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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » The Yellow Face » CHAPTER VI. VANISHED!
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It was not to be supposed that this had happened without attracting the Argus eye of the Press. The nightbirds of journalism had been hovering about, seeking their prey of sensational copy. They haunted the police station with a hope that something might turn up--the hope that every reporter has that sooner or later he may happen on a good thing that has in it the making of some columns of red-hot descriptive matter.

One of them, hungry and lynx-eyed, had seen the body of Nostalgo carried to Shannon Street station. There might have been a paragraph then; there might have been a column. At any rate, the chance was too good to be lost. The reporter was on the best of terms with the police for a square mile or so; indeed, his living more or less depended on the good fellowship of the local authorities. The sergeant had first of all set the ball rolling; the reporter had seen the body; he had no difficulty in recognizing the striking likeness between the dead man and the poster. Younger men would have rushed off at once and made a long paragraph of this, manifolded it, and sent it broadcast along Fleet Street.

But not so the old and cunning hand at the game; his instinct told him that there was more to come. There was more to come, probably in the shape of the shaken Gregory, who presently told the reporter his part of the story. This was a case when a cab was justified. Half-an-hour later the reporter was closeted with the chief sub-editor of the Daily Planet,a halfpenny morning paper dealing largely in sensations. The sub-editor's eye gleamed as he listened to the reporter's story. This was something after his own heart.

"Write two columns of it," he said. "You can use Daly's room. Serve it up as hot as you can with plenty of scare heads. We'll give it the first place on page five. You had better have a stenographer, as time is pressing." Therefore it came about that the half million or so of readers of the Planet had the shock at breakfast the following day. With its tally of many dazzling sensations, the Planet had never been more successful than in this. The thing was admirably done. The mystery was puzzling to a degree. Before ten o'clock the following morning London was talking of little else. It was discussed in the train, on the top of the omnibus, in City offices. The name of Nostalgo was on every lip.

The editor-in-chief and the chief shareholder in the Planet Company came down to the office very early in the forenoon, an action quite unusual with him. But his keen instinct scented a good thing for the Planet here. The thing was exclusively his own, and he meant to work it to the last ounce. The little man with the bald head and gold-rimmed monocle had created a pretty scheme by the time he had reached his office. Without loss of time he sent for Mr. Richard Rigby. Rigby came in response to the summons. He found journalism more remunerative than the Bar.

"This is the best thing we have ever had," Mr. Van Jens said in his staccato way. "I'm just going to show the British public what an American journalist can do with the thing. It's pretty clear to me that the police have blundered, as they always do, and that they have got right off the track of the truth. We're going to solve the mystery, Rigby, and you're the man I have picked out to do it. In the first place, you are a clever actor, and you have pluck. Go about it in your own way, and take your own time. Never mind the expense; spend £1,000 if necessary. Only get to the bottom of the thing, if it's merely to prove to the police that they can't do without the Press. By the way, isn't Masefield a friend of yours?"

Rigby admitted that such was the case. He did not pretend to follow the quick working of his chief's brain; few men were competent to do that. Van Jens was leaning over the Planet in order to read the report of the Nostalgo affair.

"I saw Masefield last night," Rigby said. He did not tell Van Jens that Jack had met him at Carrington's, for that was a matter concerning Masefield alone. "Do you think he is likely to be of any assistance to me?"

"It is just possible. You see it was Masefield who actually found the body of the man who we call Nostalgo. It is possible also that Masefield knows more than our reporter got to find out. You had better hint to Masefield that there is a chance of getting a commission from us to write a serial for one of our weekly journals--he is in the way of doing that kind of thing. Anyway, get him to regard it in a favorable light. If you handle the man properly, I feel quite sure that he will offer you valuable information."

Rigby nodded. He did not tell Van Jens that Jack Masefield was a close friend of his, for that point had nothing to do with Van Jens, who regarded Rigby as the typical smart unit of the smart paper, and none too scrupulous where men were concerned. As a matter of fact Rigby had his code of honor; possibly his chief would not have considered it. Come what might, Rigby was not likely to take any advantage of Masefield.

"All right," he said; "you may rely upon me to do all that I can. By the way, if I am to take this case in hand, I must not be tied as to time. I mean, that somebody else must be drafted out to do my regular work and--and to say nothing if I don't show up here regularly. I think that only fair."

"Only fair, it is," Van Jens replied. "I'll see to all that. And I'll leave instructions with the counting house that you are to draw on me to the extent of £1,000 if necessary. And now you had better go off to Masefield without delay."

It was not yet eleven o'clock, and Rigby felt pretty certain of finding Masefield at home. He was perfectly correct in his conclusions, for Jack was busy just putting the finishing touches to a short magazine story. The morning papers lay in a pile on the table, but as yet he had not had time to open them. Rigby helped himself to a cigarette.

"Hope I don't intrude," he said. "If I am in the way, kick me out at once."

"You are never in the way here, Dick," Masefield smiled. "As a matter of fact, I have just passed the last page of this story for the Grasshopper. It's always a pleasure to sit down and write a story when you have a fair commission for it."

"You will soon have plenty of them, my boy," Rigby said cheerfully, "especially now that you've got your name in the papers. Seen the Planet to-day? You haven't? Well, you are pretty prominent on page five, let me tell you. One of our men got hold of that sensational Nostalgo business, and then made a picture of it. Just run your eye along the report, and tell me what you think of it. Pretty hot, isn't it? Now can you tell me anything?"

"Anything fresh in regard to the affair you mean?"

"You've got it first time. As a matter of fact, Van Jens has placed the thing in my hands, and I'm to get to the bottom of it if it costs the paper £1,000. Van Jens suggested that I should come and see you and pump you. The bait to you is a commission for a big serial in one of our weeklies. But apart from all that, Jack, I'm quite sure that you will be ready to help me for old sake's sake."

"Of course I will," Masefield said heartily. "Really, there is very little to tell; your man seems to have got it down very fine. But I can tell you all about the shot marks and the missing poster, only you must not publish that."

"My dear fellow, you don't quite understand my position. I'm not sent as a mere scare writer in this business; I'm more of an amateur detective, with a pocket full of money. My task is to beat the police at their own game, and prove the superior intellectual force of the Press. Then I shall write the whole story, and the Planet
circulation will go up to a million."

"Then I'll tell you all that there is to know," Jack replied. "When I have finished my story, I shall have a few questions to ask you. Get your note-book out."

Rigby had no cause for complaint on the score of Masefield's narrative. In the description of the shot marks and the subsequently missing poster he felt that he had conquered a fine point of the situation. He took another cigarette, and Jack did the same. "Now I'm going to ask you a few questions," the latter said, "and I should not be surprised that in replying to my queries we throw some fresh light on the object of your search. You will recollect meeting me at Carrington's last night?"

"Of course I do. I took you for a fellow quite above that kind of thing--playing the amateur detective."

"Notably, as I was in evening dress. As a matter of fact I had been dining with Spencer Anstruther, and it was in leaving his house that I found the body of the man we had better call Nostalgo. Of course I recognized him by the likeness to the poster. Subsequently Inspector Bates and myself discovered the name of the firm who posted the creation. We went off to see the head of the firm, and he could tell us very little, except that the placards came from some John Smith, who had an account with the City and Provincial Bank. The latter fact accounts for my being at Carrington's last night."

"Exactly. And you asked me to keep my eye on a pretty girl, who was deaf, and who had for attendant cavalier a chap with a moustache like that of the German Emperor."

"I am coming to that," Masefield went on. "I told you that I had been dining with Anstruther. Now these two people left Anstruther's house, for I followed them. I will tell you a more striking thing about them later on, but I want to have my side of the affair cleared up first. Tell me what happened after I left Carrington's with Inspector Bates.

"Well, I kept my eye on these people, as you asked me. I tried to get some information about the fair one from Carrington himself, but he didn't seem to like the subject. He seemed depressed and a little bit uneasy, I thought; said it was a sad case, sort of relation of his, and that the man with the moustache was a foreign count or something of that sort. I wouldn't press the matter, as it would have been in bad taste, you see. But, all the same, I did keep an eye on these people, as you asked me, and the end of it was that I followed them when they left the house. I don't know what made me do it."

"At any rate I'm glad you acted in that manner," Jack said. "Did they go back in the direction of Anstruther's house? Did they take a cab?

"Not in the ordinary acceptance of the word," Rigby explained. "They walked as far as the top of Regent Circus, where a private growler was waiting. The cab was all black, the driver had a black livery. I could not see his face, as it was tied up with a silk handkerchief as if the fellow had toothache or something of that kind. The four-wheeler was evidently waiting for them, for they got in at once."

"Anybody else inside the cab?" Jack asked.

"By Jove, I was nearly forgetting that!" Rigby exclaimed. "I was just flush with the cab as it passed a lamp. There was another figure in the cab, a man, and as the light shone on his face I was about staggered by his resemblance to the poster of Nostalgo. I only saw the face just for an instant, but it is impressed upon my mind as if the man were standing before me at this very minute. Singular, was it not?"

Jack nodded dumbly. This was another new departure in the strange mystery. For the man seen by Rigby in the black four-wheeler could not possibly have been the same Nostalgo that Jack had found, seeing that the latter had been lying in Shannon Street some hour or two before the time that Rigby was speaking about.

"You did not follow them further, I suppose?" Masefield asked.

"No; I didn't go as far as that. And at the moment I didn't think anything as to that Nostalgo business No. 1, so to speak. If I had, you may bet your bottom dollar that I should not have lost the opportunity. The cab drifted away without any direction being given; so I went along, without giving it more consideration, to my club. Eh, what?"

Inspector Bates had hurried into the room without ceremony. His face was pale and agitated.

"Something strange come out at the inquest?" Jack asked.

"No, sir," Bates gasped, "for the simple reason that there has been no inquest. You can't hold an inquest without a body. What do I mean? Why, that the body has vanished from the room, leaving not a hint of a clue behind!"


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