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The Great Secret by E. Phillips Oppenheim

Part 3 out of 6

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"Yes!" I answered.

Her breath seemed to be coming a little faster. Her eyes were full of
eager questioning.

"You were with him?"


Again there was a pause. I was steadfastly silent.

"Don't keep me in suspense," she muttered. "He told you?"

"Yes!" I answered, "he told me--certain things."

She drew a long breath of relief. I could see that she was trembling all
over. She sank into a chair.

"I felt that he would," she declared. "I knew that he could not carry his
secret to the grave. Is the door locked?"

"Yes!" I answered. "The door is locked."

She was still pale, but her eyes were burning.

"Go on!" she said; "don't lose a moment. I am waiting."

"For what?" I asked calmly.

"To hear everything," she answered quickly.

"I have nothing to tell you," I said.

She stamped her foot with the petulance of a spoilt child.

"Oh! how dense you are!" she exclaimed. "Repeat to me exactly what he
said to you--now, before you forget a single word!"

"I cannot do that," I said.

She leaned a little forward in her chair. Even then she did not

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"I mean that the things which he told me with his last breath were for my
own ear and my own knowledge alone," I answered. "I cannot share that
knowledge even with you."

It seemed to me that there was something unreal, almost hideous, about
the silence which followed. Through the open window there drifted into
the room the early morning sounds of an awakening world--the whistling of
birds in the shrubberies and upon the lawn, the more distant whir of a
reaping machine at work in the cornfields. But between us--silence. I
could not move my eyes from her face. There was no anger there, only a
slowly dawning horror. She seemed to be looking upon me as a man doomed.
I lit a match, and, taking some papers from my pocket, I slowly destroyed

"There go the last records," I said, blowing the ashes away, "I have
learnt them by heart."

"I never thought of this," she murmured. "I never thought that you might
be--oh! you cannot understand," she broke off. "You cannot know what you
are doing."

"I have an idea," I answered grimly. "He warned me."

"Yet you cannot understand," she persisted. "Do you know that, even in
saying this much to me, you are signing your death-warrant--that from
this moment your life will not be safe for a single moment?"

"I know that there is danger," I answered; "but I am not an easy person
to kill. I have had narrow escapes before, and escaped without a

She rose to her feet.

"If only I could make you understand," she muttered.

"Leslie Guest did his best," I answered. "He told me what the last few
years of his life had been. I know that I have to face great odds. I can
but do my best. We only die once."

Then she came swiftly over to me and laid her hands upon my shoulders.
There was now something more human in her face. Her eyes seemed to plead
with mine, and the joy of her near presence was a very real and subtle
thing. I felt my eyes kindle and my heart beat fast. There was no other
danger to be compared with this.

"I did not dream that this might happen," she said softly. "I meant to
use you as a tool, I even thought that you had consented. Oh! I am sorry.
I shall be sorry all my life that I asked you to bring him here. Will you
listen to me for a moment?"

"I am listening all the time," I answered, taking one of her hands in

"Have you realized what all this means?" she continued. "Are you prepared
to give up your life here, your sports, your beautiful home, to feel
that you have spies and enemies on every side, working always in the
dark against you? The man who lies dead upstairs knew every move of the
game--yet you see what has happened to him. How can you hope to succeed
when he failed? Forget last night, my friend! I Believe that it was a
nightmare, and I, too, will forget what you have told me. Come, it is not
too late. We will say that he died suddenly in a stupor, and that,
whatever his secrets were, he carried them with him. Is it agreed?"

I shook my head.

"One cannot break faith with the dead," I answered. "That is amongst the
impossible things. Let us speak no more of it."

She leaned towards me. Her breath was upon my cheek, and her eyes shone
into mine.

"Men have done more than this," she murmured, "when a woman has
pleaded--and--it is for your own sake. Think! Must I count you amongst
my enemies?"

"God only knows why you should," I answered. "I am no judge of others;
but if I betrayed the trust of a dead man, even for the sake of the woman
I loved, I should put a bullet in my brain sooner or later. What I cannot
understand, dear, is why you are not on my side. You are practically an
Englishwoman. What have you to do with Leslie Guest's enemies?"

She turned away sadly.

"There are some things," she said, "which cannot be altered. You and I
are on opposite sides. We may as well say good-bye. We shall never meet
again like this."

"I cannot believe it," I answered. "There are many things which seem dark
enough in the future to me, but I shall never believe that this is our

It seemed to me strange afterwards, that of the immediate future neither
of us spoke. I did not even ask her how long she was going to stay with
Lady Dennisford; she did not speak to me of my plans. As she had come, so
she went, silently and unexpectedly. She would not even let me follow her
out onto the terrace; from the window I watched her mount her horse and
ride away. Only just before she went she had looked back.

"I must see you again," she said. "You, too, must have time to think. I
am going to forget this morning, I am going to forget that I have seen
you. You, too, must do the same!"

Forget! She asked a hard thing.



I was busy all the morning sending and receiving telegrams, and making
certain plans on my own account. Rust was with me a good deal of the
time; but the visitor whose coming I was expecting every minute did not
arrive till early in the afternoon. I sent out word to Mr. Stanley that I
was exceedingly busy, and should be glad to be excused; but, as I had
confidently expected, he was insistent. In about a quarter of an hour I
received him in the library.

He sank softly into the chair towards which I had pointed. For a moment
he sat and blinked at me behind his gold-rimmed spectacles.

"So our friend," he murmured, "has passed away! It is very sad--very sad

I leaned back in my chair and regarded him steadfastly.

"Mr. Stanley," I said, "you did not come here to express your sympathy
with the man whom you have done your best, if not to kill, at least to
frighten to death. Ask me all the questions you want to--say anything you
think necessary. Only finish it up. When you leave this room, let me feel
that circumstances will not require any further meeting between us."

My words seemed to afford Mr. Stanley matter for thought. His brows were
slightly puckered. I knew that from behind his glasses I was being
subjected to a very keen examination.

"I only trust, Mr. Courage,"' he said softly, "that the wish you have
expressed may become a possibility. I myself have always regretted your
intervention in this affair. You are, if you will forgive my saying so,
in strange waters."

"I don't know about that," I answered curtly. "I don't see now how I
could have done other than I have done. But anyhow, I'm sick of it. I
don't want to seem discourteous, but if you could manage to say to me, in
the course of a quarter of an hour, all that you have to say, and ask all
the questions you want to, I should be glad to have done with the whole
business, once and for all!"

My visitor nodded thoughtfully.

"Very good, Mr. Courage," he said. "I will endeavor to imitate your
frankness. Is there to be a post-mortem?"

"There is not," I answered. "Dr. Rust does not consider it necessary, and
I am forced to confess that I cannot see anything to be gained by it. You
and your friends may have been responsible for his death. I cannot say!
At any rate, I am sure that we should never be able to fix the guilt in
the proper quarter."

Mr. Stanley shrugged his shoulders slightly.

"I must congratulate you upon your common sense, Mr. Courage," he said.
"I pass on now to a more important question. Did our friend, before he
died, impart to you any of the hallucinations under which he suffered?
Are you his legatee?"

"I am not," I answered. "I believe that he meant me to be; but his death,
when it came, was quite sudden. All the secret information I had from him
was his name, and the address of his lawyers."

There was a short silence. I was able to bear with perfect calmness the
keen scrutiny to which my visitor was subjecting me.

"I congratulate you heartily, Mr. Courage," he said at last. "Mr. Guest's
story, if he had told it to you, would have been a mixture of stolen
facts and hallucinations, which might have influenced your life very
forcibly for evil. I wished for his death! I admit it freely. But I
wished it for this reason: because in all Europe yesterday, there did not
breathe a more dangerous man than the man who called himself Leslie

"Well, he has gone," I said, "and his life, so far as I know of it, has
been a very sad one. I have already explained to you my wishes in the
matter. I want to forget as speedily as possible the events of the last
eight days."

"I should like," Mr. Stanley said, "to see him."

"I am sorry," I answered, "but that is impossible. The nurses are busy in
the room now, and apart from that, the dead, at least, should have peace
from their enemies. Of one thing I can assure you. Every scrap of paper
he had with him is burnt. There is nothing about him or the room which
could be of interest to you. I have sent for his lawyer, and am making
arrangements for the funeral. There is nothing more to be said or done,
except to say good afternoon to you, Mr. Stanley,"

He rose slowly up from his chair.

"You are a little precipitate, Mr. Courage," he said, "but I do not know
that I can blame you. Do you object to telling me when the funeral will

"I am not myself informed, at present," I answered. "I am waiting for the
arrival of the lawyer."

I had risen to my feet, and was standing with the handle of the door in
my hand. Mr. Stanley took the hint, yet I fancied that he departed

"I should like," he admitted, "to have seen--him, and also the lawyer."

"Then you can find another opportunity," I answered stiffly. "Mr. Guest's
friends would receive every consideration from me. His enemies, I must
admit, I cannot, under the circumstances, see the back of too quickly."

Mr. Stanley had no alternative but to depart, which he did with as good a
grace as possible. I was glad to be alone for a few minutes. My ordinary
share of the vices of life, both great and small, I was, without a doubt,
possessed of. But I had never been a liar. I had never looked a man in
the face and made statements which I had known at the time were
absolutely and entirely false. This was my first essay in a new role.

My next visitor was a very different sort of person, a fair, florid
little man, with easy, courteous manners, and dressed in deep mourning.
He introduced himself as Mr. Raynes, of Raynes and Bishop, Solicitors,
Lincoln's Inn, and alluded to the telegram which I had sent him earlier
in the morning.

"May I inquire," he asked, after we had exchanged a few commonplaces, "if
you are aware that Mr. Leslie Guest was an assumed name of the deceased?"

"I was in his confidence towards the last," I answered. "He told me a
good deal of his history."

The lawyer nodded sympathetically.

"A very sad one, I fear you found it," he remarked.

"Very sad indeed," I assented.

"I have here," he continued, "Lord Leslie's will, and instructions as to
his burial. I presume you would like me to take entire charge of all the

"Certainly," I answered.

"His Lordship wished to be buried very quietly in the nearest churchyard
to the place where he died," the lawyer continued. "I presume that can be

"Quite easily," I answered. "The clergyman is waiting to see you now; if
you like I will take you to him."

In the hall we met Lady Dennisford. She was plainly dressed in black, and
she carried a great bunch of white roses. I introduced Mr. Raynes to the
vicar, and hurried back to her.

"You would like to see him?" I asked.

She nodded, and I led the way upstairs. I opened the door and closed it
again softly, leaving them alone....

I descended into the hall, and there upon the steps, looking at me with
black, beady eyes, deep set in his wrinkled face, was my friend, or
rather my enemy, Nagaski. He eyed my approach with gloomy disfavor.
He opened his mouth in a seeming yawn, a little, red tongue shot out from
between his ivory teeth. Then I heard him called by a familiar voice, and
passing out, I found his mistress leaning back in the corner of Lady
Dennisford's victoria.

She welcomed me with a slow, curious smile.

"I will get out," she said. "There is something I should like to say to

I handed her down. She led the way on to the terrace. A few paces behind,
Nagaski, with drooping head and depressed mien, followed us. When we
halted, he sat upon his haunches and watched me.

"Nagaski," I remarked, "does not seem to be quite himself to-day."

"It is your presence," she answered, "which affects him. He dislikes

I looked at him thoughtfully. If Nagaski disliked me, I was very sure
that I returned the sentiment to a most unreasonable extent.

"I wonder why," I said. "I have always been decent to him."

"Nagaski has antipathies," she said quietly. "It is a good thing that we
are not in his own country. There his breed are supposed to have some of
the qualities of seers, and his dislike would be a very ominous thing."

"Are you superstitious?" I asked.

"I am not sure," she answered gravely. "If I were, I should certainly
avoid you. His attitude is a distinct warning."

I drew a little nearer to her. It seemed to me that she was very pale,
and there was trouble in her face.

"Do you think it possible?" I asked, "that I could bring sorrow upon

"Very possible indeed," she murmured, avoiding my eyes, and looking
steadily across the park.

"Since when have you discovered this?" I asked.

"Within the last hour," she answered.

I laid my hand upon hers. She withdrew it at once. There was a distinct
change in her manner towards me.

"I suppose," she remarked, "that I ought to congratulate you. You are
certainly cleverer than I gave you credit for. You have deceived Mr.
Stanley, and he is not at all an easy person for a beginner to deceive."

I kept silence. I began to see the trouble into which I was drifting.

"But," she continued, "you did not attempt to deceive me. And in this
matter, Mr. Stanley and I are one!"

"You have told him!" I exclaimed.

"Not yet," she answered, "but I am forced to do so, unless--"

"Unless what?"

She looked me in the face.

"Unless you give me your word of honor that you make no attempt to carry
on the task which Leslie Guest had assigned himself, that you do not
regard yourself in any shape or form as his successor. Don't you see that
it must be so? You plead that you must keep faith with the dead. I, at
least, must keep faith with the living. I offer you a chance of safety,
and I beg you to take it. I can do no more."

There was a sharp, little yap from Nagaski. We looked around, Lady
Dennisford had come out. We turned towards her. Nagaski trotted on ahead.
His demeanor was generally more brisk, and his expression one of relief.
A cloud of anxiety seemed to have rolled away from his small brain. Adèle
pointed to him significantly.

"You see," she said, "his instinct is right. There are evil things
between you and me. If I speak, there is no hope for you, and if I keep
silent, there is danger for me, and I am a woman forsworn. If only I had
never gone to Lord's and seen you play cricket!"

"Would that have helped us?" I asked.

"Of course! I should never have counted upon you as a possible tool! I
saw you strain every nerve in your body to catch a ball, and I judged you
by your pursuits, and--all this has come of it. Nagaski was right. We go
ill together, you and I, and one of us must suffer."

"I can only pray then," I answered, as I handed her into the carriage,
"that it may be I."

Nagaski sprang upon his mistress' lap, and his was the only farewell I
received as the carriage drove away. His upper lip was drawn back over
his red gums; there was something fiendish and uncanny in his snarl, and
the hatred which shone from his tiny black eyes. I watched the carriage
until it disappeared. He had not moved. He was still looking back at me.



I sat up suddenly in bed and turned on the light. It was barely two
o'clock by my watch, but I felt sure that I had not been mistaken. Some
one had knocked at my door.

In the act of springing out of bed the sound was repeated. This time
there was certainly no mistake about it, and I heard my name called--

"Mr. Courage! Mr. Courage!"

I opened the door. The landing was dimly lit, and I could see little else
except the figure of the woman who stood there. With one hand she was
leaning against the wall, her face was as white as a sheet; she wore a
hastily thrown on dressing-gown of dingy red. Her whole appearance was
that of a person convulsed with fright.

"Who are you?" I asked. "What do you want?"

Her lips parted. She seemed to have the intention of speaking, but no
words came. Her teeth began to chatter.

"Come," I said brusquely, "you must--why you are the nurse whom Dr. Rust
sent, aren't you?" I asked, suddenly recognizing her. "What is the matter
with you? Are you ill?"

All the time, although she was silent, her eyes, distended and
terror-stricken, were fixed upon me. She nodded feebly.

"Something--is wrong!" she faltered at last. "Come!"

She turned away, still with one hand holding on to the wall. She
evidently wished me to follow her.

"One moment," I said. "Wait while I put something on."

I turned back into my room and wrapped my dressing-gown around me. Then I
followed her along the corridor. She led the way to the room which had
been occupied by Leslie Guest. Outside the door she hesitated. She turned
and faced me abruptly. She was white to the lips. Her appearance was

"I dare not go in!" she moaned. "I have been a nurse for fifteen years,
and I have never known anything like this!"

"Like what?" I asked, bewildered. "What is it that has happened?"

She shivered, but she did not answer me. I was beginning to feel

"Are you hysterical?" I asked. "I wish you would try and tell me what is
the matter."

"Go in," she answered; "go in, and see--if you can see anything."

I opened the door and entered. The room was dimly lit by a lamp, placed
on the table near the window. Upon the bed, covered by a sheet, his
waxen-like face alone visible, was the body of the man who had been my
guest. Beyond, with the connecting door wide open, was the anteroom where
the nurse had been sleeping. Except for the ticking of a clock, there was
no sound to be heard; there was no sign anywhere of any disturbance or
disorder. I looked back at the nurse for an explanation.

"What is it that has upset you so?" I asked. "I can see nothing wrong."

She pointed to the bed.

"His eyes!" she murmured. "Go and look!"

I walked over to the bedside, and leaned reverently over the still
figure. Suddenly I felt as though I were turned to stone. The blood in my
veins ran cold, I staggered back. My gaze had been met with an upturned
glassy stare from a pair of wide-opened, deep-set eyes!

"Good God!" I cried, "his eyes are open!"

The nurse, who had gained a little courage, came to my side.

"I closed them myself," she whispered. "I closed them carefully. I
thought that I heard a noise and I came in. I lit a lamp and I saw--what
you can see! Fifteen years I have been a nurse, and I have watched by the
dead more times than I can count. But I have never known that happen!"

Once more I approached the bedside. One arm was drawn up a little from
under the clothes. I noticed its somewhat unnatural position and pointed
it out to the nurse.

"Did you leave it like that?" I asked.

Her teeth chattered.

"No!" she answered, "The arms were quite straight. Some one has been in
the room--or--"

"Or what?" Tasked.

"He must have moved," she whispered in an unnatural tone.

Once more I bent over the still form. The pupils of the wide-open eyes
were slightly dilated; they seemed to meet mine with a horrible, unseeing
directness. There was no sign about his waxen face or still, cold mouth
that life had lingered for a moment beyond the stated period. And yet
something of the nurse's terror was slowly becoming communicated to me. I
felt that I was in close company with mysterious things.

I turned towards the nurse.

"Go to your room," I said, "and shut yourself in there. I am going to
send for Dr. Rust. Understand it is you that are ill. I do not want a
word of this to be spoken of amongst the servants."

She passed into her room and closed the door without a word. I had a
telephone from my room to the stables, and in a few moments I had
succeeded in awakening one of the grooms.

"The nurse is ill," I told him. "Take a dog-cart and go down and fetch
Dr. Rust. Ask him to come back with you at once."

I heard his answer, and a few minutes later the sound of wheels in the
avenue. Then I put on my clothes, and going downstairs, fetched some
brandy and took it up to the nurse. She, too, was dressed; and, although
she was still pale, she had recovered her self-possession.

"I am very sorry to have been so foolish, sir," she said, declining the
brandy. "I have never had an experience like this before, and it rather
upset me."

"You think," I asked, "that he has lived, since--"

"I am sure of it," she answered. "His was a very peculiar illness, and I
know that it puzzled the doctor very much. It was just the sort of
illness to have led to a case of suspended animation."

"You think it possible," I asked, "that he is alive now?"

"It is quite possible," she answered, "but not very likely. He probably
died with the slight effort he made in moving his arm. I am quite willing
to go in and examine him, if you like, or would you prefer to wait until
the doctor comes?"

"We will wait," I answered. "He cannot be more than a few minutes."

Almost as I spoke, I heard the dog-cart returning. I hurried downstairs
and admitted the doctor. It was almost daybreak and very cold. A thin,
grey mist hung over the park; a few stars were still visible. Eastwards,
there was a faint break in the clouds.

"What's wrong?" he asked, as I closed the door behind him.

"Something very extraordinary, doctor," I answered, hurrying him
upstairs. "Come and hear what the nurse has to say."

He looked at me in a puzzled manner, but I hurried him upstairs. The
nurse met him on the landing. She whispered something in his ear, and
they entered the bedchamber together. I remained outside.

In about ten minutes the door was thrown open, and the doctor appeared
upon the threshold. He was in his shirt-sleeves, and there was a look
upon his face which I had never seen there before. He had the appearance
of a man who has been in touch with strange things.

"Some hot water," said he--"boiling, if possible. Don't ask me any
questions, there's a good fellow!"

I had already aroused some of the servants, telling them that the nurse
had been taken ill, and I was able to bring what he had asked for in a
few minutes. But when I returned with it and tried the handle of the
door, I found it locked. Rust opened it after I had knocked twice, and
took the can from me.

"Go away, there's a good fellow," he begged. "I will come to you as soon
as I can--as soon as there is anything to tell."

I obeyed him without demur. I went into my study, ordered some tea, and
tried to read. It must have been an hour before the door was opened, and
Rust appeared.

"Courage," he said, "I have some extraordinary news for you."

"I am quite prepared for it," I answered calmly.

"He is alive!"

I nodded.

"I judged as much."

"More than that! I believe he will recover!"

There was a short silence. I had never seen Rust so agitated.

"You don't seem to grasp quite all that this means," he continued. "For
the first time in my life, I have signed a certificate of death for a
living person!"

"You have signed the certificate?" I asked.

He nodded.

"The undertaker has it."

The maid entered just then with the tea. I ordered another cup for Rust,
and when it had arrived, I made him sit down opposite to me.

"His was exactly the kind of illness," he remarked thoughtfully, "to lead
to something of this sort. I am quite sure now, whatever Kauppmann's
friend may say, that his disease was not a natural one. He has been
suffering from some strange form of poisoning. It is the most interesting
case I have ever come in contact with. There were certain symptoms--"

"Rust," I interrupted, "forgive me, but I don't want to hear about
symptoms. I want to talk to you as man to man. We are old friends! You
must listen carefully to what I have to say."

Rust's good-humored, weather-beaten, little face was almost pitiful.

"You're going to pitch into me, of course," he remarked. "Well, I
suppose I deserve it. You may not believe it, but I can assure you
that ninety-nine out of every hundred medical men would have signed
the certificate in my case."

"I have no doubt of it," I answered. "That is not the matter I want to
discuss with you at all. There is something more serious, terribly
serious, behind all this. Frankly, if I did not know you so well, Rust, I
should offer you the biggest fee you had ever received in your life, to
leave the place this morning and be called to--Timbuctoo. As it is," I
continued more slowly, "I am going to appeal to you as a sportsman! I am
going to take you into my confidence as far as I dare. I want, if I can,
to justify a very extraordinary request."

Rust took off his spectacles and laid them upon the table.

"The request being--" he asked.

"That you start for the holiday you were speaking of the other day," I
said, "within twelve hours."

He glanced at me curiously. I think that he was beginning to wonder
whether I might not be the next person to need medical advice.

"Go on," he said. "I am prepared to listen at any rate...."

He listened. And at 10.30 that morning, he left Saxby--for the South



My cousin met me at St. Pancras. I saw him before my own carriage had
reached the platform, peering into the window of every compartment
in his short-sighted way. He recognized me at last with a little wave of
the hand.

"Glad to see you, Hardross! These your things? We'll have a hansom. Where
are you staying?"

"At the club, if I can get a room," I answered. "I shall try there before
I go to an hotel, at any rate."

"Come and have some lunch first," Sir Gilbert said firmly. "You can see
about your room afterwards. Remember your appointment is at three

I acquiesced, and got into a cab with my cousin. I was perfectly aware
that he was almost consumed with curiosity. He scarcely waited until we
were off before he began.

"Hardross!" he asked, "what's up?"

"Nothing particular," I answered lamely.

"Rubbish!" he declared, "you are the last man in the world I should have
expected to see in town the second week in September! You haven't come
for nothing, have you? And then this interview with Lord Polloch. What on
earth can you have to say to the Prime Minister?"

"I'm afraid, Gilbert," I answered, "that I can't tell you--just yet. You
see it isn't my own affair at all. It's--another man's secret."

My cousin was palpably disappointed.

"Well," he said, a little curtly, "whatever sort of a secret it is, it
hasn't agreed with you very well. I never saw you look so seedy--and
years older too! What on earth have you been doing with yourself?"

I shrugged my shoulders.

"I've had a cold," I said. "Got wet through shooting one day last week."

My cousin regarded me incredulously.

"A cold! You!" he remarked. "I like that! I don't believe you ever had
such a thing in your life!"

I leaned forward in the cab to look at the placards of the afternoon

"Any news in town?" I asked.

"None at all," Gilbert answered. "There's scarcely any one about. I'm off
to Hamburg to-morrow myself."

"And Lord Polloch?" I asked.

"He's off to Scotland to-night for a fortnight's golf. Afterwards I
believe he's going abroad. You must confess that your appearance here is
a little extraordinary. If I hadn't been on particularly good terms with
Polloch, I could not possibly have got you an interview. He's up to his
eyes in work, and as keen as a schoolboy on getting away for his

"It's very good of you," I answered.

My cousin regarded me critically.

"You'll forgive my suggesting it, I'm sure, Hardross," he said, "but you
have got something particular to say to him, I suppose? These fellows
don't like being bothered about trifles. The responsibility is on my
shoulders, you see."

"I have something quite important to say to him," I declared. "In all
probability, he will give you a seat in the Cabinet for having arranged
the meeting."

Gilbert abandoned the subject for the moment. A sense of humor was not
amongst his characteristics, and I do not think that he approved
altogether of my levity. But later on, as we sat at luncheon, he returned
to it.

"Have you ever thought of Parliament, Hardross?" he asked.

I shook my head.

"One in the family," I murmured, "is sufficient."

"The diplomatic service," he remarked, "you are, of course, too old for."

"Naturally," I agreed; "as a matter of fact, I have no hankerings for
what you would call a career."

"And yet--" he began.

"And yet," I interrupted, "I am anxious for an interview with the Prime
Minister. I am afraid I cannot tell you very much, Gilbert, but I will
tell you this. Some rather important information has come into my
possession in a very curious fashion. I conceive it to be my duty to pass
it on to the government of this country. Lord Polloch can decide whether
or not it is of any real value. It is for this purpose that I am seeking
this interview with him. I tell you this much in confidence. I cannot
tell you more."

My cousin smiled in a somewhat superior manner.

"You have got a cheek," he said. "As though any information you could
pick up would be worth bothering Polloch with!"

I glanced at the clock and leaned back in my chair.

"Well," I said, "in about a quarter of an hour his Lordship will have an
opportunity of judging for himself. By the bye, Gilbert, do you mind
keeping what I have told you entirely to yourself?"

"You haven't told me anything," he grunted.

"I have told you enough to get me into pretty considerable trouble," I
remarked grimly. "Shall I see you later?"

"I shall wait till you return," he answered firmly. "I am rather anxious
to hear how you get on with the chief."

"I am a little anxious about it myself," I admitted, as we went out into
the hall.

I walked the short distance to Downing Street. The afternoon was
brilliantly fine, and the pavements were thronged with foot-passengers. I
passed down the club steps into what seemed to me to be a new world. I
did not recognize myself or my kinship with my fellow-creatures. For the
first time in my life, I was affected with forebodings. I scanned the
faces of the passers-by. I had an uneasy suspicion all the time that I
was watched. As I turned in to Downing Street, the feeling grew stronger.
There were several loiterers in the roadway. I watched them suspiciously.
The idea grew stronger within me that I should not be allowed to reach my
destination. I found myself measuring the distance, almost counting the
yards which separated me from that quiet, grey stone house, almost the
last in the street. It was with a sense of immense relief that I pushed
open the gate and found myself behind the high iron palings. A butler in
sombre black opened the door, almost before my hand had left the bell. I
was myself again immediately. My vague fears melted away. I handed in my
card, and explained that I had an appointment with Lord Polloch. In less
than five minutes I was ushered into his presence.

"I am very glad to see you, Mr. Courage," he said. "I understand that
you have some information which you wish to give me. I have exactly
twenty-five minutes to give you. Take that easy-chair and go ahead...."

In less than three-quarters of an hour, I was back in the club. I
found my cousin almost alone in the smoking-room. He looked up with
ill-suppressed eagerness as I entered.


I lit a cigarette and threw myself into an easy-chair.

"Quiet afternoon here?" I remarked.

"You saw Lord Polloch?"

I nodded.

"I was with him exactly twenty-five minutes," I answered.

"Well?" he repeated.

I called a waiter and ordered something to drink. I felt that I needed

"My dear Gilbert," I said, "I will not affect to misunderstand you! You
want to know how Lord Polloch received me, what the nature of my business
with him was, and its final result. That is so, isn't it?"

"To a certain extent, yes!" he admitted; "as I was responsible for the
interview, I naturally feel some interest in it," he added stiffly.

"Lord Polloch was most civil," I assured him. "He thanked me very much
for coming to see him. He hoped that I would call again immediately on
his return from Scotland, and--I have no doubt that by this time he has
forgotten all about me."

"Your information, after all, then," Gilbert exclaimed, "was not really

"He did not appear to find it so," I admitted.

"I wonder," Gilbert said, looking at me curiously "what sort of a mare's
nest you have got hold of. Rather out of your line, this sort of thing,
isn't it?"

The walls of the club smoking-room seemed suddenly to break away. I was
looking out into the great work where men and women faced the whirlwinds,
and were torn away, struggling and fighting always, into the Juggernaut
of destruction. I looked into the quiet corners where the cowards lurked,
and I seemed to see my own empty place there.

"Oh! I don't know," I answered calmly. "We are all the slaves of
opportunity. Lord Polloch very courteously, but with little apparent
effort, has made me feel like a fool. Perhaps I am one! Perhaps Lord
Polloch is too much of an Englishman. That remains to be discovered."

"What do you mean by 'too much of an Englishman'?" Gilbert asked.

I shrugged my shoulders.

"Too much self-confidence, too little belief in the possibility of the
unusual," I answered.

"Suppose you appoint me arbitrator," Gilbert suggested.

I shook my head.

"I cannot, Gilbert," I answered. "As I have said, the issue is between
Lord Polloch and myself, and I hope to Heaven that Lord Polloch is in the
right, or there will be trouble."

"You are extraordinarily mysterious," Gilbert remarked.

"I must seem so," I answered, "I cannot help it. Have a drink, Gilbert,
and wish me God speed!"

"Are you off back to Medchestershire to-night?" Gilbert asked.

I shook my head.

"No! but I thought of running over to the States next week."

Gilbert laid down his cigar, and looked at me anxiously.

"Have you seen a doctor lately, Hardross?" he asked.

"Not necessary," I answered. "I'm as fit as I can be!"

"Then will you tell me," he asked, "why, with the shooting just on, and
the hunting in full view, you are talking of going to America?"

"I've had a good many years of hunting and shooting and cricket and sport
of all sorts, Gilbert," I answered. "Perhaps I'm not quite so keen as I

"If you are not going to America for sport," my cousin asked, "what are
you going for?"

I rose to my feet.

"Gilbert," I said, "it's no use. Some day or other you will know all
about it--perhaps very soon. But, for the present, I can tell you
nothing. I've stumbled into a queer place, and I've got to get out of it
somehow. Wish me good luck, old chap!" I added, holding out my hand;
"and--if anything should happen to me abroad--look after the old
place--it'll be yours, you know, every stick and stone."

Then I got away as soon as I could. Gilbert was by way of becoming
incoherent, and, so far as I was concerned, there was nothing more to be



I locked the door of my state-room, and seated myself upon the edge of
the lower bunk with a little sigh of relief. The slow pounding of the
engines had commenced, the pulse of the great liner was beating, and
through the port-hole I could see the docks, with their line of people,
gliding past us. We were well out in the Mersey already.

"We're off, Guest!" I exclaimed, "and off safely, too, I think. Chuck
that now, there's a good fellow."

Guest was engaged in emptying the contents of one of my bags. He turned
slowly round and faced me, with a pair of my trousers upon his arm.

"I shall do nothing of the sort," he answered calmly. "I am here as your
servant, Courage, and your servant I intend to remain. We can't hope to
keep the thing up on the other side, if we are all the time drifting back
to our old relations. I wish I could make you understand this."

I opened the port-hole as far as it would go, and lit a cigarette.

"That's all very well," I said; "but I don't see any need to keep the
farce up in private, and I'm sure I can unpack my own things a thundering
sight better than you can."

"Very likely," he answered, "but you certainly won't do it. Can't you
understand that, unless we grow into our parts, they will never come
naturally to us? Besides, we may be watched. You cannot tell."

"The door is locked," I remarked dryly.

"For the moment, no doubt, we're all right," Guest answered; "but you
won't be able to lock it often upon the voyage. Remember that we are up
against a system with a thousand eyes and a thousand ears. It's no good
running risks. I am Peters, your man, and Peters I mean to be."

"Do you propose," I asked, "to have your meals in the servants' saloon?"

"Most certainly I do," was the curt answer. "I expect to make
acquaintances there who will be most useful. Did you get the passengers'

I drew it from my pocket. Guest came and looked over my shoulder.
Half-way down the list he pointed to a name.

"Mr. de Valentin and valet!" he murmured. "That is our friend. I
recognize the name. He has used it before! Now let us see."

Again his forefinger travelled down the list--again it paused.

"Mrs. Van Reinberg, and the Misses Van Reinberg! Ah!" he said, "that is
the lady whose acquaintance you must contrive to make."

"One of the court?" I asked,

He nodded.

"There are others, of course, but I do not recognize their names. They
will sort themselves up naturally enough. Now unlock that door, and go up
on deck. The stewards will be in directly for orders."

I rose and stretched out my hand towards the door. Suddenly, from
outside, an unexpected sound almost paralyzed me--the sharp, shrill
yapping of a small dog!

I felt the color leave my cheeks. Guest looked at me in amazement.

"What's the matter with you?" he asked. "You're not frightened of a toy
terrier, are you?"

I opened the door. Of course, my sudden fear had been absurd. I peered
out into the passage, and a little exclamation broke from my lips.
Sitting on his haunches just outside, his mouth open, his little, red
tongue hanging out, was a small Japanese spaniel. There may have been
thousands of others in the world, but that one I was very sure, from the
first, that I recognized, and I was equally sure that he recognized me. I
stared at him fascinated. His bead-like, black eyes blinked and blinked
again; and his teeth, like a row of ivory needles, gleamed white from his
red gums. He neither growled nor wagged his tail, but it seemed to me
that the expression of his aged, puckered-up little face was the
incarnation of malevolence. I pointed to him, and whispered hoarsely to

"Her dog!"

"Whose?" he asked sharply.

"Miss Van Hoyt's," I answered.

"Rubbish!" he declared. "There are hundreds of dogs like that."

I shook my head.

"Never another in the wide world," I said. "Look how the little brute is
scowling at me!"

The bedroom steward came round the corner at that moment. I pointed to
the dog.

"I always understood that dogs were not permitted in the state-rooms,
steward," I remarked.

"They are not, sir," the man answered promptly. "The young lady to whom
this one belongs has a special permission; but he is not allowed to be
out alone. He must have run away."

There was the sound of rustling petticoats. A young woman in black came
hurrying down the passage. She caught up the dog without a word, and
hastened away.

"At what time would you like to be called, sir?" the man asked.

"Send me the bath-room steward, and I will let you know," I answered,
stepping back into the state-room.

"He'll be round in a few minutes, sir," the man answered, and passed on.

Guest leaned towards me. His eyes were bright and alert, and his manner
was perfectly composed. He was more used to such crises than I was. He
asked no question; he waited for me to speak.

"It was her maid!" I exclaimed. "I was sure of the dog."

"Miss Van Hoyt's?"


He caught up the passengers list. There was no such name there.

"If it is she," he said quietly, "she is here to watch you! It proves
nothing else. I shall be seasick all the way over, and at New York we
must part. Go to the purser's office and find out, Courage. There is no
reason why you shouldn't. You are interested, of course?"

I nodded and left the state-room, but I had no need to visit the purser.
I met her face to face coming out of the saloon. If appearances were in
any way to be trusted, the meeting was as much a shock to her as to
me. She was wearing a thick veil, which partially obscured her features,
but I saw her stop short, and clutch at a pillar as though for support,
as she recognized me. If the amazement in her tone was counterfeited,
she was indeed an actress.

"You!" she exclaimed. "Where are you going?"

"America, I hope," I answered. "And you? I did not see your name on the
passengers' list."

"I am going--home," she answered. "I made up my mind, at the last moment,
to come on this steamer, to cross with my stepmother."

I did not like the way she said it. It was too apt--a little too
mechanical. And yet I could not get it out of my head that her surprise
was natural.

A little, fair woman, wearing a magnificent fur cloak, and with an
eyeglass dangling at her bosom, suddenly bore down upon us.

"Adèle!" she exclaimed, "have you seen my woman? I've forgotten the
number of my state-room."

"It is opposite mine," Adèle answered. "I can show it to you."

They passed on together. The fair, little lady had favored me with a very
perfunctory and somewhat insolent glance; Adèle herself left me without a
word. I went into the saloon, took my place for dinner, and then sought
the deck for some fresh air. I felt that I needed it.

A slight, drizzling rain was falling, but I took no notice of it. I
walked backwards and forwards along the promenade deck, my pipe in my
mouth, my hands clasped behind me. The appearance of Adèle had been
so utterly unexpected that I felt myself almost unnerved. For six days we
should be living in the close intimacy which fellow passengers upon a
steamer find it almost difficult to avoid. Our opportunities for
conversation would be practically unlimited. If indeed Guest's suspicions
as to the reason of her presence here were well founded, a single slip on
my part might mean disaster. And yet, beneath it all, I knew quite well
that her near presence was a delight to me! My blood was running more
warmly, my heart was the lighter for the thought of her near presence.
Danger might come of it, the success of our undertaking itself might be
imperilled--yet I was glad. I leaned over the vessel's side, and gazed
through the gathering twilight at the fast receding shores, with their
maze of yellow lights. Life had changed for me during the last few weeks.
The old, placid days of content were over; already I was in a new world,
a world of bigger things, where the great game was being played, with the
tense desperateness of those who gamble with life and death. I had not
sought the change! Rather it had been forced upon me. I had no ambitions
to gratify; the old life had pleased me very well. I had quitted it
simply upon compulsion. And here I was with unfamiliar thoughts in my
brain, groping my way along paths which were strange to me, face to face
now with the greatest happening which Heaven or Hell can let loose upon a
man. It was a queer trick this, which fortune had played me.

After all we are very human. The dressing bugle brought me back to
the present, and I remembered that I was hungry. I descended into my
state-room, and found all my things neatly laid out, and Guest sitting on
the opposite bunk regarded them critically.

"You shouldn't have bothered about my clothes, Guest," I protested.

"Nonsense," he answered curtly. "I can't play the part without a few
rehearsals. What about Miss Van Hoyt?"

"She is on board," I answered.

"You have spoken to her?"


"Did she offer any explanations as to her presence?"

"She appeared to be surprised to see me," I answered. "She said that she
was going home."

Guest nodded thoughtfully.

"Her stepmother is an American," he remarked. "I don't suppose you knew

"I did not," I admitted. "I wish you would tell me all that you know of
Miss Van Hoyt."

"No time now," he answered. "You will be late for dinner as it is. Don't
seem too eager about it, but remember it is absolutely necessary that you
get an introduction to Mrs. Van Reinberg."

I nodded.

"I'll do my best," I promised.



I found that a place had been allotted to me about half-way down the
captain's table, on the right-hand side. My immediate neighbors were an
Englishman, on his way to the States to buy some commodity in which he
dealt, and a very old lady, quite deaf, in charge of a spinster daughter.
Neither of them imposed upon me the necessity for conversation. I had,
therefore, plenty of time to look around me, and take note of the people
in whom I was interested.

They were all seated together, at a small table in the far corner of the
saloon. At the head of that table was a man whom I had not yet seen, but
whom I at once knew to be Mr. de Valentin. He was tall, rather sallow,
with a pointed, black beard, and he continually wore an eyeglass, set in
a horn rim, with a narrow, black ribbon. On his right was the woman to
whom Adèle had spoken upon the stairs. She wore a plain but elegant
dinner-gown of some dark material. She was exquisitely coiffured, and
obviously turned out by a perfectly trained maid. There were two girls at
the table, whom I judged to be her daughters, and--Adèle.

Adèle was seated so that I could see only her profile. I noticed,
however, that she seemed to be eating little, and to be taking but a very
small part in the conversation. Once or twice she leaned back in her
chair, and looked round the saloon as though in search of some one. On
the last of these occasions our eyes met, and she smiled slightly. Mrs.
Van Reinberg, who was sitting opposite to her, leaned forward and asked
some question. I judged that it concerned me, for immediately afterwards
that lady herself raised her gold eyeglass, and favored me with a
somewhat deliberate stare. Then she leaned forward again and made some
remark to Adèle, the purport of which I could not guess.

Dinner lasted a long time, but I was all the while interested. I was
facing Adèle and her friends, so I could observe them all the time
without being myself conspicuous. I was able to take note of the somewhat
wearied graciousness of Mr. de Valentin, who seemed always to be
struggling with a profound boredom; the almost feverish amiability of
Mrs. Van Reinberg, and, in a lesser degree, her daughters; and the
undoubted reserve with which Adèle seemed to protect herself from Mr. de
Valentin's attentions. When at last they rose and left the saloon, I
quickly followed their example.

I put on an ulster, lit a cigar, and went up on deck. I found my chair on
the sheltered side of the ship, and wrapping myself in a rug, prepared to
spend a comfortable half-hour. But I had scarcely settled down before a
little group of people came along the deck and halted close to me. A
smooth-faced manservant, laden with a pile of magnificent rugs, struck a
match and began to examine the labels on the chairs. Its flickering light
was apparently sufficient for Adèle to recognize my features.

"So you are going to join the fresh-air brigade, Mr. Courage," she
remarked. "I think you are very wise. We found the music-room

"I can assure you that the smoke-room is worse, Miss Van Hoyt," I
answered, struggling to my feet. "Can I find your chair for you?"

"Thanks, the deck steward is bringing it," she answered. "Let me
introduce you to my friends--Mrs. Van Reinberg--my stepmother, Miss Van
Reinberg, Miss Sara Van Reinberg, Mr. de Valentin--Mr. Hardross Courage."

I bowed collectively. Mr. de Valentin greeted me stiffly, Mrs. Van
Reinberg and the Misses Van Reinberg, with a cordiality which somewhat
surprised me.

"I met your cousin, Sir Gilbert, in London, I think, Mr. Courage," she
remarked. "He was kind enough to give us tea on the terrace at the House
of Commons."

I bowed.

"Gilbert is rather fond of entertaining his friends there," I remarked.
"It is the one form of frivolity which seems to appeal to him."

"He was very kind," she continued. "He introduced a number of interesting
people to us. The Duke of Westlingham is a relation of yours, is he not?"

"My second cousin," I remarked.

"Is this your first visit to America?" she asked.

"I was once in Canada," I answered. "I have never been in the States."

She smiled at me a little curiously. All the time I felt somehow that she
was taking very careful note of my answers.

"We say in my country, you know," she remarked, "that you Englishmen come
to us for one of two things only--sport or a wife!"

"I hope to get some of the former, at any rate," I answered. "As for the


"I have always thought of myself as a bachelor," I said; "but one's good
fortune comes sometimes when one least expects it."

I looked across at Adèle, and Mrs. Van Reinberg followed the direction of
my eyes. She laughed shrilly, but she did not seem displeased.

"If you Englishmen only made as good husbands as you do acquaintances,"
she said, "I should settle down in London with my girls and study
matchmaking. I am afraid, though, that you have your drawbacks."

"Tell me what they are," I begged, "and I will do my best to prove myself
an exception."

"You have too much spare time," she declared. "And you know what that
leads to?"

"Mr. Courage has not," Adèle interrupted. "He works really very hard

"Works!" Mrs. Van Reinberg repeated incredulously.

"At games!" Adèle declared. "He plays in cricket matches that last three
days long. I saw him once at Lord's, and I can assure you that it looked
like very hard work indeed."

Mrs. Van Reinberg turned away with a laugh, and settled herself down into
the little nest of rugs which her maid had prepared.

"You young people can walk about, if you like," she said. "I am going to
be comfortable. My cigarette case, Annette, and electric lamp. I shall
read for half an hour."

She dismissed us all. Adèle and I moved away as though by common consent.
Mr. de Valentin followed with the two other girls, though I had noticed
that his first impulse had been to take possession of Adèle. She avoided
the others skilfully, however, and we strolled off to the farther end of
the ship.

"Your stepmother," I remarked, "seems to be a very amiable person!"

"She can be anything she likes," Adèle answered--"upon occasions."

We turned on to the weather side of the ship, which was almost deserted.
Adèle glanced behind. Mr. de Valentin and the two girls were still within
a few feet of us.

"Do you mind walking on the lower deck?" she asked. "I want to talk to
you, and I am sure that we shall be disturbed here."

"With pleasure!" I answered quickly. "I, too, have something to say to

We descended in silence to the promenade deck. Here we had the place
almost to ourselves. Adèle did not beat about the bush.

"Mr. Courage," she said, "tell me what you thought when you saw me on
this steamer!"

She looked me full in the face. Her beautiful eyes were full of anxiety.
There was about her manner a nervousness which I had never before
noticed. Her cheeks were paler, and with these indications of emotion,
something of the mystery which had seemed to me always to cling to her
personality had departed. She was more natural--more lovable.

"I thought," I answered, "that it was part of the game!--that you were
here to watch me. Isn't that the natural conclusion?"

"Mr. Courage," she said, "please look at me."

I faced her at once. Her eyes were fixed upon mine.

"I am not here to watch you," she said quietly. "I came because I have
decided to go back to my home in America, and live there quietly for a
time. Whatever share I had in the events which led to Leslie Guest's
death, these things do not interest me any more. I have finished."

"I congratulate you," I answered.

"I cannot tell you anything about those events, or my connection with
them," she went on, "but I want you to believe that I have no longer any
association with those who planned them. I am not here to spy upon you. I
am not in communication with any one to whom your actions are of any
interest. Will you believe this?"

I hesitated for a moment. Her eyes held mine. It was not possible for me
to disbelieve her.

"I am glad to hear this," I said seriously.

"You do not doubt me?"

"I cannot," I answered.

She drew a little sigh of relief.

"And now," she said, "about yourself. Be as frank with me as I have been
with you. Are you really the legatee of Guest's secret?"

"You know that he told me certain things--before he died," I answered

"Yes! But what are you going to do with the knowledge? Are you going to
be wise and let fate take its course, or are you going to meddle in
affairs which you know nothing about? Don't do it, Mr. Courage!" she
exclaimed, with a sudden catch in her voice. "Leslie Guest was a
diplomatist and a schemer all his life, and you know the penalty he paid.
You have not the training or the disposition for this sort of thing. You
would be foredoomed to failure. Don't do it!"

I turned and looked at her. She was so much in earnest that her whole
expression was transformed. The mysterious smile which was so often upon
her lips, half supercilious, half mocking, was gone, and with it
something of that elusiveness which had so often puzzled me! Her eyes met
mine frankly and pleadingly, her fingers were upon my arm, and she was
swaying a little towards me with the motion of the boat, so that I was
tempted almost beyond measure to take her into my arms, and, with my lips
upon hers, promise whatever she would have had me promise. It was only a
moment of madness. The memory of other things came back to me.

"It is very good of you," I said slowly, "to warn me. I know that I am
not made of the stuff that Guest was. It is possible that I may--"

"It is true, then," she interrupted breathlessly, "you are really meaning
to go with his schemes?"

"You take too much for granted," I answered.

"Oh! don't let us misunderstand one another," she begged. "Tell me why
you are on your way to America! Tell me why you are on this steamer, of
all others."

"I am going to shoot--out West," I said, "and I want to know something of
your wonderful country-people!"

She let her fingers slip from my arm.

"You will tell me no more than that," she murmured.

"I have nothing more to tell you," I answered.

Once more she leaned towards me. The wind was blowing around us, she
came closer as though seeking for the shelter of my body. I could smell
the crushed violets, which she was still wearing at her bosom; her eyes
were soft and bright, her lips were slightly parted. I took her into my
arms--she clung to me for a moment--one long, delicious moment.

"I have given it all up," she whispered, "for you! If I had told the
truth, if I had told them that you knew, it would have meant death! You
must forget, you must swear to forget."

I held her tightly.

"Dear Adèle," I whispered, "you are a woman who understands. Life and
death come to all of us, but a coward could never deserve your love--you
could never stoop to care for a man who thought of his life before his

"You are pledged!" she cried.

"I must do what I can," I answered.

She staggered away from me.

"God help us both!" she murmured.

I would have caught her to me again, but a dark figure was coming slowly
down the deck. A little, yapping bark came from the deck at her feet.
Nagaski was leaping up at his mistress. She stooped and picked him up. He
showed me his teeth and snarled.

"You really must make friends with Nagaski, Mr. Courage," she remarked,
turning away. "Come, we must go back to the others! My stepmother will
think that I am lost."



I told Guest exactly what had passed between Adèle and myself, leaving
out only the personal element, at which I allowed him to guess. He was
thoughtful for some time afterwards.

"What is to be the end of it between you and her?" he asked me presently.
"Exactly on what terms do you stand at present?"

"Some day," I answered, "I shall marry her--or no other woman. As regards
other matters, I believe that she is neutral."

"You do not think, then, that she will obstruct our plans?" he asked. "Of
course, a word from her, and our journey to America can only end in

"She will not speak it," I answered confidently. "I do not know, of
course, how deeply she was involved in the schemes of those whom we may
call our enemies, but I am perfectly certain that she has finished with
them now."

Guest nodded.

"I hope so," he remarked shortly. "At any rate, it is one of the risks
which we must take."

We said no more about the subject then, and I very soon perceived that
the intimacy between Adèle and myself was likely to be of the greatest
use to us. For the next two days neither of us referred to those things
which lay in the background. We walked and sat together, played
shuffleboard, and in every way made the most of all those delightful
opportunities of _tête-à-têtes_ which a sea voyage affords. Mrs. Van
Reinberg, for some reason or other, watched our intimacy with increasing
satisfaction. Mr. de Valentin, on the other hand, though he concealed his
feelings admirably, seemed to find it equally distasteful. Gradually the
situation became clear to me. Mrs. Van Reinberg desired to reserve the
whole interest of Mr. de Valentin for herself and her daughters; he, on
the other hand, had shown signs of a partiality for Adèle. The fates were
certainly working for me.

On the third night out we were all together on deck after dinner. I was
standing near Mrs. Van Reinberg, who had been exceedingly gracious to me.

"Tell me, Mr. Courage," she asked, "what are your plans when you land?"

"I thought of using some of my letters of introduction," I answered, "and
going West after Christmas. I have been told that the country round Lenox
and Pittsfield is very beautiful just now, and I shall stay, I expect,
with a man I know fairly well, who lives up there--Plaskett White."

"Why, isn't that strange?" Mrs. Van Reinberg exclaimed. "The Plaskett
Whites are our nearest neighbors. If you really are coming that way, you
must stay with us for a week, or as long as you can manage it. We are
going straight to Lenox."

"I shall be delighted," I answered heartily.

Mr. de Valentin dropped his eyeglass and polished it deliberately. His
usually expressionless face was black with anger. Even the two girls
looked a little surprised at their mother's invitation. I felt that the
situation was a delicate one.

"I should not be able to intrude upon you for more than a day or two," I
remarked, a little diffidently, "but if you will really put me up for
that length of time, I shall look forward to my visit with a great deal
of pleasure."

Mrs. Van Reinberg was looking across at Mr. de Valentin with a very
determined expression on her pale, hard face. She was obviously a woman
who was accustomed to have her own way, and meant to have it in this
particular instance.

"It is settled, then, Mr. Courage," she declared. "Come whenever you
like. We can always make room for you."

I bowed my gratitude, and, to relieve the situation, I took Adèle away
with me for a walk. We were scarcely out of hearing, before I heard Mr.
de Valentin's cold but angry voice.

"My dear Madame, do you consider that invitation of yours a prudent
one? ..."

We walked on the other side of the deck. Adèle was silent for several
moments. Then she turned towards me, and the old smile was upon her
lips--the smile which had always half fascinated, half irritated me.

"So," she remarked, "I have become your unwilling ally."

"In what way?" I asked.

"I suppose," she said, "that an invitation to Lenox _was_ necessary to
your plans, wasn't it?"

"I had fairly obvious reasons for hoping for one," I answered, smiling.

She passed her arm through mine, and leaned a little towards me. It was
at such moments that I found her so dangerously sweet.

"Ah!" she murmured, "I wish that that were the only reason!"

I pressed her arm to mine, but I said nothing. When I could avoid it, I
preferred not to discuss those other matters. We walked to the ship's
side, and leaned over to watch the phosphorus. Suddenly she whispered in
my ear, her lips were so close to my cheek that I felt her warm breath.

"Jim," she said, "do you love me very much?"

I would have kissed the lips which dared to ask such a question, but she
drew a little away. It was not that which she wanted--just then.

"Listen," she murmured, "but do not look at me. Watch that star there,
sinking down towards the sea--there near the horizon. Now listen. When
we land at New York, let us run away from everything, from everybody. We
can go west to Mexico and beyond! There are beautiful countries there
which I have always wanted to see. Let us lose ourselves for a year, two
years--longer even. I will not let you be weary! Oh! I promise you that.
I will give you myself and all my life. Think! We can only live once, and
you and I have found what life is. Don't let us trifle with it. Jim, will
you come?"

Soft though her voice was, there was passion quivering in every sentence.
When I turned to look at her, her eyes and face seemed aflame with it.
The color had streamed into her cheeks, she had drifted into my arms, and
her clinging lips yielded unresistingly to mine.

"Oh! Jim," she murmured, "the rest isn't worth anything. Tell me that you
will come."

I did not answer her at once, and she seemed content to lie where she
was. My own senses were in a wild tumult of delight, but there was a pain
in my heart. Presently she drew a little away. There was a new note in
her tone--a note of half-alarmed surprise.

"Answer me, Jim! Oh! answer me please," she begged. "Don't let me
think--that you mean to refuse."

I held her tightly in my arms. The memory of that moment might have to
last me all my life.

"My dear heart," I whispered, "it would be Paradise! Some day we will do
it. But in your heart, you know very well that you would love me no more
if I forgot my honor and my duty--even for the love of you!"

"It is not your task," she pleaded. "Tell what you know, and leave it to
others. You are too honest to play the spy. You will fail, and it will
cost you your life."

"I shall not fail," I answered steadfastly, "and my life is insured in
Heaven for the sake of the things I carry with me. Have faith in me,
Adèle. I swear that I will do my duty and live to realize--everything."

She shook her head sadly.

"There are others," she said, "who could do what you are doing. But for
me there is no one else in the world."

"You shall not need any one else," I declared. "Mine is, after all, a
simple task. You know that I went to see Lord Polloch in London."


"He would not believe me. Why should he? My story sounded wild enough,
and I had no proofs. I only need to gather together a few of these loose
ends, to weave something tangible out of them and show him the results,
and my task is finished."

"Do you suppose," she asked quietly, "that you will be allowed to do

"I must do my best,"' I answered. "It is inevitable. There will be more
Mr. Stanleys and such like, no doubt. They may hinder me, but I think
that, in the end, I shall pull through. And I promise you, dear, that
when I have something definite to show, I shall have finished with the
whole business. It is no more to my liking than yours."

"I cannot move you then," she murmured.

"You must not try," I answered.

She laughed a little unnaturally.

"I do not feel any longer," she said, "that you belong to me. There is
something else which comes first."

"Without that something, dear," I answered, "I should not be worthy of
your love."

"With men, there is always something else," she said sadly. "It is the
woman only who realizes what love is, who puts it before body and soul
and honor. A man cannot do that."

"No!" I answered softly, "a man cannot do that."

She turned away, and I walked by her side in silence. When she reached
the companion-way, she stepped inside a little abruptly.

"I am going to my state-room," she said. "Good night!"

"You are not angry with me, Adèle?" I asked anxiously.

"No! not that," she answered. "Of course, you are right. Only I have been
a little mad, and I dreamed a beautiful dream. It is all impossible, of
course; but I don't feel like bridge or my stepmother's questions. Say I
am coming up again. It will save trouble!"

I played bridge later with Mrs. Van Reinberg for a partner. Mr. de
Valentin's manner to me was coldly frigid, and a general air of restraint
seemed to indicate that the evening had scarcely been a cheerful one. I
myself did not feel much like contributing towards a more hilarious state
of affairs. We had one rubber only, and then Mrs. Van Reinberg, who as a
rule hated to go to bed before midnight, announced her intention of
retiring. She accepted my escort to the door, and bade Mr. de Valentin a
cold good-night.

"I hope you will understand, Mr. Courage," she said, as we shook hands,
"that I shall expect you at Lenox. You won't disappoint us?"

"There isn't the faintest chance that I shall do so, Mrs. Van Reinberg,"
I answered. "I have the best of reasons for wishing to come."

She smiled at me encouragingly.

"May I guess at the attraction?" she asked.

"I fancy," I answered, "that it is fairly apparent. May I, by the way,
Mrs. Van Reinberg," I continued, "ask you a question?"

"Certainly," she answered.

"It is rather a delicate matter to allude to," I said; "but your friend,
Mr. de Valentin, seemed to find your invitation to me a matter for
personal disapproval. I hope that I have not unwillingly been the cause
of any unpleasantness?"

Mrs. Van Reinberg was a little embarrassed. She hesitated, and dropped
her voice a little in answering me.

"Since you have mentioned it, Mr. Courage," she said, "I will treat you
confidentially. Mr. de Valentin has shown a desire to become an admirer
of my stepdaughter. For several reasons, I find it necessary to
discourage his advances. In fact, between ourselves, Mr. de Valentin,
although he is a person for whom I have a great respect and esteem, would
be an altogether impossible suitor for Adèle. I am sure he will realize
that directly he thinks the matter over seriously; but you see he is a
person who has been very much spoilt, and he annoyed me to-night very
much. I do not care to have my invitations criticised by my other guests,
whoever they may be. Now you understand the position, Mr. Courage."

"Perfectly," I answered. "I am exceedingly obliged to you for being so
frank with me."

"And we shall expect you at Lenox?"

"Without fail!" I answered confidently.

She passed down the stairs, humming a tune to herself, followed a few
steps behind by her maid. Her wonderfully arranged, fair hair was ablaze
with diamonds, her gown was more suitable to a London drawing-room than
the deck of a steamer. And yet she seemed neither over-jewelled nor
over-dressed. She had all the marvellous "aplomb" of her countrywomen,
who can transgress all laws of fashion or taste, and through sheer
self-confidence remain correct.

I felt a touch upon my shoulder and turned around. It was Mr. de Valentin
who stood there.

"I beg your pardon, Mr. Courage," he said, "but if you have nothing
particular to do for a few minutes, will you smoke a cigarette with me?"

"With pleasure!" I answered. "I was just going into the smoke-room."

He stalked solemnly ahead, and I followed him along the corridor.



Mr. de Valentin led the way to a secluded corner of the smoke-room, and
laid a well-filled cigarette case upon the table. He beckoned to the

"You will take something?" he asked.

I ordered a whisky and soda and lit a cigarette. I had tasted nothing
like them since I had left England. Mr. de Valentin leaned across the
table towards me.

"Mr. Courage," he said, "I am going to ask you to accept a confidence
from me. You are an English gentleman, and although I have not the honor
to be myself an Englishman, my associations with your country have always
been very close, and I am well aware that a special significance attaches
itself to that term."

He paused and looked across at me somewhat anxiously. His speech was slow
but very distinct. He had little accent, but I had known quite well that
he was not an Englishman.

"I shall be very glad to hear anything that you have to say, Mr. de
Valentin," I answered.

He beat with his forefinger upon the table for a few moments absently.
I found myself studying him critically. His appearance was without doubt
distinguished. His sallow face, his pointed black beard, his high,
well-shaped nose, and almost brilliant eyes gave him the appearance of a
Spaniard; but the scrupulous exactness of his plain dinner clothes, his
well-manicured nails, and the ring upon his little finger, with its
wonderful green stone, were all suggestive of the French aristocrat. His
eyebrows were knit just now, as though with thought. Presently he looked
up from the table and continued:

"If you will permit me," he said, "I should like to introduce myself. My
name is not Mr. de Valentin. I am Victor Louis, Comte de Valentin,
Marquis de St. Auteuil, Duc de Bordera and Escault, Prince of Normandy."

I nodded gravely.

"And according to some," I remarked in a low tone, "King of France!"

He looked at me in keen surprise. He was evidently taken aback.

"You knew me?" he exclaimed.

"I felt very sure," I answered, "that you were the person whom you have
declared yourself to be. I have seen you twice in Paris, and you must
remember that this is an age of illustrated papers and journalistic

"You have not mentioned your recognition of me?" he asked quickly.

"Certainly not," I answered. "It was not my affair, and in your position
I can conceive that there may be many reasons for your desiring to travel

He smiled a little wearily.

"Yet it would tax your ingenuity, I imagine," he continued, "to account
for my travelling in company with Mrs. Van Reinberg and her daughters."

"It is not my affair," I answered. "We Englishmen are supposed to have
learnt the secret of minding our own business."

"You Englishmen, certainly," he answered, "but not always your servants."

I looked at him a little puzzled. His words had seemed to possess some
special significance.

"You will not, I am sure, take offence at what I am about to say, Mr.
Courage," he continued; "but may I ask if you have confidence in the
manservant who is now travelling with you?"

It was a shock, but I fancy that I remained unmoved.

"You mean my man Peters?" I inquired. "I can guarantee his honesty

"Can you also guarantee," Mr. de Valentin asked me, "that he is simply
what he professes to be--a valet, and not, for instance, a spy?"

"My dear sir," I protested, "we scarcely know the meaning of that word in
England. To say the least of it, such a suggestion would be wildly

He sighed.

"In France," he said, "one looks for spies everywhere. I myself have
suffered painfully on more than one occasion from espionage. One grows
suspicious, and, in this instance, I have grounds for my suspicions."

"May I know what they are?" I asked.

"I was about to tell you," Mr. de Valentin answered. "I have with me in
my cabin certain papers, which are of great importance to me. I had
occasion to look them through last night, and although none were missing,
yet there was every indication of their having been tampered with. I
questioned my servant, who is a very faithful fellow, and I found that
the only person with whom he had made friends, and who had entered my
cabin, was your man, Peters I think you called him."

Mr. de Valentin was watching me closely, and the test was a severe one. I
was annoyed with Guest for having kept me in ignorance of what he had

"I do not see how your private papers could have been of the slightest
use to Peters," I said; "but if you like to come down to my state-room
you can question him yourself."

"That," he answered, "I will leave to you. I take it then that you have
no suspicion that your servant is any other than he professes to be?"

"I am perfectly convinced that he is not," I declared.

Mr. de Valentin bowed.

"For the moment," he said, "we will quit the subject. I have another
matter, equally delicate, which I should like to discuss with you."

"I am quite at your service," I assured him.

"You have a saying in English," he continued, "which, if I remember it
rightly, says that necessity makes strange bedfellows. I myself am going
into a strange country upon a strange errand. I do not consider myself a
person of hyper-exclusive tastes, but I must confess that I do not find
myself in sympathy with the country-people and friends of Mrs. Van

I shrugged my shoulders.

"Then why go amongst them?" I asked. "You are surely at liberty to do as
you choose!"

Mr. de Valentin took up his case and chose another cigarette.

"In this instance," he said coldly, "I am not entirely my own master.
There were powerful reasons why I should have taken this voyage to
America, and there are reasons why I should have done so with Mrs. Van
Reinberg. Which brings me, by the bye, to the second matter concerning
which I wished to speak to you."

I accepted another of Mr. de Valentin's excellent cigarettes, and
composed myself once more to listen.

"I am going to Lenox," he continued, "to meet there a few American
friends, with whom I have certain affairs of importance to discuss. You,
also, have been invited to Lenox. My request is that you defer your visit
there until after my departure."

I raised my eyebrows at this. It seemed to me that Mr. de Valentin was
going a little too far.

"May I inquire," I asked politely, "in what respect you find my presence
there undesirable? We are not bound, I presume, to come much into contact
with one another."

"You misunderstand me," Mr. de Valentin declared. "It is not a personal
matter at all. My visit to Lenox has been arranged solely to discuss a
certain matter with certain people. The presence of those who are not
interested in it would be an embarrassment to all of us. Further, to
recur to a matter which we have already spoken of, I cannot divest myself
of certain suspicions concerning your servant."

I considered my reply for a moment or two.

"As regards the latter," I said after a pause, "I can not take you
seriously. Besides, it is very unlikely that my servant would accompany
me to Lenox. If my presence there would be an embarrassment, I really do
not see why Mrs. Van Reinberg asked me."

"She did so thoughtlessly," Mr. de Valentin answered. "Her reasons were
tolerably clear to me, perhaps to you. With regard to them, I have
nothing to say, except that your visit could be paid just as well, say in
a fortnight after we land."

"Unfortunately," I answered, "that would not suit me. To be frank with
you, Miss Van Hoyt would have left."

"If I can arrange," Mr. de Valentin continued, with some eagerness, "that
she should not have left!"

I hesitated for a moment.

"Mr. de Valentin," I said, "I cannot conceive what cause for
embarrassment could arise from my presence in Lenox at the same time as
yourself. I do not ask you to tell me your secrets; but, in the absence
of some more valid reason for staying away, I shall certainly not break
my present engagement."

There was a silence between us for several moments. Mr. de Valentin was
fingering his cigarette case nervously.

"I am perhaps asking too much of a stranger, Mr. Courage," he said. "The
matter is of the deepest importance to me, or I would not have troubled
you. Supposing Miss Van Hoyt should herself fix the date of your visit,
and engage to be there?"

"That," I answered, "would, of course, be sufficient for me."

Mr. de Valentin rose from his seat.

"We will leave it like that then," he said. "I must apologize, Mr.
Courage, for having troubled you with my private affairs, and wish you

We separated a few moments later, and I went down to my state-room. I
found Guest busy writing in a pocket-book, seated on the edge of his
bunk. I told him of my conversation with Mr. de Valentin.

"I knew it was risky," he remarked when I had finished, "but it was an
opportunity which I dared not miss."

"You might have told me about it," I protested. "I was altogether

"The less you know," he answered, "the better. If you like, I will show
you tracings of some letters which I discovered in Mr. de Valentin's
portfolio. They were quite worth the journey to America, apart from
anything else. Personally, I should advise you not to see them until our
return to England."

"Very well," I answered. "Don't show them to me. But I shouldn't try it
again. Mr. de Valentin is on his guard."

Guest smiled a little wearily.

"I am not likely to make such a mistake as that," he answered. "Besides,
I have been through all his papers. His secrets are ours now, only we
must know what is decided upon at Lenox. Then we can return to England,
and the first part of our task will be done!"



Mrs. Van Reinberg on the steamer was a somewhat formidable person; Mrs.
Van Reinberg in her own house was despotism personified. Her word was
law, her rule was absolute. Consequently, when she swept out on to the
sunny piazza, where a little party of us were busy discussing our plans
for the day, we all turned towards her expectantly. We might propose, but
Mrs. Van Reinberg would surely dispose. We waited to hear what she might
have to say.

"I want to talk to Mr. Courage," she declared. "All the rest of you go

They obeyed her at once. We were alone in less than a minute. Mrs. Van
Reinberg established herself in a low wicker chair, and I took up my
position within a few feet of her, leaning against the wooden rail.

"I am entirely at your service, Mrs. Van Reinberg," I declared. "What is
it to be about--Adèle?"

"No! not Adèle," she answered. "I leave you and Adèle to arrange your own
affairs. You can manage that without any interference from me."

I smiled and waited for her to proceed. She was evidently thinking out
her way. Her brows were knitted, her eyes were fixed upon a distant spot
in the forest landscape of orange and red. Yet I was very sure that at
that moment, the wonderful autumnal tints, which she seemed to be so
steadily regarding, held no place in her thoughts.

"Mr. Courage," she said at last, "you are a sensible man, and a man of
honor. I should like to talk to you confidentially."

I murmured something about being flattered, but I do not think that she
heard me.

"I should like," she continued, "to have you understand certain things
which are in my mind just now, and which concern also--Mr. de Valentin."

I nodded. The Prince's identity was an open secret, but his incognito was
jealously observed.

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