Part 3 out of 5
"After all," she interrupted, "I think I had better read."
"Please don't!" he begged, "I promise to talk most seriously. It is not
my fault if I forgot for a moment. You looked at me, you know, and we
are not used to eyes like that in England."
"You are either very silly," she said, "or very impertinent. I think
that I shall send you away."
"There is no one else," he said, looking around, "to entertain you, and
I am really going to try very hard to."
"Then please reach me up those chocolates and begin," she said. "Tell me
about where you live in the country."
Mildmay, who had seven houses in different parts of the United Kingdom,
was a little at a loss, but he talked to her about one, in which, by the
by, he never lived, a gaunt grey stone building on the Northumbrian
coast, whose windows were splashed with the spray of the North Sea, but
whose gardens were famous throughout the north of England. He very soon
succeeded in interesting her. She felt something absurdly restful in the
sound of his strong, good-natured voice, with its slightly protective
intonation. They sat there until the luncheon gong rang, and then they
rose and walked for a time together. The sun had come out, and the grey
sea was changing into blue. The decks were dry. The syren had ceased to
blow. The motion of the ship had become soothing, and the spray, which
leaped now into the air, sparkled in the sunlight like diamond drops.
"What a change!" she murmured, looking around.
"Wonderful, isn't it?" he assented. "And what a gloriously salt breeze!"
"I declare," she said, "I am positively hungry! I believe, after all,
that I am going to enjoy this voyage."
After luncheon she hesitated for a moment, and then with a little sigh
turned into her stateroom. She sat down upon her bunk, and leaning her
elbow on the round space, gazed thoughtfully out of the open port-hole.
Had she been foolish to forget for a little while, and was she in danger
of being more foolish still! Her thoughts travelled back to the little
farmhouse so far removed from civilization. She thought of the altered
life they were all living there, her father freed from care, her
brother at college, her mother with that anxious light banished from her
eyes, no more having to scheme day by day how to pay the tradesmen's
slender bills which so quickly became formidable. To think that the old
days might return was a nightmare to her. She felt that she would do
anything, dare anything, to win her way back to her old position with
her uncle. Only a few words had passed between them at parting. She had
asked him to let her people know nothing, to let them believe that she
had gone on a journey for him.
"Let them have a few more months!" she begged. "Then if I succeed in
what I am going to try, it will be all right. If I fail, well, they will
have been happy for a little longer."
He had spoken no word of hope to her. He had made no promises. All that
he had said had been curt and to the point.
"What you lost it is open for you to find. If it is found, it will be as
though it were not lost."
But what a wild-goose chase it seemed! How could she hope for success!
Even Stella would laugh at her; and Vine,--she had seen him only once,
but she could imagine the smile with which he would greet any entreaties
she could frame. She shook her head at her own thoughts. Entreaties! She
would have to choose other weapons than these. By force and cunning she
had been robbed; her only chance of effective reply would be to use the
same means, only to use them more surely. Meanwhile she told herself
that she must keep away from these distractions. After all, she was only
a child, and she had had so little kindness from any one. Her head sank
a little lower, and her hands went up before her eyes. What an idiot she
was, after all! Then she locked the door, and cried herself to sleep.
"WILL YOU MARRY ME?"
"This time," he said firmly, "you cannot escape me. Will you sit down in
your chair, or shall we talk here?"
She glanced up at him, and the words which she had prepared died away
on her lips. She led the way quite meekly to where their chairs remained
side by side.
"We will sit down if you like, for a short time," she said, hesitatingly.
"I cannot stay long. I still have a good deal of packing to do."
He did not answer until he had arranged her rug and made her comfortable.
It was the last few hours of their voyage. Facing them they could see in
the distance the lights of Wales. Next morning would see them in dock.
"I will not keep you very long," he said, drawing his chair quite close
to hers, so that they could not be overheard, "but I insist upon knowing
why for the last twenty-four hours you have done nothing but avoid me? I
have not offended you in any way, have I?"
"No!" she answered, looking steadily away at the lights, "you know that
you have not."
"On the contrary," he continued, "I have done what little I could to
make the voyage more endurable to you. Of course I know the pleasure of
your society more than compensated me for any little services I have
been able to render, but still I have done nothing to deserve this
altered treatment from you, and I am determined to know what it means."
"You are exaggerating trifles," she said coldly. "I have felt nervous
and depressed all day, and I did not care to talk to any one. I have not
avoided you more than anybody else."
"That," he answered, "is not true."
She turned slowly round till he could see her face, still and pale and
cold, almost, it seemed to him, luminously white in the heavy darkness
of the moonless hour.
"You can contradict me if you choose," she said, "but you can scarcely
expect me to sit here and listen to you."
He leaned a little closer, and she suddenly felt her hand clasped in
"Virginia," he said,--"yes, I mean it--Virginia, don't be unkind to me,
our last night. You know very well that it hurts me to have you speak
and look at me so. Besides, we are going to be friends; you promised me
that, you know."
"If I did," she answered, "it was very foolish. Friends means the giving
and taking of confidences, and I have none to give. I am going to do
strange things, and in an odd way, and I have no explanations to offer.
If I had friends, they would think that I had taken leave of my senses,
and they would want me to explain. That is just what I cannot do. That
is why I am sure it would be better if you would let me alone."
"I shall not do that," he answered firmly. "I am not a morbidly curious
person, nor do I want to pry into your affairs, but I cannot help
feeling that you are in some sort of trouble, and that it would be good
for you, in a strange country, to have some one on whose help you could
rely in case of need."
"You mean well, I know," she answered, "but you are asking
impossibilities. If you should happen to come across me over here, you
will understand what I mean. I am going to do things which very likely
you would be ashamed to think that any friend of yours would do."
He turned upon her a little angrily.
"Child," he said, "if I weren't so fond of you I think you would make me
lose my temper. How old are you?"
"Nineteen," she answered, "but it isn't any business of yours."
"No business of mine!" he repeated. "Heavens! Isn't it the business of
any man to look after a child like you? Nineteen years old, indeed, and
most of them spent in a farmhouse! How do you know that these things
which you talk about doing are right or necessary? Don't you see you are
not old enough to be a judge of the serious things of life? You want
some one to take care of you, Virginia. Will you marry me?"
"Will I what?" she gasped.
"Wasn't I explicit enough?" he asked. "I said marry me."
She would have risen from her chair, but he calmly took her arm and drew
her down again.
"I will not stay here," she declared, "and hear you talk such rubbish."
"It is not rubbish," he answered, "but I will admit that I should not
have said anything about it yet, if it had not been for your vague
threats of what you were going to do. Virginia," he added, dropping his
voice almost to a whisper, "you know that I am fond of you. I have been
fond of you ever since I first saw you here."
"Six days ago," she murmured drearily.
"Six days or six weeks, it's all the same," he declared. "I wasn't going
to say anything just yet, but I can't bear the thought of leaving you at
Liverpool, in a strange country, and without any friends. Be sensible,
dear, and tell me all about it later on. First of all, I want my answer."
"Is that necessary?" she replied quietly. "Even in America, we don't
promise to marry people whom we have known but six days."
"Wait until you have known me longer, then," he answered, "but give me
at least the chance of knowing you."
"You are a very foolish person," she said, a little more kindly. "You do
not know who I am, or anything about me. Some day or other you will be
very glad that I did not take advantage of your kindness."
"You think that I ask you this," he said, "because I am sorry for you?"
"I don't want to think about it at all," she answered, rising. "I am not
going to sit here any longer. We will walk a while, if you like."
They paced together up and down the deck. She asked him questions about
the lights, the landing at Liverpool, the train service to London, and
she kept always very near to one of the other promenading couples. At
last she stopped before the companion-way, and held out her hand.
"This must be our good night," she said, "and good-bye if I do not see
anything of you in the morning. I suppose it will be a terrible crush
getting on shore."
"It will not be good-bye," he said, "because however great the rush is I
shall see you in the morning. As for the rest, you have been very unkind
to me to-night, but I can wait. London is not a large place. I dare say
we shall meet again."
The look in her eyes puzzled him no less than her words.
"Oh! I hope not," she said fervently. "I don't want to meet any one in
London except one person. Good night, Mr. Mildmay!"
He turned away, and almost ran into the arms of Littleson, who had been
watching them curiously.
"Come and have a drink," the latter said.
The two men made their way to the smoking room. Littleson lit a
cigarette as he sipped his whisky and soda.
"Charming young lady, Miss Longworth," he remarked nonchalantly.
Mildmay agreed, but his acquiescence was stiff, and a little abrupt. He
would have changed the subject, but Littleson was curious.
"Can't understand," he said, "what she's doing crossing over here alone.
I saw her the first day out. She came and asked me, in fact, to forget
that I had ever seen her before. Queer thing, very!"
Mildmay deliberately set down his glass.
"Do you mind," he said, "if we don't discuss it? I fancy that Miss
Longworth has her own reasons for wishing not to be talked about, and in
any case a smoking-room is scarcely the proper place to discuss her. I
think I will go to bed, if you don't mind."
Littleson shrugged his shoulders as the Englishman disappeared.
"Touchy lot, these Britishers," he remarked.
THE AMERICAN AMBASSADOR
Conversation had begun to languish between the two men. Vine had
answered all his host's inquiries about old friends and acquaintances on
the other side, inquiries at first eager, then more spasmodic, until at
last they were interspersed with brief periods of silence. And all the
time Vine had said nothing as to the real object of his visit. Obviously
he had come with something to say; almost as obviously he seemed to find
a certain difficulty in approaching the subject. It was his host, after
all, who paved the way.
"Tell me, Vine," he said, knocking the ash from his cigar, and leaning a
little forward in his chair, "what has brought you to London just now.
It was only a fortnight ago that I heard you were up to your neck in
work, and had no hopes of leaving New York before the autumn."
"I thought so then," he said quietly. "The fact is, something has
happened which brought me over here with one object, and one object
only--to ask your advice."
The elder man nodded, and if he felt any surprise, successfully
concealed it. Even then Vine still hesitated.
"It's a difficult matter," he said, "and a very important one. I have
thought it out myself from every point of view, and I came to the
conclusion that it would be better for me to come over to Europe for a
week or two, and change my environment completely. Besides, I believe
that you are the one man whom I can rely upon to give me sound and
"It does not concern," the other asked, "my diplomatic position in any
"Not in the least," Vine answered. "You see it is something like this.
You know that since I became editor and part proprietor of the _Post_ I
have tried to take up a strong position with regard to our modern
"You mean," his host interrupted, "that you have taken sides against the
"Exactly!" Vine answered. "Of course, from a money-making point of view
I know that it was a mistake. The paper scarcely pays its way now, and I
seem to find enemies wherever I turn, and in whatever way I seek to
develop it as a proprietor. However, we have held our own so far,
although I don't mind telling you that we have been hard pushed. Well, a
few days before I left New York there came into my hands, I won't say
how, a most extraordinary document. Of course, you know within the last
few months the Trusts have provoked an enmity far greater and more
dangerous than mine."
His host nodded.
"I should say so," he answered. "I am told that you are going to see
very exciting times over there."
"The first step," Vine continued, "has already been taken. There is a
bill coming before the Senate very shortly, which, if it is passed into
law, will strike at the very foundation of all these great corporations.
Five of the men most likely to be affected met together one night, and
four of them signed a document, guaranteeing a fund of one million
dollars for the purpose of bribing certain members of the Senate, who
had already been approached, and whose names are also upon the document.
You must not ask me how or in what manner, but that document has come
into my possession."
Vine's companion looked at him in astonishment.
"Are you sure of your facts, Vine?" he asked. "Are you sure that the
thing is not a forgery?"
"Absolutely certain!" Vine answered.
"Then you know, of course," his host continued, "that you hold all these
men in the hollow of your hand."
"Yes, I know it," Vine answered, "and so do they! They have offered me a
million dollars already for the document, but I have declined to sell.
While I considered what to do, I thought it better, for more reasons
than one, that I did not remain in New York."
"I should say so," the other remarked softly. "This is a big thing,
Vine. I could have scarcely realized it."
He rose to his feet, and took a few quick steps backwards and forwards.
The two men were sitting in wicker chairs on a small flat space on the
roof of the American Embassy in Ormonde Square. Vine's host, tall, with
shrewd, kindly face, the stoop of a student, and the short uneven
footsteps of a near-sighted man, was the ambassador himself. He had been
more famous, perhaps, in his younger days, as Philip Deane, the man of
letters, than as a diplomatist. His appointment to London had so far
been a complete success. He had shown himself possessed of shrewd and
far-reaching common sense, for which few save those who had known him
well, like Norris Vine, had given him credit. He stood now with his back
to Vine, looking down across the Square below, glittering with lights
aflame with the busy night life of the great city. The jingle of hansom
bells, and the distant roar of traffic down one of the great
thoroughfares, was never out of their ears; but in this place, cut off
from the house by the trap-door through which they had climbed, it was
cooler by far than the smoking-room, which they had deserted half an
For some reason Deane seemed to wish to let the subject rest for a
moment. He stood close to the little parapet, looking towards the
horizon, watching the dull glare of lights, whose concentrated
reflection was thrown upon a bank of heavy clouds.
"You have not told me, Norris," he remarked, "what you think of my
"It is cool, at any rate," Norris Vine answered. "I wonder why one
always feels the heat more in London than anywhere else in the world."
"It is because they have been so unaccustomed to it over here that they
have made no preparations to cope with it," Deane answered. "Then think
of the size of the place! What miles of pavements, and wildernesses of
slate roofs, to attract the sun and keep out the fresh air. Vine, who
are these men?" he asked, turning towards him abruptly.
Norris Vine smiled.
"Don't you think," he said, "that you can give me your advice better if
you do not know? I can tell you this, at any rate. They are men who
deserve whatever may happen to them. They are not of your world, my
friend. They are the men who have sucked the life-blood out of many and
many a prosperous town-village in our country. Don't think that I
hesitate for one moment for their sakes. I tell you frankly that my
first idea was to give the whole thing away in the _Post_."
"It would have been," Deane remarked, with a faint smile, "the biggest
journalistic scoop of the century."
"Well," he said, "I should have done it but for one man's advice. It
was John Drayton who showed me what the other side of the thing might
be. He pointed out that the innocent would suffer for the guilty, in
fact hundreds, perhaps thousands, of the innocent, would be ruined that
these few men might be punished. It was his belief that the publication
of this document, and the arrest of the men concerned in it, would cause
the worst panic that had ever been known in America. That is why I
stayed my hand and came over here to consult you."
The ambassador sighed, as he resumed his seat and lit another cigar.
"Drayton was right," he remarked softly. "He is a man of common sense,
and yet we must remember that great reforms are never instituted without
sacrifices. Could the country stand such a sacrifice as this? It is not
a matter to be decided in a moment."
"There is no need for haste," Vine answered. "I have the document with
me, and I do not mean to do anything in a hurry. Think it all over,
Deane, and tell me when I may come and see you again."
"Whenever you will," the ambassador answered, heartily. "You know very
well that I am always glad to see you. By the by, do you carry this
document about with you?"
Vine shook his head.
"No!" he answered drily. "I have too much regard for my personal
safety. The men whose names are there are fairly desperate, and they
would not stick at a trifle to get rid of me."
"You are very wise," Deane answered. "I should take care even over here.
I have heard of strange things happening in London. Oh, that reminds me.
A young lady was here only two days ago, asking for your address."
"Did she leave her name?" Vine asked, with a faint curiosity.
"I think not," the ambassador answered. "Wolfe saw her, and I asked him
the question particularly."
"I cannot imagine whom she could have been," Vine said, thoughtfully. "I
have not many acquaintances over here."
"Another man who was asking after you," Deane remarked, "was Littleson.
He was dining here last night."
"I can imagine," he said, "his being curious as to my whereabouts. I
have taken rooms where I don't think any one is likely to find me out
except by accident."
"I think," he said, "we had better go downstairs. The ladies will be
wondering what has become of us. My wife is expecting a young woman in
this evening whom I think you know--Stella Duge."
Vine started slightly.
"Yes," he said, "I have met Miss Duge often in New York."
A QUESTION OF COURAGE
Stella turned towards him with a slight frown upon her forehead.
"Do you mean, Norris, then, that after all you will not use your power
over these men, that you will let them go free?"
"Not if I can help it," he answered, "but there are many things to be
considered. I shall be guided largely by what Deane advises."
"It is absurd," she declared. "You have wanted money all your life,
money and power. You have both now in your grasp. If you do not use
them, I shall think--"
She hesitated. He shrugged his shoulders slightly.
"Go on!" he said.
"I shall think that you are a coward," she said quietly. "I shall think
that you are afraid to use what I risked--well, a great deal--to win
"It isn't a question of courage," he protested.
"It is," she answered. "You are afraid to do what in your heart you must
know is the right thing, because for a year or two, perhaps even a
decade of years, it will mean a great upheaval. The end must be good. I
am sure of it."
"If Deane and I," he answered, "can also convince ourselves of this, I
shall act. You need not be afraid of that."
"Deane and you!" she repeated, contemptuously. "Who am I, then, in your
counsels? Just a puppet, I suppose? Anyhow, it was I who ran the risk, I
who gave these men into your hands. If you play the poltroon,
everything is over between us, Norris."
He raised his eyes and looked at her in half-unwilling admiration. She
and their hostess had come out on to the roof, just as the two men had
been in the act of descending. A telephone call a few moments later had
summoned Deane away, and his wife, who found the air a little chilly,
had accompanied him. Stella was standing with her head thrown back, her
figure tall and splendid in her evening gown of white satin, thrown into
vivid relief against the background of empty air. She was angry, and the
pose suited her. The slight hardness of her expression was lost in the
dim blue twilight which still waited for the moon. Vine, an unemotional
man, felt with a curious strength the charm of this isolation on the
housetop, this tranquillity, so much more suggestive of solitude than
anything which could be realized within the walls of a room. He shivered
a little when he saw how close she was to the low parapet, and he held
out his hand. She took it at once, and her face softened.
"Dear Norris," she said, "forgive me if I am disagreeable, but think
what I went through to get that paper. Think how I have hoped that it
might mean everything to you, perhaps to us."
She faltered, and it was in his mind then to speak the words which she
had waited so long to hear from him, and yet he hesitated. He was a man
who loved his freedom, not perhaps in the ordinary sense of the word,
but he had still an almost passionate objection to lessening in any
degree his individual hold upon life, to giving any one else a permanent
right to share its struggles and its ambitions. He owed it to her, he
was very sure of that, and yet he hesitated. She bent towards him.
Perhaps she too felt that the moment was one not likely to be let go.
"Norris," she said, "don't listen to Deane or any of them. Strike your
blow. Your paper will become famous. Trust to that for your reward if
you will. If not a child, you could use your knowledge of what will
happen on the morning of its appearance to make a fortune. Do you know I
have grown to hate those men? If my father goes too, I do not care. I
owe him very little, and I have had enough of luxury. There is more to
be got out of a cottage in Italy or Switzerland, or even in England
here, than a mansion in our country. I wish I could convert you."
He shrugged his shoulders.
"It is different with us," he said. "A man must be where life is. I do
not think that I could ever be content with idleness."
"And yet when it comes," she reminded him, "you love it. Who was it who
spent a year in some little village near the Carpathians, and had almost
to be dragged back to civilization? Norris, sometimes I think that you
are a _poseur_."
He looked down into the street. A carriage had driven
up, and was waiting at the door below.
"We must go down," he said. "Mrs. Deane said ten minutes, and they are
more than up. You see the carriage is waiting there to take you to
She turned away reluctantly.
"Come with us," she begged, "or give us some supper afterwards. Mrs.
Deane would like that."
"I'll meet you afterwards," he said. "I am not in the mood for music
"Very well," she answered. "If Mrs. Deane doesn't care about supper you
can drive me home. Our talks always seem to be interrupted, and there is
so much I want to say to you."
In the lobby of Covent Garden he met Littleson, who had paused to light
a cigarette on his way out. He stepped forward and addressed
"I was trying to find you only this afternoon," he said. "Can you come
around to the club with me now, and have a talk?"
"Sorry," Vine answered. "I am here to meet some friends who will be out
"Will you lunch with me to-morrow?" Littleson asked.
"No!" Vine answered. "To tell you the truth, nothing would induce me to
accept any hospitality at your hands."
"You have made up your mind, then?" Littleson asked slowly.
"Never mind about that," Vine answered. "I have said all that I have to
say to you and your friends."
Littleson laid his hand for a moment upon the other's shoulder.
"Look here, Vine," he said, "you're what I call a crank of the first
order, but you are not a bad chap, and I'd hate to see you make the
mistake of your life. Weiss and the others are not the sort of men to
take an attack such as you threaten, sitting down. You take my advice
and leave it alone. Come round to my rooms, and we'll make a bargain of
it. I can promise you that you'll never need to go back to America to
"Life isn't all a matter of dollars," Vine answered contemptuously.
"There are other things worth thinking about. If I strike at you and
your friends, it is not for the money or the notoriety I could make out
of it. It is because I want to attack a villainous system, because I
consider that you and Weiss and the rest of you are really doing your
best to throttle the greatest country on God's earth."
"Well," Littleson said, "I have warned you. You are a crank, and a
foolish one at that. You are going about asking for trouble, and I think
you will find it. If you change your mind, come to me at Claridge's."
He walked away, and Vine turned to greet Mrs. Deane and Stella, who
were just coming out. Stella, whose eyes were still bright with the
excitement of the music, laid her hand for a moment softly in his.
"Where are you taking us for supper?" she answered.
"To the Carlton, or anywhere you choose," he answered. "Let me find the
Mrs. Deane held up her finger, and a tall footman, touching his hat,
"James has seen us," she said. "The carriage will be here in a moment. I
am going to speak to Lady Engelton. Will you look after Stella for a
moment, Mr. Vine?"
She turned away to speak to a little group of people who were standing
in one of the entrances. Stella and Vine stepped outside to escape the
crush, and Stella suddenly seized his arm.
"Look in that hansom," she said, pointing out to the street.
Vine's eyes followed her finger. He recognized Littleson, and with him a
man in morning clothes and low hat, a man whose face seemed familiar to
him, but whom he failed to recognize.
"I think," she said, drawing a little closer to him, "that you must not
hesitate any longer, if ever you mean to strike that blow. You saw Peter
"Yes!" he answered, "I have been talking to him."
"Do you know who that was with him?"
Vine shook his head.
"I can't remember," he said.
"That is Dan Prince," she whispered. "You know who he is. They call him
the most dangerous criminal unhanged. I should like to know what
Littleson wants with him."
Vine smiled a little grimly, as he stepped forward to help Mrs. Deane
into the carriage.
"I think," he murmured, "I can guess."
MR. MILDMAY AGAIN
It was her third day in London, and Virginia was discouraged. Neither at
the Embassy nor at his club had she been able to obtain any tidings of
the man of whom she was in search. There remained only a list of places
given her in New York by his servant, where he was likely to be met. She
went through them conscientiously, but without the slightest success.
Gradually she began to realize the difficulty, perhaps the hopelessness,
of her task. To find the man in London with such scanty information as
she possessed was difficult enough, and there remained the question, as
yet unanswered in her thoughts, as to what she would say or do if chance
ever should bring them face to face.
Her experiences in those days became almost a nightmare to her. Dressed
always in her quietest clothes, and with her natural reserve of manner
intensified by the circumstances in which she found herself, she was yet
more than once supremely uncomfortable. She became used to the doubtful
looks of the waiters to whom she presented herself and asked for a table
alone, at the different restaurants on her list. She found herself often
at such times the only unescorted woman in the place, and the cynosure
of a good many curious glances. Even when there were other women, they
were of a class which she instinctively recognized, and from whom she
shrank. But of actual adventures she had few. Apart from the fact of her
appearing alone, there was nothing in her manner to invite attention.
There came a day, however, when she found herself suddenly plunged into
the midst of more exciting events. She was sitting one afternoon in a
cafe in Regent Street, at a table near the door, whence she could watch
every one who came and went. Exactly behind her were two men, both
strangers to her, who had been talking in low tones ever since her
entrance. Her attention had been in no way attracted to them, and it was
only by chance that she suddenly caught the name of Norris Vine.
Her heart gave a little beat. It was only by a strong exercise of will
that she forbore to turn round. She pushed her chair a little further
backwards, saying something to the waiter about a draught, and taking up
a French newspaper which some one had left behind, she listened
intently. All that she could remember of the men was that one was small,
clean-shaven, very neatly dressed, and having rather the appearance of
an American; and that the other was a larger and more florid man, with
red face and burly shoulders. It was apparently the former who
"It is a matter of five thousand pounds," she heard him say, "that is to
say, two thousand five hundred pounds each, and it can be done without
risk. The man is little known here, and has few friends. He has rooms in
a flat to which there is plenty of access, two lifts on each floor and
separate exits, and he lives quite alone."
"Two thousand five hundred pounds!" the other man uttered. "It sounds
Then his voice dropped, and she could hear nothing else for a minute or
two. She called a waiter and ordered something, she scarcely knew what.
The voices behind had sunk lower and lower. She could hear nothing at
all now, but she gathered that the smaller man was pressing some
enterprise upon the other, and that his companion, although inclined to
accept, found difficulties. She waited for a little time, and presently
she began again to catch odd scraps of the conversation.
"Of course," she heard the smaller man say, "if we had him in New York
the thing would be absolutely easy. It is probably because he knows
that, that he came over here."
"He knows he is in danger, then?" the other voice asked.
"He knows that he carries his life in his hand," was the answer. "He
must know that he has done so since a few days before he sailed for
Europe. He is being watched the whole of the time, and from what I have
seen, I should say his nerves were beginning to give way a little under
The other man muttered something which she could not hear.
"It is not your concern or mine," his companion answered. "He has chosen
to court the enmity of some of the most powerful men in America, and it
is his own fault if he suffers for it. He has been playing a pretty big
game, but he doesn't hold quite all the cards."
There were more questions and answers, all unintelligible. She pushed
her chair a little farther back, still apparently without awakening
their suspicions, and then at last she heard something more definite.
"No. 57, Coniston Mansions. It is absolutely easy to get in. Nearly
every one in the flats is connected with the stage, and they are almost
deserted between half-past seven and eleven. To-night we know his
movements exactly. He will dine at his club, and return some time before
eleven to change, as he is going to a reception at the American Embassy."
"To-night is too soon," she heard the other man say. "I must have time
to look about the place. I want to understand exactly where the risks
are, and the easiest way to leave without being noticed. There are a lot
of small things like that to be considered, if the matter is to be done
"Every day's delay is dangerous," the smaller man said, doubtfully.
"Look here, Dick. It's a lot of money, and the offer may be withdrawn at
It occurred to Virginia suddenly that if these men were to see her face,
she might be recognized. She could see that they were on the point of
leaving, and their conversation was obviously at an end. She called for
a waiter, paid her bill, and went out.
She walked slowly down Regent Street, and turning up Shaftesbury Avenue,
made her way on foot to the boarding house near the British Museum where
she was living. She went straight up to her room and sat down to think.
She had decided that these men were probably employed by Littleson, and
that they were going to make an attempt, that night apparently, upon the
life of Norris Vine. In any case her first impulse would have been to
warn him, but she had also personal reasons for doing so. If this paper
which Vine held was recovered by some one else, her own mission would be
a failure. In the hands of Littleson and his friends, it would without a
doubt be promptly destroyed, and nothing would be left for her to do but
to go back to America and own her defeat. She decided that Norris Vine
must be warned. At first she thought of writing or telegraphing. Then
she remembered that it was already past six, and that Vine was not
expected to return to his rooms until after dinner. He would probably,
therefore, receive neither telegram nor letter before he had walked into
the trap. There was only one thing left for her to do. If these men
could obtain ingress to Vine's rooms, so could she. She must be there
first and warn him.
She changed her clothes, and after a few minutes' hesitation, set out
to dine at one of the restaurants which she had on her list. It was a
smart and somewhat Bohemian place, but even here women dining alone were
subjected to a good deal of remark, and her cheeks grew hot as she
remembered her first visit there, and the whispered discussion between
the waiters as to whether she should be given a table. She had become a
fairly regular customer there now, though, and to-night she was given a
table near the wall, an excellent vantage ground for her, but exactly
opposite three men, who had apparently been drinking heavily, and whose
whole attention, from the moment of her entrance, seemed fixed upon her.
She ordered her dinner, steadfastly ignoring them, and sat as usual with
her eyes fixed upon the door, but her indifference was not sufficient to
chill the ardour of the younger of the three men. She saw him call a
waiter and write something on the back of a card, and immediately
afterwards the waiter, with some hesitation, and a half-expressed
apology, presented it to her. She tore it in pieces, and went on with
her dinner without a word. Then a voice at her elbow startled her.
"Miss Longworth," it said, "won't you allow me to sit at your table? I
will promise not to intrude in any way, and you may possibly be saved
from such impertinences as that."
He pointed to the waiter, retiring discomfited, and Virginia, with a
little murmur of delight, recognized Mr. Mildmay standing before her.
"Mr. Mildmay!" she exclaimed, holding out her hand. "Why, how glad I am
to see you again!"
"And I you, Miss Longworth," he answered heartily, "but to be frank with
you, I would rather have met you somewhere else."
The colour which had suddenly streamed into her cheeks faded away, and
she sighed. Tall, and very immaculate in the neat simplicity of his
severe evening dress, he seemed to her a more formidable person than
ever he had done on the steamer. The disapproval, too, which he felt, he
could scarcely help showing in some measure in his face.
"Perhaps," she said, "I ought not to have asked you to do anything so
compromising as to sit with me. Please don't hesitate to say so if you
would rather not."
He seated himself by her side and drew the carte toward him.
"Have you ordered?" he asked.
"I am so sorry," she said, "but I am in no hurry. You can catch me up."
He ordered something from the waiter who was standing by, and then
turned again to her.
"You mustn't be unfair to me, please," he said. "It is only because I
hate to see you subjected to such affronts, that I have any feeling in
the matter at all. Couldn't you have a companion, or something of that
sort, if you must come to these places?"
She laughed softly.
"No!" she said, "I am afraid I couldn't do that, but if it really gives
you any satisfaction to hear it, I think that my search--I told you that
I had come to look for some one, didn't I?--will be over to-night, and
then it will not be necessary for me to do this sort of thing."
"I am glad," he answered heartily. "I am glad, that is to say, unless--"
"Unless it means your going back to America."
She raised her eyes to his.
"And how does that concern you?" she asked, simply.
"I wish to God I knew why it should!" he answered, almost bitterly. "Do
you know what a fool I have been making of myself for the last week or
so? I have given up my club and all my friends, refused every
invitation, and spent all my time going about from restaurant to
restaurant, cafe to cafe, hoping somewhere to come across _you_."
"Mr. Mildmay!"--she began.
"Oh! you need not look like that," he interrupted. "It's perfectly
true. I think you knew it upon the steamer. I suppose that last day I
made myself a nuisance to you, with my advice and fears, and all that
sort of thing. Well, you see, now I ask no questions. I am content to
take you as you are. You want some one to look after you, Virginia. Will
you marry me?"
She set down her glass, which was half raised to her lips, and looked at
him with wide open eyes and trembling lips.
Virginia seemed to find speech impossible, and it seemed to him that he
could see the tears gathering in her eyes.
"Forgive me," he said, leaning over the table towards her. "I ought to
have asked you differently, I know, but I am so afraid that you will
slip away, as you did before, and that I shall lose sight of you again.
You want some one to take care of you, dear, and I am going to do it."
She looked at him with swimming eyes, and he laid his hand softly for a
moment upon hers.
"Mr. Mildmay," she said, "you must not say such things to me. It is
quite impossible, entirely and absolutely impossible."
"I don't believe it," he answered calmly. "You will have to give me some
very good reasons before I go away again and leave you."
"Reasons!" she faltered. "Oh! there is every reason in the world. You
don't know me, or anything about me, and you know very well that I am
doing things here that no nice girl would do."
"I know nothing of the sort," he answered, smiling, "because you are a
nice girl. But, on the other hand, of course, I am glad to hear that
your search, whatever it may be, is over. You can tell me about it or
not, just as you please. Perhaps I may be able to help. Perhaps you
would like to tell me. If not, it doesn't matter."
She found speech difficult, almost impossible. He seemed so sure of his
position, so absolutely confident that there could be nothing which
could possibly separate them.
"But you don't understand," she tried to say. "I am not the sort of
person at all whom you ought to think of marrying. I am very, very poor,
and I am over here because I betrayed a trust, to try and steal back
something which was lost through my carelessness. I might be put in
prison for what I am trying to do. All sorts of things might happen to
me. You mustn't have anything to do with me."
He smiled, and rested his hand for a moment once more upon her thin
"Little girl," he said, "I believe in you, and that is quite enough. I
shall get a special license to-morrow."
She laughed a little hysterically.
"Forgive me," she said, wiping her eyes, "but over in New York they call
Englishmen slow. How dare you talk of special licenses, when I have told
you that I cannot, that I will not even think of marrying you!"
He looked at her with sudden keenness.
"Is there any one else?" he asked gravely.
She was forced to speak the truth.
"No, there is no one!" she said.
"Good!" he answered. "I thought not. As a matter of form, have you any
further reasons why you won't marry me?"
"I don't--care for you enough," she gasped.
"You will very soon," he answered reassuringly. "I really can make
myself quite an agreeable companion. You haven't seen enough of me yet.
Of course I know I'm rather taking you by storm, but I am not going to
leave you alone in a strange city, indulging in some melodramatic game
of hide and seek. You don't need to do that, Virginia. I am quite as
rich as ever you will want to be, and if any one has suffered in America
through your carelessness I think I can make amends for you more
completely than you can by trying to break the laws of this country. You
know, dear, I am not curious, but I really think you had better tell me
all about it. It will make things much easier."
She shook her head.
"It isn't my secret," she answered, "and besides, it's a dangerous one.
Whoever has the paper which was stolen through my carelessness, and
which I am going to try and get back, goes every moment in danger of
He smiled at her a little unbelievingly.
"That may be all very well in New York," he said, "but here in London
one doesn't do such things. One keeps the law here, for we have an
"You don't understand," she said sadly. "This is really something
"Can't you buy this paper or whatever it is?" he asked, "or rather
couldn't I buy it for you?"
She shook her head.
"The man who has it refused a million dollars for it," she said simply.
"Indeed, I must not tell you anything more. Please, Mr. Mildmay--"
"Guy!" he interrupted.
"Guy, then," she continued, with something very much like a blush,
"forget all that you have said to me, at any rate for the present.
Perhaps later on, when this is all over--"
"You won't want me then," he said. "It's just now you need some one to
look after you. You are too young, and forgive me, dear, too simple, to
be mixed up in such affairs as you have been speaking of. There is only
one way to really protect you, and that is to get that special license
"But you mustn't talk about it, think about it even," she protested.
"No, I think not!" he answered. "Come, I am going to make you drink a
glass of my wine. You are looking positively woebegone. That's right,
drink it down," he added, as she sipped it timidly. "Now tell me what
you are going to do for the rest of the evening."
"I am going," she said, "to try and save the life of the man who has the
paper which was stolen from me. Incidentally I may be able to get it
"Can I come too?" he asked.
"Certainly not!" she answered. "It isn't an affair for you to be mixed
up in, and besides it would spoil my chance."
"You are not encouraging," he said. "Seriously, Virginia, do let me
"No!" she answered, glancing at the clock, "and I must be going in a
very few minutes."
"You haven't told me yet when you will marry me," he reminded her.
She looked at him piteously.
"Please don't be foolish," she said, "I cannot marry you; I can never
marry you. I told you that before. You must please put it out of your
head. I am going now, and it must be"--her voice trembled a
"It will be nothing of the sort," he answered. "Do you care for me a
"I--perhaps I do," she faltered.
"I thought you did," he whispered, smiling. "I hoped so, anyhow. That
settles it, Virginia. You haven't a chance of getting away from me,
dear. You may just as well make up your mind to be Mrs. Mildmay as soon
as I can get that license."
"You are the most impossible person!" she declared in despair. "How can
I make you believe me?"
"Nohow," he answered. "Let me come with you, please, this evening."
"I will not," she answered firmly. "Do believe me, please, that it is
"Very well, then," he answered, "you shall have your own way, but on
one condition, and that is that you tell me where I can find you
to-morrow. I shall probably have the license then."
Virginia looked around the room as though seeking for some means of
escape, and yet she knew that every word he uttered was a delight to
her; that a new joy, against which she was powerless to fight, was
filling her life. It was absurd, impossible, not to be thought of, and
yet all the time his insistence delighted her. He had so much the air of
one who has always his own way. She felt her powers of resistance
becoming almost impotent, and she watched their dissipation with secret
joy. How was it possible to resist a lover so confident, so
authoritative, especially when her whole heart was filled with a
passionate longing to throw everything else to the winds and to place
her hands in his. Perhaps by to-morrow, she thought, things would seem
different to her, but in the meantime she gave him the address of the
boarding-house in Russell Street. How could she help it!
"I shall be there," he said, "sometime before twelve to-morrow morning.
You won't be going out before then?"
"I--suppose not," she faltered.
He called the waiter and asked for the bill for his dinner. Hers she had
already paid. She rose to her feet.
"Please," she said earnestly, "do not come out with me. I am going now,
and where I am going I must go alone."
He glanced opposite, to where the three men were still sitting.
"Very well," he said, "I will let you go. You will permit me, I presume,
to see you out of the restaurant?"
He walked down with her to the door, and would have called a hansom, but
she answered that she preferred to walk.
"I have an automobile here if you will use it," he said, "and I will
engage not to ask the man where he drove you."
"I am not afraid of that," she answered, "but I would rather walk, if
you please. I have only a very little way to go."
He took both her hands in his firmly.
"Virginia, dear," he said, smiling down at her, "good night, and
remember that I am coming to see you to-morrow, and that I am going to
bring that special license. You are going to marry me whether you want
to or not, and very soon too."
Virginia hurried away, breathless.
Virginia drew a little breath of relief. After all it had been very
easy. She had simply walked into the flats, entered the lift, ascended
to the fifth floor, opened the door of No. 57, and walked in. She had
had a moment of fear lest there should be a servant in the rooms, but it
was a fear which proved groundless. She had found herself in a tiny
hall, with closed doors in front and on the right of her, and an open
one on the left leading into a small, plainly furnished but comfortable
sitting-room. This she entered, and closed the door behind her. At last
she was in Norris Vine's sanctum.
She drew a little breath, half of relief, half of excitement, and then
repenting at the closed door, quietly opened it, and left it about a
foot ajar. She looked round the room with a swift comprehensive glance.
There was only one place where it seemed possible that papers of
importance might be hidden, a small desk with pigeon-holes, before the
window. She sat down in front of it, and methodically, one by one, she
examined every paper she found, bills, receipts, prospectuses,
charitable appeals, circulars, memoranda of literary matter. She found
many of these, but nothing in the least like the paper for which she was
With a little sigh she closed the desk, and, turning away from it,
seated herself in the easy-chair in front of the fireplace. Almost as
she did so she received a shock which sent the blood tingling through
her body. The outer door had opened very softly. She had the idea that
some one was standing outside hesitating whether to enter. Thoughts
flashed quickly through her mind. This was not Norris Vine, or he would
have entered his own room without hesitation. She affected to be
absorbed in the magazine which she had picked up, but it was almost
certain, from the fact that the door was gently pushed open another inch
or two, that some one was looking through the chink. She read on
unmoved, although she even fancied that she could hear the stifled
breathing of some one peering into the room. Then she heard the door of
the room outside, his bedroom without a doubt, softly opened. The
intruder, whoever he might be, had evidently stolen in there.
Virginia laid down her magazine for a moment, and with half-closed eyes
tried to think. Within the next room, only a few yards away, and nearer
to the door leading into the flat than she herself was, was hiding the
person who for two thousand five hundred pounds was proposing to rid the
world of Norris Vine. What would happen if she sat still? If Norris Vine
should come in, and it was almost the time at which he was expected, his
assailant would probably be waiting behind the door. She had no doubt
but that the attack would be swift and sudden, and that once made some
means would be taken to keep her a prisoner in the room where she now
was, or perhaps there might be even worse things in store for her. In
any case, within a few yards of her a man lay in hiding with murder in
his heart, and between them the closed door which might at any moment be
opened. What chance would she have to warn Norris Vine? None at all!
She rose to her feet and sat down again. The very thought of moving
nearer to the room where this man was waiting filled her with horror,
and yet it was surely as dangerous to remain where she was, too far away
to warn any one entering, and herself at the mercy of the conqueror in
the brief struggle. Her breath began to come more quickly as she
realized that she was trapped. Probably that man in the next room knew
all about her, knew just why she was there, and had made up his mind how
to deal with her. She found herself listening in ever-deepening horror
for that turn of the handle which should signal the coming of the man
for whom they both waited. Intervention of any sort would be welcome. An
intervention came, in a manner as commonplace as it was startling. The
bell of a telephone instrument on the top of the desk began to ring. A
moment's breathless indecision, and then she walked to the instrument
and took the receiver in her hand. Simultaneously she heard a stealthy
movement outside. Her fellow-watcher, whoever he might be, had also made
up his mind to know who was ringing up Norris Vine so late.
"Who's that?" the voice asked abruptly.
"Coniston Mansions, No. 57," Virginia answered, disguising her voice as
much as possible.
"Yes! but who is it in my rooms? That isn't Janion's voice, is it?"
Then Virginia knew that the person who spoke was Norris Vine himself,
and before every word she uttered she hesitated, thinking always of the
"No, it's not Janion," she answered. "What do you want?"
"I wanted to know whether my servant was there," the voice replied. "Who
are you, and what are you doing in my rooms?"
"Gone into the country?" Virginia said, speaking in a loud tone of
surprise. "You mean that he will not be here to-night, after all?"
The voice down the telephone came angry and perplexed.
"What the devil are you talking about?" it asked. "I am Norris Vine, and
I am speaking into my own rooms. I want to know who you are, and what
are you doing there."
"Then I think," Virginia continued, still speaking loudly, "that you
might be a little more careful before you send me on a fool's errand
like this. Here have I been waiting for half an hour for a man who you
declared was certain to come here before eleven o'clock. Now you tell me
that he is not returning to-night at all, gone into the country, or some
rubbish. Why can't you make sure of your facts? You seem to repeat any
stuff that's told you, and then think that it doesn't matter so long as
you say that you're sorry. How about my wasted time sitting here, to
say nothing of the risk of being taken for a thief!"
"If you don't tell me who you are at once," the voice came back, "I
shall send a policeman round. Can't you understand that I want my man
Janion? I want him to bring my evening clothes to the club. If you don't
tell me who you are, and what you are doing in my rooms, I shall be
round there with a policeman in five minutes."
"Of course I shan't stop," Virginia replied, still in a loud voice.
"What on earth is there to stop for if the man isn't coming back for
several days? I shall be away before the police can come. Ring
"I don't know who the devil you are," the voice came back, "but I jolly
soon will. You'll have to hurry, my friend, if you mean to get away. I
am going to ring up the manager's office."
Virginia threw down the receiver. She hesitated for a moment before the
looking-glass, as though straightening her hat--in reality to give the
listener outside time to get back once more into hiding. Then she walked
with fast beating heart and steady footsteps towards the door. She
opened it boldly. The little hall was empty; the door of the room
opposite, which had been closed when she had entered, was ajar now, but
there were no signs of any living person. She opened the door leading
into the corridor and safety. For the first time she noticed that the
key was in the inside. She withdrew it, passed out, closed the door,
and stood in safety in the corridor. Thoughts chased one another through
her mind. She had only to lock the door on the outside, call for help,
and the person who had waited with her for Norris Vine's return was
caught in a trap. Would there be any advantage in it? Would she be able
to clear herself?
Reluctantly she decided that it was better to let him go. She rang for
the lift, and then turned with fascinated eyes to watch the door leading
into Norris Vine's apartments. The lights were very dim on the landing.
There were no servants or any one about. She watched the closed door
with fascinated eyes. What if it should open before the lift came! She
rang again, kept her finger upon the bell; then with a great sense of
relief she heard the creaking of the wire rope, and saw the top of the
lift beginning to ascend. It drew level with her, and the page-boy threw
open the iron door. Almost at that moment she saw the door of Norris
Vine's apartment softly opened from the inside. She sank down upon
"Down, please!" she said, and the lift began to descend. Her safety was
assured. She turned to the boy. "Does Mr. Vine generally come up this
way to his rooms?" she asked.
"Always at night, miss," the boy answered. "The other lift don't run
She reached the hall. The commissionaire opened the doors and she
passed out into the street. She crossed the road, and stood perfectly
still watching the entrance. Five, ten minutes passed; then a man came
out in evening dress, with silk hat, and a white handkerchief around his
neck. He was smoking a cigarette, and he carried a silver-headed cane.
Virginia crossed the road once more, and, trusting to the crowd, kept
within a few yards of him. He turned to the edge of the curb and
called a hansom.
"Claridge's Hotel!" he said. "As quick as you can, cabby!"
She gave a little start. Not only had she recognized the voice of the
man who had sat behind her in the cafe that afternoon, but she also knew
at once that this was one of the three men who had sat opposite her only
an hour or so ago at dinner!
Norris Vine stood in the middle of his room, his hat still upon his
head, and his overcoat on his arm. Before him stood the waiter and the
watchman of the flats.
"My rooms," he was saying, "have been occupied within the last ten
minutes by strangers, and by people who have no right here whatever. I
have certain proof of this. Do you allow any one who chooses to come
into the building and use the lift, and enter whatever apartment
"We cannot employ detectives," the manager answered, "and every one who
lives here has visitors."
There was a soft knock at the door, and almost immediately it was
opened. Virginia entered, and guessed immediately the meaning of the
little scene before her.
"You want an explanation as to that telephone message," she said
quietly. "I have come to give it to you. If you will send these people
away, I will explain everything."
Norris Vine looked at her in amazement. Her face somehow seemed
familiar, but he failed at first to place her. The two men whom Vine was
interviewing were only too glad of the opportunity to take their
"Am I to understand," Vine asked, "that it was you whose voice I heard
at the telephone?"
"You are," Virginia answered, "and you may be very thankful for it. I do
not know whether it was wise of me or not, but I am quite sure that I
saved your life."
"In which case," Vine remarked, with an incredulous smile, "I must at
least ask you to sit down."
Virginia seated herself and pushed back her veil.
"You do not remember me," she said. "I am Phineas Duge's niece."
"I remember you now quite well," he answered. "You were having dinner
with your uncle one night at Sherry's."
"That is quite true," she said. "I have been looking for you for some
days. In fact, I came to London to look for you."
"That," he remarked drily, "sounds somewhat mysterious, considering that
I have not yet had the pleasure of your acquaintance."
"There is nothing mysterious about it," she answered. "You are a
receiver of stolen goods. Some papers were stolen from my uncle's study
by Stella, my cousin, and given to you. They were stolen through my
carelessness. Unless I can recover them I am ruined."
"Go on," Morris Vine said. "You have not finished yet."
"No!" she answered, "I have not. I followed you to England to get those
papers back, either by theft, or by appealing to your sense of honour,
or by any means which presented themselves. I found by accident that I
was not the only American in London who was over here in search of you.
This afternoon I overheard part of a plot in a cafe in Regent Street
between two men, strangers to me, but who had both apparently made up
their minds that this particular paper was worth a little more than your
life. From them I heard your address. Your valet must be in their pay,
for they knew exactly your movements for the night. I heard them plan to
come here, and I knew what the end of that would be. I determined to
anticipate them. It was not out of any feeling for you, but simply
because if the paper got into their hands my cause was lost. So I came
on here to warn you, but I had scarcely entered your room before I was
aware that some one who had come with very different intentions was
already here. We waited--I in the sitting-room, he in that
bedroom--waited for you. I pretended to be unconscious of his existence.
He seemed to be content to ignore mine. While I was wondering how I
should warn you, the telephone bell rang. I answered it, and it was you
who spoke. Then I had the idea of carrying on some imaginary
conversation with you, which would induce the man who was listening to
go away. I did it and he went away. It must have sounded terrible
nonsense to you, of course, but it was the only way I could think of to
get him out of the place. He left convinced that you were not coming
"Do you know who he was, this man?" Vine asked.
"I do not," she answered, "but I can guess who his employers are."
"And so can I," Vine said grimly. "It seems to me that you are a very
plucky young lady, Miss Longworth."
"Not at all," she answered. "What I have done, I have done for the sake
"Will you name it?" he asked.
"I want that paper to take back to my uncle," she said. "Stella stole it
from me brutally, and unless I can get it back again, my uncle is going
to send me back to the little farmhouse where I came from, and is going
to leave off helping my people. I want that paper back, Mr. Vine, and
you must give it to me."
He looked at her with utterly impassive face.
"I am afraid, Miss Longworth," he said, "that I must disappoint you. If
I gave you back that paper, it would go into the hands of one of the
most unprincipled men in America. It is not only your uncle whom I
dislike, but his methods, his craft, his infernal, incarnate
selfishness. He wants this paper as a whip to hold over other people. He
obtained it by subtlety. The means by which it was taken from him,
although I had nothing to do with them, were on the whole justified. I
cannot give it back to you, Miss Longworth. I have not made up my mind
yet what to do with it, and I certainly have no friendship for the men
whom it implicates; but all the same, for the present it must remain in
"Do you know," she reminded him, "that I have saved your life
He laughed softly.
"My dear child," he said, "my life is not so easily disposed of. I
believe that you have tried to do me a kindness, but you ask too great a
return. Even if the paper you speak of was stolen, it is better in my
keeping than in your uncle's."
"You will not give it to me, then?" she asked.
"I will not," he answered.
She rose from her place.
"Very well," she said; "I am going now, but I think that we shall meet
again before very long."
He opened the door for her and walked out toward the lift.
"My dear young lady," he said, "I hope you will forgive my saying so,
but this is certainly a wild-goose chase of yours. If you will take my
advice, and I know something about life, you will go back to your
farmhouse in the Connecticut valley. These larger places in the world
may seem fascinating to you at first, but believe me you will be better
off and happier in the backwoods. Ask Stella. I think that she would
give you the same advice."
Virginia looked at him steadily. The faint note of sarcasm which was
seldom absent from his tone was not lost upon her.
"I thank you for your advice," she said, "It sounds so
disinterested--and convincing. Such an excellent return, too, for a
person who has risked something to do you a kindness."
"My dear young lady," Vine answered, "it was not for my own sake that
you warned me. You have admitted that yourself. It was entirely from
your own point of view that you judged it well for me to remain a little
longer on the earth. Why, therefore, should I be grateful? As a matter
of fact, I am not sure that I am. I, too, go about armed, and it is by
no means certain that I might not have had the best of any little
encounter with our friend who you say was hiding there."--He motioned
his head towards his bedroom.--"In that case, you see, I should have
known exactly who he was, possibly even have been able to hand him over
to the police."
Virginia pressed the little bell and the lift began to ascend.
"I am glad to know, Mr. Vine," she said, "what sort of a man you are."
He bowed, and she stepped into the lift without any further form of
farewell. Vine walked thoughtfully back to his rooms. He was a man who
had grown hard and callous in the stress of life, but somehow the memory
of Virginia's pale face and dark reproachful eyes remained with him.
A NEW VENTURE
Phineas Duge, notwithstanding an absence of anything approaching
vulgarity in his somewhat complex disposition, was, for a man of affairs
and an American, singularly fond of the small elegances of life.
Although he sat alone at dinner, the table was heaped with choice
flowers and carefully selected hothouse fruit. His one glass of wine,
the best of its sort, he sipped meditatively, and with the air of a
connoisseur. The soft lights upon the table were such as a woman,
mindful of her complexion, might have chosen. Behind his chair stood
his English butler, grave, solemn-faced, attentive. The cigars and
matches were already on his left-hand side, ready for the moment when he
should have finished his wine. Outside a footman was waiting for a
signal to bring in the after-dinner coffee.
Across his luxurious table, through the waving clusters of
sweet-smelling flowers to the dark mahogany panelled wall beyond, the
eyes of Phineas Duge seemed to be seeking that night something which
they failed to find. The last few weeks seemed in a way to have aged the
man. His lips had come closer together, there were faint lines on his
forehead and underneath his eyes. The butler from behind his chair
looked down upon his master's carefully parted and picturesque hair,
wondering why he sat so still, wondering what he saw that he looked so
steadily at that one particular spot in the panelled wall, and lingered
so unusually long over the last few drops of his wine. Phineas Duge
himself wondered still more what had come to him. For many years men and
women had come and gone, leaving him indifferent as to their coming and
going, their pains and their joys; and to-night, though there were many
matters with which his mind might well have been occupied, he found
himself in the curious position of indulging in vague and almost
regretful memories. The place at the other end of his table was empty,
as it had been for many nights; for during the period of his titanic
struggle with those men against whom he had declared war, he had shunned
all society, and lived a life of stern and absolute seclusion.
To-night that steady gaze which wandered over the drooping flowers was
really fixed upon that empty chair at the other end of the table. A man
of few fancies, he was never quite without imagination. His thoughts had
travelled easily back to a few weeks ago. He saw Virginia sitting there,
watched the delightful smile coming and going, the large grey eyes that
watched him so ceaselessly, the little ripple of pleasant conversation,
which he had never dreamed that he could ever miss. After all, what a
child! As a matter of justice, and he told himself that it was justice
only which had power to sway his judgment, what right had he to blame
her for what was really nothing but a freak of ill-fortune! Had he
punished himself in sending her away? Somehow, during these last few
nights, the room had seemed curiously cold and empty. He had missed her
little timidly offered ministrations, the touch of her fingers upon his
shoulder, the whole nameless delicacy which her presence had brought
into the cold, magnificent surroundings, which seemed to him now as
though they could never be quite the same again.
These thoughts had come to him before, but it was only to-night he had
suffered them to linger in his mind. Once or twice he had caught them
lurking in his brain and thrown them out. To-night they had come with a
soft, invincible persistence, so that he had felt even his will
powerless to strangle them. He was forced to face the truth, that he,
Phineas Duge, the man of many millions, sat there while the minutes fled
past, looking with empty eyes into empty space, thinking of the child
whom he would have given at that moment more than he would have cared to
confess, to have found sitting within a few feet of him, peeling his
walnuts, or pouring out her impressions of this wonderful new life into
which she had come.
Some trifle it was which broke the thread of his reflections. When he
realized what he had been doing, he was conscious of a feeling almost of
shame. In a moment he was himself again. He calmly drank up his wine,
and as he set the glass down held out a cigar from the box to the man
who waited with the cigar cutter in hand. A little silver spirit lamp
burning with a blue flame stood all ready at his elbow. The butler gave
the signal, and his coffee, strong and fragrant, in a little gold cup,
was placed before him.
"You will tell Smedley to be in the study at nine o'clock," he ordered.
"Very good, sir!" the man replied. "You will not be going out to-night,
sir? There are no orders for the garage?"
"Not to-night," Phineas Duge answered.
There was an unexpected sound of voices outside in the hall. Phineas
Duge looked toward the door with a frown upon his face.
"What is that?" he asked sharply.
The butler was perplexed.
"I will go and see, sir," he said. "It sounds as if James were having
trouble with some one."
The door was suddenly opened. Weiss and Higgins entered quickly,
followed by the protesting and frightened footman. Phineas Duge rose
from his seat, and, resting one hand upon the table, peered forward at
the two men. His face, even under the rose-shaded electric lamp, was
cold and set. The gleam of white teeth was visible between his lips. He
looked like a man, metaphorically, about to spring upon his foes. One
hand had stolen round to the pocket of his dinner coat, and was holding
something hard, but to him very comforting. He offered no word of
greeting. He uttered no exclamation of surprise. He simply waited.
"These gentlemen pushed past me in the hall, sir," the footman
explained, deprecatingly. "My back was turned only for a moment, and
Wilkins was down having his supper."
"You can go," Phineas Duge said coldly, waving him out of the room.
"What do you want with me, Weiss?"
"A few minutes' sensible talk," Weiss answered. "It will do you no harm
to listen to us. Send your servant away and give us a quarter of
Phineas Duge hesitated, but only for a moment. These men had come
openly, and they were known to be his enemies. It was not possible that
they intended to use any violence. He turned to the butler, who stood
behind his chair.
"Place chairs for these gentlemen," he ordered, "and leave the room."
They sat on his left-hand side, Phineas Duge pushed the decanter of
Burgundy toward them, and the cigars. Then he leaned back in his chair
"Duge, we ought to have come to you before," Weiss began. "We are
playing a child's game, all of us."
"Whatever the game may be," Duge answered, "it is not I who invented
"We grant that to start with," Weiss answered. "We were in the wrong.
You have done a little better than hold your own against us. We are
several millions of dollars the poorer and you the richer for our split.
Let it go at that. We have other things to think about just now besides
this juggling with markets. I take it that we are none of us
particularly anxious to learn what the interior of a police court
Phineas Duge made no motion of assent or dissent.
"You refer," he said, "to the action against the Trusts which the
President is supposed to be supporting so vigorously?"
"The thing's further advanced than we were any of us inclined to
believe," he answered. "Every one of us is interested in this, you more
than any of us. If Harrison's Bill passes the Senate, we are liable to
imprisonment at any moment. We are up against it hard, Duge, and we
can't face it as we ought while we're squabbling amongst ourselves like
a set of children."
"You propose then," Phineas Duge said slowly, "to close our accounts on
a mutual basis?"
"Precisely!" Weiss answered. "You have had the best of it, and it might
be our turn to-morrow, so you can well afford to do this. We want to
rest on our oars for a time, while we look round and face this
"Very well," Phineas Duge said, "I agree. We will meet at your office
to-morrow and bring our brokers. I am quite willing to end this fight.
It was not I who began it."
Higgins drew a little breath of relief. He was perhaps the poorest of
the group, and it was his stock which Duge had been handling so
roughly. "Thank heavens!" he said. "Now we can have a moment's breathing
time, to see what we can do for these fellows who want to teach us how
to manage our affairs."
"In the first place," Weiss said, "what about that paper we signed? I
can understand your wanting to hold it over us while we were at war. It
was a fair weapon, and you had a right to it, but now we are united
again you can see, of course, that although your name isn't on it, it
would practically mean ruin to our interests if the other side once got
hold of it."
"If I had that paper," Duge said quietly, "I would tear it up at this
moment, but I regret to say that I have not. It was stolen during
"We know that," Weiss answered. "We know even in whose hands it is."
Phineas Duge looked up inquiringly.
"Norris Vine has it," Weiss continued. "We have offered him a million,
but he declines to sell. He would have used it for his paper before now,
and we should have been on the other side of the ocean, but for the fact
that John Drayton advised him not to. Now he has taken it with him to
London. He is going to ask Deane's advice. At any moment the thing may
come flashing back. We may wake up to find a copy of that document in
black and white in every paper in New York State."
"You have offered him a reasonable sum for it," Phineas Duge said, "and
he declines to sell. Very well, what do you propose to do?"
"It was stolen from you," Weiss said. "He may justly decline to treat
with us; but it is your property, and you have a right to it."
"You propose, then?" Phineas Duge asked.
"That you should catch the _Kaiserin_ to London to-morrow," Higgins
said, "and find out this man Vine. The rest we are content to leave with
you, but I think that if you try you will get it."
Phineas Duge sat quite still for several moments. He sipped his wine
thoughtfully, threw his cigar, which had gone out, into the fire, and
lit a cigarette. He appreciated the force of the suggestion, and a trip
to Europe was by no means distasteful to him, but he was not a man to
decide upon anything of this sort without reflection.
"A week ago," he said softly, "even a day ago, and my absence from New
York would have meant ruin. If I leave the country to-morrow, and trust
myself upon the ocean for six days, what guarantee have I that you will
keep to any arrangement which we might make to-morrow?"
"We will sign affidavits," Weiss declared, "that we will not, directly
or indirectly, enter into any operations in any one of our stocks during
your absence, except for your profit as well as our own. We will execute
a deed of partnership as regards any transactions which we might enter
into during your absence."
Phineas Duge nodded thoughtfully.
"I suppose," he said, "we might be able to fix things up that way. I
should be glad enough to get the paper back again, but Vine is not an
easy man to deal with, and he is pleased to call himself my enemy."
"The men who have called themselves that," Higgins remarked grimly,
"have generally been sorry for it."
"And so may he," Phineas Duge answered, "but I am not sure that his time
has come yet. You must let me think this over, gentlemen, until
to-morrow morning. I will meet you with my broker and lawyer at ten
o'clock at your office, Weiss, and if I make up my mind to go to Europe,
my luggage will be on the steamer by that time. On the whole I might
tell you that I am inclined to go."
Weiss drew a great breath of relief. He poured himself out a glass of
wine and drank it off.
"It's good to hear you say that, Duge," he said. "I tell you we have
come pretty near being scared the last week or so. I feel a lot more
comfortable fighting with you in the ranks."
Phineas Duge forbore from all recrimination. He filled Higgins' glass
and his own. He could afford to be magnanimous. He had fought them one
against four, and they had come to him for mercy!
"We will drink," he said, "to the new President. This one has tilted
against the windmills once too often. He must learn his lesson."
Virginia slept little that night. Her room, one of the smallest and
least expensive in the cosmopolitan boarding-house where she was
staying, was high up, almost in an attic. The windows were small, and
opened with difficulty. The heat, combined with her own restlessness,
made the weary hours one long nightmare for her. Early in the morning
she rose and sat in front of the little window, looking out across the
wilderness of house-tops, where a pall of smoke seemed to convert to
luminous chaos the rising sun. There was a lump in her throat, and
gathering tears in her eyes. It seemed to her that no one could ever
realize a loneliness more absolute and complete than hers. She thought
of the early summer mornings in that tiny farmhouse perched on the side
of the lonely valley, where the air at least was clear and pure and
bright, musical with the song of birds, and the west wind which stirred
always in the pine-woods behind heralded the coming morning. If only she
could have dropped from her shoulders the burden of the last few months,
and found herself back there once more. Then a pang of remorse shook her
heart. She remembered the happiness which through her had come to those
whom she loved, and the thought was like a tonic to her. She forgot her
own sorrows, she forgot that dim tremendous feeling, which had shown
through her life for a minute or two, only to pass away and leave behind
longings and regrets which were in themselves a constant pain. She
forgot everything except the thought of what it might mean to those
others who were dear to her if she should fail in her task. Her face
seemed suddenly aged as she sat there, crushing down the sweeter things,
clenching her fingers upon the window-sill, and telling herself that at
any cost she must succeed, hopeless though the task might seem.
Presently she began to move about the room and collect her clothes. At
half-past nine she had left the boarding-house and departed without
leaving any address behind her. At ten o'clock a great automobile swung
round the corner, stopped before the door, and Mr. Mildmay descended and
ran lightly up the steps. Miss Longworth had gone away, he was told by
the shabby German waiter in soiled linen coat and greasy black trousers.
She had left no address. She had left no message for any one who might
be calling for her. The largest tip which he had ever received could
only send him into the inner regions to interview the proprietress, who
came out and confirmed his words. Mildmay turned slowly around and
* * * * *
Stella and Norris Vine lunched together that day in a small West End
restaurant. He had telephoned asking her to come, and she had at once
thrown over another engagement. They were scarcely seated before he
asked her a question.
"Do you know that your cousin is in London?"
"What! Virginia?" Stella exclaimed.
He nodded, and Stella was genuinely amazed.
"Whom did she come with?" she asked. "What does she want here?"
"She came alone, poor little thing," he answered, "and on a wild-goose
chase. I never heard anything so pathetic in my life. She ought to be in
short frocks, playing with her dolls, and she has come here four
thousand miles to a city she knows nothing of, to steal back--well, you
know what. One could laugh if it were not so pathetic."
"Little fool!" Stella said, half contemptuously, and yet with a note of
regret in her tone.
"I thought, perhaps," Vine said, "you might find out where she is and go
and talk common sense to her. If there is anything else we can do, I'd
like to, only I hate the thought of a pretty child like that wandering
about London on such an absurd quest."
"Do you know where she is to be found?" Stella asked quietly.
"I have no idea," Vine answered. "The last time I saw her was in my own
rooms. I am only sorry that I let her go."
Stella looked up at him quickly.
"Your own rooms!" she repeated. "What do you mean?"
"Well," he answered, "with the extraordinary luck which comes sometimes
to babies, she overheard two men talking about me and arranging to meet
at a certain hour at my flat. She actually had the nerve to be there
herself at the same time. While she sat in my sitting-room, they waited
in the bedroom. Mind, a great part of this may be her invention. I have
only her word for it, but she certainly seemed as though she were
telling the truth. I rang up for some one to bring me a change of
clothes, and she answered the telephone. What she said to me sounded
such rank nonsense that I jumped in a hansom and went straight back to
my rooms. However, the men who were listening gathered from what she
said that I was not coming back, and they gave it up and stole out. When
I returned I found her waiting there, and she demanded that I should
give her up the paper she wanted as a matter of gratitude."
"Do you believe her story?" Stella asked.
"I don't know," he answered. "I know that I am being followed about, and
if she could get into my rooms, it is quite as easy for them to do so.
They may have been there, and I dare say that if I had entered
unsuspectingly, and Dan Prince had anything to do with it, I shouldn't
have had much chance. It amused me to see all my drawers turned out and
my papers disturbed."
"Little idiot!" Stella said impatiently. "She ought to be at home,
feeding her father's chickens. She is hopelessly out of place here, just
as she was in New York,"
"I wish we could send her back there," Vine declared.
Stella looked at him with raised eyebrows.
"My dear Norris," she said, "isn't this rather a new departure for you?
I don't seem to recognize you in this frame of mind."
He sipped his wine thoughtfully for a minute or two, and helped himself
to some curry.
"I believe after all, Stella," he said, "that you know very little about
me. I am naturally a most tender-hearted person."
"You have managed," she remarked drily, "to conceal your weakness most
"A journalist," he reminded her, "is used to conceal them. Without the
arts of lying and acting, we might as well abandon our profession.
Seriously, Stella, I am sorry for the child. I wish you could find her
and pack her off home."
Stella shrugged her shoulders.
"In the first place," she said, "I have no idea where to look; and in
the second, she is one of those obstinate children who never do what
they are told, or see reason."
"I admit," he replied, "that finding her is rather a difficulty, but
after all, you see, it is you directly, and I indirectly, who are
responsible for her troubles. I think we ought to do what we can. I wish
I hadn't let her go the other night."
"I am becoming," Stella said, smiling, "a little jealous of my cousin."
He looked at her with steady scrutiny, as though he were curious to
decide how much of truth there might be in her words.
"You have no need, my dear Stella," he said, "to be jealous of Virginia
or any other girl. This is simply the dying kick of a nearly finished
"If I come across her," Stella said, "I will do what I can. If you see
her again, and I should think you are the more likely, find out her
address and I will go and see her. By the by," she added, leaning across
the table towards him, "you seem very confident of preserving it. Tell
me, where do you keep that paper?"
"Ah!" he said. "All my secrets save one are yours, but I think that that
one I will not tell you."
She frowned at him, obviously annoyed.
"Do you mean that?" she asked. "Surely you do not hesitate to trust me?"
"Not for one moment," he answered. "On the other hand, the knowledge of
a thing of that sort is better in as few hands as possible. You will be
none the better for knowing. Circumstances might arise to make even the
knowledge an embarrassment to you. Take my advice, and do not ask me
Stella's face had grown darker.
"It is I," she said, "whom you have to thank for the possession of it.
Considering that you go in danger every moment, I think that some one
else save yourself should share in the knowledge of what you have
done with it."
"Let me recommend," he said, studying the menu for a moment with his
horn-rimmed eyeglass, "an artichoke with sauce mayonnaise, or would you
"I should prefer," she insisted, "an answer to my question."
He looked at her steadily. His face was utterly impassive, his
forefinger was tapping lightly upon the table-cloth. It was a look which
she knew very well.
"The knowledge of where that paper is, Stella, would do you no good," he
declared. "Forgive me, but I do not intend to tell a soul."
They finished their luncheon almost in silence. She only once recurred
to the subject.
"Perhaps," she said, looking quietly up at him, "as your conscience is
growing so susceptible, you will think it right to restore that paper to
my little cousin. Those are wonderful eyes, of hers, you know, now she
has learnt to use them a little."
Norris Vine did not answer, and they parted with the briefest of
DUKE OF MOWBRAY
This time Mildmay was angry. He showed it alike in his speech and
expression. Virginia looked at him like a terrified child.
"So, Virginia," he said, "I have found you at last!"
"What do you want?" she asked breathlessly.
He looked at her for quite thirty seconds without replying. Her eyes
fell before his. More than ever she felt the shame of her position.
"What do I want?" he repeated, a little bitterly. "You ask me that,
She covered her face with her hands.
"Oh! please go away," she said. "It is not kind of you to come here."
"I do not mean to be unkind," he answered, "but I want to understand.
Why did you leave your boarding-house in Russell Street and run
away from me?"
"It was not only to run away from you," she answered. "There were other
"Why should you wish to run away from me at all?" he asked.
"Because," she answered, "I am afraid, and you ask me things which are
"What are you afraid of?" he asked.
"Of myself, of you, of everything," she murmured pathetically.
Virginia was a little worn out. Day after day of disappointment had
tried her sorely. He felt himself softening, but he showed no signs of
it in his face.
"Is there anywhere here where we can talk?" he asked. "You have rooms in
the building, have you not? Are you alone?"
He could have bitten his tongue out for that question, but its
significance never occurred to her.
"Yes!" she answered. "Since you are here, perhaps you had better come
They had met on the landing of the fifth floor of Coniston Mansions. She
led him down the corridor, and, opening a door, ushered him into a tiny
"How did you find me out?" she asked.
"I saw you dining at Luigi's yesterday and to-day," he answered sternly.
"You were with the same man both times. I followed you yesterday. You
both came back here. To-day you came back alone. Is this man
"No!" she answered.
"Your cousin? Is he any relation to you?"
"No!" she repeated.
"Who is he, then?"
"A friend," she answered, "or an enemy perhaps. What does it matter to
He looked at her steadfastly. She was dressed in white muslin, and she
wore a big black hat without any touch of colour. Her clothes were those
which her uncle had ordered in New York. She was slim and dainty and
elegant, and he found it hard indeed to keep his heart steeled
"How can you ask me that, Virginia?" he replied. "Have you forgotten
that I have asked you to marry me?"
"And I have told you that I cannot," she replied desperately. "I cannot
and I will not. You have no right to come here and worry me."
"So my coming does worry you?" he asked.
"Yes!" she answered desperately, "you know that it does."
"Virginia," he said, "what is this man's name?"
"It is no concern of yours," she answered.
"Are you in love with him?"
"I shall not tell you," she said.
"Is he in love with you?"
"If you ask me any more such questions, I shall go into my room and lock
the door," she declared.
Mildmay took a turn up and down the little apartment. The child was
obdurate, yet all the time he seemed to read her soft frightened eyes.
"Virginia," he said suddenly, stopping in front of her, "I have the