For some days, she said, she had noticed that two men seemed to be spying upon me in the street. They stood constantly, perhaps a hundred steps from my house; and she suspected that they followed me each time I went up the street.
"You are sure?" I asked.
"Yes, sir and no longer ago than yesterday, when you came into the house, these men came slipping along in your footsteps, and then went away as soon as the door was shut behind you."
"You must be mistaken?"
"I am not, sir."
"And if you met these two men, you would know them?"
"Good;" I cried, laughing, "I see you have the very spirit for a detective. I must engage you as a member of our force."
"Joke if you like, sir. But I have still two good eyes, and I don't need spectacles to recognize people. Someone is spying on you, that's certain; and you should put some of your men to track them in turn."
"All right; I promise to do so," I said, to satisfy her. "And when my men get after them, we shall soon know what these mysterious fellows want of me."
In truth I did not take the good soul's excited announcement very seriously. I added, however, "When I go out, I will watch the people around me with great care."
"That will be best, sir."
My poor old housekeeper was always frightening herself at nothing. "If I see them again," she added, "I will warn you before you set foot out of doors."
"Agreed!" And I broke off the conversation, knowing well that if I allowed her to run on, she would end by being sure that Beelzebub himself and one of his chief attendants were at my heels.
The two following days, there was certainly no one spying on me, either at my exits or entrances. So I concluded my old servant had made much of nothing, as usual. But on the morning of the twenty-second of June, after rushing upstairs as rapidly as her age would permit, the devoted old soul burst into my room and in a half whisper gasped "Sir! Sir!"
"What is it?"
"They are there!"
"Who?" I queried, my mind on anything but the web she had been spinning about me.
"The two spies!"
"Ah, those wonderful spies!"
"Themselves! In the street! Right in front of our windows! Watching the house, waiting for you to go out."
I went to the window and raising just an edge of the shade, so as not to give any warning, I saw two men on the pavement.
They were rather fine-looking men, broad-shouldered and vigorous, aged somewhat under forty, dressed in the ordinary fashion of the day, with slouched hats, heavy woolen suits, stout walking shoes and sticks in hand. Undoubtedly, they were staring persistently at my apparently unwatchful house. Then, having exchanged a few words, they strolled off a little way, and returned again.
"Are you sure these are the same men you saw before?"
Evidently, I could no longer dismiss her warning as an hallucination; and I promised myself to clear up the matter. As to following the men myself, I was presumably too well known to them. To address them directly would probably be of no use. But that very day, one of our best men should be put on watch, and if the spies returned on the morrow, they should be tracked in their turn, and watched until their identity was established.
At the moment, they were waiting to follow me to police headquarters? For it was there that I was bound, as usual. If they accompanied me I might be able to offer them a hospitality for which they would scarce thank me.
I took my hat; and while the housekeeper remained peeping from the window, I went down stairs, opened the door, and stepped into the street.
The two men were no longer there.
Despite all my watchfulness, that day I saw no more of them as I passed along the streets. From that time on, indeed, neither my old servant nor I saw them again before the house, nor did I encounter them elsewhere. Their appearance, however, was stamped upon my memory, I would not forget them.
Perhaps after all, admitting that I had been the object of their espionage, they had been mistaken in my identity.