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    VIII. What Cornish Knew

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    Chapter 8
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    Two hours passed before young Cooley returned. He knocked twice without a reply; then he came in.

    The coverlet was still over Mellin's head.

    "Asleep?" asked Cooley.

    "No."

    The coverlet was removed by a shaking hand.

    "Murder!" exclaimed Cooley sympathetically, at sight of the other's face. "A night off certainly does things to you! Better let me get you some--"

    "No. I'll be all right--after while."

    "Then I'll go right ahead with our little troubles. I've decided to leave for Paris by the one-thirty and haven't got a whole lot of time. Cornish is here with me in the hall: he's got something to say that's important for you to hear, and I'm goin' to bring him right in." He waved his hand toward the door, which he had left open. "Come along, Cornish. Poor ole Mellin'll play Du Barry with us and give us a morning leevy while he listens in a bed with a palanquin to it. Now let's draw up chairs and be sociable."

    The journalist came in, smoking a long cigar, and took the chair the youth pushed toward him; but, after a twinkling glance through his big spectacles at the face on the pillow, he rose and threw the cigar out of the window.

    "Go ahead," said Cooley. "I want you to tell him just what you told me, and when you're through I want to see if he doesn't think I'm Sherlock Holmes' little brother."

    "If Mr. Mellin does not feel too ill," said Cornish dryly; "I know how painful such cases sometimes--"

    "No." Mellin moistened his parched lips and made a pitiful effort to smile. "I'll be all right very soon."

    "I am very sorry," began the journalist, "that I wasn't able to get a few words with Mr. Cooley yesterday evening. Perhaps you noticed that I tried as hard as I could, without using actual force"--he laughed--"to detain him."

    "You did your best," agreed Cooley ruefully, "and I did my worst. Nobody ever listens till the next day!"

    "Well, I'm glad no vital damage was done, anyway," said Cornish. "It would have been pretty hard lines if you two young fellows had been poor men, but as it is you're probably none the worse for a lesson like this."

    "You seem to think seven thousand dollars is a joke," remarked Cooley.

    Cornish laughed again. "You see, it flatters me to think my time was so valuable that a ten minutes' talk with me would have saved so much money."

    "I doubt it," said Cooley. "Ten to one we'd neither of us have believed you--last night!"

    "I doubt it, too." Cornish turned to Mellin. "I hear that you, Mr. Mellin, are still of the opinion that you were dealing with straight people?"

    Mellin managed to whisper "Yes."

    "Then," said Cornish, "I'd better tell you just what I know about it, and you can form your own opinion as to whether I do know or not. I have been in the newspaper business on this side for fifteen years, and my headquarters are in Paris, where these people are very well known. The man who calls himself 'Chandler Pedlow' was a faro-dealer for Tom Stout in Chicago when Stout's place was broken up, a good many years ago. There was a real Chandler Pedlow in Congress from a California district in the early nineties, but he is dead. This man's name is Ben Welch: he's a professional swindler; and the Englishman, Sneyd, is another; a quiet man, not so well known as Welch, and not nearly so clever, but a good 'feeder' for him. The very attractive Frenchwoman who calls herself 'Comtesse de Vaurigard' is generally believed to be Sneyd's wife, though I could not take the stand on that myself. Welch is the brains of the organization: you mightn't think it, but he's a very brilliant man--he might have made a great reputation in business if he'd been straight--and, with this woman's help, he's carried out some really astonishing schemes. His manner is clumsy; he knows that, bless you, but it's the only manner he can manage, and she is so adroit she can sugar-coat even such a pill as that and coax people to swallow it. I don't know anything about the Italian who is working with them down here. But a gang of the Welch-Vaurigard- Sneyd type has tentacles all over the Continent; such people are in touch with sharpers everywhere, you see."

    "Yes," Cooley interpolated, "and with woolly little lambkins, too."

    "Well," chuckled Cornish, "that's the way they make their living, you know."

    "Go on and tell him the rest of it," urged Cooley.

    "About Lady Mount-Rhyswicke," said Cornish, "it seems strange enough, but she has a perfect right to her name. She is a good deal older than she looks, and I've heard she used to be remarkably beautiful. Her third husband was Lord George Mount-Rhyswicke, a man who'd been dropped from his clubs, and he deserted her in 1903, but she has not divorced him. It is said that he is somewhere in South America; however, as to that I do not know."

    Mr. Cornish put the very slightest possible emphasis on the word "know," and proceeded:

    "I've heard that she is sincerely attached to him and sends him money from time to time, when she has it--though that, too, is third-hand information. She has been declasse ever since her first divorce. That was a 'celebrated case,' and she's dropped down pretty far in the world, though I judge she's a good deal the best of this crowd. Exactly what her relations to the others are I don't know, but I imagine that she's pretty thick with 'em."

    "Just a little!" exclaimed Cooley. "She sits behind one of the lambkins and Helene behind the other while they get their woolly wool clipped. I suppose the two of 'em signaled what was in every hand we held, though I'm sure they needn't have gone to the trouble! Fact is, I don't see why they bothered about goin' through the form of playin' cards with us at all. They could have taken it away without that! Whee!" Mr. Cooley whistled loud and long. "And there's loads of wise young men on the ocean now, hurryin' over to take our places in the pens. Well, they can have mine! Funny, Mellin: nobody would come up to you or me in the Grand Central in New York and try to sell us greenbacks just as good as real. But we come over to Europe with our pockets full o' money and start in to see the Big City with Jesse James in a false mustache on one arm, and Lucresha Borgy, under an assumed name, on the other!"

    "I am afraid I agree with you," said Cornish; "though I must say that, from all I hear, Madame de Vaurigard might put an atmosphere about a thing which would deceive almost any one who wasn't on his guard. When a Parisienne of her sort is clever at all she's irresistible."

    "I believe you," Cooley sighed deeply.

    "Yesterday evening, Mr. Mellin," continued the journalist, "when I saw the son of my old friend in company with Welch and Sneyd, of course I tried to warn him. I've often seen them in Paris, though I believe they have no knowledge of me. As I've said, they are notorious, especially Welch, yet they have managed, so far, to avoid any difficulty with the Paris police, and, I'm sorry to say, it might be hard to actually prove anything against them. You couldn't prove that anything was crooked last night, for instance. For that matter, I don't suppose you want to. Mr. Cooley wishes to accept his loss and bear it, and I take it that that will be your attitude, too. In regard to the note you gave Sneyd, I hope you will refuse to pay; I don't think that they would dare press the matter."

    "Neither do I," Mr. Cooley agreed. "I left a silver cigarette-case at the apartment last night, and after talkin' to Cornish a while ago, I sent my man for it with a note to her that'll make 'em all sit up and take some notice. The gang's all there together, you can be sure. I asked for Sneyd and Pedlow in the office and found they'd gone out early this morning leavin' word they wouldn't be back till midnight. And, see here; I know I'm easy, but somehow I believe you're even a softer piece o' meat than I am. I want you to promise me that whatever happens you won't pay that I O U."

    Mellin moistened his lips in vain. He could not answer.

    "I want you to promise me not to pay it," repeated Cooley earnestly.

    "I promise," gasped Mellin.

    "You won't pay it no matter what they do?"

    "No."

    This seemed to reassure Mr. Cooley.

    "Well," he said, "I've got to hustle to get my car shipped and make the train. Cornish has finished his job down here and he's goin' with me. I want to get out. The whole thing's left a mighty bad taste in my mouth, and I'd go crazy if I didn't get away from it. Why don't you jump into your clothes and come along, too?"

    "I can't."

    "Well," said the young man with a sympathetic shake of the head, "you certainly look sick. It may be better if you stay in bed till evening: a train's a mighty mean place for the day after. But I wouldn't hang around here too long. If you want money, all you have to do is to ask the hotel to cash a check on your home bank; they're always glad to do that for Americans." He turned to the door. "Mr. Cornish, if you're goin' to help me about shipping the car, I'm ready."

    "So am I. Good-by, Mr. Mellin."

    "Good-by," Mellin said feebly--"and thank you."

    Young Cooley came back to the bedside and shook the other's feverish hand. "Good-by, ole man. I'm awful sorry it's all happened, but I'm glad it didn't cost you quite as much money as it did me. Otherwise I expect it's hit us about equally hard. I wish--I wish I could find a inice one"--the youth gulped over something not unlike a sob--"as fascinatin' as her!"

    Most people have had dreams of approaching dangers in the path of which their bodies remained inert; when, in spite of the frantic wish to fly, it was impossible to move, while all the time the horror crept closer and closer. This was Mellin's state as he saw the young man going. It was absolutely necessary to ask Cooley for help, to beg him for a loan. But he could not.

    He saw Cooley's hand on the doorknob; saw the door swing open.

    "Good-by, again," Cooley said; "and good luck to you!"

    Mellin's will strove desperately with the shame that held him silent.

    The door was closing.

    "Oh, Cooley," called Mellin hoarsely.

    "Yes. What?"

    "J-j-just good-by," said Mellin.

    And with that young Cooley was gone.
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