For some reason, Uncle Eric apparently did not like answering. It was almost as if he had had some kind of previous knowledge of the affair, of which he didn't wish to speak. But, I suppose, it could not have been that.
It was Lord Robert who told us nearly everything; and always I was conscious that he was watching me, wondering if this were a cruel blow for me, asking himself if he were speaking in a tactful way of one who had been his rival.
"There was that engagement of Dundas' last night, which he was just going to keep when we saw him," said Lord Bob, carefully, but clumsily. "I'm afraid there must have been something fishy about that—I mean, some trap must have been laid to catch him. And, it seems, he wasn't supposed to be in Paris—though I don't see what that can have to do with the plot, if there is one. He was stopping in the hotel under another name. No doubt he had some good reason, though. There's nothing sly about Dundas. If ever there was a plucky chap, he's one. Anyhow, apparently, he wanted to get hold of a man in Paris he couldn't find, for he called last evening on a detective named Girard, a rather well-known fellow in his line, I believe. It almost looks as if Dundas had made an enemy of him, for he's been giving evidence pretty freely to the police—lost no time about it, anyhow. Girard says he was following up the scent, tracking down the person he'd been hired by Dundas to hunt for, and had at last come to the house where he was lodging, when there he found Dundas himself, ransacking the room, covered with blood, and the chap who was wanted, lying dead on the floor, his body hardly cold."
"What time was all that?" enquired Lisa sharply. It was the first question she had asked.
"Between midnight and one o'clock, I think the papers said," answered Lord Bob.
"Well, of course it's all nonsense," exclaimed Aunt Lil impatiently. "French people are so sensational, and they jump at conclusions so. The idea of their daring to accuse a man like Ivor Dundas of murder! They ought to know better. They'll soon be eating humble-pie, and begging England's pardon for wrongful treatment of a British subject, won't they, Eric?"
"I'm afraid there's no question of jumping at conclusions on the part of the authorities, or of eating humble-pie," Uncle Eric said. "The evidence—entirely circumstantial so far, luckily—is dead against Ivor. And as for his being a British subject, there's nothing in that. If an Englishman chooses to commit a murder in France, he's left to the French law to deal with, as if he were a Frenchman."
"But Ivor hasn't committed murder!" cried Aunt Lilian, horrified.
"Of course not. But he's got to prove that he hasn't. And in that he's worse off than if this thing happened in England. English law supposes a man innocent until he's been proved guilty. French law, on the contrary, presumes that he's guilty until he's proved innocent. In face of the evidence against Ivor, the authorities couldn't have done otherwise than they have done."
For the first time in my life I felt angry with Aunt Lilian's husband. I do hate that cold, stern "sense of justice" on which men pride themselves so much, whether it's an affair of a friend or an enemy!
"Surely Mr. Dundas must have been able to prove an—an—don't you call it an alibi?" asked Lisa.
"He didn't try to," replied Lord Bob. "He's simply refused, up to the present, to tell what he was doing between twelve o'clock and the time he was found, except to say that he walked for a good while before going to the house where Girard afterwards found him. Of course he denies killing the man: says the fellow had stolen something from him, on the boat crossing from Dover to Calais yesterday, and that after applying to the detective, he got a note from the thief, offering to give the thing back if he would call and name a reward. Says he found the room already ransacked and the fellow dead, when he arrived at the address given him; that he was searching for his property when Girard appeared on the scene."
"Couldn't he have shown the note sent by the thief?" asked Aunt Lil.
"He did show a note. But it does him more harm than good. And he wouldn't tell what the thing was the thief had taken from him, except that it was valuable. It does look as if he were determined to make the case as black as possible against himself; but then, as I said before, no doubt he has good reasons."
"He has no good luck, anyhow!" sighed Aunt Lil, who always liked Ivor.
"Rather not—so far. Why, one of the worst bits of evidence against him is that the concierge of this house in the Rue de la Fille Sauvage swears that though Dundas hadn't been in the place much above half an hour when the detective arrived, he was there then for the second time, that he admitted it when he came. The first visit he made, according to the concierge, was about an hour before the second: the concierge was already in bed in his little box, but not asleep, when a man rang and an English-sounding voice asked for Monsieur Gestre. On hearing that Gestre was away, the visitor said he would see the gentleman who was stopping in Gestre's room. By and by the Englishman went out, and on being challenged, said he might come back again later. After a while the concierge was waked up once more by a caller for Gestre, who announced that he'd been before; and now he vows that it was the same man both times, though Dundas denies having called twice. If he could prove that he'd been in the house no more than half an hour, it might be all right, for two doctors agree that the murdered man had been dead more than an hour when they were called in. But he can't or won't prove it—that's his luck again!—and nobody can be found who saw him in any of the streets through which he mentions passing. The last moment that he can be accounted for is when a cabman, who'd taken him up at the hotel just after he left us, set him down in the Rue de Courbvoie, not so very far from the Elysee Palace. Then it was only between five and ten minutes past twelve, so he could easily have gone on to the Rue de la Fille Sauvage afterwards and killed his man at the time when the doctors say the fellow must have died. It's a bad scrape. But of course Dundas will get out of it somehow or other, in the end."
"Do you think he will, Eric?" asked Aunt Lil.
"I hope so with all my heart," he answered. But his face showed that he was deeply troubled, and my heart sank down—down.
As I realised more and more the danger in which Ivor stood, my resentment against him began to seem curiously trivial. Nothing had happened to make me feel that I had done him an injustice in thinking he cared more for Maxine de Renzie than for me—indeed, on the contrary, everything went to prove his supreme loyalty to her whose name he had refused to speak, even for the sake of clearing himself. Still, now that the world was against him, my soul rushed to stand by his side, to defend him, to give him love and trust in spite of all.
Down deep in my heart I forgave him, even though he had been cruel, and I yearned over him with an exceeding tenderness. More than anything on earth, I wanted to help him; and I meant to try. Indeed, as the talk went on while that terrible meal progressed, I thought I saw a way to do it, if Lisa and I should act together.
I was so anxious to have a talk with her that I could hardly wait to get back to our own hotel, from the Ritz. Fortunately, nobody wanted to sit long at lunch, so it wasn't yet three when I called her into my room. The men had gone to make different arrangements about starting, for we were not to leave Paris until they had had time to do something for Ivor. Uncle Eric went to see the British Ambassador, and Aunt Lilian had said that she would be busy for at least an hour, writing letters and telegrams to cancel engagements we had had in London. For awhile Lisa and I were almost sure not to be interrupted; but I spoke out abruptly what was in my mind, not wishing to lose a minute.
"I think the only thing for us to do," I said, "is to tell what we know, and save Ivor in spite of himself."
"How can anything you know save him?" she asked, with a queer, faint emphasis which I didn't understand.
"Don't you see," I cried, "that if we come forward and say we saw him in the Rue d'Hollande at a quarter past twelve—going into a house there—he couldn't have murdered the man in that other house, far away. It all hangs on the time."
"But you didn't see him go in," Lisa contradicted me.
I stared at her. "You did. Isn't it the same thing?"
"No, not unless I choose to say so."
"And—but you will choose. You want to save him, of course."
"Because he's innocent. Because he's your friend."
"No man is the friend of any woman, if he's in love with another."
"Oh, Lisa, does sophistry of that sort matter? Does anything matter except saving him?"
"I don't consider," she said, in a slow, aggravating way, "that Ivor Dundas has behaved very well to—to our family. But I want you to understand this, Di. If he is to be got out of this danger—no doubt it's real danger—in any such way as you propose, it's for me to do it, not you. He'll have to owe his gratitude to me. And there's something else I can do for him, perhaps—I, and only I. A thing of value was stolen from him, it seems, a thing he was anxious to get back at any price—even the price of looking for it on a dead man's body. Well, I think I know what that thing was—I think I have it."
"What do you mean?" I asked, astonished at her and at her manner—and her words.
"I'm not going to tell you what I mean. Only I'm sure of what I'm saying—at least, that the thing is valuable, worth risking a great deal for. I learned that from experts this morning, while you and your aunt were thinking about hats."
For an instant I was completely bewildered. Then, suddenly, a strange idea sprang into my mind:
"That brocade bag you picked up in the Rue d'Hollande last night!"
It was the first time I had thought of it from that moment to this—there had been so many other things which seemed more important.
Lisa looked annoyed. I think she had counted on my not remembering, or not connecting her hints with the thing she had found in the street, and that she had wanted to tantalise me.
"I won't say whether I mean the brocade bag or not, and whether, if I do, that I believe Ivor dropped it, or whether there was another man mixed up in the case—perhaps the real murderer. If I do decide to tell what I know and what I suspect, it won't be to you—unless for a very particular reason—and it won't be yet awhile."
I'm afraid that I almost hated her for a moment, she seemed so cold, so calculating and sly. I couldn't bear to think that she was my step-sister, and I was glad that, at least, not a drop of the same blood ran in our veins.
"If you choose to keep silent for some purpose of your own," I broke out, "you can't prevent me from telling the whole story, as I know it—how I went out with you, and all that."
"I can't prevent you from doing it, but I can advise you not to—for Ivor's sake," she answered.
"For his sake?"
"Yes, and for your own, too, if you care for his opinion of you at all. For his sake, because neither of us knows when he came out of Maxine de Renzie's house. You would go away, though I wanted to stay and watch. He may not have been there more than five minutes for all we can tell to the contrary, in which case he would still have had time to go straight off to the Rue de la Fille Sauvage and kill that man, in accordance with the doctors' statements about the death. For your sake, because if he knows that you tracked him to Maxine de Renzie's house, he won't respect you very much; and because he would probably be furious with you, unable to forgive you as long as he lived, for injuring the reputation of the woman he's risked so much to save. He'd believe you did it out of spiteful jealousy against her."
I grew cold all over, and trembled so that I could hardly speak.
"Ivor would know that I'm incapable of such baseness."
"I'm not sure he'd hold you above it. 'Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned'—and he has scorned you—for an actress."
It was as if she had struck me in the face: and I could feel the blood rush up to my cheeks. They burned so hotly that the tears were forced to my eyes.
"You see I'm right, don't you?" Lisa asked.
"You may be right in thinking I could do him no good in that way—and that he wouldn't wish it, even if I could. But not about the rest," I said. "We won't talk of it any more. I can't stand it. Please go back to your room now, Lisa, I want to be alone."
"Very well," she snapped, "you called me in. I didn't ask to come."
Then she went out, with not another word or look, and slammed the door. I could imagine myself compelling her to give up the brocade bag, or offering her some great bribe of money, thousands of pounds, if necessary. Lisa is a strange little creature. She will do a good deal for money.
DIANA UNDERTAKES A STRANGE ERRAND
If I had not been tingling with anger against Lisa, who had seemed to enjoy saying needlessly cruel things to me, perhaps I would have been utterly discouraged when she pricked the bubble of my hope. She had made me realise that the plan I had was useless, perhaps worse than useless; but in my desperate mood I caught at another. I would try to see Ivor, and find out some other way of helping him. At all events he should know that I was for him, not against him, in this time of trouble.
Perhaps this new idea was a mad one, I told myself. Perhaps I should not be allowed to see him, even in the presence of others. But while there was a "perhaps" I wouldn't give up. Without waiting for a cooler or more cowardly mood to set in, I almost ran out of my room, and downstairs, for I hadn't taken off my hat and coat since coming in.
I had no knowledge of French law, or police etiquette, or anything of that sort. But I knew the French as a gallant nation; and I thought that if a girl should go to the right place begging for a short conversation with an accused man, as his friend, an interview—probably with a witness—might possibly be granted. The authorities might think that we were engaged, for all I cared. I did not care about anything now, except seeing Ivor, and helping him if I could.
I hardly knew what I meant to do at the beginning, by way of getting the chance I wanted, until I had asked to have a motor-cab called for me. Then, I suddenly thought of the British Ambassador, a great friend of Uncle Eric's and Aunt Lilian's. Uncle Eric had already been to him, but I fancied not with a view of trying to see Ivor. That idea had apparently not been in his mind at all. Anyway, the Ambassador would already understand that the family took a deep interest in the fate of Ivor Dundas, and would not be wholly astonished at receiving a call from me. Besides, hearing of some rather venturesome escapades of mine when I first arrived in London, he had once, while visiting Uncle Eric, laughed a good deal and said that in future he would be "surprised at nothing an American girl might do."
I told the driver to go to the British Embassy as fast as he could. There, I sent in my name, and the Ambassador received me at once. I didn't explain much, but came to the point immediately, and said that I wanted—oh, but wanted and needed very much indeed—to see Ivor Dundas. Could he, would he help me to do that?
"Ought I to help you?" he asked. "Would Mountstuart and Lady Mountstuart approve?"
"Yes," I said firmly. "They would approve. You see, it is necessary."
"Then, if it's necessary—and I believe you when you say that it is," he answered, "I'll do what I can."
What he could do and did do, was to write a personal letter to the Chief of Police in Paris, asking as a favour that his friend, Miss Forrest, a young lady related through marriage to the British Foreign Secretary, should be allowed five minutes' conversation with the Englishman accused of murder, Mr. Ivor Dundas.
I took the letter to the Chief of Police myself, to save time, and because I was so restless and excited that I must be doing something every instant—something which I felt might bring me nearer to Ivor.
From the Chief of Police, who proved to be a most courteous person, I received an order to give to the governor of the gaol or prison where they had put Ivor. This, he explained, would procure me the interview I wanted, but unfortunately, I must not hope to see my friend alone. A warder who understood English would have to be present.
So far I had gone into the wild venture without once thinking what it would be to find myself suddenly face to face with Ivor in such terrible circumstances, or what he would think of me for coming in such a way now that we were no longer anything to each other—not even friends. But a kind of ague-terror crept over me while I sat waiting in an ugly little bare, stuffy reception room. My head was going round and round, my heart was pounding so that I could not make up my mind what to say to Ivor when he came.
Then, suddenly, I heard the sound of footsteps outside the door; and when it opened, there stood Ivor, between two Frenchmen in blue uniforms. One of them walked into the room with him—I suppose he must have been a warder—but he stopped near the door, and in a second I had forgotten all about him. He simply ceased to exist for me, when my eyes and Ivor's had met.
I sprang up from my chair and began to talk as quickly as I could, stammering and confused, hardly knowing what I said, but anxious to make him understand in the beginning that I had not come to take back my words of yesterday.
"We're all so dreadfully sorry, Mr. Dundas," I said. "I don't know if Uncle Eric has been here yet—but he is doing all he can, and Aunt Lilian is dreadfully upset. We're staying on in Paris on account of—on account of this. So you see you've got friends near you. And I—we're such old friends, I couldn't help trying as hard as I could for a sight of you to—to cheer you up, and—and to help you, if that's possible."
I spoke very fast, not daring to look at him after the first, but pretending to smooth out some wrinkles in one of my long gloves. My eyes were full of tears, and I was afraid they'd go splashing down my cheeks, if I even winked my lashes. I loved him more than ever now, and felt capable of forgiving him anything, if only I had the chance to forgive, and if only, only he really loved me and not that other.
"Thank you, a hundred times—more than I can express," he said, with a faint quiver in his voice—his beautiful voice, which was the first thing that charmed me after knowing him. "It does cheer me to see you. It gives me strength and courage. You wouldn't have come if you didn't—trust me, and believe me innocent."
"Why, of course, I—we—believe you innocent of any crime," I faltered.
"And of any lack of faith?"
"Oh, as for that, how can—but don't let's speak of that. What can it matter now?"
"It matters more than anything else in the world. If only you could say that you will have faith!"
"I'll try to say it then, if it can give you any comfort."
"Not unless you mean it."
"Then—I'll try to mean it. Will that satisfy you?"
"It's better than nothing. And I thank you again. As for the rest, you're not to be anxious. Everything will come right for me sooner or later, though I may have to suffer some annoyances first."
"Annoyances?" I echoed. "If there were nothing worse!"
"There won't be. I shall be well defended. It will all be shown up as a huge mistake—another warning against trusting to circumstantial evidence."
"Is there nothing we can do then? Or—that we would urge others to do?" I asked, hoping he would understand that I meant one other—Maxine de Renzie.
I guessed by his look that he did understand. It was a look of gloom; but suddenly a light flashed in his eyes.
"There is one thing you could do for me—you and no one else," he said. "But I have no right to ask it."
"Tell me what it is," I implored.
"I would not, if it didn't mean more than my life to me." He hesitated, and then, while I wondered what was to come, he bent forward and spoke a few hurried words in Spanish. He knew that to me Spanish was almost as familiar as English. He had heard me talk of the Spanish customs still existing in the part of California where I was born. He had heard me sing Spanish songs. We had sung them together—one or two I had taught him. But I had not taught him the language. He learned that, and three or four others at least, as a boy, when first he thought of taking up a diplomatic career.
They were so few words, and so quickly spoken, that I—remembering the warder—almost hoped they might pass unnoticed. But the man in uniform came nearer to us at once, looking angry and suspicious.
"That is forbidden," he said to Ivor. Then, turning sharply to me. "What language was that?"
"Spanish," I answered. "He only bade me good-bye. We have been—very dear friends, and there was a misunderstanding, but—it's over now. It was natural he shouldn't want you to hear his last words to me."
"Nevertheless, it is forbidden," repeated the warder obstinately, "and though the five minutes you were granted together are not over yet, the prisoner must go with me now. He has forfeited the rest of his time, and must be reported."
With this, he ordered Ivor to leave the room, in a tone which sounded to me so brutal that I should have liked him to be shot, and the whole French police force exterminated. To hear a little underbred policeman dare to speak like that to my big, brave, handsome Englishman, and to know that it would be childish and undignified of Ivor to resist—oh, I could have killed the creature with my own hands—I think!
As for Ivor, he said not another word, except "good-bye," smiling half sadly, half with a twinkle of grim humour. Then he went out, with his head high: and just at the door he threw me back one look. It said as plainly as if he had spoken: "Remember, I know you won't fail me."
I did indeed remember, and I prayed that I should have pluck and courage not to fail. But it was a very hard thing that he had asked me to do, and he had said well in saying that he would not ask it of me if it did not mean more than his life.
The words he had whispered so hastily and unexpectedly in Spanish, were these: "Go to the room of the murder alone, and on the window balcony find in a box under flower-pots a folded document. Take this to Maxine. Every moment counts."
So it seemed that it was always of her he thought—of Maxine de Renzie! And I, of all people in the world, was to help him, with her.
As I thought of this task he'd set me, and of all it meant, it appeared more and more incredible that he should have had the heart to ask such a thing of me. But—it "meant more than his life." And I would do the thing, if it could be done, because of my pride.
As I drove away from the prison a kind of fury grew in me and possessed me. I felt as if I had fire instead of blood in my veins. If I had known that death, or worse than death, waited for me in the ghastly house to which Ivor had sent me, I would still have gone there.
My first thought was to go instantly, and get it over—with success or failure. But calmer thoughts prevailed.
I hadn't looked at the papers yet. My only knowledge of last night's dreadful happenings had come from Uncle Eric and Lord Robert West. I had said to myself that I didn't wish to read the newspaper accounts of the murder, and of Ivor's supposed part in it. I remembered now, however, that I did not even know in what part of Paris the house of the murder was. I recalled only the name of the street, because it was a curiously grim one—like the tragedy that had been acted in it.
I couldn't tell the chaffeur to drive me to the street and house. That would be a stupid thing to do. I must search the papers, and find out from them something about the neighbourhood, for there would surely be plenty of details of that sort. And I must do this without first going back to the hotel, as it might be very difficult to get away again, once I was there. Now, nobody knew where I was, and I was free to do as I pleased, no matter what the consequences might be afterwards.
Passing a Duval restaurant, I suddenly ordered my motor-cab to stop. Having paid, and sent it away, I went upstairs and asked for a cup of chocolate at one of the little, deadly respectable-looking marble tables. Also I asked to see an evening paper.
It was a shock to find Ivor's photograph, horribly reproduced, gazing at me from the front page. The photograph was an old one, which had been a good deal shown in shop windows, much to Ivor's disgust, at about the time when he returned from his great expedition and published his really wonderful book. I had seen it before I met him, and as it must have been on sale in Paris as well as London, it had been easy enough for the newspaper people to get it. Then there came the story of the murder, built up dramatically. Hating it, sickened by it, I yet read it all. I knew where to go to find the house, and I knew that the murder had been committed in a back room on the top floor. Also I saw the picture of the window with the balcony. Ivor was supposed—according to Girard, the detective—to have tried in vain to escape by way of this high balcony, on hearing sounds outside the door while busy in searching the dead man's room. Girard said that he had seen him first, by the light of a bull's-eye lantern, which he—Girard—carried, standing at bay in the open window. There was a photograph of this window, taken from outside. There was the balcony: and there was the balcony of another window with another balcony just like it, on the adjoining house. I looked at the picture, and judged that there would not be more than two feet of distance between the railings of those two balconies.
"That would be my way to get there—if I can get there at all," I said to myself. But there was hardly any "if" left in my mind now. I meant to get there.
By this time it was after five o'clock. I left the Duval restaurant, and again took a cab. The first thing I did was to send a petit bleu to Aunt Lilian, saying that she wasn't to worry about me. I'd been hipped and nervous, and had gone out to see a friend who was—I'd just found out—staying in Paris. Perhaps I should stop with the friend to dinner; but at latest I should be back by nine or ten o'clock. That would save a bother at the hotel (for Aunt Lilian knew I had heaps of American friends who came every year to Paris), yet no one would know where to search for me, even if they were inclined.
Next, I drove to a street near the Rue de la Fille Sauvage, and dismissed my cab. I asked for no directions, but after one or two mistakes, found the street I wanted. Instead of going to the house of the murder, I passed on to the next house on the left—the house of the balcony almost adjoining the dead man's.
I rang the bell for the concierge, and asked him if there were any rooms to let in the house. I knew already that there were, for I could see the advertisement of "Chambres a louer" staring me in the face: but I spoke French as badly as I could, making three mistakes to every sentence, and begged the man to talk slowly in answering me.
There were several rooms to be had, it appeared, but it would have been too good to be true that the one I wanted should be empty. After we had jabbered awhile, I made the concierge understand that I was a young American journalist, employed by a New York paper. I wanted to "write up" the murder of last night, according to my own ideas, and as of course the police wouldn't let me go into the room where it happened, the next best thing would be to take the room close to it, in the house adjoining. I wanted to be there only long enough to "get the emotion, the sensation," I explained, so as to make my article really dramatic. Would the people who occupied that room let it to me for a few hours? Long before bedtime they could have it back again, if I got on well with my writing.
The concierge, to whom I gave ten francs as a kind of retaining fee, was almost sure the occupants of the room (an old man and his wife) would willingly agree to such a proposal, if I paid them well enough for their trouble in turning out.
Would three louis be enough? I asked. The concierge—whose eyes brightened—thought that it would. I knew by his look that he would take a large commission for managing the affair, as he quickly offered to do; but that didn't matter to me.
He confirmed my idea that it would have been hopeless to try and get into the room of the murder itself, even if I could have borne it, saying that the door, and window too, had been sealed by the police, who were also guarding the house from curiosity seekers; but he added that I could see the shut window from the balcony of the room I was going to hire.
I waited for him, and played with his very unattractive baby while he went upstairs to make enquiries. He was gone for some time, explaining to the people; but at last, when my patience was almost too far strained, he came back to say that Monsieur and Madame Nissot had consented to go out of their room for the evening. They were dining at the moment, however, and Mademoiselle must be pleased to wait a few moments until they finished the meal and gathered up a few things which they could carry to a neighbour's: books, and work for their hours of absence, the concierge politely suggested. But that was to save my feelings, no doubt, for I was sure the husband and wife meant to make a parcel of any valuables which could possibly be carried off by an unscrupulous American journalist. Also, they stipulated that payment must be made in advance. To this I agreed willingly. And then—I waited, waited. It was tedious, but after all, the tediousness didn't matter much when I came to think of it. It would be impossible to do the thing I had made up my mind to do, till after dark.
MAXINE DE RENZIE'S PART
MAXINE MAKES A BARGAIN
We looked everywhere, in all possible places, for the diamond necklace, Raoul and I; and to him, poor fellow, its second loss seemed overwhelming. He did not see in glaring scarlet letters always before his eyes these two words: "The treaty," as I did—for my punishment. He was in happy ignorance still of that other loss which I—I, to whom his honour should have been sacred—had inflicted upon him. He was satisfied with my story; that through a person employed by me—a person whose name could not yet be mentioned, even to him—the necklace had been snatched from the thief who had stolen it. He blamed himself mercilessly for thinking so little of the brocade bag which I had given him at parting, for letting all remembrance of my words concerning it be put out of his mind by his "wicked jealousy," as he repentantly called it. For me, he had nothing but praise and gratitude for what I had done for him. He begged me to forgive him, and his remorse for such a small thing, comparatively—wrung my heart.
We searched the garden and the whole street, then came back to search the little drawing-room for the second time, in vain. It did seem that there was witchcraft in it, as I said to Raoul; but at last I persuaded him to go away, and follow his own track wherever he had been since I gave him the bag with the diamonds. It was just possible, as it was so late, and his way had led him through quiet streets, that even after all this time the little brocade bag might be lying where he had left it—or that some honest policeman on his beat might have picked it up. Besides, there was the cab in which he had come part of the distance to my house. The bag might have fallen on the floor while he drove: and there were many honest cabmen in Paris, I reminded him, trying to be as cheerful as I could.
So he left me. And I was deadly tired; but I had no thought of sleep—no wish for it. When I had unlocked the door of my boudoir and found Ivor Dundas gone, as I had hoped he would be, the next hope born in my heart was that he might by and by come back, or send—with news. Hour after hour of deadly suspense passed on, and he did not come or make any sign. At five o'clock Marianne, who had flitted about all night like a restless ghost, made me drink a cup of hot chocolate, and actually put me to bed. My last words to her were: "What is the use? I can't sleep. It will be worse to lie and toss in a fever, than sit up."
Yet I did sleep, and heavily. She will always deny it, I know, but I'm sure she must have slyly slipped a sleeping-powder into the chocolate. I was far too much occupied with my own thoughts, as I drank to please her, to think whether or no there was anything at all peculiar in the taste.
Be that as it may, I slept; and when I waked suddenly, starting out of a hateful dream (yet scarcely worse than realities), to my horror it was nearly noon.
I was wild with fear lest the servants, in their stupid but well-meant wish not to disturb me, might have sent important visitors away. However, when Marianne came flying in, in answer to my long peal of the electric bell, she said that no one had been. There were letters and one telegram, and all the morning papers, as usual after the first night of a new play.
My heart gave a spring at the news that there was a telegram, for I thought it might be from Ivor, saying he was on the track of the treaty, even if he hadn't yet got hold of it. But the message was from Raoul; and he had not found the brocade bag. He did not put this in so many words, but said, "I have not found what was lost, or learned anything of it."
From Ivor there was not a line, and I thought this cruel. He might have wired, or written me a note, even if there were nothing definite to say. He might, unless—something had happened to him. There was that to think of; and I did think of it, with dread, and a growing presentiment that I had not suffered yet all I was to suffer. I determined to send a servant to the Elysee Palace Hotel to enquire for him, and despatched Henri immediately. Meanwhile, as there was nothing to do, after pretending to eat breakfast under the watchful eyes of Marianne, I pretended also to read the newspaper notices of the play. But each sentence went out of my head before I had begun the next. I knew in the end only that, according to all the critics, Maxine de Renzie had "surpassed herself," had been "astonishingly great," had done "what no woman could do unless she threw her whole soul into her part." How little they knew where Maxine de Renzie's soul had been last night! And—only God knew where it might be this night. Out of her body, perhaps—the one way of escape from Raoul's hatred, if he had come to know the truth.
Of course the enquiry at the hotel was not for Ivor Dundas, but for the name he had adopted there; yet when my servant came back to me he had nothing to tell which was consoling—rather the other way. The gentleman had gone out about midnight (I knew that already), and hadn't returned since. Henri had been to the Bureau to ask, and it had struck him, he admitted to me on being catechised, that his questions had been answered with a certain reserve, as if more were known of the absent gentleman's movements than it was considered wise to tell.
My servant had not been long away, though it seemed long to me, and he had delayed only to buy all the evening papers, which he "thought that Mademoiselle would like to see, as they were sure to be filled with praise of her great acting." It was on my tongue to scold him for stopping even one moment, when he had been told to hurry, but he looked so pleased at his own cleverness that I hadn't the heart to dash his happiness. I would, however, have pushed the papers aside without so much as glancing at them, if it hadn't suddenly occurred to me that, if any accident had befallen Ivor, news of it might possibly have got into print by this time.
When I read what had happened—how he was accused of murder, and while declaring his innocence had been silent as to all those events which might have proved it, my heart went out to him in a wave of gratitude. Here was a man! A man loyal and brave and chivalrous as all men ought to be, but few are! He had sacrificed himself to the death, no doubt, to keep my name out of the mud into which my business had thrown him, and to save me from appearing in Raoul's eyes the liar that I was. Had Ivor told that he was with me, after I had prevaricated (if I had not actually lied) to Raoul about the midnight visitor to my house, what would Raoul think of me?
Ivor was trying to save me, if he could; and he had been trying to save me when he went to the room of that dead man, though how and when he had decided to go I knew not. If it were not for me, he would be free and happy to-day.
My conscience cried out that the one thing to do was to go at once to the Chief of Police and say: "Monsieur, this English gentleman they have arrested cannot have committed a murder in the Rue de la Fille Sauvage, between twelve and one last night, for he came to my house, far away in the Rue d'Hollande, at a quarter past twelve, and didn't leave it till after one o'clock."
I even sprang up from my chair in the very room where I had hidden Ivor, to ring for Marianne and tell her to bring me a hat and coat, to bid her order my electric brougham immediately. But—I sat down again, sick and despairing, deliberately crushing the generous impulse. I couldn't obey it. I dared not. By and by, perhaps. If Ivor should be in real pressing danger, then certainly. But not now.
At four o'clock Raoul came, and was with me for an hour. Each of us tried to cheer the other. I did all I could to make him hope that even yet he would have news of the brocade bag and its contents. He, thinking me ill and tired out, did all he could to persuade me that he was not miserable with anxiety. At least, he was no longer jealous of Godensky or of any man, and was humbly repentant for his suspicions of me the night before. When Raoul is repentant, and wishes to atone for something that he has done, he is enchanting. There was never a man like him.
At five I sent him away, with the excuse that I must rest, as I hadn't slept much the night before; but really it was because I feared lest I should disgrace myself before him by breaking down, and giving him a fright—or perhaps even by being mad enough to confess the thing I had done. I felt that I was no longer mistress of myself—that I might be capable of any folly.
I could not eat, but I drank a little beef-tea before starting for the theatre, where I went earlier than usual. It would be something to be busy; and in my part I might even forget for a moment, now and then.
Marianne and I were in my dressing-room before seven. I insisted on dressing at once, and took as long as I could in the process of making up; still, when I was ready there was more than half an hour to spare before the first act. There were letters for me—the kind that always come to the theatre—but I couldn't read them, after I had occupied myself with tearing open the envelopes. I knew what they would be: vows of adoration from strangers; poems by budding poets; petitions for advice from girls and young men who wanted to go on the stage; requests from artists who wanted to paint my picture. There were always such things every night, especially after the opening of a new play.
I was still aimlessly breaking fantastic seals, and staring unseeingly at crests and coronets, when there came a knock at the door. Marianne opened it, to speak for a moment with the stage door keeper.
"Mademoiselle," she whispered, coming to me, "Monsieur le Comte Godensky wishes to see you. Shall I say you are not receiving?"
I thought for a moment. Better see him, perhaps. I might learn something. If not—if he had only come to torture me uselessly to please himself, I would soon find out, and could send him away.
I went into my little reception-room adjoining, and received him there. He advanced, smiling, as one advances to a friend of whose welcome one is sure.
"Well?" I asked, abruptly, when the door was shut and we were alone. He held out his hand, but I put mine behind me, and drew back a step when he had come too close.
"Well—I have news for you, that no one else could bring, so I thought you would be glad to see—even me," he answered, smiling still.
"What news? But bad, of course—or you wouldn't bring it."
"You are very cruel. Of course, you've seen the evening papers? You know that your English friend is in prison?"
"The same English friend whom you would have liked to see arrested early last evening on a ridiculous, baseless charge," I flung at him. "You look surprised. But you are not surprised, Count Godensky—except, perhaps, that I should guess who had me spied upon at the Elysee Palace Hotel. A disappointment, that affair, wasn't it? But you haven't told me your news."
"It is this: That Mr. Ivor Dundas, of England, has been on the rack to-day."
"What do you mean?"
"He has been in the hands of the Juge d'Instruction. It is much the same, isn't it, if one has secrets to keep? Would you like to know, if some magical bird could tell you, what questions were put to Mr. Dundas, and what answers he made?"
Strange, that this very thought had been torturing me before Godensky came! I had been thinking of the Juge d'Instruction, and his terrible cross-examination which only a man of steel or iron can answer without trembling. I had thought that questions had been asked and answers given which might mean everything to me, if I could only have heard them. Could it be that I was to hear, now? But I reminded myself that this was impossible. No one could know except the Juge d'Instruction and Ivor Dundas himself. "Only two men were present at that scene, and they will never tell what went on," I said aloud.
"Three men were present," Godensky answered. "Besides the two of whom you think, there was another: a lawyer who speaks English. It is permitted nowadays that a foreigner, if he demands it, can be accompanied by his legal adviser when he goes before the Juge d'Instruction. Otherwise, his lack of knowledge of the language might handicap him, and cause misunderstandings which would prejudice his case."
He paused a moment, but I did not reply. I knew that Ivor Dundas spoke French as well as I; but I was not going to tell this Russian that fact.
"The adviser your friend has chosen," Godensky went on, "happens to be a protege of mine. I made him—gave him his first case, his first success; and have employed him more than once since. Odd, what a penchant Mr. Dundas seems to have for men in whom I, too, have confidence! Last night, it was Girard. To-day, it is Lenormand."
This was a blow, and a heavy one; but I wouldn't let Godensky see that I winced under it.
"You keep yourself singularly well-informed of the movements of your various proteges," I said—"as well as those of your enemies. But if the information in the one case is no more trustworthy than in the other—why, you're not faithfully served. I've good reason to know that you've made several mistakes lately, and you're likely to make more."
"Thanks for the warning. But I hope you don't call yourself my 'enemy'?"
"I don't know of a more appropriate name—after the baseness that you haven't even tried to hide, in your dealings with me."
"I thought all was fair in love and war."
"Do you make war on women?"
"No—I make love to them."
"To many, I dare say. But here is one who won't listen."
"At least you will listen while I go on with the news I came to tell?"
"Oh, yes, I confess to being curious. No doubt what you say will be interesting—even if not accurate."
"I can promise that it shall be both. I called on Lenormand as soon as I learned what had happened—that he'd been mixed up in this case—and expressed myself as extremely concerned for the fate of his client, friends of whom were intimate friends of mine. So you see, there was no question of treachery on Lenormand's part. He trusts me—as you do not. Indeed, I even offered my help for Dundas, if I could give it consistently with my position. Naturally, he told me nothing which could be used against Dundas, so far as he knew, even if I wished to go against him—which my coming here ought to prove to you that I do not."
"I read the proof rather differently," I said. "But go on. I'm sure you are anxious to tell me certain things. Please come to the point."
"In a few words, then, the point is this: One of the most important questions put by the Juge d'Instruction, after hearing from Mr. Dundas the explanation of a document found on him by the police—ah, that wakes you up, Mademoiselle! You are surprised that a document was found on the prisoner?"
I was half fainting with fear lest Ivor had regained the treaty, only to lose it again in this dreadful way; but I controlled myself.
"I rather hope it was not a letter from me," I said. "You know so much, that you probably know I admitted to the police at the Elysee Palace a strong friendship for Mr. Dundas. We knew each other well in London. But London ways are different from the ways of Paris. It isn't agreeable to be gossipped about, however unjustly, even if one is—only an actress."
"You turn things cleverly, as always. Yes, you are afraid there might have been—a letter. Yet the public adores you. It would pardon you any indiscretion, especially a romantic one—any indiscretion except treachery. There might, however, be a few persons less indulgent. Du Laurier, for instance."
I shivered. "We were speaking of the scene with the Juge d'Instruction," I reminded him. "You have wandered from the point again."
"There are so many points—all sharp as swords for those they may pierce. Well, the important question was in relation to a letter—yes. But the letter was not from you, Mademoiselle. It was written in English, and it made an appointment at the very address where the crime was committed. It was, as nearly as I could make out, a request from a person calling himself a jeweller's assistant, for the receiver of the letter to call and return a case containing jewels. This case had been committed to Mr. Dundas' care, it appeared, while travelling from London to Paris, and without his knowledge, another packet being taken away to make room for this. Mr. Dundas replied to the Juge d'Instruction that his own packet, stolen from him on the journey, contained nothing but papers entirely personal, concerning himself alone.
"'What was in the case which the man afterwards murdered slipped into your pocket?' asked the Juge d'Instruction—Lenormand tells me.
"'A necklace,' answered Mr. Dundas.
"'A necklace of diamonds?'
"'Possibly diamonds, possibly paste, I wasn't much interested in it.'
"'Ah, was this not the necklace which you—staying at the Elysee Palace under another name—gave to Mademoiselle Maxine de Renzie last evening?' was the next question thrown suddenly at Mr. Dundas' head. Now, you see, Mademoiselle, that my story is not dull."
"Am I to hear the rest—according to your protege?" I asked, twisting my handkerchief, as I should have liked to twist Godensky's neck, till he had no more breath or wickedness left in him.
"Mr. Dundas tried his best to convince the Juge d'Instruction, a most clever and experienced man, that if he had, as an old friend, brought you a present of diamonds, it was something entirely different, and therefore far removed from this case.
"'Are you not Mademoiselle de Renzie's lover?' was the next enquiry. 'I admire her, as do thousands of others, who also respect her as I do,' your friend returned very prettily. At last, dearest lady, you begin to see what there is in this string of questions and answers to bring me straight to you?"
"No, Count Godensky, I do not," I answered steadily. But a sudden illuminating ray did show me, even as I spoke, what might be in his scheming mind.
"Then I must be clear, and, above all, frank. Du Laurier loves you. You love him. You mean, I think, to marry him. But deeply in love as he is, he is a very proud fellow. He will have all or nothing, if I judge him well; and he would not take for his wife a woman who accepts diamonds from another man, saying as she takes them that he is her lover."
"He wouldn't believe it of me!" I cried.
"There is a way of convincing him. Oh, I shall not tell him! But he shall see in writing all that passed between the Juge d'Instruction and Mr. Dundas, unless—"
"Unless?—but I know what you mean to threaten. You repeat yourself."
"Not quite, for I have new arguments, and stronger ones. I want you, Maxine. I mean to have you—or I will crush you, and now you know I can. Choose."
I sprang up, and looked at him. Perhaps there was murder in my eyes, as for a moment there was in my heart, for he exclaimed:
"Tigeress! You would kill me if you could. But that doesn't make me love you less. Would du Laurier have you if he knew what you are—as he will know soon unless you let me save you? Yet I—I would love you if you were a murderess as well as a—spy."
"It is you who are a spy!" I faltered, now all but broken.
"If I am, I haven't spied in vain. Not only can I ruin you with du Laurier, and before the world, but I can ruin him utterly and in all ways."
"No—no," I gasped. "You cannot. You're boasting. You can do nothing."
"Nothing to-night, perhaps. I'm not speaking of to-night. I am giving you time. But to-morrow—or the day after. It's much the same to me. At first, when I began to suspect that something had been taken from its place, I had no proof. I had to get that, and I did get it—nearly all I wanted. This affair of Dundas might have been planned for my advantage. It is perfect. All its complications are just so many links in a chain for me. Girard—the man Dundas chose to employ—was the very man I'd sent to England; on what errand, do you think? To watch your friend the British Foreign Secretary. He followed Dundas to Paris on the bare suspicion that there'd been, communication between the two, and he was preparing a report for me when—Dundas called on him."
"What connection can Ivor Dundas' coming to Paris have with Raoul du Laurier?" I dared to ask.
"You know best as to that."
"They have never met. Both are men of honour, and—"
"Men of honour are tricked by women sometimes, and then they have to suffer for being fools, as if they had been villains. Think what such a man—a man of honour, as you say—would feel when he found out the woman!"
"A woman can be calumniated as well as a man," I said. "You are so unscrupulous you would stoop to anything, I know that. Raoul du Laurier has done nothing; I—I have done nothing of which to be ashamed. Yet you can lie about us, ruin him perhaps by a plot, as if he were guilty, and—and do terrible harm to me."
"I can—without the trouble of lying. And I will, unless you'll give up du Laurier and make up your mind to marry me. I always meant to have you. You are the one woman worthy of me."
"You are the man most unworthy of any woman. But, give me till to-morrow evening—at this time—to decide. Will you promise me that?"
"No, I know what you would do. You would kill yourself. It is what is in your mind now. I won't risk losing you. I have waited long enough already. Give me a ring of yours, and a written word from you to du Laurier, saying that you find you have made a mistake; and not only will I do nothing to injure him, but will guard against the discovery of—you know what. Besides, as a matter of course, I'll bring all my influence to bear in keeping your name out of this or any other scandal. I can do much, everything indeed, for I admit that it was through me the Commissary of Police trapped you with Dundas. I will say that I blundered. I know what to do to save you, and I will do it—for my future wife."
"No power on earth could induce me to break with Raoul du Laurier in the way you wish," I said. "If—if I am to give him up, I must tell him with my own lips, and bid him good-bye. I will do this to-morrow, if you will hold your hand until then."
We looked at each other for a long moment in silence. Godensky was trying to read my mind, and to make up his accordingly.
"You swear by everything you hold sacred to break with him to-morrow?"
"By the memory of my father and mother, martyred by bureaucrats like you, I pledge my word that—that—if I can't break with Raoul, to let you know the first thing in the morning, and dare you to do—what you will."
"You will not 'dare' me, I think. And because I think so, I will wait—a little longer."
"Until this time to-morrow?"
"No. For if you cheated me, it would be too late to act for another twelve hours. But I will give you till to-morrow noon. You agree to that?"
"I agree." My lips formed the words. I hardly spoke them; but he understood, and with a flash in his eyes took a step towards me as if to snatch my hand. I drew away. He followed, but at this instant Marianne appeared at the door.
"There is a young lady to see Mademoiselle," she announced, her good-natured, open face showing all her dislike of Count Godensky. "A young lady who sends this note, begging that Mademoiselle will read it at once, and consent to see her."
Thankful that the tete-a-tete had been interrupted, I held out my hand for the letter. Marianne gave it to me. I glanced at the name written below the lines which only half filled the first page of theatre paper, and found it strange to me. But, even if I had not been ready to snatch at the chance of ridding myself immediately of Godensky, the few words above the unfamiliar name would have made me say as I did say, "Bring the young lady in at once."
"I come to you from Mr. Dundas, on business which he told me was of the greatest and most pressing importance.
That was the whole contents of the note; but a dozen sheets closely filled with arguments could not have moved me more.
MAXINE MEETS DIANA
Godensky was obliged to take his leave, which he did abruptly, but to all appearance with a good grace; and when he was gone Marianne ushered in a girl—a tall, beautiful girl in a grey tailor dress built by an artist.
For such time as it might have taken us to count twelve, we looked at each other; and as we looked, a little clock on the mantel softly chimed the quarter hour. In fifteen minutes I should be due upon the stage.
The girl was very lovely. Yes, lovely was the right word for her—lovely and lovable. She was like a fresh rose, with the morning dew of youth on its petals—a rose that had budded and was beginning to bloom in a fair garden, far out of reach of ugly weeds. I envied her, for I felt how different her sweet, girl's life had been from my stormy if sometimes brilliant career.
"Mr. Dundas sent you to me?" I asked. "When did you see him? Surely not—since—"
"This afternoon," she answered quietly, in a pretty, un-English sounding voice, with a soft little drawl of the South in it. "I went to see him. They gave us five minutes. A warder was there; but speaking quickly in Spanish, just a few words, he—Mr. Dundas—managed to tell me a thing he wished me to do. He said it meant more than his life, so I did it; for we have been friends, and just now he's helpless. The warder was angry, and stopped our conversation at once, though the five minutes weren't ended. But I understood. Mr. Dundas said there wasn't a moment to lose."
"Yet that was in the afternoon, and you only come to me at this hour!" I exclaimed.
"I had something else to do first," she said, in the same quiet voice. She was looking down now, not at me, and her eyelashes were so long that they made a shadow on her cheeks. But the blood streamed over her face.
"Even before I saw—Mr. Dundas," she went on, "I had the idea of calling on you—about a different matter. I think it would be more honest of me, if before I go on I tell you that—quite by accident, so far as I was concerned—I was with someone who saw Mr. Dundas go to your house last night, a little after twelve. I didn't dream of spying on—either of you. It just happened, it wouldn't interest you to know how. Yet—I beg of you to tell me one thing. Was he with you for long—so long that he couldn't have got to the other place in time to commit the murder?"
"He was in my house until after one," I said boldly. "But you, if you are his friend, ought to know him well enough to be certain without such an assurance from me, that he is no murderer."
"Oh, I am certain," she protested. "I asked the question, not for that reason, but to know if you could really prove his innocence, if you choose. Now, I find you can. When I read the papers this afternoon, at first I wanted to rush off to the police and tell them where he had been while the murder was being committed. But I didn't know how long he had stopped in your house, and, besides—"
"You would have dared to do that!" I broke in, the blood, angry blood, stinging my cheeks more hotly than it stung hers.
"It wasn't a question of daring," she answered. "I thought of him more than of you; but I thought of you, too. I knew that if I were in your place, no matter how much harm I might do to myself, I would confess that he had been in my house."
"There are reasons why I can't tell that he was there," I said, trying to awe her by speaking coldly and proudly. "His visit was entirely on business. But Mr. Dundas understands why I must keep silence, and he approves. You know he has remained silent himself."
"For your sake, because he is a gentleman—brave and chivalrous. Would you take advantage of that?"
"You take advantage of me," I flung back at the girl, looking her up and down. "You pretend that you came from Mr. Dundas with a pressing message for me. Do you want me to believe this his message? I think too well of him."
"I don't want you to believe that," she answered. "I haven't come to the message yet. I have earned a right to speak to you first, on my own account."
"In twelve minutes I must be on the stage," I said.
"The stage!" she echoed. "You can go on acting just the same, though he is in prison—for you!"
"I must go on acting. If I didn't, I should do him more harm than good."
"I won't keep you beyond your time. But I beg that you will do him good. If you care for him at all, you must want to save him."
"If I care for him?" I repeated, in surprise. "You think—oh, but I understand now. You are the girl he spoke of."
She blushed deeply, and then grew pale.
"I did not think he would speak of me," she said. "I wish he hadn't. But, if you know everything, the little there is to know, you must see that you have nothing to fear from any rivalry of mine, Mademoiselle de Renzie."
"Why," I exclaimed, "you speak as if you thought Ivor Dundas my lover."
"I don't know what you are to each other," she faltered, all her coolness deserting her. "That isn't my affair—"
"But I say it is. You shall not make such a mistake. Mr. Dundas cares nothing for me, except as a friend. He never did, though we flirted a little a year ago, to amuse ourselves. Now, I am engaged to marry a man whom I worship. I would gladly die for him. Ivor Dundas knows that, and is glad. But the other man is jealous. He wouldn't understand—he would want to kill me and himself and Ivor Dundas, if he knew that Ivor was in my house last night. He was there too, and I lied to him about Ivor. How could I expect him to believe the real truth now? He is a man. But you will believe, because you are a woman, like myself, and I think the woman Ivor Dundas loves."
Her beautiful eyes brightened. "He told you—that?"
"He told me he loved a girl, and was afraid that he would lose her because of the business which brought him to me. You seem to have been as unreasonable with him, as Ra—as the man I love could be with me. Poor Ivor! Last night was not the first time that he sacrificed himself for chivalry and honour. Yet you blame me! Look to yourself, Miss Forrest."
"I—I don't blame you," she stammered, a sob in her voice. "Only I beg you to save him, from gratitude, if not from love."
"It's true I owe him a debt of gratitude, deeper than you know," I answered. "He is worth trusting—worth saving, at the expense of almost any sacrifice. But I can't sacrifice the man I love for him."
She looked thoughtful. "You say the man you were engaged to was at your house while Ivor was there?"
"Yes. He came then. I hid Ivor, and I lied."
"He suspected that someone was with you? He stood watching, outside your gate?"
"He confessed that, when I'd made him repent his jealousy. Why do you ask? You saw him?"
"I think so. Tell me, Mademoiselle de Renzie, did he lose anything of value near your house?"
"Great heavens, yes!" I cried. "What do you know of that?"
"I know—something. Enough, maybe, to help you to find the thing for him—if you will promise to help Ivor."
"Oh, shame," I cried violently, sick of bargains and promises. "You are trying to bribe me!"
"Yes, but I am not ashamed," the girl answered, holding her head high. "I have not the thing which was lost; but I can get it for you—this very night or to-morrow morning, if you will do what I ask."
"I tell you I cannot," I said. "Not even to get back that thing whose loss was the beginning of all my misery. Ivor would not wish me to ruin myself and—another. Mr. Dundas must be saved without me. Please go. If we talked of this together all night, it could make no difference. And I'm in great trouble, great trouble of my own."
"Has your trouble anything to do with a document?" Miss Forrest slowly asked.
I started, and stared at her, breathless.
"It has!" she answered for me. "Your face tells me so."
"Has Ivor's message—to do with that?" I almost gasped.
"Perhaps. But he had no good news of it to give you. If you want news—if you want the document, it must be through me."
"Anything, anything on earth you like to ask for the document, if you can get it for me, I will do," I pleaded, all my pride and anger gone.
"I ask you to tell the police that Ivor Dundas was in your house from a little after midnight until after one. Will you do that?"
"I must," I said, "if you have the document to sell, and are determined to sell it at no other price. But if I do what you ask, it will spoil my life, for it will kill my lover's love, when he knows I have lied to him. Still, it will save him from—" I stopped, and bit my lip. "Will you give me the diamonds, too?" I asked, humbly enough now.
"The diamonds?" She looked bewildered.
"The diamonds in the brocade bag. Oh, surely they are still in the bag?"
"Yes, they are—they will be in the bag," the girl answered, her charming mouth suddenly resolute, though her eyes were troubled. "You shall have the diamonds, and the document, too, for that one promise."
"How is it possible that you can give me the document?" I asked, half suspicious, for that it should come to me after all I had endured because of it seemed too good to be true; that it should come through this girl seemed incredible.
"Ivor sent me to find it, and I found it," she said simply. "That was why I couldn't come to you before. I had to get the document. I didn't quite know how I was to do it at first, because I had no one to help or advise me; and Ivor said it was under some flower-pots in a box on the balcony of the room where the man was murdered. I was sure I wouldn't be allowed to get into the room itself, so it seemed difficult. But I thought it all out, and hired a room for the evening in a house next door, pretending I was a New York journalist. I had to wait until after dark, and then I climbed across from one balcony to the other. It wasn't as easy to do as it looked from the photograph I saw, because it was so high up, and the balconies were quite far apart, after all. But I couldn't fail Ivor; and I got across. The rest was nothing—except the climbing back. I don't know how the document came in the box, though I suppose Ivor put it there to hide it from the police. It was wrapped up in a towel; and it's quite clean."
"I think," I said slowly, when she had finished her story, "that you have a right to set a high price on that document. You are a brave girl."
"It's not much to be brave for a man you love, is it? And now I'm going to give the thing to you, because I trust you, Mademoiselle de Renzie. I know you'll pay. And I hope, oh, I feel, it won't hurt you as you think it will."
Then, as if it had been some ordinary paper, she whipped from a long pocket of a coat she wore, the treaty. She put it into my hand. I felt it, I clasped it. I could have kissed it. The very touch of it made me tremble.
"Do you know what this is, Miss Forrest?" I asked.
"No," she said. "It was yours, or Ivor's. Of course I didn't look."
And then there came the rap, rap, of the call-boy at the door. The fifteen minutes were over. But I had the treaty. And I had to pay its price.
MAXINE PLAYS THE LAST HAND OF THE GAME
When the play was over, I let Raoul drive home with me to supper. If Godensky knew, as he may have known—since he seemed to know all my movements—perhaps he thought that I was seeing Raoul for the last time, and sending him away from me for ever. But, though the game was not in my hands yet, the treaty was; and I had made up my mind to defy Godensky.
I had almost promised that, if he held his hand, I would give Raoul up; and never have I broken my word. But if I wrote a letter to Godensky in the morning, saying I had changed my mind, that he could do his worst against Raoul du Laurier and against me, for nothing should part us two except death? Then he would have fair warning that I did not intend to do the thing to which he had nearly forced me; and I would fight him, when he tried to take revenge. But meanwhile, before he got that letter, I would—I must—find some way of putting the treaty back in its place at the Foreign Office.
It was too soon to dare to be happy, yet; for it was on the cards that, even when I had saved Raoul from the consequences of my political treachery, Godensky might still be able to ruin me with him. Yet, the relief I felt after the all but hopeless anguish in which I had been drowning for the last few days gave to my spirit a wild exhilaration that night. I encouraged Raoul with hints that I had news of the necklace, and said that, if he would let me come to him in his office as soon as it was open in the morning, I might be able to surprise him pleasantly. Of course, he answered that it would give him the greatest joy to see me there, or anywhere; and we parted with an appointment for nine o'clock next day.
When he had gone, I wrote a note—a very short note—to Count Godensky. I wanted to have it ready; but I did not mean to send it till the treaty was in the safe whence I had taken it. Then, the letter should go at once, by messenger; and it would still be very early in the day, I hoped.
Usually, I have my cup of chocolate in bed at nine; but on the morning which followed I was dressed and ready to go out at half past eight. I think that I had not slept at all, but that didn't matter. I felt strong and fresh, and my heart was full of courage. I was leaving nothing to chance. I had a plan, and knew how I meant to play the last hand in the game. It might go against me. But I held a high trump. Again, as before, Raoul received me alone.
"Dearest," he exclaimed, "I know your news must be good, for you look so bright and beautiful. Tell me—tell me!"
I laughed, teasingly, though Heaven knew I was in no mood for teasing.
"You're too impatient," I said. "To punish you for asking about the wretched diamonds before you enquired how I slept, and whether I dreamed of you, I shall make you pay a penalty."
"Any penalty you will," he answered, laughing too, and entering into the joke—for he was happy and hopeful now, seeing that I could joke.
"Let me sit down and write at your desk, on a bit of your paper," I said.
He gave me pen and ink. I scribbled off a few words, and folded the note into an envelope.
"Now, this is very precious," I went on. "It tells you all you want to know. But—I'm going to post it."
"No, no!" he protested. "I can't wait for the post."
"Oh, I wouldn't trust my treasure to the post office, not even if it were insured. Open that wonderful safe you gave me a peep into the other day, and I'll put this valuable document in among the others, not more valuable to the country than this ought to be to you. I'll hide it there, and you must shut up the safe without looking for it, till I've gone. Then, you must count ten, and after that—you may search. Remember, you said you'd submit to any penalty, so no excuses, no complaints."
Raoul laughed. "You shall have your way, fantastic though it be, for you are a sorceress, and have bewitched me."
He unlocked the door of the safe and stood waiting for me to gratify my whim. But I gaily motioned him behind me. "If you stand there you can see where I put it, and that won't! be fair play. Turn your back."
He obeyed. "You see how I trust you!" he said. "There lie my country's secrets."
"They're safe from me," I said pertly. (And so indeed they were—now.) "They're too uninteresting to amuse me in the least."
As I spoke I found and abstracted the dummy treaty and slipped the real one into its place. Then I laid the envelope with the note I had written where he could not help finding it at first or second glance.
"Now you can close the safe," I said.
He shut the door, and I almost breathed aloud the words that burst from my heart, "Thank Heaven!"
"I must leave you," I told him. And I was kind for a moment, capricious no longer, because, though the treaty had been restored, I was going to open the cage of Godensky's vengeance, and—I was afraid of him.
"I may come to you as soon as I'm free?" Raoul asked.
"Yes. Come and tell me what you think of the news, and—what you think of me," I said. And while I spoke, smiling, I prayed within that he might continue to think of me all things good—far better than I deserved, yet not better than I would try to deserve in the future, if I were permitted to spend that future with him.
The next thing I did was to send my letter to Count Godensky. This was a flinging down of the glove, and I knew it well. But I was ready to fight now.
Then, I had to keep my promise to Miss Forrest. But I had thought of a way in which, I hoped, that promise—fulfilled as I meant to fulfil it—might help rather than injure me. I had not lain awake all night for nothing.
I went to the office of the Chief of Police, who is a gentleman and a patron of the theatre—when he can spare time from his work. I had met him, and had reason to know that he admired my acting.
His first words were of congratulation upon my success in the new play; and he was as cordial, as complimentary, as if he had never heard of that scene at the Elysee Palace Hotel, about which of course he knew everything—so far as his subordinate could report.
"Are you surprised to see me, Monsieur?" I asked.
"A great delight is always more or less of a surprise in this work-a-day world," he gallantly replied.
"But you can guess what has brought me?"
"Would that I could think it was only to give me a box at the theatre this evening."
"It is partly that," I laughed. "Partly for the pleasure of seeing you, of course. And partly—you know already, since you know everything, that I am a friend of Mr. Dundas, the young Englishman accused of a murder which he could not possibly have committed."
"Could not possibly have committed? Is that merely your opinion as a loyal friend, or have you come to make a communication to me?"
"For that—and to offer you the stage-box for to-night."
"A thousand thanks for the box. As for the communication—"
"It's this. Mr. Dundas was in my house at the time when, according to the doctors' statements, the murder must have been committed. Oh, it's a hard thing for me to come and tell you this!" I went on hastily. "Not that I'm ashamed to have received a call from him at that hour, as it was necessary to see him then, or not at all. He meant to leave Paris early in the morning. But—because I'm engaged to be married to—perhaps you know that, though, among other things?"
"I've heard—a rumour. I didn't know that it amounted to an engagement. Monsieur du Laurier is to be a thousand times congratulated."
"I love him dearly," I said simply. And, not because I am an actress, but because I am a a woman and had suffered all that I could bear, tears rose to my eyes. "I am true to him, and always have been. But—he is horribly jealous. I can't explain Mr. Dundas' night visit in a way to satisfy him. If Raoul finds out that an Englishman—well-known, but of whom I never spoke—was at my house after midnight, he will believe I have deceived him. Oh, Monsieur, if you would help me to keep this secret I am telling you so frankly!"
"Keep the secret, yet use it to free the Englishman?" asked the Chief of Police gravely.
"Yes, I ask no less of you; I beg, I implore you. It would kill me to break with Raoul du Laurier."
"Dear Mademoiselle," said the good and gallant man, "trust me to do the best I can for you." (I could see that my tears had moved him.) "A grief to you would be a blow to Paris. Yet—well, as you have been frank, I owe it to you to be equally so on my side. I should before this have sent—quite privately and in a friendly way, to question you about this Mr. Dundas, who passed under another name at the hotel where you called upon him; but I received a request from a very high quarter to wait before communicating with you. Now, as you have come to me, I suppose I may speak."
"Ask me any questions you choose," I said, "and I'll answer them."
"Then, to begin with, since you are engaged to Monsieur du Laurier, how do you explain the statement you made at the hotel, concerning Mr. Dundas?"
"That is one of the many things I have come here on purpose to tell you," I answered him; "for I am going to give you my whole confidence. I throw myself upon your mercy."
"You do me a great honour. Will you speak without my prompting?"
"Yes. I would prefer it. In England, a year ago, I had a little flirtation with Mr. Dundas—no more, though we liked and admired each other. We exchanged a few silly letters, and I forgot all about them until I fell in love with Raoul and promised to marry him—only a short time ago. Then I couldn't bear to think that I had written these foolish letters, and that, perhaps, Mr. Dundas might have kept them. I wrote and asked if he had. He answered that he had every one, and valued them immensely, but if I wished, he would either burn all, or bring them to me, whichever I chose. I chose to have him bring them, and I told him that I'd meet him at the Elysee Palace Hotel on a certain evening, to receive the letters from him."
"He came, as I said, under another name. Why was that, Mademoiselle, since there was nothing for him to be ashamed of?"
"He also is in love, and just engaged to be married to an American girl who lives with relations in London, in a very high position. He didn't want the girl to know he was coming to Paris, because, it seems, there had been a little talk about him and me, which she had heard. And she didn't like it."
"I see. This gentleman started for Paris, I have learned, the first thing in the morning, the day after a ball at a house where he met the British Secretary for Foreign Affairs."
"Perhaps. For I have enquired and found out that the girl—a Miss Forrest, is distantly connected with the British Foreign Secretary. She lives with her aunt, Lady Mountstuart, whose sister is married to that gentleman. And the Foreign Secretary is a cousin of Lord Mountstuart."
"Ah, Miss Forrest!"
"You know of her already?"
"I have heard her name."
(I guessed how: for she could not have seen Ivor Dundas in prison except through the Chief of Police; but I said nothing of that.)
"You say you know how we met at the hotel, Mr. Dundas and I," I went on. "But I'll explain to you now the inner meaning of it all, which even you can't have found out. Mr. Dundas was to have brought me my letters—half a dozen. He gave me a leather case, which he took from an inner breast pocket, saying the letters were in it. But the room was dark. Something had gone wrong with the electricity, and I hadn't let him push back the curtains, for fear I might be seen from outside, if the lights should suddenly come on. He didn't see the case, as he handed it to me, nor could I. Just at that instant there was a knock at the door; and quick as thought I pushed the leather case down between the seat and back of the sofa."
"But what reason had you to suppose that any danger of discovery threatened you because of a knock at the door?"
"I'll tell you. There is a man—I won't mention his name, but you know it very well, and maybe it is in your mind now—who wants me to marry him. He has wanted it for some time—I think because he admires women who are before the public and applauded by the world; also, perhaps, because I have refused him, and he is one who wants most what he finds hardest to get. He is not a scrupulous person, but he has some power and a good deal of influence, because he is very highly connected, and when people have 'axes to grind' he helps to grind them. He has suspected for some time that I cared for M. du Laurier, and for that he has hated Raoul. I have fancied—that he hired detectives to spy upon me; and my instinct as well as common sense told me that he would let no chance slip to separate me from the man I love. He would work mischief between us—or he would try to ruin Raoul, or crush me—anything to keep us apart. When I saw the Commissary of Police I was hardly surprised, and though I didn't know what pretext had brought him, I said to myself 'That is the work of—'"
"Perhaps better not mention the name, Mademoiselle."
"I didn't mean to. I leave that to your—imagination. 'This is the work of the man whose love is more cruel than hate,' I thought. While I wondered what possible use the police could make of my letters, I was shaking with terror lest they should come upon them and they should somehow fall into—a certain man's hands. Then, at last, they did find the case, just as I'd begun to hope it was safe. I begged the Commissary of Police not to open it. In vain. When he did, what was my relief to see the diamond necklace you must have heard of!—my relief and my surprise. And now I'm going to confide in you the secret of another, speaking to you as my friend, and a man of honour.
"Those jewels had been stolen only a few days ago from Monsieur du Laurier, and he was in despair at their loss, for they belonged to a dear friend of his—an inveterate gambler, but an adorable woman. She dared not tell her husband of money that she'd lost, but begged Raoul to sell the diamonds for her in Amsterdam and have them replaced by paste. On his way there the necklace was stolen by an expert thief, who must somehow have learned what was going on through the pawnbroker with whom the jewels had been in pledge—for a few thousand francs only. You can imagine my astonishment at seeing the necklace returned in such a miraculous way. I thought that Ivor Dundas must have got it back, meaning to give it to me as a surprise—and the letters afterwards. And it was only to keep the letters out of the affair altogether at any price—evidences in black and white of my silly flirtation—and also to avoid any association of Raoul's name with the necklace, that I told the Commissary of Police the leather case had in it a present from my lover. I spoke impulsively, in sheer desperation; and the instant the words were out I would have cut off my hand to take back the stupid falsehood. But what good to deny what I had just said? The men wouldn't have believed me.
"When the police had gone, I asked Mr. Dundas for my letters. But he thought he had given them to me—and he knew no more of the diamonds in their red case than I did—far less, indeed.
"I was distracted to find that my letters had disappeared, though I was thankful for Raoul's sake, to have the necklace. Mr. Dundas believed that his own leather case with the letters must have been stolen from his pocket in the train, though he couldn't imagine why the diamonds had been given to him instead. But he suspected a travelling companion of his, who had acted queerly; and he determined to try and find the man. He was to bring me news after the theatre at my house, about midnight.
"He came fifteen minutes later, having been detained at his hotel. Friends of his had unexpectedly arrived. He had just time to tell me this, and that after going out on a false scent he had employed a detective named Girard, when Monsieur du Laurier arrived unexpectedly. It seems, he'd been made frantically jealous by some misrepresentations of—the man whose name we haven't mentioned. I begged Mr. Dundas to hide in my boudoir, which he disliked doing, but finally did, to please me. I hoped that he would escape by the window, but it stuck, and to my horror I heard him there, in the dark, moving about. I covered the sounds as well as I could, and pacified Raoul, who thought he had seen someone come in. I hinted that it must have been the fiance of a pretty housemaid I have. It was not till after one that Ivor Dundas finally got away; this I swear to you. What happened to him after leaving my house you know better than I do, for I haven't seen him since, as you are well aware."
"He says he found a letter from the thief in his pocket, and went to the address named; that he couldn't get a cab and walked. But you have read the papers,"
"Yes, and I know how loyal he has been to me. Why, he wouldn't even tell about the diamonds, much less my letters!"
"As for these letters, you are still anxious about them, Mademoiselle?"
"My hope is that Mr. Dundas found and had time to destroy them, rather than risk further delay."
"You would like to know their fate?"
"I would indeed."
"Well, I applaud the Englishman's chivalry. Vive l'Entente Cordiale!"
"You are a man to understand such chivalry, Monsieur. Now that I've humbled myself, can't you give me hope that he'll soon be released, and yet that—that I shan't be made to suffer for my confession to you? It's clear to you, isn't it, that the murder must have been done long before he could have reached the house in the Rue de la Fille Sauvage from the Rue d'Hollande?"
"Yes, that is clear. And needless to say, I believe your statement, Mademoiselle. You are brave and good to have come forward as you have, without being called upon. There are still some formalities to be gone through before Mr. Dundas can be released; but English influence is at work in high quarters, and after what you have told me, I think he will not much longer be under restraint. Besides, I may as well inform you, dear lady, that not ten minutes before you arrived this morning I received satisfactory news of the arrest of two Englishmen at Frankfort, who seem to have been concerned in this business in the Rue de la Fille Sauvage. They certainly travelled with the murdered man; and a friend of his called Gestre, just back from Marseilles, has sworn that these persons were formerly partners of Janson, the deceased. If Janson stole the necklace from Monsieur du Laurier, with this pair as accomplices, and then tried to cheat them, a motive for the crime is evident. And we are getting at Janson's record, which seems to be a bad one—a notorious one throughout Europe, if he proves to be the man we think. I hope, really, that in a very few days Mr. Dundas may be able to thank you in person for what you've done for him, and—to tell you what has become of those letters."
"What good will their destruction do me, though, if you are not merciful?"
"I intend to be, for I can combine mercy with justice. Dear Mademoiselle, Monsieur du Laurier need never know the circumstances you have told to me, or that the Englishman's alibi has been proved by you. The arrest of these two men in Frankfort will, I feel sure, help the police to keep your secret as you would keep it yourself. Now, will that assurance make it easier for you to put your whole soul into your part to-night?"
"If you will accept that box," I said, letting him kiss my hand, and feeling inclined to kiss his.
Then I drove home, with my heart singing, for I felt almost sure that I had trumped Godensky's last trick now.
When I reached home Miss Forrest was there. She had brought the diamonds in the brocade bag. Oddly enough, the ribbons which fastened it were torn out, as if there had been a struggle for the possession of the bag. But Miss Forrest did not explain this, or even allude to it at all.
I thanked her for coming and for bringing the jewels. "I have kept my promise," I said. "The man you love will be free in a few days. Will you let me say that I think you are a very noble pair, and I hope you will be happy together."
"I shall try to make up to him for—my hateful suspicions and—everything," she said, like a repentant child. "I love him so much!"
"And he you. You almost broke his heart by throwing him over; I saw that. But how gloriously you will mend it again!"
"Oh, I hope so!" she cried. "And you—have I really spoiled your life by forcing you to make that promise? I pray that I haven't."
"I thought you had, but I was mistaken," I answered. "The thing you have made me do has proved a blessing. I may have—altered some of the facts a little, but none of those that concern Mr. Dundas. And a woman has to use such weapons as she has, against cruel enemies."
"I hope you'll defeat yours," said Miss Forrest.
"I begin to believe I shall," said I. And we shook hands. She is the only girl I ever saw who seemed to me worthy of Ivor Dundas.
Early in the afternoon Raoul came, and the first thing I did was to give him the diamonds.
"You are my good angel!" he exclaimed. "Thank Heaven, I won't have to take your money now."
"All that's mine is yours," I said.
"It is you I want for mine," he answered. "When am I to have you? Don't keep me waiting long, my darling. I'm nothing without you."
"I don't want to keep you waiting," I told him. And indeed I longed to be his wife—his, in spite of Godensky; his, till death us should part.
He took me in his arms, and then, when I had promised to marry him as soon as a marriage could be arranged, our talk drifted back to the morning, and the note I had written, telling him that a pretty American girl had found the diamonds.
"She's engaged to marry Ivor Dundas, an old friend of mine—the poor fellow so stupidly accused of murder," I explained. "But of course he is innocent. Of course he'll be discharged without a blot upon his name. They're tremendously in love with each other, almost as much as you and I!"
"You didn't tell me about the love affair in your note," said Raoul. "You spoke only of the girl, and the coincidence of her driving past your house, after I went in."
"There wasn't time for more in that famous communication!" I laughed.
Raoul echoed me. "It came rather too near being famous, by the way," he said. "Just after I had found it in the safe—where you would put it, you witch!—a man came in with an order from the President to copy a clause in a new treaty which is kept there."
"What treaty?" I asked, with a leap of the heart.
"Oh, one between France, Japan and Russia. But that isn't the point." (Ah, was it not, if he had known?) The thing is, it would have been rather awkward, wouldn't it? if I hadn't got your note out of the safe before the man came in, as he never took his eyes off me, or out of the open safe, for a second."
"Thank God I wasn't too late!" I stammered, before I could keep back the rushing words. "You mean, thank God he wasn't sooner, don't you, darling?" amended Raoul.