"Well?" he said at last, quite gently.
My eyes had been bent on my lap, but I glanced suddenly up at him, and saw his face in the light of the street lamps as we passed. Count Godensky is not more Mephistophelian in type than any other dark, thin man with a hook nose, keen eyes, heavy browed; a prominent chin and a sharply waxed, military moustache trained to point upward slightly at the ends. But to my fancy he looked absolutely devilish at that moment. Still, I was less afraid of him than I had been since the day I stole the treaty.
"Well," I said slowly, "I think it's time that you left me now."
"That's your answer? You can't mean it."
"I do mean it, just as much as I meant to refuse you the three other times that you did me the same honour. You asked me to hear what you had to say to-night, and I have heard it; so there's no reason why I shouldn't press the electric bell for my chauffeur to stop, and—"
"Do you know that you're pronouncing du Laurier's doom, to say nothing of your own?"
"No. I don't know it."
"Then I haven't made myself clear enough."
"That's true. You haven't made yourself clear enough."
"In what detail have I failed? Because—".
"In the detail of the document. I've told you I know nothing about it. You've told me you know everything. Yet—"
"So I do."
"Prove that by saying what it is—to satisfy my curiosity."
"I've explained why I can't do that—here."
"Then why should you stay here longer, since that is the point, to my mind. You understood before you came into my carriage that I had no intention of letting you go all the way home with me."
Count Godensky suddenly laughed. And the laugh frightened me—frightened me horribly, just as I had begun to have confidence in myself, and feel that I had got the best of the game.
MAXINE OPENS THE GATE FOR A MAN
"You are afraid that du Laurier may find out," he said. "But he knows already."
"That I expected to have the privilege of going to your house with you."
All that I had gained seemed worthless. Those quiet, sneering words of his almost crushed me. On the load I had struggled to bear without falling they laid one feather too much.
My voice broke. "You—devil!" I cried at him. "You dared to tell Raoul that?"
Opposite, on her narrow little seat, Marianne stirred uneasily. Till now our tones had been quiet, and she could not understand one word we said. She is the soul of discretion and a triumph of good training in her walk of life; but she loves me more than she loves any other creature on earth, and now she could see and hear that the man had driven me to the brink of hysterics. She would have liked to tear his face with her nails, or choke him, I think. If I had given her the word, I believe she would have tried with all her strength—which is not small—and a very good will, to kill him. I was dimly conscious of what her restlessness meant, and vaguely comforted too, by the thought of her supreme loyalty. But I forgot Marianne when Godensky answered my question.
"Yes, I told him. It was the truth. And I've always understood that you made a great point of never doing anything which you considered in the least risque. So why should I suppose you would rather du Laurier didn't know? You might already have mentioned it to him."
"He wouldn't believe you!" I exclaimed, desperately. And my only hope was that I might be right.
"As a matter of fact, he didn't seem to at first, so I at once understood that you hadn't spoken of our appointment. But it was too late to atone for my carelessness, and I did the next best thing: justified my veracity. I suggested that, if he didn't take my word for it, he might stand where he could see us speaking together at the stage door, and—"
"Ah, I am glad of that!" I cut in. "Then he saw that we didn't drive away together."
"You jump at conclusions, just like less clever women. I hardly thought you'd receive me into your carriage at the theatre, so I took the precaution of warning du Laurier that he needn't expect to see that. You would suggest a place for me to meet you, I said. When I knew it, I would inform him if he chose to wait about somewhere for a few minutes."
"Raoul du Laurier would scorn to spy upon me!" I broke out.
"How hard you are on spies. And how little knowledge of human nature you have, after all, if you don't understand that a man suddenly out of his head with jealousy will do things of which he'd be incapable when he was sane."
The argument silenced me. I knew—I had known for a long time—that jealousy could rouse a demon in Raoul. And only to-night he had reminded me that he was a "jealous brute." I remembered what answer he had made when I asked him what he would do if I deceived him. He said that he would kill me, and kill himself after. As he spoke, the blood had streamed up to his forehead, and streamed back again, leaving him pale. A flash like steel had shot out of his eyes—the dear eyes that are not cold. It was true, as this cruel wretch reminded me, Raoul would do things under the torture of jealousy that he would cut off his hand sooner than do when his own, sweet, poet-nature was in ascendancy.
"As a proof of what I say," Godensky went on, "du Laurier did wait, did hear from me the place where you were to stop and pick me up. And if it wouldn't be the worst of form to bet, I'd bet that he found some way of getting there in time to see that I had told the truth."
"You coward!" I stammered.
"On the contrary, a brave man. I've heard that du Laurier is a fine shot, and that very few men in Paris can touch him with the foils. So you see—"
"You want to frighten me!" I exclaimed.
"You misjudge me in every way."
My only answer was to tell Marianne to press the button which gives the signal for my chauffeur to stop. Instantly the electric carriage slowed down, then came to a standstill. My man opened the door and Count Godensky submitted to my will. Nevertheless, he was far from being in a submissive mood, as I did not need to be reminded by the tone of his voice when he said "au revoir."
Nothing could have been more polite than the words or his way of speaking them, as he stood in the street with his hat in his hand. But to me they meant a threat, and as a threat they were intended.
My talk with Godensky at the stage door, my pause to pick him up, and my second pause to set him down, had all taken time, of which I had had little enough at the starting, if I were to meet Ivor Dundas when he arrived. It was two or three minutes after midnight, or so my watch said, when we drew up before the gate of my high-walled garden in the quiet Rue d'Hollande.
A little while ago I had been ready to seize upon almost any expedient for keeping Raoul away from my house to-night, but now, after what I had just heard from Godensky, I prayed to see him waiting for me.
Nobody (except Ivor, concerning whom I'd given orders) would be let in so late at night, during my absence, not even Raoul himself; so if he had come to reproach me, or break with me, he would have to stand outside the locked gate till I appeared. I looked for him longingly, but he was not there. There was, to be sure, a motor brougham in the street, for a wonder (usually the Rue d'Hollande is as empty as a desert, after eleven o'clock), but a girl's face peered out at me from the window—an impish, curiously abnormal little face it was—extinguishing the spark of hope that sprang to life as I caught sight of the carriage.
It was standing before the closed gate of a house almost opposite mine, and the girl seemed somewhat interested in me; but I was not at all interested in her, and I hate being stared at as if I were something in a museum.
The gate is always kept locked at night, when I'm at the theatre; but Marianne has the key, and we let ourselves in when we come, for only old Henri sits up, and he is growing a little deaf. A moment, and we were inside, the chauffeur spinning away to the garage.
Usually I am newly delighted every night with my quaint old house and its small, but pretty garden, to which it seems delightful to come home after hours of hard work at the theatre. But to-night, though a cheerful light shone out from between the drawn curtains of the salon, the place looked inexpressibly dreary, even forbidding, to me. I felt that I hated the house, though I had chosen it after a long search for peacefulness and privacy. How gloomy, how dead, was the street beyond the high wall, with all its windows closed like the eyes of corpses. There was a moist, depressing smell of earth after long-continued rains, in the garden. No wonder the place had been to let at a bargain, for a long term! There had been a murder in it once, and it had stood empty for twelve or thirteen of the fifteen years since the almost forgotten tragedy. I had been the tenant for two years now—before I became a "star," with a theatre of my own in Paris. I had had no fear of the ghost said to haunt the house. Indeed, I remembered thinking, and saying, that the story only made the place more interesting. But now I said to myself that I wished I had never spoken so lightly. Perhaps the ghost had brought me bad luck. I felt as if the murder must have happened on just such a still, brooding, damp night as this. Maybe it was the anniversary, if I only knew.
I went indoors, Marianne following. Henri, very thin, very precise, withered like a winter apple, had fallen into a doze in the hall, where he had sat, hoping to hear the stopping of my carriage. He rose up, bowing and blinking, just as he had done often before, and would often again—if life were to go on for me in the old way. He regretted not having heard Mademoiselle. Would Mademoiselle take supper?
No, Mademoiselle would not take supper. She wanted nothing, and Henri might go to bed.
"I thank Mademoiselle. When I have closed the house."
"But I don't want the house closed," I said. "I shall sit up for awhile. It's hot—close and stuffy. I may like to have the windows open."
"The visitor Mademoiselle expected did not arrive. Perhaps—"
"If he comes, Marianne or I will let him in. But he may not come, now it is so late."
When Henri had gone, I told Marianne that she might go, too. I did not want her to wait. If the person I had expected should call, it was a very old friend; in fact, Mr. Ivor Dundas, whom Marianne must remember in London. He was to call—if he did call—only on a matter of business, which would take but a few minutes to get through, and possibly he would not even come into the house. If the gate-bell rang, I would answer it myself, and speak with Mr. Dundas, perhaps in the garden. Then I would let him out and come straight upstairs. Marianne might go to bed if she wished.
"I do not wish, unless Mademoiselle particularly desires me to do so," said she. "I do not rest well when I have not been allowed to undress Mademoiselle."
"Sit up, then, in your own room, and wait there for me till I ring for you," I replied. "I shan't be late, whether Mr. Dundas comes or doesn't come."
"Supposing the gate-bell should ring, and Mademoiselle should go, yet it should not be the Monsieur she expects, but another person whom she would not care to admit?"
I knew of what she was thinking, and of whom.
"There's no fear of that. No fear of any kind," I answered.
She took off my cloak, and went upstairs reluctantly, carrying my jewel box.
I walked into the drawing-room, which was lighted and looked very bright and charming, with its many flowers and framed photographs, and the delightful Louis Quinze furniture, which I had so enjoyed picking up here and there at antique shops or at private sales.
I flung myself on the sofa, but I could not rest. In a moment I was up again, moving about, looking at the clock, comparing it with my watch, wondering what could have happened to make Ivor fail in keeping his promise to be prompt on the hour of twelve.
Of course, a hundred harmless things might have kept him, but I thought only of the worst, and was working myself up to a frenzy when at last I heard the gate-bell. I had been in the house no more than twelve or fourteen minutes, but it seemed an hour, and I gave a sob of relief as I rushed out, down the garden path, to let my visitor in.
Fumbling a little at the lock, always a little difficult if one were in a hurry, I asked myself what if, as Marianne had suggested, it were not Ivor Dundas, but someone else—Raoul, perhaps—or the man who had been in her mind: Godensky.
But it was Ivor.
"What news?" I questioned him, my voice sounding queer and far away in my own ears.
"I don't know whether you'll call it news or not, though plenty of things have happened. I'm awfully sorry to be late—"
I wouldn't let him finish, standing there, but took him by the arm and drew him into the garden, pushing the gate shut behind him as I did so. Yet I forgot to lock it, and naturally it did not occur to Ivor that it ought to be fastened.
Once inside, in the garden, I was going to make him begin again, as I had told Marianne I would. But suddenly I bethought myself that he might have been followed; that there might be watchers behind that high wall, watchers who would try to be listeners too, and whose ears would be very different from old Henri's. "Come into the house," I said, in a low voice, "before you begin to tell anything." Then, when we were inside, I could not even wait for him to go on of his own accord and in his own way.
"The treaty?" I asked. "Have you got hold of it?"
"But you've heard of it? Oh, say you've heard something!"
"If I haven't, it isn't because I've sat down and waited for news to come. I went back to the Gare du Nord after you left me, to try and get on the track of the men who travelled with me in the train to Dover. But I was sent off on the wrong scent, and wasted a lot of time, worse luck—I'll tell you about it later, if you care to hear details. Then, when that game was up, I did what I wish I'd done at first, found out and consulted a private detective, said to be one of the best in Paris—"
"You told your story—my story—to a detective?" I gasped.
"No. Certainly not. I said I'd lost something of value, given me by a lady whose name I couldn't bring into the affair. I was George Sandford, too, not Mr. Dundas. I described my travelling companions, telling all that happened on the way, and offered big pay if he could find them quickly—especially the little fellow. He held out hopes of spotting them to-night, so don't be desperate, my poor girl. The detective chap seemed really to think he'd not have much difficulty in tracking down our man; and even if he's parted with the treaty, we can find out what he's done with it, no doubt. Girard says—"
"Girard!" I caught Ivor up. "Is your detective's name Anatole Girard, and does he live in Rue du Capucin Blanc?"
"Yes. Do you know him?"
"I know too much of him," I answered bitterly.
"Isn't he clever, after all?"
"Far too clever. I'd rather you had gone to any other detective in Paris—or to none."
"Why, what's wrong with him?" Ivor began to be distressed.
"Only that he's a personal friend of my worst enemy—the man I spoke of to you this evening—Count Godensky. I've heard so from Godensky himself, who mentioned the acquaintance once when Girard had just succeeded in a case everybody was talking about."
"By Jove, what a beastly coincidence!" exclaimed Ivor, horribly disappointed at having done exactly the wrong thing, when he had tried so hard to do the right one. "Yet how could I have dreamed of it?"
"You couldn't," I admitted, hopelessly. "Nothing is your fault. All that's happened would have happened just the same, no matter what messenger the Foreign Secretary had sent to me. It's fate. And it's my punishment."
"Still, even if Godensky and Girard are friends," Ivor tried to console me, "it isn't likely that the Count has talked to the detective about you and the affair of the treaty."
"He may have gone to him for help in finding out things he couldn't find out himself."
"Hardly, I should say, until there'd been time for him to fear failure. No, the chances are that Girard will have no inner knowledge of the matter I've put into his hands; and if he's a man of honour, he's bound to do the best he can for me, as his employer. Have you seen du Laurier?"
"Yes. At the theatre. Nothing bad had happened to him yet; but that brute Godensky has made dreadful mischief between us. If only I'd known that you would be so late, I might have explained everything to him."
"I'm very sorry," said Ivor, so humbly and so sadly that I pitied him (but not half as much as I pitied myself, even though I hadn't forgotten that hint he had let drop about a great sacrifice—a girl he loved, whom he had thrown over, somehow, to come to me). "I made every effort to be in time. It seems a piece with the rest of my horrible luck to-day that I was prevented. I hope, at least, that du Laurier knows about the necklace?"
"He does, by this," I answered. "Yet I'm afraid he won't be in a mood to take much comfort from it—thanks to that wretch. You know Raoul hasn't a practical bone in his body. He will think I've deceived him, and nothing else will matter. I must—" But I broke off, and laid my hand on Ivor's arm. "What's that?" I whispered. "Did you hear anything then?"
Ivor shook his head. And we both listened.
"It's a step outside, on the gravel path," said I, my heart beginning to knock against my side. "I forgot to lock the gate. Somebody has come into the garden. What if it should be Raoul—what if he has seen our shadows on the curtain?"
Mechanically we moved apart, Ivor making a gesture to reassure me, on account of the position of the lights. He was right. Our shadows couldn't have fallen on the curtain.
As we stood listening, there came a knock at the front door. It was Raoul's knock. I was sure of that.
If only Ivor had arrived a quarter of an hour earlier, at the time appointed, I should have hurried him away before this, so that I might write to Raoul; but now I could not think what to do for the best—what to do, that things might not be made far worse instead of better between Raoul and me. I had suffered so much that my power of quick decision, on which I'd so often prided myself vaingloriously, seemed gone.
"It is Raoul," I said. "What shall I do?"
"Let him in, of course, and introduce me. Don't act as if you were afraid. Say that I came to see you on important business concerning a friend of yours in England, and had to call after the theatre because I'm leaving Paris by the first train in the morning."
"Why not? When a man loves a woman, he trusts her."
"No man of Latin blood, I think. And Raoul's already angry. He has the right to be—or would have, if Godensky had been telling him the truth. And I refused to let him come here. I said I was going straight to bed, I was so tired. He's knocking again. Hide yourself, and I'll let him in. Oh, why do you stand there, looking at me like that? Go into that room," and I pointed, then pushed him towards the door. "You can get through the window and out of the garden—softly—while Raoul and I are talking."
"If you insist," said Ivor. "But you're wrong. The best thing—"
"Go—go, I tell you. Don't argue. I know best," I cut him short, in a sharp whisper, pushing him again.
This time he made no more objections, but went into the adjoining room, my boudoir. The key was in the door; I turned it in the lock, snatched it out, and dropped it into a bowl of flowers on a table close by. That done, I flew out of the drawing-room into the little entrance hall, and opened the front door. There stood Raoul, his face dead white, and very stern in the light of the hall lamp. I had never seen him like that before.
"I know why you're here," I began quickly, before he could speak. "Count Godensky told me what he said to you. I—hoped you would come."
"Is this why you wished to know what I would do if you deceived me?" he asked, with the bitterest reproach in eyes and voice.
"No. For I hadn't deceived you," I answered. "I haven't deceived you now. If you loved me, you'd believe me, Raoul."
I put out my hand and took his. He gave mine no pressure, but he let me draw him into the house.
"For God's sake, give me back my faith in you, if you can," he said. "It's death to lose it. I came here wanting to die."
"After you'd killed me, as you said?"
"Perhaps. I couldn't keep away. I had to come. If you have any explanation, for the love of Heaven, tell me what it is."
"You know me, and you know Godensky—yet you need an explanation of anything evil said of me by him?" In this way I hoped to disarm Raoul; but he had been half-mad, I think, and was scarcely sane now, such a power had jealousy over his better self.
"Don't play with me!" he exclaimed. "I can't bear it. You sent me away. Yet you had an appointment with Godensky. You took him into your carriage; and now—"
"Marianne was in the carriage. If I could have had you with me, I should have packed her off by herself, alone, that I—might be alone with you. Oh, Raoul, it isn't possible you believe that I could lie to you for Godensky's sake—a man like that! If I'd cared for him, why shouldn't I have accepted him instead of you? Could I have changed so quickly, do you think?"
"I don't think; I'm not able to think. I can only feel," he answered.
"Then—feel sure that I love you—no man but you—now and always."
"Oh, Maxine!" he stammered. "Am I a fool, or wise, to let myself believe you?"
"You are wise," I answered, as firmly as if I deserved the full faith I was claiming from him as my right. "If you wouldn't believe, without my insisting, without my explaining and defending myself, I'd tell you nothing. But you do believe, just because you love me—I see it in your face, and thank God for it. So I'll tell you this. Count Godensky hates me, because I couldn't and wouldn't love him, and he hates you because he thinks I love you. He—" I paused for a second. A wild thought had flashed like the light of a beacon in my brain. If I could say something now which, when the blow fell—if it did fall—might come back to Raoul's mind and convince him instantly that it was Godensky, not I, who had stolen the treaty and broken him! If I could make him believe the whole thing a monstrous plot of Godensky's to revenge himself on a woman who'd refused him, by cleverly implicating her in her lover's ruin, by throwing guilt upon her while she was, in reality, innocent! If I could suggest that to Raoul now, while his ears were open, I might hold his love against the world, no matter what happened afterward.
It was a mad idea and a wicked one, perhaps; but I was at my wits' end and desperate. Though not guilty of this one crime which I would shift upon his shoulders if I could, as a means of escaping from the trap he'd helped to set, Godensky was capable of it, and guilty of others, I was sure, which had never been brought home to him. I believed that he, too, was a spy, just as I was; and far worse, because if he were one he betrayed his own country, while I never had done that, never would.
All these thoughts rushed through my head in a second; and I think that Raoul could hardly have noticed the pause before I began to speak again.
"He—Godensky—would do anything to part you and me," I said. "There's no plot too sly and vile for him to conceive and carry out against me—and you. No lie too base for him to tell you—or others—about me. He sent me a letter at the theatre—soon after you'd left me the first time. In it, he said that I must give him a few minutes after the play, unless I wanted some dreadful harm to come to you—something concerning your career. That frightened me, though I might have guessed it was only a trick. Indeed, I did guess, but I couldn't be sure, so I saw him. I didn't want you to know—I tell you that frankly, Raoul. Because I'd told you not to come home with me, I hoped you wouldn't find out that I meant to let Count Godensky drive part of the way back with me and Marianne. I ran the risk, and—the very thing happened which I ought to have known would happen. As for what he had to tell me, it was nothing; only vague hints of trouble from which he, as one of an inner circle, might save you, if I—would be grateful enough."
"The scoundrel!" broke out Raoul, convinced now, his eyes blazing. "I'll—"
He stopped suddenly. But I knew what had been on his lips to say. He meant to send a challenge to Count Godensky. I must prevent him from doing that.
"No, Raoul," I said, as if he had finished his sentence, "you musn't fight. For my sake, you mustn't. Don't you see, it's just what he'd like best? It would be a way of doing me the most dreadful injury. Think of the scandal. Oh, you will think of it, when you're cooler. For you, I would not fear much, for I know what a swordsman you are, and what a shot—far superior to Godensky, and with right on your side. But I would fear for myself. Promise you won't bring this trouble upon me."
"I promise," he answered. "Oh, my darling, what wouldn't I promise you, to atone for my brutal injustice to an angel? How thankful I am that I came to you to-night! I meant not to come. I was afraid of myself, and what I might do. But at last I couldn't hold out against the something that seemed forcing me here in spite of all resistance. Do you forgive me?"
"As a reward for your promise," I said, smiling at him through tears that would come because I was worn out, and because I knew that it was I who needed his forgiveness, not he mine. "Now are you happy again?" I asked.
"Yes, I'm happy," he said. "Though on the way to this house I didn't dream that it would be possible for me to know happiness any more in this world. And even at your gate—" He stopped suddenly, and his face changed. I waited an instant, but seeing that he didn't mean to go on, I could not resist questioning him. I had to know what had happened at my gate.
"Even at the gate—what?" I asked.
"Nothing. I'm sorry I spoke. I want to show you how completely I trust you now, by not speaking of that."
But this reticence of his only made me more anxious to hear what he had been going to say. I was afraid that I could guess. But I must have it from his lips, and be able to explain away the mystery which, when it recurred to him in the future, might make him doubt me, even though in this moment of exaltation he did not doubt.
"Yes, speak of it," I said. "All the more because it is nothing. For it can be nothing."
"I want to punish myself for asking an explanation about Godensky, by not allowing you to explain this other thing," insisted poor, loyal, repentant Raoul. "Then—at the time—it made all the rest seem worse, a thousand times worse. But I saw through black spectacles. Now I see through rose-coloured ones."
"I'd rather you saw through your own dear eyes, without any spectacles. You must tell me what you're thinking of, dear. For my own sake, if not yours."
"Well—if you will know. But, remember, darling, I'm going to put it out of my mind. I'll ask you no questions, I'll only—tell you the thing itself. As I said, I didn't come here directly after seeing Godensky get into your carriage. I wandered about like a madman—and I thought of the Seine."
"Oh—you must indeed have been mad!"
"I was. But that something saved me—the something that drove me to find you. I walked here, by roundabout ways, but always coming nearer and nearer, as if being drawn into a whirlpool. At last, I was in this street, on the side opposite your house. I hadn't made up my mind yet, that I would try to see you. I didn't know what I would do. I stood still, and tried to think. It was very black, in the angle between two garden walls where the big plane tree sprouts up, you know. Nobody who didn't expect to find a man would have noticed me in the darkness. I hadn't been there for two minutes when a man turned the corner, walking very fast. As he passed the street lamp just before reaching the garden wall, I saw him plainly—not his face, but his figure, and he was young and well dressed, in travelling clothes. I thought he looked like an Englishman. He went straight to your gate and rang. A moment later someone, I couldn't see who, opened the gate and let him in. Involuntarily I took a step forward, with the idea of following—of pushing my way in to see who he was and who had opened the gate. But I wasn't quite mad enough to act like a cad. The gate shut. Oh, Maxine, there were evil and cruel thoughts in my mind, I confess it to you—but how they made me suffer! I stood as if I were turned to stone, and I only wished that I might be, for a stone knows no pain. Just then a motor cab going slowly along the street stopped in front of your gate. There were two women in it. I could see them by the light of the street lamp, though not as plainly as I'd seen the man, and they appeared to be arguing very excitedly about something. Whatever it was, it must have been in some way concerned with you, or your affairs, because they were tremendously interested in the house. They both looked out, and one pointed several times. Even if I'd intended to go in, I wouldn't have gone while they were there. But the very fact that they were there roused me out of the kind of lethargy of misery I'd fallen into. I wondered who they were, and if they meant you harm or good. When they had driven away I made up my mind that I would see you if I could. I tried the gate, and found it unlocked. I walked in, and—there were lights in these windows. I knew you couldn't have gone to bed yet, though you'd said you were so tired. There was death in my heart then, for you and for me, Maxine, for—the gate hadn't opened again, and—"
"I know what you thought!" I broke in, my heart beating so now that my voice shook a little, though I struggled to seem calm. "You said to yourself, 'It was Maxine who let the man in. He is with her now. I shall find them together.'"
"Yes," Raoul admitted. "But I didn't try the handle of the door, as I had of the gate. I rang. I couldn't bring myself to take you unawares."
"Do you think still that I let a man in, and hid him when I heard you ring?" I asked. (For an instant I was inclined to tell the story Ivor had advised me to tell; but I saw how excited Raoul was; I saw how, in painting the picture for me, he lived through the scene again, and, in spite of himself, suffered almost as keenly as he had suffered in the experience. I saw how his suspicions of me came crawling into his heart, though he strove to lash them back. I dared not bring Ivor out from the other room, if he were still there. He was too handsome, too young, too attractive in every way. If Raoul had been jealous of Count Godensky, whom he knew I had refused, what would he feel towards Ivor Dundas, a stranger whose name I had never mentioned, though he was received at my house after midnight? I was thankful I hadn't taken Ivor's advice and introduced the two men at first, for in his then mood Raoul would have listened to no explanations. He and I would never have arrived at the understanding we had reached now. And not having been frank at first, I must be secret to the end.)
The very asking of such a bold question—"Do you think I let a man in, and hid him?" helped my cause with Raoul.
"No," he said, "I can't think it. I won't, and don't think it. And you need tell me nothing. I love you. And so help me God, I won't distrust you again!"
Just as it entered my mind to risk everything on the chance that Ivor had by this time found his way out, I heard, or fancied I heard, a faint sound in the next room. He was there still.
Instead of throwing open the door, as it had occurred to me to do, saying, "Let us look for the man, and make sure no one else let him in," I laughed out abruptly, as if on a sudden thought, but really to cover the sound if it should come again.
"Oh, Raoul!" I exclaimed, in the midst of the laughter with which I surprised him. "You're taking this too seriously. A thousand times I thank you for trusting me in spite of appearances, but—after all, were they so much against me? You seem to think I am the only young woman in this house. Marianne, poor dear, is old enough, it's true. But I have a femme de chambre and a cuisiniere, both under twenty-five, both pretty, and both engaged to be married." (This was true. Ah, what a comfort to speak the truth to him!) "Doesn't it occur to you that, at this very moment, a couple of lovers may be sitting hand in hand on the seat under the old yew arbour? Can't you imagine how they started and tried to hold their breath lest you should hear, as you opened the gate and came up the path?"
"Forgive me!" murmured Raoul, in the depths of remorse again.
"Shall we go and look, or shall we leave them in peace?"
"Leave them in peace, by all means."
"The man will be slipping away soon, no doubt. Both Therese and Annette are good little girls."
"Don't let's bother about them. You will be sending me away soon, too, and I shall deserve it. Brute that I am. You were so tired, and I—"
"Oh, I'm better now," I said. "Of course I must send you away by and by, but not quite yet. First, I want to ask if you weren't glad when you saw the jewels?"
"Jewels?" echoed Raoul. "What jewels?"
"You don't mean to say you haven't yet opened the little bag I gave you at the theatre?" I exclaimed.
Raoul looked half ashamed. "Dearest, don't think me ungrateful," he said, "but before I had a chance to open it I met Godensky, and he told me—that lie. It lit a fire in my brain. I forgot all about the bag, and haven't thought of it again till this minute."
At last I laughed with sincerity. "Oh, Raoul, Raoul, you're not fit for this work-a-day world! Well, I'm glad, after all, that I shall be with you, when you see what that little insignificant bag which you've forgotten all this tune has in it. Take it out of your pocket, and let's open it together."
For the moment I was almost happy; and that Raoul would be happy, I knew.
His hand went to the inner pocket of his coat, into which I had seen him put the brocade bag. But it did not come out again. It groped; and his face flushed. "Good heavens, Maxine," he said, "I hope you weren't in earnest when you told me that bag held something very valuable to us both, for I've lost it. You know, I've been almost mad. I had my handkerchief in that pocket. I must have pulled it out, and—"
My knees seemed to give way under me. I half fell onto a sofa.
"Raoul," I said, in a queer stifled voice, "the bag had in it the Duchess de Montpellier's diamonds."
IVOR DUNDAS' PART
IVOR GOES INTO THE DARK
Never had I been caught in a situation which I liked less than finding myself, long after midnight, locked by Maxine de Renzie into her boudoir, while within hearing she did her best to convince her lover that no stranger had come on her account to the house.
I had never before visited her in Paris, though she had described her little place there to me when we knew each other in London; and in groping about trying to find another door or a window in the dark room, I ran constant risks of making my presence known by stumbling against the furniture or knocking down some ornament.
I dared not strike a match because of the sharp, rasping noise it would make, and I had to be as cautious as if I were treading with bare feet on glass, although I knew that Maxine was praying for me to be out of the house, and I was as far from wishing to linger as she was to have me stay. Only by a miracle did I save myself once or twice from upsetting a chair or a tall vase of flowers, on my way to a second door which was locked on the other side. At last, however, I discovered a window, and congratulated myself that my trouble and Maxine's danger was nearly over. The room being on the ground floor, though rather high above the level of the garden, I thought that I could easily let myself down. But when I had slipped behind the heavy curtains (they were drawn, and felt smooth, like satin) it was only to come upon a new difficulty.
The window, which opened in the middle like most French windows, was tightly closed, with the catch securely fastened; and as I began slowly and with infinite caution to turn the handle, I felt that the window was going to stick. Perhaps the wood had been freshly painted: perhaps it had swelled; in any case I knew that when the two sashes consented to part they would make a loud protest.
After the first warning squeak I stopped. In the next room Maxine raised her voice—to cover the sound, I was sure. Then it had been worse even than I fancied! I dared not begin again. I would grope about once more, and see if I could hit upon some other way out, which possibly I had missed.
No, there was nothing. No other window, except a small one which apparently communicated with a pantry, and even if that had not seemed too small for me to climb through, it was fastened on the pantry side.
What to do I did not know. It would be a calamity for Maxine if du Laurier should hear a sound, and insist on having the door opened, after she had given him the impression (if she had not said it in so many words) that there was no stranger in the house.
Probably she hoped that by this time I was gone; but how could I go? I felt like a rat in a trap: and if I had been a nervous woman I should have imagined myself stifling in the small, hot room with its closed doors and windows. As it was, I was uncomfortable enough. My forehead grew damp, as in the first moments of a Turkish bath, and absent mindedly I felt in pocket after pocket for my handkerchief. It was not to be found. I must have lost it at the hotel, or the detective's, or in the automobile I had hired. In an outside pocket of my coat, however, I chanced upon something for the existence of which I couldn't account. It was a very small something: only a bit of paper, but a very neatly folded bit of paper, and I remembered how it had fallen from my pocket onto the floor, and a gendarme had picked it up.
At ordinary times I should most likely not have given it a second thought; but to-night nothing unexpected could be dismissed as insignificant until it had been thoroughly examined. I put the paper back, and as I did so I heard Maxine give an exclamation, apparently of distress. I could not distinguish all she said, but I thought that I caught the word "diamonds." For a moment or two she and du Laurier talked together so excitedly that I might have made another attack on the window without great risk; and I was meditating the attempt when suddenly the voices ceased. A door opened and shut. There was dead silence, except for a footfall overhead, which sounded heavier than Maxine's. Perhaps it was her maid's.
For a few seconds more I stood still, awaiting developments, but there was no sound in the next room, and I decided to take my chance before it should be too late.
I jerked at the window, which yielded with a loud squeak that would certainly have given away the secret of my presence if there had been ears to hear. But all was still in the drawing-room adjoining, and I dropped down on to a flower bed some few feet below. Then I skirted round to the front of the house, walking stealthily on the soft grass, and would have made a noiseless dash for the gate had I not seen a stream of light flowing out through the open front door across the lawn. I checked myself just in time to draw back without being seen by a woman and a tall man moving slowly down the path. They were Maxine and, no doubt, du Laurier. They spoke not a word, but walked with their heads bent, as if deeply absorbed in searching for something on the ground. Down to the gate they went, opened it and passed out, only half closing it behind them, so that I knew they meant presently to come back again.
I should have been thankful to escape, but the chance of meeting them was too imminent. Accordingly I waited, and it was well I did, for as they reappeared in three or four minutes they could not have gone far enough to be out of sight from the gate.
"There's witchcraft in it," Maxine said, as she and her lover passed within a few yards of me, where I hid behind a little arbour.
Du Laurier's answer was lost to me, but his voice sounded despondent. Evidently they had mislaid something of importance and had small hope of finding it again. I could not help being curious, as well as sorry for Maxine that a further misfortune should have befallen her at such a time. But the one and only way in which I could help her at the moment was to get away as soon as possible.
They had left the gate unlocked, and I drew in a long breath of relief when I was on the other side. I hurried out of the street, lest du Laurier should, by any chance, follow on quickly: and my first thought was to go immediately back to my hotel, where Girard might by now have arrived with news. I was just ready to hail a cab crawling by at a distance, when I remembered the bit of paper I'd found and put back into my pocket. It occurred to me to have a look at it, by the light of a street lamp near by; and the instant I had straightened out the small, crumpled wad I guessed that here was a link in the mystery.
The paper was a leaf torn from a note-book and closely covered on both sides with small, uneven writing done with a sharp black pencil. The handwriting was that of an uneducated person, and was strange to me. I could not make out the words by the light of the tall lamp, so I lit a wax match from my match-box, and protecting the flame in the hollow of my hand, began studying the strange message.
The three first words sent my heart up with a bound. "On board the 'Queen.'" I had crossed the Channel in the "Queen," and this beginning alone was enough to make me hope that the bit of paper might do more than any detective to unravel the mystery.
"I'm taking big risks because I've got to," I read on. "It's my only chance. And if you find this, I bet I can trust you. You're a gentleman, and you saved my life and a lot more besides by getting into that railway-carriage when the other chaps did. The minute I seen them I thot I was done for, but you stopped there game. I'm a jewler's assistant, carrying property worth thousands, for my employers. From the first I knew 'twas bound to be a ticklish job. On this bote I'm safe, for the villions who would have murdered and robbed me in the train if it hadn't been for you being there, won't have a chance, but when I get to Paris it will be the worst, and no hope for the jewls, followed as I am, if I hadn't already thot of a plan to save them through you, an honest gentleman far above temptashun. I know who you are, for I've seen your photo in the papers. So, what I did was this: to try a ventriloquist trick which has offen bin of use in my carere, just as folks were on the boat's gangway. Thro' making that disturbance, and a little skill I have got by doing amatoor conjuring to amuse my wife and famly, I was able to slip the case of my employer's jewls into your breast pocket without your knowing. And I had to take away what you had in, not that I wanted to rob one who had done good by me, but because if I'd left it the double thickness would have surprised you and you would probably have pulled out my case to see what it was. Then my fat would have bin in the fire, with certin persons looking on, and you in danger as well as me which wouldn't be fare. I've got your case in my pocket as I write, but I won't open it because it may have your sweetart's letters in. You can get your property again by bringing me my master's, which is fare exchange. I can't call on you, for I don't know where your going and daren't hang round to see on account of the danger I run, and needing to meet a pal of mine who will help me. I must get to him at once, if I am spared to do so, for which reason I wrote out this explanashun. The best I can do is to slip it in your pocket which I shall try when in the railway stashun at Paris. You see how I trust you as a gentleman to bring me the jewls. Come as soon as you can, and get your own case instead, calling at 218 Rue Fille Sauvage, Avenue Morot, back room, top floor, left of passage. Expressing my gratitood in advance,
"J.M. Jeweler's Messenger.
"P.S.—For heaven's sake don't fale, and ask the concerge for name of Gestre."
If it had not been for my rage at not having read this illuminating little document earlier, I should have felt like shouting with joy. As it was, my delight was tempered with enough of regret to make it easier to restrain myself.
But for the fear that du Laurier might be still with Maxine, I should have rushed back to her house for a moment, just long enough to give her the good news. But in the circumstances I dared not do it, lest she should curse instead of bless me: and besides, as there was still a chance of disappointment, it might be better in any case not to raise her hopes until there was no danger of dashing them again. The best thing was to get the treaty back, without a second of delay. As for the detective, who was perhaps waiting for me at the hotel, he would have to wait longer, or even go away disgusted—nothing made much difference now. Maybe, when once I had the treaty in my hands, I might send a messenger with a few cautious words to Maxine. No matter how late the hour, she was certain not to be asleep.
The cab I had seen crawling through the street had disappeared long ago, and no other was in sight, so I walked quickly on, hoping to find one presently. It was now so late, however, that in this quiet part of Paris no carriages of any sort were plying for hire. Finally I made up my mind that I should have to go all the way on foot; but I knew the direction of the Avenue Morot, though I'd never heard of Rue de la Fille Sauvage, and as it was not more than two miles to walk, I could reach the house I wanted to find in half an hour.
A few minutes more or less ought not to matter much, since "J. M." was sure to be awaiting me with impatience; therefore the thing which bothered me most was the effect likely to be produced on the man when I could not hand him over the diamonds in exchange for the treaty.
Of course I didn't believe that "J.M." was a jeweller's messenger, though possibly I might have been less incredulous if Maxine had not told me the true history of the diamonds, and what had happened in Holland. As it was, I had very little doubt that the rat of a man I had chanced to protect in the railway carriage was no other than the extraordinarily expert thief who had relieved du Laurier of the Duchess's necklace.
Following out a theory which I worked up as I walked, I thought it probable that the fellow had been helped by confederates whom he had contrived to dodge, evading them and sneaking off to London in the hope of cheating them out of their share of the spoil. Followed by them, dreading their vengeance, I fancied him flitting from one hiding-place to another, not daring to separate himself from the jewels; at last determining to escape, disguised, from England, where the scent had become too hot; reserving a first-class carriage in the train to Dover, and travelling with a golfer's kit; struck with panic at the last moment on seeing the very men he fled to avoid, close on his heels, and opening the door of his reserved carriage with a railway key.
All this was merely deduction, for so far as I had seen, "J.M.'s" travelling companions hadn't even accosted him. Still, the theory accounted for much that had been puzzling, and made it plausible that a man should be desperate enough to trust his treasure to a stranger (known only through "photos in the newspapers") rather than risk losing it to those he had betrayed.
I resolved to use all my powers of diplomacy to extract from "J.M." the case containing the treaty before he learned that he was not to receive the diamonds in its place; and I had no more than vaguely mapped out a plan of proceeding before I arrived in the Avenue Morot. Thence I soon found my way into the Rue de la Fille Sauvage, a mean street, to which the queer name seemed not inappropriate. The house I had to visit was an ugly big box of a building, with rooms advertised to let, as I could see by the light of a street lamp across the way, which gleamed bleakly on the lines of shut windows behind narrow iron balconies.
The large double doors, from which the paint had peeled in patches, were closed, but I rang the bell for the concierge; and after a delay of several minutes I heard a slight click which meant that the doors had opened for me. I passed into a dim lobby, to be challenged by a sleepy voice behind a half open window. The owner of the voice kept himself invisible and was no doubt in the bunk which he called his bed. Only a stern sense of duty as concierge woke him up enough to demand, mechanically, who it was that the strange monsieur desired to visit at this late hour?
I replied according to instructions. I wished to see Monsieur Gestre.
"Monsieur Gestre is away," murmured the voice behind the little window.
I thought quickly. Gestre was probably the "pal" whom "J.M." had been in such a hurry to find. "Very well," said I, "I'll see his friend, the Englishman who arrived this evening. I have an appointment with him."
"Ah, I understand. I remember. Is it not that Monsieur has been here already? He now returns, as he mentioned that he might do?"
Again my thoughts made haste to arrange themselves. The "monsieur" who had called had probably also arrived late, after the concierge had gone to bed in his dim box, and become too drowsy to notice such details as the difference between voices, especially if they were those of foreigners. Perhaps if I explained that I was not the person who had said he would come again, but another, the man behind the window would consider me a complication, and refuse to let me pass at such an hour without a fuss. And of all things, a fuss was what I least wanted—for Maxine's sake, and because of the treaty. I decided to seize upon the advantage that was offered me.
"Quite right," I said shortly. "I know the way." And so began to mount the stairs. Flight after flight I went up, meeting no one; and on the fifth floor I found that I had reached the top of the house. There were no more stairs to go up.
On each of the floors below there had been a dim light—a jet of gas turned low. But the fifth floor was in darkness. Someone had put out the light, either in carelessness or for some special reason.
There were several doors on each side of the passage, but I could not be sure that I had reached the right one until I'd lighted a match. When I was sure, I knocked, but no answer came.
"He can't be out," I said to myself, cheerfully. "He's got tired of waiting and dropped asleep, that's all."
I knocked again. Silence. And then for a third time, loudly, keeping on until I was sure that, if there were anyone in the room, no matter how sound asleep, I must have waked him.
After all, he had gone out, but perhaps only for a short time. Surely, he would soon come back, lest he should miss the keeper of the diamonds.
I had very little hope that, even on the chance of my arriving while he was away, he would have left the door open. Nevertheless I tried the handle, and to my surprise it yielded.
"That must be because the lock's broken and only a bolt remains," I thought. "So he had to take the risk. All the better. This looks as if he'd be back any minute. He wouldn't like giving the enemy a chance to find his lair and step into it before him." It was dark in the room, and I struck another wax match just inside the threshold. But I had hardly time to get an impression of bareness and meanness of furnishing before a draught of air from an open window blew out the struggling flame and at the same instant banged the door shut behind me.
IVOR FINDS SOMETHING IN THE DARK
There was a strong smell of paraffin oil in the room; and from somewhere at the far end came a faint tap, tapping sound, which might be the light knocking of a window-blind or the rap of a signalling finger.
If I could steer my way to the window and pull back the drawn curtains I might be able to let in light enough to find matches on mantelpiece or table. Then, what good luck if I should discover the case containing the treaty and go off with it before "J.M." came back! It was not his, and he was a thief: therefore, I should be doing him no wrong and Maxine de Renzie much good by taking it, if he had left it behind, not too well hidden when he went out.
Guided in the darkness by a slight breeze which still came through the window, though the door was now shut, I shuffled across the uncarpeted floor, groping with hands held out before me as I moved.
In a moment I brushed against a table, then struck my shin on something which proved to be the leg of a chair lying over-turned on the floor. I pushed it out of the way, but had gone on no more than three or four steps when I caught my foot in a rug which had got twisted in a heap round the fallen chair. I disentangled myself from its coils, only to slip and almost lose my balance by stepping into some spilled liquid which lay thick and greasy on the bare boards.
The warm hopefulness which I had brought into this dark, silent room was chilled and dying now.
"I'm afraid there's been a struggle here," I thought. And if there had been a struggle—what of the treaty?
There seemed to be a good deal of the spilled liquid, for as I felt my way along, more anxious than ever for light, the floor was still wet and slippery; and then, in the midst of the puddle, I stumbled over a thing that was heavy and soft to the touch of my foot.
A queer tingling, like the sting of a thousand tiny electric needles prickled through my veins, for even before I stooped and laid my hand on that barrier which was so heavy and yet so soft as it stopped my path, I knew what it would prove to be.
It was as if I could see through the dark, to what it hid. But though there was no surprise left, there was a shock of horror as my fingers touched an arm, a throat, an upturned face. And my fingers were wet, as I knew my boots must be. And I knew, too, with what they were wet.
I'm ashamed to say that, after the first shock of the discovery, my impulse was to get away, and out of the whole business, in which, for reasons which concerned others even more than myself, it would be unpleasant to be involved, just at this time especially. I could go downstairs now, past the sleeping concierge, and with luck no one need ever know that I had been in this dark room of death.
But as quickly as the impulse came, it went. I must stop here and search for the treaty, no matter what happened, until I had found it or made sure it was not to be found; I must not think of escape. If there were matches in the room, well and good; if not, I must go elsewhere for them, and come back. It was a grim task, but it had to be done.
Somehow, I got to the mantelpiece; and there luckily, among a litter of pipes and bottles and miscellaneous rubbish, I did lay my hand on a broken cup containing a few matches. I struck one, which showed me on the mantel an end of a candle standing up in a bed of its own grease. I lighted it, and not until the flame was burning brightly did I look round.
There was but a faint illumination, yet it was enough to give me the secret of the room. I might have seen all at a glance as I came in, before the light of my last match was blown out by the wind, had not the door as I opened it formed a screen between me and the dead man on the floor.
He lay in the midst of the wildest confusion. In falling, he had dragged with him the cover of a table, and a glass lamp which was smashed in pieces, the spilled oil mingling with the stream of his blood. A chair had been overturned, and a broken plate and tumbler with the tray that had held them were half hidden in the folds of a disordered rug.
But this was not all. The struggle for life did not account for the condition of other parts of the room. Papers were scattered over the floor: the drawers of an old escritoire had been jerked out of place and their contents strewn far and near. The doors of a wardrobe were open, and a few shabby coats and pairs of trousers thrown about, with the pockets wrong side out or torn in rags. A chest of drawers had been ransacked, and a narrow, hospital bed stripped of sheets and blankets, the stuffing of the mattress pulled into small pieces. The room looked as if a whirlwind had swept through it, and as I forced myself to go near the body I saw that it had not been left in peace by the murderer. The blood-stained coat was open, the pockets of the garments turned out, like those in the wardrobe, and all the clothing disarranged, evidently by hands which searched for something with frenzied haste and merciless determination.
The cunning forethought of the wretched man had availed him nothing. I could imagine how joyously he had arrived at this house, believing that he had outwitted the enemy. I pictured his disappointment on not finding the friend who could have helped and supported him. I saw how he had planned to defend himself in case of siege, by locking and bolting the door (both lock and bolt were broken); I fancied him driven by hunger to search his friend's quarters for food, and fearfully beginning a supper in the midst of which he had probably been interrupted. Almost, I could feel the horror with which he must have trembled when steps came along the corridor, when the door was tried and finally broken in by force without any cry of his being heard. I guessed how he had rushed to the window, opened it, only to stare down at the depths below and return desperately, to stand at bay; to protest to the avengers that he had not the jewels; that he had been deceived; that he was innocent of any intention to defraud them; that he would explain all, make anything right if only they would give him time.
But they had not given him time. They had punished him for robbing them of the diamonds by robbing him of his life. They had made him pay with the extreme penalty for his treachery; and yet in the flickering candle-light the stricken face, blood-spattered though it was, seemed to leer slyly, as if in the knowledge that they had been cheated in the end.
The confusion of the room promised badly for my hopes, nevertheless there was a chance that the murderers, intent only on finding the diamonds or some letters relating to their disposal, might, if they found the treaty, have hastily flung it aside, as a thing of no value.
Though the corridors of the house were lit by gas, this room had none, and the lamp being broken, I had to depend upon the bit of candle which might fail while I still had need of it. I separated it carefully from its bed of grease on the mantel, and as I did so the wavering light touched my hand and shirt cuff. Both were stained red, and I turned slightly sick at the sight. There was blood on my brown boots, too, and the grey tweed clothes which I had not had time to change since arriving in Paris.
I told myself that I must do my best to wash away these tell-tale stains before leaving the room; but first I would look for the treaty.
I began my search by stirring up the mass of scattered papers on the floor, and in spite of the horror which gripped me by the throat, I cried "hurrah!" when, half hidden by the twisted rug, I saw the missing letter-case. It was lying spread open, back uppermost, and there came an instant of despair when I pounced on it only to find it empty. But there was the treaty on the floor underneath; and lucky it was that the searchers had thrown it out, for there were gouts of blood on the letter-case, while the treaty was clean and unspotted.
With a sense of unutterable relief which almost made up for everything endured and still to be endured, I slipped the document back into the pocket from which it had been stolen.
At that moment a board creaked in the corridor, and then came a step outside the door.
My blood rushed up to my head. But it was not of myself I thought; it was of the treaty. If I were to be caught here, alone with the dead man, my hands and clothing stained with his blood, I should be arrested. The treaty must not be found on me. Yet I must hide it, save it. I made a dash for the window, and once outside, standing on the narrow balcony, I threw the candle-end into the room, aiming for the fire-place. Faint starlight, sifting through heavy clouds, showed me a row of small flower-pots standing in a wooden box. Hastily I wrapped the treaty in a towel which hung over the iron railing, lifted out two of the flower-pots (in which the plants were dead and dry), laid the flat parcel I had made in the bottom of the box, and replaced the pots to cover and conceal it. Then I walked back into the room again. A hand, fumbling at the handle of the door, pushed it open with a faint creaking of the hinges. Then the light of a dark lantern flashed.
DIANA FORREST'S PART
DIANA TAKES A MIDNIGHT DRIVE
Some people apparently understand how to be unhappy gracefully, as if it were a kind of fine art. I don't. It seems too bad to be true that I should be unhappy, and as if I must wake up to find that it was only a bad dream.
I suppose I've been spoiled a good deal all my life. Everybody has been kind to me, and tried to do things for my pleasure, just as I have for them; and I have taken things for granted—except, of course, with Lisa. But Lisa is different—different from everyone else in the world. I have never expected anything from her, as I have from others. All I've wanted was to make her as happy as such a poor, little, piteous creature could be, and to teach myself never to mind anything that she might say or do.
But Ivor—to be disappointed in him, to be made miserable by him! I didn't know it was possible to suffer as I suffered that day he went off and left me standing in the railway-station. I didn't dream then of going to Paris. If anybody had told me I would go, I should have said, "No, no, I will not." And yet I did. I allowed myself to be persuaded. I tried to make myself think that it was to please Aunt Lilian; but down underneath I knew all the time it wasn't that, really. It was because I couldn't bear to do the things I'm accustomed to doing every day. I felt as if I should cry, or scream, or do something ridiculous and awful unless there were a change of some sort—any change, but if possible some novelty and excitement, with people talking to me every minute.
Perhaps, too, there was an attraction for me in the thought that I would be in Paris while Ivor was there. I kept reminding myself on the boat and the train that nothing good could happen; that Ivor and I could never be as we had been before; that it was all over between us for ever and ever, and through his fault. But, there at the bottom was the thought that I might have done him an injustice, because he had begged me to trust him, and I wouldn't. Just suppose—something in myself kept on saying—that we should by mere chance meet in Paris, and he should be able to prove that he hadn't come for Maxine de Renzie's sake! It would be too glorious. I should begin to live again—for already I'd found out that life without loving and trusting Ivor wasn't life at all.
He couldn't think I had followed him, even if he did see me in Paris, because I would be with my Aunt and Uncle, and Lord Robert West; and I made up my mind to be very nice to Lord Bob, much nicer than I ever had been, if Ivor happened to run across us anywhere.
Then that very thing did happen, in the strangest and most unexpected way, but instead of being happier for seeing him, I was ten times more unhappy than before—for now the misery had no gleam of hope shining through its blackness.
That was what I told myself at first. But after we had met in the hall of the hotel, and Ivor had seemed confused, and wouldn't give up his mysterious engagement, or say what it was, though Lisa chaffed him and he must have known what I thought, I suddenly forgot the slight he had put upon me. Instead of being angry with him, I was afraid for him, I couldn't have explained why, unless it was the look on his face when he turned away from me.
No man would look like that who was going of his own free will to a woman with whom he was in love, that same queer something whispered in my ear. Instead of feeling sick and sorry for myself and desperately angry with him, it was Ivor I felt sorry for.
I pretended not to care whether he stayed or went, and talked to Lord Robert West as if I'd forgotten that there was such a person as Ivor Dundas. I even turned my back on him before he was gone. Still I seemed to see the tragic look in his eyes, and the dogged set of his jaw. It was just as if he were going away from me to his death; and his face was like that of the man in Millais' picture of the Huguenot Lovers. I wondered if that girl had been broken-hearted because he wouldn't let her tie round his arm the white scarf that might have saved him.
It is strange how one's mood can change in a moment—but perhaps it is like that only with women. A minute before I'd been trying to despise Ivor, and to argue, just as if I'd been a match-making mamma, to myself that it would be a very good thing if I could make up my mind to marry Lord Bob; that it would be rather nice being a Duchess some day; and that besides, perhaps Ivor would be sorry when he heard that I was engaged to somebody else.
But then, as I said, quite suddenly it was as if a sharp knife had been stuck into my heart and turned round and round. I would have given anything to run after Ivor to tell him that I loved him dreadfully and would trust him in spite of all.
"You look as pale as if you were going to faint," said Lisa, in her little high-keyed voice, which, though she doesn't speak loudly, always reaches to the farthest corners of the biggest rooms.
I did think it was unkind of her to call everyone's attention to me just then, for even strangers heard, and turned to throw a glance at me as they passed.
"It must be the light," I said, "for I don't feel in the least faint." That was a fib, because when you are as miserable as I was at that minute your heart feels cold and heavy, as though it could hardly go on beating. But I felt that if ever a fib were excusable, that one was. "I'm a little tired, though," I went on. "None of us got to bed till after three last night; and this day, though very nice of course, has been rather long. I think, if you don't mind, Aunt Lil, I'll go straight to my room when we get upstairs."
We all went up together in the lift, but I said good-night to the others at the door of the pretty drawing-room at the end of Uncle Eric's suite.
"Shan't I come with you?" asked Lisa, but I said "no." It was something new for her to offer to help me, for she isn't very strong, and has always been the one to be petted and watched over by me, though she's a few years older than I am.
Aunt Lilian had brought her maid, without whom she can't get on even for a single night, but Lisa and I had left ours at home, and Aunt Lil had offered to let Morton help us as much as we liked. I hadn't been shut up in my room for two minutes, therefore, when Morton knocked to ask if she could do anything. But I thanked her, and sent her away.
I had not yet begun to undress, but was standing in the window, looking along the Champs Elysees, brilliant still with electric lights, and full of carriages and motor-cars bringing people home from theatres and dinner-parties, or taking them to restaurants for supper.
Down there somewhere was Ivor, going farther away from me every moment, though last night at about this time he had been telling me how he loved me, how I was the One Girl in the world for him, and always, always would be. Here was I, remembering in spite of myself every word he had said, hearing again the sound of his voice and seeing the look in his eyes as he said it. There was he, going to the woman for whose sake he had been willing to break with me.
But was he going to her? I asked myself. If not, when they had chaffed him he might easily have mentioned what his engagement really was, knowing, as he must have known, exactly how he made me suffer.
Still—why had he looked so miserable, if he didn't care what I thought, and was really ready to throw me over at a call from her? The whole thing began to appear more complicated, more mysterious than I had felt it to be at first, when I was smarting with my disappointment in Ivor, and tingling all over with the humiliation he seemed to have put upon me.
"Oh, to know, to know, what he's doing at this minute!" I whispered, half aloud, because it was comforting in my loneliness to hear the sound of my own voice. "To know whether I'm doing him the most awful injustice—or not!"
Just then, at the door between my room and Lisa's, next to mine, came a tapping, and instantly after the handle was tried. But I had turned the key, thinking that perhaps this very thing might happen—that Lisa might wish to come, and not wait till I'd given her permission. She does that sort of thing sometimes, for she is rather curious and impish (Ivor calls her "Imp"), and if she thinks people don't want her that is the very time when she most wants them.
"Oh, Di, do let me in!" she exclaimed.
For a second or two I didn't answer. Never in my life had I liked poor Lisa less than I'd liked her for the last four and twenty hours, though I'd told myself over and over again that she meant well, that she was acting for my good, and that some day I would be grateful instead of longing to slap her, as I couldn't help doing now. But always before, when she has irritated me until I've nearly forgotten my promise to her father (my step-father) always to be gentle with her in thought and deed, I have felt such pangs of remorse that I've tried to atone, even when there wasn't really anything to atone for, except in my mind. I was afraid that, if I refused to let her come in, she would go to bed angry with me. And when Lisa is angry she generally has a heart attack and is ill next day. "Di, are you there?" she called again.
Without answering, I went to the door and unlocked it. She came in with a rush. "I feel perfectly wild, as if I must do something desperate," she said.
So did I, but I didn't mean to let her know that.
"I'm going out," she went on. "If I don't, I shall have a fit."
"Out!" I repeated. "You can't. It's midnight."
"Can't? There's no such word for me as 'can't,' when I want to do anything, and you ought to know that," said she. "It's only being ill that ever stops me, and I'm not ill to-night. I feel as if electricity were flowing all through me, making my nerves jump, and I believe you feel exactly the same way. Your eyes are as big as half-crowns, and as black as ink."
"I am a little nervous," I confessed. And I couldn't help thinking it odd that Lisa and I should both be feeling that electrical sensation at the same time. "Perhaps it's in the air. Maybe there's going to be a thunder-storm. There are clouds over the stars, and a wind coming up."
"Maybe it's partly that, maybe not," said she. "But there's one thing I'm sure of. Something's going to happen."
"Do you feel that, too?" I broke out before I'd stopped to think. Then I wished I hadn't. But it was too late to wish. Lisa caught me up quickly.
"Ah, I knew you did!" she cried, looking as eerie and almost as haggard as a witch. "Something is going to happen. Come. Go with me and be in it, whatever it is."
"No," I said. "And you mustn't go either." But she was weird. She seemed to lure me, like a strange little siren, with all a siren's witchery, though without her beauty. My voice sounded undecided, and I knew it.
"Of course I'm not asking you to wander with me in the night, hand in hand through the streets of Paris, like the Two Orphans," said Lisa. "I'm going to have a closed carriage—a motor-brougham, one belonging to the hotel, so it's quite safe. It's ordered already, and I shall first drive and drive until my nerves stop jerking and my head throbbing. If you won't drive with me I shall drive alone. But there'll be no harm in it, either way. I didn't know you were so conventional as to think there could be. Where's your brave, independent American spirit?"
"I'm not conventional," I said.
"Yes, you are. Living in England has spoiled you. You're afraid of things you never used to be afraid of."
"I'm not afraid of things, and I'm not a bit changed," I said. "You only want to 'dare' me."
"I want you to go with me. It would be so much nicer than going alone," she begged. "Supposing I got ill in a hired cab? I might, you know; but I can't stay indoors, whatever happens. If we were together it would be an adventure worth remembering."
"Very well," I said, "I'll go with you, not for the adventure, but rather than have you make a fuss because I try to keep you in, and rather than you should go alone."
"Good girl!" exclaimed Lisa, quite pleasant and purring, now that she had got her way; though if I'd refused she would probably have cried. She is terrifying when she cries. Great, deep sobs seem almost to tear her frail little body to pieces. She goes deadly white, and sometimes ends up by a fit of trembling as if she were in an ague.
"Have you really ordered a motor cab?" I asked.
"Yes," said she. "I rang for a waiter, and sent him down to tell the big porter at the front door to get me one. Then I gave him five francs, and said I did not want anybody to know, because I must visit a poor, sick friend who had written to say she was in great trouble, but wished to tell no one except me that she'd come to Paris."
"I shouldn't have thought such an elaborate story necessary to a waiter," I remarked, tossing up my chin a little, for I don't like Lisa's subterranean ways. But this time she didn't even try to defend herself.
"Let's get ready at once," she said. "I'm going to put on my long travelling cloak, to cover up this dress, and wear my black toque, with a veil. I suppose you'll do the same? Then we can slip out, and down the 'service' stairs. The carriage is to wait for us at the side entrance."
I looked at her, trying to read her secretive little face. "Lisa, are you planning to go somewhere in particular, do something you want to 'spring' on me when it's too late for me to get out of it?"
"How horrid of you to be so suspicious of me! You do hurt my feelings! I haven't had an inspiration yet, so I can't make a plan. But it will come; I know it will. I shall feel where we ought to go, to be in the midst of an adventure—oh, without being mixed up in it, so don't look horrified! I told you that something was going to happen, and that I wanted to be in it. Well, I mean to be, when the inspiration comes."
We put on our dark hats and long travelling cloaks. I pinned on Lisa's veil, and my own. Then she peeped to see if anyone were about; but there was nobody in the corridor. We hurried out, and as Lisa already knew where to find the 'service' stairs, we were soon on the way down. At the side entrance of the hotel the motor-cab was waiting, and when we were both seated inside, Lisa spoke in French to the driver, who waited for orders.
"I think you might take us to the Rue d'Hollande. Drive fast, please. After that, I'll tell you where to go next."
"Is this your 'inspiration'?" I asked.
"I'm not sure yet. Why?" and her voice was rather sharp.
"For no particular reason. I'm a little curious, that's all."
We drove on for some minutes in silence. I was sure now that Lisa had been playing with me, that all along she had had some special destination in her mind, and that she had her own reasons for wanting to bring me to it. But what use to ask more questions? She did not mean me to find out until she was ready for me to know.
She had told the man to go quickly, and he obeyed. He rushed us round corners and through street after street which I had never seen before—quiet streets, where there were no cabs, and no gay people coming home from theatres and dinners. At last we turned into a particularly dull little street, and stopped.
"Is this the Rue d'Hollande?" Lisa enquired of the driver, jumping quickly up and putting her head out of the window.
"Mais oui, Mademoiselle," I heard the man answer.
"Then stop where you are, please, until I give you new orders."
"I should have thought this was the sort of street where nothing could possibly happen," said I.
"Wait a little, and maybe you'll find out you're mistaken. If nothing does, and we aren't amused, we can go on somewhere else."
She had not finished speaking when a handsome electric carriage spun almost noiselessly round the corner. It slowed down before a gate set in a high wall, almost covered with creepers, and though the street was dimly lighted and we had stopped at a little distance, I could see that the house behind the wall, though not large, was very quaint and pretty, an unusual sort of house for Paris, it seemed to me.
Scarcely had the electric carriage come to a halt when the chauffeur, in neat, dark livery, jumped down to open the door; and quickly a tall, slim woman sprang out, followed by another, elderly and stout, who looked like a lady's maid.
I could not see the face of either, but the light of the lamp on our side of the way shone on the hair of the slim young woman in black, who got down first. It was gorgeous hair, the colour of burnished copper. I had heard a man say once that only two women in the world had hair of that exact shade: Jane Hading and Maxine de Renzie.
My heart gave a great bound, and I guessed in an instant why Lisa had brought me here, though how she could have learned where to find the house, I didn't know.
"Oh, Lisa!" I reproached her. "How could you?"
"It really was an inspiration. I'm sure of that now," she said quietly, though I could tell by her tone that she was trying to hide excitement. "You never saw that woman before, except once on the stage, yet you know who she is. You jumped as if she had fired a shot at you."
"I know by the hair," I answered. "I might have foreseen this would be the kind of thing you would think of—it's like you."
"You ought to be grateful to me for thinking of it," said Lisa. "It's entirely for your sake; and it's quite true, it was an inspiration to come here. This afternoon in the train I read an interview in 'Femina' with Maxine de Renzie, about the new play she's produced to-night. There was a picture of her, and a description of her house in the Rue d'Hollande."
"Now you have satisfied your curiosity. You've seen her back, and her maid's back, and the garden wall," I said, more sharply than I often speak to Lisa. "I shall tell the driver to take us to the hotel at once. I know why you want to wait here, but you shan't—I won't. I'm going away as quickly as I can."
She caught my dress as I would have leaned out to speak to the driver. Her manner had suddenly changed, and she was all softness and sweetness, and persuasiveness.
"Di, dearest girl, don't be cross with me; please don't misunderstand," she implored. "I love you, you know, even if you sometimes think I don't; I want you to be happy—oh, wait a moment, and listen. I've been so miserable all day, knowing you were miserable; and I've felt horribly guilty for fear, after all, I'd said too much. Of course if you'd guessed where I meant to come, you wouldn't have stirred out of the hotel, and it was better for you to see for yourself. Unless Ivor Dundas came here with a motor-cab, as we did, he could hardly have arrived yet, so if he does come, we shall know. If he doesn't come, we shall know, too. Think how happy you'll feel if he doesn't! I'll apologise to you then, frankly and freely; and I suppose you would not mind apologising to him, if necessary?"
"He may be in the house now," I said, more to myself than to Lisa.
"If he is, he'll come out and meet her when he hears the gate open. There, it's open now. The maid's unlocked it. No, there's nobody in the garden."
"I can't stop here and watch for him, like a spy," I said.
"Not like a spy, but like a girl who thinks she may have done a man an injustice. It's for his sake I ask you to stay. And if you won't, I must stay alone. If you insist on going away, I'll get out and stand in the street, either until Ivor Dundas has come, or until I'm sure he isn't coming. But how much better to wait and see for yourself."
"You know I can't go off and leave you standing here," I answered. "And I can't leave you sitting in the carriage, and walk through the streets alone. I might meet—" I would not finish my sentence, but Lisa must nave guessed the name on my lips.
"The only thing to do, then, is for us to stop where we are, together," said Lisa, "for stop I must and shall, in justice to myself, to Ivor Dundas and to you. You couldn't force me away, even if you wanted to use force."
"Which you know is out of the question," I said, desperately. "But why has your conscience begun to reproach you for trying to put me against Ivor? You seemed to have no scruples whatever, last night and this morning."
"I've been thinking hard since then. I want my warning to you either to be justified, or else I want to apologise humbly. For if Ivor doesn't come to this house to-night, in spite of his embarrassment when he spoke about an engagement, I shall believe that he doesn't care a rap about Maxine de Renzie."
I said no more, but leaned back against the cushions, my heart beating as if it were in my throat, and my brain throbbing in time with it. I could not think, or argue with myself what was really right and wise to do. I could only give myself up, and drift with circumstances.
"A man has just come round the far corner," whispered Lisa. "Is it Ivor? I can't make out. He doesn't look our way."
"Thank Heaven we're too far off for him to see our faces! I would rather die than have Ivor know we're here," I broke out.
"I don't think it is Ivor," Lisa went on. "He's hidden himself in the shadow, as if he were watching. It's that house he's interested in. Who can he be, if not Ivor? A detective, perhaps."
"Why should a detective watch Mademoiselle de Renzie's house?" I asked, in spite of myself.
Lisa seemed a little confused, as if she had said something she regretted.
"I don't know, I'm sure," she answered hastily. "Why, indeed? It was just a thought. The man seems so anxious not to be seen. Oh—keep back, Di, don't look out for an instant, till he's passed. Ivor is coming now. He's walking in a great hurry. There! he can't see you. He's far enough away for you to peep, and see for yourself. He's at Maxine de Renzie's gate."
It was all over, then, and no more hope. His eyes when they gave me that tragic look had lied, even as his lips had lied last night, when he told me there was no other woman in his world but me.
"I won't look," I stammered, almost choking.
"Someone, I can't see who, is letting him in. The gate's shut behind him."
"Let us go now," I begged.
"No, no, not yet!" cried Lisa. "I must know what happens next. We are in the midst of it, indeed."
I hardly cared what she did, now. Ivor had come to see Maxine de Renzie, and nothing else mattered very much. I had no strength to insist that we should go.
"I wonder what the man in the shadow would do if he saw us?" Lisa said. Then she leaned out, on the side away from the hiding man, and softly told our chauffeur to go very slowly along the street. This he did, but the man did not move.
"Stop before that house behind the wall with the creepers," directed Lisa, but I would not allow that.
"No, he shall not stop there!" I exclaimed. "Lisa, I forbid it. You've had your way in everything so far. I won't let you have it in this."
"Very well, we'll turn the corner into the next street, to please you," said Lisa; and she gave orders to the chauffeur again. "Now stop," she cried, when we had gone half way down the street, out of sight and hearing of anyone in the Rue d'Hollande. Then, in another instant, before I had any idea what she meant to do, she was out of the cab, running like a child in the direction whence we had come. I looked after her, hesitating whether or not to follow (for I could not bear to risk meeting Ivor), and saw that she paused at the corner. She was peeping into the Rue d'Hollande, to find out what was happening there.
"She will come back in a moment or two," I said to myself wearily, and sat waiting. For a little while she stood with her long dress gathered up under her cloak: then she darted round the corner and vanished. If she had not appeared again almost at once, I should have had to tell the driver to follow, though I hated the thought of going again into the street where Maxine de Renzie lived. But she did come, and in her hand was a pretty little brocade bag embroidered with gold or silver that sparkled even in the faint light.
"I saw this lying in the street, and ran to pick it up," she exclaimed.
"You might better have left it," I said stiffly. "Perhaps Mademoiselle de Renzie dropped it."
"No, I don't think so. It wasn't in front of her house."
"It may belong to that man who was watching, then."
"It doesn't look much like a thing that a man would carry about with him, does it?"
"No," I admitted, indifferently. "Now we will go home."
"Don't you want to wait and see how long Ivor Dundas stops?"
"Indeed I don't!" I cried. "I don't want to know any more about him." And for the moment I almost believed that what I said was true.
"Very well," said Lisa, "perhaps we do know enough to prove to us both that I haven't anything to reproach myself with. And the less you think about him after this, the better."
"I shan't think about him at all," I said. But I knew that was a boast I should never be able to keep, try as I might. I felt now that I could understand how people must feel when they are very old and weary of life. I don't believe that I shall feel older and more tired if I live to be eighty than I felt then. It was a slight comfort to know that we were on our way back to the hotel, and that soon I should be in my room alone, with the door shut and locked between Lisa and me; but it was only very slight. I couldn't imagine ever being really pleased about anything again.
"You will marry Lord Robert now, I suppose," chirped Lisa, "and show Ivor Dundas that he hasn't spoiled your life."
As she asked this question she was tugging away at a knot in the ribbons that tied the bag she had found.
"Perhaps I shall," I answered. "I might do worse."
"I should think you might!" exclaimed Lisa. "Oh, do accept him soon. I don't want Ivor Dundas to say to himself that you're broken-hearted for him. Lord Bob is sure to propose to you to-morrow—even if he hasn't already: and if he has, he'll do it again. I saw it in his eye all to-day. He was dying to speak at any minute, if only he'd got a chance with you alone. You will say 'yes' when he does, won't you, and have the engagement announced at once?"
"I'll see how I feel at the time, if it comes," I answered, trying to speak gaily, but making a failure of it.
At last Lisa had got the brocade bag open, and was looking in. She seemed surprised by what she saw, and very much interested. She put in her hand, and touched the thing, whatever it was; but she did not tell me what was there. Probably she wanted to excite my curiosity, and make me ask. But I didn't care enough to humour her. If the bag had been stuffed full of the most gorgeous jewels in the world, at that moment I shouldn't have been interested in the least. I saw Lisa give a little sidelong peep up at me, to see if I were watching; but when she found me looking entirely indifferent, she tied up the bag again and stowed it away in one of the deep pockets of her travelling cloak.
I was afraid that, when we'd arrived at the hotel and gone up to our rooms Lisa might want to stop with me, and be vexed when I turned her out, as I felt I must do. But she seemed to have lost interest in me and my affairs, now that all doubt was settled. She didn't even wish to talk over what had happened; but when I bade her good-night, simply said, "good-night" in return, and let me shut the door between the rooms.
"I suppose," I thought, "that the best thing I shall have to hope for after this, until I grow quite old, is to sleep, and be happy in my dreams." But though I tried hard to put away thoughts of all kinds, and fall asleep, I couldn't. My eyes would not stay closed for more than a minute at a time; and always I found myself staring at the window, hour after hour, hoping for the light.
DIANA HEARS NEWS
It seemed as if the night would never end. If I had been vain, and deserved to be punished for my vanity, then I was well punished now; I felt so ashamed and humiliated.
It must have been long after one when I went to bed, yet I was thankful when dawn came, and gave me an excuse to get up. After I had had a cold bath, however, I felt better, and a cup of steaming hot coffee afterwards did me good. I was all dressed when Morton, Aunt Lilian's maid, knocked at my door to ask if I were up, and if she could help me do my hair. "Her Ladyship" sent me her love, and hoped I had rested nicely. She would be pleased to hear that I was looking well.
Looking well! I was glad to know that, though it surprised me. I stared at myself in the glass, and wondered that so many hours of misery had made so little impression on my face. I was rather paler than usual, perhaps, but my cheeks were faintly pink, and my lips red. I suppose while one is young one can suffer a good deal and one's face tell no secret.
We were to make a very early start to examine the wonderful motor-car which Lord Robert West had advised Aunt Lil to buy. Afterwards she and Lisa and I had planned to do a little shopping, because it would seem a waste of time to be in Paris and bring nothing away from the shops. But when I tapped at Lisa's door (dreading, yet wishing, to have our first greeting over), it appeared that she had a bad headache and did not want to go with us to see the Rajah's automobile. While I was with her Aunt Lil came in, looking very bright and handsome.
She was "so sorry" for Lisa, and not at all sorry for me (how little she guessed!); and before taking me away with her, promised to come back after it was settled about the car, to see whether Lisa were well enough by that time for the shopping expedition.
The automobile really was a "magnificent animal," as Aunt Lil said, and it took her just two minutes, after examining it from bonnet to tool-boxes, to make up her mind that she could not be happy without it. It was sixty horsepower, and of a world-renowned make; but that was a detail. Any car could be powerful and well made; every car should be, or you would not pay for it; but she had never seen one before with such heavenly little arrangements for luggage and lunch; while as for the gold toilet things, in a pale grey suede case, they were beyond words, and she must have them—the motor also, of course, since it went with them.
So that was decided; and she and I drove back to the hotel, while the two men went to the Automobile Club, of which Lord Bob was an honorary member.
If possible, all formalities were to be got through with the Rajah's agent and the car paid for. At two o'clock, when we were to meet the men at the Ritz for luncheon, they were to let us know whether everything had been successfully arranged: and, if so, Aunt Lil wanted the party to motor to Calais in her new automobile, instead of going by train. Lord Bob would drive, but he meant to hire a chauffeur recommended by the Club, so that he would not have to stop behind and see to getting the car across the Channel in a cargo boat.
Aunt Lil was very much excited over this idea, as she always is over anything new, and if I was rather quiet and uninterested, she was too much occupied to notice.
Lisa was looking worse when we went back to her at the hotel, but Aunt Lil didn't notice that either. She is always nice to Lisa, but she doesn't like her, and it is only when you really care for people that you observe changes in them when you are busy thinking of your own affairs.
I advised Lisa to rest in her own room, instead of shopping, as she would have the long motor run later in the day, and a night journey; but she was dressed and seemed to want to go out. She had things to do, she said, and though she didn't buy anything when she was with us, while we were at a milliner's in the Rue de la Paix choosing hats for Aunt Lil, she disappeared on some errand of her own, and only came back just as we were ready to leave the shop. Whatever it was that she had been doing, it had interested her and waked her out of herself, for her eyes looked brighter and she had spots of colour on her cheeks.
Aunt Lil found so much to do, and was sure we could easily carry so many things in the motor-car, that it was a rush to meet Uncle Eric and Lord Bob at the Ritz, by two o'clock. But we did manage it, or nearly. We were not more than ten minutes late, which was wonderful for Aunt Lil: and the short time that we'd kept them waiting wasn't enough to account for the solemnity of the two men's faces as they came forward to meet us.
"Something's gone wrong about the car!" exclaimed Aunt Lil.
"No, the car's all right," said Lord Bob. "I've got you a chauffeur too, and—"
"Then what has happened? You both look like thunder-clouds, or wet blankets, or something disagreeable. It surely can't be because you're hungry that you're cross about a few minutes."
"Have you seen a newspaper to-day?" asked Uncle Eric.
"A newspaper? I should think not, indeed; we've had too many important things to do to waste time on trifles. Why, has the Government gone out?"
"Ivor Dundas has got into a mess here," Uncle Eric answered, looking very much worried—so much worried that I thought he must care even more about Ivor than I had fancied.
"Of course it's the most awful rot," said Lord Bob, "but he's accused of murder."
"It's in the evening papers: not a word had got into the morning ones," Uncle Eric went on. "We've only just seen the news since we came here to wait for you; otherwise I should have tried to do something for him. As it is, of course I must, as a friend of his, stop in Paris and do what I can to help him through. But that needn't keep the rest of you from going on to-day as you planned."
"What an awful thing!" exclaimed Aunt Lil. "I will stay too, if the girls don't mind. Poor fellow! It may be some comfort to him to feel that he has friends on the spot, standing by him. I've got thousands of engagements—we all have—but I shall telegraph to everybody. What about you, Lord Bob?"
"I'll stand by, with you, Lady Mountstuart," said he, his nice though not very clever face more anxious-looking than I had ever seen it, his blue, wide-apart eyes watching me rather wistfully. "Dundas and I have never been intimate, but he's a fine chap, and I've always admired him. He's sure to come out of this all right."
Poor Lord Robert! I hadn't much thought to give him then; but dimly I felt that his anxiety was concerned with me even more than with Ivor, of whom he spoke so kindly, though he had often shown signs of jealousy in past days.
I felt stunned, and almost dazed. If anyone had spoken to me, I think I should have been dumb, unable to answer; but nobody did speak, or seem to think it strange that I had nothing to say.
"I suppose you won't try to do anything until after lunch, will you, Mountstuart?" Lord Robert went on to ask.
"No, we must eat, and talk things over," said Uncle Eric.
We went into the restaurant, I moving as if I were in a dream. Ivor accused of murder! What had he done? What could have happened?
But I was soon to know. As soon as we were seated at a table, where the lovely, fresh flowers seemed a mockery, Aunt Lil began asking questions.