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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Lost Ambassador: The Search For The Missing Delora - Chapter 27. War
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The Lost Ambassador: The Search For The Missing Delora - Chapter 27. War Post by :zerolocity Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :May 2012 Read :2476

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The Lost Ambassador: The Search For The Missing Delora - Chapter 27. War

CHAPTER XXVII. WAR

Early on the following morning I moved back to my rooms in the Milan Court. Curiously enough I entered the building with a sense of depression for which I could not account. I went first to my own rooms and glanced at my letters. There was nothing there of importance. In other words, there was nothing from Felicia. I descended to the fifth floor and knocked at the door of her room. As I stood there waiting I was absolutely certain that somehow or other a change had occurred in the situation, that the freeness of my intercourse with Felicia was about to be interfered with. I was not in the least surprised when the door was at last cautiously opened, and a woman who was a perfect stranger to me stood on the threshold, with the handle of the door still in her hand.

"I should like to see Miss Delora," I said. "My name is Captain Rotherby."

The woman shook her head. She was apparently French, and of the middle-class. She was dressed in black, her eyes and eyebrows were black, she had even the shadow of a moustache upon her upper lip. To me her appearance was singularly forbidding.

"Miss Delora cannot see you," she answered, with a strong foreign accent.

"Will you be so good as to inquire if that is so?" I answered. "I have an appointment with Miss Delora for this morning, and a motor-car waiting to take her out."

"Miss Delora cannot receive you," answered the woman, almost as though she had not heard, and closed the door in my face.

There was nothing left for me but to go down and interview my friend the hall-porter. I commenced my inquiries with the usual question.

"Any news of Mr. Delora, Ashley?" I asked.

"None at all, sir," the man replied. "A companion has arrived for Miss Delora."

"So I have discovered for myself," I answered. "Do you know anything about her, Ashley?"

The man shook his head.

"She arrived here yesterday afternoon," he said, "with a trunk. She went straight up to Miss Delora's room, and I have not seen them apart since."

"Do they come down to the cafe?" I asked.

"So far, sir," the man answered, "they have had everything served in their sitting-room."

I went back to my room and rang up number 157. The voice which answered me was the voice of the woman who had denied me admission to the room.

"I wish to speak to Miss Delora," I said.

"Miss Delora is engaged," was the abrupt answer.

"Nonsense!" I answered. "I insist upon speaking to her. Tell her that it is Captain Rotherby, and she will come to the telephone."

There was a little whirr, but no answer. The person at the other end had rung off. By this time I was getting angry. In five minutes time I rang up again. The same voice answered me.

"Look here," I said, "if you do not let me speak to Miss Delora, I shall ring up every five minutes during the day!"

"Monsieur can do as he pleases," was the answer. "I shall lay the receiver upon the table. It will not be possible to get connected."

"Do, if you like," I answered, "but how about when Mr. Delora rings you up?"

The woman muttered something which I did not catch. A moment afterwards, however, her voice grew clear.

"That is not your business," she said sharply.

I tried to continue the conversation, but in vain. Nothing came from the other end but silence. I busied myself for a time glancing at a few unimportant letters, and afterwards descended to lunch in the cafe. I fancied, for a moment, that Louis' self-possession was less perfect than usual. He certainly showed some surprise when he saw me, and he came to my table with a little less alacrity.

"Louis," I said, "I shall order my lunch from some one else, not from you."

"Monsieur has lost confidence?" he asked.

"Not in your judgment, Louis," I answered.

Louis looked me straight in the eyes. It was not a practice which he often indulged in.

"Captain Rotherby," he said, "you should be on our side. It would not be necessary then to interfere with any of your plans."

He looked at me meaningly, and I understood.

"It is you, Louis, I presume, whom I have to thank for the lady upstairs?" I remarked.

Louis shrugged his shoulders.

"Why do you seek the man Delora?" he asked. "What concern is it of yours? If you persist, the consequences are inevitable."

"If you will take the trouble to convince me, Louis,--" I said.

Louis interrupted me; it was unlike him. His little gesture showed that he was very nearly angry.

"Monsieur," he said, "sometimes you fail to realize that at a word from us the hand of the gendarme is upon your shoulder. We would make use of your aid gladly, but it must be on our terms--not yours."

"State them, Louis," I said.

"We will tell you the truth," Louis answered slowly. "You shall understand the whole business. You shall understand why Delora is forced to lie hidden here in London, what it is that he is aiming at. When you know everything, you can be an ally if you will. On the other hand, if you disapprove, you swear upon your honor as a gentleman--an English gentleman--that no word of the knowledge which you have gained shall pass your lips!"

"Louis," I said, "I will have my lunch and think about this."

Louis departed with his customary smile and bow. I ordered something cold from the sideboard within sight, and a bottle of wine which was opened before me. There scarcely remained any doubt in my mind now but that some part of Delora's business, at any rate, in this country, was criminal. Louis' manner, his emphatic stipulation, made it a matter of certainty. Again I found myself confronted by the torturing thought that if this were so Felicia could scarcely be altogether innocent. Once when Louis passed me I stopped him.

"Louis," I said, "let me ask you this. Presuming things remain as they are, and I act independently, do you intend to prevent my seeing Miss Delora?"

"It is nothing to do with me," Louis lied. "It is the wish of her uncle."

"Thank you!" I answered. "I wanted to know."

I finished my luncheon. Louis saw me preparing to depart and came up to me. My table was set in a somewhat obscure corner, and we were practically alone.

"I will ask you a question, Louis," I said. "There is no reason why you should not answer it. There are laws from a legal point of view, and laws from a moral point. From the former, I realize that I am, at this moment, a criminal--possibly, as you say, in your power. Let that pass. What I want you to tell me is this,--the undertaking in which Mr. Delora is now engaged, is it from a legal point of view a criminal one, or is it merely a matter needing secrecy from other reasons?"

Louis stood thoughtfully silent for some few moments.

"Monsieur," he said at last, "I will not hide the truth from you. According to the law in this country Mr. Delora is engaged in a conspiracy."

"Political?" I asked.

"No!" Louis answered. "A conspiracy which is to make him and all others who are concerned in it wealthy for life."

"But the Deloras are already rich," I remarked.

"Our friend," Louis said, "has speculated. He has lost large sums. Besides, he loves adventures. What shall you answer, Captain Rotherby?"

"It is war, Louis," I said. "You should know that. If I have to pay the penalty for taking the law into my hands over the man Tapilow, I am ready to answer at any time. As for you and Delora, and the others of you, whoever they may be, it will be war with you also, if you will. I intend, for the sake of the little girl upstairs, to solve all this mystery, to take her away from it if I can."

Louis' eyes had narrowed. The look in his face was almost enough to make one afraid.

"It is a pity," he said. "Even if you had chosen to remain neutral--"

"I should not do that unless I could see as much of Miss Delora as I chose," I interrupted.

"If that were arranged," Louis said slowly,--"mind, I make no promises,--but I say if that were arranged, would it be understood between us that you stopped your search for Mr. Delora, and abandoned all your inquiries?"

"No, Louis," I answered, "unless I were convinced that Miss Delora herself was implicated in these things. Then you could all go to the devil for anything I cared!"

"Your interest," Louis murmured, "is in the young lady, then?"

"Absolutely and entirely," I answered. "Notwithstanding what you have told me, and what I have surmised, the fact that you stood by me in Paris would be sufficient to make me shrug my shoulders and pass on. I am no policeman, and I would leave the work of exposing Delora to those whose business it is. But you see I have an idea of my own, Louis. I believe that Miss Delora is innocent of any knowledge of wrong-doing. That I remain here is for her sake. If I try to discover what is going on, it is also for her sake!"

"Monsieur has sentiment," Louis remarked, showing his teeth.

"Too much by far, Louis," I answered. "Never mind, we all have our weak spots. Some day or other somebody may even put their finger upon yours, Louis."

He smiled.

"Why not, monsieur?" he said.

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