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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Lighted Way - Chapter 30. Some Questions Answered
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The Lighted Way - Chapter 30. Some Questions Answered Post by :markbc Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :May 2012 Read :1847

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The Lighted Way - Chapter 30. Some Questions Answered

CHAPTER XXX. SOME QUESTIONS ANSWERED

Arnold stood quite still for several moments. The shock seemed to have deprived him even of the power of speech. Sabatini watched him curiously.

"Is it my fancy," he inquired, "or is the name familiar to you?"

"The name is familiar," Arnold confessed.

Sabatini, for a moment, appeared to be puzzled.

"Lalonde," he repeated to himself. "Why, Lalonde," he added, looking up quickly, "was the name of the young lady whom you brought with you to Bourne End. An uncommon name, too."

"Her uncle," Arnold declared; "the same man, beyond a doubt. The police tried to arrest him two days ago, and he escaped. You might have read of it in the paper. It was spoken of as an attempt to capture an anarchist. Lalonde fired at them when he made his escape."

Sabatini sighed.

"It is a small world," he admitted. "I know all about Isaac Lalonde, but I am very sorry indeed to hear that the young lady is connected with him. She seemed--I hope you will forgive me--to speak as though she lived in straitened circumstances. Do you mind telling me whether this event is likely to prove of inconvenience to her?"

Arnold shook his head.

"I am making arrangements to find her another apartment," he said. "We have been through some very dark times together. I feel that I have the right to do everything that is necessary. I have no one else to support."

Sabatini hesitated.

"If one might be permitted," he began, with what was, for him, a considerable amount of diffidence,--

Arnold interposed a little brusquely.

"The care of Ruth Lalonde is upon my shoulders," he insisted. "There can be no question about that. From me it is not charity, for she shared her meals with me when I was practically starving. I am going to ask you more questions."

"Proceed, by all means," Sabatini invited.

"Was Starling concerned at all in this Rosario affair?"

"Not directly," Sabatini admitted.

"Then why," Arnold demanded, "does he hide and behave like a frightened child?"

"A pertinent question," Sabatini agreed. "You have to take into account the man's constitutional cowardice. It is a fact, however, that he was perfectly well aware of what was going to happen, and there are circumstances connected with the affair--a document, for instance, that we know to be in the hands of the police--which account for their suspicions and would certainly tend to implicate our friend Starling. It would be quite easy to make out a very strong case against him."

"I do not understand," Arnold said, after a moment's silence, "what interest Lalonde could have had in killing Rosario."

Sabatini contemplated for a few moments the tip of his patent shoe. Then he sighed gently and lit a cigarette.

"For a young man," he remarked, "it is certain that you have a great deal of curiosity. Still, you have also, I believe, discretion. Listen, then. There is a certain country in the south of Europe which all those who are behind the scenes know to be on the brink of a revolution. The capital is already filled with newspaper correspondents, the thunder mutters day by day. The army is unpaid and full of discontent. For that reason, it is believed that their spirit is entirely revolutionary. Every morning we who know expect to read in the papers that the royal palace has been stormed and the king become an exile. This was the state of things until about a week ago. Did you read the papers on Thursday morning last?"

Arnold shook his head.

"Perhaps," he replied. "I saw nothing that I can remember."

"That morning," Sabatini continued, "the morning of Rosario's death, one read that the government of that country, which had vainly applied for a loan to all the bankers of Europe with a view to satisfying the claims of the army and navy, had at last succeeded in arranging one through the intervention of Rosario. The paragraph was probably inspired, but it spoke plainly, going so far, even, as to say that the loan had probably averted a revolution. The man who had saved the monarchy of an ancient nation was Rosario. One of his rewards, I think, was to have been a title and a distinguished order; it was understood among us that this was the real bait. Rosario's actual reward you know of."

"But where does Isaac Lalonde come in?" demanded Arnold.

"Isaac Lalonde is the London secretary of the revolutionary party of the country of which I have been speaking. I think," he concluded, "that your intelligence will make the rest clear."

Arnold struck the table on the edge of which he was sitting with the palm of his hand.

"Look here," he asked hoarsely, "if you knew all these things, if you knew that Isaac Lalonde had committed this murder, why do you go about with your lips closed? Why haven't you told the truth? An innocent man might be arrested at any time."

Sabatini smiled tolerantly.

"My dear fellow," he said, "why should I? Be reasonable! When you reach my age you will find that silence is often best. As a matter of fact, in this ease my sympathies are very much involved. It is in the mind of many of those who hold the strings that when that revolution does take place it will be I who shall lead it."

Arnold was again bewildered.

"But you," he protested, "are of the ancient nobility of Europe. What place have you among a crowd of anarchists and revolutionaries?"

"You jump at conclusions, my young friend," remarked Sabatini. "The country of which we have spoken is my country, the country from which, by an unjust decree I am exiled. There are among those who desire a change of government, many aristocrats. It is not only the democracy whose hatred has been aroused by the selfish and brutal methods of the reigning house."

Arnold got down from his table and walked to the window. The telephone rang with some insignificant inquiry from a customer. The incident somehow relieved him. It brought him back to the world of every-day events. The reality of life once more obtruded itself upon his conscience. All the time Sabatini lounged at his ease and watched him, always with the faint beginning of a smile upon his lips.

"What I have told you," the latter continued, after a few moments' pause, "must not, during these days, pass beyond the four walls of this singularly uninviting-looking apartment. I have nothing to add or to take from what I have said. The subject is closed. If you have more questions on any other subject, I have still a few minutes."

"Very well, then," Arnold said, coming back to his place, "let us consider the Rosario matter disposed of. Let us go back for a moment to Starling. Tell me why you and your sister saw danger to yourselves in Starling's nervous breakdown? Tell me why, when I returned to Pelham Lodge with her that night, she found a dead man in her room, a man whose body was afterwards mysteriously removed?"

"Quite a spirited number of questions," Sabatini remarked. "Well, to begin with, then, Rosario signed his death-warrant the moment he wrote his name across the parchment which guaranteed the loan. On the night when you first visited Pelham Lodge we heard the news. I believe that Lalonde and his friends would have killed him that night if they could have got at him. Lalonde, however, was a person of strange and inaccessible habits. He hated all aristocrats, and he refused even to communicate with me. Speaking for myself, I was just as determined as Isaac Lalonde that Rosario should never conclude that loan. I told him so that night--Starling and I together. It was thought necessary, by those whose word I am content to accept, that what I had to say to Rosario should come through Starling. It was Starling, therefore, who told him what his position would be if he proceeded further. I must admit that the fellow showed courage. He took a note of Starling's words, which he declared at the time should be deposited in his safe, so that if anything should happen to him, some evidence might be forthcoming. The police, without a doubt, have been in possession of this document, and, curiously enough, Starling was at the _Milan that day. You will perceive, therefore, that in the absence, even, of a reasonable alibi it might be difficult to prove his innocence. To our surprise, however, for we had some faith in the fellow, instead of taking this matter with the indifference of a brave man, he has chosen to behave like a child. In his present half maudlin state he would, I am afraid, if in serious danger of conviction, make statements likely to cause a good deal of inconvenience to myself, my sister's friends, and others."

"Does he know himself who committed the murder?" Arnold asked.

Sabatini smiled.

"Perfectly well," he admitted, "but the fact helps him very little. Isaac Lalonde is rather a notable figure among European criminals. He belongs to a company of anarchists, well-meaning but bloodthirsty, who hold by one another to the death. If Starling, to save himself, were to disclose the name of the real murderer, he would simply make his exit from this life with a knife through his heart instead of the hangman's rope about his neck. These fellows, I believe, seldom commit crimes, but they are very much in earnest and very dangerous. If you ever happen to meet one of them with a red signet-ring upon his fourth finger, you can look out for trouble."

Arnold shivered for a moment.

"I have seen that ring," he murmured.

"You were a spectator of the tragedy, I remember," Sabatini agreed, pleasantly. "Now are you quite satisfied about Starling?"

"I have heard all I want to about that," Arnold admitted.

"We come, then, to your last question," Sabatini said. "You demand to know the meaning of the unfortunate incident which occurred in my sister's boudoir. Here I think that I am really going to surprise you."

"Nothing," Arnold declared, fervently, "could surprise me. However, go on."

"Neither Fenella nor myself," Sabatini asserted, "have the slightest idea as to how that man met with his death."

"But you know who he was?" Arnold asked. "You know why he was watching your house, why he seems to have broken into it?"

"I can assure you," Sabatini repeated, "that not only am I ignorant as to how the man met with his death, but I have no idea what he was doing in the house at all. The night Rosario was there it was different. They were on his track then, without a doubt, and they meant mischief. Since then, however, there has been a pronounced difference of opinion between the two branches of the revolutionary party--the one which I represent and the one which includes Lalonde and his friends. The consequence is that although we may be said to be working for the same ends, we have drawn a little apart. We have had no communications whatever with Lalonde and his friends since the murder of Rosario. Therefore, I can only repeat that I am entirely in the dark as to what that man was doing in my sister's rooms or how he met with his death. You must remember that these fellows are all more or less criminals. Lalonde, I believe, is something of an exception, but the rest of them are at war with Society to the extent of enriching themselves at the expense of their wealthier neighbors on every possible occasion. It is quite likely that the night they were watching Rosario it may have occurred to them that my sister's room contained a good many valuable trifles and was easily entered, especially as they seem to have had a meeting place close at hand. That, however, is pure surmise. You follow me?"

Arnold sighed.

"In a way, I suppose I do," he admitted. "But--it isn't easy, is it?"

"These matters are not easy," Sabatini agreed. "There are motives and counter-motives to be taken note of with which at present I do not weary you. I give you the clue. It is enough."

"But the mystery of the man's body being removed?" Arnold began.

Sabatini shrugged his shoulders.

"Our knowledge ends with what I have told you," he said. "We have no idea who killed the man, and what we know about his removal we know only from what you saw."

Arnold sat thinking for several moments. The telephone rang and some one inquired for Mr. Weatherley. When he had answered it, he turned once more to his visitor.

"Do you know," he remarked, "that nothing that you have yet told me throws the slightest light upon the disappearance of Mr. Weatherley?"

Sabatini smiled.

"Ah! well," he said, "I am afraid that as yet I have not fully appreciated that incident. In France it is by no means unusual that a man should take a hurried journey from his family. I, perhaps, have not sufficiently taken into account Mr. Weatherley's exactness and probity of life. His disappearance may, indeed, have a more alarming significance than either my sister or I have been inclined to give it, but let me assure you of this, my dear Chetwode, that even if Mr. Weatherley has come to serious grief, neither Fenella nor I can suggest the slightest explanation for it. She knows of no reason for his absence. Neither do I. She is, however, just as convinced as I am that he will turn up again, and before very long."

Sabatini pushed away his chair and prepared to leave. His hand fell carelessly and yet almost affectionately upon the young man's shoulder.

"Perhaps," he said, quietly, "I am what you are doubtless thinking me--something of a _poseur_. Perhaps I do like making a tax upon your sober British rectitude. I will admit that the spirit of adventure is in my heart; I will admit that there is in my blood the desire to take from him who hath and give to him who hath not; but, on the other hand, I have my standards, and I seriously do not think that you would be risking very much if you accepted my invitation to lunch to-day."

Arnold held out his hand.

"If I hesitate for a single moment," he replied frankly, "it is because of my work here. However, as you say that Mrs. Weatherley will be there, I will come."

"We shall look forward to the pleasure, then," Sabatini concluded. "Now I will leave you to go on with your money-coining. Au revoir!"

He strolled gracefully out, pausing on his way through the clerk's office to offer a courteous farewell to Mr. Jarvis. The great automobile glided away. Arnold came back from the window and sat down in front of his desk. Before his eyes was a pile of invoices, in his brain a strange medley of facts and fancies.

Mr. Jarvis came bustling in.

"About those Canadian hams, Chetwode," he began,--

Arnold recognized the voice of his saviour.

"We'll go into the matter at once," he declared, briskly.

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