Unquestionably, the number of the gray landaulet now within a few feet of them was XY 1314. Theydon stooped, opened a dressing case lying at his feet, and took out the automatic pistol placed there by Bates. He put it in the right-hand pocket of his coat.
“Now, I’ll reconnoiter,” he said, and opened the door. The taxi driver was already gazing curiously in at his fares, wondering why one or both did not alight.
“Be ready to start the instant I want you,” said Theydon to the man, and he strolled past the gray car, with every sense alert, every muscle braced. If Wong Li Fu were seated inside he would cover him with the pistol and hold him there until the police came, or shoot him dead if he offered any resistance.
Fortunately, therefore, all things considered, the interior of the car was absolutely empty, save for a copy of the Times on the back seat. Even the presence of the newspaper was significant. In that issue should have appeared Forbes’s reply to “Y. M.” which Furneaux had suppressed as unnecessary.
There was a chauffeur at the wheel— no Chinaman, but a tightly-buttoned and black-legginged young Englishman— in fact, the real thing in chauffeurs.
“Whose car is this?” demanded Theydon.
“It belongs to the Chinese Embassy, sir,” said the man, answering civilly enough, but not unnaturally showing some surprise at the curt question.
“Are you waiting here for some official of the Embassy?” went on Theydon.
“Not exactly, sir, some friends of His Excellency.” The man glanced toward the door of the hotel. “Here they are now,” he added.
Theydon turned. Two Chinamen, sedate, pig-tailed persons, were descending the steps. With them was Furneaux! One of the Orientals gave Theydon a rather sharp glance, having noticed, apparently, that he was conversing with the chauffeur, but Furneaux, after a stonily indifferent stare, said to the second Chinaman, in plain English:
“Do you mind dropping me at Scotland Yard?”
“With pleasure,” was the composed reply.
The three entered, and the gray car made off, leaving Theydon to gaze blankly after it. His sister, though badly scared at first, quickly recovered her self-possession. She even made a joke of the incident.
“As an anti-climax, Frank, that is the best thing of its kind you have ever brought off,” she tittered.
Though a prey to that most burthensome of cares— the uneasy consciousness of an impalpable yet ever-threatening evil— Theydon was not blind to the humorous element in the present situation. Mrs. Paxton, of course, did not know who the little man accompanying the Chinamen was.
She had seen her brother stalk the motor car and its presumed occupants in the most approved melodramatic fashion, and could not help noticing his complete discomfiture. Naturally she imagined he had encountered a pair of perfectly harmless citizens of the Middle Kingdom, and, being one of those happy beings more readily swayed to laughter than to tears, rallied him upon an apparent blunder.