"I do not for a single moment doubt it," Mr. Sabin answered.
"You will regard the advice which I am going to offer as disinterested?"
"Then I offer it to you earnestly, and with my whole heart. Take the next steamer and go back to America."
"And leave Lucille? Go without making any effort to see her?"
Mr. Sabin was for a moment very serious indeed. The advice given in such a manner was full of forebodings to him. The lines from the corners of his mouth seemed graven into his face.
"Felix," he said slowly, "I am sometimes conscious of the fact that I am passing into that period of life which we call old age. My ambitions are dead, my energies are weakened. For many years I have toiled—the time has come for rest. Of all the great passions which I have felt there remains but one—Lucille. Life without her is worth nothing to me. I am weary of solitude, I am weary of everything except Lucille. How then can I listen to such advice? For me it must be Lucille, or that little journey into the mists, from which one does not return."
Felix was silent. The pathos of this thing touched him.
"I will not dispute the right of those who have taken her from me," Mr. Sabin continued, "but I want her back. She is necessary to me. My purse, my life, my brains are there to be thrown into the scales. I will buy her, or fight for her, or rejoin their ranks myself. But I want her back."
Still Felix was silent. He was looking steadfastly into the fire.
"You have heard me," Mr. Sabin said.
"I have heard you," Felix answered. "My advice stands."
"I know now," Mr. Sabin said, "that I have a hard task before me. They shall have me for a friend or an enemy. I can still make myself felt as either. You have nothing more to say?"
"Then let us part company," Mr. Sabin said, "or talk of something more cheerful. You depress me, Felix. Let Duson bring us wine. You look like a death's head."
Felix roused himself.
"You will go your own way," he said. "Now that you have chosen I will tell you this. I am glad. Yes, let Duson bring wine. I will drink to your health and to your success. There have been times when men have performed miracles. I shall drink to that miracle."
Duson brought also a letter, which Mr. Sabin, with a nod towards Felix, opened. It was from Helene.
"15 Park Lane, London, "Thursday Morning.
"My DEAR UNCLE,—
"I want you to come to luncheon to-day. The Princess de Catelan is here, and I am expecting also Mr. Brott, the Home Secretary—our one great politician, you know. Many people say that he is the most interesting man in England, and must be our next Prime Minister. Such people interest you, I know. Do come.
"Yours sincerely, "HELENE."
Mr. Sabin repeated the name to himself as he stood for a moment with the letter in his hand.
"Brott! What a name for a statesman! Well, here is your health, Felix. I do not often drink wine in the morning, but—"
He broke off in the middle of his sentence. The glass which Felix had been in the act of raising to his lips lay shattered upon the floor, and a little stream of wine trickled across the carpet. Felix himself seemed scarcely conscious of the disaster. His cheeks were white, and he leaned across the table towards Mr. Sabin.
"What name did you say—what name?"
Mr. Sabin referred again to the letter which he held in his hand.
"Brott!" he repeated. "He is Home Secretary, I believe."
"What do you know about him?"
"Nothing," Mr. Sabin answered. "My niece, the Countess of Camperdown, asks me to meet him to-day at luncheon. Explain yourself, my young friend. There is a fresh glass by your side."
Felix poured himself out a glass and drank it off. But he remained silent.
Felix picked up his gloves and stick.
"You are asked to meet Mr. Brott at luncheon to-day?"
"Are you going?"
"Very good," he said. "I should advise you to cultivate his acquaintance. He is a very extraordinary man."
"Come, Felix," Mr. Sabin said. "You owe me something more lucid in the way of explanations. Who is he?"
"A statesman—successful, ambitious. He expects to be Prime Minister."
"And what have I to do with him, or he with me?" Mr. Sabin asked quietly.
Felix shook his head.
"I cannot tell you," he said. "Yet I fancy that you and he may some time be drawn together."
Mr. Sabin asked no more questions, but he promptly sat down and accepted his niece's invitation. When he looked round Felix had gone. He rang the bell for Duson and handed him the note.
"My town clothes, Duson," he ordered. "I am lunching out."
The man bowed and withdrew. Mr. Sabin remained for a few moments in deep thought.
"Brott!" he repeated. "Brott! It is a singular name."
So this was the man! Mr. Sabin did not neglect his luncheon, nor was he ever for a moment unmindful of the grey-headed princess who chatted away by his side with all the vivacity of her race and sex. But he watched Mr. Brott.
A man this! Mr. Sabin was a judge, and he appraised him rightly. He saw through that courteous geniality of tone and gesture; the ready-made smile, although it seemed natural enough, did not deceive him. Underneath was a man of iron, square-jawed, nervous, forceful. Mr. Brott was probably at that time the ablest politician of either party in the country. Mr. Sabin knew it. He found himself wondering exactly at what point of their lives this man and he would come into contact.
After luncheon Helene brought them together.
"I believe," she said to Mr. Brott, "that you have never met my UNCLE. May I make you formally acquainted? UNCLE, this is Mr. Brott, whom you must know a great deal about even though you have been away for so long—the Duc de Souspennier."
The two men bowed and Helene passed on. Mr. Sabin leaned upon his stick and watched keenly for any sign in the other's face. If he expected to find it he was disappointed. Either this man had no knowledge of who he was, or those things which were to come between them were as yet unborn.
They strolled together after the other guests into the winter gardens, which were the envy of every hostess in London. Mr. Sabin lit a cigarette, Mr. Brott regretfully declined. He neither smoked nor drank wine. Yet he was disposed to be friendly, and selected a seat where they were a little apart from the other guests.
"You at least," he remarked, in answer to an observation of Mr. Sabin's, "are free from the tyranny of politics. I am assuming, of course, that your country under its present form of government has lost its hold upon you."
Mr. Sabin smiled.
"It is a doubtful boon," he said. "It is true that I am practically an exile. Republican France has no need of me. Had I been a soldier I could still have remained a patriot. But for one whose leanings were towards politics, neither my father before me nor I could be of service to our country. You should be thankful," he continued with a slight smile, "that you are an Englishman. No constitution in the world can offer so much to the politician who is strong enough and fearless enough."
Mr. Brott glanced towards his twinkling eyes.
"Do you happen to know what my politics are?" he asked.
Mr. Sabin hesitated.
"Your views, I know, are advanced," he said. "For the rest I have been abroad for years. I have lost touch a little with affairs in this country."
"I am afraid," Mr. Brott said, "that I shall shock you. You are an aristocrat of the aristocrats, I a democrat of the democrats. The people are the only masters whom I own. They first sent me to Parliament."
"Yet," Mr. Sabin remarked, "you are, I understand, in the Cabinet."
Mr. Brott glanced for a moment around. The Prime Minister was somewhere in the winter gardens.
"That," he declared, "is an accident. I happened to be the only man available who could do the work when Lord Kilbrooke died. I am telling you only what is an open secret. But I am afraid I am boring you. Shall we join the others?"
"Not unless you yourself are anxious to," Mr. Sabin begged. "It is scarcely fair to detain you talking to an old man when there are so many charming women here. But I should be sorry for you to think me hidebound in my prejudices. You must remember that the Revolution decimated my family. It was a long time ago, but the horror of it is still a live thing."
"Yet it was the natural outcome," Mr. Brott said, "of the things which went before. Such hideous misgovernment as generations of your countrymen had suffered was logically bound to bring its own reprisal."
"There is truth in what you say," Mr. Sabin admitted. He did not want to talk about the French Revolution.
"You are a stranger in London, are you not?" Mr. Brott asked.
"I feel myself one," Mr. Sabin answered. "I have been away for a few years, and I do not think that there is a city in the world where social changes are so rapid. I should perhaps except the cities of the country from which I have come. But then America is a universe of itself."
For an instant Mr. Brott gave signs of the man underneath. The air of polite interest had left his face. He glanced swiftly and keenly at his companion. Mr. Sabin's expression was immutable. It was he who scored, for he marked the change, whilst Mr. Brott could not be sure whether he had noticed it or not.
"You have been living in America, then?"
"For several years—yes."
"It is a country," Mr. Brott said, "which I am particularly anxious to visit. I see my chances, however, grow fewer and fewer as the years go by."
"For one like yourself," Mr. Sabin said, "whose instincts and sympathies are wholly with the democracy, a few months in America would be very well spent."
"And you," Mr. Brott remarked, "how did you get on with the people?"
Mr. Sabin traced a pattern with his stick upon the marble floor.
"I lived in the country," he said, "I played golf and read and rested."
"Were you anywhere near New York?" Mr. Brott asked.
"A few hours' journey only," Mr. Sabin answered. "My home was in a very picturesque part, near Lenox."
Mr. Brott leaned a little forward.
"You perhaps know then a lady who spent some time in that neighbourhood—a Mrs. James Peterson. Her husband was, I believe, the American consul in Vienna."
Mr. Sabin smiled very faintly. His face betrayed no more than a natural and polite interest. There was nothing to indicate the fact that his heart was beating like the heart of a young man, that the blood was rushing hot through his veins.
"Yes," he said, "I know her very well. Is she in London?"
Mr. Brott hesitated. He seemed a little uncertain how to continue.
"To tell you the truth," he said, "I believe that she has reasons for desiring her present whereabouts to remain unknown. I should perhaps not have mentioned her name at all. It was, I fancy, indiscreet of me. The coincidence of hearing you mention the name of the place where I believe she resided surprised my question. With your permission we will abandon the subject."
"You disappoint me," Mr. Sabin said quietly. "It would have given me much pleasure to have resumed my acquaintance with the lady in question."
"You will, without doubt, have an opportunity," Mr. Brott said, glancing at his watch and suddenly rising. "Dear me, how the time goes."
He rose to his feet. Mr. Sabin also rose.
"Must I understand," he said in a low tone, "that you are not at liberty to give me Mrs. Peterson's address?"
"I am not at liberty even," Mr. Brott answered, with a frown, "to mention her name. It will give me great pleasure, Duke, to better my acquaintance with you. Will you dine with me at the House of Commons one night next week?"
"I shall be charmed," Mr. Sabin answered. "My address for the next few days is at the Carlton. I am staying there under my family name of Sabin—Mr. Sabin. It is a fancy of mine—it has been ever since I became an alien—to use my title as little as possible."
Mr. Brott looked for a moment puzzled.
"Your pseudonym," he remarked thoughtfully, "seems very familiar to me."
Mr. Sabin shrugged his shoulders.
"It is a family name," he remarked, "but I flattered myself that it was at least uncommon."
"Fancy, no doubt," Mr. Brott remarked, turning to make his adieux to his hostess.
Mr. Sabin joined a fresh group of idlers under the palms. Mr. Brott lingered over his farewells.
"Your UNCLE, Lady Camperdown," he said, "is delightful. I enjoy meeting new types, and he represents to me most perfectly the old order of French aristocracy."
"I am glad," Helene said, "that you found him interesting. I felt sure you would. In fact, I asked him especially to meet you."
"You are the most thoughtful of hostesses," he assured her. "By the bye, your UNCLE has just told me the name by which he is known at the hotel. Mr. Sabin! Sabin! It recalls something to my mind. I cannot exactly remember what."
She smiled upon him. People generally forgot things when Helene smiled.
"It is an odd fancy of his to like his title so little," she remarked. "At heart no one is prouder of their family and antecedents. I have heard him say, though, that an exile had better leave behind him even his name."
"Sabin!" Mr. Brott repeated. "Sabin!"
"It is an old family name," she murmured.
His face suddenly cleared. She knew that he had remembered. But he took his leave with no further reference to it.
"Sabin!" he repeated to himself when alone in his carriage. "That was the name of the man who was supposed to be selling plans to the German Government. Poor Renshaw was in a terrible stew about it. Sabin! An uncommon name."
He had ordered the coachman to drive to the House of Commons. Suddenly he pulled the check-string.
"Call at Dorset House," he directed.
* * * * *
Mr. Sabin lingered till nearly the last of the guests had gone. Then he led Helene once more into the winter gardens.
"May I detain you for one moment's gossip?" he asked. "I see your carriage at the door."
"It is nothing," she declared. "I must drive in the Park for an hour. One sees one's friends, and it is cool and refreshing after these heated rooms. But at any time. Talk to me as long as you will, and then I will drop you at the Carlton."
"It is of Brott!" he remarked. "Ah, I thank you, I will smoke. Your husband's taste in cigarettes is excellent."
"Perhaps mine!" she laughed.
Mr. Sabin shrugged his shoulders.
"In either case I congratulate you. This man Brott. He interests me."
"He interests every one. Why not? He is a great personality."
"Politically," Mr. Sabin said, "the gauge of his success is of course the measure of the man. But he himself—what manner of a man is he?"
She tapped with her fingers upon the little table by their side.
"He is rich," she said, "and an uncommon mixture of the student and the man of society. He refuses many more invitations than he accepts, he entertains very seldom but very magnificently. He has never been known to pay marked attentions to any woman, even the scandal of the clubs has passed him by. What else can I say about him, I wonder?" she continued reflectively. "Nothing, I think, except this. He is a strong man. You know that that counts for much."
Mr. Sabin was silent. Perhaps he was measuring his strength in some imagined encounter with this man. Something in his face alarmed Helene. She suddenly leaned forward and looked at him more closely.
"UNCLE," she exclaimed in a low voice, "there is something on your mind. Do not tell me that once more you are in the maze, that again you have schemes against this country."
He smiled at her sadly enough, but she was reassured.
"You need have no fear," he told her. "With politics—I have finished. Why I am here, what I am here for I will tell you very soon. It is to find one whom I have lost—and who is dear to me. Forgive me if for to-day I say no more. Come, if you will you shall drive me to my hotel."
He offered his arm with the courtly grace which he knew so well how to assume. Together they passed out to her carriage.
"After all," Lady Carey sighed, throwing down a racing calendar and lighting a cigarette, "London is the only thoroughly civilized Anglo-Saxon capital in the world. Please don't look at me like that, Duchess. I know—this is your holy of holies, but the Duke smokes here—I've seen him. My cigarettes are very tiny and very harmless."
The Duchess, who wore gold-rimmed spectacles, and was a person of weight in the councils of the Primrose League, went calmly on with her knitting.
"My dear Muriel," she said, "if my approval or disapproval was of the slightest moment to you, it is not your smoking of which I should first complain. I know, however, that you consider yourself a privileged person. Pray do exactly as you like, but don't drop the ashes upon the carpet."
Lady Carey laughed softly.
"I suppose I am rather a thorn in your side as a relative," she remarked. "You must put it down to the roving blood of my ancestors. I could no more live the life of you other women than I could fly. I must have excitement, movement, all the time."
A tall, heavily built man, who had been reading some letters at the other end of the room, came sauntering up to them.
"Well," he said, "you assuredly live up to your principles, for you travel all over the world as though it were one vast playground."
"And sometimes," she remarked, "my journeys are not exactly successful. I know that that is what you are dying to say."
"On the contrary," he said, "I do not blame you at all for this last affair. You brought Lucille here, which was excellent. Your failure as regards Mr. Sabin is scarcely to be fastened upon you. It is Horser whom we hold responsible for that."
"Poor Horser! It was rather rough to pit a creature like that against Souspennier."
The man shrugged his shoulders.
"Horser," he said, "may not be brilliant, but he had a great organisation at his back. Souspennier was without friends or influence. The contest should scarcely have been so one-sided. To tell you the truth, my dear Muriel, I am more surprised that you yourself should have found the task beyond you."
Lady Carey's face darkened.
"It was too soon after the loss of Lucille," she said, "and besides, there was his vanity to be reckoned with. It was like a challenge to him, and he had taken up the glove before I returned to New York."
The Duchess looked up from her work.
"Have you had any conversation with my husband, Prince?" she asked.
The Prince of Saxe Leinitzer twirled his heavy moustache and sank into a chair between the two women.
"I have had a long talk with him," he announced. "And the result?" the Duchess asked.
"The result I fear you would scarcely consider satisfactory," the Prince declared. "The moment that I hinted at the existence of—er—conditions of which you, Duchess, are aware, he showed alarm, and I had all that I could do to reassure him. I find it everywhere amongst your aristocracy—this stubborn confidence in the existence of the reigning order of things, this absolute detestation of anything approaching intrigue."
"My dear man, I hope you don't include me," Lady Carey exclaimed.
"You, Lady Muriel," he answered, with a slow smile, "are an exception to all rules. No, you are a rule by yourself."
"To revert to the subject then for a moment," the Duchess said stiffly. "You have made no progress with the Duke?"
"None whatever," Saxe Leinitzer admitted. "He was sufficiently emphatic to inspire me with every caution. Even now I have doubts as to whether I have altogether reassured him. I really believe, dear Duchess, that we should be better off if you could persuade him to go and live upon his estates."
The Duchess smiled grimly.
"Whilst the House of Lords exists," she remarked, "you will never succeed in keeping Algernon away from London. He is always on the point of making a speech, although he never does it."
"I have heard of that speech," Lady Carey drawled, from her low seat. "It is to be a thoroughly enlightening affair. All the great social questions are to be permanently disposed of. The Prime Minister will come on his knees and beg Algernon to take his place."
The Duchess looked up over her knitting.
"Algernon is at least in earnest," she remarked drily. "And he has the good conscience of a clean living and honest man."
"What an unpleasant possession it must be," Lady Carey remarked sweetly. "I disposed of my conscience finally many years ago. I am not sure, but I believe that it was the Prince to whom I entrusted the burying of it. By the bye, Lucille will be here directly, I suppose. Is she to be told of Souspennier's arrival in London?"
"I imagine," the Prince said, with knitted brows, "that it will not be wise to keep it from her. It is impossible to conceal her whereabouts, and the papers will very shortly acquaint her with his."
"And," Lady Carey asked, "how does the little affair progress?"
"Admirably," the Prince answered. "Already some of the Society papers are beginning to chatter about the friendship existing between a Cabinet Minister and a beautiful Hungarian lady of title, etc., etc. The fact of it is that Brott is in deadly earnest. He gives himself away every time. If Lucille has not lost old cleverness she will be able to twist him presently around her little finger."
"If only some one would twist him on the rack," the Duchess murmured vindictively. "I tried to read one of his speeches the other day. It was nothing more nor less than blasphemy. I do not think that I am naturally a cruel woman, but I would hand such men over to the public executioner with joy."
Lucille came in, as beautiful as ever, but with tired lines under her full dark eyes. She sank into a low chair with listless grace.
"Reginald Brott again, I suppose," she remarked curtly. "I wish the man had never existed."
"That is a very cruel speech, Lucille," the Prince said, with a languishing glance towards her, "for if it had not been for Brott we should never have dared to call you out from your seclusion."
"Then more heartily than ever," Lucille declared, "I wish the man had never been born. You cannot possibly flatter yourself, Prince, that your summons was a welcome one."
He shrugged his shoulders.
"I shall never, be able to believe," he said, "that the Countess Radantz was able to do more than support existence in a small American town—without society, with no scope for her ambitions, detached altogether from the whole civilized world."
"Which only goes to prove, Prince," Lucille remarked contemptuously, "that you do not understand me in the least. As a place of residence Lenox would compare very favourably with—say Homburg, and for companionship you forget my husband. I never met the woman yet who did not prefer the company of one man, if only it were the right one, to the cosmopolitan throng we call society."
"It sounds idyllic, but very gauche," Lady Carey remarked drily. "In effect it is rather a blow on the cheek for you, Prince. Of course you know that the Prince is in love with you, Lucille?"
"I wish he were," she answered, looking lazily out of the window.
He bent over her.
"I would persuade him to send me home again," she answered coldly.
The Duchess looked up from her knitting. "Your husband has saved you the journey," she remarked, "even if you were able to work upon the Prince's good nature to such an extent."
Lucille started round eagerly.
"What do you mean?" she cried.
"Your husband is in London," the Duchess answered.
Lucille laughed with the gaiety of a child. Like magic the lines from beneath her eyes seemed to have vanished. Lady Carey watched her with pale cheeks and malevolent expression.
"Come, Prince," she cried mockingly, "it was only a week ago that you assured me that my husband could not leave America. Already he is in London. I must go to see him. Oh, I insist upon it."
Saxe Leinitzer glanced towards the Duchess. She laid down her knitting.
"My dear Countess," she said firmly, "I beg that you will listen to me carefully. I speak to you for your own good, and I believe I may add, Prince, that I speak with authority."
"With authority!" the Prince echoed.
"We all," the Duchess continued, "look upon your husband's arrival as inopportune and unfortunate. We are all agreed that you must be kept apart. Certain obligations have been laid upon you. You could not possibly fulfil them with a husband at your elbow. The matter will be put plainly before your husband, as I am now putting it before you. He will be warned not to attempt to see or communicate with you as your husband. If he or you disobey the consequences will be serious."
Lucille shrugged her shoulders.
"It is easy to talk," she said, "but you will not find it easy to keep Victor away when he has found out where I am."
The Prince intervened.
"We have no objection to your meeting," he said, "but it must be as acquaintances. There must be no intermission or slackening in your task, and that can only be properly carried out by the Countess Radantz and from Dorset House."
Lucille smothered her disappointment.
"Dear me," she said. "You will find Victor a little hard to persuade."
There was a moment's silence. Then the Prince spoke slowly, and watching carefully the effect of his words upon Lucille.
"Countess," he said, "it has been our pleasure to make of your task so far as possible a holiday. Yet perhaps it is wiser to remind you that underneath the glove is an iron hand. We do not often threaten, but we brook no interference. We have the means to thwart it. I bear no ill-will to your husband, but to you I say this. If he should be so mad as to defy us, to incite you to disobedience, he must pay the penalty."
A servant entered.
"Mr. Reginald Brott is in the small drawing-room, your Grace," he announced. "He enquired for the Countess Radantz."
Lucille rose. When the servant had disappeared she turned round for a moment, and faced the Prince. A spot of colour burned in her cheeks, her eyes were bright with anger.
"I shall remember your words, Prince," she said. "So far from mine being, however, a holiday task, it is one of the most wearisome and unpleasant I ever undertook. And in return for your warnings let me tell you this. If you should bring any harm upon my husband you shall answer for it all your days to me. I will do my duty. Be careful that you do not exceed yours."
She swept out of the room. Lady Carey laughed mockingly at the Prince.
"Poor Ferdinand!" she exclaimed.
He had been kept waiting longer than usual, and he had somehow the feeling that his visit was ill-timed, when at last she came to him. He looked up eagerly as she entered the little reception room which he had grown to know so well during the last few weeks, and it struck him for the first time that her welcome was a little forced, her eyes a little weary.
"I haven't," he said apologetically, "the least right to be here."
"At least," she murmured, "I may be permitted to remind you that you are here without an invitation."
"The worse luck," he said, "that one should be necessary."
"This is the one hour of the day," she remarked, sinking into a large easy-chair, "which I devote to repose. How shall I preserve my fleeting youth if you break in upon it in this ruthless manner?"
"If I could only truthfully say that I was sorry," he answered, "but I can't. I am here—and I would rather be here than anywhere else in the world."
She looked at him with curving lips; and even he, who had watched her often, could not tell whether that curve was of scorn or mirth.
"They told me," she said impressively, "that you were different—a woman-hater, honest, gruff, a little cynical. Yet those are the speeches of your salad days. What a disenchantment!"
"The things which one invents when one is young," he said, "come perhaps fresh from the heart in later life. The words may sound the same, but there is a difference."
"Come," she said, "you are improving. That at any rate is ingenious. Suppose you tell me now what has brought you here before four o'clock, when I am not fit to be seen?"
He smiled. She shrugged her shoulders.
"I mean it. I haven't either my clothes or my manners on yet. Come, explain."
"I met a man who interested me," he answered. "He comes from America, from Lenox!"
He saw her whiten. He saw her fingers clutch the sides of her chair.
"From Lenox? And his name?"
"The Duke of Souspennier! He takes himself so seriously that he even travels incognito. At the hotel he calls himself Mr. Sabin."
"I wondered whether you might not know him?"
"Yes, I know him."
"And in connection with this man," Brott continued, "I have something in the nature of a confession to make. I forgot for a moment your request. I even mentioned your name."
The pallor had spread to her cheeks, even to her lips. Yet her eyes were soft and brilliant, so brilliant that they fascinated him.
"What did he say? What did he ask?"
"He asked for your address. Don't be afraid. I made some excuse. I did not give it."
For the life of him he could not tell whether she was pleased or disappointed. She had turned her shoulder to him. She was looking steadily out of the window, and he could not see her face.
"Why are you curious about him?" she asked.
"I wish I knew. I think only because he came from Lenox."
She turned her face slowly round towards him. He was astonished to see the dark rings under her eyes, the weariness of her smile.
"The Duke of Souspennier," she said slowly, "is an old and a dear friend of mine. When you tell me that he is in London I am anxious because there are many here who are not his friends—who have no cause to love him."
"I was wrong then," he said, "not to give him your address."
"You were right," she answered. "I am anxious that he should not know it. You will remember this?" He rose and bowed over her hand.
"This has been a selfish interlude," he said. "I have destroyed your rest, and I almost fear that I have also disturbed your peace of mind. Let me take my leave and pray that you may recover both."
She shook her head.
"Do not leave me," she said. "I am low-spirited. You shall stay and cheer me."
There was a light in his eyes which few people would have recognised. She rose with a little laugh and stood leaning towards the fire, her elbow upon the broad mantel, tall, graceful, alluring. Her soft crimson gown, with its wealth of old lace, fell around her in lines and curves full of grace. The pallor of her face was gone now—the warmth of the fire burned her cheeks. Her voice became softer.
"Sit down and talk to me," she murmured. "Do you remember the old days, when you were a very timid young secretary of Sir George Nomsom, and I was a maid-of-honour at the Viennese Court? Dear me, how you have changed!"
"Time," he said, "will not stand still for all of us. Yet my memory tells me how possible it would be—for indeed those days seem but as yesterday."
He looked up at her with a sudden jealousy. His tone shook with passion. No one would have recognised Brott now. In his fiercest hour of debate, his hour of greatest trial, he had worn his mask, always master of himself and his speech. And now he had cast it off. His eyes were hungry, his lips twitched.
"As yesterday! Lucille, I could kill you when I think of those days. For twenty years your kiss has lain upon my lips—and you—with you—it has been different."
She laughed softly upon him, laughed more with her eyes than with her lips. She watched him curiously.
"Dear me!" she murmured, "what would you have? I am a woman—I have been a woman all my days, and the memory of one kiss grows cold. So I will admit that with me—it has been different. Come! What then?"
"I wonder," he said, "what miserable fate, what cursed stroke of fortune brought you once more into my life?"
She threw her head back and laughed at him, this time heartily, unaffectedly.
"What adorable candour!" she exclaimed. "My dear friend, how amiable you are."
He looked at her steadfastly, and somehow the laugh died away from her lips.
"Lucille, will you marry me?"
"Marry you? I? Certainly not."
"And why not?"
"For a score of reasons, if you want them," she answered. "First, because I think it is delightful to have you for a friend. I can never quite tell what you are going to do or say. As a husband I am almost sure that you would be monotonous. But then, how could you avoid it? It is madness to think of destroying a pleasant friendship in such a manner."
"You are mocking me," he said sadly.
"Well," she said, "why not? Your own proposal is a mockery."
"A mockery! My proposal!"
"Yes," she answered steadily. "You know quite well that the very thought of such a thing between you and me is an absurdity. I abhor your politics, I detest your party. You are ambitious, I know. You intend to be Prime Minister, a people's Prime Minister. Well, for my part, I hate the people. I am an aristocrat. As your wife I should be in a perfectly ridiculous position. How foolish! You have led me into talking of this thing seriously. Let us forget all this rubbish."
He stood before her—waiting patiently, his mouth close set, his manner dogged with purpose.
"It is not rubbish," he said. "It is true that I shall be Prime Minister. It is true also that you will be my wife."
She shrank back from him—uneasily. The fire in his eyes, the ring in his tone distressed her.
"As for my politics, you do not understand them. But you shall! I will convert you to my way of thinking. Yes, I will do that. The cause of the people, of freedom, is the one great impulse which beats through all the world. You too shall hear it."
"Thank you," she said. "I have no wish to hear it. I do not believe in what you call freedom for the people. I have discovered in America how uncomfortable a people's country can be."
"Yet you married an American. You call yourself still the Countess Radantz... but you married Mr. James B. Peterson!"
"It is true, my friend," she answered. "But the American in question was a person of culture and intelligence, and at heart he was no more a democrat than I am. Further, I am an extravagant woman, and he was a millionaire."
"And you, after his death, without necessity—went to bury yourself in his country."
"I am jealous of every year of your life which lies hidden from me," he said slowly.
"Dear me—how uncomfortable!"
"Before you—reappeared," he said, "I had learnt, yes I had learnt to do without you. I had sealed up the one chapter of my life which had in it anything to do with sentiment. Your coming has altered all that. You have disturbed the focus of my ambitions. Lucille! I have loved you for more than half a lifetime. Isn't it time I had my reward?"
He took a quick step towards her. In his tone was the ring of mastery, the light in his eyes was compelling. She shrank back, but he seized one of her hands. It lay between his, a cold dead thing.
"What have my politics to do with it?" he asked fiercely. "You are not an Englishwoman. Be content that I shall set you far above these gods of my later life. There is my work to be done, and I shall do it. Let me be judge of these things. Believe me that it is a great work. If you are ambitious—give your ambitions into my keeping, and I will gratify them. Only I cannot bear this suspense-these changing moods. Marry me-now at once, or send me back to the old life."
She drew her fingers away, and sank down into her easy-chair. Her head was buried in her hands. Was she thinking or weeping? He could not decide. While he hesitated she looked up, and he saw that there was no trace of tears upon her face.
"You are too masterful," she said gently. "I will not marry you. I will not give myself body and soul to any man. Yet that is what you ask. I am not a girl. My opinions are as dear to me in their way as yours are to you. You want me to close my eyes while you drop sugar plums into my mouth. That is not my idea of life. I think that you had better go away. Let us forget these things."
"Very well," he answered. "It shall be as you say." He did not wait for her to ring, nor did he attempt any sort of farewell. He simply took up his hat, and before she could realise his intention he had left the room. Lucille sat quite still, looking into the fire.
"If only," she murmured, "if only this were the end."
Duson entered the sitting-room, noiseless as ever, with pale, passionless face, the absolute prototype of the perfect French servant, to whom any expression of vigorous life seems to savour of presumption. He carried a small silver salver, on which reposed a card.
"The gentleman is in the ante-room, sir," he announced.
Mr. Sabin took up the card and studied it.
"Lord Robert Foulkes."
"Do I know this gentleman, Duson?" Mr. Sabin asked.
"Not to my knowledge, sir," the man answered.
"You must show him in," Mr. Sabin said, with a sigh. "In this country one must never be rude to a lord."
Duson obeyed. Lord Robert Foulkes was a small young man, very carefully groomed, nondescript in appearance. He smiled pleasantly at Mr. Sabin and drew off his gloves.
"How do you do, Mr. Sabin?" he said. "Don't remember me, I daresay. Met you once or twice last time you were in London. I wish I could say that I was glad to see you here again."
Mr. Sabin's forehead lost its wrinkle. He knew where he was now.
"Sit down, Lord Robert," he begged. "I do not remember you, it is true, but I am getting an old man. My memory sometimes plays me strange tricks."
The young man looked at Mr. Sabin and laughed softly. Indeed, Mr. Sabin had very little the appearance of an old man. He was leaning with both hands clasped upon his stick, his face alert, his eyes bright and searching.
"You carry your years well, Mr. Sabin. Yet while we are on the subject, do you know that London is the unhealthiest city in the world?"
"I am always remarkably well here," Mr. Sabin said drily.
"London has changed since your last visit," Lord Robert said, with a gentle smile. "Believe me if I say—as your sincere well-wisher—that there is something in the air at present positively unwholesome to you. I am not sure that unwholesome is not too weak a word."
"Is this official?" Mr. Sabin asked quietly.
The young man fingered the gold chain which disappeared in his trousers pocket.
"Need I introduce myself?" he asked.
"Quite unnecessary," Mr. Sabin assured him. "Permit me to reflect for a few minutes. Your visit comes upon me as a surprise. Will you smoke? There are cigarettes at your elbow."
"I am entirely at your service," Lord Robert answered. "Thanks, I will try one of your cigarettes. You were always famous for your tobacco."
There was a short silence. Mr. Sabin had seldom found it more difficult to see the way before him.
"I imagined," he said at last, "from several little incidents which occurred previous to my leaving New York that my presence here was regarded as superfluous. Do you know, I believe that I could convince you to the contrary."
Lord Robert raised his eyebrows.
"Mr. dear Mr. Sabin," he said, "pray reflect. I am a messenger. No more! A hired commissionaire!"
Mr. Sabin bowed.
"You are an ambassador!" he said.
The young man shook his head.
"You magnify my position," he declared. "My errand is done when I remind you that it is many years since you visited Paris, that Vienna is as fascinating a city as ever, and Pesth a few hours journey beyond. But London—no, London is not possible for you. After the seventh day from this London would be worse than impossible."
Mr. Sabin smoked thoughtfully for a few moments.
"Lord Robert," he said, "I have, I believe, the right of a personal appeal. I desire to make it."
Lord Robert looked positively distressed.
"My dear sir," he said, "the right of appeal, any right of any sort, belongs only to those within the circle."
"Exactly," Mr. Sabin agreed. "I claim to belong there."
Lord Roberts shrugged his shoulders.
"You force me to remind you," he said, "of a certain decree—a decree of expulsion passed five years ago, and of which I presume due notification was given to you."
Mr. Sabin shook his head very slowly.
"I deny the legality of that decree," he said. "There can be no such thing as expulsion."
"There was Lefanu," Lord Robert murmured.
"He died," Mr. Sabin answered. "That was reasonable enough."
"Your services had been great," Lord Robert said, "and your fault was but venial."
"Nevertheless," Mr. Sabin said, "the one was logical, the other is not."
"You claim, then," the young man said, "to be still within the circle?"
"You are aware that this is a very dangerous claim?"
Mr. Sabin smiled, but he said nothing. Lord Robert hastened to excuse himself.
"I beg your pardon," he said. "I should have known better than to have used such a word to you. Permit me to take my leave."
Mr. Sabin rose.
"I thank you, sir," he said, "for the courteous manner in which you have discharged your mission."
Lord Robert bowed.
"My good wishes," he said, "are yours."
Mr. Sabin when alone called Duson to him.
"Have you any report to make, Duson?" he asked.
Mr. Sabin dismissed him impatiently.
"After all, I am getting old. He is young and he is strong—a worthy antagonist. Come, let us see what this little volume has to say about him."
He turned over the pages rapidly and read aloud.
"Reginald Cyril Brott, born 18—, son of John Reginald Brott, Esq., of Manchester. Educated at Harrow and Merton College, Cambridge, M.A., LL.D., and winner of the Rudlock History Prize. Also tenth wrangler. Entered the diplomatic service on leaving college, and served as junior attache at Vienna."
Mr. Sabin laid down the volume, and made a little calculation. At the end of it he had made a discovery. His face was very white and set.
"I was at Petersburg," he muttered. "Now I think of it, I heard something of a young English attache. But—"
He touched the bell.
"Duson, a carriage!"
At Camperdown House he learned that Helene was out—shopping, the hall porter believed. Mr. Sabin drove slowly down Bond Street, and was rewarded by seeing her brougham outside a famous milliner's. He waited for her upon the pavement. Presently she came out and smiled her greetings upon him.
"You were waiting for me?" she asked.
"I saw your carriage."
"How delightful of you. Let me take you back to luncheon."
He shook his head.
"I am afraid," he said, "that I should be poor company. May I drive home with you, at any rate, when you have finished?"
"Of course you may, and for luncheon we shall be quite alone, unless somebody drops in."
He took his seat beside her in the carriage. "Helene," he said, "I am interested in Mr. Brott. No, don't look at me like that. You need have no fear. My interest is in him as a man, and not as a politician. The other days are over and done with now. I am on the defensive and hard pressed."
Her face was bright with sympathy. She forgot everything except her old admiration for him. In the clashing of their wills the victory had remained with her. And as for those things which he had done, the cause at least had been a great one. Her happiness had come to her through him. She bore him no grudge for that fierce opposition which, after all, had been fruitless.
"I believe you, UNCLE," she said affectionately. "If I can help you in any way I will."
"This Mr. Brott! He goes very little into society, I believe."
"Scarcely ever," she answered. "He came to us because my husband is one of the few Radical peers."
"You have not heard of any recent change in him—in this respect?"
"Well, I did hear Wolfendon chaffing him the other day about somebody," she said. "Oh, I know. He has been going often to the Duchess of Dorset's. He is such an ultra Radical, you know, and the Dorsets are fierce Tories. Wolfendon says it is a most unwise thing for a good Radical who wants to retain the confidence of the people to be seen about with a Duchess."
"The Duchess of Dorset," Mr. Sabin remarked, "must be, well—a middle-aged woman."
"She is sixty if she is a day. But I daresay she herself is not the attraction. There is a very beautiful woman staying with her—the Countess Radantz. A Hungarian, I believe."
Mr. Sabin sat quite still. His face was turned away from Helene. She herself was smiling out of the window at some acquaintances.
"I wonder if there is anything more that I can tell you?" she asked presently.
He turned towards her with a faint smile.
"You have told me," he said, "all that I want to know."
She was struck by the change in his face, the quietness of his tone was ominous.
"Am I meant to understand?" she said dubiously "because I don't in the least. It seems to me that have told you nothing. I cannot imagine what Mr. Brott and you have in common."
"If your invitation to lunch still holds good," he said, "may I accept it? Afterwards, if you can spare me a few minutes I will make things quite clear to you."
"You will find," she declared, "that I shall leave you little peace for luncheon. I am consumed with curiosity."
Nevertheless, Mr. Sabin lunched with discretion, as usual, but with no lack of appetite. It chanced that they were alone. Lord Camperdown was down in the Midlands for a day's hunting, and Helene had ensured their seclusion from any one who might drop in by a whispered word to the hall porter as they passed into the house. It seemed to her that she had never found Mr. Sabin more entertaining, had never more appreciated his rare gift of effortless and anecdotal conversation. What a marvelous memory! He knew something of every country from the inside. He had been brought at various times during his long diplomatic career into contact with most of the interesting people in the world. He knew well how to separate the grain from the chaff according to the tastes of his listener. The pathos of his present position appealed to her irresistibly. The possibilities of his life had been so great, fortune had treated him always so strangely. The greatest of his schemes had come so near to success, the luck had turned against him only at the very moment of fruition. Helene felt very kindly towards her UNCLE as she led him, after luncheon, to a quiet corner of the winter garden, where a servant had already arranged a table with coffee and liqueurs and cigarettes. Unscrupulous all his life, there had been an element of greatness in all his schemes. Even his failures had been magnificent, for his successes he himself had seldom reaped the reward. And now in the autumn of his days she felt dimly that he was threatened with some evil thing against which he stood at bay single-handed, likely perhaps to be overpowered. For there was something in his face just now which was strange to her.
"Helene," he said quietly, "I suppose that you, who knew nothing of me till you left school, have looked upon me always as a selfish, passionless creature—a weaver of plots, perhaps sometimes a dreamer of dreams, but a person wholly self-centred, always self-engrossed?"
She shook her head.
"Not selfish!" she objected. "No, I never thought that. It is the wrong word."
"At least," he said, "you will be surprised to hear that I have loved one woman all my life."
She looked at him half doubtfully.
"Yes," she said, "I am surprised to hear that."
"I will surprise you still more. I was married to her in America within a month of my arrival there. We have lived together ever since. And I have been very happy. I speak, of course, of Lucille!"
"It is amazing," she murmured. "You must tell me all about it."
"Not all," he answered sadly. "Only this. I met her first at Vienna when I was thirty-five, and she was eighteen. I treated her shamefully. Marriage seemed to me, with all my dreams of great achievements, an act of madness. I believed in myself and my career. I believed that it was my destiny to restore the monarchy to our beloved country. And I wanted to be free. I think that I saw myself a second Napoleon. So I won her love, took all that she had to give, and returned nothing.
"In the course of years she married the son of the American Consul at Vienna. I was obliged, by the bye, to fight her brother, and he carried his enmity to me through life. I saw her sometimes in the course of years. She was always beautiful, always surrounded by a host of admirers, always cold. When the end of my great plans here came, and I myself was a fugitive, her brother found me out. He gave me a letter to deliver in America. I delivered it—to his sister.
"She was as beautiful as ever, and alone in the world. It seemed to me that I realised then how great my folly had been. For always I had loved her, always there had been that jealously locked little chamber in my life. Helene, she pointed no finger of scorn to my broken life. She uttered no reproaches. She took me as I was, and for three years our life together has been to me one long unbroken harmony. Our tastes were very similar. She was well read, receptive, a charming companion. Ennui was a word of which I have forgotten the meaning. And it seemed so with her, too, for she grew younger and more beautiful."
"And why is she not with you?" Helene cried. "I must go and see her. How delightful it sounds!"
"One day, about three months ago," Mr. Sabin continued, "she left me to go to New York for two days. Her milliner in Paris had sent over, and twice a year Lucille used to buy clothes. I had sometimes accompanied her, but she knew how I detested New York, and this time she did not press me to go. She left me in the highest spirits, as tender and gracefully affectionate as ever. She never returned."
Helene started in her chair.
"Oh, UNCLE!" she cried.
"I have never seen her since," he repeated.
"Have you no clue? She could not have left you willingly. Have you no idea where she is?"
He bowed his head slowly.
"Yes," he said, "I know where she is. She came to Europe with Lady Carey. She is staying with the Duchess of Dorset."
"The Countess Radantz?" Helene cried.
"It was her maiden name," he answered.
There was a moment's silence. Helene was bewildered.
"Then you have seen her?"
He shook his head slowly.
"No. I did not even know where she was until you told me."
"But why do you wait a single moment?" she asked. "There must be some explanation. Let me order a carriage now. I will drive round to Dorset House with you."
She half rose. He held out his hand and checked her.
"There are other things to be explained," he said quickly. "Sit down, Helene."
She obeyed him, mystified.
"For your own sake," he continued, "there are certain facts in connection with this matter which I must withhold. All I can tell you is this. There are people who have acquired a hold upon Lucille so great that she is forced to obey their bidding. Lady Carey is one, the Duchess of Dorset is another. They are no friends of mine, and apparently Lucille has been taken away from me by them."
"A—a hold upon her?" Helene repeated vaguely.
"It is all I can tell you. You must suppose an extreme case. You may take my word for it that under certain circumstances Lucille would have no power to deny them anything."
"But—without a word of farewell. They could not insist upon her leaving you like that! It is incredible!"
"It is quite possible," Mr. Sabin said.
Helene caught herself looking at him stealthily. Was it possible that this wonderful brain had given way at last? There were no signs of it in his face or expression. But the Duchess of Dorset! Lady Carey! These were women of her own circle—Londoners, and the Duchess, at any rate, a woman of the very highest social position and unimpeached conventionality.
"This sounds—very extraordinary, UNCLE!" she remarked a little lamely.
"It is extraordinary," he answered drily. "I do not wonder that you find it hard to believe me. I—"
"Not to believe—to understand!"
"We will not distinguish! After all, what does it matter? Assume, if you cannot believe, that Lucille's leaving me may have been at the instigation of these people, and therefore involuntary. If this be so I have hard battle to fight to win her back, but in the end I shall do it."
She nodded sympathetically.
"I am sure," she said, "that you will not find it difficult. Tell me, cannot I help you in any way? I know the Duchess very well indeed—well enough to take you to call quite informally if you please. She is a great supporter of what they call the Primrose League here. I do not understand what it is all about, but it seems that I may not join because my husband is a Radical."
Mr. Sabin looked for a moment over his clasped hands through the faint blue cloud of cigarette smoke, and sundry possibilities flashed through his mind to be at once rejected. He shook his head.
"No!" he said firmly. "I do not wish for your help at present, directly or indirectly. If you meet the Countess I would rather that you did not mention my name. There is only one person whom, if you met at Dorset House or anywhere where Lucille is, I would ask you to watch. That is Mr. Brott!"
It was to be a conversation full of surprises for Helene. Mr. Brott! Her hand went up to her forehead for a moment, and a little gesture of bewilderment escaped her.
"Will you tell me," she asked almost plaintively, "what on earth Mr. Brott can have to do with this business—with Lucille—with you—with any one connected with it?"
Mr. Sabin shrugged his shoulders.
"Mr. Brott," he remarked, "a Cabinet Minister of marked Radical proclivities, has lately been a frequent visitor at Dorset House, which is the very home of the old aristocratic Toryism. Mr. Brott was acquainted with Lucille many years ago—in Vienna. At that time he was, I believe, deeply interested in her. I must confess that Mr. Brott causes me some uneasiness."
"I think—that men always know," Helene said, "if they care to. Was Lucille happy with you?"
"Absolutely. I am sure of it."
"Then your first assumption must be correct," she declared. "You cannot explain things to me, so I cannot help you even with my advice. I am sorry."
He turned his head towards her and regarded her critically, as though making some test of her sincerity.
"Helene," he said gravely, "it is for your own sake that I do not explain further, that I do not make things clearer to you. Only I wanted you to understand why I once more set foot in Europe. I wanted you to understand why I am here. It is to win back Lucille. It is like that with me, Helene. I, who once schemed and plotted for an empire, am once more a schemer and a worker, but for no other purpose than to recover possession of the woman whom I love. You do not recognise me, Helene. I do not recognise myself. Nevertheless, I would have you know the truth. I am here for that, and for no other purpose."
He rose slowly to his feet. She held out both her hands and grasped his.
"Let me help you," she begged. "Do! This is not a matter of politics or anything compromising. I am sure that I could be useful to you."
"So you can," he answered quietly. "Do as I have asked you. Watch Mr. Brott!"
Mr. Brott and Mr. Sabin dined together—not, as it happened, at the House of Commons, but at the former's club in Pall Mall. For Mr. Sabin it was not altogether an enjoyable meal. The club was large, gloomy and political; the cooking was exactly of that order which such surroundings seemed to require. Nor was Mr. Brott a particularly brilliant host. Yet his guest derived a certain amount of pleasure from the entertainment, owing to Brott's constant endeavours to bring the conversation round to Lucille.
"I find," he said, as they lit their cigarettes, "that I committed an indiscretion the other day at Camperdown House!"
Mr. Sabin assumed the puzzled air of one endeavouring to pin down an elusive memory.
"Let me see," he murmured doubtfully. "It was in connection with—"
"The Countess Radantz. If you remember, I told you that it was her desire just now to remain incognito. I, however, unfortunately forgot this during the course of our conversation."
"Yes, I remember. You told me where she was staying. But the Countess and I are old acquaintances. I feel sure that she did not object to your having given me her address. I could not possibly leave London without calling upon her."
Mr. Brott moved in his chair uneasily.
"It seems presumption on my part to make such a suggestion perhaps," he said slowly, "but I really believe that the Countess is in earnest with reference to her desire for seclusion just at present. I believe that she is really very anxious that her presence in London, just now should not be generally known."
"I am such a very old friend," Mr. Sabin said. "I knew her when she was a child."
Mr. Brott nodded.
"It is very strange," he said, "that you should have come together again in such a country as America, and in a small town too."
"Lenox," Mr. Sabin said, "is a small place, but a great center. By the bye, is there not some question of an impending marriage on the part of the Countess?"
"I have heard—of nothing of the sort," Mr. Brott said, looking up startled. Then, after a moment's pause, during which he studied closely his companion's imperturbable face, he added the question which forced its way to his lips.
Mr. Sabin looked along his cigarette and pinched it affectionately. It was one of his own, which he had dexterously substituted for those which his host had placed at his disposal.
"The Countess is a very charming, a very beautiful, and a most attractive woman," he said slowly. "Her marriage has always seemed to me a matter of certainty."
Mr. Brott hesitated, and was lost.
"You are an old friend of hers," he said. "You perhaps know more of her recent history than I do. For a time she seemed to drop out of my life altogether. Now that she has come back I am very anxious to persuade her to marry me."
A single lightning-like flash in Mr. Sabin's eyes for a moment disconcerted his host. But, after all, it was gone with such amazing suddenness that it left behind it a sense of unreality. Mr. Brott decided that after all it must have been fancy.
"May I ask," Mr. Sabin said quietly, "whether the Countess appears to receive your suit with favour?"
Mr. Brott hesitated.
"I am afraid I cannot go so far as to say that she does," he said regretfully. "I do not know why I find myself talking on this matter to you. I feel that I should apologise for giving such a personal turn to the conversation."
"I beg that you will do nothing of the sort," Mr. Sabin protested. "I am, as a matter of fact, most deeply interested."
"You encourage me," Mr. Brott declared, "to ask you a question—to me a very important question."
"It will give me great pleasure," Mr. Sabin assured him, "if I am able to answer it."
"You know," Mr. Brott said, "of that portion of her life concerning which I have asked no questions, but which somehow, whenever I think of it, fills me with a certain amount of uneasiness. I refer to the last three years which the Countess has spent in America."
Mr. Sabin looked up, and his lips seemed to move, but he said nothing. Mr. Brott felt perhaps that he was on difficult ground.
"I recognise the fact," he continued slowly, "that you are the friend of the Countess, and that you and I are nothing more than the merest acquaintances. I ask my question therefore with some diffidence. Can you tell me from your recent, more intimate knowledge of the Countess and her affairs, whether there exists any reason outside her own inclinations why she should not accept my proposals of marriage?"
Mr. Sabin had the air of a man gravely surprised. He shook his head very slightly.
"You must not ask me such a question as that, Mr. Brott," he said. "It is not a subject which I could possibly discuss with you. But I have no objection to going so far as this. My experience of the Countess is that she is a woman of magnificent and effective will power. I think if she has any desire to marry you there are or could be no obstacles existing which she would not easily dispose of."
"There are obstacles, then?"
"You must not ask me that," Mr. Sabin said, with a certain amount of stiffness. "The Countess is a very dear friend of mine, and you must forgive me now if I say that I prefer not to discuss her any longer."
A hall servant entered the room, bearing a note for Mr. Brott. He received it at first carelessly, but his expression changed the moment he saw the superscription. He turned a little away, and Mr. Sabin noticed that the fingers which tore open the envelope were trembling. The note seemed short enough, but he must have read it half a dozen times before at last he turned round to the messenger.
"There is no answer," he said in a low tone.
He folded the note and put it carefully into his breast pocket. Mr. Sabin subdued an insane desire to struggle with him and discover, by force, if necessary, who was the sender of those few brief lines. For Mr. Brott was a changed man.
"I am afraid," he said, turning to his guest, "that this has been a very dull evening for you. To tell you the truth, this club is not exactly the haunt of pleasure-seekers. It generally oppresses me for the first hour or so. Would you like a hand at bridge, or a game of billiards? I am wholly at your service—until twelve o'clock."
Mr. Sabin glanced at the clock.
"You are very good," he said, "but I was never much good at indoor games. Golf has been my only relaxation for many years. Besides, I too have an engagement for which I must leave in a very few minutes."
"It is very good of you," Mr. Brott said, "to have given me the pleasure of your company. I have the greatest possible admiration for your niece, Mr. Sabin, and Camperdown is a thundering good fellow. He will be our leader in the House of Lords before many years have passed."
"He is, I believe," Mr. Sabin remarked, "of the same politics as yourself."
"We are both," Mr. Brott answered, with a smile, "I am afraid outside the pale of your consideration in this respect. We are both Radicals."
Mr. Sabin lit another cigarette and glanced once more at the clock.
"A Radical peer!" he remarked. "Isn't that rather an anomaly? The principles of Radicalism and aristocracy seem so divergent."
"Yet," Mr. Brott said, "they are not wholly irreconcilable. I have often wished that this could be more generally understood. I find myself at times very unpopular with people, whose good opinion I am anxious to retain, simply owing to this too general misapprehension."
Mr. Sabin smiled gently.
"You were referring without doubt—" he began.
"To the Countess," Brott admitted. "Yes, it is true. But after all," he added cheerfully, "I believe that our disagreements are mainly upon the surface. The Countess is a woman of wide culture and understanding. Her mind, too, is plastic. She has few prejudices."
Mr. Sabin glanced at the clock for the third time, and rose to his feet. He was quite sure now that the note was from her. He leaned on his stick and took his leave quietly. All the time he was studying his host, wondering at his air of only partially suppressed excitement.
"I must thank you very much, Mr. Brott," he said, "for your entertainment. I trust that you will give me an opportunity shortly of reciprocating your hospitality."
The two men parted finally in the hall. Mr. Sabin stepped into his hired carriage.
"Dorset House!" he directed.
"This little difference of opinion," the Prince remarked, looking thoughtfully through the emerald green of his liqueur, "interests me. Our friend Dolinski here thinks that he will not come because he will be afraid. De Brouillac, on the contrary, says that he will not come because he is too sagacious. Felix here, who knows him best, says that he will not come because he prefers ever to play the game from outside the circle, a looker-on to all appearance, yet sometimes wielding an unseen force. It is a strong position that."
Lucille raised her head and regarded the last speaker steadily.
"And I, Prince!" she exclaimed, "I say that he will come because he is a man, and because he does not know fear."
The Prince of Saxe Leinitzer bowed low towards the speaker.
"Dear Lucille," he said, so respectfully that the faint irony of his tone was lost to most of those present, "I, too, am of your opinion. The man who has a right, real or fancied, to claim you must indeed be a coward if he suffered dangers of any sort to stand in the way. After all, dangers from us! Is it not a little absurd?"
Lucille looked away from the Prince with a little shudder. He laughed softly, and drank his liqueur. Afterwards he leaned back for a moment in his chair and glanced thoughtfully around at the assembled company as though anxious to impress upon his memory all who were present. It was a little group, every member of which bore a well-known name. Their host, the Duke of Dorset, in whose splendid library they were assembled, was, if not the premier duke of the United Kingdom, at least one of those whose many hereditary offices and ancient family entitled him to a foremost place in the aristocracy of the world. Raoul de Brouillac, Count of Orleans, bore a name which was scarcely absent from a single page of the martial history of France. The Prince of Saxe Leinitzer kept up still a semblance of royalty in the State which his ancestors had ruled with despotic power. Lady Muriel Carey was a younger daughter of a ducal house, which had more than once intermarried with Royalty. The others, too, had their claims to be considered amongst the greatest families of Europe.
The Prince glanced at his watch, and then at the bridge tables ready set out.
"I think," he said, "that a little diversion—what does our hostess say?"
"Two sets can start at least," the Duchess said. "Lucille and I will stay out, and the Count de Brouillac does not play."
The Prince rose.
"It is agreed," he said. "Duke, will you honour me? Felix and Dolinski are our ancient adversaries. It should be an interesting trial of strength."
There was a general movement, a re-arrangement of seats, and a little buzz of conversation. Then silence. Lucille sat back in a great chair, and Lady Carey came over to her side.
"You are nervous to-night, Lucille," she said.
"Yes, I am nervous," Lucille admitted. "Why not? At any moment he may be here."
"And you care—so much?" Lady Carey said, with a hard little laugh.
"I care so much," Lucille echoed.
Lady Carey shook out her amber satin skirt and sat down upon a low divan. She held up her hands, small white hands, ablaze with jewels, and looked at them for a moment thoughtfully.
"He was very much in earnest when I saw him at Sherry's in New York," she remarked, "and he was altogether too clever for Mr. Horser and our friends there. After all their talk and boasting too. Why, they are ignorant of the very elements of intrigue."
"Here," she said, "it is different. The Prince and he are ancient rivals, and Raoul de Brouillac is no longer his friend. Muriel, I am afraid of what may happen."
Lady Carey shrugged her shoulders.
"He is no fool," she said in a low tone. "He will not come here with a magistrate's warrant and a policeman to back it up, nor will he attempt to turn the thing into an Adelphi drama. I know him well enough to be sure that he will attempt nothing crude. Lucille, don't you find it exhilarating?"
"Exhilarating? But why?"
"It will be a game played through to the end by masters, and you, my dear woman, are the inspiration. I think that it is most fascinating."
Lucille looked sadly into the fire.
"I think," she said, "that I am weary of all these things. I seem to have lived such a very long time. At Lenox I was quite happy. Of my own will I would never have left it."
Lady Carey's thin lips curled a little, her blue eyes were full of scorn. She was not altogether a pleasant woman to look upon. Her cheeks were thin and hollow, her eyes a little too prominent, some hidden expression which seemed at times to flit from one to the other of her features suggested a sensuality which was a little incongruous with her somewhat angular figure and generally cold demeanour. But that she was a woman of courage and resource history had proved.
"How idyllic!" she exclaimed. "Positively medieval! Fancy living with one man three years."
"Why, not? I never knew a woman yet however cold however fond of change, who had not at some time or other during her life met a man for whose sake she would have done—what I did. I have had as many admirers—as many lovers, I suppose, as most women. But I can truthfully say that during the last three years no thought of one of them has crossed my mind."
Lady Carey laughed scornfully.
"Upon my word," she said. "If the Prince had not a temper, and if they were not playing for such ruinous points, I would entertain them all with these delightful confidences. By the bye, the Prince himself was once one of those who fell before your chariot wheels, was he not? Look at him now—sideways. What does he remind you of?"
Lucille raised her eyes.
"A fat angel," she answered, "or something equally distasteful. How I hate those mild eyes and that sweet, slow smile. I saw him thrash a poor beater once in the Saxe Leinitzer forests. Ugh!"
"I should not blame him for that," Lady Carey said coldly. "I like masterful men, even to the point of cruelty. General Dolinski there fascinates me. I believe that he keeps a little private knout at home for his wife and children. A wicked little contrivance with an ivory handle. I should like to see him use it."
Lucille shuddered. This tete-a-tete did not amuse her. She rose and looked over one of the bridge tables for a minute. The Prince, who was dealing, looked up with a smile.
"Be my good angel, Countess," he begged. "Fortune has deserted me to-night. You shall be the goddess of chance, and smile your favours upon me."
A hard little laugh came from the chair where Lady Carey sat. She turned her head towards them, and there was a malicious gleam in her eyes.
"Too late, Prince," she exclaimed. "The favours of the Countess are all given away. Lucille has become even as one of those flaxen-haired dolls of your mountain villages. She has given her heart away, and she is sworn to perpetual constancy."
The Prince smiled.
"The absence," he said, glancing up at the clock, "of that most fortunate person should surely count in our favour."
Lucille followed his eyes. The clock was striking ten. She shrugged her shoulders.
"If the converse also is true, Prince," she said, "you can scarcely have anything to hope for from me. For by half-past ten he will be here."
The Prince picked up his cards and sorted them mechanically.
"We shall see," he remarked. "It is true, Countess, that you are here, but in this instance you are set with thorns."
"To continue the allegory, Prince," she answered, passing on to the next table, "also with poisonous berries. But to the hand which has no fear, neither are harmful."
The Prince laid down his hand.
"Now I really believe," he said gently, "that she meant to be rude. Partner, I declare hearts!"
Felix was standing out from the next table whilst his hand was being played by General Dolinski, his partner. He drew her a little on one side.
"Do not irritate Saxe Leinitzer," he whispered. "Remember, everything must rest with him. Twice to-night you have brought that smile to his lips, and I never see it without thinking of unpleasant things."
"You are right," she answered; "but I hate him so. He and Muriel Carey seem to have entered into some conspiracy to lead me on to say things which I might regret."
"Saxe Leinitzer," he said, "has never forgotten that he once aspired to be your lover."
"He has not failed to let me know it," she answered. "He has even dared—ah!"
There was a sudden stir in the room. The library door was thrown open. The solemn-visaged butler stood upon the threshold.
"His Grace the Duke of Souspennier!" he announced.
There was for the moment a dead silence. The soft patter of cards no longer fell upon the table. The eyes of every one were turned upon the newcomers. And he, leaning upon his stick, looked only for one person, and having found her, took no heed of any one else.
She rose from her seat and stood with hands outstretched towards him, her lips parted in a delightful smile, her eyes soft with happiness.
"Victor, welcome! It is like you to have found me, and I knew that you would come."
He raised her fingers to his lips—tenderly—with the grace of a prince, but all the affection of a lover. What he said to her none could hear, for his voice was lowered almost to a whisper. But the colour stained her cheeks, and her blush was the blush of a girl.
A movement of the Duchess recalled him to a sense of his social duty. He turned courteously to her with extended hand.
"I trust," he said, "that I may be forgiven my temporary fit of aberration. I cannot thank you sufficiently, Duchess, for your kind invitation."
Her answering smile was a little dubious.
"I am sure," she said "that we are delighted to welcome back amongst us so old and valued a friend. I suppose you know every one?"
Mr. Sabin looked searchingly around, exchanging bows with those whose faces were familiar to him. But between him and the Prince of Saxe Leinitzer there passed no pretense at any greeting. The two men eyed one another for a moment coldly. Each seemed to be trying to read the other through.
"I believe," Mr. Sabin said, "that I have that privilege. I see, however, that I am interrupting your game. Let me beg you to continue. With your permission, Duchess, I will remain a spectator. There are many things which my wife and I have to say to one another."
The Prince of Saxe Leinitzer laid his cards softly upon the table. He smiled upon Mr. Sabin—a slow, unpleasant smile.
"I think," he said slowly, "that our game must be postponed. It is a pity, but I think it had better be so."
"It must be entirely as you wish," Mr. Sabin answered. "I am at your service now or later."
The Prince rose to his feet.
"Monsieur le Due de Souspennier," he said, "what are we to conclude from your presence here this evening?"
"It is obvious," Mr. Sabin answered. "I claim my place amongst you."
"You claim to be one of us?"
"Ten years ago," the Prince continued, "you were granted immunity from all the penalties and obligations which a co-membership with us might involve. This privilege was extended to you on account of certain great operations in which you were then engaged, and the object of which was not foreign to our own aims. You are aware that the period of that immunity is long since past."
Mr. Sabin leaned with both hands upon his stick, and his face was like the face of a sphinx. Only Lucille, who knew him best of all those there, saw him wince for a moment before this reminder of his great failure.
"I am not accustomed," Mr. Sabin said quietly, "to shirk my share of the work in any undertaking with which I am connected. Only in this case I claim to take the place of the Countess Lucille, my wife. I request that the task, whatever it may be which you have imposed upon her, may be transferred to me."
The Prince's smile was sweet, but those who knew him best wondered what evil it might betoken for his ancient enemy.
"You offer yourself, then, as a full member?"
"Subject," he drawled, "to all the usual pains and privileges?"
The Prince played with the cards upon the table. His smooth, fair face was unruffled, almost undisturbed. Yet underneath he was wondering fiercely, eagerly, how this might serve his ends.
"The circumstances," he said at last, "are peculiar. I think that we should do well to consult together—you and I, Felix, and Raoul here."
The two men named rose up silently. The Prince pointed to a small round table at the farther end of the apartment, half screened off by a curtained recess.
"Am I also," Mr. Sabin asked, "of your company?"
The Prince shook his head.
"I think not," he said. "In a few moments we will return."
Mr. Sabin moved away with a slight enigmatic gesture. Lucille gathered up her skirts, making room for him by her side on a small sofa.
"It is delightful to see you, Victor," she murmured. "It is delightful to know that you trusted me."
Mr. Sabin looked at her, and the smile which no other woman had ever seen softened for a moment his face.
"Dear Lucille," he murmured, "how could you ever doubt it? There was a day, I admit, when the sun stood still, when, if I had felt inclined to turn to light literature, I should have read aloud the Book of Job. But afterwards—well, you see that I am here."
"I knew that you would come," she said, "and yet I knew that it would be a struggle between you and them. For—the Prince—" she murmured, lowering her voice, "had pledged his word to keep us apart."
Mr. Sabin raised his head, and his eyes traveled towards the figure of the man who sat with his back to them in the far distant corner of the room.
"The Prince," he said softly, "is faithful to his ancient enmities."
Lucille's face was troubled. She turned to her companion with a little grimace.
"He would have me believe," she murmured, "that he is faithful to other things besides his enmities."
Mr. Sabin smiled.
"I am not jealous," he said softly, "of the Prince of Saxe Leinitzer!"
As though attracted by the mention of his name, which must, however, have been unheard by him, the Prince at that moment turned round and looked for a moment towards them. He shot a quick glance at Lady Carey. Almost at once she rose from her chair and came across to them.
"The Prince's watch-dog," Lucille murmured. "Hateful woman! She is bound hand and foot to him, and yet—"
Her eyes met his, and he laughed.
"Really," he said, "you and I in our old age might be hero and heroine of a little romance—the undesiring objects of a hopeless affection!"
Lady Carey sank into a low chair by their side. "You two," she said, with a slow, malicious smile, "are a pattern to this wicked world. Don't you know that such fidelity is positively sinful, and after three years in such a country too?"
"It is the approach of senility," Mr. Sabin answered her. "I am an old man, Lady Muriel!"
She shrugged her shoulders.
"You are like Ulysses," she said. "The gods, or rather the goddesses, have helped you towards immortality."
"It is," Mr. Sabin answered, "the most delicious piece of flattery I have ever heard."
"Calypso," she murmured, nodding towards Lucille, "is by your side."
"Really," Mr. Sabin interrupted, "I must protest. Lucille and I were married by a most respectable Episcopalian clergyman. We have documentary evidence. Besides, if Lucille is Calypso, what about Penelope?"
Lady Carey smiled thoughtfully.
"I have always thought," she said, "that Penelope was a myth. In your case I should say that Penelope represents a return to sanity—to the ordinary ways of life."
Mr. Sabin and Lucille exchanged swift glances. He raised his eyebrows.
"Our little idyll," he said, "seems to be the sport and buffet of every one. You forget that I am of the old world. I do not understand modernity."
"Ulysses," she answered, "was of the old world, yet he was a wanderer in more senses of the word than one. And there have been times—"
Her eyes sought his. He ignored absolutely the subtlety of meaning which lurked beneath the heavy drooping eyelids.
"One travels through life," he answered, "by devious paths, and a little wandering in the flower-gardens by the way is the lot of every one. But when the journey is over, one's taste for wandering has gone—well, Ulysses finished his days at the hearth of Penelope."
She rose and walked away. Mr. Sabin sat still and watched her as though listening to the soft sweep of her gown upon the carpet.
"Hateful woman!" Lucille exclaimed lightly. "To make love, and such love, to one's lawful husband before one's face is a little crude, don't you think?"
He shook his head.
"Too obvious," he answered. "She is playing the Prince's game. Dear me, how interesting this will be soon."
She nodded. A faint smile of bitterness had stolen into her tone.
"Already," she said, "you are beginning to scent the delight of the atmosphere. You are stiffening for the fight. Soon—"
"Ah, no! Don't say it," he whispered, taking her hand. "I shall never forget. If the fight seems good to me it is because you are the prize, and after all, you know, to fight for one's womenkind is amongst the primeval instincts."
Lady Carey, who had been pacing the room restlessly, touching an ornament here, looking at a picture there, came back to them and stood before Mr. Sabin. She had caught his last words.
"Primeval instincts!" she exclaimed mockingly. "What do you know about them, you of all men, a bundle of nerves and brains, with a motor for a heart, and an automatic brake upon your passions? Upon my word, I believe that I have solved the mystery of your perennial youth. You have found a way of substituting machinery for the human organ, and you are wound up to go for ever."
"You have found me out," he admitted. "Professor Penningram of Chicago will supply you too with an outfit. Mention my name if you like. It is a wonderful country America."
The Prince came over to them, fair and bland with no trace upon his smooth features or in his half-jesting tone of any evil things.
"Souspennier," he said, holding out his hand, "welcome back once more to your old place. I am happy to say that there appears to be no reason why your claim should not be fully admitted."
Mr. Sabin rose to his feet.
"I presume," he said, "that no very active demands are likely to be made upon my services. In this country more than any other I fear that the possibilities of my aid are scanty."
The Prince smiled.
"It is a fact," he said, "which we all appreciate. Upon you at present we make no claim."
There was a moment's intense silence. A steely light glittered in Mr. Sabin's eyes. He and the Prince alone remained standing. The Duchess of Dorset watched them through her lorgnettes; Lady Carey watched too with an intense eagerness, her eyes alight with mingled cruelty and excitement. Lucille's eyes were so bright that one might readily believe the tears to be glistening beneath.
"I will not pretend," Mr. Sabin said, "to misunderstand you. My help is not required by you in this enterprise, whatever it may be, in which you are engaged. On the contrary, you have tried by many and various ways to keep me at a distance. But I am here, Prince—here to be dealt with and treated according to my rights."
The Prince stroked his fair moustache.
"I am a little puzzled," he admitted, "as to this—shall I not call it self-assertiveness?—on the part of my good friend Souspennier."
"I will make it quite clear then," Mr. Sabin answered. "Lucille, will you favour me by ringing for your maid. The carriage is at the door."
The Prince held out his hand.
"My dear Souspennier," he said, "you must not think of taking Lucille away from us."
"Indeed," Mr. Sabin answered coolly. "Why not?"
"It must be obvious to you," the Prince answered, "that we did not send to America for Lucille without an object. She is now engaged in an important work upon our behalf. It is necessary that she should remain under this roof."
"I demand," Mr. Sabin said, "that the nature of that necessity should be made clear to me."
The Prince smiled with the air of one disposed to humour a wilful child.
"Come!" he said. "You must know very well that I cannot stand here and tell you the bare outline, much less the details of an important movement. To-morrow, at any hour you choose, one from amongst us shall explain the whole matter—and the part to be borne in it by the Countess!"
"And to-night?" Mr. Sabin asked.
The Prince shrugged his shoulders and glanced at the clock.
"To-night, my dear friend," he said, "all of us, I believe, go on to a ball at Carmarthen House. It would grieve me also, I am sure, Duke, to seem inhospitable, but I am compelled to mention the fact that the hour for which the carriages have been ordered is already at hand."
Mr. Sabin reflected for a few moments.
"Did I understand you to say," he asked, "that the help to be given to you by my wife, Lucille, Duchess of Souspennier, entailed her remaining under this roof?"
The Prince smiled seraphically.
"It is unfortunate," he murmured, "since you have been so gallant as to follow her, but it is true! You will understand this perfectly—to-morrow."
"And why should I wait until to-morrow?" Mr. Sabin asked coolly.
"I fear," the Prince said, "that it is a matter of necessity."
Mr. Sabin glanced for a moment in turn at the faces of all the little company as though seeking to discover how far the attitude of his opponent met with their approval. Lady Carey's thin lips were curved in a smile, and her eyes met his mockingly. The others remained imperturbable. Last of all he looked at Lucille.
"It seems," he said, smiling towards her, "that I am called upon to pay a heavy entrance fee on my return amongst your friends. But the Prince of Saxe Leinitzer forgets that he has shown me no authority, or given me no valid reason why I should tolerate such flagrant interference with my personal affairs."
"To-morrow—to-morrow, my good sir!" the Prince interrupted.
"No! To-night!" Mr. Sabin answered sharply. "Lucille, in the absence of any reasonable explanation, I challenge the right of the Prince of Saxe Leinitzer to rob me even for an hour of my dearest possession. I appeal to you. Come with me and remain with me until it has been proved, if ever it can be proved, that greater interests require our separation. If there be blame I will take it. Will you trust yourself to me?"
Lucille half rose, but Lady Carey's hand was heavy upon her shoulder. As though by a careless movement General Dolinski and Raoul de Brouillac altered their positions slightly so as to come between the two. The Duke of Dorset had left the room. Then Mr. Sabin knew that they were all against him.
"Lucille," he said, "have courage! I wait for you."
She looked towards him, and her face puzzled him. For there flashed across the shoulders of these people a glance which was wholly out of harmony with his own state of barely subdued passion—a glance half tender, half humorous, full of subtle promise. Yet her words were a blow to him.
"Victor, how is it possible? Believe me, I should come if I could. To-morrow—very soon, it may be possible. But now. You hear what the Prince says. I fear that he is right!"
To Mr. Sabin the shock was an unexpected one. He had never doubted but that she at least was on his side. Her words found him unprepared, and a moment he showed his discomfiture. His recovery however, was swift and amazing. He bowed to Lucille, and by the time he raised his head even the reproach had gone from his eyes.
"Dear lady," he said, "I will not venture to dispute your decision. Prince, will you appoint a time to-morrow when this matter shall be more fully explained to me?"
The Prince's smile was sweetness itself, and his tone very gentle. But Mr. Sabin, who seldom yielded to any passionate impulse, kept his teeth set and his hand clenched, lest the blow he longed to deal should escape him.
"At midday to-morrow I shall be pleased to receive you," he said. "The Countess, with her usual devotion and good sense, has, I trust, convinced you that our action is necessary!"
"To-morrow at midday," Mr. Sabin said, "I will be here. I have the honour to wish you all good-night."
His farewell was comprehensive. He did not even single out Lucille for a parting glance. But down the broad stairs and across the hall of Dorset House he passed with weary steps, leaning heavily upon his stick. It was a heavy blow which had fallen upon him. As yet he scarcely realised it.
His carriage was delayed for a few moments, and just as he was entering it a young woman, plainly dressed in black, came hurrying out and slipped a note into his hand.
"Pardon, monsieur," she exclaimed, with a smile. "I feared that I was too late."
Mr. Sabin's fingers closed over the note, and he stepped blithely into the carriage. But when he tore it open and saw the handwriting he permitted himself a little groan of disappointment. It was not from her. He read the few lines and crushed the sheet of paper in his hand.
"I am having supper at the Carlton with some friends on our way to C. H. I want to speak to you for a moment. Be in the Palm Court at 12.15, but do not recognise me until I come to you. If possible keep out of sight. If you should have left my maid will bring this on to your hotel. "M. C."
Mr. Sabin leaned back in his carriage, and a frown of faint perplexity contracted his forehead.
"If I were a younger man," he murmured to himself, "I might believe that this woman was really in earnest, as well as being Saxe Leinitzer's jackal. We were friendly enough in Paris that year. She is unscrupulous enough, of course. Always with some odd fancy for the grotesque or unlikely. I wonder—"
He pulled the check-string, and was driven to Camperdown House. A great many people were coming and going. Mr. Sabin found Helene's maid, and learnt that her mistress was just going to her room, and would be alone for a few minutes. He scribbled a few words on the back of a card, and was at once taken up to her boudoir.
"My dear UNCLE," Helene exclaimed, "you have arrived most opportunely. We have just got rid of a few dinner people, and we are going on to Carmarthen House presently. Take that easy-chair, please, and, light a cigarette. Will you have a liqueur? Wolfendon has some old brandy which every one seems to think wonderful."
"You are very kind, Helene," Mr. Sabin said. "I cannot refuse anything which you offer in so charming a manner. But I shall not keep you more than a few minutes."
"We need not leave for an hour," Helene said, "and I am dressed except for my jewels. Tell me, have you seen Lucille? I am so anxious to know."
"I have seen Lucille this evening," Mr. Sabin answered.
"At Dorset House!"
Helene sat down, smiling.
"Do tell me all about it."
"There is very little to tell," Mr. Sabin answered.
"She is with you—she returns at least!"
Mr. Sabin shook his head.
"No," he answered. "She remains at Dorset House."
Helene was silent. Mr. Sabin smoked pensively a moment or two, and sipped the liqueur which Camperdown's own servant had just brought him.
"It is very hard, Helene," he said, "to make you altogether understand the situation, for there are certain phases of it which I cannot discuss with you at all. I have made my first effort to regain Lucille, and it has failed. It is not her fault. I need not say that it is not mine. But the struggle has commenced, and in the end I shall win."
"Lucille herself—" Helene began hesitatingly.
"Lucille is, I firmly believe, as anxious to return to me as I am anxious to have her," Mr. Sabin said.
Helene threw up her hands.
"It is bewildering," she exclaimed.
"It must seem so to you," Mr. Sabin admitted.
"I wish that Lucille were anywhere else," Helene said. "The Dorset House set, you know, although they are very smart and very exclusive, have a somewhat peculiar reputation. Lady Carey, although she is such a brilliant woman, says and does the most insolent, the most amazing things, and the Prince of Saxe Leinitzer goes everywhere in Europe by the name of the Royal libertine. They are powerful enough almost to dominate society, and we poor people who abide by the conventions are absolutely nowhere beside them. They think that we are bourgeois because we have virtue, and prehistoric because we are not decadent."
"The Duke—" Mr. Sabin remarked.
"Oh, the Duke is quite different, of course," Helene admitted. "He is a fanatical Tory, very stupid, very blind to anything except his beloved Primrose League. How he came to lend himself to the vagaries of such a set I cannot imagine."
Mr. Sabin smiled.
"C'est la femme toujours!" he remarked. "His Grace is, I fear, henpecked, and the Duchess herself is the sport of cleverer people. And now, my dear niece, I see that the time is going. I came to know if you could get me a card for the ball at Carmarthen House to-night."
Helene laughed softly.
"Very easily, my dear UNCLE. Lady Carmarthen is Wolfendon's cousin, you know, and a very good friend of mine. I have half a dozen blank cards here. Shall I really see you there?"
"I believe so," Mr. Sabin answered.
"It is possible."
"There is nothing I suppose which I can do in the way of intervention, or anything of that sort?"
Mr. Sabin shook his head.
"Lucille and I are the best of friends," he answered. "Talk to her, if you will. By the bye, is that twelve o'clock? I must hurry. Doubtless we shall meet again at the ball."
But Carmarthen House saw nothing of Mr. Sabin that night.
Mr. Sabin from his seat behind a gigantic palm watched her egress from the supper-room with a little group of friends.
They came to a halt in the broad carpeted way only a few feet from him. Lady Carey, in a wonderful green gown, her neck and bosom ablaze with jewels, seemed to be making her farewells.
"I must go in and see the De Lausanacs," she exclaimed. "They are in the blue room supping with the Portuguese Ambassador. I shall be at Carmarthen House within half an hour—unless my headache becomes unbearable. Au revoir, all of you. Good-bye, Laura!"
Her friends passed on towards the great swing doors. Lady Carey retraced her steps slowly towards the supper-room, and made some languid inquiries of the head waiter as to a missing handkerchief. Then she came again slowly down the broad way and reached Mr. Sabin. He rose to his feet.
"I thank you very much for your note," he said. "You have something, I believe, to say to me."
She stood before him for a moment in silence, as though not unwilling that he should appreciate the soft splendour of her toilette. The jewels which encircled her neck were priceless and dazzling; the soft material of her gown, the most delicate shade of sea green, seemed to foam about her feet, a wonderful triumph of allegoric dressmaking. She saw that he was studying her, and she laughed a little uneasily, looking all the time into his eyes.
"Shockingly overdressed, ain't I?" she said. "We were going straight to Carmarthen House, you know. Come and sit in this corner for a moment, and order me some coffee. I suppose there isn't any less public place!"
"I fear not," he answered. "You will perhaps be unobserved behind this palm."
She sank into a low chair, and he seated himself beside her. She sighed contentedly.
"Dear me!" she said. "Do men like being run after like this?"
Mr. Sabin raised his eyebrows.
"I understood," he said, "that you had something to say to me of importance."
She shot a quick look up at him.
"Don't be horrid," she said in a low tone. "Of course I wanted to see you. I wanted to explain. Give me one of your cigarettes."
He laid his case silently before her. She took one and lit it, watching him furtively all the time. The man brought their coffee. The place was almost empty now, and some of the lights were turned down.
"It is very kind of you," he said slowly, "to honour me by so much consideration, but if you have much to say perhaps it would be better if you permitted me to call upon you to-morrow. I am afraid of depriving you of your ball—and your friends will be getting impatient."
"Bother the ball—and my friends," she exclaimed, a certain strained note in her tone which puzzled him. "I'm not obliged to go to the thing, and I don't want to. I've invented a headache, and they won't even expect me. They know my headaches."
"In that case," Mr. Sabin said, "I am entirely at your service."
She sighed, and looked up at him through a little cloud of tobacco smoke.
"What a wonderful man you are," she said softly. "You accept defeat with the grace of a victor. I believe that you would triumph as easily with a shrug of the shoulders. Haven't you any feeling at all? Don't you know what it is like to feel?"
"We both come," he said, "of a historic race. If ancestry is worth anything it should at least teach us to go about without pinning our hearts upon our sleeves."
"But you," she murmured, "you have no heart."
He looked down upon her then with still cold face and steady eyes.
"Indeed," he said, "you are mistaken."
She moved uneasily in her chair. She was very pale, except for a faint spot of pink colour in her cheeks.
"It is very hard to find, then," she said, speaking quickly, her bosom rising and falling, her eyes always seeking to hold his. "To-night you see what I have done—I have, sent away my friends—and my carriage. They may know me here—you see what I have risked. And I don't care. You thought to-night that I was your enemy—and I am not. I am not your enemy at all."
Her hand fell as though by accident upon his, and remained there. Mr. Sabin was very nearly embarrassed. He knew quite well that if she were not his enemy at that moment she would be very shortly.
"Lucille," she continued, "will blame me too. I cannot help it. I want to tell you that for the present your separation from her is a certain thing. She acquiesces. You heard her. She is quite happy. She is at the ball to-night, and she has friends there who will make it pleasant for her. Won't you understand?"
"No," Mr. Sabin answered.
She beat the ground with her foot.
"You must understand," she murmured. "You are not like these fools of Englishmen who go to sleep when they are married, and wake in the divorce court. For the present at least you have lost Lucille. You heard her choose. She's at the ball to-night—and I have come here to be with you. Won't you, please," she added, with a little nervous laugh, "show some gratitude?"
The interruption which Mr. Sabin had prayed for came at last. The musicians had left, and many of the lights had been turned down. An official came across to them.
"I beg your pardon, sir," he said, addressing Mr. Sabin, "but we are closing now, unless you are a guest in the hotel."