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The Mysterious Mr. Miller

William Le Queux

  Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England

  The Mysterious Mr. MillerBy William Le QueuxPublished by Hodder and Stoughton, London.This edition dated 1906.

  The Mysterious Mr Miller, by William Le Queux.


  ________________________________________________________________________THE MYSTERIOUS MR MILLER, BY WILLIAM LE QUEUX.



  "Why! Look! he's dead, doctor!" I gasped, standing aghast.

  The sudden change in the thin sallow face, the lack of expression in thebrilliant eyes, and the dropping of the jaw were sufficient to convinceme that the stranger's life had ebbed away.

  The doctor bent, placed his hand upon the prostrate man's breast for amoment, and then, straightening himself, he turned to me and answeredgravely:--

  "Yes, Godfrey; it is as I feared from the first. Nothing could savehim. Remember what I told you this morning--it was simply a matter ofhours."

  "He appears to have been a rather strong, athletic man," I remarked,looking down upon the wan, furrowed face.

  "Unusually so. The disease, however, has thoroughly wrecked hisconstitution. He was addicted to the morphia habit of late." Andpulling down the sheet he pointed to the marks of recent punctures uponthe dead man's forearm.

  We were standing together in the small shabby bedroom of theboarding-house wherein I lived in Granville Gardens, facing therecreation ground close to Shepherd's Bush Railway Station. Thestifling July day was at an end, and the narrow room was lit by the softhazy glow of the fast-fading London sunset.

  Through the open window came the shouts of children at play upon the"green" opposite, mingled with the chatter of the passers-by and theever-increasing whirr of the electric trams. Within that faded,smoke-grimed chamber of the dead was silence. Upon the bed between uslay the dead stranger--the man who was a mystery.

  "Well, has he told you anything after all?" inquired my friend, DrTulloch.

  "Very little," was my reply. "He was uncommunicative. He had a reason,I believe, for concealing his identity."

  "Perhaps we shall discover something when we search his things," myfriend remarked.

  "We'll do that to-morrow," I said. "It isn't decent to do so at once."

  Then, as Tulloch bent again, to reassure himself that his patient wasactually lifeless, a silence once more fell between us. The glow of thesummer sunset deepened, shining through the smoke-haze, and lighting upthose dead features for a moment, but next instant the doctor, havingbeen satisfied that no spark of life remained, tenderly drew the sheetover the white sphinx-like countenance.

  The unfortunate man was a perfect stranger to us all.

  On the previous day, at a little before six o'clock in the evening, hehad called upon old Mrs Gilbert, who with her daughter kept theboarding-house where I chanced to be staying, and had, it appeared,taken a top room, where his two leather portmanteaux were placed. Iknew nothing of the man's advent until Miss Gilbert had tapped at thedoor of the sitting-room and informed me that she had a new guest, aforeign gentleman who could speak only a few words of broken English.

  "This is his name," she said, handing me a scrap of paper whereon he hadwritten "Michele Massari."

  "An Italian," I remarked. "There is a noble family of the Massari, inFerrara. He may belong to it."

  "It's fortunate, Mr Leaf, that you speak Italian," Miss Gilbert said,laughing. "You'll help us if we are in any difficulty, won't you?"

  "Most certainly," I assured her, for I knew that a foreigner is often agreat trouble in a purely English _pension_. Many people speak Frenchor German, but few know Italian.

  Then the landlady's daughter, a pleasant-faced, florid young woman ofabout thirty, thanked me and withdrew.

  The reason I found myself at Mrs Gilbert's _pension_ was in order to benear my old schoolfellow, Sammy Sampson, who had made the place his_pied-a-terre_ in town for several years past. I had to spend sixmonths in London upon business affairs, therefore we had agreed to sharehis sitting-room, a cosy little bachelor's den leading from his bedroomat the back of the house.

  An hour later at dinner the stranger made his appearance and, with myconsent, was placed next to me. There were eleven guests in all--twomarried couples of the usual _genre_ to be found in Londonboarding-houses of that order, and the rest men with various occupations"in the City." We were usually a merry party, with Miss Gilbert at thehead of the long table, and the chatter was generally amusing.

  The advent of the stranger, however, awakened every one's curiosity, andas he took his seat, glancing sharply around, there fell a dead silence.

  He was a tall, thin, wiry man with sharp aquiline features, hair withsilver threads in it, and fierce black moustaches carefully waxed. Hiseyes were black and penetrating, his complexion sallow, his cheekssunken, and the glance he gave at his fellow-guests was quick andapprehensive, as though he feared recognition.

  He wore evening dress, which was out of place at Mrs Gilbert's, andalso showed that he was not used to boarding-houses of that class. Andas he bowed towards me and seated himself, I saw that upon his lean,claw-like hand was a fine diamond ring.

  All eyes were directed upon him, and at once I detected that, being aforeigner, he was viewed with considerable disfavour and distrust. Theguests at Mrs Gilbert's were not cosmopolitan. The only foreignersaccepted at their own estimation in London boarding-houses are theIndian law students. Every girl believes her "tar-brush"table-companion to be a prince.

  Signor Massari ate his tinned soup in silence. He had tucked the end ofhis napkin into his collar in true Italian fashion, and from the factthat attached to his watch-chain was a small golden hand with theindex-finger pointing, I put him down as a superstitious Tuscan. Thathand was the survival of a mediaeval Tuscan charm to avert the evil eye.

  Having spent some years of an adventurous youth in old-world Tuscany,and being well acquainted with the soft musical tongue of theflower-scented land, I ventured presently to make a casual remark withmy c's well aspirated, as became the true-born Florentine.

  My companion started, looking at me in quick suspicion. In his keenpiercing eyes was a glance of sharp apprehension and inquiry--but onlyfor a moment. Sight of me seemed instantly to dispel his fears, and hiscountenance resumed its normal appearance. But his response was arather cold and formal one--in the _patois_ of the Genoese. Heevidently desired that I should not put him down as Tuscan.

  Though somewhat puzzled I allowed the incident to pass. Yet I made amental note of it. Signor Massari, I decided, was a somewhat queercustomer. He was a man with enemies--and he feared them. That fact wasquite evident.

  We chatted in Italian, much to Miss Gilbert's fussy satisfaction, butour conversation was rather formal and strained. He had no intention,it seemed, to have anything to do with his fellow-guests, and he onlytolerated me because it would have been uncivil not to do so.

  A friend in Italy had recommended him to Mrs Gilbert's, he explained.He had only arrived from the Continent at 4:50 that evening, and hadcome straight there in a cab.

  "Then this is your first visit to London?" I asked.

  "No," he replied. "I was here once before--long ago." And I thought hesighed slightly, as though the recollection of the previous visit waspainful.

  His was a sad face; hard, furrowed--a countenance that bore troublewritten indelibly upon it. He ate but little, and drank only a glass ofmineral water.

  I tried to get him to tell me from what province of Italy he came, buthe studiously avoided all my ingenious questions. He spoke of Italyvaguely, and yet with the tenderness of one who lov
ed his fatherland.Among all the nations of Europe, the Italian is surely the mostpatriotic and the most eager to serve his country.

  On several occasions remarks, meant to be courteous, were addressed tohim in English by my companions, but it was plain that he did notunderstand our tongue. Or if he did, he gave no sign.

  Therefore, from the very first moment of his entry into ourboarding-house circle we put him down as a complete mystery.

  Sammy Sampson, my irresponsible friend, sat opposite me and, as usual,kept the table laughing at his clever witticisms. Once I saw theItalian scowl in displeasure, and wondered whether he had conceived theidea that my friend was joking at his expense.

  The stranger was not aware that I had detected the fierce look of hatredthat, for a single instant, showed in his dark shining eyes. It was anexpression that I did not like--an expression of fierce,