slightest idea that I had done so, I must have
walked along the Strand, crossed Trafalgar Square, proceeded up the
Haymarket to Piccadilly Circus, and commenced to trudge along at the
Oriental rugs displayed in Messrs. Liberty's window, when an incident
aroused me from the apathy of sorrow in which I was sunken.
"Tell the cab feller to drive to the north side of Wandsworth Common,"
said a woman's voice—a voice speaking in broken English, a voice
which electrified me, had me alert and watchful in a moment.
I turned, as the speaker, entering a taxi-cab that was drawn up by the
pavement, gave these directions to the door-porter, who with open
umbrella was in attendance. Just one glimpse I had of her as she
stepped into the cab, but it was sufficient. Indeed, the voice had
been sufficient; but that sinuous shape and that lithe swaying movement
of the hips removed all doubt.
It was Zarmi!
As the cab moved off I ran out into the middle of the road, where
there was a rank, and sprang into the first taxi waiting there.
"Follow the cab ahead!" I cried to the man, my voice quivering with
excitement. "Look! you can see the number! There can be no mistake. But
don't lose it for your life! It's worth a sovereign to you!"
The man, warming to my mood, cranked his engine rapidly and sprang to
the wheel. I was wild with excitement now, and fearful lest the cab
ahead should have disappeared; but fortune seemingly was with me for
once, and I was not twenty yards behind when Zarmi's cab turned the
first corner ahead. Through the gloomy street, which appeared to be
populated solely by streaming umbrellas, we went. I could scarcely
keep my seat; every nerve in my body seemed to be dancing—twitching.
Eternally I was peering ahead; and when, leaving the well-lighted West
End thoroughfares, we came to the comparatively gloomy streets of the
suburbs, a hundred times I thought we had lost the track. But always
in the pool of light cast by some friendly lamp, I would see the
quarry again speeding on before us.
At a lonely spot bordering the common the vehicle which contained
Zarmi stopped. I snatched up the speaking-tube.
"Drive on," I cried, "and pull up somewhere beyond! Not too far!"
The man obeyed, and presently I found myself standing in what was now
become a steady downpour, looking back at the headlights of the other
cab. I gave the driver his promised reward.
"Wait for ten minutes," I directed; "then if I have not returned, you
need wait no longer."
I strode along the muddy, unpaved path, to the spot where the cab, now
discharged, was being slowly backed away into the road. The figure of
Zarmi, unmistakable by reason of the lithe carriage, was crossing in
the direction of a path which seemingly led across the common. I
followed at a discreet distance. Realizing the tremendous potentialities
of this rencontre I seemed to rise to the occasion; my brain became
alert and clear; every faculty was at its brightest. And I felt
serenely confident of my ability to make the most of the situation.
Zarmi went on and on along the lonely path. Not another pedestrian was
in sight, and the rain walled in the pair of us. Where comfort-loving
humanity sought shelter from the inclement weather, we two moved out
there in the storm, linked by a common enmity.
I have said that my every faculty was keen, and have spoken of my
confidence in my own alertness. My condition, as a matter of fact,
must have been otherwise, and this belief in my powers merely
symptomatic of the fever which consumed me; for, as I was to learn,
I had failed to take the first elementary precaution necessary in
such case. I, who tracked another, had not counted upon being tracked
A bag or sack, reeking of some sickly perfume, was dropped silently,
accurately, over my head from behind; it was drawn closely about my
throat. One muffled shriek, strangely compound of fear and execration,
I uttered. I was stifling, choking ... I staggered—and fell....
Chapter XVII - I