"Is there any reason," Arnold asked, "why he should kill Mr. Rosario?"
Sabatini studied his program earnestly.
"Well," he admitted, "that is rather a difficult question to answer. Mr. Rosario was a very obstinate man, and he was certainly persisting in a course of action against which I and many others had warned him, a course of action which was certain to make him exceedingly unpopular with a good many of us. I am not sure, however, whether the facts were sufficiently well known—"
Fenella interrupted. She rose hurriedly to her feet.
"I am afraid, after all, that you will have to excuse me," she declared, moving to a seat at the back of the box. "I do not think that I can stay here."
Sabatini nodded gravely.
"Perhaps you are right," he said. "For my own part, I, too, wish I had more faith in Starling. As a matter of fact, I have none. When they caught Crampton, one could sleep in one's bed; one knew. But this man Starling is a nervous wreck. Who knows what story he may tell—consciously or unconsciously—in his desperate attempts to clear himself? You see," he continued, looking at Arnold, "there are a great many of us to whom Mr. Rosario was personally, just at this moment, obnoxious."
Fenella swayed in her chair.
"I am going home," she murmured.
"As you will," Sabatini agreed. "Perhaps Mr. Chetwode will be so kind as to take you back? I have asked a friend to call here this evening."
She turned to Arnold.
"Do!" she pleaded. "I am fit for nothing else. You will come with me?"
Arnold was already standing with his coat upon his arm.
"Of course," he replied.
Her brother helped her on with her cloak.
"For myself," he declared, "I shall remain. I should not like to miss my friend, if he comes, and they tell me that the second ballet is excellent."
She took his hands.
"You have courage, dear one," she murmured.
"It is not courage," he replied, "it is philosophy. If to-morrow were to be the end, would you not enjoy to-day? The true reasonableness of life is to live as though every day might be one's last. We shall meet again very soon, Mr. Chetwode."
Arnold held out his hands. The whole affair was intensely mysterious, and there were many things which he did not understand in the least, but he knew that he was in the presence of a brave man.
"Good night, Count Sabatini," he said. "Thank you very much for our dinner. I am afraid I am an unconverted Philistine, and doomed to the narrow ways, but, nevertheless, I have enjoyed my evening very much."
Sabatini smiled charmingly.
"You are very British," he declared, "but never mind. Even a Briton has been known to see the truth by gazing long enough. Take care of my little sister, and au revoir!"
Her fingers clutched his arm as they passed along the promenade and down the corridor into the street. The car was waiting, and in a moment or two they were on their way to Hampstead. She was beginning to look a little more natural, but she still clung to him. Arnold felt his head dizzy as though with strong wine.
"Fenella," he said, using her name boldly, "your brother has been talking to me to-night. All that he said I can understand, from his point of view, but what may be well for him is not well for others who are weaker. If you have been foolish, if the love of adventure has led you into any folly, think now and ask yourself whether it is worth while. Give it up before it is too late."
"It is because I have so little courage," she murmured, looking at him with swimming eyes, "and one must do something. I must live or the tugging of the chain is there all the time."
"There are many things in life which are worth while," he declared. "You are young and rich, and you have a husband who would do anything in the world for you. It isn't worth while to get mixed up in these dangerous schemes."
"What do you know of them?" she asked, curiously.
"Not much," he admitted. "Your brother was talking to-night a little recklessly. One gathered—"
"Andrea sometimes talks wildly because it amuses him to deceive people, to make them think that he is worse than he really is," she interrupted. "He loves danger, but it is because he is a brave man."
"I am sure of it," Arnold replied, "but it does not follow that he is a wise one."
She shrugged her shoulders.
"Tell me one of those many ways of living which are worth while!" she whispered. "Point out one of them only. Remember that I, too, have the spirit of restlessness in my veins. I must have excitement at any cost."
He sighed. She was, indeed, in a strange place.
"It seems so hopeless," he said, "to try and interest you in the ordinary things of life."
"No one could do it," she admitted. "I was not made for domesticity. Sometimes I think that I was not made to be wife to any man. I am a gambler at heart. I love the fierce draughts of life. Without them I should die."
"Yet you married Samuel Weatherley!" Arnold exclaimed.
She laughed bitterly.
"Yes, I was in a prison house," she answered, "and I should have welcomed any jailer who had come to set me free. I married him, and sometimes I try to do my duty. Then the other longings come, and Hampstead and my house, and my husband and my parties and my silly friends, seem like part of a dream. Mr. Chetwode—Arnold!"
"We were to be friends, we were to help one another. To-night I am afraid and I think that I am a little remorseful. It was my doing that you dined to-night with Andrea. I have wanted to bring you, too, into the life that my brother lives, into the life where I also make sometimes excursions. It is not a wicked life, but I do not know that it is a wise one. I was foolish. It was wrong of me to disturb you. After all, you are good and solid and British, you were meant for the other ways. Forget everything. It is less than a week since you came first to dine with us. Blot out those few days. Can you?"
"Not while I live," Arnold replied. "You forget that it was during those few days that I met you."
"But you are foolish," she declared, laying her hand upon his and smiling into his face, so that the madness came back and burned in his blood. "There is no need for you to be a gambler, there is no need for you to stake everything upon these single coups. You haven't felt the call. Don't listen for it."
"Fenella," he whispered hoarsely, "what was I doing when Samuel Weatherley was shipwrecked on your island!"
"Oh, you foolish boy!" she cried. "What difference would it have made?"
"You can't tell," he answered. "Has no one ever moved you, Fenella? Have you never known what it is to care for any one?"
"Never," she replied. "I only hope that I never shall."
"Because I am a gambler," she declared; "because to me it would mean risking everything. And I have seen no man in the whole world strong enough and big enough for that. You are my very dear friend, Arnold, and you are feeling very sentimental, and your head is turned just a little, but after all you are only a boy. The taste of life is not yet between your teeth."
He leaned closer towards her. She put his arm gently away, shaking her head all the time.
"Do not think that I am a prude," she said. "You can kiss me if you like, and yet I would very much rather that you did not. I do not know why. I like you well enough, and certainly it is not from any sense of right or wrong. I am like Andrea in that way. I make my own laws. To-night I do not wish you to kiss me."
She was looking up at him, her eyes filled with a curious light, her lips slightly parted. She was so close that the perfume in which her clothes had lain, faint though it was, almost maddened him.
"I don't think that you have a heart at all!" he exclaimed, hoarsely.
"It is the old selfish cry, that," she answered. "Please do not be foolish, Arnold. Do not be like those silly boys who only plague one. With you and me, things are more serious."
The car came to a standstill before the portals of Pelham Lodge. Arnold held her fingers for a moment or two after he had rung the bell. Then he turned away. She called him back.
"Come in with me for a moment," she murmured. "To-night I am afraid. Mr. Weatherley will be in bed. Come in and sit with me for a little time until my courage returns."
He followed her into the house. There seemed to Arnold to be a curious silence everywhere. She looked in at several rooms and nodded.
"Mr. Weatherley has gone to bed," she announced. "Come into my sitting-room. We will stay there for five minutes, at least."
She led the way across the hall towards the little room into which she had taken Arnold on his first visit. She tried the door and came to a sudden standstill, shook the handle, and looked up at Arnold in amazement.
"It seems as though it were locked," she remarked. "It's my own sitting-room. No one else is allowed to enter it. Groves!"
She turned round. The butler had hastened to her side.
"What is the meaning of this?" she asked. "My sitting-room is locked on the inside."
The man tried the handle incredulously. He, too, was dumbfounded.
"Where is your master?" Mrs. Weatherley asked.
"He retired an hour ago, madam," the man replied. "It is most extraordinary, this."
She began to shiver. Groves leaned down and tried to peer through the keyhole. He rose to his feet hastily.
"The lights are burning in the room, madam," he exclaimed, "and the key is not in the door on the other side! It looks very much as though burglars were at work there. If you will allow me, I will go round to the window outside. There is no one else up."
"I will go with you," Arnold said.
"If you please, sir," the man replied.
They hurried out of the front door and around to the side of the house. The lights were certainly burning in the room and the blind was half drawn up. Arnold reached the window-sill with a spring and peered in.
"I can see nothing," he said to Groves. "There doesn't seem to be any one in the room."
"Can you get in, sir?" the man asked from below. "The sash seems to be unfastened."
Arnold tried it and found it yielded to his touch. He pushed it up and vaulted lightly into the room. Then he saw that a table was overturned and a key was lying on the floor. He picked it up and fitted it into the door. Fenella was waiting outside.
"I can see nothing here," he announced, "but a table has been upset."
She pointed to the sofa and gripped his arm.
"Look!" she cried. "What is that?"
Arnold felt a thrill of horror, and for a moment the room swam before his eyes. Then he saw clearly again. From underneath the upholstery of the sofa, a man's hand was visible stretching into the room almost as far as his elbow. They both stared, Arnold stupefied with horror. On the little finger of the hand was a ring with a blood-red seal!
Arnold, for a moment or two, felt himself incapable of speech or movement. Fenella was hanging, a dead weight, upon his arm. The eyes of both of them were riveted upon the hand which stretched into the room.
"There is some one under the couch!" Fenella faltered at last.
He took a step forward.
"Wait," he begged, "—or perhaps you had better go away. I will see who it is."
He moved toward the couch. She strove to hold him back.
"Arnold," she cried, hoarsely, "this is no business of yours! You had better leave me! Groves is here, and the servants. Slip away now, while you have the chance."
He looked at her in amazement.
"Why, Fenella," he exclaimed, "how can you suggest such a thing! Besides," he added, "Groves saw me climb in at the window. He was with me outside."
She wrung her hands.
"I forgot!" she moaned. "Don't move the sofa while I am looking!"
There was a knock at the door. They both turned round. It was Groves' voice speaking. He had returned to the house and was waiting outside.
"Can I come in, madam?"
Fenella moved slowly towards the door and admitted him. Then Arnold, setting his teeth, rolled back the couch. A man was lying there, stretched at full length. His face was colorless except for a great blue bruise near his temple. Arnold stared at him for a moment with horrified eyes.
"My God!" he muttered.
There was a brief silence. Fenella looked across at Arnold.
"You know him!"
Arnold's first attempt at speech failed. When the words came they sounded choked. There was a horrible dry feeling in his throat.
"It is the man who looked in at the window that night," he whispered. "I saw him—only a few hours ago. It is the same man."
Fenella came slowly to his side. She leaned over his shoulder.
"Is he dead?" she asked.
Her tone was cold and unnatural. Her paroxysm of fear seemed to have passed.
"I don't know," Arnold answered. "Let Groves telephone for a doctor."
The man half turned away, yet hesitated. Fenella fell on her knees and bent over the prostrate body.
"He is not dead," she declared. "Groves, tell me exactly who is in the house?"
"There is no one here at all, madam," the man answered, "except the servants, and they are all in the other wing. We have had no callers whatever this evening."
"And Mr. Weatherley?"
"Mr. Weatherley arrived home about seven o'clock," Groves replied, "dined early, and went to bed immediately afterwards. He complained of a headache and looked very unwell."
Fenella rose slowly to her feet. She looked from Arnold to the prostrate figure upon the carpet.
"Who has done this?" she asked, pointing downwards.
"It may have been an accident," Arnold suggested.
"An accident!" she repeated. "What was he doing in my sitting-room? Besides, he could not have crept underneath the couch of his own accord."
"Do you know who it is?" Arnold asked.
"Why should I know?" she demanded.
"You remember the night of my first visit here—the face at the window?"
She nodded. He pointed downward to the outstretched hand.
"That is the man," he declared. "He is wearing the same ring—the red signet ring. I saw it upon his hand the night you and I were in this room alone together, and he was watching the house. I saw it again through the window of the swing-doors on the hand of the man who killed Rosario. What does it mean, Fenella?"
"I do not know," she faltered.
"You must have some idea," he persisted, "as to who he is. You seemed to expect his coming that night. You would not let me give an alarm or send for the police. It was the same man who killed Rosario."
She shook her head.
"I do not believe that," she declared.
"If it were not the same man," Arnold continued, "it was at least some one who was wearing the same ring. Tell me the truth, Fenella!"
She turned her head. Groves had come once more within hearing.
"I know nothing," she replied, hardly. "Groves, go and knock at the door of your master's room," she added. "Ask him to put on his dressing-gown and come down at once. Mr. Chetwode, come with me into the library while I telephone for the doctor."
Arnold hesitated for a moment.
"Don't you think that I had better stay by him?" he suggested.
She shook her head.
"I will not be left alone," she replied. "I told you on the way here that I was afraid. All the evening I knew that something would happen."
They made their way to the front of the house and into the library. She turned up the electric lights and fetched a telephone book. Arnold rang up the number she showed him.
"What about the police station?" he asked, turning towards her with the receiver still in his hand. "Oughtn't I to send for some one?"
"Not yet," she replied. "We are not supposed to know. The man may have come upon some business. Let us wait and see what the doctor says."
He laid down the receiver. She had thrown herself into an easy-chair and with a little impulsive gesture she held out one hand towards him.
"Poor Arnold!" she murmured. "I am afraid that this is all very bewildering to you, and your life was so peaceful until a week ago."
He held her fingers tightly. Notwithstanding the shadows under her eyes, and the gleam of terror which still lingered there, she was beautiful.
"I don't care about that," he answered, fervently. "I don't care about anything except that I should like to understand a little more clearly what it all means. I hate mysteries. I don't see why you can't tell me. I am your friend. If it is necessary for me to say nothing, I shall say nothing, but I hate the thoughts that come to me sometimes. Tell me, why should that man have been haunting your house the other evening? What did he want? And to-night—what made him break into your room?"
"If it were only so simple as all that," she answered, "oh! I would tell you so willingly. But it is not. There is so much which I do not understand myself."
He leaned a little closer towards her. The silence of the room and the house was unbroken.
"The man will die!" he said. "Who do you believe could have struck him that blow in your room?"
"I do not know," she answered; "indeed I do not."
"You heard what Groves said," Arnold continued. "There is no one in the house except the servants."
"That man was here," she answered. "Why not others? Listen."
There was the sound of shuffling footsteps in the hall. She held up her finger cautiously.
"Be very careful before Mr. Weatherley," she begged. "It is an ordinary burglary, this—no more."
The door was opened. Mr. Weatherley, in hasty and most unbecoming deshabille, bustled in. His scanty gray hair was sticking out in patches all over his head. He seemed, as yet, scarcely awake. With one hand he clutched at the dressing-gown, the girdle of which was trailing behind him.
"What is the meaning of this, Fenella?" he demanded. "Why am I fetched from my room in this manner? You, Chetwode? What are you doing here?"
"I have brought Mrs. Weatherley home, sir," Arnold answered. "We noticed a light in her room and we made a discovery there. It looks as though there has been an attempted burglary within the last hour or so."
"Which room?" Mr. Weatherley asked. "Which room? Is anything missing?"
"Nothing, fortunately," Arnold replied. "The man, by some means or other, seems to have been hurt."
"Where is he?" Mr. Weatherley demanded.
"In my boudoir," Fenella replied. "We will all go. I have telephoned for a doctor."
"A doctor? What for?" Mr. Weatherley inquired. "Who needs a doctor?"
"The burglar, if he is a burglar," she explained, gently. "Don't you understand that all we found was a man, lying in the centre of the room? He has had a fall of some sort."
"God bless my soul!" Mr. Weatherley said. "Well, come along, let's have a look at him."
They trooped down the passage. Groves, waiting outside for them, opened the door. Mr. Weatherley, who was first, looked all around the apartment.
"Where is this man?" he demanded. "Where is he?"
Arnold, who followed, was stricken speechless. Fenella gave a little cry. The couch had been wheeled back to its place. The body of the man had disappeared!
"Where is the burglar?" Mr. Weatherley repeated, irritably. "Was there ever any one here? Who in the name of mischief left that window open?"
The window through which Arnold had entered the room was now wide open. They hurried towards it. Outside, all was darkness. There was no sound of footsteps, no sign of any person about. Mr. Weatherley was distinctly annoyed.
"I should have thought you would have had more sense, Chetwode," he said, testily. "You found a burglar here, and, instead of securing him properly, you send up to me and go ringing up for doctors, and in the meantime the man calmly slips off through the window."
Arnold made no reply. Mr. Weatherley's words seemed to come from a long way off. He was looking at Fenella.
"The man was dead!" he muttered.
She, too, was white, but she shook her head.
"We thought so," she answered. "We were wrong."
Mr. Weatherley led the way to the front door.
"As the dead man seems to have cleared out," he said, "without taking very much with him, I suggest that we go to bed. Groves had better ring up the doctor and stop him, if he can; if not, he must explain that he was sent for in error. Good night, Chetwode!" he added, pointedly.
Arnold scarcely remembered his farewells. He passed out into the street and stood for several moments upon the pavement. He looked back at the house.
"The man was dead or dying!" he muttered to himself. "What does it all mean?"
He walked slowly away. There was a policeman on the other side of the road, taxicabs and carriages coming and going. He passed the gate of Pelham Lodge and looked back toward the window of the sitting-room. Within five minutes the man must have left that room by the window. That he could have left it unaided, even if alive, was impossible. Yet there was not anything in the avenue, or thereabouts, to denote that anything unusual had occurred. He was on the point of turning away when a sudden thought struck him. He re-entered the gate softly and walked up the drive. Arrived at within a few feet of the window, he paused and turned to the right. A narrow path led him into a shrubbery. A few more yards and he reached a wire fence. Stepping across it, he found himself in the next garden. Here he paused for a moment and listened. The house before which he stood was smaller than Pelham Lodge, and woefully out of repair. The grass on the lawn was long and dank—even the board containing the notice "To Let" had fallen flat, and lay among it as in a jungle. The paths were choked with weeds, the windows were black and curtainless. He made his way to the back of the house and suddenly stopped short. This was a night of adventures, indeed! On a level with the ground, the windows of one of the back rooms were boarded up. Through the chinks he could distinctly see gleams of light. Standing there, holding his breath, he could even hear the murmur of voices. There were men there—several of them, to judge by the sound. He drew nearer and nearer until he found a chink through which he could see. Then, for the first time, he hesitated. It was not his affair, this. There were mysteries connected with Pelham Lodge and its occupants which were surely no concern of his. Why interfere? Danger might come of it—danger and other troubles. Fenella would have told him if she had wished him to know. She herself must have some idea as to the reason of this attempt upon her house. Why not slip away quietly and forget it? It was at least the most prudent course. Then, as he hesitated, the memory of Sabatini's words, so recently spoken, came into his mind. Almost he could see him leaning back in his chair with the faint smile upon his lips. "You have not the spirit for adventure!" Then Arnold hesitated no longer. Choosing every footstep carefully, he crept to the window until he could press his face close to the chink through which the light gleamed out into the garden.
THE END OF AN EVENING
To see into the room at all, Arnold had been compelled to step down from the grass on to a narrow, tiled path about half a yard wide, which led to the back door. Standing on this and peering through the chink in the boards, he gained at last a view of the interior of the house. From the first, he had entered upon this search with a certain presentiment. He looked into the room and shivered. It was apparently the kitchen, and was unfurnished save for half a dozen rickety chairs, and a deal table in the middle of the room. Upon this was stretched the body of a motionless man. There were three others in the room. One, who appeared to have some knowledge of medicine, had taken off his coat and was listening with his ear against the senseless man's heart. A brandy bottle stood upon the table. They had evidently been doing what they could to restore him to consciousness. Terrible though the sight was, Arnold found something else in that little room to kindle his emotion. Two of the men were unknown to him—dark-complexioned, ordinary middle-class people; but the third he recognized with a start. It was Isaac who stood there, a little aloof, waiting somberly for what his companion's verdict might be.
Apparently, after a time, they gave up all hope of the still motionless man. They talked together, glancing now and then towards his body. The window was open at the top and Arnold could sometimes hear a word. With great difficulty, he gathered that they were proposing to remove him, and that they were taking the back way. Presently he saw them lift the body down and wrap it in an overcoat. Then Arnold stole away across the lawn toward a gate in the wall. It was locked, but it was easy for him to climb over. He had barely done so when he saw the three men come out of the back of the house, carrying their wounded comrade. He waited till he was sure they were coming, and then looked around for a hiding-place. He was now in a sort of lane, ending in a cul de sac at the back of Mr. Weatherley's house. There were gardens on one side, parallel with the one through which he had just passed, and opposite were stables, motor sheds and tool houses. He slipped a little way down the lane and concealed himself behind a load of wood. About forty yards away was a street, for which he imagined that they would probably make. He held his breath and waited.
In a few minutes he saw the door in the wall open. One of the men slipped out and looked up and down. He apparently signaled that the coast was clear, and soon the others followed him. They came down the lane, walking very slowly—a weird and uncanny little procession. Arnold caught a glimpse of them as they passed. The two larger men were supporting their fallen companion between them, each with an arm under his armpits, so that the fact that he was really being carried was barely noticeable. Isaac came behind, his hands thrust deep into his overcoat pocket, a cloth cap drawn over his features. So they went on to the end of the lane. As soon as they had reached it, Arnold followed them swiftly. When he gained the street, they were about twenty yards to the right, looking around them. It was a fairly populous neighborhood, with a row of villas on the other side of the road, and a few shops lower down. They stood there, having carefully chosen a place remote from the gas lamps, until at last a taxicab came crawling by. They hailed it, and Isaac engaged the driver's attention apparently with some complicated direction, while the others lifted their burden into the taxicab. One man got in with him. Isaac and the other, with ordinary good-nights, strode away. The taxicab turned around and headed westward. Arnold, with a long breath, watched them all disappear. Then he, too, turned homewards.
It was almost midnight when Arnold was shown once more into the presence of Sabatini. Sabatini, in a black velvet smoking jacket, was lying upon a sofa in his library, with a recently published edition de luxe of Alfred de Musset's poems upon his knee. He looked up with some surprise at Arnold's entrance.
"Why, it is my strenuous young friend again!" he declared. "Have you brought me a message from Fenella?"
Arnold shook his head.
"She does not know that I have come."
"You have brought me some news on your own account, then?"
"I have brought you some news," Arnold admitted.
Sabatini looked at him critically.
"You look terrified," he remarked. "What have you been doing? Help yourself to a drink. You'll find everything on the sideboard there."
Arnold laid down his hat and mixed himself a whiskey and soda. He drank it off before he spoke.
"Count Sabatini," he said, turning round, "I suppose you are used to all this excitement. A man's life or death is little to you. I have never seen a dead man before to-night. It has upset me."
"Naturally, naturally," Sabatini said, tolerantly. "I remember the first man I killed—it was in a fair fight, too, but it sickened me. But what have you been doing, my young friend, to see dead men? Have you, too, been joining the army of plunderers?"
Arnold shook his head.
"I took your sister home," he announced. "We found a light in her sitting-room and the door locked. I got in through the window."
"This is most interesting," Sabatini declared, carefully marking the place in his book and laying it aside. "What did you find there?"
"A dead man," Arnold answered, "a murdered man!"
"You are joking!" Sabatini protested.
"He had been struck on the forehead," Arnold continued, "and dragged half under the couch. Only his arm was visible at first. We had to move the couch to discover him."
"Do you know who he was?" Sabatini asked.
"No one had any idea," Arnold answered. "I think that I was the only one who had ever seen him before. The night I dined at Mr. Weatherley's for the first time and met you, I was with Mrs. Weatherley in her room, and I saw that man steal up to the window as though he were going to break in."
"This is most interesting," Sabatini declared. "Evidently a dangerous customer. But you say that you found him dead. Who killed him?"
"There was no one there who could say," Arnold declared. "There were no servants in that part of the house, there had been no visitors, and Mr. Weatherley had been in bed since half-past nine. We telephoned for a doctor, and we fetched Mr. Weatherley out of bed. Then a strange thing happened. We took Mr. Weatherley to the room, which we had left for less than five minutes, and there was no one there. The man had been carried away."
"Really," Sabatini protested, "your story gets more interesting every moment. Don't tell me that this is the end!"
"It is not," Arnold replied. "It seemed then as though there were nothing more to be done. Evidently he had either been only stunned and had got up and left the room by the window, or he had accomplices who had fetched him away. Mr. Weatherley was very much annoyed with us and we had to make excuses to the doctor. Then I left."
"Well?" Sabatini said. "You left. You didn't come straight here?"
Arnold shook his head.
"When I got into the road, I could see that there was a policeman on duty on the other side of the way, and quite a number of people moving backwards and forwards all the time. It seemed impossible that they could have brought him out there if he had been fetched away. Something made me remember what I had noticed on the evening I had dined there—that there was a small empty house next door. I walked back up the drive of Pelham Lodge, turned into the shrubbery, and there I found that there was an easy way into the next garden. I made my way to the back of the house. I saw lights in the kitchen. There were three of his companions there, and the dead man. They were trying to see if they could revive him. I looked through a chink in the boarded window and I saw everything."
"Trying to revive him," Sabatini remarked. "Evidently there was some doubt as to his being dead, then."
"I think they had come to the conclusion that he was dead," Arnold replied; "for after a time they put on his overcoat and dragged him out by the back entrance, down some mews, into another street. I followed them at a distance. They hailed a taxi. One man got in with him and drove away, the others disappeared. I came here."
Sabatini reached out his hand for a cigarette.
"I have seldom," he declared, "listened to a more interesting episode. You didn't happen to hear the direction given to the driver of the taxicab?"
"I did not."
"You have no idea, I suppose," Sabatini asked, with a sudden keen glance, "as to the identity of the man whom you believe to be dead?"
"None whatever," Arnold replied, "except that it was the same man who was watching the house on the night when I dined there. He told me then that he wanted Rosario. There was something evil in his face when he mentioned the name. I saw his hand grasping the window-sill. He was wearing a ring—a signet ring with a blood-red stone."
"This is most engrossing," Sabatini murmured. "A signet ring with a blood-red stone! Wasn't there a ring answering to that description upon the finger of the man who stabbed Rosario?"
"There was," Arnold answered.
Sabatini knocked the ash from his cigarette.
"The coincidence," he remarked, "if it is a coincidence, is a little extraordinary. By the bye, though, you have as yet given me no explanation as to your visit here. Why do you connect me with this adventure of yours?"
"I do not connect you with it at all," Arnold answered; "yet, for some reason or other, I am sure that your sister knew more about this man and his presence in her sitting-room than she cared to confess. When I left there, everything was in confusion. I have come to tell you the final result, so far as I know it. You will tell her what you choose. What she knows, I suppose you know. I don't ask for your confidence. I have had enough of these horrors. Tooley Street is bad enough, but I think I would rather sit in my office and add up figures all day long, than go through another such night."
"You are young, as yet," he said. "Life and death seem such terrible things to you, such tragedies, such enormous happenings. In youth, one loses one's sense of proportion. Life seems so vital, the universe so empty, without one's own personality. Take a pocketful of cigarettes, my dear Mr. Chetwode, and make your way homeward. We shall meet again in a day or two, I dare say, and by that time your little nightmare will not seem so terrible."
"You will let your sister know?" Arnold begged.
"She shall know all that you have told me," Sabatini promised. "I do not say that it will interest her—it may or it may not. In any case, I thank you for coming."
Arnold was dismissed with a pleasant nod, and passed out into the streets, now emptying fast. He walked slowly back to his rooms. Already the sense of unwonted excitement was passing. Sabatini's strong, calm personality was like a wonderful antidote. After all, it was not his affair. It was possible, after all, that the man was an ordinary burglar. And yet, if so, what was Isaac doing with him? He glanced in front of him to where the lights of the two great hotels flared up to the sky. Somewhere just short of them, before the window of her room, Ruth would be sitting watching. He quickened his steps. Perhaps he should find her before he went to bed. Perhaps he might even see Isaac come in!
Big Ben was striking the half-hour past midnight as Arnold stood on the top landing of the house at the corner of Adam Street, and listened. To the right was his own bare apartment; on the left, the rooms where Isaac and Ruth lived together. He struck a match and looked into his own apartment. There was a note twisted up for him on his table, scribbled in pencil on a half sheet of paper. He opened it and read:
If you are not too late, will you knock at the door and wish me good night? Isaac will be late. Perhaps he will not be home at all.
He stepped back and knocked softly at the opposite door. In a moment or two he heard the sound of her stick. She opened the door and came out. Her eyes shone through the darkness at him but her face was white and strained. He shook his head.
"Ruth," he said, "you heard the time? And you promised to go to bed at ten o'clock!"
She smiled. He passed his arm around her, holding her up.
"To-night I was afraid," she whispered. "I do not know what it was but there seemed to be strange voices about everywhere. I was afraid for Isaac and afraid for you."
"My dear girl," he laughed, "what was there to fear for me? I had a very good dinner with a very charming man. Afterwards, we went to a music-hall for a short time, I went back to his rooms, and here I am, just in time to wish you good night. What could the voices have to tell you about that?"
She shook her head.
"Sometimes," she said, "there is danger in the simplest things one does. I don't understand what it is," she went on, a little wearily, "but I feel that I am losing you, you are slipping away, and day by day Isaac gets more mysterious, and when he comes home sometimes his face is like the face of a wolf. There is a new desire born in him, and I am afraid. I think that if I am left alone here many more nights like this, I shall go mad. I tried to undress, Arnie, but I couldn't. I threw myself down on the bed and I had to bite my handkerchief. I have been trembling. Oh, if you could hear those voices! If you could understand the fears that are nameless, how terrible they are!"
She was shaking all over. He passed his other arm around her and lifted her up.
"Come and sit with me in my room for a little time," he said. "I will carry you back presently."
She kissed him on the forehead.
"Dear Arnold!" she whispered. "For a few minutes, then—not too long. To-night I am afraid. Always I feel that something will happen. Tell me this?"
"What is it, dear?"
"Why should Isaac press me so hard to tell him where you were going to-night? You passed him on the stairs, didn't you?"
"He was with another man," he said, with a little shiver. "Did that man come up to his rooms?"
"They both came in together," Ruth said. "They talked in a corner for some time. The man who was with Isaac seemed terrified about something. Then Isaac came over to me and asked about you."
"What did you tell him?" Arnold asked.
"I thought it best to know nothing at all," she replied. "I simply said that you were going to have dinner with some of your new friends."
"Does he know who they are?"
"Yes, we have spoken of that together," she admitted. "I had to tell him of your good fortune. He knows how well you have been getting on with Mr. and Mrs. Weatherley. Listen!—is that some one coming?"
He turned around with her still in his arms, and started so violently that if her fingers had not been locked behind his neck he must have dropped her. Within a few feet of them was Isaac. He had come up those five flights of stone steps without making a sound. Even in that first second or two of amazement, Arnold noticed that he was wearing canvas shoes with rubber soles. He stood with his long fingers gripping the worn balustrade, only two steps below them, and his face was like the face of some snarling animal.
"Ruth," he demanded, hoarsely, "what are you doing out here at this time of night—with him?"
She slipped from Arnold's arms and leaned on her stick. To all appearance, she was the least discomposed of the three.
"Isaac," she answered, "Uncle Isaac, I was lonely—lonely and terrified. You left me so strangely, and it is so silent up here. I left a little note and asked Arnold, when he came home, to bid me good night. He knocked at my door two minutes ago."
Isaac threw open the door of their apartments.
"Get in," he ordered. "I'll have an end put to it, Ruth. Look at him!" he cried, mockingly, pointing to Arnold's evening clothes. "What sort of a friend is that, do you think, for us? He wears the fetters of his class. He is a hanger-on at the tables of our enemies."
"You can abuse me as much as you like," Arnold replied, calmly, "and I shall still believe that I am an honest man. Are you, Isaac?"
Isaac's eyes flashed venom.
"Honesty! What is honesty?" he snarled. "What is it, I ask you? Is the millionaire honest who keeps the laws because he has no call to break them? Is that honesty? Is he a better man than the father who steals to feed his hungry children? Is the one honest and the other a thief? You smug hypocrite!"
Arnold was silent for a moment. It flashed into his mind that here, from the other side, came very nearly the same doctrine as Sabatini had preached to him across his rose-shaded dining table.
"It is too late to argue with you, Isaac," he said, pleasantly. "Besides, I think that you and I are too far apart. But you must leave me Ruth for my little friend. She would be lonely without me, and I can do her no harm."
Isaac opened his lips,—lips that were set in an ugly sneer—but he met the steady fire of Arnold's eyes, and the words he would have spoken remained unsaid.
"Get to your room, then," he ordered.
He passed on as though to enter his own apartments. Then suddenly he stopped and listened. There was the sound of a footstep, a heavy, marching footstep, coming along the Terrace below. With another look now upon his face, he slunk to the window and peered down. The footsteps came nearer and nearer, and Arnold could hear him breathing like a hunted animal. Then they passed, and he stood up, wiping the sweat from his forehead.
"I have been hurrying," he muttered, half apologetically. "We had a crowded meeting. Good night!"
He turned into his rooms and closed the door. Arnold looked after him for a moment and then up the street below. When he turned into his own rooms, he was little enough inclined for sleep. He drew up his battered chair to the window, threw it open, and sat looking out. The bridge and the river were alike silent now. The sky signs had gone, the murky darkness blotted out the whole scene, against which the curving arc of lights shone with a fitful, ghostly light. For a moment his fancy served him an evil trick. He saw the barge with the blood-red sails. A cargo of evil beings thronged its side. He saw their faces leering at him. Sabatini was there, standing at the helm, calm and scornful. There was the dead man and Isaac, Groves the butler, Fenella herself—pale as death, her hands clasping at her bosom as though in pain. Arnold turned, shivering, away; his head sank into his hands. It seemed to him that poison had crept into those dreams.
DISCUSSING THE MYSTERY
At precisely half-past nine the next morning, Mr. Weatherley entered his office in Tooley Street. His appearance, as he passed through the outer office, gave rise to some comment.
"The governor looks quite himself again," young Tidey remarked, turning round on his stool.
Mr. Jarvis, who was collecting the letters, nodded.
"It's many months since I've heard him come in whistling," he declared.
Arnold, in the outer office, received his chief's morning salutation with some surprise. Mr. Weatherley was certainly, to all appearance, in excellent spirits.
"Glad to see your late hours don't make any difference in the morning, Chetwode," he said, pleasantly. "You seem to be seeing quite a good deal of the wife, eh?"
Arnold was almost dumbfounded. Any reference to the events of the preceding evening was, for the moment, beyond him. Mr. Weatherley calmly hung up his silk hat, took out the violets from the button-hole of his overcoat and carried them to his desk.
"Come along, Jarvis," he invited, as the latter entered with a rustling heap of correspondence. "We'll sort the letters as quickly as possible this morning. You come on the other side, Chetwode, and catch hold of those which we keep to deal with together. Those Mr. Jarvis can handle, I'll just initial. Let me see—you're sure those bills of lading are in order, Jarvis?"
Mr. Jarvis plunged into a few particulars, to which his chief listened with keen attention. For half an hour or so they worked without a pause. Mr. Weatherley was quite at his best. His instructions were sage, and his grasp of every detail referred to in the various letters was lucid and complete. When at last Mr. Jarvis left with his pile, he did not hesitate to spread the good news. Mr. Weatherley had got over his fit of depression, from whatever cause it had arisen; a misunderstanding with his wife, perhaps, or a certain amount of weariness entailed by his new manner of living. At all events, something had happened to set matters right. Mr. Jarvis was quite fluent upon the subject, and every one started his day's work with renewed energy.
Mr. Weatherley's energy did not evaporate with the departure of his confidential clerk. He motioned Arnold to a chair, and for another three-quarters of an hour he dictated replies to the letters which he had sorted out for personal supervision. When at last this was done, he leaned back in his seat, fetched out a box of cigars, carefully selected one and lit it.
"Now you had better get over to your corner and grind that lot out, Chetwode," he said pleasantly. "How are you getting on with the typing, eh?"
"I am getting quicker," Arnold replied, still wondering whether the whole events of last week had not been a dream. "I think, with a little more practice, I shall be able to go quite fast enough."
"Just so," his employer assented. "By the bye, is it my fancy, or weren't you reading the newspaper when I came in? No time for newspapers, you know, after nine o'clock."
Arnold rose to his feet. This was more than he could bear!
"I am sorry if I seemed inattentive, sir," he said. "Under the circumstances, I could not help dwelling a little over this paragraph. Perhaps you will look at it yourself, sir?"
He brought it over to the desk. Mr. Weatherley put on his spectacles with great care and drew the paper towards him.
"Hm!" he ejaculated. "My eyesight isn't so good as it was, Chetwode, and your beastly ha'penny papers have such small print. Read it out to me—read it out to me while I smoke."
He leaned back in his padded chair, his hands folded in front of him, his cigar in the corner of his mouth. Arnold smoothed the paper out and read:
TERRIBLE DEATH OF AN UNKNOWN MAN. FOUND DEAD IN A TAXICAB.
Early this morning, a taxicab driver entered the police station at Finchley Road North, and alleged that a passenger whom he had picked up some short time before, was dead. Inspector Challis, who was on duty at the time, hastened out to the vehicle and found that the driver's statement was apparently true. The deceased was carried into the police station and a doctor was sent for. The chauffeur's statement was that about midnight he was hailed in the Grove End Road, Hampstead, by four men, one of whom, evidently the deceased, he imagined to be the worse for drink. Two of them entered the taxicab, and one of the others directed him to drive to Finchley. After some distance, however, the driver happened to glance inside, and saw that only one of his passengers was there. He at once stopped the vehicle, looked in at the window, and, finding that the man was unconscious, drove on to the police station.
Later information seems to point to foul play, and there is no doubt whatever that an outrage has been committed. There was a wound upon the deceased's forehead, which the doctor pronounces as the cause of death, and which had evidently been dealt within the last hour or so with some blunt instrument. The taxicab driver has been detained, and a full description of the murdered man's companions has been issued to the police. It is understood that nothing was found upon the deceased likely to help towards his identification.
Arnold looked up as he finished. Mr. Weatherley was still smoking. He seemed, indeed, very little disturbed.
"A sensational story, that, Chetwode," he remarked. "You're not supposing, are you, that it was the same man who broke into my house last night?"
"I know that it was, sir," Arnold replied.
"You know that it was," Mr. Weatherley repeated, slowly. "Come, what do you mean by that?"
"I mean that after I left your house last night, sir," Arnold explained, "I realized the impossibility of that man having been carried down your drive and out into the road, with a policeman on duty directly opposite, and a cabstand within a few yards. I happened to remember that there was an empty house next door, and it struck me that it might be worth while examining the premises."
Mr. Weatherley withdrew the cigar from his mouth.
"You did that, eh?"
"I did," Arnold admitted. "I made my way to the back, and I found a light in the room which presumably had been the kitchen. From a chink in the boarded-up window I saw several men in the room, including the man whom we discovered in your wife's boudoir, and who had been spirited away. He was lying motionless upon the table, and one of the others was apparently trying to restore him. When they found that it was useless, they took him off with them by the back way into Grove Lane. I saw two of them enter a taxicab and the other two make off."
"And what did you do then?" Mr. Weatherley asked.
"I went and told Count Sabatini what I had seen," Arnold replied.
"And after that?"
"I went home."
"You told no one else but Count Sabatini?" Mr. Weatherley persisted.
"No one," Arnold answered. "I bought a paper on my way to business this morning, and read what I have just read to you."
"You haven't been rushing about ringing up to give information, or anything of that sort?"
"I have done nothing," Arnold asserted. "I waited to lay the matter before you."
Mr. Weatherley knocked the ash from his cigar, and, discovering that it was out, carefully relit it.
"Chetwode," he said, "I have advanced you from something a little better than an office-boy, very rapidly, because it seemed to me that you had qualities. The time has arrived to test them. The secret of success in life is minding your own business. I am going to ask you to mind your own business in this matter."
"You mean," Arnold asked, "that you do not wish me to give any information, to say anything about last night?"
"I do not wish my name, or the name of my wife, or the name of my house, to be associated with this affair at all," Mr. Weatherley replied. "Mrs. Weatherley would be very much upset and it is, besides, entirely unnecessary."
Arnold hesitated for a moment.
"It is a serious matter, sir, if you will permit me to say so," he said slowly. "The man was murdered—that seems to be clear—and, from what you and I know, it certainly seems that he was murdered in your house."
Mr. Weatherley shook his head.
"That is not my impression," he declared. "The man was found dead in Mrs. Weatherley's boudoir, but there was no one in the house or apparently within reach who was either likely to have committed such a crime, or who even could possibly have done so. On the other hand, there are this man's companions, desperate fellows, no doubt, within fifty yards all the time. My own impression is that he was killed first and then placed in the spot where he was found. However that may be, I don't want my house made the rendezvous of all the interviewers and sightseers in the neighborhood. You and I will keep our counsel, Arnold Chetwode."
"Might I ask," Arnold said, "if you knew this man—if you had ever come into contact with him or seen him before?"
"Certainly not," Mr. Weatherley replied. "What business could I possibly have with a person of that description? He seems to have been, if not an habitual criminal himself, at least an associate of criminals, and he was without doubt a foreigner. Between you and me, Chetwode, I haven't the least doubt that the fellow was one of a gang of the worst class of burglars. Wherever he got that blow from, it was probably no more than he deserved."
"But, Mr. Weatherley," Arnold protested, "don't you think that you ought to have an investigation among your household?"
"My dear young fellow," Mr. Weatherley answered, testily, "I keep no men-servants at all except old Groves, who's as meek-spirited as a baby, and a footman whom my wife has just engaged, and who was out for the evening. A blow such as the paper describes was certainly never struck by a woman, and there was just as certainly no other man in my house. There is nothing to inquire about. As a matter of fact, I am not curious. The man is dead and there's an end of it."
"You will bear in mind, sir," Arnold said, "that if it comes to light afterwards, as it very probably may, that the man was first discovered in Mrs. Weatherley's boudoir, the scandal and gossip will be a great deal worse than if you came forward and told the whole truth now."
"I take my risk of that," Mr. Weatherley replied, coolly. "There isn't a soul except Groves who saw him, and Groves is my man. Now be so good as to get on with those letters, Chetwode, and consider the incident closed."
Arnold withdrew to his typewriter and commenced his task. The day had commenced with a new surprise to him. The nervous, shattered Mr. Weatherley of yesterday was gone. After a happening in his house which might well have had a serious effect upon him, he seemed not only unmoved but absolutely restored to cheerfulness. He was reading the paper for himself now, and the room was rapidly becoming full of tobacco smoke. Arnold spelled out his letters one by one until the last was finished. Then he took them over to his employer to sign. One by one Mr. Weatherley read them through, made an alteration here and there, then signed them with his large, sprawling hand. Just as he had finished the last, the telephone by his side rang. He took the receiver and placed it to his ear. Arnold waited until he had finished. Mr. Weatherley himself said little. He seemed to be listening. Towards the end, he nodded slightly.
"Yes, I quite understand," he said, "quite. That was entirely my own opinion. No case at all, you say? Good!"
He replaced the receiver and leaned back in his chair. For the first time, when he spoke his voice was a little hoarse.
"Chetwode," he said, "ring up my house—16, Post Office, Hampstead. Ask Groves to tell his mistress that I thought she might be interested to hear that Mr. Starling will be discharged this morning. The police are abandoning the case against him, at present, for lack of evidence."
Arnold stood for a moment quite still. Then he took up the receiver and obeyed his orders. Groves' voice was as quiet and respectful as ever. He departed with the message and Arnold rang off. Then he turned to Mr. Weatherley.
"Have you any objection to my ringing up some one else and telling him, too?" he asked.
Mr. Weatherley looked at him.
"You are like all of them," he remarked. "I suppose you think he's a sort of demigod. I never knew a young man yet that he couldn't twist round his little finger. You want to ring up Count Sabatini, I suppose?"
"I should like to," Arnold admitted.
"Very well, go on," Mr. Weatherley grumbled. "Let him know. Perhaps it will be as well."
Arnold took from his pocket the note which Sabatini had written to him, and which contained his telephone number. Then he rang up. The call was answered by his valet.
"In one moment, sir," he said. "The telephone rings into His Excellency's bedchamber. He shall speak to you himself."
A minute or two passed. Then the slow, musical voice of Sabatini intervened.
"Who is that speaking?"
"It is I—Arnold Chetwode," Arnold answered. "I am speaking from the office in the city. I heard some news a few minutes ago which I thought might interest you."
"Good!" Sabatini replied, stifling what seemed to be a yawn. "You have awakened me from a long sleep, so let your news be good, my young friend."
"Mr. Weatherley hears from a solicitor at Bow Street that the police have abandoned the charge against Mr. Starling," Arnold announced. "He will be set at liberty as soon as the court opens."
There was a moment's silence. It was as though the person at the other end had gone away.
"Did you hear?" Arnold asked.
"Yes, I heard," Sabatini answered. "I am very much obliged to you for ringing me up, my young friend. I quite expected to hear your news during the day. No one would really suppose that a respectable man like Starling would be guilty of such a ridiculous action. However, it is pleasant to know. I thank you. I take my coffee and rolls this morning with more appetite."
Arnold set down the telephone. Mr. Weatherley, had risen to his feet and walked as far as the window. On his way back to his place, he looked at the little safe which he had made over to his secretary.
"You've got my papers there all right, Chetwode?" he asked.
"Certainly, sir," Arnold answered. "I hope, however, we may never need to use them."
Mr. Weatherley smiled. He was busy choosing another cigar.
IN THE COUNTRY
They sat on the edge of the wood, and a west wind made music for them overhead among the fir trees. From their feet a clover field sloped steeply to a honeysuckle-wreathed hedge. Beyond that, meadow-land, riven by the curving stream which stretched like a thread of silver to the blue, hazy distance. Arnold laughed softly with the pleasure of it, but the wonder kept Ruth tongue-tied.
"I feel," she murmured, "as though I were in a theatre for the first time. Everything is strange."
"It is the theatre of nature," Arnold replied. "If you close your eyes and listen, you can hear the orchestra. There is a lark singing above my head, and a thrush somewhere back in the wood there."
"And see, in the distance there are houses," Ruth continued softly. "Just fancy, Arnold, people, if they had no work to do, could live here, could live always out of sight of the hideous, smoky city, out of hearing of its thousand discords."
"There are a great many who feel like that," he said, his eyes fixed upon the horizon, "and then, as the days go by, they find that there is something missing. The city of a thousand discords generally has one clear cry, Ruth."
"For you, perhaps," she answered, "because you are young and because you are ambitious. But for me who lie on my back all day long, think of the glory of this!"
Arnold slowly sat up.
"Upon my word!" he exclaimed. "Why not. Why shouldn't you stay in the country for the summer? I hate London, too. There are cheap tickets, and bicycles, and all sorts of things. I wonder whether we couldn't manage it."
She said nothing. His thoughts were busy with the practical side of it. There was an opportunity here, too, to prepare her for what he felt sure was inevitable.
"You know, Ruth," he said, "I don't wish to say anything against Isaac, and I don't want to make you uneasy, but you know as well as I do that he has a strange maggot in his brain. When I first heard him talk, I thought of him as a sort of fanatic. It seems to me that he has changed. I am not sure that such changes as have taken place in him lately have not been for the worse."
"Tell me what you mean?" she begged.
"I mean," he continued, "that Isaac, who perhaps in himself may be incapable of harm, might be an easy prey to those who worked upon his wild ideas. Hasn't it struck you that for the last few days—"
She clutched at his hand and stopped him.
"Don't!" she implored. "These last few days have been horrible. Isaac has not left his room except to creep out sometimes into mine. He keeps his door locked. What he does I don't know, but if he hears a step on the stairs he slinks away, and his face is like the face of a hunted wolf. Arnold, do you think that he has been getting into trouble?"
"I am afraid," Arnold said, regretfully, "that it is not impossible. Tell me, Ruth, you are very fond of him?"
"He was my mother's brother—the only relative I have in the world," she answered. "What could I do without him?"
"He doesn't seem to want you particularly, just now, at any rate," Arnold said. "I don't see why we shouldn't take rooms out at one of these little villages. I could go back and forth quite easily. You'd like it, wouldn't you, Ruth? Fancy lying in a low, comfortable chair, and looking up at the blue sky, and listening to the birds and the humming of bees. The hours would slip by."
"I should love it," she murmured.
"Then why not?" he cried. "I'll stop the car at the next village we come to, and make inquiries."
She laid her hand softly upon his.
"Arnold, dear," she begged, "it sounds very delightful, and yet, can't you see it is impossible? I am not quite like other women, perhaps, but, after all, I am a woman. It is for your sake—for your sake, mind—that I think of this."
He turned and looked at her—looked at her, perhaps, with new eyes. She was stretched almost at full length upon the grass, her head, which had been supported by her clasped hands, now turned towards him. As she lay there, with her stick out of sight, her lips a little parted, her eyes soft with the sunlight, a faint touch of color in her cheeks, he suddenly realized the significance of her words. Her bosom was rising and falling quickly. Her plain black dress, simply made though it was, showed no defect of figure. Her throat was soft and white. The curve of her body was even graceful. The revelation of these things came as a shock to Arnold, yet it was curious that he found a certain pleasure in it.
"I had forgotten, Ruth," he said slowly, "but does it matter? You have no one in the world but Isaac, and I have no one in the world at all. Don't you think we can afford to do what seems sensible?"
Her eyes never left his face. She made no sign either of assent or dissent.
"Arnold," she declared, "it is true that I am an outcast. I have scarcely a relative in the world. But what you say about yourself is hard to believe. I have never asked you questions because it is not my business, but there are many little things by which one tells. I think that somewhere you have a family belonging to you with a name, even if, for any reason, you do not choose just now to claim them."
He made no direct reply. He watched for some moments a white-sailed boat come tacking down the narrow strip of river.
"I am my own master, Ruth," he said; "I have no one else to please or to consider. I understand what you have just told me, but if I gave you my word that I would try and be to you what Isaac might have been if he had not been led away by these strange ideas, wouldn't you trust me, Ruth?"
"It isn't that!" she exclaimed. "Trust you? Why, you know that I would! It isn't that I mind for myself either what people would say—or anything, but I am thinking of your new friends, of your future. If they knew that you were living down in the country with a girl, even though she were an invalid, who was no relation at all, don't you think that it might make a difference?"
"Of course not," he replied, "and, in any case, what should I care? It would be the making of you, Ruth. You would be able to pick up your strength, so that when our money-box is full you would be able to have that operation and never dare to call yourself an invalid again."
She half closed her eyes. The spell of summer was in the air, the spell of life was stirring slowly in her frozen blood.
"Ah! Arnold," she murmured, "I do not think that you must talk like that. It makes me feel so much like yielding. Somehow, the dreams out here seem even more wonderful than the visions which come floating up the river. There's more life here. Don't you feel it? Something seems to creep into your heart, into your pulses, and tell you what life is."
He made no answer. The world of the last few throbbing weeks seemed far enough away with him, too. He picked a handful of clover and thrust it into the bosom of her gown. Then he rose reluctantly to his feet and held out his hands.
"I think," he said, "that the great gates of freedom must be somewhere out here, but just now one is forced to remember that we are slaves."
He drew her to her feet, placed the stick in her hand, and supported her other arm. They walked for a step or two down the narrow path which led through the clover field to the lane below. Then, with a little laugh, he caught her up in his arms.
"It will be quicker if I carry you, Ruth," he proposed. "The weeds twine their way all the time around your stick."
She linked her arms around his neck; her cheek touched his for a moment, and he was surprised to find it as hot as fire. He stepped out bravely enough, but with every step it seemed to him that she was growing heavier. Her hands were still tightly linked around his neck, but her limbs were inert. She seemed to be falling away. He held her tighter, his breath began to grow shorter. The perfume of the clover, fragrant and delicate, grew stronger with every step they took. Somehow he felt that that walk along the narrow path was carving its way into his life. The fingers at the back of his neck were cold, yet she, too, was breathing as though she had been running. Her eyes were half closed. He looked once into her face, bent over her until his lips nearly touched hers. He set his teeth hard. Some instinct warned him of the dangers of the moment. Her stick slipped and a lump arose in his throat. The moment had passed. He kissed her softly upon the forehead.
"Dear Ruth!" he whispered.
She turned very pale and very soon afterward she insisted upon being set down. They walked slowly to where the motor car was waiting at the corner of the lane. Ruth began to talk nervously.
"It was charming of Mrs. Weatherley," she declared, "to lend you this car. Tell me how it happened, Arnie?"
"I simply told her," he replied, "that I was going to take a friend, who needed a little fresh air, out into the country, and she insisted upon sending this car instead of letting me hire a taxicab. It was over the telephone and I couldn't refuse. Besides, Mr. Weatherley was in the office, and he insisted upon it, too. They only use this one in London, and I know that they are away somewhere for the week-end."
"It has been so delightful," Ruth murmured. "Now I am going to lie back among these beautiful cushions, and just watch and think."
The car glided on along the country lane, passing through leafy hamlets, across a great breezy moorland, from the top of which they could see the Thames winding its way into Oxfordshire, a sinuous belt of silver. Then they sped down into the lower country, and Arnold looked at the milestones in some surprise.
"We don't seem to be getting any nearer to London," he remarked.
Ruth only shook her head.
"It will come soon enough," she said, with a little shiver. "It will pass, this, like everything else."
They had dropped to the level now, and suddenly, without warning, the car swung through a low white gate up along an avenue of shrubs. Arnold leaned forward.
"Where are you taking us?" he asked the driver. "There is some mistake."
But there was no mistake. A turn of the wheel and the car was slowing down before the front of a long, ivy-covered house, with a lawn as smooth as velvet, and beyond, the soft murmur of the river. Ruth clutched at his arm.
"Arnold!" she exclaimed. "What does this mean? Who lives here?"
"I have no idea," he answered, "unless—"
The windows in front of the house were all of them open and all of them level with the drive. Through the nearest of them at that moment stepped Fenella. She stood, for a moment, framed in the long French window, hung with clematis,—a wonderful picture even for Arnold, a revelation to Ruth,—in her cool muslin frock, open at the throat, and held together by a brooch with a great green stone. She wore no hat, and her wonderful hair seemed to have caught the sunlight in its meshes. Her eyebrows were a little raised; her expression was a little supercilious, faintly inquisitive. Already she had looked past Arnold. Her eyes were fixed upon the girl by his side.
"I began to think that you were lost," she said gayly. "Won't you present me to your friend, Arnold?"
Arnold sprang to his feet. It was significant that, after his first surprise, he spoke to Fenella with his head half turned towards his companion, and an encouraging smile upon his lips.
"I had no idea that we were coming here," he said. "We should not have thought of intruding. It was your chauffeur who would not even allow us to ask a question."
"He obeyed my orders," Fenella replied. "I meant it for a little surprise for you. I thought that it would be pleasant after your drive to have you call here and rest for a short time. You must present me to your friend."
Arnold murmured a word of introduction. Ruth moved a little in her seat. She lifted herself with her left hand, leaning upon her stick. Fenella's expression changed as though by magic. Her cool, good-humored, but almost impertinent scrutiny suddenly vanished. She moved to the side of the motor car and held out both her hands.
"I am so glad to see you here," she declared. "I hope that you will like some tea after your long ride. Perhaps you would prefer Mr. Chetwode to help you out?"
"You are very kind," Ruth murmured. "I am sorry to be such a trouble to everybody."
Arnold lifted her bodily out of the car and placed her on the edge of the lawn. Fenella, a long parasol in her hand, was looking pleasantly down at her guest.
"You will find it quite picturesque here, I think," she said. "It is not really the river itself which comes to the end of the lawn, but a little stream. It is so pretty, though, and so quiet. I thought you would like to have tea down there. But, my poor child," she exclaimed, "your hair is full of dust! You must come to my room. It is on the ground floor here. Mr. Chetwode and I together can help you so far."
They turned back toward the house and passed into the cool white hall, the air of which was fragrant with the perfume of geraniums and clematis. On the threshold of Fenella's room they were alone for a moment. Fenella was summoning her maid. Ruth clung nervously to Arnold. The room into which they looked was like a fairy chamber, full of laces and perfume and fine linen.
"Arnold," she whispered, "you are sure that you did not know about coming here?"
"I swear that I had no idea," he answered. "I would not have thought of bringing you without telling you first."
Then Fenella returned and he was banished into the garden. At the end of the lawn he found Mr. Weatherley, half asleep in a wicker chair. The latter was apparently maintaining his good spirits.
"Glad to see you, Chetwode," he said. "Sort of plot of my wife's, I think. Your young lady friend in the house?"
"Mrs. Weatherley was kind enough to take her to her room," Arnold replied. "We have had a most delightful ride, and I suppose it was dusty, although we never noticed it."
Mr. Weatherley relit his cigar, which had gone out while he dozed.
"Thought we'd like a little country air ourselves for the week-end," he remarked. "Will you smoke?"
Arnold shook his head.
"Not just now, thank you, sir. Is that the river through the trees there?"
Mr. Weatherley nodded.
"It's about a hundred yards down the stream," he replied. "Bourne End is the nearest station. The cottage belongs to my brother-in-law—Sabatini. I believe he's coming down later on. Any news at the office yesterday morning?"
"There was nothing whatever requiring your attention, sir," Arnold said. "There are a few letters which we have kept over for to-morrow, but nothing of importance."
Mr. Weatherley pursed his lips and nodded. He asked a further question or two concerning the business and then turned his head at the sound of approaching footsteps. Ruth, looking very pale and fragile, was leaning on the arm of a man-servant. Fenella walked on the other side, her lace parasol drooping over her shoulder, her head turned towards Ruth's, whose shyness she was doing her best to melt. Mr. Weatherley rose hastily from his chair.
"God bless my soul!" he declared. "I didn't know—you didn't tell me—"
"Miss Lalonde has been a great sufferer," Arnold said. "She has been obliged to spend a good deal of her time lying down. For that reason, to-day has been such a pleasure to her."
He hurried forward and took the butler's place. Together they installed her in the most comfortable chair. Mr. Weatherley came over and shook hands with her.
"Pretty place, this, Miss Lalonde, isn't it?" he remarked. "It's a real nice change for business men like Mr. Chetwode and myself to get down here for an hour or two's quiet."
"It is wonderfully beautiful," she answered. "It is so long since I was out of London that perhaps I appreciate it more, even, than either of you."
"What part of London do you live in?" Fenella asked her.
"My uncle and I have rooms in the same house as Mr. Chetwode," she replied. "It is in Adam Street, off the Strand."
"Not much air there this hot weather, I don't suppose," Mr. Weatherley remarked.
"We are on the top floor," she replied, "and it is the end house, nearest to the river. Still, one feels the change here."
Tea was brought out by the butler, assisted by a trim parlor-maid. Fenella presided. The note of domesticity which her action involved seemed to Arnold, for some reason or other, quaintly incongruous. Arnold waited upon them, and Fenella talked all the time to the pale, silent girl at her side. Gradually Ruth overcame her shyness; it was impossible not to feel grateful to this beautiful, gracious woman who tried so hard to make her feel at her ease. The time slipped by pleasantly enough. Then Fenella rose to her feet.
"You must carry Miss Lalonde and her chair down to the very edge of the lawn, where she can see the river," she told Arnold. "Afterwards, I am going to take you to see my little rose garden. I say mine, but it is really my brother's, only it was my idea when he first took the place. Mr. Weatherley is going down to the boat-builder's to see some motor-launches—horrible things they are, but necessary if we stay here for the summer. Would you like some books or magazines, Miss Lalonde, or do you think you would care to come with us if we helped you very carefully?"
Ruth shook her head.
"I should like to sit quite close to the river," she said shyly, "just where you said, and close my eyes. You don't know how beautiful it is to get the roar of London out of one's ears, and be able to hear nothing except these soft, summer sounds. It is like a wonderful rest."
They arranged her comfortably. Mr. Weatherley returned to the house. Fenella led the way through a little iron gate to a queer miniature garden, a lawn brilliant with flower-beds, ending in a pergola of roses. They passed underneath it and all around them the soft, drooping blossoms filled the whole air with fragrance. At the end was the river and a wooden seat. She motioned to him to sit by her side.
"You are not angry with me?" she asked, a little timidly.
"Angry? Why should I be?" he answered. "The afternoon has been delightful. I can't tell you how grateful I feel."
"All the same," she said, "I think you know that I laid a plot to bring you here because I was curious about this companion of yours, for whose sake you refused my invitation. However, you see I am penitent. Poor girl, how can one help feeling sorry for her! You forgive me?"
"I forgive you," he answered.
She closed her parasol and leaned back in her corner of the seat. She seemed to be studying his expression.
"There is something different about you this afternoon," she said. "I miss a look from your face, something in your tone when you are talking to me."
He shook his head.
"I am not conscious of any difference."
She laughed softly, but she seemed, even then, a little annoyed.
"You are not appreciating me," she declared. "Do you know that here, in the wilderness, I have put on a Paquin muslin gown, white shoes from Paris, white silk stockings—of which you can see at least two inches," she added, glancing downwards. "I have risked my complexion by wearing no hat, so that you can see my hair really at its best. I looked in the glass before you came and even my vanity was satisfied. Now I bring you away with me and find you a seat in a bower of roses, and you look up into that elm tree as though you were more anxious to find out where the thrush was singing than to look at me."
He laughed. Through the raillery of her words he could detect a certain half-girlish earnestness which seemed to him delightful.
"Try and remember," he said, "how wonderful a day like this must seem to any one like myself, who has spent day after day for many months in Tooley Street. I have been sitting up on the hills, listening to the wind in the trees. You can't imagine the difference when you've been used to hearing nothing but the rumble of drays on their way to Bermondsey."
She looked up at him.
"You know," she declared, "you are rather a mysterious person. I cannot make up my mind that you are forced to live the life you do."
"You do not suppose," he replied, "that any sane person would choose it? It is well enough now, thanks to you," he added, dropping his voice a little. "A week ago, I was earning twenty-eight shillings a week, checking invoices and copying letters—an errand boy's work; pure, unadulterated drudgery, working in a wretched atmosphere, without much hope of advancement or anything else."
"But even then you leave part of my question unanswered," she insisted. "You were not born to this sort of thing?"
"I was not," he admitted; "but what does it matter?"
"You don't care to tell me your history?" she asked lazily. "Sometimes I am curious about it."
"If I refuse," he answered, "it may give you a false impression. I will tell you a little, if I may. A few sentences will be enough."
"I should really like to hear," she told him.
"Very well, then," he replied. "My father was a clergyman, his family was good. He and I lived almost alone. He had an income and his stipend, but he was ambitious for me, and, by some means or other, while I was away he was led to invest all his money with one of these wretched bucket-shop companies. A telegram fetched me home unexpectedly just as I was entering for my degree. I found my father seriously ill and almost broken-hearted. I stayed with him, and in a fortnight he died. There was just enough—barely enough—to pay what he owed, and nothing left of his small fortune. His brother, my uncle, came down to the funeral, and I regret to say that even then I quarreled with him. He made use of language concerning my father and his folly which I could not tolerate. My father was very simple and very credulous and very honorable. He was just the sort of man who becomes the prey of these wretched circular-mongering sharks. What he did, he did for my sake. My uncle spoke of him with contempt, spoke as though he were charged with the care of me through my father's foolishness. I am afraid I made no allowance for my uncle's peculiar temperament. The moment the funeral was over, I turned him out of the house. I have no other relatives. I came to London sooner than remain down in the country and be found a position out of charity, which is, I suppose, what would have happened. I took a room and looked for work. Naturally, I was glad to get anything. I used to make about forty calls a day, till I called at your husband's office in Tooley Street and got a situation."
"I thought it was something like that," she remarked. "Supposing I had not happened to discover you, I wonder how long you would have gone on?"
"Not much longer," he admitted. "To tell you the truth, I should have enlisted but for that poor little girl whom I brought down with me this afternoon."
His tone had softened. There was the slightest trace of a frown upon her face as she looked along the riverside.
"But tell me," she asked, "what is your connection with her?"
"One of sympathy and friendliness only," he answered. "I never saw her till I took the cheapest room I could find at the top of a gaunt house near the Strand. The rest of the top floor is occupied by this girl and her uncle. He is a socialist agitator, engaged on one of the trades' union papers,—a nervous, unbalanced creature, on fire with strange ideas,—the worst companion in the world for any one. Sometimes he is away for days together. Sometimes, when he is at home, he talks like a prophet, half mad, half inspired, as though he were tugging at the pillars which support the world. The girl and he are alone as I am alone, and there is something which brings people very close together when they are in that state. I found her fallen upon the landing one day and unable to reach her rooms, and I carried her in and talked. Since then she looks for me every evening, and we spend some part of the time together."
"Is she educated?"
"Excellently," he answered. "She was brought up in a convent after her parents' death. She has read a marvellous collection of books, and she is very quick-witted and appreciative."
"But you," she said, "are no longer a waif. These things are passing for you. You cannot carry with you to the new world the things which belong to the old."
"No prosperity should ever come to me," he declared, firmly, "in which that child would not share to some extent. With the first two hundred pounds I possess, if ever I do possess such a sum," he added, with a little laugh, "I am going to send her to Vienna, to the great hospital there."
She shrugged her shoulders.
"Two hundred pounds is not a large sum," she remarked. "Would you like me to lend it to you?"
He shook his head.
"She would not hear of it," he said. "In her way, she is very proud."
"It may come of its own accord," she whispered, softly. "You may even have an opportunity of earning it."
"I am doing well enough just now," he remarked, "thanks to Mr. Weatherley, but sums of money like that do not fall from the clouds."
They were both silent. She seemed to be listening to the murmur of the stream. His head was lifted to the elm tree, from somewhere among whose leafy recesses a bird was singing.
"One never knows," she said softly. "You yourself have seen and heard of strange things happening within the last few days."
He came back to earth with a little start.
"It is true," he confessed.
"There is life still," she continued, "throbbing sometimes in the dull places, adventures which need only the strong arm and the man's courage. One might come to you, and adventures do not go unrewarded."
"You talk like your brother," he remarked.
"Why not?" she replied. "Andrea and I have much in common. Do you know that sometimes you provoke me a little?"
"You have so much the air of a conqueror," she said. "You look as though you had courage and determination. One could see that by your mouth. And yet you are so much like the men of your nation, so stolid, so certain to move along the narrow lines which convention has drawn for you. Oh! if I could," she went on, leaning towards him and looking intently into his face, "I would borrow the magic from somewhere and mix a little in your wine, so that you should drink and feel the desire for new things; so that the world of Tooley Street should seem to you as though it belonged to a place inhabited only by inferior beings; so that you should feel new blood in your veins, hot blood crying for adventures, a new heart beating to a new music. I would like, if I could, Arnold, to bring those things into your life."
He turned and looked at her. Her face was within a few inches of his. She was in earnest. The gleam in her eyes was half-provocative, half a challenge. Arnold rose uneasily to his feet.
"I must go back," he said, a little thickly. "I forgot that Ruth is so shy. She will be frightened alone."
He walked away down the pergola without even waiting for her. It was very rude, but she only leaned back in her chair and laughed. In a way, it was a triumph!
ARNOLD SPEAKS OUT
Ruth was still alone, and her welcome was almost pathetic. She stretched out her arms—long, thin arms they seemed in the tight black sleeves of her worn gown. She had discarded her carefully mended gloves and her hands were bare.
"Arnold," she murmured, "how long you have been away!"
He threw himself on the grass by her side.
"Silly little woman!" he answered. "Don't tell me that you are not enjoying it?"
"It is all wonderful," she whispered, "but can't you see that I am out of place? When could we go, Arnie?"
"Are you so anxious to get away?" he asked, lazily.
"In a way, I should be content to stay here for ever," she answered. "If you and I only could be here—why, Arnold, it is like Heaven! Just close your eyes as I have been doing—like that. Now listen. There isn't any undernote, none of that ceaseless, awful monotony of sound that seems like the falling of weary men's feet upon the eternal pavement. Listen—there is a bird singing somewhere in that tree, and the water goes lapping and lapping and lapping, as though it had something pleasant to say but were too lazy to say it. And every now and then, if you listen very intently, you can hear laughing voices through the trees there from the river, laughter from people who are happy, who are sailing on somewhere to find their city of pleasure. And the perfumes, Arnold! I don't know what the rose garden is like, but even from here I can smell it. It is wonderful."
"Yet you ask me when we are going," he reminded her.
She shivered for a moment.
"It is not my world," she declared. "I am squeezed for a moment into a little corner of it, but it is not mine and I have nothing to do with it. She is so beautiful, that woman, and so gracious. She talks to me out of pity, but when I first came she looked at me and there was a challenge in her eyes. What did it mean, Arnold? Is she fond of you? Is she going to be fond of you?"
He laughed, a little impatiently.
"My dear Ruth," he said, "she is my employer's wife. She has been kind to me because I think that she is naturally kind, and because lately she has not found among her friends many people of her own age. Beyond that, there is nothing; there is never likely to be anything. She mixes in a world where she can have all the admiration she desires, and all the friends."
"Yet she looks at you," Ruth persisted, in a troubled tone, "as though she had some claim; as though I, even poor I, were an interloper for the tiny share I might have of your thoughts or sympathy. I do not understand it."
He touched her hand lightly with his.
"You are too sensitive, dear," he said, "and a little too imaginative. You must remember that she is half a foreigner. Her moods change every moment, and her expression with them. She was curious to see you. I have tried to explain to her what friends we are. I am sure that her interest is a friendly one."
A motor horn immediately behind startled them both. They turned their heads. A very handsome car, driven by a man in white livery, had swept up the little drive and had come to a standstill in front of the hall door. From the side nearest to them Count Sabatini descended, and stood for a moment looking around him. The car moved on towards the stables. Sabatini came slowly across the lawn.
"Who is it?" she whispered. "How handsome he is!"
"He is Mrs. Weatherley's brother—Count Sabatini," Arnold replied.
He came very slowly and, recognizing Arnold, waved his gray Homburg hat with a graceful salute. He was wearing cool summer clothes of light gray, with a black tie, boots with white linen gaiters, and a flower in his coat. Even after his ride from London he looked immaculate and spotless. He greeted Arnold kindly and without any appearance of surprise.
"I heard that you were to be here," he said. "My sister told me of her little plot. I hope that you approve of my bungalow?"
"I think that it is wonderful," Arnold answered. "I have never seen anything of the river before—this part of it, at any rate."
Sabatini turned slightly towards Ruth, as though expecting an introduction. His lips were half parted; he had the air of one about to make a remark. Then suddenly a curious change seemed to come over his manner. His natural ease seemed to have entirely departed. He stood stiff and rigid, and there was something forbidding in his face as he looked down at the girl who had glanced timidly towards him. A word—it was inaudible but it sounded like part of a woman's name—escaped him. He had the appearance, during those few seconds, of a man who looks through the present into a past world. It was all over before even they could appreciate the situation. With a little smile he had leaned down towards Ruth.
"You will do me the honor," he murmured, "of presenting me to your companion?"
Arnold spoke a word or two of introduction. Sabatini pulled up a chair and sat down at once by the girl's side. He had seen the stick and seemed to have taken in the whole situation in a moment.
"Please be very good-natured," he begged, turning to Arnold, "and go and find my sister. She will like to know that I am here. I am going to talk to Miss Lalonde for a time, if she will let me. You don't mind my being personal?" he went on, his voice soft with sympathy. "I had a very dear cousin once who was unable to walk for many years, and since then it has always interested me to find any one suffering in the same way."
There was a simple directness about his speech which seemed to open the subject so naturally that Ruth found herself talking without effort of her accident, and the trouble it had brought. They drifted so easily into conversation that Arnold left them almost at once. He had only a little distance to go before he found Fenella returning. She was carrying a great handful of roses which she had just gathered, and to his relief there was no expression of displeasure in her face. Perhaps, though, he reflected with a sinking heart, she had understood!
"Your brother has just arrived," he announced. "I think that he has motored down from London. He wished me to let you know that he was here."
"Where is he?" she asked.
"He is on the lawn, talking to Miss Lalonde," Arnold replied.
"I will go to them presently," she said. "In the meantime, you are to make yourself useful, if you please," she added, holding out the roses. "Take these into the house, will you, and give them to one of the women."
He took them from her.
"With pleasure! And then, if you will excuse us,—"
"I excuse no word which is spoken concerning your departure," she declared. "To-night I give a little fete. We change our dinner into what you call supper, and we will have the dining table moved out under the trees there. You and your little friend must stop, and afterwards my brother will take you back to London in his car, or I will send you up in my own."
"You are too kind," Arnold answered. "I am afraid—"
"You are to be afraid of nothing," she interrupted, mockingly. "Is that not just what I have been preaching to you? You have too many fears for your height, my friend."
"We will put it another way, then. I was thinking of Miss Lalonde. She is not strong, and I think it is time we were leaving. If you could send us so far as the railway station—"
"There are no trains that leave here," she asserted; "at least, I never heard of them. I shall go and talk to her myself. We shall see. No, on second thoughts, she is too interested. You and I will walk to the house together. That is one thing," she continued, "which I envy my brother, which makes me admire him so much. I think he is the most charmingly sympathetic person I ever met. Illness of any sort, or sickness, seems to make a woman of him. I never knew a child or a woman whose interest or sympathy he could not win quickly."
"It is a wonderful thing to say of any man, that," Arnold remarked.
"Wonderful?" she repeated. "Why, yes! So far as regards children, at any rate. You know they say—one of the writers in my mother's country said—that men are attracted by beauty, children by goodness; and women by evil. It is of some such saying that you are thinking. Now I shall leave these flowers in the hall and ring the bell. Tell me, would you like me to show you my books?"