CASE OF THE WHISPERING POPLARS
One afternoon Moris Klaw walked into my office and announced that “owing to alterations” he had temporarily suspended business at the Wapping emporium, and thus had found time to give me a call. I always welcomed a chat with that extraordinary man, and although I could conceive of no really useful “alteration” to his unsavoury establishment other than that of setting fire to it, I made no inquiries, but placed an easy chair for him and offered a cigar.
Moris Klaw removed his caped overcoat and dropped it upon the floor. Upon this sartorial wreckage he disposed his flat-topped brown bowler, and from it extracted the inevitable scent-spray. He sprayed his dome-like brow and bedewed his toneless beard with verbena.
“So refreshing,” he explained, “a custom of the Romans, Mr. Searles. It is a very warm day.”
I admitted that this was so.
“My daughter Isis,” continued Klaw, “has taken advantage of the alterations and decorations to run over so far as Paris.”
I made some commonplace remark, and we drifted into a conversation upon a daring robbery which at that time was flooding the press with copy. We were so engaged when, to my great surprise (for I had thought him at least a thousand miles away), Shan Haufmann was announced. As my old American friend entered, Moris Klaw modestly arose to depart. But I detained him and made the two acquainted.
Haufmann hailed Klaw cordially, exhibiting none of the illbred surprise which so often greeted my eccentric acquaintance of singular aspect. Haufmann had all that bonhomie which overlooks the clothes and welcomes the man. He glanced apologetically at his right hand which hung in a sling.
“Can’t shake, Mr. Klaw,” said the big American, a goodhumoured smile on his tanned, clean-shaven face. “I stopped some lead awhile back and my right is still off duty.”
Naturally I was anxious at once to know how he had come by the hurt; and he briefly explained that in the discharge of certain official duties he had run foul of a bad gang, two of whom he had been instrumental in convicting of murder, whilst the third had shot him in the arm and escaped.
“Three dagoes,” he explained in his crisply picturesque fashion, “been wanted for years. Helped themselves to a bunch of my colts this Fall; killed one of the boys and left another for dead. So I went after them hot and strong. We rounded them up on the Mexican border, and got two, Schwart Sam and one of the Costas; but the younger Costa—we call him Corpus Chris—broke away and found me in the elbow with a lump of lead!”
“So you’ve come for a holiday?”
“Mostly,” replied Haufmann. “Greta hustled me here. She got real ill when I said I wouldn’t come. So we came! I’m centring in London for six months. Brought the girls over for a look round. I’m not stopping at a hotel. We’ve rented a house a bit outside; it’s Lal’s idea. Settled yesterday. All fixed. Expect you to dinner to-night! You, too, Mr. Klaw! Is it a bet?”
Moris Klaw was commencing some sort of a reply, but what it was never transpired, for Haufmann, waving his sound hand cheerily, quitted the office as rapidly as he had entered, calling back:
“Dine seven-thirty. Girls expecting you!”
That was his way; but so infectious was his real geniality that few could fail to respond to it.
“He is a good fellow, that Mr. Haufmann,” rumbled Moris Klaw. “Yes, I love such natures. But he has forgotten to tell us where he lives!”
It was so! Haufmann, in his hurry and impetuosity, had overlooked that important matter; but I thought it probable that he would recall the oversight and communicate, so prevailed upon Klaw to remain. At last, however, I glanced at my watch, and found it to be nearly six o’clock, whereupon I looked blankly at Moris Klaw. That eccentric shrugged his shoulders and took up the caped coat. Then the ’phone-bell rang. It was Haufmann.
I was glad to hear his familiar accent as he laughingly apologised for his oversight. Rapidly he acquainted me with the whereabouts of The Grove—for so the house was called.
“Come now,” he said. “Don’t stop to dress; you’ve only just got time,” and rang off.
I thought Moris Klaw stared oddly through his pince-nez when I told him the address, but concluded, as he made no comment, that I had been mistaken. There was just time to catch our train, and from the station where we alighted it was only a short drive to the house. Haufmann’s car was waiting for us, and in less than three-quarters of an hour from our quitting the Strand, we were driving up to The Grove, through the most magnificent avenue of poplar I had ever seen.
“By Jove!” I cried, “what fine trees!”Public Domain, Sax Rohmer, sfw