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CHAPTER XXVI. SERENA AGAIN.
Nostalgo smiled and shook his head. The doctor had not made an examination of him at all; and he explained he had simply given him a cursory glance and pronounced that the whole thing had been fatal. No doubt a thorough examination would have taken place later on, only that the victim had returned to his senses, and, having his own reasons for secrecy, had escaped by means of the overhead light in the mortuary.

"There you have the whole thing in a nutshell," he concluded. "It was fortunate for me that I knew exactly how to get away, for the simple reason that I had been keeping a close eye upon Anstruther's movements, and knew all about that hiding place in Montrose Place. To a certain extent I made my escape through Montrose Place. There is only one thing I find that is difficult of explanation. Now I know for a fact that Anstruther was otherwise engaged on the night of that murderous attack upon me. Who, then, was it who fired the bullet?"

"I think it is just possible I can enlighten you there," Jack said. "Did you ever chance to hear of a man called Padini?"

The name conveyed nothing apparently to Nostalgo, who rose at the same moment and suggested that dinner was possibly ready. It was a well-served meal, cold for the most part, Nostalgo explaining that anything in the way of elaborate cookery had for obvious reasons to be done off the premises. It was possible to talk freely before the servants, who seemed to be entirely in their master's confidence.

"Tell me about this Padini whose name you mentioned just now," the host said. "So far as I know, I have never heard the name before."

"That is exceedingly likely, considering that Padini is only one of the many aliases. The man I mentioned is an exceedingly fine violinist--clean shaven and artistic-looking, and perhaps just a little effeminate. On the stage he looks rather boyish, but in private life it is his whim to assume a moustache closely resembling that of the German Emperor. I know this as a fact, because I have met him wearing his moustache at the house of a man called Carrington--a rich bachelor banker who has a very elaborate establishment in Piccadilly."

A heavy scowl crossed the face of Nostalgo.

"So you know that sorry blackguard, do you?" he asked. "Upon my word, Mr. Masefield, you seem to have mixed up with a rare lot of scoundrels."

Jack was politely incredulous; he had never heard anything to the detriment of Mr. Carrington, who was partner in a well-known City bank. Still, he remembered now that he had heard Carrington's name mentioned by Anstruther that time he was hiding in Montrose Place with Rigby.

"Oh, I am perfectly certain of my facts," Nostalgo cried. "It may be news to you, but Carrington's bank is on the verge of collapse. I know that, because they have twenty thousand pounds of mine in their hands. I was acquainted with Carrington before I went to Mexico, and as good fortune favored me, I sent a great deal of my earnings to Carrington for investment. When I came home I called upon him one night and explained my altered appearance. He appeared to be fairly satisfied till I asked for my securities. Then the rascal showed himself in his true colors. He pretended to believe that I was an impudent impostor; he laughed my strange story to scorn, and refused to part with anything until I could prove my identity beyond question. He knew perfectly well that at the time I could do nothing of the sort, and there the matter stands for the present. I suppose that Carrington is a friend of Anstruther's?"

Jack explained that Anstruther and Carrington were dining together at the former's club at that self-same moment. Nostalgo nodded, as if the information was not displeasing to him. "Very good," he cried. "Everything is going our way now. I will get you to accompany me on a little expedition presently. And as to this man you call Padini, I think I have a pretty good notion of his real identity. And now take some more of that wine, and let us discuss matters generally, apart from this wretched business. Let me try and make you forget what a physical wreck I am."

A more entertaining companion Jack could not have wished for. His host seemed to have been everywhere and seen everything; he was a thorough citizen of the world, and a charming companion to boot. Jack was astonished to look up presently and see that it was already past eleven o'clock. Nostalgo followed his glance and smiled. He rang the bell and ordered coffee to be served at once.

"Just one more cigar and a liquor," he suggested, "and then we must be off. Meanwhile, there are one or two things I must do in regard to my personal appearance. Like the modern plain young woman, I am compelled occasionally to resort to a beauty doctor. It is a case of where Nature fails Art steps in."

So saying, Nostalgo passed the cigar box across the table and sauntered from the room. It was some half-hour before he returned, and when he did so he was changed almost beyond recognition. At the same time, the almost hideous ugliness had only given way to another form of repulsive feature. Nostalgo smiled sadly as he seemed to follow Jack's thoughts.

"It is only a change after all," he said; "for change is sometimes necessary. If you have quite finished, we are going to walk down as far as St. James's Street, where I will get you to go into Anstruther's club, the Salisbury, and ascertain if he and Carrington are still there. You can easily make an excuse to do that."

"As it happens, there is no occasion to do anything of the kind," Jack said. "I am a member of the Salisbury Club. I will go into the dining-room and see if those men are still there; and if they have already gone, I will try and ascertain where. Come along."

The Salisbury Club was reached at length, and Jack entered, followed by his companion. There was no reason why the latter should not come into the club, Jack urged. With his hat pulled down over his eyes nobody would recognize him or note anything peculiar in his appearance.

The club was fairly crowded by this time, for the theatres had begun to empty, and members were trooping in the direction of the smoking and card rooms. The dining-room was still comparatively full, for though dinner was practically a thing of the past, a great many suppers had already been served. As Jack glanced carelessly about the room, he noticed Anstruther and Carrington seated at a table at the top. There was a third man with them, who had apparently just come in, for his opera cape was still about his shoulders. Jack touched his companion on the arm.

"There our men are," he whispered, "and judging from the amount of wine upon the table, I should think there they are likely to stay. We are fortunate, too, in another direction. Please take note of that man in the opera cape--that is the man Padini. Perhaps you can tell me if you have ever seen him before."

Nostalgo gave a queer and dry chuckle, and Jack could see that his eyes were burning under the edge of his hat.

"You are quite right about our being in luck," he said hoarsely. "So you want to know if I am acquainted with the little man in the opera cape. I know the scoundrel perfectly. It seems to me that all the scores I have to pay are going to be wiped off in London. Now I think we will get on our way."

Nostalgo strode away as if he had quite made up his mind what to do. Once outside, he turned off in the direction of Piccadilly, walking so rapidly that Jack had some considerable difficulty in keeping up with him. The man had evidently something on his mind, for he was muttering to himself as if he had entirely forgotten his companion. He came out of his brown study presently, and laughed a laugh of grim amusement.

"I am a little mad at times," he said, in explanation of his queer conduct; "but you must not mind that. You have behaved exceedingly well to me, and I am taking you entirely into my confidence. You asked me just now if I knew Padini. I explained to you that I knew him very well indeed, but not under that name. He used to be with Anstruther all the time that the latter was in Mexico. Not that he is the class of man to care much for the rough life we led out there, because he is physically a great coward, though his cunning and craft are equal to those of his master. We knew him out there for a very skilled performer on the violin, but I never expected that he would blossom out into a leading platform artist. I should have thought that the fellow was too lazy and too casual to tie himself down to a settled programme. But I dare say it is all part of some scheme of Anstruther's."

"That I am absolutely certain about," Jack said. "Seeing that you have been so candid with me, I will be equally candid with you, and tell you something very strange. It has to do with Padini and his violin."

Jack proceeded to explain at length the apparently strange coincidence of the items on Padini's concert programme and their simultaneous playing in Anstruther's study. It was a somewhat complicated story, and Nostalgo did not quite take it in at first. When he thoroughly grasped the situation, he was grimly pleased to pay a high compliment to Anstruther's ingenuity.

"I think I can grasp the meaning of it," he said. "If Anstruther ever found himself in a tight corner--and he is very likely to before long--he has a magnificent alibi. But here we are; just wait till I get my key out."

To Jack's great surprise Nostalgo paused before the front door of Carrington's chambers, and proceeded to fit the key in the latch as if he were the master of the premises. Very coolly he pushed the door back and bade Jack enter. "But this is something like burglary," the latter protested. "Burglary or not, we are going in all the same," Nostalgo growled. "You will see presently something that will surprise you. But stop--surely there is some one coming down the hall."

The hall light was a very dim one, so that it was impossible for the moment to determine the identity of the woman who came down the stairway towards them. She carried in her hand a candle, which had the effect of keeping her face half in shadow. It was evident that the woman had heard the key in the door, and had come down to see if her master required anything.

Satisfied that she was mistaken, she set the candle down on the table. Her features were quite plain now--the sad yet defiant face of Serena. A grasp like a vice was laid on Jack's arm, and his companion's voice whispered hoarsely in his ear.

"Great heaven!" Nostalgo said. "And she is here. Oh, the villainy of it, the villainy of it!"



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