a handful of money--gold and silver and coppers all mixed up together in the trousers pocket. There was not even a watch.

"This game's beyond me," the officer muttered, as he blew his whistle. "We must get this poor chap conveyed to the police station. Foreigner, ain't he?"

But Jack could not say. The sweeping, coarse black hair pushed back from the bulging forehead, and the yellow, guinea-colored face suggested the Orient. But the lips were thin like the nose, and these might have belonged to some Spanish hidalgo. It was impossible to decide.

"You were close by," the policeman said. "Didn't you see anything, sir?"

"Nothing whatever," said Jack. "I was just passing along on the side of the square at right angles with this spot. I certainly saw a young man come along, but I didn't notice him much. I expect he was the young man who told you that a 'drunk' awaited you here."

"I expect he was, sir; young man with his moustache turned up like the German Emperor's."

Jack started, but said nothing. It was not for him to say anything of the strange sight that he had seen in Spencer Anstruther's study. The young man in question had left his hansom; probably he had come back for something forgotten; therefore, on the whole, Jack felt that he could not in any way connect him with this mystery.

And yet Spencer Anstruther's young friend must have been close by at the very moment the murder was committed. It seemed impossible to believe that he had not heard that choking cry, and that strange noise like the tearing of calico or the scatter of peas on a tray. But, on the other hand, the murdered man had been shot, and shooting implies noise. Certainly Jack had heard nothing that in any way would be connected with the firing of a revolver.

And yet there was that tearing sound, and the strange fact that the Nostalgo of the poster had tears in him in exactly the same place as the real man who had been wounded. There was a plot calculated to puzzle Spencer Anstruther himself, and Jack said so aloud.

"I don't think as even he'd guess this," the policeman said. "Friend of yours by any chance, sir?"

"I had not left his house five minutes before I found that body," Jack said. "If you like, I will go back and bring Mr. Spencer Anstruther here."

Here was a chance to get at the other business, the mystery of the strange music. It was a legitimate errand enough, but the policeman shook his head. He did not want to take anything so important upon his own shoulders, his inspector being "down on that kind of thing." Two constables with the ambulance came at length. They asked no questions, but hoisted the body up and turned immediately in the direction of Shannon Street police station.

"I think you had better come along, sir," the first policeman suggested to Jack. "It's just possible that the inspector may want to ask you a few questions."

Masefield followed. He smiled just a little as he noted the speaker's tone. If not exactly in custody, he was at least expected to give a good account of himself. To his great relief he found the inspector not in the least disposed to assume the official manner; on the contrary, he seemed rather a timid man, though his eyes were steady enough.

"I have told you everything, sir," Jack said at length. "I only wish it might have been more. If there is any further way in which I can be of assistance to you----"

"You are very good, sir," the inspector said. "What we have to do now is to push the matter forward before the scent gets cold. It is very imperative that we discover who this man is. The first person to apply to is the firm of advertising contractors who posted those bills. Did anybody happen to notice the firm whose hoarding the deceased man was found against?"

"As a matter of fact, I did," Jack said, as the officer shook his head. "Not that that is a sure find for you, Mr. Inspector, seeing that those bills appeared on the hoardings of all the bill-posting firms in London. Still, they may have emanated in the first place from one firm, and perhaps that firm was Freshcombe & Co."

"That being the name on the top of the hoarding we are speaking of?" the inspector asked. "You have a keen eye for detail, sir; it was very smart of you to notice that."

"Not at all; it was almost an accident. The mere fact of finding the prototype of the famous Nostalgo poster was sufficiently startling to brace all one's faculties. In glancing at the hoarding I saw the name of Freshcombe & Co. on the top. The name was impressed upon my memory by the fact that quite recently I appeared for Freshcombe & Co. in an action they brought against a rival firm for damages. That is why I have the name so exact."

The inspector smiled with the air of a man who is well pleased with himself. In that case Mr. Masefield practically knew the head of Freshcombe & Co., and where he lived. In that event the inspector proposed to go direct to the gentleman in question and ask for a few particulars.

"There I can help you again," Jack said. "I had several interviews with Mr. Freshcombe through his solicitor, and one of them took place in Mr. Freshcombe's own house in Regent's Park Crescent."

The inspector waited to hear no more. One of his men would call a cab, and perhaps Mr. Masefield would be good enough to go as far as Regent's Park Crescent and smooth the way. It was getting late now, but Jack had no objection. He was keenly interested in this mystery, and he must get to the bottom of it if he could. He had a few questions to ask as the cab rolled away, but none of them struck the inspector as being to the point. But Jack knew better.

Fortunately Mr. Freshcombe had not gone to bed, though the house was in darkness. The stout little prosperous-looking man of business started as he caught sight of the inspector's uniform. Something in connection with burglary rose uppermost in his mind as he asked his visitors' business.

"I hope there is nothing wrong," he stammered. "Ah, how do you do, Mr. Masefield? Will you gentlemen be so good as to step inside. There is a fire in the dining-room. Anything in the way of a cigar, or----"

But the inspector came to business at once. It was plain that his story interested the listener, for he followed with eyes of rounded astonishment. He punctuated the story with surprised grunts.

"Bless my soul!" he explained. "Whoever would have thought it? I never expected that there was anybody like that famous poster. I had two thousand of them through my hands in the way of business, and they struck me as clever, very clever indeed. Personally, I regarded them as theatrical bills."

"Then you can't tell us anything about them?" the inspector asked, with an air of chagrin.

"Nothing whatever," Freshcombe replied promptly. "As I said before, the posters came to us in the ordinary way of business. There was an air of secrecy about the whole thing."

"Which did not attract your attention? Did not appeal to your suspicions, I mean?"

"Not a bit of it. The advertiser wanted to create an air of mystery and sensation. How well that has been managed I leave you to guess. Being, moreover, exceedingly shrewd, the advertiser did not mean his name to leak out. I received a note one day asking my terms for displaying a thousand of those posters on all the hoardings in London, and my people sent in a quotation."

"That letter came from another business house, I presume, sir?" the inspector asked.

"No, it didn't. It was from a certain Mr. John Smith, and was written from the H?tel Royale, and on the official paper of the hotel. Three days later the posters arrived per a firm of carriers, and the same afternoon a check drawn by John Smith on the City and Provincial Bank. We cashed the check and posted the bills. I may say that, in the usual course of business, I should not have known this; but I was a little struck by the posters and their mystery, so I made inquiries. I assure you that I have not time to go into these minor details as a rule."

"I am rather disappointed," the inspector said. "I hardly expected this. The mystery of the posters----"

"Was part of the cleverness of the scheme," Freshcombe interrupted. "As a rule, these things leak out and spoil the game. Why, half-a-dozen newspaper men have been asking questions in my office."

"Then you don't even know who printed the posters?" Jack asked. "Have you any more left?"

"I fancy the posters were French," Freshcombe said. "They had evidently been repacked before they came to me. No, we have none left; they were all posted last week. I haven't even one as a specimen."

Mr. Freshcombe would have pushed his hospitality, but the others declined. The inspector was not going to give up the chase like this. Could Mr. Freshcombe find a London Directory, or in any way help him to ascertain the name and address of the manager of the City branch of the City and Provincial Bank? Mr. Freshcombe could supply both details. The bank manager in question was a large shareholder in the firm and enjoyed an important position. As to his residence, it was in Piccadilly, over the bank's branch there. Mr. Carrington was a man of fashion, so that, if he were at home, it was unlikely that he had gone to bed. A moment later and the cab was proceeding towards Piccadilly.

Mr. Carrington was not only at home, but he was entertaining friends. There were lights in all the windows of the handsome suite of rooms over the bank, and a chatter of voices assailed the ears of the callers as soon as the mahogany door was opened. Mr. Carrington was giving an evening party, the footman explained, and he did not like to be disturbed. But the sight of the inspector's uniform was not without its effect, and the intruders were ushered into a little room at the top of the stairs. The door was not quite closed, so that the strangers could see down a handsome corridor into a fine drawing-room beyond. Jack could recognize some of the guests, whereby he knew that Mr. Carrington kept very good company.

"I feel like an intruder," Jack said, as he stood looking out of the room. In his evening dress he might have passed for a guest himself. "If Mr. Carrington is in a position----"

Jack paused suddenly. He was face to face with the third great surprise to-night. For there in the corridor, and coming towards him now, was the fair-haired, dark-skinned girl whom he had seen with the young man in Spencer Anstruther's study. There was no mistake here, no illusion. The girl walked along with her head down, making a sign from time to time to the man by her side. He was a perfect stranger to Jack, who dismissed him from the situation altogether as a mere vacuous man about town. If the woman was here, the youth with the imperial moustache was not far off, Jack thought. "I think that you were going to say something, sir," the inspector ventured. But Jack had quite recovered himself by this time. He made some commonplace remark, and then Mr. Carrington came into the room. He was polite, but not at all anxious for his visitors to remain. Would they be so good as to get to the point. The inspector told his story with considerable brevity. Mr. Carrington was pleased to be interested. It was a strange and startling romance as it stood, but the bank manager did not see his way to afford any solution of this mystery. "I haven't quite finished, sir," the inspector said quietly. "That bill-posting was paid for by a check drawn on your City branch, of which you are manager, by one John Smith. Now, this John Smith----"

"Which John Smith?" Mr. Carrington asked, with a smile. "My good sir, do you know that we have some two thousand five hundred accounts at our City branch? Probably the name of John Smith is the commonest in the world. Without making any very definite statement, I should say that we have over two hundred accounts in the name of Smith, and probably a third of them John Smith. I can quite understand your anxiety to get on the track of the right man without delay, but that could not possibly be done to-night. I could not even get at the ledgers without two of the cashiers being present. But I will make it a point to be at the bank at ten o'clock to-morrow morning and meet you there. It is impossible to do any more to-night."

The inspector nodded his head somewhat sadly. He quite saw the force of what Mr. Carrington was saying. He could do no more than make an appointment for the following day. He wished Carrington good-night and turned to go, followed by Masefield. In the corridor somebody called Jack by name. He turned to see a colleague of the junior Bar standing before him.

"Hullo!" the latter said, "where did you turn up from? I had an idea that you were a friend of Carrington's. Get your coat off and join us in a game of bridge." The situation was just a little embarrassing, but Carrington came to the rescue. Masefield was dressed for the part, so to speak, and would he not remain? There would be dancing presently, and----

But Jack decided promptly. He whispered the inspector to precede him and wait for him in the cab. Carrington passed on as Jack stood just a moment chatting with his old friend and school-fellow.

"I came here to-night on rather important business," he said. "There is no occasion to go into that now. But I want you to do something for me, my dear fellow. In hunting up one mystery I feel pretty sure that I have come on the track of another. There is a deaf and dumb girl here--there she is, with that Johnny chap in the resplendent white waistcoat. I want you to find out who she is and where she comes from."

"That's all right," Richard Rigby responded. "Nice-looking girl, with fair hair and dark eyes. Sort of striking theatrical get-up, don't you think?"

"Well, now you mention it, perhaps it is rather in that way. But that isn't all, Dick; unless I am greatly mistaken, the girl came here with a fair chap whose moustache is turned up after the fashion of the German Emperor. Find out all about him, too, and I'll look you up at your chambers the first thing in the morning. I must not keep my friend waiting. Good-night."

Jack passed along the corridor in the direction of the staircase. There were many palms and ferns there, with screens behind which people could sit and not be seen except by their partners. Jack paused with his foot on the thick pile of the carpet, for just in front of him was the girl with the southern face and fair hair. Her head was still bent low, her fingers were working. What her companion was like Jack could not quite make out, for his back was turned. The girl looked up at him with a flash of anger in her eyes, her lips moved, and sound certainly came from them. Jack could just catch the words.

"Don't drive me too far," she said. "Take care and not drive me too far, because----"

The girl suddenly lapsed into silence again and her fingers began to work. The couple passed behind a screen of palms and ferns, and Jack could see them no more.

"Well, this has been a night and a half," he said. "Where is it going to end? I wonder if my friend the inspector will be disposed to accept my suggestion?"

The inspector gave Jack's suggestion the most careful attention. He had not thought of it before.

"We'll go back to the scene of the murder," Jack said. "There is a strong electric light in front of the hoarding, and the Nostalgo poster is only a few feet from the ground. Moreover, it has only recently been put up, and it is quite clean and fair. Depend upon it, there is some trade-mark upon the bill, even if it is only a cipher. Of course, you see the importance of finding out who posted that bill?"

"Of course, sir. How do you propose to get at the facts?"

"By examining the bill with the aid of a strong magnifying glass. I have no doubt that, being a detective, you have such a thing in your pocket at the present moment? Good. Then, all you have to do is to order the cab to drive to the corner of Panton Street and stop there."

The cab arrived at length and the occupants dismounted. They did not take the cab quite as far as the scene of the murder for obvious reasons, but walked on there alone. It was quite still now, and nobody was about save a passing policeman, who had orders to give notice if anybody was coming. It was just as well that the curiosity of passers-by should not be aroused.

"Now for it," Jack said, breathing a little faster in his excitement. "Perhaps we had better have the assistance of your lantern as well. I thought that the poster was there. It was there. I'll swear that that is the very spot, just where that picture of the pretty girl taking the pills is. Good heavens, man, the poster has gone! It has been covered up since we were here before by that mustard advertisement. At the hour after midnight the thing has been done. But the right thing must be underneath. See! The poster is wet!"

Jack advanced to tear the poster down, but the inspector pulled him roughly aside.

"Don't touch it," he said hoarsely. "Whatever you do, don't touch it. Wait!"




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