THE YELLOW CRAYON
By E. Phillips Oppenheim
It was late summer-time, and the perfume of flowers stole into the darkened room through the half-opened window. The sunlight forced its way through a chink in the blind, and stretched across the floor in strange zigzag fashion. From without came the pleasant murmur of bees and many lazier insects floating over the gorgeous flower beds, resting for a while on the clematis which had made the piazza a blaze of purple splendour. And inside, in a high-backed chair, there sat a man, his arms folded, his eyes fixed steadily upon vacancy. As he sat then, so had he sat for a whole day and a whole night. The faint sweet chorus of glad living things, which alone broke the deep silence of the house, seemed neither to disturb nor interest him. He sat there like a man turned to stone, his forehead riven by one deep line, his straight firm mouth set close and hard. His servant, the only living being who had approached him, had set food by his side, which now and then he had mechanically taken. Changeless as a sphinx, he had sat there in darkness and in light, whilst sunlight had changed to moonlight, and the songs of the birds had given place to the low murmuring of frogs from a lake below the lawns.
At last it seemed that his unnatural fit had passed away. He stretched out his hand and struck a silver gong which had been left within his reach. Almost immediately a man, pale-faced, with full dark eyes and olive complexion, dressed in the sombre garb of an indoor servant, stood at his elbow.
It was before him, served with almost incredible despatch—a small cobwebbed bottle and a glass of quaint shape, on which were beautifully emblazoned a coronet and fleur-de-lis. He drank slowly and deliberately. When he set the glass down it was empty.
"You will pack my things and your own. We shall leave for New York this evening. Telegraph to the Holland House for rooms."
"For how many days, your Grace?"
"We shall not return here. Pay off all the servants save two of the most trustworthy, who will remain as caretakers."
The man's face was as immovable as his master's.
"Madame will not be returning. She will have no further use for her maid. See, however, that her clothes and all her personal belongings remain absolutely undisturbed."
"Has your Grace any further orders?"
"Take pencil and paper. Send this cablegram. Are you ready?"
The man's head moved in respectful assent.
"To Felix, "No 27, Rue de St. Pierre, "Avenue de L'Opera, Paris. "Meet me at Sherry's Restaurant, New York, one month to-day, eleven p.m.—V. S."
"It shall be sent immediately, your Grace. The train for New York leaves at seven-ten. A carriage will be here in one hour and five minutes."
The man moved towards the door. His master looked up.
"The Duc de Souspennier remains here—or at the bottom of the lake—what matters! It is Mr. Sabin who travels to New York, and for whom you engage rooms at the Holland House. Mr. Sabin is a cosmopolitan of English proclivities."
"Very good, sir!"
"Lock this door. Bring my coat and hat five minutes before the carriage starts. Let the servants be well paid. Let none of them attempt to see me."
The man bowed and disappeared. Left to himself, Mr. Sabin rose from his chair, and pushing open the windows, stood upon the verandah. He leaned heavily upon his stick with both hands, holding it before him. Slowly his eyes traveled over the landscape.
It was a very beautiful home which he was leaving. Before him stretched the gardens—Italian in design, brilliant with flowers, with here and there a dark cedar-tree drooping low upon the lawn. A yew hedge bordered the rose-garden, a fountain was playing in the middle of a lake. A wooden fence encircled the grounds, and beyond was a smooth rolling park, with little belts of pine plantations and a few larger trees here and there. In the far distance the red flag was waving on one of the putting greens. Archie Green was strolling up the hillside,—his pipe in his mouth, and his driver under his arm. Mr. Sabin watched, and the lines in his face grew deeper and deeper.
"I am an old man," he said softly, "but I will live to see them suffer who have done this evil thing."
He turned slowly back into the room, and limping rather more than was usual with him, he pushed aside a portiere and passed into a charmingly furnished country drawing-room. Only the flowers hung dead in their vases; everything else was fresh and sweet and dainty. Slowly he threaded his way amongst the elegant Louis Quinze furniture, examining as though for the first time the beautiful old tapestry, the Sevres china, the Chippendale table, which was priceless, the exquisite portraits painted by Greuze, and the mysterious green twilights and grey dawns of Corot. Everywhere treasures of art, yet everywhere the restraining hand of the artist. The faint smell of dead rose leaves hung about the room. Already one seemed conscious of a certain emptiness as though the genius of the place had gone. Mr. Sabin leaned heavily upon his stick, and his head drooped lower and lower. A soft, respectful voice came to him from the other room.
"In five minutes, sir, the carriage will be at the door. I have your coat and hat here."
Mr. Sabin looked up.
"I am quite ready, Duson!" he said.
* * * * *
The servants in the hall stood respectfully aside to let him pass. On the way to the depot he saw nothing of those who saluted him. In the car he sat with folded arms in the most retired seat, looking steadfastly out of the window at the dying day. There were mountains away westwards, touched with golden light; sometimes for long minutes together the train was rushing through forests whose darkness was like that of a tunnel. Mr. Sabin seemed indifferent to these changes. The coming of night did not disturb him. His brain was at work, and the things which he saw were hidden from other men.
Duson, with a murmur of apology, broke in upon his meditations.
"You will pardon me, sir, but the second dinner is now being served. The restaurant car will be detached at the next stop."
"What of it?" Mr. Sabin asked calmly.
"I have taken the liberty of ordering dinner for you, sir. It is thirty hours since you ate anything save biscuits."
Mr. Sabin rose to his feet.
"You are quite right, Duson," he said. "I will dine."
In half-an-hour he was back again. Duson placed before him silently a box of cigarettes and matches. Mr. Sabin smoked.
Soon the lights of the great city flared in the sky, the train stopped more frequently, the express men and newspaper boys came into evidence. Mr. Sabin awoke from his long spell of thought. He bought a newspaper, and glanced through the list of steamers which had sailed during the week. When the train glided into the depot he was on his feet and ready to leave it.
"You will reserve our rooms, Duson, for one month," he said on the way to the hotel. "We shall probably leave for Europe a month to-morrow."
"Very good, sir."
"You were Mrs. Peterson's servant, Duson, before you were mine!"
"You have been with her, I believe, for many years. You are doubtless much attached to her!"
"Indeed I am, sir!"
"You may have surmised, Duson, that she has left me. I desire to ensure your absolute fidelity, so I take you into my confidence to this extent. Your mistress is in the hands of those who have some power over her. Her absence is involuntary so far as she is concerned. It has been a great blow to me. I am prepared to run all risks to discover her whereabouts. It is late in my life for adventures, but it is very certain that adventures and dangers are before us. In accompanying me you will associate yourself with many risks. Therefore—"
Duson held up his hand.
"I beg, sir," he exclaimed, "that you will not suggest for a moment my leaving your service on that account. I beg most humbly, sir, that you will not do me that injustice."
Mr. Sabin paused. His eyes, like lightning, read the other's face.
"It is settled then, Duson," he said. "Kindly pay this cabman, and follow me as quickly as possible."
Mr. Sabin passed across the marble hall, leaning heavily upon his stick. Yet for all his slow movements there was a new alertness in his eyes and bearing. He was once more taking keen note of everybody and everything about him. Only a few days ago she had been here.
He claimed his rooms at the office, and handed the keys to Duson, who by this time had rejoined him. At the moment of turning away he addressed an inquiry to the clerk behind the counter.
"Can you tell me if the Duchess of Souspennier is staying here?" he inquired.
The young man glanced up.
"Been here, I guess. Left on Tuesday."
Mr. Sabin turned away. He did not speak again until Duson and he were alone in the sitting-room. Then he drew out a five dollar bill.
"Duson," he said, "take this to the head luggage porter. Tell him to bring his departure book up here at once, and there is another waiting for him. You understand?"
Mr. Sabin turned to enter his bed-chamber. His attention was attracted, however, by a letter lying flat upon the table. He took it up. It was addressed to Mr. Sabin.
"This is very clever," he mused, hesitating for a moment before opening it. "I wired for rooms only a few hours ago—and I find a letter. It is the commencement."
He tore open the envelope, and drew out a single half-sheet of note-paper. Across it was scrawled a single sentence only.
"Go back to Lenox."
There was no signature, nor any date. The only noticeable thing about this brief communication was that it was written in yellow pencil of a peculiar shade. Mr. Sabin's eyes glittered as he read.
"The yellow crayon!" he muttered.
Duson knocked softly at the door. Mr. Sabin thrust the letter and envelope into his breast coat pocket.
"This is the luggage porter, sir," Duson announced. "He is prepared to answer any questions."
The man took out his book. Mr. Sabin, who was sitting in an easy-chair, turned sideways towards him.
"The Duchess of Souspennier was staying here last week," he said. "She left, I believe, on Thursday or Friday. Can you tell me whether her baggage went through your hands?"
The man set down his hat upon a vacant chair, and turned over the leaves of his book.
"Guess I can fix that for you," he remarked, running his forefinger down one of the pages. "Here we are. The Duchess left on Friday, and we checked her baggage through to Lenox by the New York, New Haven & Hartford."
Mr. Sabin nodded.
"Thank you," he said. "She would probably take a carriage to the station. It will be worth another ten dollars to you if you can find me the man who drove her."
"Well, we ought to manage that for you," the man remarked encouragingly. "It was one of Steve Hassell's carriages, I guess, unless the lady took a hansom."
"Very good," Mr. Sabin said. "See if you can find him. Keep my inquiries entirely to yourself. It will pay you."
"That's all right," the man remarked. "Don't you go to bed for half-an-hour, and I guess you'll hear from me again."
Duson busied himself in the bed-chamber, Mr. Sabin sat motionless in his easy chair. Soon there came a tap at the door. The porter reappeared ushering in a smart-looking young man, who carried a shiny coachman's hat in his hand.
"Struck it right fust time," the porter remarked cheerfully. "This is the man, sir."
Mr. Sabin turned his head.
"You drove a lady from here to the New York, New Haven & Hartford Depot last Friday?" he asked.
"Well, not exactly, sir," the man answered. "The Duchess took my cab, and the first address she gave was the New York, New Haven & Hartford Depot, but before we'd driven a hundred yards she pulled the check-string and ordered me to go to the Waldorf. She paid me there, and went into the hotel."
"You have not seen her since?"
"You knew her by sight, you say. Was there anything special about her appearance?"
The man hesitated.
"She'd a pretty thick veil on, sir, but she raised it to pay me, and I should say she'd been crying. She was much paler, too, than last time I drove her."
"When was that?" Mr. Sabin asked.
"In the spring, sir,—with you, begging your pardon. You were at the Netherlands, and I drove you out several times."
"You seem," Mr. Sabin said, "to be a person with some powers of observation. It would pay you very well indeed if you would ascertain from any of your mates at the Waldorf when and with whom the lady in question left that hotel."
"I'll have a try, sir," the man answered. "The Duchess was better known here, but some of them may have recognised her."
"She had no luggage, I presume?" Mr. Sabin asked.
"Her dressing-case and jewel-case only, sir."
"So you see," Mr. Sabin continued, "it is probable that she did not remain at the Waldorf for the night. Base your inquiries on that supposition."
"Very good, sir."
"From your manners and speech," Mr. Sabin said, raising his head, "I should take you to be an Englishman."
"Quite correct, sir," the man answered. "I drove a hansom in London for eight years."
"You will understand me then," Mr. Sabin continued, "when I say that I have no great confidence in the police of this country. I do not wish to be blackmailed or bullied. I would ask you, therefore, to make your inquiries with discretion."
"I'll be careful, sir," the man answered.
Mr. Sabin handed to each of them a roll of notes. The cabdriver lingered upon the threshold. Mr. Sabin looked up.
"Could I speak a word to you—in private, sir?"
Mr. Sabin motioned Duson to leave the room. The baggage porter had already departed.
"When I cleaned out my cab at night, sir, I found this. I didn't reckon it was of any consequence at first, but from the questions you have been asking it may be useful to you."
Mr. Sabin took the half-sheet of note-paper in silence. It was the ordinary stationery of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, and the following words were written upon it in a faint delicate handwriting, but in yellow pencil:—
"Sept. 10th. "To LUCILLE, Duchesse de SOUSPENNIER.— "You will be at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in the main corridor at four o'clock this afternoon."
The thin paper shook in Mr. Sabin's fingers. There was no signature, but he fancied that the handwriting was not wholly unfamiliar to him. He looked slowly up towards the cabman.
"I am much obliged to you," he said. "This is of interest to me."
He stretched out his hand to the little wad of notes which Duson had left upon the table, but the cabdriver backed away.
"Beg pardon, sir," he said. "You've given me plenty. The letter's of no value to me. I came very near tearing it up, but for the peculiar colour pencil it's written with. Kinder took my fancy, sir."
"The letter is of value," Mr. Sabin said. "It tells me much more than I hoped to discover. It is our good fortune."
The man accepted the little roll of bills and departed. Mr. Sabin touched the bell.
"Duson, what time is it?"
"Nearly midnight, sir!"
"I will go to bed!"
"Very good, sir!"
"Mix me a sleeping draught, Duson. I need rest. See that I am not disturbed until ten o'clock to-morrow morning."
At precisely ten o'clock on the following morning Duson brought chocolate, which he had prepared himself, and some dry toast to his master's bedside. Upon the tray was a single letter. Mr. Sabin sat up in bed and tore open the envelope. The following words were written upon a sheet of the Holland House notepaper in the same peculiar coloured crayon.
"The first warning addressed to you yesterday was a friendly one. Profit by it. Go back to Lenox. You are only exposing yourself to danger and the person you seek to discomfort. Wait there, and some one shall come to you shortly who will explain what has happened, and the necessity for it."
Mr. Sabin smiled, a slow contemplative smile. He sipped his chocolate and lit a cigarette.
"Our friends, then," he said softly, "do not care about pursuit and inquiries. It is ridiculous to suppose that their warning is given out of any consideration to me. Duson!"
"My bath. I shall rise now."
Mr. Sabin made his toilet with something of the same deliberation which characterised all his movements. Then he descended into the hall, bought a newspaper, and from a convenient easy-chair kept a close observation upon every one who passed to and fro for about an hour. Later on he ordered a carriage, and made several calls down town.
At a few minutes past twelve he entered the bar of the Fifth Avenue Hotel, and ordering a drink sat down at one of the small tables. The room was full, but Mr. Sabin's attention was directed solely to one group of men who stood a short distance away before the counter drinking champagne. The central person of the group was a big man, with an unusually large neck, a fat pale face, a brown moustache tinged with grey, and a voice and laugh like a fog-horn. It was he apparently who was paying for the champagne, and he was clearly on intimate terms with all the party. Mr. Sabin watched for his opportunity, and then rising from his seat touched him on the shoulder.
"Mr. Skinner, I believe?" he said quietly.
The big man looked down upon Mr. Sabin with the sullen offensiveness of the professional bully.
"You've hit it first time," he admitted. "Who are you, anyway?"
Mr. Sabin produced a card.
"I called this morning," he said, "upon the gentleman whose name you will see there. He directed me to you, and told me to come here."
The man tore the card into small pieces.
"So long, boys," he said, addressing his late companions. "See you to-night."
They accepted his departure in silence, and one and all favoured Mr. Sabin with a stare of blatant curiosity.
"I should be glad to speak with you," Mr. Sabin said, "in a place where we are likely to be neither disturbed nor overheard."
"You come right across to my office," was the prompt reply. "I guess we can fix it up there."
Mr. Sabin motioned to his coachman, and they crossed Broadway. His companion led him into a tall building, talking noisily all the time about the pals whom he had just left. An elevator transported them to the twelfth floor in little more than as many seconds, and Mr. Skinner ushered his visitor into a somewhat bare-looking office, smelling strongly of stale tobacco smoke. Mr. Skinner at once lit a cigar, and seating himself before his desk, folded his arms and leaned over towards Mr. Sabin.
"Smoke one?" he asked, pointing to the open box.
Mr. Sabin declined.
"Get right ahead then."
"I am an Englishman," Mr. Sabin said slowly, "and consequently am not altogether at home with your ways over here. I have always understood, however, that if you are in need of any special information such as we should in England apply to the police for, over here there is a quicker and more satisfactory method of procedure."
"You've come a long way round," Mr. Skinner remarked, spitting upon the floor, "but you're dead right."
"I am in need of some information," Mr. Sabin continued, "and accordingly I called this morning on Mr.—"
Mr. Skinner held up his hand.
"All right," he said. "We don't mention names more than we can help. Call him the boss."
"He assured me that the information I was in need of was easily to be obtained, and gave me a card to you."
"Go right on," Mr. Skinner said. "What is it?"
"On Friday last," Mr. Sabin said, "at four o'clock, the Duchess of Souspennier, whose picture I will presently show you, left the Holland House Hotel for the New York, New Haven & Hartford Depot, presumably for her home at Lenox, to which place her baggage had already been checked. On the way she ordered the cabman to set her down at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, which he did at a few minutes past four. The Duchess has not returned home or been directly heard from since. I wish to ascertain her movements since she arrived at the Waldorf."
"Sounds dead easy," Mr. Skinner remarked reassuringly. "Got the picture?"
Mr. Sabin touched the spring of a small gold locket which he drew from an inside waistcoat pocket, and disclosed a beautifully painted miniature. Mr. Skinner's thick lips were pursed into a whistle. He was on the point of making a remark when he chanced to glance into Mr. Sabin's face. The remark remained unspoken.
He drew a sheet of note-paper towards him and made a few notes upon it.
"The Duchess many friends in New York?"
"At present none. The few people whom she knows here are at Newport or in Europe just now."
"Any idea whom she went to the Waldorf to see? More we know the better."
Mr. Sabin handed him the letter which had been picked up in the cab. Mr. Skinner read it through, and spat once more upon the floor.
"What the h—-'s this funny coloured pencil mean?"
"I do not know," Mr. Sabin answered. "You will see that the two anonymous communications which I have received since arriving in New York yesterday are written in the same manner."
Mr. Sabin handed him the other two letters, which Mr. Skinner carefully perused.
"I guess you'd better tell me who you are," he suggested.
"I am the husband of the Duchess of Souspennier," Mr. Sabin answered.
"The Duchess send any word home at all?" Mr. Skinner asked.
Mr. Sabin produced a worn telegraph form. It was handed in at Fifth Avenue, New York, at six o'clock on Friday. It contained the single word 'Good-bye.'
"H'm," Mr. Skinner remarked. "We'll find all you want to know by to-morrow sure."
"What do you make of the two letters which I received?" Mr. Sabin asked.
"Bunkum!" Mr. Skinner replied confidently.
Mr. Sabin nodded his head.
"You have no secret societies over here, I suppose?" he said.
Mr. Skinner laughed loudly and derisively.
"I guess not," he answered. "They keep that sort of rubbish on the other side of the pond."
Mr. Sabin was thoughtful for a moment. "You expect to find, then," he remarked, "some other cause for my wife's disappearance?"
"There don't seem much room for doubt concerning that, sir," Mr. Skinner said; "but I never speculate. I will bring you the facts to-night between eight and eleven. Now as to the business side of it."
Mr. Sabin was for a moment puzzled.
"What's the job worth to you?" Mr. Skinner asked. "I am willing to pay," Mr. Sabin answered, "according to your demands."
"It's a simple case," Mr. Skinner admitted, "but our man at the Waldorf is expensive. If you get all your facts, I guess five hundred dollars will about see you through."
"I will pay that," Mr. Sabin answered.
"I will bring you the letters back to-night," Mr. Skinner said. "I guess I'll borrow that locket of yours, too."
Mr. Sabin shook his head.
"That," he said firmly, "I do not part with." Mr. Skinner scratched his ear with his penholder. "It's the only scrap of identifying matter we've got," he remarked. "Of course it's a dead simple case, and we can probably manage without it. But I guess it's as well to fix the thing right down."
"If you will give me a piece of paper," Mr. Sabin said, "I will make you a sketch of the Duchess. The larger the better. I can give you an idea of the sort of clothes she would probably be wearing."
Mr. Skinner furnished him with a double sheet of paper, and Mr. Sabin, with set face and unflinching figures, reproduced in a few simple strokes a wonderful likeness of the woman he loved. He pushed it away from him when he had finished without remark. Mr. Skinner was loud in its praises.
"I guess you're an artist, sir, for sure," he remarked. "This'll fix the thing. Shall I come to your hotel?"
"If you please," Mr. Sabin answered. "I shall be there for the rest of the day."
Mr. Skinner took up his hat.
"Guess I'll take my dinner and get right to work," he remarked. "Say, you come along, Mr. Sabin. I'll take you where they'll fix you such a beefsteak as you never tasted in your life."
"I thank you very much," Mr. Sabin said, "but I must beg to be excused. I am expecting some despatches at my hotel. If you are successful this afternoon you will perhaps do me the honour of dining with me to-night. I will wait until eight-thirty."
The two men parted upon the pavement. Mr. Skinner, with his small bowler hat on the back of his head, a fresh cigar in the corner of his mouth, and his thumbs in the armholes of his waistcoat, strolled along Broadway with something akin to a smile parting his lips, and showing his yellow teeth.
"Darned old fool," he muttered. "To marry a slap-up handsome woman like that, and then pretend not to know what it means when she bolts. Guess I'll spoil his supper to-night."
Mr. Sabin, however, was recovering his spirits. He, too, was leaning back in the corner of his carriage with a faint smile brightening his hard, stern face. But, unlike Mr. Skinner, he did not talk to himself.
R. Sabin, who was never, for its own sake, fond of solitude, had ordered dinner for two at eight-thirty in the general dining-room. At a few minutes previous to that hour Mr. Skinner presented himself.
Mr. Skinner was not in the garb usually affected by men of the world who are invited to dine out. The long day's exertion, too, had had its effect upon his linen. His front, indeed, through a broad gap, confessed to a foundation of blue, and one of his cuffs showed a marked inclination to escape from his wrist over his knuckles. His face was flushed, and he exhaled a strong odour of cigars and cocktails. Nevertheless, Mr. Sabin was very glad to see him, and to receive the folded sheet of paper which he at once produced.
"I have taken the liberty," Mr. Sabin remarked, on his part, "of adding a trifle to the amount we first spoke of, which I beg you will accept from me as a mark of my gratitude for your promptness."
"Sure!" Mr. Skinner answered tersely, receiving the little roll of bills without hesitation, and retreating into a quiet corner, where he carefully counted and examined every one. "That's all right!" he announced at the conclusion of his task. "Come and have one with me now before you read your little billet-doux, eh?"
"I shall not read your report until after dinner," Mr. Sabin said, "and I think if you are ready that we might as well go in. At the head-waiter's suggestion I have ordered a cocktail with the oysters, and if we are much later he seemed to fear that it might affect the condition of the—I think it was terrapin, he said."
Mr. Skinner stopped short. His tone betrayed emotion.
"Did you say terrapin, sir?"
Mr. Sabin nodded. Mr. Skinner at once took his arm.
"Guess we'll go right in," he declared. "I hate to have a good meal spoiled."
They were an old-looking couple. Mr. Sabin quietly but faultlessly attired in the usual evening dinner garb, Mr. Skinner ill-dressed, untidy, unwashed and frowsy. But here at least Mr. Sabin's incognito had been unavailing, for he had stayed at the hotel several times—as he remembered with an odd little pang—with Lucille, and the head-waiter, with a low bow, ushered them to their table. Mr. Skinner saw the preparations for their repast, the oysters, the cocktails in tall glasses, the magnum of champagne in ice, and chuckled. To take supper with a duke was a novelty to him, but he was not shy. He sat down and tucked his serviette into his waistcoat, raised his glass, and suddenly set it down again.
"The boss!" he exclaimed in amazement.
Mr. Sabin turned his head in the direction which his companion had indicated. Coming hastily across the room towards them, already out of breath as though with much hurrying, was a thick-set, powerful man, with the brutal face and coarse lips of a prizefighter; a beard cropped so short as to seem the growth of a few days only covered his chin, and his moustache, treated in the same way, was not thick enough to conceal a cruel mouth. He was carefully enough dressed, and a great diamond flashed from his tie. There was a red mark round his forehead where his hat had been, and the perspiration was streaming from his forehead. He strode without hesitation to the table where Mr. Sabin and his guest were sitting, and without even a glance at the former turned upon his myrmidon.
"Where's that report?" he cried roughly. "Where is it?"
Mr. Skinner seemed to have shrunk into a smaller man. He pointed across the table.
"I've given it to him," he said. "What's wrong, boss?"
The newcomer raised his hand as though to strike Skinner. He gnashed his teeth with the effort to control himself.
"You damned blithering idiot," he said hoarsely, gripping the side of the table. "Why wasn't it presented to me first?"
"Guess it didn't seem worth while," Skinner answered. "There's nothing in the darned thing."
"You ignorant fool, hold your tongue," was the fierce reply.
The newcomer sank into a chair and wiped the perspiration from his streaming forehead. Mr. Sabin signaled to a waiter.
"You seem upset, Mr. Horser," he remarked politely. "Allow me to offer you a glass of wine."
Mr. Horser did not immediately reply, but he accepted the glass which the waiter brought him, and after a moment's hesitation drained its contents. Then he turned to Mr. Sabin.
"You said nothing about those letters you had had when you came to see me this morning!"
"It was you yourself," Mr. Sabin reminded him, "who begged me not to enter into particulars. You sent me on to Mr. Skinner. I told him everything."
Mr. Horser leaned over the table. His eyes were bloodshot, his tone was fierce and threatening. Mr. Sabin was coldly courteous. The difference between the demeanour of the two men was remarkable.
"You knew what those letters meant! This is a plot! Where is Skinner's report?"
Mr. Sabin raised his eyebrows. He signaled to the head-waiter.
"Be so good as to continue the service of my dinner," he ordered. "The champagne is a trifle too chilled. You can take it out of the cooler."
The man bowed, with a curious side glance at Horser.
"Certainly, your Grace!"
Horser was almost speechless with anger.
"Are you going to answer my questions?" he demanded thickly.
"I have no particular objection to doing so," Mr. Sabin answered, "but until you can sit up and compose yourself like an ordinary individual, I decline to enter into any conversation with you at all."
Again Mr. Horser raised his voice, and the glare in his eyes was like the glare of a wild beast.
"Do you know who I am?" he asked. "Do you know who you're talking to?"
Mr. Sabin looked at him coolly, and fingered his wineglass.
"Well," he said, "I've a shocking memory for names, but yours is—Mr. Horser, isn't it? I heard it for the first time this morning, and my memory will generally carry me through four-and-twenty hours."
There was a moment's silence. Horser was no fool. He accepted his defeat and dropped the bully.
"You're a stranger in this city, Mr. Sabin, and I guess you aren't altogether acquainted with our ways yet," he said. "But I want you to understand this. The report which is in your pocket has got to be returned to me. If I'd known what I was meddling with I wouldn't have touched your business for a hundred thousand dollars. It's got to be returned to me, I say!" he repeated in a more threatening tone.
Mr. Sabin helped himself to fish, and made a careful examination of the sauce.
"After all," he said meditatively, "I am not sure that I was wise in insisting upon a sauce piquante. I beg your pardon, Mr. Horser. Please do not think me inattentive, but I am very hungry. So, I believe, is my friend, Mr. Skinner. Will you not join us—or perhaps you have already dined?"
There was an ugly flush in Mr. Horser's cheeks, but he struggled to keep his composure.
"Will you give me back that report?"
"When I have read it, with pleasure," Mr. Sabin answered. "Before, no."
Mr. Horser swallowed an exceedingly vicious oath. He struck the table lightly with his forefinger.
"Look here," he said. "If you'd lived in New York a couple of years, even a couple of months, you wouldn't talk like that. I tell you that I hold the government of this city in my right hand. I don't want to be unpleasant, but if that paper is not in my hands by the time you leave this table I shall have you arrested as you leave this room, and the papers taken from you."
"Dear me," Mr. Sabin said, "this is serious. On what charge may I ask should I be exposed to this inconvenience?"
"Charge be damned!" Mr. Horser answered. "The police don't want particulars from me. When I say do a thing they do it. They know that if they declined it would be their last day on the force."
Mr. Sabin filled his glass and leaned back in his chair.
"This," he remarked, "is interesting. I am always glad to have the opportunity of gaining an insight into the customs of different countries. I had an idea that America was a country remarkable for the amount of liberty enjoyed by its inhabitants. Your proposed course of action seems scarcely in keeping with this."
"What are you going to do? Come, I've got to have an answer."
"I don't quite understand," Mr. Sabin remarked, with a puzzled look, "what your official position is in connection with the police."
Mr. Horser's face was a very ugly sight. "Oh, curse my official position," he exclaimed thickly. "If you want proof of what I say you shall have it in less than five minutes. Skinner, be off and fetch a couple of constables."
"I really must protest," Mr. Sabin said. "Mr. Skinner is my guest, and I will not have him treated in this fashion, just as the terrapin is coming in, too. Sit down, Mr. Skinner, sit down. I will settle this matter with you in my room, Mr. Horser, after I have dined. I will not even discuss it before."
Mr. Horser opened his mouth twice, and closed it again. He knew that his opponent was simply playing to gain time, but, after all, he held the trump card. He could afford to wait. He turned to a waiter and ordered a cigar. Mr. Sabin and Mr. Skinner continued their dinner.
Conversation was a little difficult, though Mr. Sabin showed no signs of an impaired appetite. Skinner was white with fear, and glanced every now and then nervously at his chief. Mr. Horser smoked without ceasing, and maintained an ominous silence. Mr. Sabin at last, with a sigh, rose, and lighting a cigarette, took his stick from the waiter and prepared to leave.
"I fear, Mr. Horser," he remarked, "that your presence has scarcely contributed to the cheerfulness of our repast. Mr. Skinner, am I to be favoured with your company also upstairs?"
Horser clutched that gentleman's arm and whispered a few words in his ear.
"Mr. Skinner," he said, "will join us presently. What is your number?"
"336," Mr. Sabin answered. "You will excuse my somewhat slow progress."
They crossed the hall and entered the elevator. Mr. Horser's face began to clear. In a moment or two they would be in Mr. Sabin's sitting-room-alone. He regarded with satisfaction the other's slim, delicate figure and the limp with which he moved. He felt that the danger was already over.
BUT, after all, things did not exactly turn out as Mr. Horser had imagined. The sight of the empty room and the closed door were satisfactory enough, and he did not hesitate for a moment.
"Look here, sir," he said, "you and I are going to settle this matter quick. Whatever you paid Skinner you can have back again. But I'm going to have that report."
He took a quick step forward with uplifted hand—and looked into the shining muzzle of a tiny revolver. Behind it Mr. Sabin's face, no longer pleasant and courteous, had taken to itself some very grim lines.
"I am a weak man, Mr. Horser, but I am never without the means of self-defence," Mr. Sabin said in a still, cold tone. "Be so good as to sit down in that easy-chair."
Mr. Horser hesitated. For one moment he stood as though about to carry out his first intention. He stood glaring at his opponent, his face contracted into a snarl, his whole appearance hideous, almost bestial. Mr. Sabin smiled upon him contemptuously—the maddening, compelling smile of the born aristocrat.
Mr. Horser sat down, whereupon Mr. Sabin followed suit.
"Now what have you to say to me?" Mr. Sabin asked quietly.
"I want that report," was the dogged answer.
"You will not have it," Mr. Sabin answered. "You can take that for granted. You shall not take it from me by force, and I will see that you do not charm it out of my pocket by other means. The information which it contains is of the utmost possible importance to me. I have bought it and paid for it, and I shall use it."
Mr. Horser moistened his dry lips.
"I will give you," he said, "twenty thousand dollars for its return."
Mr. Sabin laughed softly.
"You bid high," he said. "I begin to suspect that our friends on the other side of the water have been more than ordinarily kind to you."
"I will give you—forty thousand dollars."
Mr. Sabin raised his eyebrows.
"So much? After all, that sounds more like fear than anything. You cannot hope to make a profitable deal out of that. Dear me! It seems only a few minutes ago that I heard your interesting friend, Mr. Skinner, shake with laughter at the mention of such a thing as a secret society."
"Skinner is a blasted fool," Horser exclaimed fiercely. "Listen here, Mr. Sabin. You can read that report if you must, but, as I'm a living man you'll not stir from New York if you do. I'll make your life a hell for you. Don't you understand that no one but a born fool would dare to quarrel with me in this city? I hold the prison keys, the police are mine. I shall make my own charge, whatever I choose, and they shall prove it for me."
Mr. Sabin shook his head.
"This sounds very shocking," he remarked. "I had no idea that the largest city of the most enlightened country in the world was in such a sorry plight."
"Oh, curse your sarcasm," Mr. Horser said. "I'm talking facts, and you've got to know them. Will you give up that report? You can find out all there is in it for yourself. But I'm going to give it you straight. If I don't have that report back unread, you'll never leave New York."
Mr. Sabin was genuinely amused.
"My good fellow," he said, "you have made yourself a notorious person in this country by dint of incessant bullying and bribing and corruption of every sort. You may possess all the powers you claim. Your only mistake seems to be that you are too thick-headed to know when you are overmatched. I have been a diplomatist all my life," Mr. Sabin said, rising slowly to his feet, and with a sudden intent look upon his face, "and if I were to be outwitted by such a novice as you I should deserve to end my days—in New York."
Mr. Horser rose also to his feet. A smile of triumph was on his lips.
"Well," he said, "we— Come in! Come in!" The door was thrown open. Skinner and two policemen entered. Mr. Sabin leaned towards the wall, and in a second the room was plunged in darkness.
"Turn on the lights!" Skinner shouted. "Seize him! He's in that corner. Use your clubs!" Horser bawled. "Stand by the door one of you. Damnation, where is that switch?"
He found it with a shout of triumph. Lights flared out in the room. They stared around into every corner. Mr. Sabin was not there. Then Horser saw the door leading into the bed-chamber, and flung himself against it with a hoarse cry of rage.
"Break it open!" he cried to the policemen.
They hammered upon it with their clubs. Mr. Sabin's quiet voice came to them from the other side.
"Pray do not disturb me, gentlemen," he said. "I am reading."
"Break it open, you damned fools!" Horser cried. They battered at it sturdily, but the door was a solid one. Suddenly they heard the key turn in the lock. Mr. Sabin stood upon the threshold.
"Gentlemen!" he exclaimed. "These are my private apartments. Why this violence?"
He held out the paper.
"This is mine," he said. "The information which it contains is bought and paid for. But if the giving it up will procure me the privilege of your departure, pray take it."
Horser was purple with rage. He pointed with shaking fist to the still, calm figure.
"Arrest him," he ordered. "Take him to the cells."
Mr. Sabin shrugged his shoulders.
"I am ready," he said, "but it is only fair to give you this warning. I am the Duke of Souspennier, and I am well known in England and France. The paper which you saw me hand to the porter in the hall as we stepped into the elevator was a despatch in cipher to the English Ambassador at Washington, claiming his protection. If you take me to prison to-night you will have him to deal with to-morrow."
Mr. Horser bore himself in defeat better than at any time during the encounter. He turned to the constables.
"Go down stairs and wait for me in the hall," he ordered. "You too, Skinner."
They left the room. Horser turned to Mr. Sabin, and the veins on his forehead stood out like whipcord.
"I know when I'm beaten," he said. "Keep your report, and be damned to you. But remember that you and I have a score to settle, and you can ask those who know me how often Dick Horser comes out underneath in the long run."
He followed the others. Mr. Sabin sat down in his easy-chair with a quiet smile upon his lips. Once more he glanced through the brief report. Then his eyes half closed, and he sat quite still—a tired, weary-looking man, almost unnaturally pale.
"They have kept their word," he said softly to himself, "after many years. After many years!"
* * * * *
Duson came in to undress him shortly afterwards. He saw signs of the struggle, but made no comment. Mr. Sabin, after a moment's hesitation, took a phial from his pocket and poured a few drops into a wineglassful of water.
"Duson," he said, "bring me some despatch forms and a pencil."
Mr. Sabin wrote for several moments. Then he placed the forms in an envelope, sealed it, and handed it to Duson.
"Duson," he said, "that fellow Horser is annoyed with me. If I should be arrested on any charge, or should fail to return to the hotel within reasonable time, break that seal and send off the telegrams."
Mr. Sabin yawned.
"I need sleep," he said. "Do not call me to-morrow morning until I ring. And, Duson!"
"The Campania will sail from New York somewhere about the tenth of October. I wish to secure the whole of stateroom number twenty-eight. Go round to the office as soon as they open, secure that room if possible, and pay a deposit. No other will do. Also one for yourself."
"Very good, sir."
"Here's a lady inquiring for you, sir—just gone up to your room in the elevator," the hotel clerk remarked to Mr. Sabin as he paused on his way to the door to hand in his key. "Shall I send a boy up?"
Mr. Sabin hesitated.
"A lady?" he remarked tentatively.
The hotel clerk nodded.
"Yes. I didn't notice the name, but she was an Englishwoman. I'll send up."
"Thank you, I will return," Mr. Sabin said. "If I should miss her on the way perhaps you will kindly redirect her to my rooms."
He rang for the elevator, and was swiftly transported to his own floor. The door of his sitting-room was open. Duson was talking to a tall fair woman, who turned swiftly round at the sound of his approach.
"Ah, they found you, then!" she exclaimed, coming towards him with outstretched hands. "Isn't this a strange place and a strange country for us to meet once more in?"
He greeted her gallantly, but with a certain reserve, of which she was at once aware.
"Are there any countries in the world left which are strange to so great a traveler as Lady Muriel Carey?" he said. "The papers here have been full of your wonderful adventures in South Africa."
"Everything shockingly exaggerated, of course," she declared. "I have really been plagued to death since I got here with interviewers, and that sort of person. I wonder if you know how glad I am to see you again?"
"You are very kind, indeed," he said. "Certainly there was no one whom I expected less to see over here. You have come for the yacht races, I suppose?"
She looked at him with a faint smile and raised eyebrows.
"Come," she said, "shall we lie to one another? Is it worth while? Candour is so much more original."
"Candour by all means then, I beg," he answered.
"I have come over with the Dalkeiths, ostensibly to see the yacht races. Really I have come to see you."
Mr. Sabin bowed.
"I am delightfully flattered," he murmured.
"I don't exactly mean for the pleasure of gazing into your face once more," she continued. "I have a mission!"
Mr. Sabin looked up quickly.
"Great heavens! You, too!" he exclaimed.
"Why not?" she asked coolly. "I have been in it for years, you know, and when I got back from South Africa everything seemed so terribly slow that I begged for some work to do."
"And they sent you here—to me?"
"Yes," she answered, "and I was here also a few weeks ago, but you must not ask me anything about that."
Mr. Sabin's eyebrows contracted, his face darkened. She shrank a little away from him.
"So it is you who have robbed me of her, then," he said slowly. "Yes, the description fits you well enough. I ask you, Lady Carey, to remember the last time when chance brought you and me together. Have I deserved this from you?"
She made a little gesture of impotence.
"Do be reasonable!" she begged. "What choice had I?"
He looked at her steadfastly.
"The folly of women—of clever women such as you," he said, "is absolutely amazing. You have deliberately made a slave of yourself—"
"One must have distraction," she murmured.
"Distraction! And so you play at this sort of thing. Is it worth while?"
Her eyes for a moment clouded over with weariness.
"When one has filled the cup of life to the brim for many years," she said, "what remains that is worth while?"
"You are a young woman," he said. "You should not yet have learned to speak with such bitterness. As for me—well, I am old indeed. In youth and age the affections claim us. I am approaching my second childhood."
She laughed derisively, yet not unkindly. "What folly!" she exclaimed.
"You are right," he admitted. "I suppose it is the fault of old associations."
"In a few minutes," she said, smiling at him, "we should have become sentimental."
"I," he admitted, "was floundering already."
She shrugged her shoulders.
"You talk as though sentiment were a bog."
"There have been worse similes," he declared.
"How horrid! And do you know, sir, for all your indignation you have not yet even inquired after your wife's health."
"I trust," he said, "that she is well."
"She is in excellent health."
"Your second visit to this country," he remarked, "follows very swiftly upon your first."
"I am here," she said, "on your account."
"You excite my interest," he declared. "May I know your mission?"
"I have to remind you of your pledge," she said, "to assure you of Lucille's welfare, and to prevent your leaving the country."
"Marvelous!" he exclaimed, with a slight mocking smile. "And may I ask what means you intend to employ to keep me here?"
"Well," she said, "I have large discretionary powers. We have a very strong branch over on this side, but I would very much rather induce you to stay here without applying to them."
"And the inducements?" he asked.
She took a cigarette from a box which stood on the table and lit one.
"Well," she said, "I might appeal to your hospitality, might I not? I am in a strange country which you have made your home. I want to be shown round. Do you remember dining with me one night at the Ambassador's? It was very hot, even for Paris, and we drove afterwards in the Bois. Ask me to dine with you here, won't you? I have never quite forgotten the last time."
Mr. Sabin laughed softly, but with undisguised mirth.
"Come," he said, "this is an excellent start. You are to play the Circe up to date, and I am to be beguiled. How ought I to answer you? I do remember the Ambassador's, and I do remember driving down the Bois in your victoria, and holding—I believe I am right—your hand. You have no right to disturb those charming memories by attempting to turn them into bathos."
She blew out a little cloud of tobacco smoke, and watched it thoughtfully.
"Ah!" she remarked. "I wonder who is better at that, you or I? I may not be exactly a sentimental person, but you—you are a flint."
"On the contrary," Mr. Sabin assured her earnestly, "I am very much in love with my wife."
"Dear me!" she exclaimed. "You carry originality to quixoticism. I have met several men before in my life whom I have suspected of such a thing, but I never heard any one confess it. This little domestic contretemps is then, I presume, disagreeable to you!"
"To the last degree," Mr. Sabin asserted. "So much so that I leave for England by the Campania."
She shook her head slowly.
"I wouldn't if I were you."
Lady Carey threw away the end of her cigarette, and looked for a moment thoughtfully at her long white fingers glittering with rings. Then she began to draw on her gloves.
"Well, in the first place," she said, "Lucille will have no time to spare for you. You will be de trop in decidedly an uncomfortable position. You wouldn't find London at all a good place to live in just now, even if you ever got there—which I am inclined to doubt. And secondly, here am I—"
"Circe!" he murmured.
"Waiting to be entertained, in a strange country, almost friendless. I want to be shown everything, taken everywhere. And I am dying to see your home at Lenox. I do not think your attitude towards me in the least hospitable."
"Come, you are judging me very quickly," he declared. "What opportunities have I had?"
"What opportunities can there be if you sail by the Campania?"
"You might dine with me to-night at least."
"Impossible! The Dalkeiths have a party to meet me. Come too, won't you? They love dukes—even French ones."
He shook his head.
"There is no attraction for me in a large party," he answered. "I am getting to an age when to make conversation in return for a dinner seems scarcely a fair exchange."
"From your host's point of view, or yours?"
"From both! Besides, one's digestion suffers."
"You are certainly getting old," she declared. "Come, I must go. You haven't been a bit nice to me. When shall I see you again?"
"It is," he answered, "for you to say."
She looked at him for a moment thoughtfully.
"Supposing," she said, "that I cried off the yacht race to-day. Would you take me out to lunch?"
"My dear lady," he said, "it is for Circe to command—and for me to obey."
"And you'll come and have tea with me afterwards at the Waldorf?"
"That," Mr. Sabin declared, "will add still further to my happiness."
"Will you call for me, then—and where shall we have lunch, and at what time? I must go and develop a headache at once, or that tiresome Dalkeith boy will be pounding at my door."
"I will call for you at the Waldorf at half-past one," Mr. Sabin said. "Unless you have any choice, I will take you to a little place downtown where we can imagine ourselves back on the Continent, and where we shall be spared the horror of green corn."
"Delightful," she murmured, buttoning her glove. "Then you shall take me for a drive to Fifth Avenue, or to see somebody's tomb, and my woman shall make some real Russian tea for us in my sitting-room. Really, I think I'm doing very well for the first day. Is the spell beginning to work?"
"Hideously," he assured her. "I feel already that the only thing I dread in life are these two hours before luncheon."
"That is quite as it should be. Don't trouble to come down with me. I believe that Dalkeith pere is hanging round somewhere, and in view of my headache perhaps you had better remain in the background for the moment. At one-thirty, then!"
Mr. Sabin smiled as she passed out of the room, and lit a cigarette.
"I think," he said to himself, "that the arrival of Felix is opportune."
They sat together at a small table, looking upon a scene which was probably unique in the history of the great restaurant. The younger man was both frankly interested and undoubtedly curious. Mr. Sabin, though his eyes seemed everywhere, retained to the full extent that nonchalance of manner which all his life he had so assiduously cultivated.
"It is wonderful, my dear Felix," he said, leisurely drawing his cigarette-case from his pocket, "wonderful what good fellowship can be evolved by a kindred interest in sport, and a bottle or so of good champagne. But, after all, this is not to be taken seriously."
"Shamrock the fourth! Shamrock the fourth!"
A tall young American, his thick head of hair, which had once been carefully parted in the middle, a little disheveled, his hard, clean-cut face flushed with enthusiasm, had risen to his feet and stood with a brimming glass of champagne high over his head. Almost every one in the room rose to their feet. A college boy sprang upon a table with extended arms. The Yale shout split the room. The very glasses on the table rattled.
It was an Englishman now who had leaped upon a vacant table with upraised glass. There was an answering roar of enthusiasm. Every one drank, and every one sat down again with a pleasant thrill of excitement at this unique scene. Felix leaned back in his chair and marveled.
"One would have imagined," he murmured, "that America and England together were at war with the rest of the world and had won a great victory. To think that this is all the result of a yacht race. It is incredible!"
"All your life, my dear Felix," Mr. Sabin remarked, "you have underrated the sporting instinct. It has a great place amongst the impulses of the world. See how it has brought these people together."
"But they are already of the same kin," Felix remarked. "Their interests and aims are alike. Their destinies are surely identical."
Mr. Sabin, who had lit his cigarette, watched the blue smoke curl upwards, and was thoughtful for a moment.
"My dear Felix!" he said. "You are very, very young. The interests of two great nations such as America and England can never be alike. It is the language of diplomacy, but it is also the language of fools."
Their conversation was for the moment interrupted by a fresh murmur of applause, rising above the loved hum of conversation, the laughter of women, and the popping of corks. A little troop of waiters had just wheeled into the room two magnificent models of yachts hewn out of blocks of solid ice and crowned with flowers. On the one were the Stars and Stripes, on the other the Shamrock and Thistle. There was much clapping of hands and cheering. Lady Carey, who was sitting at the next table with her back to them, joined in the applause so heartily that a tiny gold pencil attached to her bracelet became detached and rolled unobserved to Mr. Sabin's side. Felix half rose to pick it up, but was suddenly checked by a quick gesture from his companion.
"Leave it," Mr. Sabin whispered. "I wish to return it myself."
He stooped and picked it up, a certain stealthiness apparent in his movement. Felix watched him in amazement.
"It is Lady Carey's, is it not?" he asked.
"Yes. Be silent. I will give it back to her presently."
A waiter served them with coffee. Mr. Sabin was idly sketching something on the back of his menu card. Felix broke into a little laugh as the man retired.
"Mysterious as ever," he remarked.
Mr. Sabin smiled quietly. He went on with his sketch.
"I do not want," Felix said, "to seem impatient, but you must remember that I have come all the way from Europe in response to a very urgent message. As yet I have done nothing except form a very uncomfortable third at a luncheon and tea party, and listen to a good deal of enigmatic conversation between you and the charming Lady Carey. This evening I made sure that I should be enlightened. But no! You have given me a wonderful dinner—from you I expected it. We have eaten terrapin, canvas-back duck, and many other things the names of which alone were known to me. But of the reason for which you have summoned me here—I know nothing. Not one word have you spoken. I am beginning to fear from your avoidance of the subject that there is some trouble between you and Lucille. I beg that you will set my anxiety at rest."
Mr. Sabin nodded.
"It is reasonable," he said. "Look here!"
He turned the menu card round. On the back he had sketched some sort of a device with the pencil which he had picked up, and which instead of black-lead contained a peculiar shade of yellow crayon. Felix sat as though turned to stone.
"Try," Mr. Sabin said smoothly, "and avoid that air of tragedy. Some of these good people might be curious."
Felix leaned across the table. He pointed to the menu card.
"What does that mean?" he muttered.
Mr. Sabin contemplated it himself thoughtfully. "Well," he said, "I rather thought that you might be able to explain that to me. I have an idea that there is a society in Europe—sort of aristocratic odd-fellows, you know—who had adopted it for their crest. Am I not right?"
Felix looked at him steadfastly.
"Tell me two things," he said. "First, why you sent for me, and secondly, what do you mean—by that?"
"Lucille," Mr. Sabin said, "has been taken away from me."
"Lucille! Great God!"
"She has been taken away from me," Mr. Sabin said, "without a single word of warning."
Felix pointed to the menu card.
"By them?" he asked.
"By them. It was a month ago. Two days before my cable."
Felix was silent for several moments. He had not the self-command of his companion, and he feared to trust himself to speech.
"She has been taken to Europe," Mr. Sabin continued. "I do not know, I cannot even guess at the reason. She left no word. I have been warned not to follow her."
"I sail to-morrow."
"And I?" Felix asked.
Mr. Sabin looked for, a moment at the drawing on the back of the menu card, and up at Felix. Felix shook his head.
"You must know," he said, "that I am powerless."
"You may be able to help me," Mr. Sabin said, "without compromising yourself."
"Impossible!" Felix declared. "But what did they want with Lucille?"
"That," Mr. Sabin said, "is what I am desirous of knowing. It is what I trust that you, my dear Felix, may assist me to discover."
"You are determined, then, to follow her?"
Mr. Sabin helped himself to a liqueur from the bottle by his side.
"My dear Felix," he said reproachfully, "you should know me better than to ask me such a question."
Felix moved uneasily in his chair.
"Of course," he said, "it depends upon how much they want to keep you apart. But you know that you are running great risks?"
"Why, no," Mr. Sabin said. "I scarcely thought that. I have understood that the society was by no means in its former flourishing condition."
Felix laughed scornfully.
"They have never been," he answered, "richer or more powerful. During the last twelve months they have been active in every part of Europe."
Mr. Sabin's face hardened.
"Very well!" he said. "We will try their strength."
"We!" Felix laughed shortly. "You forget that my hands are tied. I cannot help you or Lucille. You must know that."
"You cannot interfere directly," Mr. Sabin admitted. "Yet you are Lucille's brother, and I am forced to appeal to you. If you will be my companion for a little while I think I can show you how you can help Lucille at any rate, and yet run no risk."
The little party at the next table were breaking up at last. Lady Carey, pale and bored, with tired, swollen eyes—they were always a little prominent—rose languidly and began to gather together her belongings. As she did so she looked over the back of her chair and met Mr. Sabin's eyes. He rose at once and bowed. She cast a quick sidelong glance at her companions, which he at once understood.
"I have the honour, Lady Carey," he said, "of recalling myself to your recollection. We met in Paris and London not so very many years ago. You perhaps remember the cardinal's dinner?"
A slight smile flickered upon her lips. The man's adroitness always excited her admiration.
"I remember it perfectly, and you, Duke," she answered. "Have you made your home on this side of the water?"
Mr. Sabin shook his head slowly.
"Home!" he repeated. "Ah, I was always a bird of passage, you remember. Yet I have spent three very delightful years in this country."
"And I," she said, lowering her tone and leaning towards him, "one very stupid, idiotic day."
Mr. Sabin assumed the look of a man who denies any personal responsibility in an unfortunate happening.
"It was regrettable," he murmured, "but I assure you that it was unavoidable. Lucille's brother must have a certain claim upon me, and it was his first day in America."
She was silent for a moment. Then she turned abruptly towards the door. Her friends were already on the way.
"Come with me," she said. "I want to speak to you."
He followed her out into the lobby. Felix came a few paces behind. The restaurant was still full of people, the hum of conversation almost drowning the music. Every one glanced curiously at Lady Carey, who was a famous woman. She carried herself with a certain insolent indifference, the national deportment of her sex and rank. The women whispered together that she was "very English."
In the lobby she turned suddenly upon Mr. Sabin.
"Will you take me back to my hotel?" she asked pointedly.
"I regret that I cannot," he answered. "I have promised to show Felix some of the wonders of New York by night."
"You can take him to-morrow."
"To-morrow," Mr. Sabin said, "he leaves for the West."
She looked closely into his impassive face.
"I suppose that you are lying," she said shortly.
"Your candour," he answered coldly, "sometimes approaches brutality."
She leaned towards him, her face suddenly softened.
"We are playing a foolish game with one another," she murmured. "I offer you an alliance, my friendship, perhaps my help."
"What can I do," he answered gravely, "save be grateful—and accept?"
She stopped short. It was Mr. Sabin's luck which had intervened. Herbert Daikeith stood at her elbow.
"Lady Carey," he said, "they're all gone but the mater and I. Forgive my interrupting you," he added hastily.
"You can go on, Herbert," she added. "The Duc de Souspennier will bring me."
Mr. Sabin, who had no intention of doing anything of the sort, turned towards the young man with a smile.
"Lady Carey has not introduced us," he said, "but I have seen you at Ranelagh quite often. If you are still keen on polo you should have a try over here. I fancy you would find that these American youngsters can hold their own. All right, Felix, I am ready now. Lady Carey, I shall do myself the honour of waiting upon you early to-morrow morning, as I have a little excursion to propose. Good-night."
She shrugged her shoulders ever so slightly as she turned away. Mr. Sabin smiled—faintly amused. He turned to Felix.
"Come," he said, "we have no time to lose."
"I regret," Mr. Sabin said to Felix as they sat side by side in the small coupe, "that your stay in this country will be so brief."
"Indeed," Felix answered. "May I ask what you call brief?"
Mr. Sabin looked out of the carriage window.
"We are already," he said, "on the way to England."
"This," he said, "is like old times."
Mr. Sabin smiled.
"The system of espionage here," he remarked, "is painfully primitive. It lacks finesse and judgment. The fact that I have taken expensive rooms on the Campania, and that I have sent many packages there, that my own belongings are still in my rooms untouched, seems to our friends conclusive evidence that I am going to attempt to leave America by that boat. They have, I believe, a warrant for my arrest on some ridiculous charge which they intend to present at the last moment. They will not have the opportunity."
"But there is no other steamer sailing to-morrow, is there?" Felix asked.
"Not from New York," Mr. Sabin answered, "but it was never my intention to sail from New York. We are on our way to Boston now, and we sail in the Saxonia at six o'clock to-morrow morning."
"We appear to be stopping at the Waldorf," Felix remarked.
"It is quite correct," Mr. Sabin answered. "Follow me through the hall as quickly as possible. There is another carriage waiting at the other entrance, and I expect to find in it Duson and my dressing-case."
They alighted and made their way though the crowded vestibules. At the Thirty-fourth Street entrance a carriage was drawn up. Duson was standing upon the pavement, his pale, nervous face whiter than ever under the electric light. Mr. Sabin stopped short.
"Felix," he said, "one word. If by any chance things have gone wrong they will not have made any arrangements to detain you. Catch the midnight train to Boston and embark on the Saxonia. There will be a cable for you at Liverpool. But the moment you leave me send this despatch."
Felix nodded and put the crumpled-up piece of paper in his pocket. The two men passed on. Duson took off his hat, but his fingers were trembling. The carriage door was opened and a tall, spare man descended.
"This is Mr. Sabin?" he remarked.
Mr. Sabin bowed.
"That is my name," he admitted, "by which I have been generally called in this democratic country. What is your business with me?"
"I rather guess that you're my prisoner," the man answered. "If you'll step right in here we can get away quietly."
"The suggestion," Mr. Sabin remarked, "sounds inviting, but I am somewhat pressed for time. Might I inquire the nature of the charge you have against me?"
"They'll tell you that at the office," the man answered. "Get in, please."
Mr. Sabin looked around for Felix, but he had disappeared. He took out his cigarette-case.
"You will permit me first to light a cigarette," he remarked.
"All right! Only look sharp."
Mr. Sabin kept silence in the carriage. The drive was a long one. When they descended he looked up at Duson, who sat upon the box.
"Duson," he said, and his voice, though low, was terrible, "I see that I can be mistaken in men. You are a villain."
The man sprung to his feet, hat in hand. His face was wrung with emotion.
"Your Grace," he said, "it is true that I betrayed you. But I did it without reward. I am a ruined man. I did it because the orders which came to me were such as I dare not disobey. Here are your keys, your Grace, and money."
Mr. Sabin looked at him steadily.
"You, too, Duson?"
"I too, alas, your Grace!"
Mr. Sabin considered for a moment.
"Duson," he said, "I retain you in my service. Take my luggage on board the Campania to-morrow afternoon, and pay the bill at the hotel. I shall join you on the boat."
Duson was amazed. The man who was standing by laughed.
"If you take my advice, sir," he remarked, "you'll order your clothes to be sent here. I've a kind of fancy the Campania will sail without you to-morrow."
"You have my orders, Duson," Mr. Sabin said. "You can rely upon seeing me."
The detective led the way into the building, and opened the door leading into a large, barely furnished office.
"Chief's gone home for the night, I guess," he remarked. "We can fix up a shakedown for you in one of the rooms behind."
"I thank you," Mr. Sabin said, sitting down in a high-backed wooden chair; "I decline to move until the charge against me is properly explained."
"There is no one here to do it just now," the man answered. "Better make yourself comfortable for a bit."
"You detain me here, then," Mr. Sabin said, "without even a sight of your warrant or any intimation as to the charge against me?"
"Oh, the chief'll fix all that," the man answered. "Don't you worry."
Mr. Sabin smiled.
In a magnificently furnished apartment somewhere in the neighbourhood of Fifth Avenue a small party of men were seated round a card table piled with chips and rolls of bills. On the sideboard there was a great collection of empty bottles, spirit decanters and Vichy syphons. Mr. Horser was helping himself to brandy and water with one hand and holding himself up with the other. There was a knock at the door.
A man who was still playing looked up. He was about fifty years of age, clean shaven, with vacuous eyes and a weak mouth. He was the host of the party.
"Come in!" he shouted.
A young man entered in a long black overcoat and soft hat. He looked about him without surprise, but he seemed to note Mr. Horser's presence with some concern. The man at the table threw down his cards.
"What the devil do you want, Smith?"
"An important despatch from Washington has just arrived, sir. I have brought it up with the codebook."
"From Washington at this time of the night," he exclaimed thickly. "Come in here, Smith."
He raised the curtains leading into a small anteroom, and turned up the electric light. His clerk laid the message down on the table before him.
"Here is the despatch, Mr. Mace," he said, "and here is the translation."
"English Ambassador demands immediate explanation of arrest of Duke Souspennier at Waldorf to-night. Reply immediately what charge and evidence. Souspennier naturalised Englishman."
Mr. Mace sprang to his feet with an oath. He threw aside the curtain which shielded the room from the larger apartment.
"Horser, come here, you damned fool!"
Horser, with a stream of magnificent invectives, obeyed the summons. His host pointed to the message.
Mr. Horser read and his face grew even more repulsive. A dull purple flush suffused his cheeks, his eyes were bloodshot, and the veins on his forehead stood out like cords. He leaned for several moments against the table and steadily cursed Mr. Sabin, the government at Washington, and something under his breath which he did not dare to name openly.
"Oh, shut up!" his host said at last. "How the devil are we going to get out of this?"
Mr. Horser left the room and returned with a tumbler full of brandy and a very little water.
"Take a drink yourself," he said. "It'll steady you."
"Oh, I'm steady enough," Mr. Mace replied impatiently. "I want to know how you're going to get us out of this. What was the charge, anyhow?"
"Passing forged bills," Horser answered. "Parsons fixed it up."
Mr. Mace turned a shade paler.
"Where the devil's the sense in a charge like that?" he answered fiercely. "The man's a millionaire. He'll turn the tables on us nicely."
"We've got to keep him till after the Campania sails, anyhow," Horser said doggedly.
"We're not going to keep him ten minutes," Mace replied. "I'm going to sign the order for his release."
Horser's speech was thick with drunken fury. "By —- I'll see that you don't!" he exclaimed.
Mace turned upon him angrily.
"You selfish fool!" he muttered. "You're not in the thing, anyhow. If you think I'm going to risk my position for the sake of one little job you're wrong. I shall go down myself and release him, with an apology."
"He'll have his revenge all the same," Horser answered. "It's too late now to funk the thing. They can't budge you. We'll see to that. We hold New York in our hands. Be a man, Mace, and run a little risk. It's fifty thousand."
Mace looked up at him curiously.
"What do you get out of it, Horser?"
Horser's face hardened.
"Not one cent!" he declared fiercely. "Only if I fail it might be unpleasant for me next time I crossed."
"I don't know!" Mace declared weakly. "I don't know what to do. It's twelve hours, Horser, and the charge is ridiculous."
"You have me behind you."
"I can't tell them that at Washington," Mace said.
"It's a fact, all the same. Don't be so damned nervous."
Mace dismissed his clerk, and found his other guests, too, on the point of departure. But the last had scarcely left before a servant entered with another despatch.
Mace handed it to his companion.
"This settles it," he declared. "I shall go round and try and make my peace with the fellow."
Horser stood in the way, burly, half-drunk and vicious. He struck his host in the face with clenched fist. Mace went down with scarcely a groan. A servant, hearing the fall, came hurrying back.
"Your master is drunk and he has fallen down," Horser said. "Put him to bed—give him a sleeping draught if you've got one."
The servant bent over the unconscious man.
"Hadn't I better fetch a doctor, sir?" he asked. "I'm afraid he's hurt."
"Not he!" Horser answered contemptuously. "He's cut his cheek a little, that's all. Put him to bed. Say I shall be round again by nine o'clock."
Horser put on his coat and left the house. The morning sunlight was flooding the streets. Away down town Mr. Sabin was dozing in his high-backed chair.
Felix, after an uneventful voyage, landed duly at Liverpool. To his amazement the first person he saw upon the quay was Mr. Sabin, leaning upon his stick and smoking a cigarette.
"Come, come, Felix!" he exclaimed. "Don't look at me as though I were a ghost. You have very little confidence in me, after all, I see."
"But—how did you get here?"
"The Campania, of course. I had plenty of time. It was easy enough for those fellows to arrest me, but they never had a chance of holding me."
"But how did you get away in time?"
Mr. Sabin sighed.
"It was very simple," he said. "One day, while one of those wonderful spies was sleeping on my doormat I slipped away and went over to Washington, saw the English Ambassador, convinced him of my bonafides, told him very nearly the whole truth. He promised if I wired him that I was arrested to take my case up at once. You sent the despatch, and he kept his word. I breakfasted on Saturday morning at the Waldorf, and though a great dray was driven into my carriage on the way to the boat, I escaped, as I always do—and here I am."
"Unhurt!" Felix remarked with a smile, "as usual!"
Mr. Sabin nodded.
"The driver of my carriage was killed, and Duson had his arm broken," he said. "I stepped out of the debris without a scratch. Come into the Customs House now and get your baggage through. I have taken a coupe on the special train and ordered lunch."
Before long they were on the way to London. Mr. Sabin, whilst luncheon was being served, talked only of the lightest matters. But afterwards, when coffee was served and he had lit a cigarette, he leaned over towards Felix.
"Felix," he said, "your sister is dear to you?"
"She is the only creature on earth," Felix said, "whom I care for. She is very dear to me, indeed."
"Am I right," Mr. Sabin asked, "in assuming that the old enmity between us is dead, that the last few years has wiped away the old soreness.
"Yes," Felix answered. "I know that she was happy with you. That is enough for me."
"You and I," Mr. Sabin continued, "must work out her salvation. Do not be afraid that I am going to ask you impossibilities. I know that our ways must lie apart. You can go to her at once. It may be many, many months before I can catch even a glimpse of her. Never mind. Let me feel that she has you within the circle, and I without, with our lives devoted to her."
"You may rely upon that," Felix answered. "Wherever she is I am going. I shall be there. I will watch over her."
Mr. Sabin sighed.
"The more difficult task is mine," he said, "but I have no fear of failure. I shall find her surrounded by spies, by those who are now my enemies. Still, they will find it hard to shake me off. It may be that they took her from me only out of revenge. If that be so my task will be easier. If there are other dangers which she is called upon to face, it is still possible that they might accept my service instead."
"You would give it?" Felix exclaimed.
"To the last drop of blood in my body," Mr. Sabin answered. "Save for my love for her I am a dead man upon the earth. I have no longer politics or ambition. So the past can easily be expunged. Those who must be her guiding influence shall be mine."
"You will win her back," Felix said. "I am sure of it."
"I am willing to pay any price on earth," Mr. Sabin answered. "If they can forget the past I can. I want you to remember this. I want her to know it. I want them to know it. That is all, Felix."
Mr. Sabin leaned back in his seat. He had left this country last a stricken and defeated man, left it with the echoes of his ruined schemes crashing in his ears. He came back to it a man with one purpose only, and that such a purpose as never before had guided him—the love of a woman. Was it a sign of age, he wondered, this return to the humanities? His life had been full of great schemes, he had wielded often a gigantic influence, more than once he had made history. And now the love of these things had gone from him. Their fascination was powerless to quicken by a single beat his steady pulse. Monarchy or republic—what did he care? It was Lucille he wanted, the woman who had shown him how sweet even defeat might be, who had made these three years of his life so happy that they seemed to have passed in one delightful dream. Were they dead, annihilated, these old ambitions, the old love of great doings, or did they only slumber? He moved in his seat uneasily.
At Euston the two men separated with a silent handshake. Mr. Sabin drove to one of the largest and newest of the modern hotels de luxe. He entered his name as Mr. Sabin—the old exile's hatred of using his title in a foreign country had become a confirmed habit with him—and mingled freely with the crowds who thronged into the restaurant at night. There were many faces which he remembered, there were a few who remembered him. He neither courted nor shunned observation. He sat at dinner-time at a retired table, and found himself watching the people with a stir of pleasure. Afterwards he went round to a famous club, of which he had once been made a life member, but towards midnight he was wearied of the dull decorum of his surroundings, and returning to the hotel, sought the restaurant once more. The stream of people coming in to supper was greater even than at dinner-time. He found a small table, and ordered some oysters. The sight of this bevy of pleasure-seekers, all apparently with multitudes of friends, might have engendered a sense of loneliness in a man of different disposition. To Mr. Sabin his isolation was a luxury. He had an uninterrupted opportunity of pursuing his favourite study.
There entered a party towards midnight, to meet whom the head-waiter himself came hurrying from the further end of the room, and whose arrival created a little buzz of interest. The woman who formed the central figure of the little group had for two years known no rival either at Court or in Society. She was the most beautiful woman in England, beautiful too with all the subtle grace of her royal descent. There were women upon the stage whose faces might have borne comparison with hers, but there was not one who in a room would not have sunk into insignificance by her side. Her movements, her carriage were incomparable—the inherited gifts of a race of women born in palaces.
Mr. Sabin, who neither shunned nor courted observation, watched her with a grim smile which was not devoid of bitterness. Suddenly she saw him. With a little cry of wonder she came towards him with outstretched hands.
"It is marvelous," she exclaimed. "You? Really you?"
He bowed low over her hands.
"It is I, dear Helene," he answered. "A moment ago I was dreaming. I thought that I was back once more at Versailles, and in the presence of my Queen."
She laughed softly.
"There may be no Versailles," she murmured, "but you will be a courtier to the end of your days."
"At least," he said, "believe me that my congratulations come from my heart. Your happiness is written in your face, and your husband must be the proudest man in England."
He was standing now by her side, and he held out his hand to Mr. Sabin.
"I hope, sir," he said pleasantly, "that you bear me no ill-will."
"It would be madness," Mr. Sabin answered. "To be the most beautiful peeress in England is perhaps for Helene a happier fate than to be the first queen of a new dynasty."
"And you, uncle?" Helene said. "You are back from your exile then. How often I have felt disposed to smile when I thought of you, of all men, in America."
"I went into exile," Mr. Sabin answered, "and I found paradise. The three years which have passed since I saw you last have been the happiest of my life."
"Lucille!" Helene exclaimed.
"Is my wife," Mr. Sabin answered.
"Delightful!" Helene murmured. "She is with you then, I hope. Indeed, I felt sure that I saw her the other night at the opera."
"At the opera!" Mr. Sabin for a moment was silent. He would have been ashamed to confess that his heart was beating strongly, that a crowd of eager questions trembled upon his lips. He recovered himself after a moment.
"Lucille is not with me for the moment," he said in measured tones. "I am detaining you from your guests, Helene. If you will permit me I will call upon you."
"Won't you join us?" Lord Camperdown asked courteously. "We are only a small party—the Portuguese Ambassador and his wife, the Duke of Medchester, and Stanley Phillipson."
Mr. Sabin rose at once.
"I shall be delighted," he said.
Lord Camperdown hesitated for a moment.
"I present Monsieur le Due de Souspennier, I presume?" he remarked, smiling.
Mr. Sabin bowed.
"I am Mr. Sabin," he said, "at the hotels and places where one travels. To my friends I have no longer an incognito. It is not necessary."
It was a brilliant little supper party, and Mr. Sabin contributed at least his share to the general entertainment. Before they dispersed he had to bring out his tablets to make notes of his engagements. He stood on the top of the steps above the palm-court to wish them good-bye, leaning on his stick. Helene turned back and waved her hand.
"He is unchanged," she murmured, "yet I fear that there must be trouble."
"Why? He seemed cheerful enough," her husband remarked.
She dropped her voice a little.
"Lucille is in London. She is staying at Dorset House."
Mr. Sabin was deep in thought. He sat in an easy-chair with his back to the window, his hands crossed upon his stick, his eyes fixed upon the fire. Duson was moving noiselessly about the room, cutting the morning's supply of newspapers and setting them out upon the table. His master was in a mood which he had been taught to respect. It was Mr. Sabin who broke the silence.
"I have always, as you know, ignored your somewhat anomalous position as the servant of one man and the slave of a society. The questions which I am about to ask you you can answer or not, according to your own apprehensions of what is due to each."
"I thank your Grace!"
"My departure from America seemed to incite the most violent opposition on the part of your friends. As you know, it was with a certain amount of difficulty that I reached this country. Now, however, I am left altogether alone. I have not received a single warning letter. My comings and goings, although purposely devoid of the slightest secrecy, are absolutely undisturbed. Yet I have some reason to believe that your mistress is in London."
"Your Grace will pardon me," Duson said, "but there is outside a gentleman waiting to see you to whom you might address the same questions with better results, for compared with him I know nothing. It is Monsieur Felix."
"Why have you kept him waiting?" Mr. Sabin asked.
"Your Grace was much absorbed," Duson answered.
Felix was smoking a cigarette, and Mr. Sabin greeted him with a certain grim cordiality.
"Is this permitted—this visit?" he asked, himself selecting a cigarette and motioning his guest to a chair.
"It is even encouraged," Felix answered.
"You have perhaps some message?"
"I am glad to see you," Mr. Sabin said. "Just now I am a little puzzled. I will put the matter to you. You shall answer or not, at your own discretion."
"I am ready," Felix declared.
"You know the difficulty with which I escaped from America," Mr. Sabin continued. "Every means which ingenuity could suggest seemed brought to bear against me. And every movement was directed, if not from here, from some place in Europe. Well, I arrived here four days ago. I live quite openly, I have even abjured to some extent my incognito. Yet I have not received even a warning letter. I am left absolutely undisturbed."
Felix looked at him thoughtfully.
"And what do you deduce from this?" he asked.
"I do not like it," Mr. Sabin answered drily.
"After all," Felix remarked, "it is to some extent natural. The very openness of your life here makes interference with you more difficult, and as to warning letters—well, you have proved the uselessness of them."
"Perhaps," Mr. Sabin answered. "At the same time, if I were a superstitious person I should consider this inaction ominous."
"You must take account also," Felix said, "of the difference in the countries. In England the police system, if not the most infallible in the world, is certainly the most incorruptible. There was never a country in which security of person and life was so keenly watched over as here. In America, up to a certain point, a man is expected to look after himself. The same feeling does not prevail here."
Mr. Sabin assented.
"And therefore," he remarked, "for the purposes of your friends I should consider this a difficult and unpromising country in which to work."
"Other countries, other methods!" Felix remarked laconically.
"Exactly! It is the new methods which I am anxious to discover," Mr. Sabin said. "No glimmering of them as yet has been vouchsafed to me. Yet I believe that I am right in assuming that for the moment London is the headquarters of your friends, and that Lucille is here?"
"If that is meant for a question," Felix said, "I may not answer it."
Mr. Sabin nodded.
"Yet," he suggested, "your visit has an object. To discover my plans perhaps! You are welcome to them."
Felix thoughtfully knocked the ashes off his cigarette.
"My visit had an object," he admitted, "but it was a personal one. I am not actually concerned in the doings of those whom you have called my friends."
"We are alone," Mr. Sabin reminded him. "My time is yours."
"You and I," Felix said, "have had our periods of bitter enmity. With your marriage to Lucille these, so far as I am concerned, ended for ever. I will even admit that in my younger days I was prejudiced against you. That has passed away. You have been all your days a bold and unscrupulous schemer, but ends have at any rate been worthy ones. To-day I am able to regard you with feelings of friendliness. You are the husband of my dear sister, and for years I know that you made her very happy. I ask you, will you believe in this statement of my attitude towards you?"