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The Avenger by E. Phillips Oppenheim

Part 4 out of 6

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"I am sorry," Wrayson answered, "but I cannot very well be more
explicit. The matter is one in which a good many other people are
concerned, and I might add that it is a hopeless mystery to me. All I
know is that a crime was committed; that this young lady was present
under suspicious circumstances; that I, in certain evidence I had to
give, concealed the fact of her presence; and that now a third person
turns up, who also knew of the young lady's presence, but who was not
called upon to give evidence, who is working on his own account to clear
up the whole affair. He happens to be a friend of mine, and he warned me
frankly to clear out."

"I am beginning to follow you," Duncan said thoughtfully. "Now what
about Madame de Melbain?"

"I know absolutely nothing of her," Wrayson answered. "I found out where
the young lady was from the Baroness de Sturm, with whom she was living
in London, and I came over to warn her."

"The young lady was living with the Baroness de Sturm?" Duncan repeated.
"Is she, then, an orphan?"

"No!" Wrayson answered. "She is, for some reason--I do not know
why--estranged from her family. Now the question arises, has this fellow
here come over to track her down? Is he an English detective?"

Duncan turned deliberately round and stared at the person whom they were
discussing.

"I should doubt it very much," he answered. "For my part, I don't believe
for a moment that he is an Englishman at all."

"I am very glad to hear you say so," Wrayson declared. "But the question
is, if he is not on this business, what the devil is he doing here?"

"Have you the _entre_ to the chateu?" Duncan asked abruptly.

"I am invited to dine there this evening," Wrayson answered.

"Then, if I were you," Duncan said, "I should make a point of
ascertaining, if you can, the personality of this Madame de Melbain."

Wrayson nodded.

"I shall see her, of course," he said, "and I will do so."

"My own idea," Duncan said deliberately, "is that it is in connection
with her presence here that the landlord of the inn and the villagers
have received these injunctions about strangers. Try and find out what
you can about her, and in the meantime I will look after the gentleman
over there. He wants to be friendly--I will make a companion of him. When
you come back to-night we will have another talk."

"It's awfully good of you," Wrayson said. "And now--I've one thing
more to say."

Duncan nodded.

"Go on," he said.

"I have taken you into my confidence so far as was possible," Wrayson
said slowly. "I am going to ask you a question now."

"I cannot promise to answer it," Duncan declared, taking up his pipe and
carefully refilling it.

"Naturally! But I am going to ask it," Wrayson said. "An hour or so ago I
was talking to the young lady in front of the inn, and you were watching
us. I saw your face at the window as she was driving off."

"Well?"

The monosyllable was hard and dry.

"You are neither an inquisitive nor an emotional person," Wrayson said.
"I am sure of that. I want an explanation."

"Of what?"

"Of your suddenly becoming both!"

Duncan had lit his pipe now, and smoked for a few moments furiously.

"I will not bandy words with you," he said at last. "You want an
explanation which I cannot give."

Wrayson looked as he felt, dissatisfied.

"Look here," he said, "I'm not asking for your confidence. I'm simply
asking you to explain why the sight of that young lady should be a matter
of emotion to you. You know who she is, I am convinced. What else?"

Duncan shook his head.

"I'm sorry," he said. "You may trust me or not, as you like. All I can
say about myself is this. I've been up against it hard--very hard. So far
as regards the ordinary affairs of life I simply don't count. I'm a
negation--a purely subjective personage. I may be able to help you a
little here--I shall certainly never be in your way. My interest in the
place--there, I will tell you that--is purely of a sentimental nature. My
interest in life itself is something of the same sort. Take my advice.
Let it go at that."

"I will," Wrayson declared, with sudden heartiness.

Duncan nodded.

"I'll go and look after our little friend in the yellow boots," he said.

CHAPTER XXVI

MADAME DE MELBAIN

Punctually at half-past seven the carriage arrived to take Wrayson to the
chteau. A few minutes' drive along a road fragrant with the perfume of
hay, and with the pleasant sound of the reaping machines in his ears, and
the carriage turned into the park through the great iron gates, which
opened this time without demur. By the side of the road was a clear trout
stream, a little further away a herd of deer stood watching the carriage
pass. The park was uncultivated but picturesque, becoming more wooded as
they climbed the hill leading to the chateu. Wrayson smiled to himself
as he remembered that this magnificent home and estate belonged to the
woman who was his neighbour at Battersea, and whom he himself had been
more than half inclined to put down as an adventuress.

A major-domo in quiet black clothes, who seemed to reflect in his tone
and manner the subdued splendour of the place, received him at the door,
passing him on at once to a footman in powdered hair and resplendent
livery. Across a great hall, whose white stone floor, height, and
stained-glass windows gave Wrayson the impression that he had found his
way by mistake into the nave of a cathedral, he was ushered into a
drawing-room, whose modernity and comparatively low ceiling were almost a
relief. Here there were books and flowers and music, some exquisite
water-colours upon the white walls, newspapers and magazines lying about,
which gave the place a habitable air. A great semicircular window
commanded a wonderful view of the park, but Wrayson had little time to
admire it. A door was opened at the further end of the room, and he heard
the soft rustling of a woman's gown upon the carpet. It was Louise who
came towards him.

She was dressed in white muslin, unrelieved by ornament or any suggestion
of colour. Her cheeks were unusually pale, and the shadows under her eyes
seemed to speak of trouble. Yet Wrayson thought that he had never seen
her look more beautiful. She gave him her hand with a faint smile of
welcome, and permitted him to raise it to his lips.

"This is very, very foolish," she said softly, "and I know that I ought
to be ashamed of myself."

"On the contrary," he answered, "I think that it is very natural. But,
seriously, I feel a little overpowered. You won't want to live always in
a castle, will you, Louise?"

She sighed, and smiled, and sighed again.

"I am afraid that our castle, Herbert," she murmured, "will exist only in
the air! But listen. I must speak to you before the others come in."

"I am all attention," he assured her.

"It is about Madame de Melbain," she began, a little hesitatingly.

He waited for her to continue. She seemed to be in some difficulty.

"I want you to watch and do just what we others do," she said, "and not
to be surprised if some of our arrangements seem a little curious. For
instance, although she is the elder, do not give her your arm for
dinner. She will go in first alone, and you must take me."

"I can assure you," Wrayson said, smiling, "that I shall make no
difficulty about that."

"And she doesn't like to be talked to very much," Louise continued.

"I will humour her in that also," Wrayson promised. "She is a good sort
to let me come here at all."

"She is very kind and very considerate," Louise said, "and her life has
been a very unhappy one."

Wrayson moved his chair a little nearer.

"Need we talk about her any more?" he asked. "There is so much I want to
say to you about ourselves."

She looked at him for a moment, a little sadly, a little wistfully.

"Ah! don't," she murmured. "Don't talk about definite things at all. For
to-night--to-night only, let us drift!"

He smiled at her reassuringly.

"Don't be afraid," he said. "I am not going to ask you any questions. I
am not going to ask for any explanations. I think that we have passed all
that. It is of the future I wanted to speak."

"Don't," she begged softly. "Of the past I dare not think, nor of the
future. It is only the present which belongs to us."

"The present and the future," he answered firmly.

She rose suddenly to her feet, and Wrayson instinctively followed her
example. They were no longer alone. Two women, who had entered by a door
at the further end of the apartment, were slowly approaching them. The
foremost was tall and dark, a little slim, perhaps, but with an elegant
figure, and a carriage of singular dignity. Her face was youthful, and
her brown eyes were soft and clear as the eyes of a girl, but her dark
hair was plentifully streaked with grey, and there was about her whole
appearance an air of repressed sadness.

"This is Mr. Wrayson, is it not?" she asked, in a very sweet voice, but
with a strong foreign accent. "We have so few visitors that one can
scarcely make a mistake. You are very welcome."

She did not offer to shake hands, and Wrayson contented himself with
a low bow.

"You are very kind," he murmured.

"Monsieur le Baron," she remarked, turning to an elderly gentleman who
had just entered, "will doubtless find your coming pleasant. The
entertainment of three ladies must have seemed at times a little trying.
Let me make you gentlemen known to one another, Monsieur Wrayson,
Monsieur le Baron de Courcelles. And Ida," she added, turning to her
companion, who had moved a few steps apart, "permit that I present to
you, also, Mr. Wrayson--Mademoiselle de Courcelles."

The conversation for a moment or two followed the obvious lines. Madame
de Melbain and Louise had drawn a little apart; a few remarks as to the
beauty of the chateu and its situation passed between Wrayson and the
Baron. The name of its owner was mentioned, and Wrayson indicated his
acquaintance with her. At the sound of her name, Madame de Melbain
turned somewhat abruptly round, and seemed to be listening; but at that
moment the door was thrown open, and the major-domo of the household,
who had received Wrayson, announced dinner. He directly addressed Madame
de Melbain.

"Madame is served," he murmured respectfully.

The little procession arranged itself as Louise had intimated. Madame de
Melbain led the way, ushered by the major-domo and followed immediately
by the Baron and Mademoiselle de Courcelles. Wrayson, with Louise,
brought up the rear. They crossed the white flagged hall and entered an
apartment which Wrayson, although his capacity for wonder was
diminishing, felt himself compelled to pause and admire. It was of great
height, and again the curiously shaped windows were filled with stained
glass. The oak-panelled walls, black with age, were hung with portraits,
sombre and yet vivid, and upon a marble pedestal at the end of the room,
lifelike, and untouched by the centuries, stood a wonderful presentation
of Ralph de St. tarpe, the founder of the house, clad in the armour of
his days. The dinner table, with its brilliant and modern appurtenances
of flowers and plate, standing in the middle of the floor, seemed like a
minute and yet startling anachronism. The brilliant patches of scarlet
geranium, the deep blue livery of the two footmen, the glitter of the
Venetian glass upon the table, were like notes of alien colour amongst
surroundings whose chief characteristic was a magnificent restraint, and
yet such dignity as it was possible to impart into the everyday business
of eating and drinking was certainly manifest in the meal, which
presently took its leisurely course.

Wrayson, although no one could accuse him of a lack of _savoir faire_,
found himself scarcely at his ease. Madame de Melbain; erect; dignified,
and beautiful, sat at the head of the table, and although she addressed
a remark to each of them occasionally, she remained always
unapproachable. The Baron made only formal attempts at conversation, and
Mademoiselle de Courcelles was absolutely silent. Wrayson was unable to
divest himself of the feeling of representing an alien presence amongst a
little community drawn closely together by some mysterious tie. Louise
was his only link with them, and to Louise he decided to devote himself
entirely, regardless of the apparent demands of custom. His position at
the table enabled him to do this, and very soon he discovered that it was
precisely what was expected of him. The conversation between the others,
such as it was, lapsed into German, or some kindred tongue. Wrayson found
himself able presently to talk confidentially with Louise.

"Remember," he said, after a slight pause, "that I have finished
altogether with the role of investigator. I no longer have any curiosity
about anything. Still, I think that there is something which I ought to
tell you."

She smiled.

"You may tell me as much as you like," she said, "as long as you don't
ask questions."

"Exactly! Well, there is another Englishman staying at the _Lion d'Or._
He appears to be a decent fellow, and a gentleman. I am not going to talk
about him. I imagine that he is harmless."

"We have heard of him," Louise murmured. "It certainly appears as though
he were only an ordinary tourist. Has any one else arrived?"

"Yes!" Wrayson answered, "some one else has arrived, and I want to tell
you about him."

Louise was obviously disturbed. She refused a course a little
impatiently, and turned towards Wrayson anxiously.

"But the landlord," she said in a low tone, "has orders to receive no
more guests."

"This man arrived to luncheon to-day," Wrayson answered. "The landlord
could not refuse him that. He wished for a room and was told that he
could not be taken in."

"Well, who is he, what is he like?" she demanded.

"He is a miserable sort of bounder--an imitation cockney tourist, with
ready-made English clothes, a knapsack, and a camera. I should have felt
suspicious about him myself, but the other fellow whom I told you about,
who is staying at the inn, recognized him. He had seen him abroad, and
what he told me seems decisive. I am afraid that he is a spy."

Wrayson cursed himself for a moment that he had been so outspoken, for
the girl by his side seemed almost on the point of collapse. Her eyes
were full of fear, and she clutched at the tablecloth as though overcome
with a spasm of terror.

"Don't be alarmed," Wrayson whispered in her ear. "I am sure, I am quite
sure that he is not here for what you may fear. I don't believe he is an
Englishman at all."

The girl recovered herself amazingly.

"I was not thinking of myself," she said quietly; and Wrayson noticed
that her eyes were fixed upon the pale, distinguished face of the woman
who sat with a certain air of isolation at the head of the table.

CHAPTER XXVII

THE SPY

Wrayson found himself a few minutes later alone with the Baron, who, with
some solemnity, rose and took the chair opposite to him. Conversation
between them, however, languished, for the Baron spoke only in
monosyllables, and his attitude gave Wrayson the idea that he viewed his
presence at the chateu with disfavour. With stiff punctiliousness, he
begged Wrayson to try some wonderful Burgundy, and passed a box of
cigarettes. He did not, however, open any topic of conversation, and
Wrayson, embarrassed in his choice of subjects by the fact that any
remark he could make might sound like an attempt at gratifying his
curiosity, remained also silent. In a very few minutes the Baron rose.

"You will take another glass of wine, sir?" he asked.

Wrayson rose too with alacrity, and bowed his refusal. They recrossed the
great hall and entered the drawing-room. Louise and Madame de Melbain
were talking earnestly together in a corner, and from the look that the
latter threw at him as they entered, Wrayson was convinced that in some
way he was concerned with the subject of their conversation. It was a
look deliberate and scrutinizing, in a sense doubtful, and yet not
unkindly. Behind it all, Wrayson felt that there was something which he
could not understand, there was something of the mystery in those dark
sad eyes which seemed to pervade the whole atmosphere of the place and
the lives of these people.

Louise rose as he approached and motioned him to take her vacated place.

"Madame de Melbain would like to talk to you for a few moments," she said
quietly. "Afterwards will you come on to the terrace?"

She swept away through the open window, and was at once followed by the
Baron. Mademoiselle de Courcelles was playing very softly on a grand
piano in an unseen corner of the apartment. Wrayson and his hostess
were alone.

She turned towards him with a faint smile. She spoke with great
deliberation, but very clearly, and there was in her voice some hidden
quality, indefinable in words, yet both musical and singularly
attractive.

"I shall not keep you very long, Mr. Wrayson," she said. "Louise has been
talking to me about you. She is happy, I think, to have found a friend so
chivalrous and so discerning."

Wrayson smiled doubtfully as he answered.

"It is very little that I have been able to do for her," he said. "My
complaint is that she will not give me the opportunity of doing more."

"You are too modest," Madame de Melbain said slowly. "Louise has told me
a good deal. I think that you have been a very faithful friend."

Wrayson bowed but said nothing. If Madame de Melbain had anything to
say to him, he preferred to afford her the opportunity of an
attentive silence.

"Louise and I," Madame de Melbain continued, "were school friends. So
you see that I have known her all my life. She has had her troubles, as
I have! Only mine are a righteous judgment upon me, and hers she has
done nothing to deserve. It is the burden of others which she fastens
upon her back."

Wrayson felt instinctively that his continued silence was what she most
desired. She was speaking to him, but her eyes had travelled far away. It
was as though she had come into touch with other and greater things.

"Louise has not told me everything," she continued. "There is much that
she will not confess. So it is necessary, Mr. Wrayson, that I ask you a
question. Do you care for her?"

"I do!" Wrayson answered simply.

"You wish to marry her?"

"To-morrow, if she would!"

Madame de Melbain leaned a little forward. Her cheeks were still entirely
colourless, but some spark of emotion glittered in her full dark eyes.

"You will be alone with her presently. Try and persuade her to marry you
at once. There is nothing but an absurd scruple between you! Remember
that always."

"It is a scruple which up till now has been too strong for me," Wrayson
remarked quietly.

She measured him with her eyes, as though making a deliberate estimate of
his powers.

"A man," she said, "should be able to do much with the woman whom he
cares for--the woman who cares for him."

"If I could believe that," he murmured.

She shrugged her shoulders slightly. He understood the gesture.

"You are right," he declared, with more confidence. "I will do my best."

She moved her head slowly, a sign of assent, also of dismissal. He rose
to his feet.

"Louise is on the terrace," she said. "Will you give me your arm? The
Baron is there also. We will join them."

They stepped through the high French windows on to the carpeted terrace.
It seemed to Wrayson that they had passed into a veritable land of
enchantment. The service of dinner had been a somewhat leisurely affair,
and the hour was already late. The moon was slowly rising behind the
trees, but the landscape was at present wrapped in the soft doubtful
obscurity of a late twilight. The flowers, with whose perfume the air was
faintly fragrant, remained unseen, or visible only in blurred outline;
the tall trees, whose tops were unstirred by even the slightest breeze,
stood out like silent sentinels against the violet sky. Madame de Melbain
stopped short upon the threshold of the terrace, with head slightly
thrown back, and half-closed eyes.

"Suzanne was right," she murmured, "there is peace here--peace, if only
it would last!"

The Baron came hastily forward. He seemed to be eyeing Wrayson a little
doubtfully. Madame de Melbain pointed down the avenue.

"I think," she said, "that it would be pleasant to walk for a little
way. Give me your arm, Baron. We will go first. Mr. Wrayson will follow
with Louise."

They descended the steps, crossed the lawn, and through a gate into the
broad grass-grown avenue, cut through the woods to the road. Wrayson at
first was silent, and Louise seemed a little nervous. More than once she
started at the sound of a rabbit scurrying through the undergrowth.
There was something a little mysterious about the otherwise profound
silence of the impenetrable woods. Even their footsteps fell noiselessly
upon the spongy turf.

Wrayson spoke at last. They had fallen sufficiently far behind the others
to be out of earshot.

"Do you know what Madame de Melbain has been saying to me?" he asked.

Louise turned her head a little. There was the faintest flicker of a
smile about her lips.

"I cannot imagine", she declared, looking once more straight ahead.

"She has been inciting me to bold deeds," Wrayson said. "How should you
like to be carried off in mediaeval fashion--married, willing or
unwilling?"

"Is that what Madame de Melbain has been recommending you to do?"
she asked.

He nodded.

"Yes! And I am thinking of taking her advice," he said coolly.

She laughed quietly, yet his ears were quick, and he caught the note of
sadness which a moment later crept into her eyes.

"It would solve so much that is troublesome, wouldn't it?" she remarked.
"May I ask if that has been the sole topic of your conversation?"

"Absolutely! Louise! Dear!"

She turned a little towards him. His voice was compelling. The fingers of
her hand closed readily enough upon his, and the soft touch thrilled him.

"You have some fancy in your brain," he said, in a low, passionate
whisper. "It is nothing but a fancy, I am assured. You have heard what
your own friend has advised. You don't doubt that I love you, Louise,
that I want to make you happy."

She leaned a little towards him. A sudden wave of abandonment seemed to
have swept over her. He drew her face to his and kissed her with a sudden
passion. Her lips met his soft and unresisting. Already he felt the song
of triumph in his heart. She was his! She could never be anybody else's
now. Very softly she disengaged herself. The other two were still in
sight, and already the curve of the moon was creeping over the trees.

"Don't spoil it," she murmured. "Don't talk of to-morrow, or the future!
We have to-night."...

There followed minutes of which he took no count, and then of a sudden
her hand clutched his arm.

"Listen," she whispered hoarsely.

He came suddenly down to earth. They were walking in the shadow of the
trees, close to the side of the wood, and their footsteps upon the soft
turf were noiseless. Wrayson almost held his breath as he leaned towards
the dark chaos of the thickly planted trees. Only a few yards away he
could distinctly hear the dry snapping of twigs. Some one was keeping
pace with them inside the wood, now he could see the stooping figure of
a man creeping stealthily along. A little exclamation broke from
Louise's lips.

"It is a spy after all," she muttered. "They said that every entrance to
the place was guarded."

Wrayson had time to take only one quick step towards the wood, when a
shrill cry rang out upon the still night. Then there was the trampling
under foot of bushes and undergrowth, the sound of men's voices, one
English and threatening, the other guttural and terrified. Madame de
Melbain and her escort had paused and were looking back. Louise was
moving towards them, and Wrayson was on the point of entering the wood.
Into the little semicircle formed by these four people there suddenly
strode Wrayson's friend from the inn, grasping by the collar a shrinking
and protesting figure in a much dishevelled tweed suit.

"We were right, Mr. Wrayson," the former remarked quietly. "This fellow
has been spying round all day. You had better ask your friends what they
wish done with him."

CHAPTER XXVIII

THE SCENE IN THE AVENUE

There followed a few minutes of somewhat curious silence. At the first
sound of the voice of the man who had made so startling an appearance in
their midst, a cry, only half suppressed, had broken from Madame de
Melbain's lips. She had moved impulsively a little forward; the moon,
visible now from over the tree tops, was shining faintly upon her
absolutely colourless face and dilated eyes. For some reason she seemed
terror-stricken, both she and Louise, who was clinging now to her arm.
Neither of them seemed even to have glanced at the cowering figure of the
man, who had relapsed now into a venomous silence. Both of them were
gazing at his captor, and upon their faces was the strangest expression
which Wrayson had ever seen on any human features. It was as though they
stood upon the edge of the world and peered downwards, into the forbidden
depths; as though they suddenly found themselves in the presence of a
thing so wonderful that thought and speech alike were chained. Wrayson
involuntarily followed the direction of their rapt gaze. The stranger
certainly presented a somewhat formidable appearance. He was standing
upon slightly higher ground, and the massive proportions of his tall,
powerful figure stood out with almost startling distinctness against the
empty background. His face was half in the shadow, yet it seemed to
Wrayson that some touch of the mystery which was quivering in the drawn
face of the two women was also reflected in his dimly seen features.
Something indefinable was in the air, something so mysterious and
wonderful, that voices seemed stricken dumb, and life itself suspended.
An owl flew slowly out from the wood with ponderous flapping of wings,
and sailed over their heads. Every one started: Madame de Melbain gave a
half-stifled shriek. The strain was over. Louise and she were half
sobbing now in one another's arms.

"I will leave this fellow to be dealt with as the owners of the chateu
may direct," the stranger said stiffly, turning to Wrayson. "You can tell
them all that we know about him."

He turned on his heel, but the Baron laid his hand upon his shoulder and
peered into his face inquisitively.

"_We_ should like to know," he said, "whom we have to thank for the
capture of this intruder!"

"I am a stranger here, and to all of you," was the quiet answer. "You owe
me no thanks. I have seen something of this fellow before," he added,
pointing to his captive, who was now standing sullenly in the centre of
the group. "I felt sure that he was up to no good, and I watched him."

For the first time the fair-haired little tourist, who had been dragged
so submissively into their midst, suffered a gleam of intelligence to
appear in his face. He changed his position so that he could see his
captor better.

"Ah!" he muttered, "you have seen me before, eh? And I you, perhaps! Let
me think! Was it--"

Wrayson's friend leaned a little forwards, and with the careless ease of
one flicking away a fly, he struck the speaker with the back of his hand
across the face. The blow was not a particularly severe one, but its
victim collapsed upon the turf.

"Look here," his assailant said, standing for a moment over him, "you can
go on and finish your sentence if you like. I only want to warn you, that
if you do, I will break every bone in your body, one by one, the next
time we meet. Go on, if you think it worth while."

The man on the ground was dumb, because he was afraid. But the same
thought presented itself to all of them. The Baron, who was least of all
affected, expressed it.

"Perhaps, sir," he said, "you will not object to telling me--the Baron de
Courcelles--whom we have to thank for the discovery of this--intruder!"

Wrayson's friend edged a little away. There was no response in his manner
to the courtesy with which the Baron had sought to introduce himself.

"You have nothing to thank me for," he said shortly. "My name would be
quite unknown to you, and I am leaving this part of the world at once.
Permit me to wish you good evening!"

He had already turned on his heel when Madame de Melbain's voice
arrested him. Clear and peremptory, the first words which had passed her
lips since the surprise had come to them, seemed somehow to introduce a
new note into an atmosphere from which an element of tragedy had never
been lacking.

"Please stop!"

He turned and faced her with obvious unwillingness. She stretched out her
hand as though forbidding him to go, but addressed at the same time the
two men, apparently gamekeepers, who had suddenly emerged from the wood.

"Monsieur Robert," she said, "we have caught this man trespassing in the
woods here, notwithstanding the precautions which I understood you had
taken. Take him away at once, if you please. I trust that you will be
able to hand him over to the gendarmes."

Monsieur Robert, the steward of the estates, an elderly man, whose face
was twitching with anxiety, stepped forward with a low bow.

"Madame," he said, "we had word of this intrusion. We were even now upon
the track of this ruffian. There was another, also, who climbed the
wall--ah! I see him! The Englishman there!"

"He is our friend," Madame de Melbain said. "You must not interfere
with him."

"As Madame wills! Come, you rascal," he added, gripping his prisoner by
the shoulder. "We will show you what it means to climb over walls and
trespass on the estate of Madame la Baronne. Come then!"

The intruder accepted the situation with the most philosophic calm. Only
one remark he ventured to make as he was led off.

"It is not hospitable, this! I only wished to see the chateu by
moonlight!"

Wrayson's fellow guest at the _Lion d'Or_ turned to follow them.

"The fellow might try to escape," he muttered; but again Madame de
Melbain called to him.

"You must not go away," she said, "yet!"

Then she moved forward with smooth, deliberate footsteps, yet with
something almost supernatural in her white face and set, dilated eyes. It
was as though she were looking once more through the windows of the
world, as though she could see the figures of dead men playing once more
their part in the game of life. And she looked always at the Englishman.

"Listen," she said, "there is something about you, sir, which I do not
understand. Who are you, and where do you come from?"

He made no answer. Only he held out his hand as though to keep her away,
and drew a little further back.

"You shall not escape," she continued, the words leaving her lips with a
sort of staccato incisiveness, crisp and emotional. "No! you are here,
and you shall answer. Who are you who come here to mock us all; because
it is a dead man who speaks with your voice, and looks with your eyes?
You will not dare to say that you are Duncan Fitzmaurice!"

The figure in the shadows seemed to loom larger and larger. He was no
longer shrinking away.

"I know nothing of the man of whom you speak!" he declared. "I am a
wanderer. I have no name and no home."

Madame de Melbain reeled and would have fallen. Then for a moment events
seemed to leap forward. White and fainting, she lay in the arms of the
man who had sprung to her succour, yet through her half-opened eyes there
flashed a strange and wonderful light--a light of passionate and amazing
content. He held her, almost roughly, for several moments, yet his lips
were pressed to hers with a tenderness almost indescribable. No one of
the little group moved. Wrayson felt simply that events, impossible for
him to understand, had marched too quickly for him. He stood like a man
in a dream, whose limbs are rigid, whose brain alone is working. And the
others, too, seemed to have become part of a silent and wonderful
tableau. For years after Wrayson carried with him the memory of those few
minutes,--the perfume from the woods, faint but penetrating; the shadowy
light, the passionate faces of the man and the woman, the woman yielding
to a beautiful dream, and the man to a moment of divine madness.
Movement, when it came, came from the principal actors in that wonderful
scene. Madame de Melbain was alone, supported in Louise's arms, the
Englishman's heavy footsteps were already audible, crashing through the
undergrowth. Louise pointed to the wood and called out to Wrayson:

"Follow him! Don't let him out of your sight! Quick!"

Wrayson turned and sped down the avenue. When he reached the wall, he
stood there and waited. Presently Duncan came crashing through the
wood and vaulted the wall. Wrayson met him in the middle of the hard
white road.

"We will walk back to the _Lion d'Or_ together," he said calmly, "I have
a few things to say to you!"

CHAPTER XXIX

A SUBSTANTIAL GHOST

Monsieur Jules, of the _Lion d'Or,_ was in a state of excitement
bordering upon frenzy. Events were happening indeed with him, this placid
August weather. First the occupancy of the chteau by the mysterious
lady, and the subsequent edict of the steward against all strangers; then
the coming of this tourist yesterday, who had gone for an evening stroll
without paying his bill, and was now a prisoner of the law, Heaven only
knew on what charge! Added to this--a matter of excitement enough
surely--the giant Englishman, who had been his guest for nearly three
weeks--a model guest too,--had departed at a minute's notice, though not,
the saints be praised, without paying his bill. And now, though the hour
was yet scarcely nine o'clock, a carriage with steaming horses was
standing at his door, and the beautiful young English lady was herself
inside his inn. He was indeed conducting her down the grey stone passage
out on to the rose-bordered garden, which was the pride of his heart, and
where monsieur, the remaining Englishman, was smoking his morning
cigarette.

She barely waited until Monsieur Jules had bowed himself out of hearing
distance. She looked at Wrayson, at the table laid for one only, and at
the empty garden.

"Where is he--your friend?" she demanded breathlessly.

"Gone," Wrayson answered. "I am sorry, but I did my best. He went away
at daylight. I saw him off, but I could not keep him."

"Where to?" she asked. "You know that, at least."

He pointed towards the distant coast line.

"In that direction! That is all I know."

"He told you nothing before he went?" she asked eagerly.

"Nothing at all," he answered. "He refused to discuss what had happened.
Sit down, Louise," he added firmly. "I want to talk to you."

He placed a chair for her under the trees. She sank into it a
little wearily.

"A certain measure of ignorance," he said, "I am willing to put up with,
but when you exhibit such extraordinary interest in another man, I
really feel that my limit has been reached. Who is he, Louise? You must
tell me, please!"

"I wish I could tell you," she answered. "I wish I could say that I knew.
Half the night the three of us have talked and wondered. I have heard
plenty of theories as to a second life on some imaginary planet, but I
never heard of the dead who lived again here, in this world!"

He looked puzzled.

"Do you mean," he asked, "that he was like some one whom you believed
to be dead?"

She was silent for a moment. The sun was hot even where they sat, but he
fancied that he saw her shiver. She looked into his face, and something
of the terror of the night before was in her eyes.

"To us," she said slowly, "to Madame de Melbain and to me, he was a
ghost, an actual apparition. He spoke to us with the voice of one whom
we know to be dead. He came to us, in his form."

Wrayson looked across at her with a quiet smile.

"There was nothing of the ghost about Duncan!" he remarked. "I should
consider him a remarkably substantial person. Don't you think that we
were all a little overwrought last night? A strong likeness and a little
imagination will often work wonders."

"If it was a likeness only," she said, "why did he leave us so abruptly,
why has he left this place at a moment's notice to avoid us?"

Wrayson was silent for a few seconds.

"Look here," he said, "this is a matter of common sense after all. If you
were _not_ deceived by a likeness, it was the man himself! That goes
without saying. What reasons had you for supposing that he was dead?"

"The newspapers, the War Office, even the return of his effects."

"From where?" Wrayson asked.

"From South Africa. He was shot through the lungs in Natal!"

"Men have turned up before, after having been reported dead," he remarked
sententiously.

"But he was in the army," she replied. "Don't you see that if he was
alive now, he would be a deserter. He has never rejoined. He was
certified as having died in the hospital at Ladysmith!"

Wrayson looked steadily into her agitated face.

"Supposing," he said, "that he turned out to be the man whom you have in
your mind, what is he to you?"

"My brother," she answered simply.

Wrayson's first impulse was of surprise. Then he drew a long breath of
relief. He looked back upon his long hours of anxiety, and cursed himself
for a fool.

"What an idiot I have been!" he declared. "Of course, I know that you
lost a brother in South Africa. But--but what about Madame de Melbain?"

"Madame de Melbain and my brother were friends," she said quietly. "There
were obstacles or they would have been more than friends."

Wrayson nodded.

"Now supposing," he said, "that, by some miracle, your brother
still lived, that this was he, is there any reason why he should
avoid you both?"

She thought for a moment.

"Yes!" she said slowly, "there is."

"I suppose," he continued tentatively, "you couldn't tell me all
about it?"

"I couldn't," she answered. "It isn't my secret."

Wrayson looked for a moment away from her, across the valley with its
flower-spangled meadows, parted by that sinuous poplar-fringed line of
silver, the lazy, slow-flowing river stealing through the quiet land to
the sea. The full summer heat was scarcely yet in the air, but already a
faint blue haze was rising from the lowlands. Up on the plateau, where
they were sitting, a slight breeze stirred amongst the trees; Monsieur
Jules had indeed some ground for his pride in this tiny sylvan paradise.

"I think," he said, "that for one day we will forget all this tangle of
secrets and unaccountable doings. What do you say, Louise?" he whispered,
taking her unresisting hand into his. "May I tell Monsieur Jules to serve
breakfast for two in the arbour there?"

She laughed softly into his face. There was the look in her eyes which
he loved to see, half wistful, half content, almost happy.

"But you are never satisfied," she declared. "If I give you a day, a
whole precious day out of my valuable life--"

"They belong to me, all of them," he declared, bending over her till his
lips touched her cheek. "Some day I am very sure that I shall take them
all into my charge."

She disengaged herself from his embrace with a sudden start. Wrayson
turned his head. Within a yard or two of them, Madame de Melbain had
paused in the centre of the little plot of grass. She was looking at them
from underneath her lace parasol, with faintly uplifted eyebrows, and the
dawn of a smile upon her beautiful lips. Louise sprang to her feet, and
Wrayson followed her example. Madame de Melbain lowered her parasol as
though to shut out the sight of the two.

"May I come on?" she asked. "I want to speak to Louise, although I am
afraid I am shockingly _de trop._"

Wrayson had an idea, and acted upon it promptly.

"Madame de Melbain," he said, "I believe that you have some influence
with Louise, I am sure that you are one of those who sympathize with the
unfortunate. Can't I bespeak your good offices?"

She lowered her parasol to the ground, and leaned a little forward upon
it. Her eyes were fixed steadily upon Wrayson.

"Go on," she said briefly.

"I love Louise," Wrayson said, "and I believe she cares for me.
Nevertheless, she refuses to marry me, and will give no intelligible
reason. My first meeting with her was of an extraordinary nature. I
assisted her to leave a house in which a murder had been committed,
since which time I think we have both run a risk of trouble with the
authorities. Louise lives always in the shadow of some mystery, and when
I, who surely have the right to know her secrets, beg for her confidence,
she refuses it."

"And what is it that you wish me to do?" Madame de Melbain asked softly.

"To use your influence with Louise," Wrayson pleaded. "Let her give me
her confidence, and let her accept from me the shelter of my name."

Madame de Melbain was silent for several moments. She seemed to be
thinking. Louise's face was expressionless. She had made one attempt to
check Wrayson, but recognizing its futility she had at once abandoned it.
From below in the valley came the faint whir of the reaping machines,
from the rose garden a murmur of bees. But between the two women and the
man there was silence--silence which lasted so long that Monsieur Jules,
who was watching from a window, called softly upon all the saints of his
acquaintance to explain to him of what nature was this mystery, which
seemed to be developing, as it were, under his own surveillance.

At last Madame de Melbain appeared to come to a decision. She moved
slowly forward, until she stood within a few feet of him. Then she raised
her eyes to his and looked him long and earnestly in the face.

"You look," she said, half under her breath, "like a man who might be
trusted. I will trust you. I will be kinder to you than Louise, for I
will tell you all that you want to know. But when I have told you, you
will have in your keeping the honour of an unfortunate woman whose name
alone is great."

Wrayson looked her for a moment in the eyes. Then he bowed low.

"Madame," he said, "that trust will be to me my most sacred possession."

She smiled at him faintly, nodding her head as though to keep pace with
her thoughts.

"I believe you, Mr. Wrayson," she said. "Yes, I believe you! Let me tell
you this, then. I count it amongst my misfortunes that my own troubles
have become in so large a manner the troubles of my friends. You will
appreciate that the more, perhaps, when I tell you that Madame de Melbain
is not the name by which I am generally known. I am that unfortunate
woman the Queen of Mexonia!"

CHAPTER XXX

THE QUEEN OF MEXONIA

Wrayson, who had been prepared for something surprising, was yet startled
out of his composure. The affairs of the unhappy Royal House of Mexonia
were the property of the world. He half rose to his feet, but Madame de
Melbain instantly waved him back again.

"My friends," she said, "deem it advisable that my whereabouts should not
be known. I certainly am very anxious that my incognita should be
preserved."

She paused, and Wrayson, without hesitation, answered her unspoken
question. Unconsciously, too, he found himself using the same manner of
address as the others.

"Madame," he said, "whatever you choose to tell me will be sacred."

She bowed her head slightly.

"I am going to tell you a good deal," she said, glancing across at
Louise.

Louise opened her lips as though about to intervene. Madame de Melbain
continued, however, without a break.

"I am going to tell you more than may seem necessary," she said, "because
I believe that I am one of those unfortunate persons whose evil lot it is
to bring unhappiness upon their friends. So far as I can avoid this, Mr.
Wrayson, I mean to. Further--it is possible that I may ask
you--presently--to render me a service."

Wrayson bowed low. He felt that she was already well aware of his
willingness.

"First, then, let me tell you," she continued, leaning back in her chair,
and looking away across the valley with eyes whose light was wholly
reminiscent, "that we three were schoolgirls together, Louise, Amy--whom
you know better, perhaps, as the Baroness de Sturm--and myself. We were
at a convent near Brussels. There were not many pupils, and we three were
friends....

"We had a great deal of liberty--more liberty, perhaps, than our friends
would have approved of. We worked, it is true, in the mornings, but in
the afternoons we rode or played tennis in the Bois. It was there that I
met Prince Frederick, who afterwards became my husband.

"I was only sixteen years old, and just as silly, I suppose, as a girl
brought up as I had been brought up was certain to be. I was very much
flattered by Prince Frederick's attentions, and quite ready to respond
to them. My own family was noble, and the match was not considered a
particularly unequal one, for though Frederick was of the Royal House,
he was a long way from the succession. Still, there was a good deal of
trouble when a messenger from Frederick went to my father. He declared
that I was altogether too young; my mother, on the other hand, was
just as anxious to conclude the match. Eventually it was arranged that
the betrothal should take place in six months--and Frederick went back
to Mexonia."

Madame de Melbain paused for a moment. Wrayson felt, from her slightly
altered attitude and a significant lowering of her voice, that she was
reaching the part of her narrative which she found the most difficult.

"We girls," she continued, "went back to school, and just at that time
Louise's brother came over to Brussels. I think that I have already told
you that the supervision over us was far from strict. There was nothing
to prevent Captain Fitzmaurice being a good deal with us. We had
picnics, tennis parties, rides! Long before the six months were up I
understood how foolish I had been. I wrote to Prince Frederick and
begged him to release me from our uncompleted engagement. His answer was
to appear in person. He made a scene. My mother and father were now
wholly on his side. Within a few weeks he had lost both a cousin and a
brother. His succession to the throne was almost a certainty. His own
people were just as anxious to have him married. I did not know why
then, but I found out later on. They had their way. I believe that
things are different in an English home. In mine, I can assure you that
I never had any chance. I entered upon my married life without the least
possibility of happiness. Needless to say, I never realized any! For the
last four years my husband has been trying for a divorce! Very soon it
is possible that he will succeed."

Wrayson leaned a little towards her.

"Is it permitted, Madame, to ask a question?"

"Why not?"

"You have fought against this divorce, you and your friends, so
zealously. Yet your life has been unhappy. Release could scarcely have
been anything but a relief to you!"

Madame de Melbain raised her head slightly. Her brows were a little
contracted. From her eyes there flashed the silent fire of a
queen's disdain.

"Release! Yes, I would welcome that! If it were death it would be very
welcome! But divorce--he to divorce me, he, whose brutality and
infidelities are the scandal of every Court in Europe! No! A divorce I
never shall accept. Separation I have insisted upon."

Wrayson hesitated for a moment.

"May I be pardoned," he said, "if I repeat to you what I saw in print
lately--in a famous English paper? They spoke of this divorce case which
has lasted so long; they spoke of it as about to be finally decided.
There was some fresh evidence about to be produced, a special court was
to be held."

Madame de Melbain turned, if possible, a shade paler.

"Yes!" she said slowly, "I have heard of that. We have all heard of that.
I want to tell you, Mr. Wrayson, what that fresh evidence consists of."

Wrayson bowed and waited. Somehow he felt that he was on the eve of a
great discovery.

"Both before my marriage and afterwards," Madame de Melbain said quietly,
"I wrote to--Captain Fitzmaurice. I was always impulsive--when I was
younger, and my letters, especially one written on the eve of my
marriage, would no doubt decide the case against me. Captain Fitzmaurice
was killed--in Natal, but in a mysterious way news has reached me of the
letters since his death."

"In what way?" Wrayson asked.

For the first time, Madame de Melbain glanced a little nervously about
her. Against listeners, however, they seemed absolutely secure. There was
no hiding-place, nor any one within sight. Upon the land was everywhere
the silence of a great heat. Even in the shade where they sat the still
air was hot and breathless. Down in the valley the cows stood knee deep
in the stream, and a blue haze hung over the vineyards.

"Nearly eighteen months ago," Madame de Melbain continued, "I received a
letter signed by the name of Morris Barnes. The writer said that he had
just arrived from South Africa, and had picked up on one of the
battlefields there a bundle of letters, which he had come to the
conclusion must have been written by me. He did not mince matters in the
least. He was a blackmailer pure and simple. He had given me the first
chance of buying these letters! What was my offer?"

A sharp ejaculation broke from Wrayson's lips. Louise signed to him to
be silent.

"Amy was with me when the letters came," Madame de Melbain continued.
"She left at once for England to see this man. The sum he demanded was
impossible. All that she could do was to ask for time, and to arrange to
pay him so much a month whilst we were considering how to raise the
money. He accepted this, and promised to keep silence. He kept his word,
but for a time only. He made inquiries, and he seems to have come to the
conclusion that the money was on the other side. At any rate, he
approached the advisers of my husband. He was in treaty with them for the
letters--when he--when he met with his death!"

Wrayson had a feeling that the heat was becoming intolerable. He dared
not look at Louise. His eyes were fixed upon the still expressionless
face of the woman whose story was slowly unfolding its tragic course.

"A rumour of this," Madame de Melbain continued, "reached us in Mexonia!
I telegraphed to Amy! She and Louise were at their wits' ends. Louise
decided to go and see this man Barnes, to make her way, if she could,
into his flat, to search for and, if she could find them, to steal these
letters. She carried out her purpose or rather her attempted purpose. The
rest you know, for it was you who saved her!"

"The man," Wrayson said hoarsely, "was murdered."

Madame de Melbain inclined her head.

"So I have understood," she remarked.

"He was murdered," Wrayson continued in a harsh, unnatural voice, "on
that very night, the night when he was to have made over these letters to
your--enemies! The message was telephoned to me! He was to go to the
Hotel Francis. He was warned that there was danger. And there was! He was
murdered--while the cab waited--to take him there!"

Her eyes held his--she did not flinch.

"The man who telephoned to me--Bentham his name was, the agent of your
enemies,--he, too, was murdered!"

"So I have heard," she said calmly.

"The letters!" he faltered. "Where are they?"

"No one knows," she answered. "That is why I live always on the brink of
a volcano. Many people are searching for them. No one as yet has
succeeded. But that may come at any moment."

"Madame," he said, "can you tell me who killed these men?"

She raised her eyebrows.

"I cannot," she answered coldly.

"Madame," he declared, "the man Barnes was a pitiful blackmailing little
Jew! For all I know, he deserved death a dozen times over--ay, and
Bentham too! But the law does not look upon it like that. Whoever killed
these men will assuredly be hanged if they are caught. Don't you think
that your friends are a little too zealous?"

She met his gaze unflinchingly.

"If friends of mine have done these things," she said, "they are at least
unknown to me!"

He drew a short choking breath of relief. Yet even now the mystery was
deeper than ever! He began to think out loud.

"A friend of yours it must have been," he declared. "Barnes was murdered
when in a few hours he would have parted with those letters to your
enemies; Bentham was murdered when he was on the point of discovering
them! There is some one working for you, guarding you, who desires to
remain unknown. I wonder!"

He stopped short. A sudden illumining idea flashed through his mind. He
looked at Madame de Melbain fixedly.

"This man Duncan who has disappeared so suddenly," he said thickly. "Whom
did you say--who was it that he reminded you of?"

Madame de Melbain lost at last her composure. She was white to the lips,
her eyes seemed suddenly lit with a horrible dread. She pushed out her
hands as though to thrust it from her.

"He was killed!" she cried. "It was not he! He is dead! Don't dare to
speak of anything so horrible!"

Then, before they could realize that he was actually amongst them, he was
there. They heard only a crashing of boughs, the parting of the hedge. He
was there on his knees, with his arms around the terrified woman who had
sobbed out his name. Louise, too, swayed upon her feet, her fascinated
eyes fixed upon the newcomer. Wrayson understood, then, that in some way
this man had indeed come back from the dead.

CHAPTER XXXI

RETURNED FROM THE TOMB

The intervention which a few seconds later abruptly terminated an
emotional crisis was in itself a very commonplace one. Monsieur the
proprietor deemed the moment advisable for solving a question which was
beginning to distract his better half in the kitchen. He advanced towards
them, all smiles and bows and gestures.

"Monsieur would pardon his inquiring--would Monsieur and the ladies be
taking _dejeuner?_ A fowl of excellence unusual was then being
roasted, the salad--Monsieur could see it growing! And Madame had
thought of an omelet! There was no cooler place in all France on a day
of heat so extraordinary as the table under the trees yonder. And as
for strawberries--well, Monsieur could see them grow for himself! or
if it was _fraises de Bois_ that Madame preferred, the children had
brought in baskets full only that morning, fresh and juicy, and of a
wonderful size."

Wrayson interrupted him at last.

"Let luncheon be served as you suggest," he directed. "In the meantime--"

Monsieur Jules understood and withdrew with more bows and smiles. The
significance of his brief appearance upon the lawn was a thing of which
he had not the least idea. Yet after his departure, the strain to a
certain extent had passed away. Only Madame de Melbain's eyes seemed
scarcely to leave the face of the man who stood still by her chair.

"Alive!" she murmured, grasping his hand in hers. "You alive!"

Louise had taken his other hand. He was imprisoned between the two.

"Yes!" he said, "I made what they called a wonderful recovery. I suppose
it was almost a miracle."

"But your death," Louise declared, "was never contradicted."

"A good deal of news went astray about that time," he remarked grimly. "I
was left, and forgotten. When I found what had been done, I let it go. It
seemed to me to be better. I went up to Rhodesia, and of course I had the
devil's luck. I've come back to Europe simply because I couldn't stand it
any longer. I was not coming to England, and I had no idea of seeing you,
Emilie! I travelled here on a little pilgrimage."

"It was fate," she murmured.

"But since I am here," he continued, "and since we have met again, I must
ask you this. Your husband is trying to divorce you?"

"Yes!" she murmured.

"And why?"

"Because he is a brute," she answered quietly. "We have been separated
for more than a year. I think that he wants to marry again."

"And you permit this?" he asked.

"No!" she answered, "I contest it. Up to now, the courts have been in
my favour."

"Up to now! They must always be in your favour!" he declared vehemently.
"What can they say against a saint like you?"

She smiled up at him tenderly, a little wistfully.

"They would say a good deal," she whispered, "if they could see you
here now."

He drew abruptly away.

"I am a thoughtless brute," he declared. "It was for that that I decided
to remain dead. I will go away at once."

Her fingers closed over his. She drew him a little nearer with glad
recklessness.

"You shall not," she murmured. "It is worth a little risk, this."

Wrayson touched Louise on the arm and they turned away. He found her a
seat in a quiet corner of the fruit garden, where a tall row of
hollyhocks shielded them from observation. She was very white, and in a
semi-hysterical state.

"I can't believe," she said, "that that is really Duncan--Duncan himself.
It is too wonderful!"

"There is no doubt about it being your brother," he answered. "What I
don't quite understand is why he has kept away so long."

"It is because of her," she answered. "If they had been on the same
continent, I believe that nothing could have kept them apart!"

"And now?" he asked.

"I cannot tell," she answered, "I, nor any one else! God made them for
one another, I am very sure!"

He took her hand and held it tightly in his.

"And you for me, dearest," he whispered. "Shall I tell you why I am
sure of it?"

She leaned back with half-closed eyes. Endurance has its limits, and the
mesmeric influence of the drowsy summer day was in her veins.

"If you like," she murmured, simply....

And only a few yards away, the man from the dead and the woman who had
loved him seemed to have drifted into a summer day-dream. The strangeness
of this thing held them both--ordinary intercourse seemed impossible.
What they spoke about they scarcely knew! There were days, golden days to
be whispered about and lived again; treasured minutes to be recalled,
looks and words remembered. Of the future, of the actual present, save of
their two selves, they scarcely spoke. It was an hour snatched from
Paradise for her! She would not let it go lightly. She would not suffer
even a cloud to pass across it!

In time, Monsieur Jules found himself constrained to announce that
_dejeuner_ was served. He found it useless to try to attract the
attention of either Madame de Melbain or Duncan, so he went in search
of Wrayson.

"Monsieur is served," he announced, looking blandly upwards at a passing
cloud. "There remains the wine only."

"Chablis of the best, and ice, and mineral water," Wrayson ordered.
"Come, Louise."

She sighed a little as she rose and followed him along the narrow path,
where the rose-bushes brushed against her skirt, and the air was fragrant
with lavender. It had been an interlude only, after all, though the man
whose hand she still held would never have admitted it. But--he did not
know! She prayed to Heaven that he never might.

Luncheon, after all, with a waiter within hearing, and Monsieur Jules
hovering round, banished in a great measure the curious sense of
unreality from which none of them were wholly free. And when coffee came,
Madame leaned a little towards Duncan, and with her hand upon his arm
whispered a question.

"My letters, Duncan! What became of them?"

He sighed.

"I was a little rash, perhaps," he said, "but--they were all I had left.
They were with me at Colenso, in an envelope, sealed and addressed, to be
burnt unopened. When I was hit, I got a Red Cross man to cut them out of
my coat and destroy them."

Madame de Melbain looked at him for a moment, and her eyes were soft
with unshed tears. Then she turned away, though her hand still
rested upon his.

"Duncan," she said quietly, "don't think that I mind. You did all that
you could, and indeed I would rather that you cared so much. But the
letters were not destroyed."

For a moment he failed to realize the import of her words.

"Not destroyed?" he repeated, a little vaguely.

"No!" she answered. "They came into the hands of some one in London.
Terrible things have happened in connexion with them. Duncan, if you will
listen to me quietly, I will tell you about it. Sit down, dear."

She saw the gathering storm. The man's face was black with anger. He was
still a little dazed however.

"You mean--that the man to whom I trusted them--"

"He kept them for his own purpose," she said softly.

"Don't look like that, Duncan. He has paid his debt. He is dead!"

"And the letters?"

"We do not know. My husband's advisers are trying to get possession of
them. That is why the courts have not yet pronounced their judgment."

He had risen to his feet, but she drew him gently down again.

"Remember, Duncan, that the man is dead! Be calm, and I will tell you all
about it."

He looked at her wonderingly.

"You are not angry with me?"

"Angry! Why should I be? I am only happy to know that you never
forgot--that you could not bear to destroy the only link that was left
between us. Do you know, I am almost sorry that I spoke to you about
this! We seem to have snatched an hour or two out of Paradise, and it
is I who have stirred up the dark waters. Let us forget it for a few
more minutes!"

He drew her away with him towards their seat under the trees. Wrayson
looked across at Louise with a smile.

"You, too," he said. "May we not forget a little longer?"

She smiled at him sadly, and shook her head.

"No!" she answered. "With them it is different. I can scarcely yet
realize that I have a brother: think what it must be to Emilie to have
the man whom she loved come back from the grave. Listen!"

Outside they heard the sound of galloping horses. A moment later the
Baron de Courcelles issued from the inn and crossed the lawn towards
Madame de Melbain.

"Madame," he said, "the man who was caught in the park last night is,
without doubt, a spy from Mexonia! He can be charged with nothing more
serious than trespass, and in a few minutes he will be free. Should he
return, this"--he glanced towards Duncan--"would be the end. I have a
carriage waiting for you."

Madame de Melbain rose at once. With a little gesture of excuse she drew
Duncan on one side.

"Wait here," she begged, "until you hear from me. Baron de Courcelles is
my one faithful friend at Court. I am going to consult with him."

"I shall see you again?" he asked.

She hesitated.

"Is it wise?" she murmured. "If my enemies knew that you were alive,
that I had seen you here, what chance should I have, do you think,
before the courts?"

He bent over her hands.

"I have brought enough trouble upon you," he said simply. "I will wait!
Only I hope that there will be work for me to do!"

CHAPTER XXXII

AT THE HTEL SPLENDIDE

"I asked you," the Baron remarked, helping himself to _hors d'oeuvres,_
"to dine with me here, because I fancy that the little inn at St. tarpe
is being closely watched. Always when one has private matters to discuss,
I believe in a certain amount of publicity. Here we are in a quiet
corner, it is true, but we are surrounded by several hundreds of other
people. They are far too occupied with their own affairs to watch us. It
is the last place, for instance, where our friend from Mexonia would
dream of looking for us."

The three men were seated at a small round table in the great
dining-room of the _Htel Splendide_ of Dinant-on-Sea. The season was at
its height, and the room was full. On every side they were surrounded by
chattering groups of English tourists and French holiday makers. Outside
on the promenade a band was playing, and a leisurely crowd was passing
back and forth.

"The lady whom we will continue, if you please, to call Madame de
Melbain," the Baron continued, "has desired me to take you two gentlemen
into our entire confidence. You are both aware that for eighteen months
the suit for divorce brought by that lady's husband has been before a
special court."

"One understands," Wrayson remarked, "that the sympathies of all Europe
are with--the lady."

The Baron bowed.

"Entirely. Her cause, too, is the popular one in Mexonia. It is the
ministry and the aristocracy who are on the other side. These are anxious
for an alliance which will safeguard Mexonia from certain dangers to
which she is at present exposed. Madame de Melbain, as you are both
aware, comes from one of the oldest families of Europe, but it is a
family without any political significance. The betrothal was completed
before Frederick stood so near to the throne. If his accession had seemed
even a likely thing at the time, it would not have been sanctioned. I
speak as the staunch friend of the lady whose cause is so dear to us, but
I wish you to grasp the facts."

There was a brief pause whilst a fresh course was served by an apologetic
and breathless waiter. The three men spoke together for a while on some
chance subject. Then, when they were alone, the Baron continued.

"The court, although powerful influences were at work, found itself
unable to pronounce the decree which those in authority so much desired.
All that those who were behind the scenes could do was to keep the case
open, hoping that while living apart from her husband some trifling
indiscretion on the part of Madame would afford them a pretext for giving
the desired verdict. I need not say that, up to the present, no such
indiscretion has occurred. But all the time we have been on the brink of
a volcano!"

"The letters!" Duncan muttered.

The Baron nodded.

"About a year ago," he said, "Madame de Melbain received a terrifying
letter from the miscreant into whose hands they had fallen. Madame very
wisely made a confidant of me, and, with the Baroness de Sturm, I left
at once for London, and saw this man. I very soon persuaded myself that
he had the letters and that he knew their value. He asked a sum for them
which it was utterly unable for us to pay."

"Did he explain," Duncan asked, "how they came into his hands?"

"He said that they were picked up on the battlefield of Colenso at
first," the Baron declared. "Afterwards he was brutally frank. You see
your death was gazetted, a fact of which he was no doubt aware. He
admitted that they had been given to him to destroy."

Duncan leaned across the table.

"Baron," he said, "who killed that man? He cheated me of my task, but I
should like to know who it was."

"So would a great many more of us," the Baron answered. "The fact is, we
are in the curious position of having an unknown friend."

"An unknown friend?" Duncan repeated.

The Baron nodded.

"We paid that man two thousand a year," he said, "but he was not
satisfied. He communicated secretly with the other side, and they agreed
to buy the letters for ten thousand pounds. We knew the very night when
he had arranged to hand them over to a man named Bentham in London. But
we were powerless. We could not have found the half of ten thousand
pounds. One thing only was tried, and that very nearly ended in disaster.
An attempt was made to steal the letters. Mr. Wrayson will tell you about
that--presently."

A _matre d'htel_ paused at their table to hope that messieurs were well
served. In a season so busy it was not possible to give the attention to
every one they would like! Was there anything he could do? Messieurs were
drinking, he noticed, the best wine in the cellars! He trusted that they
approved of it. The young lady there with the diamond collar and the
wonderful eyes? He bent a little lower over the table. That was
Mademoiselle Diane, of the Folies Bergres! And the gentleman? He had
registered under another name, but he was well known as the Baron X----,
a great capitalist in Paris!

The _matre d'htel_ passed on, well satisfied that he had interested the
three distinguished looking gentlemen who dined alone. Wrayson, as soon
as he was out of hearing, leaned over the table.

"It is on that night," he said to Duncan, "that I come into touch with
the affairs of which our friend has spoken. The man Barnes had a flat
corresponding to mine on the floor above. I returned home about midnight
and found a young lady, who was a complete stranger to me, engaged in
searching my desk. I turned up the lights and demanded an explanation.
She was apparently quite as much surprised to see me as I was to see her.
It appeared that she had imagined herself in Barnes' flat. Whilst I was
talking to her, the telephone bell rang. Some unknown person asked me to
convey a message to Barnes. When I had finished she was gone. I sat down
and tried to make head or tail of the affair. I couldn't. Barnes was a
disreputable little bounder! This girl was a lady. What connexion could
there be between the two? I fancied what might happen if she were
surprised by Barnes, and I determined not to go to bed until I heard her
come down. I fell asleep over my fire, and I woke with a start to find
her once more upon the threshold of my room. She was fainting--almost on
the point of collapse! I gave her some brandy and helped her downstairs.
At the door of the flat was a cab, and in it was the man Barnes,
dead--murdered!"

The breath came through Duncan's teeth with a little hiss. One could
fancy that he was wishing that his had been the hand to strike the blow.
The Baron glanced round casually. He called a waiter and complained of
the slow service, sent for another bottle of wine, and lit a cigarette.

"I think," he said, "that we will pause for a moment or so. Mr.
Wrayson's narrative is a little dramatic! Ah! Mademoiselle la danseuse
goes! What a toilet!"

Mademoiselle favoured their table with her particular regard as she
passed out, and accepted with a delightful smile the fan which she
dropped in passing, and which the Baron as speedily restored. He resumed
his seat, stroking his grey moustache.

"A very handsome young lady," he remarked. "I think that now we may
continue."

"The girl?" Duncan asked quickly.

"Was your sister," Wrayson answered.

There was a moment's intense silence. Duncan was doing his best to look
unconcerned, but the hand which played with his wineglass shook.

"How--was he murdered?"

"Strangled with a fine cord," Wrayson answered.

"In the cab?"

"There or inside the building! It is impossible to say."

"And no one was ever tried for the murder?" "No one," Wrayson answered.

Duncan swallowed a glassful of wine.

"But my sister," he said, "was in his rooms--she might have seen him!"

"Your sister's name was never mentioned in the matter," Wrayson said. "I
was the only witness who knew anything about her--and--I said nothing."

Duncan drew a little breath.

"Why?" he asked.

"An impulse," Wrayson answered. "I felt that she could not have been
concerned in such a deed, and I felt that if I told all that I knew, she
would have been suspected. So I said nothing. I saved her a good deal of
trouble and anxiety I dare say, and I do not believe that I interfered in
any way with the course of justice."

Duncan looked across the table and raised his glass.

"I should like to shake hands with you, Mr. Wrayson," he said, "only the
Baron would have fits. You acted like a brick. I only hope that Louise is
as grateful as she ought to be."

"My silence," Wrayson said, "was really an impulse. There have been times
since when I have wondered whether I was wise. There are people now at
work in London trying to solve the mystery of this murder. I acted upon
the supposition that no one had seen your sister leave the flat except
myself. I found afterwards that I was mistaken!"

The Baron leaned forward.

"One moment, Mr. Wrayson," he interrupted. "You have said that there are
people in London who are trying to solve the mystery of Barnes' death.
Who are they?"

"One is the man's brother," Wrayson answered, "if possible, a more
contemptible little cur than the man himself was. His only interest is
to discover the source of his brother's income. He wants money! Nothing
but money. The other is a much more dangerous person. His name is
Heneage, and he is an acquaintance of my own, a barrister, and a man of
education."

"Why does he interest himself in such an affair?" Duncan asked.

"Because the solution of such matters is a hobby of his," Wrayson
answered. "It was he who saw your sister and I come out from the flat
that morning. It was he who warned us both to leave England."

The Baron leaned forward in his chair.

"Forgive me, Mr. Wrayson," he said, "but there is a--lady at your right
who seems anxious to attract your attention. We are none of us anxious to
advertise our presence here. Is she, by any chance, a friend of yours?"

Wrayson looked quickly round. He understood at once the Baron's slight
pause. The ladies of the French half-world are skilled enough, when
necessary, in concealing their profession: their English sister, if she
attempts it at all, attempts a hopeless task. Over-powdered, over-rouged,
with hair at least two shades nearer copper coloured than last time he
had seen her, badly but showily dressed, it was his friend from the
Alhambra whose welcoming smile Wrayson received with a thrill of
interest. She was seated at a small table with a slightly less repulsive
edition of herself, and her smile changed at once into a gesture of
invitation. Wrayson rose to his feet almost eagerly.

"This is a coincidence," he said under his breath. "She, too, holds a
hand in the game!"

CHAPTER XXXIII

A HAND IN THE GAME

The diners at the _Hotel Splendide_ were a little surprised to see the
tall, distinguished-looking Englishman leave his seat and accost with
quiet deference the elder of the two women, whose entrance a few minutes
before had occasioned a good many not very flattering comments. The lady
who called herself Blanche meant to make the most of her opportunity.

"Fancy meeting you here," she remarked. "Flo, this is a friend of
mine. Mrs. Harrigod! Gentleman's name doesn't matter, does it?" she
added, laughing.

Wrayson bowed, and murmured something inaudible. Blanche's friend
regarded him with unconcealed and flattering approval.

"Over here for a little flutter, I suppose?" she remarked. "It is so hot
in town we had to get away somewhere. Are you alone with your friends?"

"Quite alone," Wrayson answered. "We are only staying for a day or two."

The lady nodded.

"We shall stay for a week if we like it," she said. "If not, we shall go
on to Dieppe. Did you get my letter?"

"Letter!" Wrayson repeated. "No! Have you written to me?"

She nodded.

"I wrote to you a week ago."

"I have been staying near here" Wrayson said, "and my letters have not
been forwarded."

He bent a little lower over the table. The perfume of violet scent was
almost unbearable, but he did not flinch.

"You had some news for me?" he asked eagerly.

"Yes!" she answered. "I'm not going to tell you now. We are going to
sit outside after dinner. You must come to us there. No good having
smart friends unless you make use of them," she added, with a shrill
little laugh.

"I shall take some chairs and order coffee," Wrayson said. "In the
meantime--?"

"If you like to order us a bottle of champagne and tell the waiter to put
it on your bill, we shan't be offended," Blanche declared. "We were just
wondering whether we could run to it."

"You must do me the honour of being my guests for dinner also,"
Wrayson declared, calling a waiter. "It was very good of you to
remember to write."

The friend murmured something about it being very kind of the gentleman.
Blanche shrugged her shoulders.

"Oh! I remember right enough," she said. "It wasn't that. But there, wait
until I've told you about it. It's an odd story, and sometimes I wish I'd
never had anything to do with it. I get a cold shiver every time I think
of that old man who took me to dine at Luigi's. Outside in three-quarters
of an hour, then!"

"I will keep some chairs and order coffee," Wrayson said, turning away.

"And bring one of your friends," Blanche added. "It won't do him any
harm. We shan't bite him!"

"I will bring them both," Wrayson promised.

He went back to his own table and people watched him curiously.

"I believe," he said quietly, as he sat down, "that if there is a person
in the world who can put us on the track of those letters, it is the lady
with whom I have just been talking."

The Baron looked across at the two women with new interest.

"What on earth have they got to do with it, Wrayson?" he asked.

"The fair one was a friend of Barnes'," Wrayson answered. "It was at her
flat that he called the night he was murdered."

"You are sure," Duncan asked, "that the letters have not been found yet
by the other side?"

"Quite sure," the Baron answered. "We have agents in Mexonia, even
about the King's person, and we should hear in an hour if they had
the letters."

"Presuming, then," Duncan said thoughtfully, "that Barnes was murdered
for the sake of these letters--and as he was murdered on the very night
he was going to hand them over to the other side, I don't see what else
we can suppose,--the crime would appear to have been committed by some
one on our side."

"It certainly does seem so," the Baron admitted.

"And this man Bentham! He was the agent for--the King's people. He too
was murdered! Baron!"

"Well?"

"Who killed Barnes? He robbed me of my right, but I want to know."

The Baron shook his head.

"I have no idea," he said gravely. "We have agents in London, of course,
but no one who would go to such lengths. I do not know who killed
Barnes, nor do I know who killed Bentham."

There was a short silence. The Baron's words were impressively spoken.
It was impossible to doubt their veracity. Yet both to Wrayson and to
Duncan they had a serious import. The same thought was present in the
mind of all three of them--and each avoided the others' eyes. Wrayson,
however, was not disposed to let the matter go without one more
effort. The corners of his mouth tightened, and he looked the Baron
steadily in the face.

"Baron," he said, "I have told you that there is a man in London who has
set himself to solve the mystery of Barnes' death. The two people whom he
would naturally suspect are Miss Fitzmaurice and myself. There is strong
presumptive evidence against us, owing to my silence at the inquest, and
at any moment we might either of us have to face this charge. Knowing
this, do I understand you to say that, if the necessity arose, you would
be absolutely unable to throw any light upon the matter?"

"Absolutely!" the Baron declared. "Both those murders are as complete an
enigma to me as to you."

"You have agents in London?"

"Agents, yes!" the Baron declared, "but they are in the nature of
detectives only. They would not dream of going to such lengths, either
with instructions or without them. Neither, I am sure, would any one who
was employed to collect evidence upon the other side."

There was no more to be said. Wrayson rose to his feet a little abruptly.

"The air is stifling here," he said. "Let us go outside and take
our coffee."

They found seats on the veranda, looking out upon the promenade. The
Baron looked a little dubiously at the stream of people passing backwards
and forwards.

"Are we not a little conspicuous?" he remarked.

"Does it really matter?" Wrayson asked. "It is only for this evening. I
shall leave for London tomorrow, in any event. Besides, it is part of the
bargain that we take coffee with these ladies. Here they are."

Wrayson introduced his friends with perfect gravity. Chairs were found,
and coffee and liqueurs ordered. Wrayson contrived to sit on the outside,
and next to his copper-haired friend.

"Now for our little talk," he said. "Will you have a cigarette? You'll
find these all right."

She threw a sidelong glance at him and sighed. What an exceedingly
earnest young man this was!

"Well," she said, "I know you'll give me no peace till I've told you.
There may be nothing in it. That's for you to find out. I think myself
there is. It was last Thursday night in the promenade at the Alhambra
that I saw her!"

"Saw whom?" Wrayson interrupted.

"I'm coming to that," she declared. "Let me tell you my own way. I was
talking to a friend, and I overheard all that she said. She was quietly
dressed, and she looked frightened; a poor, pale-faced little thing she
was anyway, and she was walking up and down like a stage-doll, peering
round corners and looking everywhere, as though she'd lost somebody.
Presently she went up to one of the attendants, and I heard her ask him
if he knew a Mr. Augustus Howard who came there often. The man shook his
head, and then she tried to describe him. It was a bit flattering, but
an idea jumped into my head all of a sudden that it was Barnes she was
looking for."

"By Jove!" Wrayson muttered, under his breath. "Did you speak to her?"

She nodded.

"I waited till she was alone, and then I made her sit down with me and
describe him all over again. By the time she'd finished, I was jolly well
sure that it was Barnes she was after."

"Did you tell her?" Wrayson asked.

"Not I!" she answered. "I didn't want a scene there, and besides, it's
your little show, not mine. I told her that I felt sure I recognized him,
and that if she would be in the same place at nine o'clock a week from
that night, I could send some one whom I thought would be able to tell
her about her friend. That was last Thursday. You want to be just outside
the refreshment-room at nine o'clock to-morrow night, and you can't
mistake her. She looks as though she'd blown in from an A B C shop."

Wrayson possessed himself of her hand for a moment in an impulse of
apparent gallantry. Something which rustled pleasantly was instantly and
safely transferred to the metal purse which hung from her waistband.

"You will allow me?" he murmured.

"Rather," she answered, with a little laugh. "What a stroke of luck it
was meeting you here! Flo and I were both stony. We hadn't a sovereign
between us when we'd paid for our tickets."

"Have you seen anything of Barnes' brother?" he asked.

"Once or twice at the Alhambra," she answered.

"He was wearing his brother's clothes, but he looked pretty dicky."

"You didn't mention this young woman to him, I suppose?" he asked.

She shook her head.

"Not I! You're the only person I've told. Hope it brings you luck."

Wrayson rose to his feet. The Baron and Duncan followed his example. They
took leave of the ladies and turned towards the promenade.

"I'm going to London by the morning boat," Wrayson announced. "I believe
I'm on the track of those letters."

They walked up and down for a few moments talking. As they passed the
front of the hotel, they heard a shrill peal of laughter. Blanche and her
friend were talking to a little group of men. The Baron smiled.

"We have broken the ice for them," he said, "but I am afraid that we are
already forgotten."

CHAPTER XXXIV

AN ILL-ASSORTED COUPLE

Wrayson looked anxiously at his watch. It was already ten minutes past
nine, and although he was standing on the precise spot indicated, there
was no one about who in the least resembled the young woman of whom he
was in search. The overture to the ballet was being played, a good many
people were strolling about, or seated at the small round tables, but
they were all of the usual class, the ladies ornate and obvious, and all
having the air of _habitus_. In vain Wrayson scanned the faces of the
passers-by, and even the occupants of the back seats. There was no sign
of the young woman of whom he was in search.

Presently he began to stroll somewhat aimlessly about, still taking note
of every one amongst the throng, and in a little while he caught sight of
a familiar figure, sitting alone at one of the small round tables. He
accosted him at once.

"How are you, Heneage?" he said quietly. "What are you doing in town at
this time of the year?"

Heneage started when he was addressed, and his manner, when he recognized
Wrayson, lacked altogether its usual composure.

"I'm all right," he answered. "Beastly hot in town, though, isn't it? I'm
off in a day or two. Where have you been to?"

"North of France," Wrayson answered. "You look as though you wanted
a change!"

"I'm going to Scotland directly I can get away."

The two men looked at one another for a moment. Heneage was certainly
looking ill. There were dark lines under his eyes, and his face seemed
thinner. Then, too, he was still in his morning clothes, his tie was ill
arranged, and his linen not unexceptionable. Wrayson was puzzled.
Something had gone wrong with the man.

"You see," he said quietly, "I have been forced to disregard your
warning. I shall be in England for some little time at any rate. May I
ask, am I in any particular danger?"

Heneage shook his head.

"Not from me, at any rate!"

Wrayson looked at him for a moment steadily.

"Do you mean that, Heneage?" he asked.

"Yes!"

"You are satisfied, then, that neither I nor the young lady had
anything to do with the death of Morris Barnes?" Heneage moved in his
chair uneasily.

"Yes!" he answered. "Don't talk to me about that damned business," he
added, with a little burst of half-suppressed passion. "I've done with
it. Come and have a drink."

Wrayson drew a sigh of relief. Perhaps, for the first time, he realized
how great a weight this thing had been upon his spirits. He had feared
Heneage!--not this man, but the cold, capable Stephen Heneage of his
earlier acquaintance; feared him not only for his own sake, but hers.
After all, his visit to the Alhambra had brought some good to him.

Heneage had risen to his feet.

"We'll go into the American bar," he said. "Not here. The women fuss
round one so. I'm glad you've turned up, Wrayson. I've got the hump!"

The bar was crowded, but they found a quiet corner. Heneage ordered a
large brandy and soda, and drunk half of it at a gulp.

"How's every one?" Wrayson asked. "I haven't been in the club yet."

"All right, I believe. I haven't been in myself for a week,"
Heneage answered.

Wrayson looked at him in surprise.

"Haven't been in the club for a week?" he repeated. "That's rather
unusual, isn't it?"

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