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"The Eyes of Max Carrados/Chapter 6"

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VI

The Missing Actress Sensation

FIRST NIGHTS are not what they were, even within the memory of playgoers who would be startled to hear anyone else refer to them as "elderly." But there are yet occasions of exception, and the production of Call a Spade—— at the Argosy Theatre was marked by at least one feature of note. The play itself was "sound," though not epoch-making. The performance of the leading lady was satisfactory and exactly what was to be expected from her. The leading gentleman was equally effective in a part which—as eight out of twelve dramatic critics happily phrased it on the morrow—"fitted him like a glove"; and on the same preponderance of opinion the character actor "contrived to extract every ounce of humour from the material at his disposal." In other words, Call a Spade—— might so far be relied upon to run an attenuating course for about fifty nights and then to be discreetly dropped, "pending the continuance of its triumphal progress at another West End house—should a suitable habitation become available."

But a very different note came into the reviews when the writers passed to the achievement of another member of the company—a young actress described on the programme as Miss Una Roscastle. Miss Roscastle was unknown to London critics and London audiences. She had come from Dublin with no very great dramatic reputation, but it is to be presumed that the quite secondary part which she had been given on her first metropolitan appearance was peculiarly suited to her talent. No one was more surprised than the author at the remarkable characterisation that "Mary Ryan" assumed in Miss Roscastle's hands. He was the more surprised because he had failed to notice anything of the kind at rehearsals. Dimly he suspected that the young lady had got more out of the part than he had ever put into it, and while outwardly loud in his expression of delight, he was secretly uncertain whether to be, pleased or annoyed. The leading lady also went out of her way to congratulate the young neophyte effusively on her triumph—and then slapped her unfortunate dresser on very insufficient provocation; but the lessee manager spoke of his latest acquisition with a curious air of restraint. At the end of the second act Miss Roscastle took four calls. After that she was only required for the first few minutes of the last act, and many among the audience noted with surprise that she did not appear with the company at the fall of the curtain—she had, in fact, already left the house. All the same the success of the piece constituted a personal triumph for herself. Thenceforth, instead of, "Oh yes, you might do worse than book seats at the Argosy," the people who had been, said, "Now don't forget; you positively must see Miss Roscastle in Call a Spade——," and as the Press had said very much the same, the difference to the box-office was something, but to the actress it was everything. Miss Roscastle, indeed, had achieved that rare distinction of "waking to find herself famous." Nothing could have seemed more assured and roseate than her professional future.

About a week later Max Carrados was interrupted one afternoon in the middle of composing an article on Sicilian numismatics by a telephone call from Mr Carlyle. The blind man smiled as he returned his friend's greeting, for Louis Carlyle's voice was wonderfully suggestive in its phases of the varying aspects of the speaker himself, and at that moment it conveyed a portrait of Mr Carlyle in his very best early-morning business manner—spruce and debonair, a little obtuse to things beyond his experience and impervious to criticism, but self-confident, trenchant and within his limits capable. In its crisp yet benign complacency Carrados could almost have sworn to resplendent patent boots, the current shade in suede gloves and a carefully selected picotee.

"If you are doing nothing better to-night, Max," continued the inquiry agent, "would you join me at the Argosy Theatre? I have a box, and we might go on to the Savoy afterwards. Now don't say you are engaged, there's a good fellow," he urged. "You haven't given me the chance of playing host for a month or more.'"

"The fact is," confessed Carrados, "I was there for the first night only a week ago."

"How unfortunate," exclaimed the other. "But don't you think that you could put up with it again?"

"I am sure I can," agreed Carrados. "Yes, I will join you there with pleasure."

"Delightful," crowed Mr Carlyle. "Let us say——" The essential details were settled in a trice, but the "call" had not yet expired and the sociable gentleman still held the wire. "Were you interested in Miss Roscastle, Max?"

"Decidedly."

"That is fortunate. My choice of a theatre is not unconnected with a case I have on hand. I may be able to tell you something about the lady."

"Possibly we shall not be alone?" suggested Carrados.

"Well, no; not absolutely," admitted Cariyle. "Charming young fellow, though. I'm sure you'll like him, Max. Trevor Enniscorthy, a younger son of old Lord Sleys."

"Conventional rotter, between ourselves?" inquired Max.

"Not a bit of it," declared Mr Cariyle loyally. "A young fellow of five and twenty is none the worse for being enamoured of a fascinating creature who happens to be on the stage. He is—— Oh, very well. Good-bye, Max. Eight-fifteen, remember."

They were all punctual. In fact, "If Mr Enniscorthy could have got me along we should have been here before the doors opened," declared Mr Carlyle when the blind man joined them. "Now why are there no programmes about here, I wonder?"

"I hardly fancy they anticipate their box-holders arriving twenty minutes before the curtain rises," suggested Carrados.

"There are some," exclaimed Mr Enniscorthy, dashing out as an attendant crossed the circle. He was back in a moment, and standing in the obscurity of the box eagerly tore open the programme. "Still in," he muttered, coming forward and throwing the paper down for the others to refer to. "Oh, excuse my impatience," he apologised, colouring. "I am rather——" He left them to supply the rest.

"Mr Enniscorthy has given me permission to explain his position, Max," began Mr Carlyle, but the young man abruptly cut short the proposition stated in this vein of deference.

"I'd rather put it that if Mr Carrados would help me with his advice I should be most awfully grateful," he said in a very clear, rather highly pitched voice. "I suppose it's inevitable to feel no end of an ass over this sort of thing, but I'm desperately in earnest and I must go through with it."

"Admirable!" beamed Mr Carlyle's inextinguishable eye, and he murmured: "Very natural, I am sure," in the voice of a man who has just been told to go up higher.

"Perhaps you know that there is a Miss Roscastle put down as appearing in this piece?" went on Enniscorthy. "Well, I knew Miss Roscastle rather well in Ireland. I came to London because—— I followed her here."

"Engaged?" dropped quietly from Carrados's lips.

"I cannot say that we were actually engaged," was the admission, "but it—well, you know how these things stand. At all events she knew what I felt towards her and she did not discourage my hopes."

"Did your people know of this, Mr Enniscorthy?"

"I had not spoken to my father or to my stepmother, but they might easily have heard something of it," replied the young man. "Miss Roscastle, although she did not go about much, was received by the very best people in Dublin. Of course for many things I did not like her being on the stage; in fact I detested it, but she had taken the step before I knew her, and how could I object? Then she got the offer of this London engagement. She was ambitious to get on in her profession, and took it. In a very short time I found it impossible to exist there without seeing her, so I made an excuse to get away and followed."

"Let me see," put in Mr Carlyle ingenuously; "I forget the exact dates."

"Miss Roscastle came on Monday, October the 4th," said Enniscorthy. "The piece opened on the following Thursday week—the 14th. I left Kingstown by the early boat yesterday. At this end we were nearly an hour late, and after going to my hotel, changing and dining, I had just time to come on here and bag the last stall I thought that I would send a note round after the first act and ask Una to give me a few minutes afterwards. But it never came to that. Instead I got a very large surprise. 'Mary Ryan' came on, and I looked—and looked again. I didn't need glasses, but I got a pair out of the automatic box in front of me and had another level stare. Well, it wasn't Miss Roscastie. This girl was like her. I suppose to most people they would be wonderfully alike, and her voice—although it wasn't really Irish—yes, her voice was similar. But to me there were miles of difference. I saw at once that she was an understudy, although 'Miss Una Roscastle' was still down in the programme, and I began to quake at the thought of something having happened to her.

"I slipped out into the corridor—I had an end seat—and got hold of a programme girl.

"'Do you know why Miss Roscastie is out of the cast to-night?' I asked her. 'Is she indisposed?'

"She took the programme out of my hand and pointed to a name in it.

"'She's in all right,' she replied—stupidly, I thought. 'There's her name.'

"'Yes, she is on the programme,' I replied, 'but not on the stage. Look through the glass there. That is not Miss Roscastle.'

"She glanced through the glazed door and then turned away as though she suspected me of chaffing her.

"'It's the only Miss Roscastle I've ever seen here,' she said as she went.

"I wandered about and interrogated one or two other attendants. They all gave me the same answer. I began to get frightened.

"'They must be misled by the resemblance,' I assured myself. 'It really is wonderful.' I went back to my seat and then remembered that I had got no further with my original inquiry, which was to find out whether Una was ill or not. I couldn't remain. I kept my eyes fixed on 'Mary Ryan' every time she was on the stage, and every time I became more and more convinced. Finally I got up again and going round sent in my card to the manager."

"Stokesey?" asked Carrados.

"Yes. I didn't know who was technically the right man, but he, at any rate, had engaged Miss Roscastle. He saw me at once.

"'I have come across from Dublin to see Miss Roscastle,' I told him, 'and I am very disappointed to find her out of the cast. Can you tell me why she is away?'

"'Surely you are mistaken,' he replied, opening a programme that lay before him. 'Do you know Miss Roscastle by sight?'

"'Very well indeed,' I retorted. 'Better than your staff do. The "Mary Ryan" to-night is not Miss Roscastle.'

"'I will inquire,' he said, walking to the door. 'Please wait a minute.'

"He was rigidly courteous, but instinct was telling me all the time that it was sheer bluff. He had nothing to inquire. In a moment he was back again.

"'I am informed that the programme is correct,' he said with the same smooth insincerity, standing in the middle of the room for me to leave. 'Miss Roscastle is on the stage at this moment. The make-up must have deceived you, Mr Enniscorthy.'

"I had nothing to reply, because I did not even know what to think. I simply proceeded to walk out.

"'One moment.' I had reached the door when Mr Stokesey spoke. 'You are a friend of Miss Roscastle, I suppose?'

"'Yes,' I replied. 'I think I may claim that.'

"'Then I would merely suggest to you that to start a rumour crediting her with being out of the piece is a service she would fail to appreciate. Good-evening.'

"I left the theatre because I despaired of getting any real information after that, and it occurred to me that I could do better elsewhere. Although Una and I did not correspond, I had begged her, before she left, to let me know that she arrived safely, and she had sent me just half-a-dozen lines. I now took a taxi and drove off to the address she had given—a sort of private hotel or large boarding-house near Holborn.

"'Can you tell me if Miss Roscastle is in?' I asked at the office.

"'Roscastle?' said the fellow there. 'Oh, the young lady from the theatre. Why, she left us more than a week ago—nearer two, I should say.'

"This was another facer.

"'Can you give me the address she went to?' I asked.

"'Couldn't; against our rule,' he replied. 'Any letters for her were to be sent to the theatre.'

"I didn't think it would be successful to offer him a bribe, so I thanked him and walked away. As the hall porter opened the door for me I dropped him a word. In two minutes he came out to where I was waiting.

"'A Miss Roscastle left here a week or two ago,' I said. 'They won't give me her address, but you can get it. Here's a Bradbury. I'll be here again in half-an-hour and if you've got the address—the house, not the theatre—there'll be another for you when I've verified it.'

"He looked a bit doubtful. Evidently a decent fellow, I thought.

"'It's quite all right,' I assured him. 'We are engaged, but I've only just come over.'

"He was waiting for me when I returned. The first thing he did was to tender me the note back again—a a piece of superfluous honesty that prepared me for the worst.

"'I'm sorry, sir, but it's no go,' he explained. 'The young lady left no address beyond the theatre.'

"'You called a cab for her when she went?' I suggested.

"'Yes, sir, but she gave the directions while I was bringing out her things. I never heard where it was to go.'"

"And that is as far as we have got up to this moment, Max," struck in Mr Carlyle briskly.

"I'm afraid it is," corroborated Enniscorthy. "I got round to the stage door here in time to see most of the people leave, but neither Miss Roscastle nor the girl like her were among them."

"She is off half-an-hour before the piece finishes," explained Carrados. "And of course she might not leave by the stage door."

"In any case it is an extraordinary enough business, is it not, Mr Carrados?" said Enniscorthy, rather anxious not to be set down a blundering young idiot for his pains. "What does it mean?"

"So far I would describe it as—curious," admitted Carrados guardedly. "Investigation may justify a stronger term. In the meanwhile we need not miss the play."

By this time the theatre had practically filled and the orchestra was tuning up for the overture. With nothing to occupy his attention, Mr Enniscorthy began to manifest an unhappy restlessness that increased until the play had been proceeding for some few minutes. Then Carrados heard Mr Carlyle murmur, "Charming! Charming!" in a tone of mature connoisseurship; there was a spontaneous round of applause and "Mary Ryan" was on the scene.

"The understudy again," Enniscorthy whispered to his companions.

"Well," remarked Mr Carlyle when the curtain descended for the first interval, "you are still equally convinced, Mr Enniscorthy?"

"There isn't the shadow of a doubt," he replied.

Carrados had been writing a few lines on one of his cards. He now summoned an attendant.

"Mr Stokesey is in the house?" he asked. "Then give him this, please—when you next go that way."

Before the curtain rose the girl came round to the box again.

"Mr Carrados?" she inquired. "Mr Stokesey told me to say that he would save you the trouble by looking in here during the next interval."

"Shall I remain?" asked Enniscorthy.

"Oh yes. Stokesey is a most amiable man to do with. I know him slightly. His attitude to you was evidently the outcome of the circumstances. We shall all get along very nicely."

The second act was the occasion of "Mary Ryan's" great opportunity and again she carried the enthusiasm of the audience. After the curtain the young actress had to respond to an insistent call. In the darkness Mr Stokesey entered the box and stood waiting at the back.

"Glad to see you here again, Mr Carrados," he remarked, shaking hands with the blind man as soon as the lights were up. Then he looked at the other occupants. "My word, I have put my head into the lion's den!" he continued, his smile deepening into a good-natured grin. "Don't shoot, Mr Enniscorthy; I will climb down without. I see that the game is up."

"What are you going to tell us?" asked Carrados.

"Everything I know. The lady who has just gone off is not Miss Roscastle. Mr Enniscorthy was quite right; she wasn't here last night either."

"Then why is her name still in the programme, and why do you and your people keep up the fiction?" demanded Enniscorthy.

"Because I hoped that Miss Roscastle might have returned to the cast to-night, and, failing to-night, I hope that she will return to-morrow. Because we happen to have a substitute in Miss Linknorth so extraordinarily like the original lady in appearance and voice that no one—excluding yourself—will have noticed the difference, and because I have a not unreasonable objection to announcing that the chief attraction of my theatre is out of the cast. Is there anything very unaccountable in that?"

Mr Carlyle nodded acquiescence to this moderate proposition; Enniscorthy seemed to admit it reluctantly; it remained for Carrados to accept the challenge.

"Only one thing," he replied with some reluctance.

"And what is that?"

"That Miss Roscastle will not return to the cast and that you are well aware why she never can return to it."

"I—what?" demanded the astonished manager.

"Miss Roscastle cannot return to the cast because she has never been in it."

Stokesey wavered, burst into a roar of laughter and sat down.

"I give in," he exclaimed heartily. "That's my last ditch. Now you really do know everything that I do."

"But why has she not been in?" demanded Enniscorthy.

"Better ask the lady herself. I cannot even guess."

"I will when I can find her." Not for the first time the young man was assailed by a horrid fear that he might have been making a fool of himself. "Where in the meantime is she?"

"The Lord alone knows," retorted Mr Stokesey feelingly. "Don't annihilate me, Mr Enniscorthy; I don't mean a member of the peerage. But, I'll tell you, the lady put me in a very deuced fix."

"Won't you take us into your confidence?" suggested Carrados.

"I will, Mr Carrados, because I want a consideration from you in return. I can put it into a very few words. Twenty minutes before the curtain went up on the first night a note was sent in to Miss Roscastle. She read it, put on her hat and coat and went out hurriedly by the stage door."

"Well?" said Carlyle encouragingly.

"That is all. That is the last we saw of her—heard of her. She never returned."

"But—but——" stammered Enniscorthy, and came up short before the abysmal nature of the prospect confronting him.

"There are a good many 'buts' to be taken into consideration, Mr Enniscorthy," said the manager, with a rather cryptic look. "Fortunately we had Miss Linknorth, and the first costume, as you know, is immaterial. Up to the last possible moment we hung on to Miss Roscastle's return. Then the other had to go on."

"With not very serious consequences to the success of the play, apparently," remarked Carrados.

"That's the devilment of it," exclaimed Stokesey warmly. "Don't you see the hole it has put me into? If 'Mary Ryan' had remained a negligible quantity it wouldn't have mattered two straws. But for her own diabolical vanity Miss Linknorth made a confounded success of the part. Of course it was too late to have any alteration printed on the first night and now Miss Roscastle is the draw of the piece. People come to see Miss Roscastle. Miss Roscastle is the piece."

"But if you explained that Miss Linknorth was really the creator of the part——" suggested Mr Carlyle.

Stokesey rattled a provocative laugh at the back of his throat.

"You run a theatre for a few seasons, my dear fellow, and then talk," he retorted. "You can't explain; you can't do anything; you can only just sit there. People cease to be rational beings when they set out for a theatre. If you breathe on a howling success it goes out. If you move a gold mine of a piece from one theatre to another, next door, everyone promptly decides to stay away. Don't ask me the reasons; there are none. It isn't a business; it ought to come under the Gaming Act."

"Mr Stokesey is also faced by the alternative that after he had announced Miss Linknorth, Miss Roscastle might appear any time and claim her place."

The manager nodded. "That's another consideration," he said.

"But could she?" inquired Mr Carlyle. "After absenting herself in this way?"

"Oh, goodness knows; I dare say she could—agreements are no good when it comes to anything happening. At any rate here am I with an element of success after a procession of distinct non-stops. If we get well set, whatever happens will matter less. Now I haven't gone to any Machiavellian lengths in arranging this, but I have taken the chance as it came along. I've told you everything I know. Is there any reason why you shouldn't do us all a good turn by keeping it strictly to yourselves?"

"I don't know that I particularly owe you any consideration, Mr Stokesey, or that you owe me any," announced Mr Enniscorthy. "Just now I am only concerned in discovering what has become of Miss Roscastle. You know her address?"

"In Kensington?"

"Well, yes."

"74 Westphalia Mansions."

"You sent there of course?"

"Heavens, yes! The various forms of messages must be six inches deep all over the hall by now. Last Friday I had a man sitting practically all day on her doorstep."

"But she has someone there—a housekeeper or maid?"

"I don't think so. She told me that she was taking a little furnished flat—asked me if the neighbourhood was a suitable one. I imagine there was something about a daily woman until she found how she liked it. We've had no one from there anyway."

"Then it comes to this, that for a week there has been absolutely no trace of Miss Roscastle's existence! Do you quite realise your responsibility, Mr Stokesey?" demanded Enniscorthy with increased misgivings.

The manager, who had turned to go, caught Mr Carlyle's eye over the concerned young man's shoulder. "I don't think that Miss Roscastle's friends need have any anxiety about her personal safety," he replied with expression. "At all events I've done everything I can for you; I hope that you will not fail to meet my views. If there's anything else that occurs to you, Mr Carrados, I shall be in my office. Good-night."

"Callous brute!" muttered Mr Enniscorthy. "He ought to have put it in the hands of the police a week ago."

Mr Carlyle glanced at Carrados, who had transferred his interest to the rendering of the last musical item of the interval.

"Possibly Miss Roscastle would prefer a less public investigation if she had a voice in the matter," said the professional man.

"If she happens to be shut up in some beastly underground cellar I imagine she would prefer whatever gets her out the soonest. I dare say it sounds fantastic, but such things really do happen now and then, you know, and why not?"

"You don't know of any threats or blackmailing letters?"

"No," admitted the young man; "but I do know this, that if Una was at liberty she would never allow another actress to take her place and use her name in this way."

"A very significant suggestion," put in Carrados from his detached attitude. "Mr Enniscorthy has given you a really valuable hint, Louis."

"I don't mean that Miss Roscastle is really out-of-the-way jealous," Enniscorthy hastened to add, "but in her profession——"

"Oh, most natural, most natural," agreed the urbane Carlyle. "Everyone has to look after his own interest. Now——"

"I don't suppose that you are particularly keen on this act," interposed the blind man. "Are you, Mr Enniscorthy?"

"I'd much rather be doing something," was the reply.

"I was going to suggest that you might go round to Westphalia Mansions, just to make sure that there is no one there now. Then if you would find your way to our table at the Savoy we could hear your report."

"Yes, certainly. I shall be glad to think that I can be of some assistance by going."

Mr Carlyle's optimistic temper was almost incapable of satire, but he could not refrain from, "You can—poor beggar!" on Enniscorthy's departure. "I suppose," he continued, turning to his friend, "I suppose you think that Stokesey may——? Eh?"

"I fancy that in the absence of our young friend he may be induced to become more confidential. He may have some good ground for believing that the missing lady will not upset his ingenious plan. He, at all events, discounts the 'underground cellar.'"

"Oh, that!" commented Carlyle with an indulgent smile. "But, after all, what is the answer, Max? Enniscorthy is a thoroughly eligible young fellow and this was the first chance of her career. What is the inducement?"

"That much we can safely emphasise. What, in a word, would induce an ambitious young lady to throw up a good engagement, Louis?"

"A better?" suggested Mr Carlyle.

"Exactly," agreed Carrados; "a better."

It is unnecessary to follow the course of Mr Carlyle's inquiry on the facts already disclosed, for, less than twenty-four hours later, the whole situation was changed and Mr Stokesey's discreet prevarication had been torn into shreds. The manager had calculated in vain—if he had calculated and not just accepted the chance that presented itself. At all events the fiction proved too elaborate to be maintained and late in the afternoon of the following day all the evening papers blazed out with the

"SENSATIONAL DISAPPEARANCE OF
POPULAR LONDON ACTRESS"

The event was particularly suited to the art of the contents bill, for when the news came to be analysed there was little else to be learned beyond the name of the missing actress and the fact that "at the theatre a policy of questionable reticence is being maintained towards all inquiry." That phrase caused two men at least to smile as they realised the embarrassment of Mr Stokesey's dubious position.

The conditions being favourable, the Missing Actress sensation caught on at once and effectually asphyxiated public interest in all the other sensations that up to that moment had been satisfying the mental requirements of the nation—a "Mysterious Submarine," an "Eloping Dean" (three wives), and an "Are We Becoming Too Intellectual?" correspondence. Supply followed demand, and it very soon became difficult to decide, not where Miss Roscastle was, but where she was not. Public opinion wavered between Genoa, on the authority of a retired lime and slate merchant of Hull who had had a presentiment while directing a breathless lady to the docks, when a Wilson liner was on the point of sailing; Leatherhead, the suggestion of a booking-office clerk who had been struck by the peculiar look in a veiled lady's eyes as she asked for a third-class return to Cheam; and Accrington, where a young lady with a marked Irish accent and a theatrical manner had inquired about lodgings at three different houses and then abruptly left, saying that she would come back if she thought any more about it.

Before the novelty was two days old Scotland Yard had been stirred into recognising its existence. A London clue was forthcoming, apparently the wildest and most circumstantial of them all. A plain-clothes constable of the A Division reported that an hour after midnight three days before he had noticed a shabby-genteel man, who seemed to be waiting for someone, loitering on the Embankment near the Boadicea statue. There was nothing in the circumstance to interest him, but when he repassed the spot ten minutes later the man had been joined by a woman. The sharp eyes of the constable told him that the woman was well and even fashionably dressed, although she had made some precaution to conceal it, and the fact quickened his observation. As he shambled past—an Embankment dead-beat for the occasion—he heard the name "Roscastle" spoken by one of the two. He could not distinguish by which, nor the sense in which the word was used, but his notebook, with the name written down under the correct date, corroborated so much. On neither occasion had he seen the face of the man distinctly—the threadbare individual had sought the shadows—but he was able to describe that of the woman in some detail. He was shown half-a-dozen photographs and at once identified that of Miss Roscastle. The crowning touch requisite to make this story entirely popular was supplied by an inspector of river police. According to the newspaper account, the patrol boat was off the Embankment near Westminster Bridge between one and a quarter-past on the night in question when a distinct splash was heard. The crew made for the spot, flashed the lights about and drifted up and down several times, but without finding a trace of any human presence. At once the public voice demanded that the river should be dragged from Chelsea to The Pool, and, pending the result, every shabby wastrel who appeared on the Embankment arrested.

In his private office Mr Carlyle threw down the last of his morning papers with an expression that began as a knowing smile but ended rather dubiously. For his own part he would have much preferred that the disappearance of Miss Roscastle had not leaked out—that he had been left to pursue his course unaided, but, in the circumstances, he carefully read everything on the chance of a useful hint. The Embankment story both amused and puzzled him.

He dismissed the subject to its proper mental pigeonhole and had turned to deal with his most confidential correspondence when something very like an altercation breaking the chaste decorum of his outer office caused him to stop and frown. The next moment there was a hurrying step outside, the door was snatched open and Mr Enniscorthy, pale and distracted, stumbled into the room. Behind him appeared the indignant face of Mr Carlyle's chief clerk. Then the visitor extinguished the outraged vision by flinging back the door as he went forward.

"Have you seen the papers?" he demanded. "Is there anything dreadful in them?"

"I have seen the papers, yes," replied the puzzled agent. "I am not aware——"

"I mean the evening papers—just out. No, I see you haven't. Here, read that and tell me. I haven't—I dare not look."

Mr Carlyle took the journal that Enniscorthy thrust under his eyes—it was the earliest Star—glanced into his visitor's face a little severely and then focussed the the column.

"Good heavens!" he exclaimed, "what is this! 'MISSING ACTRESS. EMBANKMENT CLUE. BODY FOUND!'"

"Ah!" groaned Enniscorthy. "That was on the bills. Is it——?"

"It's all right, it's all right, my dear sir," reported Mr Carlyle, glancing along the lines. "This is the body of a man . . . the man who was seen . . . most extraordinary . . ."

"My God!" was wrung from the distressed young man as he dropped into a chair. "Oh, my God! I thought——" He took out his handkerchief, wiped and fanned his face, and for the next few minutes looked rather languidly on things.

"Very distressing," commiserated Mr Carlyle when he had come to the end of the report. "Can I get you anything—brandy, a glass of water——? The mere act sipping, I am medically informed, has a beneficial effect in case of faintness. I have——"

"Nothing, thanks. I shall be all right now. Sorry to have made an ass of myself. You have heard—anything?"

"Nothing definite so far," was the admission. "But there may be something worth following in this story after all. I shall go down to the mortuary shortly. Do you care to accompany me?"

"No, thanks," replied the visitor. "I have had enough of that particular form of excitement for one morning. . . . Unless, of course, there is anything I——"

He was assured that there was nothing to be effected by his presence and half-an-hour later Mr Carlyle made his way alone to the obscure mortuary where the unclaimed dead hold their grim reception.

An inspector of the headquarters investigation staff who had been put on to the case was standing by the side of one of the shells when Carlyle entered. He was a man whom the private agent had more than once good-naturedly obliged in small matters that had come within his reach. He now greeted Mr Carlyle with consideration and stood aside to allow him to approach the body.

"The Embankment case, I suppose, sir?" he remarked. "Not very attractive, but I've seen many worse in here." He jerked off the upper part of the rough coverlet and exposed a visage that caused Mr Carlyle to turn away with a "Tch, tch!" of emotion. Then a sense of duty drew him round again and he proceeded to note the descriptive points of the dead man in his pocket-book.

"No marks of violence, I suppose?" he asked.

"Nothing beyond the usual abrasions that we always find. A clear case of drowning—suicide—it seems to be."

"And the things?"

The inspector nodded towards a seedy suit laid out for identification and an overcoat, once rakish of its fashion and now frayed and mouldering, put with it.

"Fur collar too, Mr Carlyle," pointed out his guide. "'Velvet and rags,' isn't it? 'Where moth and rust doth corrupt.' A sermon could be made out of this."

"Very true; very true indeed," replied Mr Carlyle, who always responded to the sentimentally obvious. "It is a sermon, inspector. But what have we here?"

Beside the garments had been collected together a heap of metal discs—quite a considerable heap, numbering some hundreds. Carlyle took up a few and examined them. They were all alike—flat, perfectly round and somewhat under an inch in diameter. They were quite plain and apparently of lead.

"H'm, curious," he commented. "In his pockets?"

"Yes; both overcoat pockets. Very determined, wasn't he? They would have kept him down till the Day of Judgment. I've counted them—just five hundred."

"Any money?"

The inspector smiled his tragi-comic appreciation—the coin embellished the moral of his unwritten sermon—and pointed.

"A halfpenny!" he replied.

"Poor fellow!" said Mr Carlyle. "Well, well; perhaps it is better as it is. You might pull up the cloth again now, please. . . . There are no letters or papers, I see."

The detective hesitated a moment and then recalled the obligation he was under.

"There is a scrap of paper that I have kept from the Press so far," he admitted. "It was tightly clenched in the man's right hand—so tight that we had to use a screw-driver to get it out, and the water had barely reached it." He was extracting a slip of paper from his notebook as he spoke and he now unfolded it. "You won't put it about, will you, Mr Carlyle? I don't know that there's anything tangible in it, but—well, see for yourself."

"Extraordinary!" admitted the gentleman. He read the words a second time: "'Fool! What does it matter now?' Why, it might almost——"

"It might be addressed to the coroner, or to anyone who tries to find out who he is or what it means, you would say. Well, so it might, sir. Anyhow, that is all."

"By the way, I suppose he is the man your fellow saw?"

"Everything tallies, Mr Carlyle—length of immersion, place, and so on. Our man thinks he is the same, but you may remember that he didn't claim to be very positive on this point."

There seemed nothing else to be learned and Mr Carlyle took his departure. His acquaintance had also finished and their ways lay together as far as Trafalgar Square. Before they parted the inspector had promised to communicate with Mr Carlyle as soon as the dead man was identified.

"And if he has a room anywhere he probably will be, with all this talk about Miss Roscastle. Then we may find something there that will help us," he predicted. "If he is purely casual the chances are we shall never hear."

His experience was justified and he kept his promise. Two days later Carlyle heard that the unknown had been identified as the occupant of a single room in a Lambeth lodging-house. He had only occupied it for a few weeks and he was known there as Mr Hay. Tenement gossip described him as a foreigner and credited him with having seen better days—an easy enough surmise in the circumstances. Mr Carlyle had been on the point of turning his attention to a Monte Carlo Miss Roscastle when this information reached him. He set off at once for Lambeth, but at Tubb's Grove disappointment met him at the door. The landlady of the ramshackle establishment—a female with a fluent if rather monotonous delivery—was still smarting from the unappreciated honour of the police officials' visit and the fierce light of publicity that it had thrown upon her house. All Mr Carlyle's bland cajolery was futile and in the end he had to disburse a sum that bore an appreciable relation to a week's rent before he was allowed to inspect the room and to command conversation that was not purely argumentative.

Then the barrenness of the land was revealed. Mr Hay had been irregular with his rent at the best, and when he disappeared he was a week in arrears. After two days' absence, with the easy casuistry of her circumstances, the lady had decided that he was not returning and had proceeded to "do out" the room for the next tenant. The lodger's "few things" she had bundled together into a cupboard, whence they had been retrieved by the police, in spite of her indignant protest. But the lodger's "papers and such-like rubbish" she confessed to burning, to get them out of the way. Mr Carlyle spent a profitless half-hour and then returned, calling at Scotland Yard on his way back. His friend the inspector shook his head; there was nothing among the seized property that afforded any clue.

It was at this point that Mr Carlyle's ingenuous mind suggested looking up Carrados, whom he had not seen since the visit to the theatre.

"Max was interested in this case from the first; I am sure he will be expecting to hear from me about it," was the form in which the proposal conveyed itself to him. The same evening he ran down to Richmond for an hour, after ascertaining that his friend was at home and disengaged.

"You might have brought Enniscorthy with you," remarked Carrados when the subject had been started. "Nice, genuine young fellow. Evidently deeply in love with the girl, but he is young enough to take the attack safely. What have you told him?"

"He is back in Ireland just now—got an idea that he might learn something from some people there, and rushed off. What I have told him—well"—experience endowed Mr Carlyle with sudden caution—"what would you have told him, Max?"

Carrados smiled at the innocent guile of the invitation.

"To answer that I should have to know just what you know," he replied. "I suppose you have gone into this Embankment development?"

"Yes." He had come intending to make some show of his progress and to sound Carrados discreetly, but once again in the familiar room and under the sway of the clear-visioned blind man's virile personality he suddenly found himself submitting quite naturally to the suave, dominating influence. "Yes; but I must confess, Max, that I am unable to explain much of that incident. It suggests blackmail at the bottom, and if the plain-clothes man was correct and saw Miss Roscastle there last Thursday——"

"It was blackmail; but the plain-clothes man was not correct, though he had every excuse for making the mistake. There is one quiet, retiring personage in this drama who has been signally overlooked in all the clamour."

"You mean——?"

"I suggest that if Miss Linknorth had been subpoenæd for the inquest and asked to account for her movements after leaving the theatre on Thursday last it might have turned public speculation into another channel—though probably a wrong one."

"Miss Linknorth!" The idea certainly turned Mr Carlyle's thoughts into a new channel.

"Has it occurred to you what an extraordinary act of self-effacement it must have been on the part of this young unknown actress to allow her well-earned success to be credited to another? As Enniscorthy reminded us, ladies of the profession are rather keen on their chances."

"Yes; but Stokesey, you remember, insisted on keeping it dark."

"I am not overlooking that. But although it was to Stokesey's interest to keep up the fiction, and also to the interest of everyone else about the theatre—people who were merely concerned in the run of the piece—it would have richly paid the Linknorth to have her identity established while the iron was hot, whatever the outcome. A paragraph to the Press the next day would have done it. There wasn't a hint. I am not overlooking the fact that Miss Linknorth's name now appears on the programme, but that is an unforeseen development so far as she is concerned, and her golden opportunity has gone by. With the exception of the first row of the pit and of the gallery you won't find that one per cent. of the house now really knows who created 'Mary Ryan' or regards the Linknorth as anything but a makeshift."

"Then what was the incentive?"

"Suppose it has been made worth Miss Linknorth's while? It is not necessarily a crude question of money. Friendship might make it worth her while, or ambition in some quarter we have not looked for, or a dozen other considerations—anything but the box-office of the Argosy Theatre, which certainly did not make it worth her while."

"Yes, that is feasible enough, Max, but how does it help us?"

"Do you ever have toothache, Louis?" demanded Carrados inconsequently.

"No, I am glad to say," admitted Mr Carlyle. "Have you got a turn now, old man? Never mind this confounded 'shop.' I'll go and then you can——"

"Not at all," interposed Carrados, smiling benignly at his friend's consideration; "and don't be too ready to condemn toothache indiscriminately. I have sometimes found it very stimulating. The only way to cure it is to concentrate the mind so terrifically that you forget the ache. Then it stops. I imagine that a mathematician could succeed by working out a monumental problem. I have frequently done it by 'discovering' a hoard of Greek coins of the highest art period on one of the islands and classifying the find. On Monday night I thought that I was in for a devil of a time. I at once set myself to discover a workable theory for everyone's conduct in this affair, one, of course, that would stand the test of every objection based on fact. The correct hypothesis must, indeed, be strengthened by every new circumstance that came out. At twelve o'clock, after two hours' mental sudation, I began to see light—excuse the phrase. By this time the toothache had gone, but I was so taken up with the idea that I called out Harris and drove to Scotland Yard then and there on the chance of finding Beedel or one of the others I know. . . . Why on earth didn't you let me have that 'Fool!' message, Louis?"

"My dear fellow," protested Mr Carlyle, "I can't beat up for advice on every day of my life."

"At all events it might have saved me an hour's strenuous thinking."

"Well, you know, Max, perhaps that would have left you in the middle of the toothache. Now the message——?"

"The message? Oh, that settled it. You may take it as assured, Louis, that although Miss Roscastle's departure from the theatre was hurried, in order to allow her to catch the boat-train from Charing Cross, she had enough time to think out the situation and to secure Miss Linknorth's allegiance. Whether Stokesey knows any more than he admits, we need not inquire. The great thing is that Miss Roscastle had some reason—some fairly strong reason—for not wanting her absence from the cast to become public. We agreed, Louis, that a better engagement would alone satisfactorily explain her defection. What better engagement would you suggest—it could scarcely be a theatrical one?"

"A brilliant marriage?"

"Our minds positively ident, Louis. 'A brilliant marriage'—my exact expression. One, moreover, that suddenly becomes possible and cannot be delayed. One—here we are on difficult ground—one that may be jeopardised if at that early stage Miss Roscastle's identity in it comes to light, or if, possibly, her absence from London is discovered. That sign-post," said Carrados, with his unseeing eyes fixed on the lengthening vistas that rose before his mind, "points in a good many directions."

"The blackmailer?" hazarded Carlyle.

"I gave a good deal of attention to every phase of that gentleman's presence," replied Carrados. "It corroborates, but it does not entirely explain. I would say that he merely intervened. In my view, Miss Roscastle would have acted precisely as she did if there had been no Mr Hay. At all events he did intervene and had to be dealt with."

"It had occurred to me, Max, whether it was Miss Linknorth's job to impersonate the other?"

"It may have been originally. If so, it failed, for Hay proceeded with his demand. His price was five hundred pounds in English or French gold—an interesting phase of your ordinary blackmailer's antipathy to paper—merely an hors d'œuvre to the solid things to come, of course. But he was not dealing with a fool. Whether Miss Roscastle frankly had not five hundred pounds just then, or whether she was better advised, we cannot say. She temporised, the Linknorth being the intermediary. Then the dummy pieces? Hay was a menace and had to be held off. At one point there may well have been the pretence of handing over the cash and then at the last moment some specious difficulty, necessitating a short delay, is raised. That would account for the otherwise unnecessary detail of the lead counterfeits, for there is no need of them on Thursday. Then, when the danger is past, when the tricked scoundrel has lost his sting, then there is no attempt at evasion or compromise. 'Fool! What does it matter now?' is the contemptuously unguarded message and the five hundred doits are pressed upon him to complete his humiliation. Why doesn't it matter, Louis? Is there any other answer than that Miss Roscastle is safely married?"

"It certainly looks like it," agreed Mr Carlyle. "But if there was anything so serious as to have compromised the marriage, surely Hay could still have held it over her, as against her husband?"

"If it was as against the husband before—yes, perhaps. But suppose the chink in the armour was the good grace of some third person whose consent was necessary? This brilliant marriage . . . Well, I don't commit myself any further. At any rate, in the lady's estimation she is safe, and if she had deliberately sought to goad Hay into suicide she couldn't have done better. He read the single line that shattered his greedy dreams and its disdainful triumph struck him like a whip. He had spent literally his last penny on pressing his unworthy persecution, and now he stood, beggared and beaten, on the Embankment at midnight— 'he, a gentleman.' . . . It doesn't matter how he took it. He went over, and the muddy waters of the Thames closed over the last page of his rotten history."

"Max!" exclaimed Mr Carlyle with feeling. "Remember the poor beggar, with all his failings, is dead now. Not that I should mind," he added cheerfully, "but I saw him afterwards, you know. Enniscorthy had the sense to keep away. And, by Gad! Max, that reminds me that this is rather rough on my confiding young client—running up a bill to have a successful rival sprung upon his hopes. Have you any idea who he is?"

"Yes," admitted Carrados, "I have an idea, but to-day it is nothing more than that. When does Enniscorthy return?"

"He ought to be back in London on Friday morning."

"By then I should know something definite. If you will make an appointment with him for Friday at half-past eleven I will look in on my way through town."

"Certainly, Max, certainly." There was a note of faithful expectation in Mr Carlyle's voice that caused his friend to smile. He crossed the room to his most-used desk and opened one of the smaller drawers.

"For this simple demonstration, Louis, I require only two appliances, neither of which, as you will see, is a rabbit or a handkerchief. In other and saner words, there are only two exhibits. That is from The Morning Mail; this is from the Westminster street refuse tip."

"This" was a small brown canvas bag. Traces of red sealing-wax still marked the neck and across it were stamped the words:

BANQUE DE L'UNION
CLAIRVAUX

Mr Carlyle looked inside. It was empty, but a few specks of dull grey metal still lodged among the cloth. He turned to the other object, as Carrados had indicated an extract from the daily Press. It was a mere slip of paper and consisted of the following paragraph:


"From Clairvaux, in the Pas de Calais, France, where he purchased a country estate when he was driven into exile, it is reported that ex-King Constantine of Villalyia has been lying dangerously ill for the past week."


"Quite so, quite so," murmured Carlyle, quietly turning over the cutting to satisfy himself that he was reading the right side.

"I see that you haven't anything very hopeful to report," said Mr Enniscorthy—he and Max Carrados had entered Mr Carlyle's office within a minute of each other two days later—"but let me have it out."

"It isn't quite a matter of being hopeful or the reverse," replied the blind man. "It is merely final to your ambition. You know Prince Ulric of Villalyia?"

"I have been presented. He hunted in Ireland last season."

"He knew Miss Roscastle?"

"They were acquainted, she has told me."

"It went deeper than you imagined. Miss Roscastle is Princess Ulric of Villalyia to-day."

"Una! Oh," cried Enniscorthy, "but—but that is impossible! You don't mean that she——"

"I mean exactly what I say. They were married within a week of her disappearance from London."

Enniscorthy's pained gaze went from face to face. The fatal presentiment that had always just robbed him of the heroic—the fear that he might be making an ass of himself—again assailed him.

"But isn't Ulric in the line of succession? They couldn't be really married without the king's consent. Of course Villalyia is a republic now, but——"

"But it may not be to-morrow if the expected war breaks out? Quite true, Mr Enniscorthy. And in the meanwhile the forms and ceremonies are maintained at the exile Court of Clairvaux. Yet the king gave his consent."

"Gave his consent! For his son to marry an actress?"

"Ah, there was a little sleight of hand there. He only knew Miss Roscastle as Miss Eileen O'Rourke, the last representative of a line of Irish kings. She was a Miss O'Rourke?"

"Yes. Roscastle was only her stage name. The O'Rourkes were a very old but impoverished family."

"Royal, we may assume. This business was the outcome of one of the interminable domestic squabbles that the Villalyia Petrosteins seemed to wage in order to supply the Continental comic papers with material. Ex-King Constantine recently quarrelled simultaneously and irrevocably with his eldest son Robert and his first cousin Michael. Robert, who lives in Paris, has respectably married a robust minor princess who has presented him with six unattractive daughters and now, by all report, stopped finally. Hating both son and cousin almost equally, old Constantine, who had fumed himself into a fever, sent off for his other son, Ulric, and demanded that he should at once marry and found a prolific line of sons to embitter Robert and cut out the posterity of Michael. Prince Ulric merely replied that there was only one woman whom he wished to marry and she was not of sufficiently exalted station, and as she refused to marry him morganatically—yes, Mr Enniscorthy—there was no prospect of his ever marrying at all. The king suddenly found that he was very ill. Ulric was obdurate. The constitution allowed the reigning monarch to sanction such an alliance, provided there were no religious difficulties, and I understand that Miss Roscastle is a Catholic. Constantine recognised that if he was to gratify his whim he must consent, and that at once, as he was certainly dying. As things were, Ulric would probably renounce and marry ignominiously or die unmarried and the hated Michaels would step in, for, once king, the conventional Robert would never give his consent to such an alliance. Besides, it would be a 'damned slap in the face' to half the remaining royalty of Europe, and Constantine had always posed as a democratic sovereign—that was why his people ran him out. He coughed himself faint and then commanded the lady to be sent for."

"If only Una had confided in me I would—yes, I would willingly have flown to serve her."

"I think that Miss Roscastle was well qualified to serve herself," responded Carrados dryly. "Now you can put together the whole story, Mr Enniscorthy. Many pages of it are necessarily obscure. What the man Hay knew and threatened—whether it was with him in view or the emissaries of the hostile Robert and Michael that she took the sudden chance of concealing her absence and cloaking her identity—what other wheels there were, what other influences at work—these are only superfluities. The essential thing is that, in spite of cross-currents, everything went well—for her, and perhaps for you; the lady's married and there's an end of it."

"I hope that she will be as happy as I should have tried to make her," said Enniscorthy rather shakily. "I shall always think of her. Mr Carrados, I will write to thank you when I am better able to express myself. Mr Carlyle, you know my address. Good-morning."

"A very manly way of taking it and very properly expressed—very well indeed," declared Mr. Carlyle with warm approval as the door closed. "Max, that is the outcome of good blood—blood and breeding."

"Nonsense, you romantic old humbug," said Carrados with affectionate contempt. "I have heard exactly the same words in similar circumstances once before and they were spoken by a Canning Town bricklayer's labourer."

One incident only remains to be added. A month later Mr Carlyle was passing the Kemble Club when he became conscious of someone trying to avoid him. With a not unnatural impulse he made for his acquaintance and insisted on being recognised.

"Ah, Mr Stokesey," he exclaimed, "Call a Spade—— is still going strong, I see."

"Mr Carlyle, to be sure," said the manager. "Bother me if I didn't mistake you for a deadhead who always strikes me for a pass. Good heavens! yes; they come in droves and companies to see the part that the romantic Princess Ulric of Villalyia didn't create! I've had three summonses for my pit queue. Didn't I tell you it was a gamble? When I have to find a successor—when, mind, I say—I'm going to put on You Never Can Tell! What?"


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