"You have gone, Arnold," she moaned. "You have slipped away. You are lost to me."
"You foolish person!" he exclaimed, stepping towards her. "Never in my life! Never!"
She laid her hand upon the stick which leaned against her chair.
"Not yet," she implored. "Don't come to me yet. Stay there where I can see your face. Now tell me—tell me everything."
He laughed, not altogether easily, with a note half of resentment, half of protest.
"Dear Ruth," he pleaded, "what have I done to deserve this? Nothing has happened to me that I will not tell you about. You have been sitting here alone, fancying things. And I have news—great news! Wait till you hear it."
"Go on," she said, simply. "Tell me everything. Begin at last night."
He drew a little breath. It was, after all, a hard task, this, that lay before him. Last night in his mind lay far enough back now, a tangled web of disconnected episodes, linked together by a strangely sweet emotional thread of sentiment. And the girl was watching his face with every sense strained to catch his words and the meaning of them. Vaguely he felt his danger, even from the first.
"Well, I got there in plenty of time," he began. "It was a beautiful house, beautifully furnished and arranged. The people were queer, not at all the sort I expected. Most of them seemed half foreign. They were all very hard to place for such a respectable household as Mr. Weatherley's should be."
"They were not really, then, Mr. Weatherley's friends?" she asked quietly.
"As a matter of fact, they were not," he admitted. "That may have had something to do with it. Mrs. Weatherley was a foreigner. She came from a little island somewhere in the Mediterranean, and is half Portuguese. Most of the people were there apparently by her invitation. After dinner—such a dinner, Ruth—we played bridge. More people came then. I think there were eight tables altogether. After I left, most of them stayed on to play baccarat."
Her eyes still held his. Her expression was unchanged.
"Tell me about Mrs. Weatherley," she murmured.
"She is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. She is pale and she has strange brown eyes, not really brown but lighter. I couldn't tell you the color for I've never seen anything else like it. And she has real red-brown hair, and she is slim, and she walks like one of these women one reads about. They say that she is a Comtesse in her own right but that she never uses the title."
"And was she kind?" asked Ruth.
"Very kind indeed. She talked to me quite a good deal and I played bridge at her table. It seems the most amazing thing in the world that she should ever have married a man like Samuel Weatherley."
"Now tell me the rest," she persisted. "Something else has happened—I am sure of it."
He dropped his voice a little. The terror was coming into the room.
"There was a man there named Rosario—a Portuguese Jew and a very wealthy financier. One reads about him always in the papers. I have heard of him many times. He negotiates loans for foreign governments and has a bank of his own. I left him there last night, playing baccarat. This morning Mr. Weatherley called me into his office and sent me up to the Milan Restaurant with a strange message. I was to find Mr. Rosario and to see that he did not lunch there—to send him away somewhere else, in fact. I didn't understand it, but of course I went."
"And what happened?" she demanded.
He held his breath for a moment.
"I was to take a table just inside the restaurant," he explained, "and to tell him directly he entered. I did exactly as I was told, but it was too late. Rosario was stabbed as he was on the point of entering the restaurant, within a few yards of where I was sitting."
She shivered a little, although her general expression was still unchanged.
"You mean that he was murdered?"
"He was killed upon the spot," Arnold declared.
He shook his head.
"No one knows. The man got away. I bought an evening paper as I came along and I see they haven't arrested any one yet."
"Was there a quarrel?" she asked.
"Nothing of the sort," he replied. "The other man seemed simply to have run out from somewhere and stabbed him with one thrust. I saw it all but I was powerless to interfere."
"You saw the man who did it?" she asked.
"Only his arm," Arnold answered. "He kept his body twisted around somehow. It was a blackguardly thing to do."
"It was horrible!" she murmured.
There was an interruption. The piece of tattered curtain which concealed the portion of the room given over to Isaac, and which led beyond to his sleeping chamber, was flung on one side. Isaac himself stood there, his black eyes alight with anger.
"Liar!" he exclaimed. "Liars, both of you!"
They looked at him without speech, his interruption was so sudden, so unexpected. The girl had forgotten his presence in the room; Arnold had never been conscious of it.
"I tell you that Rosario was a robber of mankind," Isaac cried. "He was one of those who feed upon the bones of the poor. His place was in Hell and into Hell he has gone. Honor to the hand which started him on his journey!"
"You go too far, Isaac," Arnold protested. "I never heard any particular harm of the man except that he was immensely wealthy."
Isaac stretched out his thin hand. His bony forefinger pointed menacingly towards Arnold.
"You fool!" he cried. "You brainless creature of brawn and muscle! You have heard no harm of him save that he was immensely wealthy! Listen. Bear that sentence in your mind and listen to me, listen while I tell you a story. A party of travelers was crossing the desert. They lost their way. One man only had water, heaps of water. There was enough in his possession for all, enough and to spare. The sun beat upon their heads, their throats were parched, their lips were black, they foamed at the mouth. On their knees they begged and prayed for water; he took not even the trouble to reply. He kept himself cool and refreshed with his endless supply; he poured it upon his head, he bathed his lips and drank. So he passed on, and the people around died, cursing him. Last of all, one who had seen his wife sob out her last breath in his arms, more terrible still had heard his little child shriek with agony, clutch at him and pray for water—he saw the truth, and what power there is above so guided his arm that he struck. The man paid the just price for his colossal greed. The vultures plucked his heart out in the desert. So died Rosario!"
Arnold shook his head.
"The cases are not similar, Isaac," he declared.
"You lie!" Isaac shrieked. "There is not a hair's-breadth of difference! Rosario earned his wealth in an office hung with costly pictures; he earned it lounging in ease in a padded chair, earned it by the monkey tricks of a dishonest brain. Never an honest day's work did he perform in his life, never a day did he stand in the market-place where the weaker were falling day by day. In fat comfort he lived, and he died fittingly on the portals of a restaurant, the cost of one meal at which would have fed a dozen starving children. Pity Rosario! Pity his soul, if you will, but not his dirty body!"
"The man is dead," Arnold muttered.
"Dead, and let him rot!" Isaac cried fiercely. "There may be others!"
He caught up his cloth cap and, without another word, left the room. Arnold looked after him curiously, more than a little impressed by the man's passionate earnestness. Ruth, on the other hand, was unmoved.
"Isaac is Isaac," she murmured. "He sees life like that. He would wear the flesh off his bones preaching against wealth. It is as though there were some fire inside which consumed him all the time. When he comes back, he will be calmer."
But Arnold remained uneasy. Isaac's words, and his attitude of pent-up fury, had made a singular impression upon him. For those few moments, the Hyde Park demagogue with his frothy vaporings existed no longer. It seemed to Arnold as though a flash of the real fire had suddenly blazed into the room.
"If Isaac goes about the world like that, trouble will come of it," he said thoughtfully. "Have you ever heard him speak of Rosario before?"
"Never," she answered. "I have heard him talk like that, though, often. To me it sounds like the waves beating upon the shores. They may rage as furiously, or ripple as softly as the tides can bring them,—it makes no difference ... I want you to go on, please. I want you to finish telling me—your news."
Arnold looked away from the closed door. He looked back again into the girl's face. There was still that appearance of strained attention about her mouth and eyes.
"You are right," he admitted. "These things, after all, are terrible enough, but they are like the edge of a storm from which one has found shelter. Isaac ought to realize it."
"Tell me what this is which has happened to you!" she begged.
He shook himself free from that cloud of memories. He gave himself up instead to the joy of telling her his good news.
"Listen, then," he said. "Mr. Weatherley, in consideration not altogether, I am afraid, of my clerklike abilities, but of my shoulders and muscle, has appointed me his private secretary, with a seat in his office and a salary of three pounds a week. Think of it, Ruth! Three pounds a week!"
A smile lightened her face for a moment as she squeezed his fingers.
"But why?" she asked. "What do you mean about your shoulders and your muscle?"
"It is all very mysterious," he declared, "but do you know I believe Mr. Weatherley is afraid. He shook like a leaf when I told him of the murder of Rosario. I believe he thinks that there was some sort of blackmailing plot and he is afraid that something of the kind might happen to him. My instructions are never to leave his office, especially if he is visited by any strangers."
"It sounds absurd," she remarked. "I should have thought that of all the commonplace, unimaginative people you have ever described to me, Mr. Weatherley was supreme."
"And I," Arnold agreed. "And so, in a way, he is. It is his marriage which seems to have transformed him—I feel sure of that. He is mixing now with people whose manners and ways of thinking are entirely strange to him. He has had the world he knew of kicked from beneath his feet, and is hanging on instead to the fringe of another, of which he knows very little."
Ruth was silent. All the time Arnold was conscious that she was watching him. He turned his head. Her mouth was once more set and strained, a delicate streak of scarlet upon the pallor of her face, but from the fierce questioning of her eyes there was no escape.
"What is it you want to know that I have not told you, Ruth?" he asked.
"Tell me what happened to you last night!"
He laughed boisterously, but with a flagrant note of insincerity.
"Haven't I been telling you all the time?"
"You've kept something back," she panted, gripping his fingers frantically, "the greatest thing. Speak about it. Anything is better than this silence. Don't you remember your promise before you went—you would tell me everything—everything! Well?"
Her words pierced the armor of his own self-deceit. The bare room seemed suddenly full of glowing images of Fenella. His face was transfigured.
"I haven't told you very much about Mrs. Weatherley," he said, simply. "She is very wonderful and very beautiful. She was very kind to me, too."
Ruth leaned forward in her chair; her eyes read what she strove yet hated to see. She threw herself suddenly back, covering her face with her hands. The strain was over. She began to weep.
AN UNEXPECTED VISITOR
Mr. Weatherley laid down his newspaper with a grunt. He was alone in his private office with his newly appointed secretary.
"Two whole days gone already and they've never caught that fellow!" he exclaimed. "They don't seem to have a clue, even."
Arnold looked up from some papers upon which he was engaged.
"We can't be absolutely sure of that, sir," he reminded his employer. "They wouldn't give everything away to the Press."
Mr. Weatherley threw the newspaper which he had been reading onto the floor, and struck the table with his fist.
"The whole affair," he declared, "is scandalous—perfectly scandalous. The police system of this country is ridiculously inadequate. Scotland Yard ought to be thoroughly overhauled. Some one should take the matter up—one of the ha'penny papers on the lookout for a sensation might manage it. Just see here what happens," he went on earnestly. "A man is murdered in cold blood in a fashionable restaurant. The murderer simply walks out of the place into the street and no one hears of him again. He can't have been swallowed up, can he? You were there, Chetwode. What do you think of it?"
Arnold, who had been thinking of little else for the last few days, shook his head.
"I don't know what to think, sir," he admitted, "except that the murderer up till now has been extraordinarily lucky."
"Either that or he was fiendishly clever," Mr. Weatherley agreed, pulling nervously at his little patch of gray sidewhiskers. "I wonder, now—you've read the case, Chetwode?"
"Every word of it," Arnold admitted.
"Have you formed any idea yourself as to the motive?" Mr. Weatherley asked nervously.
Arnold shook his head.
"At present there seems nothing to go on, sir," he remarked. "I did hear it said that some one was trying to blackmail him and Mr. Rosario wasn't having any."
Mr. Weatherley pushed his scant hair back with his hand. He appeared to feel the heat of the office.
"You've heard that, too, eh?" he muttered. "It occurred to me from the first, Chetwode. It certainly did occur to me. You will remember that I mentioned it."
"What did your brother-in-law think of it, sir?" Arnold asked. "He and Mr. Rosario seemed to be very great friends. They were talking together for a long time that night at your house."
Mr. Weatherley jumped to his feet and threw open the window. The air which entered the office from the murky street was none of the best, but he seemed to find it welcome. Arnold was shocked to see his face when he turned around.
"The Count Sabatini is a very extraordinary man," Mr. Weatherley confessed. "He and his friends come to my house, but to tell you the truth I don't know much about them. Mrs. Weatherley wishes to have them there and that is quite enough for me. All the same, I don't feel that they're exactly the sort of people I've been used to, Chetwode, and that's a fact."
Mr. Weatherley had resumed his seat. He was leaning back in his chair now, his hands drooping to his side, looking precisely what he was—an ungraceful, commonplace little person, without taste or culture, upon whom even a good tailor seemed to have wasted his efforts. A certain pomposity which in a way became the man—proclaimed his prosperity and redeemed him from complete insignificance—had for a moment departed. He was like a pricked bladder. Arnold could scarcely help feeling sorry for him.
"I shouldn't allow these things to worry me, if I were you, sir," Arnold suggested respectfully. "If there is anything which you don't understand, I should ask for an explanation. Mrs. Weatherley is much too kind and generous to wish you to be worried, I am sure."
Then the side of the man with which Arnold wholly sympathized showed itself suddenly. At the mention of his wife's name an expression partly fatuous, partly beatific, transformed his homely features. He was looking at her picture which stood always opposite him. He had the air of an adoring devotee before some sacred shrine.
"You are quite right, Chetwode," he declared, "quite right, but I am always very careful not to let my wife know how I feel. You see, the Count Sabatini is her only relative, and before our marriage they were inseparable. He was an exile from Portugal and it seems to me these foreigners hang on together more than we do. I am only too glad for her to be with him as much as she chooses. It is just a little unfortunate that his friends should sometimes be—well, a trifle distasteful, but—one must put up with it. One must put up with it, eh? After all, Rosario was a man very well spoken of. There was no reason why he shouldn't have come to my house. Plenty of other men in my position would have been glad to have entertained him."
"Certainly, sir," agreed Arnold. "I believe he went a great deal into society."
"And, no doubt," Mr. Weatherley continued, eagerly, "he had many enemies. In the course of his commercial career, which I believe was an eventful one, he would naturally make enemies.... By the bye, Chetwode, speaking of blackmail—that blackmail rumor, eh? You don't happen to have heard any particulars?"
"None at all, sir," replied Arnold. "I don't suppose anything is really known. It seems a probable solution of the affair, though."
Mr. Weatherley nodded thoughtfully.
"It does," he admitted. "I can quite imagine any one trying it on and Rosario defying him. Just the course which would commend itself to such a man."
"The proper course, no doubt," Arnold remarked, "although it scarcely turned out the best for poor Mr. Rosario."
Mr. Weatherley distinctly shivered.
"Well, well," he declared, "you had better take out those invoices, and ask Jarvis to see me at once about Budden & Williams' account.... God bless my soul alive, why, here's Mrs. Weatherley!"
A car had stopped outside and both men had caught a vision of a fur-clad feminine figure crossing the pavement. Mr. Weatherley's fingers, busy already with his tie, were trembling with excitement. His whole appearance was transformed.
"Hurry out and meet her, Chetwode!" he exclaimed. "Show her the way in! This is the first time in her life she has been here of her own accord. Just as we were speaking about her, too!"
Fenella entered the office as a princess shod in satin might enter a pigsty. Her ermine-trimmed gown was raised with both her hands, her delightful nose had a distinct tilt and her lips a curl. But when she saw Arnold, a wonderful smile transformed her face. She was in the middle of the clerk's office, the cynosure of twenty-four staring eyes, but she dropped her gown and held out both her delicately gloved hands. The fall of her skirts seemed to shake out strange perfumes into the stuffy room.
"Ah! you are really here, then, in this odious gloom? You will show me where I can find my husband?"
Arnold stepped back and threw open the door of the inner office. She laughed into his face.
"Do not go away," she ordered. "Come in with me. I want to thank you for looking after me the other day."
Arnold murmured a few words of excuse and turned away. Mr. Tidey Junior carefully arranged his necktie and slipped down from his stool.
"Jarvis," he exclaimed, "a free lunch and my lifetime's gratitude if you'll send me into the governor's office on any pretext whatever!"
Mr. Jarvis, who was answering the telephone, took off his gold-rimmed spectacles and wiped them.
"Some one must go in and say that Mr. Burland, of Harris & Burland, wishes to know at what time he can see the governor. I think you had better let Chetwode go, though."
The young man turned away, humming a tune.
"Not I!" he replied. "Don't be surprised, you fellows, if I am not out just yet. The governor's certain to introduce me."
He knocked at the door confidently and disappeared. In a very few seconds he was out again. His appearance was not altogether indicative of conquest.
"Governor says Burland can go to the devil, or words to that effect," he announced, ill-naturedly. "Chetwode, you're to take in the private cheque book.... I tell you what, Jarvis," he added, slowly resuming his stool, "the governor's not himself these days. The least he could have done would have been to introduce me, especially as he's been up at our place so often. Rotten form, I call it. Anyway, she's not nearly so good-looking close to."
Mr. Jarvis proceeded to inform the inquirer through the telephone that Mr. Weatherley was unfortunately not to be found at the moment. Arnold, with Mr. Weatherley's cheque book in his hand, knocked at the door of the private office and closed the door carefully behind him. As he stood upon the threshold, his heart gave a sudden leap. Mr. Weatherley was sitting in his accustomed chair, but his attitude and expression were alike unusual. He was like a man shrinking under the whip. And Fenella—he was quick enough to catch the look in her face, the curl of her lips, the almost wicked flash of her eyes. Yet in a moment she was laughing.
"Your cheque book, Mr. Weatherley," he remarked, laying it down upon the desk.
Mr. Weatherley barely thanked him—barely, indeed, seemed to realize Arnold's presence. The latter turned to go. Fenella, however, intervened.
"Don't go away, if you please, Mr. Chetwode," she begged. "My husband is angry with me and I am a little frightened. And all because I have asked him to help a very good friend of mine who is in need of money to help forward a splendid cause."
Arnold was embarrassed. He glanced doubtfully at Mr. Weatherley, who was fingering his cheque book.
"It is scarcely a matter for discussion—" his employer began, but Fenella threw out her hands.
"Oh! la, la!" she interrupted. "Don't bore me so, my dear Samuel, or I will come to this miserable place no more. Mr. Starling must have this five hundred pounds because I have promised him, and because I have promised my brother that he shall have it. It is most important, and if all goes well it will come back to you some day or other. If not, you must make up your mind to lose it. Please write out the cheque, and afterwards Mr. Chetwode is to take me out to lunch. Andrea asked me especially to bring him, and if we do not go soon," she added, consulting a little jeweled watch upon her wrist, "we shall be late. Andrea does not like to be kept waiting."
"I was hoping," Mr. Weatherley remarked, with an unwieldy attempt at jocularity, "that I might be asked out to luncheon myself."
"Another day, my dear husband," she promised carelessly. "You know that you and Andrea do not agree very well. You bore him so much and then he is irritable. I do not like Andrea when he is irritable. Give me my cheque, dear, and let me go."
Mr. Weatherley dipped his pen in the ink, solemnly wrote out a cheque and tore it from the book. Fenella, who had risen to her feet and was standing over him with her hand upon his shoulder, stuffed it carelessly into the gold purse which she was carrying. Then she patted him on the cheek with her gloved hand.
"Don't overwork," she said, "and come home punctually. Are you quite ready, Mr. Chetwode?"
Arnold, who was finding the position more than ever embarrassing, turned to his employer.
"Can you spare me, sir?" he asked.
Mr. Weatherley nodded.
"If my wife desires you to go, certainly," he replied. "But Fenella," he added, "I am not very busy myself. Is it absolutely necessary that you lunch with your brother? Perhaps, even if it is, he can put up with my society for once."
She threw a kiss to him from the door.
"Unreasonable person!" she exclaimed. "To-day it is absolutely necessary that I lunch with Andrea. You must go to your club if you are not busy, and play billiards or something. Come, Mr. Chetwode," she added, turning towards the door, "we have barely a quarter of an hour to get to the Carlton. I dare not be late. The only person," she went on, as they passed through the outer office and Arnold paused for a moment to take down his hat and coat, "whom I really fear in this world is Andrea."
Mr. Weatherley remained for a moment in the chair where she had left him, gazing idly at the counterfoil of the cheque. Then he rose and from a safe point of vantage watched the car drive off. With slow, leaden footsteps he returned to his seat. It was past his own regular luncheon hour, but he made no movement to leave the place.
AN INTERRUPTED LUNCHEON
The great car swung to the right, out of Tooley Street and joined the stream of traffic making its slow way across London Bridge. Fenella took the tube from its place by her side and spoke in Italian to the chauffeur. When she replaced it, she turned to Arnold.
"Do you understand what I said?" she asked.
"Only a word or two," he replied. "You told him to go somewhere else instead of to the Carlton, didn't you?"
She nodded, and lay back for a moment, silent, among the luxurious cushions. Her mood seemed suddenly to have changed. She was no longer gay. She watched the faces of the passers-by pensively. Presently she pointed out of the window to a gray-bearded old man tottering along in the gutter with a trayful of matches. A cold wind was blowing through his rags.
"Look!" she exclaimed. "Look at that! In my own country, yes, but here I do not understand. They tell me that this is the richest city in the world, and the most charitable."
"There must be poor everywhere," Arnold replied, a little puzzled.
She stared at him.
"It is not your laws I would complain of," she said. "It is your individuals. Look at him—a poor, shivering, starved creature, watching a constant stream of well-fed, well-clothed, smug men of business, passing always within a few feet of him. Why does he not help himself to what he wants?"
"How can he?" Arnold asked. "There is a policeman within a few yards of him. The law stands always in the way."
"The law!" she repeated, scornfully. "It is a pleasant word, that, which you use. The law is the artificial bogey made by the men who possess to keep those others in the gutter. And they tell me that there are half a million of them in London—and they suffer—like that. Could your courts of justice hold half a million law-breakers who took an overcoat from a better clad man, or the price of a meal from a sleek passer-by, or bread from the shop which taunted their hunger? They do not know their strength, those who suffer."
Arnold looked at her in sheer amazement. It was surely a strange woman who spoke! There was no sympathy in her face or tone. The idea of giving alms to the man seemed never to have occurred to her. She spoke with clouded face, as one in anger.
"Don't you believe," he asked, "in the universal principle, the survival of the fittest? Where there is wealth there must be poverty."
"Change your terms," she suggested; "where there are robbers there must be victims. But one may despise the victims all the same. One may find their content, or rather their inaction, ignoble."
"Generally speaking, it is the industrious who prosper," he affirmed.
She shook her head.
"If that were so, all would be well," she declared. "As a matter of fact, it is entirely an affair of opportunity and temperament."
"Why, you are a socialist," he said. "You should come and talk to my friend Isaac."
"I am not a socialist because I do not care one fig about others," she objected. "It is only myself I think of."
"If you do not sympathize with laws, you at least recognize morals?"
She laughed gayly, leaning back against the dark green upholstery and showing her flawless teeth; her long, narrow eyes with their seductive gleam flashed into his. A lighter spirit possessed her.
"Not other people's," she declared. "I have my own code and I live by it. As for you,—"
She paused. Her sudden fit of gayety seemed to pass.
"As for me?" he murmured.
"I am a little conscience-stricken," she said slowly. "I think I ought to have left you where you were. I am not at all sure that you would not have been happier. You are a very nice boy, Mr. Arnold Chetwode, much too good for that stuffy little office in Tooley Street, but I do not know whether it is really for your good if one is inclined to try and help you to escape. If you saw another man holding a position you wanted yourself, would you throw him out, if you could, by sheer force, or would you think of your laws and your morals?"
"It depends a little upon how much I wanted it," he confessed.
"Ah! I see, then, that there are hopes of you," she admitted. "You should read the reign of Queen Elizabeth if you would know what Englishmen should be like. You know, I had an English mother, and she was descended from Francis Drake.... Ah, we are arrived!"
They had lost themselves somewhere between Oxford Street and Regent Street. The car pulled up in front of a restaurant which Arnold had certainly never seen or heard of before. It was quite small, and it bore the name "Cafe Andre" painted upon the wall. The lower windows were all concealed by white curtains. The entrance hall was small, and there was no commissionnaire. Fenella, who led the way in, did not turn into the restaurant but at once ascended the stairs. Arnold followed her, his sense of curiosity growing stronger at every moment. On the first landing there were two doors with glass tops. She opened one and motioned him to enter.
"Will you wait for me for a few moments?" she said. "I am going to telephone."
He entered at once. She turned and passed into the room on the other side of the landing. Arnold glanced around him with some curiosity. The room was well appointed and a luncheon table was laid for four people. There were flowers upon the table, and the glass and cutlery were superior to anything one might have expected from a restaurant in this vicinity. The window looked down into the street. Arnold stood before it for a moment or two. The traffic below was insignificant, but the roar of Oxford Street, only a few yards distant, came to his ears even through the closed window. He listened thoughtfully, and then, before he realized the course his thoughts were taking, he found himself thinking of Ruth. In a certain sense he was superstitious about Ruth and her forebodings. He found himself wondering what she would have said if she could have seen him there and known that it was Fenella who had brought him. And he himself—what did he think of it? A week ago, his life had been so commonplace that his head and his heart had ached with the monotony of it. And now Fenella had come and had shown him already strange things. He seemed to have passed into a world where mysterious happenings were an every-day occurrence, into a world peopled by strange men and women who always carried secrets about with them. And, in a sense, no one was more mysterious than Fenella herself. He asked himself as he stood there whether her vagaries were merely temperamental, the air of mystery which seemed to surround her simply accidental. He thought of that night at her house, the curious intimacy which from the first moment she had seemed to take for granted, the confidence with which she had treated him. He remembered those few breathless moments in her room, the man's hand upon the window-sill, with the strange colored ring, worn with almost flagrant ostentation. And then, with a lightning-like transition of thought, the gleam of the hand with that self-same ring, raised to strike a murderous blow, which he had seen for a moment through the doors of the Milan. The red seal ring upon the finger—what did it mean? A doubt chilled him for a moment. He told himself with passionate insistence, that it was not possible that she could know of these things. Her words were idle, her theories a jest. He turned away from the window and caught up a morning paper, resolved to escape from his thoughts. The first headline stared up at him:
THE ROSARIO MURDER. SENSATIONAL ARREST EXPECTED. RUMORED EXTRAORDINARY DISCLOSURES.
He threw the paper down again. Then the door was suddenly opened, and Fenella appeared. She rang a bell.
"I am going to order luncheon," she announced. "My brother will be here directly."
Arnold bowed, a little absently. Against his will, he was listening to voices on the landing outside. One he knew to be Starling's, the other was Count Sabatini's. He closed his ears to their speech, but there was no doubt whatever that the voice of Starling shook with fear. A moment or two later the two men entered the room. Count Sabatini came forward with outstretched hand. A rare smile parted his lips. He looked a very distinguished and very polished gentleman.
"I am pleased to meet you again, Mr. Chetwode," he said, "the more pleased because I understand from my sister that we are to have the pleasure of your company for luncheon."
"You are very kind," Arnold murmured.
"Mr. Starling—I believe that you met the other night," Count Sabatini continued.
Arnold held out his hand but could scarcely repress a start. Starling seemed to have lost weight. His cheeks were almost cadaverous, his eyes hollow. His slight arrogance of bearing had gone; he gave one a most unpleasant impression.
"I remember Mr. Starling quite well," Arnold said. "We met also, I think, at the Milan Hotel, a few minutes after the murder of Mr. Rosario."
Starling shook hands limply. Sabatini smiled.
"A memorable occasion," he remarked. "Let us take luncheon now. Gustave," he added, turning to the waiter who had just entered the room, "serve the luncheon at once. It is a queer little place, this, Mr. Chetwode," he went on, turning to Arnold, "but I can promise you that the omelette, at least, is as served in my own country."
They took their places at the table, and Arnold, at any rate, found it a very pleasant party. Sabatini was no longer gloomy and taciturn. His manner still retained a little of its deliberation, but towards Arnold especially he was more than courteous. He seemed, indeed, to have the desire to attract. Fenella was almost bewitching. She had recovered her spirits, and she talked to him often in a half audible undertone, the familiarity of which gave him a curious pleasure. Starling alone was silent and depressed. He drank a good deal, but ate scarcely anything. Every passing footstep upon the stairs outside alarmed him; every time voices were heard he stopped to listen. Sabatini glanced towards him once with a scornful flash in his black eyes.
"One would imagine, my dear Starling, that you had committed a crime!" he exclaimed.
Starling raised his glass to his lips with shaking fingers, and drained its contents.
"I had too much champagne last night," he muttered.
There was a moment's silence. Every one felt his statement to be a lie. For some reason or other, the man was afraid. Arnold was conscious of a sense of apprehension stealing over him. The touch of Fenella's fingers upon his arm left him, for a moment, cold. Sabatini turned his head slowly towards the speaker, and his face had become like the face of an inquisitor, stern and merciless, with the flavor of death in the cold, mirthless parting of the lips.
"Then you drank a very bad brand, my friend," he declared. "Still, even then, the worst champagne in the world should not give you those ugly lines under the eyes, the scared appearance of a hunted rabbit. One would imagine—"
Starling struck the table a blow with his fist which set the glasses jingling.
"D—n it, stop, Sabatini!" he exclaimed. "Do you want to—"
He broke off abruptly. He looked towards Arnold. He was breathing heavily. His sudden fit of passion had brought an unwholesome flush of color to his cheeks.
"Why should I stop?" Sabatini proceeded, mercilessly. "Let me remind you of my sister's presence. Your lack of self-control is inexcusable. One would imagine that you had committed some evil deed, that you were indeed an offender against the law."
Again there was that tense silence. Starling looked around him with the helpless air of a trapped animal. Arnold sat there, listening and watching, completely fascinated. There was something which made him shiver about the imperturbability, not only of Sabatini himself, but of the woman who sat by his side.
Sabatini poured himself out a glass of wine deliberately.
"Who in the world," he demanded, "save a few unwholesome sentimentalists, would consider the killing of Rosario a crime?"
Starling staggered to his feet. His cheeks now were ashen.
"You are mad!" he cried, pointing to Arnold.
"Not in the least," Sabatini proceeded calmly. "I am not accusing you of having killed Rosario. In any case, it would have been a perfectly reasonable and even commendable deed. One can scarcely understand your agitation. If you are really accused of having been concerned in that little contretemps, why, here is our friend Mr. Arnold Chetwode, who was present. No doubt he will be able to give evidence in your favor."
Arnold was speechless for a moment. Sabatini's manner was incomprehensible. He spoke as one who alludes to some trivial happening. Yet even his light words could not keep the shadow of tragedy from the room. Even at that instant Arnold seemed suddenly to see the flash of a hand through the glass-topped door, to hear the hoarse cry of the stricken man.
"I saw nothing but the man's hand!" he muttered, in a voice which he would scarcely have recognized as his own. "I saw his hand and his arm only. He wore a red signet ring."
Sabatini inclined his head in an interested manner.
"A singular coincidence," he remarked, pleasantly. "My sister has already told me of your observation. It certainly is a point in favor of our friend Starling. It sounds like the badge of some secret society, and not even the most ardent romanticist would suspect our friend Starling here of belonging to anything of the sort."
Starling had resumed his luncheon, and was making a great effort at a show of indifference. Nevertheless, he watched Arnold uneasily.
"Say, there's no sense in talking like this!" he muttered. "Mr. Chetwode here will think you're in earnest."
"There is, on the contrary, a very great deal of sound common sense," Sabatini asserted, gently, "in all that I have said. I want our young friend, Mr. Chetwode, to be a valued witness for the defense when the misguided gentlemen from Scotland Yard choose to lay a hand upon your shoulder. One should always be prepared, my friend, for possibilities. You great—"
He stopped short. Starling, with a smothered oath, had sprung to his feet. The eyes of every one were turned toward the wall; a small electric bell was ringing violently. For the next few moments, events marched swiftly. Starling, with incredible speed, had left the room by the inner door. A waiter had suddenly appeared as though by magic, and of the fourth place at table there seemed to be left no visible signs. All the time, Sabatini, unmoved, continued to roll his cigarette. Then there came a tapping at the door.
"See who is there," Sabatini instructed the waiter.
Gustave, his napkin in his hand, threw open the door. A young man presented himself—a person of ordinary appearance, with a notebook sticking out of his pocket. His eyes seemed to take in at once the little party. He advanced a few steps into the room.
"You are perhaps not aware, sir," Sabatini said gently, "that this is a private apartment."
The young man bowed.
"I must apologize for my intrusion, sir and madame," he declared, looking towards Fenella. "I am a reporter on the staff of the Daily Unit, and I am exceedingly anxious to interview—you will pardon me!"
With a sudden swift movement he crossed the room, passed into the inner apartment and disappeared. Sabatini rose to his feet.
"I propose," he said, "that we complain to the proprietor of this excitable young journalist, and take our coffee in the palm court at the Carlton."
Fenella also rose and stepped in front of the looking-glass.
"It is good," she declared. "I stay with you for one half hour. Afterwards I have a bridge party. You will come with us, Mr. Chetwode?"
Arnold did not at once reply. He was gazing at the inner door. Every moment he expected to hear—what? It seemed to him that tragedy was there, the greatest tragedy of all—the hunting of man! Sabatini yawned.
"Those others," he declared, "must settle their own little differences. After all, it is not our affair."
JARVIS IS JUSTLY DISTURBED
It was fully half-past three before Arnold found himself back in Tooley Street. He hung up his coat and hat and was preparing to enter Mr. Weatherley's room when the chief clerk saw him. Mr. Jarvis had been standing outside, superintending the unloading of several dray loads of American bacon. He laid his hand upon Arnold's shoulder.
"One moment, Chetwode," he said. "I want to speak to you out here."
Arnold followed him to a retired part of the warehouse. Mr. Jarvis leaned against an old desk belonging to one of the porters.
"You are very late, Chetwode," he remarked.
"I am sorry, but I was detained," Arnold answered. "I will explain it to Mr. Weatherley directly I go in."
Mr. Jarvis coughed.
"Of course," he said, "as you went out with Mrs. Weatherley I suppose it's none of my business as to your hours, but you must know that to come back from lunch at half-past three is most irregular, especially as you are practically junior in the place."
"I quite agree with you," Arnold assented, "but, you see, I really couldn't help myself to-day. I don't suppose it is likely to happen again. Is that all that you wanted to speak to me about?"
"Not altogether," Mr. Jarvis admitted. "To tell you the truth," he went on, confidentially, "I wanted to ask you a question or two."
"Well, look sharp, then," Arnold said, good-humoredly. "I dare say Mr. Weatherley will be getting impatient, and he probably saw me come in."
"I want to ask you," Mr. Jarvis began, impressively, "whether you noticed anything peculiar about the governor's manner this morning?"
"I don't think so—not especially," Arnold replied.
Mr. Jarvis took off his gold-rimmed spectacles and wiped them carefully.
"Mr. Weatherley," he proceeded, "has always been a gentleman of very regular habits—he and his father before him. I have been in the service of the firm for thirty-five years, Mr. Chetwode, so you can understand that my interest is not merely a business one."
"Quite so," Arnold agreed, glancing at the man by his side with a momentary curiosity. He had been in Tooley Street for four months, and even now he was still unused to the close atmosphere, the pungent smells, the yellow fog which seemed always more or less to hang about in the streets; the dark, cavernous-looking warehouse with its gloomy gas-jets always burning. From where they were standing at that moment, the figures of the draymen and warehousemen moving backwards and forwards seemed like phantoms in some subterranean world. It was odd to think of thirty-five years spent amid such surroundings!
"It is a long time," he remarked.
Mr. Jarvis nodded.
"I mention it," he said, "so that you may understand that my remarks to you are not dictated by curiosity or impertinence. Mr. Weatherley's behavior and mode of life has been entirely changed, Chetwode, since his marriage."
"I can understand that," Arnold replied, with a faint smile. What, indeed, had so beautiful a creature as Fenella to do with Samuel Weatherley of Tooley Street!
"Mrs. Weatherley," Mr. Jarvis continued, "is, no doubt, a very beautiful and accomplished lady. Whether she is a suitable wife for Mr. Weatherley I am not in a position to judge, never having had the opportunity of speech with her, but as regards the effect of his marriage upon Mr. Weatherley, I should like you to understand, Chetwode, at once, that it is my opinion, and the opinion of all of us, and of all his business friends, that a marked change for the worse in Mr. Weatherley has set in during the last few months."
"I am sorry to hear it," Arnold interposed.
"You, of course," Mr. Jarvis went on, "could scarcely have noticed it, as you have been here so short a time, but I can assure you that a year or so ago the governor was a different person altogether. He was out in the warehouse half the morning, watching the stuff being unloaded, sampling it, and suggesting customers. He took a live interest in the business, Chetwode. He was here, there and everywhere. To-day—for the last few weeks, indeed—he has scarcely left his office. He sits there, signs a few letters, listens to what I have to say, and goodness knows how he spends the rest of his time. Where the business would be," Mr. Jarvis continued, rubbing his chin thoughtfully, "if it were not for us who know the running of it so well, I can't say, but a fact it is that Mr. Weatherley seems to have lost all interest in it."
"I wonder he doesn't retire," Arnold suggested.
Mr. Jarvis looked at him in amazement.
"Retire!" he exclaimed. "Why should he retire? What would he do? Isn't it as comfortable for him to read his newspaper over the fire in the office here as at home? Isn't it better for him to have his friends all around him, as he has here, than to sit up in his drawing-room in business hours with never a soul to speak to? Such men as Mr. Weatherley, Chetwode, or as Mr. Weatherley's father was, don't retire. If they do, it means the end."
"Well, I'm sorry to hear what you tell me," Arnold said. "I haven't seen much of Mr. Weatherley, of course, but he seems devoted to his wife."
"Infatuated, sir! Infatuated is the word!" Mr. Jarvis declared.
"She is very charming," Arnold remarked, thoughtfully.
Mr. Jarvis looked as though there were many things which he could have said but refrained from saying.
"You will not suggest, Chetwode," he asked, "that she married Mr. Weatherley for any other reason than because he was a rich man?"
Arnold was silent for a moment. Somehow or other, he had accepted the fact of her being Mrs. Weatherley without thinking much as to its significance.
"I suppose," he admitted, "that Mr. Weatherley's money was an inducement."
"There is never anything but evil," Mr. Jarvis declared, "comes from a man or a woman marrying out of their own circle of friends. Now Mr. Weatherley might have married a dozen ladies from his own circle here. One I know of, a very handsome lady, too, whose father has been Lord Mayor. And then there's young Tidey's sisters, in the office there. Any one of them would have been most suitable. But no! Some unlucky chance seems to have sent Mr. Weatherley on that continental journey, and when you once get away from England, why, of course, anything may happen. I don't wish to say anything against Mrs. Weatherley, mind," Mr. Jarvis continued, "but she comes from the wrong class of people to make a city man a good wife, and I can't help associating her and her friends and her manner of living with the change that's come over Mr. Weatherley."
Arnold swung himself up on to the top of a barrel and sat looking down at his companion.
"Mr. Jarvis," he said, "you and I see this matter, naturally, from very different standpoints. You have known Mr. Weatherley for thirty-five years. I have known him for four months, and he never spoke a word to me until a few days ago. Practically, therefore, I have known Mr. and Mrs. Weatherley the same length of time. Under the circumstances, I must tell you frankly that my sympathies are with Mrs. Weatherley. Not only have I found her a very charming woman, but she has been most unnecessarily kind to me."
Mr. Jarvis was silent for a moment.
"I had forgotten," he admitted, "that that might be your point of view. It isn't, of course, possible to look for any feeling of loyalty for the chief from any one who has only been here a matter of a few months. Perhaps I was wrong to have spoken to you at all, Chetwode."
"If there is anything I can do," Arnold began,—
"It's in this way," Mr. Jarvis interrupted. "Owing, I dare say, to Mrs. Weatherley, you have certainly been put in a unique position here. You see more of Mr. Weatherley now than any one of us. For that reason I was anxious to make a confidant of you. I tell you that I am worried about Mr. Weatherley. He is a rich man and a prosperous man. There is no reason why he should sit in his office and gaze into the fire and look out of the window as though the place were full of shadows and he hated the sight of them. Yet that is what he does nowadays, Chetwode. What does it mean? I ask you frankly. Haven't you noticed yourself that his behavior is peculiar?"
"Now you mention it," Arnold replied, "I certainly have noticed that he was very strange in his manner this morning. He seemed very upset about that Rosario murder. Mr. Rosario was at his house the other night, you know. Were they great friends, do you think?"
Mr. Jarvis shook his head.
"Not at all," he said. "He was simply, I believe, one of Mrs. Weatherley's society acquaintances. But that there's something gone wrong with Mr. Weatherley, no one would deny who sees him as he is now and knows him as he was a year or so ago. There's Johnson, the foreman packer, who's been here as long as I have; and Elwick, the carter; and Huemmel, in the export department;—we've all been talking together about this."
"He doesn't speculate, I suppose?" Arnold enquired.
"Not a ha'penny," Mr. Jarvis replied, fervently. "He has spent large sums of money since his marriage, but he can afford it. It isn't money that's worrying him."
"Perhaps he doesn't hit it off with his wife," Arnold remarked.
Mr. Jarvis drew a little breath. For a moment he was speechless. To him it seemed something like profanity that this young man should make so casual a suggestion.
"Mrs. Weatherley, sir," he declared, "was, I believe, without any means whatever when Mr. Weatherley made her his wife. Mr. Weatherley, as you know, is at the head of this house, the house of Samuel Weatherley & Co., bankers Lloyds. It should be the business of the lady, sir, to see that she hits it off, as you put it, with a husband who has done her so much honor."
"That is all very well, Mr. Jarvis," he said, "but you must remember that Mrs. Weatherley had compensations for her lack of wealth. She is very beautiful, and she is, too, of a different social rank."
Mr. Jarvis was frankly scornful.
"Why, she was a foreigner," he declared. "I should like to know of what account any foreign family is against our good city firms, such as I have been speaking of. No, Chetwode, my opinion is that she's brought a lot of her miserable, foreign hangers-on over here, and that somehow or other they are worrying Mr. Weatherley. I should like, if I could, to interest you in the chief. You can't be expected to feel as I do towards him. At the same time, he is the head of the firm, and you are bound, therefore, to feel a certain respect due to him, and I thought that if I talked to you and put these matters before you, which have occurred not only to me but to those others who have been with Mr. Weatherley for so many years, you might be able to help us by watching, and if you can find any clue as to what is bothering him, why, I'd be glad to hear of it, for there isn't one of us who wouldn't do anything that lay in his power to have the master back once more as he used to be a few years ago. Why, the business seems to have lost all its spring, nowadays," Mr. Jarvis went on, mournfully. "We do well, of course, because we couldn't help doing well, but we plod along more like a machine. It was different altogether in the days when Mr. Weatherley used to bring out the morning orders himself and chaff us about selling for no profit. You follow me, Chetwode?"
"I'll do what I can," Arnold agreed. "Of course, I see your point of view, and I must admit that the governor does seem depressed about something or other."
"If anything turns up," Mr. Jarvis asked eagerly, "anything tangible, I mean, you'll tell me of it, won't you, there's a good fellow? Of course, I suppose your future is outside my control now, but I engaged you first, you know, Chetwode. There aren't many things done here that I haven't a say in."
"You may rely upon me," Arnold promised, slipping down from the barrel. "He's really quite a decent old chap, and if I can find out what's worrying him, and can help, I'll do it."
Mr. Jarvis went back to his labors and Arnold made his way to Mr. Weatherley's room. His first knock remained unanswered. The "Come in!" which procured for him admittance at his second attempt sounded both flurried and startled. Mr. Weatherley had the air of one who has been engaged in some criminal task. He drew the blotting-paper over the letter which he had been writing as Arnold entered.
"Oh! it's you, is it, Chetwode?" he remarked, with an air of relief. "So you're back, eh? Pleasant luncheon?"
"Very pleasant indeed, thank you, sir," Arnold replied.
"Mrs. Weatherley send any message?" her husband asked, with ill-assumed indifference.
"None at all, sir."
Mr. Weatherley sighed. He seemed a little disappointed.
"Did you lunch at the Carlton?"
"We took our coffee there afterwards," Arnold said. "We lunched at a small foreign restaurant near Oxford Street."
"The Count Sabatini was there?"
"Yes, sir," Arnold told him. "Also Mr. Starling."
Mr. Weatherley nodded slowly.
"How do you get on with Count Sabatini?" he inquired. "Rather a gloomy person, eh?"
"I found him very pleasant, sir," Arnold said. "He was good enough to ask me to dine with him to-night."
Mr. Weatherley looked up, a little startled.
"Invited you to dine with him?" he repeated.
"I thought it was very kind of him, sir."
Mr. Weatherley sat quite still in his chair. He had obviously forgotten his secretary's presence in the room, and Arnold, who had seated himself at his desk and was engaged in sorting out some papers, took the opportunity now and then to glance up and scrutinize with some attention his employer's features. There were certainly traces there of the change at which Mr. Jarvis had hinted. Mr. Weatherley had the appearance of a man who had once been florid and prosperous and comfortable-looking, but who had been visited by illness or some sort of anxiety. His cheeks were still fat, but they hung down toward the jaw, and his eyes were marked with crowsfeet. His color was unhealthy. He certainly had no longer the look of a prosperous and contented man.
"Chetwode," he said slowly, after a long pause, "I am not sure that I did you a kindness when I asked you to come to my house the other night."
"I thought so, at any rate, sir," Arnold replied. "It has been a great pleasure to me to make Mrs. Weatherley's acquaintance."
"I am glad that my wife has been kind to you," Mr. Weatherley continued, "but I hope you will not misunderstand me, Chetwode, when I say that I am not sure that such kindness is for your good. Mrs. Weatherley's antecedents are romantic, and she has many friends whose position in life is curiously different from my own, and whose ideas and methods of life are not such as I should like a son of my own to adopt. The Count Sabatini, for instance," Mr. Weatherley went on, "is a nobleman who has had, I believe, a brilliant career, in some respects, but who a great many people would tell you is a man without principles or morals, as we understand them down here. He is just the sort of man to attract youth because he is brave, and I believe him to be incapable of a really despicable action. But notwithstanding this, and although he is my wife's brother, if I were you I would not choose him for a companion."
"I am very much obliged to you, sir," Arnold answered, a little awkwardly. "I shall bear in mind all that you have said. You do not object, I presume, to my dining with him to-night?"
"I have no objection to anything you may do outside this building," Mr. Weatherley replied, "but as you are only a youngster, and you met the Count Sabatini at my house, I feel it only right to give you a word of warning. I may be wrong. One gets fancies sometimes, and there are some strange doings—not that they concern you, however," he added, hurriedly; "only you are a young man with your way to make in the world, and every chance of making it, I should think; but it won't do for you to get too many of Count Sabatini's ideas into your head if you are going to do any good at a wholesome, honest business like this."
"I quite understand, sir," Arnold assented. "I don't suppose that Count Sabatini will ask me to dine with him again. I think it was just kindness that made him think of it. In any case, I am not in a position to associate with these people regularly, at present, and that alone would preclude me from accepting invitations."
"You're young and strong," Mr. Weatherley said thoughtfully. "You must fight your own battle. You start, somehow, differently than I did. You see," he went on, with the air of one indulging in reminiscences, "my father was in this business and I was brought up to it. We lived only a stone's throw away then, in Bermondsey, and I went to the City of London School. At fourteen I was in the office here, and a partner at twenty-one. I never went out of England till I was over forty. I had plenty of friends, but they were all of one class. They wouldn't suit Mrs. Weatherley or the Count Sabatini. I have lost a good many of them.... You weren't brought up to business, Chetwode?" he asked suddenly.
"I was not, sir," Arnold admitted.
"What made you come into it?"
"Poverty, sir," Arnold answered. "I had only a few shillings in the world when I walked in and asked Mr. Jarvis for a situation."
Mr. Weatherley sighed.
"Your people are gentlefolk, I expect," he said. "You have the look of it."
Arnold did not reply. Mr. Weatherley shrugged his shoulders.
"Well," he concluded, "you must look after yourself, only remember what I have said. By the bye, Chetwode, I am going to repose a certain amount of confidence in you."
Arnold looked up from his desk.
"I think you may safely do so, sir," he declared.
Mr. Weatherley slowly opened a drawer at his right hand and produced two letters. He carefully folded up the sheet upon which he had been writing, and also addressed that.
"I cannot enter into explanations with you about this matter, Chetwode," he said, "but I require your promise that what I say to you now is not mentioned in the warehouse or to any one until the time comes which I am about to indicate. You are my confidential secretary and I have a right, I suppose, to demand your silence."
"Certainly, sir," Arnold assured him.
"There is just a possibility," Mr. Weatherley declared, speaking thoughtfully and looking out of the window, "that I may be compelled to take a sudden and quite unexpected journey. If this be so, I should have to leave without a word to any one—to any one, you understand."
Arnold was puzzled, but he murmured a word of assent.
"In case this should happen," Mr. Weatherley went on, "and I have not time to communicate with any of you, I am leaving in your possession these two letters. One is addressed jointly to you and Mr. Jarvis, and the other to Messrs. Turnbull & James, Solicitors, Bishopsgate Street Within. Now I give these letters into your charge. We shall lock them up together in this small safe which I told you you could have for your own papers," Mr. Weatherley continued, rising to his feet and crossing the room. "There you are, you see. The safe is empty at present, so you will not need to go to it. I am locking them up," he added, taking a key from his pocket, "and there is the key. Now you understand?"
"But surely, sir," Arnold began,—
"The matter is quite simple," Mr. Weatherley interrupted, sharply. "To put it plainly, if I am missing at any time, if anything should happen to me, or if I should disappear, go to that safe, take out the letters, open your own and deliver the other. That is all you have to do."
"Quite so, sir," Arnold replied. "I understand perfectly. I see that there is none for Mrs. Weatherley. Would you wish any message to be sent to her?"
Mr. Weatherley was silent for a moment. A boy passed along the pavement with a bundle of evening papers. Mr. Weatherley tapped at the window.
"Hurry out and get me a Star, Chetwode," he ordered.
Arnold obeyed him and returned a few moments later with a paper in his hand. Mr. Weatherley spread out the damp sheet under the electric light. He studied it for a few moments intently, and then folded it up.
"It will not be necessary for you, Chetwode," he said, "to communicate with my wife specially."
The accidental arrangement of his employer's coat and hat upon the rack suddenly struck Arnold.
"Why, I don't believe that you have been out to lunch, sir!" he exclaimed.
Mr. Weatherley looked as though the idea were a new one to him.
"To tell you the truth," he said, "I completely forgot. Help me on with my coat, Chetwode. There is nothing more to be done to-day. I will call and get some tea somewhere on my way home."
He rose to his feet, a little heavily.
"Tell them to get me a taxicab," he directed. "I don't feel much like walking to-day, and they are not sending for me."
Arnold sent the errand-boy off to London Bridge. Mr. Weatherley stood before the window looking out into the murky atmosphere.
"I hope, Chetwode," he said, "that I haven't said anything to make you believe that there is anything wrong with me, or to give you cause for uneasiness. This journey of which I spoke may never become necessary. In that case, after a certain time has elapsed, we will destroy those letters."
"I trust that it never may become necessary to open them, sir," Arnold remarked.
"As regards what I said to you about the Count," Mr. Weatherley continued, after a moment's hesitation, "remember who I am that give you the advice, and who you are that receive it. Your bringing-up, I should imagine, has been different. Still, a young man of your age has to make up his mind what sort of a life he means to lead. I suppose, to a good many people," he went on, reflectively, "my life would seem a common, dull, plodding affair. Somehow or other, I didn't seem to find it so until—until lately. Still, there it is. I suppose I have lived in a little corner of the world, and what seems strange and wild to me might, after all, seem not so much out of the way to a young man with different ideas like you. Only, this much I do believe, at any rate," he went on, buttoning up his coat and watching the taxicab which was coming along the street; "if you want a quiet, honest life, doing your duty to yourself and others, and living according to the old-fashioned standards of honesty and upright living, then when you have had that dinner with the Count Sabatini to-night, forget him, forget where he lives. Come back to your work here, and if the things of which the Count has been talking to you seem to have more glamor, forget them all the more zealously. The best sort of life is always the grayest. The life which attracts is generally the one to be avoided. We don't do our duty," Mr. Weatherley added, brushing his hat upon his sleeve reflectively, "by always looking out upon the pleasurable side of life. Good evening, Chetwode!"
He turned away so abruptly that Arnold had scarcely time to return his greeting. It seemed so strange to him to be talked to at such length by a man whom he had scarcely heard utter half a dozen words in his life, that he was left speechless. He was still standing before the window when Mr. Weatherley crossed the pavement to the waiting taxicab. In his walk and attitude the signs of the man's deterioration were obvious. The little swagger of his younger days was gone, the bumptiousness of his bearing forgotten. He cast no glance up and down the pavement to hail an acquaintance. He muttered an address to the driver and stepped heavily into the taxicab.
CASTLES IN SPAIN
Ruth welcomed him with her usual smile—once he had thought it the most beautiful thing in the world. In the twilight of the April evening her face gleamed almost marble white. He dragged a footstool up to her side.
"Little woman, you are looking pale," he declared. "Give me your hands to hold. Can't you see that I have come just at the right time? Even the coal barges look like phantom boats. See, there is the first light."
She shook her head slowly.
"To-night," she murmured, "there will be no ships, Arnold. I have looked and looked and I am sure. Light the lamp, please."
"Why?" he asked, obeying her as a matter of course.
She turned in her chair.
"Do you think that I cannot tell?" she continued. "Didn't I see you turn the corner there, didn't I hear your step three flights down? Sometimes I have heard it come, and it sounds like something leaden beating time to the music of despair. And to-night you tripped up like a boy home for the holidays. You are going out to-night, Arnold."
"A man whom I met the other night has asked me to dine with him," he announced.
"A man! You are not going to see her, then?"
He laughed gayly and placed his hand upon the fingers which had drawn him towards her.
"Silly girl!" he declared. "No, I am going to dine alone with her brother, the Count Sabatini. You see, I am private secretary now to a merchant prince, no longer a clerk in a wholesale provision merchant's office. We climb, my dear Ruth. Soon I am going to ask for a holiday, and then we'll make Isaac leave his beastly lecturing and scurrilous articles, and come away with us somewhere for a day or two. You would like a few days in the country, Ruth?"
Her eyes met his gratefully.
"You know that I should love it, dear," she said, "but, Arnie, do you think that when the time for the holiday comes you will want to take us?"
He sat on the arm of her chair and held her hand.
"Foolish little woman!" he exclaimed. "Do you think that I am likely to forget? Why, I must have shared your supper nearly every night for a month, while I was walking about trying to find something to do. People don't forget who have lived through that sort of times, Ruth."
She sighed. Strangely enough, her tone had in it something of vague regret.
"For your sake, dear, I am glad that they are over."
"Things, too, will improve with you," he declared. "They shall improve. If only Isaac would turn sensible! He has brains and he is clever enough, if he weren't stuffed full with that foolish socialism."
She looked around the room and drew him a little closer to her.
"Arnold," she whispered, "now that you have spoken of it, let me tell you this. Sometimes I am afraid. Isaac is so mysterious. Do you know that he is away often for the whole day, and comes back white and exhausted, worn to a shadow, and sleeps for many hours? Sometimes he is in his room all right, but awake. I can hear him moving backwards and forwards, and hammering, tap, tap, tap, for hours."
"What does he do?" Arnold asked quickly.
"He has some sort of a little printing press in his room," she answered. "He prints some awful sheet there which the police have stopped. The night before last he had a message and everything was hidden. He spent hours with his face to the window, watching. I am so afraid that sometimes he goes outside the law. Arnold, I am afraid of what might happen to him. There are terrible things in his face if I ask him questions. And he moves about and mutters like a man in a dream—no, like a man in a nightmare!"
Arnold frowned, and looked up at the sky-signs upon the other side of the river.
"I, too, wish he were different, dear," he said. "He certainly is a dangerous protector for you."
"He is the only one I have," the girl replied, with a sigh, "and sometimes, when he remembers, he is so kind. But that is not often now."
"What do you do when he is away for all this time?" Arnold asked quickly. "Are you properly looked after? You ought to have some one here."
"Mrs. Sands comes twice a day, always," she declared. "It is not myself I trouble about, really. Isaac is good in that way. He pays Mrs. Sands always in advance. He tries even to buy wine for me, and he often brings me home fruit. When he has money, I am sure that he gives it to me. It isn't that so much, Arnold, but I get frightened of his getting into trouble. Now that room of his has got on my nerves. When I hear that tap, tap, in the night, I am terrified."
"Will you let me speak to him about it, Ruth?"
Her face was suddenly full of terror.
"Arnie, you mustn't think of it," she begged. "He would never forgive me—never. The first time I asked him what was going on there, I thought that he would have struck me."
"Would you like me to go in and see next time he is out?"
"Not for the world," she replied. "Besides, you couldn't. He has fixed on a Yale lock himself. No one could open the door."
"You have never seen what he prints?"
"Never," she replied. "He knows that I hate the sight of those pamphlets. He never shows them to me. He had a man to see him the other night—the strangest-looking man I ever saw—and they talked in whispers for hours. I saw the man's face when he went out. It was white and evil. And, Arnold, it was the face of a man steeped in sin to the lips. I wish I hadn't seen it," she went on, drearily. "It haunts me."
He did his best to reassure her.
"Little Ruth," he said, "you have been up here too long without a holiday. Wait till Saturday afternoon, when I draw my new salary for the first time. I shall hire a taxicab. We will have it open and drive out into the country."
Her face lit up for a moment. Her beautiful eyes were soft, although a few seconds later they were swimming with tears.
"Do you think you will want to go when Saturday afternoon comes?" she asked. "Don't you think, perhaps, that your new friends may invite you to go and see them? I am so jealous of your new friends, Arnold."
He drew her a little closer to him. There was something very pathetic in her complete dependence upon him, a few months ago a stranger. They had both been waifs, brought together by a wave of common adversity. Her intense weakness had made the same appeal to him as his youth and strength to her. There was almost a lump in his throat as he answered her.
"You aren't really feeling like that, Ruth?" he begged. "Don't! My new friends are part of the new life. You wouldn't have me cling to the old any longer than I can help? Why, you and I together have sat here hour after hour and prayed for a change, prayed for the mystic treasure that might come to us from those ships of chance. Dear, if mine comes first, it brings good for you, too. You can't believe that I should forget?"
For the first time in his life he bent over and kissed her upon the lips. She suffered his caress not only without resistance but for a single moment her arms clasped his neck passionately. Then she drew away abruptly.
"I don't know what I'm doing!" she panted. "You mustn't kiss me like that! You mustn't, Arnold!"
She began to cry, but before he could attempt to console her she dashed the tears away.
"Oh, we're impossible, both of us!" she declared. "But then, a poor creature like me must always be impossible. It isn't quite kind of fate, is it, to give any one a woman's heart and a woman's loneliness, and the poor frame of a hopeless invalid."
"You're not a hopeless invalid," he assured her, earnestly. "No one would ever know, to look at you as you sit there, that there was anything whatever the matter. Don't you remember our money-box for the doctor? Even that will come, Ruth. The day will come, I am sure, when we shall carry you off to Vienna, or one of those great cities, and the cure will be quite easy. I believe in it, really."
"I used to love to hear you talk about it," she said, "but, somehow, now it seems so far off. I don't even know that I want to be like other women. There is only one thing I do want and that is to keep you."
"That," he declared, fervently, "you are sure of. Remember, Ruth, that awful black month and what we suffered together. And you knew nothing about me. I just found you sitting on the stairs with your broken stick, waiting for some one to come and help you."
"And you picked me up and carried me into your room," she reminded him. "You didn't have to stop and take breath as Isaac has to."
"Why, no," he admitted, "I couldn't say you were heavy, dear. Some day or other, though," he added, "you will be. Don't lose your faith, Ruth. Don't let either of us leave off looking for the ships."
"Very well," she said, letting her hand fall once more softly into his, "I think that I am very foolish. I think that yours has come already, dear, and I am worse than foolish, I am selfish, because I once hoped that they might come together; that you and I might sit here, Arnold, hand in hand, and watch them with great red sails, and piles and piles of gold and beautiful things, with our names written on so big that we could read them even here from the window."
She burst into a peal of laughter.
"Oh, those children's days! What an escape they, were for us in the black times! Do you know that we once actually told one another fairy stories?"
"Not only that but we believed in them," he insisted. "I am perfectly certain that the night you found my star, and it seemed to us to keep on getting bigger and bigger while we looked at it, that from that night things have been getting better with me."
"At least," she declared, abruptly, "I am not going to spoil your dinner by keeping you here talking nonsense. Carry me back, please, Arnold. You must hurry up now and change your clothes. And, dear, you had better not come in and wish me good-night. Isaac went out this morning in one of his savage tempers, and he may be back at any moment. Carry me back now, and have a beautiful evening. To-morrow you must tell me all about it."
He obeyed her. She was really only a trifle to lift, as light as air. She clung to him longingly, even to the last minute.
"And now, please, you are to kiss my forehead," she said, "and run away."
"Your forehead only?" he asked, bending over her.
"My forehead only, please," she begged gravely. "The other doesn't go with our fairy stories, dear. I want to go on believing in the fairy stories...."
Arnold had little enough time to dress, and he descended the stone steps towards the street at something like a run. Half-way down, however, he pulled up abruptly to avoid running into two men. One was Isaac. His worn, white face, with hooked nose and jet-black eyes, made him a noticeable figure even in the twilight. The other man was so muffled up as to be unrecognizable. Arnold stopped short.
"Glad you're home, Isaac," he said pleasantly. "I have just been talking to Ruth. I thought she seemed rather queer."
Isaac looked at him coldly from head to foot. Arnold was wearing his only and ordinary overcoat, but his varnished shoes and white tie betrayed him.
"So you're wearing your cursed livery again!" he sneered. "You're going to beg your bone from the rich man's plate."
Arnold laughed at him.
"Always the same, Isaac," he declared. "Never mind about me. You look after your niece and take her out, if you can, somewhere. I am going to give her a drive on Saturday."
"Are you?" Isaac said calmly. "I doubt it. Drives and carriages are not for the like of us poor scum."
His companion nudged him impatiently. Isaac moved away. Arnold turned after him.
"You won't deny the right of a man to spend what he earns in the way he likes best?" he asked. "I've had a rise in my salary, and I am going to spend a part of it taking Ruth out."
Isaac laughed scornfully.
"A rise in your salary!" he muttered. "You poor slave! Did you go and kiss your master's foot when he gave it to you?"
"I didn't," Arnold declared. "To tell you the truth, I believe it would have annoyed him. He hasn't any sense of humor, you see. Good night, Isaac. If you're writing one of those shattering articles to-night, remember that Ruth can hear you, and don't keep her awake too late."
Arnold walked on. Suddenly his attention was arrested. Isaac was leaning over the banister of the landing above.
Arnold paused for a moment.
"What is it?" he asked.
Isaac came swiftly down. He brushed his cloth hat further back on his head as though it obscured his vision. With both hands he gripped Arnold's arm.
"Tell me," he said, "what do you mean by that?"
"What I said," Arnold answered; "but, for Heaven's sake, don't visit it on poor Ruth. She told me that you had some printing-press in your room to set up your pamphlets, and that the tap, tap at night had kept her awake. It's no concern of mine. I don't care what you do or what rubbish you print, but I can't bear to see the little woman getting frailer and frailer, Isaac."
"She told you that?" Isaac muttered.
"She told me that," Arnold assented. "What is there in it?"
Isaac looked at him for a moment with an intentness which was indescribable. His black eyes seemed on fire with suspicion, with searchfulness. At last he let go the arm which he was clutching, and turned away.
"All right," he said. "Ruth shouldn't talk, that's all. I don't want every one to know that I am reduced to printing my little sheet in my bedroom. Good night!"
Arnold looked after him in surprise. It was very seldom that Isaac vouchsafed any form of greeting or farewell. And then the shock came. Isaac's companion, who had been leaning over the banisters, waiting for him, had loosened the muffler about his neck and opened his overcoat. His features were now recognizable—a pale face with deep-set eyes and prominent forehead, a narrow chin, and a mouth which seemed set in a perpetual snarl. Arnold stood gazing up at him in rapt amazement. He had seen that face but once before, yet there was no possibility of any mistake. It seemed, indeed, as though the recognition were mutual, for the man above, with an angry cry, turned suddenly away, buttoning up his overcoat with feverish fingers. He called out to Isaac—a hurried sentence, in a language which was strange to Arnold. There was a brief exchange of breathless words. Arnold moved slowly away, but before he had reached the street Isaac's hand was upon his shoulder.
"One moment!" Isaac panted. "My friend would like to know why you looked at him like that?"
Arnold did not hesitate.
"Isaac," he said, gravely, "no doubt I seemed surprised. I have seen that man before, only a night or two ago."
"Where? When?" Isaac demanded.
"I saw him hanging around the house of my employer," Arnold said firmly, "under very suspicious circumstances. He was inquiring then for Mr. Rosario. It was the night before Rosario was murdered."
"What do you mean by that?" Isaac asked, hoarsely.
"You had better ask yourself what it means," Arnold replied. "For Ruth's sake, Isaac, don't have anything to do with that man. I don't know anything about him—I don't want to know anything about him. I simply beg you, for Ruth's sake, to keep out of trouble."
Isaac laughed harshly.
"You talk like a young fool!" he declared, turning on his heel.
The apartments of Count Sabatini were situated in the somewhat unfamiliar quarter of Queen Anne's Gate. Arnold found his way there on foot, crossing Parliament Square in a slight drizzling rain, through which the figures of the passers-by assumed a somewhat phantasmal appearance. Around him was a glowing arc of lights, and, dimly visible beyond, shadowy glimpses of the river. He rang the bell with some hesitation at the house indicated by his directions—a large gray stone building, old-fashioned, and without any external signs of habitation. His summons, however, was answered almost immediately by a man-servant who took his hat and coat.
"If you will step into the library for a moment, sir," he said, with a slight foreign accent, "His Excellency will be there."
Arnold was immensely impressed by the room into which he was shown. He stood looking around him for several minutes. The whole atmosphere seemed to indicate a cultivated and luxurious taste, kept in bounds by a certain not unpleasing masculine severity. The coloring of the room was dark green, and the walls were everywhere covered with prints and etchings, and trophies of the chase and war. A huge easy-chair was drawn up to the fire, and by its side was a table covered with books and illustrated papers. A black oak writing desk stood open, and a huge bowl of violets set upon it was guarded by an ivory statuette of the Venus of Milo. The furniture was comfortably worn. There was a faint atmosphere of cigarette smoke,—the whole apartment was impregnated by an intensely liveable atmosphere. The glowing face of a celebrated Parisian danseuse laughed at him from over the mantelpiece. Arnold was engaged in examining it when Sabatini entered.
"A thousand apologies, my dear Mr. Chetwode," he said softly. "I see you pass your time pleasantly. You admire the divine Fatime?"
"The face is beautiful," Arnold admitted. "I am afraid I was a few minutes early. It began to rain and I walked fast."
Sabatini smiled. A butler had followed him into the room, bearing on a tray two wine-glasses full of clear yellow liquid.
"Vermouth and one tiny cigarette," Sabatini suggested,—"the best aperetif in the world. Permit me, Mr. Chetwode—to our better acquaintance!"
"I never need an aperetif," Arnold answered, raising the wine-glass to his lips, "but I will drink to your toast, with pleasure."
Sabatini lit his cigarette, and, leaning slightly against the back of a chair, stood with folded arms looking at the picture over the fireplace.
"Your remark about Fatime suggested reservations," he remarked. "I wonder why? I have a good many curios in the room, and some rather wonderful prints, but it was Fatime who held you while you waited. Yet you are not one of those, I should imagine," he added, blowing out a cloud of cigarette smoke, "to whom the call of sex is irresistible."
Arnold shook his head.
"No, I don't think so," he admitted simply. "To tell you the truth, I think that it was the actual presence of the picture here, rather than its suggestions, which interested me most. Your room is so masculine," Arnold added, glancing around. "It breathes of war and sport and the collector. And then, in the middle of it all, this girl, with her barely veiled limbs and lascivious eyes. There is something a little brutal about the treatment, don't you think?"
Sabatini shrugged his shoulders.
"The lady is too well known," remarked Sabatini, shrugging his shoulders. "A single touch of the ideal and the greatness of that picture would be lost. Greve was too great an artist to try for it."
"Nevertheless," Arnold persisted, "she disturbs the serenity of your room."
Sabatini threw away his cigarette and passed his arm through his companion's.
"It is as well always to be reminded that life is many-sided," he murmured. "You will not mind a tete-a-tete dinner?"
Some curtains of dark green brocaded material had been silently drawn aside, and they passed into a smaller apartment, of which the coloring and style of decoration was the same. A round table, before which stood two high-backed, black oak chairs, and which was lit with softly-shaded candles, stood in the middle of the room. It was very simply set out, but the two wine-glasses were richly cut in quaint fashion, and the bowl of violets was of old yellow Sevres. Arnold sat opposite his host and realized how completely the man seemed to fit in with his surroundings. In Mrs. Weatherley's drawing-room there had been a note of incongruity. Here he seemed so thoroughly in accord with the air of masculine and cultivated refinement which dominated the atmosphere. He carried himself with the ease and dignity to which his race entitled him, but, apart from that, his manner had qualities which Arnold found particularly attractive. His manicured nails, his spotless linen, his links and waistcoat buttons,—cut from some quaint stone,—the slight affectations of his dress, the unusual manner of brushing back his hair and arranging his tie, gave him only a note of individuality. Every word he spoke—and he talked softly but continually during the service of the meal—confirmed Arnold's first impressions of him. He was a man, at least, who had lived a man's life without fear or weakness, and, whatever his standards might be, he would adhere to them.
Dinner was noiselessly and perfectly served by the butler who had first appeared, and a slighter and smaller edition of himself who brought him the dishes. There was no champagne, but other wines were served in their due order, the quality of which Arnold appreciated, although more than one was strange to him. With the removal of the last course, fruit was placed upon the table, with a decanter of Chateau Yquem. On a small table near was a brass pot of coffee and a flask of green liqueur. Sabatini pushed the cigarettes towards his companion.
"I have a fancy to talk to you seriously," he said, without any preamble.
Arnold looked at him in some surprise.
"I am not a philanthropist," continued Sabatini. "When I move out of my regular course of life it is usually for my own advantage. I warn you of that before we start."
Arnold nodded and lit his cigarette fearlessly. There was no safety in life, he reflected, thinking for the moment of the warning which he had received, like the safety of poverty.
"I am a man of forty-one," Sabatini said. "You, I believe, are twenty-four. There can, therefore, be no impertinences in the truth from me to you."
"There could be none in any case," Arnold assured him.
Sabatini gazed thoughtfully across the table into his guest's face.
"I do not know your history or your parentage," he went on. "Such knowledge is unnecessary. It is obvious that your position at the present moment is the result of an accident."
"It is the outcome of actual poverty," Arnold told him softly.
"Ah! well," he said, "it is a poverty, then, which you have accepted. Tell me, then, of your ambition! You are young, and the world lies before you. You have the gifts which belong to those who are born. Are you doing what is right to yourself in working at a degrading employment for a pittance?"
"I must live," Arnold protested simply.
"Precisely," replied Sabatini. "We all must live. We all, however, are too apt to accept the rulings of circumstance. I maintain that we all have a right to live in the manner to which we are born."
"And how," asked Arnold, "does one enforce that right?"
Sabatini leaned over and helped himself to the liqueur.
"You possess the gift," he remarked, "which I admire most—the gift of directness. Now I would speak to you of myself. When I was young, I was penniless, with no inheritance save a grim castle, a barren island, and a great name. The titular head of my family was a Cardinal of Rome, my father's own brother. I went to him, and I demanded the means of support. He answered me with an epigram which I will not repeat, besides which it is untranslatable. I will only tell you that he gave me a sum equivalent to a few hundred pounds, and bade me seek my fortune."
Arnold was intensely interested.
"Tell me how you started!" he begged.
"A few hundred pounds were insufficient," Sabatini answered coolly, "and my uncle was a coward. I waited my opportunity, and although three times I was denied an audience, on the fourth I found him alone. He would have driven me out but I used the means which I have never known to fail. I left him with a small but sufficient fortune."
Arnold looked at him with glowing eyes.
"You forced him to give it you!" he exclaimed.
"Without a doubt," Sabatini answered, coolly. "He was wealthy and he was my uncle. I was strong and he was weak. It was as necessary for me to live as for him. So I took him by the throat and gave him thirty seconds to reflect. He decided that the life of a Cardinal of Rome was far too pleasant to be abandoned precipitately."
There was a short silence. Sabatini glanced twice at his companion and smiled.
"I will read your thoughts, my young friend," he continued. "Your brain is a little confused. You are wondering whether indeed I have robbed my elderly relative. Expunge that word and all that it means to you from your vocabulary, if you can. I took that to which I had a right by means of the weapons which have been given to me—strength and opportunity. These are the weapons which I have used through life."
"Supposing the Cardinal had refused?" Arnold asked.
"One need not suppose," Sabatini replied. "It is not worth while. I should probably have done what the impulse of the moment demanded. So far, however, I have found most people reasonable."
"There have been others, then?" Arnold demanded.
"There have been others," Sabatini agreed calmly; "always people, however, upon whom I have had a certain claim. Life to different people means different things. Life to a person of my tastes and descent meant this—it meant playing a part in the affairs of the country which gave me my birthright; it meant the carrying forward of a great enmity which has burned within the family of Sabatini for the house which now rules my country, for hundreds of years. If I were a person who sought for excuses, I might say that I have robbed my relatives for the cause of the patriot. Life to a sawer of wood means bread. The two states themselves are identical. The man who is denied bread breaks into riot and gains his ends. I, when I have been denied what amounts to me as bread, have also helped myself."
"I am not sure," Arnold protested, frankly, "whether you are not amusing yourself with me."
"Then let me put that doubt to rest, once and for all," Sabatini replied. "It does not amuse me to trifle with the truth."
"Why do you make me your confidant?" Arnold asked.
"Because it is my intention to make a convert of you," Sabatini said calmly.
Arnold shook his head.
"I am afraid that that is quite hopeless," he answered. "I have not the excuse of a country which needs my help, although I have more than one relative," he added, with a smile, "whom I should not mind taking by the throat."
"One needs no excuse," Sabatini murmured.
"I have no scruples," Sabatini interrupted, "in using the word which seems to trouble you. Perhaps I am a robber. What, however, you do not appreciate is that nine-tenths of the people in the world are in the same position."
"I cannot admit that either," Arnold protested.
"It is, then, because you have not considered the matter," Sabatini declared. "You live in a very small corner of the world and you have accepted a moral code as ridiculously out of date as Calvinism in religion. The whole of life is a system of robbery. The strong help themselves, the weak go down. Did you call your splendid seamen of Queen Elizabeth's time robbers, because they nailed the English flag to their mast and swept the seas for plunder? 'We are strong,' they cried to the country they robbed, 'and you are weak. Stand and deliver!' I spare you a hundred instances. Take your commercial life of to-day. The capitalist stretches out his hand and swallows up the weaker man. He does it ten or fifty times a day and there is no one to stop him. It is the strong taking from the weak. You cannot walk from here to Charing Cross without seeing it. Some forms of plunder come under the law, some do not. Your idea as to which are right and which are wrong is simply the law's idea. The man who is strong enough is the law."
"Your doctrines are far-reaching," Arnold said. "What about the man who sweeps the crossings, the beggars who ask for alms?"
"They sweep crossings and they beg for alms," Sabatini replied, "because they are weak or foolish and because I am strong. You work for twenty-eight shillings a week because you are foolish. You can do it if you like, if it affords you any satisfaction to make a martyr of yourself for the sake of bolstering up a conventional system. Either that or you have not the spirit for adventure."
"The spirit for adventure," Arnold repeated quietly. "Well, there have been times when I thought I had that, but it certainly never occurred to me to go out and rob."
"That," Sabatini declared, "is because you are an Englishman and extraordinarily susceptible to conventions. Now I speak with many experiences behind me. I had ancestors who enriched themselves with fire and sword. I would much prefer to do the same thing. As a matter of fact, when the conditions admit of it, I do. I have fought in whatever war has raged since the days when I was eighteen. If another war should break out to-morrow, I should weigh the causes, choose the side I preferred, and fight for it. But when there is no war, I must yet live. I cannot drill troops all day, or sit in the cafes. I must use my courage and my brains in whatever way seems most beneficial to the cause which lies nearest to my heart."
"I cannot imagine," Arnold said frankly, "what that cause is."
"Some day, and before long," Sabatini replied, "you may know. At any rate, we have talked enough of this for the present. Think over what I have said. If at any time I should have an enterprise to propose to you, you will at least recognize my point of view."
He touched the bell. A servant entered almost at once, carrying his overcoat and silk hat.
"I have taken a box at a music-hall," he announced. "I believe that my sister may join us there. I hope it will amuse you?"
Arnold rose eagerly to his feet. His eyes were bright already with anticipation.
"And as for our conversation," Sabatini continued, as they stepped into his little electric brougham, "dismiss it, for the present, from your memory. Try and look out upon life with larger eyes, from a broader point of view. Forget the laws that have been made by other men. Try and frame for yourself a more rational code of living. And judge not with the ready-made judgment of laws, but from your own consciousness of right and wrong. You are at an impressionable age, and the effort should help to make a man of you."
They glided softly along the crowded streets and up into Leicester Square, where the blaze of lights seemed somehow comforting after the cold darkness of the night. They stopped outside the Empire and Arnold followed his guide with beating heart as they were shown to their box. The door was thrown open. Fenella was there alone. She was sitting a little way back in the box so as to escape observation from the house. At the sound of their entrance she turned eagerly toward them. Arnold, who was in advance, stopped short in the act of greeting her. She was looking past him at her brother. She was absolutely colorless, her lips were parted, her eyes distended as though with terror. She had all the appearance of a woman who has looked upon some terrible thing.
THE RED SIGNET RING
The few minutes which followed inspired Arnold with an admiration for his companion which he never wholly lost. Sabatini recognized in a moment his sister's state, but he did no more than shrug his shoulders.
"My dear Fenella!" he said, in a tone of gentle reproof.
"You haven't heard?" she gasped.
Sabatini drew out a chair and seated himself. He glanced around at the house and then began slowly to unbutton his white kid gloves.
"I did not buy an evening paper," he remarked. "Your face tells me the news, of course. I gather that Starling has been arrested."
"He was arrested at five o'clock!" she exclaimed. "He will be charged before the magistrates to-morrow."
"Then to-morrow," Sabatini continued calmly, "will be quite time enough for you to begin to worry."
She looked at him for a moment steadfastly. She had ceased to tremble now and her own appearance was becoming more natural.
"If one had but a man's nerve!" she murmured. "Dear Andrea, you make me very much ashamed. Yet this is serious—surely it is very serious?"
Arnold had withdrawn as far as possible out of hearing, but Sabatini beckoned him forward.
"You are missing the ballet," he said. "You must take the front chair there. You, too, will be interested in this news which my sister has been telling me. Our friend Starling has been arrested, after all. I was afraid he was giving himself away."
"For the murder of Mr. Rosario?" Arnold asked.
"Precisely," Sabatini replied. "A very unfortunate circumstance. Let us hope that he will be able to prove his innocence."
"I don't see how he could have done it," Arnold said slowly. "We saw him only about ten minutes or a quarter of an hour later coming up from the restaurant on the other side of the hotel."
"Oh! he will come very near proving an alibi, without a doubt," Sabatini declared. "He is quite clever when it comes to the point. I wonder what sort of evidence they have against him."