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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » The Yellow Face » CHAPTER XX. THE MOUSE IN THE TRAP.
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Zimburg pulled the lamp across the table, and through his glasses carefully scrutinized the features of the violinist. "Very strange," he muttered; "it is not often that I am puzzled. Offhand I should have said that I have never seen this face before, but the more I look at it, the more certain I am that the features are quite familiar to me. At the same time there is some subtle change which baffles me. It may be the eyes, or the nose and the mouth--that it is impossible to say. Anyway, I should be prepared to arrest this man on suspicion, and take the risk of finding out all about him afterwards."

"I suppose any slight alteration makes a difference in the photograph?" Jack asked. "After all said and done, photography is a very weak reed to lie upon. Can't you tell us exactly what is puzzling you?"

Zimburg threw up his hands with a suggestion of despair. A sudden light flashed across Jack's mind. He recollected that Padini, so far as the stage was concerned, appeared with a clean face, but in private life it had been his whim to adopt a moustache strictly on the lines of that worn by the German Emperor. It was apparently an insane thing to do, and savored more of conceit than of anything else, but no doubt the thing had its advantages.

"Do you happen to have such a thing as a paint-box and a brush on the premises?" Jack asked. "If so, I think I shall be in a position to jog Mr. Zimburg's memory."

As it happened, the necessary implements were there to hand. There were occasions, Bates explained, when such things were necessary. Now and then some sprig of the nobility who had dined not wisely but too well found himself in the cells in a more or less dilapidated condition, and here it was that the paint-box came in. Black eyes and discolored faces and that kind of thing, Bates explained. "I assure you that a dash or two of paint makes all the difference in the world."

Jack smiled as he bent over the photograph, and with a few subtle touches decorated the face with a fierce blond moustache. He handed the card over without comment to Zimburg. The little man's face fairly beamed with delight.

"Ah! but you are a clever gentleman," he cried. "Now I know our friend. Yes, yes, but he is a very clever man. And older than he looks, mind you; that fellow has eluded the Continental police for years. It would be absurd to try and give his real name, for probably he has forgotten it himself. Yes, I have heard of his playing before; not that I regarded him as quite good enough for a public platform. Wherever that man goes, roguery follows as a matter of course. Depend upon it, his appearance here means mischief. I will have him carefully watched, and before long I shall have the pleasure of laying him by the heels."

"Don't do that, at least until you are absolutely obliged to," Jack said eagerly. "We are interested, deeply interested, in the movements of Signor Padini. It is more or less of a private matter, but if you could provide us with some means of getting a hold on that fellow we should be exceedingly obliged to you."

Zimburg promised to do his best, and departed. For some little time Rigby and Bates stood discussing the most recent developments of the case, whilst Jack sat in a thoughtful attitude, evidently puzzling something out.

"Do you call Zimburg a really clever detective?" he asked at length. "It seems to me that he has a poor memory for faces. For instance, he had not the slightest idea who the man Padini was till that moustache was added to the face of the photograph."

Bates, eager in defense of his colleagues, remarked that a little thing like that often made a vast difference.

"That is one of the great advantages of the Bertillon system," he explained. "I don't care how clever a man may be--and when I speak of a clever man I mean a policeman in this instance--he is often utterly deceived by some slight physical change. Take the case of the late Charles Peace if you like. I understand that he could alter the expression and even the shape of his face entirely. Make your mind quite easy, for Zimburg will work it all out like some ingenious puzzle. I suppose you are aware of the fact that the London and Paris police have thousands of careful records made of the measurements of well-known criminals?"

"But Zimburg can't very well measure Padini," Rigby argued. "He can't make him drunk, or anything of that kind."

"No, but he can have him arrested on some faked-up charge," Bates laughed. "That little game has been played more than once when we wanted the measurements of some clever criminal who had never passed through our hands."

"That is very ingenious," Rigby said, "and I shan't forget it. If facts like those were more widely known, I fancy you would get more assistance from the Press."

Bates emphatically repudiated the suggestion.

"I have often heard you say, in fact it is rather a fruitful source of complaint to the police, that the newspapers do them more harm than good," Jack said reflectively; "but I think I can see a way whereby the Press could give you a good leg-up in the case of this Belgrave Gardens mystery. Dick, is it too late to get a paragraph inserted in to-morrow's Planet?"

"Oh, dear, no," Rigby explained. "Probably no paper in London goes to bed later than we do. We make it a point of keeping open till the last possible minute, and we have a good hour before us yet. But what are you driving at?"

"Well, it is this way. It is pretty clear that one of the thieves was wearing that embroidered scarf which was also claimed by Mrs. Montague. Probably there were two such mufflers, but that does not affect my argument. Of course, a description of this affair will appear in to-morrow's Planet,but I should like to embroider on it a bit. Suppose we add to the report a paragraph to the effect that the thief left a marvelous wrap behind him. We could say that it was absolutely unique, and all that sort of thing, just the sort of silly gossip that your readers are so fond of. We could hint that the scarf still remains at Belgrave Gardens for identification. Now it is a thousand to one this paragraph reaches the eye of the thief, or is brought to his notice. This being so, he will lose no opportunity of getting the wrap back again. All you have to do is to keep the house carefully under observation, and your man falls into your hands like a ripe blackberry. What does the inspector think of our little scheme?"

Bates pondered the matter a moment or two, and then cautiously remarked that at any rate there could be no harm in it. Whereupon the two friends went away together, and half-an-hour later a spicy paragraph had been constructed for the delectation of the Planet's
readers to-morrow. Rigby threw the paragraph aside, and whistled up-stairs to the composing room.

"You look as if you had something at the back of your mind," he said, passing the cigarettes across to his companion. "Jack, you have found something out?"

"Upon my word, I believe I have," Jack replied. "It is rather soothing to one's vanity to get on the inside track so far as a detective is concerned. But it would not have been at all fair on my part to have said anything to Bates, seeing that you are investigating this Nostalgo business on your own account. Not that I am absolutely certain of my facts now, but I shall be after I have seen Miss Helmsley in the morning. Now, is there anything else we can do to-night? I suppose even an indefatigable journalist like yourself goes to bed sometimes."

Anstruther was fortunately out when Jack called at Panton Square the next morning. He smiled to himself as he noticed a copy of the Planet on the hall table. It had evidently been carefully read, and on page 5, where the account of the Belgrave Gardens burglary appeared, somebody had ticked the paragraph with a pencil. Miss Helmsley was in the drawing-room, the housemaid said, and would see Mr. Masefield if he would go up-stairs. Claire was looking a little pale and distracted, Jack thought; her eyes bore evidence of the fact that she had passed a restless night. But her face lighted up, and the old charm of feature reasserted itself as Jack entered.

"Come, come, this won't do," he said, half tenderly, half playfully. "Positively I shall have to kiss the color back to those pallid lips of yours. What is worrying you so much, dearest?"

"Nothing worries me so long as I am with you," the girl said, as she stood with Jack's arm about her. "And yet I almost wish that you had never told me what you did yesterday."

"You cannot wish it more than I do, sweetheart," Jack murmured; "but don't you see that it was almost necessary? There is some desperate rascality going on here, and your happiness could never have been an assured thing till we got to the bottom of it."

"But that is just what frightens me," Clare protested. "I cannot get out of my mind the recollection of what happened last night. I shall never listen to that music again without the feeling that some unknown danger is hovering about me. I am frightened, Jack, frightened to my very soul. And yet the whole thing can be explained; I am sure you can explain it yourself if you like?"

Jack replied that he hoped to do so in a few days. He assured Claire that there was nothing supernatural about the thing. For both their sakes he exhorted Claire to be brave. The red mouth grew hard and firm; there was a look of resolution in the girl's blue eyes.

"It shall be even as you say," she cried. "But tell me, has anything fresh happened since last night?"

"Nothing that is worth speaking of," Jack said, feeling a little ashamed of his evasion. "Did Anstruther go out again last night? By the way, he seldom wears an overcoat; at least, so I understood him to say. When he came in last evening, after the fire broke out, I noticed that he was not wearing an overcoat then. Where does he get those wonderful embroidered scarves from?"

"He has only one, so far as I know," Claire explained. "Originally there were three, but two were either lost or given away. Wonderful work, is it not?"

"Wonderful work, indeed," Jack agreed; "but he did not tell me where they came from."

"So far as I can understand they came from Mexico. The silk is really Chinese, of a quality which is made only for the imperial palace of Pekin. To steal this material is an offense punishable by death, but it is sometimes smuggled out of the town, and clever natives of Southern Mexico do the embroidery. But why are you so curious about this scarf?"

"Oh, I merely thought I should like to get one like it," Jack said carelessly. He had no intention of frightening Claire more than was absolutely necessary. "Couldn't you let me see it for a minute or two? I suppose you know where it is kept?"

Claire knew perfectly well where to lay her hands upon the scarf. Anstruther was a methodical man, and hated to have his things lying about. He only used the scarf at such times as he was in evening dress. Claire went off, and Jack was by no means surprised that he had to wait a quarter of an hour. When Claire returned her hands were empty; there was a puzzled frown between her usually smooth white brows.

"A most extraordinary thing," she said . "I cannot find the scarf anywhere. It is quite certain that Mr. Anstruther is not wearing it; I thought perhaps he had thrown it carelessly down last night in the excitement of the moment, and therefore I asked Serena if she had seen anything of it. But she declared that she knew nothing, and yet at the same time she seemed to be extraordinarily upset and agitated by my simple question. She is not an emotional woman, as you know; therefore her conduct is all the more amazing. But the fact remains that this scarf cannot be found, and so I cannot oblige you. I will ask Mr. Anstruther if you like----"

But Jack emphatically wanted nothing of the kind. He was in a hurry now, he said, and would call again later in the day. He made his way directly to the Planet office, where he found that Rigby had just arrived.

"No, there are no fresh developments," he explained. "Did you take my advice last night, and have the house in Belgrave Gardens watched by a private detective in addition to the policeman engaged by Bates?"

"Of course I did," Rigby replied. "As a matter of fact I have two men at work there; one to relieve the other, and report progress from time to time. In fact, one of them has only just come in. He has very little to say, but that little was an eye-opener. I have ascertained that Anstruther is not even acquainted with Lord Longworth, and yet one of the first men to call in Belgrave Gardens this morning was Spencer Anstruther. Now, do you think he had anything to do with last night's business; otherwise what do you suppose he called for?"

"That is exactly what I am here to tell you," Jack said. "The scarf which formed so important a clue belonged to Anstruther. It is missing from his house; in fact, I called there this morning on purpose to examine the thing. We have hit the right nail on the head this time--the lost property in the hands of Inspector Bates is beyond a doubt the cherished possession of Spencer Anstruther."


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