“Yes, sometimes—when anything really big brings him here. I have, however, only seen him once, five years ago. He was at your hotel, and the police were so hot upon his track that only by dint of great promptitude and courage he escaped by getting out of the window of his room and descending by means of the rain-water pipe. It was one of the narrowest escapes he has ever had.”
As the words left the man’s mouth, they were passing a well-lit brasserie. A tall, cadaverous man passed them and Hugh had a suspicion that they exchanged glances of recognition.
Was his pretended friend an agent of the police?
For a few seconds he debated within himself how he should act. To refuse to do as he was bid might be to bring instant arrest upon himself. If the stranger were actually a detective—which he certainly did not appear to be—then the ruse was to get him on the road to Cette because the legal formalities were not yet complete for his arrest as a British subject.
Yet he knew all about The Sparrow, and his attitude was not in the least hostile.
Hugh could not make up his mind whether the stranger was an associate of the famous Sparrow, or whether he was very cleverly inveigling him into the net.
It was only that exchange of glances with the passer-by which had aroused Hugh’s suspicions.
But that significant look caused him to hesitate to accept the mysterious stranger as his friend.
True, he had accepted as friends numbers of other unknown persons since that fateful night at Monte Carlo. Yet in this case, he felt, by intuition, that all was not plain sailing.
“Very well,” he said, at last. “I esteem it a very great favour that you should have interested yourself on behalf of one who is an entire stranger to you, and I heartily thank you for warning me of my danger. When I see The Sparrow I shall tell him how cleverly you approached me, and how perfect were your arrangements for my escape.”
“I require no thanks or reward, Mr. Henfrey,” replied the man politely. “My one desire is to get you safely out of Marseilles.”
And with that the stranger lifted his hat and left him.
Hugh went about fifty yards farther along the broad, well-lit street full of life and movement, for the main streets of Marseilles are alive both day and night.
By some intuition—why, he knew not—he suspected that affable little man who had posed as his friend. Was it possible that, believing the notorious Sparrow to be his friend, he had at haphazard invented the story, and posed as one of The Sparrow’s gang?
If so, it was certainly a very clever and ingenious subterfuge.
He was undecided how to act. He did not wish to give offence to his friend, the king of the underworld, and yet he felt a distinct suspicion of the man who had so cleverly approached him, and who had openly declared himself to be a crook.