Unflinching in courage, she seemed not to see him. But it was as if she had suddenly ceased to breathe. Her bosom no longer rose and fell. The only movement was the visible knocking of her heart. I felt that, in another moment, if he found what she had hidden, her heart would knock no longer, and she would die. For a second I wildly counted the chances of overpowering all three men, stunning them into unconsciousness, and giving Maxine time to escape with the letter-case. But I knew the attempt would be useless. Even if I could succeed, the noise would arouse the hotel. People would come. Other policemen would rush in to the help of their comrades, and matters would be worse with us than before.
The Frenchman, having looked at Maxine, and seen that tell-tale beating of her bodice, deliberately laid the silk cushions on the floor. Then, pushing his hand down between the seat and the back of the sofa, he moved it along the crevice inch by inch.
I watched the hand, which looked cruel to me as that of an executioner. I think Maxine watched it, too. Suddenly it stopped. It had found something. The other hand sprang to its assistance. Both worked together, groping and prying for a few seconds: evidently the something hidden had been forced deeply and firmly down. Then, up it came—a dark red leather case, which was neither a letter-case nor a jewel-case, but might be used for either. My heart almost stopped beating in the intense relief I felt. For this was not the thing I had come from London to bring Maxine.
I could hardly keep back a cry of joy. But I did keep it back, for suspense and anxiety had left me a few grains of sense.
"Voila!" grunted the Commissary of Police. "I said that you were clever, Mademoiselle. But it would have been as well for all concerned if you had spared us this trouble."
"You alone are to blame for the trouble," answered Maxine. "I never saw that thing before in my life."
I was astonished that there was no ring of satisfaction in her voice. It sounded hard and defiant, but there was no triumph in it, no joy that, so far, she was saved—as if by a miracle. Rather was her tone that of a woman at bay, fighting to the last, but without hope. "Nor did I ever see it before." I echoed her words.
She glanced at me as if with gratitude. Yet there was no need for gratitude. I was not lying for her sake, but speaking the plain truth, as I thought that she must know.
For the first time the Commissary of Police condescended to laugh. "I suppose you want me to believe that the last occupant of this room tucked some valued possession down into a safe hiding place—and then forgot all about it. That is likely, is it not? You shall have the pleasure, Mademoiselle—and you, Monsieur—of seeing with me what that careless person left behind him."
He had laid the thing on the table, and now he tapped it, aggravatingly, with his hand. But the strain was over for me. I looked on with calmness, and was amazed when at last Maxine flew to him, no longer scornful, tragically indifferent in her manner, but imploring—a weak, agonized woman.
"For the love of God, spare me, Monsieur," she sobbed. "You don't understand. I confess that what you have there, is mine. I have held myself high, in my own eyes, and the eyes of the world, because I—an actress—never took a lover. But now I am like the others. This is my lover. There's the price I put on my love. Now, Monsieur, I ask you on my womanhood to hold what is in that leather case sacred."
I felt the blood rush to my face as if she had struck me across it with a whip. My first thought, to my shame, was a selfish one. What if this became known, this thing that she had said, and Diana should hear? Then indeed all hope for me with the girl I loved would be over. My second thought was for Maxine herself. But she had sealed my lips. Since she had chosen the way, I could only be silent.
"Mademoiselle, it is a grief to me that I must refuse such a prayer, from such a woman. But duty before chivalry. I must see the contents of that case," said the Commissary of Police.
She caught his hand and rained tears upon it. "No—no!" she implored. "If I were rich, I would offer you thousands to spare me. I've been extravagant—I haven't saved, but all I have in the world is yours if—."
"There can be no such 'if,' Mademoiselle," the man broke in. And wrenching his hand free, he opened the case before she could again prevent him.
Out fell a cascade of light, a diamond necklace. It flashed to the floor, where it lay on one of the sofa cushions, sending up a spray of rainbow colours.
"Sacre bleu!" muttered the Frenchman, under his breath, for whatever he had expected, he had not expected that. But Maxine spoke not a word. Shorn of hope, as, in spite of her prayers and tears, the leather case was torn open, she was shorn of strength as well; and the beautiful, tall figure crumpling like a flower broken on its stalk, she would have fallen if I had not caught her, holding her up against my shoulder. When the cataract of diamonds sprang out of the case, however, I felt her limp body straighten itself. I felt her pulses leap. I felt her begin to live. She had drunk a draught of hope and life, and, fortified by it, was gathering all her scattered forces together for a new fight, if fight she must again.
The Commissary of Police turned the leather case wrong side out. It was empty. There had been nothing inside but the necklace: not a card, not a scrap of paper.
"Where, then, is the document?" Crestfallen, he put the question half to himself, half to Maxine de Renzie.
"What document?" she asked, too wise to betray relief in voice or face. Hearing the heavy tone, seeing the shamed face, the hanging head that lay against my shoulder, who—knowing a little less than I did of the truth—would have dreamed that in her soul she thanked God for a miracle? Even I would not have been sure, had I not felt the life stealing back into her half-dead body.
"The contents of the case are not what I came here to find," admitted the Enemy.
"I do not know what you came to find, but you have made me suffer horribly," said Maxine. "You have been very cruel to a woman who has done nothing to deserve such humiliation. All pleasure I might have taken in my diamonds is gone now. I shall never have a peaceful moment—never be able to wear them joyfully. I shall have the thought in my mind that people who look at me will be saying: 'Every woman has her price. There is the price of Maxine de Renzie.'"
"You need have no such thought, Mademoiselle," the man protested. "We shall never speak to anyone except those who will receive our report, of what we have heard and seen in this room."
"Won't you search further?" asked Maxine. "Since you seemed to expect something else—"
"You would not have had time to conceal more than one thing, Mademoiselle," said the policeman, with a smile that was faintly grim. "Besides, this case was what you did not wish us to find. You are a great actress, but you could not control the dew which sprang out on your forehead, or the beating of your heart when I touched the sofa, so I knew: I had been watching you for that. There has been an error, and I can only apologise."
"I don't blame you, but those who sent you," said Maxine, letting me lead her to a chair, into which she sank, limply. "I am thankful you do not tell me these diamonds are contraband in some way. I was not sure but it would end in that."
"Not at all, Mademoiselle. I wish you joy of them. It is you who will adorn the jewels, not they you. Again I apologise for myself and my companions. We have but done our duty."
"I have an enemy, who must have contrived this plot against me," exclaimed Maxine, as if on a sudden thought. "It is said that 'Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.' But what of a man who has been scorned—by a woman? He knew I wanted all my strength for to-night—the night of the new play—and he will be hoping that this has broken me. But I will not be broken. If you would atone, Messieurs, for your part in this scene, you will go to the theatre this evening and encourage me by your applause."
All three bowed. The Commissary of Police, lately so relentless, murmured compliments. It was all very French, and after what had passed, gave me the sensation that I was in a dream.
IVOR HEARS THE STORY
They were gone. They had closed the door behind them. I looked at Maxine, but she did not speak. With her finger to her lips she got up, trembling still; and walking to the door, she opened it suddenly to look out. Nobody was there.
"They may have gone into your bedroom to listen at that door," she whispered.
I took the hint, and going quickly into the room adjoining, turned on the light. Emptiness there: but I left the door open, and the electricity switched on. They might change their minds, or be more subtle than they wished to seem.
Maxine threw herself on the sofa, gathering up the necklace from the cushion where it had fallen, and lifting it in both hands pressed the glittering mass against her lips and cheeks.
"Thank God, thank God—and thank you, Ivor, best of friends!" she said brokenly, in so low a voice that no ear could have caught her words, even if pressed against the keyhole. Then, letting the diamonds drop into her lap, she flung back her head and laughed and cried together.
"Oh, Ivor, Ivor!" she panted, between her sobs and hysterical gusts of laughter. "The agony of it—the agony—and the joy now! You're wonderful. Good, precious Ivor—dear friend—saint."
At this I laughed too, partly to calm her, and patted gently the hands with which she had nervously clutched my sleeve.
"Heaven knows I don't deserve one of those epithets," I said, "I'll just stick to friend."
"Not deserve them?" she repeated. "Not deserve them, when you've saved me—I don't yet understand how—from a horror worse than death—oh, but a thousand times worse, for I wanted to die. I meant to die. If they had found it, I shouldn't have lived to see to-morrow morning. Tell me—how did you work such a miracle? How did you get this necklace, that meant so much to me (and to one I love), and how did you hide the—other thing?"
"I don't know anything about this necklace," I answered, stupidly, "I didn't bring it."
"You—didn't bring it?"
"No. At least, that red leather thing isn't the case I carried. When the fellow pulled it out from the sofa, I saw it wasn't what I'd had, so I thanked our lucky stars, and would have tried to let you know that all hope wasn't over, if I'd dared to catch your eye or make a signal."
Maxine was suddenly calm. The tears had dried on her cheeks, and her eyes were fever-bright.
"Ivor, you can't know what you are talking about," she said, in a changed voice. "That red leather case is what you took out of your breast pocket and handed to me when I first came into the room. At the sound of the knock, I pushed it down as far as I could between the seat and back of the sofa, and then ran off to a distance before the door opened. You did bring the necklace, knowingly or not; and as it was the cause of all my trouble in the beginning, I needn't tell you of the joy I had in seeing it, apart from the heavenly relief of being spared discovery of the thing I feared. Now, when you've given me the other packet, which you hid so marvellously, I can go away happy."
I stared at her, feeling more than ever like one in a dream.
"I gave you the only thing I brought," I said. "It was in my breast pocket, inside my coat. I took it out, and put it in your hands. There was no other thing. Look again in the sofa. It must be there still. This red case is something else—we can try to account for it later. It all came through the lights not working. If it hadn't been dusk you would have seen that I gave you a dark green leather letter-case—quite different from this, though of about the same length—rather less thick, and—"
Frantically she began ransacking the crevice between the seat and back of the sofa, but nothing was there. We might have known there could be nothing or the Commissary of Police would have been before us. With a cry she cut me short at last throwing up her hands in despair. She was deathly pale again, and all the light had gone out of her eyes leaving them dull as if she had been sick with some long illness.
"What will become of me?" she stammered. "The treaty lost! My God—what shall I do? Ivor, you are killing me. Do you know—you are killing me?"
The word "treaty" was new to me in this connection, for the Foreign Secretary had not thought it necessary that his messenger should be wholly in his secrets—and Maxine's. Yet hearing the word brought no great surprise. I knew that I had been cat's-paw in some game of high stakes. But it was of Maxine I thought now, and the importance of the loss to her, not the national disaster which it might well be also.
"Wait," I said, "don't despair yet. There's some mistake. Perhaps we shall be able to see light when we've thrashed this out and talked it over. I know I had a green letter-case. It never left my pocket. I thought of it and guarded it every moment. Could those diamonds have been inside it? Could the Foreign Secretary had given me the necklace, instead of what you expected?"
"No, no," she answered with desperate impatience. "He knew that the only thing which could save me was the document I'd sent him. I wired that I must have it back again immediately, for my own sake—for his—for the sake of England. Ivor! Think again. Do you want me to go mad?"
"I will think," I said, trying to speak reassuringly. "Give me a moment—a quiet moment—"
"A quiet moment," she repeated, bitterly, "when for me each second is an hour! It's late, and this is the night of my new play. Soon, I must be at the theatre, for the make-up and dressing of this part for the first act are a heavy business. I don't want all Paris to know that Maxine de Renzie has been ruined by her enemies. Let us keep the secret while we can, for others' sakes, and so gain time for our own, if all is not lost—if you believe still that there's any hope. Oh, save me, Ivor—somehow. My whole life is in this."
"Let your understudy take your part to-night, while we think, and work," I suggested. "You cannot go to the theatre in this state."
"For an actress there's no such word as 'cannot,'" she said bitterly. "I could play a part to the finish, and crawl off the stage to die the next instant; yet no one would have guessed that I was dying. I have no understudy. What use to have one? What audience would stop in the theatre after an announcement that their Maxine's understudy would take her place? Every man and woman would walk out and get his money back. No; for the sake of the man I love better than my life, or twenty lives—the man I've either saved or ruined—I'll play tonight, if I go mad or kill myself to-morrow. Don't 'think quietly,' Ivor. Think out aloud, and let me follow the workings of your mind. We may help each other, so. Let us go over together everything that happened to you from the minute you took the letter-case from the Foreign Secretary up to the minute I came into this room."
I obeyed, beginning at the very beginning and telling her all, except the part that had to do with Diana Forrest. She had no concern in that. I told her how I had slept with the green letter-case under my pillow, and had waked to feel and look for it once or twice an hour. How when morning came I had been late in getting to the train: how I had struggled with the two men who tried to keep me out of the reserved compartment into which they were intruding. How the man who had a right to it, after wishing to prevent my entering, helped me in the end, rather than be alone with the pair who had forced themselves upon him. How he had stumbled almost into my arms in a panic, during the confusion after the false alarm on the boat's gangway. How he had walked beside me and seemed on the point of speaking, later, in the Gare du Nord. How I had avoided and lost sight of him; but how I had many times covertly touched my pocket to be sure that, through all, the letter-case was still safe there.
Maxine grew calmer, though not, I think, more hopeful as I talked; and at last she folded up the diamonds neatly in the red case, which she gave to me. "Put that into the same pocket," she said, "and then pass your hand over your coat, as you did often before. Now, does it feel exactly as if it were the green letter-case with which you started out?"
"Yes, I think it does," I answered, doubtfully. "I'm afraid I shouldn't know the difference. This may be a little thicker than the other, but—I can't be sure. And, you see, I never once had a chance to unbutton my coat and look at the thing I had in this inner pocket. It would have attracted too much attention to risk that; and as a matter of fact, I was especially warned not to do it. I could trust only to the touch. But even granting that, by a skill almost clever enough for sleight of hand—a skill which only the smartest pickpocket in Europe could possess—why should a thief who had stolen my letter-case give me instead a string of diamonds worth many thousands of pounds? If he wanted to put something into my pocket of much the same size and shape as the thing he stole, so that I shouldn't suspect my loss, why didn't he slip in the red case empty, instead of containing the necklace?"
"This necklace, too, of all things in the world!" murmured Maxine, lost in the mystery. "It's like a dream. Yet here—by some miracle—it is, in our hands. And the treaty is gone."
"The treaty is gone," I repeated, miserably.
It was Maxine herself who had spoken the words which I merely echoed, yet it almost killed her to hear them from me. No doubt it gave the dreadful fact a kind of inevitability. She flung herself down on the sofa with a groan, her face buried in her hands.
"My God, what a punishment!" she stammered. "I've ruined the man I risked everything to save. I will go to the theatre, and I will act to-night, my friend, but unless you can give me back what is lost, when to-morrow morning comes, I shall be out of the world."
"Don't say that," I implored, sick with pity for her and shame at my failure. "All hope isn't over yet; it can't be. I'll think this out. There must be a solution. There must be a way of laying hold of what seems to be gone. If by giving my life I could get it, I assure you I wouldn't hesitate for an instant, now: so you see, there's nothing I won't do to help you. Only, I wish the path could be made a little plainer for me—unless for some reason it's necessary for you to keep me in the dark. The word 'treaty' I heard for the first time from you. I didn't know what I was bringing you, except that it was a document of international importance, and that you'd been helping the British Foreign Secretary—perhaps Great Britain as a Power—in some ticklish manoeuvre of high politics. He said that, so far as he was concerned, you might tell me more if you liked. He left it to you. That was his message."
"Then I will tell you more!" Maxine exclaimed. "It will be better to do so. I know that it will make it easier for you to help me. The document you were bringing me was a treaty—a quite new treaty between Japan, Russia and France: not a copy, but the original. England had been warned that there was a secret understanding between the three countries, unknown to her. There was no time to make a copy. And I stole the real treaty from Raoul du Laurier, to whom I am engaged—whom I adore, Ivor, as I didn't know it was in me to adore any man. You know his name, perhaps—that he's Under Secretary in the Foreign Office, here in Paris. Oh, I can read in your eyes what you're thinking of me, now. You can't think worse of me than I think of myself. Yet I did the thing for Raoul's sake. There's that in my defence—only that."
"I don't understand," I said, trying not to show the horror of Maxine's treachery to a man who loved and trusted her, which I could not help feeling.
"How could you?—except that I've betrayed him! But I'll tell you everything—I'll go back a long way. Then you'll pity me, even if you scorn me, too. You'll work for me—to save me, and him. For years I've helped the British Government. Oh, I won't spare myself. I've been a spy, sometimes against one Power, sometimes against another. When there was anything to do against Russia, I was always glad, because my dear father was a Pole, and you know how Poles feel towards Russia. Russia ruined his life, and stripped it of everything worth having, not only money, but—oh, well, that's not in this story of mine! I won't trouble you or waste time in the telling. Only, when I was a very young girl, I was already the enemy of all that's Russian, with a big debt of revenge to pay. And I've been paying it, slowly. Don't think that the money I've had for my work—hateful work often—has been used for myself. It's been for my father's country—poor, sad country—every shilling of English coin. As an actress I've supported myself, and, as an actress, it has been easier for me to do the other secret work than it would have been for a woman leading a more sheltered life, mingling less with distinguished persons of different countries, or unable to be eccentric without causing scandal. As for France, she's the friend of Russia, and I haven't a drop of French blood in my veins, so, at least, I've never been treacherous to my own people. Oh, I have made some great coups in the last eight or nine years, Ivor!... for I began before I was sixteen, and now I'm twenty-six. Once or twice England has had to thank me for giving her news of the most vital importance. You're shocked to hear what my inner life has been?"
"If I were shocked, no doubt the feeling would be more than half conventional. One hardly knows how conventional one's opinions are until one stops to think," said I.
"Once, I gloried in the work," Maxine went on. "But that was before I fell in love. You and I have played a little at being in love, but that was to pass the time. Both of us were flirting. I'd never met Raoul then, and I've never really loved any man except him. It came at first sight, for me: and when he told me that he cared, he said it had begun when he first saw me on the stage; so you see it is as if we were meant for each other. From the moment I gave him my promise, I promised myself that the old work should be given up for ever: Raoul's fiancee, Raoul's wife, should not be the tool of diplomatists. Besides, as he's a Frenchman, his wife would owe loyalty to France, which Maxine de Renzie never owed. I wanted—oh, how much I wanted—to be only what Raoul believed me, just a simple, true-hearted woman, with nothing to hide. It made me sick to think that there was one thing I must always conceal from him, but I did the best I could. I vowed to myself that I'd break with the past, and I wrote a letter to the British Foreign Secretary, who has always been a good friend of mine. I said I was engaged, and hoped to begin my life all over again in a different way, though he might be sure that I'd know how to keep his secrets as well as my own. Oh, Ivor, to think that was hardly more than a week ago! I was happy then. I feel twenty years older now."
"A week ago. You've been engaged only a week?" I broke in.
"Not many days more. I guessed, I hoped, long ago that Raoul cared, but he wouldn't have told me, even the day he did tell, if he hadn't lost his head a little. He hadn't meant to speak, it seems, for he's poor, and he thought he had no right. But what's a man worth who doesn't lose his head when he loves a woman? I adored him for it. We decided not to let anyone know until a few weeks before we could marry, as I didn't care to have my engagement gossipped about, for months on end. There were reasons why—more than one: but the man of all others whom I didn't want to know the truth found out, or, rather, suspected what had happened, the very day when Raoul and I came to an understanding—Count Godensky of the Russian Embassy. He called, and was let in by mistake while Raoul was with me, and, just as he must have seen by our faces that there was something to suspect, so I saw by his that he did suspect. Oh, a hateful person! I've refused him three times. There are some men so vain that they can never believe a woman really means to say 'no' to them. Count Godensky is one of those, and he's dangerous, too. I'm afraid of him, since I've cared for Raoul, though I used to be afraid of no one, when I'd only myself to think of. Raoul was going away that very night. He had an errand to do for a woman who was a dear and intimate friend of his dead mother. You must know of the Duchesse de Montpellier? Well, it was for her: and Raoul is like her son. She has no children of her own."
"I don't know her," I said, "but I've seen her; a charming looking woman, about forty-five, with a gloomy-faced husband—a fellow who might be rather a Tartar to live with. They were pointed out to me at Monte Carlo one year, in the Casino, where the Duchess seemed to be enjoying herself hugely, though the Duke had the air of being dragged in against his will."
"No doubt he had been—or else he was there to fetch her out. Poor dear, she's a dreadful gambler. It's in her blood! I She lost, I don't know how much, at Monte Carlo on an 'infallible system' she had. She's afraid of her husband, though she loves him immensely; and lately a craze she's had for Bridge has cost her so much that she daren't tell the Duke, who hates her gambling. She confessed to Raoul, and begged him to help her—not with money, for he has none, but by taking a famous and wonderful diamond necklace of hers to Amsterdam, selling the stones for her there, and having them replaced with paste. It was all to be done very secretly, of course, so that the Duke shouldn't know, and Raoul hated it, but he couldn't refuse. He had no idea of telling me this story, that day when he 'lost his head,' while we were bidding each other good-bye before his journey. He didn't mention the name of the Duchess, but said only that he had leave, and was going to Holland on business. But while he was away a dreadful thing happened—the most ghastly misfortune—and as we were engaged to be married, he felt obliged when he came back to let me know the worst."
"What was the dreadful thing that happened?" I asked, as she paused, pressing her hands against her temples.
"The necklace was stolen from Raoul by a thief, who must have been one of the most expert in the world. Can you imagine Raoul's feelings? He came to me in despair, asking my advice. What was he to do? He dared not appeal to the police, or the Duchess's secret would come out. And he couldn't bear to tell her of the loss, not only because it would be such a blow to her, as she was depending on the money from the sale of the jewels, but because she knew that he was in some difficulties, and might be tempted to believe that he'd only pretended the diamonds were stolen—while really he'd sold them for his own use."
"As she's fond of him, and trusts him, probably she would have thought no such thing," I tried to comfort Maxine. "But certainly, it was a rather bad fix."
"Rather bad fix! Oh, you laconic creatures, Englishmen. All you think of is to hide your feelings behind icy words. As for me—well, there was nothing I wouldn't have done to help him—nothing. My life would have been a small thing to give. I would have given my soul. And already a thought came flashing into my mind. I begged Raoul to wait, and say nothing to the Duchess, who didn't even know yet that he'd come back from Amsterdam. The thought in my mind was about the commission from your Secretary for Foreign Affairs. As I told you, I'd just sent him word in the usual cypher and through the usual channels, that I couldn't do what he wanted. He'd offered me eight thousand pounds to undertake the service, and four more if I succeeded. I believed I could succeed if I tried. And with the few thousands I'd saved up, and selling such jewels as I had, I could make up the sum Raoul had been told to ask for the necklace. Then he could give it to the Duchess, and she need never know that the diamonds had been stolen. All that night I lay awake thinking, thinking. Next day, at a time when I knew Raoul would be working in his office, I went to see him there, and cheered him up as well as I could. I told him that in a few days I hoped to have eighteen or twenty thousand pounds in my hands—all for him. To let him have the money would make me happier than I'd ever been. At first he said he wouldn't take it from me—I knew he would say that! But, at last, after I'd cried and begged, and persuaded, he consented; only it was to be a loan, and some how, some time, he would pay me back. In that office there are several great safes; and when we had grown quite happy and gay together, I made Raoul tell me which was the most important of all—where the really sacred and valuable things were kept. He laughed and pointed out the most interesting one—the one, he said, which held all the deepest secrets of French foreign diplomacy. I was sure then that the thing I had to get for the British Foreign Secretary must be there, though it was such a new thing that it couldn't have been anywhere for long. 'There are three keys to that safe,' said Raoul. 'One is kept by the President; one is always with the Foreign Secretary; this is the third'; and he showed me a strange little key different to any I had seen before. 'Oh, do let me have a peep at these wonderful papers,' I pleaded with him. Before coming I had planned what to do. Round my throat I wore a string of imitation pearls, which I'd put on for a special purpose. But they were pretty, and so well made that only an expert would know they weren't real. Raoul isn't an expert; so at the moment he fitted the key into the lock of the safe to open the door, I gave a sly little pull, and broke the thread, making the pearls roll everywhere about the floor. He was quite distressed, forgot all about the key in the lock, and flew to pick up the pearls as if each one were worth at least a thousand francs.
"While he was busy finding the lost beads, I whipped out the key, took an impression of it on a piece of wax I had ready, concealed in my handkerchief, and slipped it back into the lock while he was still on his hands and knees on the floor. Then he opened the safe-door for a moment, just to give me the peep I had begged for, but not long enough for me to touch anything even if I'd dared to try with him standing there. Enough, though, to show me that the documents were neatly arranged in labelled pigeon-holes, and to see their general character, colour, and shape. That same day a key to fit the lock was being made; and when it was ready, I made an excuse to call again on Raoul at the office. Not that a very elaborate excuse was needed. The poor fellow, trusting me as he trusts himself, or more, was only too glad to have me come to him, even in that sacred place. Now, the thing was to get him away. But I'd made up my mind what to do. In another office, upstairs, was a friend of Raoul's—the one who introduced us to each other, and I'd made up a message for him, which I begged Raoul to take, and bring his friend to speak to me. He went, and I believed I might count on five minutes to myself. No more—but those five minutes would have to be enough for success or failure. The instant the door shut behind Raoul, I was at the safe. The key fitted. I snatched out a folded document, and opened it to make quite, quite certain it was the right one, for a mistake would be inexcusable and spoil everything. It was what I wanted—the treaty, newly made, between Japan, Russia and France—the treaty which your Foreign Secretary thought he had reason to believe was a secret one, arranged between the three countries without the knowledge of England and to the prejudice of her interests. The one glance I had gave me the impression that the document was nothing of the kind, but quite innocent, affecting trade only; yet that wasn't my business. I had to send it to the Foreign Secretary, who wanted to know its precise nature, and whether England was being deceived. In place of the treaty I slipped into its pigeon-hole a document I'd brought with me—just like the real thing. No one opening the safe on other business would suspect the change that had been made. My hope was to get the treaty back before it should be missed. You see, I was betraying Raoul, to save him. Do you understand?"
"I understand. You must have persuaded yourself that you were justified. But, good Heavens, Maxine," I couldn't help breaking out, "it was an awful thing to do."
"I know—I know. But I had to have the money—for Raoul. And there was no other way to get it. You remember, I'd refused, till the diamonds were lost, and would have refused even if Raoul had nothing to do with the French Foreign Office. But let me go on telling you what happened. I had time enough. I had even a minute or two to spare. And fortunately for me, the man I'd sent Raoul to find was out. I looked at my watch, pretended to be surprised, and said I must go at once. I couldn't bear to waste a second in hurrying the treaty off, so that it might the more quickly be on its way back. I hadn't come to visit Raoul in my own carriage, but in a cab, which was waiting. As Raoul was taking me to it, Count Godensky got out of a motor-brougham, and saw me. If only it had been anywhere except in front of the Foreign Office! I told myself there was no reason why he should guess that anything was wrong, but I was in such a state of nerves that, as he raised his hat, and his eyebrows, I fancied that he imagined all sorts of things, and I felt myself grow red and pale. What a fool I was—and how weak! But I couldn't help it. I didn't wait to go home. I wrote a few lines in the cab, and sent off the packet, registered, in time I hoped, to catch the post—but after all, it didn't. Coming out from the post office, there was Godensky again, in his motor-brougham. That could have been no coincidence. A horrid certainty sprang to life in me that he'd followed my cab from the Foreign Office, to see where I would go. Why couldn't I have thought of that danger? I have always thought of things, and guarded against them; yet this time, this time of all others, I seemed fated."
"But if Godensky had known what you were doing, the game would have been up for you before this," I said.
"He didn't know, of course. Only—if he wants to be a woman's lover and she won't have him, he's her enemy and he's the enemy of the man who is her lover. He's too clever and too careful of his own interests to speak out prematurely anything he might vaguely suspect, for it would do him harm if he proved mistaken. He wouldn't yet, I think, even warn those whom it might concern, to search and see if anything in Raoul's charge were out of order or missing. But what he would do, what I think he has done, is this. Having some idea, as he may have, that my relations with certain important persons in England are rather friendly, and seeing me come from the Foreign Office to go almost straight to the post, it might have occurred to him to try and learn the name of my correspondent. He has influence—he could perhaps have found out: but if he did, it wouldn't have helped him much, for naturally, my dealings with the British Foreign Secretary are always well under cover—hence a delay sometimes in his receiving word from me. What I send can never go straight to him, as you may guess. Godensky would guess that, too: and he would have perhaps informed the police, very cautiously, very unofficially and confidentially, that he suspected Maxine de Renzie of being a political spy in the pay of England. He would have advised that my movements be watched for the next few days: that English agents of the French police be warned to watch also, on their side of the Channel. He would have argued to himself that if I'd sent any document away, with Raoul's connivance or without, I would be wanting it back as soon as possible; and he would have mentioned to the police that possibly a messenger would bring me something—if my correspondence through the post was found to contain nothing compromising. Oh, there have been eyes on me, and on every movement of mine, I'm sure. See how efficient, though quiet, the methods have been where you're concerned. They—the police—knew the name of the man I was to meet here at this hotel; and if, as Godensky must have hoped, any document belonging to the French Government had been found on you or me, everything would have played into his hands. Raoul would have been ruined, his heart broken, and I—but there are no words to express what I would have suffered, what I may yet have to suffer. Godensky would be praised for his cleverness, as well as securing a satisfactory revenge on me for refusing him. The only thing which rejoices me now is the thought of his blank disappointment when he gets the news from the Commissary of Police."
"You don't believe then," I asked, "that Godensky has had any hand in the disappearance of the treaty?"
"I would believe it, if it weren't for the necklace being put in its place. Even if Count Godensky could have known of Raoul's mission with the diamonds, and got them into his own hands, he wouldn't have let them get out again with every chance of their going back to Raoul, and thus saving him from his trouble. He'd do nothing to help, but everything to hinder. There lies the mystery—in the return of the necklace instead of the treaty. You have no knowledge of it, you tell me; yet you come to me with it in your pocket—the necklace stolen from Raoul du Laurier, days ago, in Amsterdam or on the way there."
"You're certain it's the same?"
"Certain as that you are you, and I am I. And I'm not out of my mind yet—though I soon shall be, unless you somehow save me from this horror."
"I'm going to try," I said. "Don't give up hope. I wish, though, that you hadn't to act to-night."
"So do I. But there's no way out of it. And I must go now to the theatre, or I shall be late: my make-up's a heavy one, and takes a long time. I can't afford to have any talk about me and my affairs to-night, whatever comes afterwards. Raoul will be in a box, and at the end of the first act, he'll be at the door of my dressing-room. The agony of seeing him, of hearing him praise my acting, and saying dear, trusting, loving words that would make me almost too happy, if I hadn't betrayed him, ruined his career for ever!"
"Maybe not," I said. "And anyhow, there's the necklace. That's something."
"Yes, that's something."
"Will Godensky be in the audience, too?" I asked.
"I'm sure he will. He couldn't keep away. But he may be late. He won't come until he's had a long talk with the Commissary of Police, and tried to thrash matters out."
"If only your theory's right, then,—if he hasn't dared yet to throw suspicion on du Laurier, and if the loss of that letter-case with its contents is as much of a mystery to him as it is to us, we have a little time before us still: we're comparatively safe for a few hours."
"We're as safe," answered Maxine, with a kind of desperate calmness, "as if we were in a house with gunpowder stored underneath, and a train laid to fire it. But"—she broke off bitterly, "why do I say 'we'. To you all this can be no more than a regret, a worry."
"You know that's not just!" I reproached her. "I'm in this with you now, heart and soul. I spoke no more than the truth when I said I'd give my life, if necessary, to redeem my failure. Already I've given something, but—"
"What have you given?" she caught me up quickly.
"My hope of happiness with a girl I love as you love du Laurier," I answered; then regretted my words and would have taken them back if I could, for she had a heavy enough burden to bear already, without helping me bear mine.
"I don't understand," she said.
"Don't think of it. You can do nothing; and I don't grudge the sacrifice—or anything," I hurried on.
"Yet I will think of it, if I ever have time to think of anything beyond this tangle. But now, it must be au revoir. Save me, save Raoul, if you can, Ivor. What you can do, I don't know. I'm groping in darkness. Yet you're my one hope. For pity's sake, come to my house when the play's over, to tell me what you've done, if you've been able to do anything. Be there at twelve."
"Thank you. I shall live for that moment. Now, give me the diamonds, and I'll go. I don't want you to be seen with me outside this room."
I gave her the necklace, and she was at the door before I could open it.
IVOR IS LATE FOR AN APPOINTMENT
I was glad to be alone, for as I had said, I wanted to think quietly.
Maxine had taken the diamonds, but she had slipped the necklace into the bosom of her dress, pressing it down through the rather low-cut opening at the throat, and had therefore left the leather case. I picked the thing up from the table where she had thrown it, and examined it carefully for the first time.
It had not been originally intended as a jewel-case, that was clear; and as Maxine's voice had rung unmistakably true when she denied all previous knowledge of it to the police, I judged that the diamonds had not been in it when the Duchess entrusted them to du Laurier. He would almost certainly have described to Maxine the box or case which had been stolen from him, and if the thing pulled out from the sofa-hiding-place had recalled his description, she must have betrayed some emotion under the keen eyes of the Commissary of Police.
The case which, it seemed, I had brought to Paris, looked as if it might have been made to hold a peculiar kind of cigar, much longer than the ordinary sort. Within, on either side, was a partition, and there was a silver clasp on which the hallmark was English.
"English silver!" I said to myself, thoughtfully. The three men who had travelled in the carriage with me from London to Dover were all English. Of the trio, only the nervous little fellow who had reserved the compartment for himself had found the smallest possible opportunity to steal the treaty from me, and exchange for it this red leather case containing a diamond necklace worth twenty thousand pounds. If he possessed the skill and quick deftness of a conjurer or a marvellously clever professional pickpocket, as well as the incentive of a paid spy, he might conceivably have done the trick at the moment of alarm on the boat's gangway, not afterwards; for when he had pressed near me in the Gare du Nord he had been on the wrong side. But for my life I could not guess the motive for such an exchange.
Supposing him a spy, employed to track and rob me of what I carried, why should he have made me a present of these rare and precious diamonds? Would the bribe for which he used his skill reach anything like the sum he could obtain by selling the stones? I was almost sure it would not; and therefore, having the diamonds, it would have been far more to his advantage to keep them than to stuff them into my pocket, simply to fill up the space where the case with the treaty had lain. There would not have been time yet for the real diamonds to have been copied in Amsterdam, therefore it would be useless to build up a theory that the stones given me might be false.
Besides, I reminded myself, if the man were a spy whose business was to watch and be near me, why hadn't he waited to see what I would do, where I would go, instead of taking a compartment, carefully reserving it, and trusting to such an unlikely chance as that I might force myself into it with him? Even if the three men had been in some obscure way playing into each others' hands, I could not see how their game had been arranged to catch me.
Maxine and I had talked for a long time, but not two hours had passed yet since I saw the last of the little rat of a man in the railway-station. Though I could not understand any reason for his tricking me, still I told myself that nobody else could have done it, and I decided to go back at once to the Gare du Nord. There I might still be able to find some trace of the little man and of my two other fellow-travellers. If through a porter or cabman I could learn where they had gone, I might have a chance even now of getting back the stolen treaty. I had brought with me from London a loaded revolver, warned by the Foreign Secretary that to do so would be a wise precaution; and I was ready to make use of it if necessary.
I was beginning to be very hungry, but that was a detail of no importance, for I had no time to waste in eating. I went to the railway-station and looked about until I found a porter whose face I had seen when I got out of the train. He had, in fact, appeared under the window of my compartment, offering himself as a luggage carrier and had been close behind me when my late travelling companion walked by my side. Questioned, he appeared not to remember; but his wits being sharpened by the gift of a franc, he reflected and recalled not only my features but the features of the little man, whom he described with sufficient accuracy. What had become of le petit Monsieur he was not certain, but fancied he had eventually driven away in a cab accompanied by two other gentlemen. He recollected this circumstance, because the face of the cabman was one that he knew; and it was now again in the station, for the voiture had returned. Would he point out the cocher to me? He would, and did, receiving a second franc for his pains.
The cab driver proved to be a dull and surly fellow, like many another cocher of Paris, but the clink of silver and the sight of it mellowed him. I began by saying that I was in search of three friends of mine whom I was to have met when the boat train came in, but whom I had unfortunately missed. I asked him to describe the men he had driven away from the station at that time, and though he did it clumsily, betraying an irritating lack of observation when it came to details, still such information as I could draw from him sounded encouraging. He remembered perfectly well the place at which he had deposited his three passengers, and I decided to take the risk of following them.
When I say "risk," I mean the risk that the man I was starting to chase might turn out not to be the man I wished to follow. Besides, as they had been driven to Neuilly, the distance was so great that, if I went there in a cab, and found at last that I had made a mistake, I should have wasted a great deal of valuable time on the wrong tack. If the driver had remembered the name of the street, and the number of the house at which he had paused, I would have hired a motor and flashed out to the place in a few minutes; but, despite a suggested bribe, he could say no more than that, when he had come to a certain place, one of his passengers had called, "Turn down the next street, to the left." He had done so, and in front of a house, almost midway along that street, he had been bidden to stop. He had not bothered to look at the name of the street; but, though he was not very familiar with that neighbourhood, various landmarks would guide him to the right place, when he came to pass them again.
Having heard all he had to say, I reluctantly made up my mind that I could do no better than take the man as my conductor; and accordingly, with a horse already tired, I drove to Neuilly. There, the landmarks were not deceiving, as I was half afraid they would be; and in a quiet street of the suburb, we stopped at last before a fair-sized house with lights in many windows. Evidently it was a pension.
Of the man-servant who answered my ring, I enquired if three English gentlemen had lately arrived. He replied that they had, and were dining. Would Monsieur give himself the pain of waiting a few minutes, until dinner should be over?
My answer was to slip a five franc piece into the servant's hand, and suggest that I should be shown at once into the dining-room, without waiting.
My idea was to catch my birds while they fed, and take them by surprise, lest they fly away. If I pounced upon them in the midst of a meal, at least they could not escape before being recognised by me: and as to what should come after recognition, the moment of meeting must decide.
The five franc piece worked like a charm. I was promptly ushered into the dining-room, and standing just inside the door, I swept the long table with a quick, eager glance. About eighteen or twenty people were dining, but, though several were unmistakably English, I saw no one who resembled my travelling companions.
Everyone turned and stared. There was no face of which I had not a good view. In a low voice I asked the servant which were the new arrivals of whom he had spoken. He pointed them out, and added that, though they had come only that day from England, they were old patrons, well known in the house.
As I lingered, deeply disappointed, the elderly proprietor of the pension, who superintended the comfort of his guests, trotted fussily up to enquire the stranger's business in his dining-room. I explained that I had hoped to find friends, and was so polite that I contrived to get permission for my cabman to have a peep through the crack of the door. When he had identified his three passengers, all hope was over. I had followed the wrong men.
There was nothing to do but go back to the Gare du Nord, and question more porters and cabmen. Nobody could give me any information worth having, it seemed; yet the little man must have left the station in a vehicle of some sort, as he had a great deal of small luggage. Since I could learn nothing of him or his movements, however, and dared not, because of Maxine and the British Foreign Secretary, apply to the police for help, I determined to lose no more time before consulting a private detective, a man whose actions I could control, and to whom I need tell only as much of the truth as I chose, without fear of having the rest dragged out of me.
At my own hotel I enquired of the manager where I could find a good private detective, got an address, and motored to it, the speed bracing my nerves. Fortunately, (as I thought then) Monsieur Anatole Girard was at home and able to receive me. I was shown into the plain but very neat little sitting-room of a flat on the fifth floor of a big new apartment house, and was impressed at first glance by the clever face of the dark, thin Frenchman who politely bade me welcome. It was cunning, as well as clever, no doubt: but then, I told myself, it was the business of a person in Monsieur Girard's profession to be cunning.
I introduced myself as Mr. Sanford, the name I had been told to give at the Elysee Palace Hotel. This seemed best, as it was in the hotel that I had been recommended to Monsieur Girard, and complications might arise if George Sandford suddenly turned into Ivor Dundas. Besides, as there were a good many things which I did not want brought to light, Sandford seemed the man to fit the situation. Later, he could easily disappear and leave no trace.
I said that I had been robbed of a thing which was of immense value to me, but as it was the gift of a lady whose name must not on any account appear in the case, I did not wish to consult the police. All I asked of Monsieur Girard's well-known ability was the discovery of the supposed thief, whom I thereupon described. I added the fact that we had travelled together, mentioned the incident at the gangway, and explained that I had not suspected my loss until I arrived at the Elysee Palace Hotel.
Girard listened quietly, evidently realising that I talked to him from behind a screen of reserve, yet not seeking to force me to put aside that screen. He asked several intelligent questions, very much to the point, and I answered them—as seemed best. When he touched on points which I considered too delicate to be handled by a stranger, even a detective in my employ, I frankly replied that they had nothing to do with the case in hand. Shrugging his shoulders almost imperceptibly, yet expressively, he took my refusals without comment; and merely bowed when I said that, if the scoundrel could be unearthed within twenty-four hours, I would pay a hundred pounds: if within twelve, a hundred and fifty: if within six, two hundred. I added that there was not a second to waste, as the fellow might slip out of Paris at any minute; but whatever happened, Monsieur Girard was to keep the matter quiet.
The detective promised to do his best, (which was said to be very good), held out hopes of success, and assured me of his discretion. On the whole, I was pleased with him. He looked like a man who thoroughly knew his business; and had it not been for the solemn warning of the Foreign Secretary, and the risk for Maxine, I would gladly have put more efficient weapons in Girard's hands, by telling him everything.
By the time that the detective had been primed with such facts and details as I could give, it was past ten o'clock. I could see my way to do nothing more for the moment, and as I was half famished, I whizzed back in my hired automobile to the Elysee Palace Hotel. There I had food served in my own sitting-room, lest George Sandford should chance inconveniently upon some acquaintance of Ivor Dundas, in the restaurant. I did not hurry over the meal, for all I wanted now was to arrive at Maxine de Renzie's house at twelve o'clock, and tell her my news—or lack of news. She would be there waiting for me, I was sure, no matter how prompt I might be, for though in ordinary circumstances, after the first performance of a new play, either Maxine would have gone out to supper, or invited guests to sup with her, she would have accepted no invitation, given none, for to-night. She would hurry out of the theatre, probably without waiting to remove her stage make-up, and she would go home unaccompanied, except by her maid.
Maxine lives in a charming little old-fashioned house, set back in its own garden, a great "find" in a good quarter of Paris; and her house could he reached in ten minutes' drive from my hotel. I would not go as far as the gate, but would dismiss my cab at the corner of the quiet street, as it would not he wise to advertise the fact that Mademoiselle de Renzie was receiving a visit from a young man at midnight. Fifteen minutes would give me plenty of time for all this: therefore, at about a quarter to twelve I started to go downstairs, and in the entrance hall almost ran against the last person on earth I expected to see—Diana Forrest.
She was not alone, of course; but for a second or two I saw no one else. There was none other except her precious and beautiful face in the world; and for a wild instant I asked myself if she had come here to see me, to take back all her cruel words of misunderstanding, and to take me hack also. But it was only for an instant—a very mad instant.
Then I realised that she couldn't have known I was to be at the Elysee Palace Hotel, and that even if she had, she would not have dreamed of coming to me. As common sense swept my brain clear, I saw near the precious and beautiful face other faces: Lady Mountstuart's, Lord Mountstuart's, Lisa Drummond's, and Bob West's.
They were all in evening dress, the ladies in charming wraps which appeared to consist mostly of lace and chiffon, and evidently they had just come into the hotel from some place of amusement. The beautiful face, which had been pale, grew rosy at sight of me, though whether with amazement or anger, or both, I couldn't tell. Lisa smiled, looking more impish even than usual; but it was plain that the others, Lord Mountstuart among them, were surprised to see me here.
"Goodness, is it you or your ghost?" exclaimed Lady Mountstuart, in the soft accents of California, which have never changed in spite of the long years of her married life in England.
If it had been my ghost it would have vanished immediately, to save Di from embarrassment, and also to prevent any delay in getting to Maxine's. But, unfortunately, a flesh and blood young man must stop for conventional politeness before he can disappear, no matter what presses.
I said "How do you do?" to everyone, adding that I was as surprised to see them as they could be to see me. I even grinned civilly at Lord Robert West, though finding him here with Di, looking particularly pleased with himself, made me want to knock him down.
"Oh, it was a plan, as far as Mounty and Lord Robert and I are concerned," explained Lady Mountstuart. "Of course, Lord Robert ought to have been at the Duchess's bazaar this afternoon, but then he won't show up at such things, even to please his sister, and Di and Lisa were to have represented me there. To-day and to-morrow are the only days all three of us could possibly steal to get away and look at a most wonderful motor car; made for a Rajah who died before it was ready. Lord Robert certainly knows more about automobiles than any other human being does, and he thought this was just what I would want. Di had the most horrid headache this morning, poor child, and wasn't fit for the fatigue of a big crush, so, as she's a splendid sailor, I persuaded her to come with us—and Lisa, too, of course. We caught the afternoon train to Boulogne, and had such a glorious crossing that we actually all had the courage to dress and dine at Madrid—wasn't it plucky of us? But we're collapsing now, and have come back early, as we must inspect the car the first thing to-morrow morning and do a heap of shopping afterwards."
"If you're collapsing, I mustn't keep you standing here a moment," I said, anxious for more than one reason to get away. Di wasn't looking at me. Half turned from me, purposely I didn't doubt, she had begun a conversation with Bob West, who beamed with joy over her kindness to him and her apparent indifference to me.
"'Collapsing' is an exaggeration perhaps," laughed Lady Mountstuart. "But, instead of keeping us standing here, come up to our sitting-room and have a little talk—and whisky and soda."
"Yes, do come, Dundas," her husband added.
"Thank you both," I stammered, trying not to look embarrassed. "But—I know you're all tired, and—."
"And perhaps you have some nice engagement," piped Lisa.
"It's too late for respectable British young men to have engagements in naughty Paris," said Lady Mountstuart, laughing again (she looks very handsome when she laughs, and knows it). "Isn't that true, Mr. Dundas?"
"It depends upon the engagement," I managed to reply calmly. But then, as Di suddenly turned and looked straight at me with marked coldness, the blood sprang up to my face. I began to stammer again like a young ass of a schoolboy. "I'm afraid that I—er—the fact is, I am engaged. A matter of business. I wish I could get out of it, but I can't, and—er—I shall have to run off, or I will be late. Good-bye,—good-bye." Then I mumbled something about hoping to see them again before they left Paris, and escaped, knowing that I had made a horrid mess of my excuses. Di was laughing at something West said, as I turned away, and though perhaps his remark and her laugh had nothing to do with me, my ears burned, and there was a cold lump of iron, or something that felt like it, where my heart ought to have been.
Now was Lord Robert's time to propose—now, when she believed me faithless and unworthy—if he but knew it. And I was afraid that he would know it.
I got out into the open air, feeling half-dazed as one of the under porters called me a cab. I gave the name of a street in the direction, but at some distance from Maxine's, lest ears should hear which ought not to hear: and it was only when we were well away from the hotel that I amended my first instructions. Even then, I mentioned the street leading into the one where I was due, not the street itself.
"Depechez vous" I added, for I had delayed eight or ten minutes longer than I ought, and this had upset the exactness of my calculations. The man obeyed; nevertheless, instead of reaching the top of Maxine's street at two or three minutes before twelve, as I had intended, it was nearly ten minutes past when I got out of my cab at the corner: and when I came to the gate of the house a clock somewhere was striking the quarter hour after midnight.
MAXINE DE RENZIE'S PART
MAXINE ACTS ON THE STAGE AND OFF
How I got through the play on that awful night, I don't know.
When I went onto the stage to take up my cue, soon after the beginning of the first act, my brain was a blank. I could not remember a single line that I had to say. I couldn't even see through the dazzling mist which floated before my eyes, to recognise Raoul in the box where I knew he would be sitting unless—something had happened. But presently I was conscious of one pair of hands clapping more than all the rest. Yes, Raoul was there. I felt his love reaching out to me and warming my chilled heart like a ray of sunshine that finds its way through shadows. I must not fail. For his sake, I must not fail. I never had failed, and I would not now—above all, not now.
It was the thought of Raoul that gave me back my courage; and though I couldn't have said one word of my part before I came on the stage to answer that first cue, by the time the applause had died down enough to let me speak, each line seemed to spring into my mind as it was needed. Then I got out of myself and into the part, as I always do, but had feared not to do to-night. The audience was mine, to play with as I liked, to make laugh, to make cry, and clap its hands or shout "Brava-brava!"
Yet for once I feared it, feared that great crowd of people out there, as a lion tamer must at some time or other fear one of his lions. "What if they know all I've done?" The question flashed across my brain. "What if a voice in the auditorium should suddenly shout that Maxine de Renzie had betrayed France for money, English money?" How these hands which applauded would tingle to seize me by the throat and choke my life out.
Still, with these thoughts murmuring in my head like a kind of dreadful undertone, I went on. An actress can always go on—till she breaks. I think that she can't be bent, as other women can: and I envy the women who haven't had to learn the lesson of hardening themselves. It seems to me that they must suffer less.
At last came the end of the first act. But there were five curtain calls. Five times I had to go back and smile, and bow, and look delighted with the ovation I was having. Then, when the time came that I could escape, I met on the way to my dressing-room men carrying big harps and crowns, baskets and bunches of flowers which had been sent up to me on the stage. I pushed past, hardly glancing at them, for I knew that Raoul would be waiting.
There he was, radiant with his unselfish pride in me—my big, handsome lover, looking more like the Apollo Belvedere come alive and dressed in modern clothes than like an ordinary diplomatic young man from the Foreign Office. But then, of course, he is really quite out of place in diplomacy. Since he can't exist on a marble pedestal or some Old Master's canvas, he ought at least to be a poet or an artist—and so he is at heart; not one, but both; and a dreamer of beautiful dreams, as beautiful and noble as his own clear-cut face, which might be cold if it were not for the eyes, and lips.
There were people about, and we spoke like mere acquaintances until I'd led Raoul into the little boudoir which adjoins my dressing-room. Then—well, we spoke no longer like mere acquaintances. That is enough to say. And we had five minutes together, before I was obliged to send him away, and go to dress for the second act.
The touch of Raoul's hands, and those lips of his that are not cold, gave me strength to go through all that was yet to come. There's something almost magical in the touch—just a little, little touch—of the one we love best. For a moment we can forget everything else, even if it were death itself waiting just round the corner. I've flirted with more than one man, sometimes because I liked him and it amused me,—as with Ivor Dundas,—sometimes because I had to win him for politic reasons. But I never knew that blessed feeling until I met Raoul du Laurier. It was a heavenly rest now to lay my head for a minute on his shoulder, just shutting my eyes, without speaking a word.
I thought—for I was worn out, body and soul, with the strain of keeping up and hiding my secret—that when I was dead the best paradise would be to lean so on Raoul's shoulder, never moving, for the first two or three hundred years of eternity. But as the peaceful fancy cooled my brain, back darted remembrance, like a poisonous snake. I reminded myself how little I deserved such a paradise, and how my lover's dear arms would put me away, in a kind of unbelieving horror, if he knew what I had done, and how I had betrayed his trust in me.
For ten years I'd been a political spy—yes. But I owed a grudge to Russia, which I'd promised my father to pay: and France is Russia's ally. Besides, it seems less vile to betray a country than to deceive a man you adore, who adores you in return. We women are true as truth itself to those we love. For them we would sacrifice the greatest cause. Always I had known this, and I had thought that I could prove myself truer than the truest, if I ever loved. Yet now I had betrayed my lover and sold his country; and, realising what I had done, as I hardly had realised it till this moment, I suffered torture in his arms.
Even if, by something like a miracle, we were saved from ruin, nothing on earth could wash the stain from my heart, which Raoul believed so good, so pure.
What can be more terrible for a woman than the secret knowledge that to hold a man's respect she must always keep one dark spot covered from his eyes? Such a woman needs no future punishment. She has all she deserves in this world. My punishment had begun, and it would always go on through my life with Raoul, I knew, even if no great disaster came. Into the heart of my happiness would come the thought of that hidden spot; how often, oh, how often, would I feel that thought stir like a black bat!
I could no longer rest with my eyes shut, at peace after the storm. I shuddered and sobbed, though my lids were dry, and Raoul tried to soothe me, thinking it was but my excitement in playing for the first time a heavy and exacting part. He little guessed how heavy and exacting it really was!
"Darling," he said, "you were wonderful. And how proud I was of you—how proud I am. I thought it would be impossible to worship you more than I did. But I love you a thousand times more than ever to-night."
It was true, I knew. I could see it in his eyes, hear it in his voice. Since his dreadful misfortune in losing the diamonds, since I had comforted him for their loss, and insisted on giving him all I had to help him out of his trouble, he had seen in me the angel of his salvation. To-night his heart was almost breaking with love for me, who so ill deserved it. Now, I had news for him, which would make him long to shout for joy. If I chose, I could tell him that the jewels were safe. He would love me still more passionately in his happiness, which I had given, than in his grief; and I would take all his love as if it were my right, hiding the secret of my treachery as long as I could. But how long would that be? How could I be sure that the theft of the treaty had not already been discovered, and that the avalanche of ruin was not on its way to blot us for ever out of life and love?
The fear made me nestle nearer to him, and cling tightly, because I said to myself that perhaps I might never be in his arms again: that this might be the last time that his eyes—those eyes that are not cold—might look at me with love in them, as now.
"Suppose all these people out there had hated and hissed me, instead of applauding?" I asked. "Would you still be proud of me, still care for me?"
"I'd love you better, if there could be a 'better,'" he answered, holding me very close.
"You know, dearest one, most beautiful one, that I'm a jealous brute. I can't bear you to belong to others—even to the public that appreciates you almost as much as you deserve to be appreciated. Of course I'm proud that they adore you, but I'd like to take you away from them and adore you all by myself. Why, if the whole world turned against you, there'd be a kind of joy in that for me. I'd be so glad of the chance to face it for you, to shield you from it always."
"Then, what is there would make you love me less?" I went on, dwelling on the subject with a dreadful fascination, as one looks over the brink of a precipice.
"Nothing on God's earth—while you kept true to me."
"And if I weren't true—if I deceived you?"
"Why, I'd kill you—and myself after. But it makes me see red—a blazing scarlet—even to think of such a thing. Why should you speak of it—when it's beyond possibility, thank Heaven! I know you love me, or you wouldn't make such noble sacrifices to save me from ruin."
I shivered: and I shall not be colder when they lay me in my coffin. I wished that I had not looked over that precipice, down into blackness. Why dwell on horrors, when I might have five minutes of happiness—perhaps the last I should ever know? I remembered the piece of good news I had for Raoul. I would have told him then, but he went on, saying to me so many things sweet and blessed to hear, that I could not bear to cut him short, lest never after this should he speak words of love to me. Then—long before it ought, so it seemed—the clock in mydressing-room struck, and I knew that I hadn't another instant to spare. On some first nights I might have been willing to risk keeping the curtain down (though I am rather conscientious in such ways), but to-night I wanted, more than anything else, to have the play over, and to get home by midnight or before, so that my suspense might be ended, and I might know the worst—or best.
"I must go. You must leave me, dear," I said. "But I've some good news for you when there's time to explain, and a great surprise. I can't give you a minute until the last, for you know I've almost to open the third and fourth acts. But when the curtain goes down on my death scene, come behind again. I shan't take any calls—after dying, it's too inartistic, isn't it? And I never do. I'll see you for just a few more minutes here, in this room, before I dress to go home."
"For a few minutes!" Raoul caught me up. "But afterwards? You promised me long ago that I should have supper with you at your house—just you and I alone together—on the first night of the new play."
My heart gave a jump as he reminded me of this promise. Never before had I forgotten an engagement with Raoul. But this time I had forgotten. There had been so many miserable things to think of, that they had crowded the one pleasant thing out of my tortured brain. I drew away from him involuntarily with a start of surprise.
"You'd forgotten!" exclaimed Raoul, disappointed and hurt.
"Only for the instant," I said, "because I'm hardly myself. I'm tired and excited, unstrung, as I always am on first nights. But—"
"Would you rather not be bothered with me?" he asked wistfully, as I paused to think what I should do.
His eyes looked as if the light had suddenly gone out of them, and I couldn't bear that. It might too soon be struck out for ever, and by me.
"Don't say 'bothered'!" I reproached him. "That's a cruel word. The question is—I'm worn out. I don't think I shall be able to eat supper. My maid will want to put me to bed, the minute I get home. Poor old Marianne! She's such a tyrant, when she fancies it's for my good. It, generally ends in my obeying her—seldom in her obeying me. But we'll see how I feel when the last act's over. We'll talk of it when you come here—after my death." I tried to laugh, as I made that wretched jest, but I was sorry when I made it, and my laugh didn't ring true. There was a shadow on Raoul's face—that dear, sensitive face of his which shows too much feeling for a man in this work-a-day, strenuous world—but I had little time to comfort him.
"It will be like coming to life again, to see you," I said. "And now, good-bye! no, not good-bye, but au revoir."
I sent him away, and flew into my dressing-room next door, where Marianne was growing very nervous, and aimlessly shifting my make-up things on the dressing table, or fussing with some part of my dress for the next act.
"There's a letter for you, Mademoiselle," said she. "The stage-door keeper just brought it round. But you haven't time to read it now."
A wave of faintness swept over me. Supposing Ivor had had bad news, and thought it best to warn me without delay?
"I must read the letter," I insisted. "Give it to me at once."
Occasionally Marianne (who has been with me for many years, and is old enough to be my mother) argues a matter on which we disagree: but something in my voice, I suppose, made her obey me with extraordinary promptness. Then came a shock—and not of relief. I recognised on the envelope the handwriting of Count Godensky.
I know that I am not a coward. Yet it was only by the strongest effort of will that I forced myself to open that letter. I was afraid—afraid of a hundred things. But most of all, I was afraid of learning that the treaty was in his hands. It would be like him to tell me he had it, and try to drive some dreadful bargain.
Nerving myself, as I suppose a condemned criminal must nerve himself to go to the guillotine or the gallows, I opened the letter. For as long as I might have counted "one, two," slowly, the paper looked black before my eyes, as if ink were spilt over it, blotting out the words: but the dark smudge cleared away, and showed me—nothing, except that, if Alexis Godensky held a trump card, I was not to have a sight of it until later, when he chose.
"MY DEAR MAXINE," [he began his letter, though he had never been given the right to call me Maxine, and never had dared so to call me before] "I must see you, and talk to you this evening, alone. This for your own sake and that of another, even more than mine, though you know very well what it is to me to be with you. Perhaps you may be able to guess that this is important. I am so sure that you will guess, and that you will not only be willing but anxious to see me to-night, if you never were before, that I shall venture to be waiting for you at the stage door when you come out.
"Yours, in whatever way you will,
If anything could have given me pleasure at that moment, it would have been to tear the letter in little pieces, with the writer looking on. Then to throw those pieces in his hateful face, and say, "That's your answer."
But he was not looking on, and even if he had been I could not have done what I wished. He knew that I would have to consent to see him, that he need have no fear I would profit by my knowledge of his intentions, to order him sent away from the stage door. I would have to see him. But how could I manage it after refusing—as I must refuse—to let Raoul go home with me? Raoul was coming to me after my death scene on the stage. At the very least, he would expect to put me into my carriage when I left the theatre, even if he went no further. Yet there would be Godensky, waiting, and Raoul would see him. What could I do to escape from such an impasse?
MAXINE GIVES BACK THE DIAMONDS
I tried to answer the question, to decide something; but my brain felt dead. "I can't think now. I must trust to luck—trust to luck," I said to myself, desperately, as Marianne dressed me. "By and by I'll think it all out."
But after that my part gave me no more time to think. I was not Maxine de Renzie, but Princess Helene of Hungaria, whose tragic fate was even more sure and swift than miserable Maxine's. When Princess Helene had died in her lover's arms, however (died as Maxine had not deserved to die), and I was able to pick up the tangled threads of my own life, where I'd laid them down, the questions were still crying out for answer, and must somehow be decided at once.
First, there was Raoul to be put off and got out of the way—Raoul, my best beloved, whose help and protection I needed so much, yet must forego, and hurt him instead.
The stage-door keeper had orders to let him "come behind," and so he was already waiting at the door of my little boudoir by the time Helene had died, the curtain had gone down, and Maxine de Renzie had been able to leave the stage.
As we went together into the room, he caught both my hands, crushing them tightly in his, and kissing them over and over again. But his face was pale and sad, and a new fear sprang up in my heart, like a sudden live flame among red ashes.
"What is it, Raoul?—why do you look like that?" I asked; while inside my head another question sounded like a shriek. "What if some word had come to him in the theatre—about the treaty?"
Then I could have cried as a child cries, with the snapping of the tension, when he answered: "It was only that terrible last scene, darling. I've seen you die in other parts. But it never affected me like this. Perhaps it's because you didn't belong to me in those days. Or is it that you were more realistic in your acting to-night than ever before? Anyway, it was awful—so horribly real. It was all I could do to sit still and not jump out of the box to save you. Prince Cyril was a poor chap not to thwart the villain. I should have killed him in the third act, and then Helene might have been happily married, instead of dying."
"I believe you would have killed him," I said.
"I know I should. It's a mistake not to be jealous. I admit that I'm jealous. But such jealousy is a compliment to a woman, my dearest, not an insult."
"How you feel things!" I exclaimed. "Even a play on the stage—"
"If the woman I love is the heroine."
"Will you ever be blase, like the rest of the men I know?" I laughed, though I could have sobbed.
"Never, I think. It isn't in me. Do you despise me for my enthusiasm?"
"I only love you the more," I said, wondering every instant, in a kind of horrid undertone, how I was to get him away.
"I admit I wasn't made for diplomacy," he went on. "I wish, I had money enough to get out of it and take you off the stage, away into some beautiful, peaceful world, where we need think of nothing but our love for each other, and the good we might do others because of our love, and to keep our world beautiful. Would you go with me?"
"Ah, if I could!" I sighed. "If I could go with you to-morrow, away into that beautiful, peaceful world. But-who knows? Meanwhile—"
"Meanwhile, you don't mean to send me away from you?" he pleaded, in a coaxing way he has, which is part of his charm, and makes him seem like a boy. "You don't know what it is, after that scene of your death on the stage, where I couldn't get to you—where another man was your lover—to touch you again, alive and warm, your own adorable, vivid self. You will let me go home with you, in your carriage, anyhow as far as the house, and kiss you good-night there, even if you're so tired you must drive me out then?"
I would have given all my success of that night, and more, to say "yes." But instead I had to stumble into excuses. I had to argue that we mustn't be seen leaving the theatre together—yet, until everyone knew that we were engaged. As for letting him come to me at home, if he dreamt how my head ached, he wouldn't ask it. I almost broke down as I said this; and poor Raoul was so sorry for me that he immediately offered to leave me at once.
"It's a great sacrifice, though, to give up what I've been looking forward to for days," he said, "and to let you go from me to-night of all nights."
"Why to-night of all nights?", I asked quickly, my coward conscience frightening me again.
"Only because I love you more than ever, and—it's a stupid feeling, of course, I suppose all the fault of that last scene in the play—yet I feel as if—But no, I don't want to say it."
"You must say it," I cried.
"Well, if only to hear you contradict me, then. I feel as if I were in danger of losing you. It's just a feeling—a weight on my heart. Nothing more. Rather womanish, isn't it?"
"Not womanish, but foolish," I said. "Shake off the feeling, as one wakes up from a nightmare. Think of to-morrow. Meeting then will be all the sweeter." As I spoke, it was as if a voice echoed mine, saying different words mockingly. "If there be any meeting—to-morrow, or ever."
I shut my ears to the voice, and went on quickly:
"Before we say good-bye, I've something to show you—something you'll like very much. Wait here till I get it from the next room."
Marianne was tidying my dressing-room for the night, bustling here and there, a dear old, comfortable, dependable thing. She was delighted with my success, which she knew all about, of course; but she was not in the least excited, because she had loyally expected me to succeed, and would have thought the sky must be about to fall if I had failed. She was as placid as she was on other, less important nights, far more placid than she would have been if she had known that she was guarding not only my jewellery, but a famous diamond necklace, worth at least five hundred thousand francs.
There it was, under the lowest tray of my jewel box. I had felt perfectly safe in leaving it there, for I knew that nothing on earth—short of a bomb explosion—could tempt the good creature out of my dressing-room in my absence, and that even if a bomb did explode, she would try to be blown up with my jewel box clutched in her hands.
Saying nothing to Marianne, who was brushing a little stage dust off my third act dress, with my back to her I took out tray after tray from the box (which always came with us to the theatre and went away again in my carriage) until the electric light over the dressing table set the diamonds on fire.
Really, I said to myself, they were wonderful stones. I had no idea how magnificent they were. Not that there were a great many of them. The necklace was composed of a single row of diamonds, with six flat tassels depending from it. But the smallest stones at the back, where the clasp came, were as large as my little finger nail, and the largest were almost the size of a filbert. All were of perfect colour and fire, extraordinarily deep and faultlessly shaped, as well as flawless. Besides, the necklace had a history which would have made it interesting even if it hadn't been intrinsically of half its value.
With the first thrill of pleasure I had felt since I knew that the treaty had disappeared I lifted the beautiful diamonds from the box, and slipped them into a small embroidered bag of pink and silver brocade which lay on the table. It was a foolish but pretty little bag, which a friend had made and sent to me at the theatre a few nights ago, and was intended to carry a purse and handkerchief. But I had never used it yet. Now it seemed a convenient receptacle for the necklace, and I suddenly planned out my way of giving it to Raoul.
At first, earlier in the evening, I had meant to put the diamonds in his hands and say, "See what I have for you!" But now I had changed my mind, because he must be induced to go away as quickly as possible—quite, quite away from the theatre, so that there would be no danger of his seeing Count Godensky at the stage door. I was not sorry that Raoul was jealous, because, as he said, his jealousy was a compliment to me; and it is possible only for a cold man never to be jealous of a woman in my profession, who lives in the eyes of the world. But I did not want him to be jealous of the Russian; and he would be horribly jealous, if he thought that he had the least cause.
If I showed him the diamonds now, he would want to stop and talk. He would ask me questions which I would rather not answer until I'd seen Ivor Dundas again, and knew better what to say—whether truth or fiction. Still, I wished Raoul to have the necklace to-night, because it would mean all the difference to him between constant, gnawing anxiety, and the joy of deliverance. Let him have a happy night, even though I was sending him away, even though I did not know what to-morrow might bring, either for him or for me.
I tied the gold cords of the bag in two hard knots, and went out with it to Raoul in the next room.
"This holds something precious," I said, smiling at him, and making a mystery. "You'll value the something, I know—partly for itself, partly because I—because I've been at a lot of trouble to get it for you. When you see it, you'll be more resigned not to see me—just for tonight. But you're to write me a letter, please, and describe accurately every one of your sensations on opening the bag. Also, you may say in your letter a few kind things about me, if you like. And I want it to come to me when I first wake up to-morrow morning. So go now, dearest, and have the sensations, and write about them. I shall be thinking of you every minute, asleep or awake."
"Why mayn't I look now?" asked Raoul, taking the soft mass of pink and silver from me, in the nice, clumsy way a big man has of handling a woman's things.
"Because—just because. But perhaps you'll guess why, by and by," I said. Then I held up my face to be kissed, and he bundled the small bag away in an inside pocket of his coat, as carelessly as if it held nothing but a handkerchief and a pair of gloves.
"Be careful!" I couldn't help exclaiming. But I don't think he heard, for he had me in his arms and was kissing me as if he knew the fear in my heart—the fear that it might be for the last time.
MAXINE DRIVES WITH THE ENEMY
When Raoul was gone I made Marianne hurry me out of the cloth-of-gold and filmy tissue in which the unfortunate Princess Helene had died, and into the black gown in which the almost equally unfortunate Maxine had come to the theatre. I did not even stop to take off my make-up, for though the play was an unusually short one, and all the actors and actresses had followed my example of prompt readiness for all four acts, it lacked twenty minutes of twelve when I was dressed. I had to see Count Godensky, get rid of him somehow, and still be in time to keep my appointment with Ivor Dundas, for which I knew he would strain every nerve not to be late.
My electric carriage would be at the stage door, and my plan was to speak to Godensky, if he were waiting, if possible learn in a moment or two whether he had really found out the truth, and then act accordingly. But if I could avoid it, I meant, in any case, to put off a long conversation until later.
I had drawn my veil down before walking out of the theatre, yet Godensky knew me at once, and came forward. Evidently he had been watching the door.
"Good-evening," he said. "A hundred congratulations."
He put out his hand, and I had to give him mine, for my chauffeur and the stage-door keeper (to say nothing of Marianne, who followed me closely), and several stage-carpenters, with other employes of the theatre, were within seeing and hearing distance. I wanted no gossip, though that was exactly what might best please Count Godensky.
"I got your note," I answered, in Russian, though he had spoken in French. "What is it you want to see me about?"
"Something that can't be told in a moment," he said. "Something of great importance."
"I'm very tired," I sighed. "Can't it wait until to-morrow?"
I tried to "draw" him, and to a certain extent, I succeeded.
"You wouldn't ask that question, if you guessed what—I know," he replied.
Was it a bluff, or did he know—not merely suspect—something?
"I don't understand you," I said quietly, though my lips were dry.
"Shall I mention the word—document?" he hinted. "Really, I'm sure you won't regret it if you let me drive home with you, Mademoiselle."
"I can't do that," I answered. "And I can't take you into my carriage here. But I'll stop for you, and wait at the corner Rue Eugene Beauharnais. Then you can go with me until I think it best for you to get out."
"Very well," he agreed. "But send your maid home in a cab; I can not talk before her."
"Yes, you can. She knows no language except French—and a little English. She always drives home with me."
This was true. But if I had been talking to Raoul, I would perhaps have given the dear old woman her first experience of being sent off by herself. In that case, she would not have minded, for she likes Raoul, admires him as a "dream of a young man," and already suspected what I hadn't yet told her—that we were engaged. But with Count Godensky forced upon me as a companion, I would not for any consideration have parted with Marianne.
Three or four minutes after starting I was giving instructions to my chauffeur where to stop, and almost immediately afterwards Godensky appeared. He got in and took the place at my left, Marianne, silent, but doubtless astonished, facing us on the little front seat.
"Now," I exclaimed. "Please begin quickly."
"Don't force me to be too abrupt," he said. "I would spare you if I could. You speak as if you grudged me every moment with you. Yet I am here because I love you."
"Oh, please, Monsieur!" I broke in. "You know I've told you that is useless."
"But everything is changed since then. Perhaps now, even your mind will be changed. That happens with women sometimes. I want to warn you of a great danger that threatens you, Maxine. Perhaps, late as it is, I could save you from it if you'd let me."
"Save me from what?" I asked temporising. "You're very mysterious, Count Godensky. And I'm Mademoiselle de Renzie except to my very intimate friends."
"I am your friend, always. Maybe you will even permit me to speak of myself as your 'intimate friend' when I have done what I hope to do for you in—in the matter of a certain document which has disappeared."
I was quivering all over. But I had not lost hope yet; I think that some women, feeling as I did, would have fainted. But it would have been better for me to die and be out of my troubles for ever, than to let myself faint and show Godensky that he had struck home.
"Be quiet. Be cool. Be brave now, if never again," I said to myself. And my voice sounded perfectly natural as I exclaimed: "Oh, the 'document' again. The one you spoke about when we first met to-night. You rouse my curiosity. But I don't in the least know what you mean."
"The loss of it is known," he said.
"Ah, it's a lost document?"
"As you will be lost, Maxine, if you don't come to me for the help I'm only too glad to give—on conditions. Let me tell you what they are."
"Wouldn't it be more to the point if you told me what the document is, and how it concerns me?" I parried him, determined to bring him to bay.
"Aren't you evading the point far more than I? The document—which you and I can both see as plainly before our eyes at this instant as though it were in—let us say your hands, or—du Laurier's, if he were here—that document is far too important even to name within hearing of other ears."
"Marianne's? But I told you she can't understand a word of Russian."
"One can't be sure. We can never tell, in these days, who may not be—a spy."
There was a stab for me! But I would not give him the satisfaction of showing that it hurt. He wanted to confuse me, to put me off my guard; but he should not.
"They say one judges others by one's self," I laughed. "Count Godensky, if you throw out such lurid hints about my poor, fat Marianne, I shall begin to wonder if it's not you who are the spy!"
"Since you trust your woman so implicitly, then," he went on, "I'll tell you what you want to know. The document I speak of is the one you took out of the Foreign Office the other day, when you called on your—friend, Monsieur le Vicomte du Laurier."
"Dear me!" I exclaimed. "You say you want to be my friend, yet you seem to think I am a kleptomaniac. I can't imagine what I should want with any dry old document out of the Foreign Office, can you?"
"Yes, I can imagine," said Godensky drily.
"Pray tell me then. Also what document it was. For, joking apart, this is rather a serious accusation."
"If I make any accusation, it's less against you than du Laurier."
"Oh, you make an accusation against him. Why do you make it to me?"
"As a warning."
"Or because you don't dare make it to anyone else."
"Dare! I haven't accused him thus far, because to do so would brand your name with his."
"Ah!" I said. "You are very considerate."
"I don't pretend to be considerate—except of myself. I've waited, and held my hand until now, because I wanted to see you before doing a thing which would mean certain ruin for du Laurier. I love you as much as I ever did; even more, because, in common with most men, I value what I find hard to get. To-night I ask you again to marry me. Give me a different answer from that you gave me before, and I'll be silent about what I know."
"What you know of the document you mentioned?" I asked, my heart drumming an echo of its beating in my ears.
"But—I thought you said that its loss was already discovered?" (Oh, I was keeping myself well under control, though a mistake now would surely cost me more than I dared count!)
For half a second he was taken aback, at a loss what answer to make. Half a second—no more; yet that hardly perceptible hesitation told me what I had been playing with him to find out.
"Discovered by me," he explained. "That is, by me and one person over whom I have such an influence that he will use his knowledge, or—forget it, according to my advice."
"There is no such person," I said to myself. But I didn't say it aloud. Quickly I named over in my mind such men in the French Foreign Office as were in a position to discover the disappearance of any document under Raoul du Laurier's charge. There were several who might have done so, some above Raoul in authority, some below; but I was certain that not one of them was an intimate friend of Count Godensky's. If he had suspected anything the day he met me coming out of the Foreign Office he might, of course, have hinted his suspicions to one of those men (though all along I'd believed him too shrewd to risk the consequences, the ridicule and humiliation of a mistake): but if he had spoken, it would be beyond his power to prevent matters from taking their own course, independent of my decisions and his actions.
I believed now that what I had hoped was true. He was "bluffing." He wanted me to flounder into some admission, and to make him a promise in order to save the man I loved. I was only a woman, he'd argued, no doubt—an emotional woman, already wrought up to a high pitch of nervous excitement. Perhaps he had expected to have easy work with me. And I don't think that my silence after his last words discouraged him. He imagined me writhing at the alternative of giving up Raoul or seeing him ruined, and he believed that he knew me well enough to be sure what I would do in the end.