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.



"I?"



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

Prosper Merimee."



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

pounds."



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

laugh:



"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

spectacle."



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

Oxford.



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

doors.



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

Fortune?



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

remained.



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

artist.



"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

chisel."



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

them.



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

Bartlett.



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

safe.



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

shadows.



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

flowers?



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

trophies.



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

trade.



"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

Leopold.



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.





The Dreaming Lady The Enigmas facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Feedback