Monte Irvin, alderman of the city and prospective Lord Mayor of London, paced restlessly from end to end of the well-appointed library of his house in Prince's Gate. Between his teeth he gripped the stump of a burnt-out cigar. A tiny spaniel lay beside the fire, his beady black eyes following the nervous movements of the master of the house.
At the age of forty-five Monte Irvin was not ill-looking, and, indeed, was sometimes spoken of as handsome. His figure was full without being corpulent; his wellgroomed black hair and moustache and fresh if rather coarse complexion, together with the dignity of his upright carriage, lent him something of a military air. This he assiduously cultivated as befitting an ex-Territorial officer, although as he had seen no active service he modestly refrained from using any title of rank. Some quality in his brilliant smile, an oriental expressiveness of the dark eyes beneath their drooping lids, hinted a Semitic strain; but it was otherwise not marked in his appearance, which was free from vulgarity, whilst essentially that of a successful man of affairs.
In fact, Monte Irvin had made a success of every affair in life with the lamentable exception of his marriage. Of late his forehead had grown lined, and those business friends who had known him for a man of abstemious habits had observed in the City chophouse at which he lunched almost daily that whereas formerly he had been a noted trencherman, he now ate little but drank much.
Suddenly the spaniel leapt up with that feverish, spider-like activity of the toy species and began to bark.
Monte Irvin paused in his restless patrol and listened.
"Lie down!" he said. "Be quiet."
The spaniel ran to the door, sniffing eagerly. A muffled sound of voices became audible, and Irvin, following a moment of hesitation, crossed and opened the door. The dog ran out, yapping in his irritating staccato fashion, and an expression of hope faded from Irvin's face as he saw a tall fair girl standing in the hallway talking to Hinkes, the butler. She wore soiled Burberry, high-legged tan boots, and a peaked cap of distinctly military appearance. Irvin would have retired again, but the girl glanced up and saw him where he stood by the library door. He summoned up a smile and advanced.
"Good evening, Miss Halley," he said, striving to speak genially--for of all of his wife's friends he liked Margaret Halley the best. "Were you expecting to find Rita at home?"
The girl's expression was vaguely troubled. She had the clear complexion and bright eyes of perfect health, but to-night her eyes seemed over-bright, whilst her face was slightly pale.
"Yes," she replied; "that is, I hoped she might be at home."
"I am afraid I cannot tell you when she is likely to return. But please come in, and I will make inquiries."
"Oh, no, I would rather you did not trouble and I won't stay, thank you nevertheless. I expect she will ring me up when she comes in."
"Is there any message I can give her?"
"Well"--she hesitated for an instant--"you might tell her, if you would, that I only returned home at eight o'clock, so that I could not come around any earlier." She glanced rapidly at Irvin, biting her lip. "I wish I could have seen her," she added in a low voice.
"She wishes to see you particularly?"
"Yes. She left a note this afternoon." Again she glanced at him in a troubled way. "Well, I suppose it cannot be helped," she added and smilingly extended her hand. "Good night, Mr. Irvin. Don't bother to come to the door."
But Irvin passed Hinkes and walked out under the porch with Margaret Halley. Humid yellow mist floated past the street lamps, and seemed to have gathered in a moving reef around the little runabout car which was standing outside the house, its motor chattering tremulously.
"Phew! a beastly night!" he said. "foggy and wet."
"It's a brute isn't it?" said the girl laughingly, and turned on the steps so that the light shining out of the hallway gleamed on her white teeth and upraised eyes. She was pulling on big, ugly, furred gloves, and Monte Irvin mentally contrasted her fresh, athletic type of beauty with the delicate, exotic charm of his wife. She opened the door of the little car, got in and drove off, waving one hugely gloved hand to Irvin as he stood in the porch looking after her. When the red taillight had vanished in the mist he returned to the house and re-entered the library. If only all his wife's friends were like Margaret Halley, he mused, he might have been spared the insupportable misgivings which were goading him to madness. His mind filled with poisonous suspicions, he resumed his pacing of the library, awaiting and dreading that which should confirm his blackest theories. He was unaware of the fact that throughout the interview he had held the stump of cigar between his teeth. He held it there yet, pacing, pacing up and down the long room. Then came the expected summons. The telephone bell rang. Monte Irvin clenched his hands and inhaled deeply. His color changed in a manner that would have aroused a physician's interest. Regaining his self-possession by a visible effort, he crossed to a small side-table upon which the instrument rested. Rolling the cigar stump into the left corner of his mouth, he took up the receiver.
"Hallo!" he said.
"Someone named Brisley, sir, wishes--"
"Put him through to me here."
"Very good, sir."
A short interval, then:
"Yes?" said Monte Irvin.
"My name is Brisley. I have a message for Mr. Monte Irvin."
"Monte Irvin speaking. Anything to report, Brisley?"
Irvin's deep, rich voice was not entirely under control.
"Yes, sir. The lady drove by taxicab from Prince's Gate to Albemarle Street." "Ah!"
"Went up to chambers of Sir Lucien Pyne and was admitted."
"Twenty minutes later came out. Lady was with Sir Lucien. Both walked around to old Bond Street. The Honorable Quentin Gray--"
"Ah!" breathed Irvin.
"--Overtook them there. He got out of a cab. He joined them. All three up to apartments of a professional crystal-gazer styling himself Kazmah 'the dreamreader.'"
A puzzled expression began to steal over the face of Monte Irvin. At the sound of the telephone bell he had paled somewhat. Now he began to recover his habitual florid coloring.
"Go on," he directed, for the speaker had paused.
"Seven to ten minutes later," resumed the nasal voice, "Mr. Gray came down. He hailed a passing cab, but man refused to stop. Mr. Gray seemed to be very irritable."
The fact that the invisible speaker was reading from a notebook he betrayed by his monotonous intonation and abbreviated sentences, which resembled those of a constable giving evidence in a police court.
"He walked off rapidly in direction of Piccadilly. Colleague followed. Near the Ritz he obtained a cab. He returned in same to old Bond Street. He ran upstairs and was gone from four-and-a-half to five minutes. He then came down again. He was very pale and agitated. He discharged cab and walked away. Colleague followed. He saw Mr. Gray enter Prince's Restaurant. In the hall Mr. Gray met a gent unknown by sight to colleague. Following some conversation both gents went in to dinner. They are there now. Speaking from Dover Street Tube."
"Yes, yes. But the lady?"
"A native, possibly Egyptian, apparently servant of Kazmah, came out a few minutes after Mr. Gray had gone for cab, and went away. Sir Lucien Pyne and lady are still in Kazmah's rooms."
"What!" cried Irvin, pulling out his watch and glancing at the disk. "But it's after eight o'clock!"
"Yes, sir. The place is all shut up, and other offices in block closed at six. Door of Kazmah's is locked. I knocked and got no reply."
"Damn it! You're talking nonsense! There must be another exit."
"No, sir. Colleague has just relieved me. Left two gents over their wine at Prince's." Monte Irvin's color began to fade slowly.
"Then it's Pyne!" he whispered. The hand which held the receiver shook. "Brisley-meet me at the Piccadilly end of Bond Street. I am coming now."
He put down the telephone, crossed to the wall and pressed a button. The cigar stump held firmly between his teeth, he stood on the rug before the hearth, facing the door. Presently it opened and Hinkes came in.
"The car is ready, Hinkes?"
"Yes, sir, as you ordered. Shall Pattison come round to the door?"
"Very good, sir."
He withdrew, closing the door quietly, and Monte Irvin stood staring across the library at the full-length portrait in oils of his wife in the pierrot dress which she had worn in the third act of The Maid of the Masque.
The clock in the hall struck half-past eight.