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- The Evil Shepherd - 20/51 -
"By-the-bye," he said, "I had rather a mysterious visit this morning from your brother Reggie."
Wilmore stared at him for a moment, half in relief, half in amazement.
"Good God, Francis, you don't say so!" he exclaimed. "How was he? What did he want? Tell me about it at once? We've been worried to death about the boy."
"Well, as a matter of fact, I didn't see him," Francis explained. "He arrived before I reached my rooms--as you know, I don't live there--waited some time, began to write me this note,"--drawing the sheet of paper from his pocket--"and when I got there had disappeared without leaving a message or anything."
Wilmore adjusted his pince nez with trembling fingers. Then he read the few lines through.
"Francis," he said, when he had finished them, "do you know that this is the first word we've heard of him for three days?"
"Great heavens!" Francis exclaimed. "He was living with his mother, wasn't he?"
"Down at Kensington, but he hasn't been there since Monday," Andrew replied. "His mother is in a terrible state. And now this, I don't understand it at all."
"Was the boy hard up?"
"Not more than most young fellows are," was the puzzled reply. "His allowance was due in a few days, too. He had money in the bank, I feel sure. He was saving up for a motorcar."
"Haven't I seen him once or twice at restaurants lately?" Francis enquired. "Soto's, for instance?"
"Very likely," his brother assented. "Why not? He's fond of dancing, and we none of us ever encouraged him to be a stay-at-home."
"Any particular girl was he interested in?"
"Not that we know of. Like most young fellows of his age, he was rather keen on young women with some connection with the stage, but I don't believe there was any one in particular. Reggie was too fond of games to waste much time that way. He's at the gymnasium three evenings a week."
"I wish I'd been at the office a few minutes earlier this morning," Francis observed. "I tell you what, Andrew. I have some pals down at Scotland Yard, and I'll go down and see them this afternoon. They'll want a photograph, and to ask a few questions, I dare say, but I shouldn't talk about the matter too much."
"You're very kind, Francis," his friend replied, "but it isn't so easy to sit tight. I was going to the police myself this afternoon."
"Take my advice and leave it to me," Francis begged. "I have a particular pal down at Scotland Yard who I know will be interested, and I want him to take up the case."
"You haven't any theory, I suppose?" Wilmore asked, a little wistfully.
Francis shook his head.
"Not the ghost of one," he admitted. "The reason I am advising you to keep as quiet as possible, though, is just this. If you create a lot of interest in a disappearance, you have to satisfy the public curiosity when the mystery is solved."
"I see," Wilmore murmured. "All the same, I can't imagine Reggie getting mixed up in anything discreditable."
"Neither can I, from what I remember of the boy," Francis agreed. "Let me see, what was he doing in the City?"
"He was with Jameson & Scott, the stockbrokers," Wilmore replied. "He was only learning the business and he had no responsibilities. Curiously enough, though, when I went to see Mr. Jameson he pointed out one or two little matters that Reggie had attended to, which looked as though he were clearing up, somehow or other."
"He left no message there, I suppose?"
"Not a line or a word. He gave the porter five shillings, though, on the afternoon before he disappeared--a man who has done some odd jobs for him."
"Well, a voluntary disappearance is better than an involuntary one," Francis remarked. "What was his usual programme when he left the office?"
"He either went to Queen's and played racquets, or he went straight to his gymnasium in the Holborn. I telephoned to Queen's. He didn't call there on the Wednesday night, anyhow."
"Where's the gymnasium?"
"At 147 a Holborn. A lot of city young men go there late in the evening, but Reggie got off earlier than most of them and used to have the place pretty well to himself. I think that's why he stuck to it."
Francis made a note of the address.
"I'll get Shopland to step down there some time," he said. "Or better still, finish your lunch and we'll take a taxi there ourselves. I'm going to the country later on, but I've half-an-hour to spare. We can go without our coffee and be there in ten minutes."
"A great idea," Wilmore acquiesced. "It's probably the last place Reggie visited, anyway."
The gymnasium itself was a source of immense surprise to both Francis and Wilmore. It stretched along the entire top storey of a long block of buildings, and was elaborately fitted with bathrooms, a restaurant and a reading-room. The trapezes, bars, and all the usual appointments were of the best possible quality. The manager, a powerful-looking man dressed with the precision of the prosperous city magnate, came out of his office to greet them.
"What can I do for you, gentlemen?" he enquired.
"First of all," Francis replied, "accept our heartiest congratulations upon your wonderful gymnasium."
The man bowed.
"It is the best appointed in the country, sir," he said proudly. "Absolutely no expense has been spared in fitting it up. Every one of our appliances is of the latest possible description, and our bathrooms are an exact copy of those in a famous Philadelphia club."
"What is the subscription?" Wilmore asked.
"Five shillings a year."
"And how many members?"
The manager smiled as he saw his two visitors exchange puzzled glances.
"Needless to say, sir," he added, "we are not self-supporting. We have very generous patrons."
"I lave heard my brother speak of this place as being quite wonderful," Wilmore remarked, "but I had no idea that it was upon this scale."
"Is your brother a member?" the man asked.
"He is. To tell you the truth, we came here to ask you a question about him."
"What is his name?"
"Reginald Wilmore. He was here, I think, last Wednesday night."
While Wilmore talked, Francis watched. He was conscious of a curious change in the man's deportment at the mention of Reginald Wilmore's name. From being full of bumptious, almost condescending good-nature, his expression had changed into one of stony incivility. There was something almost sinister in the tightly-closed lips and the suspicious gleam in his eyes.
"What questions did you wish to ask?" he demanded.
"Mr. Reginald Wilmore has disappeared," Francis explained simply. "He came here on leaving the office last Monday. He has not been seen or heard of since."
"Well?" the manager asked.
"We came to ask whether you happen to remember his being here on that evening, and whether he gave any one here any indication of his future movements. We thought, perhaps, that the instructor who was with him might have some information."
"Not a chance," was the uncompromising reply. "I remember Mr. Wilmore being here perfectly. He was doing double turns on the high bar. I saw more of him myself than any one. I was with him when he went down to have his swim."
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