The End Of The Road
The man laughed.
It was a faint cynical murmur of a laugh. Its expression hardly
disturbed the composition of his features.
"I fear, Lady Muriel," he said, "that your profession is ruined.
Our friend - `over the water' - is no longer concerned about the
affairs of England."
The woman fingered at her gloves, turning them back about the
wrists. Her face was anxious and drawn.
"I am rather desperately in need of money," she said.
The cynicism deepened in the man's face.
"Unfortunately," he replied, "a supply of money cannot be
influenced by the intensity of one's necessity for it."
He was a man indefinite in age. His oily black hair was brushed
carefully back. His clothes were excellent, with a precise
detail. Everything about him was conspicuously correct in the
English fashion. But the man was not English. One could not say
from what race he came. Among the races of Southern Europe he
could hardly have been distinguished. There was a chameleon
quality strongly dominant in the creature.
The woman looked up quickly, as in a strong aversion.
"What shall you do?" she said.
The man glanced about the room. There was a certain display
within the sweep of his vision. Some rugs of great value, vases
and bronzes; genuine and of extreme age. He made a careless
gesture with his hands.
"I shall explore some ruins in Syria, and perhaps the aqueduct
which the French think carried a water supply to the Carthage of
Hanno. It will be convenient to be beyond British inquiry for
some years to come; and after all, I am an antiquarian, like
Lady Muriel continued to finger her gloves. They had been
cleaned and the cryptic marks of the shopkeeper were visible
along the inner side of the wrist hem. This was, to the woman,
the first subterfuge of decaying smartness. When a woman began
to send her gloves to the laundry she was on her way down. Other
evidences were not entirely lacking in the woman's dress, but
they were not patent to the casual eye. Lady Muriel was still,
to the observer, of the gay top current in the London world.
The woman followed the man's glance about the room.
"You must be rich, Hecklemeir," she said. "Lend me a hundred
The man laughed again in his queer chuckle.
"Ah, no, my Lady," he replied, "I do not lend." Then he added.
"If you have anything of value, bring it to me . . . . not
information from the ministry, and not war plans; the trade in
such commodities is ended."
It was the woman's turn to laugh.
"The shopkeepers in Oxford Street have been before you, Baron . .
. . I've nothing to sell."
Hecklemeir smiled, kneading his pudgy hands.
"It will be hard to borrow," he said. "Money is very dear to the
Britisher just now - right against his heart . . . . Still. . . .
perhaps one's family could be thumb screwed. . . . . .An elderly
relative with no children would be the most favorable, I think.
Have you got such a relative concealed somewhere in a nook of
London? Think about it. If you could recall one, he would be
like a buried nut."
The man paused; then he added, with the offensive chuckling
"Go to such an one, Lady Muriel. Who shall turn aside from
virtue in distress? Perhaps, in the whole of London, I alone
have the brutality - shall we call it - to resist that
The woman rose. Her face was now flushed and angry.
"I do not know of any form of brutality in which you do not
excel, Hecklemeir," she said. "I have a notion to, go to
Scotland Yard with the whole story of your secret traffic."
The man continued to smile.
"Alas, my Lady," he replied, "we are coupled together. Scotland
Yard would hardly separate us . . . . you could scarcely manage
to drown me and, keep afloat yourself. Dismiss the notion; it is
from the pit."
There was no virtue in her threat as the woman knew. Already her
mind was on the way that Hecklemeir had ironically suggested - an
elderly relative, with no children, from whom one might borrow, -
she valued the ramifications of her family, running out to the
remote, withered branches of that noble tree. She appraised the
individuals and rejected them.
Finally her searching paused.
There was her father's brother who had gone in for science -
deciding against the army and the church - Professor Bramwell
Winton, the biologist. He lived somewhere toward Covent Garden.
She had not thought of him for years. Occasionally his name
appeared in some note issued by the museum, or a college at
For almost four years she had been relieved of this thought about
one's family. The one "over the water" for whom Hecklemeir had
stolen the Scottish toast to designate, had paid lavishly for
what she could find out.
She had been richly, for these four years, in funds.
The habit was established of dipping her hand into the dish. And
now to find the dish empty appalled her. She could not believe
that it was empty. She had come again, and again to this
apartment above the shops in Regent Street, selected for its
safety of ingress; a modiste and a hairdresser on either side of
a narrow flight of steps.
A carriage could stop here; one could be seen here.
Even on the right, above, at the landing of the flight of steps
Nance Coleen altered evening gowns with the skill of one altering
the plumage of the angels. It must have cost the one "over the
water" a pretty penny to keep this whole establishment running
through four years of war.
She spoke finally.
"Have you a directory of London, Hecklemeir?"
The man had been watching her closely.
"If it is Scotland Yard, my Lady," he said, "you will not require
a direction. I can give you the address. It is on the
Embankment, near . . . "
"Don't be a fool, Hecklemeir," she interrupted, and taking the
book from his hands, she whipped through the pages, got the
address she sought, and went out onto the narrow landing and down
the steps into Regent Street:
She took a hansom.
With some concern she examined the contents of her purse. There
was a guinea, a half crown and some shillings in it - the dust of
the bin. And her profession, as Hecklemeir had said, was ended.
She leaned over, like a man, resting her arms on the closed
The future looked troublous. Money was the blood current in the
life she knew. It was the vital element. It must be got.
And thus far she had been lucky.
Even in this necessity Bramwell Winton had emerged, when she
could not think of any one. He would not have much. These
scientific creatures never accumulated money, but he would have a
hundred pounds. He had no wife or children to scatter the
shillings of his income.
True these creatures spent a good deal on the absurd rubbish of
their hobbies. But they got money sometimes, not by thrift but
by a sort of chance. Had not one of them, Sir Isaac Martin,
found the lost mines from which the ancient civilization of Syria
drew its supply of copper. And Hector Bartlett, little more than
a mummy in the Museum, had gone one fine day into Asia and dug up
the gold plates that had roofed a temple of the Sun.
He had been shown in the drawing rooms, on his return, and she
had stopped a moment to look him over - he was a sort of mummy.
She was not hoping to find Bramwell Winton one of these elect.
But he was a hive that had not been plundered.
She reflected, sitting bent forward in the hansom, her face
determined and unchanging. She did not undertake to go forward
beyond the hundred pounds. Something would turn up. She was
lucky . . . others had gone to the tower; gone before the firing
squad for lesser activities in what Hecklemeir called her
profession, but she had floated through . . . carrying what she
gleaned to the paymaster. Was it skill, or was she a child of
And like every gambler, like every adventurer in a life of
hazard, she determined for the favorite of some immense Fatality.
It was an old house she came to, built in the prehistoric age of
London, with thick, heavy walls, one of a row, deadly in its
monotony. The row was only partly tenanted.
She dismissed the hansom and got out.
It was a moment before she found the number. The houses
adjoining on either side were empty, the windows were shuttered.
One might have considered the middle house with the two, for its
step was unscrubbed, and it presented unwashed windows.
It was a heavy, deep-walled structure like a monument. Even the
street in the vicinity was empty. If the biologist had been
seeking an undisturbed quarter of London, he had, beyond doubt,
found it here.
There was a bridged-over court before the house. Lady Muriel
crossed. She paused before the door. There had been a bell pull
in the wall, but the brass handle was broken and only the wire
She was uncertain whether one was supposed to pull this wire, and
in the hesitation she took hold of the door latch. To her
surprise the door yielded, and following the impulse of her
extended hand, she went in.
The hall was empty. There was no servant to be seen. And
immediately the domestic arrangement of the biologist were clear
to her. They would be that of one who had a cleaning woman in on
certain days, and so lived alone. She was not encouraged by this
economy, and yet such a custom in a man like Bramwell Winton
might be habit.
The scientist, in the popular conception, was not concerned with
the luxury of life - they were a rum lot.
But the house was not empty. A smart hat and stick were in the
rack and from what should be a drawing room, above, there
descended faintly the sound of voices.
It seemed ridiculous to Lady Muriel to go out and struggle with
the broken bell wire. She would go up, now that she had entered,
and announce herself, since, in any event, it must come to that.
The heavy oak door closed without a sound, as it had opened.
Lady Muriel went up the stairway. She had nothing to put down.
The only thing she carried was a purse, and lest it should appear
suggestive - as of one coming with his empty wallet in his hand -
she tucked the gold mesh into the bosom of her jacket.
The door to the drawing room was partly open, and as Lady Muriel
approached the top of the stair she heard the voices of two men
in an eager colloquy; a smart English accent from the world that
she was so desperately endeavoring to remain in, and a voice that
paused and was unhurried. But they were both eager, as I have
written, as though commonly impulsed by an unusual concern.
And now that she was near, Lady Muriel realized that the
conversation was not low or under uttered. The smart voice was,
in fact, loud and incisive. It was the heavy house that reduced
the sounds. In fact, the conversation was keyed up. The two men
were excited about something.
A sentence arrested the woman's advancing feet.
"My word! Bramwell, if some one should go there and bring the
things out, he would make a fortune, and would be famous. Nobody
ever believed these stories."
"There was Le Petit, Sir Godfrey," replied the deliberate voice.
"He declared over his signature that he had seen them."
"But who believed Le Petit," continued the other. "The world
took him to be a French imaginist like Chateaubriand . . . who
the devil, Bramwell, supposed there was any truth in this old
story? But by gad, sir, it's true! The water color shows it,
and if you turn it over you will see that the map on the back of
it gives the exact location of the spot. It's all exact work,
even the fine lines of the map have the bearings indicated. The
man who made that water color, and the drawing on the back of it,
had been on the spot.
"Of course, we don't know conclusively who made it. Tony had
gone in from the West coast after big game, and he found the
thing put up as a sort of fetish in a devil house. It was one of
the tribes near the Karamajo range. As I told you, we have only
Tony's diary for it. I found the thing among his effects after
he was killed in Flanders. It's pretty certain Tony did not
understand the water color. There was only this single entry in
the diary about how he found it, and a query in pencil.
"My word! if he had understood the water color, he would have
beaten over every foot of Africa to Lake Leopold. And it would
have been the biggest find of his time. Gad! what a splash he'd
have made! But he never had any luck, the beggar . . . stopped a
German bullet in the first week out.
"Now, how the devil, Bramwell, do you suppose that water color
got into a native medicine house?"
The reflective voice replied slowly.
"I've thought about the thing, Sir Godfrey. It must have been
the work of the Holland explorer, Maartin. He was all about in
Africa, and he died in there somewhere, at least he never came
out . . . that was ten years ago. I've looked him up, and I find
that he could do a water color - in fact there's a collection of
his water colors in, the Dutch museum. They're very fine work,
like this one; exquisite, I'd say. The fellow was born an
"How it got into the hands of a native devil doctor is not
difficult to imagine. The sleeping sickness may have wiped
Maartin out, or the natives may have rushed his camp some
morning, or he may have been mauled by a beast. Any article of a
white man is medicine stuff you know. When you first showed me
the thing I was puzzled. I knew what it was because I had read
Le Petit's pretension . . . I can't call it a pretension now; the
things are there whether he saw them or not.
"I think he did not see them. But it is certain from this water
color that some one did; and Maartin is the only explorer that
could have done such a color. As soon as I thought of Maartin I
knew the thing could have been done by no other."
Lady Muriel had remained motionless on the stair. The door to
the drawing room, before her, was partly open. She stepped in to
the angle of the wall and drew the door slowly back until it
covered this angle in which she stood.
She was rich in such experiences, for her success had depended,
not a little, on overhearing what was being said. Through the
crack of the door the whole interior of the room was visible.
Sir Godfrey Halleck, a little dapper man, was sitting across the
table from Bramwell Winton. His elbows were on the table, and he
was looking eagerly at the biologist. Bramwell Winton had in his
hands the thing under discussion.
It seemed to be a piece of cardboard or heavy paper about six
inches in length by, perhaps, four in width. Lady Muriel could
not see what was drawn or painted on this paper. But the heart
in her bosom quickened. She had chanced on the spoor of
something worth while.
The little dapper man flung his head up.
"Oh, it's certain, Bramwell; it's beyond any question now. My
word! If Tony were only alive, or I twenty years younger! It's
no great undertaking, to go in to the Karamajo Mountains. One
could start from the West Coast, unship any place and pick up a
bunch of natives. The map on the back of the water color is
accurate. The man who made that knew how to travel in an unknown
country. He must have had a theodolite and the very best
equipment. Anybody could follow that map."
There was a battered old dispatch box on the table beside Sir
Godfrey's arm - one that had seen rough service.
"Of course," he went on, "we don't know when Tony picked up this
drawing. It was in this box here with his diary, an automatic
pistol and some quinine. The date of the diary entry is the only
clue. That would indicate that he was near the Karamajo range at
the time, not far from the spot."
He snapped his fingers.
"What damned luck!"
He clinched his hands and brought them down on the table.
"I'm nearly seventy, Bramwell, but you're ten years under that.
You could go in. No one need know the object of your expedition.
Hector Bartlett didn't tell the whole of England when he went out
to Syria for the gold plates. A scientist can go anywhere. No
one wonders what he is about. It wouldn't take three months.
And the climate isn't poisonous. I think it's mostly high
ground. Tony didn't complain about it."
The biologist answered without looking up.
"I haven't got the money, Sir Godfrey."
The dapper little man jerked his head as over a triviality.
"I'll stake you. It wouldn't cost above five hundred pounds."
The biologist sat back in his chair, at the words, and looked
over the table at his guest.
"That's awfully decent of you, Godfrey," he said, "and I'd go if
I saw a way to get your money to you if anything happened."
"Damn the money!" cried the other.
The biologist smiled.
"Well," he said, "let me think about it. I could probably fix up
some sort of insurance. Lloyd's will bet nearly any sane man
that he won't die for three months. And besides I should wish to
look things up a little."
Sir Godfrey rose.
"Oh, to be sure," he said, "you want to make certain about the
thing. We might be wrong. I hadn't an idea what it was until I
brought it to you, and of course Tony hadn't an idea. Make
certain of it by all means."
The biologist extended his long legs under the table. He
indicated the water color in his hand.
"This thing's certain," he said. "I know what this thing is."
He rapped the water color with the fingers of his free hand.
"This thing was painted on the spot. Maartin was looking at this
thing when he painted it. You can see the big shadows
underneath. No living creature could have imagined this or
painted it from hearsay. He had to see it. And he did see it.
I wasn't thinking about this, Godfrey. I was thinking the Dutch
government might help a bit in the hope of finding some trace of
Maartin and I should wish to examine any information they might
have about him."
"Damn the Dutch government!" cried the little man. "And damn
Lloyd's. We will go it on our own hook."
The biologist smiled.
"Let me think about it, a little," he said.
The dapper man flipped a big watch out of his waistcoat pocket.
"Surely!" he cried, "I must get the next train up. Have you got
a place to lock the stuff? I had to cut this lid open with a
He indicated the tin dispatch box.
"Better keep it all. You'll want to run through the diary, I
imagine. Tony's got down the things explorer chaps are always
keen about; temperature, water supply, food and all that. . . . .
Now, I'm off. See you Thursday afternoon at the United Service Club.
Better lunch with me."
Then he pushed the dispatch box across the table. The biologist
rose and turned back the lid of the box. The contents remained
as Sir Godfrey's dead son had left them; a limp leather diary, an
automatic pistol of some American make, a few glass tubes of
quinine, packed in cotton wool.
He put the water color on the bottom of the box and replaced
Then he took the dispatch box over to an old iron safe at the
farther end of the room, opened it, set the box within, locked
the door, and, returning, thrust the key under a pile of journals
on the corner of the table. Then he went out, and down the
stairway with his guest to the door.
They passed within a finger touch of Lady Muriel.
The woman was quick to act. There would be no borrowing from
Bramwell Winton. He would now, with this expedition on the way,
have no penny for another. But here before her, as though
arranged by favor of Fatality, was something evidently of
enormous value that she could cash in to Hecklemeir.
There was fame and fortune on the bottom of that dispatch box.
Something that would have been the greatest find of the age to
Tony Halleck . . . something that the biologist, clearly from his
words and manner, valued beyond the gold plates of Sir Hector
It was a thing that Hecklemeir would buy with money . . . the
very thing which he would be at this opportune moment interested
to purchase. She saw it in the very first comprehensive glance.
Her luck was holding Fortune was more than favorable, merely. It
exercised itself actively, with evident concern, in her behalf.
Lady Muriel went swiftly into the room. She slipped the key from
under the pile of journals and crossed to the safe sitting
against the wall.
It was an old safe of some antediluvian manufacture and the lock
was worn. The stem of the key was smooth and it slipped in her
gloved hands. She could not hold it firm enough to turn the
lock. Finally with her bare fingers and with one hand to aid the
other she was able to move the lock and so open the safe.
She heard the door to the street close below, and the faint sound
of Bramwell Winton's footsteps as though he went along the hall
into the service portion of the house. She was nervous and
hurried, but this reassured her.
The battered dispatch box sat within on the empty bottom of the a
She lifted the lid; an automatic pistol lay on a limp
leather-backed journal, stained, discolored and worn. Lady
Muriel slipped her hand under these articles and lifted out the
thing she sought.
Even in the pressing haste of her adventure, the woman could not
forbear to look at the thing upon which these two men set so
great a value. She stopped then a moment on her knees beside the
safe, the prized article in her hands.
A map, evidently drawn with extreme care, was before her. She
glanced at it hastily and turned the thing quickly over. What
she saw amazed and puzzled her. Even in this moment of tense
emotions she was astonished: She saw a pool of water, - not a
pool of water in the ordinary sense - but a segment of water, as
one would take a certain limited area of the surface of the sea
or a lake or river. It was amber-colored and as smooth as glass,
and on the surface of this water, as though they floated, were
what appeared to be three, reddish-purple colored flowers, and
beneath them on the bottom of the water were huge indistinct
The water was not clear to make out the shadows. But the
appearing flowers were delicately painted. They stood out
conspicuously on the glassy surface of the water as though they
were raised above it.
Amazement held the woman longer than she thought, over this
extraordinary thing. Then she thrust it into the bosom of her
jacket, fastening the button securely over it.
The act kept her head down. When she lifted it Bramwell Winton
was standing in the door.
In terror her hand caught up the automatic pistol out of the tin
box. She acted with no clear, no determined intent. It was a
gesture of fear and of indecision; escape through menace was
perhaps the subconscious motive; the most primitive, the most
common motive of all creatures in the corner. It extends
downward from the human mind through all life.
To spring up, to drag the veil over her face with her free hand,
and to thrust the weapon at the figure in the doorway was all
simultaneous and instinctive acts in the expression of this
primordial impulse of escape through menace.
Then a thing happened.
There was a sharp report and the figure standing in the doorway
swayed a moment and fell forward into the room. The unconscious
gripping of the woman's fingers had fired the pistol.
For a moment Lady Muriel stood unmoving, arrested in every muscle
by this accident. But her steady wits - skilled in her
profession - did not wholly desert her. She saw that the man was
dead. There was peril in that - immense, uncalculated peril, but
the prior and immediate peril, the peril of discovery in the very
accomplishment of theft, was by this act averted.
She stooped over, her eyes fixed on the sprawling body and with
her free hand closed the door of the safe. Then she crossed the
room, put the pistol down on the floor near the dead man's hand
and went out.
She went swiftly down the stairway and paused a moment at the
door to look out. The street was empty. She hurried away.
She met no one. A cab in the distance was appearing. She hailed
it as from a cross street and returned to Regent. It was
characteristic of the woman that her mind dwelt upon the spoil
she carried rather than upon the act she had done.
She puzzled at the water color. How could these things be
Bramwell Winton was a biologist; he would not be concerned with
flowers. And Sir Godfrey Halleck and his son Tony, the big game
hunter, were not men to bother themselves with blossoms. Sir
Godfrey, as she now remembered vaguely, had, like his dead son,
been a keen sportsman in his youth; his country house was full of
She carried buttoned in the bosom of her jacket something that
these men valued. But, what was it? Well, at any rate it was
something that would mean fame and fortune to the one who should
bring it out of Africa. That one would now be Hecklemeir, and
she should have her share of the spoil.
Lady Muriel found the drawing-room of her former employer in some
confusion; rugs were rolled up, bronzes were being packed. But
in the disorder of it the proprietor was imperturbable. He
merely elevated his eyebrows at her reappearance. She went
instantly to the point.
"Hecklemeir," she said, "how would you like to have a definite
objective in your explorations?"
The man looked at her keenly.
"What do you mean precisely?" he replied.
"I mean," she continued, "something that would bring one fame and
fortune if one found it." And she added, as a bit of lure, "You
remember the gold plates Hector Bartlett dug up in Syria?"
He came over closer to her; his little eyes narrowed.
"What have you got?" he said.
His facetious manner - that vulgar persons imagine to be
distinguished - was gone out of him. He was direct and simple.
She replied with no attempt at subterfuge.
"I've got a map of a route to some sort of treasure - I don't
know what - It's in the Karamajo Mountains in the French Congo;
a map to it and a water color of the thing."
Hecklemeir did not ask how Lady Muriel came by the thing she
claimed; his profession always avoided such detail. But he knew
that she had gone to Bramwell Winton; and what she had must have
come from some scientific source. The mention of Hector Bartlett
was not without its virtue.
Lady Muriel marked the man's changed manner, and pushed her
"I want a check for a hundred pounds and a third of the thing
when you bring it out."
Hecklemeir stood for a moment with the tips of his fingers
pressed against his lips; then replied.
"If you have anything like the thing you describe, I'll give you
a hundred pounds . . . let me see it."
She took the water color out of the bosom of her jacket and gave
it to him.
He carried it over to the window and studied it a moment. Then
he turned with a sneering oath.
"The devil take your treasure," he said, "these things are
water-elephants. I don't care a farthing if they stand on the
bottom of every lake in Africa!"
And he flung the water color toward her. Mechanically the
stunned woman picked it up and smoothed it out in her fingers.
With the key to the picture she saw it clearly, the shadowy
bodies of the beasts and the tips of their trunks distended on
the surface like a purple flower. And vaguely, as though it were
a memory from a distant life, she recalled hearing the French
Ambassador and Baron Rudd discussing the report of an explorer
who pretended to have seen these supposed fabulous elephants come
out of an African forest and go down under the waters of Lake
She stood there a moment, breaking the thing into pieces with her
bare hands. Then she went out. At the door on the landing she
very nearly stepped against a little cockney.
"My Lidy," he whined, "I was bringing your gloves; you dropped
them on your way up."
She took them mechanically and began to draw them on . . . the
cryptic sign of the cleaner on the wrist hem was now to her
indicatory of her submerged estate. The little cockney hung
about a moment as for a gratuity delayed, then he disappeared
down the stair before her.
She went slowly down, fitting the gloves to her fingers.
Midway of the flight she paused. The voice of the little
cockney, but without the accent, speaking to a Bobby standing
beside the entrance reached her.
"It was Sir Henry Marquis who set the Yard to register all
laundry marks in London. Great C. I. D. Chief, Sir Henry!"
And Lady Muriel remembered that she had removed these gloves in
order to turn the slipping key in Bramwell Winton's safe lock.
Next: The Last Adventure
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