THE VANISHING LADY : At precisely half-past nine on the following evening Duncombe alighted from his _petite voiture_ in the courtyard of the Grand Hotel, and making his way into the office engaged a room. And then he asked the question which a hundred times on the way over he had imagined himself asking. A man to whom nervousness in any shape was almost unknown, he found himself only able to control his voice and manner with the greatest difficulty. In a few moments he might see her.
“You have a young English lady–Miss Poynton–staying here, I believe,”he said. “Can you tell me if she is in now?”The clerk looked at him with sudden interest.”Miss Poynton is staying here, sir,” he said. “I do not believe that sheis in just now. Will you wait one moment?”He disappeared rapidly, and was absent for several minutes. When hereturned he came out into the reception hall.”The manager would be much obliged if you would step into his office fora moment, sir,” he said confidentially. “Will you come this way?”Duncombe followed him into a small room behind the counter. Agray-haired man rose from his desk and saluted him courteously.”Sir George Duncombe, I believe,” he said. “Will you kindly take aseat?”Duncombe did as he was asked. All the time he felt that the manager wasscrutinizing him curiously.”Your clerk,” he said, “told me that you wished to speak to me.””Exactly!” the manager answered. “You inquired when you came in for MissPoynton. May I ask–are you a friend of hers?””I am here on behalf of her friends,” Duncombe answered. “I have lettersto her.”The manager bowed gravely.”I trust,” he said, “that you will soon have an opportunity to deliverthem. We are not, of course, responsible in any way for the conduct ordoings of our clients here, but I am bound to say that both the youngpeople of the name you mention have been the cause of much anxiety tous.””What do you mean?” Duncombe asked quickly.”Mr. Guy Poynton,” the manager continued, “arrived here about threeweeks ago, and took a room for himself and one for his sister, who wasto arrive on the following day. He went out that same evening, and hasnever since returned. Of that fact you are no doubt aware.”Duncombe nodded impatiently.”Yes!” he said. “That is why I am here.””His sister arrived on the following day, and was naturally verydistressed. We did all that we could for her. We put her in the way ofcommunicating with the police and the Embassy here, and we gave herevery assistance that was possible. Four nights ago Mademoiselle wentout late. Since then we have seen nothing of her. Mademoiselle also hasdisappeared.”Duncombe sprang to his feet. He was suddenly pale.”Good God!” he exclaimed. “Four nights ago! She went out alone, yousay?””How else? She had no friends here. Once or twice at my suggestion shehad taken one of our guides with her, but she discontinued this as shefancied that it made her conspicuous. She was all the time going roundto places making inquiries about her brother.”Duncombe felt himself suddenly precipitated into a new world–anightmare of horrors. He was no stranger in the city, and grimpossibilities unfolded themselves before his eyes. Four nights ago!”You have sent–to the police?””Naturally. But in Paris–Monsieur must excuse me if I speak plainly–adisappearance of this sort is never regarded seriously by them. You knowthe life here without doubt, Monsieur! Your accent proves that you arewell acquainted with the city. No doubt their conclusions are based upondirect observation, and in most cases are correct–but it is verycertain that Monsieur the Superintendent regards such disappearances asthese as due to one cause only.”Duncombe frowned, and something flashed in his eyes which made themanager very glad that he had not put forward this suggestion on his ownaccount.”With regard to the boy,” he said, “this might be likely enough. Butwith regard to the young lady it is of course wildly preposterous. Iwill go to the police myself,” he added, rising.”One moment, Sir George,” the manager continued. “The disappearance ofthe young lady was a source of much trouble to me, and I made allpossible inquiries within the hotel. I found that on the day of herdisappearance Mademoiselle had been told by one of the attendants inthe barber’s shop, who had waited upon her brother on the night of hisarrival, that he–Monsieur Guy–had asked for the name of some caf?s forsupper, and that he had recommended Caf? Montmartre. Mademoiselleappears to have decided to go there herself to make inquiries. We haveno doubt that when she left the hotel on the night of her disappearanceit was to there that she went.””You have told the police this?””Yes, I have told them,” the manager answered dryly. “Here is theirlatest report, if you care to see it.”Duncombe took the little slip of paper and read it hastily.”Disappearance of Mademoiselle Poynton, from England.–Weregret to state no trace has been discovered of the missingyoung lady.”(Signed) JULES LEGARDE, Superintendent.””That was only issued a few hours ago,” the manager said.”And I thought,” Duncombe said bitterly, “that the French police werethe best in the world!”The manager said nothing. Duncombe rose from his chair.”I shall go myself to the Caf? Montmartre,” he said. The manager bowed.”I shall be glad,” he said, “to divest myself of any furtherresponsibility in this matter. It has been a source of much anxiety tothe directors as well as myself.”Duncombe walked out of the room, and putting on his coat again calledfor a _petite voiture_. He gave the man the address in the Rue St.Honor? and was driven to a block of flats there over some shops.”Is Monsieur Spencer in?” he asked the concierge. He was directed to thefirst floor. An English man-servant admitted him, and a few momentslater he was shaking hands with a man who was seated before a tablecovered with loose sheets of paper.”Duncombe, by all that’s wonderful!” he exclaimed, holding out his hand.”Why, I thought that you had shaken the dust of the city from your feetforever, and turned country squire. Sit down! What will you have?””First of all, am I disturbing you?”Spencer shook his head.”I’ve no Press work to-night,” he answered. “I’ve a clear hour to giveyou at any rate. When did you come?””Two-twenty from Charing Cross,” Duncombe answered. “I can’t tell youhow thankful I am to find you in, Spencer. I’m over on a very seriousmatter, and I want your advice.”Spencer touched the bell. Cigars and cigarettes, whisky and soda,appeared as though by magic.”Now help yourself and go ahead, old chap,” his host declared. “I’m agood listener.”He proved himself so, sitting with half-closed eyes and an air of closeattention until he had heard the whole story. He did not once interrupt,but when Duncombe had finished he asked a question.”What did you say was the name of this caf? where the boy haddisappeared?””Caf? Montmartre.”Spencer sat up in his chair. His expression had changed.”The devil!” he murmured softly.”You know the place?””Very well. It has an extraordinary reputation. I am sorry to say it,Duncombe, but it is a very bad place for your friend to have disappearedfrom.””Why?””In the first place it is the resort of a good many of the mostdangerous people in Europe–people who play the game through to the end.It is a perfect hot-bed of political intrigue, and it is under policeprotection.””Police protection! A place like that!” Duncombe exclaimed.”Not as you and I understand it, perhaps,” Spencer explained. “There isno Scotland Yard extending a protecting arm over the place, and thatsort of thing. But the place is haunted by spies, and there areintrigues carried on there in which the secret service police often takea hand. In return it is generally very hard to get to the bottom of anydisappearance or even robbery there through the usual channels. To thecasual visitor, and of course it attracts thousands from its reputation,it presents no more dangers perhaps than the ordinary night caf? of itssort. But I could think of a dozen men in Paris to-day, who, if theyentered it, I honestly believe would never be seen again.”Spencer was exaggerating, Duncombe murmured to himself. He was anewspaper correspondent, and he saw these things with the halo ofmelodrama around them. And yet–four nights ago. His face was white andhaggard.”The boy,” he said, “could have been no more than an ordinary visitor.He had no great sum of money with him, he had no secrets, he did noteven speak the language. Surely he would have been too small fry for theintriguers of such a place!””One would think so,” Spencer answered musingly. “You are sure that hewas only what you say?””He was barely twenty-one,” Duncombe answered, “and he had never beenout of England before.””What about the girl?””She is two years older. It was her first visit to Paris.” Spencernodded.”The disappearance of the boy is of course the riddle,” he remarked. “Ifyou solve that you arrive also at his sister’s whereabouts. Upon myword, it is a poser. If it had been the boy alone–well, one couldunderstand. The most beautiful ladies in Paris are at the Montmartre. Noone is admitted who is not what they consider–chic! The great dancersand actresses are given handsome presents to show themselves there. On arepresentative evening it is probably the most brilliant little roomfulin Europe. The boy of course might have lost his head easily enough, andthen been ashamed to face his sister. But when you tell me of herdisappearance, too, you confound me utterly. Is she good-looking?””Very!””She would go there, of course, asking for her brother,” Spencercontinued thoughtfully. “An utterly absurd thing to do, but no doubt shedid, and–look here, Duncombe, I tell you what I’ll do. I have my owntwo news-grabbers at hand, and nothing particular for them to do thisevening. I’ll send them up to the Caf? Montmartre.””It’s awfully good of you, Spencer. I was going myself,” Duncombe said,a little doubtfully.”You idiot!” his friend said cheerfully, yet with a certain emphasis.”English from your hair to your boots, you’d go in there and attempt topump people who have been playing the game all their lives, and whowould give you exactly what information suited their books. They’d knowwhat you were there for, the moment you opened your mouth. Honestly,what manner of good do you think that you could do? You’d learn whatthey chose to tell you. If there’s really anything serious behind allthis, do you suppose it would be the truth?””You’re quite right, I suppose,” Duncombe admitted, “but it seemsbeastly to be doing nothing.””Better be doing nothing than doing harm!” Spencer declared. “Look roundthe other caf?s and the boulevards. And come here at eleven to-morrowmorning. We’ll breakfast together at Paillard’s.”