The Anesthetic Vaporizer by Arthur B Reeve

Story type: Literature

Craig had completed a hasty search of the room, with its little dressing table, two trunks, and a cabinet. Everything seemed to have been kept in a most neat and orderly manner by the attentive Cecilie, who was apparently a model servant.

The little white bathroom was equally immaculate, and Kennedy passed next to an examination of the little room of the French maid.

Cecilie was a pretty, dark little being, with snapping black eyes, the type of winsome French maid that one would naturally have expected Rawaruska, with her artist’s love of the beautiful, to have picked out to serve her dainty self.

As I ran my eye over the group that was now intently watching Kennedy at work, I fancied I caught Elsa Hoffman eyeing Cecilie sharply, and I am sure that once at least those black eyes snapped back a wireless message of defiance at the penetrating eyes of blue. I could feel instinctively the atmosphere of hostility between the two women.

“The door was not locked, you say?” repeated Craig, following up one of the first of his own questions to Cecilie, which had resulted in unearthing this new fact.

“Non, monsieur,” replied Cecilie in accented English which was charming. “Mam’selle–we all called her that, her stage name,–used to leave it open in case of fire or accident. She had a terrible fear of drowning. You know there have been some awful wrecks lately, and she was, oh, so nervous.”

“But her valuables?” prompted Craig quickly, watching the effect of his question.

“All in the ship’s safe, in care of the purser,” replied Cecilie. “So were Miss Hoffman’s.”

“Yes,” corroborated Thompson, “and, besides, the corridors and passageways are well patrolled by stewards at all times.”

The search of Cecilie’s room, which was smaller and more scantily furnished, took only a few minutes.

A suppressed exclamation from Craig served to divert my attention from the study of those around me to the study of Kennedy himself, and what he had discovered.

Hidden away in the back of a drawer in a small chiffonier, he had come across several articles that aroused interest if they did not whet the blade of suspicion.

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Mon Dieu! ” exclaimed the maid as Kennedy suppressed a smile of gratification at the outcome of the search. “But that is not mine!”

Kennedy drew out from the back of the drawer, where it had been tucked, a little silken bag. He opened it. On the surface it seemed that the bag was empty. But as he brought it cautiously closer to his face to peer in, I could see that just a whiff of its contents was enough.

“What have you there?” I asked Kennedy, careful that no one else could overhear us.

“Cayenne pepper, snuff, and some other chemical,” sneezed Craig. “Very effective to throw into the face of anyone,” he commented, closing quickly the bag by its loose drawing strings, “that is, if you merely want to blind him and put him out temporarily.”

I did not pay much attention to the protests of the maid, nor the look of triumph that crossed the face of Elsa Hoffman and surprise exhibited by Dr. Preston. For Kennedy had picked up from the same drawer a little toilet vaporizer, too, and was examining it minutely.

As he held it up, I could see, or rather I fancied that it was empty. He pressed the bulb lightly, then seemed to start back quickly.

“What’s that?” I queried, mystified at his actions.

“Something the French secret service spies call the ‘bad perfume,’” he returned frankly, “an anesthetic so incredibly rapid and violent that the spies, usually women, who use it wear a filter veil over their own mouths and noses to protect themselves.”

The whole thing was so queer that I could only wonder what might be the explanation. Cecilie was protesting volubly, now in fair English, now in liquid French, that she knew absolutely nothing of the articles.

I wondered whether Rawaruska herself might not have placed them there. Might she not have been a spy, one of those clever little dancers who had wormed themselves by their graceful agility into the good graces of some of the world’s leading men and made Russia a recognized diplomatic power?

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Something like the same idea must have been suggested to Dr. Sanderson, who was standing next me, for he bent over and remarked to me in an undertone, with a significant glance at what Kennedy had discovered, “I suppose you realize that the position of the Russian government has undergone a marked change since the Russian dancers have won international popularity?”

I had not thought much about it before, but now that he mentioned it, I could not help a nod of assent.

“Why, I have heard,” he continued with the air of a man who is imparting a big piece of information, “that the beautiful young women of the imperial ballet mingle in the society of the capitals of the world, make friends with politicians, social leaders, high officials, and exert a great influence in favor of their own country wherever they go. No doubt,” he added, “they sometimes convey valuable information to the Foreign Office which could not be obtained in any other way.”

I was not paying much attention to him, but still the doctor rattled on in an undertone, “Some of these dancers are past masters in the art of intrigue. Do you suppose Rawaruska and the rest have had the task set for them to win back the public opinion of your country, which departed from its traditional policy of friendliness during the Japanese war?”

I made no answer. I was engrossed in considering the primary question. Could it have been a suicide, after all? Surely she had removed the evidences of it much better than in any other case I had ever seen.

Or, had there been a “triangle,” perhaps a quadrangle here? I could not persuade myself that De Guerre cared greatly for his wife, except perhaps to be jealous of anyone else having her. He was too attentive to Elsa Hoffman, and she, in turn, was not of the type to care much for anyone. As for Dr. Preston, although he seemed to have had a friendship for Rawaruska, I could not exactly fit him into the scheme of things.

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We proceeded up the bay on the Sylvania, but were able to discover nothing further that night. As we left the ship at the dock in the morning we ran across Wade, who was quietly directing a dozen or so of his men.

“Any trace yet of the Invincible?” asked Craig, stopping in an unostentatious corner.

The customs man shook his head gravely. “Not yet,” he replied. “But I’m not discouraged. If we miss it here in the customs inspection it will be sure to turn up later. There’s a shady jeweler on Fifth Avenue, Margot, who knows these Antwerp people pretty well. I have a man working there, a diamond cutter, and other agents in the trade. Oh, I’ll hear about it soon enough, if it is here. Only I’d like to have done something spectacular, something that would count for me at Washington. Have you found out anything?”

Briefly Kennedy told him some of the scattered facts we had discovered, just enough to satisfy him without taking him into our confidence.

“I’m going to be busy in the laboratory, Walter,” remarked Kennedy as our taxicab extricated itself from the ruck of the river-front streets. “I don’t know that there is anything that you can do–except–well, yes. I wish you’d try to keep an eye on some of these people–that maid, Cecilie, especially.”

We had learned that De Guerre was to stop at the Vanderveer and, later in the morning, I dropped into the hotel and glanced over the register. De Guerre was registered there and Cecilie had a little room, also, pending the disposal he would make of her. Miss Hoffman had rooms of her own, which she had evidently re-engaged, with a family in a residential street not far from the hotel.

The clerk told me that De Guerre was out, but that the maid had returned after having been out alone, for a short time, also. The lobby of the Vanderveer was fairly crowded with people by this time, and I found no difficulty in keeping in the background and still seeing pretty much everything that went on.

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It was rather tame, however, and I was still debating whether I should not do something active, when I happened to glance up and catch sight of a familiar face. It was Dr. Preston making inquiries for someone of the room clerk. I dodged back of a pillar and waited, covering myself with an early morning war extra that repeated the news of the night before.

A few moments later, Preston, who had received an answer from whomever he was calling, edged his way toward one of the deserted little reception rooms near a side carriage entrance. Carefully, I trailed him.

It was some minutes before I could make up my mind to risk passing the door of the little parlor and being discovered, but I was growing impatient. As I glanced in I was astonished to see him talking earnestly to Cecilie. I did not dare stop, for fear one or the other might look up, but I could see that Preston was eagerly questioning her. Her face was averted from me and I could not read even her expression. The passageway was deserted, and if I paused I would inevitably attract attention. So I kept on, turning instinctively in the labyrinth and coming back to the lobby, where I found a position near the telephone booths which gave me a concealed view at least of the door of the parlor around an angle. I waited.

Perhaps five minutes passed. Then Cecilie and Dr. Preston suddenly emerged from the reception room. Evidently the maid was anxious to get away, perhaps afraid to be seen with him. With a word, she almost ran down the corridor in the direction of the rear elevators, and Preston, with a queer look on his face, came slowly toward me.

Instinctively I drew back into a telephone booth; then it occurred to me that if I emerged just as he passed he would not be likely to suspect anything, and I might have a chance to study him.

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I did so, and was quite amused at the look of surprise on his face as I greeted him. Still, I do not think he thought I was shadowing him. We paused for a moment on the street, after a conventional exchange of remarks about the tragedy to poor little Rawaruska.

“That Miss Hoffman seems to be a very capable woman,” I remarked, by way of dragging the conversation into channels into which it seemed unlikely to drift naturally.

“Y-yes,” he agreed, as I caught a sidelong glance from the corner of his eye. “I believe she has had a rather checkered career. I understand that she was a nurse, a trained nurse, once.”

There was something about the remark that impressed me. It was made deliberately, I fancied. What his purpose was, I could not fathom, but I felt that in the instant while he had hesitated he had debated and made up his mind to say it.

My face betraying nothing to his searching glance, he pulled hastily at his watch. “I’m going downtown on the subway–to clear up some of the muss that this European business has got me in with my bankers,” he said quickly. “I’d be glad to have you call on me at any time at the Charlton, just up the avenue a bit. Good-day, sir. I’m glad to have met you. Drop in on me.”

He was gone, scarcely waiting for me to reply, leaving me to wonder what was the cause of his strange actions.

Mechanically I looked at my own watch and decided that I had left Craig undisturbed long enough.

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