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- The Gold of the Gods - 10/45 -


No sooner, however, had the two passed through the door, with their backs toward us, than Kennedy reached over quickly and swept the contents of the ash-tray, cigarette stubs, ashes, and all, into an empty envelope which was lying with some papers. Then he sealed it and shoved it into his pocket, with a sidelong glance of satisfaction at me.

"Evidently Mr. Lockwood and the Senorita are on intimate terms," hazarded Kennedy, as Whitney rejoined us.

"Poor little girl," soliloquized the promoter. "Yes, indeed. And Lockwood is a lucky dog, too. Such eyes, such a figure--did you ever see a more beautiful woman?"

One could not help recognizing that whatever else Whitney might have said that did not ring true his admiration for the unfortunate girl was genuine. That was not so remarkable, however. It could hardly have been otherwise.

"You are acquainted, I suppose, with a Senora de Moche?" ventured Kennedy again, taking a chance shot.

Whitney looked at him keenly. "Yes," he agreed, "I have had some dealings with her. She was an acquaintance of old Mendoza's--a woman of the world, clever, shrewd. I think she has but one ambition--her son. You have met her?"

"Not the Senora," admitted Craig, "but her son is a student at the University."

"Oh, yes, to be sure," said Whitney. "A fine fellow--but not of the type of Lockwood."

Why he should have coupled the names was not clear for the moment. But he had risen, and was moving deliberately up and down the office, his thumbs in his waistcoat pockets, as though he were thinking of something very perplexing.

"If I were younger," he remarked finally, of a sudden, "I would give both of them a race for that girl. She is the greatest treasure that has ever come out of the country. Ah, well--as it is, I would not place my money on young de Moche!"

Kennedy had risen to go.

"I trust you will be able to unearth some clue regarding that dagger," said Whitney, as we moved toward the door. "It seems to have worried Norton considerably, especially since you told him that Mendoza was undoubtedly murdered with it."

Evidently Norton kept in close touch with his patron, but Kennedy did not appear to be surprised at it.

"I am doing my best," he returned. "I suppose I may count on your help as the case develops?"

"Absolutely," replied Whitney, accompanying us out into the hall to the elevator. "I shall back Norton in anything he wants to keep the Peruvian collection intact and protected."

Our questions were as yet unanswered. Not only had we no inkling as to the whereabouts of the dagger, but the source of the four warnings that had been sent us was still as much shrouded in mystery.

Kennedy beckoned to a passing taxicab.

"The Prince Edward Albert," he directed briefly.

VI

THE CURSE OF MANSICHE

We entered the Prince Edward Albert a few minutes later, one of the new and beautiful family hotels uptown.

Before making any inquiries, Craig gave a hasty look about the lobby. Suddenly I felt him take my arm and draw me over to a little alcove on one side. I followed the direction of his eyes. There I could see young Alfonso de Moche talking to a woman much older than himself.

"That must be his mother," whispered Craig. "You can see the resemblance. Let's sit here awhile behind these palms and watch."

They seemed to be engaged in an earnest conversation about something. Even as they talked, though we could not guess what it was about, it was evident that Alfonso was dearer than life to the woman and that the young man was a model son. Though I felt that I must admire them each for it, still, I reflected, that was no reason why we should not suspect them--perhaps rather a reason for suspecting.

Senora de Moche was a woman of well-preserved middle age, a large woman, with dark hair and contrasting full, red lips. Her face, in marked contradiction to her Parisian costume and refined manners, had a slight copper swarthiness about it which spoke eloquently of her ancestry.

But it was her eyes that arrested and held one's attention most. Whether it was in the eyes themselves or in the way that she used them, there could be no mistake about the almost hypnotic power that their owner possessed. I could not help wondering whether she might not have exercised it on Don Luis, perhaps was using it in some way to influence Whitney. Was that the reason why the Senorita so evidently feared her?

Fortunately, from our vantage point, we could see without being in any danger of being seen.

"There's Whitney," I heard Craig mutter under his breath.

I looked up and saw the promoter enter from his car. At almost the same instant the roving eyes of the Senora seemed to catch sight of him. He came over and spoke to the de Moches, standing with them several minutes. I fancied that not for an instant did she allow the gaze of any one else to distract her in the projection of whatever weird ocular power nature had endowed her with. If it were a battle of eyes, I recollected the strange look that I had noted about those of both Whitney and Lockwood. That, however, was different from the impression one got of the Senora's. I felt that she would have to be pretty clever to match the subtlety of Whitney.

Whatever it was they were talking about, one could see that Whitney and Senora de Moche were on very familiar terms. At the same time, young de Moche appeared to be ill at ease. Perhaps he did not approve of the intimacy with Whitney. At any rate, he seemed visibly relieved when the promoter excused himself and walked over to the desk to get his mail and then out into the cafe.

"I'd like to get a better view of her," remarked Kennedy, rising. "Let us take a turn or two along the corridor and pass them."

We sauntered forth from our alcove and strolled down among the various knots of people chatting and laughing. As we passed the woman and her son, I was conscious again of that strange feeling, which psychologists tell us, however, has no real foundation, of being stared at from behind.

At the lower end of the lobby Kennedy turned suddenly and we started to retrace our steps. Alfonso's back was toward us now. Again we passed them, just in time to catch the words, in a low tone, from the young man, "Yes, I have seen him at the University. Every one there knows that he is--"

The rest of the sentence was lost. But it was not difficult to reconstruct. It referred undoubtedly to the activities of Kennedy in unravelling mysteries.

"It's quite evident," I suggested, "that they know that we are interested in them now."

"Yes," he agreed. "There wasn't any use of watching them further from under cover. I wanted them to see me, just to find out what they would do."

Kennedy was right. Indeed, even before we turned again, we found that the Senora and Alfonso had risen and were making their way slowly to the elevators, still talking earnestly. The lifts were around an angle, and before we could place ourselves so that we could observe them again they were gone.

"I wish there was some way of adding Alfonso's shoe-prints to my collection," observed Craig. "The marks that I found in the dust of the sarcophagus in the Museum were those of a man's shoes. However, I suppose I must wait to get them."

He walked over to the desk and made inquiries about the de Moches and Whitney. Each had a suite on the eighth floor, though on opposite sides and at opposite ends of the hall.

"There's no use wasting time trying to conceal our identity now," remarked Kennedy finally, drawing a card from his case. "Besides, we came here to see them, anyhow." He handed the card to the clerk. "Senora de Moche, please," he said.

The clerk took the card and telephoned up to the de Moche suite. I must say that it was somewhat to my surprise that the Senora telephoned down to say that she would receive us in her own sitting room.

"That's very kind," commented Craig, as I followed him into the elevator. "It saves planning some roundabout way of meeting her and comes directly to the point."

The elevator whisked us up directly to the eighth floor and we stepped out into the heavily carpeted hallway, passing down to Room 810, which was the number of her suite. Further on, in 825, was Whitney's.

Alfonso was not there. Evidently he had not ridden up with his mother, after all, but had gone out through another entrance on the ground floor. The Senora was alone.


The Gold of the Gods - 10/45

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