Lady Carey's face hardened.
"I am sure that he will not," she said coolly. "There are reasons why she may not at present be allowed to rejoin her husband."
The Duchess used her needles briskly.
"For my part," she said, "I can see no object in keeping her here any longer. Mr. Brott has shown himself quite capable of keeping her at arm's length. I cannot see what further use she is."
Lady Carey heard the flutter of skirts outside and rose.
"There are wheels within wheels," she remarked. "My dear Lucille, what a charming toilette. We shall have the lady journalists besieging us in our box. Paquin, of course. Good-night, Duchess. Glad to see you're getting on with the socks, or stockings, do you call them?"
Insolent aristocratic, now and then attractive in some strange suggestive way, Lady Carey sat in front of the box and exchanged greetings with her friends. Presently the Prince came in and took the chair between the two women. Lady Carey greeted him with a nod.
"Here's Lucille dying to return to her lawful husband," she remarked. "Odd thing, isn't it? Most of the married women I ever knew are dying to get away from theirs. You can make her happy or miserable in a few moments."
The Prince leaned over between them, but he looked only at Lucille.
"I wish that I could," he murmured. "I wish that that were within my power."
"It is," she answered coolly. "Muriel is quite right. I am most anxious to return to my husband."
The Prince said nothing. Lady Carey, glancing towards him at that moment, was surprised at certain signs of disquietude in his face which startled her.
"What is the matter with you?" she asked almost roughly.
"Matter with me? Nothing," he answered. "Why this unaccustomed solicitude?"
Lady Carey looked into his face fiercely. He was pale, and there was a strained look about his eyes. He seemed, too, to be listening. From outside in the street came faintly to their ears the cry of a newsboy.
"Get me an evening paper," she whispered in his ear.
He got up and left the box. Lucille was watching the people below and had not appreciated the significance of what had been passing between the two. Lady Carey leaned back in the box with half-closed eyes. Her fingers were clenched nervously together, her bosom was rising and falling quickly. If he had dared to defy her! What was it the newsboys were calling? What a jargon! Why did not Saxe Leinitzer return? Perhaps he was afraid! Her heart stood still for a moment, and a little half-stifled cry broke from her lips. Lucille looked around quickly.
"What is the matter, Muriel?" she asked. "Are you faint?"
"Faint, no," Lady Carey answered roughly. "I'm quite well. Don't take any notice of me. Do you hear? Don't look at me."
Lucille obeyed. Lady Carey sat quite still with her hand pressed to her side. It was a stifling pain. She was sure that she had heard at last. "Sudden death of a visitor at the Carlton Hotel." The place was beginning to go round.
Saxe Leinitzer returned. His face to her seemed positively ghastly. He carried an evening paper in his hand. She snatched it away from him. It was there before her in bold, black letters:
"Sudden death in the Carlton Hotel."
Her eyes, dim a moment ago, suddenly blazed fire upon him.
"It shall be a life for a life," she whispered. "If you have killed him you shall die."
Lucille looked at them bewildered. And just then came a sharp tap at the box door. No one answered it, but the door was softly opened. Mr. Sabin stood upon the threshold.
"Pray, don't let me disturb you," he said. "I was unable to refrain from paying you a brief visit. Why, Prince, Lady Carey! I can assure you that I am no ghost."
He glanced from one to the other with a delicate smile of mockery parting his thin lips. For upon the Prince's forehead the perspiration stood out like beads, and he shrank away from Mr. Sabin as from some unholy thing. Lady Carey had fallen back across her chair. Her hand was still pressed to her side, and her face was very pale. A nervous little laugh broke from her lips.
Mr. Sabin found a fourth chair, and calmly seated himself by Lucille's side. But his eyes were fixed upon Lady Carey. She was slowly recovering herself, but Mr. Sabin, who had never properly understood her attitude towards him, was puzzled at the air of intense relief which almost shone in her face.
"You seem—all of you," he remarked suavely, "to have found the music a little exciting. Wagner certainly knew how to find his way to the emotions. Or perhaps I interrupted an interesting discussion?"
Lucille smiled gently upon him.
"These two," she said, looking from the Prince to Lady Carey, "seem to have been afflicted with a sudden nervous excitement, and yet I do not think that they are, either of them, very susceptible to music."
Lady Carey leaned forward, and looked at him from behind the large fan of white feathers which she was lazily fluttering before her face.
"Your entrance," she murmured, "was most opportune, besides being very welcome. The Prince and I were literally—on the point of flying at one another's throats."
Mr. Sabin glanced at his neighbour and smiled.
"You are certainly a little out of sorts, Saxe Leinitzer," he remarked. "You look pale, and your hands are not quite steady. Nerves, I suppose. You should see Dr. Carson in Brook Street."
The Prince shrugged his shoulders.
"My health," he said, "was never better. It is true that your coming was somewhat of a surprise," he added, looking steadily at Mr. Sabin. "I understood that you had gone for a short journey, and I was not expecting to see you back again so soon."
"Duson," Mr. Sabin said, "has taken that short journey instead. It was rather a liberty, but he left a letter for me fully explaining his motives. I cannot blame him."
The Prince stroked his moustache.
"Ah!" he remarked. "That is a pity. You may, however, find it politic, even necessary, to join him very shortly."
Mr. Sabin smiled grimly.
"I shall go when I am ready," he said, "not before!"
Lucille looked from one to the other with protesting eyebrows.
"Come," she said, "it is very impolite of you to talk in riddles before my face. I have been flattering myself, Victor, that you were here to see me. Do not wound my vanity."
He whispered something in her ear, and she laughed softly back at him. The Prince, with the evening paper in his hand, escaped from the box, and found a retired spot where he could read the little paragraph at his leisure. Lady Carey pretended to be absorbed by the music.
"Has anything happened, Victor?" Lucille whispered.
"Well, in a sense, yes," he admitted. "I appear to have become unpopular with our friend, the Prince. Duson, who has always been a spy upon my movements, was entrusted with a little sleeping draught for me, which he preferred to take himself. That is all."
"He is dead!"
Lucille went very pale.
"This is horrible!" she murmured
"The Prince is a little annoyed, naturally," Mr. Sabin said. "It is vexing to have your plans upset in such a manner."
"He is hateful! Victor, I fear that he does not mean to let me leave Dorset House just yet. I am almost inclined to become, like you, an outcast. Who knows—we might go free. Bloodshed is always avoided as much as possible, and I do not see how else they could strike at me. Social ostracism is their chief weapon. But in America that could not hurt us."
He shook his head.
"Not yet," he said. "I am sure that Saxe Leinitzer is not playing the game. But he is too well served here to make defiance wise."
"You run the risk yourself," she protested.
"It is a different matter. By the bye, we are overheard."
Lady Carey had forgotten to listen any more to the music. She was watching them both, a steely light in her eyes, her fingers nervously entwined. The Prince was still absent.
"Pray do not consider me," she begged. "So far as I am concerned, your conversation is of no possible interest. But I think you had better remember that the Prince is in the corridor just outside."
"We are much obliged to you," Mr. Sabin said. "The Prince may hear every word I have to say about him. But all the same, I thank you for your warning."
"I fear that we are very unsociable, Muriel," Lucille said, "and, after all, I should never have been here but for you."
Lady Carey turned her left shoulder upon them.
"I beg," she said, "that you will leave me alone with the music. I prefer it."
The Prince suddenly stood upon the threshold. His hand rested lightly upon the arm of another man.
"Come in, Brott," he said. "The women will be charmed to see you. And I don't suppose they've read your speeches. Countess, here is the man who counts all equal under the sun, who decries class, and recognises no social distinctions. Brott was born to lead a revolution. He is our natural enemy. Let us all try to convert him."
Brott was pale, and deep new lines were furrowed on his face. Nevertheless he smiled faintly as he bowed over Lucille's fingers.
"My introduction," he remarked, "is scarcely reassuring. Yet here at least, if anywhere in the world, we should all meet upon equal ground. Music is a universal leveler."
"And we haven't a chance," Lady Carey remarked with uplifted eyebrows, "of listening to a bar of it."
Lucille welcomed the newcomer coldly. Nevertheless, he manoeuvred himself into the place by her side. She took up her fan and commenced swinging it thoughtfully.
"You are surprised to see me here?" he murmured.
"Yes!" she admitted.
He looked wearily away from the stage up into her face.
"And I too," he said. "I am surprised to find myself here!"
"I pictured you," she remarked, "as immersed in affairs. Did I not hear something of a Radical ministry with you for Premier?"
"It has been spoken of," he admitted.
"Then I really cannot see," she said, "what you are doing here."
"Why not?" he asked doggedly.
She shrugged her shoulders.
"In the first place," she said, "you ought to be rushing about amongst your supporters, keeping them up to the mark, and all that sort of thing. And in the second—"
"Are we not the very people against whom you have declared war?"
"I have declared war against no people," he answered. "It is systems and classes, abuses, injustice against which I have been forced to speak. I would not deprive your Order of a single privilege to which they are justly entitled. But you must remember that I am a people's man. Their cause is mine. They look to me as their mouthpiece."
Lucille shrugged her shoulders.
"You cannot evade the point," she said. "If you are the, what do you call it, the mouthpiece of the people, I do not see how you can be anything else than the enemy of the aristocracy."
"The aristocracy? Who are they?" he asked. "I am the enemy of all those who, because they possess an ancient name and inherited wealth, consider themselves the God-appointed bullies of the poor, dealing them out meagre charities, lordly patronage, an unspoken but bitter contempt. But the aristocracy of the earth are not of such as these. Your class are furnishing the world with advanced thinkers every year, every month! Inherited prejudices can never survive the next few generations. The fusion of classes must come."
She shook her head.
"You are sanguine, my friend," she said. "Many generations have come and gone since the wonderful pages of history were opened to us. And during all these years how much nearer have the serf and the aristocrat come together? Nay, have they not rather drifted apart?... But listen! This is the great chorus. We must not miss it."
"So the Prince has brought back the wanderer," Lady Carey whispered to Mr. Sabin behind her fan. "Hasn't he rather the air of a sheep who has strayed from the fold?"
Mr. Sabin raised the horn eyeglass, which he so seldom used, and contemplated Brott steadily.
"He reminds me more than ever," he remarked, "of Rienzi. He is like a man torn asunder by great causes. They say that his speech at Glasgow was the triumph of a born orator."
Lady Carey shrugged her shoulders.
"It was practically the preaching a revolution to the people," she said. "A few more such, and we might have the red flag waving. He left Glasgow in a ferment. If he really comes into power, what are we to expect?"
"To the onlookers," Mr. Sabin remarked, "a revolution in this country would possess many interesting features. The common people lack the ferocity of our own rabble, but they are even more determined. I may yet live to see an English Duke earning an honest living in the States."
"It depends very much upon Brott," Lady Carey said. "For his own sake it is a pity that he is in love with Lucille."
Mr. Sabin agreed with her blandly.
"It is," he affirmed, "a most regrettable incident."
She leaned a little towards him. The box was not a large one, and their chairs already touched.
"Are you a jealous husband?" she asked.
"Horribly," he answered.
"Your devotion to Lucille, or rather the singleness of your devotion to Lucille," she remarked, "is positively the most gauche thing about you. It is—absolutely callow!"
He laughed gently.
"Did I not always tell you," he said, "that when I did marry I should make an excellent husband?"
"You are at least," she answered sharply, "a very complaisant one."
The Prince leaned forward from the shadows of the box.
"I invite you all," he said, "to supper with me. It is something of an occasion, this! For I do not think that we shall all meet again just as we are now for a very long time."
"Your invitation," Mr. Sabin remarked, "is most agreeable. But your suggestion is, to say the least of it, nebulous. I do not see what is to prevent your all having supper with me to-morrow evening."
Lady Carey laughed as she rose, and stretched out her hand for her cloak.
"To-morrow evening," she said, "is a long way off. Let us make sure of to-night—before the Prince changes his mind."
Mr. Sabin bowed low.
"To-night by all means," he declared. "But my invitation remains—a challenge!"
The Prince, being host, arranged the places at his supper-table. Mr. Sabin found himself, therefore, between Lady Carey and a young German attache, whom they had met in the ante-room of the restaurant. Lucille had the Prince and Mr. Brott on either side of her.
Lady Carey monopolised at first the greater part of the conversation. Mr. Sabin was unusually silent. The German attache, whose name was Baron von Opperman, did not speak until the champagne was served, when he threw a bombshell into the midst of the little party.
"I hear," he said, with a broad and seraphic smile, "that in this hotel there has to-day a murder been committed."
Baron von Opperman was suddenly the cynosure of several pairs of eyes. He was delighted with the success of his attempt towards the general entertainment.
"The evening papers," he continued, "they have in them news of a sudden death. But in the hotel here now they are speaking of something—what you call more—mysterious. There has been ordered an examination post-mortem!"
"It is a case of poisoning then, I presume?" the Prince asked, leaning forward.
"It is so supposed," the attache answered. "It seems that the doctors could find no trace of disease, nothing to have caused death. They were not able to decide anything. The man, they said, was in perfect health—but dead."
"It must have been, then," the Prince remarked, "a very wonderful poison."
"Without doubt," Baron Opperman answered.
The Prince sighed gently.
"There are many such," he murmured. "Indeed the science of toxicology was never so ill-understood as now. I am assured that there are many poisons known only to a few chemists in the world, a single grain of which is sufficient to destroy the strongest man and leave not the slightest trace behind. If the poisoner be sufficiently accomplished he can pursue his—calling without the faintest risk of detection."
Mr. Sabin sipped his wine thoughtfully.
"The Prince is, I believe, right," he remarked. "It is for that reason, doubtless, that I have heard of men whose lives have been threatened, who have deposited in safe places a sealed statement of the danger in which they find themselves, with an account of its source, so that if they should come to an end in any way mysterious there may be evidence against their murderers."
"A very reasonable and judicious precaution," the Prince remarked with glittering eyes. "Only if the poison was indeed of such a nature that it was not possible to trace it nothing worse than suspicion could ever be the lot of any one."
Mr. Sabin helped himself carefully to salad, and resumed the discussion with his next course.
"Perhaps not," he admitted. "But you must remember that suspicion is of itself a grievous embarrassment. No man likes to feel that he is being suspected of murder. By the bye, is it known whom the unfortunate person was?"
"The servant of a French nobleman who is staying in the hotel," Mr. Brott remarked. "I heard as much as that."
Mr. Sabin smiled. Lady Carey glanced at him meaningly.
"You have worried the Prince quite sufficiently," she whispered. "Change the subject."
Mr. Sabin bowed.
"You are very considerate—to the Prince," he said.
"It is perhaps for your sake," she answered. "And as for the Prince—well, you know, or you should know, for how much he counts with me."
Mr. Sabin glanced at her curiously. She was a little flushed as though with some inward excitement. Her eyes were bright and soft. Despite a certain angularity of figure and her hollow cheeks she was certainly one of the most distinguished-looking women in the room.
"You are so dense," she whispered in his ear, "wilfully dense, perhaps. You will not understand that I wish to be your friend."
He smiled with gentle deprecation.
"Do you blame me," he murmured, "if I seem incredulous? For I am an old man, and you are spoken of always as the friend of my enemy, the friend of the Prince."
"I wonder," she said thoughtfully, "if this is really the secret of your mistrust? Do you indeed fear that I have no other interest in life save to serve Saxe Leinitzer?"
"As to that," he answered, "I cannot say. Yet I know that only a few months ago you were acting under orders from him. It is you who brought Lucille from America. It was through you that the first blow was struck at my happiness."
"Cannot I atone?" she murmured under her breath. "If I can I will. And as for the present, well, I am outside his schemes now. Let us be friends. You would find me a very valuable ally."
"Let it be so," he answered without emotion. "You shall help me, if you will, to regain Lucille. I promise you then that my gratitude shall not disappoint you."
She bit her lip.
"And are you sure," she whispered, "that Lucille is anxious to be won back? She loves intrigue, excitement, the sense of being concerned in important doings. Besides—you must have heard what they say about her—and Brott. Look at her now. She wears her grass widowhood lightly enough."
Mr. Sabin looked across the table. Lucille had indeed all the appearance of a woman thoroughly at peace with the world and herself. Brott was talking to her in smothered and eager undertones. The Prince was waiting for an opportunity to intervene. Mr. Sabin looked into Brott's white strong face, and was thoughtful.
"It is a great power—the power of my sex," Lady Carey continued, with a faint, subtle smile. "A word from Lucille, and the history book of the future must be differently written."
"She will not speak that word," Mr. Sabin said. Lady Carey shrugged her shoulders. The subtlety of her smile faded away. Her whole face expressed a contemptuous and self-assured cynicism.
"You know her very well," she murmured. "Yet she and I are no strangers. She is one who loves to taste—no, to drink—deeply of all the experiences of life. Why should we blame her, you and I? Have we not the same desire?"
Mr. Sabin lit a cigarette.
"Once, perhaps," he remarked. "You must not forget that I am no longer a young man."
She leaned towards him.
"You will die young," she murmured. "You are not of the breed of men who grow old."
"Do you mean to turn my head?" he asked her, with a humorous smile.
"It would be easier," she answered, "than to touch your heart."
Then Lucille looked across at them—and Mr. Sabin suddenly remembered that Reginald Brott knew them both only as strangers.
"Muriel," she said, "you are behaving disgracefully."
"I am doing my best," Lady Carey answered, "to keep you in countenance."
The eyes of the two women met for a moment, and though the smiles lingered still upon their faces Lady Carey at any rate was not able to wholly conceal her hatred. Lucille shrugged her shoulders.
"I am doing my best," she said, "to convert Mr. Brott."
"To what?" Lady Carey asked.
"To a sane point of view concerning the holiness of the aristocracy," Lucille answered. "I am afraid though that I have made very little impression. In his heart I believe Mr. Brott would like to see us all working for our living, school-teachers and dressmakers, and that sort of thing, you know."
Mr. Brott protested.
"I am not even," he declared, "moderately advanced in my views as regards matters of your sex. To tell you the truth, I do not like women to work at all outside their homes."
Lady Carey laughed.
"My dear," she said to Lucille, "you and I may as well retire in despair. Can't you see the sort of woman Mr. Brott admires? She isn't like us a bit. She is probably a healthy, ruddy-cheeked young person who lives in the country, gets up to breakfast to pour out the coffee for some sort of a male relative, goes round the garden snipping off roses in big gloves and a huge basket, interviews the cook, orders the dinner, makes fancy waistcoats for her husband, and failing a sewing maid, does the mending for the family. You and I, Lucille, are not like that."
"Well, you have mentioned nothing which I couldn't do, if it seemed worth while," Lucille objected. "It sounds very primitive and delightful. I am sure we are all too luxurious and too lazy. I think we ought to turn over a new leaf."
"For you, dear Lucille," Lady Carey said with suave and deadly satire, "what improvement is possible? You have all that you could desire. It is much less fortunate persons, such as myself, to whom Utopia must seem such a delightful place."
A frock-coated and altogether immaculate young man approached their table and accosted Mr. Sabin.
"I beg your pardon, sir," he said, "but the manager would be much obliged if you would spare him a moment or two in his private room as soon as possible."
Mr. Sabin nodded.
"In a few minutes," he answered.
The little party broke up almost immediately. Coffee was ordered in the palm court, where the band was playing. Mr. Sabin and the Prince fell a little behind the others on the way out of the room.
"You heard my summons?" Mr. Sabin asked.
"I am going to be cross-examined as regards Duson. I am no longer a member of the Order. What is to prevent my setting them upon the right track?"
"The fact," the Prince said coolly, "that you are hoping one day to recover Lucille."
"I doubt," Mr. Sabin said, "whether you are strong enough to keep her from me."
The Prince smiled. All his white teeth were showing.
"Come," he said, "you know better than—much better than that. Lucille must wait her release. You know that."
"I will buy it," Mr. Sabin said, "with a lie to the manager here, or I will tell the truth and still take her from you."
The Prince stood upon the topmost step of the balcony. Below was the palm court, with many little groups of people dotted about.
"My dear friend," he said, "Duson died absolutely of his own free will. You know that quite well. We should have preferred that the matter had been otherwise arranged. But as it is we are safe, absolutely safe."
"Duson's letter!" Mr. Sabin remarked.
"You will not show it," the Prince answered. "You cannot. You have kept it too long. And, after all, you cannot escape from the main fact. Duson committed suicide."
"He was incited to murder. His letter proves it."
The Prince shrugged his shoulders.
"By whom? Ah, how your story would excite ridicule. I seem to hear the laughter now. No, my dear Souspennier, you would bargain for me with Lucille. Look below. Are we likely to part with her just yet?"
In a corner, behind a gigantic palm, Lucille and Brott were talking together. Lady Carey had drawn Opperman a little distance away. Brott was talking eagerly, his cheeks flushed, his manner earnest. Mr. Sabin turned upon his heel and walked away.
Mr. Sabin, although he had registered at the hotel under his accustomed pseudonym, had taken no pains to conceal his identity, and was well known to the people in authority about the place. He was received with all the respect due to his rank.
"Your Grace will, I trust, accept my most sincere apologies for disturbing you," Mr. Hertz, the manager, said, rising and bowing at his entrance. "We have here, however, an emissary connected with the police come to inquire into the sad incident of this afternoon. He expressed a wish to ask your Grace a question or two with a view to rendering your Grace's attendance at the inquest unnecessary."
Mr. Sabin nodded.
"I am perfectly willing," he said, "to answer any questions you may choose to put to me."
A plain, hard-featured little man, in a long black overcoat, and holding a bowler hat in his hand, bowed respectfully to Mr. Sabin.
"I am much obliged to you, sir," he said. "My name is John Passmore. We do not of course appear in this matter unless the post-mortem should indicate anything unusual in the circumstances of Duson's death, but it is always well to be prepared, and I ventured to ask Mr. Hertz here to procure for me your opinion as regards the death of your servant."
"You have asked me," Mr. Sabin said gravely, "a very difficult question."
The eyes of the little detective flashed keenly.
"You do not believe then, sir, that he died a natural death?"
"I do not," Mr. Sabin answered.
Mr. Hertz was startled. The detective controlled his features admirably.
"May I ask your reasons, sir?"
Mr. Sabin lightly shrugged his shoulders.
"I have never known the man to have a day's illness in his life," he said. "Further, since his arrival in England he has been acting in a strange and furtive manner, and I gathered that he had some cause for fear which he was indisposed to talk about."
"This," the detective said, "is very interesting."
"Doubtless," Mr. Sabin answered. "But before I say anything more I must clearly understand my position. I am giving you personally a few friendly hints, in the interests of justice perhaps, but still quite informally. I am not in possession of any definite facts concerning Duson, and what I say to you here I am not prepared to say at the inquest, before which I presume I may have to appear as a witness. There, I shall do nothing more save identify Duson and state the circumstances under which I found him."
"I understand that perfectly, sir," the man answered. "The less said at the inquest the better in the interests of justice."
Mr. Sabin nodded.
"I am glad," he said, "that you appreciate that. I do not mind going so far then as to tell you that I believe Duson died of poison."
"Can you give me any idea," the detective asked, "as to the source?"
"None," Mr. Sabin answered. "That you must discover for yourselves. Duson was a man of silent and secretive habits, and it has occurred to me more than once that he might possibly be a member of one of those foreign societies who have their headquarters in Soho, and concerning which you probably know more than I do."
The detective smiled. It was a very slight flicker of the lips, but it attracted Mr. Sabin's keen attention.
"Your suggestions," the detective said, "are making this case a very interesting one. I have always understood, however, that reprisals of this extreme nature are seldom resorted to in this country. Besides, the man's position seems scarcely to indicate sufficient importance—perhaps—"
"Well?" Mr. Sabin interjected.
"I notice that Duson was found in your sitting-room. It occurs to me as a possibility that he may have met with a fate intended for some one else—for yourself, for instance, sir!"
"But I," Mr. Sabin said smoothly, "am a member of no secret society, nor am I conscious of having enemies sufficiently venomous to desire my life."
The detective sat for a moment with immovable face.
"We, all of us, know our friends, sir," he said. "There are few of us properly acquainted with our enemies."
Mr. Sabin lit a cigarette. His fingers were quite steady, but this man was making him think.
"You do not seriously believe," he asked, "that Duson met with a death which was intended for me?"
"I am afraid," the detective said thoughtfully, "that I know no more about it than you do."
"I see," Mr. Sabin said, "that I am no stranger to you."
"You are very far from being that, sir," the man answered. "A few years ago I was working for the Government—and you were not often out of my sight."
Mr. Sabin smiled.
"It was perhaps judicious," he remarked, "though I am afraid it proved of very little profit to you. And what about the present time?"
"I see no harm in telling you, sir, that a general watch is kept upon your movements. Duson was useful to us... but now Duson is dead."
"It is a fact," Mr. Sabin said impressively, "that Duson was a genius. My admiration for him continually increases."
"Duson made harmless reports to us as we desired them," the detective said. "I have an idea, however, that if this course had at any time been inimical to your interests that Duson would have deceived us."
"I am convinced of it," Mr. Sabin declared.
"And Duson is dead!"
Mr. Sabin nodded gravely.
The little hard-visaged man looked steadily for a moment upon the carpet.
"Duson died virtually whilst accepting pay from if not actually in the employ of our Secret Service Department. You will understand, therefore, that we, knowing of this complication in his life, naturally incline towards the theory of murder. Shall I be taking a liberty, sir, if I give you an unprofessional word of warning?"
Mr. Sabin raised his eyebrows.
"By no means," he answered. "But surely you cannot—"
The man smiled.
"No, sir," he said drily. "I do not for one moment suspect you. The man was our spy upon your movements, but I am perfectly aware that there has been nothing worth reporting, and I also know that you would never run such a risk for the removal of so insignificant a person. No, my warning comes to you from a different point of view. It is, if you will pardon my saying so, none the less personal, but wholly friendly. The case of Duson will be sifted to the dregs, but unless I am greatly mistaken, and I do not see room for the possibility of a mistake, I know the truth already."
"You will share your knowledge?" Mr. Sabin asked quietly.
The detective shook his head.
"You shall know," he said, "before the last moment. But I want to warn you that when you do now it—it will be a shock to you."
Mr. Sabin stood perfectly still for several moments. This little man believed what he was saying. He was certainly deceived. Yet none the less Mr. Sabin was thoughtful.
"You do not feel inclined," he said slowly, "to give me your entire confidence."
"Not at present, sir," the man answered. "You would certainly intervene, and my case would be spoilt."
Mr. Sabin glanced at the clock.
"If you care to call on me to-morrow," he said, "I could perhaps show you something which might change your opinion."
The detective bowed.
"I am always open, sir," he said, "to conviction. I will come about twelve o'clock."
Mr. Sabin went back to the palm lounge. Lucille and Reginald Brott were sitting together at a small table, talking earnestly to one another. The Prince and Lady Carey had joined another party who were all talking together near the entrance. The latter, directly she saw them coming, detached herself from them and came to him.
"Your coffee is almost cold," she said, "but the Prince has found some brandy of wonderful age, somewhere in the last century, I believe."
Mr. Sabin glanced towards Lucille. She appeared engrossed in her conversation, and had not noticed his approach. Lady Carey shrugged.
"You have only a few minutes," she said, "before that dreadful person comes and frowns us all out. I have kept you a chair."
Mr. Sabin sat down. Lady Carey interposed herself between him and the small table at which Lucille was sitting.
"Have they discovered anything?" she asked.
"Nothing!" Mr. Sabin answered.
She played with her fan for a moment. Then she looked him steadily in the face.
He glanced towards her.
"Why are you so obstinate?" she exclaimed in a low, passionate whisper. "I want to be your friend, and I could be very useful to you. Yet you keep me always at arm's length. You are making a mistake. Indeed you are. I suppose you do not trust me. Yet reflect Have I ever told you anything that was not true? Have I ever tried to deceive you? I don't pretend to be a paragon of the virtues. I live my life to please myself. I admit it. Why not? It is simply applying the same sort of philosophy to my life as you have applied to yours. My enemies can find plenty to say about me—but never that I have been false to a friend. Why do you keep me always at arm's length, as though I were one of those who wished you evil?"
"Lady Carey," Mr. Sabin said, "I will not affect to misunderstand you, and I am flattered that you should consider my good will of any importance. But you are the friend of the Prince of Saxe Leinitzer. You are one of those even now who are working actively against me. I am not blaming you, but we are on opposite sides."
Lady Carey looked for a moment across at the Prince, and her eyes were full of venom.
"If you knew," she murmured, "how I loathe that man. Friends! That is all long since past. Nothing would give me so much pleasure as never to see his face again."
"Nevertheless," Mr. Sabin reminded her, "whatever your private feelings may be, he has claims upon you which you cannot resist."
"There is one thing in the world," she said in a low tone, "for which I would risk even the abnegation of those claims."
"You would perjure your honour?"
"Yes—if it came to that."
Mr. Sabin moved uneasily in his chair. The woman was in earnest. She offered him an invaluable alliance; she could show him the way to hold his own against even the inimical combination by which he was surrounded. If only he could compromise. But her eyes were seeking his eagerly, even fiercely.
"You doubt me still," she whispered. "And I thought that you had genius. Listen, I will prove myself. The Prince has one of his foolish passions for Lucille. You know that. So far she has shown herself able to resist his fascinations. He is trying other means. Lucille is in danger! Duson!—but after all, I was never really in danger, except the time when I carried the despatches for the colonel and rode straight into a Boer ambush."
Mr. Sabin saw nothing, but he did not move a muscle of his face. A moment later they heard the Prince's voice from behind them.
"I am very sorry," he said, "to interrupt these interesting reminiscences, but you see that every one is going. Lucille is already in the cloak-room."
Lady Carey rose at once, but the glance she threw at the Prince was a singularly malicious one. They walked down the carpeted way together, and Lady Carey left them without a word. In the vestibule Mr. Sabin and Reginald Brott came face to face.
The greeting between the two men was cold, and the Prince almost immediately stepped between them. Nevertheless, Brott seemed to have a fancy to talk with Mr. Sabin.
"I was at Camperdown House yesterday," he remarked. "Her Ladyship was regretting that she saw you so seldom."
"I have been a little remiss," Mr. Sabin answered. "I hope to lunch there to-morrow."
"You have seen the evening paper, Brott?" the Prince asked.
"I saw the early editions," Brott answered. "Is there anything fresh?"
The Prince dropped his voice a little. He drew Brott on one side.
"The Westminster declared that you had left for Windsor by an early train this afternoon, and gives a list of your Cabinet. The Pall Mall, on the other hand, declares that Letheringham will assuredly be sent for to-morrow."
Brott shrugged his shoulders.
"There are bound to be a crop of such reports at a time like this," he remarked.
The Prince dropped his voice almost to a whisper.
"Brott," he said, "there is something which I have had it in my mind to say to you for the last few days. I am not perhaps a great politician, but, like many outsiders, I see perhaps a good deal of the game. I know fairly well what the feeling is in Vienna and Berlin. I can give you a word of advice."
"You are very kind, Prince," Brott remarked, looking uneasily over his shoulder. "But—"
"It is concerning Brand. There is no man more despised and disliked abroad, not only because he is a Jew and ill-bred, but because of his known sympathy with some of these anarchists who are perfect firebrands in Europe."
"I am exceedingly obliged to you," Brott answered hurriedly. "I am afraid, however, that you anticipate matters a good deal. I have not yet been asked to form a Cabinet. It is doubtful whether I ever shall. And, beyond that, it is also doubtful whether even if I am asked I shall accept."
"I must confess," the Prince said, "that you puzzle me. Every one says that the Premiership of the country is within your reach. It is surely the Mecca of all politicians."
"There are complications," Brott muttered. "You—"
He stopped short and moved towards the door. Lucille, unusually pale and grave, had just issued from the ladies' ante-room, and joined Lady Carey, who was talking to Mr. Sabin. She touched the latter lightly on the arm.
"Help us to escape," she said quickly. "I am weary of my task. Can we get away without their seeing us?"
Mr. Sabin offered his arm. They passed along the broad way, and as they were almost the last to leave the place, their carriage was easily found. The Prince and Mr. Brott appeared only in time to see Mr. Sabin turning away, hat in hand, from the curb-stone. Brott's face darkened.
"Prince," he said, "who is that man?"
The Prince shrugged his shoulders.
"A man," he said, "who has more than once nearly ruined your country. His life has been a splendid failure. He would have given India to the Russians, but they mistrusted him and trifled away their chance. Once since then he nearly sold this country to Germany; it was a trifle only which intervened. He has been all his life devoted to one cause."
"And that?" Brott asked.
"The restoration of the monarchy to France. He, as you of course know, is the Duc de Souspennier, the sole living member in the direct line of one of the most ancient and historical houses in England. My friend," he added, turning to Mr. Sabin, "you have stolen a march upon us. We had not even an opportunity of making our adieux to the ladies."
"I imagine," Mr. Sabin answered, "that the cause of quarrel may rest with them. You were nowhere in sight when they came out."
"These fascinating politics," the Prince remarked. "We all want to talk politics to Mr. Brott just now."
"I will wish you good-night, gentlemen," Mr. Sabin said, and passed into the hotel.
The Prince touched Brott on the arm.
"Will you come round to the club, and take a hand at bridge?" he said.
Brott laughed shortly.
"I imagine," he said, "that I should be an embarrassing guest to you just now at, say the Mallborough, or even at the St. James. I believe the aristocracy are looking forward to the possibility of my coming into power with something like terror."
"I am not thoroughly versed; in the politics of this country," the Prince said, "but I have always understood that your views were very much advanced. Dorset solemnly believes that you are pledged to exterminate the large landed proprietors, and I do not think he would be surprised to hear that you had a guillotine up your sleeve."
The two men were strolling along Pall Mall. The Prince had lit a large cigar, and was apparently on the best of terms with himself and the world in general. Brott, on the contrary, was most unlike himself, preoccupied, and apparently ill at ease.
"The Duke and his class are, of course, my natural opponents," Brott said shortly. "By the bye, Prince," he added, suddenly turning towards him, and with a complete change of tone, "it is within your power to do me a favour."
"You have only to command," the Prince assured him good-naturedly.
"My rooms are close here," Brott continued. "Will you accompany me there, and grant me the favour of a few minutes' conversation?"
"Assuredly!" the Prince answered, flicking the end off his cigar. "It will be a pleasure."
They walked on towards their destination in silence. Brott's secretary was in the library with a huge pile of letters and telegrams before him. He welcomed Brott with relief.
"We have been sending all over London for you, sir," he said.
"I am better out of the way for the present," he answered. "Deny me to everybody for an hour, especially Letheringham. There is nothing here, I suppose, which cannot wait so long as that?"
The secretary looked a little doubtful.
"I think not, sir," he decided.
"Very good. Go and get something to eat. You look fagged. And tell Hyson to bring up some liqueurs, will you! I shall be engaged for a short time."
The secretary withdrew. A servant appeared with a little tray of liqueurs, and in obedience to an impatient gesture from his master, left them upon the table. Brott closed the door firmly.
"Prince," he said, resuming his seat, "I wished to speak with you concerning the Countess."
Saxe Leinitzer nodded.
"All right," he said. "I am listening!"
"I understand," Brott continued, "that you are one of her oldest friends, and also one of the trustees of her estates. I presume that you stand to her therefore to some extent in the position of an adviser?"
"It is perfectly true," the Prince admitted.
"I, too, am an old friend, as she has doubtless told you," Brott said. "All my life she has been the one woman whom I have desired to call my wife. That desire has never been so strong as at the present moment."
The Prince removed his cigar from his mouth and looked grave.
"But, my dear Brott," he said, "have you considered the enormous gulf between your—views? The Countess owns great hereditary estates, she comes from a family which is almost Royal, she herself is an aristocrat to the backbone. It is a class against which you have declared war. How can you possibly come together on common ground?"
Brott was silent for a moment. Looking at him steadily the Prince was surprised at the change in the man's appearance. His cheeks seemed blanched and his skin drawn. He had lost flesh, his eyes were hollow, and he frequently betrayed in small mannerisms a nervousness wholly new and unfamiliar to him.
"You speak as a man of sense, Prince," he said after a while. "You are absolutely correct. This matter has caused me a great deal of anxious thought. To falter at this moment is to lose, politically, all that I have worked for all my life. It is to lose the confidence of the people who have trusted me. It is a betrayal, the thought of which is a constant shame to me. But, on the other hand, Lucille is the dearest thing to me in life."
The Prince's expression was wholly sympathetic. The derision which lurked behind he kept wholly concealed. A strong man so abjectly in the toils, and he to be chosen for his confidant! It was melodrama with a dash of humour.
"If I am to help you," the Prince said, "I must know everything. Have you made any proposals to Lucille? In plain words, how much of your political future are you disposed to sacrifice?"
"All!" Brott said hoarsely. "All for a certainty of her. Not one jot without."
Brott sprang to his feet, white and nervous.
"It is where I am at fault," he exclaimed. "It is why I have asked for your advice, your help perhaps. I do not find it easy to understand Lucille. Perhaps it is because I am not well versed in the ways of her sex. I find her elusive. She will give me no promise. Before I went to Glasgow I talked with her. If she would have married me then my political career was over—thrown on one side like an old garment. But she would give me no promise. In everything save the spoken words I crave she has promised me her love. Again there comes a climax. In a few hours I must make my final choice. I must decline to join Letheringham, in which case the King must send for me, or accept office with him, and throw away the one great chance of this generation. Letheringham's Cabinet, of course, would be a moderate Liberal one, a paragon of milk and water in effectiveness. If I go in alone we make history. The moment of issue has come. And, Prince, although I have pleaded with all the force and all the earnestness I know, Lucille remains elusive. If I choose for her side—she promises me—reward. But it is vague to me. I don't, I can't understand! I want her for my wife, I want her for the rest of my life—nothing else. Tell me, is there any barrier to this? There are no complications in her life which I do not know of? I want your assurance. I want her promise. You understand me?"
"Yes, I understand you," the Prince said gravely. "I understand more than you do. I understand Lucille's position."
Brott leaned forward with bright eyes.
"Lucille, the Countess of Radantz, is at the present moment a married woman."
Brott was speechless. His face was like a carved stone image, from which the life had wholly gone.
"Her husband—in name only, let me tell you, is the Mr. Sabin with whom we had supper this evening."
"Their marriage had strange features in it which are not my concern, or even yours," the Prince said deliberately. "The truth is, that they have not lived together for years, they never will again, for their divorce proceedings would long ago have been concluded but for the complications arising from the difference between the Hungarian and the American laws. Here, without doubt, is the reason why the Countess has hesitated to pledge her word directly."
"It is wonderful," Brott said slowly. "But it explains everything."
There was a loud knock at the door. The secretary appeared upon the threshold. Behind him was a tall, slim young man in traveling costume.
"The King's messenger!" Brott exclaimed, rising to his feet.
The Prince presented himself with a low bow. Lucille had a copy of the morning paper in her hand.
"I congratulate you, Countess," he said. "You progress admirably. It is a great step gained."
Lucille, who was looking pale and nervous, regarded him with anxiety.
"A step! But it is everything. If these rumours are true, he refuses the attempt to form a Cabinet. He takes a subordinate position under Letheringham. Every paper this morning says that if this is so his political career is over. It is true, is it not?"
"It is a great gain," the Prince said slowly.
"But it is everything," Lucille declared, with a rising note of passion in her tone. "It was my task. It is accomplished. I demand my release."
The Prince was silent for a moment.
"You are in a great hurry, Lucille," he said.
"What if I am!" she replied fiercely. "Do you suppose that this life of lies and deceit is pleasant to me? Do you suppose that it is a pleasant task to lure a brave man on to his ruin?"
The Prince raised his eyebrows.
"Come," he said, "you can have no sympathy with Reginald Brott, the sworn enemy of our class, a Socialist, a demagogue who would parcel out our lands in allotments, a man who has pledged himself to nothing more nor less than a revolution."
"The man's views are hateful enough," she answered, "but he is in earnest, and however misguided he may be there is something noble in his unselfishness, in his, steady fixedness of purpose."
The Prince's face indicated his contempt.
"Such men," he declared, "are only fit to be crushed like vermin under foot. In any other country save England we should have dealt with him differently."
"This is all beside the question," she declared. "My task was to prevent his becoming Prime Minister, and I have succeeded."
The Prince gave vent to a little gesture of dissent. "Your task," he said, "went a little farther than that. We require his political ruin."
She pointed to the pile of newspapers upon the table.
"Read what they say!" she exclaimed. "There is not one who does not use that precise term. He has missed his opportunity. The people will never trust him again."
"That, at any rate, is not certain," the Prince said. "You must remember that before long he will realise that he has been your tool. What then? He will become more rabid than ever, more also to be feared. No, Lucille, your task is not yet over. He must be involved in an open and public scandal, and with you."
She was white almost to the lips with passion.
"You expect a great deal!" she exclaimed. "You expect me to ruin my life, then, to give my honour as well as these weary months, this constant humiliation."
"You are pleased to be melodramatic," he said coldly. "It is quite possible to involve him without actually going to extremes."
"And what of my husband?" she asked.
The Prince laughed unpleasantly.
"If you have not taught him complaisance," he said, "it is possible, of course, that Mr. Sabin might be unkind. But what of it? You are your own mistress. You are a woman of the world. Without him there is an infinitely greater future before you than as his wife you could ever enjoy."
"You are pleased," she said, "to be enigmatic."
The Prince looked hard at her. Her face was white and set. He sighed.
"Lucille," he said, "I have been very patient for many years. Yet you know very well my secret, and in your heart you know very well that I am one of those who generally win the thing upon which they have set their hearts. I have always loved you, Lucille, but never more than now. Fidelity is admirable, but surely you have done your duty. He is an old man, and a man who has failed in the great things of life. I, on the other hand, can offer you a great future. Saxe Leinitzer, as you know, is a kingdom of its own, and, Lucille, I stand well with the Emperor. The Socialist party in Berlin are strong and increasing. He needs us. Who can say what honours may not be in store for us? For I, too, am of the Royal House, Lucille. I am his kinsman. He never forgets that. Come, throw aside this restlessness. I will tell you how to deal with Brott, and the publicity, after all, will be nothing. We will go abroad directly afterwards."
"Have you finished?" she asked.
"You will be reasonable!" he begged.
"Reasonable!" She turned upon him with flashing eyes. "I wonder how you ever dared to imagine that I could tolerate you for one moment as a lover or a husband. Wipe it out of your mind once and for all. You are repellent to me. Positively the only wish I have in connection with you is never to see your face again. As for my duty, I have done it. My conscience is clear. I shall leave this house to-day."
"I hope," the Prince said softly, "that you will do nothing rash!"
"In an hour," she said, "I shall be at the Carlton with my husband. I will trust to him to protect me from you."
The Prince shook his head.
"You talk rashly," he said. "You do not think. You are forbidden to leave this house. You are forbidden to join your husband."
She laughed scornfully, but underneath was a tremor of uneasiness.
"You summoned me from America," she said, "and I came... I was forced to leave my husband without even a word of farewell. I did it! You set me a task—I have accomplished it. I claim that I have kept my bond, that I have worked out my own freedom. If you require more of me, I say that you are overstepping your authority, and I refuse. Set the black cross against my name if you will. I will take the risk."
The Prince came a little nearer to her. She held her own bravely enough, but there was a look in his face which terrified her.
"Lucille," he said, "you force me to disclose something which I have kept so far to myself. I wished to spare you anxiety, but you must understand that your safety depends upon your remaining in this house, and in keeping apart from all association with—your husband."
"You will find it difficult," she said, "to convince me of that."
"On the contrary," he said, "I shall find it easy—too easy, believe me. You will remember my finding you at the wine-shop of Emil Sachs?"
"You refused to tell me the object of your visit. It was foolish, for of course I was informed. You procured from Emil a small quantity of the powder prepared according to the recipe of Herr Estentrauzen, and for which we paid him ten thousand marks. It is the most silent, the most secret, the most swift poison yet discovered."
"I got it for myself," she said coldly. "There have been times when I have felt that the possession of something of that sort was an absolute necessity."
"I do not question you as to the reason for your getting it," he answered. "Very shortly afterwards you left your carriage in Pall Mall, and without even asking for your husband you called at his hotel—you stole up into his room."
"I took some roses there and left them," she said "What of that?"
"Only that you were the last person seen to enter Mr. Sabin's rooms before Duson was found there dead. And Duson died from a dose of that same poison, a packet of which you procured secretly from Emil Sachs. An empty wineglass was by his side—it was one generally used by Mr. Sabin. I know that the English police, who are not so foolish as people would have one believe, are searching now for the woman who was seen to enter the sitting-room shortly before Mr. Sabin returned and found Duson there dead."
She laughed scornfully.
"It is ingenious," she admitted, "and perhaps a little unfortunate for me. But the inference is ridiculous. What interest had I in the man's death?"
"None, of course!" the Prince said. "But, Lucille, in all cases of poisoning it is the wife of whom one first thinks!"
"The wife? I did not even know that the creature had a wife."
"Of course not! But Duson drank from Mr. Sabin's glass, and you are Mr. Sabin's wife. You are living apart from him. He is old and you are young. And for the other man—there is Reginald Brott. Your names have been coupled together, of course. See what an excellent case stands there. You procure the poison—secretly. You make your way to your husband's room—secretly. The fatal dose is taken from your husband's wineglass. You leave no note, no message. The poison of which the man died is exactly the same as you procured from Sachs. Lucille, after all, do you wonder that the police are looking for a woman in black with an ermine toque? What a mercy you wore a thick veil!"
She sat down suddenly.
"This is hideous," she said.
"Think it over," he said, "step by step. It is wonderful how all the incidents dovetail into one another."
"Too wonderful," she cried. "It sounds like some vile plot to incriminate me. How much had you to do with this, Prince?"
"Don't be a fool!" he answered roughly. "Can't you see for yourself that your arrest would be the most terrible thing that could happen for us? Even Sachs might break down in cross-examination, and you—well, you are a woman, and you want to live. We should all be in the most deadly peril. Lucille, I would have spared you this anxiety if I could, but your defiance made it necessary. There was no other way of getting you away from England to-night except by telling you the truth."
"Away from England to-night," she repeated vaguely. "But I will not go. It is impossible."
"It is imperative," the Prince declared, with a sharp ring of authority in his tone. "It is your own folly, for which you have to pay. You went secretly to Emil Sachs. You paid surreptitious visits to your husband, which were simply madness. You have involved us all in danger. For our own sakes we must see that you are removed."
"It is the very thing to excite suspicion—flight abroad," she objected.
"Your flight," he said coolly, "will be looked upon from a different point of view, for Reginald Brott must follow you. It will be an elopement, not a flight from justice."
"And in case I should decline?" Lucille asked quietly.
The Prince shrugged his shoulders.
"Well, we have done the best we can for ourselves," he said. "Come, I will be frank with you. There are great interests involved here, and, before all things, I have had to consider the welfare of our friends. That is my duty! Emil Sachs by this time is beyond risk of detection. He has left behind a letter, in which he confesses that he has for some time supplemented the profits of his wine-shop by selling secretly certain deadly poisons of his own concoctions. Alarmed at reading of the death of Duson immediately after he had sold a poison which the symptoms denoted he had fled the country. That letter is in the hands of the woman who remains in the wine-shop, and will only be used in case of necessity. By other means we have dissociated ourselves from Duson and all connection with him. I think I could go so far as to say that it would be impossible to implicate us. Our sole anxiety now, therefore, is to save you."
Lucille rose to her feet.
"I shall go at once to my husband," she said. "I shall tell him everything. I shall act on his advice."
The Prince stood over by the door, and she heard the key turn.
"You will do nothing of the sort," he said quietly. "You are in my power at last, Lucille. You will do my bidding, or—"
"I shall myself send for the police and give you into custody!"
The Prince crossed the hall and entered the morning-room. Felix was there and Raoul de Brouillac. The Duchess sat at her writing-table, scribbling a note. Lady Carey, in a wonderful white serge costume, and a huge bunch of Neapolitan violets at her bosom, was lounging in an easy-chair, swinging her foot backwards and forwards. The Duke, in a very old tweed coat, but immaculate as to linen and the details of his toilet, stood a little apart, with a frown upon his forehead, and exactly that absorbed air which in the House of Lords usually indicated his intention to make a speech. The entrance of the Prince, who carefully closed the door behind him, was an event for which evidently they were all waiting.
"My good people," he said blandly, "I wish you all a very good-morning."
There was a little murmur of greetings, and before they had all subsided the Duke spoke.
"Saxe Leinitzer," he said, "I have a few questions to ask you."
The Prince looked across the room at him.
"By all means, Duke," he said. "But is the present an opportune time?"
"Opportune or no, it is the time which I have selected," the Duke answered stiffly. "I do not altogether understand what is going on in this house. I am beginning to wonder whether I have been misled."
The Prince, as he twirled his fair moustache, glanced carelessly enough across at the Duchess. She was looking the other way.
"I became a—er—general member of this Society," the Duke continued, "sympathising heartily with its objects as explained to me by you, Prince, and believing, although to confess it is somewhat of a humiliation, that a certain amount of—er—combination amongst the aristocracy has become necessary to resist the terrible increase of Socialism which we must all so much deplore."
"You are not making a speech, dear," the Duchess remarked, looking coldly across the room at him. "We are all anxious to hear what the Prince has to say to us."
"Your anxiety," the Duke continued, "and the anxiety of our friends must be restrained for a few minutes, for there are certain things which I am determined to say, and to say them now. I must confess that it was at first a painful shock to me to realise that the time had come when it was necessary for us to take any heed of the uneducated rabble who seem born into the world discontented with their station in life, and instead of making honest attempts to improve it waste their time railing against us who are more fortunately placed, and in endeavours to mislead in every possible way the electorate of the country."
The Prince sighed softly, and lit a cigarette. Lady Carey and Felix were already smoking.
"However," the Duke continued, "I was convinced. I have always believed in the principle of watching closely the various signs of the times, and I may say that I came to the conclusion that a combination of the thinking members of the aristocratic party throughout the world was an excellent idea. I therefore became what is, I believe, called a general member of the Order, of which I believe you, Prince, are the actual head."
"My dear James," the Duchess murmured, "the Prince has something to say to us."
"The Prince," her husband answered coldly, "can keep back his information for a few minutes. I am determined to place my position clearly before all of you who are present here now. It is only since I have joined this Society that I have been made aware that in addition to the general members, of which body I believe that the Duchess and I are the sole representatives here, there are special members, and members of the inner circle. And I understand that in connection with these there is a great machinery of intrigue going on all the time, with branches all over the world, spies everywhere with unlimited funds, and with huge opportunities of good or evil. In effect I have become an outside member of what is nothing more nor less than a very powerful and, it seems to me, daring secret society."
"So far as you are concerned, Duke," the Prince said, "your responsibility ceases with ordinary membership. You can take no count of anything beyond. The time may come when the inner circle may be opened to you."
The Duke coughed.
"You misapprehend me," he said. "I can assure you I am not anxious for promotion. On the contrary, I stand before you an aggrieved person. I have come to the conclusion that my house, and the shelter of my wife's name, have been used for a plot, the main points of which have been kept wholly secret from me."
The Prince flicked his cigarette ash into the grate.
"My dear Dorset," he said gently, "if you will allow me to explain—"
"I thank you, Saxe Leinitzer," the Duke said coldly, "but it is beginning to occur to me that I have had enough of your explanations. It seemed natural enough to me, and I must say well conceived, that some attempt should be made to modify the views of, if not wholly convert, Reginald Brott by means of the influence of a very charming woman. It was my duty as a member of the Order to assist in this, and the shelter of my house and name were freely accorded to the Countess. But it is news to me to find that she was brought here practically by force. That because she was an inner member and therefore bound to implicit obedience that she was dragged away from her husband, kept apart from him against her will, forced into endeavours to make a fool of Brott even at the cost of her good name. And now, worst of all, I am told that a very deeply laid plot on the part of some of you will compel her to leave England almost at once, and that her safety depends upon her inducing Reginald Brott to accompany her."
"She has appealed to you," the Prince muttered.
"She has done nothing so sensible," the Duke answered drily. "The facts which I have just stated are known to every one in this room. I perhaps know less than any one. But I know enough for this. I request, Saxe Leinitzer, that you withdraw the name of myself and my wife from your list of members, and that you understand clearly that my house is to be no more used for meetings of the Society, formal or informal. And, further, though I regret the apparent inhospitality of my action, my finger is now, as you see, upon the bell, and I venture to wish you all a very good-morning. Groves," he added to the servant who answered the door, "the Prince of Saxe Leinitzer's carriage is urgently required."
The Prince and Lady Carey descended the broad steps side by side. She was laughing softly but immoderately. The Prince was pale with fury.
"Pompous old ass," he muttered savagely. "He may have a worse scandal in his house now than he dreams of."
She wiped her eyes.
"Have I not always told you," she said, "that intrigue in this country was a sheer impossibility? You may lay your plans ever so carefully, but you cannot foresee such a contretemps as this."
"Idiot!" the Prince cried. "Oh, the dolt! Why, even his wife was amazed."
"He may be all those pleasant things," Lady Carey, said, "but he is a gentleman."
He stopped short. The footman was standing by the side of Lady Carey's victoria with a rug on his arm.
"Lucille," he said thoughtfully, "is locked in the morning-room. She is prostrate with fear. If the Duke sees her everything is over. Upon my word, I have a good mind to throw this all up and cross to Paris to-night. Let England breed her own revolutions. What do you say, Muriel? Will you come with me?"
She laughed scornfully.
"I'd as soon go with my coachman," she said.
His eyebrows narrowed. A dull, purple flush crept to his forehead.
"Your wit," he said, "is a little coarse. Listen! You wish our first plan to go through?"
"Then you must get Lucille out of that house. If she is left there she is absolutely lost to us. Apart from that, she is herself not safe. Our plan worked out too well. She is really in danger from this Duson affair."
The laughter died away from Lady Carey's face. She hesitated with her foot upon the step of her carriage.
"You can go back easily enough," the Prince said. "You are the Duke's cousin, and you were not included in his tirade. Lucille is in the morning-room, and here is the key. I brought it away with me. You must tell her that all our plans are broken, that we have certain knowledge that the police are on the track of this Duson affair. Get her to your house in Pont Street, and I will be round this afternoon. Or better still, take her to mine."
Lady Carey stepped back on to the pavement. She was still, however, hesitating.
"Leave her with the Duke and Duchess," the Prince said, "and she will dine with her husband to-night."
Lady Carey took the key from his hand.
"I will try," she said. "How shall you know whether I succeed?"
"I will wait in the gardens," he answered. "I shall be out of sight, but I shall be able to see you come out. If you are alone I shall come to you. If she is with you I shall be at your house in an hour, and I promise you that she shall leave England to-night with me."
"Poor Brott!" she murmured ironically.
The Prince smiled.
"He will follow her. Every one will believe that they left London together. That is all that is required."
Lady Carey re-entered the house. The Prince made his way into the gardens. Ten minutes passed—a quarter of an hour. Then Lady Carey with Lucille reappeared, and stepping quickly into the victoria were driven away. The Prince drew a little sigh of relief. He looked at his watch, called a hansom, and drove to his club for lunch.
Another man, who had also been watching Dorset House from the gardens for several hours, also noted Lucille's advent with relief. He followed the Prince out and entered another hansom.
"Follow that victoria which has just driven off," he ordered. "Don't lose sight of it. Double fare."
The trap-door fell, and the man whipped up his horse.
Mr. Sabin received an early visitor whilst still lingering over a slight but elegant breakfast. Passmore seated himself in an easy-chair and accepted the cigar which his host himself selected for him.
"I am glad to see you," Mr. Sabin said. "This affair of Duson's remains a complete mystery to me. I am looking to you to help me solve it."
The little man with the imperturbable face removed his cigar from his mouth and contemplated it steadfastly.
"It is mysterious," he said. "There are circumstances in connection with it which even now puzzle me very much, very much indeed. There are circumstances in connection with it also which I fear may be a shock to you, sir."
"My life," Mr. Sabin said, with a faint smile, "has been made up of shocks. A few more or less may not hurt me."
"Duson," the detective said, "was at heart a faithful servant!"
"I believe it," Mr. Sabin said.
"He was much attached to you!"
"I believe it."
"It is possible that unwittingly he died for you."
Mr. Sabin was silent. It was his way of avoiding a confession of surprise. And he was surprised. "You believe then," he said, after a moment's pause, "that the poison was intended for me?"
"Certainly I do," the detective answered. "Duson was, after all, a valet, a person of little importance. There is no one to whom his removal could have been of sufficient importance to justify such extreme measures. With you it is different."
Mr. Sabin knocked the ash from his cigarette.
"Why not be frank with me, Mr. Passmore?" he said. "There is no need to shelter yourself under professional reticence. Your connection with Scotland Yard ended, I believe, some time ago. You are free to speak or to keep silence. Do one or the other. Tell me what you think, and I will tell you what I know. That surely will be a fair exchange. You shall have my facts for your surmises."
Passmore's thin lips curled into a smile. "You know that I have left Scotland Yard then, sir?"
"Quite well! You are employed by them often, I believe, but you are not on the staff, not since the affair of Nerman and the code book."
If Passmore had been capable of reverence, his eyes looked it at that moment.
"You knew this last night, sir?"
"Five years ago, sir," he said, "I told my chief that in you the detective police of the world had lost one who must have been their king. More and more you convince me of it. I cannot believe that you are ignorant of the salient points concerning Duson's death."
"Treat me as being so, at any rate," Mr. Sabin said.
"I am pardoned," Passmore said, "for speaking plainly of family matters—my concern in which is of course purely professional?"
Mr. Sabin looked up for a moment, but he signified his assent.
"You left America," Passmore said, "in search of your wife, formerly Countess of Radantz, who had left you unexpectedly."
"It is true!" Mr. Sabin answered.
"Madame la Duchesse on reaching London became the guest of the Duchess of Dorset, where she has been staying since. Whilst there she has received many visits from Mr. Reginald Brott."
Mr. Sabin's face was as the face of a sphinx. He made no sign.
"You do not waste your time, sir, over the Society papers. Yet you have probably heard that Madame la Duchesse and Mr. Reginald Brott have been written about and spoken about as intimate friends. They have been seen together everywhere. Gossip has been busy with their names. Mr. Brott has followed the Countess into circles which before her coming he zealously eschewed. The Countess is everywhere regarded as a widow, and a marriage has been confidently spoken of."
Mr. Sabin bowed his head slightly. But of expression there was in his face no sign.
"These things," Passmore continued, "are common knowledge. I have spoken up to now of nothing which is not known to the world. I proceed differently."
"Good!" Mr. Sabin said.
"There is," Passmore continued, "in the foreign district of London a man named Emil Sachs, who keeps a curious sort of a wine-shop, and supplements his earnings by disposing at a high figure of certain rare and deadly poisons. A few days ago the Countess visited him and secured a small packet of the most deadly drug the man possesses."
Mr. Sabin sat quite still. He was unmoved.
"The Countess," Passmore continued, "shortly afterwards visited these rooms. An hour after her departure Duson was dead. He died from drinking out of your liqueur glass, into which a few specks of that powder, invisible almost to the naked eye, had been dropped. At Dorset House Reginald Brott was waiting for her. He left shortly afterwards in a state of agitation."
"And from these things," Mr. Sabin said, "you draw, I presume, the natural inference that Madame la Duchesse, desiring to marry her old admirer, Reginald Brott, first left me in America, and then, since I followed her here, attempted to poison me."
"There is," Passmore said, "a good deal of evidence to that effect."
"Here," Mr. Sabin said, handing him Duson's letter, "is some evidence to the contrary."
Passmore read the letter carefully.
"You believe this," he asked, "to be genuine?"
Mr. Sabin smiled.
"I am sure of it!" he answered.
"You recognise the handwriting?"
"And this came into your possession—how?"
"I found it on the table by Duson's side."
"You intend to produce it at the inquest?"
"I think not," Mr. Sabin answered.
There was a short silence. Passmore was revolving a certain matter in his mind—thinking hard. Mr. Sabin was apparently trying to make rings of the blue smoke from his cigarette.
"Has it occurred to you," Passmore asked, "to wonder for what reason your wife visited these rooms on the morning of Duson's death?"
Mr. Sabin shook his head.
"I cannot say that it has."
"She knew that you were not here," Passmore continued. "She left no message. She came closely veiled and departed unrecognised." Mr. Sabin nodded.
"There were reasons," he said, "for that. But when you say that she left no message you are mistaken."
"Go on," he said.
Mr. Sabin nodded towards a great vase of La France roses upon a side table.
"I found these here on my return," he said, "and attached to them the card which I believe is still there. Go and look at it."
Passmore rose and bent over the fragrant blossoms. The card still remained, and on the back of it, in a delicate feminine handwriting:
"For my husband, "with love from "Lucille."
Mr. Passmore shrugged his shoulders. He had not the vice of obstinacy, and he knew when to abandon a theory.
"I am corrected," he said. "In any case, a mystery remains as well worth solving. Who are these people at whose instigation Duson was to have murdered you—these people whom Duson feared so much that suicide was his only alternative to obeying their behests?"
Mr. Sabin smiled faintly.
"Ah, my dear Passmore," he said, "you must not ask me that question. I can only answer you in this way. If you wish to make the biggest sensation which has ever been created in the criminal world, to render yourself immortal, and your fame imperishable—find out! I may not help you, I doubt whether you will find any to help you. But if you want excitement, the excitement of a dangerous chase after a tremendous quarry, take your life in your hands, go in and win."
Passmore's withered little face lit up with a gleam of rare excitement.
"These are your enemies, sir," he said. "They have attempted your life once, they may do it again. Assume the offensive yourself. Give me a hint."
Mr. Sabin shook his head.
"That I cannot do," he said. "I have saved you from wasting your time on a false scent. I have given you something definite to work upon. Further than that I can do nothing."
Passmore looked his disappointment, but he knew Mr. Sabin better than to argue the matter.
"You will not even produce that letter at the inquest?" he asked.
"Not even that," Mr. Sabin answered.
Passmore rose to his feet.
"You must remember," he said, "that supposing any one else stumbles upon the same trail as I have been pursuing, and suspicion is afterwards directed towards madame, your not producing that letter at the inquest will make it useless as evidence in her favour."
"I have considered all these things," Mr. Sabin said. "I shall deposit the letter in a safe place. But its use will never be necessary. You are the only man who might have forced me to produce it, and you know the truth."
Passmore rose reluctantly.
"I want you," Mr. Sabin said, "to leave me not only your address, but the means of finding you at any moment during the next four-and-twenty hours. I may have some important work for you."
The man smiled as he tore leaf from his pocketbook and a made a few notes.
"I shall be glad to take any commission from you, sir," he said. "To tell you the truth, I scarcely thought that you would be content to sit down and wait."
Mr. Sabin smiled.
"I think," he said, "that very shortly I can find you plenty to do."
Mr. Sabin a few minutes afterwards ordered his carriage, and was driven to Dorset House. He asked for Lucille, but was shown at once into the library, where the Duke was awaiting him. Then Mr. Sabin knew that something had happened.
The Duke extended his hand solemnly.
"My dear Souspennier," he said, "I am glad to see you. I was in fact on the point of despatching a messenger to your hotel."
"I am glad," Mr. Sabin remarked, "that my visit is opportune. To tell you the truth, Duke, I am anxious to see my wife."
The Duke coughed.
"I trust," he said, "that you will not for a moment consider me guilty of any discourtesy to the Countess, for whom I have a great respect and liking. But it has come to my knowledge that the shelter of my roof and name were being given to proceedings of which I heartily disapproved. I therefore only a few hours ago formally broke off all connection with Saxe Leinitzer and his friends, and to put the matter plainly, I expelled them from the house."
"I congratulate you heartily, Duke, upon a most sensible proceeding," Mr. Sabin said. "But in the meantime where is my wife?"
"Your wife was not present at the time," the Duke answered, "and I had not the slightest intention of including her in the remarks I made. Whether she understood this or not I cannot say, but I have since been given to understand that she left with them."
"How long ago?" Mr. Sabin asked.
"Several hours, I fear," the Duke answered. "I should like, Souspennier, to express to you my regrets that I was ever induced to become connected in any way with proceedings which must have caused you a great deal of pain. I beg you to accept my apologies."
"I do not blame you, Duke," Mr. Sabin said. "My one desire now is to wrest my wife away from this gang. Can you tell me whether she left alone or with any of them?"
"I will endeavour to ascertain," the Duke said, ringing the bell.
But before the Duke's somewhat long-winded series of questions had gone very far Mr. Sabin grasped the fact that the servants had been tampered with. Without wasting any more time he took a somewhat hurried leave and drove back to the hotel. One of the hall porters approached him, smiling.
"There is a lady waiting for you in your rooms, sir," he announced. "She arrived a few minutes ago."
Mr. Sabin rang for the elevator, got out at his floor and walked down the corridor, leaning a little more heavily than usual upon his stick. If indeed it were Lucille who had braved all and come to him the way before them might still be smooth sailing. He would never let her go again. He was sure of that. They would leave England—yes, there was time still to catch the five o'clock train. He turned the handle of his door and entered. A familiar figure rose from the depths of his easy-chair. Her hat lay on the table, her jacket was open, one of his cigarettes was between her lips. But it was not Lucille.
"Lady Carey!" he said slowly. "This is an unexpected pleasure. Have you brought Lucille with you?"
"I am afraid," she answered, "that I have no ropes strong enough."
"You insinuate," he remarked, "that Lucille would be unwilling to come."
"There is no longer any need," she declared, with a hard little laugh, "for insinuations. We have all been turned out from Dorset House neck and crop. Lucille has accepted the inevitable. She has gone to Reginald's Brott's rooms."
Mr. Sabin smiled.
"Indeed. I have just come from Dorset House myself. The Duke has supplied me with a highly entertaining account of his sudden awakening. The situation must have been humorous."
Her eyes twinkled.
"It was really screamingly funny. The Duke had on his house of Lords manner, and we all sat round like a lot of naughty children. If only you had been there."
Mr. Sabin smiled. Suddenly she laid her hand upon his arm.
"Victor," she said, "I have come to prove that I am your friend. You do not believe that Lucille is with Reginald Brott. It is true! Not only that, but she is leaving England with him to-night. The man's devotion is irresistible—he has been gaining on her slowly but surely all the time."
"I have noticed," Mr. Sabin remarked calmly, "that he has been wonderfully assiduous. I am sure I congratulate him upon his success, if he has succeeded."
"You doubt my word of course," she said. "But I have not come here to tell you things. I have come to prove them. I presume that what you see with your own eyes will be sufficient."
Mr. Sabin shook his head.
"Certainly not," he answered. "I make it a rule to believe nothing that I see, and never to trust my ears."
She stamped her foot lightly upon the floor.
"How impossible you are," she exclaimed. "I can tell you by what train Lucille and Reginald Brott will leave London to-night. I can tell you why Lucille is bound to go."
"Now," Mr. Sabin said, "you are beginning to get interesting."
"Lucille must go—or run the risk of arrest for complicity in the murder of Duson."
"Are you serious?" Mr. Sabin asked, with admirably assumed gravity.
"Is it a jesting matter?" she answered fiercely. "Lucille bought poison, the same poison which it will be proved that Duson died of. She came here, she was the last person to enter your room before Duson was found dead. The police are even now searching for her. Escape is her only chance."
"Dear me," Mr. Sabin said. "Then it is not only for Brott's sake that she is running away."
"What does that matter? She is going, and she is going with him."
"And why," he asked, "do you come to give me warning? I have plenty of time to interpose."
"You can try if you will. Lucille is in hiding. She will not see you if you go to her. She is determined. Indeed, she has no choice. Lucille is a brave woman in many ways, but you know that she fears death. She is in a corner. She is forced to go."
"Again," he said, "I feel that I must ask you why do you give me warning?"
She came and stood close to him.
"Perhaps," she said earnestly, "I am anxious to earn your gratitude. Perhaps, too, I know that no interposition of yours would be of any avail."
Mr. Sabin smiled.
"Still," he said, "I do not think that it is wise of you. I might appear at the station and forcibly prevent Lucille's departure. After all, she is my wife, you know."
She shrugged her shoulders.
"I am not afraid," she said. "You will make inquiries when I have gone, and you will find out that I have spoken the truth. If you keep Lucille in England you will expose her to a terrible risk. It is not like you to be selfish. You will yield to necessity."
"Will you tell me where Lucille is now?" he asked.
"For your own sake and hers, no," she answered. "You also are watched. Besides, it is too late. She was with Brott half an hour after the Duke turned us out of Dorset House. Don't you understand, Victor—won't you? It is too late."
He sat down heavily in his easy-chair. His whole appearance was one of absolute dejection.
"So I am to be left alone in my old age," he murmured. "You have your revenge now at last. You have come to take it."
She sank on her knees by the side of his chair, and her arms fell upon his shoulders.
"How can you think so cruelly of me, Victor," she murmured. "You were always a little mistaken in Lucille. She loved you, it is true, but all her life she has been fond of change and excitement. She came to Europe willingly—long before this Brott would have been her slave save for your reappearance. Can't you forget her—for a little while?"
Mr. Sabin sat quite still. Her hair brushed his cheeks, her arms were about his neck, her whole attitude was an invitation for his embrace. But he sat like a figure of stone, neither repulsing nor encouraging her.
"You need not be alone unless you like," she whispered.
"I am an old man," he said slowly, "and this is a hard blow for me to bear. I must be sure, absolutely sure that she has gone."
"By this time to-morrow," she murmured, "all the world will know it."
"Come to me then," he said. "I shall need consolation."
Her eyes were bright with triumph. She leaned over him and kissed him on the lips. Then she sprang lightly to her feet.