"I am staying here," Mr. Sabin answered, rising, "but the lady—"
Lady Carey interrupted him.
"I am staying here also," she said to the man.
He bowed at once and withdrew. She rose slowly to her feet and laid her fingers upon his arm. He looked steadily away from her.
"Fortunately," he said, "I have not yet dismissed my own carriage. Permit me."
* * * * *
Mr. Sabin leaned heavily upon his stick as he slowly made his way along the corridor to his rooms. Things were going ill with him indeed. He was not used to the fear of an enemy, but the memory of Lady Carey's white cheeks and indrawn lips as she had entered his carriage chilled him. Her one look, too, was a threat worse than any which her lips could have uttered. He was getting old indeed, he thought, wearily, when disappointment weighed so heavily upon him. And Lucille? Had he any real fears of her? He felt a little catch in his throat at the bare thought—in a moment's singular clearness of perception he realised that if Lucille were indeed lost the world was no longer a place for him. So his feet fell wearily upon the thickly carpeted floor of the corridor, and his face was unusually drawn and haggard as he opened the door of his sitting-room.
And then—a transformation, amazing, stupefying. It was Lucille who was smiling a welcome upon him from the depths of his favourite easy-chair—Lucille sitting over his fire, a novel in her hand, and wearing a delightful rose-pink dressing-gown. Some of her belongings were scattered about his room, giving it a delicate air of femininity. The faint odour of her favourite and only perfume gave to her undoubted presence a wonderful sense of reality.
She held out her hands to him, and the broad sleeves of her dressing-gown fell away from her white rounded arms. Her eyes were wonderfully soft, the pink upon her cheeks was the blush of a girl.
"Victor," she murmured, "do not look so stupefied. Did you not believe that I would risk at least a little for you, who have risked so much for me? Only come to me! Make the most of me. All sorts of things are sure to happen directly I am found out."
He took her into his arms. It was one of the moments of his lifetime.
"Tell me," he murmured, "how have you dared to do this?"
"You know the Prince and his set. You know the way they bribe. Intrigues everywhere, new and old overlapping. They have really some reason for keeping you and me apart, but as regards my other movements, I am free enough. And they thought, Victor—don't be angry—but I let them think it was some one else. And I stole away from the ball, and they think—never mind what they think. But you, Victor, are my intrigue, you, my love, my husband!"
Then all the fatigue and all the weariness, died away from Mr. Sabin's face. Once more the fire of youth burned in his heart. And Lucille laughed softly as her lips met his, and her head sank upon his shoulder.
Lady Carey suddenly dropped her partner's arm. She had seen a man standing by himself with folded arms and moody face at the entrance to the ball-room. She raised her lorgnettes. His identity was unquestionable.
"Will you excuse me for a moment, Captain Horton," she said to her escort. "I want particularly to speak to Mr. Brott."
Captain Horton bowed with the slight disappointment of a hungry man on his way to the supper-room.
"Don't be long," he begged. "The places are filling up."
Lady Carey nodded and walked swiftly across to where Brott was standing. He moved eagerly forward to meet her.
"Not dancing, Mr. Brott?"
He shrugged his shoulders.
"This sort of thing isn't much in my way," he answered. "I was rather hoping to see the Countess here. I trust that she is not indisposed."
She looked at him steadily.
"Do you mean," she said, "that you do not know where she is?"
"I?" he answered in amazement. "How should I? I have not seen her at all this evening. I understood that she was to be here."
Lady Carey hesitated. The man was too honest to be able to lie like this, even in a good cause. She stood quite still for a moment thinking. Several of her dearest friends had already told her that she was looking tired and ill this evening. At that moment she was positively haggard.
"I have been down at Ranelagh this afternoon," she said slowly, "and dining out, so I have not seen Lucille. She was complaining of a headache yesterday, but I quite thought that she was coming here. Have you seen the Duchess?"
He shook his head.
"No. There is such a crowd."
Lady Carey glanced towards her escort and turned away.
"I will try and find out what has become of her," she said. "Don't go away yet."
She rejoined her escort.
"When we have found a table," she said, "I want you to keep my place for a few moments while I try and find some of my party."
They passed into the supper-room, and appropriated a small table. Lady Carey left her partner, and made her way to the farther end of the apartment, where the Prince of Saxe Leinitzer was supping with half a dozen men and women. She touched him on the shoulder.
"I want to speak to you for a moment, Ferdinand," she whispered.
He rose at once, and she drew him a little apart.
"Brott is here," she said slowly.
"Brott here!" he repeated. "And Lucille?"
"He is asking for her—expected to find her here. He is downstairs now, looking the picture of misery."
He looked at her inquiringly. There was a curious steely light in her eyes, and she was showing her front teeth, which were a little prominent.
"Do you think," he asked, "that she has deceived us?"
"What else? Where are the Dorsets?"
"The Duchess is with the Earl of Condon, and some more people at the round table under the balcony."
"Give me your arm," she whispered. "We must go and ask her."
They crossed the room together. Lady Carey sank into a vacant chair by the side of the Duchess and talked for a few minutes to the people whom she knew. Then she turned and whispered in the Duchess's ear.
"Where is Lucille?"
The Duchess looked at her with a meaning smile.
"How should I know? She left when we did."
"Yes. It was all understood, wasn't it?"
Lady Carey laughed unpleasantly.
"She has fooled us," she said. "Brott is here alone. Knows nothing of her."
The Duchess was puzzled.
"Well, I know nothing more than you do," she answered. "Are you sure the man is telling the truth?"
"Of course. He is the image of despair."
"I am sure she was in earnest," the Duchess said. "When I asked her whether she should come on here she laughed a little nervously, and said perhaps or something of that sort."
"The fool may have bungled it," Lady Carey said thoughtfully. "I will go back to him. There's that idiot of a partner of mine. I must go and pretend to have some supper."
Captain Horton found his vis-a-vis a somewhat unsatisfactory companion. She drank several glasses of champagne, ate scarcely anything, and rushed him away before he had taken the edge off his appetite. He brought her to the Duchess and went back in a huff to finish his supper alone. Lady Carey went downstairs and discovered Mr. Brott, who had scarcely moved.
"Have you seen anything of her?" she asked.
He shook his head gloomily.
"No! It is too late for her to come now, isn't it?"
"Take me somewhere where we can talk," she said abruptly. "One of those seats in the recess will do."
He obeyed her, and they found a retired corner. Lady Carey wasted no time in fencing.
"I am Lucille's greatest friend, Mr. Brott, and her confidante," she said.
"So I have understood."
"She tells me everything."
He glanced towards her a little uneasily.
"That is comprehensive!" he remarked.
"It is true," she answered. "Lucille has told me a great deal about your friendship! Come, there is no use in our mincing words. Lucille has been badly treated years ago, and she has a perfect right to seek any consolation she may find. The old fashioned ideas, thank goodness, do not hold any longer amongst us. It is not necessary to tie yourself for life to a man in order to procure a little diversion."
"I will not pretend to misunderstand you, Lady Carey," he said gravely, "but I must decline to discuss the Countess of Radantz in connection with such matters."
"Oh, come!" she declared impatiently; "remember that I am her friend. Yours is quite the proper attitude, but with me it doesn't matter. Now I am going to ask you a plain question. Had you any engagement with Lucille to-night?"
She watched him mercilessly. He was colouring like a boy. Lady Carey's thin lips curled. She had no sympathy with such amateurish love-making. Nevertheless, his embarrassment was a great relief to her.
"She promised to be here," he answered stiffly.
"Everything depends upon your being honest with me," she continued. "You will see from my question that I know. Was there not something said about supper at your rooms before or after the dance?"
"I cannot discuss this matter with you or any living person," he answered. "If you know so much why ask me?"
Lady Carey could have shaken the man, but she restrained herself.
"It is sufficient!" she declared. "What I cannot understand is why you are here—when Lucille is probably awaiting for you at your rooms."
He started from his chair as though he had been shot.
"What do you mean?" he exclaimed. "She was to—"
He stopped short. Lady Carey shrugged her shoulders.
"Oh, written you or something, I suppose!" she exclaimed. "Trust an Englishman for bungling a love affair. All I can tell you is that she left Dorset House in a hansom without the others, and said some thing about having supper with some friends."
Brott sprang to his feet and took a quick step towards the exit.
"It is not possible!" he exclaimed.
She took his arm. He almost dragged her along.
"Well, we are going to see," she said coolly. "Tell the man to call a hansom."
They drove almost in silence through the Square to Pall Mall. Brott leaped out onto the pavement directly the cab pulled up.
"I will wait here," Lady Carey said. "I only want to know that Lucille is safe."
He disappeared, and she sat forward in the cab drumming idly with her forefingers upon the apron. In a few minutes he came back. His appearance was quite sufficient. He was very pale. The change in him was so ludicrous that she laughed.
"Get in," she said. "I am going round to Dorset House. We must find out if we can what has become of her."
He obeyed without comment. At Dorset House Lady Carey summoned the Duchess's own maid.
"Marie," she said, "you were attending upon the Countess Radantz to-night?"
"Yes, my lady."
"At what time did she leave?"
"At about, eleven, my lady."
"Yes, my lady."
Lady Carey looked steadily at the girl.
"Did she take anything with her?"
The girl hesitated. Lady Carey frowned.
"It must be the truth, remember, Marie."
"Certainly, my lady! She took her small dressing-case."
Lady Carey set her teeth hard. Then with a movement of her head she dismissed the maid. She walked restlessly up and down the room. Then she stopped short with a hard little laugh.
"If I give way like this," she murmured, "I shall be positively hideous, and after all, if she was there it was not possible for him—"
She stopped short, and suddenly tearing the handkerchief which she had been carrying into shreds threw the pieces upon the floor, and stamped upon them. Then she laughed shortly, and turned towards the door.
"Now I must go and get rid of that poor fool outside," she said. "What a bungler!"
Brott was beside himself with impatience.
"Lucille is here," she announced, stepping in beside him. "She has a shocking headache and has gone to bed. As a matter of fact, I believe that she was expecting to hear from you."
"Impossible!" he answered shortly. He was beginning to distrust this woman.
"Never mind. You can make it up with her to-morrow. I was foolish to be anxious about her at all. Are you coming in again?"
They were at Carmarthen House. He handed her out.
"No, thanks! If you will allow me I will wish you good-night."
She made her way into the ball-room, and found the Prince of Saxe Leinitzer, who was just leaving.
"Do you know where Lucille is?" she asked.
He looked up at her sharply. "Where?"
"At the Carlton Hotel—with him."
He rose to his feet with slow but evil promptitude. His face just then was very unlike the face of an angel. Lady Carey laughed aloud.
"Poor man," she said mockingly. "It is always the same when you and Souspennier meet."
He set his teeth.
"This time," he muttered, "I hold the trumps."
She pointed at the clock. It was nearly four. "She was there at eleven," she remarked drily.
"His Highness, the Prince of Saxe Leinitzer!"
Duson stood away from the door with a low bow. The Prince—in the buttonhole of whose frock-coat was a large bunch of Russian violets, passed across the threshold. Mr. Sabin rose slowly from his chair.
"I fear," the Prince said suavely, "that I am an early visitor. I can only throw myself upon your indulgence and plead the urgency of my mission."
His arrival appeared to have interrupted a late breakfast of the Continental order. The small table at which Lucille and Mr. Sabin were seated was covered with roses and several dishes of wonderful fruit. A coffee equipage was before Lucille. Mr. Sabin, dressed with his usual peculiar care and looking ten years younger, had just lit a cigarette.
"We have been anticipating your visit, Prince," Mr. Sabin remarked, with grim courtesy. "Can we offer you coffee or a liqueur?"
"I thank you, no," the Prince answered. "I seldom take anything before lunch. Let me beg that you do not disturb yourselves. With your permission I will take this easy-chair. So! That is excellent. We can now talk undisturbed."
Mr. Sabin bowed.
"You will find me," he said, "an excellent listener."
The Prince smiled in an amiable manner. His eyes were fixed upon Lucille, who had drawn her chair a little away from the table. What other woman in the world who had passed her first youth could sit thus in the slanting sunlight and remain beautiful?
"I will ask you to believe," the Prince said slowly, "how sincerely I regret this unavoidable interference in a domestic happiness so touching. Nevertheless, I have come for the Countess. It is necessary that she returns to Dorset House this morning."
"You will oblige me," Mr. Sabin remarked, "by remembering that my wife is the Duchesse de Souspennier, and by so addressing her."
The Prince spread out his hands—a deprecating gesture.
"Alas!" he said, "for the present it is not possible. Until the little affair upon which we are now engaged is finally disposed of it is necessary that Lucille should be known by the title which she bears in her own right, or by the name of her late husband, Mr. James B. Peterson."
"That little affair," Mr. Sabin remarked, "is, I presume, the matter which you have come to explain to me."
The Prince smiled and shook his head.
"Explain! My dear Duke, that is not possible. It is not within your rights to ask questions or to require any explanation as to anything which Lucille is required to do by us. You must remember that our claim upon her comes before yours. It is a claim which she cannot evade or deny. And in pursuance of it, Countess, I deeply regret having to tell you that your presence at Dorset House within the next hour is demanded."
Lucille made no answer, but looked across the table at Mr. Sabin with a little grimace.
"It is a comedy," she murmured. "After all, it is a comedy!"
Mr. Sabin fingered his cigarette thoughtfully.
"I believe," he said, "that the Duchess realises her responsibilities in this matter. I myself have no wish to deny them. As ordinary members we are both pledged to absolute obedience. I therefore place no embargo upon the return of my wife to Dorset House. But there are certain conditions, Prince, that considering the special circumstances of the case I feel impelled to propose."
"I can recognise," the Prince said, "no conditions."
"They are very harmless," Mr. Sabin continued calmly. "The first is that in a friendly way, and of course under the inviolable law of secrecy, you explain to me for what part Lucille is cast in this little comedy; the next that I be allowed to see her at reasonable intervals, and finally that she is known by her rightful name as Duchesse de Souspennier."
The forced urbanity which the Prince had assumed fell away from him without warning. The tone of his reply was almost a sneer.
"I repeat," he said, "that I can recognise no conditions."
"It is perhaps," Mr. Sabin continued, "the wrong word to use. We submit to your authority, but you and I are well aware that your discretionary powers are large. I ask you to use them."
"And I," the Prince said, "refuse. Let me add that I intend to prevent any recurrence of your little adventure of last night. Lucille shall not see you again until her task is over. And as for you, my dear Duke, I desire only your absence. I do not wish to hurt your feelings, but your name has been associated in the past with too many failures to inspire us with any confidence in engaging you as an ally. Countess, a carriage from Dorset House awaits you."
But Lucille sat still, and Mr. Sabin rose slowly to his feet.
"I thank you, Prince," he said, "for throwing away the mask. Fighting is always better without the buttons. It is true that I have failed more than once, but it is also true that my failures have been more magnificent than your waddle across the plain of life. As for your present authority, I challenge you to your face that you are using it to gain your private ends. What I have said to you I shall repeat to those whose place is above yours. Lucille shall go to Dorset House, but I warn you that I hold my life a slight thing where her welfare is concerned. Your hand is upon the lever of a great organization, I am only a unit in the world. Yet I would have you remember that more than once, Prince, when you and I have met with the odds in your favour the victory has been mine. Play the game fairly, and you have nothing to fear from me but the open opposition I have promised you. Bring but the shadow of evil upon her, misuse your power but ever so slightly against her, and I warn you that I shall count the few years of life left to me a trifle—of less than no account—until you and I cry quits."
The Prince smiled, a fat, good-natured smile, behind which the malice was indeed well hidden.
"Come, come, my dear Souspennier," he declared. "This is unworthy of you. It is positively melodramatic. It reminds me of the plays of my Fatherland, and of your own Adelphi Theatre. We should be men of the world, you and I. You must take your defeats with your victories. I can assure you that the welfare of the Countess Lucille shall be my special care."
Lucille for the first time spoke. She rose from her chair and rested her hands affectionately upon her husband's shoulder.
"Dear Victor," she said, "remember that we are in London, and, need I add, have confidence in me. The Prince of Saxe Leinitzer and I understand one another, I believe. If we do not it is not my fault. My presence here at this moment should prove to you how eagerly I shall look forward to the time when our separation is no longer necessary."
She passed away into the inner room with a little farewell gesture tender and regretful. Mr. Sabin resumed his seat.
"I believe, Prince," he said, "that no good can come of any further conference between you and me. We understand one another too well. Might I suggest therefore that you permit me to ring?"
The Prince rose to his feet.
"You are right," he said. "The bandying of words between you and me is a waste of time. We are both of us too old at the game. But come, before I go I will do you a good turn. I will prove that I am in a generous mood."
Mr. Sabin shrugged his shoulders.
"If anything in this world could inspire me with fear," he remarked, "it would be the generosity of the Prince of Saxe Leinitzer."
The Prince sighed.
"You always misunderstand me," he murmured. "However, I will prove my words. You spoke of an appeal."
"Certainly," Mr. Sabin answered. "I intend to impeach you for making use of the powers entrusted to you for your own private ends—in other words, for making an arbitrary misuse of your position."
The Prince nodded.
"It is very well put," he said. "I shall await the result of your appeal in fear and trembling. I confess that I am very much afraid. But, come now, I am going to be generous. I am going to help you on a little. Do you know to whom your appeal must be made?"
"To the Grand Duke!" Mr. Sabin replied.
The Prince shook his head.
"Ah me!" he said, "how long indeed you have been absent from the world. The Grand Duke is no longer the head of our little affair. Shall I tell you who has succeeded him?"
"I can easily find out," Mr. Sabin answered.
"Ah, but I warned you that I was in a generous mood," the Prince said, with a smile. "I will save you the trouble. With your permission I will whisper the name in your ear. It is not one which we mention lightly."
He stepped forward and bent his head for a moment. Afterwards, as he drew back, the smile upon his lips broadened until he showed all his teeth. It was a veritable triumph. Mr. Sabin, taken wholly by surprise, had not been able to conceal his consternation.
"It is not possible," he exclaimed hoarsely. "He would not dare."
But in his heart he knew that the Prince had spoken the truth.
"After all," said the Prince, looking up from the wine list, "why cannot I be satisfied with you? And why cannot you be satisfied with me? It would save so much trouble."
Lady Carey, who was slowly unwinding the white veil from her picture hat, shrugged her shoulders.
"My dear man," she said, "you could not seriously expect me to fall in love with you."
The Prince sipped his wine—a cabinet hock of rare vintage—and found it good. He leaned over towards his companion.
"Why not?" he asked. "I wish that you would try—in earnest, I mean. You are capable of great things, I believe—perhaps of the great passion itself."
"Perhaps," she murmured derisively.
"And yet," he continued, "there has always been in our love-making a touch of amateurishness. It is an awkward word, but I do not know how better to explain myself."
"I understand you perfectly," she answered. "I can also, I think, explain it. It is because I never cared a rap about you."
The Prince did not appear altogether pleased. He curled his fair moustache, and looked deprecatingly at his companion. She had so much the air of a woman who has spoken the truth.
"My dear Muriel!" he protested.
She looked at him insolently.
"My good man," she said, "whatever you do don't try and be sentimental. You know quite well that I have never in my life pretended to care a rap about you—except to pass the time. You are altogether too obvious. Very young girls and very old women would rave about you. You simply don't appeal to me. Perhaps I know you too well. What does it matter!"
He sighed and examined a sauce critically. They were lunching at Prince's alone, at a small table near the wall.
"Your taste," he remarked a little spitefully, "would be considered a trifle strange. Souspennier carries his years well, but he must be an old man."
She sipped her wine thoughtfully.
"Old or young," she said, "he is a man, and all my life I have loved men,—strong men. To have him here opposite to me at this moment, mine, belonging to me, the slave of my will, I would give—well, I would give—a year of my life—my new tiara—anything!"
"What a pity," he murmured, "that we cannot make an exchange, you and I, Lucille and he!"
"Ah, Lucille!" she murmured. "Well, she is beautiful. That goes for much. And she has the grand air. But, heavens, how stupid!"
"Stupid!" he repeated doubtfully.
She drummed nervously upon the tablecloth with her fingers.
"Oh, not stupid in the ordinary way, of course, but yet a fool. I should like to see man or devil try and separate us if I belonged to him—until I was tired of him. That would come, of course. It comes always. It is the hideous part of life."
"You look always," he said, "a little too far forward. It is a mistake. After all, it is the present only which concerns us."
"Admirable philosophy," she laughed scornfully, "but when one is bored to death in the present one must look forward or backward for consolation."
He continued his lunch in silence for a while.
"I am rebuked!" he said.
There came a pause in the courses. He looked at her critically. She was very handsomely dressed in a walking costume of dove-coloured grey. The ostrich feathers which drooped from her large hat were almost priceless. She had the undeniable air of being a person of breeding. But she was paler even than usual, her hair, notwithstanding its careful arrangement, gave signs of being a little thin in front. There were wrinkles at the corners of her eyes. She knew these things, but she bore his inspection with indifference.
"I wonder," he said reflectively, "what we men see in you. You have plenty of admirers. They say that Grefton got himself shot out at the front because you treated him badly. Yet—you are not much to look at, are you?"
She laughed at him. Hers was never a pleasant laugh, but this time it was at least natural.
"How discriminating," she declared. "I am an ugly woman, and men of taste usually prefer ugly women. Then I am always well dressed. I know how to wear my clothes. And I have a shocking reputation. A really wicked woman, I once heard pious old Lady Surbiton call me! Dear old thing! It did me no end of good. Then I have the very great advantage of never caring for any one more than a few days together. Men find that annoying."
"You have violent fancies," he remarked, "and strange ones."
"Perhaps," she admitted. "They concern no one except myself."
"This Souspennier craze, for instance!"
"Well, you can't say that I'm not honest. It is positively my only virtue. I adore the truth. I loathe a lie. That is one reason, I daresay, why I can only barely tolerate you. You are a shocking—a gross liar."
"Oh, don't look at me like that," she exclaimed irritably. "You must hear the truth sometimes. And now, please remember that I came to lunch with you to hear about your visit this morning."
The Prince gnawed his moustache, and the light in his eyes was not a pleasant thing to see. This woman with her reckless life, her odd fascination, her brusque hatred of affectations, was a constant torment to him. If only he could once get her thoroughly into his power.
"My visit," he said, "was wholly successful. It could not well be otherwise. Lucille has returned to Dorset House. Souspennier is confounded altogether by a little revelation which I ventured to make. He spoke of an appeal. I let him know with whom he would have to deal. I left him nerveless and crushed. He can do nothing save by open revolt. And if he tries that—well, there will be no more of this wonderful Mr. Sabin."
"Altogether a triumph to you," she remarked scornfully. "Oh, I know the sort of thing. But, after all, my dear Ferdinand, what of last night. I hate the woman, but she played the game, and played it well. We were fooled, both of us. And to think that I—"
She broke off with a short laugh. The Prince looked at her curiously.
"Perhaps," he said, "you had some idea of consoling the desolate husband?"
"Perhaps I had," she answered coolly. "It didn't come off, did it? Order me some coffee, and give me a cigarette, my friend. I have something else to say to you."
He obeyed her, and she leaned back in the high chair.
"Listen to me," she said. "I have nothing whatever to do with you and Lucille. I suppose you will get your revenge on Souspennier through her. It won't be like you if you don't try, and you ought to have the game pretty well in your own hands. But I won't have Souspennier harmed. You understand?"
He shrugged his shoulders.
"Souspennier," he said, "must take care. If he oversteps the bounds he must pay the penalty."
She leaned forward. There was a look in her face which he knew very well.
"You and I understand one another," she said coolly. "If you want me for an enemy you can have me. Very likely I shall tell you before long that you can do what you like with the man. But until I do it will be very dangerous for you if harm comes to him."
"It is no use," he answered doggedly. "If he attacks he must be silenced."
"If he attacks," she answered, "you must give me twenty-four hours clear notice before you move a hand against him. Afterwards—well, we will discuss that."
"You had better," he said, looking at her with an ugly gleam in his eyes, "persuade him to take you for a little tour on the Continent. It would be safer."
"If he would come," she said coolly, "I would go to-morrow. But he won't—just yet. Never mind. You have heard what I wanted to say. Now shall we go? I am going to get some sleep this afternoon. Everybody tells me that I look like a ghost."
"Why not come to Grosvenor Square with me?" he leaning a little across the table. "Patoff shall make you some Russian tea, and afterwards you shall sleep as long as you like."
"How idyllic!" she answered, with a faint sarcastic smile. "It goes to my heart to decline so charming an invitation. But, to tell you the truth, it would bore me excessively."
He muttered something under his breath which startled the waiter at his elbow. Then he followed her out of the room. She paused for a few moments in the portico to finish buttoning her gloves.
"Many thanks for my lunch," she said, nodding to him carelessly. "I'm sure I've been a delightful companion."
"You have been a very tormenting one," he answered gloomily as he followed her out on to the pavement.
"You should try Lucille," she suggested maliciously.
He stood by her side while they waited for her carriage, and looked at her critically. Her slim, elegant figure had never seemed more attractive to him. Even the insolence of her tone and manner had an odd sort of fascination. He tried to hold for a moment the fingers which grasped her skirt.
"I think," he whispered, "that after you Lucille would be dull!"
"That is because Lucille has morals and a conscience," she said, "and I have neither. But, dear me, how much more comfortably one gets on without them. No, thank you, Prince. My coupe is only built for one. Remember."
She flung him a careless nod from the window. The Prince remained on the pavement until after the little brougham had driven away. Then he smiled softly to himself as he turned to follow it.
"No!" he said. "I think not! I think that she will not get our good friend Souspennier. We shall see!"
A barely furnished man's room, comfortable, austere, scholarly. The refuge of a busy man, to judge by the piles of books and papers which littered the large open writing-table. There were despatch boxes turned upside down, a sea of parchment and foolscap. In the midst of it all a man deep in thought.
A visitor, entering with the freedom of an old acquaintance, laid his hand upon his shoulder and greeted him with an air of suppressed enthusiasm.
"Planning the campaign, eh, Brott? Or is that a handbook to Court etiquette? You will need it within the week. There are all sorts of rumours at the clubs."
Brott shook himself free from his fit of apathetic reflection. He would not have dared to tell his visitor where his thoughts had been for the last half hour.
"Somehow," he said, "I do not think that little trip to Windsor will come just yet. The King will never send for me unless he is compelled."
His visitor, an ex-Cabinet Minister, a pronounced Radical and a lifelong friend of Brott's, shrugged his shoulders.
"That time," he said, "is very close at hand. He will send for Letheringham first, of course, and great pressure will be brought to bear upon him to form a ministry. But without you he will be helpless. He has not the confidence of the people."
"Without me," Brott repeated slowly. "You think then that I should not accept office with Letheringham?"
His visitor regarded him steadily for a moment, open-mouthed, obviously taken aback.
"Brott, are you in your right senses?" he asked incredulously. "Do you know what you are saying?"
Brott laughed a little nervously.
"This is a great issue, Grahame," he said. "I will confess that I am in an undecided state. I am not sure that the country is in a sufficiently advanced state for our propaganda. Is this really our opportunity, or is it only the shadow of what is to come thrown before? If we show our hand too soon all is lost for this generation. Don't look at me as though I were insane, Grahame. Remember that the country is only just free from a long era of Conservative rule."
"The better our opportunity," Grahame answered vigorously. "Two decades of puppet government are enervating, I admit, but they only pave the way more surely to the inevitable reaction. What is the matter with you, Brott? Are you ill? This is the great moment of our lives. You must speak at Manchester and Birmingham within this week. Glasgow is already preparing for you. Everything and everybody waits for your judgment. Good God, man, it's magnificent! Where's your enthusiasm? Within a month you must be Prime Minister, and we will show the world the way to a new era."
Brott sat quite still. His friend's words had stirred him for the moment. Yet he seemed the victim of a curious indecision. Grahame leaned over towards him.
"Brott, old friend," he said, "you are not ill?"
Brott shook his head.
"I am perfectly well," he said.
"It is a delicate thing to mention," he said. "Perhaps I shall pass even the bounds of our old comradeship. But you have changed. Something is wrong with you. What is it?"
"There is nothing," Brott answered, looking up. "It is your fancy. I am well enough."
Grahame's face was dark with anxiety.
"This is no idle curiosity of mine," he said. "You know me better than that. But the cause which is nearer my heart than life itself is at stake. Brott, you are the people's man, their promised redeemer. Think of them, the toilers, the oppressed, God's children, groaning under the iniquitous laws of generations of evil statesmanship. It is the dawn of their new day, their faces are turned to you. Man, can't you hear them crying? You can't fail them. You mustn't. I don't know what is the matter with you, Brott, but away with it. Free yourself, man."
Brott sighed wearily, but already there was a change in him. His face was hardening—the lines in his face deepened. Grahame continued hastily—eagerly.
"Public men," he said, "are always at the mercy of the halfpenny press, but you know, Brott, your appearance so often in Society lately has set men's tongues wagging. There is no harm done, but it is time to stop them. You are right to want to understand these people. You must go down amongst them. It has been slumming in Mayfair for you, I know. But have done with it now. It is these people we are going to fight. Let it be open war. Let them hear your programme at Glasgow. We don't want another French Revolution, but it is going to be war against the drones, fierce, merciless war! You must break with them, Brott, once and for ever. And the time is now."
Brott held out his hand across the table. No one but this one man could have read the struggle in his face.
"You are right, Grahame. I thank you. I thank you as much for what you have left unsaid as for what you have said. I was a fool to think of compromising. Letheringham is a nerveless leader. We should have gone pottering on for another seven years. Thank God that you came when you did. See here!"
He tossed him over a letter. Grahame's cheek paled as he read.
"Already!" he murmured.
Grahame devoured every word. His eyes lit up with excitement.
"My prophecy exactly," he exclaimed, laying it down. "It is as I said. He cannot form the ministry without you. His letter is abject. He gives himself away. It is an entreaty. And your answer?"
"Has not yet gone," Brott said. "You shall write it yourself if you like. I am thankful that you came when you did."
"You were hesitating?" Grahame exclaimed.
Grahame looked at him in wonder, and Brott faced him sturdily.
"It seems like treason to you, Grahame!" he said. "So it does to me now. I want nothing in the future to come between us," he continued more slowly, "and I should like if I can to expunge the memory of this interview. And so I am going to tell you the truth." Grahame held out his hand.
"Don't!" he said. "I can forget without."
Brott shook his head.
"No," he said. "You had better understand everything. The halfpenny press told the truth. Yet only half the truth. I have been to all these places, wasted my time, wasted their time, from a purely selfish reason—to be near the only woman I have ever cared for, the woman, Grahame!"
"I knew it," Grahame murmured. "I fought against the belief, I thought that I had stifled it. But I knew it all the time."
"If I have seemed lukewarm sometimes of late," Brott said, "there is the cause. She is an aristocrat, and my politics are hateful to her. She has told me so seriously, playfully, angrily. She has let me feel it in a hundred ways. She has drawn me into discussions and shown the utmost horror of my views. I have cared for her all my life, and she knows it. And I think, Grahame, that lately she has been trying constantly, persistently, to tone down my opinions. She has let me understand that they are a bar between us. And it is a horrible confession, Grahame, but I believe that I was wavering. This invitation from Letheringham seemed such a wonderful opportunity for compromise."
"This must never go out of the room," Grahame said hoarsely. "It would ruin your popularity. They would never trust you again."
"I shall tell no one else," Brott said.
"And it is over?" Grahame demanded eagerly.
"It is over."
* * * * *
The Duke of Dorset, who entertained for his party, gave a great dinner that night at Dorset House, and towards its close the Prince of Saxe Leinitzer, who was almost the only non-political guest, moved up to his host in response to an eager summons. The Duke was perturbed.
"You have heard the news, Saxe Leinitzer?"
"I did not know of any news," the Prince answered. "What is it?"
"Brott has refused to join with Letheringham in forming a ministry. It is rumoured even that a coalition was proposed, and that Brott would have nothing to do with it."
The Prince looked into his wineglass.
"Ah!" he said.
"This is disturbing news," the Duke continued. "You do not seem to appreciate its significance."
The Prince looked up again.
"Perhaps not," he said. "You shall explain to me."
"Brott refuses to compromise," the Duke said. "He stands for a ministry of his own selection. Heaven only knows what mischief this may mean. His doctrines are thoroughly revolutionary. He is an iconoclast with a genius for destruction. But he has the ear of the people. He is to-day their Rienzi."
The Prince nodded.
"And Lucille?" he remarked. "What does she say?"
"I have not spoken to her," the Duke answered. "The news has only just come."
"We will speak to her," the Prince said, "together."
Afterwards in the library there was a sort of informal meeting, and their opportunity came.
"So you have failed, Countess," her host said, knitting his grey brows at her.
She smilingly acknowledged defeat.
"But I can assure you," she said, "that I was very near success. Only on Monday he had virtually made up his mind to abandon the extreme party and cast in his lot with Letheringham. What has happened to change him I do not know."
The Prince curled his fair moustache.
"It is a pity," he said, "that he changed his mind. For one thing is very certain. The Duke and I are agreed upon it. A Brott ministry must never be formed."
She looked up quickly.
"What do you mean?"
The Prince answered her without hesitation.
"If one course fails," he said, "another must be adopted. I regret having to make use of means which are somewhat clumsy and obvious. But our pronouncement on this one point is final. Brott must not be allowed to form a ministry."
She looked at him with something like horror in her soft full eyes.
"What would you do?" she murmured.
The Prince shrugged his shoulders.
"Well," he said, "we are not quite medieval enough to adopt the only really sensible method and remove Mr. Brott permanently from the face of the earth. We should stop a little short of that, but I can assure you that Mr. Brott's health for the next few months is a matter for grave uncertainty. It is a pity for his sake that you failed."
She bit her lip.
"Do you know if he is still in London?" she asked.
"He must be on the point of leaving for Scotland," the Duke answered. "If he once mounts the platform at Glasgow there will be no further chance of any compromise. He will be committed irretrievably to his campaign of anarchy."
"And to his own disaster," the Prince murmured.
Lucille remained for a moment deep in thought. Then she looked up.
"If I can find him before he starts," she said hurriedly, "I will make one last effort."
He peered forward over his desk at the tall graceful figure whose entrance had been so noiseless, and whose footsteps had been so light that she stood almost within a few feet of him before he was even aware of her presence. Then his surprise was so great that he could only gasp out her name.
She smiled upon him delightfully.
"Me! Lucille! Don't blame your servant. I assured him that I was expected, so he allowed me to enter unannounced. His astonishment was a delightful testimony to your reputation, by the bye. He was evidently not used to these invasions."
Brott had recovered himself by this time, and if any emotion still remained he was master of it.
"You must forgive my surprise!" he said. "You have of course something important to say to me. Will you not loosen your cloak?"
She unfastened the clasp and seated herself in his most comfortable chair. The firelight flashed and glittered on the silver ornaments of her dress; her neck and arms, with their burden of jewels, gleamed like porcelain in the semi-darkness outside the halo of his student lamp. And he saw that her dark hair hung low behind in graceful folds as he had once admired it. He stood a little apart, and she noted his traveling clothes and the various signs of a journey about the room.
"You may be glad to see me," she remarked, looking at him with a smile. "You don't look it."
"I am anxious to hear your news," he answered. "I am convinced that you have something important to say to me."
"Supposing," she answered, still looking at him steadily, "supposing I were to say that I had no object in coming here at all—that it was merely a whim? What should you say then?"
"I should take the liberty," he answered quietly, "of doubting the evidence of my senses."
There was a moment's silence. She felt his aloofness. It awoke in her some of the enthusiasm with which this mission itself had failed to inspire her. This man was measuring his strength against hers.
"It was not altogether a whim," she said, her eyes falling from his, "and yet—now I am here—it does not seem easy to say what was in my mind."
He glanced towards the clock.
"I fear," he said, "that it may sound ungallant, but in case this somewhat mysterious mission of yours is of any importance I had better perhaps tell you that in twenty minutes I must leave to catch the Scotch mail."
She rose at once to her feet, and swept her cloak haughtily around her.
"I have made a mistake," she said. "Be so good as to pardon my intrusion. I shall not trouble you again."
She was half-way across the room. She was at the door, her hand was upon the handle. He was white to the lips, his whole frame was shaking with the effort of intense repression. He kept silence, till only a flutter of her cloak was to be seen in the doorway. And then the cry which he had tried so hard to stifle broke from his lips.
She hesitated, and came back—looking at him, so he thought, with trembling lips and eyes soft with unshed tears.
"I was a brute," he murmured. "I ought to be grateful for this chance of seeing you once more, of saying good-bye to you."
"Good-bye!" she repeated.
"Yes," he said gravely. "It must be good-bye. I have a great work before me, and it will cut me off completely from all association with your world and your friends. Something wider and deeper than an ocean will divide us. Something so wide that our hands will never reach across."
"You can talk about it very calmly," she said, without looking at him.
"I have been disciplining myself," he answered.
She rested her face upon her hand, and looked into the fire.
"I suppose," she said, "this means that you have refused Mr. Letheringham's offer."
"I have refused it," he answered.
"I am sorry," she said simply.
She rose from her chair with a sudden start, began to draw on her cloak, and then let it fall altogether from her shoulders.
"Why do you do this?" she asked earnestly. "Is it that you are so ambitious? You used not to be so—in the old days."
He laughed bitterly.
"You too, then," he said, "can remember. Ambitious! Well, why not? To be Premier of England, to stand for the people, to carry through to its logical consummation a bloodless revolution, surely this is worth while. Is there anything in the world better worth having than power?"
"Yes," she answered, looking him full in the eyes.
"What is it then? Let me know before it is too late."
He threw his arms about her. For a moment she was powerless in his grasp.
"So be it then," he cried fiercely. "Give me the one, and I will deny the other. Only no half measures! I will drink to the bottom of the cup or not at all."
She shook herself free from him, breathless, consumed with an anger to which she dared not give voice. For a moment or two she was speechless. Her bosom rose and fell, a bright streak of colour flared in her cheeks. Brott stood away from her, white and stern.
"You—are clumsy!" she said. "You frighten me!"
Her words carried no conviction. He looked at her with a new suspicion.
"You talk like a child," he answered roughly, "or else your whole conduct is a fraud. For months I have been your slave. I have abandoned my principles, given you my time, followed at your heels like a tame dog. And for what? You will not marry me, you will not commit yourself to anything. You are a past mistress in the art of binding fools to your chariot wheels. You know that I love you—that there breathes on this earth no other woman for me but you. I have told you this in all save words a hundred times. And now—now it is my turn. I have been played with long enough. You are here unbidden—unexpected. You can consider that door locked. Now tell me why you came."
Lucille had recovered herself. She stood before him, white but calm.
"Because," she said, "I am a woman."
"That means that you came without reason—on impulse?" he asked.
"I came," she said, "because I heard that you were about to take a step which must separate us for ever."
"And that," he asked, "disturbed you?"
"Come, we are drawing nearer together," he said, a kindling light in his eyes. "Now answer me this. How much do you care if this eternal separation does come? Here am I on the threshold of action. Unless I change my mind within ten minutes I must throw in my lot with those whom you and your Order loathe and despise. There can be no half measures. I must be their leader, or I must vanish from the face of the political world. This I will do if you bid me. But the price must be yourself—wholly, without reservation—yourself, body and soul."
"You care—as much as that?" she murmured.
"Ask me no questions, answer mine!" he cried fiercely. "You shall stay with me here—or in five minutes I leave on my campaign."
She laughed musically.
"This is positively delicious," she exclaimed. "I am being made love to in medieval fashion. Other times other manners, sir! Will you listen to reason?"
"I will listen to nothing—save your answer, yes or no," he declared, drawing on his overcoat.
She laid her hand upon his shoulder.
"Reginald," she said, "you are like the whirlwind—and how can I answer you in five minutes!"
"You can answer me in one," he declared fiercely. "Will you pay my price if I do your bidding? Yes or no! The price is yourself. Now! Yes or no?"
She drew on her own cloak and fastened the clasp with shaking fingers. Then she turned towards the door.
"I wish you good-bye and good fortune, Reginald," she said. "I daresay we may not meet again. It will be better that we do not."
"This then is your answer?" he cried.
She looked around at him. Was it his fancy, or were those tears in her eyes? Or was she really so wonderful an actress?
"Do you think," she said, "that if I had not cared I should have come here?"
"Tell me that in plain words," he cried. "It is all I ask."
The door was suddenly opened. Grahame stood upon the threshold. He looked beyond Lucille to Brott.
"You must really forgive me," he said, "but there is barely time to catch the train, Brott. I have a hansom waiting, and your luggage is on."
Brott answered nothing. Lucille held out her hands to him.
"Yes or no?" he asked her in a low hoarse tone.
"You must—give me time! I don't want to lose you. I—"
He caught up his coat.
"Coming, Grahame," he said firmly. "Countess, I must beg your pardon ten thousand times for this abrupt departure. My servants will call your carriage."
She leaned towards him, beautiful, anxious, alluring.
"Yes or no," he whispered in her ear.
"Give me until to-morrow," she faltered.
"Not one moment," he answered. "Yes—now, this instant—or I go!"
"Brott! My dear man, we have not a second to lose."
"You hear!" he muttered. "Yes or no?"
"Give me until to-morrow," she begged. "It is for your own sake. For your own safety."
He turned on his heel! His muttered speech was profane, but inarticulate. He sprang into the hansom by Grahame's side.
"Euston!" the latter cried through the trap-door. "Double fare, cabby. We must catch the Scotchman."
Lucille came out a few moments later, and looked up and down the street as her brougham drove smartly up. The hansom was fast disappearing in the distance. She looked after it and sighed.
Lucille gave a little start of amazement as she realised that she was not alone in the brougham. She reached out for the check-cord, but a strong hand held hers.
"My dear Lucille," a familiar voice exclaimed, "why this alarm? Is it your nerves or your eyesight which is failing you?"
Her hand dropped. She turned towards him.
"It is you, then, Prince!" she said. "But why are you here? I do not understand."
The Prince shrugged his shoulders.
"It is so simple," he said. "We are all very anxious indeed to hear the result of your interview with Brott—and apart from that, I personally have too few opportunities to act as your escort to let a chance go by. I trust that my presence is not displeasing to you?"
She laughed a little uneasily.
"It is at any rate unnecessary," she answered. "But since you are here I may as well make my confession. I have failed."
"It is incredible," the Prince murmured.
"As you will—but it is true," she answered. "I have done my very best, or rather my worst, and the result has been failure. Mr. Brott has a great friend—a man named Grahame, whose influence prevailed against mine. He has gone to Scotland."
"That is serious news," the Prince said quietly.
Lucille leaned back amongst the cushions.
"After all," she declared, "we are all out of place in this country. There is no scope whatever for such schemes and intrigues as you and all the rest of them delight in. In France and Russia, even in Austria, it is different. The working of all great organisation there is underground—it is easy enough to meet plot by counterplot, to suborn, to deceive, to undermine. But here all the great games of life seem to be played with the cards upon the table. We are hopelessly out of place. I cannot think, Prince, what ill chance led you to ever contemplate making your headquarters in London."
The Prince stroked his long moustache.
"That is all very well, Lucille," he said, "but you must remember that in England we have very large subscriptions to the Order. These people will not go on paying for nothing. There was a meeting of the London branch a few months ago, and it was decided that unless some practical work was done in this country all English subscriptions should cease. We had no alternative but to come over and attempt something. Brott is of course the bete noire of our friends here. He is distinctly the man to be struck at."
"And what evil stroke of fortune," Lucille asked, "induced you to send for me?"
"That is a very cruel speech, dear lady," the Prince murmured.
"I hope," Lucille said, "that you have never for a moment imagined that I find any pleasure in what I am called upon to do."
"Why not? It must be interesting. You can have had no sympathy with Brott—a hopeless plebeian, a very paragon of Anglo-Saxon stupidity?"
Lucille laughed scornfully.
"Reginald Brott is a man, at any rate, and an honest one," she answered. "But I am too selfish to think much of him. It is myself whom I pity. I have a home, Prince, and a husband. I want them both."
"You amaze me," the Prince said slowly. "Lucille, indeed, you amaze me. You have been buried alive for three years. Positively we believed that our summons would sound to you like a message from Heaven."
Lucille was silent for a moment. She rubbed the mist from the carriage window and looked out into the streets.
"Well," she said, "I hope that you realise now how completely you have misunderstood me. I was perfectly happy in America. I have been perfectly miserable here. I suppose that I have grown too old for intrigues and adventures."
"Too old, Lucille," the Prince murmured, leaning a little towards her. "Lucille, you are the most beautiful woman in London. Many others may have told you so, but there is no one, Lucille, who is so devotedly, so hopelessly your slave as I."
She drew her hand away, and sat back in her corner. The man's hot breath fell upon her cheek, his eyes seemed almost phosphorescent in the darkness. Lucille could scarcely keep the biting words from her tongue.
"You do not answer me, Lucille. You do not speak even a single kind word to me. Come! Surely we are old friends. We should understand one another. It is not a great deal that I ask from your kindness—not a great deal to you, but it is all the difference between happiness and misery for me."
"This is a very worn-out game, Prince," Lucille said coldly. "You have been making love to women in very much the same manner for twenty years, and I—well, to be frank, I am utterly weary of being made love to like a doll. Laugh at me as you will, my husband is the only man who interests me in the slightest. My failure to-day is almost welcome to me. It has at least brought my work here to a close. Come, Prince, if you want to earn my eternal gratitude, tell me now that I am a free woman."
"You give me credit," the Prince said slowly, "for great generosity. If I let you go it seems to me that I shall lose you altogether. You will go to your husband. He will take you away!"
"Why not?" Lucille asked. "I want to go. I am tired of London. You cannot lose what you never possessed—what you never had the slightest chance of possessing."
The Prince laughed softly—not a pleasant laugh, not even a mirthful one.
"Dear lady," he said, "you speak not wisely. For I am very much in earnest when I say that I love you, and until you are kinder to me I shall not let you go."
"That is rather a dangerous threat, is it not?" Lucille asked. "You dare to tell me openly that you will abuse your position, that you will keep me bound a servant to the cause, because of this foolish fancy of yours?"
The Prince smiled at her through the gloom—a white, set smile.
"It is no foolish fancy, Lucille. You will find that out before long. You have been cold to me all your life. Yet you would find me a better friend than enemy."
"If I am to choose," she said steadily, "I shall choose the latter."
"As you will," he answered. "In time you will change your mind."
The carriage had stopped. The Prince alighted and held out his hand. Lucille half rose, and then with her foot upon the step she paused and looked around.
"Where are we?" she exclaimed. "This is not Dorset House."
"No, we are in Grosvenor Square," the Prince answered. "I forgot to tell you that we have a meeting arranged for here this evening. Permit me." But Lucille resumed her seat in the carriage.
"It is your house, is it not?" she asked.
"Yes. My house assuredly."
"Very well," Lucille said. "I will come in when the Duchess of Dorset shows herself at the window or the front door—or Felix, or even De Brouillae."
The Prince still held open the carriage door.
"They will all be here," he assured her. "We are a few minutes early."
"Then I will drive round to Dorset House and fetch the Duchess. It is only a few yards."
The Prince hesitated. His cheeks were very white, and something like a scowl was blackening his heavy, insipid face.
"Lucille," he said, "you are very foolish. It is not much I ask of you, but that little I will have or I pledge my word to it that things shall go ill with you and your husband. There is plain speech for you. Do not be absurd. Come within, and let us talk. What do you fear? The house is full of servants, and the carriage can wait for you here."
Lucille smiled at him—a maddening smile.
"I am not a child," she said, "and such conversations as I am forced to hold with you will not be under your own roof. Be so good as to tell the coachman to drive to Dorset House."
The Prince turned on his heel with a furious oath.
"He can drive you to Hell," he answered thickly.
Lucille found the Duchess and Lady Carey together at Dorset House. She looked from one to the other.
"I thought that there was a meeting to-night," she remarked.
The Duchess shook her head.
"Not to-night," she answered. "It would not be possible. General Dolinski is dining at Marlborough House, and De Broullae is in Paris. Now tell us all about Mr. Brott."
"He has gone to Scotland," Lucille answered. "I have failed."
Lady Carey looked up from the depths of the chair in which she was lounging.
"And the prince?" she asked. "He went to meet you!"
"He also failed," Lucille answered.
Mr. SABIN drew a little breath, partly of satisfaction because he had discovered the place he sought, and partly of disgust at the neighbourhood in which he found himself. Nevertheless, he descended three steps from the court into which he had been directed, and pushed open the swing door, behind which Emil Sachs announced his desire to supply the world with dinners at eightpence and vin ordinaire at fourpence the small bottle.
A stout black-eyed woman looked up at his entrance from behind the counter. The place was empty.
"What does monsieur require she asked, peering forward through the gloom with some suspicion. For the eightpenny dinners were the scorn of the neighbourhood, and strangers were rare in the wine shop of Emil Sachs."
Mr. Sabin smiled.
"One of your excellent omelettes, my good Annette," he answered, "if your hand has not lost its cunning!"
She gave a little cry.
"It is monsieur!" she exclaimed. "After all these years it is monsieur! Ah, you will pardon that I did not recognise you. This place is a cellar. Monsieur has not changed. In the daylight one would know him anywhere."
The woman talked fast, but even in that dim light Mr. Sabin knew quite well that she was shaking with fear. He could see the corners of her mouth twitch. Her black eyes rolled incessantly, but refused to meet his. Mr. Sabin frowned.
"You are not glad to see me, Annette!"
She leaned over the counter.
"For monsieur's own sake," she whispered, "go!"
Mr. Sabin stood quite still for a short space of time.
"Can I rest in there for a few minutes?" he asked, pointing to the door which led into the room beyond.
The woman hesitated. She looked up at the clock and down again.
"Emil will return," she said, "at three. Monsieur were best out of the neighbourhood before then. For ten minutes it might be safe."
Mr. Sabin passed forward. The woman lifted the flap of the counter and followed him. Within was a smaller room, far cleaner and better appointed than the general appearance of the place promised. Mr. Sabin seated himself at one of the small tables. The linen cloth, he noticed, was spotless, the cutlery and appointments polished and clean.
"This, I presume," he remarked, "is not where you serve the eightpenny table d'hote?"
The woman shrugged her shoulders.
"But it would not be possible," she answered. "We have no customers for that. If one arrives we put together a few scraps. But one must make a pretense. Monsieur understands?"
Mr. Sabin nodded.
"I will take," he said, "a small glass of fin champagne."
She vanished, and reappeared almost immediately with the brandy in a quaintly cut liqueur glass. A glance at the clock as she passed seemed to have increased her anxiety.
"If monsieur will drink his liqueur and depart," she prayed. "Indeed, it will be for the best."
Mr. Sabin set down his glass. His steadfast gaze seemed to reduce Annette into a state of nervous panic.
"Annette," he said, "they have placed me upon the list."
"It is true, monsieur," she answered. "Why do you come here?"
"I wanted to know first for certain that they had ventured so far," Mr. Sabin said. "I believe that I am only the second person in this country who has been so much honoured."
The woman drew nearer to him.
"Monsieur," she said, "your only danger is to venture into such parts as these. London is so safe, and the law is merciless. They only watch. They will attempt nothing. Do not leave England. There is here no machinery of criminals. Besides, the life of monsieur is insured."
"Insured?" Mr. Sabin remarked quietly. "That is good news. And who pays the premium?"
"A great lady, monsieur! I know no more. Monsieur must go indeed. He has found his way into the only place in London where he is not safe."
Mr. Sabin rose.
"You are expecting, perhaps," he said, "one of my friends from the—"
She interrupted him.
"It is true," she declared. "He may be here at any instant. The time is already up. Oh, monsieur, indeed, indeed it would not do for him to find you."
Mr. Sabin moved towards the door.
"You are perhaps right," he said regretfully, "although I should much like to hear about this little matter of life insurance while I am here."
"Indeed, monsieur," Annette declared, "I know nothing. There is nothing which I can tell monsieur."
Mr. Sabin suddenly leaned forward. His gaze was compelling. His tone was low but terrible.
"Annette," he said, "obey me. Send Emil here."
The woman trembled, but she did not move. Mr. Sabin lifted his forefinger and pointed slowly to the door. The woman's lips parted, but she seemed to have lost the power of speech.
"Send Emil here!" Mr. Sabin repeated slowly.
Annette turned and left the room, groping her way to the door as though her eyesight had become uncertain. Mr. Sabin lit a cigarette and looked for a moment carefully into the small liqueur glass out of which he had drunk.
"That was unwise," he said softly to himself. "Just such a blunder might have cost me everything."
He held it up to the light and satisfied himself that no dregs remained. Then he took from his pocket a tiny little revolver, and placing it on the table before him, covered it with his handkerchief. Almost immediately a door at the farther end of the room opened and closed. A man in dark clothes, small, unnaturally pale, with deep-set eyes and nervous, twitching mouth, stood before him. Mr. Sabin smiled a welcome at him.
"Good-morning, Emil Sachs," he said. "I am glad that you have shown discretion. Stand there in the light, please, and fold your arms. Thanks. Do not think that I am afraid of you, but I like to talk comfortably."
"I am at monsieur's service," the man said in a low tone.
"Exactly. Now, Emil, before starting to visit you I left a little note behind addressed to the chief of the police here—no, you need not start—to be sent to him only if my return were unduly delayed. You can guess what that note contained. It is not necessary for us to revert to—unpleasant subjects."
The man moistened his dry lips.
"It is not necessary," he repeated. "Monsieur is as safe here—from me—as at his own hotel."
"Excellent!" Mr. Sabin said. "Now listen, Emil. It has pleased me chiefly, as you know, for the sake of your wife, the good Annette, to be very merciful to you as regards the past. But I do not propose to allow you to run a poison bureau for the advantage of the Prince of Saxe Leinitzer and his friends—more especially, perhaps, as I am at present upon his list of superfluous persons."
The man trembled.
"Monsieur," he said, "the Prince knows as much as you know, and he has not the mercy that one shows to a dog."
"You will find," Mr. Sabin said, "that if you do not obey me, I myself can develop a similar disposition. Now answer me this! You have within the last few days supplied several people with that marvelous powder for the preparation of which you are so justly famed."
"Several—no, monsieur! Two only."
The man trembled.
"If they should know!"
"They will not, Emil. I will see to that."
"The first I supplied to the order of the Prince."
"Good! And the second?"
"To a lady whose name I do not know."
Mr. Sabin raised his eyebrows.
"Is not that," he remarked, "a little irregular?"
"The lady wrote her request before me in the yellow crayon. It was sufficient."
"And you do not know her name, Emil?"
"No, monsieur. She was dark and tall, and closely veiled. She was here but a few minutes since."
"Dark and tall!" Mr. Sabin repeated to himself thoughtfully. "Emil, you are telling me the truth?"
"I do not dare to tell you anything else, monsieur," the man answered.
Mr. Sabin did not continue his interrogations for a few moments. Suddenly he looked up.
"Has that lady left the place yet, Emil?"
Mr. Sabin smiled.
"Have you a back exit?" he asked.
"None that the lady would know of," Emil answered. "She must pass along the passage which borders this apartment, and enter the bar by a door from behind. If monsieur desires it, it is impossible for her to leave unobserved."
"That is excellent, Emil," Mr. Sabin said. "Now there is one more question—quite a harmless one. Annette spoke of my life being in some way insured."
"It is true, monsieur," Emil admitted. "A lady who also possessed the yellow crayon came here the day that—that monsieur incurred the displeasure of—of his friends. She tried to bribe me to blow up my laboratory and leave the country, or that I should substitute a harmless powder for any required by the Prince. I was obliged to refuse."
"Then she promised me a large sum if you were alive in six months, and made me at once a payment.
"Dear me," Mr. Sabin said, "this is quite extraordinary."
"I can tell monsieur the lady's name," Emil continued, "for she raised her veil, and everywhere the illustrated papers have been full of her picture. It was the lady who was besieged in a little town of South Africa, and who carried despatches for the general, disguised as a man."
"Lady Carey!" Mr. Sabin remarked quietly.
"That was the lady's name," Emil agreed.
Mr. Sabin was thoughtful for a few moments. Then he looked up.
"Emil Sachs," he said sternly, "you have given out at least one portion of your abominable concoction which is meant to end my days. Whether I shall escape it or not remains to be seen. I am forced at the best to discharge my servant, and to live the life of a hunted man. Now you have done enough mischief in the world. To-morrow morning a messenger will place in your hands two hundred pounds. A larger sum will await you at Baring's Bank in New York. You will go there and buy a small restaurant in the business quarter. This is your last chance, Emil. I give it to you for the sake of Annette."
"And I accept it, monsieur, with gratitude."
"For the present—"
Mr. Sabin stopped short. His quick ears had caught the swish of woman's gown passing along the passage outside. Emil too had heard it.
"It is the dark lady," he whispered, "who purchased from me the other powder. See, I open gently this door. Monsieur must both see and hear."
The door at the end of the passage was opened. A woman stepped out into the little bar and made her way towards the door. Here she was met by a man entering. Mr. Sabin held up his forefinger to stop the terrified exclamation which trembled on Emil's lips. The woman was Lucille, the man the Prince. It was Lucille who was speaking.
"You have followed me, Prince. It is intolerable."
"Dear Lucille, it is for your own sake. These are not fit parts for you to visit alone."
"It is my own business," she answered coldly.
The Prince appeared to be in a complaisant mood.
"Come," he said, "the affair is not worth a quarrel. I ask you no questions. Only since we are here I propose that we test the cooking of the good Annette. We will lunch together."
"What, here?" she answered. "Absurd."
"By no means," he answered. "As you doubtless know, the exterior of the place is entirely misleading. These people are old servants of mine. I can answer for the luncheon."
"You can also eat it," came the prompt reply. "I am returning to the carriage."
Mr. Sabin emerged through the swing door. "Your discretion, my dear Lucille," he said, smiling, "is excellent. The place is indeed better than it seems, and Annette's cookery may be all that the Prince claims. Yet I think I know better places for a luncheon party, and the ventilation is not of the best. May I suggest that you come with me instead to the Milan?"
"Victor! You here?"
Mr. Sabin smiled as he admitted the obvious fact. The Prince's face was as black as night.
"Believe me," Mr. Sabin said, turning to the Prince, "I sympathise entirely with your feelings at the present moment. I myself have suffered in precisely the same manner. The fact is, intrigue in this country is almost an impossibility. At Paris, Vienna, Pesth, how different! You raise your little finger, and the deed is done. Superfluous people—like myself—are removed like the hairs from your chin. But here intrigue seems indeed to exist only within the pages of a shilling novel, or in a comic opera. The gentleman with a helmet there, who regards us so benignly, will presently earn a shilling by calling me a hansom. Yet in effect he does me a far greater service. He stands for a multitude of cold Anglo-Saxon laws, adamant, incorruptible, inflexible—as certain as the laws of Nature herself. I am quite aware that by this time I ought to be lying in a dark cellar with a gag in my mouth, or perhaps in the river with a dagger in my chest. But here in England, no!"
The Prince smiled—to all appearance a very genial smile.
"You are right, my dear friend," he said, "yet what you say possesses, shall we call it, a somewhat antediluvian flavour. Intrigue is no longer a clumsy game of knife and string and bowl. It becomes to-day a game of finesse. I can assure you that I have no desire to give a stage whistle and have you throttled at my feet. On the contrary, I beg you to use my carriage, which you will find in the street. You will lunch at the Milan with Lucille, and I shall retire discomfited to eat alone at my club. But the game is a long one, my dear friend. The new methods take time."
"This conversation," Mr. Sabin said to Lucille, "is interesting, but it is a little ungallant. I think that we will resume it at some future occasion. Shall we accept the Prince's offer, or shall we be truly democratic and take a hansom."
Lucille passed her arm through his and laughed.
"You are robbing the Prince of me," she declared. "Let us leave him his carriage."
She nodded her farewells to Saxe Leinitzer, who took leave of them with a low bow. As they waited at the corner for a hansom Mr. Sabin glanced back. The Prince had disappeared through the swing doors.
"I want you to promise me one thing," Lucille said earnestly.
"It is promised," Mr. Sabin answered.
"You will not ask me the reason of my visit to this place?"
"I have no curiosity," Mr. Sabin answered. "Come!"
Mr. Sabin, contrary to his usual custom, engaged a private room at the Milan. Lucille was in the highest spirits.
"If only this were a game instead of reality!" she said, flashing a brilliant smile at him across the table, "I should find it most fascinating. You seem to come to me always when I want you most. And do you know, it is perfectly charming to be carried off by you in this manner."
Mr. Sabin smiled at her, and there was a look in his eyes which shone there for no other woman.
"It is in effect," he said, "keeping me young. Events seem to have enclosed us in a curious little cobweb. All the time we are struggling between the rankest primitivism and the most delicate intrigue. To-day is the triumph of primitivism."
"Meaning that you, the medieval knight, have carried me off, the distressed maiden, on your shoulder."
"Having confounded my enemy," he continued, smiling, "by an embarrassing situation, a little argument, and the distant view of a policeman's helmet."
"This," she remarked, with a little satisfied sigh as she selected an ortolan, "is a very satisfactory place to be carried off to. And you," she added, leaning across the table and touching his fingers for a moment tenderly, "are a very delightful knight-errant."
He raised the fingers to his lips—the waiter had left the room. She blushed, but yielded her hand readily enough.
"Victor," she murmured, "you would spoil the most faithless woman on earth for all her lovers. You make me very impatient."
"Impatience, then," he declared, "must be the most infectious of fevers. For I too am a terrible sufferer."
"If only the Prince," she said, "would be reasonable."
"I am afraid," Mr. Sabin answered, "that from him we have not much to hope for."
"Yet," she continued, "I have fulfilled all the conditions. Reginald Brott remains the enemy of our cause and Order. Yet some say that his influence upon the people is lessened. In any case, my work is over. He began to mistrust me long ago. To-day I believe that mistrust is the only feeling he has in connection with me. I shall demand my release."
"I am afraid," Mr. Sabin said, "that Saxe Leinitzer has other reasons for keeping you at Dorset House."
She shrugged her shoulders.
"He has been very persistent even before I left Vienna. But he must know that it is hopeless. I have never encouraged him."
"I am sure of it," Mr. Sabin said. "It is the incorrigible vanity of the man which will not be denied. He has been taught to believe himself irresistible. I have never doubted you for a single moment, Lucille. I could not. But you have been the slave of these people long enough. As you say, your task is over. Its failure was always certain. Brott believes in his destiny, and it will be no slight thing which will keep him from following it. They must give you back to me."
"We will go back to America," she said. "I have never been so happy as at Lenox."
"Nor I," Mr. Sahin said softly.
"Besides," she continued, "the times have changed since I joined the Society. In Hungary you know how things were. The Socialists were carrying all before them, a united solid body. The aristocracy were forced to enter into some sort of combination against them. We saved Austria, I am not sure that we did not save Russia. But England is different. The aristocracy here are a strong resident class. They have their House of Lords, they own the land, and will own it for many years to come, their position is unassailable. It is the worst country in Europe for us to work in. The very climate and the dispositions of the people are inimical to intrigue. It is Muriel Carey who brought the Society here. It was a mistake. The country is in no need of it. There is no scope for it."
"If only one could get beyond Saxe Leinitzer," Mr. Sabin said.
She shook her head.
"Behind him," she said, "there is only the one to whom all reference is forbidden. And there is no man in the world who would be less likely to listen to an appeal from you—or from me."
"After all," Mr. Sabin said, "though Saxe Leinitzer is our enemy, I am not sure that he can do us any harm. If he declines to release you—well, when the twelve months are up you are free whether he wishes it or not. He has put me outside the pale. But this is not, or never was, a vindictive Society. They do not deal in assassinations. In this country at least anything of the sort is rarely attempted. If I were a young man with my life to live in the capitals of Europe I should be more or less a social outcast, I suppose. But I am proof against that sort of thing."
Lucille looked a little doubtful.
"The Prince," she said, "is an intriguer of the old school. I know that in Vienna he has more than once made use of more violent means than he would dare to do here. And there is an underneath machinery very seldom used, I believe, and of which none of us who are ordinary members know anything at all, which gives him terrible powers."
Mr. Sabin nodded grimly.
"It was worked against me in America," he said, "but I got the best of it. Here in England I do not believe that he would dare to use it. If so, I think that before now it would have been aimed at Brott. I have just read his Glasgow speech. If he becomes Premier it will lead to something like a revolution."
"Brott is a clever man, and a strong man," she said. "I am sorry for him, but I do not believe that he will never become Prime Minister of England."
Mr. Sabin sipped his wine thoughtfully.
"I believe," he said, "that intrigue is the resource of those who have lived their lives so quickly that they have found weariness. For these things to-day interest me very little. I am only anxious to have you back again, Lucille, to find ourselves on our way to our old home."
She laughed softly.
"And I used to think," she said, "that after all I could only keep you a little time—that presently the voices from the outside world would come whispering in your ears, and you would steal back again to where the wheels of life were turning."
"A man," he answered, "is not easily whispered out of Paradise."
She laughed at him.
"Ah, it is so easy," she said, "to know that your youth was spent at a court."
"There is only one court," he answered, "where men learn to speak the truth."
She leaned back in her chair.
"Oh, you are incorrigible," she said softly. "The one role in life in which I fancied you ill at ease you seem to fill to perfection."
"You are an adorable husband!"
"I should like," he said, "a better opportunity to prove it!"
"Let us hope," she murmured, "that our separation is nearly over. I shall appeal to the Prince to-night. My remaining at Dorset House is no longer necessary."
"I shall come," he said, "and demand you in person."
She shook her head.
"No! They would not let you in, and it would make it more difficult. Be patient a little longer."
He came and sat by her side. She leaned over to meet his embrace.
"You make patience," he murmured, "a torture!"
* * * * *
Mr. Sabin walked home to his rooms late in the afternoon, well content on the whole with his day. He was in no manner prepared for the shock which greeted him on entering his sitting-room. Duson was leaning back in his most comfortable easy-chair.
"Duson!" Mr. Sabin said sharply. "What does this mean?"
There was no answer. Mr. Sabin moved quickly forward, and then stopped short. He had seen dead men, and he knew the signs. Duson was stone dead.
Mr. Sabin's nerve answered to this demand upon it. He checked his first impulse to ring the bell, and looked carefully on the table for some note or message from the dead man. He found it almost at once—a large envelope in Duson's handwriting. Mr. Sabin hastily broke the seal and read:
"Monsieur,—I kill myself because it is easiest and best. The poison was given me for you, but I have not the courage to become a murderer, or afterwards to conceal my guilt. Monsieur has been a good master to me, and also Madame la Comtesse was always indulgent and kind. The mistake of my life has been the joining the lower order of the Society. The money which I have received has been but a poor return for the anxiety and trouble which have come upon me since Madame la Comtesse left America. Now that I seek shelter in the grave I am free to warn Monsieur that the Prince of S. L. is his determined and merciless enemy, and that he has already made an unlawful use of his position in the Society for the sake of private vengeance. If monsieur would make a powerful friend he should seek the Lady Muriel Carey.
"Monsieur will be so good as to destroy this when read. My will is in my trunk. "Your Grace's faithful servant, "Jules Duson."
Mr. Sabin read this letter carefully through to the end. Then he put it into his pocket-book and quickly rang the bell.
"You had better send for a doctor at once," he said to the waiter who appeared. "My servant appears to have suffered from some sudden illness. I am afraid that he is quite dead."
"You spoke, my dear Lucille," the Duchess of Dorset said, "of your departure. Is not that a little premature?"
Lucille shrugged her beautiful shoulders, and leaned back in her corner of the couch with half-closed eyes. The Duchess, who was very Anglo-Saxon, was an easy person to read, and Lucille was anxious to know her fate.
"Why premature?" she asked. "I was sent for to use my influence with Reginald Brott. Well, I did my best, and I believe that for days it was just a chance whether I did not succeed. However, as it happened, I failed. One of his friends came and pulled him away just as he was wavering. He has declared himself now once and for all. After his speech at Glasgow he cannot draw back. I was brought all the way from America, and I want to go back to my husband."
The Duchess pursed her lips.
"When one has the honour, my dear," she said, "of belonging to so wonderful an organisation as this we must not consider too closely the selfish claims of family. I am sure that years ago I should have laughed at any one who had told me that I, Georgina Croxton, should ever belong to such a thing as a secret society, even though it had some connection with so harmless and excellent an organisation as the Primrose League."
"It does seem remarkable," Lucille murmured.
"But look what terrible times have come upon us," the Duchess continued, without heeding the interruption. "When I was a girl a Radical was a person absolutely without consideration. Now all our great cities are hot-beds of Socialism and—and anarchism. The whole country seems banded together against the aristocracy and the landowners. Combination amongst us became absolutely necessary in some shape or form. When the Prince came and began to drop hints about the way the spread of Socialism had been checked in Hungary and Austria, and even Germany, I was interested from the first. And when he went further, and spoke of the Society, it was I who persuaded Dorset to join. Dear man, he is very earnest, but very slow, and very averse to anything at all secretive. I am sure the reflection that he is a member of a secret society, even although it is simply a linking together of the aristocracy of Europe in their own defence, has kept him awake for many a night."
Lucille was a little bored.
"The Society," she said, "is an admirable one enough, but just now I am beginning to feel it a little exacting. I think that the Prince expects a good deal of one. I shall certainly ask for my release to-night."
The Duchess looked doubtful.
"Release!" she repeated. "Come, is that not rather an exaggerated expression? I trust that your stay at Dorset House has not in any way suggested an imprisonment."
"On the contrary," Lucille answered; "you and the Duke have been most kind. But you must remember that I have home of my own—and a husband of my own."
"I have no doubt," the Duchess said, "that you will be able to return to them some day. But you must not be impatient. I do not think that the Prince has given up all hopes of Reginald Brott yet."
Lucille was silent. So her emancipation was to be postponed. After all, it was what she had feared. She sat watching idly the Duchess's knitting needles. Lady Carey came sweeping in, wonderful in a black velvet gown and a display of jewels almost barbaric.
"On my way to the opera," she announced. "The Maddersons sent me their box. Will any of you good people come? What do you say, Lucille?"
Lucille shook her head.
"My toilette is deficient," she said; "and besides, I am staying at home to see the Prince. We expect him this evening."
"You'll probably be disappointed then," Lady Carey remarked, "for he's going to join us at the opera. Run and change your gown. I'll wait."
"Are you sure that the Prince will be there?" Lucille asked.
"Then I will come," she said, "if the Duchess will excuse me."
The Duchess and Lady Carey were left alone for a few minutes. The former put down her knitting.
"Why do we keep that woman here," she asked, "now that Brott has broken away from her altogether?"
Lady Carey laughed meaningly.
"Better ask the Prince," she remarked.
The Duchess frowned.
"My dear Muriel," she said, "I think that you are wrong to make such insinuations. I am sure that the Prince is too much devoted to our cause to allow any personal considerations to intervene."
Lady Carey yawned.
"Rats!" she exclaimed.
The Duchess took up her knitting, and went on with it without remark. Lady Carey burst out laughing.
"Don't look so shocked," she exclaimed. "It's funny. I can't help being a bit slangy. You do take everything so seriously. Of course you can see that the Prince is waiting to make a fool of himself over Lucille. He has been trying more or less all his life."
"He may admire her," the Duchess said. "I am sure that he would not allow that to influence him in his present position. By the bye, she is anxious to leave us now that the Brott affair is over. Do you think that the Prince will agree?"