She laid her fingers upon the white door of her little drawing-room and looked at him.
"If you do not mind," he replied, "I should like to hear what Ruth says about going."
This time she frowned. She stood looking at him for a moment. Arnold's face was very square and determined, but there were still things there which she appreciated.
"You are very formal, to-day," she declared. "You give too many of your thoughts to your little friend. I do not think that you are treating me kindly. I should like to sit with you in my room and to talk to you of my books. Look, is it not pretty?"
She threw open the door. It was a tiny little apartment, in which all the appointments and the walls were white, except for here and there a little French gilded furniture of the best period. A great bowl of scarlet geraniums stood in one corner. Though the windows were open, the blinds were closely drawn, so that it was almost like twilight.
"You won't come for five minutes?" she begged.
"Yes!" he answered, almost savagely. "Come in and shut the door. I want to talk to you—not about your books. Yes, let us sit down—where you will. That couch is big enough for both of us."
The sudden change in his manner was puzzling. The two had changed places. The struggle was at an end, but it was scarcely as a victim that Arnold leaned towards her.
"Give me your hands," he said.
"Arnold!" she whispered.
He took them both and drew her towards him.
"What is it you want?" he asked. "Not me—I know that. You are beautiful, you know that I admire you, you know that a day like this is like a day out of some wonderful fairy story for me. I am young and foolish, I suppose, just as easily led away as most young men are. Do you want to make me believe impossible things? You look at me from the corners of your eyes and you laugh. Do you want to make use of me in any way? You're not a flirt. You are a wife, and a good wife. Do you know that men less impressionable than I have been made slaves for life by women less beautiful than you, without any effort on their part, even? No, I won't be laughed at! This is reality! What is it you want?" He leaned towards her. "Do you want me to kiss you? Do you want me to hold you in my arms? I could do it. I should like to do it. I will, if you tell me to. Only afterwards—"
"I shall do what I should have done if your husband hadn't taken me into his office—I should enlist," he said. "I mayn't be particularly ambitious, but I've no idea of hanging about, a penniless adventurer, dancing at a woman's heels. Be honest with me. At heart I do believe in you, Fenella. What is it you want?"
She leaned back on the couch and laughed. It was no longer the subtle, provoking laugh of the woman of the world. She laughed frankly and easily, with all the lack of restraint to which her twenty-four years entitled her.
"My dear boy," she declared, "you have conquered. I give in. You have seen through me. I am a fraud. I have been trying the old tricks upon you because I am very much a woman, because I want you to be my slave and to do the things I want you to do and live in the world I want you to live in, and I was jealous of this companion for whose sake you would not accept my invitation. Now I am sane again. I see that you are not to be treated like other and more foolish young men. My brother wants you. He wants you for a companion, he wants you to help him in many ways. He has been used to rely upon me in such cases. I have my orders to place you there." She pointed to her feet. "Alas, that I have failed!" she added, laughing once more. "But, Arnold, we shall be friends?"
"Willingly," he answered, with an immense sense of relief. "Only remember this. I may have wisdom enough to see the lure, but I may not always have strength enough not to take it. I have spoken to you in a moment of sanity, but—well, you are the most compellingly beautiful person I ever saw, and compellingly beautiful women have never made a habit of being kind to me, so please—"
"Don't do it any more," she interrupted. "Is that it?"
"As you like."
"Now I am going to put a piece of scarlet geranium in your buttonhole, and I am going to take you out into the garden and hand you over to my brother, and tell him that my task is done, that you are my slave, and that he has only to speak and you will go out into the world with a revolver in one hand and a sword in the other, and wear any uniform or fight in any cause he chooses. Come!"
"You know," Arnold said, as they left the room, "I don't know any man I admire so much as your brother, but I am almost as frightened of him as I am of you."
"One who talks of fear so glibly," she answered, "seldom knows anything about it."
"There are as many different sorts of fear as there are different sorts of courage," he remarked.
"How we are improving!" she murmured. "We shall begin moralizing soon. Presently I really think we shall compare notes about the books we have read and the theatres we have been to, and before we are gray-headed I think one of us will allude to the weather. Now isn't my brother a wonderful man? Look at that flush upon Miss Lalonde's cheeks. Aren't you jealous?"
Sabatini rose to his feet and greeted his sister after his own fashion, holding both her hands and kissing her on both cheeks.
"If only," he sighed, "our family had possessed morals equal to their looks, what a race we should have been! But, my dear sister,—a question of taste only,—you should leave Doucet and Paquin at home when you come to my bungalow."
"You men never altogether understand," she replied. "Nothing requires a little artificial aid so much as nature. It is the piquancy of the contrast, you see. That is why the decorations of Watteau are the most wonderful in the world. He knew how to combine the purely, exquisitely artificial with the entirely simple. Now to break the news to Miss Lalonde!"
Ruth turned a smiling face towards her.
"It is to say that our fete day is at an end," she said, looking for her stick.
"Fete days do not end at six o'clock in the afternoon," Fenella replied. "I want you to be very kind and give us all a great deal of pleasure. We want to make a little party—you and Mr. Chetwode, my brother, myself and Mr. Weatherley—and dine under that cedar tree, just as we are. We are going to call it supper. Then, afterwards, you will have a ride back to London in the cool air. Either my brother will take you, or we will send a car from here."
"It is a charming idea," Sabatini said. "Miss Lalonde, you will not be unkind?"
She hesitated only for a moment. They saw her glance at her frock, the little feminine struggle, and the woman's conquest.
"If you really mean it," she said, "why, of course, I should love it. It is no good my pretending that if I had known I should have been better prepared," she continued, "because it really wouldn't have made any difference. If you don't mind—"
"Then it is settled!" Sabatini exclaimed. "My young friend Arnold is now going to take me out upon the river. I trust myself without a tremor to those shoulders."
Arnold rose to his feet with alacrity.
"You get into the boat-house down that path," Sabatini continued. "There is a comfortable punt in which I think I could rest delightfully, or, if you prefer to scull, I should be less comfortable, but resigned."
"It shall be the punt," Arnold decided, with a glance at the river. "Won't any one else come with us?"
Fenella shook her head.
"I am going to talk to Miss Lalonde," she said. "After we have had an opportunity of witnessing your skill, Mr. Chetwode, we may trust ourselves another time. Au revoir!"
They watched the punt glide down the stream, a moment or two later, Sabatini stretched between the red cushions with a cigarette in his mouth, Arnold handling his pole like a skilled waterman.
"You like my brother?" Fenella asked.
The girl looked at her gratefully.
"I think that he is the most charming person I ever knew in my life," she declared.
THE REFUGEE'S RETURN
Sabatini's attitude of indolence lasted only until they had turned from the waterway into the main river. Then he sat up and pointed a little way down the stream.
"Can you cross over somewhere there?" he asked.
Arnold nodded and punted across towards the opposite bank.
"Get in among the rushes," Sabatini directed. "Now listen to me."
Arnold came and sat down.
"You don't mean to tire me," he remarked.
"Do you seriously think that I asked you to bring me on the river for the pleasure of watching your prowess with that pole, my friend?" he asked. "Not at all. I am going to ask you to do me a service."
Arnold was suddenly conscious that Sabatini, for the first time since he had known him, was in earnest. The lines of his marble-white face seemed to have grown tenser and firmer, his manner was the manner of a man who meets a crisis.
"Turn your head and look inland," he said. "You follow the lane there?"
"Quite well," he admitted.
"At the corner," Sabatini continued, "just out of sight behind that tall hedge, is my motor car. I want you to land and make your way there. My chauffeur has his instructions. He will take you to a village some eight miles up the river, a village called Heslop Wood. There is a boat-builder's yard at the end of the main street. You will hire a boat and row up the river. About three hundred yards up, on the left hand side, is an old, dismantled-looking house-boat. I want you to board it and search it thoroughly."
Sabatini paused, and Arnold looked at him, perplexed.
"Search it!" he exclaimed. "But for whom? For what?"
"It is my belief," Sabatini went on, "that Starling is hiding there. If he is, I want you to bring him to me by any means which occur to you. I had sooner he were dead, but that is too much to ask of you. I want him brought in the motor car to that point in the lane there. Then, if you succeed, you will bring him down here and your mission is ended. Will you undertake it?"
Arnold never hesitated for a moment. He was only too thankful to be able to reply in the affirmative. He put on his coat and propelled the punt a little further into the rushes.
"I'll do my best," he asserted.
Sabatini said never a word, but his silence seemed somehow eloquent. Arnold sprang onto the bank and turned once around.
"If he is there, I'll bring him," he promised.
Sabatini waved his hand and Arnold sped across the meadow. He found the motor car waiting behind the hedge, and he had scarcely stepped in before they were off. They swung at a great speed along the narrow lanes, through two villages, and finally came to a standstill at the end of a long, narrow street. Arnold alighted and found the boat-builder's yard, with rows of boats for hire, a short distance along the front. He chose one and paddled off, glancing at his watch as he did so. It was barely a quarter of an hour since he had left Sabatini.
The river at this spot was broad, but it narrowed suddenly on rounding a bend about a hundred yards away. The house-boat was in sight now, moored close to a tiny island. Arnold pulled up alongside and paused to reconnoiter. To all appearance, it was a derelict. There were no awnings, no carpets, no baskets of flowers. The outside was grievously in need of paint. It had an entirely uninhabited and desolate appearance. Arnold beached his boat upon the little island and swung himself up onto the deck. There was still no sign of any human occupancy. He descended into the saloon. The furniture there was mildewed and musty. Rain had come in through an open window, and the appearance of the little apartment was depressing in the extreme. Stooping low, he next examined the four sleeping apartments. There was no bedding in any one of them, nor any sign of their having been recently occupied. He passed on into the kitchen, with the same result. It seemed as though his journey had been in vain. He made his way back again on deck, and descended the stairs leading to the fore part of the boat. Here were a couple of servant's rooms, and, though there was no bedding, one of the bunks gave him the idea that some one had been lying there recently. He looked around him and sniffed—there was a distinct smell of tobacco smoke. He stepped lightly back into the passageway. There was nothing to be heard, and no material indication of any one's presence, yet he had the uncomfortable feeling that some one was watching him—some one only a few feet away. He waited for almost a minute. Nothing happened, yet his sense of apprehension grew deeper. For the first time, he associated the idea of danger with his enterprise.
"Is any one about here?" he asked.
There was no reply. He tried another door, which led into a sort of pantry, without result. The last one was fastened on the inside.
"Is Mr. Starling in there?" Arnold demanded.
There was still no reply, yet it was certain now that the end of his search was at hand. Distinctly he could hear the sound of a man breathing.
"Will you tell me if you are there, Mr. Starling?" Arnold again demanded. "I have a message for you."
Starling, if indeed he were there, seemed now to be even holding his breath. Arnold took one step back and charged the door. It went crashing in, and almost at once there was a loud report. The closet—it was little more—was filled with smoke, and Arnold heard distinctly the hiss of a bullet buried in the woodwork over his shoulder. He caught the revolver from the shaking fingers of the man who was crouching upon the ground, and slipped it into his pocket. With his other hand, he held his prisoner powerless.
"What the devil do you mean by that?" he cried, fiercely.
Starling—for it was Starling—seemed to have no words. Arnold dragged him out into the light and for a moment found it hard to recognize the man. He had lost over a stone in weight. His cheeks were hollow, and his eyes had the hunted look in them of some wild animal.
"What do you want with me?" he muttered. "Can't you see I am hiding here? What business is it of yours to interfere?"
Arnold looked at him from head to foot. The man was shaking all over; the coward's fear was upon him.
"What on earth are you in this state for?" he exclaimed. "Whom are you hiding from? You have been set free. Is it the Rosario business still? You have been set free once."
Starling moistened his lips rapidly.
"They set me free," he muttered, "because one of their witnesses failed. They had no case; they wouldn't bring me up. But I am still under surveillance. The sergeant as good as told me that they'd have me before long."
"Well, at present, I've got you," Arnold said coolly. "Have you any luggage?"
"Because you are coming along with me."
"I am taking you to Count Sabatini," Arnold informed him. "He is at his villa about ten miles down the river."
Starling flopped upon his knees.
"For the love of God, don't take me to him!" he begged.
"He is a devil, that man," Starling whispered, confidentially. "He would blow out my brains or yours or his own, without a second's hesitation, if it suited him. He hasn't any nerves nor any fear nor any pity. He will laugh at me—he won't understand, he is so reckless!"
"Well, we're going to him, anyhow," Arnold said. "I don't see how you can be any worse off than hiding in this beastly place. Upstairs and into the boat, please."
Starling struggled weakly to get away but he was like a child in Arnold's hands.
"You had much better come quietly," the latter advised. "You'll have to come, anyway, and if you're really afraid of being arrested again, I should think Count Sabatini would be the best man to aid your escape."
"But he won't let me escape," Starling protested. "He doesn't understand danger. I am not made like him. My nerve has gone. I came into this too late in life."
"Jump!" Arnold ordered, linking his arm into his companion's.
They landed, somehow, upon the island. Arnold pointed to the boat.
"Please be sensible," he begged, "now, at any rate. There may be people passing at any moment."
"I was safe in there," Starling mumbled. "Why the devil couldn't you have left me alone?"
Arnold bent over his oars.
"Safe!" he repeated, contemptuously. "You were doing the one thing which a guilty man would do. People would have known before long that you were there, obviously hiding. I think that Count Sabatini will propose something very much better."
"Perhaps so," Starling muttered. "Perhaps he will help me to get away."
They reached the village and Arnold paid for the hire of his boat. Then he hurried Starling into the car, and a moment or two later they were off.
"Is it far away?" Starling asked, nervously.
"Ten minutes' ride. Sabatini has arranged it all very well. We get out, cross a meadow, and find him waiting for us in the punt."
"You won't leave me alone with him on the river?" Starling begged.
"No, I shall be there," Arnold promised.
"There's nothing would suit him so well," Starling continued, "as to see me down at the bottom of the Thames, with a stone around my neck. I tell you I'm frightened of him. If I can get out of this mess," he went on, "I'm off back to New York. Any job there is better than this. What are we stopping for? Say, what's wrong now?"
"It's all right," Arnold answered. "Step out. We cross this meadow on foot. When we reach the other end, we shall find Sabatini. Come along."
They turned toward the river, Starling muttering, now and then, to himself. In a few minutes they came in sight of the punt. Sabatini was still there, with his head reclining among the cushions. He looked up and waved his hand.
"A record, my young friend!" he exclaimed. "I congratulate you, indeed. You have been gone exactly fifty-five minutes, and I gave you an hour and a half at the least. Our friend Starling was glad to see you, I hope?"
"He showed his pleasure," Arnold remarked dryly, "in a most original manner. However, here he is. Shall I take you across now?"
"If you please," Sabatini agreed.
He sat up and looked at Starling. The latter hung his head and shook like a guilty schoolboy.
"It was so foolish of you," Sabatini murmured, "but we'll talk of that presently. They were civil to you at the police court, eh?"
"I was never charged," Starling replied. "They couldn't get their evidence together."
"Still, they asked you questions, no doubt?" Sabatini continued.
"I told them nothing," Starling replied. "On my soul and honor, I told them nothing!"
"It was very wise of you," Sabatini said. "It might have led to disappointments—to trouble of many sorts. So you told them nothing, eh? That is excellent. After we have landed, I must hand you over to my valet. Then we will have a little talk."
They were in the backwater now, drifting on toward the lawn. Starling shrank back at the sight of the two women.
"I can't face it," he muttered. "I tell you I have lost my nerve."
"You have nothing to fear," Sabatini said quietly. "There is no one here likely to do you or wish you any harm."
Fenella came down to the steps to meet them.
"So our prodigal has returned," she remarked, smiling at Starling.
"We have rescued Mr. Starling from a solitary picnic upon his house-boat," Sabatini explained, suavely. "We cannot have our friends cultivating misanthropy."
Mr. Weatherley, who had returned from the boat-builder's, half rose from his chair and sat down again, frowning. He watched the two men cross the lawn towards the house. Then he turned to Ruth and shook his head.
"I have a great regard for Count Sabatini," he declared, "a great regard, but there are some of his friends—very many of them, in fact—whose presence here I could dispense with. That man is one of them. Do you know where he was a few nights ago, Miss Lalonde?"
She shook her head.
"In prison," Mr. Weatherley said, impressively; "arrested on a serious charge."
Her eyes asked him a question. He stooped towards her and lowered his voice.
"Murder," he whispered; "the murder of Mr. Rosario!"
Through the winding lanes, between the tall hedges, honeysuckle wreathed and starred with wild roses, out onto the broad main road, Sabatini's great car sped noiselessly on its way back to London. They seemed to pass in a few moments from the cool, perfumed air of the country into the hot, dry atmosphere of the London suburbs. Almost before they realized that they were on their homeward way, the fiery glow of the city was staining the clouds above their heads. Arnold leaned a little forward, watching, as the car raced on to its goal. This ride through the darkness seemed to supply the last thrill of excitement to their wonderful day. He glanced towards Ruth, who lay back among the cushions, as though sleeping, by his side.
"You are tired?"
"Yes," she answered simply.
They were in the region now of electric cars—wonderful vehicles ablaze with light, flashing towards them every few minutes, laden with Sunday evening pleasure seekers. Their automobile, however, perfectly controlled by Sabatini's Italian chauffeur, swung from one side of the road to the other and held on its way with scarcely abated speed.
"You have enjoyed the day?" he asked.
She opened her eyes and looked at him. He saw the shadows, and wondered.
"Of course," she whispered.
His momentary wonder at her reticence passed. Again he was leaning a little forward, looking up the broad thoroughfare with its double row of lights, its interminable rows of houses growing in importance as they rushed on.
"It is we ourselves who pass now along the lighted way!" he exclaimed, holding her arm for, a moment. "It is an enchanted journey, ours, Ruth."
She laughed bitterly.
"An enchanted journey which leads to two very dreary attic rooms on the sixth floor of a poverty-stricken house," she reminded him. "It leads back to the smoke-stained city, to the four walls within which one dreams empty dreams."
"It isn't so bad as that," he protested.
Her lips trembled for a moment; she half closed her eyes. An impulse of pain passed like a spasm across her tired features.
"It is different for you," she murmured. "Every day you escape. For me there is no escape."
He felt a momentary twinge of selfishness. Yet, after all, the great truths were incontrovertible. He could lighten her lot but little. There was very little of himself that he could give her—of his youth, his strength, his vigorous hold upon life. Through all the tangle of his expanding interests in existence, the medley of strange happenings in which he found himself involved, one thing alone was clear. He was passing on into a life making larger demands upon, him, a life in which their companionship must naturally become a slighter thing. Nevertheless, he spoke to her reassuringly.
"You cannot believe, Ruth," he said, "that I shall ever forget? We have been through too much together, too many dark days."
"There wasn't much for either of us to look forward to, was there, when we first looked down on the river together and you began to tell me fairy stories."
"They kept our courage alive," he declared. "I am not sure that they are not coming true."
She half closed her eyes.
"For you, Arnold," she murmured. "Not all the fancies that were ever spun in the brain of any living person could alter life very much for me."
He took her hand and held it tightly. Yet it was hard to know what to say to her. It was the inevitable tragedy, this, of their sexes and her infirmity. He realized in those few minutes something of how she was feeling,—the one who is left upon the lonely island while the other is borne homeward into the sunshine and tumult of life. There was little, indeed, which he could say. It was not the hour, this, for protestation.
They passed along Piccadilly, across Leicester Square, and into the Strand. The wayfarers in the streets, of whom there were still plenty, seemed to be lingering about in sheer joy of the cooler night after the unexpected heat of the day, the women in light clothes, the men with their coats thrown open and carrying their hats. They passed down the Strand and into Adam Street, coming at last to a standstill before the tall, gloomy house at the corner of the Terrace. Arnold stepped out onto the pavement and helped his companion to alight. The chauffeur lifted his hat and the car glided away. As they stood there, for a moment, upon the pavement, and Arnold pushed open the heavy, shabby door, it seemed, indeed, as though the whole day might have been a dream.
Ruth moved wearily along the broken, tesselated pavement, and paused for a moment before the first flight of stairs. Arnold, taking her stick from her, caught her up in his arms. Her fingers closed around his neck and she gave a little sigh of relief.
"Will you really carry me up all the way, Arnie?" she whispered. "I am so tired to-night. You are sure that you can manage it?"
He laughed gayly.
"I have done it many times before," he reminded her. "To-night I feel as strong as a dozen men."
One by one they climbed the flight of stone steps. Curiously enough, notwithstanding the strength of which he had justly boasted, as they neared the top of the house he felt his breath coming short and his heart beating faster, as though some unusual strain were upon him. She had tightened her grasp upon his neck. She seemed, somehow, to have come closer to him, yet to hang like a dead weight in his arms. Her cheek was touching his. Once, toward the end, he looked into her face, and the fire of her eyes startled him.
"You are not really tired," he muttered.
"I am resting like this," she whispered.
He stood at last upon the top landing. He set her down with a little thrill, assailed by a medley of sensations, the significance of which confused him. She seemed still to cling to him, and she pointed to his door.
"For five minutes," she begged, "let us sit in our chairs and look down at the river. To-night it is too hot to sleep."
Even while he opened his door, he hesitated.
"What about Isaac?" he asked.
She shivered and looked over her shoulder. They were in his room now and she closed the door. On the threshold she stood quite still for a moment, as though listening. There was something in her face which alarmed him.
"Do you know, I believe that I am afraid to go back," she said. "Isaac has been stranger than ever these last few days. All the time he is locked up in his room, and he shows himself only at night."
Arnold dragged her chair up to the window and installed her comfortably. He himself was thinking of Isaac's face under the gaslight, as he had seen him stepping away from the taxicab.
"Isaac was always queer," he reminded her, reassuringly.
She drew him down to her side.
"There has been a difference these last few days," she whispered. "I am afraid—I am terribly afraid that he has done something really wrong."
Arnold felt a little shiver of fear himself.
"You must remember," he said quietly, "that after all Isaac is, in a measure, outside your life. No one can influence him for either good or evil. He is not like other men. He must go his own way, and I, too, am afraid that it may be a troublous one. He chose it for himself and neither you nor I can help. I wouldn't think about him at all, dear, if you can avoid it. And for yourself, remember always that you have another protector."
The faintest of smiles parted her lips. In the moonlight, which was already stealing into the room through the bare, uncurtained window, her face seemed like a piece of beautiful marble statuary, ghostly, yet in a single moment exquisitely human.
"I have no claim upon you, Arnold," she reminded him, "and I think that soon you will pass out of my life. It is only natural. You must go on, I must remain. And that is the end of it," she added, with a little quiver of the lips. "Now let us finish talking about ourselves. I want to talk about your new friends."
"Tell me what you really think of them?" he begged. "Count Sabatini has been so kind to me that if I try to think about him at all I am already prejudiced."
"I think," she replied slowly, "that Count Sabatini is the strangest man whom I ever met. Do you remember when he stood and looked down upon us? I felt—but it was so foolish!"
"You felt what?" he persisted.
She shook her head.
"I cannot tell. As though we were not strangers at all. I suppose it is what they call mesmerism. He had that soft, delightful way of speaking, and gentle mannerism. There was nothing abrupt or new about him. He seemed, somehow, to become part of the life of any one in whom he chose to interest himself in the slightest. And he talked so delightfully, Arnold. I cannot tell you how kind he was to me."
"It's a clear case of hero worship," he declared. "You're going to be as bad as I have been."
"And yet," she said slowly, "it is his sister of whom I think all the time. Fenella she calls herself, doesn't she?"
"You like her, too?" Arnold asked eagerly.
"I hate her," was the low, fierce reply.
Arnold drew a little away.
"You can't mean it!" he exclaimed. "You can't really mean that you don't like her!"
Ruth clutched at his arm as though jealous of his instinctive disappointment.
"I know that it's brutally ungracious," she declared. "It's a sort of madness, even. But I hate her because she is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen here in life. I hate her for that, and I hate her for her strength. Did you see her come across the lawn to us to-night, Arnold?"
He nodded enthusiastically.
"You mean in that smoke-colored muslin dress?"
"She has no right to wear clothes like that!" Ruth cried. "She does it so that men may see how beautiful she is. I—well, I hate her!"
There was a silence. Then Ruth rose slowly to her feet. Her tone was suddenly altered, her eyes pleaded with his.
"Don't take any notice of me to-night, Arnold," she implored. "It has been such a wonderful day, and I am not used to so much excitement. I am afraid that I am a little hysterical. Do be kind and help me across to my room."
"Is there any hurry?" he asked. "It hasn't struck twelve yet."
"I want to go, please," she begged. "I shall say foolish things if I stay here much longer, and I don't want to. Let me go."
He obeyed her without further question. Once more he supported her with his arms, but she kept her face turned away. When he had reached her door he would have left her, but she still clutched his arm.
"I am foolish," she whispered, "foolish and wicked to-night. And besides, I am afraid. It is all because I am overtired. Come in with me for one moment, please, and let me be sure that Isaac is all right. Feel how I am trembling."
"Of course I will come," he answered. "Isaac can't be angry with me to-night, anyhow, for my clothes are old and dusty enough."
He opened the door and they passed across the threshold. Then they both stopped short and Ruth gave a little start. The room was lit with several candles. There was no sign of Isaac, but a middle-aged man, with black beard and moustache, had risen to his feet at their entrance. He glanced at Ruth with keen interest, at Arnold with a momentary curiosity.
"What are you doing here?" Ruth demanded. "What right have you in this room?"
The man did not answer her question.
"I shall be glad," he said, "if you will come in and shut the door. If you are Miss Ruth Lalonde, I have a few questions to ask you."
ISAAC AT BAY
Arnold had a swift premonition of what had happened. He led Ruth to a chair and stood by her side. Ruth gazed around the room in bewilderment. The curtained screen which divided it had been torn down, and the door of the inner apartment, which Isaac kept so zealously locked, stood open. Not only that, but the figure of a second man was dimly seen moving about inside, and, from the light shining out, it was obviously in some way illuminated.
"I don't understand who you are or what you are doing here," Ruth declared, trembling in every limb.
"My name is Inspector Grant," the man replied. "My business is with Isaac Lalonde, who I understand is your uncle."
"What do you want with him?" she asked.
The inspector made no direct reply.
"There are a few questions," he said, "which it is my duty to put to you."
"Questions?" she repeated.
"Do you know where your uncle is?"
Ruth shook her head.
"I left him here this morning," she replied. "He has not been out for several days. I expected to find him here when I returned."
"We have been here since four o'clock," the man said. "There was no one here when we arrived, nor has any one been since. Your uncle has no regular hours, I suppose?"
"He is very uncertain," Ruth answered. "He does newspaper reporting, and he sometimes has to work late."
"Can you tell me what newspaper he is engaged upon?"
"The Signal, for one," Ruth replied.
Inspector Grant was silent for a moment.
"The Signal newspaper offices were seized by the police some days ago," he remarked. "Do you know of any other journal on which your uncle worked?"
She shook her head.
"He tells me very little of his affairs," she faltered.
The inspector pointed backwards into the further corner of the apartment.
"Do you often go into his room there?" he asked.
"I have not been for months," Ruth assured him. "My uncle keeps it locked up. He told me that there had been some trouble at the office and he was printing something there."
The inspector rose slowly to his feet. On the table by his side was a pile of articles covered over with a tablecloth. Very deliberately he removed the latter and looked keenly at Ruth. She shrank back with a little scream. There were half a dozen murderous-looking pistols there, a Mannerlicher rifle, and a quantity of ammunition.
"What does your uncle need with these?" the inspector asked dryly.
"How can I tell?" Ruth replied. "I have never seen one of them before. I never knew that they were in the place."
"Nor I," Arnold echoed. "I have been a constant visitor here, too, and I have never seen firearms of any sort before."
The inspector turned towards him.
"Are you a friend of Isaac Lalonde?" he asked.
"I am not," Arnold answered. "I am a friend of his niece here, Miss Ruth Lalonde. I know very little of Isaac, although I see him here sometimes."
"I should like to know your name, if you have no objection," the inspector remarked.
"My name is Chetwode," Arnold told him. "I occupy a room on the other side of the passage."
"When did you last see Isaac Lalonde?"
Arnold did not hesitate for a moment. What he had seen at Hampstead belonged to himself. He deliberately wiped out the memory of it from his thoughts.
"On Thursday evening here."
The inspector made a note in his pocket-book. Then he turned again to Ruth.
"You can give me no explanation, then, as to your uncle's absence to-night?"
"None at all. I can only say what I told you before—that I expected to find him here on my return."
"Was he here when you left this morning?"
"I believe so," Ruth assured him. "He very seldom comes out of his room until the middle of the day, and he does not like my going to him there. As we started very early, I did not disturb him."
"Have you any objection," the inspector asked, "to telling me where you have spent the whole of to-day?"
"Not the slightest," Arnold interposed. "We have been to Bourne End, and to a village in the neighborhood."
The inspector nodded thoughtfully. Ruth leaned a little forward in her chair. Her voice trembled with anxiety.
"Please tell me," she begged, "what is the charge against my uncle?"
The inspector glanced over his shoulder at that inner room, from which fitful gleams of light still came. He looked down at the heap of pistols and ammunition by his side.
"The charge," he said slowly, "is of a somewhat serious nature."
Ruth was twisting up her glove in her hand.
"I do not believe," she declared, "that Isaac has ever done anything really wrong. He is a terrible socialist, and he is always railing at the rich, but I do not believe that he would hurt any one."
The inspector looked grimly at the little pile of firearms.
"A pretty sort of armory, this," he remarked, "for a peace-loving man. What do you suppose he keeps them here for, in his room? What do you suppose—"
They all three heard it at the same time. The inspector broke off in the middle of his sentence. Ruth, shrinking in her chair, turned her head fearfully towards the door, which still stood half open. Arnold was looking breathlessly in the same direction. Faintly, but very distinctly, they heard the patter of footsteps climbing the stone stairs. It sounded as though a man were walking upon tiptoe, yet dragging his feet wearily. The inspector held up his hand, and his subordinate, who had been searching the inner room, came stealthily out. Ruth, obeying her first impulse, opened her lips to shriek. The inspector leaned forward and his hand suddenly closed over her mouth. He looked towards Arnold, who was suffering from a moment's indecision.
"If you utter a sound," he whispered, "you will be answerable to the law."
Nobody spoke or moved. It was an odd little tableau, grouped together in the dimly lit room. The footsteps had reached the last flight of stairs now. They came slowly across the landing, then paused, as though the person who approached could see the light shining through the partly open door. They heard a voice, a voice almost unrecognizable, a voice hoarse and tremulous with fear, the voice of a hunted man.
"Are you there, Ruth?"
Ruth struggled to reply, but ineffectually. Slowly, and as though with some foreboding of danger, the footsteps came nearer and nearer. An unseen hand cautiously pushed the door open. Isaac stood upon the threshold, peering anxiously into the room. The inspector turned and faced him.
"Isaac Lalonde," he said, "I have a warrant for your arrest. I shall want you to come with me to Bow Street."
With the certainty of danger, Isaac's fear seemed to vanish into thin air. He saw the open door of his ransacked inner room and the piled-up heap of weapons upon the table. Face to face with actual danger, the, courage of a wild animal at bay seemed suddenly vouchsafed to him.
"Come with you to Hell!" he cried. "I think not, Mr. Inspector. Are these the witnesses against me?"
He pointed to Ruth and Arnold. Ruth clutched her stick and staggered tremblingly to her feet.
"How can you say that, Isaac!" she exclaimed. "Arnold and I have only been home from the country a few minutes. We walked into the room and found these men here. Isaac, I am terrified. Tell me that you have not done anything really wrong!"
Isaac made no reply. All the time he watched the inspector stealthily. The latter moved forward now, as though to make the arrest. Then Isaac's hand shot out from his pocket and a long stream of yellow fire flashed through the room. The inspector sprang back. Isaac's hand, with the smoke still curling from the muzzle of his pistol, remained extended.
"That was only a warning," Isaac declared, calmly. "I aimed at the wall there. Next time it may be different."
There was a breathless silence. The inspector stood his ground but he did not advance.
"Let me caution you, Isaac Lalonde," he said, "that the use of firearms by any one in your position is fatal. You can shoot me, if you like, and my assistant, but if you do you will certainly be hanged. It is my duty to arrest you and I am going to do it."
Isaac's hand was still extended. This time he had lowered the muzzle of his pistol. The inspector was only human and he paused, for he was looking straight into the mouth of it. Isaac slowly backed toward the door.
"Remember, you are warned!" he cried. "If any one pursues me, I shoot!"
His departure was so sudden and so speedy that he was down the first flight of stairs before the inspector started. Arnold, who was nearest the door, made a movement as though to follow, but Ruth threw her arms around him. The policeman who had been examining the other room rushed past them both.
"You shall not go!" Ruth sobbed. "It is no affair of yours. It is between the police and Isaac."
"I want to stop his shooting," Arnold replied. "He must be mad to use firearms against the police. Let me go, Ruth."
"You can't!" she shrieked. "You can't catch him now!"
Then she suddenly held her ears. Three times quickly they heard the report of the pistol. There was a moment's silence, then more shots. Arnold picked Ruth up in his arms and, running with her across the landing, laid her in his own easy-chair.
"I must see what has happened!" he exclaimed, breathlessly. "Wait here."
She was powerless to resist him. He tore himself free from the clutch of her fingers and rushed down the stairs, expecting every moment to come across the body of one of the policemen. To his immense relief, he reached the street without discovering any signs of the tragedy he feared. Adam Street was deserted, but in the gardens below the Terrace he could hear the sound of voices, and a torn piece of clothing hung from the spike of one of the railings. Isaac had evidently made for the gardens and the river. The sound of the chase grew fainter and fainter, and there were no more shots. Arnold, after a few minutes' hesitation, turned round and reclimbed the stairs. The place smelt of gunpowder, and little puffs of smoke were curling upwards.
Arrived on the top landing, he closed the door of Isaac's room and entered his own apartment. Ruth had dragged herself to the window and was leaning out.
"He has gone across the gardens," she cried breathlessly. "I saw him running. Perhaps he will get away, after all. I saw one of the policemen fall down, and he was quite a long way ahead then."
"At any rate, no harm was done by the firing," Arnold declared. "I don't think he really shot at them at all."
They knelt side by side before the window-sill. The gardens were still faintly visible in the dim moonlight, but all signs of disturbance had passed away. She clung nervously to his arm.
"Arnold," she whispered, "tell me, what do you think he has done?"
"I don't suppose he has done anything very much," Arnold replied, cheerfully. "What I really think is that he has got mixed up with some of these anarchists, writing for this wretched paper, and they have probably let him in for some of their troubles."
They stayed there for a measure of time they were neither of them able to compute. At last, with a little sigh, he rose to his feet. For the first time they began to realize what had happened.
"Isaac will not come back," he said.
She clung to him hysterically.
"Arnold," she cried, "I am nervous. I could not sleep in that room. I never want to see it again as long as I live."
For a moment he was perplexed. Then he smiled. "It's rather an awkward situation for us attic dwellers," he remarked. "I'll bring your couch in here, if you like, and you can lie before the window, where it's cool."
"You don't mind?" she begged. "I couldn't even think of going to sleep. I should sit up all night, anyhow."
"Not a bit," he assured her. "I don't think it would be much use thinking about bed."
He made his way back into Isaac's apartments, brought out her couch and arranged it by the window. She lay down with a little sigh of relief. Then he dragged up his own easy chair to her side and held her hand. They heard Big Ben strike two o'clock, and soon afterwards Arnold began to doze. When he awoke, with a sudden start, her hand was still in his. Eastward, over the city, a faint red glow hung in the heavens. The world was still silent, but in the delicate, pearly twilight the trees in the gardens, the bridge, and the buildings in the distance—everything seemed to stand out with a peculiar and unfamiliar distinctness. She, too, was sitting up, and they looked out of the window together. Five o'clock was striking now.
"I've been asleep!" Arnold exclaimed. "Something woke me up."
"There is some one knocking at the door outside," she whispered. "That is what woke you. I heard it several minutes ago."
He jumped up at once.
"I will go and see what it is," he declared.
He opened the door and looked out onto the landing. The knocking was at the door of Isaac's apartment. Two policemen and a man in plain clothes were standing there.
"There is no one in those rooms," Arnold said. "The door shuts with a spring lock, but I have a key here, if you wish to enter."
The sergeant looked at Arnold and approved of him.
"I have an order to remove some firearms and other articles," he announced. "Also, can you tell me where the young woman—Ruth Lalonde—is?"
"She is in my room," Arnold replied. "She was too terrified to remain alone over there. You don't want her, do you?" he asked, anxiously.
The man shook his head.
"I have no definite instructions concerning her," he said, "but we should like to know that she has no intention of going away."
Arnold threw open the door before them.
"I am sure that she has not," he declared. "She is quite an invalid, and besides, she has nowhere else to go."
The sergeant gave a few orders respecting the movement of a pile of articles covered over by a tablecloth, which had been dragged out of Isaac's room. Before he had finished, Arnold ventured upon the question which had been all the time trembling upon his lips.
"This man Isaac Lalonde—was he arrested?"
The sergeant made no immediate reply.
"Tell me, at least, was any one hurt?" Arnold begged.
"No one was shot, if you mean that," the sergeant admitted.
"Is Isaac in custody?"
"He very likely is by this time," the sergeant said. "As a matter of fact, he got away. A friend of yours, is he?"
"Certainly not," Arnold answered. "I have an attic on the other side of the landing there, and I have made friends with the girl. My interest in Isaac Lalonde is simply because she is his niece. Can you tell me what the charge is against him?"
"We believe him to be one of a very dangerous gang of criminals," the sergeant replied. "I can't tell you more than that. If you take my advice, sir," he continued, civilly, "you will have as little as possible to do with either the man or the girl. There's no doubt about the man's character, and birds of a feather generally flock together."
"I am perfectly certain," Arnold declared, vigorously, "that if there has been anything irregular in her uncle's life, Miss Lalonde knew nothing of it. We both knew that he talked wildly, but, for the rest, his doings have been as much a mystery to her as to me."
The sergeant was summoned by one of his subordinates. The two men stood whispering together for a few moments. He turned finally toward Arnold.
"I shall have to ask you to leave us now, sir," he said civilly.
"There's nothing more you can tell me about this affair, I suppose?" Arnold asked.
The sergeant shook his head.
"You will hear all about it later on, sir."
Arnold turned reluctantly back to his own room, where Ruth, was anxiously waiting. He closed the door carefully behind him.
"Isaac has escaped," he announced, "and no one was hurt."
She drew a little sigh of immense relief.
"Did they tell you what the charge was?"
"Not definitely," he replied. "So far as I could make out from what the sergeant said, it was keeping bad company as much as anything."
"The police are in the rooms now?" she asked.
"Three more of them," he assented. "I don't know what they want but evidently you'll have to stay here. Now I'm going to light this spirit-lamp and make some coffee."
He moved cheerfully about the room, and she watched him all the time with almost pathetic earnestness. Presently he brought the breakfast things over to her side and sat at the foot of her couch while the water boiled. He took her hand and held it caressingly.
"I shouldn't worry about Isaac," he said. "I don't suppose he is really very much mixed up with these fellows. He'll have to keep out of the way for a time, that's all."
"There were the pistols," she faltered, doubtfully.
"I expect they saddled him with them because he was the least likely to be suspected," Arnold suggested. "There's the water boiling already. Now for it."
He cut some bread and butter and made the coffee. They ate and drank almost in silence. Through the open window now the roar of traffic was growing every minute in volume. Across the bridge the daily stream of men and vehicles had commenced to flow. Presently he glanced at the clock and, putting down his coffee cup, rose to his feet.
"In a few minutes, dear, I must be off," he announced. "You won't mind being left, will you?"
Her lips trembled.
"Why should I?" she murmured. "Of course you must go to work."
He went behind his little screen, where he plunged his head into a basin of cold water. When he reappeared, a few minutes later, he was ready to start.
"I expect those fellows will have cleared out from your rooms by now," he said, throwing open the door. "Hullo, what's this?"
A trunk and hatbox had been dragged out onto the landing. A policeman was sitting on a chair in front of the closed door, reading a newspaper.
"We have collected the young lady's belongings, so far as possible, sir," he remarked. "If there is anything else belonging to her, she may be able to get it later on."
"Do you mean to say that she can't go back to her own rooms?" Arnold demanded.
"I am sorry, sir," the man replied, "but I am here to see that no one enters them under any pretext."
Arnold looked at him blankly.
"But what is the young lady to do?" he protested. "She has no other home."
The policeman remained unmoved.
"Sorry, sir," he said, "but her friends will have to find her one for the time being. She certainly can't come in here."
Arnold felt a sudden weight upon his arm. Ruth had been standing by his side and had heard everything. He led her gently back. She was trembling violently.
"Don't worry about me, Arnold," she begged. "You go away. By the time you come back, I—I shall have found a home somewhere."
He passed his arm around her. A wild flash in her eyes had suddenly revealed her thought.
"Unless you promise me," he said firmly, "that I shall find you on that couch when I return this evening, I shall not leave this room."
"The business of Samuel Weatherley & Company," he interrupted, glancing at the clock, "will be entirely disorganized unless you promise."
"I promise," she murmured faintly.
MR. WEATHERLEY'S DISAPPEARANCE
Arnold arrived at Tooley Street only a few minutes after his usual time. He made his way at once into the private office and commenced his work. At ten o'clock Mr. Jarvis came in. The pile of letters upon Mr. Weatherley's desk was as yet untouched.
"Any idea where the governor is?" the cashier asked. "He's nearly half an hour late."
Arnold glanced at the clock.
"Mr. Weatherley is spending the week-end down the river," he said. "I dare say the trains up are a little awkward."
Mr. Jarvis looked at him curiously.
"How do you happen to know that?"
"I was there yesterday for a short time," Arnold told him.
Mr. Jarvis whistled softly.
"Seems to me you're getting pretty chummy with the governor," he remarked; "or is it Mrs. Weatherley, eh?"
Arnold lifted his head and looked fixedly at Mr. Jarvis. The latter suddenly remembered that he had come in to search among the letters for some invoices. He busied himself for a moment or two, sorting them out.
"Well, well," he said, "I hope the governor will soon be here, anyway. There are a lot of things I want to ask him about this morning."
A telephone bell at Arnold's desk began to ring. Arnold lifted the receiver to his ear.
"Is that Mr. Weatherley's office?" a familiar voice inquired.
"Good morning, Mrs. Weatherley," he replied. "This is the office, and I am Arnold Chetwode. We were just wondering what had become of Mr. Weatherley."
"What had become of him?" the voice repeated. "But is he not there?"
"No sign of him at present," Arnold answered.
There was a short silence. Then Mrs. Weatherley spoke again.
"He left here," she said, "absurdly early—soon after seven, I think it was—to motor up."
"Has the car returned?" Arnold asked.
"More than an hour ago," was the prompt reply.
"I can assure you that he has not been here," Arnold declared. "You're speaking from Bourne End, I suppose?"
"Will you please ask the chauffeur," Arnold suggested, "where he left Mr. Weatherley?"
"Of course I will," she replied. "That is very sensible. You must hold the line until I come back."
Arnold withdrew the receiver for a few minutes from his ear. Mr. Jarvis had been listening to the conversation, his mouth open with curiosity.
"Is that about the governor?" he asked.
"It was Mrs. Weatherley speaking," he said. "It seems Mr. Weatherley left Bourne End soon after seven o'clock this morning."
"Soon after seven o'clock?" Mr. Jarvis repeated.
"The car has been back there quite a long time," Arnold continued. "Mrs. Weatherley has gone to make inquiries of the chauffeur."
"Most extraordinary thing," Mr. Jarvis muttered. "I can't say that I've ever known the governor as late as this, unless he was ill."
Arnold put the receiver once more to his ear. In a moment or two Mrs. Weatherley returned. Her voice was a little graver.
"I have spoken to the chauffeur," she announced. "He says that they called first up in Hampstead to see if there were any letters, and that afterwards he drove Mr. Weatherley over London Bridge and put him down at the usual spot, just opposite to the London & Westminster Bank. For some reason or other, as I dare say you know," she went on, "Mr. Weatherley never likes to bring the car into Tooley Street. It was ten minutes past nine when he set him down and left him there."
Arnold glanced at the clock.
"It is now," he said, "a quarter to eleven. The spot you speak of is only two hundred yards away, but I can assure you that Mr. Weatherley has not yet arrived."
Mrs. Weatherley began to laugh softly. Even down the wires, that laugh seemed to bring with it some flavor of her own wonderful personality.
"Will there be a paragraph in the evening papers?" she asked, mockingly. "I think I can see it now upon all the placards: 'Mysterious disappearance of a city merchant.' Poor Samuel!"
Arnold found it quite impossible to answer her lightly. The fingers, indeed, which held the receiver to his ear, were shaking a little.
"Mrs. Weatherley," he said, "can I see you to-day—as soon as possible?"
"Why, of course you can, you silly boy," she laughed back. "I am here all alone and I weary myself. Come by the next train or take a taxicab. You can leave word for Mr, Weatherley, when he arrives, that you have come by my special wish. He will not mind then."
"There is no sign of Mr. Weatherley at present," Arnold replied, "and I could not leave here until I had seen him. I thought that perhaps you might be coming up to town for something."
He could almost hear her yawn.
"Really," she declared, after a slight pause, "it is not a bad idea. The sun will not shine to-day; there is a gray mist everywhere and it depresses me. You will lunch with me if I come up?"
"If you please."
"I do please," she declared. "I think we will go to our own little place—the Cafe Andre, and I will be there at half-past twelve. You will be waiting for me?"
"Without a doubt," Arnold promised.
She began to laugh again.
"Without a doubt!" she mocked him. "You are a very stolid young man, Arnold."
"To tell you the truth," he admitted, "I am a little bothered just now. We want Mr. Weatherley badly, and I don't understand his having been within a few hundred yards of the office nearly two hours ago and not having turned up here."
"He will arrive," she replied confidently. "Have no fear of that. There are others to whom accidents and adventures might happen, but not, I think, to Mr. Samuel Weatherley. I am sorry that you are bothered, though, Mr. Chetwode. I think that to console you I shall wear one of my two new muslin gowns which have just arrived from Paris."
"What is she talking about all this time?" Mr. Jarvis, who was itching with curiosity, broke in.
"I am called away now," Arnold declared down the telephone. "I shall be quite punctual. Good-bye!"
He heard her laugh again as he hung up the receiver.
"Well, well," Mr. Jarvis demanded, "what is it all about? Have you heard anything?"
"Nothing of any importance, I am afraid," Arnold admitted. "Mrs. Weatherley laughs at the idea of anything having happened to her husband."
"If nothing has happened to him," Mr. Jarvis protested, "where is he?"
"Is there any call he could have paid on the way?" Arnold suggested.
"I have never known him to do such a thing in his life," Mr. Jarvis replied. "Besides, there is no business call which could take two hours at this time of the morning."
They rang up the few business friends whom Mr. Weatherley had in the vicinity, Guy's Hospital, the bank, and the police station. The reply was the same in all cases. Nobody had seen or heard anything of Mr. Weatherley. Arnold even took down his hat and walked aimlessly up the street to the spot where Mr. Weatherley had left the motor car. The policeman on duty had heard nothing of any accident. The shoe-black, at the top of the steps leading down to the wharves, remembered distinctly Mr. Weatherley's alighting at the usual hour. Arnold returned to the office and sat down facing the little safe which Mr. Weatherley had made over to him. After all, it might be true, then, this thing which he had sometimes dimly suspected. Beneath his very commonplace exterior, Mr. Weatherley had carried with him a secret....
At half-past twelve precisely, Arnold stood upon the threshold of the passage leading into Andre's Cafe. Already the people were beginning to crowd into the lower room, a curious, cosmopolitan mixture, mostly foreigners, and nearly all arriving in twos and threes from the neighboring business houses. At twenty minutes to one, Mr. Weatherley's beautiful car turned slowly into the narrow street and drove up to the entrance. Arnold hurried forward to open the door and Fenella descended. She came to him with radiant face, a wonderful vision in her spotless white gown and French hat with its drooping veil. Arnold, notwithstanding his anxieties, found it impossible not to be carried away for the moment by a wave of admiration. She laughed with pleasure as she looked into his eyes.
"There!" she exclaimed. "I told you that for a moment I would make you forget everything."
"There is a good deal to forget, too," he answered.
She shrugged her shoulders.
"You are always so gloomy, my young friend," she said. "We will have luncheon together, you and I, and I will try and teach you how to be gay. Tell me, then," she went on, as they reached the landing and she waited for Arnold to open the door leading into the private room, "how is the little invalid girl this morning?"
"The little invalid girl is well," Arnold replied.
"She was not too tired yesterday, I hope?" Fenella asked.
"Not in the least," Arnold assured her. "We both of us felt that we did not thank you half enough for our wonderful day."
"Oh, la, la!" Fenella exclaimed. "It was a whim of mine, that is all. I liked having you both there. Some day you must come again, and, if you are very good, I may let you bring the young lady, though I'm not so sure of that. Do you know that my brother was asking me questions about her until I thought my head would swim last night?" she continued, curiously.
"Count Sabatini was very kind to her," Arnold remarked. "Poor little girl, I am afraid she is going to have rather a rough time. She had quite an alarming experience last night after our return."
"You must tell me all about it presently," Fenella declared. "Shall we take this little round table near the window? It will be delightful, that, for when we are tired with one another we can watch the people in the street. Have you ever sat and watched the people in the street, Arnold?"
"Not often," he answered, giving his hat to a waiter and following her across the little room. "You see, there are not many people to watch from the windows of where I live, but there is always the river."
"A terribly dreary place," Fenella declared.
Arnold shook his head.
"Don't believe it," he replied. "Only a short time ago, the days were very dark indeed. Ruth and I together did little else except watch the barges come up, and the slowly moving vessels, and the lights, and the swarms of people on Blackfriars Bridge. Life was all watching then."
"One would weary soon," she murmured, "of being a spectator. You are scarcely that now."
"There has been a great change," he answered simply. "In those days I was very near starvation. I had no idea how I was going to find work. Yet even then I found myself longing for adventures of any sort,—anything to quicken the blood, to feel the earth swell beneath my feet."
She was watching him with that curious look in her eyes which he never wholly understood—half mocking, half tender.
"And after all," she murmured, "you found your way to Tooley Street and the office of Mr. Samuel Weatherley."
She threw herself back in her chair and laughed so irresistibly that Arnold, in a moment or two, found himself sharing her merriment.
"It is all very well," he said presently, "but I am not at all sure that adventures do not sometimes come even to Tooley Street."
She shook her head.
"I shall never believe it. Tell me now about Mr. Weatherley? Was he very sorry when he arrived for having caused you so much anxiety?"
"I have not yet seen Mr. Weatherley," Arnold replied. "Up till the time when I left the office, he had not arrived."
She set down the glass which she had been in the act of raising to her lips. For the first time she seemed to take this matter seriously.
"What time was that?" she asked.
"Ten minutes past twelve."
"It certainly does begin to look a little queer," she admitted. "Do you think that he has met with an accident?"
"We have already tried the hospitals and the police station," he told her.
She looked at him steadfastly.
"You have an idea—you have some idea of what has happened," she said.
"Nothing definite," Arnold replied, gravely. "I cannot imagine what it all means, but I believe that Mr. Weatherley has disappeared."
ARNOLD BECOMES INQUISITIVE
For several moments Fenella sat quite still. She was suddenly an altered woman. All the natural gayety and vivacity seemed to have faded from her features. There were suggestions of another self, zealously kept concealed. It was a curious revelation. Even her tone, when she spoke, was altered. The words seemed to be dragged from her lips.
"You have some reason for saying this," she murmured.
"I have," Arnold admitted.
Just then the waiter entered the room, bringing in a portion of the lunch which they had ordered. Fenella rose and walked to a mirror at the other end of the apartment. She stood there powdering her cheeks for a moment, with her back turned to Arnold. When the waiter had gone, she returned, humming a tune. Her effort at self-rehabilitation was obvious.
"You gave me a shock, my friend," she declared, sitting down. "Please do not do it again. I am not accustomed to having things put to me quite so plainly."
"I am sorry," Arnold said. "It was hideously clumsy of me."
"It is of no consequence now," she continued. "Please to give me some of that red wine and go on with your story. Tell me exactly what you mean!"
"It is simply this," Arnold explained. "A few days ago, I noticed that Mr. Weatherley was busy writing for several hours. It was evidently some private matter and nothing whatever to do with the business. When he had finished, he put some documents into a small safe, locked them up, and, very much to my surprise, gave me the key."
"This was long ago?"
"It was almost immediately after Mr. Rosario's murder," he replied. "When he gave me the key, he told me that if anything unexpected should happen to him, I was to open the safe and inspect the documents. He particularly used the words 'If anything unexpected should happen to me, or if I should disappear.'"
"You really believe, then," she asked, "that he had some idea in his mind that something was likely to happen to him, or that he intended to disappear?"
"His action proves it," Arnold reminded her. "So far as we know, there is no earthly reason for his not having turned up at the office this morning. This afternoon I shall open the safe."
"You mean that you will open it if you do not find him in the office when you return?"
"He will not be there," Arnold said, decidedly.
Her eyes were filled with fear. He went on hastily.
"Perhaps I ought not to say that. I have nothing in the world to go on. It is only just an idea of mine. It isn't that I am afraid anything has happened to him, but I feel convinced, somehow, that we shall not hear anything more of Mr. Weatherley for some time."
"You will open the safe, then, this afternoon?"
"I must," Arnold replied.
For several minutes neither of them spoke a word. Fenella made a pretense at eating her luncheon. Arnold ate mechanically, his thoughts striving in vain to focus themselves upon the immediate question. It was she who ended the silence.
"What do you think you will find in those documents?"
"I have no idea," Arnold answered. "To tell you the truth," he went on earnestly, "I was going to ask you whether you knew of anything in his life or affairs which could explain this?"
"I am not sure that I understand you," she said.
"It seems a strange question," Arnold continued, "and yet it presents itself. I was going to ask you whether you knew of any reason whatsoever why Mr. Weatherley should voluntarily choose to go into hiding?"
"You have something in your mind when you ask me a question like this!" she said. "What should I know about it at all? What makes you ask me?"
Then Arnold took his courage into both hands. Her eyes seemed to be compelling him.
"What I am going to say," he began, "may sound very foolish to you. I cannot help it. I only hope that you will not be angry with me."
Her eyes met his steadily.
"No," she murmured, "I will not be angry—I promise you that. It is better that I should know exactly what is in your mind. At present I do not understand."
His manner acquired a new earnestness. He forgot his luncheon and leaned across the table towards her.
"Fenella," he said, "try and consider how these things of which I am going to speak must have presented themselves to me. Try, if you can, and put yourself in my position for a few minutes. Before that evening on which Mr. Weatherley asked me to come to your house, nothing in the shape of an adventure had ever happened to me. I had had my troubles, but they were ordinary ones, such as the whole world knows of. From the day when I went to school to the day when I had to leave college hurriedly, lost my father, and came up to London a pauper, life with me was entirely an obvious affair. From the night I crossed the threshold of your house, things were different."
There was a cloud upon her face. She began to drum with her slim forefingers upon the tablecloth.
"I think that I would rather you did not go on," she said.
He shook his head.
"I must," he declared, fervently. "These things have been in my mind too long. It is not well for our friendship that I should have such thoughts and leave them unuttered. On that very first evening—the first time I ever saw you—you behaved, in a way, strangely. You took me into your little sitting-room and I could see that you were in trouble. Something was happening, or you were afraid that it was going to happen. You sent me to the window to look out and see if any one were watching the house. You remember all that?"
"Yes," she murmured, "I remember."
"There was some one watching it," Arnold went on. "I told you. I saw your lips quiver with fear. Then your husband came in and took you away. You left me there in the room alone. I was to wait for you. While I was there, one of the men, who had been watching, stole up through your garden to the very window. I saw his face. I saw his hand upon the window-sill with that strange ring upon his finger. You have not forgotten?"
"Forgotten!" she repeated. "As though that were possible!"
"Very well," Arnold continued. "Now let me ask you to remember another evening, only last week, the night I dined with your brother. I brought you home from the Empire and we found that your sitting-room had been entered from that same window. The door was locked and we all thought that burglars must be there. I climbed in at the window from the garden. You know what I found."
All the time she seemed to have been making an effort to listen to him unconcernedly. At this point, however, she broke down. She abandoned her attempt at continuing her luncheon. She looked up at him and he could see that she was trembling.
"Don't go on!" she begged; "please don't!"
"I must," he insisted. "These things have taken possession of me. I cannot sleep or rest for thinking of them."
"For my sake," she implored, "try and forget!"
He shook his head.
"It isn't possible," he said simply. "I am not made like that. Even if you hate me for it, I must go on. You know what I found in your sitting-room that night."
"But this is cruel!" she murmured.
"I found a dead man, a man who, to all appearance, had been murdered in there. Not only that, but there must have been people close at hand who were connected with him in some way, or who were responsible for the crime. We left the room for five minutes, and when we came back he had disappeared. All that we can judge as to what became of him is that that same night a dead man was left in a taxicab, not far away, by an unknown man whom as yet the police have failed to find."
"But this is all too horrible!" she murmured. "Why, do you remind me of it?"
"Because I must," he went on. "Listen. There are other things. This man Starling, for instance, whom I met at your house, and who is suspected of the murder of Rosario—both your brother and you seem to be trying to shield him. I don't understand it; I can't understand it. Your brother talked to me strangely the night I dined with him, but half the time I felt that he was not serious. I do not for a moment believe that he would stoop to any undignified or criminal action. I believe in him as I do in you. Yet if Starling is guilty, why do you both protect him?"
"Is there anything else?" she faltered.
"There is the final thing," he reminded her; "the reason why I have mentioned these matters to you at all—I mean the disappearance of Mr. Weatherley. Supposing he does not come back, how am I to keep silent, knowing all that I know, knowing that he was living in a house surrounded by mysteries? I hate my suspicions. They are like ugly shadows which follow me about. I like and admire your brother, and you—you know—"
He could not finish his sentence. She raised her eyes and he saw that they were full of tears.
"Help me," he begged. "You can if you will. Give me your confidence and I will tell you something which I think that even you do not know."
"Something concerned with these happenings?"
"Something concerned with them," he assented. "I will tell you when and by whom the body of that man was removed from your sitting-room."
She sat looking at him like a woman turned to stone. There was incredulity in her eyes, incredulity and horror.
"You cannot know that!" she faltered.
"I do know it," he asserted.
"Why have you kept this a secret from me?" she asked.
"I do not know," he answered. "Somehow or other, when I have been with you I have felt more anxious to talk of other things. Then there was another reason which made me anxious to forget the whole affair if I could. I had some knowledge of one of the men who were concerned in taking him away."
The waiter was busy now with the removal of their luncheon. To Arnold, the necessary exchange of commonplaces was an immense relief. It was several minutes before they were alone again. Then she leaned across towards him. She had lit a cigarette now, and, although she was very thoughtful, she seemed more at her ease.
"Listen," she began. "I do not ask you to tell me anything more about that night—I do not wish to hear anything. Tell me instead exactly what it is that you want from me!"
"I want nothing more nor less," he answered gently, "than permission to be your friend and to possess a little more of your confidence. I want you to end this mystery which surrounds the things of which I have spoken."
"And supposing," she said thoughtfully, "supposing I find that my obligations to other people forbid me to discuss these matters any more with you?"
"I can only hope," he answered, "that you will not feel like that. Remember that these things must have some bearing upon the disappearance of Mr. Weatherley."
She rose to her feet with a little shrug of the shoulders and walked up and down the room for several moments, smoking and humming a light tune to herself. Arnold watched her, struggling all the time against the reluctant admiration with which she always inspired him. She seemed to read in his eyes what was passing in his mind, for when at last she came to a standstill she stood by his side and laughed at him, with faintly upraised eyebrows, the cigarette smoke curling from her lips.
"And it was for a luncheon such as this," she protested, "that I wore my new muslin gown and came all the way from the country. I expected compliments at least. Perhaps I even hoped," she whispered, leaning a little towards him, with a smile upon her lips,—half mirthful, half provocative,—"that I might have turned for a moment that wonderfully hard head of yours."
Arnold rose abruptly to his feet.
"You treat men as though they were puppets," he muttered.
"And you speak of puppets," she murmured, "as though theirs was a most undesirable existence. Have you never tried to be a puppet, Arnold?"
He stepped a little further back still and gripped the back of the chair, but she kept close to him.
"I am to have no other answer from you, then, but this foolery?" he demanded, roughly.
"Why, yes!" she replied, graciously. "I have an answer ready for you. You are so abrupt. Listen to what I propose. We will go together to your office and see whether it is true that Mr. Weatherley has not returned. If he has really disappeared, and I think that anything which I can tell you will help, perhaps then I will do as you ask. It depends a great deal upon what you find in those papers. Shall we go now, or would you like to stay here a little longer?"
"We will go at once," he said firmly.
She sighed, and passed out of the door which he had thrown open.
"It is I who am a heroine," she declared. "I am coming down to Tooley Street with you. I am coming to brave the smells and the fog and the heat."
He handed her into the car. He had sufficiently recovered his self-control to smile.
"In other words," he remarked, "you mean to be there when I open the safe!"
THE LETTERS IN THE SAFE
The arrival of Arnold, accompanied by Mrs. Weatherley, created a mild sensation in Tooley Street. Mr. Jarvis, fussier than ever, and blinking continually behind his gold-rimmed spectacles, followed them into the private office.
"You have heard nothing of Mr. Weatherley?" Arnold asked.
"Not a word," the cashier answered. "We have rung up several more places and have tried the hospitals again. We were all hoping that Mrs. Weatherley had brought us some news."
She shook her head.
"Mr. Weatherley left home exceedingly early this morning," she announced. "I believe that it was before half-past seven. Except that he called at the house in Hampstead for the letters, I have not heard of him since."
"It is most mysterious," Mr. Jarvis declared. "The governor—I beg your pardon, Mr. Weatherley—is a gentleman of most punctual habits. There are several matters of business which he knew awaited his decision to-day. You will excuse me, madam, if I ask whether Mr. Weatherley seemed in his usual health when he left this morning?"
Fenella smiled faintly.
"Have I not already told you," she said, "that he left the cottage in the country, where we spent the week-end, before half-past seven this morning? Naturally, therefore, I did not see him. The servants, however, noticed nothing unusual. Last night Mr. Chetwode here was with us, and he can tell you what was apparent to all of us. Mr. Weatherley seemed then in excellent health and spirits."
Mr. Jarvis had the air of a man hopelessly bewildered. Excellent servant though he was, nature had not bestowed upon him those gifts which enable a man to meet a crisis firmly.
"Can you suggest anything that we ought to do, madam?" he asked Mrs. Weatherley.
"I think," she replied, "that Mr. Chetwode has something to tell you."
Arnold took the key of the safe from his pocket and turned to the cashier.
"A few days ago, Mr. Jarvis," he said slowly, "Mr. Weatherley placed certain documents in that safe and gave me the key. My instructions from him were to open and examine them with you, if he should be, for any unexplained cause, absent from business."
Mr. Jarvis looked blankly incredulous.
"Goodness gracious!" he murmured weakly. "Why, that looks almost as though he expected something of the sort to happen."
"I think," Arnold continued, "that as it is now past three o'clock, and Mr. Weatherley is still absent, we had better open the safe."
He crossed the room as he spoke, fitted the key in the lock, and swung the door open. Mrs. Weatherley and the cashier looked over his shoulder. There were only the two letters there. One was addressed to Messrs. Turnbull & James, Solicitors; the other jointly to Mr. Jarvis and Mr. Arnold Chetwode.
"There is nothing there for me?" Mrs. Weatherley asked, incredulously.
"There is nothing at all," Arnold replied; "unless there may be an enclosure. Mr. Jarvis, will you open this envelope?"
Mr. Jarvis took it to the desk and broke the seal with trembling fingers. He smoothed the letter out, switched on the electric reading light, and they all read it at the same time. It was written in Mr. Weatherley's familiar hand, every letter of which was perfectly distinct and legible.
TO JARVIS AND CHETWODE.
This is a record of certain instructions which I wish carried out in the event of my unexplained absence from business at any time.
Firstly—The business is to continue exactly as usual, and my absence to be alluded to as little as possible. It can be understood that I am away on the Continent or elsewhere, on a business voyage.
Secondly—I have deposited a power of attorney at my solicitors, made out in the joint names of Henry Jarvis and Arnold Chetwode. This will enable you both to make and receive contracts on behalf of the firm. As regards financial affairs, Messrs. Neville, the accountants, have already the authority to sign cheques, and a representative from their firm will be in attendance each day, or according to your request. My letter to Messrs. Turnbull & James empowers them to make such payments as are necessary, on the joint application of you two, Henry Jarvis and Arnold Chetwode, to whom I address this letter.
Thirdly—I have the most implicit confidence in Henry Jarvis, who has been in my employ for so many years, and I beg him to understand that I associate with him one so much his junior, for certain reasons into which I beg that he will not inquire.
Fourthly—I repeat that I desire as little publicity as possible to be given to my absence, and that no money be spent on advertisements, or any other form of search. If within two years from the date of the opening of this letter, I have not been heard from further, I desire that the usual steps be taken to presume my decease. My will and all further particulars are with Messrs. Turnbull & James.
Fifthly—I desire you to pay to my wife the sum of five hundred pounds monthly. All other matters concerning my private estate, etc. are embodied in the letter to Messrs. Turnbull & James.
They all finished reading the letter about the same time. Mr. Jarvis' bewilderment grew deeper and deeper.
"This is the most extraordinary document I ever read in my life!" he exclaimed. "Why, it seems as though he had gone away somewhere of his own accord. After all, it can't be an accident, or anything of that sort."
Neither Arnold nor Mrs. Weatherley made any immediate reply. She pointed to the letter.
"When did he write this?" she asked.
"Last Thursday," Arnold replied; "less than a week ago."
She sighed softly.
"Really, it is most mysterious," she said. "I wonder whether he can have gone out of his mind suddenly, or anything of that sort."
"I have never," Mr. Jarvis declared, "known Mr. Weatherley to display so much acumen and zest in business as during the last few days. Some of his transactions have been most profitable. Every one in the place has remarked upon it."
Mrs. Weatherley took up the lace parasol which she had laid upon the office table.
"It is all most bewildering," she pronounced. "I think that it is no use my staying here any longer. I will leave you two to talk of it together. You have doubtless much business to arrange."
"Are you going back to Bourne End or to Hampstead?" Arnold asked.
"Really, I am not quite sure," she replied, meeting his gaze without flinching. "I am beginning to find the heat in town insufferable. I think, perhaps, that I shall go to Bourne End."
"In that case," Arnold said, "will you allow me to see you there to-night?"
"To-night?" she repeated, as though in surprise.
"Without a doubt."
She did not answer him for a moment. Meanwhile, the telephone rang, and Mr. Jarvis was presently engrossed in a business conversation with a customer. Arnold lowered his voice a little.
"Our discussion at luncheon was only postponed," he reminded her. "We have seen these documents. We know now that Mr. Weatherley had some reason to fear an interruption to his everyday life. Directly or indirectly, that interruption is connected with certain things of which you and I have spoken together. I am going to ask you, therefore, to keep your promise. I am going to ask you to tell me everything that you know."
"Are you not afraid," she asked, "that I shall consider you a very inquisitive young man?"
"I am afraid of nothing of the sort," Arnold replied. "Mr. Weatherley's disappearance is too serious a matter for me to take such trifles into account."
She pointed to the letter which still lay upon the table.
"Is it not his expressed wish that you should make no effort towards solving the reasons for his disappearance?"
"There is no reason," Arnold answered, doggedly, "why one should not attempt to understand them."
Mr. Jarvis had finished his telephoning. Fenella went up to him with outstretched hand.
"Mr. Jarvis," she said, "there is nothing more I can do here. I am very much upset. Will you take me out to my car, please? I know that you will do the very best you can without Mr. Weatherley, and I am glad that you have Mr. Chetwode to help you. I would come down myself sometimes," she added, "but I am sure that I should only be in the way. Good afternoon, Mr. Chetwode."
"You have not answered my question," he persisted.
She looked at him as a great lady would look at a presuming servant.
"I see no necessity," she replied. "I am too much upset to receive visitors to-day. If you are ready, Mr. Jarvis."
She left the room without even a backward glance, closely followed by the cashier. Arnold stood looking after the retreating figures for a moment, then he turned away with a hard little laugh. Once more he read and re-read Mr. Weatherley's letter. Before he had finished, Mr. Jarvis came bustling back into the room.
"Well!" he exclaimed, dramatically. "Well!"
Arnold looked across at him.
"It's a queer business, isn't it?" he remarked.
"Queer business, indeed!" Mr. Jarvis repeated, sitting down and wiping his forehead. "It's the most extraordinary thing I ever heard of in my life. One doesn't read about such things even in books. Mrs. Weatherley seems to take it quite calmly, but the more I think of it, the more confused I become. What are we to do? Shall we go to the police or write to the newspapers? Can't you suggest something?"
Arnold finally laid down the letter, which he now knew pretty well by heart.
"It seems to me, Mr. Jarvis," he said, "that the thing for us to do is to obey orders. Mr. Weatherley expressly writes that he wishes us to take his absence, so far as possible, as a matter of course, and to look after the business. The very fact that he puts it like that makes it quite clear to me that he intends to return. My idea is that we should follow the lines of his letter strictly."
"You are quite right, Chetwode," Mr. Jarvis decided. "I feel exactly that way about the matter myself. We'll go right ahead with those orders now, then, and we can have a chat about the matter again after business hours, if you don't mind. It's hard to reconcile oneself to taking this so easily, but I suppose it's the only thing to do. I'll get out in the warehouse now. You had better send that note round to Turnbull's by express messenger, and ring up Yardley's about the American contracts."
Mr. Jarvis bustled away. Arnold himself found plenty to do. The business of Messrs. Weatherley & Company must go on, whatever happened. He set himself sedulously to make his mind a complete blank. It was not until the offices were closed, and he turned at last westwards, that he permitted himself even to realize this strange thing that had happened. On that first walk was born an impulse which remained with him for many weeks afterwards. He found himself always scanning the faces of the streams of people whom he was continually passing, on foot and in vehicles, half expecting that somewhere among them he would catch a glimpse of the features of the lost Mr. Weatherley.
TALK OF TREASURE SHIPS
In the twilight of the long spring evening, Ruth sat waiting in the bare room which had been Arnold's habitation during these days of his struggle against poverty. She was sitting on the couch, drawn up as usual to the window, her elbows upon her knees, her hands supporting her delicate, thoughtful face. Already the color which the sunshine had brought seemed to have been drained from her cheeks. Her eyes were unnaturally bright, her expression seemed to have borrowed something of that wistful earnestness of one of the earlier Madonnas, seeking with pathetic strenuousness to discover the germs of a truth which was as yet unborn. The clouds, which hung low over the other side of the river, were tinged with an unusual coloring, smoke-stained as they hovered over the chimneys. They grew clearer and more full of amber color as they floated slowly southwards. Through the open window came the ceaseless roar of the city, the undernote of grinding, commonplace life, seeking always to stifle and enchain the thoughts which would escape. Before her was spread out a telegram. She had read it many times, until every word was familiar to her. It was from Arnold, and she had received it several hours ago.
Please be prepared to go out with me directly I return this evening. All well. Love. Arnold.
It was past eight o'clock before her vigil was at an end. She listened to his step upon the stairs, and, as he entered, looked at him with all the eagerness of a wistful child, tremulously anxious to read his expression. A little wave of tenderness swept in upon him. He forgot in a moment the anxieties and worries of the day, and greeted her gayly.
"You got my telegram?"
"You extravagant person!" she answered. "Yes, I have been ready for quite a long time."
"To tell you the truth, I didn't even pay for the telegram. As I had to stay late, I took the liberty of sending it through the firm's accounts. You see, I have become quite an important person in Tooley Street all of a sudden. I'll tell you about it presently. Now hold on tightly to your stick. I'm much too impatient to go down the steps one by one. I'm going to carry you all the way."
"But where to?" she asked.
"Leave it to me," he laughed. "There are all sorts of surprises for you. The lady with the wand has been busy."
He carried her downstairs, where, to her surprise, she found a taxicab waiting.
"But, Arnold," she exclaimed, "how could you think of such extravagance! You know I can walk quite easily a little distance, if I take your arm."
"I'll tell you all about it at dinner-time," he replied.
"Dinner-time?" she cried. "Dinner at this hour?"
"Why not? It's quite the fashionable hour, I can assure you, and, to tell you the truth, I am half starved."
She resigned herself with a sigh of content. After all, it was so delightful to drift like this with some one infinitely stronger to take the responsibility for everything. They drove to a large and popular restaurant close at hand, where Arnold ordered the dinner, with frequent corrections from Ruth, who sat with a menu-card in her hand. A band was playing the music of the moment. It was all very commonplace, but to Ruth it was like a living chapter out of her book of dreams. Even there, though, the shadow pursued. She could bear the silence no longer. She dropped her voice a little. The place was crowded and there were people at the next table.
"Before I touch anything, Arnold, tell me this. Is there any news of Isaac?"
"None at all," he replied. "It all seemed very alarming to us, but it seems to be fizzling out. There is only quite a small paragraph in the evening paper. You can read it, if you like."
He drew the Evening News from his pocket and passed it to her. The paragraph to which he pointed was headed—
ESCAPE OF AN ANARCHIST FROM ADAM STREET.
Up to the time of going to press, the man Isaac Lalonde, whom the police failed to arrest last night on a charge not at present precisely stated, has not been apprehended. The police are reticent about the matter, but it is believed that the missing man was connected with a dangerous band of anarchists who have lately come to this country.
"Poor Isaac!" she murmured, with a little shiver. "Do you know, I remember him years ago, when he was the kindest-hearted man breathing. He went to Russia to visit some of his mother's relatives, and when he came back everything was changed. He saw injustice everywhere, and it seemed almost to unbalance his mind. The very sight of the west-end, the crowds coming out of the theatres, the shops in Bond Street, seemed to send him half mad. And it all started, Arnold, with real pity for the poor. It isn't a personal matter with him at any time."
Arnold nodded thoughtfully.
"Poor chap!" he remarked. "Just at first I really used to like talking to him. He was so earnest, and so many of his arguments were absolutely sound."
"It is only lately," Ruth said, "that he has changed so much."
"I think it is quite time that you and he were separated," Arnold declared. "It is evident, nowadays, that he isn't responsible for his actions."
"Separated!" she repeated bitterly. "You talk as though I had a choice of homes."
"You have," he assured her. "However, we won't say anything about that just now. I want to talk about myself."
"And I want to listen, dear!" she exclaimed. "You must tell me what has happened, Arnie. Has Mr. Weatherley taken you into partnership, or has some one of your disagreeable relatives found you out and been pouring money into your pockets?"
"Neither," he replied. "As a matter of fact, there is no Mr. Weatherley just at present."
"No Mr. Weatherley?" she repeated, wonderingly. "I don't understand."
The slightly worn look came back to Arnold's face. Young and strong though he was, he was beginning to feel the strain of the last few days.
"A most extraordinary thing has happened, Ruth," he declared. "Mr. Weatherley has disappeared."
She looked at him blankly.
"Disappeared? I don't understand."
"He simply didn't turn up at business this morning," Arnold continued. "He left Bourne End about seven, and no one has set eyes on him since."
She was bewildered.
"But how is it that that makes such a difference to you?" she asked. "What can have happened to him?"
"No one knows," he explained; "but in a little safe, of which he had given me the keys, he left behind some letters with instructions that during his absence from business Mr. Jarvis and I should jointly take charge. I can't really imagine why I should have been put in such a position, but there it is. The solicitors have been down this afternoon, and I am drawing six pounds a week and a bonus."
She took his hand in hers and patted it gently.
"I am so very glad, Arnold," she said, "so very glad that the days of your loneliness are over. Now you will be able to go and take some comfortable rooms somewhere and make the sort of friends you ought to have. Didn't I always foretell it?" she went on. "I used to try and fancy sometimes that the ships we saw were bringing treasure for me, too, but I never really believed that. It wasn't quite likely."
He turned and looked at her. The first flush of excitement had left her cheeks. She was very pale, and her soft gray eyes shone like stars. Her mouth was tremulous. It was the passing of a single impulse of self-pity.
"Foolish little girl!" he exclaimed, under his breath. "You don't really suppose that the treasure which came for me wasn't yours, too? But there, we'll talk about our plans later on. At present, what you have to do is to eat and to drink that glass of Burgundy and to listen to me. I want to talk about myself."
It was the subtlest way to distract her thoughts. She listened to him with keen interest while he talked of his day's work. It was not until she mentioned Fenella's name that his face clouded over.
"Curiously enough, Mrs. Weatherley is displeased with me. I should have thought it entirely through her influence and suggestions that Mr. Weatherley had been so kind to me, but to-day I asked her some questions which I felt that I had a right to ask, and have been told to mind my own business. She left me at the office without even saying 'Good afternoon.'"