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tain agents to secure them, there must be a powerful
reason to account for the delay. Speaking quite
disinterestedly, monsieur, I would advise you to
inquire into the matter at once."

His words evidently perturbed the Turk.

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" Will you object," he said, " if I leave you alone
a few minutes ? I wish to consult with a friend of
mine who happens to be staying here.'*

" Assuredly," said Brett ; " but let me beg you to
leave your cigarettes behind. They are exquisite."

Hussein-ul-Mulk had never before encountered
such a personality as Reginald Brett. His eye-
brows became perfectly oval with surprise and ad-
miration for the man who could thus juggle with a
dangerous situation.

" Here is my case," he said, " and when we have
concluded this most interesting conversation I hope
you ^\ill leave me your address, so that I may have
the extreme pleasure of sending you a few hundreds."

Then he quitted the room. He was absent fully
five minutes.

On his return he said —

** In the opinion of my friend, Mr. Brett, it is im-
possible for us to do anything at the present moment.
We must inquire ; we must verify ; we must con-
sult others. You will see that the negotiations
you have undertaken require on our part some dis-
play of the extreme delicacy and tact in which
you have given us so admirable a lesson. Suppose,
now, we agree to meet here again to-morrow at the
same hour. Am I to understand that what has
transpired this morning remains, we will not say a
secret, but a myth, a mere idle phantasy as between
you and me ? "

" That is precisely my idea," said Brett. " One
hates to mention such a brufal word as 'police'
in an affair demanding finesse. Personally I hate
the blunderers. They rob life of its charm. They
have absolutely no conception of art. Romance
with them can end only in penal servitude or on the
gallows. BeUeve me, Hussein, T am very discreet."

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In another minute he was standing in the street,
and inhaling generous draughts of tixe keen air of

** I wonder how much my life was worth during
the first five minutes ? " said he to himself ; and then
he made his way to a telegraph ofl5ce, whence he
despatched the following message —

" To THE Earl of Fairholme,

" Stanhope Gate, London.
" Have received definite intelligence which con-
finns my views. Expect our friend will be dis-
covered within forty-eight hours. If possible, join
me at Grand Hotel, Paris, to-night, eleven o'clock.

" Brett.**

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PENDING Fairholme*s arrival, Brett was not
idle. He visited a prominent jeweller in the
Rue de la Paix, and, after making some trivial
purchases, led the conversation to the question
of diamonds. By skilful inquiry he ascertained a
good deal about precious stones, both in their crude
and their finished states. The accommodating French-
man showed him a good many samples of South
African, Brazilian, and Indian stones, and explained
to him the various tests which were used to determine
their value.

Brett had no special object in seeking this in-
formation. When engaged in elucidating any mys-
tery he made it an invariable rule to post himself
as accurately as possible concerning all minor details
which might, by any straining of circumstances,
become useful.

He returned to his hotel and jotted down some
notes of this conversation. Whilst engaged in the
task a telegram arrived from the Earl of Fairholme
announcing that nobleman's departure from London
by the afternoon train service via Boulogne.

Punctually at the time appointed the earl reached
the hotel. He was all eagerness to learn what had

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happened since they parted in London, and why
Brett had so suddenly summoned him to Paris.

" I really have not much definite information,"
said the barrister. " Thus far T am building chiefly
on surmise, but I have undoubtedly come into con-
tact with the persons who organized and planned, if
they did not actually carry out, the raid on the
Albert Gate mansion."

" Then you have news of Jack ? " broke in Fair-
holme excitedly.

" Not exactly. All I can do at present is to assure
you that the scent is hot, and we may run our quarry
to earth some few minutes after eleven o'clock to-
morrow morning."

" I am jolly glad tliat there is a chance of my
being useful in this matter," said the earl gleefully.
*' If only I am a little bit instrumental in recovering
her brother, Edith hasn't got a leg to stand on in the
matter of getting married. That's awkwardly put,
isn't it ? What I mean is that when Talbot is restored
to his family and everything is satisfactorily cleared
up, Edith and I can get spliced immediately, can't

" I regard it as the most assured fact we have yet
encountered," said Brett, pleasantly.

" But you haven't told me yet the exact manner
in which I can be useful."

" No," said the barrister. " I have been revolving
in my mind the possibilities of to-morrow morning,
and you must play an important part in what,
by chance, may turn out to be a melodrama. Now,
listen to me carefully. In the neighbourhood of the
Porte St. Martin there is a street known as the Rue
Barbette. At eleven o'clock to-morrow T go to the
house No. II in that street, and you will accompany
me as far as tbe doon It will be your duty to staad

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outside and take note of all persons who enter or
leave the house once I have disappeared from view
in the interior. You must exercise your powers of
observation most minutely, paying heed to the
height, build, complexion, and clothing of any
individual, male or female, who enters or leaves No.
II, Rue Barbette, after you have taken your stand
in the street. It is more than probable that no
person will demand scrutiny, unless it be some
chance tradesman's assistant visiting the building
in pursuance of his ordinary work. However, do
you feel capable of attending to this part of the
programme ? "

" Perfectly."

"You will maintain watch until 11.30. If at
that hour I have not rejoined you, make your way
to the nearest policeman, and tell him that you have
good reason to believe that a friend of yours has
either been murdered or suffered serious personal
injury in a room on the second storey of the house
in question. You will then, in company with the
policeman, come rapidly to the apartment I have
indicated and demand an immediate entrance — ^if
necessary bursting the door open."

" And what then ? " gasped the amazed earl.

" I really don't know," said Brett imperturbably.
•* It is possible you may find my gory corpse in one
of the inner rooms. The best I can hope for is
that I shall be simply a prisoner, but I fully expect
to be seriously injured at the very least."

" But look here, Brett : are you doing the right
thing in this matter ? Why on earth should you
run such an awful risk, and take it alone, too ?
Isn't it possible to obtain some trustworthy de-
tective to keep watch in the street, and let me go into
the place with you ? Don't you see, old chap, that

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two of us might make a reasonable show if violence
is attempted ? One man hasn't much chance."

The barrister cut short his friend's protesta-

" I sent for you, Lord Fairholme," he said, " be-
cause I felt that I could trust you to obey my in-
structions implicitly. This is a matter in which I
do not want the police to interfere. My visit to the
Rue Barbette to-morrow morning may end quite
satisfactorily. If it does, we shall be in possession
of important information leading to the prompt
release of Mr. Talbot. If it fails, there will certainly
be some shooting or stabbing, or perhaps an attempt
may be made to keep me a prisoner. This latter
eventuality renders the presence of the police
essential. No matter what has happened to me,
they will, with your assistance, be able to take up
the inquiry exactly where I leave it off. In this
notebook here, which I am placing in a locked
drawer " — and he suited his action to the words —
" you will find details of all that I have done up to
the present moment, together with the lines along
which future inquiries should proceed. In par-
ticular, you will find an elaboration of the theory
which I expect to-morrow's visit to confirm. You
fully understand me ? All this anticipates that
after 11.30 to morrow I shall be personally unable
to conduct the investigation further."

" Yes," agreed the earl, with rueful emphasis,
" I fully understand the proposition, and I tell you,
Brett, I don't like it. There has been enough blood
spilt in this beastly business already, and I feel a
sort of personal responsibilitv for you, you know,
because I brought you into it."

" Then," said the barrister, with a laugh, " I
solemnly acquit you of any such responsibihty.

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I am going into the business with my eyes open. It
interests me strangely, and I would not abandon the
quest now on any account."

" But can't you explain matters a little more
clearly ? Is it necessary that I should be kept in
the dark as to the circumstances which have led up
to this critical movement to-morrow ? "

** Not in the least. It is, indeed, very important
that you should comprehend all that has gone before ;
I only started at the end, so to speak, so as to fix
accurately in your mind your part of the business,
which now stands separate and distinctly outlined
in your memory. What I am going to tell you simply
leads up to the expected denouement.*'

He then recited to the wondering earl the whole
of the curious events which had happened during
the preceding twenty-four hours.

It was late when they got to bed, but they rested
well, and, after the manner of their race, fortified
themselves with a good breakfast against the trials
of the day, whatever these might prove to be. A
few minutes before the appointed hour they quitted
a fiacre in the vicinity of the Rue Barbette, and at
eleven o'clock Brett passed the concierge^ whilst
Fairholme took up his stand outside.

The barrister was received with smiling com-
placence by Hussein-ul-Mulk. On this occasion he
was conducted to another room of the flat, and he
promptly noted that the windows looked out to the
rear of the building, whereas during his previous
visit he could survey the street.

"This promises badly," said Brett to himself,
but he betrayed not the slightest unwillingness
to fall in with the arrangements made for his re-
ception, and lounged back in a comfortable chair
io easily that not even the quick-witted Turk

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suspected that the banister's hip pocket contained
a very serviceable revolver.

Hnssein-ul-Mnlk commenced the conversation.
" I have," he said, " a couple of friends here who are
interested in the matter you were good enough to
mention to me yesterday. With your permission
T will introduce them," and he threw open another
door with a single Turkish word which Brett imagined
was an invitation to enter.

Two men came from an adjoining room. They
were Turks — swarthy, evil-looking customers, but
well-dressed, and evidently persons of consequence
in their own country. The new-comers eyed the
barrister curiously, and with no very friendly

A brief conversation in Turkish resulted in
Hussein-ul-Mulk addressing Brett.

" I must apologize for the fact that my friends
here only speak their native tongue. Before we
proceed to business I wish to ask you a few ques-

" Certainly," said Brett ; " go ahead."

" You mentioned to me yesterday that you had
no desire to invoke the aid of the police in prosecuting
the inquiry which interests you."

" Quite right," said Brett.

" May I ask if you have adhered to that in-
tention ? "

" Absolutely."

'*Well, Mr.— Mr. "—Hussein-ul-Mulk consulted
a visiting card — " Mr. Reginald Brett, I think, is
your name ? It would be idle on my part to compli-
ment you on your bravery, but it would be still
more futile to attempt to conceal from you the
danger of the position in which you now stand/*

" Sit," corrected Brett, still smiling.

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** Well," said the Turk, " we will not quibble about
words. The fact remains, Mr. Brett, that you have
needlessly thrust yourself into an enterprise of such
a desperate character that all interlopers can be dealt
with only in one way."

" You kill them," said Brett, airily.

" Yes," said the Turk, " I deeply regret to inform
you that you have guessed the object of my remarks
with the singular skill you have already betrayed
in reaching the existing position. I can only add
that I am surprised the same skill did not influence
you to avoid forcing upon us the only alternative

" Am I to be killed at once ? " said Brett, speak-
ing with a slight affectation of boredom.

Even the self-possessed Turk could not conceal his
amazement at the manner in which his strangfe
visitor conducted himself.

" That is a point we have not yet decided," he said.
" We are strangely unwilling to take the life of such
a brave man as yourself. If we were assured of your
silence, we would even be disposed to permit you
to escape this time, with a solemn warning not to
cross our path again.« But we feel that clemency is
out of the question. There is one hope — a slight one,
it is true — ^which may permit us to gag you and tie
you securely in this room, where you will be left in
peace for at least forty-eight hours, after which time
a telegram can be despatched to any address you
choose to supply us with. But really, owing to
unforeseen circumstances, this chance of a reprieve is
remote. It wholly depends upon the arrival, or
otherwise, at this house, of a gentleman whom we
expect at II. 15."

Brett leaned forward in his chair, and took out
his watch. The other misimderstood his move-

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ment, and each of the three men promptly produced
a revolver.

Brett laughed quite heartily. " Really, gentle-
men,'' he cried, " your nervousness is ludicrous."

He saw that he yet had five minutes' grace before
his self-constituted judges would proceed to execute
their sentence. As for the Turks, they were mani-
festly ashamed of having betrayed such trepidation,
and they replaced the weapons so readily staged.

" That is a point in my favour," thought Brett.
" Next time, if I do wish to reach my revolver, I may
be able to get the draw on them first."

"Durmg the interval," said Hussein-ul-Mulk
suavely, " is there an5^hing you wish to do — any
letters to write, or that sort of thing ? "

" No," said Brett, " I do not think so ; it seems
to me that you have thoroughly misunderstood
the purpose of this meeting. I came here in order
to obtain from you particulars which will lead to the
release of Mr. Talbot and redeem his character in
the eyes of his superiors. I did not come here to be
killed, Hussein-ul-Mulk. I am not going to be
killed. If you touch a hair of my head you will only
leave this house for a prison, and subsequently for
the gallows. And so, you see, you are talking
childishly when you dangle these threats and pre-
liminaries to immediate execution before my eyes.
It is not you, but I, who will dictate the terms on
which we part. It may perhaps interest you to
explain this new phase of the situation to your
fellow-countrymen, and the matter will also serve
to dissipate the few minutes which yet have to
elapse before 11 15."

Hussein-ul-Mulk made no direct reply to this
remarkable speech. That it impressed him was
quite evident from his manner. Forthwith an

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animated but subdued conversation took place
between the triumvirate.

While it was yet in progress a peculiar knock
was heard on the outside door of the apartment.

" Ah ! he comes,** said Hussein-ul-Midk in French.
He left the room in order to meet the new arrival.
He returned without delay, bringing with him a
man very different from those whom Brett had
encountered thus far in connection with the crime.
This was a dapper little Frenchman, wizened,
yellow-skinned, black-haired, and dressed almost
in the extreme of fashion. He at once addressed
himself to the barrister.

" They tell me, my friend," he said, " that you
have thrust your finger into the pie which the
friends of his Majesty the Sultan are preparing for
him. It is a bad business. You are too soon for
the banquet. The result is that your poor little
finger may get burnt, as the pie is still being cooked.'*

The man smiled maliciously at his feeble witti-
cism, and Brett instantly took his measure
as a member of the gang of flash thieves which
infest Paris. He knew that such a ruffian was
both pitiless and cowardly. Whatever the outcome
of the situation which faced him, he would not stoop
to conciliatory methods with this despicable rascal.

** I suppose," he said, " that the only part of
the affair which concerns you is the robbery."

"Well, and what if it is?"

** I can only say that your political friends will
be well advised to keep a close eye on you, for you
would rob them just as soon as the persons against
whom they have employed you."

The little thief laughed cynically. "You are
right, tnon vieux. I would be delighted to have
t^ chance. But this time it is impossible. The

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stones are too big. They are worth — pouf! —
millions of francs, so I must be content to receive
my pay, which is good."

" Have you entrusted the Sultan*s diamonds to
the care of a scamp like this ? " said Brett, addressing
himself to Hussein, and inwardly resolving that
unless the conversation by chance took a turn
favourable to himself, he would forthwith open
fire on the gang and endeavour to escape.

" Yes," cried the conspirator with a savage laugh.
" You have never seen them, Mr. Brett ? Here
they are. To many men the sight would be a
pleasant one. To you it should be terrible, for the
arrival of these diamonds at this moment means
that you must die."

So saying, he produced from an inner pocket of
his frock-coat a large, plain morocco case. The
pressure of a spring caused the lid to fly back, re-
vealing to the eyes of those in the room a collection
of diamonds marvellous by reason of the size and
magnificence of each stone.

In the centre reposed the Imperial diamond
itself. For an instant Brett reflected that whilst
the other men were fascinated by the spectacle, he
would have a good opportunity to shoot some of them
without mercy and make a dash for liberty.

But at the same moment there came to him an
odd thought. His friend the jeweller of the Rue
de la Paix had not given him a lesson in vain during
the previous afternoon.

The barrister suspected — in fact, he was almost
sure — that the gems now flaunting their half-revealed
glories in the light of the day — for not one of them
had undergone the final process peculiar to the dia-
mond-cutter's trade — ^were not the real stones stolen
from Albert Gate, but well fabricated substitutes.

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To his acute brain there came an immediate
confirmation of his theory. Evidently the diamonds
had not been previously in the Turk*s possession.
The little Frenchman had just delivered them,
and this in itself was a strange circumstance in
view of the fact that the genuine stones must have
been in Paris at least three days.

Brett concentrated all his dramatic faculties in
look, voice, and gesture.

" You fools ! " he cried. " You have been
swindled by a device which a child might suspect.
These are not the Sultan's diamonds. These are
frauds — cleverly concocted bits of crystal and alum
— intended to keep you happy until you return to
Constantinople and discover how thoroughly you
were deceived."

" You lie ! " roared the little Frenchman. " They
are genuine."

Brett wanted to punch the diminutive scoundrel
heavily in the face, but he restrained himself.
Turning with a magnificent assumption of courteous-
ness to Hussein-ul-Mulk, he said —

" Come, I told you you were acting childishly ;
this proves it. A most outrageous attempt has
been made to swindle you, if I may use such a term
to persons who confessedly are plotting to rob
another. Surely this will convince you that you
have nothing to fear from me. I am here as the
agent neither of Sultan nor police. It is a simple
matter for you to verify my statement. All that is
necessary is for one of your party to take any of
these alleged diamonds — I would suggest the
smallest one so as not to create suspicion — to any
jeweller in tlie district, and he will test it for you
immediately, thus proving the truth of my
Btatement. Look here ; I will convince you myself."

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He took the monster diamond irreverently in his
hand before Hussein-ul-Mulk could prevent him
and turned to the window. He pressed the stone
against the glass and tried to make it cut. It
failed. He placed it against his cheek. It was warm.
A pure diamond would be icy cold. More than
this, a small portion of the composition of which
the imitation had been hastily concocted, broke off
in his fingers.

"You see," he laughed. "Do you require
further proof ? "

Even while he spoke the diminutive little French-
man turned and bolted. One of the Turks drew
a revolver and rushed after him, but Hussein-ul-Mulk
uttered some authoritative words which prevented
the man from firing. The Frenchman was evidently
an adept in the art of dodging pursuit. In
the passage he ducked suddenly, and threw the
Turk heavSy to the ground. Then, without further
interference, he slipped the latch of the door and
slammed it hastily behind him, leaving Brett silently
laughing at Hussein-ul-Mulk and his remaining
confederate, whilst the gentleman who had been
upset was slowly regaining his disturbed gravity.

" Can it be possible that what you say is true ? **
said Hussein-ul-Mulk, in such piteous accents that
Brett was moved to further mirth.

" Surely you do not doubt the evidence ? " he
said. " Take any of these stones ; thej' will
crumble to pieces on the hearth if struck the
slightest blow. See, I will pulverise one with my

And he did so, though the amazed and despairing
men whom he addressed would have restrained
him, for they still could not bring themselves to

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** Come, now," he went on " axouse yourselves ;
and give me the information I want. That is the only
way in which you may attain your ends. Of course
I cannot help you. It may be that as you have
bungled matters so badly, the authorities will stop
you and land you all in prison ; but that is no concern
of mine. At this moment I simply wish to release
my friend and proclaim his innocence. For the
rest, you must tsJce care of yourselves. You know
best who it is that has so thoroughly outwitted

Hussein-ul-Mulk was the first to recover his
scattered senses.

" We cannot choose but believe you, Mr. Brett,"
he said. " We are even indebted to you for making
this disastrous discovery at such an early date.
We paid our agents so highly that we thought their
honesty was assured. We find we are mistaken,
and consequently we apologise to you for using threats
which were unnecessary. We rely on your honour
not to incriminate us with the police. All we can
tell you is that your friend is not dead, but we do
not know his whereabouts."

"Nonsense," cried Brett angrily. "Why do
you seek to mislead me in this fashion ? "

" Sir," said the Turk, " I am telling you the truth.
We believe that Mr. Talbot is a prisoner in London,
but we do not know in what locality. My friends
here and myself, as you have already surmised, are
merely members of a political organisation. It
was necessary for us to secure possession of the
Imperial diamond and its companions. We spared
no expense, nor hesitated at any means that would
accomplish our purpose. We have been foiled for
the moment. I can tell you nothing else, and I
advise you to leave us and forget that such persons

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Online LibraryLouis TracyThe Albert Gate mystery → online text (page 7 of 20)