FICTION

The Affair of the Plaque

Beauty in peril and a midnight adventure on the Mediterranean Express

ALAN SULLIVAN September 15 1932
FICTION

The Affair of the Plaque

Beauty in peril and a midnight adventure on the Mediterranean Express

ALAN SULLIVAN September 15 1932

The Affair of the Plaque

FICTION

ALAN SULLIVAN

THEY took the table opposite mine in the dining-car of the Mediterranean express, and were, I think, the most distinguished looking pair I had ever seen. Both foreign, and, one would say, Russian. She had an oval face, large widely-set dark eyes, a lovely brow, and the unnameable something that comes with centuries of breeding. It was a face that one could not escape, and 1 counted mvself fortunate in viewing it against a background of flashing blue

water. She might have been twentyfive.

The man presented much the same type. About forty, he wore a short-pointed beard. No less of an aristocrat tnan his companion, he had, I took it, more force, more decision. Slimly built, his motions suggested a sort of steely strength, and his manner toward the girl was that of authority masked under a very cosmopolitan courtliness. Suddenly, though it may have been due to the curiosity of a rather blasé traveller. I got the impression that beneath their superficial calm were a tenseness and strain that called for no little art in concealment. Their mutual attitude, I thought, was almost too poised, too unruffled. And they displayed not the slightest interest in the exquisite coast we traversed.

A little later my eyes were pulled round, and, magnetized, I stared into hers.

She seemed quite lost ; not as though finding in me the least trace of attraction, but, as it were, weighing and considering me, balancing me in her mind as being or not being suitable for some confidence or approach. She was totally absorbed, and this intensive stare lasted while one might have counted ten. It was broken by the man. “Dushenka!"

She dropped me — it was like that — and. turning to him, gave a careless

gave a

shrug. 1 hen she spoke in Russian—apparently in protest.

The man sent me a swift look, the kind both searching and impeccably polite, and began to talk. I could not understand a word, but the effect was noticeable because she seemed, finally, to yield, ixxjded several times, and turned to watch the string of white-walled, red-roofed villas that reach from Cannes to St. Raphael. I lingered over my coffee till the two went back to the tcaron-lil.

An hour later the man appeared at the door of my compartment and made a very formal bow.

“Is it that monsieur permits me to speak to him?”

“With pleasure.” said I. “Come in."

He bowed again, sat down, and took out a gold cigarette case with a diamond monogram.

“Monsieur will do me the pleasure?”

“Thanks; I prefer Virginias.”

He smiled, lit one of his own, and, leaning forward, tapped the folding table between us with a finger so white that one might easily have missed its strength.

“What I have to say,” he began, “is, yes, a little difficult. We do not know each other; and since for my purposes it is not necessary, will monsieur be content if it remains that way?”

Clever! thought I, almost too clever! Then, aloud, “As you like, sir. What is it you wish to say?”

“I find myself on the edge of a delicate position. It has occurred before, and exjxrience proves that I am justified in every attempt to prevent it happening again. That, if you please, will bring my pardon for this intrusion.”

“Quite all right,” said I.

“Monsieur does not know Russia, that is, the Russia of some years ago?”

“No.”

He gave a shrug. “Whether you are privileged or not I cannot tell, but if you did. my real name—which I do not use when travelling—might have been familiar. Today, my niece and I are outcasts like thousands of others. I will not burden you with the story of our escape, but the result of what she went through has been deplorable. Monsieur, she is not herself. Outwardly -yes—normal, but at times she has nxxxls that call for all my control, and in these nxxxis she will imagine that with this person or that lies her security. Picture to yourself a young girl of twenty-four who finds herself thus misled.”

He said this looking at me very straight, giving it in a most cultivated voice full of rich shades and inflections. He was perfectly dressed, with all the insignia of good birth, and I particularly noticed the extreme whiteness of the scalp from which his black hair sprang in profusion.

"Is there any way in which I can be of use?”

“Monsieur, there is, nor is it necessary to do anything whatever. To explain this, I must speak again of my niece. We have been staying in Cannes for the past month. To her body the sun did grxxi, but for the good of her mind there were too many other Russians there, and they talked constantly of the one thing we have to talk about—the tragic events of 1917—the flight, carrying with us what we could; the ruin; the separations; the end of all for us. What her childish memory had lost, that the others supplied her. This, monsieur, brought on again the mood of which I spoke, so I decided that we go to England. Last night she was very strange; today at lunch I saw the look she sent you. I know that look, and have come here to ask that if she should address you. as she may, you will not misunderstand. She is young, beautiful, and—well, you are a man of experience, so I beg that you will disregard everything. That I do not offer you her name or mine is out of regard for a circumstance most unfortunate.”

Thus concluding, he lit another cigarette almost without looking at it, and gave me a glance which suggested that he knew quite well that what ha said lay open to any interpretation I might choose to put on it: and it was this voiceless admission of his, this acceptance of the possibility of my pointing to the door, and announcing that his little game had been played once too often, that decided me not to commit myself in any manner whatever. The fact was that I had become vastly curious to know just how and where the girl came in, and very much hoped that she would speak.

"Do you wish me to communicate with you if anything occurs?” I asked.

He made an indescribable gesture. “That, monsieur, is not in my mind at all. In such an event, will it not be clear that she is—how shall I put it—possessed of strange ideas born only in her own imagination? It is pathetic. At times she considers herself in danger, and -though you will smile at it—from me.”

Something faintly observable in his manner as he said

Beauty in peril and a midnight adventure on the Mediterranean Express

this, gave me for an instant another glimpse of his unusual ¡personality. These two. I argued, noting the natural alertness and grace of the man, might be of any kind, straight or otherwise; it was easily conceivable that they were in collusion, and the girl’s later approach—if she did approach —was an understood thing. Whatever ulterior motive there might be, I could not fathom, but it now behooved me to step warily.

“She has fear of you?” I hazarded.

“Of me, her uncle. It is grotesque but sad, and something that memories of the child have stirred in the brain of the woman ! The rest, monsieur, I feel that I can leave to you.”

Getting up, he made another bow and went off after a final apology for his visit.

THE TRAIN was now between St. Raphael and Toulon, and I did not see either of them again during the afternoon. Nor at dinner. The lady, I heard from the porter, had compartment 3, her companion No. 4. I was at the other end in No. 10. Their luggage, I also learned, was labelled through to a well known and expensive hotel in London. It bore the name of Yussiloff.

I did not sleep well, and some time after midnight there came the very faintest tapping at my door. I lay still. It came again, quite distinct through the rhythmic rumble of wheels. It seemed that I had been waiting for this, and, with a curious lack of surprise, got up, slipped on a dressing gown and opened the door.

The girl stood there in a blue wrap with a deep collar of white fur, very pale, her dark eyes large and luminous. Gazing at me in the most imploring fashion possible, she put her finger to her lips. I did not speak, or know what to do. The corridor was empty. In the next moment she stepped forward and closed the door.

“Look at me!” she said in a tense whisper. "Hard—the harder the better; then I will tell you why. Please—please do not be afraid of me.”

I could only obey. She was very beautiful, and about her not the remotest suggestion of what I had half expected to find. The curve from temple to chin was quite perfect, the brows a dark and lovely arch, the bare throat like milk. Her face held courage and a sort of amused contempt for what 1 might be thinking of the situation in which we now found ourselves. This to me was serious enough, and it was only natural that I should have concluded that she, at any rate, had nothing to lose by it.

“Well,” she went on with a little lift of the head, “I am here, in your compartment. It is midnight. You think— well—I can imagine that, and if you tell me to go now, without a word, I will do so. What does monsieur say?”

This in a tone of the most complete assurance, and backed by a fibre in her voice that was strangely arresting, moved me oddly. I was only human, and my curiosity had outdistanced all prudence.

“Will mademoiselle have a cigarette?" I ventured.

This brought a look of gratitude and relief.

“A/t—mille mercis!” She seated herself where the man had sat, and I snapped my lighter. Presently, regarding not me but the tip of the cigarette, she began;

“Monsieur, the most difficult moment is over. My uncle—yes—he is my uncle-talked with you after lunch, and what he said I can imagine. Shall I tell you?”

"As mademoiselle wishes.” I was fighting against an intimacy that would have gone to the heads of most men.

She did, and so correctly did she repeat it as to stir suspicion into stronger life than before. There must assuredly be some collusion between these two. But I said nothing.

“That, monsieur, was his story?”

I nodded. _

“But if I were to swear to you that it is all a lie—all of it which of us would you believe?”

She ¡uít this with profound earnestness, but it was in my mind that I would believe neither.^ Why should I?

“That is a rather hard question.”

“Do you know what fear is?” she flung back at me.

“Yes, I have known it.”

“Of a kind, perhaps, but the fear that a woman can have of a man that you will never know. I have something to beg of vou. Will you hear me?”

Huddling her white shoulders together, crumpling the slow wave of her breast and staring at me with ¡petitionary eyes, this soft and exquisite creature compassed in her oval face and smooth, delectable body the goal of man s desire, yet for all of it without any effort to attract, heedless of time and place, possessed, it seemed, of but one

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overpowering resolve. The man’s warning flashed back to me. but I thrust it aside, and asked her to go on.

“Out of Russia,” she said, “I am Vera Yussiloff, but that is not my real name. Were it known, I should not be on this train. The man with me is my father’s brother and a traitor to his family. He deserted those of his own blood and joined the communists. You have heard of the Cheka, the secret police of the Soviet, a company who are merciless and all powerful?”

“Yes.”

“My uncle is today one of their agents, a man whose single word may mean torture, whose gesture can bring death. An aristocrat himself, he is now the hidden enemy of every well-born Russian émigré.”

“Not yours,” said I, wondering what truth there might be in this.

“My watcher, if not my enemy. Monsieur, I have a brother in prison in Leningrad, where for three years he has shivered and starved in darkness, but there are ways, even in Russia, of reaching him. Also”— here she made a motion of abhorrence—“I am desired by one of the chief lieutenants of Stalin, the dictator, a man whom I loathe. The one man I loved and shall forever love is dead. He fought in the White Army under Denikin. Perhaps,” she added with a meaning look, “you will not be sorry to know this.”

I nodded, though it was not the sort of story I had somehow expected; then asked myself what, after all, might one anticipate from a woman like this. She had no signmarks. And if it was not the truth she gave me, then she was the greatest actress the world has ever known. Í waited.

“Monsieur, I am on my way to London for a purix)se at which my uncle has guessed. In England I can—I shall make arrangements with a third person to bring about the release of my brother. Money can do anything in the world, even in Russia.”

“I’m sorry,” said I stiffly, “but—”

She sent me a hx>k of complete disillusionment.

"Did I ask you for money?”

“No.”

"Nor shall I. There is enough—more than enough. What my mother carried with her from Russia is not yet exhausted. Perhaps, since you are English, 1 should have begun with that assurance.”

That got under the skin, and I flushed a little.

“I’m sorry, mademoiselle, but you must admit that—”

She silenced me with a wave of the hand, stared fixedly at the door, put her linger to her liixs, and ceased to breathe. I stared too, and this palpitating moment seemed to establish an alliance between us. Thus for a stinging instant, but there came to us only the steady rumble of wheels. Moving on tiptoe, 1 jerked open the door. The jxissage was empty.

“Some one was there,” she whispered, trembling.

“That is impossible.’“Monsieur, nothing is impossible with us. Every member of the Cheka fears the Cheka, for of each other they know nothing —only the central control—and shadow moves behind shadow. On this train now, tonight, my uncle may be shadowed.”

r"PHERE is in the average Englishman an objection against anything that strikes him as being designedly theatrical, and it appeared to me that we had now reached the point where a few cold and obvious facts would be more than welcome. The hour was well after midnight, and I was closeted in my compartment with a young and very beautiful woman of foreign birth, of whom I knew nothing save what she herself told me. That had already strained my credulity. Close by in another compartment was her male companion of whom I was equally ignorant, and the risks of tire

situation were so transparent that I was not prepared to face them.

“Will you do something for me?” she asked with imploring earnestness.

“That—well—depends.”

“It means nothing, no expense, no danger to you, but everything to me.”

“I was not thinking of expense, mademoiselle.”

"It is such a very little thing, and you will not see me, ever again afterward. That” —here she gave me a lightning glance of understanding—“that should assure you.” “What is it?”

Her whole soul moved in her eyes as she answered.

“Only to take something now, and restore it to me later in England when I ask for it, and never, never to any one else. You will give me your address, and—”

It was at this moment that there sounded quite unmistakably a rapid drumming at the door such as might be made by a firm finger nail. The latch clicked, the handle turned. The girl stood transfixed, and as the door opened thrust something into my hand with a motion inconceivably quick, shifting as she did so to screen the movement of her arm. I took it without seeing it, slid it into my pocket, and a fraction of a second later the Russian, fully dressed, stepped into the compartment.

What then followed I shall always remember, and its dramatic quality is sharpened by the tragic sequence that attended our arrival in Paris. Yussiloff’s face was haunted, and I had a fleeting but vivid impression that this was not due to what he now discovered, but to the fact that he had met fear elsewhere and brought it with him. He bowed to me, and gave the girl, whose face was pale as death, one swift look. He did not seem vexed, yet there was about him something that, had I been his dog, would have made me cringe. The girl shivered, and put her hand to her throat.

"Monsieur,” said he, "I apologize for my niece, and beg you to forgive this occasion. I think you will now admit that what I told you this afternoon was justified.”

His colorless tone and the extraordinary reserve with which he spoke, produced in me an unexpected effect. It was cold with a deadly hostility, though not against myself, and for the girl in that moment I feared all things. What they might be to each other, I could not fathom, but did get a vague suggestion of some link, the severing of which by either of them would bring final and fatal results. The man might or might not be a shadow of the Cheka, or shadowed by them, but in that instant I saw him as a menace, formidable, ruthless, inflexible, and whatever I felt for myself, for the girl I experienced infinitely more.

“There is no harm done,” I stammered. “Mademoiselle slept badly—she was in the corridor—so was I. We talked. We had a cigarette. That, sir, is all.”

Now if in return he had asked whether it was my custom to encourage ladies who were strangers to me to smoke inside the closed door of my compartment after midnight, I should not have had a word to say; but, somehow, I did not expect this, nor did he put any question of the sort. Obviously, it was not in his mind, and he waited for an uncertain instant, scrutinizing me with boring eyes whose dark and brilliant depths were absolutely baffling. Then he made a gesture of dismissal.

“Dushenka, please go at once.”

She darted along the passage. I heard her door bang, and thought I caught the click of the lock. The man made his formal bow.

"Adieu, monsieur. I suggest that should we ever meet again we have not the honor of each other’s acquaintance. For my part I shall not know you.”

TJT E DID NOT. The next time I saw him -*• was in the morning just after the train reached Paris. He lay on the floor of his compartment, quite dead, with a knife

sticking into his back below the left shoulder blade.

I was leaving the station, thankful at not having caught sight of either of them, when a commotion arose on the platform at which we arrived, and with a dim sort of anticipation I went back. Gendarmes were swarming in and out of the wagon-lit, and a little crowd had surrounded the porter who stood in evident distress, wiping the sweat from his face. At sight of me he looked relieved, and shouldered toward me.

“You, monsieur, you talked to him—you will tell these officers. Mon dieu! What an affair!”

“Talked with whom?” said I.

“The Russian gentleman, yesterday, in the afternoon, in your compartment. Is it not so?”

“Certainly.”

At this I was touched on the shoulder by another man, who explained that he was the Gare de Lyons detective, and desired me to follow him. Then it was that I saw Yussiloff. His locked door had been opened by the porter’s master-key when the train arrived. The inside key was missing.

What next ensued was tedious but inevitable, and with the mysterious packet in my breast pocket I answered a long round of questions with every possible caution. Yes, I had talked with Monsieur Yussiloff, which was, he told me, his name, and it proved to agree with the passport found on the body. No, there had been no argument. He had expressed no fear of any one or anything. He mentioned his niece, who, he informed me, was suffering from an attack of nerves. No—and here I lied fluently—I had not met the niece, nor even seen her since luncheon on the previous day. I believed that the two were bound for England. Yes, so far as I knew they were on good terms, but, actually, I had no information, and what passed between myself and Yussiloff was only the casual chat of fellow travellers.

This produced a sort of impasse during which my interrogators frowned at each other, and I managed to get in a few questions on my own account. The man, I gathered, had been stabbed within the past two hours, for the body was still quite warm. There was absolutely no clue so far. The girl, it was now believed, must have left the train with her hand luggage at Dijon, and escaped observation by going forward and disembarking from the day coach. Enquiries were being made there by telegraph. Such was the force with which the knife had been used that it was hardly credible that she could have committed the murder. As an alternative, it might have been the act of one who jumped from the train at a point between Dijon and Paris where speed had been reduced on account of main line track repairs. There was, however, no reason to suspect collusion between the girl and a third person, and the porter had not observed on the wagon-lit any individual who had not the right to be there. The heavy luggage would shortly be examined, and, meantime, the authorities desired to inspect my passport.

I left Paris by the afternoon train for Boulogne, and, again alone in my compartment, examined the packet with mounting curiosity. Flat, some three inches wide and five long, it was in tissue paper, sealed with green wax. The wax bore no impress. Pinching it, the enclosure felt hard and irregular.

I was in a quandary. Doubtless on account of this thing the murder had been committed, and my position as its present guardian was exceedingly awkward. The Cheka ! At once I felt that at this moment there might be a shadow on my own trail, and in my back developed an uncomfortable sensation. The wise course was, without any attempt at secrecy, to hand the packet to the police on my arrival in England, make an affidavit concerning it, and rid myself of the whole business. That was prudence—and the Cheka could deal with Scotland Yard.

Against it I put the look in the girl’s eyes when she thrust the thing into my hand, begging that it be returned to none but herself, and in recalling that, and her, and the superb indifference with which she faced the interpretation that I must naturally have put on her midnight visit, it now seemed that for a little while I had been in touch with a lovely, lonely and valiant spirit, who, in spite of outward calm, lived in a world of cold fact very close to danger and death. How easy to misjudge! How little, thought I, do we mortals really know of each other! This girl, was she too dead— or in such case that she would prefer death? Had the merciless hand of the Cheka closed on her too?

This was all guesswork, but at any rate it aroused sympathy to the extent that I found myself opening the packet. Inside lay a thin packet of cotton wool. Inside that something at which my eyes bulged.

I know a good deal about precious stones and have a fair collection of my own, but what lay here surpassed anything one had ever seen outside some very notable crown jewels. The thing had been part of something else, possibly a plaque, from which it was hacked, leaving rough edges of very yellow gold. This gold made a heavy filagree setting for cabouchon rubies and emeralds of astonishing size and purity. There were twelve of each, varying in size from a large pea to a small acorn, and I could but vaguely hazard their value. The design was florid and massive, but not attractive, the effort of the jeweller being evidently to assemble a fortune in gems in the smallest possible compass, and the workmanship suggested the seventeenth century.

OUCH things have for those like myself an extraordinary fascination that is quite remote from their intrinsic worth. They stimulate, excite the senses, the imagination, and set the brain a-voyaging whence they came, so that we picture the dark hands through which they first passed, and the white breasts they once adorned. Their color takes on a human warmth; their brilliance is the refraction from lovely eyes that once glowed over their beauty. And for me these stones were associated with the most exquisite woman I had ever seen.

I did not turn them over to the police, but put them in a private safe with the rest of my collection, kept silence, and waited.

To my relief, and on account of a spate of political news, the Paris papers did not make a sensation of the murder, and no evidence was forthcoming that got under the surface. Yussiloff and his niece had, in fact, been with the Russian colony of Cannes for a month or so. Since that fatal night, the girl had vanished. There was no mention of any property of value, nor were papers found that threw authentic light on the previous history of either. The knife by which Yussiloff died was of Austrian make, fine steel, with a razor edge and leather grip. The porter of the wagon-lit admitted under examination that he had slept, as he usually did, from 6.30 to 7.30, the train being due at the Gare de Lyons at 8.00.

A fortnight later, by which time I had become increasingly restless, I switched on my wireless for the nine o’clock news, and the familiar voice startled me to rigid attention by saying:

“We are asked by the Commissioner of Police to broadcast the following. On the evening of December 11 a young woman was found on the Thames Embankment in an exhausted condition. She appears to be about twenty-five, is five feet, eight inches in height, has long hair, thin, oval face, large dark eyes, pale clear skin, and is of foreign and seemingly Russian birth. She wore a caracul overcoat, no hat, black georgette frock with small round collar of fine lace, black silk stockings, black shoes. Her clothing, from which the makers’ labels had been removed, is believed to be of French manufacture. When spoken to, she

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page was very weak and could not answer intelligibly, and is apparently suffering from loss of memory. She is now in Charing Cross Hospital. Will any person who can give any information concerning her, please telephone to The Commissioner of Police, Victoria 6000, or to any police station.”

This announcement produced in me an effect difficult to describe. It created a rush of loyalty, roused a profound pity, shamed all my doubts. There was nothing I had left undone in the matter, but I felt horribly guilty. In whose hands had she been since that night on the Paris express? What might she not have suffered? I must report to the authorities at once.

But, equally, I saw that any such action must inevitably link her with the murder of Yussiloff. She was wanted by the French police in that connection. How she had evaded them and reached London I could not imagine, but I did know that in my private safe was the thing that had brought her. And she could not know where I was!

This settled it. I went to the hospital at once, the jewelled plaque in my pocket, fabricating my story on the way. Recalling it now, it sounds most plausible. Yussiloff had addressed the girl as Dushenka. I knew what that meant, but would the superintendent at the hospital also know? I thought not, and in this was right, for after a few moments w'ith the matron, during which my card was sent up, I was told that the lady would be overjoyed to see me.

I found her in a private room, a dark flower against the white of her pillows. When we were alone, she looked at me for an instant, an amazing welcome in her eyes, and stretched out her hands. I kissed them. Then she leaned back, and there was a little silence that I did not know how to break.

"What I gave you—you have it?”

I put the packet beside her, and immediately she saw that the seals were broken.

"You—you know!”

I nodded.

"You are an honest man. monsieur”— she glanced at my card—"Monsieur Blaydon.”

"I hope so.”

"In what other country would this packet have been returned to me? None!” She

unwrapped the thing, fingered it, pushed it under the pillow, and gave a long, long sigh of relief. Then she began to talk, and what she said I will put as nearly as possible in her own words.

"You must have wondered so much. Well, you will remember what I said of the Cheka, and how the Cheka shadows its own men. This was true, and on that train. Before I came to your compartment that night, I had seen a man’s back, a back that I knew, broad, heavy, like the back of a bull. This man was Carl Imhoff, also of the Cheka, and at once I guessed that my uncle was under suspicion.”

“Of what?” said I.

“The jewels! Treachery! The Soviet government, monsieur, has confiscated all such property of the nobility wherever it can be found, and my uncle, knowing that I had this, and for what purpose I was coming to England, followed me in order to secure it, not for the Cheka, but himself. That night he would have taken it from me by force before we reached Paris. Then, when I saw Carl, I knew I must hide them somewhere, and came to you. My uncle found me there, locked me in my compartment, and took the key. It was not long after that when Carl appeared. They talked, and I heard them, my ear to the door. My uncle swore that he knew nothing of the jewels, but Carl would not believe that, and searched him and the compartment. Then he came into mine, and—and made me disrobe while he searched there. Monsieur, he did not know, nor did my uncle tell him of my visit to you. After that he went back, and there was a quarrel. I heard the blow struck, and just one groan. Then I knew.”

She paused, trembling a little, eyes half closed, and, waiting, I could hear the rumble of traffic on Duncannon Street. Presently she went on in a sort of weak calm that moved me tremendously.

"I heard Carl leave the compartment and lock it, nor did I see him again. It took some time to make myself go in through the communicating door. My uncle was already dead. I found my key in his pocket, and, coming back, fastened that door. Then I packed my dressing case. We were now an hour beyond Dijon, with two hours to reach Paris, and if I went on to Paris I was lost.

I looked out. It was still very dark, with rain. What was I to do?”

"What did you do?” said I tensely.

"On this side of Montfort is the Forêt d’Outhe, and here the train for some reason ran very slowly. I went in front to the day carriage where the people were too sleepy to notice me, and jumped.”

"Good lord!”

"He was very kind that night,” said she with an odd twist of the lip, “and I was not hurt. After an experience of which some other time I will tell you, I arrived in England. But how was I to find you?”

I gaped at her, while the cleverness of her method took my breath, but she, it seemed, did not think it particularly clever, which gave me a new respect for her brain. How many Saxons, I wondered, would have thought of it—or dared it? But when informing me where she was, she had informed several millions of others.

"You see,” she went on, smiling for the first time, "I did not even know your name, so there was but one thing to do, and I did it.”

I nodded, and asked if now she thought she was quite safe, even in England.

“I do not know, but here, in this hospital, where I will stay so long as they will accept payment, I have no fears. Now, with all the thanks a woman can offer, I want to think very hard. Will you come back tomorrow?”

“Of course. When?”

"Shall we drink tea at four o’clock?” said she with a delectable look.

“I’ll be here.”

“And the police—what will you tell them?”

"I’ll think something out,” I said confidently. “You’re the friend of friends of mine, and getting over an illness. Something like that, but you’ll have to trust me for it. Will you?”

“Have I not already trusted you?” she murmured.

That shook me, and something in her eyes did the rest.

"Then—then till tomorrow?”

"Is that all? Just that!” Her gaze was very provocative.

Stooping, I kissed her, and went out rather quickly.

I sent the appropriate flowers, and turned up next day. The lady, I w'as told, was very much better, so markedly so that she had gone out for a short drive with another friend, a foreigner. He had called about three, a thickset, powerful man with an enormously broad back. I waited. She did not return. She never returned.

Y\ THAT I needed concerning the other W side of this business, I found a month later in a communication from the Warsaw correspondent of a London morning paper. It read thus:

“Through private sources news has been received from Leningrad of a dramatic affair, culminating in murder, which began with the theft of jewels of great value. These were part of the hoard of treasure confiscated from the Russian nobility by the Soviet Government in recent years. Among them was a stomacher composed of magnificent uncut rubies and emeralds.

“Some weeks ago these gems disappeared, and suspicion fastened on a gang of expert international thieves of Russian blood. There was a young and very beautiful woman, and two men, known as Yussiloff and Imhoff. It now appears that, though linked in crime, these two were rivals for the love of the woman. When the theft was successfully achieved, they were unwilling to trust each other and confided the booty to her care.

"Such were the circumstances that led up to the mysterious murder which our readers will remember took place in a sleeping-car of the Mediterranean express shortly before it reached Paris on the morning of November 26 last, when a body, later identified as that of Yussiloff, was found in a compartment. He had been stabbed in the back. The woman, who was on the train with him, had disappeared, and it is now understood that Imhoff, mad with jealousy, followed the two, and took desperate vengeance on his rival.

"The jewels are stated to be almost priceless, and there is but little likelihood that they will ever be recovered. In such cases they are always detached from their setting and disposed of individually to buyers in various localities.”