The holladay case a tal.., p.9
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       The Holladay Case: A Tale, p.9

           Burton Egbert Stevenson
 
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

  CHAPTER IX

  I Meet Monsieur Martigny

  Our regular work at the office just at that time happened to beunusually heavy and trying. The Brown injunction suit, while notgreatly attracting public attention, involved points of such nicetyand affected interests so widespread, that the whole bar of New Yorkwas watching it. The Hurd substitution case was more spectacular, andappealed to the press with peculiar force, since one of the principalvictims had been the eldest son of Preston McLandberg, the veteranmanaging editor of the _Record_, and the bringing of the suit impugnedthe honor of his family--but it is still too fresh in the public mindto need recapitulation here, even were it connected with this story.The incessant strain told upon both our partners and even upon me, sothat I returned to my rooms after dinner one evening determined to goearly to bed. But I had scarcely donned my house-coat, settled in mychair, and got my pipe to going, when there came a tap at the door.

  "Come in," I called, thinking it was Mrs. Fitch, my landlady, and tooweary to get up.

  But it was not Mrs. Fitch's pale countenance, with its crown of grayhair, which appeared in the doorway; it was a rotund and exceedinglyflorid visage.

  "You will pardon me, sir," began a resonant voice, which I instantlyremembered, even before the short, square figure stepped over thethreshold into the full light, "but I have just discovered that I haveno match with which to ignite my gas. If I might from you borrowone----"

  "Help yourself," I said, and held out to him my case, which was lyingon the table at my elbow.

  "You are very good," he said, and then, as he stepped forward and sawme more distinctly, he uttered a little exclamation of surprise. "Ah,it is Mistair----"

  "Lester," I added, seeing that he hesitated.

  "It is a great pleasure," he was saying, as he took the matches; "agreat good fortune which brought me to this house. So lonely one growsat times--and then, I greatly desire some advice. If you would havethe leisure----"

  "Certainly," and I waved toward a chair. "Sit down."

  "In one moment," he said. "You will pardon me," and he disappearedthrough the doorway.

  He was back almost at once with a handful of cigarettes, which heplaced on the table. Then he drew up a chair. With a littledeprecatory gesture, he used one of my matches to light a cigarette.

  "It was truly for the gas," he said, catching my smile; "and the gasfor the cigarette!"

  There was something fascinating about the man; an air of good-humor,of comradeship, of strength, of purpose. My eyes were caught by hisstodgy, nervous hands, as he held the match to his cigarette; thenthey wandered to his face--to the black hair flecked here and therewith gray; to the bright, deep-set eyes, ambushed under heavy brows;to the full lips, which the carefully arranged mustache did not at allconceal; to the projecting chin, with its little plume of an imperial.A strong face and a not unhandsome one, with a certain look of masteryabout it----

  "It is true that I need advice," he was saying, as he slowly exhaled agreat puff of smoke which he had drawn deep into his lungs. "My nameis Martigny--Jasper Martigny"--I nodded by way of salutation--"and Iam from France, as you have doubtless long since suspected. It is mydesire to become a citizen of Amer-ric'."

  "How long have you been living in America?" I asked.

  "Since two months only. It is my intention to establish here abusiness in wines."

  "Well," I explained, "you can take no steps toward naturalization forthree years. Then you go before a court and make a declaration of yourintentions. Two years later, you will get your papers."

  "You mean," he hesitated, "that it takes so many years----"

  "Five years' actual residence--yes."

  "But," and he hesitated again, "I had understood that--that----"

  "That it was easier? There are illegal ways, of course; but you canscarcely expect me to advise you concerning them, Mr. Martigny."

  "No; of course, no!" he cried hastily, waving his hand in disclaimer."I did not know--it makes nothing to me--I will wait--I wish to obeythe laws."

  He picked up a fresh cigarette, lit it from the other, and tossed awaythe end.

  "Will you not try one?" he asked, seeing that my pipe was finished,and I presently found myself enjoying the best cigarette I had eversmoked. "You comprehend French--no?"

  "Not well enough to enjoy it," I said.

  "I am sorry--I believe you would like this book which I am reading,"and he pulled a somewhat tattered volume from his pocket. "I have readit, oh, ver' many times, as well as all the others--though this, ofcourse, is the masterpiece."

  He held it so that I could see the title. It was "Monsieur Lecoq."

  "I have read it in English," I said.

  "And did you not like it--yes? I am ver' fond of stories of detection.That is why I was so absorbed in that affair of Mees--Mees--ah, I haveforgotten! Your names are so difficult for me."

  "Miss Holladay," I said.

  "Ah, yes; and has that mystery ever arrived at a solution?"

  "No," I said. "Unfortunately, we haven't any Monsieur Lecoqs on ourdetective force."

  "Ah, no," he smiled. "And the young lady--in her I conceived a greatinterest, even though I did not see her--how is she?"

  "The shock was a little too much for her," I said. "She's gone out toher country-place to rest. She'll soon be all right again, I hope."

  He had taken a third cigarette, and was lighting it carelessly, withhis face half-turned away from me. I noticed how flushed his neck was.

  "Oh, undoubtedly," he agreed, after a moment; "at least, I should bemost sad to think otherwise. But it is late; I perceive that you areweary; I thank you for your kindness."

  "Not at all," I protested. "I hope you'll come in whenever you feellonely."

  "A thousand thanks! I shall avail myself of your invitation. Myapartment is just across the hall," he added, as I opened the door. "Itrust to see you there."

  "You shall," I said heartily, and bade him good-night.

  In the week that followed, I saw a good deal of Martigny. I would meethim on the stairs or in the hall; he came again to see me, and Ireturned his visit two nights later, upon which occasion he producedtwo bottles of Chateau Yquem of a delicacy beyond all praise. And Igrew more and more to like him--he told me many stories of Paris,which, it seemed, had always been his home, with a wit to which hisslight accent and formal utterance gave new point; he displayed akindly interest in my plans which was very pleasing; he was alwaystactful, courteous, good-humored. He was plainly a boulevardier, a manof the world, with an outlook upon life a little startling in itsmateriality, but interesting in its freshness, and often amusing inits frankness. And he seemed to return my liking--certainly it was hewho sought me, not I who sought him. He was being delayed, heexplained, in establishing his business; he could not get just thequarters he desired, but in another week there would be a placevacant. He would ask me to draw up the lease. Meanwhile, time hungrather heavily on his hands.

  "Though I do not quarrel with that," he added, sitting in my room oneevening. "It is necessary for me that I take life easily. I have aweakness of the heart, which has already given me much trouble.Besides, I have your companionship, which is most welcome, and forwhich I thank you. I trust Mees--Mees--what you call--Holladay isagain well."

  "We haven't heard from her," I said. "She is still at her place in thecountry."

  "Oh, she is doubtless well--in her I take such an interest--you willpardon me if I weary you."

  "Weary me? But you don't!"

  "Then I will make bold to ask you--have you made any--what youcall--theory of the crime?"

  "No," I answered; "that is, none beyond what was in thenewspapers--the illegitimate daughter theory. I suppose you saw it.That seems to fit the case."

  He nodded meditatively. "Yet I like to imagine how Monsieur Lecoqwould approach it. Would he believe it was a murder simply because itso appeared? Has it occurred to you that Mees Holladay truly mighthave visited her father, and that his death was not a murder at al
l,but an accident?"

  "An accident?" I repeated. "How could it be an accident? How could aman be stabbed accidentally in the neck? Besides, even if it were anaccident, how would that explain his daughter's rushing from thebuilding without trying to save him, without giving the alarm? If itwasn't a murder, why should the woman, whoever she was, be frightened?How else can you explain her flight?"

  He was looking at me thoughtfully. "All that you say is ver' true," hesaid. "It shows that you have given to the case much thought. Ibelieve that you also have a fondness for crimes of mystery," and hesmiled at me. "Is it not so, Mistair Lester?"

  "I had never suspected it," I laughed, "until this case came up, butthe microbe seems to have bitten me."

  "Ah, yes," he said doubtfully, not quite understanding.

  "And I've rather fancied at times," I admitted, "that I should like totake a hand at solving it--though, of course, I never shall. Ourconnection with the case is ended."

  He shot me a quick glance, then lighted another cigarette.

  "Suppose it were assigned to you to solve it," he asked, "how wouldyou set about it?"

  "I'd try to find the mysterious woman."

  "But the police, so I understand, attempted that and failed," heobjected. "How could you succeed?"

  "Oh, I dare say I shouldn't succeed," I laughed, his air striking meas a little more earnest than the occasion demanded. "I shouldprobably fail, just as the police did."

  "In France," he remarked, "it is not in the least expected that men ofthe law should----"

  "Nor is it here," I explained. "Only, of course, a lawyer can't helpit, sometimes; some cases demand more or less detective work, and areyet too delicate to be intrusted to the police."

  "It is also the fault of our police that it is too fond of thenewspapers, of posing before the public--it is a fault of humannature, is it not?"

  "You speak English so well, Mr. Martigny," I said, "that I havewondered where you learned it."

  "I was some years in England--the business of wine--and devoted myselfseriously to the study of the language. But I still find it sometimesvery difficult to understand you Americans--you speak so much morerapidly than the English, and so much less distinctly. You have a wayof running your words together, of dropping whole syllables----"

  "Yes," I smiled, "and that is the very thing we complain of in theFrench."

  "Oh, our elisions are governed by well-defined laws which each onecomprehends, while here----"

  "Every man is a law unto himself. Remember, it is the land of thefree----"

  "And the home of the license, is it not?" he added, unconscious ofirony.

  Yes, I decided, I was very fortunate in gaining Martigny'sacquaintance. Of course, after he opened his business, he would haveless time to devote to me; but, nevertheless, we should have manypleasant evenings together, and I looked forward to them with considerableanticipation. He was interesting in himself--entertaining, with thatlarge tolerance and good humor which I have already mentioned, andwhich was one of the most striking characteristics of the man. Andthen--shall I admit it?--I was lonely, too, sometimes, as I supposeevery bachelor must be; and I welcomed a companion.

  * * * * *

  It was Monday, the fourteenth day of April, and we had just opened theoffice, when a clerk hurried in with a message for Mr. Royce.

  "There's a man out here who wants to see you at once, sir," he said."He says his name's Thompson, and that he's Miss Frances Holladay'sbutler."

  Our junior half-started from his chair in his excitement; then hecontrolled himself, and sank back into it again.

  "Show him in," he said, and sat with his eyes on the door, haggard inappearance, pitiful in his eagerness. Not until that moment had Inoticed how the past week had aged him and worn him down--his work, ofcourse, might account for part of it, but not for all. He seemedalmost ill.

  The door opened in a moment, and a gray-haired man of about sixtyentered. He was fairly gasping for breath, and plainly laboring understrong emotion.

  "Well, Thompson," demanded Mr. Royce, "what's the trouble now?"

  "Trouble enough, sir!" cried the other. "My mistress has been madeaway with, sir! She left town just ten days ago for Belair, where wewere all waiting for her, and nobody has set eyes on her since, sir!"

 
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up
Scroll
Add comment

Add comment