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The Mischief Maker
by E. Phillips Oppenheim
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THE MISCHIEF-MAKER

BY

E. PHILLIPS OPPENHEIM

AUTHOR OF "THE LIGHTED WAY," "THE TEMPTING OF TAVERNAKE," "HAVOC," ETC.

WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY HANSON BOOTH

1913



CONTENTS



BOOK ONE



CHAPTER

I SYMPATHY AND SELFISHNESS

II AN INDISCREET LETTER

III A RUINED CAREER

IV A BUNCH OF VIOLETS

V A SENTIMENTAL EPISODE

VI AT THE CAFE L'ATHENEE

VII COFFEE FOR THREE

VIII IN PARIS

IX MADAME CHRISTOPHOR

X BETTER ACQUAINTANCE

XI THE TOYMAKER FROM LEIPZIG

XII AT THE RAT MORT

XIII POLITICS AND PATRIOTISM

XIV THE MORNING AFTER

XV BEHIND CLOSED DOORS

XVI "HAVE YOU EVER LOVED?"

XVII KENDRICKS IS HOST

XVIII A MEETING OF SOCIALISTS

XIX AN OFFER

XX FALKENBERG ACTS



BOOK TWO



CHAPTER



I THE FLIGHT OF LADY ANNE

II "TO OUR NEW SELVES"

III WORK FOR JULIEN

IV A STARTLING DISCLOSURE

V THE FIRST ARTICLE

VI FALKENBERG FAILS

VII LADY ANNE DECLINES

VIII A DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE

IX FOOLHARDY JULIEN

X THE SECOND ATTEMPT

XI BY THE PRINCE'S ORDERS

XII DISTRESSING NEWS

XIII ESTERMEN'S DEATH WARRANT

XIV SANCTUARY

XV NEARING A CRISIS

XVI FALKENBERG'S LAST REPORT

XVII DEFEAT FOR FALKENBERG

XVIII THE ONE WAY OUT

XIX ALL ENDS WELL



ILLUSTRATIONS

"Really," he said, "I thought better of Herr Freudenberg"

"At least," she reminded him, "you are going to see Madame Christophor?"

"Splendid!" he muttered, rising to his feet. "If only I can do it!"

"Let me present to you Monsieur Bourgan of the French Detective Service"



BOOK ONE



CHAPTER I

SYMPATHY AND SELFISHNESS

The girl who was dying lay in an invalid chair piled up with cushions in a sheltered corner of the lawn. The woman who had come to visit her had deliberately turned away her head with a murmured word about the sunshine and the field of buttercups. Behind them was the little sanitarium, a gray stone villa built in the style of a chateau, overgrown with creepers, and with terraced lawns stretching down to the sunny corner to which the girl had been carried earlier in the day. There were flowers everywhere—beds of hyacinths, and borders of purple and yellow crocuses. A lilac tree was bursting into blossom, the breeze was soft and full of life. Below, beyond the yellow-starred field of which the woman had spoken, flowed the Seine, and in the distance one could see the outskirts of Paris.

"The doctor says I am better," the girl whispered plaintively. "This morning he was quite cheerful. I suppose he knows, but it is strange that I should feel so weak—weaker even day by day. And my cough—it tears me to pieces all the time."

The woman who was bending over her gulped something down in her throat and turned her head. Although older than the invalid whom she had come to visit, she was young and very beautiful. Her cheeks were a trifle pale, but even without the tears her eyes were almost the color of violets.

"The doctor must know, dear Lucie," she declared. "Our own feelings so often mean nothing at all."

The girl moved a little uneasily in her chair. She, also, had once been pretty. Her hair was still an exquisite shade of red-gold, but her cheeks were thin and pinched, her complexion had gone, her clothes fell about her. She seemed somehow shapeless.

"Yes," she agreed, "the doctor knows—he must know. I see it in his manner every time he comes to visit me. In his heart," she added, dropping her voice, "he must know that I am going to die."

Her eyes seemed to have stiffened in their sockets, to have become dilated. Her lips trembled, but her eyes remained steadfast.

"Oh! madame," she sobbed, "is it not cruel that one should die like this! I am so young. I have seen so little of life. It is not just, madame—it is not just!"

The woman who sat by her side was shaking. Her heart was torn with pity. Everywhere in the soft, sunlit air, wherever she looked, she seemed to read in letters of fire the history of this girl, the history of so many others.

"We will not talk of death, dear," she said. "Doctors are so wonderful, nowadays. There are so few diseases which they cannot cure. They seem to snatch one back even from the grave. Besides, you are so young. One does not die at nineteen. Tell me about this man—Eugene, you called him. He has never once been to see you—not even when you were in the hospital?"

The girl began to tremble.

"Not once," she murmured.

"You are sure that he had your letters? He knows that you are out here and alone?"

"Yes, he knows!"

There was a short silence. The woman found it hard to know what to say. Somewhere down along the white, dusty road a man was grinding the music of a threadbare waltz from an ancient barrel-organ. The girl closed her eyes.

"We used to hear that sometimes," she whispered, "at the cafes. At one where we went often they used to know that I liked it and they always played it when we came. It is queer to hear it again—like this.... Oh, when I close my eyes," she muttered, "I am afraid! It is like shutting out life for always."

The woman by her side got up. Lucie caught at her skirt.

"Madame, you are not going yet?" she pleaded. "Am I selfish? Yet you have not stayed with me so long as yesterday, and I am so lonely."

The woman's face had hardened a little.

"I am going to find that man," she replied. "I have his address. I want to bring him to you."

The girl's hold upon her skirt tightened.

"Sit down," she begged. "Do not leave me. Indeed it is useless. He knows. He does not choose to come. Men are like that. Oh! madame, I have learned my lesson. I know now that love is a vain thing. Men do not often really feel it. They come to us when we please them, but afterwards that does not count. I suppose we were meant to be sacrificed. I have given up thinking of Eugene. He is afraid, perhaps, of the infection. I think that I would sooner go out of life as I lie here, cold and unloved, than have him come to me unwillingly."

The woman could not hide her tears any longer. There was something so exquisitely fragile, so strangely pathetic, in that prostrate figure by her side.

"But, my dear," she faltered,—

"Madame," the girl interrupted, "hold my hand for a moment. That is the doctor coming. I hear his footstep. I think that I must sleep."

Madame Christophor—she had another name, but there were few occasions on which she cared to use it—was driven back to Paris, in accordance with her murmured word of instruction, at a pace which took little heed of police regulations or even of safety. Through the peaceful lanes, across the hills into the suburbs, and into the city itself she passed, at a speed which was scarcely slackened even when she turned into the Boulevard which was her destination. Glancing at the slip of paper which she held in her hand, she pulled the checkstring before a tall block of buildings. She hurried inside, ascended two flights of stairs, and rang the bell of a door immediately opposite her. A very German-looking manservant opened it after the briefest of delays—a man with fair moustache, fat, stolid face and inquisitive eyes.

"Is your master in," she demanded, "Monsieur Estermen?"

The man stared at her, then bowed. The appearance of Madame Christophor was, without doubt, impressive.

"I will inquire, madame," he replied.

"I am in a hurry," she said curtly. "Be so good as to let your master know that."

A moment later she was ushered into a sitting-room—a man's apartment, untidy, reeking of cigarette smoke and stale air. There were photographs and souvenirs of women everywhere. The windows were fast-closed and the curtains half-drawn. The man who stood upon the hearthrug was of medium height, dark, with close-cropped hair and a black, drooping moustache. His first glance at his visitor, as the door opened, was one of impertinent curiosity.

"Madame?" he inquired.

"You are Monsieur Estermen?"

He bowed. He was very much impressed and he endeavored to assume a manner.

"That is my name. Pray be seated."

She waved away the chair he offered.

"My automobile is in the street below," she said. "I wish you to come with me at once to see a poor girl who is dying."

He looked at her in amazement.

"Are you serious, madame?"

"I am very serious indeed," she replied. "The girl's name is Lucie Renault."

For the moment he seemed perplexed. Then his eyebrows were slowly raised.

"Lucie Renault," he repeated. "What do you know about her?"

"Only that she is a poor child who has suffered at your hands and who is dying in a private hospital," Madame Christophor answered. "She has been taken there out of charity. She has no friends, she is dying alone. Come with me. I will take you to her. You shall save her at least from that terror."

It was the aim of the man with whom she spoke to be considered modern. A perfect and invincible selfishness had enabled him to reach the topmost heights of callousness, and to remain there without affectation.

"If the little girl is dying," he said, "I am sorry, for she was pretty and companionable, although I have lost sight of her lately. But as to my going out to see her, why, that is absurd. I hate illness of all sorts."

The woman looked at him steadfastly, looked at him as though she had come into contact with some strange creature.

"Do you understand what it is that I am saying?" she demanded. "This girl was once your little friend, is it not so? It was for your sake that she gave up the simple life she was living when you first knew her, and went upon the stage. The life was too strenuous for her. She broke down, took no care of herself, developed a cough and alas! tuberculosis."

The man sighed. He had adopted an expression of abstract sympathy.

"A terrible disease," he murmured.

"A terrible disease indeed," Madame Christophor repeated. "Do you not understand what I mean when I tell you that she is dying of it? Very likely she will not live a week—perhaps not a day. She lies there alone in the garden of the hospital and she is afraid. There are none who knew her, whom she cares for, to take her into their arms and to bid her have no fear. Is it not your place to do this? You have held her in your arms in life. Don't you see that it is your duty to cheer her a little way on this last dark journey?"

The man threw away his cigarette and moved to the mantelpiece, where he helped himself to a fresh one from the box.

"Madame," he said, "I perceive that you are a sentimentalist."

She did not speak—she could not. She only looked at him.

"Death," he continued, lighting his cigarette, "is an ugly thing. If it came to me I should probably be quite as much afraid—perhaps more—than any one else. But it has not come to me just yet. It has come, you tell me, to little Lucie. Well, I am sorry, but there is nothing I can do about it. I have no intention whatever of making myself miserable. I do not wish to see her. I do not wish to look upon death, I simply wish to forget it. If it were not, madame," he added, with a bow and a meaning glance from his dark eyes, "that you bring with you something of your own so well worth looking upon, I could almost find myself regretting your visit."

She still regarded him fixedly. There was in her face something of that shrinking curiosity with which one looks upon an unclean and horrible thing.

"That is your answer?" she murmured.

The man had little understanding and he replied boldly.

"It is my answer, without a doubt. Lucie, if what you tell me is true, as I do not for a moment doubt, is dying from a disease the ravages of which are hideous to watch, and which many people believe, too, to be infectious. Let me advise you, madame, to learn also a little wisdom. Let me beg of you not to be led away by these efforts of sentiment, however picturesque and delightful they may seem. The only life that is worth considering is our own. The only death that we need fear is our own. We ought to live like that."

The woman stood quite still. She was tall and she was slim. Her figure was exquisite. She was famous throughout the city for her beauty. The man's eyes dwelt upon her and the eternal expression crept slowly into his face. He seemed to understand nothing of the shivering horror with which she was regarding him.

"If it were upon any other errand, madame," he continued, leaning towards her, "believe, I pray you, that no one would leave this room to become your escort more willingly than I."

She turned away.

"You will not leave me already?" he begged.

"Monsieur," she declared, as she threw open the door before he could reach it, "if I thought that there were many men like you in the world, if I thought—"

She never finished her sentence. The emotions which had seized her were entirely inexpressible. He shrugged his shoulders.

"My dear lady," he said, "let me assure you that there is not a man of the world in this city who, if he spoke honestly, would not feel exactly as I do. Allow me at least to see you to your automobile."

"If you dare to move," she muttered, "if you dare—"

She swept past him and down the stairs into the street. She threw herself into the corner of the automobile. The chauffeur looked around.

"Where to, madame?" he inquired.

She hesitated for a moment. She had affairs of her own, but the thought of the child's eyes came up before her.

"Back to the hospital," she ordered. "Drive quickly."

They rushed from Paris once more into the country, with its spring perfumes, its soft breezes, its restful green, but fast though they drove another messenger had outstripped them. From the little chapel, as the car rolled up the avenue, came the slow tolling of a bell. Madame Christophor stood on the corner of the lawn alone. The invalid chair was empty. The blinds of the villa were being slowly lowered. She turned around and looked toward the city. It seemed to her that she could see into the rooms of the man whom she had left a few minutes ago. A lark was singing over her head. She lifted her eyes and looked past him up to the blue sky. Her lips moved, but never a sound escaped her. Yet the man who sat in his rooms at that moment, yawning and wondering where to spend the evening, and which companion he should summon by telephone to amuse him, felt a sudden shiver in his veins.



CHAPTER II

AN INDISCREET LETTER

The library of the house in Grosvenor Square was spacious, handsome and ornate. Mr. Algernon H. Carraby, M.P., who sat dictating letters to a secretary in an attitude which his favorite photographer had rendered exceedingly familiar, at any rate among his constituents, was also, in his way, handsome and ornate. Mrs. Carraby, who had just entered the room, fulfilled in an even greater degree these same characteristics. It was acknowledged to be a very satisfactory household.

"I should like to speak to you for a moment, Algernon," his wife announced.

Mr. Carraby noticed for the first time that she was carrying a letter in her hand. He turned at once to his secretary.

"Haskwell," he said, "kindly return in ten minutes."

The young man quitted the room. Mrs. Carraby advanced a few steps further towards her husband. She was tall, beautifully dressed in the latest extreme of fashion. Her movements were quiet, her skin a little pale, and her eyebrows a little light. Nevertheless, she was quite a famous beauty. Men all admired her without any reservations. The best sort of women rather mistrusted her.

"Is that the letter, Mabel?" her husband asked, with an eagerness which he seemed to be making some effort to conceal.

She nodded slowly. He held out his hand, but she did not at once part with it.

"Algernon," she said quietly, "you know that I am not very scrupulous. We both of us want success—a certain sort of success—and we have both of us been content to pay the price. You have spent a good deal of money and you have succeeded very well indeed. Somehow or other, I feel to-day as though I were spending more than money."

He laughed a little uncomfortably.

"My dear Mabel!" he protested. "You are not going to back out, are you?"

"No," she replied, "I do not think that I shall back out. There is nothing in the whole world I want so much as to have you a Cabinet Minister. If there had been any other way—"

"But there is no other way," her husband interrupted. "So long as Julien Portel lives, I should never get my chance. He holds the post I want. Every one knows that he is clever. He has the ear of the Prime Minister and he hates me. My only chance is his retirement."

Mrs. Carraby looked at the letter.

"Well," she said, "I have played your game for you. I have gone even to the extent of being talked about with Julien Portel."

Her husband moved uneasily in his chair.

"That will all blow over directly," he declared. "Besides, if—if things go our way, we shan't see much more of Portel. Give me the letter."

Still she hesitated. It was curious that throughout the slow evolution of this scheme to break a man's life, for which she was mainly responsible, she had never hesitated until this moment. Always it had been fixed in her mind that Algernon was to be a Cabinet Minister; she was to be the wife of a Cabinet Minister. That there were any other things greater in life than the gratification of so reasonable an ambition had never seemed possible. Now she hesitated. She looked at her husband and she saw him with new eyes. He seemed suddenly a mean little person. She thought of the other man and there was a strange quiver in her heart—a very unexpected sensation indeed. There was a difference in the breed. It came home to her at that moment. She found herself even wondering, as she swung the letter idly between her thumb and fore-finger, whether she would have been a different woman if she had had a different manner of husband.

"The letter!" he repeated.

She laid it calmly on the desk before him.

"Of course," she said coldly, "if you find the contents affectionate you must remember that I am in no way responsible. This was your scheme. I have done my best."

The man's fingers trembled slightly as he broke the seal.

"Naturally," he agreed, pausing for an instant and looking up at her. "I knew that I could trust you or I would never have put such an idea into your head."

She laughed; a characteristic laugh it was, quite cold, quite mirthless, apparently quite meaningless. Carraby turned back to the letter, tore open the envelope and spread it out before them. He read it out aloud in a sing-song voice.

Downing Street. Tuesday

MY DEAREST MABEL,

I had your sweet little note an hour ago. Of course I was disappointed about luncheon, as I always am when I cannot see you. Your promise to repay me, however, almost reconciles me.

The man looked up at his wife.

"Promise?" he repeated hoarsely. "What does he mean?"

"Go on," she said, with unchanged expression. "See if what you want is there."

The man continued to read:

I am going to ask you a very great favor, Mabel. When we are alone together, I talk to you with absolute freedom. To write you on matters connected with my office is different. I know very well how deep and sincere your interest in politics really is, and it has always been one of my greatest pleasures, when with you, to talk things over and hear your point of view. Without flattery, dear, I have really more than once found your advice useful. It is your understanding which makes our companionship always a pleasure to me, and I rely upon that when I beg you not to ask me to write you again on matters to which I have really no right to allude. You do not mind this, dear? And having read you my little lecture, I will answer your question. Yes, the Cabinet Council was held exactly as you surmise. With great difficulty I persuaded B—— to adopt my view of the situation. They are all much too terrified of this war bogey. For once I had my own way. Our answer to this latest demand from Berlin was a prompt and decisive negative. Nothing of this is to be known for at least a week.

I am sorry your husband is such a bear. Perhaps on Monday we may meet at Cardington House?

Please destroy this letter at once.

Ever affectionately yours,

JULIEN.

The man's eyes, as he read, grew brighter.

"It is enough?" the woman asked.

"It is more than enough!"

Slowly he replaced it in its envelope and thrust it into the breast-pocket of his coat.

"What are you going to do with it?" she inquired.

"I have made my plans," he answered. "I know exactly how to make the best and most dignified use of it."

He rose to his feet. Something in his wife's expression seemed to disturb him. He walked a few steps toward the door and came back again.

"Mabel," he said, "are you glad?"

"Naturally I am glad," she replied.

"You have no regrets?"

Again she laughed.

"Regrets?" she echoed. "What are they? One doesn't think about such things, nowadays."

They stood quite still in the centre of that very handsome apartment. They were almost alien figures in the world in which they moved, Carraby, the rankest of newcomers, carried into political life by his wife's ambitions, his own self-amassed fortune, and a sort of subtle cunning—a very common substitute for brains; Mrs. Carraby, on whom had been plastered an expensive and ultra-fashionable education, although she was able perhaps more effectually to conceal her origin, the daughter of a rich Yorkshire manufacturer, who had secured a paid entrance into Society. They were purely artificial figures for the very reason that they never admitted any one of these facts to themselves, but talked always the jargon of the world to which they aspired, as though they were indeed denizens therein by right. At that moment, though, a single natural feeling shook the man, shook his faith in himself, in life, in his destiny. There was Jewish blood in his veins and it made itself felt.

"Mabel," he began, "this man Portel—you've flirted with him, you say?"

"I have most certainly flirted with him," she admitted quietly.

"He hasn't dared—"

A flash of scorn lit her cold eyes.

"I think," she said, "that you had better ask me no questions of that sort."

Carraby went slowly out. Already the moment was passing. Of course he could trust his wife! Besides, in his letter was the death warrant of the man who stood between him and his ambitions. Mrs. Carraby listened to his footsteps in the hall, heard his suave reply to his secretary, heard his orders to the footman who let him out. From where she stood she watched him cross the square. Already he had recovered his alert bearing. His shoes and his hat were glossy, his coat was of an excellent fit. The woman watched him without movement or any change of expression.



CHAPTER III

A RUINED CAREER

Sir Julien Portel stood in the middle of his bedroom, dressed in shirt and trousers only. The sofa and chairs around him were littered with portions of the brilliant uniform which he had torn from his person a few minutes before with almost feverish haste. His perplexed servant, who had only just arrived, was doing his best to restore the room to some appearance of order.

"You needn't mind those wretched things for the present, Richards," his master ordered sharply. "Bring the rest of the tweed traveling suit like the trousers I have on, and then see about packing some clothes."

The man ceased his task. He looked around, a little bewildered.

"Do I understand that you are going out of town tonight, Sir Julien?" he asked.

"I am going on to the continent by the nine o'clock train," was the curt reply.

Richards was a perfectly trained servant, but the situation was too much for him.

"You will excuse me, Sir Julien," he said, "but there is Lord Cardington's dinner tonight, and the reception afterwards at the Foreign Office. I have your court clothes ready."

His master laughed shortly.

"I am not attending the dinner or the reception, Richards. You can put those things back again and get me the traveling clothes."

The man seemed a little dazed, but turned automatically towards the wardrobe.

"Shall you require me to accompany you, sir?" he inquired.

"Not at present," Sir Julien replied. "You will have to come on with the rest of my luggage when I have decided what to do."

Richards was not more than ordinarily inquisitive, but the circumstances were certainly unusual.

"Do you mean, sir, that you will not be returning to London at present?" he ventured to ask.

"I shall not be returning to London for some time," Sir Julien answered sharply. "Get on with the packing as quickly as you can. Put the whiskey and soda on the table in the sitting-room, and the cigarettes. Remember, if any one comes I am not at home."

"Too late, my dear fellow," a voice called out from the adjoining room. "You see, I have found my way up unannounced—a bad habit, but my profession excuses everything."

The man stood on the threshold of the room opening out from the bedroom—tall, florid, untidily dressed, with clean-shaven, humorous face, ungloved hands, and a terribly shabby hat. He looked around the room and shrugged his shoulders.

"What an infernal mess!" he exclaimed. "Come along out into the sitting-room, Julien. I want to talk to you."

"I should like to know how the devil you got in here!" Sir Julien muttered. "I told the fellow downstairs that no one was to be allowed up."

"He did try to make himself disagreeable," the newcomer replied. "However, here I am—that's enough."

Sir Julien turned to his servant.

"Get on with your packing, Richards," he directed, "and let me know when you have finished."

Sir Julien followed his visitor into the sitting-room, closing the door behind him. His manner was not in the least cordial.

"Look here, Kendricks, old fellow," he said, "I don't want to be rude, but I am not in the humor to talk to any one. I have had a rotten week of it and just about as much as I can stand. Help yourself to a whiskey and soda, say what you have to say and then go."

The newcomer nodded. He helped himself to the whiskey and soda, but he seemed in no hurry to speak. On the contrary, he settled himself down in an easy-chair with the appearance of a man who had come to stay.

"Julien," he remarked presently, "you are up against it—up against it rather hard. Don't trouble to interrupt me. I know pretty well all about it. I said from the first you'd have to resign. There wasn't any other way out of it."

"Quite right," Julien agreed. "There wasn't. I've finished up everything to-day—resigned my office, applied for the Chiltern Hundreds, and I am going to clear out of the country to-night."

"And all because you wrote a foolish letter to a woman!" Kendricks murmured, half to himself. "By the bye, there's no doubt about the letter, I suppose?"

"None in the world," Julien replied.

"There's nothing that the Press can do to set you right?"

"Great heavens, no!" Julien declared. "No one can help me. I've no one to blame but myself. I wrote the letter—there the matter ends."

"And she passed it on to that shocking little bounder of a husband of hers! What a creature! Did it ever occur to you that it was a plot?"

Julien shrugged his shoulders.

"It makes so little difference."

"You were in Carraby's way," Kendricks continued, producing a pipe from his pocket and leisurely filling it. "There was no getting past you and you were a young man. It's a dirty business."

"If you don't mind," Julien said coldly, "we won't discuss it any further. So far as I am concerned, the whole matter is at an end. I was compelled to take part in to-day's mummery. I hated it—that they all knew. I suppose it's foolish to mind such things, David," he went on bitterly, taking up a cigarette and throwing himself into a chair, "but a year ago—it was just after I came back from Berlin and you may remember it was the fancy of the people to believe that I had saved the country from war—they cheered me all the way from Whitehall to the Mansion House. To-day there was only a dull murmur of voices—a sort of doubting groan. I felt it, Kendricks. It was like Hell, that ride!"

Kendricks nodded sympathetically.

"I suppose you know that a version of the letter is in the evening papers?" he asked.

"My resignation will be in the later issues," Julien told him. "It was pretty well known yesterday afternoon. I leave for the continent to-night."

There was a short silence between the two men. In a sense they had been friends all their lives. Sir Julien Portel had been a successful politician, the youngest Cabinet Minister for some years. Kendricks had never aspired to be more than a clever journalist of the vigorous type. Nevertheless, they had been more than ordinarily intimate.

"Have you made any plans?" Kendricks inquired presently. "Of course, you would have to resign office, but don't you think there might be a chance of living it down?"

"Not a chance on earth," Julien replied. "As to what I am going to do, don't ask me. For the immediate present I am going to lose myself in Normandy or somewhere. Afterwards I think I shall move on to my old quarters in Paris. There's always a little excitement to be got out of life there."

Kendricks looked at his friend through the cloud of tobacco smoke.

"It's excitement of rather a dangerous order," he remarked slowly.

"I shall never be likely to forget that I am an Englishman," Julien said. "Perhaps I may be able to do something to set matters right again. One can't tell. By the bye, Kendricks," he went on, "do you remember when we were at college how you hated women? How you used to try and trace half the things that went wrong in life to their influence?"

The journalist nodded. He knocked the ashes from his pipe deliberately.

"I was a boy in those days," he declared. "I am a man now, getting on toward middle age, and on that one subject I am as rabid as ever. I hate their meddling in men's affairs, shoving themselves into politics, always whispering in a man's ear under pretence of helping him with their sympathy. They're in evidence wherever you go—women, women, women! The place reeks with them. You can't go about your work, hour by hour or day by day, without having them on every side of you. It's like a poison, this trail of them over every piece of serious work we attempt, over every place we find our way into. They bang the typewriters in our offices, they elbow us in the streets, they smile at us from the next table at our workaday luncheon, they crowd the tubes and the cars and the cabs in the streets. Why the deuce, Julien, can't we treat them like those sage Orientals, and dump them all in one place where they belong till we've finished our work?"

Julien lifted his tumbler of whiskey and soda to his lips and set it down empty.

"In a way, you're right, Kendricks," he agreed. "You go too far, of course, but I do believe that women hold too big a place in our lives. I am one of the poor fools who goes to the wall to gratify the vanity of one of them."

The journalist muttered a word under his breath which he would have been very sorry to have seen in the pages of his paper. Julien had moved to the open window. There had been a little break in his voice. No one knew better than Kendricks that a very brilliant career was broken.

"I think you're wise to go away for a time, Julien," he decided. "Look here, it's six o'clock now. I have a taxicab waiting downstairs. Come round to my rotten little restaurant in Soho and dine with me. Your fellow can meet us at Charing-Cross with your things. You won't see a soul you know where I'm going to take you."

Julien turned slowly away from the window. He was looking for the last time from those rooms at the London which he had loved. The setting sun had caught the dome of St. Paul's, was flashing from the dark, placid water of the Thames. The roar of the great city was passing from eastwards to westwards.

"You're a good chap, Kendricks," he declared. "I'll come along, with pleasure. I shall have enough solitude later on. But listen, before we go—listen, David, to a speech after your own heart."

Julien stood quite still for a moment. His pale face seemed suddenly whiter, his eyes were full of fire.

"David," he said, "if ever the time comes in the future when I find that a woman is beginning to claim a minute of my thoughts, a single one of my emotions, to govern the slightest throb of my pulses, I'll take her by the throat and I'll throw her out of what's left of my life as I would a rat that had crept into my room. I've done with them. Curse all women!"

There was a silence. Kendricks leaned over to the fireplace and knocked his pipe against the hearth. Then he suddenly paused.

"What's that?" he asked abruptly.

There was a soft knocking at the outside door.



CHAPTER IV

A BUNCH OF VIOLETS

Kendricks rose slowly to his feet. Julien was looking toward the door with a frown upon his face. While they stood there the knocking was repeated, still soft but a little more insistent. Julien hesitated no longer.

"I think," Kendricks said dryly, "that you had better see who is there."

The door was already opened. Julien seemed suddenly transformed into a graven image. He said nothing, merely gazing at the woman who walked calmly past him into the room. Kendricks, who also recognized her, withdrew his pipe from his mouth. This was a situation indeed! The woman, with her hands inside her muff, looked from one to the other of the two men.

"Am I interrupting a very important interview?" she asked calmly. "If not, perhaps you could spare me five minutes of your time, Sir Julien?"

Kendricks recovered himself at once.

"I'll wait for you downstairs, Julien," he declared.

He caught up his hat and departed, closing the door after him. Julien was still motionless.

"Well?" she began.

He drew a little breath. He was beginning to regain his self-possession.

"My dear Mrs. Carraby," he said, "with your wonderful knowledge of the world and its ways, will you permit me to point out that your presence here is a little embarrassing to me and might, under certain circumstances, be a good deal more embarrassing to you?"

Mrs. Carraby smiled. She stood where the sunlight touched her brown hair and her quiet, pale face. She was one of those women who are never afraid of the light. Her face was of that strange, self-contained nature, colorless, apparently, yet capable of strange and rapid changes. Just now the last glow of sunlight seemed to have found a skein of gold in her hair, a queer gleam of light in her eyes. She stood there looking at the man whom she had come to visit.

"Julien," she said, "I wanted a few words with you."

It was impossible for him to remain altogether unmoved. Whatever else might be the truth, she had risked most of the things that were dear to her in life by this visit.

"Mrs. Carraby," he declared, "I am entirely at your service. If you think that any useful purpose can be served by words between you and me, I would only point out, for your own sake, that your visit is, to say the least of it, unwise. These are bachelor chambers."

"You know very well," she replied calmly, "that it was my only chance of speaking with you. If I had sent for you, you would not have come. If I had spoken to you in the street, you would have passed me by—quite rightly. This was my only chance. That is why I have come to you."

"If you think it worth the risk," he remarked gravely, "pray continue."

She shrugged her shoulders very slightly.

"Who can tell what is worth the risk?"

"You have at least excited my curiosity," he admitted, leaning a little towards her. "I cannot conceive what it is that you want to say to me."

She lifted her eyes to his, and though there was nothing unusual about them—there were few people, indeed, who could tell you what color they were—men seldom forgot it when Mrs. Carraby looked at them steadily.

"I do not know, myself," she said. "I do not know why I have come."

Julien laughed unnaturally.

"Pray be seated," he begged. "Would you like to examine my curios or my photographs? I must apologize for the condition of my room. You see, you happen to be the first woman who has ever crossed its threshold."

"That," she remarked, "rather interests me. Still, it is only what I should have expected. No, I do not think that I will sit down. I am trying to ask myself exactly why I have come."

"If you can answer that question," Julien said grimly, "you will appease a very natural curiosity on my part. It is not like you."

"Quite true," she assented. "It is not like me. I have run a great risk in coming here and it is not my metier to run risks. And now that I am here I do not know why I have come. This has been an impulse and this is an hour outside my life. I am trying to understand it. Come here, Julien." He came unwillingly to her side. She held out her hand, but he shook his head.

"Mabel," he said, "you and I do not need to mince words. To-night I am celebrating the ruin of my career. I am leaving England within a few hours. I have you to thank for what has happened. Yet you come to me, you hold out your hand. You must forgive me—I am afraid I am dull."

"No," she replied, "you are not dull. Your feelings towards me are obvious and very natural. Mine towards you I am not so sure of. It is not because I did not understand you that I came here to-night. It is because I did not understand myself. May I go on?"

"Why not?" he answered. "I am at your service."

"From the days of my boarding-school," she continued, "I have known only one Mabel. In her girlhood she had all that she could get out of life and turned everything she could to her own ends. A marriage was arranged for her—you see, I was half a Jewess and my husband was half a Jew, and things are done like that with us. The marriage opened the door to a fresh set of ambitions. For the last few years I have trodden a well-worn path. It was I who advised my husband to refuse a baronetcy. It was I who won his first election. I see that my photographs are in all the illustrated papers, that his speeches are properly recorded, that my visiting list moves within the correct limits. These things have spelt life. To the fulfillment of my husband's ambitions there was one obstacle. That obstacle was you. In life one schemes. It was my husband's wish that I should make myself agreeable to you, even to the extent of a flirtation."

She raised her eyes.

"Your obedience to your husband is most touching," he said.

"It is true, I suppose," she went on, "that we have flirted. I looked upon it as the means to an end. The end came. I played my cards quite ruthlessly, I gathered in the reward. I got your letter, I handed it to my husband. Your career was finished, my husband's begun."

"This is most interesting," Julien muttered.

"Is it?" she answered. "I suppose it should have been an hour of triumph with me. It simply isn't. I have come to a place in my life which I don't understand. When I told myself that it was over, that I had flirted with you, that I had won your friendship and your confidence, betrayed you, ruined you for a peerage and that my husband should take office, I should surely have been satisfied! It was for that I had worked. I gave my husband the letter and I watched him walk off in triumph. Since then I have not been myself. I have come to you, Julien, to ask if there is no other end possible to this?"

Once more she raised her eyes. Julien came a step nearer to her. They were standing now face to face.

"All of a sudden," she murmured, "I looked back and I saw the way I have lived and the way I am living and the life that spreads itself out before me. I saw myself a peeress, I saw myself receiving my husband's guests, I saw the gratification of all those ambitions which have seemed to me so wonderful. And I locked the door and I shrieked and it seemed to me that there was a new thing and a new thought in my life. I have done you a hideous wrong, Julien. There is only one way I can set it right. There is only one moment in which it can be done, and that moment is now. Tomorrow I shall be back again. For this one hour I see the truth. I am a very rich woman, Julien. My husband's future, indeed, is largely bound up with my wealth. Remember that in all I have done I have been his agent. He hates you, has hated you from the first because you were a gentleman and he never was. This is my one moment of madness in a perfectly well-ordered life."

One of her hands stole from her muff, stole out half-hesitatingly towards him. Julien took it in his and raised it to his lips. Then he looked her in the eyes.

"Dear Mabel," he said, "you are forgiven. I understand perfectly the reasons for your coming. Go back to your husband, wear your coronet and receive his guests with a free conscience. I forgive you."

Her hand slipped back into her muff. She began to tremble a little.

"As for me," he went on, "I played the fool and I pay willingly. I was engaged to marry a very charming girl who believed in me and whom I cared for as much as it was possible for me to care for anything outside my career. I flirted with you because it was a piquant thing to do. You were a woman whom other men found difficult, you were the wife of a man whom I despised and who was trying all the time to undermine my position. I sacrificed my self-respect every time I crossed your threshold. To-day I pay. I am willing. As for you, Mabel, your visit here shall square things between us. I wish you the best of luck. You must let me ring for my servant. He will find you a taxicab."

He moved toward the bell. Mrs. Carraby, with her hands inside her muff, stood exactly as though she were part of the furniture of the room. With his finger upon the ivory disc, he hesitated. She was not looking towards him and her eyes were half closed.

"Perhaps," he suggested, "you would rather find your way out alone? I will not offer my escort, for obvious reasons."

She turned slowly round.

"Do not ring," she ordered sharply. "Come here."

He came at once towards her. She took both his hands in hers, she leaned towards him. She was a tall woman and they were very nearly the same height.

"Julien," she whispered, "is this all that you have to say to me?"

"It is more," Julien replied frankly, "than I expected ever to have to say to you again in this world. What do you expect? You don't think that I am the kind of man to—but that is absurd! Come. We'll part friends, if you like. Here's my hand."

"We must part, then?" she said.

He shrugged his shoulders.

"Unless a walking tour in Normandy for a month appeals to you. You see, I am going to take a holiday, and I have a fancy that our ideas on the subject of holidays might not exactly agree."

"A holiday," she repeated. "I am not sure—do you know, Julien, I sometimes believe that I have never had a holiday in my life?"

He looked at her doubtingly.

"After all," she continued, "can't you see that I have come here to ask you one question? You are different from the people I have known intimately and the people with whom I have been brought up, different from my husband. You know what my life has been. I have told you just now that the great doubt has come to me within the last few days. Won't you tell me what I want to know? Is there anything better, anything greater, anything more wonderful in life than these things which I have known, these ambitions, this social struggle? Tell me, Julien, is there anything else? Can you tell me how and where to find it?"

Once more her fingers had crept out of her muff.

Her hands were upon his shoulders, she seemed to be drawing him to her. Julien kissed her lightly on the forehead.

"For you, my dear Mabel," he decided, "I should say that there was nothing better. A leopard cannot change its spots. The life into which you have been brought and for which you have qualified so admirably, is the only life which would suit you. If you fancy sometimes in your dreams, or in your waking hours, that you hear cries and calls from another country, don't listen to them. You would never be happy outside the world you know of. You see, one who has made such a failure of life himself is yet well able to advise. Forgive me."

The telephone on his writing table was ringing. He turned aside to answer it. It was a question regarding the whereabouts of some papers at the office and it took him a few minutes to explain. When he set the receiver back and turned around, he was alone. There was nothing to remind him of her visit but a bunch of violets which seemed to have fallen from her muff, and the faint perfume from them. He took them up, smelt them for a moment, and flung them lightly into the hearth. Then he touched his bell.

"My hat, stick and gloves, Richards," he ordered. "Bring my things to Charing-Cross at half-past eight. Have them registered only to Boulogne. You understand?"

"Perfectly, sir," the man replied.

Julien glanced once more around his sitting-room. The little bunch of violets was smouldering upon the hearth. In a sense they seemed to him symbolical.

"Kendricks is right," he muttered. "It is the women who play the devil with our lives!"



CHAPTER V

A SENTIMENTAL EPISODE

Kendricks was waiting below in the taxicab, leaning back in the corner with his feet upon the opposite seat, and smoking his very disreputable pipe with an air of serene content.

"Sorry to have turned you out into the street like this," Julien remarked.

"Thank you," Kendricks replied, "under the circumstances I preferred the street."

Julien hesitated for a moment and glanced at his watch.

"There is one more call that I must pay, David," he said. "You won't mind, will you? We've plenty of time."

"Mind? Of course not," Kendricks answered, stretching himself out in the cab. "Do what you please with me, only leave an hour or an hour and a half for dinner. I am the best-tempered person in the world so long as no one interferes with my regular meal hours."

"It's just a little farewell call," Julien explained, "that I want to pay. I've told the man where to go."

Kendricks nodded silently. He knew all about that little call, but if he felt any sympathy he was careful not to show it. They drew up in a few minutes before a large and solemn-looking house at the corner of Hamilton Place.

"Don't hurry," Kendricks advised, stretching himself out once more in the cab. "I'll smoke another pipe and thank heaven we are not in New York! You wait an hour there and take your choice of paying the fare or buying the taxicab!"

Julien ascended the steps and rang the bell at the door of the house. It was immediately opened by a manservant, who recognized him with a bow and a smile, for which, somehow or other, he felt thankful.

"Is Lady Anne in, Robert?" he inquired.

The man stood on one side.

"Please to walk in, Sir Julien," he invited. "Lady Anne is with some young people in the drawing-room. Will you go in there to them, or would you prefer that I announce you?"

"Is there any one in the waiting-room?" Julien asked.

"No one at present, sir."

"Let me go in there, then. I want to speak to Lady Anne alone for a moment. You might let her know that I am here."

"Certainly, sir."

Julien walked restlessly up and down the small, uncomfortable apartment, the room which he had always hated. There were illustrated papers arranged in a row upon a leather-topped table, two stiff horsehair easychairs, and various views of Clonarty, the country seat of the Duke of Clonarty, around the walls. Presently he heard the laughter in the drawing-room cease. There was a short silence, then the sound of footsteps across the hall and the abrupt opening of the door of the room in which he was waiting. Julien looked up quickly. It was, after all, what he had expected! A somewhat vivacious-looking little lady in a muslin gown and elaborate hat held out both her hands to him. In the darkened light of the room she might very well have passed for a younger and less serious edition of her own daughter.

"My dear Julien!" she exclaimed, in a tone which was manifestly sympathetic. "This is terrible news we are hearing about you. But what an odd time you have chosen to come and tell us all about it!"

"I have not come to tell you all about it, Duchess," Julien assured her. "The newspapers will tell you everything that is worth knowing. They are so much better informed."

"The newspapers sometimes exaggerate," she objected.

"In my case," he replied, "I do not think that exaggeration is possible. Everything has happened to me that could possibly happen to any one in my unfortunate position."

"You mean that these stories are all true, then?"

"Every one of them. I really don't suppose that I ought to show my face here at all. I have simply come to say good-bye. There is just a single word that I want to say to Anne."

"Tell me, Julien," she demanded, "you really did write that letter to Mrs. Carraby?"

"I did."

"And she gave it to her husband?"

"Yes!"

For once the Duchess was perfectly and delightfully natural.

"That woman," she declared, "is a detestable cat! Mind, Julien," she added, "I don't mean by that that you were not hideously and entirely to blame. I can't feel that you deserve a single grain of sympathy. All the same, a woman who can do a thing like that should not be tolerated."

Julien smiled grimly. He was perfectly well aware that at that moment Mrs. Carraby was passing from the list of the Duchess's acquaintances. It was all so inconsequent.

"Can I have that one word with Anne?" he begged.

The Duchess looked doubtful.

"Why?"

"I am going abroad to-night. I should like to say good-bye to her."

"Isn't it a little foolish?" she asked. "I don't mean your going abroad—that, I suppose, is almost necessary—but why do you want to see Anne? I can give her all the proper messages."

Julien laughed bitterly.

"There are some things," he said, "which can scarcely be altogether ignored. It may have escaped your memory that Anne was to have been my wife."

"Not at all," the Duchess replied. "The only thing I do not understand is why, as any such arrangement is of course now ridiculous, you should want to see her again. What can you possibly have to say to her?" "An affair of sentiment," he explained. "I have a fancy to say good-bye."

The Duchess shook her head.

"Those sort of things don't belong to us," she declared. "You ought to know better, my dear Julien. I can see no possible object in it. I will give her any message you like, and so far as she is concerned I can assure you that she has not the slightest ill-feeling. She is really quite angelic about it."

"Duchess," Julien said steadily, "I came here expecting that these would be your views. You are Anne's mother and of course you are in authority, but when two people of our age are engaged to marry one another, they pass just a little beyond the sphere of their parents' influence. Anne and I have been in that position. Don't think for a moment that I wish to dispute your authority when I say that I intend to see her before I leave."

She shrugged her shoulders.

"Ah! my dear Julien," she murmured, "if you had only been as firm with that foolish woman. Still, if you have really made up your mind, I am sure I don't want to be disagreeable. Perhaps it would be just as well to get the thing over."

She touched the bell.

"Ask Lady Anne to step this way," she told the servant.

The man withdrew and the door was closed again. The Duchess showed no signs of being about to take her leave.

"This matter has already, I presume, been fully discussed between you and Anne?" Julien remarked. "It will not be necessary for you even to give her a parting word of advice?"

"You amusing person!" she laughed. "There are no words of advice of mine needed in a case like this. To tell you the truth, Julien, although I always liked you, as you know, I hated your engagement to Anne. You were a very charming young man to have about the house and I was always pleased to see my girls flirt with you, but as a son-in-law I ranked you from the first amongst the undesirables. Your income, so far as I know, is a little less than nothing at all, and politics, as you are discovering to-day, are a precarious form of livelihood. Anne hasn't a copper and never will have. She ought to marry a rich man, and I intend now that she shall. Here she is. Now do get this stupid affair over quickly."

The door was opened and Lady Anne came in. She was taller than her mother, of more serious aspect, and her hair was a shade darker. There was something of the same expression about the eyes. She came straight over to Julien and gave him both her hands.

"My dear Julien," she exclaimed, "this is shocking! Run away, if you please, mother. I must see Julien for a moment alone."

The Duchess left the room. They both waited until the door was closed. Then she turned and faced him.

"I suppose it's all true?" she asked.

"Every word of it, Anne," he answered. "Please don't misunderstand the reason of my coming. I am absolutely a ruined man and I absolutely deserve everything that has come to me. But there was one thing I wanted to say to you before I went."

"There was also one thing," she remarked, looking at him intently, "which I intended to ask you, provided you gave me the opportunity."

"It is about Mrs. Carraby," he said firmly.

"So was my question," she murmured.

"The friendship between Mrs. Carraby and myself," Julien continued, "has been patent to every one for a great many years. I knew her long before I did you. It began, in fact, when we were little more than children. It finished—to-day. There is only one thing I want to say to you about it, and that is this. Our friendship was of that sort which is fairly well recognized and even approved of by the world in which we live. It contained, of course, certain elements of flirtation—I am not denying that. There was never at any time, however, anything in that friendship which made it an error even of taste on my part to ask you to become my wife."

She took his face between her hands and deliberately kissed him.

"That's just what I wanted to know, Julien," she declared. "Now shake hands, be off, and do the best you can for yourself. I wish you the best of luck, the very best. That's all we can say to one another, isn't it?"

"Quite all," he admitted.

"You are a dear, good fellow," she went on, "and I have been quite fond of you, although I think that I bored you now and then. I should have made you an excellent wife, perhaps a better one than I shall the next man who comes along. Don't stay any longer, there's a dear, because although I never pretended to have much heart, this sort of thing does upset one, you know, and I want to look my best to-night. Write me sometimes, if you will. I'd love to hear that you'd found some interest in life to help you gather up the threads. And here—this is for luck."

She took a little turquoise pin from her waistband and stuck it in his black tie. Then, before he could stop her, she touched the bell with one hand and gave him the other.

"Please kiss my fingers, Julien, and tell me I've behaved nicely."

He looked steadily into her eyes and then away out of the window, across the square. It was such a natural ending, this. It was foolish that his heart should shake, even for a second. And yet there had been one occasion—at Clonarty—when she had lain very close to him in his arms, and the moonlight had been falling through the pine trees in little dappled places around them, and the wind had been making faint music among the swinging boughs—for these few moments, at any rate, the other things had shone in her face. Were they illusions really, those moments of agitation, he wondered—simply one long, sensuous period passing like breath from a looking-glass and leaving nothing behind? He looked into her face. There was no sign there. Then he dropped the fingers which he had been holding. Women were wonderful!

"Do write," she begged, as she walked into the hall with him. "Dear me, what a strange-looking person you have with you in the taxicab!"

"He is a friend," Julien said quietly, "a journalist. I might say the same of the young man who is watching us from the drawing-room, Anne! Who is he?"

She made a little face at him and whispered in his ear.

"Semitic, as you see, and positively appalling. He is entirely mother's choice. He arrived ten minutes after the evening papers were out, but somehow or other I don't fancy that we shall make anything of him. It's young Harbord, you know."

Julien made his effort. He touched her fingers once more in conventional fashion. He leaned towards her earnestly.

"My dear Anne," he said, "that young man has an income of at least a hundred thousand a year. Have you ever considered what a wonderful thing it is to possess an income like that? You could surround yourself with it like a halo. You could eat it, wear it, and breathe it every second of your life. You could even use it as a means of escaping as often as possible from the somewhat inevitable but highly objectionable adjunct who seems now to be peering at us through the door. Be a wise girl, Anne. An income like that doesn't depend upon discretions or indiscretions. Besides, as a matter of fact, I really do not think that that young man knows what it is to be indiscreet. Remember, I am quite serious. A hundred thousand a year should lift any man beyond the pale of criticism."

"Yes!" the girl replied, looking at him as he walked down the steps. "I shall remember. Good-bye!"

"We are getting on," Julien declared lightly, as he took his place in the taxicab. "Really, it is astonishing how much a man can get through in a day if he sets his mind to it. Is there any place where we could get a drink, do you think, Kendricks? I have just passed through a trying and affecting interview. I have said farewell to the lady who was to have been my wife. That sort of thing upsets one."

"You are behaving, my dear Julien," Kendricks admitted, "like a man of sense. In a moment or two we shall pass Very's, on our way to the restaurant where I am going to entertain you at dinner. It will probably be such a dinner as you have never eaten before in your life! You will not need an aperitif. I am not sure, indeed, that it is not tempting providence and inviting indigestion to offer you a mixed vermouth here. However, come along. One experience more or less in such a day will not disturb you."

They entered the cafe and sat down at a small, marble-topped table. Julien lit a cigarette and Kendricks affected not to notice that the hand which held the match was shaking. A crowd of people, mostly foreigners, were sitting about the place. Julien, as he sipped his vermouth, noticed a familiar face nearly opposite him—a young, somewhat sandy-complexioned man, quietly dressed, insignificant, and yet with some sort of personality.

"I wonder who that fellow is?" he remarked. "I seem to know his face."

Kendricks looked incuriously across the room.

"One knows every one by sight in London," he said. "The fellow is probably a clerk in some office where you have been, or a salesman behind the counter at one of the shops you patronize. It's odd sometimes how a face will pursue you like that. That's a pretty little girl with whom he's shaking hands."

Julien watched the two idly for a moment. The man had risen to greet his newly-arrived companion, who was chattering to him in fluent French. All the time Julien was aware that now and then the former's eyes strayed over towards him. It was odd that, notwithstanding his somewhat disturbed state of mind, he was conscious of a distinct curiosity as to this young man's identity.

"Come along," Kendricks suggested. "We shan't get a table at all at the place where I am going to take you to dine, unless we are punctual."

They finished their vermouth and left the cafe. Kendricks knocked out the ashes from his pipe and leaned a little forward in the taxicab.

"We go now," he continued, "into a foreign land—foreign, at least, to you, my young Exquisite—the land of journalists, of foreigners, of hairdressers and anarchists, and cutthroats of every description. Nevertheless, we shall dine well, and if you will only drink enough of the chianti which I shall order, I can promise you a nap on your way to Dover. You look as though you could do with it."

Julien suddenly remembered that his eyes were hot, and almost simultaneously he felt the weight that was dragging down his heart. He laughed desperately.

"I'll eat your dinner, David," he promised, "and I'll do justice to your chianti. From what you tell me about our expedition, I should imagine that we are going into the land to which I shall soon belong."

"It's a wonderful country," Kendricks muttered, looking out of the window. "It may not be flowing exactly with milk and honey, but its sinews are supple and its blood is red. For absolute vitality, I'd back the Cafe l'Athenee against the Carlton any day. Here we are."



CHAPTER VI

AT THE CAFE L'ATHENEE

The Cafe L'Athenee was in a narrow back street and consisted of a ground floor apartment of moderate size, and a number of small rooms, most of which were already crowded with diners. There were no smooth-faced maitres d'hotel to conduct new arrivals to a table, no lift to the upper rooms, no palm-lined stairways, or any of the modern appurtenances of restaurant life. Kendricks, taking the lead as an habitue, pushed his way up to the first floor, pushed his way past the hurrying and perspiring waiters, who did not even stop to answer questions, and finally pounced upon a table which was just being vacated by three other people. The two men sat down before the debris and waited patiently for its removal.

"Don't turn your nose up yet," Kendricks begged. "Wait till you've tasted the spaghetti. And don't look at the tablecloth as though it would bite you. They'll put a clean napkin over it directly and you'll forget all about those stains. This is where one takes off the kid gloves and deals with the realities of eating and drinking. I am inclined to think sometimes, Julien, as a humble admirer from a long way off, that you've worn those kid gloves a little too long."

Julien looked across at his friend. Kendricks was still smoking his pipe and he was evidently in earnest. It was obvious, too, that he had more to say.

"You know," he continued, loudly summoning a waiter and pointing to the table before them, "you know, Julien, I have always had this feeling about you. I think that life has been made a trifle too easy for you. You have slipped with so little effort into the polished places. You never had to take your coat and waistcoat off and try a rough-and-tumble struggle with life. No man is the worse for it. Prosperity and smooth-traveling along the easy ways, even though they come to one as the reward of brainwork, lead to a certain flabbiness in life, lead to many moments when you have to stop and ask whether things are worth while, lead sometimes, I think, to that curious neuroticism from which clever, successful people suffer as well as the butterflies of fashion. You are up against it now, Julien, real and hard. You don't feel that you've got a day to live that you care a snap of the fingers about. You look at what you think are the pieces of your life and you imagine yourself a gaunt spectator of what has been, gazing down at them, and you've quite made up your mind that it isn't a bit of good trying to collect the fragments. Such d——d nonsense, Julien! You may have made a jolly hash of things as a Cabinet Minister, but that isn't any reason why you shouldn't make a success of life as a man. Look here, Carlo," he added, addressing the waiter, "the table d'hote dinner—everything, and serve it hot. Bring us fresh butter with our spaghetti, and a flask of chianti."

"Si, signor!" the man replied, gazing for a moment in wonder at this shock-headed individual who spoke his own language so perfectly.

Kendricks laid down the menu and glanced across the table at Julien's face with its slightly weary smile.

"Of course, I know how you're feeling now," he went on,—"rotten!—so would any one. Try and forget it, try and forget yourself. Look about you. What do these people do for a living, do you think? They weren't born with a title. There's no one in this room who went to Eton and Oxford, played cricket for their university, and lolled their way into life as you did. Look at them all. The thin chap in the corner is a barber, got a small shop of his own now. I go there sometimes for a shave. He lived on thirteen shillings a week for six years, while he saved the money to start for himself. It was touch and go with him afterwards. In three months he'd nearly lost the lot. He'd married a little wife who stood behind the counter and had worked almost as hard as he, but somehow or other the customers wouldn't come. Then she had a baby, was laid up for a time, he had to engage some one to take her place, and at that time he had about fifteen shillings left in the world. I used to be shaved there every day then. I knew all about it. I used to hear him, when he thought no one was listening, go and call a cheerful word up the stairs—'Shop full of customers!' 'Sold another bottle of hair restorer!' or something of that sort. Then some one lent him a fiver, and, by Jove, he turned the corner! He's doing well now. That's his wife—the plump little woman who's straightening his tie. They come here every Wednesday night and they can afford it. Yet he was up against it badly once, Julien. That's right, look at him, be interested. He's a common-looking little beast, isn't he?—but he's got a stout heart."

"I think," Julien said, "that I could guess the name of the man who lent him the fiver."

"You'd be a mug if you couldn't," Kendricks retorted. "It's doing that sort of thing that helps you to smile sometimes when the knocks come. I tell you, Julien, some of the people—these small shopkeepers, especially—do have the devil of a fight to get their ounce of pleasure out of life. Nothing's made easy for them. They don't know anything about that big west-end world, with pleasures tuned up to the latest pitch, where you do even your work with every luxury at hand to make it easy. There's a little chap there—an Italian. See him? He's sitting by the side of the old man with the gray beard. That man's his father. They both landed over here with scarcely a copper. The young fellow worked like a slave—sixteen shillings a week I think he was getting, and he kept the old man on it. Then he lost his job, couldn't get another. The old man had to go to the workhouse, the young man slept on the Embankment, ate free soup, picked up scraps, lived on the garbage heap of life. He pulled himself together, though, got another job, improved it, saved a few shillings, drove up in a cab and took the old man out. Look at them now. He's got a little tailor's shop not a hundred yards from here, and somehow or other one or two people on the stage—they're a good-hearted lot—have taken him up He gets lots of work and brings the old man here now and then for a treat. How are you, Pietro?" he called across the room. "When are you going to send me that coat along?"

The young man grinned.

"Too many orders to make you that coat, sir," he declared.

Kendricks smiled.

"No one can deny that I need a new coat," he said. "I told Pietro when things were slack that he could make me one, but he gets lots of orders now. See the little girl in the corner? She's going out—no, she's going to stay here; they've found her room at that table. I suppose you'd turn your nose up at her because she has a lot too much powder on her cheeks, and you don't like that lace collar around her neck. It isn't clean, I know, and the make-up on her face is clumsy. Must be uncomfortable, too, but she's done her best. She's been dancing at the Hippodrome this afternoon, probably rehearsing afterwards. She's got an hour now before she goes back to the evening performance. She's taking the eighteenpenny dinner, you see. She'll get a glass of chianti free with it. I am in luck to-night. I can tell you about nearly all these people. Her name is Bessie Hazell—Sarah Ann Jinks, very likely, but that's what she calls herself, anyway. She married an acrobat two years ago and they started doing quite well. Then he got a cough, had to give up work, the doctors all shook their heads at him, wanted to tell him it was consumption. Bless you, she wouldn't listen to it! She got him down to Bournemouth somehow and they patched him up. He came back and started again, caught cold, and had another bad spell. Still, she wouldn't have it that there was anything serious the matter with him! He'd be all right, she said, if it weren't for the climate, and every night she danced, mind—danced twice a day. She's quite clever, they say—might have done well if she'd only herself to think of and could spare a little of her money for lessons. Not she! She sent him to Davos, paid for it somehow. He's back again now. He can't go on the stage, but he's got a light job somewhere. I don't know that he's earning anything particular. They've got a baby to keep, but they do it all right between them. She isn't pleasant to look at, is she? What's that matter? She's a bit of real life, anyhow."

"Why didn't you bring me here before, Kendricks?" Julien asked.

The man leaned back and laughed.

"Ask yourself that question, not me," he replied. "You—Sir Julien Portel, caricatured as the best-dressed man in the House of Commons, member of the most fashionable clubs, brilliant debater, successful politician, future Prime Minister, and all that sort of twaddle. You were living too far up in the clouds, my friend, to come down here. You see, I am not offering you much sympathy, Julien. I don't think you need it. You were soaring up to the skies just because of your gifts and your position and your opportunities. You are down now. Well, you're thundering sorry for yourself. I don't know that I'm sorry for you. I'll tell you in ten years' time. By Jove, here's your sandy-headed little friend!"

The man, with the girl upon his arm, had entered the room and had taken seats at a table in the corner, for which, apparently, they had been waiting. Julien looked at them curiously.

"Why," he exclaimed suddenly, leaning across the table, "I remember him now! He's at the shop—I mean he's an Intelligence man."

Kendricks nodded.

"Just the sort of inconspicuous-looking person who could go anywhere without being noticed."

"I recollect him quite well," Julien continued. "It's not in my department, of course, but I remember being told he was a very useful little beggar."

"I should say, without a doubt," Kendricks declared, "that he was at present working hard for the safety and welfare of the British Empire. If you've suddenly recognized the man, I'll tell you who the girl is. She's a manicurist at the Milan."

Julien looked round and watched them for a moment curiously. Again he noticed that his interest in the young man was at least reciprocated.

"The fellow has recognized me, of course," he said. "You know, Kendricks, I remember two or three years ago a most amazing item of news was brought to us—one that made a real difference, too—through a manicurist."

"Shouldn't be a bit surprised," Kendricks replied.

"Things drop out in the most unexpected places, as you'd find out if you'd been a journalist."

"She was sent for into the room of some princess—at Claridge's, I think it was, or one of the west-end hotels—and while she was there a man came from one of the inner rooms and said a few words in Russian. The girl had been in St. Petersburg and understood. It made quite a difference. I remember the story."

"Might have been the same man and the same manicurist," Kendricks remarked.

Julien shook his head.

"There was trouble about the manicurist," he said, "and she had to leave the country. She's in South Africa now."

"I can't say that I like the appearance of the fellow," Kendricks declared. "Don't funk the soup, Julien—it's better than it looks. He's a slimy-looking sort of chap. I have a theory that the modern sort of Secret Service agent ought to be a person like myself—breezy and obvious. Julien, if that girl doesn't stop gazing at you sideways, you'll be in trouble with your late employee."

Julien looked across at the opposite table. The girl, as he had noticed before, was stealing frequent glances at him. For some reason or other, she seemed anxious to attract his attention.

"Quite a conquest!" Kendricks murmured. "Drink some more of that chianti, man, and bring some color to your cheeks. There's a charming little manicurist wants to flirt with you. What teeth and what a smile!"

"Considering that she has been listening to my history for the last quarter of an hour, I imagine that her interest is of a less sentimental nature," Julien said. "I have probably been pointed out to her as the biggest fool in Christendom."

"Not you," Kendricks declared. "I assure you that I am a critic in such matters. She looks when the young man who is with her is engaged upon his dinner, or speaking to the waiter. I am not positive, even, that she wants to flirt, Julien. I think she wants to say something to you."

Julien laughed.

"What shall I do? Present myself? Bah!" he added, almost fiercely. "I wish the girl would keep her black eyes to herself. I want to tell you this, Kendricks. You've talked some splendid common sense to me without going out of your way to do it. I am not going to whine, now or at any other time, but as long as I live I never want anything more to do with a woman. That sounds about the most futile and empty-headed thing a man can say—I know that. But there it is. I tell you the very thought of them makes me shudder. They're like pampered, highly-groomed animals, with their mouths open for the tit-bits of life. They have to be fed with whatever food it may be they crave for, and that's the end of it."

Kendricks motioned with his head across the room to where the little woman with the blackened eyebrows was eating her dinner.

"What about that?" he asked.

"I don't know anything about that sort," Julien admitted. "What you told me sounded like one of the things you read of in newspapers and never believe. I don't believe it. Mind you, I don't say it's false, but I don't believe it because I have never spoken to the woman whom I could imagine capable of such unselfishness. If I patch up the pieces again, Kendricks," he added, and his face was suddenly very dark and very set—the face of an older man, "whatever cement I use, it won't be the cement of love or any sentiment whatsoever connected with women."

Kendricks nodded.

"It's my belief," he began, then he stopped short. "Julien," he continued kindly, "you're nothing but a big baby. You think you've moved in the big places. So you have, in a way. But there was a hideous mistake about your life. You've never had to build. No one can climb who doesn't build first. These ready-made ladders don't count. Now," he added, dropping his voice and glancing quickly across the room, "you will have an opportunity to put into force your new and magnificent principles of misogyny. Our little sandy-headed friend has been summoned from the room. I saw the commissionaire come up and whisper in his ear. Mademoiselle is writing a note. A hundred to one it is to you!"

Julien frowned. He, too, turned his head, and he met the girl's eyes. She was looking at him curiously. It was not the look of the woman who invites so much as the look of the woman who appeals for an understanding, who has something to say. She smiled ever so faintly and touched with her finger the scrap of paper which she thrust into the waiter's hand. Then she bent once more over her plate. The man came across to Julien.

"For you, monsieur," he announced, and laid it by the side of Julien's plate.

"Read it," Kendricks whispered across the table, for he had been quick to see his companion's first impulse.

"Why should I?" Julien said coldly. "I have no desire to have anything to do with that young person. What can she have to say to me?"

"Nevertheless, read it," Kendricks repeated.

Julien unrolled the scrap of paper with reluctant fingers. There were only a few words written there in hasty pencil:

Monsieur, there is a friend of mine whom you must see. Call at number 17, Avenue de St. Paul and ask for Madame Christophor. Do not attempt to speak to me. This is for your good.

Julien's fingers were upon the note to destroy it, but again Kendricks stopped him.

"Julien," he insisted, "don't be an idiot. The little girl knows who you are. She can't imagine that you are in the humor just now for flirtations. Put the note in your pocket and call. One can't tell. Your life has been so artificial that you've probably left off believing in any adventures outside story-books. My life leads me into different places and I never neglect an opportunity like that."

"A sister manicurist, I expect," Julien replied scornfully; "a palmist, or some creature of that sort."

Kendricks hammered upon the table for the waiter.

"One takes one's chances," he agreed, "but I do not think that the little girl over there would send you upon a fool's errand. There are other things in life, you know, Julien. You carry in your head political secrets which would be worth a great deal. There may be danger in that call."

Julien looked at him with faintly curling lip.

"Tell me exactly what you mean?" he asked.

Kendricks shrugged his shoulders. The waiter had arrived and he gave him a vociferous order.

"Listen," he said, "I could hand you out a hundred surmises and each one of them ought to be sufficient to induce you to keep that appointment. You leave here—shall we say under a cloud?—presumably disgusted with life, with the Government which gives you no second chance, with your country which discards you. And you have been Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. Can't you conceive that this woman on whom you are to call might make suggestions to you which would at least be amusing? Don't look so incredulous, Julien. Remember you've lived in the stilted places. I haven't. I believe in the underground world. You must know for yourself that a great deal of the truth leaks up through the gratings."

"That is true enough," Julien admitted, "but somehow or other—"

"Let it go at that," Kendricks interrupted. "Promise me that you will call at that address."

Julien laughed.

"Yes, I'll call!" he promised.

"Then look across at the little girl and nod," Kendricks suggested. "She's watching you all the time anxiously. The man hasn't come back yet."

Julien turned his head half unwillingly. The girl was leaning across the table, her eyes fixed steadfastly upon his. Her lips were parted, her eyebrows were slightly raised, as though in question. She had been holding a menu before her face to shield her from the casual observer, but the moment Julien turned his head she lowered it. He inclined his head slowly. A curious expression of relief took the place of that appearance of strained anxiety. Her face became natural once more. She laid down the menu and took a sip of wine from her glass. Kendricks looked across at Julien and raised his glass to his lips.

"We will drink, my dear Julien," he said, "to your visit to Madame Christophor, and what may come of it!"



CHAPTER VII

COFFEE FOR THREE

"Admit," Kendricks insisted, "that you have dined well?"

"I have dined amply," Julien replied.

Kendricks frowned.

"I am not satisfied," he declared.

"The entrecote was wonderful, also the omelette," Julien admitted. "I will supplement 'amply' with 'well,' if you wish, but the insistent note about this dinner is certainly its amplitude. I have not eaten so much for ages."

Kendricks was filling his pipe.

"Cigars or cigarettes you must order for yourself," he said. "I know nothing of them. The coffee is before you. I will be frank with you—it is not good. The brandy, however, is harmless."

Julien lit a cigarette and leaned back in his chair. Just then the sandy young man re-entered the room. He hastened to his place, but instead of resuming it stood by the side of the girl, talking. He seemed to be suggesting some course of which she disapproved, pointing to her unfinished dinner. Kendricks nodded his head slowly.

"The young man has to leave," he remarked. "He wishes mademoiselle to accompany him. She declines. He is annoyed. Behold, a lover's tiff! He has placed the money for the dinner upon the table. He shakes her hand very politely. Behold, he goes! Mademoiselle shrugs her shoulders. She orders from the menu. She remains alone. My dear Julien, if you will you can prosecute your conquest. The young man has departed."

Julien glanced across the room. He met the girl's eyes and once again he saw in them that curious, almost impersonal invitation.

"She wants something," Kendricks declared. "I am going over to see what it can be. Carlo!"

He summoned the waiter and asked him a question quickly in Italian.

"The man says that her companion is not returning," he remarked, rising. "I am going to interview the young lady."

Julien shrugged his shoulders.

"As you will."

Kendricks crossed the room, his pipe still in his hand. The girl watched him come, for a moment, and then looked down upon the tablecloth. She was at the end of a table laid for four or five people, but only two men were left at the extreme end.

"Mademoiselle," Kendricks said, "my friend thanks you for your message. His curiosity, however, is piqued. Is there not an opportunity now for explaining further?"

She regarded her questioner a little doubtfully.

"Who are you?" she asked.

Kendricks sighed.

"My dear young lady," he answered, "I flattered myself that I possessed a personality which no one could mistake. Furthermore, I am a constant patron here."

"I have never been here in my life before," the girl told him.

"Then your ignorance shall be pardoned," Kendricks declared. "My name is David Kendricks. I am a journalist. I ought to be an editor, but the fact remains that I am a mere collector of news, a bringer together of those trifles which go to make such prints as these," he added, touching her evening paper, "interesting."

"A journalist," she repeated, glancing up at him. "Yes! I might have guessed that. Are you a friend of Sir Julien Portel?"

"I think I may call myself a friend," Kendricks admitted. "We were at college together."

She rose composedly to her feet.

"Then I will take my coffee at your table," she decided. "You may present me. I am Mademoiselle Senn."

Kendricks hesitated.

"You may not find my friend in the most amiable of moods," he began.

The girl waved her hand.

"It is to be explained," she declared. "To tell you the truth, I was surprised to see him even in so out of the way a restaurant as this."

"He leaves to-night for the Continent," Kendricks told her.

"So I heard," the girl replied. "Come."

Sir Julien watched their approach and the frown upon his aristocratic forehead, though thin, was distinct. Kendricks, however, took no notice of it, and the girl pretended that she had not seen.

"Julien," the former announced, holding a chair for mademoiselle, "I am permitted the pleasure of presenting you to Mademoiselle Senn, who already knows your name. Mademoiselle sent you a message a few minutes ago. If she is good-natured, she may choose to explain it. If not, what does it matter? Mademoiselle will take her coffee with us."

Julien rose to his feet and bowed very slightly.

"We have only a moment or two to spare," he said, "as I am leaving London to-night."

She looked at him and smiled oddly. She was a very typical young Frenchwoman of her class—round-faced, with trim little figure, black eyes, and smart but simple hat; not really good-looking except for the depth of her clear eyes, and yet with a command of her person and movements which was not without its charm.

"Monsieur is not too gallant," she murmured, "but one is inclined to forgive him. If I may take my coffee, I will go. Monsieur has promised me that he will call and see Madame?"

"Your friend in Paris?" Julien remarked, a little doubtfully.

"Ah! I dare not call her that," the girl continued. "Madame is different. But I know that it is her wish that you call, and I know that it would be for your welfare."

"Is it necessary," Julien asked coldly, "that you should be so mysterious? After all, you know, the thing, on the face of it, is impossible. Madame probably does not know of my existence, and why should you take it for granted that I am going abroad?"

"Oh, la, la!" the girl interrupted. "But you amuse one! Madame knows everything which she desires to know. As to your going to France, monsieur over there," she added, moving her head backwards, "told me so some minutes ago."

"And how the dickens did he know, and what right had he to talk about my affairs?" Julien demanded, with all an Englishman's indignation at his movements having been discussed by strangers.

"I suppose that it is his business to know those things," she replied, sipping her coffee. "He is a very mysterious young man. He takes a room sometimes at the Milan Hotel and he sends for me to manicure his hands. Then he asks me very clever questions and I look down and I give him—very clever answers. Then he thinks, perhaps, that his methods are not quite the best, and he sends me a great box of chocolates, some stalls for the theatre, some flowers—why not? Then he comes again to be manicured and he asks more questions, but I know so little. Then sometimes, not very often, he brings me out to dine. Imagine for yourself, monsieur," she went on, with a wave of the hand, "the excitement, the wonder of all this to a poor French girl! And again he asks questions, but again I know so little. And then, in the midst of our dinner, his employer has sent for him. He has to go on a journey. It is sad, is it not? He would like me to go with him to the station, to see him off, but I—" she shrugged her shoulders. "Why should I leave before I have finished my dinner? In truth, he wearies me, that young man. I do not think, Sir Julien Portel, that Englishmen are very clever."

"As a race," Julien declared grimly, "I agree with you. I think that most men are unutterable fools. But this young admirer of yours—what are these questions which he asks you so often, and what business is he in that he should be compelled to leave you to hurry away?"

"Ah, monsieur!" she answered, "it is you now who ask questions. Why should I tell you, indeed, more than I tell him?"

Julien smiled.

"Perhaps because it was a matter of moment to him whether you replied or not, whereas, frankly, I only ask you these questions out of the idlest curiosity."

"Also a little," she remarked, "to make conversation, is it not so? Very well, then, Sir Julien Portel, let me tell you this. If you do not know who that young man is, I do not wonder that you find it necessary to catch the nine o'clock train to the Continent to-night and to give up that delightful work of yours, where you try to keep the peace between all these wicked nations, and to get the lion's share of everything for your great, greedy country. If you do not know who that young man is, you have not the head for detail, the memory, which goes to the making of politicians."

Julien leaned back in his chair and laughed, softly but genuinely. Even Kendricks seemed a little taken aback.

"Upon my word!" the latter exclaimed. "This is an interesting young person! Mademoiselle, I congratulate you. You have the gifts."

"Interesting, indeed!" Julien agreed, sitting up in his place. "Mademoiselle, to save my reputation with you I must confess. I do know who the young man is. He is in the Intelligence Branch of the Secret Service of the British Foreign Office—Number 3 Department."

The girl nodded several times.

"What you call it I do not know," she said. "He is just one of those ordinary people who go about to collect little items of information for your Government. That is why I have received from him four pounds of chocolate, at least a sovereign's worth of roses, four stalls for the theatre—which I do believe that he had given to him because they were for plays that no one goes to see, and to-night a dinner—such a dinner, messieurs, with chianti that burned my tongue!"

"This," Kendricks declared, "is quite a bright young lady! Mademoiselle, I trust that we shall become better acquainted."

"And in the meantime," Julien inquired, "what are these wonderful items of information which you carry with you, and which this unfortunate young man fails so utterly to elicit?"

"Ah! well," she sighed, "I am by profession a manicurist, but some freak of nature gave me the power of keeping my mouth closed, of looking as though I knew a good deal, but of saying so little. Now, messieurs, what could a poor girl know in the way of secrets for which that young man would get credit if he had succeeded in eliciting them? What could I know, indeed? I sit on my little stool and sometimes there are great people who give me their hands, and they are thoughtful. And sometimes I ask questions and they answer me absently, because, after all, what does it matter?—a manicurist from the shop downstairs, earning her thirty shillings a week, and anxious to be agreeable for the sake of her tip! And then sometimes while I am there they dictate letters, or a caller comes, or the telephone rings. One does not think of the manicure girl at such a time. Fortunately, there are some like me who know so well how to keep silent, to say nothing, to be dumb."

"The methods of that young man," Kendricks asserted, "were crude. Now, young lady, consider my position. I represent a power greater than the power of Governments. I represent a Press which is greedy for personal news. Have you trimmed lately the nails of a duchess? If so, tell me what she wore, her favorite oath, any trifling expression likely to be of interest to the British public! And instead of roses I will send you carnations; instead of dead-head tickets I will take you myself to the Gaiety; instead of a dinner at the Cafe l'Athenee, I will take you to supper at the Milan."

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