Part 4 out of 5
license in my pocket. Won't you come out with me and be married?"
"No!" she answered, "I will not."
"Think!" he begged her. "It would be so easy. We could walk out of this
place together, and in an hour's time you would have some one else to
take your little troubles on their shoulders. Don't you think that mine
are broad enough, little girt?"
"Please don't!" she begged. "I cannot. I wish you would not ask me."
"I don't know whether it makes any difference," he said, after a
moment's hesitation, "but I have plenty of money. In fact I am very
rich. If there is any possible way in which money could help your
troubles, they would soon be over."
"Oh! I know that you have," she answered. "It is not that."
He looked at her fixedly.
"You know that I have? Perhaps you know who I am?"
"I do," she answered. "You are Guy Mildmay, Duke of Mowbray."
He was taken aback.
"How did you find that out?" he asked.
"On the steamer," she answered, "the last few days. People got to know,
I am not sure how, and in any case it does not matter."
A light began to break in upon him.
"I believe," he said, "that it is because you know you will not marry
"Oh! it isn't only that," she answered. "It is utterly, absolutely
impossible. My people live on a little farm in America, and have barely
enough money to live on. We are terribly poor."
He frowned for a moment thoughtfully. He was looking at her expensive
clothes. He did not understand.
"And besides," she continued, "there is another reason why I should
never think of it. Now, please, won't you believe me and go away? It is
not kind of you to make it so difficult for me."
"Very well, Virginia," he said quietly, "for the present I will ask you
no more. But can you tell me any reason why I should not be
"None at all," she answered. "You can be what you like, if you will only
go away and leave me alone."
"That," he answered, "is not my idea of friendship. If we are friends, I
have the right to help you in your troubles, whatever they may be."
"That," she declared, "is impossible."
Then he began to realize that this child, with her soft great eyes, her
delightful mouth, her girlish face, which ever since he had first seen
it had seemed to him the prototype of all that was gentle and lovable,
possessed a strength of character incredible in one of her years and
appearance. He realized that he was only distressing her by his
presence. The timidity of her manner was no sign of weakness, and there
was finality even in that earnest look which she had fixed upon him.
"You decline me as a husband then, Virginia," he said, "and you decline
me as a friend. You want to have nothing more to do with me. Very well,
I will go away."
She drew a sharp breath between her teeth, and if he noticed it he made
no sign. He drew a paper from his pocket and calmly tore it into pieces.
"That," he said, "was the paper which was to have made us happy.
"Good-bye!" she gasped, tearfully.
He laughed as he took her into his arms. She did not make the least
"You little idiot!" he said. "Do you know that I very nearly went?"
Her head was buried upon his shoulder, and she was not in the position
for a moment to make any reply.
He helped Virginia to descend from the automobile, and led her up the
steps in front of the great house in Grosvenor Square.
"You are not frightened, dear?" he asked.
"I am terrified to death," she answered frankly. He touched her hand
"Silly child!" he said. "I am sure you will like my aunt."
The door flew open before them. A footman stood aside to let them pass.
An elderly servant in plain black clothes came hurrying down from a
"I trust that your Grace is well?" he said.
"Very well indeed, thank you, Jameson," Mildmay said. "Is my aunt in?"
"Her ladyship is in the morning-room, your Grace," the man answered,
with an almost imperceptible glance towards Virginia. "Shall I
"Is she alone?" Mildmay asked.
"For the moment, yes, your Grace," the man answered.
Guy led Virginia across the hall, knocked at a door and entered. A tall,
grey-haired lady was sitting on a sofa with a tea-tray by her side. She
was very good-looking, and absurdly like Mildmay, to whom she held out
her right hand. Guy stooped and raised it to his lips.
"My dear aunt," he said, "can you stand a shock?"
"That depends," she answered, glancing at Virginia. "My nerves are not
what they were, you know. However, go on."
"I am trying you rather high, I know," he said, "but there are reasons
for it which I can explain later on. I have brought a young lady to see
you, Miss Virginia Longworth. I want you to like her very much, because
she has promised to be my wife."
Lady Medlincourt held out her hand, long and slim and delicate, and
made room for Virginia by her side on the sofa.
"How are you, my dear?" she said quite calmly. "Will you have some tea?
It's beastly, I know, been standing for hours, but Guy can ring for some
fresh. So you are really going to marry my nephew?"
Virginia raised her eyes, and looked for a moment into the face of the
woman who sat by her side.
"Yes, Lady Medlincourt," she answered; "I do hope you will not be
"Angry! My dear child, I am never angry," Lady Medlincourt declared. "I
have arrived at that time in life when one cannot afford the luxury of
giving way to emotion. You won't mind my asking you a few questions,
though, both of you. To begin with, I do not know your name. Who
Guy leaned a little forward.
"She will be Duchess of Mowbray in a very short time, aunt," he said.
"Please don't forget that."
Lady Medlincourt raised her eyebrows.
"Bless the boy!" she exclaimed. "As though I were likely to! I can feel
it go shivering down my backbone all the time. Sit here for a moment,
both of you. I am going to give Jameson orders myself not to admit any
one for a little while."
She crossed the room and they were alone for a moment. They exchanged
quick glances, and Guy laughed at the consternation in Virginia's face.
"Don't be scared, little woman," he said. "You'll get on all right with
my aunt, I am sure. She is a little odd just at first, and she hates to
show any feeling about anything, but she's a thundering good sort."
"She seems just a little casual, doesn't she?" Virginia asked--"rather
as though you had brought me to call?"
"Don't you worry, dear," he answered, smiling. "That's only her manner.
Just drink your tea and you'll feel better."
Virginia shook her head.
"I can't, Guy," she declared. "It's just too poisonous."
"I'll ring for some fresh," he said, moving toward the bell.
"Please don't," she begged. "I hate tea anyway. Guy, you are not sorry,
He took her hand and laughed reassuringly.
"You little idiot!" he said. "Do you want me to kiss you?"
"I don't much care," Virginia answered. "I have a sort of feeling in my
throat that I want--some one to kiss me. You're quite, quite sure that
whatever your aunt may say you will never regret this?"
"Absolutely, positively certain!" he declared. "And you?"
"It isn't the same thing with me," Virginia declared, shaking her head.
"I am not going to marry a pig in a poke."
"It's a very dear little pig," he said, resting his hand for a moment
upon her shoulder.
Lady Medlincourt reappeared. She resumed her seat, and motioned Guy to
sit opposite to her.
"Now we shall not be disturbed for at least a quarter of an hour," she
said, "and I want to hear all about it. You are very pretty, I am glad
to see, dear," she said, looking at Virginia contemplatively. "I hate
plain girls. What did you say that your name was?"
"Virginia Longworth!" Virginia answered, blushing.
"Quite a charming name!" Lady Medlincourt said, shutting her eyeglasses
with a snap. "Tell me all about her, Guy."
"My dear aunt," he answered, laughing, "we aren't married yet."
Lady Medlincourt nodded.
"Ah!" she said. "No doubt you'll have plenty to discover later on. Put
it another way. Tell me the things that I must know about the Duchess of
"As for instance?" he asked quietly.
"Her people," Lady Medlincourt said. "You are American, I suppose,
child?" she continued. "You have very little accent, but I fancy that I
can just detect it, and we don't see eyes like yours in England."
"Yes, I am American, Lady Medlincourt," Virginia answered.
"Who are your people, then?" Lady Medlincourt asked. "Where did you
meet? Who introduced you? Don't look at one another like a pair of
stupids. Remember that, however pointed my questions may sound, they are
things which I must know if I am to be of any use to you."
Virginia went a little pale.
"Lady Medlincourt," she said, "I am sorry, but I cannot answer any
questions just now."
Lady Medlincourt drew back a little in her place. She looked at the girl
in frank amazement.
"What!" she exclaimed.
Guy leaned forward in his chair.
"Dear aunt," he pleaded, "don't think that we are both mad, but I have
promised Virginia that she shan't be bothered with questions for a short
time. I met her on the steamer coming over from America, and that is all
we can tell you just now."
Lady Medlincourt looked from one to the other. She was more than a
"Bless the boy!" she exclaimed. "You don't call this bothering her with
questions, do you? She can tell me about her people, can't she?"
"Her people," he answered firmly, "are going to be my people."
Lady Medlincourt gasped.
"You have known her, then," she said, "about three weeks?"
"I have known her long enough to realize that she is the girl whom I
have been waiting for all my life."
Lady Medlincourt shrugged her shoulders.
"All your life!" she exclaimed impatiently. "Twenty-eight silly years!
Have you nothing more to say to me than this, either of you? Do you
seriously mean that you bring this very charming young lady here, and
ask me to accept her as your fiancee, without a single word of
explanation as to her antecedents, who she is, or where she came from?"
Virginia rose to her feet.
"Guy," she said, turning towards him, "we ought never to have come here.
Lady Medlincourt has a perfect right to ask these questions. Until we
can answer them we ought to go away."
Guy took her hand in his.
"Aunt," he said, "can't you trust a little in my judgment? Look at her.
She is the girl whom I love, and whom I am going to trust with my name.
Can't you let it go at that for the present?"
Lady Medlincourt shook her head.
"No, I cannot, Guy!" she said, "and if you weren't a silly fool you
would not ask me. The future Duchess of Mowbray has to explain her
position, whether she is a gentlewoman or a chorus girl. There's plenty
of rope for her nowadays. She may be pretty well anything she pleases,
but she must be some one. Don't think I am a brute, dear," she added,
turning not unkindly to Virginia. "I like your appearance all right, and
I dare say we could be friends. But if you wish me to accept you as my
nephew's future wife, you must remember that the position which he is
giving you is one that has its obligations as well as its pleasures.
You'll have to open your pretty little mouth, or I am afraid I can't do
anything for you."
Virginia turned to Guy.
"Your aunt is quite right," she said. "I know it must sound very
foolish, but I came over here on an errand which I cannot tell any one
about just yet."
"That, of course, is for you to decide," Lady Medlincourt said, rising,
"but I wouldn't be silly about it if I were you. I must go and change my
gown, as I have some people coming for bridge. Supposing you show her
the house, Guy, and when I come back perhaps both of you may have
changed your minds and be a little more reasonable. Remember," she
added, turning to Virginia, "that I am quite serious in what I say. It
will give me very great pleasure to be of any possible use to the
affianced wife of my favourite nephew, but there must be no secrets. I
hate secrets, especially about women. If your father is a
market-gardener it's all right, so long as you can explain exactly who
you are and where you came from; but there must be no mystery. Talk it
over with her, Guy. I'll look in here on my way out."
She nodded a little curtly but not unkindly, and swept toward the door,
which Guy opened and closed after her. Then he came slowly back, and,
putting his arm around Virginia's waist, kissed her.
"You don't want to see the house, do you?" he asked.
Virginia shook her head.
"Not a bit," she answered. "I think that we had better go away."
"There is no hurry," he answered slowly. "We may as well stay and talk
it over a bit. When one comes to think of it, it is trying the old lady
pretty high, isn't it? Suppose we just review the situation for a minute
or two. Something might occur to us."
Virginia leaned back against the cushions.
"Certainly," she answered. "You review it and I'll listen."
"Right!" Guy answered. "I met you first, then, never mind exactly how
long ago, on the steamer coming from America. You were quite alone,
unescorted, and unchaperoned. That in itself, as of course you know, was
a very remarkable thing. Nevertheless, I think you will admit that it
did not terrify me. We became--well, pretty good friends, didn't we?"
"I think we did," she admitted.
"Afterwards," he continued, "we met again at Luigi's restaurant. There
again I found you alone, in a restaurant where the women who know what
they are doing would not dream of entering without a proper escort.
Forgive me, but I want you to understand the position thoroughly. I saw,
of course, that you were being annoyed by the attentions of almost every
man who entered the place, and in my very best manner I came over and
made a suggestion."
"You did it very nicely," she murmured.
"I rather flatter myself," he continued, "that I showed tact. I asked
simply to be allowed to sit at your table. Before we had finished dinner
I asked you, for the second time, to marry me."
"That," she declared, "was distinctly forward."
"You will remember that I refused to discuss things with you then. I
told you that I was coming for you the next morning, and I mentioned
what I thought of bringing with me. When I arrived at your
boarding-house you had gone. You left no word nor any message. I don't
consider that that was treating me nicely."
"It wasn't," she admitted, "but you have forgiven me for it."
"Of course I have. Well, a few nights later I saw you dining with a man
whom I know slightly, a clever fellow, distinctly a man of the world.
You were dining with him alone. I followed you home to Coniston
Mansions. Then I came away, and hesitated for some time whether to get
drunk or go for a swim in the Thames. Eventually I went home to bed."
"It was very sensible," she murmured.
"The next night," he continued, "you were dining with the same man
again, only this time he did not go back with you to Coniston Mansions.
I did, and before I left you, you had promised to be my wife. You warned
me to ask you no questions, and I didn't. I know as little of you now as
I did on the steamer. I know that this man Norris Vine has a flat within
a few yards of yours, and in the same building, but I ask no questions.
I think that you must certainly acquit me of anything in the shape of
undue curiosity. I was content to know that I had fallen in love with
the sweetest little girl I had ever set eyes on."
She pressed his hand and sighed.
"Guy, you're a dear!" she said.
"It was quite sufficient for me," he continued, "that you are what you
are. It is sufficient for me even now. The trouble is that it won't be
sufficient for everybody. You can see that for yourself, dear,
Virginia drew a little away. He fancied that the hand which still rested
in his was growing colder.
"I suppose so," she murmured.
"I am glad you realize that," Guy said earnestly. "Now look here,
Virginia. You saw the line my aunt took. There's no doubt that from a
certain point of view she's right. I wonder whether, under the
circumstances, it would be better"--he hesitated, and looked at her for
a moment--"better--you see what I mean, don't you?"
"I am not quite sure," she said. "Hadn't you better tell me?"
Guy looked at her in surprise.
"Why, that was just what I thought I had done," he declared. "What I
mean is that after all, although for my own sake I wouldn't ask a
question, it might be as well for you to tell my aunt what she wants to
know. It would make things much more comfortable."
"I think you are quite right," Virginia said softly.
Guy stooped and kissed her.
"Dear little lady!" he declared. "I'll go and tell her, and bring her
He found his aunt descending the stairs, but when they reached the
morning-room it was empty. Guy looked around in surprise, and stepped
out into the hall. Jameson hurried up to him.
"The young lady has just gone, sir," he said deferentially. "I called a
hansom for her myself. She seemed rather in a hurry."
Guy stood for a moment motionless.
"Do you happen to remember the address she gave you?" he asked the man.
"I am sorry, your Grace. I did not hear it."
Lady Medlincourt opened the door of the morning-room.
"I think, Guy," she said, "you had better come in and talk to me."
It was between half-past four and five o'clock in the morning, and
London for the most part slept. Down in the street below, the roar of
traffic, which hour after hour had grown less and less, had now died
away. Within the building itself every one seemed asleep. Floor after
floor looked exactly the same. The lights along the corridors were
burning dimly. Every door was closed except the door of the
service-room, in which a sleepy waiter lay upon a couch and dreamed of
his Fatherland. The lift had ceased to run. The last of the belated
sojourners had tramped his way up the carpeted stairs. On the fifth
floor, as on all the others, a complete and absolute silence reigned.
Suddenly a door was softly opened. Virginia, dressed in a loose gown,
and wearing felt slippers which sank noiselessly into the thick carpet,
came slowly out from her room. She looked all around and realized the
complete solitude of the place. Then she crossed the corridor swiftly,
and without a moment's hesitation fitted the key which she was carrying
in her hand into the lock of Norris Vine's room. The door opened
noiselessly. She closed it behind her and paused to listen. There was
not a sound in the place, and the door on the left, which led into the
sitting-room, was ajar. She stepped in, and, after another moment's
hesitation, closed the door softly behind her and gently raised the
blind. The sunlight came streaming in. There was no need for the
electric light. The sitting room, none too tidy, showed signs of its
owner's late return. There was a silk hat and a pair of white kid gloves
upon the table, and on the sideboard a half-empty glass of whiskey and
soda. Several cigarette ends were in the grate. An evening paper lay
upon the hearthrug. She knew from these things that a few yards away
Norris Vine lay sleeping.
Without hesitation, with swift and stealthy fingers, she commenced a
close and careful scrutiny of every inch of the room. In a quarter of
an hour she had satisfied herself. There was no hiding-place left which
could possibly have escaped her. The more dangerous part of her
enterprise was to come. Very softly she opened the door, leaving it ajar
as she had found it. She stood before the closed door of the bedroom.
Very slowly, and with the tips of her fingers, she turned the handle. It
opened without a sound. She had no garments on that rustled, and the
soles of her slippers were of thick felt. She stood inside the room
without having made the slightest sound. She held her breath for a
moment, and then summoning up her courage, she looked toward the bed.
The close-drawn curtains were unable to altogether exclude the early
morning sunlight which streamed in through the chinks of the curtains
and the uncovered part of the window.
Virginia stood as though she had been turned to stone. Every nerve in
her body seemed tense and quivering. The cry which rose from her heart
parted her death-white lips, but remained unuttered. Wider and wider
grew her eyes as she gazed with horror across the room. The power of
action seemed to be denied to her. Her knees shook; a sort of paralysis
seemed to stifle every sense of movement. She swayed and nearly fell,
but her hand met the corner of the mantelpiece and she held herself
erect. Gradually, second by second, the arrested life commenced to flow
once more through her veins. She had but one impulse--to fly. She
thought nothing of the motive of her coming, only to place the door
between her and this! Unsteadily, but without accident, she passed
through the door, and though her hand shook like a leaf, she managed to
close it noiselessly again. Somehow, she never quite knew how, she found
herself outside in the corridor, and a moment later safe in her own room
with the door bolted. Then she threw herself upon the bed, and it seemed
to her afterwards that she must have fainted!
* * * * *
Only a few hours later Guy, who had slept little that night, and had
waked with a desperate resolve, stepped out of the lift and knocked at
Virginia's door. There was no answer. The waiter came out from the
service-room and approached him.
"The young lady has left, sir," he announced.
"Left?" Guy repeated aimlessly. "When? How long ago?"
"Barely half an hour, sir," the man answered.
"She paid up her bill as I know, and left the key behind. The rooms
belong to her for another fortnight, but she didn't seem as though she
were coming back."
"Did she leave any address for letters?" Guy asked.
"If you inquire at the office, sir, they will tell you," the man
Guy went down to the office.
"Can you tell me," he asked, "if Miss Longworth has left any address?"
The man shook his head.
"She left an hour ago, sir," he said. "She said there would be no
letters, and if we liked we could let her rooms, as she was certain not
to come back."
"You cannot help me to find her, then?" Guy asked. "I am the Duke of
Mowbray, and I should be exceedingly obliged to any one who could help
me to discover this young lady."
They were all sent for at once, porter, commissionaire, hall-boy. The
information he was able to obtain, however, was scanty indeed. Virginia
had simply told the cabman, who had taken her and her luggage away, to
drive along the Strand toward Charing Cross.
Guy drove back to Grosvenor Square, and insisted upon going up to his
aunt's room. She received him under protest in her dressing-gown.
"My dear Guy," she expostulated, "what is the meaning of this? You know
that I am never visible until luncheon time."
"Forgive me?" he said. "I scarcely know what I am doing this morning."
"Well, what is it?" she demanded.
"Virginia has gone!" he answered, "left her rooms, left no address
behind her. What a fool I was not to follow her up last night! She
waited until this morning. She must have expected that I would come, and
I didn't. I was a d----d silly ass!"
Lady Medlincourt yawned.
"Have you come here to tell me that, my dear Guy?" she said. "So
unnecessary! You might at least have telephoned it."
"Look here," he said, "we were too rough on her yesterday afternoon. I
made no conditions as to what she should tell me when I asked her to be
my wife. I was quite content that she should say yes. I know she's all
right; I feel it, and she's the only girl I shall ever care a fig for!"
"I really cannot see," Lady Medlincourt murmured, "why you should drag
me from my bed to talk such rubbish. If you feel like that, go and look
for her. It is open for you to marry whom you choose, the lady who is
selling primroses at the corner of the Square if you wish. The only
thing is that you cannot expect your friends to marry her too. What did
you come here for, advice or sympathy? I have none of the latter for
you, and you wouldn't take the former. Do, there's a good boy, leave me!
I want to have my bath, and the hairdresser is waiting."
Guy turned on his heel and left the house. There was only one thing left
to be done, although he hated doing it. He went to the office of a
"Mind," he said, when he had told them what he wanted, "I will not have
the young lady worried or annoyed in any form if you should happen to
find her. Simply let me know where she is living. The rest is my affair.
"Perfectly!" the man answered. "We are to spare no expense, I presume?"
It did him good to be able to answer fervently, "None whatever, only
MR. DUGE THREATENS
The morning papers were full of the news. Phineas Duge had landed in
London! The Stock Exchange was fluttered. Those whose hands were upon
the money-markets of the world paused to turn their heads towards the
hotel where he had taken a suite of rooms. Interviewers, acquaintances,
actual and imaginary, beggars for themselves and for others, left their
cards and hung around. In the hotel they spoke of him with bated breath,
as though something of divinity attached itself to the person of the man
whose power for good or for evil was so far-reaching.
Meanwhile Phineas Duge, who had had a tiresome voyage, and who was not a
little fatigued, slept during the greater part of the morning following
his arrival, with his faithful valet encamped outside the door. The
first guest to be admitted, when at last he chose to rise, was
Littleson. It was close upon luncheon time, and the two men descended
together to the grillroom of the hotel.
"A quiet luncheon and a quiet corner," Littleson suggested, "some place
where we can talk. Duge, it's good to see you in London. I feel somehow
that with you on the spot we are safe."
Phineas Duge smiled a little dubiously. They found their retired corner
and ordered luncheon. Then Littleson leaned across the table.
"Duge," he said, "I'm thankful that we've made it up. Weiss cabled me
that you had come to terms, and that you were on your way over here to
deal with the other matter. It's cost us a few millions to try and get
the blind side of you."
Phineas Duge smiled very slightly; that is to say, his lips parted, but
there was no relaxation of his features.
"Littleson," he said, "before we commence to talk, have you seen
anything of my niece over here?"
Littleson was a little surprised. He had not imagined that Phineas Duge
would ever again remember his niece's existence.
"Yes," he answered, "I crossed over with her."
"And since then?"
"I have seen her once or twice," Littleson answered a little dubiously.
"Alone?" Phineas Duge asked.
"Not always," Littleson answered. "Twice I have seen her with Norris
Vine, and twice with a young Englishman who was on the steamer."
Phineas Duge said nothing for a moment. He seemed to be studying the
menu, but he laid it down a little abruptly.
"Do you happen to know," he asked, "where she is now?"
"I haven't an idea," Littleson answered truthfully. "To be frank with
you, she was not particularly amiable when I spoke to her on the
steamer. She evidently wanted to have very little to say to me, so I
thought it best to leave her alone."
"How long is it," Phineas Duge asked, "since you saw her?"
"It is about a week ago," Littleson answered. "She was dining at Luigi's
with Norris Vine. I remember that I was rather surprised to see her with
him. He seems to possess some sort of attraction for your family."
Phineas Duge looked at the speaker coldly, and Littleson felt that
somehow, somewhere, he had blundered. He made a great show of commencing
his first course.
"Let me know exactly," Phineas Duge said, a moment or two later, "what
you have done with regard to the man Vine."
Littleson glanced cautiously around.
"I have seen him," he said. "I have argued the matter from every
possible side. I found him, I must say, absolutely impossible. He will
not deal with us upon any terms. I fear that he is only biding his time.
Every day I see by the papers that the agitation increases, and it seems
to me that if this bill passes, we shall all practically be criminals. I
think that Norris Vine is waiting for the moment when he can do so with
the greatest dramatic effect, to fill his rotten paper with a verbatim
copy of that document."
"It would be," Phineas Duge remarked, "uncommonly awkward for you and
Weiss and the others."
"We couldn't be extradited," Littleson answered, "and I shall take
remarkably good care not to cross the ocean again until this thing has
"If it ever does," Phineas Duge remarked quietly. "Well, go on about
Once more Littleson looked around the room.
"You know Dan Prince is over here?" he said softly.
"So far," he remarked, "his being over here does not seem to have
affected the situation."
"He has made one attempt," Littleson whispered. "He got inside, and he
had certain information that Vine was going to return that night.
Whether he had warning or not no one can tell, but he never came back.
They followed him a few nights ago across Trafalgar Square, hoping that
he was going down toward the Embankment, but he took a hansom and drove
to his club. They followed, and waited for him to come out, but there
was a policeman standing at the very entrance, within a foot of them.
This isn't New York, Duge. You can't depend upon getting the coast clear
for this sort of thing over here, and Prince will take no risks. He is a
rich man in his way, and he wants to live to enjoy his money. He's as
clever as they make them, although he's failed twice here. I fancy he
has something else pending."
"And meanwhile," Duge said quietly, "to-morrow morning's paper may
contain our damnation."
"It may, of course," Littleson answered. "I don't think so, though. He
doesn't move a yard without being shadowed, and he hasn't written out a
cable when some one hasn't been near his shoulder."
"That is the position, then, so far as you know it?" Duge asked.
"Absolutely!" Littleson answered. "I can tell you nothing more."
Duge finished his luncheon and signed the bill. Then he made an
appointment to dine with Littleson, and sent out for an automobile. When
it arrived he was driven to the American Embassy. At the mention of his
name everything was made easy, and he found himself in a few minutes in
the presence of the ambassador.
"Glad to meet you once more, Mr. Duge," he said. "You have forgotten me,
I dare say, but I think we came across one another at a banquet in New
York about four years ago."
"I remember it perfectly," Phineas Duge answered. "A dull affair it was,
but we talked of the Asiatic Powers and kept ourselves amused. Since
then, you see, all that I said has become justified."
"They say that with you that is always the case," he answered. "'Duge
the Infallible' I heard a stockbroker once call you."
"Well," he said, "if I remember your politics, and I think I do, you are
going to try and take away that title from me. You are amongst those,
are you not, who have set themselves to dam the torrents?"
Deane shook his head a little stiffly.
"In the diplomatic service," he said, "we have no politics."
"Sometimes," Duge murmured, "you come in touch with them. For instance,
I should like to know what advice you are going to give Norris Vine
about the publication of that little document in his paper."
Deane looked for a moment annoyed.
"I am afraid," he said, "that I cannot answer you that question."
"If you advise him one way or the other," Phineas Duge said, "you give
the lie to your own statement, that in diplomacy there are no politics.
Your advice will show on which side you intend to stand."
"I have not given any advice," Deane replied.
"Nor must you," Phineas Duge said pleasantly enough. "It is not your
affair at all, Mr. Deane. I grant your cleverness, your shrewdness, even
your common sense, but all three are academic. They have no direct
relation to the actual things of the world. Wealth is one of those
forces which only strong fingers can gather, a stream which if you like
you can divert, but you cannot dam. I want to tell you, Mr. Deane, that
if you advise Norris Vine at all, you must see to it that you advise him
to place that paper upon the fire, or to restore it from whence it
"I am afraid, Mr. Duge," the ambassador said, "that I cannot recognize
you as possessed of such authority as to justify the use of the word
'must.' I am in the habit of doing what I think right and well."
Phineas Duge bowed his head.
"I will only remind you, Mr. Deane," he said, "of the facts which led to
the withdrawal of our ministers from Lisbon and Paris and Vienna. I am
not proud of the power which undoubtedly lies in the palm of my right
hand. On the other hand, I should be foolish if I did not remind you of
these things at a time like this. I only ask you to take up a passive
attitude. You escape in that way all trouble, and if you fancy that the
climate of Paris would suit you or Mrs. Deane better than London, it
would be a matter of a few months only; but--you must not advise the
The ambassador was distinctly uneasy. Duge saw his embarrassment and
"I ask you for no reply, Mr. Deane," he said; "not even for an
expression of opinion. I have said all that I came to say. Apart from
any question of self-interest, I can assure you, as a man who sees as
clearly as his neighbours, that you could do no good, but much evil, by
advising Norris Vine to hold up these men to the ridicule and contempt
of the world. He might sell a million copies of his paper, but he would
create an enmity which in the end, I think, would swamp him. Mrs. Deane,
I trust, is well?"
"She is in excellent health," the ambassador answered. "What can I do
for you during your stay? I presume you know that anything you desire is
open to you? You represent, you see, a great uncrowned royalty, to whom
all the world bows. Will you come to Court?"
"Not I," Duge answered. "Those things are for another type of man. There
was a further question which I wished to ask you. I have a niece who
came over here on a foolish errand, a Miss Virginia Longworth. Do you
happen to have seen or heard anything of her?"
"Nothing," the ambassador replied; "nothing personally, at any rate. I
will inquire of my secretaries."
He left the room for a few minutes, and returned shaking his head.
"Nothing is known about her at all," he declared.
"If she should apply here," Duge said, rising and drawing on his gloves,
"assist her in any way and let me know at once. She must be getting," he
continued, "rather short of money. You can advance her whatever sum she
asks for, and I will make it good."
Phineas Duge walked out into the sunlight and drove away in his
automobile. Was it the glaring light, he wondered, the perfume of the
flowers, the evidences on every side of an easier and less strenuous
life, which were accountable for a certain depression, a slackening of
interests which certainly seemed to come over him that afternoon as he
drove back to the hotel. If he could have summarized his thoughts
afterwards, he would have scoffed at them, as a grown man might laugh at
a toy which a lunatic had offered him. Yet it is certain that the empty
place by his side was filled more than once during that brief ride. He
looked into the faces of the women and girls who streamed along the
pavements with a certain half-eager curiosity, as though he expected to
find a familiar face amongst them, a pale oval face, with quivering lips
and lustrous appealing eyes--eyes which had come into his thoughts more
often lately than he would have cared to admit.
"It is that infernal voyage!" he said to himself, as he got out of the
car and entered the hotel. "One cannot think about reasonable things on
days when the marconigram fails."
He bought a cigar at the stall and strolled over to the tape. It was a
busy afternoon, and reports from America were coming in fast. He nodded
as he turned away. Weiss and the rest had had their lesson. They were
keeping, at any rate, to their part of the bargain.
Phineas Duge carefully drew off his gloves and laid them inside his hat.
He declined a chair, however, and stood facing the man whom he had
come to visit.
"I scarcely understand, Mr. Duge," Vine said, "what you can possibly
want with me. Our former relations have scarcely been of so pleasant a
nature as to render a visit from you easily to be understood."
"I will admit," Phineas Duge said coldly, "that personally I have no
interest or any concern in you. But nevertheless there are two matters
which must bring us together so far as the holding of a few minutes'
conversation can count. In the first place, I want to know whether you
are going to make use of the paper which my daughter stole, and which
you feloniously received? In the second place, I want to know how much
or what you will accept for the return of that paper? And thirdly, I
want to know what the devil you have done with my niece, Virginia
"Your niece, Virginia Longworth," Norris Vine repeated thoughtfully.
"Are you in earnest, sir?"
"I am in earnest," Duge answered.
"Then I have done nothing with her," Vine declared. "I do not know where
she is. I do not know why you should ask me?"
"You lie!" Phineas Duge said quietly. "But let that go. It is your
trade, of course. I came here to give you the opportunity of answering
questions. I scarcely expected that such direct methods would appeal
"Your methods, at any rate," Vine said, moving toward the bell, "are not
such as I am disposed to permit in my own apartment."
Phineas Duge stretched out his hand.
"One moment, Mr. Vine," he said.
"Well?" he asked.
"I refer again," Phineas Duge said, "to the question of my niece. As
regards those other matters, if you do not wish to discuss them with me,
let them go. Even in this country you will find that I am not powerless.
But as regards my niece, I insist upon some explanation from you."
"Some explanation of what?" Vine asked.
"When she left New York a few months ago," Phineas Duge continued, "you
and she were strangers. Granted that she came upon a silly errand, still
it was not wholly her own fault, and she was only a simple child who
ought never to have been permitted to have left America,"
"Up to that point, Mr. Duge," Vine said drily, "I am entirely in accord
"She made your acquaintance somehow," Phineas Duge continued, "and you
were seen out with her at different restaurants; once, I believe, at a
place of amusement. She left her boarding-house and took rooms here in
this building. Her room, I find, was across the corridor, only a few
feet away from yours. What is there between you and my niece,
Vine leaned against the table, and a faint smile flickered over his
"Really, Mr. Duge," he said, "you must forgive my amusement. The idea
that anything so trivial as the well-being of a niece should interest
you in the slightest, seems to me almost paradoxical."
was silent for several moments, his keen eyes fixed upon Vine's face.
"Pray enjoy your jests as much as you will, Mr. Vine," he said, "but
answer my questions."
"Your niece," Norris Vine said, "came over here to rob me, at whose
instigation I can only surmise. My first introduction to her was in my
room, where she came as a thief. What consideration have you ever shown,
Phineas Duge, even to the innocent who have crossed your paths? Why
should you expect that I should show consideration to this simple child
who came across the ocean to steal from me?"
There was still no change in Duge's face, but a little breath came
quickly through his teeth, and, as though insensibly, he moved a little
nearer to the man opposite him.
"Where is she now, Norris Vine?" he asked.
"If she is not in her rooms," Vine answered, "I do not know."
"She has given up her rooms, taken her luggage, and gone away," Duge
said. "Perhaps it is you who have driven her out of this place."
"I was not aware of it," Vine answered. "As a matter of fact I expected
her to lunch with me to-day."
Phineas Duge looked down upon the table before which he stood. He
seemed to be turning something over in his mind, and opposite to him
Norris Vine waited. When Duge looked up again, Vine seemed to notice for
the first time that his visitor was aging.
"Norris Vine," he said, "you and I have been enemies since the day when
we became aware of one another's existence. We represent different
principles. There is not a point in life on which our interests, as well
as our theories, do not clash. But there are things outside the battle
for mere existence which men with any fundamental sense of honour can
discuss, even though they are enemies. I wish to ask you once more
whether you can give me any news of my niece."
"I can give you none," Norris Vine answered. "All that I can tell you is
that I found her a charming, simple-minded girl, in terrible trouble
because of your anger, and the fear that you would impoverish her
people; and goaded on by that fear to attempt things which, in her saner
moments, she would never have dreamed of thinking of. Where she is now,
what has become of her, I do not know; but I would not like to be the
person on whom rests the responsibility of her presence here and
anything that may happen to her."
Phineas Duge took up his hat and gloves.
"I thank you, Mr. Vine," he said. "Your expression of opinion is
interesting to me. In the meantime, to revert to business, am I right in
concluding that you have nothing to say to me, that you do not wish even
to discuss a certain matter?"
"You are right in your assumption, sir," Norris Vine answered. "I see
no purpose in it. What I may do or leave undone would never be
influenced by anything that you might say."
Phineas Duge turned toward the door. Norris Vine followed him. There was
not, however, any motion on the part of either to indulge in any form of
leave-taking; but Phineas Duge half opened the door, stood for a moment
with his hand upon the handle, and looked back into the room.
"I fear, Mr. Vine," he said, "that you are developing an insular
weakness. You are forgetting to be candid, and you are just a little too
He opened the door suddenly quite wide, but he made no motion to depart.
On the contrary two men, who must have been standing within a foot or so
of it, stepped quickly in. Phineas Duge closed the door.
MR. DUGE FAILS
Norris Vine without a doubt was trapped. He realized it from the moment
Phineas Duge closed the door and turned the key. The two men who had
entered were to all appearance absolutely harmless and ordinary. They
were dressed most correctly in dark clothes of fashionable cut. Each
wore a silk hat, and would have passed without a moment's question
amongst any ordinary group of better-class city men. Nevertheless, when
at his quick motion toward the bell the fingers of one of them closed
upon his arm, he knew very well that he was helpless. He suffered them
to lead him without resistance into the little sitting-room. What could
he have done? If he had opened his mouth to call out, he saw the hand of
the man who was watching him, with his arm linked through his, ready to
close his lips. They all passed into the sitting-room, and Phineas Duge
closed the door behind them.
"I am sorry," he said, "to resort to such old-fashioned measures, but
as you know I am methodical in all my ways. The first place to look for
stolen goods is obviously in the abode of the thief. Frankly, I have not
much expectation of discovering anything here. At the same time I could
not afford to run the risk of leaving these rooms and your person
"I can quite appreciate that," Norris Vine said, seating himself in the
armchair towards which he was being gently pushed. "The only favour I
will ask is that you are as quick as possible, as I have rather a busy
afternoon, and want to lunch early."
"These gentlemen," Phineas Duge remarked, "are quite used to little
affairs of this sort. I do not think that you need fear that there will
be any undue delay."
Even while he spoke both of them were busy. Vine felt a silken cord
being drawn about his legs and chest. Something was slid softly into his
mouth. In less than two minutes he was bound and gagged. Then he had an
opportunity, so far as the sitting-room was concerned, of watching a
search conducted upon scientific principles.
In about twenty minutes the place looked as though a tornado had struck
it. The search, however, was over. The two men were prepared to
guarantee that no papers of any sort were hidden in any place within the
reach of any one in that room. They carried him, bound as he was, into
the bedroom, and he watched with interest, and some admiration, a
repetition of the search. The result, however, was the same. Then the
two men came over to him, and he felt his bonds softly loosened. Only
the gag remained in his mouth, and one by one his garments were removed
from him. A trained valet could not have been more careful or deft. The
contents of all his pockets were hastily run through and restored. His
under garments were felt all over for any hidden hiding place. Even his
shoes were taken off, and the inner sole cut through with a knife.
Finally the two men turned towards Phineas Duge. Their faces were a mute
expression of the fact that the search was over. Phineas Duge motioned
them to remove the gag. They did so, and Vine, who was now free, stood
up and commenced to dress.
"I am sorry," Phineas Duge said calmly, "to have inconvenienced you,
but, of course, a person who becomes a receiver of stolen goods is
always liable to a little affair of this sort. You are quite at liberty
to ring the bell now if you like, and to make complaints about us. My
methods may have seemed to you a little melodramatic, but as a matter of
fact they are entirely commonplace. These two gentlemen are connected
with the American police, and it may interest you to know that we have
with us warrants for the arrest both of yourself and my daughter, Miss
Stella Duge, on the charge of theft and conspiracy. All that we have
done here has been quite legal, except that we should have been
accompanied by a gentleman from Scotland Yard, with whose presence we
preferred to dispense. You can make what complaints you like, and I
shall immediately apply for your extradition. In any case I expect to do
so to-morrow or the next day, if a certain document is not forthcoming.
You see I am placing myself in your hands. You have time even now to
cable its contents to New York before the warrant can be executed."
Norris Vine was busy tying his tie, and waited for a moment until he had
arranged it to his satisfaction. Then he turned round.
"I can assure you," he said, "I had not the slightest intention of
making any complaint with regard to your doings here. In fact, I can
truthfully say that I have rather enjoyed the whole proceeding. To tell
you the truth," he continued, moving across the room and taking a
cigarette from the mantelpiece and lighting it, "when I heard that you
were in England, I was exceedingly curious to know what your methods
would be. 'Phineas Duge the Invincible' they have called you. I knew
that you came over here because you had entered in a fresh alliance with
your gang, and I knew therefore that you came over to get back that
document. I imagine that if you can get it you can make your own terms
with them. I must say that I have been exceedingly curious to know what
your methods would be in approaching me. Littleson could suggest nothing
better than a bribe and a common burglary. There is something much more
attractive about the way you have opened the proceedings. I consider
that this little affair, for instance, has been most artistic. If you
have not discovered what you sought, you have at least discovered the
fact that it is not here. That gives you something to start upon. How
kind of your assistants! I see that they are putting my room
Phineas Duge nodded. He showed no disappointment at the ill-success of
this first effort, and he was watching Vine all the time curiously.
"Your further plan of operations," Vine continued, "is again worthy of
you. I believe all that you say. I believe that you have the warrants,
and I believe that you could easily obtain an extradition order. On the
other hand, I am perfectly well aware that this is only a feint. It is a
good scheme up to a certain point, of course, although neither your
daughter nor myself could be convicted of conspiracy without the
production of what we are supposed to have stolen. Still, as I said, it
is a good feint, and it has made me curious. I wonder what your real
scheme is! I do not think that you will tell me that."
Phineas Duge smiled.
"You should have been a diplomatist. Mr. Vine," he said. "As a
journalist you are wasted. You might even have achieved what I presume
you would have called infamy, as a financier."
"Ah, well!" Norris Vine said, "the world is full of those who have
missed their vocation. I am content to pass amongst the throng. Can I
offer you anything before you go? A whisky and soda, or a glass
"I think not, thank you," Phineas Duge said. "You are naturally in a
hurry to keep your luncheon engagement, and I see that my friends have
succeeded in restoring your apartment to some semblance of order. We
part now to pass on to the second stage of our little duel. Understand
that, so far as regards this little matter of business, I have no
special ill-feeling towards you, Mr. Vine. I ask you even no questions
concerning your friendship with my daughter. She is old enough to know
her own mind, and she has heard my views often enough; but I should like
you to know this, and to remember that I who say it am a man of many
faults, but one virtue: never in my life have I broken my word. If I
find that my niece has disappeared through any ill-usage of yours, I
will risk the few years that may be left to me of life, and I will shoot
you like a dog the first time that we meet."
Norris Vine looked gravely across at the man whose words so quietly
spoken, seemed yet from their very repression to be charged with an
intense dramatic force. He knew so well that the man who spoke them
meant what he said and would surely keep his word. He shrugged his
shoulders very slightly.
"My dear sir," he said, "I fear that I have misunderstood you. I could
have imagined your sentiment being aroused by the sight of a dollar bill
being burnt and wasted, but I never expected to see it kindled upon the
subject of your niece, or any other human being. I amend my judgment of
you. You are really not the man I thought you were. If your friends have
quite finished "--he took up his hat and glanced for a moment at his
watch. Duge turned toward the door.
"Once more, Mr. Vine," he said, "my regrets, and good morning!"
The three men left the room. Vine remained, leaning against the
mantelpiece, and whistling softly to himself. He went through the whole
of a popular ballad, and then he tried it in a different key. When he
was sure that the three men had had time to leave the building, he too
took up his hat and went out.
ADVICE FOR MR. VINE
Mr. Deane was on the point of accompanying his wife for their usual
afternoon's drive in the park. A glance at the card which was brought to
him just as he was preparing to leave the house, however, was sufficient
to change his plans.
"My dear," he said to his wife, "you will have to excuse me this
afternoon. I have a caller whom I must see."
"Shall I wait for a few minutes?" she asked.
"Better not," he answered, "I imagine that I may be detained some time."
He took off his hat and coat, and made his way to the library, where
Phineas Duge was awaiting him. The ambassador was a broad-minded man,
loath to take sides unless he was compelled in the huge struggle, the
coming of which he had prophesied years ago. He recognized in Phineas
Duge one of the great powers at the back of the nation which he
represented, and as a diplomatist he was fully prepared to receive him,
and welcome him as one.
"I am very glad to see you again, Mr. Duge," he said, hospitably,
extending his hand, "I hope that you have changed your mind, and are
going to let us put you in the way of a few social amusements while you
are over here."
"You are very kind," Duge answered, "but I think not. My visit here has
to do with two matters only, to both of which I think I have already
referred. You have heard nothing of my niece?"
"Nothing whatever, I am sorry to say," Mr. Deane answered.
"Well, there remains the other matter," Duge answered. "You and I have
already had a few words concerning that, and I am pleased to see that up
to the present, at any rate, our friend Mr. Vine has been governed by
the dictates of common sense. Still, I think you can understand that so
long as that paper exists the situation is an unpleasant one."
Mr. Deane inclined his head slowly.
"Without a doubt," he admitted, "it would be more comfortable for you
and your friends to feel that the document in question was no longer in
"I am here in the interests," Mr. Duge answered a little stiffly, "of my
friends only. My own name does not appear upon it. However, my anxiety
to discover its whereabouts is none the less real."
"You have seen Mr. Vine?" Mr. Dean asked.
"I have," Duge answered, "and I have come to the conclusion, for which I
have some grounds, that the document is not for the moment in his
possession. I have therefore asked myself the question--to whom on this
side would he be likely to entrust it? It occurred to me that it might
be deposited at a bank, but I find that he has no banking account over
here. The American Express Company have no packet in their charge
consigned by him. Therefore I have come to the conclusion that he has
placed it in the care of some friend in whom he has unlimited
confidence. Foolish thing that to have, Mr. Deane," Phineas Duge
continued slowly, with his eyes fixed upon his companion. "One is likely
to be deceived even by the most unlikely people."
"Your business career," Mr. Deane replied courteously, "no doubt has
taught you that caution is next to genius."
"I would have you," Phineas Duge said impressively, "lay that little
axiom of yours to heart, Mr. Deane. I think you will agree with me that
a man in your position especially, the accredited ambassador of a great
country, should show himself more than ordinarily cautious in all his
doings and sayings, especially where the interests of any portion of his
country people are concerned."
"I trust, Mr. Duge," the ambassador replied, "that I have always
"I too hope so," Duge answered. "I told you, I think, that I had come to
the conclusion that Norris Vine, not having that paper any longer in his
possession, has passed it on to some other person in whom his faith is
"You did, I believe, mention that supposition," Mr. Deane assented.
"I ask myself, therefore," Phineas Duge continued, "who, amongst his
friends in London, Norris Vine would be most likely to trust with the
possession of a document of such vast importance. Need I tell you the
first idea which suggested itself to me! It is for your advice that
Norris Vine has crossed the ocean. You have read the document. You know
its importance. There would, I imagine, be no hiding place in London so
secure as the Embassy safe which I see in the corner of your study!"
"You suggest, then," Mr. Deane said slowly, "that Norris Vine has
deposited that document in my keeping."
"I not only suggest it," Duge answered, "but I am thoroughly convinced
that such is the fact. Can you deny it?"
Mr. Deane shrugged his shoulders.
"The matter, so far as I am concerned in it," he answered, "is a
personal one between Vine and myself. I cannot answer your question."
Phineas Duge shook his head thoughtfully.
"That, Mr. Deane," he said, "is where you make a great mistake. Permit
me to say that your official position should, I am sure, preclude you
from taking any part in this business. The matter, you say, is a private
one. There can be no private matters between you, the paid and
accredited agent of your country, and one of its citizens. To speak
plainly, you have not the right to offer the shelter of the Embassy to
the document which Norris Vine has committed to your charge."
"How do you know that he has done so?" Deane asked.
"Call it inspiration if you like," Duge answered. "In any case I am sure
There was a short silence. Then Mr. Deane rose to his feet a little
"Perhaps you are right," he said, "and yet I am not sure."
"A little reflection will, I think, convince you," Phineas Duge said
quietly. "Your retention of that document means that you take sides in
the civil war which seems hanging over my country. Further than that,
it also means--and although it pains me to say so, Mr. Deane, I assure I
you say it without any ill-feeling--a serious interruption to
The ambassador was silent for several moments.
"Mr. Duge," he said, "I am inclined to admit that up to a certain point
you have reason on your side. It is true that I am guarding the document
in question for Norris Vine, and it is also true that in doing so I am
perhaps departing a little from the strict propriety which my position
demands. I will therefore return to him the document, but I should like
you to understand that with every desire to retain your good will, I
shall give Mr. Vine such advice with regard to the use of it as seems to
me, as a private individual and a citizen of the United States,
Phineas Duge took up his hat.
"As to that," he said, "I have nothing to say, beyond this. However
things may shape themselves in the immediate future, my influence will,
I believe, still prove something to be reckoned with on the other side.
That influence, Mr. Deane, I use for those who show themselves
The two men parted with some restraint. Deane, after a few minutes'
hesitation, went to the telephone and called up Vine at his club.
"I want to talk to you, Vine, at once," he said. "Can you come round?"
"In ten minutes," was the answer.
"I shall wait for you," the ambassador answered, ringing off.
In a small, shabbily furnished room at the top of a tall apartment
house, Virginia was living through what seemed to her, as indeed it was,
a grim little tragedy. On the table before her was her little purse,
turned inside out, and by its side a few, a very few coins. The roll of
notes, which she had not changed, and which formed the larger part of
her little capital, was gone, hopelessly, absolutely gone. It was
nothing less than a disaster this, which she was forced to face. She had
left the purse about in her rooms in Coniston Mansions, or there were
many other places in which an expert thief would have found it a very
easy matter to remove the little bundle and replace it with that roll of
paper which she found in its place.
Her first wild thought of rushing to the police-station she had
dismissed as useless. She had no idea when or where the theft had been
accomplished; only she knew that she was alone in a strange city, and
that the few shillings left to her were not even sufficient to pay for
the rent she already owed for her room.
She dragged herself to the window and stood looking out across the grimy
house-tops. Her eyes were blurred with tears. It is doubtful whether she
saw anything of the uninspiring view, but it seemed to her that she
could certainly see the wreck of her own short life. She seemed to
realize then the mad folly of her journey, the hopelessness of it from
beginning to end. Quite apart from her failure, there was also a madness
of which she refused even to think, the aftertaste of those few hours of
delicious happiness. Had he ever tried to find her out, she wondered,
since that day when she had fled with burning cheeks and aching heart
from her rooms in Coniston Mansions, and sought to hide herself in the
cold bosom of this unlovely city. In any case she would never see him
again. Her one desire now, if it amounted to a desire, when all ways in
life seemed to her alike flat and profitless, was to find her way
somehow or other back to America, and to carry the bad news herself to
the little farmhouse in the valley.
She looked at her pitiful little store of coins, and the problem of
existence seemed to become more and more difficult. After all, there was
another way for those who did not care to live. She found herself
harbouring the thought without a single sign of any revulsion of
feeling, accepting it as a matter to be seriously considered with dull,
calculating fatalism. What was the use of life when nothing remained to
hope for! It was, after all, an easy way out.
She opened the window and looked below. The seven stories made her
dizzy. Nevertheless, she looked with a curious fascination to the stone
courtyard immediately underneath the window. Death would probably be
instantaneous. She leaned a little further out and then started suddenly
back into the room. A revulsion of feeling had overtaken her. It was a
hideous idea, this. For the sake of the others she must put it away from
her. She walked up and down the narrow confines of her room, and then
the necessity for action of some sort drove her out into the street.
Curiously enough, though she was being searched for by at least half a
dozen detectives and inquiry agents, she had taken no particular pains
to conceal herself beyond the fact that she had chosen a crowded and
low-class neighbourhood, and had seldom ventured out before dark. She
walked now to the office of a shipping agent which she had noticed on
her way here, and addressed herself to the clerk who hastened forward to
ascertain her wishes.
"I want," she said, "to get to America, and have no money. All that I
had has been stolen. Could I get a passage and pay for it when I arrive?
A second class passage, of course."
The clerk shook his head dubiously.
"Have you no friends in London," he asked, "to whom you could apply for
"Not a single one," she answered.
"Why not cable?" he suggested. "You could have money wired over here to
"I do not wish to do that," Virginia answered.
The young man shrugged his shoulders.
"The only other course," he said, "would be to apply to the Embassy.
They might advance the money."
Virginia walked out thoughtfully. After all, why not? Mr. Deane, she
knew, was a friend of her uncle's. He would perhaps let her have the
money, and she could send it back later on. She walked to the great
house in Ormande Gardens and asked to see Mr. Deane. The servant who
admitted her hesitated a little.
"There is no one in just now, miss," he said, "except Mr. Deane, and he
is busy with a gentleman. If you will come into the waiting-room, I
will ask him whether he can spare you a moment when the gentleman
Virginia sat upon a very hard horsehair chair in a barely furnished
room, and waited. The table was covered with magazines, but she did not
touch them. She sat nervously twisting and untwisting her fingers. Then
the sudden sound of voices outside attracted her attention. The door of
the room in which she sat had been left ajar, and apparently two men,
passing down the hall from a room on the other side, had paused just
"Of course, I don't know what you will do with it, Vine," she heard some
one say, "but if you take my advice, you will find a secure hiding place
without a moment's delay. I am very sorry indeed that I cannot help you
out any longer, but I know you don't want me to run risks."
"Rather not," Vine answered. "To tell you the truth, I think my mind is
made up. I am going to spend a little fortune cabling to-night."
"Well, I am not sure but that you are wise," was the reply. "It's one of
those things the result of which it is quite impossible to prophesy.
Good luck to you anyway, Vine, and do, for the next few hours, take care
Then Virginia heard a parting between the two men. One of them
apparently left the house, the other returned to the room from which
they had issued. Virginia did not hesitate for a moment. She passed on
tiptoe out of the room into the hall. A servant stood at the front door,
having that moment let Vine out.
"I have decided not to wait for Mr. Deane any longer," she said. "I
will call and see one of the secretaries sometime to-morrow."
The man let her out without question. She was just in time to see Vine
turn the corner of the square. She followed him breathlessly, then
paused and stopped a passing hansom.
"Coniston Mansions," she told the man. "Please go as quickly as you
She was driven there, and passed quickly through the hall and entered
the lift. The commissionaire hurried up to her.
"Several people, miss, have been asking for your address since you
left," he announced.
"I will leave it before I go," she answered hurriedly.
She got out at the fifth floor, and without hesitation she walked
straight across to Norris Vine's rooms. She was as pale as death. After
that last visit of hers she felt a horrible shrinking from entering the
place. Nevertheless, she drew a key from her pocket, turned the lock,
entered, and found, as she supposed, that she was there first. She
looked around, at first in vain, for some hiding place. All the while
she was struggling to put everything else out of her mind except two
great facts. Norris Vine was going to bring that paper back to his
rooms! It was her last chance! If she failed this time, there was
nothing left for her but despair! On the right of the outside door was
a small clothes cupboard. It was the only place in the two rooms where
concealment seemed in any way possible, and Virginia, with beating
heart, stepped into it and drew the door to after her. She was scarcely
there before she heard the sound of a key in the lock. She drew back,
holding her breath as he passed. Norris Vine entered and stepped into
the sitting-room. She heard him take off his hat and coat and throw them
down. She heard the sound of a chair drawn up to the table. He was
preparing, then, to write out his cable!
Very softly Virginia pushed open the door one, two, three inches. She
could see Vine now sitting at the table with several sheets of paper
before him, and a book which seemed to be a code, the leaves of which he
was turning over meditatively. Her eyes were fastened upon that roll of
paper at his left-hand side. She had no doubt but that it was the
document which had been stolen, the document to recover which had
brought her upon this wild-goose chase. The very sight of it, even at
this distance, thrilled her. Scheme after scheme rushed through her
brain. There were overcoats hanging up in the closet. Could she steal
out on tiptoe, throw one over his head, and escape with the paper
before he could stop her? Even then, unless she had time to lock him in,
what chance would she have of leaving the building?
She watched him write, without undue haste, but referring every now and
then to the code-book by his side. If only he would get up and go into
the bedroom for a moment, it might give her a chance. She could feel
her heart beating underneath her gown. Every sense was thrilling with
excitement; and then, all of a sudden, she had a great surprise. Almost
a cry broke from her lips; almost she had taken that swift involuntary
movement forward, for she realized suddenly that she was not the only
one who was watching Norris Vine. Very softly a man, coatless and in his
socks, had stolen out from the bedroom where he had lain concealed, and
was looking in through the opening of the partly closed study door.
Virginia felt her finger-nails dig into her flesh. She stood there rapt
and breathless. Instinctively she felt that the cards had been taken
from her hand, that she was to be a witness of events more swift and
definite than any in which she herself could have borne the
Norris Vine was absorbed in his work. She saw him bend lower and lower
over the table, and she heard his pen drive faster across the paper. His
attention was riveted upon his task. She saw the man lurking behind the
door come gradually more into evidence. He was a stranger to her, but
she could see that he was an athlete by his broad shoulders, his long
arms, and his graceful poise, as he lurked there almost like a tiger
preparing for a spring. Of what his plan might be she could form no
idea. Every pulse in her body was beating as it had never beat before.
Her breath was coming sharply and quickly, and it was all that she could
do to keep back the sobs which seemed to rise in her throat from pure
excitement. What was he going to do, this man who crouched there,
nerving himself as though for some great effort! Very soon she knew.
He stole to the limit of the protection afforded him by the door. She
saw his head turn a little sideways, and she saw his eyes fixed upon a
certain spot in the wall. Then he glanced back again toward the man
writing, as though he measured the distance between them, as though he
wished even to calculate the exact nature of the movement which it was
necessary to make. Then in the midst of her wondering came the
elucidation of these things. The man poised himself. She could see him
in the act of springing. He made a dash, hit something with his hand,
and the room was in darkness! She heard him leap across the room toward
the table, and she heard the low cry of Norris Vine as he sprang to his
feet to meet this unknown assailant. She knew very well in the darkness
which way the struggle must go. Norris Vine, slim, a hater of exercise,
unmuscular, unprepared, could have no chance against an attack
Virginia's brain moved swiftly in those few moments. She heard the
quick breath of the two men as they swayed in one another's arms, and
she did not hesitate for a moment. On tiptoe, and with all the grace and
lightness which were hers, by right of her buoyant figure and buoyant
youth, she crossed the room with swift, silent footsteps, and gathered
into her hands the roll of papers upon the table. As softly as she had
come she went. The deep sobbing breaths of the two men, the half-stifled
cries with which Vine was seeking for outside help, effectually deadened
the faint swish of her skirts and the tremor of her footsteps upon the
She came and went like a dream, and when the man, in whose arms Norris
Vine was after all but a child, finally dragged his victim across the
floor by the collar and turned up the electric light, the table towards
which he looked was bare. He dropped Vine heavily upon the floor, and
stood there rooted to the spot, gazing at the place where only a few
moments before he had seen that roll of paper. A hoarse imprecation
broke from his lips, and Norris Vine, who was still conscious though
badly winded, seeing what was amiss, sat up on the carpet and gazed too,
bewildered, at the empty table. The papers were gone! There was no sign
of them there. There was no sign of any one else in the apartment. There
was nothing to indicate that any one had entered it or left it. The man
who had thought himself the victor stood there with his hands to his
head, an unimaginative person, but suddenly dazed with a curious crowd
of apprehensions. Norris Vine staggered up to his feet, and groped his
way toward the sideboard, where a decanter of brandy was standing.
"Good God!" he muttered to himself, as he poured some of the liquor into
a glass and raised it to his lips. "Are we all mad or bewitched
His assailant did not answer. He raised the table-cloth and looked
underneath, retreated into the bedroom, sought in vain for any signs of
an intruder. Then he came slowly back into the sitting-room, and the
eyes of the two men met. Norris Vine was leaning back against the
sideboard, his clothes disarranged, his collar torn, his tie hanging
down in strips. In his shaking hand was the glass of brandy, half
consumed. There was a livid mark upon his face, and his eyes were wide
open and staring.
"My muscular friend," he said, "the ghosts have robbed you."
"Ghosts be d----d!" the other man answered, a little wildly. "I wish
this job were at the bottom of the ocean before I'd touched it."
A LESSON LEARNED
The American ambassador was giving the third of his great
dinner-parties. At the last moment he had prevailed upon Phineas Duge to
accept an invitation. Littleson, also, was of the party, and the ladies
having departed, these three, separated only by the German ambassador,
who was engaged in an animated conversation with a Russian Grand Duke,
found themselves for a minute or two detached from the rest of the
party. Littleson took the opportunity to move his chair over until he
was able to whisper into Duge's ear.
"None!" Duge answered shortly.
Mr. Deane leaned forward in his chair.
"I suppose you have heard," he said, "that a warrant was issued this
afternoon for the arrest of your friends, Higgins and Weiss?"
"It was a matter of form only," Duge replied.
"Unless they pass this new bill through the Senate, nothing more than a
little temporary inconvenience can happen to them. I wonder why our
great President has developed so sudden and violent an antipathy
"I am not sure," Mr. Deane replied, "whether his position is logical.
Capital must be the backbone of any great country, and the very elements
of human nature demand its concentration. I think myself that this will
all blow over."
"Unless--" Littleson whispered.
"Unless," Mr. Deane continued, "some greater scandal than any at present
known were to attach itself to our two friends."
"One cannot tell," Phineas Duge said slowly. "Such a scandal might come.
It is hard to say. The ways that lead to great wealth are full of
pitfalls, and they are not ways that stand very well the blinding glare
Littleson was looking pale and nervous. He drew a little breath and
fanned himself with his handkerchief.
"You men love to talk in riddles," he said, or rather whispered,
hoarsely. "Why not admit that they are safe enough so long as Norris
Vine does not move!"
A servant approached the ambassador and whispered in apologetic fashion
in his ear.
"There is a young lady, sir," he said, "who has just arrived, and who
insists upon seeing you. She says that her business is of the utmost
importance. I have done my best to make her understand that you are
engaged, but she will not listen to reason. She is, I think, sir, an
American young lady, and she is very much disturbed."
Phineas Duge leaned forward in his place. His eyes were fixed upon the
servant. He said nothing. He only waited.
"A young American lady!" Mr. Deane repeated slowly. "Have you seen her
"I believe, sir," the man answered, "that it is the same young lady who
came here some weeks ago to inquire after Mr. Norris Vine."
Phineas Duge was on his feet with a sudden soft, half-stifled
exclamation. Mr. Deane looked around the table. His other guests were
all talking amongst themselves. Littleson, ignorant of what this might
mean, was looking a little bewildered. The ambassador addressed one of
the men a little lower down the table.
"Sinclair," he said, "will you take my place for a moment? A little
matter of business has turned up, and I am wanted. I shall not be
The man addressed nodded, and, pushing back his chair, strolled toward
the ambassador's vacant seat, his cigar in his mouth. Phineas Duge and
Mr. Deane left the room together, and close behind them Littleson
followed. They left the room without any appearance of haste, but once
in the hall Phineas Duge showed signs of a rare impatience, and pushed
his way on ahead. The door of the waiting-room was half open. He strode
in, and a little exclamation broke from his lips. It was Virginia who
stood there, and her hands were crossed upon her bosom, as though there
were something there which she was guarding. Nevertheless, at the sight
of her uncle they fell away, and she started back.
"You!" she exclaimed. "Uncle Phineas! Here in London!"
He saw the signs stamped into her face of the evil times through which
she had passed, and the more immediate traces of the crisis which lay so
close behind her. He held out both his hands, and stepped quickly toward
her. He was only just in time to save her from falling.
"I came," she faltered, "to get money from Mr. Deane to send you a
cable, to catch a steamer to come back to America. I have got it!" she
cried suddenly, her voice rising almost to a hysterical shriek. "I have
got it! It is here! See!"
She dragged something from the front of her dress--a roll of papers, and
held them out. She was swaying upon her feet now, and Phineas Duge, his
arm around her waist, half led, half carried her to a chair. Littleson,
who had darted out of the room, came back with a glass of water. All
three men stood around her. The papers were there upon her knee, but her
fingers seemed wound around them with some unnatural force. Her burning
eyes were fixed upon her uncle's.
"Take them!" she begged. "Read them! Tell me that it is all right. Tell
me that you will keep your promise."
He took them gently away. A single glance at the sheet of foolscap was
"You are a wonderful child, Virginia," he said calmly. "It is as you
say. These are the papers which Stella stole. I blamed you for the loss
of them too hardly, but you shall never be sorry that you succeeded in
She drew a queer little breath of relief, and leaned back in her chair.
She was still as pale as death, but the terrible strain had gone
from her face.
"I snatched them up," she murmured, "and ran. I am sure they will come
after me. And Vine--I think that that man will kill Vine. His fingers
were upon his throat when I left."
"You brought them," Phineas Duge asked calmly, "from Norris Vine's
She had no time to answer. The door was opened. Norris Vine stood there
on the threshold. He looked in upon the little group and shrugged his
"I am too late, then," he said slowly.
Phineas Duge thrust his hand into the flames and held the papers there.
Norris Vine seemed for a moment as though he would have sprung forward,
but Littleson intervened, and Deane himself.
"They shall burn!" Duge cried. "If you are really the altruist you claim
to be, Mr. Vine, you need not fear their destruction. We are changing
our tactics. If the bill becomes law we will face its effect, whatever
it may be. There shall be no bribery. There shall be no underground
history. If the people of America attack us, we will fight our
Norris Vine sighed.
"In another half an hour," he said, "my cable would have been sent.
To-morrow New York would have been indeed the city of unrest."
Phineas Duge turned upon him coldly.
"You," he said, "are one of those unpractical persons, who bring to the
affairs of a purely utilitarian epoch the 'faineant' scruples of the
dilettante and romanticist. You cannot regulate the flow of wealth any
more than you can dam a river with shifting sand. Don't you know that
destiny, whether it be guided by other powers or not, was never meant to
be shaped by the lookers-on?"
Norris Vine shrugged his shoulders and turned toward the door.
"Well," he said, "I will not argue with you. Perhaps those papers are
better where they are. You will learn your lesson. You, sir," he added,
turning to Littleson, "and those other of your friends who, at any
rate, have known the shadow of an American prison, in some other way."
Norris Vine put on his coat, lit a cigarette, and looked around the room
with the satisfied air of a man who has successfully accomplished a
difficult task. In front of him were two steamer trunks, a hold-all,
hat-box, a case of guns, golf clubs, and some smaller packages, all
fastened up and labelled "Vine, New York." He moved toward the bell,
meaning to ring for a porter, but was interrupted by a knock at
"Come in!" he called out, and Virginia entered. He looked at her in cold
surprise. He recognized her, of course, but he recognized also that this
young lady had nothing whatever to do with the pale-faced, desperate
child, whose visits to him before had always seemed in a sense pathetic.
He was an artist in such things, and he realized at once the dainty
perfection of her muslin gown and large drooping hat. Her whole
expression, too, had changed. She had no longer the look of a hunted and
frightened child. She carried herself with confidence and with colour in
her cheeks, and though she held out her hand to him with some show of
timidity, the smile upon her lips was delightful, if a little appealing.
"Mr. Vine," she said, "please forgive my coming. I have something so
important to say to you and I heard that you were going back to the
States. You will spare me a few minutes, will you not?"
Vine was only human, and hers was an appeal it was not easy to refuse.
He placed a chair for her, and stood in a listening attitude.
"My dear young lady," he said, "I will listen gladly to anything that
you have to say. But as I have nothing more left which it would be of
any interest to you to steal, I scarcely understand to what I am
indebted for this unexpected"--he hesitated for a moment and concluded
his sentence with a not ungracious bow--"unexpected pleasure!" he said.
She smiled up at him delightfully.
"I am so glad, Mr. Vine," she said, "that you are going to be generous
and nice, because what I have to say to you is so difficult, and if you
were angry with me it would be very hard to say."
"I trust," he answered, "that I can accept a defeat; and you had all the
luck, you know."
"I had," she admitted. "It was, after all, nothing to do with me. I see
you have cleared your cupboard out. I can assure you that it was a
terribly stuffy place with all those clothes of yours hanging there."
"Well," he said, "you were very patient and very persistent. You have
won and I lost. I am not at all sure that it is not a good thing that I
lost. My friend Deane tells me so even now. But let that go. I am sure
you would like to tell me what it is that you have come here for."
"I have come," she answered, "to talk to you about Stella."
"Stella?" he repeated slowly.
"Yes!" she said. "You see, I have all the time the feeling that I have
somehow or other done Stella an injury by taking her place with my
uncle, and do you know, Mr. Vine, since he has been in London he seems
quite altered. He has been simply delightful, and I haven't felt
frightened by him once. He keeps on giving me beautiful presents, and he
does not seem in the least in a hurry to get back to America."
Norris Vine smiled grimly.
"I do not blame him," he said.
"Yesterday," she continued, "I could not help it; I disobeyed his orders
and I spoke to him about Stella, and do you know, he listened to me
quite patiently. Mr. Vine, I am going to say something to you very
serious. You must not ask me how I know, or exactly what I know; but I
accidentally do know so much as this. You and Stella are very fond of
one another, and I should like to see you married."
He raised his eyebrows slowly.
"You would like," he repeated, "to see us married!"
She looked away from him. He could see that for some reason or other she
was embarrassed. The colour had streamed into her cheeks, but she went
on bravely enough.
"Yes!" she said. "I talked to my uncle about it, and he was quite nice.
He says that he does not want to see Stella again for a short time, but
if you two have made up your minds to be married--that is how he put
it--he is going to give Stella a million dollars."
"You must be a magician," he said coolly.
"I am nothing of the sort," she answered, "but I think that my uncle has
been very much misunderstood, or else something has changed him
wonderfully during the past few months. Now, I came straight to see you
and to tell you this, Mr. Vine, because I do not know where to find
Stella. Can't you be married here in London, and ask me to the wedding?"
There was a knock at the door and it was immediately opened. They both
turned round. It was Stella who stood there. She looked at them both for
a moment in surprise. Then she closed the door and came into the room.
"Virginia!" she exclaimed. "What on earth are you doing here?"
"I should have come to see you, Stella," Virginia said, "if I had known
where to find you."
"Virginia has come," Vine said, "to tell us that your father is inclined
to play the part of a benevolent parent. I think that he must be either
very ill, or going to be. Virginia has come here to tell us that we are
to be married, and that he is going to give you some little trifle for a
wedding present, a million dollars, I think it was she mentioned."
Stella looked at her cousin in amazement.
"Do you mean this, Virginia?" she exclaimed.
"Absolutely," Virginia answered. "He has promised faithfully. There is
no doubt about it at all."
"Thank goodness!" Stella declared. "I am tired of being poor, aren't
you, Norris? Virginia, you're a dear."
Stella passed her arm around her cousin's neck. Virginia looked up a
"And you will marry Mr. Vine, then," she said, "at once?"
Stella laughed softly.
"My dear child," she said, "we have been married for six weeks."
Virginia leaned back in her chair.
"Oh!" she said. Then suddenly she sprang to her feet. She was obviously
delighted. A certain restraint had left her manner. It was clear that
the news was a relief to her.
"This," she said, "is delightful. You are both of you to come to dinner
to-night at Claridge's. Your father told me that I was to ask you," she
said, turning to Stella, "if I found you both,"
"At eight o'clock, I suppose?" Vine remarked. "We will be there."
Virginia and Stella left together.
"I have an automobile outside," Virginia said a little shyly. "Your
father is ever so much too kind to me, but I do hope, Stella, that you
don't mind. I feel sure that he is going to be quite different now."
"Mind? Of course not," Stella answered. "I have been rather a beast to
him myself, and I think it's very decent of you, after everything, to
have anything to do with me. Who on earth is this young man?"
They were in the hall of the Mansions, face to face with a young man who
was in the act of entering. Virginia looked up, and gave a startled
"You!" she exclaimed breathlessly.
Guy quite ignored her companion, and took her by the hands.
"Virginia!" he exclaimed. "At last! Where have you been hiding yourself,
and how dared you run away from me?"
"There didn't seem to be much else for me to do," Virginia answered
smiling; "but I am very glad to see you again now," she added in a
"How well you look!" he exclaimed. "Where can we go and sit down? I want
to talk to you, and remember I am not going to let you out of my
Stella, whom they had both forgotten, intervened.
"It seems to me," she said, "that it is fortunate I have an engagement.
At eight o'clock then, Virginia."
Guy lifted his hat, and Virginia murmured something.
"It is my cousin Stella," she said. "What is it that you want to say to
me, Guy?" she added, half shyly, as soon as they were alone.
"Come and get in my automobile," he said. "We will sit behind and let
the man drive. Then we can talk. But the first thing I have to say to
you is this: that I do not want to ask you a single question, nor am I
going to permit any one else to ask you anything. Whoever you are and
whatever you are, you are going to be my wife as soon as I can get
another special license."
She laughed softly.
"Very well," she said, "only you must come in my automobile instead,
and send yours away. If you like I will take you for a little drive."
"Just as you like," he answered, looking with some surprise at the car
which stood waiting for Virginia, with its two immaculate servants. "It
seems to me, dear," he added, with a note of disappointment in his tone,
"that you have reached the end of your troubles without my help."
"I think I have, Guy," she answered, "but I am just as pleased to see
you. Would you like to come and be introduced to my uncle and guardian?"
"Rather!" he answered.
"Back to Claridge's," she told the footman, and they stepped inside.
"This isn't a dream, is it?" Guy asked.
"I don't believe so," she answered. "You will find my uncle human
enough, at any rate."
A DINNER PARTY