"After all, this is not such a home of mystery as we expected," I remarked.
"Apparently not," he answered. "The little woman is playing a bold game."
Then Mrs. Smith-Lessing came in.
LORD BLENAVON'S SURRENDER
She came in very quietly, a little pale and wan in this cold evening light. She held out her hand to me with a subdued but charming smile of welcome.
"I am so glad that you have come to see me," she said softly. "You can help me, too, about this unfortunate young man who has been thrown upon my hands. I—"
Then she saw Ray, and the words seemed to die away upon her lips. I had to steel my heart against her to shut out the pity which I could scarcely help feeling. She was white to the lips. She stood as one turned to stone, with her distended eyes fixed upon him. It was like a trapped bird, watching its impending fate. She faltered a little on her feet, and—I could not help it—I hurried to her side with a chair. As she sank into it she thanked me with a very plaintive smile.
"Thank you," she said, simply. "I am not very strong, and I did not know that man was with you."
Ray broke in. His voice sounded harsh, his manner, I thought, was unnecessarily brutal.
"I can understand," he said, "that you find my presence a little unwelcome. I need scarcely say that this is not a visit of courtesy. You know very well that willingly I would never spend a moment under the same roof as you. I am here to speak a few plain words, to which you will do well to listen."
She raised her eyes to his. Her courage seemed to be returning at the note of battle in his tone. Her small, well-shaped head was thrown back. The hands which grasped the sides of her chair ceased to tremble.
"Go on," she said.
"We will not play at cheap diplomacy," he said, sneeringly. "I know you by a dozen names, which you alter and adopt to suit the occasion. You are a creature of the French police, one of those parasitical creatures who live by sucking the honesty out of simpler persons. You are here because the more private meetings of the English Council of Defence are being held at Rowchester. It is your object by bribery, or theft, or robbery, or the seductive use of those wonderful charms of yours, to gain possession of copies of any particulars whatever about the English autumn manoeuvres, which, curiously enough, have been arranged as a sort of addendum to those on your side of the Channel. You have an ally, I regret to say, in the Duke's son, you are seeking to gain for yourself a far more valuable one in the person of this boy. You say to yourself, no doubt, Like father, like son. You ruined and disgraced the one. You think, perhaps, the other will be as easy."
"Stop!" she cried.
He looked at her curiously. Her face was drawn with pain. In her eyes was the look of a being stricken to death.
"It is terrible!" she murmured, "that men so coarse and brutal as you should have the gift of speech. I do not wish to ask for any mercy from you, but if I am to stay here and listen, you will speak only of facts."
He shrugged his shoulders contemptuously.
"You should be hardened by this time," he said, "but I forgot that we had an audience. It is always worth while to play a little to the gallery, isn't it? Well, facts, then. The boy is warned against you, and from to-day this house is watched by picked detectives. Blenavon can avail you nothing, for he knows nothing. Such clumsy schemes as last night's are foredoomed to failure, and will only get you into trouble. You will waste your time here. Take my advice, and go!"
She rose to her feet. Smaller and frailer than ever she seemed, as she stood before Ray, dark and massive.
"Your story is plausible," she said coldly. "It may even be true. But, apart from that, I had another and a greater reason for coming to England, for coming to Braster. I came to seek my husband—the father of this boy. I am even now in search of him."
I held my breath and gazed at Ray. For the moment it seemed as though the tables were turned. No signs of emotion were present in his face, but he seemed to have no words. He simply looked at her.
"He left me in January," she continued, "determined at least to have speech with his son. He heard then for the first time of the absconding trustee. He came to England, if not to implore his son's forgiveness, at least to place him above want. And in this country he has never been heard of. He has disappeared. I am here to find him. Perhaps," she added, leaning a little over towards Ray, and in a slightly altered tone, "perhaps you can help me?"
Again it seemed to me that Ray was troubled by a certain speechlessness. When at last he found words, they and his tone were alike harsh, almost violent.
"Do you think," he said, "that I would stretch out the little finger of my hand to help you or him? You know very well that I would not. The pair of you, in my opinion, were long since outside the pale of consideration from any living being. If he is lost, so much the better. If he is dead, so much the better still."
"It is because I know how you feel towards him," she said, slowly, "that I wondered—yes, I wondered!"
"Whether you could not, if you chose, solve for me the mystery of his disappearance."
There was as much as a dozen seconds or so of tense silence between them. She never once flinched. The cold question of her eyes seemed to burn its way into the man's composure. A fierce exclamation broke from his lips.
"If he were dead," he said, "and if it were my hand which had removed him, I should count it amongst the best actions of my life."
She looked at him curiously—as one might regard a wild beast.
"You can speak like this before his son?"
"I veil my words at no time and for no man," he answered. "The truth is always best."
Then the door opened, and Blenavon entered. His arm and head were bandaged, and he walked with a limp. He was deathly pale, and apparently very nervous. He attempted a casual greeting with Ray, but it was a poor pretence. Ray, for his part, had evidently no mind to beat about the bush.
"Lord Blenavon," he said, "this house is no fit place for your father's son. I have warned you before, but the time for advice is past. Your hostess here is a creature of the French police, and her business here is to suborn you and others whom she can buy or cajole into a treasonable breach of confidence. It is very possible that you know all this, and more. But I appeal to you as an Englishman and the representative of a great English family. Are you willing to leave at once with us and to depart altogether from this part of the country, or will you face the consequences?"
Blenavon was a coward. He shook and stammered. He was not even master of his voice.
"I do not understand you," he faltered. "You have no right to speak to me like this."
"Right or no right, I do," Ray answered. "If you refuse I shall not spare you. Last night was only one incident of many. I break my faith as a soldier by giving you this opportunity. Will you come?"
"I am waiting now for a carriage," Blenavon answered. "I have sent to the house for one."
"You will not return to the house," Ray said shortly. "You will leave here for the station, the station for London, and London for the Continent. You do this, and I hold my peace. You refuse, and I see Lord Chelsford and your father to-night."
From the first I knew that he would yield, but he did it with an ill grace.
"I don't see why I should go," he said, sulkily.
"Either you and I together, or I alone, are going to catch the six o'clock train to London," Ray said. "If I go alone you will be an exile from England for the rest of your life, your name will be removed from every club to which you belong, and you will have brought irreparable disgrace upon your family. The choice is yours."
Blenavon turned towards the woman as though for aid. But she stood with her back to him, pale and with a thin scornful smile upon her lips.
"The choice," Ray repeated, glancing at his watch, "is yours, but the time is short."
"I will go," Blenavon said. "I was off in a day or two, anyway. Of what you suspect me I don't know, and I don't care. But I will go."
Ray put his watch into his pocket. He turned to Mrs. Smith-Lessing.
"Better come too," he said quietly. "You have no more chance here. Every one knows now who and what you are."
She looked at him with white expressionless face.
"It does not suit me to leave the neighbourhood at present," she said calmly.
If she had been a man Ray would have struck her. I could see his white teeth clenched fiercely together.
"It does not suit me," he said, in a low tone vibrate with suppressed passion, "to have you here. You are a plague spot upon the place. You have been a plague spot all your life. Whatever you touch you corrupt."
She shrank away for a moment. After all, she was a woman, and I hated Ray for his brutality.
"What a butcher you are!" she said, looking at him curiously. "If ever you should marry—God help the woman."
"There are women and women," he answered roughly. "As for you, you do not count in the sex at all."
She turned away from him with a little shudder, and for the first time during the interview she hid her face in her hands. It was all I could do to avoid speech.
"Come," he said, "do you agree? Will you leave this place? I promise you that your schemes here at any rate are at an end."
She turned to me. Perhaps something in my face had spoken the sympathy which I could not wholly suppress.
"Guy," she said, "I want to be rid of this man, because every word he speaks—hurts. But I cannot even look at him any more. At this war of words he has won. I am beaten. I admit it. I am crushed. I am not going away. I spoke truthfully when I said that I came to England in search of your father. We may both of us be the creatures that man would have you believe, but we have been husband and wife for eighteen years, and it is my duty to find out what has become of him. Therefore I stay."
I could see Ray's black eyes flashing. He almost gripped my arm as he drew me away. We three left the house together. At the bottom of the drive we met a carriage sent down from Rowchester. Ray stopped it.
"Blenavon and I will take this carriage to the station," he said. "Will you, Ducaine, return to Lady Angela and tell her exactly what has happened?"
"Oh, come, I'm not going to have that," Blenavon exclaimed.
"It will not be unexpected news," Ray said sternly. "Your sister suspects already."
"I'm not going to be bundled away and leave you to concoct any precious story you think fit," Blenavon declared, doggedly. "I—"
Ray opened the carriage door and gripped Blenavon's arm. "Get in," he said in a low, suppressed tone. There was something almost animal in the fury of Ray's voice. I looked away with a shudder. Blenavon stepped quietly into the carriage. Then Ray came over to me, and as he looked searchingly into my face, he pointed up the carriage drive.
"Boy," he said, "you are young, and in hell itself there cannot be many such as she. You think me brutal. It is because I remember—your mother!"
He stepped into the carriage. I turned round and set out for Rowchester.
There followed for me another three days of unremitting work. Then midway through one morning I threw my pen from me with a great sense of relief. They might come or send for me when they chose. I had finished. My eyes were hot and my brain weary. Instinctively I threw open my front door, and it seemed to me that the sun and the wind and the birds were calling.
So I walked northwards down on the beach, across the grass-sprinkled sandhills and the mud-bottomed marshes. I walked with my cap stuffed in my pocket, my head bared to the freshening wind, and all the way I met no living creature. As I walked, my thoughts, which had been concentrated for these last few days upon my work, went back to that terrible half-hour at Braster Grange. I thought of Ray. I realized now that for days past I had been striving not to think of him. The man's sheer brutality appalled me. I believed in him now wholly, I believed at least in his honesty, his vigorous and trenchant loyalty. But the ways of the man were surely brutal to torture even vermin caught in the trap, and that woman, adventuress though she might be, had flinched before him in agony, as though her very nerves were being hacked out of her body. And Blenavon, too! Surely he might have remembered that he was her brother. He might have helped him to retain just a portion of his self-respect. Was he as severe on every measure of wrong-doing? I fancied to myself the meeting on that lonely road between the poor white-faced creature who had looked in upon my window, and this strong merciless man. Warmed with exercise as I was, I shivered. Ray reminded me of those grim figures of the Old Testament. An eye for an eye, a life for a life, were precepts with him indeed. He was as inexorable as Fate itself. I feared him, and I knew why. I feared him when I thought of Angela, almost over-sensitive, so delicate a flower to be held in his strong, merciless grasp. I walked faster and faster, for thoughts were crowding in upon me. Such a tangled web, such bitter sweetness as they held for me. These were the thoughts which in those days it was the struggle of my life to keep from coming to fruition. I knew very well that, if once I gave way to them, flight alone could save me. For the love of her was in my nerves, in every beat of my pulse, a wild and beautiful dream, against which I was fighting always a hopeless battle.
Far away, coming towards me along the sands, I saw her. I stopped short. For a moment my heart was hot with joy, then I looked wildly around, thinking of flight. It was not possible. Already she had seen me. She waved her hand and increased her pace, walking with the swift effortless grace of her beautiful young limbs, her head thrown back, a welcoming smile already parting her lips. I set my teeth and prepared myself for the meeting. Afterwards would come the pain, but for the present the joy of seeing her, of being with her, was everything! I hastened forward.
"I could not stay indoors," she said, as she turned by my side, "although I have an old aunt and some very uninteresting visitors to entertain. Besides, I have news! My father is coming down to-day, and I think some of the others. We have just had a telegram."
"I am glad," I answered. "I have just finished my work, and I want some more."
"You are insatiable," she declared, smiling. "You have written for three days, days and nights too, I believe, and you look like a ghost. You ought to take a rest now. You ought to want one, at any rate."
Then the smile faded from her lips, and the anxiety of a sudden thought possessed her.
"I have not heard a word from Colonel Ray," she said. "It terrifies me to think that he may have told my father about Blenavon."
"You must insist upon it that he does not," I declared. "Your brother has left England, has he not?"
"He is at Ostend."
"Then Colonel Ray will keep his word," I assured her. "Besides, you have written to him, have you not?"
"I have written," she answered. "Still, I am afraid. He will do what he thinks right, whatever it may be."
"He will respect your wishes," I said.
She smiled a little bitterly.
"He is not an easy person to influence," she murmured. "I doubt whether my wishes, even my prayers, would weigh with him a particle against his own judgment. And he is severe—very severe."
I said nothing, and we walked for some time in silence.
"Next week," she said abruptly, "I must go back to London."
It was too sudden! I could not keep back the little exclamation of despair. She walked for some time with her head turned away from me, as though something on the dark clear horizon across the waters had fascinated her, but I caught a glimpse of her face, and I knew that my secret had escaped me. Whether I was glad or sorry I could not tell. My thoughts were all in hopeless confusions. When she spoke, there was a certain reserve in her tone. I knew that things would never again be exactly the same between us. Yet she was not angry! I hugged that thought to myself. She was startled and serious, but she was not angry.
"One season is very much like another," she said, "but it is not possible to absent oneself altogether. Then afterwards there is Cowes and Homburg, and I always have a plan for at least three weeks in Scotland. I believe we shall close Rowchester altogether."
"The Duke?" I asked.
"He never spends the summer here," she answered. "We are generally together after July, so perhaps," she added, "you may have to endure more of my company than you think."
She looked at me with a faint, provoking smile. How dare she? I was master of myself now, and I answered her coldly.
"I shall be very sorry to leave here," I said. "I hope if my work lasts so long that I shall be able to go on with it at the 'Brand.'"
She made no answer to that, but in a moment or two she turned and looked at me thoughtfully.
"You are rather a surprising person," she remarked, "in many ways. And you certainly have strange tastes."
"Is it a strange taste to love this place?" I asked.
"Of course not. But, on time other hand, it is strange that you should be content to remain here indefinitely. Solitude is all very well at times, but at your age I think that the vigorous life of a great city should have many attractions for you. Life here, after all, must become something of an abstraction."
"It contents me," I declared shortly.
"Then I am not sure that you are in an altogether healthy frame of mind," she answered, coolly. "Have you no ambitions?"
"Such as I have," I muttered, "are hopeless. They were built on sand—and they have fallen."
"Then reconstruct them," she said. "You are far too young to speak with such a note of finality."
"Some day," I answered, "I suppose I shall. At present I am content to live on, amongst the fragments. One needs only imagination. The things one dreams about are always more beautiful and perhaps more satisfying than the things one does."
Again our eyes met, and I fancied that this time she was looking a little frightened. At any rate she knew. I was sure of that.
"What an ineffective sort of proceeding!" she murmured.
A creek separated us for a few minutes. When we came together again I asked her a question.
"There is something, Lady Angela," I said, "which, if you would forgive the impertinence of it, I should very much like to ask you."
She moved her head slowly, as though giving a tacit consent. But I do not think that she was quite prepared for what I asked her.
"When are you going to marry Colonel Ray?"
She looked at me quickly, almost furtively, and I saw that her cheeks were flushed. There was a look in her eyes, too, which I could not fathom.
"The date is not decided yet," she said. "You know there is some talk of trouble in Egypt, and if so he might have to leave at a moment's notice."
"It will not be, at any rate, before the autumn, then?" I persisted.
I drew a little breath of relief. I was reckless whether she heard it or not. Suddenly she paused.
"Who is that?" she asked.
I recognized him at once—a small grey figure, standing on the top of a sandhill a little way off, and regarding us steadily. It was the Duke.
"Your father!" I said.
We quickened our pace. If Lady Angela was in any way discomposed she showed no signs of it. She waved her hand, and the Duke solemnly removed his hat.
"I am so glad that he has come down before the others," she said. "I am longing to have a talk with him. And I don't believe he knows anything about Blenavon. No, he's far too cheerful."
She went straight up to him and passed her arm through his. He greeted me stiffly, but not unkindly.
"I am so glad that you have come," she said. "If I had not heard I should have telegraphed to you. I've seen it in all the papers."
"You approve?" I heard him ask quietly.
"Approve is not the word," she declared eagerly. "It is magnificent."
"I wonder," he asked, "if you realize what it means?"
"It simply doesn't matter," she answered, with a delightful smile. "I can make my own dresses, if you like. Annette is a shocking nuisance to me."
"I am afraid," he remarked, with an odd little smile, "that Blenavon will scarcely regard the matter in the same light."
"Bother Blenavon!" she answered lightly. "I suppose you know that he's gone off abroad somewhere?"
"I had a hurried line from him with information to that effect," the Duke answered. "I think that it would have been more respectful if he had called to see me on his way through London."
I heard her sigh of relief.
"Now, tell me," she begged, "where shall we begin? Cowes, Homburg, town house, or Annette? I'm ready."
The Duke looked at her for a moment as I had never seen him look at any living person.
"You must not exaggerate to yourself the importance of this affair, Angela," he said. "I do not think we need interfere for the present with any existing arrangements."
She took his arm, and they walked on ahead to the clearing in front of my. cottage, talking earnestly together. I had no clue to the meaning of those first few sentences which had passed between them. And needless to say, I now lingered far enough behind to be out of earshot. When they reached the turn in the path they halted and waited for me.
"I am anxious for a few minutes' conversation inside with you, Ducaine," the Duke said. "Angela, you had better perhaps not wait for me."
She nodded her farewell, a brief imperious little gesture, it seemed to me, with very little of kindliness in it. Then the Duke followed me into my sitting-room. I waited anxiously to hear what he had to say.
The Duke selected my most comfortable easy chair and remained silent for several minutes, looking thoughtfully out of the window. Notwithstanding the fresh colour, which he seldom lost, and the trim perfection of his dress, I could see at once that there was a change in him. The lines about his mouth were deeper, his eyes had lost much of their keen brightness. I found myself wondering whether, after all, some suspicion of Lord Blenavon's doings had found its way to him.
"You are well forward with your work, I trust, Mr. Ducaine?" he said at last.
"It is completed, your Grace," I answered.
"The proposed subway fortifications as well as the new battery stations?"
"Yes, your Grace."
"What about the maps?"
"I have done them also to the best of my ability, sir," I answered. "I am not a very expert draughtsman, I am afraid, but these are at least accurate. If you would care to look them over, they are in the library safe."
"And the code word?"
In accordance with our usual custom I scribbled it upon a piece of paper, and held it for a moment before his eyes. Then I carefully destroyed it.
"To-morrow," he said, "perhaps to-night, we have some railway men coming down to thoroughly discuss the most efficient method of moving troops from Aldershot and London to different points, and to inaugurate a fresh system. You had better hold yourself in readiness to come up to the house at any moment. They are business men, and their time is valuable. They will probably want to work from the moment of their arrival until they go."
"Very good, your Grace," I answered.
He turned his head and looked at me for a moment reflectively.
"You remember our conversation at the War Office, Mr. Ducaine?"
"Yes, your Grace."
"I do not wish you to have a false impression as to my meaning at that time," he said coldly. "I do not, I have never, doubted your trustworthiness. My feeling was, and is, that you are somewhat young and of an impetuous disposition for a post of such importance. That feeling was increased, of course, by the fact that I considered your story with reference to the Prince of Malors improbable to the last degree. In justice to you," he continued more slowly, "I must now admit the possibility that your description of that incident may after all be in accordance with the facts. Certain facts have come to my knowledge which tend somewhat in that direction. I shall consider it a favour, therefore, if you will consider my remarks at that interview retracted."
"I thank your Grace very much," I answered.
"With reference to the other matter," he continued, "there my opinion remains unaltered. I do not believe that the papers in the safe were touched after you yourself deposited them there, and I consider your statement to the contrary a most unfortunate one. But the fact remains that you have done your work faithfully, and the Council is satisfied with your services. That being so, you may rely upon it that any feeling I may have in the matter I shall keep to myself."
I would have expressed my gratitude to him, but he checked me.
"There is," he said, "one other, a more personal matter, concerning which I desired a few words with you. I have had a visit from a relative of yours who is also an old friend of my own. I refer to Sir Michael Trogoldy."
I looked at him in amazement. I was, in fact, so surprised that I said nothing at all.
"Sir Michael, it seems, has been making inquiries about you, and learned of your present position," the Duke continued. "He asked me certain questions which I was glad to be able to answer on your behalf. He also entrusted me with a note, which I have here in my pocket."
He produced it and laid it upon the table. I made no movement to take it.
"The details of your family history," the Duke said, "are unknown to me. But if the advice of an old man is in any way acceptable to you, I should strongly recommend you to accept any offer of friendship which Sir Michael may make. He is an old man, and he is possessed of considerable wealth. Further, I gather that you are his nearest relative."
"Sir Michael was very cruel to my mother, sir," I said slowly.
"You have nothing to gain by the harbouring of ancient grievances," the Duke replied. "I have always known Sir Michael as a just if a somewhat stern man. Please, however, do not look upon me in any way as a would-be mediator. My interest in this matter ceases with the delivery of that letter."
The Duke rose to his feet. I followed him to the door.
"In any case, sir," I said, "I am very much obliged to you for your advice and for bringing me this letter."
"By-the-bye," the Duke said, pausing on the threshold, "I fear that we may lose the help of Colonel Ray upon the Council. There are rumours of serious trouble in the Soudan, and if these are in any way substantiated, he will be certainly sent there. Good afternoon, Mr. Ducaine."
"Good afternoon, your Grace."
So he left me, stiff, formal, having satisfied his conscience, though I felt in my heart that his opinion of me, once formed, was not likely to be changed. Directly I was alone I opened my uncle's letter.
"127, GROSVENOR SQUARE,
"It has been on my mind more than once during the last few years—ever since, in fact, I heard of you at college—to write and inform myself as to your prospects in life. You are the son of my only sister, although I regret to say that you are the son also of a man who disgraced himself and his profession. You have a claim upon me which you have made no effort to press. Perhaps I do not think the worse of you for that. In any case, I wish you to accept an allowance of which my lawyers will advise you, and if you will call upon me when you are in town I shall be glad to make your acquaintance. I may say that it was a pleasure to me to learn that you have succeeded in obtaining a responsible and honourable post.
"I am, yours sincerely,
I took pen and paper, and answered this letter at once.
"My DEAR SIR MICHAEL,—
"As I am your nephew, and I understand, almost your nearest relative, I see no reason why I should not accept the allowance which you are good enough to offer me. I shall also be glad to come and see you next time I am in London, if it is your wish.
Grooton brought in my tea, also a London morning paper which he had secured in the village.
"I thought that you might be interested in the news about the Duke, sir," he said respectfully.
"What news, Grooton?" I asked, stretching out my hand for the paper.
"You will find a leading article on the second page, sir, and another in the money news. It reads quite extraordinary, sir."
I opened the paper eagerly. I read every word of the leading article, which was entitled "Noblesse Oblige," and all the paragraphs in the money column. What I read did not surprise me in the least when once I had read the circumstances. It was just what I should have expected from the Duke. It seemed that he had lent his name to the prospectus of a company formed for the purpose of working some worthless patent designed to revolutionize the silk weaving trade. The Duke's reason for going on the Board was purely philanthropic. He had hoped to restore an ancient industry in a decaying neighbourhood. The whole thing turned out to be a swindle. One angry shareholder stated plainly at the meeting that he had taken his shares on account of the Duke's name upon the prospectus, and hinted ugly things. The Duke had risen calmly in his place. He assured them that he fully recognized his responsibilities in the matter. If the person who had last spoken was in earnest when he stated that the Duke's name had induced him to take shares in this company, then he was prepared to relieve him of those shares at the price which he had paid for them. Further, if there was any other persons who were able honestly to say that the name of the Duke of Rowchester upon the prospectus had induced them to invest their money in this concern, his offer extended also to them.
There were roars of applause, wild enthusiasm. It was magnificent, but the lowest estimate of what it would cost the Duke was a hundred thousand pounds.
I put down the paper, and my cheeks were flushed with enthusiasm. I think that if the Duke had been there at that moment I could have kissed his hand. I passed with much less interest to the letter which Grooton had brought in with the paper. It was from a firm of solicitors in Lincoln's Inn, and it informed me, in a few precise sentences, that they had the authority of their client, Sir Michael Trogoldy, to pay me yearly the sum of five hundred pounds.
FRIEND OR ENEMY?
There came no summons from Rowchester, and I dined alone. I must have dozed over my after-dinner cigarette, for at first that soft rapping seemed to come to me from a long way off. Then I sat up in my chair with a start. My cigarette had burnt out, my coffee was cold. I had been asleep, and outside some one was knocking at my' front door.
I had sent Grooton to the village with letters, and I was alone in the place. I sprang from my chair just as the handle of the door was turned and a woman stepped quietly in. She was wrapped from head to foot in a long cloak, and she was thickly veiled. But I knew her at once. It was Mrs. Smith-Lessing.
My first impulse was one of anger. It seemed to me that she was taking advantage of the sympathy which Ray's brutality during our last interview had forced from me. I spoke to her coldly, almost angrily.
"Mrs. Smith-Lessing," I said, "I regret that I cannot receive you here. My position just now does not allow me to receive visitors."
She simply raised her veil and sank into the nearest chair. I was staggered when I saw her face. It was positively haggard, and her eyes were burning. She looked at me almost with horror.
"I had to come," she said. "I could not keep away a moment longer. Tell me the truth, Guy Ducaine. The truth, mind!" she repeated, fearfully.
"What do you mean?" I asked, bewildered. "I do not understand you."
"Tell me the truth about that man who came to see you on the seventh of January."
I shook my head.
"I have nothing to tell you," I said firmly. "When I found him on the marshes he was dead. I did not hear till afterwards that he had ever asked for me."
"This is the truth?" she asked eagerly.
"It is the truth!" I answered.
I could see the relief shine in her face. She was still anxious, however.
"Is it true," she asked, "that you told a girl in the village, Blanche Moyat, to keep secret the fact that this man inquired in the village for the way to your cottage?"
"That also is true," I admitted. "She did not tell me until afterwards, and I saw no purpose in publishing the fact that the man had been on his way to see me."
"You have been very foolish," she said. "You have quarrelled with the girl. She is telling this against you, and there will be trouble."
"I cannot help it," I answered. "I never spoke to the man. I saw nothing of him until I found him dead."
"Guy!" she cried, "this is an awful thing. I am not sure, but I believe that the man was your father!"
As often as the thought had comae to me I had thrust it away. This time, however, there was no escape. The whole hideous scene spread itself out again before my eyes. I saw the doubled-up body, limp and nerveless. I felt again the thrill of horror with which one looks for the first time on death. The mockery of the sunlight filling the air, gleaming far and wide upon the creek-riven marshes and wet sands, the singing of the birds, the slow tramp of the wagon horses. All these things went to fill up that one terrible picture. I looked at the woman opposite to me, and in her face was some reflection of the horror which I as surely felt.
"For your sake," she murmured, "we must find out how he met with his death."
"The verdict was Found drowned," I murmured.
"People will change their opinion now," she answered. "Besides, you and I know that he was not drowned."
"You are sure of that?" I asked.
"Quite," she answered. "He had letters with him, I know, and papers for you. Besides, he carried always with him a number of trifles by which he could have been identified. When he was searched at the police station his pockets were empty. He had been robbed. Guy, he had, as I have had, one unflinching, relentless enemy. Tell me, was Colonel Ray in Braster at the time?"
"No," I answered hoarsely. "I cannot tell you. I will have no more to do with it. The matter is over—let it rest,"
"But, my poor boy," she said quietly, "it will not be allowed to rest. Can't you see that this girl's statement does away with the theory that he was washed up from the sea? He met with his death there on the sands. He left Braster to visit you, and he was found within a few yards of your cottage dead, and with marks of violence upon him. You will be suspected, perhaps charged. It is inevitable. Now tell me the truth. Was Mostyn Ray in Braster at the time?"
"He lectured that night in the village," I answered.
Her eyes gleamed with a strange fire.
"I knew it!" she exclaimed. "I have him at last, then. I saw him falter when I spoke of your father. Guy, I will save you, but I would give the rest of my days to bring this home to Mostyn Ray."
I shook my head.
"You will never do it," I declared. "There might be suspicion, but there will never be any proof. If there was any murder done at all, it was done without witnesses."
"We shall see about that," she muttered. "There is what you call circumstantial evidence. It has hanged people before now."
We remained silent for several moments. All this time she was watching me.
"Guy," she said softly, "you are very like what he was—at your age."
Her cloak had fallen back. She was wearing a black evening gown with a string of pearls around her neck. The excitement had given her a faint colour, and something like tears softened her eyes as she looked across at me. But the more I looked at her the more anxious I was to see her no more. Her words reminded me of the past. I remembered that it was she who had been my father's evil genius, she who had brought this terrible disgrace upon him, and this cloud over my own life. I rose to my feet.
"I do not wish to ask for any favours from you," I said, "but I will ask you to remember that if you are seen here I shall certainly lose my post."
"What does it matter?" she answered contemptuously. "I am not a rich woman, Guy, but I know how to earn money. Mostyn Ray would not believe it, perhaps, but I loved your father. Yours has been a miserable little life. Come with me, and I promise that I will show you how to make it great. You have no relatives or any ties. I promise you that I will be a model stepmother."
I looked at her, bewildered.
"It is not possible for me to do anything of the sort," I told her. "I do not wish to seem unkind, but nothing in this world would induce me to consider such a thing for a moment. I have chosen my life and the manner of it. Do you think that I can ever forget that you and my father between you broke my mother's heart, and made it necessary for me to be brought up without friends, ashamed of my name and of my history? One does not forget these things. I bear you no ill will, but I wish that you would go away."
She sat there quite quietly, listening to me.
"Guy," she said, when I had finished, "all that you speak of happened many years ago. There is forgiveness for everybody, isn't there? You and I are almost alone in the world. I want to be your friend. You might find me a more powerful one than you think. Try me! I will make your future mine. You shall have your own way in all things. I know the hills and the valleys of life, the underneath and the matchless places. If you accept my offer you will never regret it. I can be a faithful friend or a relentless enemy. Between you and me, Guy, there can be no middle course. I want to be your friend. Don't make me your enemy."
The woman puzzled me. She had every appearance of being in earnest. Yet the things which she proposed were absurd.
"This is folly," I answered her. "I cannot count it anything else. Do you suppose that I want to creep through life at a woman's apron-strings? I am old enough, and strong enough, I hope, to think and act for myself. My career is my own, to make or to mar. I do not wish for enmity from any one, but your friendship I cannot accept. Our ways lie apart—a long way apart."
"Do not be too sure of that," she said quietly. "I think that you and I may come together again very soon, and it is possible that you may need my help."
"All that I need now," I answered impatiently, "is your absence."
She rose at once from her chair.
"Very well," she said, "I will go. Only let me warn you that I am a persistent woman. I think that it will not be very long before you will see things differently. Will you shake hands with me, Guy?"
Her small white fingers came hesitatingly out from under her cloak. I did not stop to think to what my action might commit me, whether indeed it was seemly that I should accept any measure of friendship from this woman. I took her hand and held it for a moment in mine.
"You cannot go back alone," I said, doubtfully, as I opened the door.
"I have a servant waiting close by," she answered, "and I am not at all afraid. Think over what I have said to you—and good-bye."
She drew her cloak around her and flitted away into the darkness.
A WOMAN'S TONGUE
Grooton returned a few minutes later from the village. He begged the favour of a few words with me. He was a man of impassive features and singular quietness of demeanour. Yet it was obvious that something had happened to disturb him.
"I think it only right, sir, that you should know of the reports which are circulating in the neighbourhood," he said, fixing his dark grave eyes respectfully upon me. "I called for a few minutes at the inn, and made it my business to listen."
"Do these reports concern me, Grooton?" I asked.
"They do, sir."
"Go ahead, then," I told him.
"They refer also, sir," he said, "to the man who was found dead near the cottage where you used to live in January last. He was supposed to have been washed up from the sea, but it has recently been stated that he was seen, on the evening of the day before his body was found, in the village, and it is also stated that he inquired from a certain person as to the whereabouts of your cottage. He set out with the intention of calling upon you, and he was found dead in the morning by you, sir, within a hundred yards of where you were living."
"Anything else, Grooton?"
"There is a lot of foolish talk, sir. He is said to have been a relative of yours with whom you were not on good terms, and the young lady who has just given this information to the police through her father states that she has remained silent up to now at your request."
"I am supposed, then," I said, "to be concerned in this fellow's death?"
"I have heard that opinion openly expressed, sir," Grooton assented, respectfully.
"Thank you, Grooton," I said. "I shall be prepared then for anything that may happen. If you hear anything further let me know."
"I shall not fail to do so, sir," he answered.
He bowed and withdrew. Then as I lit my pipe and resumed my seat it suddenly occurred to me that the man who was chiefly concerned in this matter should at least be warned. I sat down at my desk and wrote to Ray. I had scarcely finished when I heard footsteps outside, followed by an imperious knocking at my front door. I opened it at once. The Duke and Lady Angela entered. I saw at once from her disturbed expression that something had happened.
The Duke wore a long cape over his dinner clothes, and he had evidently walked fast. He looked at me sharply as I rose to my feet.
"Mr. Ducaine," he said, "I have come to ask you to explain the sudden departure of my son for abroad."
I was taken aback, and I dare say I showed it.
"I have already told Lady Angela—all that I know," I said.
"My daughter's story," the Duke answered, "is incoherent. It tells me only enough to make me sure that something is being concealed."
I glanced at Lady Angela. She was looking white and troubled.
"I have told my father," she said, "all that I know."
"Then I must discover the rest for myself," the Duke replied. "I know that Blenavon is uncertain and unstable to a degree. When I heard that he had left for the Continent, I was not particularly surprised or interested. I have only just discovered the manner of his leaving. It puts an entirely different complexion upon the affair. I understand that he left with Colonel Ray without luggage or explanations of any sort. His own servant had no warning, and was left behind. My daughter informs me that such information as she has she gained from you. I require you to supplement it."
"I am afraid that the only person who can enlighten you further, sir, is Colonel Ray," I answered. "I understood you to say, I believe, that he would be here shortly."
"I insist upon it," the Duke said sternly, "that you tell me what you know at once and without further prevarication."
I was in a dilemma from which there seemed to be no escape. Lady Angela had seated herself in my easy chair and was keeping her face averted from me. The Duke stood between us.
"I know very little, sir, except what I overheard," I declared. "Colonel Ray was, I believe, responsible for Lord Blenavon's abrupt departure, and I would rather that your information came from him."
"Colonel Ray is not here, and you are," the Duke answered. "Remember that I am no trifler with words. I have said that I insist. I repeat it!"
There seemed to be no escape for me. Lady Angela remained silent, the Duke was plainly insistent. I did not dare to trifle with him.
"Very good, your Grace," I said, "I will tell you what I know. It dates from last Monday, when you will remember that I was in London to attend a meeting of the Council."
"I returned here by the last train, bringing with me the notes and instructions taken at that meeting. Outside Braster Grange an attack was made upon me, evidently with the intention of securing these. I escaped, with the assistance of Colonel Ray, who had come down from London by the same train unknown to me."
"The attack was made from the grounds of Braster Grange. It seems that Lord Blenavon spent the night there. The next morning Colonel Ray insisted upon my accompanying him to Braster Grange. Lord Blenavon was still there, and we saw him. He was suffering from wounds such as in the darkness I had inflicted upon my assailant of the night before."
It seemed to me that even then the Duke would not, or could not, understand. His brows were knitted into a heavy frown, and he was evidently following my story with close attention. But exactly where I was going to lead, he seemed to have no idea.
"The tenant of Braster Grange," I continued, "is a Mrs. Smith-Lessing, whom Colonel Ray has told me is a servant of the French secret police. I am afraid that Lord Blenavon has been a good deal under her influence."
Then the Duke blazed out, which was very much what I expected from him. Horror, amazement, and scornful disbelief were all expressed in his transfigured face and angry words.
"Blenavon! My son! The confederate of a French spy! What nonsense! Who dares to suggest such a thing? Angela—I—I beg your pardon."
He stopped short, making an effort to regain his self-control. He continued in a more collected manner, but his voice still shook with inexpressible scorn.
"Angela," he said, turning to her, "is it within your knowledge that Blenavon had any acquaintance with this person?"
I think that her face might well have answered him: very white it was, and very sorrowful.
"Blenavon met Mrs. Smith-Lessing, I believe, at Bordighera," she said. "I have seen them together several times."
"Here?" the Duke asked sharply.
"Yes, I have seen them riding on the sands, and Blenavon dined there on the night—Mr. Ducaine has been speaking of."
"Blenavon is a fool!" the Duke said. "This is to my mind convincing proof that he was ignorant of the woman's antecedents. At the worst he probably regarded her as an ordinary adventuress. As for the rest, I look upon it as the most extraordinary mare's nest which the mind of man could possibly conceive. Do you mean to tell me, Mr. Ducaine, that Colonel Ray went so far as to charge Blenavon to his face with being in league with this person?"
"He certainly did, sir."
"And Blenavon? Oh, Ray is mad, stark mad!"
"Your son denied it, sir," I answered.
"Denied it! Of course he did. What followed?"
"Colonel Ray was very forcible and very imperative, sir," I answered. "He insisted upon Lord Blenavon leaving England at once."
"Lord Blenavon consented to do so, sir," I said quietly.
I saw the veins in the Duke's forehead stand out like whipcord. He began a sentence and left it unfinished. He was in that condition when words are impotent.
"Can you tell me, Mr. Ducaine," he asked, "what possible argument Colonel Ray could have made use of to induce my son to consent to this extraordinary proceeding?"
"I know no more about the matter, your Grace," I answered. "Perhaps Lord Blenavon felt that his intimacy with Mrs. Smith-Lessing had compromised him—that appearances were against him—"
"Pshaw!" the Duke interrupted. "Blenavon's intrigues are foolish enough, but they are beside the mark.. I want to know what further argument or inducement Colonel Ray used. I understand neither why Ray desired to get rid of my son, nor why my son obeyed his ridiculous request."
"Colonel Ray will doubtless have some further explanation to offer you, sir," I said.
"He had better," the Duke answered grimly. "I shall wire him to come here at once. With your permission, Mr. Ducaine, I will sit down for a moment. This affair has shaken me."
Indeed, as the excitement passed away, I could see that he was looking ill and worn. Lady Angela made him take the easy chair, and he accepted a liqueur glass full of brandy which I poured out. He remained for several minutes sipping it and looking thoughtfully into the fire. He seemed to me to have aged by a dozen years. The brisk alertness of his manner had all departed. He was an old man, limp and querulous.
"This unfortunate affair, Mr. Ducaine," he said, looking up at last, "remains of course between ourselves and Ray—and the woman."
"It is unnecessary for you to ask me that, sir," I answered quietly. "Colonel Ray will doubtless have some explanation. He is a man of vigorous temper, and I fancy that Lord Blenavon was not quite himself."
The Duke rose to his feet.
"If you are ready, Angela," he said, "we will not detain Mr. Ducaine further."
"You will allow me to walk with you to the house, sir," I begged.
He shook his head.
"I am quite recovered, I thank you," he said. "My daughter will give me her arm."
I let them out myself and held the lamp over my head to light them on their way. With slow uncertain steps, and leaning heavily upon Lady Angela's arm, I watched him disappear in the blackness of the plantation.
THE LINK IN THE CHAIN
Practically for three days and three nights the Council sat continually. There was no pretence now at recreation, no other guests. We worked, all of us, from the Duke downwards, unflaggingly and with very little respite. When at last the end came, my padlocked notebook, with its hundreds of pages of hieroglyphics, held the principal material for three schemes of coast defence, each one considered separately and supported by a mass of detail as to transport, commissariat, and many minor points.
The principal members of the Council departed by special train early on Monday morning. I myself, a little dizzy and hot-eyed, walked across the park an hour after dawn, and flung myself upon my bed with a deep sigh of relief. Before I had closed my eyes, however, Grooton appeared with apologies for his dishabille.
"I have been up to the house twice, sir," he said, "but they would not let me see you or even send in a message. I thought it only right to let you know at once, sir, that the police have been here rummaging about. They had what they called a search warrant, I believe. I came up to the house immediately, but I could not induce any of the servants to bring word in to you. Mr. Jesson, the Duke's own man, told me that it was as much as his place was worth to allow any one to enter the library."
"All right, Grooton," I muttered. "Hang the police!"
I believe he said something else, but I never heard it. I was already fast asleep.
* * * * *
About mid-day I was awakened by the dazzling sunshine which seemed to fill the room. I called for a bath, dressed, and made an excellent breakfast. Then I brought out my notebook and prepared for work. I had scarcely dipped my pen in the ink, however, when a shadow darkened the window. I looked up quickly. It was Ray.
He entered without knocking, and I saw at once that he was in a strange condition. He scarcely greeted me, but sank into my easy chair, and drawing out his pipe began to fill it. Then I saw, too, what I had never seen before. His fingers were shaking.
"Boy," he said, "have you any wine?"
"The Duke sent me some claret," I answered. "Will that do?"
I summoned Grooton and ordered the wine and some biscuits. Ray was a man who ate and drunk sparingly. Yet he filled a tumbler and drank it straight off.
"You and I," he remarked, "are the only two who sat the whole show out. It was a grind, wasn't it?"
"It was," I answered, "but I have slept, and I feel none the worse for it. Lord Cheisford carried us on splendidly. There is solid work here," I said; "something worth the planning."
I touched my notebook almost affectionately, for the work was fascinating now that it had attained coherent form. Ray smoked on and said nothing for several minutes. Then he looked up at me.
"Have you a spare bedroom, Ducaine?"
"One or two," I answered. "They are not all furnished, but one at any rate is decent."
"Will you put me up for a day—perhaps two?"
"Of course," I answered, "but—"
He answered my unspoken question.
"The Duke has turned me out," he said grimly. "Who would have suspected the old man of such folly? He believes in Blenavon. I told him the plain truth, and he told me that I was a liar."
"I thought that he would be difficult to convince," I remarked.
"He has all the magnificent pig-headedness of his race," Ray answered. "Blenavon is Blenavon, and he can do no wrong. He would summon him home again, but fortunately the young man himself is no fool. He will not come. You told Lady Angela?"
"She believed you?"
"I think that she did," I answered.
His face softened.
"The Duke showed me from the door himself," he said. "You will not object to my sending a note to Lady Angela by your servant?"
"Make whatever use of him you choose," I answered. "There are pen and ink and notepaper upon the table."
Then I settled down to my work. Ray wrote his note, and went upstairs to sleep. In an hour's time he was down again. There were black rims under his eyes, and I could see at once that he had had no rest. Grooton had brought his bag from the house, and a note from Lady Angela. He read it with unchanging face, and placed it carefully in his breast coat-pocket.
"I am off to the village to send some telegrams," he said, "and afterwards I shall go on for a walk." "What about lunch?" I asked, glancing at the clock. "None for me," he answered. "Some tea at four o'clock, if I may have it. I will be back by then." He swung off, and I was thankful, for my work demanded my whole attention and very careful thought. At a few minutes after four he returned, and Grooton brought us some tea. Directly we were alone Ray looked across at me with a black frown upon his face.
"You know what they are saying in the village about you, young man?"
"I can guess," I answered.
"Who is this girl, Blanche Moyat?"
"A farmer's daughter," I answered. "It seems that I paid her too much or too little, attention, I am not sure which. At any rate, she has an imaginary grievance against me, and this is the result."
"She tells the truth?"
"I have not heard her story," I answered, "but it is true that I encouraged her to suppress the fact that she bad seen the man in the village, and that he had asked for me."
"Perhaps," I answered. "You see, I thought that a verdict of 'found drowned' would save trouble."
"This accursed woman at the Grange is in it, I know," Ray remarked, slowly filling his pipe. "I wonder if she knew that I was about? That would give her a zest for the job."
"She knows that you were at Braster at the time," I said. "It was the night of your lecture."
Ray began to blow out dense clouds of smoke.
"We're safe," he said thoughtfully, "both of us. There's just a link in the chain missing."
"The police have been here with a warrant in search of that link," I remarked.
"They'll never find it, for it's in my pocket," he remarked grimly.
"Colonel Ray," I said, suddenly nerving myself to risk his anger, "there is a question which I must ask you."
I saw his lips come firmly together. He neither encouraged nor checked me.
"Who was that man?"
"You are better ignorant."
"Was it my father?"
If he did not answer my question, it at least seemed to suggest something to him.
"Has that woman been here?" he asked.
"She believes that it was your father?"
He removed his pipe from his teeth and looked at it thoughtfully.
"Ah!" he said.
"You have not answered my question," I reminded him.
"Nor am I going to," he replied coolly. "You know already as much as is good for you."
He rose and threw open the door of my cottage. For several moments he stood bareheaded, looking up towards the house, looking and listening. He glanced at his watch, and walked several times backwards and forwards from the edge of the cliff to my door. Then he came in for his hat and stick.
"I am going down to the sea," he said. "If Lady Angela comes, will you call me? I shall not be out of hearing."
"You are expecting her?" I asked, looking down at my work.
"Yes. It was necessary for me to see her somewhere, so I asked her to come here. Perhaps the Duke has found out and stopped her. Anyhow, call me if she comes."
He stepped outside, and I heard him scrambling down the cliff. I set my teeth and turned to my work. It was a hard thing to have my little room, with its store of memories, turned into a meeting-place for these two. I at least would take care to be far enough away. And then I began wondering whether she would come. I was still wondering when I heard her footsteps.
She came in unaccustomed garb to me. She wore a grey dress of some soft material, and a large black hat with feathers. Her skirts were gathered up in her hand, and I heard the jingling of harness at the corner of the avenue where her carriage was waiting. I opened the door, and she entered with a soft swish of silk and a gentle rustling. The room seemed instantly full of perfume of Neapolitan violets, a great bunch of which were in her bosom.
She looked swiftly around, and I fancied that it was a relief to her to find me alone.
"Is Colonel Ray here?" she asked.
"He is waiting for you," I answered, "on the sands. I promised to call him directly you came."
I moved toward the door, but she checked me with an imperative gesture.
"Wait," she said.
I came slowly back and stood by my table. She was sitting with her hands clasped together, looking into the fire. She looked very girlish and frail.
"I want to think—for a moment," she said. "Everything seems confusion. My father has commanded me to break my engagement with Colonel Ray."
I remained silent. What was there, indeed, for me to say?
"In my heart," she went on slowly, "I know that my father is wrong and that Colonel Ray is right. He has simply done his duty. Blenavon was being sorely tempted. He is better away—out of the country. Oh, I am sure of that."
"Colonel Ray has done what he believed to be his duty," I said slowly. "It is hard that he should suffer for that."
"Often," she murmured, "one has to suffer for doing the right thing. My father has made himself a poor man because of his sense of what was right. I do not know what to do."
I glanced out of the window. For many reasons I did not wish to prolong this interview.
"He is waiting," I reminded her.
"I must do one of two things," she murmured. "I must break my faith with my father—or with him."
Then she lifted her eyes to mine.
"Tell me what you think, Mr. Ducaine?" she asked.
I opened my lips to speak, but I could not. Was it fair that she should ask me? My little room was peopled with dreams of her, with delightful but impossible visions. My very nerves were full of the joy of her presence. It was madness to ask for my judgment, when the very poetry of my life was an unreasoning and hopeless love for her.
"I cannot!" I muttered. "You must not ask me."
She seemed surprised. After all, I had guarded my secret well, then?
"You will not refuse to help me," she pleaded.
I set my teeth hard. I longed for Ray, but there were no signs of him.
"Your father has ordered you to break your engagement with Colonel Ray," I said, "but he has done so under a misapprehension of the facts. You owe obedience to your father, but you owe more—to—the man whose wife you have promised to be. I do not think you should give him up."
She listened eagerly. Was it my fancy, or was she indeed a little paler? Her eyes seemed to gleam with a strange softness in the twilight. Her head drooped a a little as she resumed her former thoughtful attitude.
"Thank you," she said, simply. "I believe that you are right."
I caught up a bundle of papers from my desk and stole softly from the room. Ray was close at hand, and I called to him.
"She is in there waiting for you," I said. "I have some transcribed matter, which I am taking up to the safe."
Ray nodded abruptly, and I heard the door of my cottage open and close behind him.
MOSTYN RAY'S LOVE STORY
In a dark corner of the library, sitting motionless before a small writing-desk, I found the Duke. The table was littered all over with papers, a ledger or two and various documents. I had met Mr. Hulshaw, the agent to the estates, in the drive, so I judged that the two had had business together.
The Duke had not greeted me on my entrance, and he seemed to be asleep in his chair. But at the sound of the electric bell, which announced the opening of the safe, he turned sharply round.
"Is that you, Ducaine?"
"Yes, your Grace," I answered.
"What are you doing there?"
"I have brought up the first batch of copy, sir," I answered.
"You have sealed it properly?"
"With Lord Chelsford's seal, sir," I told him.
He turned round in his chair sharply.
"What's that?" he asked.
"Lord Chelsford gave me an old signet ring before he left, sir," I said, "with a very peculiar design. I wear it attached by a chain to an iron bracelet round my arm."
"Let me see it," the Duke ordered.
I took off my coat, and baring my arm, showed him the ring hanging by a few inches of strong chain from the bracelet. He examined the design curiously.
"How do you detach it?" he asked.
"I cannot detach it, sir," I answered. "The bracelet has a Bramah lock, and Lord Chelsford has the key. He used to wear it many years ago when he was Queen's messenger."
The Duke examined the ring long and searchingly. Then he looked from it into my face.
"You mean to say that you cannot take that off?"
"A locksmith might, sir. I certainly could not."
The Duke shrugged his shoulders.
"Chelsford's methods seem to me to savour a little of opera bouffe," he remarked drily. "For my own part I believe that these marvellous documents would be perfectly safe in the unlocked drawer of my desk. I do not believe any of these stories which come from Paris about copies of our work being in existence. I do not wish you to be careless, of course, but don't overdo your precautions. This place is scarcely so much a nest of conspirators as faddists like Chelsford and Ray would have us believe."
"I am glad to hear that you think so, sir," I answered. "Our precautions do seem a little elaborate, but it is quite certain that the Winchester papers were disturbed."
"I do not choose to believe it, Ducaine," the Duke said irritably. "Kindly remember that!"
"Very good, sir," I answered. "There is nothing else you wish to say to me?"
"There is something else," the Duke answered coldly. "I understand that the police yesterday, on a sworn affidavit, were granted a search warrant to examine your premises for stolen property. What the devil is the meaning of this?"
"I think, sir," I answered, "that the stolen property was a pretext. It seems that during the last few days has come to light that the man whose body I found on the sands was not washed in from the sea, but was a stranger, who had arrived in Braster the previous evening, and had made inquiries as to where I lived. It seems to be the desire of the police, therefore, to connect me in some way with the affair."
The Duke looked at me searchingly.
"I presume," he said, "that they had something in the nature of evidence, or they would scarcely have been able to swear the affidavit for the search warrant."
"They have nothing more direct, sir, than that the body was found close to my cottage, that he had presumably left Braster to see me, and that I was foolish enough to persuade the person, of whom the dead man made these inquiries in Braster, not to come forward at the inquest."
"Stop! Stop!" the Duke said irritably. "You did what?"
"The young woman of whom he inquired was close at hand when I discovered the body of the man," I said. "She told me about him. I was a little upset, and I suggested that there was no necessity for her to disclose the fact of having seen him."
"It was a remarkably foolish thing of you to do," the Duke said.
"I am realizing it now, sir," I answered.
"Did this person call on you at all?" the Duke asked.
"No, sir. You may remember that it was the night of Colonel Ray's lecture. He called to see me on his way back and found me ill. I believe that this person looked in at the window and went away. I saw no more of him alive after this."
"You have some idea, I presume, as to his identity?"
"I have no definite information, your Grace," I answered.
The Duke did not look at me for several moments.
"I am afraid," he said, stiffly, "that you may experience some inconvenience from this most ill-advised attempt of yours to suppress evidence which should most certainly have been given at the inquest. However, I have no doubt that your story is true. I have some inquiries now before me from the police station. I will do what I can for you. Good-evening, Ducaine."
"Good-evening, sir," I answered. "I am much obliged to you."
I walked homewards across the park. The carriage had gone from the private road, and Ray was alone when I entered. It was impossible to tell what had happened from his expression. He sat stretched out in my easy chair, smoking furiously, and his face was impassive. Grooton served us with dinner, and he ate and drank with only a few curt remarks. But afterwards, when I was deep in my work, he suddenly addressed me.
"Boy," he then said, "turn round and listen to me."
I obeyed him at once.
"Listen well," he said, "for I am not given to confidences. Yet I am going to speak to you of the secret places of my life."
I laid down the pen which I had been holding between my fingers, and turned my chair. I judged that it was not necessary for me to speak, nor apparently did he think so.
"I have been soldiering all my days," he said, "since I was a child almost. It is a glorious life. God knows I have never grudged a single month of it. But when one comes back once more to dwell amongst civilians one realizes that there is another side to life. It is so with me. I am not given to doubts or to asking advice from any man. But the time has come when I have the one and need of the other."
He paused, knocked out some ashes from his pipe, and relighted it.
"I have loved two women in my life, Guy," he went on slowly. "The first was your mother."
I started a little, but I still held my peace. He looked hard into the ashes of the fire, and continued.
"I tried my best," he said, "to be a friend to her after her marriage, and I hope, I think, that I succeeded. I even did my best to fight that woman's influence with your father at Gibraltar. There I failed. I was foredoomed to failure! She had the trick of playing what tune she cared to on a man's heartstrings. After it was all over, and your father and she had left the place, I spent years trying to persuade your mother to get a divorce and marry me. But she was the daughter of a Bishop, a High Churchwoman, and a holy woman. She died with your father's name upon her lips."
I shuddered! The words were spoken so deliberately, and yet with such vibrant force.
"After that," Ray continued, "came Egypt, then India, and afterwards Khartoum. I came home before the last war, and I met Lady Angela. I am so little of a woman's man that I suppose the girl whom I thought of at all became like an angel, a creature altogether apart from that sex of whom I know so little. However that may be, she was the second woman to hold any place in my—heart—as she most surely will be the last. Then the war broke out, luck came my way, and I returned with a greater reputation than I deserved. The very night of my return I asked Lady Angela to marry me, and she consented."
He puffed vigorously at his pipe, but he seemed wholly ignorant of the fact that it was out. His face was set in its grimmest lines. He looked steadily at a certain spot in the fire, and went on.
"There are things," he said, "which troubled me little at the time, but which just lately have been on my mind. The first is that I am nearly fifty, and Lady Angela is twenty-one. The second is that I came home with all the tinsel and glamour of a popular hero. Heaven knows I loathed it, but the fact remains. The King's reception, the V.C., and all that sort of thing, I suppose, accounted for it. Anyhow, I am troubled with this reflection. Lady Angela was very young, and I fear that her imagination was touched. She accepted my offer, and she has been very loyal. Until to-night no word of disagreement has passed between us. But there have been times lately when I have fancied that I have noticed a change. A time has come now when I could give her back her freedom without reproach on either side. I want to know whether it is my duty to give it her back."
Then Ray looked straight into my face, and the colour flamed there, for I saw now why he had made me his confidant.
"What do you think, Guy? You are only a boy, but you are of her age, and you have seen a little of her lately. You are only a boy, but then only boys and novelists understand women. Speak up and tell me what is in your mind."
"I will tell you this," I answered hotly. "If I were you, and Lady Angela had promised to be my wife, I would not sit and hatch scruples about marrying her. I would marry her first, and make her happy afterwards, and as for the rest—for the questions which you have asked me, and yet not put into words—I have never heard or seen in Lady Angela the slightest sign that you were not her lover as well as the man whom she was engaged to marry. As for my own folly, since you seem to have noticed it, no one knows better than I that it is the rankest, most absurd presumption. But with me it begins and ends. That is a most absolute and certain fact."
Ray rapped his pipe upon the table.
"Listen," he said. "I found you nameless and practically lost. Yet you have powerful relatives, and your family is equal to the Duke's. There may be money too some day. Bear these things in mind. Can you repeat what you have said?"
It was a wild dream—a wonderful one. But, before me I saw the stern white face of the man, eager for his share of happiness after all these magnificent years of dauntless service. I forgot my own distrust of him, his coldness, his brutality. I remembered only those other and greater things.
"Even were I in such a position," I said, "it would make no difference. I am sure that Lady Angela is loyal. She has no idea—and it is not worth while that she should have."
"You would have me marry her, then?" he asked slowly.
"There is only one thing," I said, taking my courage into my hands.
"And that?" he asked sharply.
"That," I answered, "lies between you and your conscience."
He rose to his feet.
"Wait here," he said, "and I will show you my justification."
MY FATHER'S LETTER
I heard Ray's heavy footsteps ascending the stairs to his room. In a few moments he returned, bearing in his hand a letter.
"Guy," he said thoughtfully, "I am a man who is slow to place trust in any one. For that reason, and perhaps because ignorance was better for you, I have told you little of the events of that night. Now my first opinion of you has undergone some modifications. You are stronger than I thought, you have shown faith in me too, or I should not be here practically a guest under your roof to-night. Listen! The man whom you found dead in the marshes was not your father!"
I was not surprised. Always I had doubted it.
"Who was he, then?" I asked calmly.
"When your father went mad at Gibraltar," Ray said, "he needed help. This man, Clery by name, supplied it. When I knew them both he was your father's valet. Since then he has been his confederate in many schemes. Your father on many occasions manifested the remnants of a sense of honour. This creature set himself deliberately and successfully to corrupt it. He was a parasite, a nerveless, bloodless thing without a single human attribute. He and that woman were alike responsible for your father's ruined life."
"Once before," Ray continued, after a moment's pause, "I had told him that if ever we should meet where his life would cost me nothing, I would kill him as I would set my heel upon an adder—and he only smiled as though I had paid him some delicate compliment. And that night, Guy, a hundred yards from your cottage, he sidled up to me in that lonely road, and bade me direct him to the abode of Mr. Guy Ducaine. A moment after he recognized me."
A grim smile parted Ray's lips, but I could not repress a shudder. Invariably at any reference to that awful night the old fear came back.
"He seemed at first paralyzed with fear," Ray continued. "He tried to slip away into the marshes, but I caught him easily, and held him so that he could not escape. He admitted that he had come to find you with a message from your father. He denied at first having a letter, but I searched him until I found it. As you see, it is addressed to you. Nevertheless I struck matches, opened it, and with some difficulty managed to read it. All the time this creature was doubling about like an eel trying to get away. Read the letter."
I drew it from the envelope. It was dated from the Savoy Hotel.
"My DEAR SON,—I do not deserve that you should read beyond these three words. I have as little right to call you my son as you can have desire to claim me for your father. I am here, however, purely on an errand of justice. I have learned that you have been robbed of the sum set aside to give you a start in life. I am here to endeavor to replace it, for which purpose I desire that you will grant me a business interview within the next few days. I beg your reply by Clery, my faithful companion and servant. I am known here as
"RICHARD DREW FOSTER."
I laid the letter down without remark. Ray had filled his pipe whilst I had been reading, and was sitting now on the arm of his easy chair, facing me.
"I understood the letter and its meaning," he continued. "I knew that the whole neighbourhood was under the observation of the French Secret Service, and the man who signed himself Richard Drew Foster saw in you an excellent tool ready to his hand. It is very certain also that the matter would probably have presented itself to you in a wholly different light. Accordingly, I placed the letter in my own pocket, and I released my hold of Clery.
"'You can go back to your master,' I said, 'and tell him that you have seen me, and that I have his letter. It will be sufficient. And you can tell him that I shall be in London to-morrow night, and if any such person as Mr. Drew Foster is staying at the Savoy Hotel, he will know the inside of a military prison before midnight.'
"The man slunk away. I suppose he realized that with me in the way their game was up. But afterwards he must have hesitated, and then made up his mind to attempt what was probably the bravest action of his life. He followed me, stole up softly behind, and with an old trick which they teach them on the other side of the Seine, he as nearly as possible throttled me. However, I got my finger inside the slipknot, and I held him by the throat. When I could breathe, I lifted him up and threw him into the marshes. There I left him. It seems the fall killed him. That is the whole story. It was absolutely God's justice, but I am quite aware that the laws of the country do not exactly favour such summary treatment. Accordingly I held my peace. I am sorry for it now."
"And Mr. Drew Foster?"
"Had left the Savoy Hotel when I reached there," Ray said drily, "and had omitted to leave an address."
"You might have trusted me," I remarked, thoughtfully.
"If I had known you as well then as I do now," Ray answered, "I would have risked it."
Then as we sat in silence there came a low tapping at the door. Ray looked at me keenly.
"Who visits you at this hour?" he asked.
"We will see," I answered.
I had meant to be careful whom I admitted, but I had scarcely withdrawn the latch when the door was pushed open, and a slim, thickly-cloaked figure glided past me into the room. I knew her by the supple swiftness of her movements. Ray sat still, and smoked with the face of a Sphinx.
I think that at first she did not see him. She swept round upon me and raised her veil.
"Guy," she cried, "forgive me, but I could not help it. I have made a mummy of myself, and I have walked along those awful sands that I might not be seen; but there is a question—"
She saw Ray. The words died from her lips. She stood and shivered like a trapped bird. He removed his pipe from his teeth.
"Go on," he said mildly. "Don't mind me. Perhaps I can help Mr. Ducaine to answer it."
She sank into a chair. Her eyes seemed to implore me to protect her. I heard Ray's little snort of contempt; but I answered her kindly. I could not help it.
"I am sorry that you came," I said, "but, of course, I will answer any question you want to ask me. Don't hurry! You are out of breath. Let me give you some wine."
My own untasted liqueur was on the table by the side of my empty coffee cup. I made her drink it, and her teeth ceased to chatter. She was rather a pathetic object. One of her little black satin slippers was cut to shreds, and the other was clogged with wet sand. The fear of Ray, too, was in her white face. She caught hold of my hand impulsively.
"The man," she murmured, "whom you found—what was he like?"
"He was a small dark man."
She laughed hysterically.
"He," she exclaimed, "was over six feet, and broad! It was not he. It may have been some one whom he sent, but it was not he. Guy, have you heard from him? Do you know where he is?"
I shook my head. Ray interposed.
"I think," he said roughly, "that you'll find him at home when you get there, madam, wherever that may be. If he were in this country it would be within the four walls of a prison."
She looked across at him.
"You have set them on—the police—then?" she said. "You would hunt him down still? After all these years?"
"Ay!" he answered.—"Tell me where he is hiding in this country, and I will promise you that his days of freedom are over."
She pointed to me.
"Ay, were he his father a hundred times over."
She turned to me as though in protest, but my face gave her no encouragement. She rose wearily to her feet.
"I will go," she muttered. "Guy," she added, turning to me, "you are honest. You will always be honest. You have nothing to fear, so you do not hesitate to speak if necessary to those whom nevertheless you do not trust. But there are other things in the world to fear besides dishonesty. There is animal brutality, coarse indifference to pain in others. There is the triumph of the beast over the man. There he sits, he who can teach you these things," she added, pointing to Ray. "Do not choose him for your friend, Guy. You will grow to see life, to judge others, through his eyes-and then God help you."
Ray laughed, and again to me there seemed to be a note of coarseness in his strident and unconcealed contempt of the woman. She took no notice of him whatever. She opened the door and passed out so quickly that though I tried to intercept her, and called out after her, I was powerless to prevent her going. She had flitted away into the shadows. I could not even hear her retreating footsteps.
A PAINFUL ENCOUNTER
More work. A week of it, ceaseless and unremitting. The police seemed to have abandoned their watch over my cottage, and I heard a whisper that a statement by the Duke had at any rate partially cleared me from suspicion. Ray had declined to leave England. I knew quite well that it was on my account. He, with the others, was now in London.
Then came my own summons thither. I was told to report myself immediately on arrival at Rowchester House, and to my surprise was informed by the servant who answered my inquiries that a room was reserved for me there. I had no sooner reached it than Lady Angela's own maid arrived with a message. Her ladyship would be glad if I could spare her a few moments in the drawing-room as soon as possible.
Lady Angela was standing upon the hearthrug. I stepped a little way across the threshold and stopped short. She held out her hand to me with a quiet laugh.
"Have you forgotten me?" she asked, "or am I so alarming?"
I set my teeth and moved towards her.
"You took my breath away," I said, with an ease which I was very far from feeling. "Remember that I have come from Braster."
I do not know what she wore. Her gown seemed to me to be of some soft crepe or silk, and the colour of it was a smoky misty blue. There were pearls around her neck, and her hair, arranged with exquisite simplicity, seemed to be drawn back from her face and arranged low down on the back of her neck. She had still the fresh delightful colour which had been in her cheeks when she left Braster, and the smile with which she welcomed me was as delightful as ever.
"This is a charming arrangement," she declared. "You know that you are such an important person, and have to be watched so closely, that you are to stay here. I went up myself with the housekeeper to see to your rooms. I do hope that you will be comfortable."
"Comfortable is not the word," I answered. "I have never been used to such luxury."
"Dear me!" she said. "I have so much to tell you, and the carriage is waiting already. Thank goodness we dine alone to-morrow night. But there is one thing which I must tell you at once. Sir Michael Trogoldy is in town, you know. He took me in to dinner at Amberley House last night, and we talked about you."
"I had a letter from Sir Michael a few days ago," I answered. "He made a proposition to me—and asked me to call and see him."
Something in my voice, I suppose, betrayed my feelings. She laid her hand upon my arm.
"Mr. Ducaine," she said, "I do hope that you mean to be reasonable. Sir Michael is a dear old man."
"He is my mother's brother," I answered, "and he left me to starve."
"He had not the least idea," she declared, "that you were not reasonably well off. He is most interested in hearing about you, and he was delighted to have you accept the allowance he offered you. You will go and see him?"
"Yes, I shall go," I promised. "I scarcely see the use of it, but I will go."
"You must not be foolish," she said softly. "Sir Michael is very rich> and you are his only near relative. Besides, you have had such a lonely time, and it is quite time that you saw a little of the other side of life. Sir Michael is a particular friend of mine, and I promised him that I would talk to you about this. I am most anxious to hear that you get on well together. You can be amiable if you like, you know, and you can be very much the other thing."
"I will try," I assured her, "not to be the other thing." She smiled.
"And tell me all about Braster."
"There is not much to tell," I answered. "I have been hard at work all the time, and I have scarcely seen a soul."
"The woman—Mrs. Smith-Lessing?"
"She left Braster before you. I have not seen her since the evening of the day I saw her last."
She appeared relieved.
"May I ask you a question?" I asked. She nodded. "About Colonel Ray. Has the Duke forgiven him?"
"On the contrary, he is more bitter than ever," Lady Angela answered. "I have seen him once or twice only. He does not come here." "I saw in the paper," I said, "that your engage—"
"It is not true," she interrupted. "Everything is as it was. But it is shockingly indefinite, of course. I scarcely know whether I am to consider myself an engaged person or not. Colonel Ray offered to release me, but we agreed to wait for a little time."
She looked at me with a soft flush upon her cheeks. But my words were never spoken. The Duke entered the room, brilliant in sash and orders.
"Good evening, Ducaine," he said, looking at me with slightly lifted eyebrows.
"Good evening, your Grace," I answered in some embarrassment.
"I sent for Mr. Ducaine," Lady Angela remarked, stooping that her maid, who had followed the Duke, might arrange her cloak. "I wanted to hear all about Braster, and I had a message for him from Sir Michael Trogoldy."
The Duke made no remark.
"I shall require you, Ducaine, at ten o'clock to-morrow morning in my study," he said. "Afterwards we go over to the War Office. You have brought all the papers with you?—If you are quite ready, Angela."
The Duke, without saying a word, had managed to make me feel that he considered my presence in the drawing-room with Lady Angela superfluous, but her smile and farewell were quite sufficient recompense for me. Still, I knew that this living together under the same roof was to be no unmixed blessing for me. I shut myself in the dainty little sitting-room which I was told was mine, and turned the key in the door. I felt the need of solitude.
* * * * *
Later in the evening I became mundane again. I remembered that I had sent dinner away, and though I had only to ring the bell and order something, I felt the need of fresh air. So I took up my hat and stick and left the house.
After a while I found my way into Piccadilly. I knew very little of London, but after my solitary evening walks at Braster along the sandhills and across the marshes, the contrast was in itself suggestive and almost exciting. I watched the people, the stream of carriages. I listened to the low ceaseless hum of this wonderful life, and I found it fascinating. The glow in the sky was marvellous to me—the faces of the passers-by, the laughter and the whining, the tears and the cursing, the pleasure-seekers and the pleasure-satiated, how they all told their story as they swept by in one unceasing stream! For a while I forgot even my appetite. The sight of a restaurant, however, at last reminded me that I was desperately hungry.
I knew it by name—a huge cosmopolitan place of the lower middle class, and entering I found a quiet seat, where my country clothes were not conspicuous. There were few people about me, and those few uninteresting, so I kept my attention divided between my dinner and the evening paper. But just as I was drawing towards the close of my meal, something happened to change all that.
A woman, followed by a man, passed my table, and the two seated themselves diagonally opposite to me. Something in the woman's light footsteps, her free movements, and the graceful carriage of her head, struck me instantly as being familiar. She was dressed very plainly, and she was closely veiled. Their entrance, too, had been unobtrusive, almost furtive. But when she raised her veil and took the carte-du-jour in her hand, I knew her at once. It was Mrs. Smith-Lessing.
She had not seen me, and my first impulse was to pay my bill and step quietly out. Then by chance I glanced at her companion, and my heart stood still. He was a tall man, over six feet, but he stooped badly, and his walk had been almost the walk of an invalid. He had the appearance of a man who had once been stout and well built, but who was now barely recovered from a long illness. The flesh hung in little bags underneath his bloodshot eyes, his mouth twitched continually, and the hand which rested on the table trembled. He wore a scanty grey moustache, which failed to hide a weak thin mouth, and a very obvious wig concealed his baldness. His clothes had seen plenty of service and his linen was doubtful. He had evidently ordered some brandy immediately on his entrance, and his eyes met mine just as he was in the act of raising the glass to his lips. I am convinced that he had no idea then who I was, but the earnestness of my gaze seemed to disturb him. He set down his glass with shaking fingers, and directed his companion's attention towards me.
They talked together earnestly for several moments. I fancied that she was reproving him for showing alarm at my notice. Very soon, however, she herself, after giving an order to a waiter, turned slightly round in her chair, and glanced with well-affected carelessness across at me. I saw her start and look apprehensively at her companion. He took the alarm at once, and I heard his eager question.
"Who is it? Who is it, Maud?"
She made him some reassuring answer, and, rising to her feet, came over to my table. I rose to greet her, and she slipped quietly into the chair opposite to me.
"What are you doing here?" she asked quickly.
"I have just arrived from Braster," I answered. "I came here by accident to get something to eat. Is that—"
I could not go on, but she finished the sentence for me.
I set my teeth hard and looked steadily down at the tablecloth. I felt rather than saw that her regard was compassionate.
"I am sorry," she murmured. "I would not have brought him here if I had known. You two are better apart. Talk to me as naturally as you can. He has no idea who you are."
"Has he been ill?" I asked.
"Very. I found him in a hospital. He has been ill, and the rest you can guess."
Even while we were talking I saw him toss off another glass of brandy which the waiter had brought him. And all the time his eyes never left my face.
"I thought," I said, "that he had money."
"It has all gone," she answered, "and—well, things are not very flourishing with him. Our mission over here has been unsuccessful, and they have stopped sending us money from Paris. How queer that I should be telling you this!" she added, with a hard little laugh, "you, of all people in the world. Guy, take my advice. Get up and go. If he guesses who you are he will come and speak to you—and you are better apart."
It was too late. With fascinated eyes I watched him leave his place and come towards us. I was absolutely powerless to move. Mrs. Smith-Lessing had left the outside chair vacant. He sank into it and leaned across the table towards me.
"It is Guy," he said in a shaking voice. "I am sure that it is Guy. She has told you who I am. Eh?"
"Yes," I answered. "I know who you are."
He extended a shaking hand across the table. I could not take it.
"Well, well," he said nervously, "perhaps you are right. But I came to England to see you. Yes, Guy, that is the truth! I have been a bad father, but I may be able to make amends. I think I know a way.— Waiter, a glass of brandy."
"I am afraid," I said, rising to my feet, "that you must excuse me.—If you have anything to say to me, sir, we can meet another time."
He almost dragged me down.
"Stop, stop!" he said irritably. "You do not seem to understand. I had an important matter of business to discuss with you. I may make your fortune yet, my boy! I have powerful friends abroad, very powerful."
I looked at him steadily.
She laid her hand upon his arm, and whispered in his ear. He only shook his head angrily.
"Nonsense, Maud!" he exclaimed. "You do not understand. This is my son Guy. Of course we must talk together. It is a wonderful meeting—yes, a wonderful meeting."
"Well?" I repeated.
"I am glad to hear," he continued, "that you are holding such an important position. Clerk to the Military Defence Board, eh? Quite an important position, of course; but it might be made—yes, with care, it might be made," he added, watching me with nervous alertness, "a very lucrative one."
"I am quite satisfied with my salary," I remarked calmly.
"Pooh! my dear boy, that is nonsense," he continued. "You do not understand me. It is an open secret. Maud, are we overheard here, do you think? Is it safe to discuss an important matter with Guy here?"
I rose to my feet and took up my hat. Again she whispered in his ear, and this time he seemed to assent.
"Quite right! Quite right!" he said, nodding his head. "Guy, my boy, you shall come and see us. No. 29, Bloomsbury Street—poor rooms, but our remittances have gone astray, and I have been ill. To-morrow, eh? or the next day? We shall expect you, Guy. We do not go out except in the evenings. You will not fail, Guy?"
I looked down into his flushed face. His lips were shaking, and his eyes were fixed anxiously upon mine. I was miserably ashamed and unhappy.
"I do not think that I shall care to hear what you have to say," I answered. "But I will come to see you."
I left them there. As I went out she was gently countermanding his order for more brandy.
THE DUKE'S MESSAGE
It was late, but I felt that I must see Ray. I went to his house, little expecting to find him there. I was shown, however, into the study, where he was hard at work with a pile of correspondence. He wore an ancient shooting jacket, and his feet were encased in slippers. As usual, his pipe was between his teeth, and the tobacco smoke hung about him in little clouds.
"Well," he said gruffly. "What do you want of me? I am busy. Speak to the point."
"I have come to ask your advice," I said. "I am afraid that I must resign my post."
"My father is in London. I have seen and spoken with him."
"With that woman?"
"And you have spoken to him in a public place, perhaps?"
Ray was silent for a moment. Then he looked at me keenly.
"Do you want to give it up?" he asked.
"No," I answered. "But do you suppose Lord Chelsford and the others would be willing for me to continue—under the circumstances?"
"Probably not," he admitted. "The Duke would not, at any rate."
"Then what am I to do?" I asked.
"I don't know!" he answered shortly. "It requires consideration. I will see Lord Cheisford. You shall hear from me in the morning."