The chauffeur! What had happened to him? Had the man been killed in the auto smash; or, less fortunate than himself, fallen into the hands of those whose power he seemed both to fear and rate so highly? And that package! Box—what was the number?—yes, 428. What did that mean? What box? Where was it? Who was John Johansson? He hadn’t heard any more than that; the smash had come then. And lastly, he was back again to the same question he had begun with: Where was he now himself? It looked as though some good Samaritan had picked him up. Who was this gentleman so quietly reading there at the desk?
Jimmie Dale opened his eyes for the third time. How still, how absolutely silent the room was! He studied the man’s back speculatively for a moment, then his gaze travelled on past the man to the wall, riveted there, and his fingers, without movement of his arm, pressed against the outside of his coat pocket. He thought as much! His automatic was gone!
Not a muscle of Jimmie Dale’s face moved. His eyes shifted to a picture on the wall. The man was watching him—not reading! Just above the level of the desk, a small mirror held the couch in focus—but, equally, it held the man in focus, and Jimmie Dale had seen the other’s eyes, through a black mask that covered the face to the top of the upper lip, fixed intently upon him.
There was a chill now where before there had been reassurance, something ominous in the very quiet and refinement of the room; and Jimmie Dale smiled inwardly in bitter irony—his good Samaritan wore a mask! His self-congratulations had come too soon. Whatever had happened to the chauffeur, it was evident enough that he himself was caught! What was it the chauffeur had said? Something about a chance through being unknown. Was it to be a battle of wits, then? God, if his head did not ache so frightfully! It was hard to think with the brain half sick with pain.
Those two eyes shining in that mirror! There seemed something horribly spectre-like about it. He did not look again, but he knew they were there. It was like a cat watching a mouse. Why did not the man speak, or move, or do something, and—He turned his head slowly; the man was laughing in a low, amused way.
“You appear to be taken with that picture,” observed a pleasant voice. “Perhaps you recognise it from there? It is a Corot.”
Jimmie Dale, with a well-simulated start, sat up—and, with another quite as well simulated, stared at the masked man. The other had laid down his book, and swung around in his chair to face the couch. Jimmie Dale stood up a little shakily.
“Look here!” he said awkwardly. “I—I don’t quite understand. I remember that my taxi got into a smash-up, and I suppose I have to thank you for the assistance you must have rendered me; only, as I say”—he looked in a puzzled way around the room, and in an even more perplexed way at the mask on the other’s face—“I must confess I am at a loss to understand quite the meaning of this.”