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A Maker of History – Chapter 7

THE DECOY-HOUSE OF EUROPE : Spencer wrote out his luncheon with the extreme care of the man to whom eating has passed to its proper place amongst the arts, and left to Duncombe the momentous question of red wine or white. Finally, he leaned back in his chair, and looked thoughtfully across at his companion. “Sir George,” he said, “you have placed me in a very painful position.”

Duncombe glanced up from his _hors d’oeuvre_.”What do you mean?””I will explain,” Spencer continued. “You came to me last night with astory in which I hope that I showed a reasonable amount of interest, butin which, as a matter of fact, I was not interested at all. Girls andboys who come to Paris for the first time in their lives unattended, andfind their way to the Cafe Montmartre, and such places, generally end upin the same place. It would have sounded brutal if I had added to yourdistress last night by talking like this, so I determined to put you inthe way of finding out for yourself. I sent two of my most successfulnews-scouts to that place last night, and I had not the slightest doubtas to the nature of the information which they would bring back. Itturns out that I was mistaken.””What did they discover?” Duncombe asked eagerly.”Nothing!”Duncombe’s face fell, but he looked a little puzzled.”Nothing? I don’t understand. They must have heard that they had beenthere anyhow.””They discovered nothing. You do not understand the significance ofthis. I do! It means that I was mistaken for one thing. Theirdisappearance has more in it than the usual significance. Evil may havecome to them, but not the ordinary sort of evil. Listen! You say thatthe police have disappointed you in having discovered nothing. That isno longer extraordinary to me. The police, or those who stand behindthem, are interested in this case, and in the withholding of informationconcerning it.””You are talking riddles to me, Spencer,” Duncombe declared. “Do youmean that the police in Paris may become the hired tools ofmalefactors?””Not altogether that,” Spencer said, waving aside a dish presentedbefore him by the head waiter himself with a gesture of approval. “Notnecessarily malefactors. But there are other powers to be taken intoconsideration, and most unaccountably your two friends are in deeperwater than your story led me to expect. Now, not another question,please, until you have tried that sauce. Absolute silence, if youplease, for at least three or four minutes.”Duncombe obeyed with an ill grace. He had little curiosity as to itsflavor, and a very small appetite at all with the conversation in itspresent position. He waited for the stipulated time, however, and thenleaned once more across the table.”Spencer!””First I must have your judgment upon the sauce. Did you find enoughmussels?””Damn the sauce!” Duncombe answered. “Forgive me, Spencer, but thisaffair is, after all, a serious one to me. You say that your two scouts,as you call them, discovered nothing. Well, they had only one evening atit. Will they try again in other directions? Can I engage them to workfor me? Money is absolutely no object.”Spencer shook his head.”Duncombe,” he said, “you’re going to think me a poor sort of friend,but the truth is best. You must not count upon me any more. I cannotlift even my little finger to help you. I can only give you advice ifyou want it.””And that?””Go back to England to-morrow. Chuck it altogether. You are up againsttoo big a combination. You can do no one any good. You are a great dealmore likely to come to harm yourself.”Duncombe was quite quiet for several moments. When he spoke again hismanner had a new stiffness.”You have surprised me a good deal, I must confess, Spencer. We willabandon the subject.”Spencer shrugged his shoulders.”I know how you’re feeling, old chap,” he said. “I can’t help it. Youunderstand my position here. I write a daily letter for the best payingand most generous newspaper in the world, and it is absolutely necessarythat I keep hand in glove with the people in high places here. Myposition absolutely demands it, and my duty to my chief necessitates myputting all personal feeling on one side in a case like this when aconflict arises.””But where,” Duncombe asked, “does the conflict arise?””Here!” Spencer answered. “I received a note this morning from a greatpersonage in this country to whom I am under more obligation than anyother breathing man, requesting me to refrain from making any furtherinquiries or assisting any one else to make them in this matter. I canassure you that I was thunderstruck, but the note is in my pocket at thepresent moment.””Does it mention them by name?””The exact words are,” Spencer answered, “‘respecting the reporteddisappearance of the young Englishman, Mr. Guy Poynton, and his sister.’This will just show you how much you have to hope for from the police,for the person whose signature is at the foot of that note could commandthe implicit obedience of the whole system.”Duncombe’s cheeks were a little flushed. He was British to the backbone,and his obstinacy was being stirred.”The more reason,” he said quietly, “so far as I can see, that I shouldcontinue my independent efforts with such help as I can secure. Thisgirl and boy are fellow country-people, and I haven’t any intention ofleaving them in the clutches of any brutal gang of Frenchmen into whosehands they may have got. I shall go on doing what I can, Spencer.”The journalist shrugged his shoulders.”I can’t help sympathizing with you, Duncombe,” he said, “but keepreasonable. You know your Paris well enough to understand that youhaven’t a thousand to one chance. Besides, Frenchmen are not brutal. Ifthe boy got into a scrape, it was probably his own fault.””And the girl? What of her? Am I to leave her to the tender mercies ofwhatever particular crew of blackguards may have got her into theirpower?””You are needlessly melodramatic,” Spencer answered. “I will admit, ofcourse, that her position may be an unfortunate one, but the personagewhom I have the honor to call my friend does not often protectblackguards. Be reasonable, Duncombe! These young people are notrelatives of yours, are they?””No!””Nor very old friends? The young lady, for instance?”Duncombe looked up, and his face was set in grim and dogged lines. Hefelt like a man who was nailing his colors to the mast.”The young lady,” he said, “is, I pray Heaven, my future wife!”Spencer was honestly amazed, and a little shocked.”Forgive me, Duncombe,” he said. “I had no idea–though perhaps I oughtto have guessed.”They went on with their luncheon in silence for some time, except for afew general remarks. But after the coffee had been brought and thecigarettes were alight, Spencer leaned once more across the table.”Tell me, Duncombe, what you mean to do.””I shall go to the Cafe Montmartre myself to-night. At such a placethere must be hangers-on and parasites who see something of the game. Ishall try to come into touch with them. I am rich enough to outbid theothers who exact their silence.””You must be rich enough to buy their lives then,” Spencer answeredgravely, “for if you do succeed in tempting any one to betray the innerhappenings of that place on which the seal of silence has been put, youwill hear of them in the Morgue before a fortnight has passed.””They must take their risk,” Duncombe said coldly. “I am going to stuffmy pockets with money to-night, and I shall bid high. I shall leave wordat the hotel where I am going. If anything happens to me there–well, Idon’t think the Cafe Montmartre will flourish afterwards.””Duncombe,” his friend said gravely, “nothing will happen to you at theCafe Montmartre. Nothing ever does happen to any one there. You rememberpoor De Laurson?””Quite well. He was stabbed by a girl in the Rue Pigalle.””He was stabbed in the Cafe Montmartre, but his body was found in theRue Pigalle. Then there was the Vicomte de Sauvinac.””He was found dead in his study–poisoned.””He was found there–yes, but the poison was given to him in the CafeMontmartre, and it was there that he died. I am behind the scenes insome of these matters, but I know enough to hold my tongue, or my Londonletter wouldn’t be worth a pound a week. I am giving myself away to younow, Duncombe. I am risking a position which it has taken me twentyyears to secure. I’ve got to tell you these things, and you must do as Itell you. Go back to London!”Duncombe laughed as he rose to his feet.”Not though the Vicomte’s fate is to be mine to-night,” he answered.”The worse hell this place is the worse the crew it must shelter. Ishould never hold my head up again if I sneaked off home and left thegirl in their hands. I don’t see how you can even suggest it.””Only because you can’t do the least good,” Spencer answered. “Andbesides, don’t run away with a false impression. The place is dangerousonly for certain people. The authorities don’t protect murderers orthieves except under special circumstances. The Vicomte’s murderer andDe Laurson’s were brought to justice. Only they keep the name of theplace out of it always. Tourists in shoals visit it, and visit safelyevery evening. They pay fancy prices for what they have, but I thinkthey get their money’s worth. But for certain classes of people it isthe decoy house of Europe. Foreign spies have babbled away their secretsthere, and the greatest criminals of the world have whispered away theirlives to some fair daughter of Judas at those tables. I, who am behindthe scenes, tell you these things, Duncombe.”Duncombe smiled.”To-morrow,” he said, “you may add another victim to your chamber ofhorrors!”

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