The Great Secret by E. Phillips Oppenheim

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  • 1908
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I. ROOM No. 317







































XL. _The Oracle_ SPEAKS


ROOM NO. 317

I laid my papers down upon the broad mahogany counter, and exchanged greetings with the tall frock-coated reception clerk who came smiling towards me.

“I should like a single room on the third floor east, about the middle corridor,” I said. “Can you manage that for me? 317 I had last time.”

He shook his head at once. “I am very sorry, Mr. Courage,” he said, “but all the rooms in that corridor are engaged. We will give you one on the second floor at the same price.”

I was about to close with his offer, when, with a word of excuse, he hurried away to intercept some one who was passing through the hall. A junior clerk took his place, and consulted the plan for a moment doubtfully.

“There are several rooms exactly in the locality you asked for,” he remarked, “which are simply being held over. If you would prefer 317, you can have it, and I will give 217 to our other client.”

“Thank you,” I answered, “I should prefer 317 if you can manage it.”

He scribbled the number upon a ticket and handed it to the porter, who stood behind with my dressing-case. A page caught up the key, and I followed them to the lift. In the light of things which happened afterwards, I have sometimes wondered what became of the unfortunate junior clerk who gave me room number 317.

* * * * *

It was six o’clock when I arrived at the Hotel Universal. I washed, changed my clothes, and was shaved in the barber’s shop. Afterwards, I spent, I think, the ordinary countryman’s evening about town–having some regard always to the purpose of my visit. I dined at my club, went on to the Empire with a couple of friends, supped at the Savoy, and, after a brief return visit to the club, a single game of billiards and a final whisky and soda, returned to my hotel contented and sleepy, and quite prepared to tumble into bed. By some chance–the history of nations, as my own did, will sometimes turn upon such slight events–I left my door ajar whilst I sat upon the edge of the bed finishing a cigarette and treeing my boots, preparatory to depositing them outside. Suddenly my attention was arrested by a somewhat curious sound. I distinctly heard the swift, stealthy footsteps of a man running at full speed along the corridor. I leaned forward to listen. Then, without a moment’s warning, they paused outside my door. It was hastily pushed open and as hastily closed. A man, half clothed and panting, was standing facing me–a strange, pitiable object. The boots slipped from my fingers. I stared at him in blank bewilderment.

“What the devil–” I began.

He made an anguished appeal to me for silence. Then I heard other footsteps in the corridor pausing outside my closed door. There was a moment’s silence, then a soft muffled knocking. I moved towards it, only to be met by the intruder’s frenzied whisper–

“For God’s sake keep quiet!”

The man’s hot breath scorched my cheek, his hands gripped my arm with nervous force, his hysterical whisper was barely audible, although his lips were within a few inches of my ear.

“Keep quiet,” he muttered, “and don’t open the door!”

“Why not?” I asked.

“They will kill me,” he answered simply.

I resumed my seat on the side of the bed. My sensations were a little confused. Under ordinary circumstances, I should probably have been angry. It was impossible, however, to persevere in such a sentiment towards the abject creature who cowered by my side.

Yet, after all, was he abject? I looked away from the door, and, for the second time, studied carefully the features of the man who had sought my protection in so extraordinary a manner. He was clean shaven, his features were good; his face, under ordinary circumstances, might have been described as almost prepossessing. Just now it was whitened and distorted by fear to such an extent that it gave to his expression a perfectly repulsive cast. It was as though he looked beyond death and saw things, however dimly, more terrible than human understanding can fitly grapple with. There were subtleties of horror in his glassy eyes, in his drawn and haggard features.

Nothing, perhaps, could more completely illustrate the effect his words and appearance had upon me than the fact that I accepted his extraordinary statement without any instinct of disbelief! Here was I, an Englishman of sound nerves, of average courage, and certainly untroubled with any superabundance of imagination, domiciled in a perfectly well-known, if somewhat cosmopolitan, London hotel, and yet willing to believe, on the statement of a person whom I had never seen before in my life, that, within a few yards of me, were unseen men bent upon murder.

From outside I heard a warning chink of metal, and, acting upon impulse, I stepped forward and slipped the bolt of my door. Immediately afterwards a key was softly inserted in the lock and turned. The door strained against the bolt from some invisible pressure. Then there came the sound of retreating footsteps. We heard the door of the next room opened and closed. A moment later the handle of the communicating door was tried. I had, however, bolted it before I commenced to undress.

“What the mischief are you about?” I cried angrily. “Can’t you leave my room alone?”

No answer; but the panels of the communicating door were bent inwards until it seemed as though they must burst. I crossed the room to where my portmanteau stood upon a luggage-rack, and took from it a small revolver. When I stood up with it in my hand, the effect upon my visitor was almost magical. He caught at my wrist and wrested it from my fingers. He grasped it almost lovingly.

“I can at least die now like a man,” he muttered. “Thank Heaven for this!”

I sat down again upon the bed. I looked at the pillow and the unturned coverlet doubtfully. They had obviously not been disturbed. I glanced at my watch! it was barely two o’clock. I had not even been to bed. I could not possibly be dreaming! The door was straining now almost to bursting. I began to be annoyed.

“What the devil are you doing there?” I called out.

Again there was no answer, but a long crack had appeared on the panel. My companion was standing up watching it. He grasped the revolver as one accustomed to the use of such things. Once more I took note of him.

I saw now that he was younger than I had imagined, and a trifle taller. The ghastly pallor, which extended even to his lips, was unabated, but his first paroxysm of fear seemed, at any rate, to have become lessened. He looked now like a man at bay indeed, but prepared to fight for his life. He had evidently been dressed for the evening, for his white tie was still hanging about his neck. Coat and waistcoat he had left behind in his flight, but his black trousers were well and fashionably cut, and his socks were of silk, with small colored clocks. The fingers were white and delicate, and his nails well cared for. There was one thing more, the most noticeable of all perhaps. Although his face was the face of a young man, his hair was as white as snow.

“Look here,” I said to him, “can’t you give me some explanation as to what all this means? You haven’t been getting yourself into trouble, have you?”

“Trouble!” he repeated vaguely, with his eyes fixed upon the door.

“With the police!” I explained.

“No, these are not the police,” he answered.

“I don’t mind a row particularly,” I continued, “but I like to know something about it. What do these people want with you?”

“My life!” he answered grimly.


“I cannot tell you!”

A sudden and ridiculously obvious idea struck me for the first time. A small electric bell and telephone instrument were by the side of the bed. I leaned over and pressed the knob with my finger. My companion half glanced towards me, and back again instantly towards the door.

“No use,” he muttered, “they will not come!”

Whereupon a thoroughly British sentiment was aroused in me. Of the liberties which had been taken with my room, both by this man and by his pursuers, I scarcely thought, but that any one should presume to interfere with my rights as an hotel guest angered me! I kept my finger on the knob of the bell; I summoned chambermaid, waiter, valet and boots. It was all to no effect. No one came. The telephone remained silent. The door was on the point of yielding.

I abandoned my useless efforts, and turned towards the man whom I was sheltering.

“How many are there in the next room?” I asked.


“If I stand by you, will you obey me?”

He hesitated for a moment. Then he nodded.


“Get behind the bed then, and give me the revolver.”

He parted with it reluctantly. I took it into my hand, only just in time. The door at last had burst away from its hinges. With perfect self-possession I saw one of the two men who had been engaged in its demolition calmly lean it up against the wall. The other stared at me as though I had been a ghost.



I could see at once that neither of the two men who confronted me had really believed that the room into which their victim had escaped was already occupied by any other person than the one of whom they were in pursuit. Their expression of surprise was altogether genuine. I myself was, perhaps, equally taken aback. Nothing in their appearance suggested in the least the midnight assassin! I turned towards the one who had leaned the door up against the wall, and addressed him.

“May I ask to what I am indebted for the pleasure of this unexpected visit?” I inquired.

The man took out a handkerchief and mopped his forehead. He was short and stout, with a bushy brown beard, and eyes which blinked at me in amazement from behind his gold-rimmed spectacles. He wore a grey tweed travelling suit, and brown boots. He had exactly the air of a prosperous middle-class tradesman from the provinces.

“I am afraid, sir,” he said, “that we have made a mistake–in which case we shall owe you a thousand apologies. We are in search of a friend whom we certainly believed that we had seen enter your room.”

Now all the time he was talking his eyes were never still. Every inch of my room that was visible they ransacked. His companion, too, was engaged in the same task. There were no traces of my visitor to be seen.

“You can make your apologies and explanations to the management in the morning,” I answered grimly “Pardon me!”

I held out my arm across the threshold, and for the first time looked at the other man who had been on the point of entering. He was slight and somewhat sallow, with very high forehead and small deep-set eyes. He was dressed in ordinary evening clothes, the details of which, however, betrayed his status. He wore a heavy gold chain, a dinner coat, and a made-up white tie, with the ends tucked in under a roll collar. He appeared to be objectionable, but far from dangerous.

“You are still a trifle over-anxious respecting the interior of my room!” I remarked, pushing him gently back.

He spoke to me for the first time. He spoke slowly and formally, and his accent struck me as being a little foreign.

“Sir,” he said, “you may not be aware that the person of whom we are in search is a dangerous, an exceedingly dangerous character. If he should be concealed in your room the consequences to yourself might be most serious.”

“Thank you,” I said, “I am quite capable of taking care of myself.”

Both men were standing as close to me as I was disposed to permit. I fancied that they were looking me over, as though to make an estimate of the possible amount of resistance I might be able to offer should they be disposed to make a rush. The odds, if any, must have seemed to them somewhat in my favor, for I was taller by head and shoulders than either of them, and a life-long devotion to athletics had broadened my shoulders, and given me strength beyond the average. Besides, there was the revolver in my right hand, which I took occasion now to display. The shorter of the two men again addressed me.

“My dear sir,” he said softly, “it is necessary that you should not misapprehend the situation. The person of whom we are in search is one whom we are pledged to find. We have no quarrel with you! Why embroil yourself in an affair with which you have no concern?”

“I am not seeking to do so,” I answered. “It is you and your friend who are the aggressors. You have forced an entrance into my room in a most unwarrantable fashion. Your missing friend is nothing to me. I desire to be left in peace.”

Even as I spoke the words, I knew that there was to be no peace for me that night, for, stealthy though their movements were, I saw something glisten in the right hands of both of them. The odds now assumed a somewhat different appearance. I drew back a pace, and stood prepared for what might happen. My _vis-à-vis_ in the gold-rimmed spectacles addressed me again.

“Sir,” he said, “we will not bandy words any longer. It is better that we understand one another. There is a man hidden in your room whom we mean to have. You will understand that we are serious, when I tell you that we have engaged every room in this corridor, and the wires of your telephone are cut. If you will permit us to come in and find him, I promise that nothing shall happen in your room, that you shall not be compromised in any way. If you refuse, I must warn you that you will become involved in a matter more serious than you have any idea of.”

For answer, I discharged my revolver twice at the ceiling, hoping to arouse some one, either guests or servants, and fired again at the shoulder of the man whose leap towards me was like the spring of a wild-cat. Both rooms were suddenly plunged into darkness, the elder of the two men, stepping back for a moment, had turned out the electric lights. For a short space of time everything was chaos. My immediate assailant I flung away from me with ease; his companion, who tried to rush past me in the darkness, I struck with a random blow on the side of the head, so that he staggered back with a groan. I knew very well that neither of them had passed me, and yet I fancied, as I paused to take breath for a moment, that I heard stealthy footsteps behind, in the room which I had been defending. I called again for help, and groped about on the wall for the electric light switches. The footsteps ceased, a sudden cry rang out from somewhere behind the bed-curtains, a cry so full of horror, that I felt the blood run cold in my veins, and the sweat break out upon my forehead. I sought desperately for the little brass knobs of the switches, listening all the while for those footsteps. I heard nothing save a low, sickening groan, which followed upon the cry, but I felt, a moment later, the hot breath of a human being upon my neck. I sprang aside, barely in time to escape a blow obviously aimed at me with some weapon or other, which cut through the air with the soft, nervous swish of an elastic life-preserver. I knew that some one who sought my life was within a few feet of me, striving to make sure before the second blow was aimed. In my stockinged feet I crept along by the wall. I could hear no sound of movement anywhere near me, and yet I knew quite well that my hidden assailant was close at hand. Just then, I heard at last what I had been listening for so long and so eagerly, footsteps and a voice in the corridor outside. Somebody sprang past me in the darkness, and, for a second, amazement kept me motionless. The thing was impossible, or I could have sworn that my feet were brushed by the skirts of a woman’s gown, and that a whiff of perfume–it was like the scent of dying violets–floated past me. Then the door of my room, from which I had withdrawn the bolt, was flung suddenly open, and almost simultaneously my fingers touched the knob of the electric light fittings. The whole place was flooded with light. I looked around, half dazed, but eager to see what had become of my assailants. Both rooms were empty, or apparently so. There was no sign or evidence of any other person there save myself. On the threshold of my own apartment was standing the night porter.

“Have you let them go by?” I called out. “Did you see them in the corridor?”

“Who, sir?” the porter asked stolidly.

“Two men who forced their way into my room–look at the door. One was short and stout and wore glasses, the other was taller and thin. They were here a few seconds ago. Unless they passed you, they are in one of the rooms now.”

The man came inside, and looked around him.

“I can’t see any one, sir! There wasn’t a soul about outside.”

“Then we had better look for them!” I exclaimed. “Be careful, for they are armed.”

There was no one in the adjoining room. We had searched it thoroughly before I suddenly remembered the visitor who had been the innocent cause of these exciting moments.

“By Jove!” I exclaimed, “there’s a wounded man by the side of my bed! I quite forgot him, I was so anxious to catch these blackguards.”

The porter looked at me with distinct suspicion.

“A wounded man, sir?” he remarked. “Where?”

“On the other side of the bed,” I answered. “It’s the man all this row was about.”

I hurried round to where I had left my terrified visitor hiding behind the bed-curtain. There was no one there. We looked under the bed, even in the wardrobes. It was obvious, when we had finished our search, that not a soul was in either of the rooms except our two selves. The porter looked at me, and I looked at the porter.

“It’s a marvellous thing!” I declared.

“It is,” the porter agreed.

“You can see for yourself that that door has been battered in,” I remarked, pointing to it.

The fellow smiled in such a manner, that I should have liked to have kicked him.

“I can see that it has been battered in,” he said. “Oh! yes! I can see that!”

“You perhaps don’t believe my story?” I asked calmly.

“It isn’t my place to believe or disbelieve it,” he answered. “I certainly didn’t meet any one outside–much less three people. I shall make my report to the manager in the morning, sir! Good night.”

So I was left alone, and, extraordinary as it may seem, I was asleep in less than half an hour.



I was awakened at about nine o’clock the next morning by a loud and persistent knocking at the door of my room. I sat up in bed and shouted,

“Come in!”

A waiter entered bearing a note, which he handed to me on a salver. I looked at him, around the room, which was still in some confusion, and down at the note, which was clearly addressed to me, J. Hardross Courage, Esq. Suddenly my eyes fell upon the smashed door, and I remembered at once the events of the previous night. I tore open the note. It was typewritten and brief:–

“The manager presents his compliments to Mr. Hardross Courage, and would be obliged if he will arrange to vacate his room by midday. The manager further regrets that he is unable to offer Mr. Courage any other accommodation.”

“Tell the valet to let me have a bath in five minutes,” I ordered, springing out of bed, “and bring me some tea. Look sharp!”

I was in a furious temper. The events of the night before, strange though they had been, left me comparatively unmoved. I was filled, however, with a thoroughly British indignation at the nature of this note. My room had been broken into in the middle of the night; I had narrowly escaped being myself the victim of a serious and murderous assault; and now I was calmly told to leave the hotel! I hastened downstairs and into the office.

“I wish to see the manager as soon as possible,” I said to one of the reception clerks behind the counter.

“Certainly, sir, what name?” he asked; drawing a slip of paper towards him.

“Courage–” I told him, “Mr. Hardross Courage!”

The man’s manner underwent a distinct change.

“I am sorry, sir,” he said, “but Mr. Blumentein is engaged. Is there anything I can do?”

“No!” I answered him bluntly. “I want the manager, and no one else will do. If he cannot see me now I will wait. If he does not appear in a reasonable time, I shall go direct to Scotland Yard and lay certain information before the authorities there.”

The clerk stared at me, and then smiled in a tolerant manner. He was short and dark, and wore glasses. His manner was pleasant enough, but he had the air of endeavoring to soothe a fractious child–which annoyed me.

“I will send a message down to Mr. Blumentein, sir,” he said, “but he is very busy this morning.”

He called a boy, but, after a moment’s hesitation, he left the office himself. I lit a cigarette, and waited with as much patience as I could command. The people who passed in and out interested me very little. Suddenly, however, I gave a start and looked up quickly.

A woman had entered the reception-room, passing so close to me that her skirts almost brushed my feet. She was tall, quietly and elegantly dressed, and she was followed by a most correct looking maid, who carried a tiny Japanese spaniel. I did not see her face, although I knew by her carriage and figure that she must be young. That she was a person of importance it was easy to see by the attention which was at once paid her. Her interest for me, however, lay in none of these things. I had been conscious, as she had passed, of a whiff of faint, very delicate perfume–and with it, of a sudden, sharp recollection. It was a perfume which I had distinguished but once before in my life, and that only a few hours ago.

She gave her key in at the desk, received some letters, and turning round passed within a few feet of me. Perhaps she realized that I was watching her with more than ordinary attention, and her eyes fell for a moment carelessly upon mine. They were withdrawn at once, and she passed on with the slightest of frowns–just sufficient rebuke to the person who had forgotten himself so far as to stare at a woman in a public place. The maid, too, glanced towards me with a slight flash in her large black eyes, as though she, also, resented my impertinence, and the little Japanese spaniel yawned as he was carried past, and showed me a set of dazzling white teeth. I was in disgrace all round, because I had looked for a second too long into his mistress’ deep blue eyes and pale, proud face. Nevertheless, I presumed even further. I changed my position, so that I could see her where she stood in the hall, talking to her maid.

Like a man who looks half unwillingly into the land of hidden things, knowing very well that his own doom or joy is there, if he has the wit to see and the strength to grasp it, so did I deliberately falsify the tenets and obligations of my order, and, standing half in the hall, half in the office, I stared at the lady and the maid and the spaniel. She was younger even than I had thought her, and I felt that there was something foreign in her appearance, although of what nationality she might be I could not determine. Her hair was of a shade between brown and golden, and, as she stood now, with her back to me, I could see that it was so thick and abundant that her maid’s art had been barely sufficient to keep it within bounds. In the front it was parted in the middle, and came rather low down over her forehead. Now I could see her profile–the rather long neck, which the lace scarf about her shoulders seemed to leave a little more than usually bare; the soft and yet firm outline of features, delicate enough and yet full of character. Just then her maid said something which seemed to call her attention to me. She half turned her head and looked me full in the face. Her eyes seemed to narrow a little, as though she were short-sighted. Then she very slowly and very deliberately turned her back upon me, and continued talking to her maid. My cheeks were tanned enough, but I felt the color burn as I prepared to move away. At that moment the lift stopped just opposite to her, and Mr. Blumentein stepped out, followed by his dapper little clerk.

Mr. Blumentein was a man of less than medium height, with grey hair and beard, powerfully built and with a sleek, well-groomed appearance. Hat in hand, and with many bows and smiles, he addressed a few remarks to the lady, who answered him courteously, but with obvious condescension. Then he came on to me, and his manner was very different indeed. The dapper little clerk, who had pointed me out, slipped away.

“Mr. Courage?” he inquired; “you wished to speak to me.”

I handed him the typewritten communication which I had received.

“I wish for some explanation of this,” I said.

He glanced at it, and shrugged his shoulders. “I cannot permit such proceedings as took place last night in this hotel,” he said. “I can find no trace of the two persons whom you described as having broken into your room, and I am not at all satisfied with the explanations which have been given.”

“Indeed,” I answered. “I can assure you that I find the situation equally unsatisfactory. I come here in the ordinary way as a casual guest. My room is broken into in the middle of the night. I myself am assaulted, and another man, a stranger to me, is nearly murdered. If any explanations or apologies are due at all, I consider that they are due to me.”

Mr. Blumentein edged a little away.

“You should consider yourself exceedingly fortunate,” he declared, “to be spared the inconvenience of a police inquiry. My directors dislike very much any publicity given to brawls of this sort in the hotel, or you might find yourself in a somewhat awkward position. I have nothing more to say about it.”

He would have moved away, but I stood directly in front of him.

“It happens that I have,” I said. “I am not a thief or an adventurer, and my bona-fides are easily established. I am a magistrate in two counties; Sir Gilbert Hardross, who is a patron of your restaurant, is my cousin, and I expect him here to call for me within half an hour. I am up in town to play for my County against the M.C.C. at Lord’s; I am a person who is perfectly well known, and my word as to what happened last night will be readily accepted. If you do not alter your tone at once, I shall take a cab to Scotland Yard, and insist upon a complete investigation into the affairs of last night.”

There was no doubt as to the effect of my words upon Mr. Blumentein. He was seriously perturbed, and wholly unable to conceal it.

“You can prove what you say, Mr. Courage, I suppose?” he remarked hesitatingly.

“Absolutely!” I answered; “look in this week’s _Graphic_. You will see a photograph of me in the Medchestershire Cricket Team. Come into my room, and I will show you as many letters and papers as you please. Do you know that gentleman?”

“Certainly!” Mr. Blumentein answered, bowing low. “Good morning, Sir Charles!”

A young man in a flannel suit and straw hat sauntered up to us. He nodded condescendingly to the hotel manager, and shook hands with me.

“How are you, Courage?” he said. “I’m coming down to Lord’s this afternoon to see the match.”

He passed on. Mr. Blumentein was distinctly nervous.

“Will you do me the favor to come down to my room for a moment, Mr. Courage?” he begged. “I should like to speak to you in private.”

I followed him down into his office. He closed the door, and set his hat down upon the desk.

“I have caused the strictest inquiries to be made, and I have been unable to obtain the slightest trace either of the man whom you say took shelter in your room, or the two others you spoke of. Under those circumstances, you will understand that your story did not sound very probable.”

“Perhaps not,” I admitted; “but I don’t know what your night-porter could have been about, if he really saw nothing of them. I can give you a detailed description of all three if you like.”

“One moment,” Mr. Blumentein said, taking up pen and paper. “Now, if you please!”

I described the three men to the best of my ability, and Mr. Blumentein took down carefully all that I said.

“I will have the fullest inquiries made,” he promised, “and let you know the result. In the meantime, I trust that you will consider the letter I wrote you this morning unwritten. You will doubtless prefer to leave the hotel after what has happened, but another time, I trust that we may be honored by your patronage.”

I hesitated for a moment. It was clear that the man wanted to get rid of me. For the first time, the idea of remaining in the hotel occurred to me.

“I will consider the matter,” I answered. “In the meantime, I hope you will have inquiries made at once. The man who took refuge in my room was in a terrible state of fright, and from what I saw of the other two, I am afraid you may find this a more serious affair than you have any idea of. By the bye, one of the two told me that they had engaged every room in that corridor. You may be able to trace him by that.”

Mr. Blumentein shrugged his shoulders.

“That statement, at any rate, was a false one,” he said. “All the rooms in the vicinity of yours were occupied by regular customers.”

Now, in all probability, if Mr. Blumentein had looked me in the face when he made this last statement, I should have left the hotel within half an hour or so for good, and the whole episode, so far as I was concerned, would have been ended. But I could not help noticing a somewhat unaccountable nervousness in the man’s manner, and it flashed into my mind suddenly that he knew a good deal more than he meant to tell me. He was keeping something back. The more I watched him, the more I felt certain of it. I determined not to leave the hotel.

“Well,” I said, “we will look upon the whole affair last night as a misunderstanding. I will keep on my room for to-night, at any rate. I shall be having some friends to dine in the restaurant.”

The man’s face expressed anything but pleasure.

“Just as you like, Mr. Courage,” he said. “Of course, if, under the circumstances, you preferred to leave us, we should quite understand it!”

“I shall stay for to-night, at any rate,” I answered. “I am only up for a day or two.”

He walked with me to the door. I hesitated for a moment, and then asked him the question which had been in my mind for some time.

“By the bye, Mr. Blumentein,” I said, “if it is a permissible question, may I ask the name of the young lady with whom you were talking in the hall just now–a young lady with a French maid and a Japanese spaniel?”

Mr. Blumentein was perceptibly paler. His eyes were full of suspicion, almost fear.

“Why do you ask me that?” he inquired sharply.

“Out of curiosity, I am afraid,” I answered readily. “I am sorry if I have been indiscreet!”

The man made an effort to recover his composure. I could see, though, that, for some reason, my question had disquieted him.

“The lady’s name is Miss Van Hoyt,” he said slowly. “I believe that she is of a very well-known American family. She came here with excellent recommendations; but, beyond her name, I really know very little about her. Nothing more I can do for you, Mr. Courage?”

“Nothing at all, thank you,” I answered, moving towards the door.

“They have just telephoned down to say that a gentleman has called for you–Sir Gilbert Hardross, I believe.”

I nodded and glanced at the clock.

“Thanks!” I said, “I must hurry.”

“I will reserve a table for you in the restaurant to-night, sir,” Mr. Blumentein said, bowing me out.

“For three, at eight o’clock,” I answered.



My cousin, Gilbert Hardross, was eight years older than I, and of intensely serious proclivities. He was, I believe, a very useful member of the House, and absolutely conscientious in the discharge of what he termed his duty to his constituents. We drove down together to Lord’s, and knowing him to be a person almost entirely devoid of imagination, I forbore to make any mention of the events of the previous night. One question, however, I did ask him.

“What sort of an hotel is the Universal supposed to be, Gilbert? Rather a queer lot of people staying there, I thought.”

My cousin implied by a gesture that he was not surprised.

“Very cosmopolitan indeed,” he declared. “It is patronized chiefly, I believe, by a certain class of Americans and gentlemen of the sporting persuasion. The restaurant, of course, is good, and a few notabilities stay there now and then. I should have thought the Carlton would have suited you better.”

I changed the subject.

“How are politics?” I asked.

He looked at me as though in reproach at the levity of my question.

“You read the papers, I suppose?” he remarked. “You know for yourself that we are passing through a very critical time. Never,” he added, “since I have been in the House, have I known such a period of anxiety.”

Considering that Gilbert represented a rural constituency, and that his party was not even in office, I felt inclined to smile. However, I took him seriously.

“Same old war scare, I suppose?” I remarked.

“It has been a ‘scare’ for a good many years,” he replied seriously. “People seem inclined to forget that behind the shadow all the time there is the substance. I happen to know that there is a great deal of tension just now at the Foreign Office!”

“Things seem pretty much as they were six months ago,” I remarked. “There is no definite cause for alarm, is there?”

“No definite cause, perhaps, that we know of,” my cousin answered; “but there is no denying the fact that an extraordinary amount of apprehension exists in the best informed circles. As Lord Kestelen said to me yesterday, one seems to feel the thunder in the air.”

I was thoughtful for a moment. Perhaps, after all, I was inclined to envy my cousin. My own life was a simple and wholesome one enough, but it was far removed indeed from the world of great happenings. Just then, I felt the first premonitions of dissatisfaction.

“I believe I’m sorry after all, that I didn’t go in for a career of some sort,” I remarked.

My cousin looked gratified. He accepted my regret as a tribute to his own larger place in the world.

“In some respects,” he admitted, “it is regrettable. Yet you must remember that you are practically the head of the family. I have the title, but you have the estates and the money. You should find plenty to do!”

I nodded.

“Naturally! That isn’t exactly what I meant, though. Here we are, and by Jove, I’m late!”

My cousin cared for cricket no more than for any other sports, but because he represented Medchestershire, he made a point of coming to see his County play. He took up a prominent position in the pavilion enclosure, and requested me to inform the local reporters, who had come up from Medchester, of his presence. I changed into my flannels quickly, and was just in time to go out into the field with the rest of the team.

The morning’s cricket was not particularly exciting, and I had hard work to keep my thoughts fixed upon the game. Our bowling was knocked about rather severely, but wickets fell with reasonable frequency. It was just before luncheon time that the most surprising event of the day happened to me. The captain of the M.C.C., who had just made his fifty, drove a full pitch hard towards the boundary on the edge of which I was fielding. By fast sprinting, and a lot of luck, I brought off the catch, and, amidst the applause from the pavilion within a few feet of me, I heard my cousin’s somewhat patronizing congratulations:–

“Fine catch, Jim! Very fine catch indeed!”

I glanced round, and stood for a moment upon the cinder-path as though turned to stone. My cousin, who had changed his seat, was smiling kindly upon me a few yards away, and by his side, talking to him, was a young lady with golden-brown hair, a French maid dressed in black, and a Japanese spaniel. Her eyes met mine without any shadow of recognition. She looked upon me from her raised seat, as though I were a performer in some comedy being played for her amusement, in which she found it hard, however, to take any real interest. I went back to my place in the field, without any clear idea of whether I was upon my head or my heels, and my fielding for the rest of the time was purely mechanical.

In about half an hour the luncheon bell rang. I made straight for my cousin’s seat, and, to my intense relief, saw that neither of them had as yet quitted their places. Gilbert seemed somewhat surprised to see me!

“Well,” he remarked, “you haven’t done so badly after all. Five wickets for 120 isn’t it? You ought to get them out by four o’clock.”

He hesitated. I glanced towards his companion, and he had no alternative.

“Miss Van Hoyt,” he said, “will you allow me to introduce my cousin, Mr. Hardross Courage?”

She bowed a little absently.

“Are you interested in cricket, Miss Van Hoyt?” I asked inanely.

“Not in the least,” she answered. “I have a list somewhere–in my purse, I think–of English institutions which must be studied before one can understand your country-people. Cricket, I believe, is second on the list. Your cousin was kind enough to tell me about this match, and how to get here.”

“We are staying at the same hotel, I think,” I remarked.

“Very likely,” she answered, “I am only in London for a short time. Is the cricket over for the day now?”

I hastened to explain the luncheon arrangements. She rose at once.

“Then we will go,” she said, turning to her maid and addressing her in French. “Janette, we depart!”

The maid rose with suspicious alacrity. The spaniel yawned and looked at me out of the corner of his black eye. I believe that he recognized me.

“Dare I ask you to honor us by lunching with my cousin and myself here, Miss Van Hoyt?” I asked eagerly.

She smiled very slightly, but the curve of her lips was delightful.

“And see more cricket?” she asked. “No! I think not–many thanks all the same!”

“I will put you in a hansom,” my cousin said, turning towards her and ignoring me.

She looked over her shoulder and nodded. The maid looked at me out of her great black eyes, as though daring me to follow them, and, was it my fancy, or did that little morsel of canine absurdity really show me its white teeth on purpose? Anyhow, they strolled away, and left me there. I waited for Gilbert.

He reappeared in about five minutes, with a hateful smirk upon his well-cut but somewhat pasty features. I laid my hand upon his arm.

“Where did you meet her, Gilbert?” I asked. “Who is she? Where does she come from? How long have you known her?”

“Gently, my dear fellow!” he answered calmly. “I met her at Lady Tredwell’s about a fortnight ago. I really know very little about her, except that she seems a charming young lady.”

“Where does she come from?” I asked–“what country, I mean? She speaks like a foreigner!”

“Oh! she’s American, of course,” he told me–“a young American lady of fortune, I believe.”

“American,” I repeated vaguely, “are you sure?”

“Perfectly!” he answered.

“Any relatives here?” I asked.

“None that I know of,” he admitted.

“Any connection with the stage?”

“Certainly not! I told you that I met her at Lady Tredwell’s.”

We walked into the luncheon room in silence. Presently my cousin showed signs of irritation.

“What the mischief are you so glum about?” he asked.

I looked up.

“I am not glum,” I answered. “I was just thinking that the Hotel Universal seemed rather a queer place for a young lady with a French maid, a Japanese spaniel, and–no chaperon.”

“You are an ass!” my cousin declared.

* * * * *

It was not until the evening that Gilbert unbent. When, however, he studied the menu of the dinner which I had ordered for his delectation, and learned that I had invited his particular friend, Lord Kestelen, to meet him, he invited me to descend below to the American bar and take a cocktail while we waited for our guest.

“By the bye, Jim,” he remarked, slipping his arm through mine, “I thought that Miss Van Hoyt was particularly inquisitive about you this morning.”

“In what way?” I asked, at once interested.

“She wanted to know what you did–how you spent your time. When I told her that you had no profession, that you did nothing except play cricket and polo, and hunt and shoot, she seemed most unaccountably surprised. She appeared almost incredulous when I told her that you seldom came to London, and still more seldom went abroad. I wonder what she had in her head?”

“I have no idea,” I answered thoughtfully. “I suppose it was only ordinary curiosity. In America all the men do something.”

“That must be so, no doubt,” my cousin admitted, “but it didn’t sound like it. I wonder whether we shall see her this evening?”

I did not wonder at all! It seemed to me that I knew!



It was not until after my guests had departed, and I had almost given up hope, that I caught sight of her. She was seated at a table in the writing-room, and was in the act of sealing a letter. She looked up as I entered, and, after a second’s hesitation, bowed coldly. I summoned up all my pluck, however, and approached her.

“Good evening, Miss Van Hoyt!” I said.

“Good evening, Mr. Courage!” she answered, proceeding to stamp her envelope.

“Have you been to the theatre?” I asked.

“Not this evening,” she replied; “I have been to a meeting.”

“A meeting!” I repeated; “that sounds interesting!”

“I doubt whether you would have found it so,” she answered dryly.

Her manner, without being absolutely repellent, was far from encouraging. I found myself in the embarrassing position of having nothing left to say. I gave up all attempt at conversational philandering.

“May I talk to you for a few minutes, Miss Van Hoyt?” I asked.

She raised her head and looked at me meditatively. Her eyes were the color of early violets, but they were also very serious and very steady. She appeared to be deliberately taking stock of me, but I could not flatter myself that there was anything of personal interest in her regard.

“Yes!” she answered at last, “for a few minutes. Not here though. Go through the drawing-room on to the terrace, and wait for me there. Don’t go at once. Go downstairs and have a drink or something first.”

I could see her looking through the glass doors, and divining her wishes, I turned away at once. Mr. Blumentein was standing there, looking upon us. His smile was almost ghastly in its attempted cordiality. He took off his hat as I passed, and we exchanged some commonplace remark. I went downstairs and strolled up and down. The minutes passed ridiculously slowly. I looked at my watch a dozen times. At last I decided that I had waited long enough. I ascended the stairs, and made my way through the drawing-room on to the terrace. The place was deserted, but I had scarcely walked to the farther end, before I heard the soft trailing of a woman’s skirt close at hand. I looked up eagerly, and she stepped out from the drawing-room. For a moment she hesitated. I remained motionless. I could do nothing but look at her. She wore a black evening dress–net I think it was, with deep flounces of lace. Her neck and arms were dazzlingly white in the half light; her lips were a little parted as she stood and listened. Her whole expression was natural, almost childlike. Suddenly she dropped the curtain and came swiftly towards me.

“Well,” she said softly, “now that I am here, what have you to say to me?”

I was horribly tempted to say things which must have sounded unutterably foolish. With an effort I restrained myself. I addressed her almost coldly.

“Miss Van Hoyt,” I said, “I want to know whether you are the only woman in this hotel who uses–that perfume.”

She took out her handkerchief. A little whiff of faint fragrance came floating out from its crumpled lace.

“You recognize it?”


“So much the better!” she declared. “Let me tell you this at once. I have not come here to answer questions. I have come to ask them. Are you content?”

“I am content–so long as you are here,” I murmured.

“The man whom you protected last night–whose life you probably saved–on your honor, was he a stranger to you?”

“On my honor he was,” I answered gravely.

“You have never seen him before?”

“To my knowledge–no!”

“You have never spoken to him before?”


She drew a little sigh.

“Your defence of him then,” she said, “was simply accidental?”

“Entirely!” I answered.

“Has he communicated with you since?”

“Not in any way,” I assured her.

She drew a little away from me. Her eyes were still fixed eagerly upon my face.

“Are you inclined to believe in me–to believe what I say?” she asked.

“Absolutely,” I answered.

“Then listen to me now,” she said. “That man, never mind his name, is one of nature’s criminals. He is a traitor, a renegade, a malefactor. He has sinned against every law, he has written his own death-warrant. He deserves to die, he will die! That is a certain thing. He would have been dead before now, but for me! Do you know why I have made them spare his life?”

“No!” I answered. “Who are they? and who is to be his executioner? Surely, if he is all that you say there are laws under whose ban he must have come. It is not safe to talk like this of life and death here. All those things are arranged nowadays in the courts.”

She smiled at me scornfully.

“Never mind that,” she said. “You speak now of things which you do not understand. I want to tell you why I would not let them kill him.”


“It is because if he is killed the secret goes with him. Never mind how he came by it, or who he is. It is sufficient for you to know that he has it. Up to now, he has resisted even torture. You remember the color of his hair? It went like that in a night, but he held out. Now he knows that he is going to die, and he is seeking for some one to whom he may pass it on.”

“What is this secret then?” I asked, perplexed.

“Don’t be absurd,” she answered. “If I knew it, should I be likely to tell it to you? I have an idea of the nature of it, of course. But that is not enough.”

“But–who is he then?” I asked. “How came he to obtain possession of it?”

“Now you are asking questions,” she reminded me. “Believe me, you are safer, very much safer knowing nothing. If I were your friend–“

She hesitated. All the time her eyes were fixed upon me. She seemed to be trying to read the thoughts which were passing through my brain.

“If you were my friend,” I repeated–“well?”

“I would give you some excellent advice,” she said slowly.

“I am ready to take it!” I declared.

“On trust?”

“I believe so,” I answered. “At least, you might give me the chance.” She sank down upon the settee at the extreme end of the terrace. There was little chance here of being overheard, as we had a clear view of the only approach.

“After all,” she said, “I do not think that it would be worth while. You belong to a class which I do not understand–which I do not pretend to understand. The things which seemed reasonable to me would probably seem banal to you. I am sure that it would be useless!”

“But why?” I persisted. “You have said so much, you must say more. I insist!”

A little wearily she pushed back the masses of hair from her forehead. Her head rested for a moment upon her fingers. Her eyes deliberately sought mine.

“Let me warn you,” she said; “I am not the sort of woman whom you know anything about. The usual things do not attract me; I have never been in love with a man. I hope that I never shall be. And yet I think that I find my way a little further into life than most of my sex.”

“You have other interests,” I murmured.

“I have! What they are it is not for you to know. I am only interested in your sex so far as they are useful to me. You, if you were a different sort of man, might be very useful to me.”

“At least give me the chance,” I begged.

She shook her head.

“This morning,” she said, “it seemed to me that I saw in one moment an epitome of your life. I saw every nerve of your body strained, I saw you wound up to a great effort. It was to catch a ball! You succeeded, I believe.”

I laughed a little awkwardly.

“Yes! I caught it!” I remarked. “Success is something after all, isn’t it?”

“I suppose so,” she admitted. “Afterwards I spoke to your cousin about you. He told me that you lived on your estates, that you played games well, that you shot birds and rabbits, and sent to prison drunken men and poachers. ‘But about his life?’ I asked. ‘This is his life,’ your cousin answered. ‘He has never gone in for a career!'”

“I suppose,” I said slowly, “that this seems to you a very unambitious sort of existence!”

“Existence!” she answered scornfully, “it does not seem like existence at all! Your joys are the joys of a highly trained animal; your sorrows and your passions and your disappointments–they are at best those of the yokel. What has life to do with games and sports? These things may have their place and their use, but to make them all in all! The men whom I have met are not like that!”

“I am sorry,” I said. “You see the other things have not come my way!”

“You mean that you have not been out to seek them,” she declared. “The pulse of the world beats only for those who care to feel it.”

“Let us take it for granted, for a moment, that you are right,” I said, “and that I am a convert. I am willing to abjure my sports and my quiet days for a plunge into the greater world. Who will be my guide? Which path shall I follow?”

“You are not in earnest,” she murmured.

“Perhaps I am, perhaps not,” I answered. “At any rate, there have been times when I have found life a tame thing. Such a feeling came to me two years ago, and I went to Africa to shoot lions.”

She leaned towards me.

“You should hunt men, not lions,” she whispered. “It is only the animal courage in you which keeps you cool when you face wild beasts. It is a different thing when you measure wits and strength with one of your own race!”

“Count me a willing listener and go on,” I said. “If you can show me the way, I am willing to take it.”

“Why not?” she said, half to herself. “You have strength, you have courage! Why shouldn’t you come a little way into life?”

“If it is by your side,” I began passionately.

She stopped me with a look.

“Please go away,” she said firmly. “You only weary me! If it is to gain an opportunity of saying this sort of rubbish that you have induced me to take you seriously, I can only say that I am sorry I have wasted a second of my time upon you!”

“The two things are apart,” I answered. “I will not allude to the one again. My interest in what you have said is genuine. I am waiting for your advice.”

She rose slowly to her feet. She looked me in the eyes, but there was no shadow of kindness in their expression.

“If I were a man,” she said–“if I were you, I would seek out the person whom you befriended–he goes by the name of Guest–and I would learn from him–the secret!”

“Where can I find him?” I asked eagerly. “He seems to have disappeared entirely.”

Her voice sank to a whisper. Her breath fanned my cheek, so that I felt half mad with the desire to hold her in my arms, if only for a moment. I think that she must have seen the light flash in my eyes, but she ignored it altogether.

“Go to your room,” she said, “and wait till a messenger comes to you.”



I had been alone for nearly an hour before there came a cautious tapping at my door, I opened it at once, and stared at my visitor in surprise. It was the man in the grey tweed suit, who had broken into my room the night before.

“You!” I exclaimed; “what the mischief are you doing here?”

“If you will permit me to enter,” he said, “I shall be glad to explain.”

He stepped past me into the room. I closed the door behind him.

“What do you want with me?” I asked.

My visitor regarded me thoughtfully through his gold-rimmed spectacles. I, too, was taking careful note of him. Any one more commonplace–with less of the bearing of a conspirator–it would be impossible to imagine. His features, his clothes, his bearing, were all ordinary. His face had not even the shrewdness of the successful business man. His brown beard was carefully trimmed, his figure was a little podgy, his manner undistinguished. I found it hard to associate him in my mind with such things as the woman whom I had left a few moments ago had spoken of.

“I understand,” he said, “that you wish for an interview with your friend, Mr. Leslie Guest. His room happens to be close to mine. I shall be pleased to conduct you there!”

“You have seen Miss Van Hoyt then?” I exclaimed.

“I have just left her!” he answered.

I stared at him incredulously.

“Do you mean to tell me,” I said, “that, after last night, you have dared to remain in the hotel–that you have a room here?”

My visitor smiled.

“But certainly,” he said, “you are under some curious apprehension as to the events of last night. My friend and I are most harmless individuals. We only wanted a little business conversation with Mr. Guest, which he was foolish enough to try and avoid. That is all arranged, now, however!”

“Is it?” I answered curtly. “Then I am sorry for Mr. Guest!”

Again my visitor smiled–quite a harmless smile it was, as of pity for some unaccountably foolish person.

“You do not seem,” he remarked, “if I may be pardoned for saying so, a very imaginative person, Mr. Courage, but you certainly have some strange ideas as to my friend and myself. Possibly Mr. Guest himself is responsible for them! A very excitable person at times!”

“You had better take me to him, if that is your errand,” I said shortly. “This sort of conversation between you and me is rather a waste of time.”

“Certainly!” he answered. “Will you follow me?”

We took the lift to the sixth floor, traversed an entire corridor, and then, mounting a short and narrow flight of stairs, we arrived at a passage with three or four doors on either side, and no exit at the further end. We seemed to be entirely cut off from the main portion of the hotel, and I noticed that there were no numbers on the doors of the rooms. A very tall and powerful-looking man came to the head of the stairs, on hearing our footsteps, and regarded us suspiciously. Directly he recognized my companion, however, he allowed us to pass.

“A nice quiet part of the hotel this,” my guide remarked, glancing towards me.

“Very!” I answered dryly.

“A man might be hidden here very securely,” he added.

“I can well believe it,” I assented.

He knocked softly at the third door on the left. A woman’s voice answered him. A moment later, the door was opened by a nurse in plain hospital dress.

“Good evening, nurse!” my companion said cheerfully. “This gentleman would like to see Mr. Guest! Is he awake?”

The nurse opened the door a little wider, which I took for an invitation to enter. She closed it softly behind me. My guide remained outside.

The room was a very small one, and furnished after the usual hotel fashion. The only light burning was a heavily-shaded electric lamp, placed by the bedside. The nurse raised it a little, and looked down upon the man who lay there motionless.

“He is asleep,” she remarked. “It is time he took his medicine. I must wake him!”

She spoke with a pronounced foreign accent. Her fair hair and stolid features left me little doubt as to her nationality. I was conscious of a strong and instinctive dislike to her from the moment I heard her speak and watched her bending over the bed. I think that her face was one of the most unsympathetic which I had ever seen.

She poured some medicine into a glass, and turned on another electric light. Her patient woke at once. Directly he opened his eyes, he recognized me with a little start.

“You!” he exclaimed. “You!”

I sat down on the edge of the bed.

“You haven’t forgotten me then?” I remarked. “I’m sorry you’re queer! Nothing serious, I hope?”

He ignored my words. He was looking at me all the time, as though inclined to doubt the evidence of his senses.

“Who let you come–up here?” he asked in a whisper.

“I made inquiries about you, and got permission to come up,” I answered. “How are you feeling this evening?”

“I don’t understand why they let you come,” he said uneasily. “Stoop down!”

The nurse came forward with a wineglass.

“Will you take your medicine, please?” she said.

“Presently,” he answered, “put it down.”

She glanced at the clock and held the glass out once more.

“It is past the time,” she said.

“I have had two doses to-day,” he answered. “Quite enough, I think. Set it down and go away, please. I want to talk with this gentleman.”

“Talking is not good for you,” she said, without moving. “Better take your medicine and go to sleep!”

He took the glass from her hand, and, with a glance at its contents which puzzled me, drank it off.

“Now will you go?” he asked, handing back the glass to her.

She dragged her chair to the bedside.

“If you will talk,” she said stolidly, “I must watch that you do not excite yourself too much!”

He glanced meaningly at me.

“I have private matters to discuss!” he said.

“You are not well enough to talk of private matters, or anything else important,” she declared. “You will excite yourself. You will bring on the fever. I remain here to watch. It is by the doctor’s orders.”

She sat down heavily within a few feet of us.

“You speak French?” Guest asked me.

I nodded.

“Fairly well!”

“Watch her! See whether she seems to understand. I want to speak of what she must not hear.”

She half rose from her chair. So far as her features could express anything, they expressed disquietude.

“She does not understand,” I said. “Go on!”

She bent over the bedside.

“You must not talk any more,” she said. “It excites you! Your temperature is rising.”

He ignored her altogether.

“Listen,” he said to me, “why they have let you come here I cannot tell! You know that I am in prison–that I am not likely to leave here alive!”

“I don’t think that it is so bad as that,” I assured him.

“It is worse! I am likely to die without the chance of finishing–my work. Great things will die with me. God knows what will happen.”

“You have a doctor and a hospital nurse,” I remarked. “That doesn’t look as though they meant you to die!”

“You don’t know who I am, and you don’t know who they are,” he answered, dropping his voice almost to a whisper.

“I want a month, one more month, and I might cheat them yet!”

“I don’t think that they mean you to die,” I said. “They have an idea that you are in possession of some marvellous secret. They want to get possession of that first.”

“They persevere,” he murmured. “In Paris–but never mind. They know very well that that secret, if I die before I can finish my work, dies with me, or–“

The nurse, who had left us a few moments before, re-entered the room. She went straight to a chair at the further end of the apartment, and took up a book. Guest looked at me with a puzzled expression.

“Stranger still!” he said, “we are allowed to talk.”

“It may be only for a moment,” I reminded him.

“Or pass it on to a successor who will complete my work,” he said slowly. “I fear that I shall not find him. The time is too short now.”

“Have you no friends I could send for?” I asked.

“Not one!” he answered.

I looked at him curiously. A man does not often confess himself entirely friendless.

“I need a strong, brave man,” he said slowly–“one who is not afraid of Death, one who has the courage to dare everything in a great cause!”

“A great cause!” I repeated. “They are few and far between nowadays.”

He looked at me steadily.

“You are an Englishman!”

I laughed.

“Saxon to the backbone,” I admitted.

“You would consider it a great cause to save your country from ruin, from absolute and complete ruin!”

“My imagination,” I declared, “cannot conceive such a situation.”

“A flock of geese once saved an empire,” he said, “a child’s little finger in the crack of the dam kept a whole city from destruction. One man may yet save this pig-headed country of ours from utter disaster. It may be you–it may be I!”

“You are also an Englishman!” I exclaimed.

“Perhaps!” he answered shortly. “Never mind what I am. Think! Think hard! By to-morrow you must decide! Are you content with your life? Does it satisfy you? You have everything else; have you ambition?”

“I am not sure,” I answered slowly. “Remember that this is all new to me. I must think!”

He raised himself a little in the bed. At no time on this occasion had he presented to me the abject appearance of the previous night. His cheeks were perfectly colorless, and this pallor, together with his white hair, and the spotless bed-linen, gave to his face a somewhat ghastly cast, but his dark eyes were bright and piercing, his features composed and natural.

“Listen,” he said, “they may try to kill me, but I have a will, too, and I say that I will not die till I have found a successor to carry on–to the end–what I have begun. Mind, it is no coward’s game! It is a walk with death, hand in hand, all the way.”

He raised suddenly a warning finger. There was a knock at the door. The nurse who answered it came to the bedside.

“The gentleman has stayed long enough,” she announced. “He must go now!”

I rose and held out my hand. He held it between his for a moment, and his eyes sought mine.

“You will come–to-morrow?”

“I will come,” I promised. “To-morrow evening.”



At about nine o’clock the following morning a note was brought to my room addressed to me in a lady’s handwriting. I tore it open at once. It was, as I bad expected, from Miss Van Hoyt.


“I should like to see you for a few minutes at twelve o’clock in the reading-room.

“Yours sincerely,


I wrote a reply immediately:–


“I regret that I am engaged for the day, and have to leave the hotel in an hour. I shall return about seven o’clock. Could you not dine with me this evening, either in the hotel or elsewhere?

“Yours sincerely,


Over my breakfast I studied the handwriting of her note. It might indeed have served for an index to so much of her character as had become apparent to me. The crisp, clear formation of the letters, the bold curves and angular terminations, seemed to denote a personality free from all feminine weaknesses. I was reminded at once of the unfaltering gaze of her deep blue eyes, of the chill precision of her words and manner. I asked myself, then, why a character so free, apparently, from all the lovable traits of her sex, should have proved so attractive to me. I had known other beautiful women, I was not untravelled, and I had met women in Paris and Vienna who also possessed the more subtle charms of perfect toilet and manners, and were free from the somewhat hopeless obviousness of most of the women of our country. There was something beneath all that. At the moment, I could not tell what it was. I simply realized that, for the first time, a woman stood easily first in my life, that my whole outlook upon the world was undermined.

Just as I was leaving the hotel, I saw her maid coming down the hall with a note in her hand. I waited, and she accosted me.

“Monsieur Courage!”

“Yes!” I answered.

She gave me the note.

“There is no reply at present,” she said, dropping her voice almost to a whisper. “Monsieur might open it in his cab.”

She gave me a glance of warning, and I saw that the hall porter and one of his subordinates were somewhat unnecessarily near me. Then she glided away, and I drove off in my cab. Directly we had started, I tore open the envelope and read these few lines.


“I will dine with you to-night at the Café Français at eight o’clock. Please take a table upstairs. Do not ask for me again or send me any further message until we meet there.

“Yours sincerely,


At Lord’s I was compelled to spend half the day hanging about the pavilion, smoking a good many more cigarettes than I was accustomed to, and finding the cricket much less interesting than usual. My own innings fortunately kept me distracted for a little more than two hours, and the effort of it soothed my nerves and did me good all round. On my way back to the hotel, I determined to forget everything except that I was going to dine alone with the one companion I would have chosen first out of the whole world. In that frame of mind I bathed, changed my clothes, and made my way a little before the appointed time to the Café Français.

I found out my table, sent for some more flowers, and ordered the wine. Then I descended to the hall just in time to meet my guest.

She wore nothing over her evening dress save a lace scarf, which she untwisted as we ascended the stairs. For some reason I fancied that she was not very well pleased with me. Her greeting was certainly cool.

“Is this your favorite restaurant?” I asked, as the head-waiter ushered us to our table.

“I have no favorite restaurant,” she answered; “only to-night I felt in the humor for French cooking–and French service.”

I fancied that there was some meaning in the latter part of her sentence; but at that time I did not understand. I had ordered the dinner carefully; and I was glad to see that, although she ate sparingly, she showed appreciation. Wine she scarcely touched.

“So you have been particularly engaged to-day,” was almost her first remark.

“I was forced to go to Lord’s,” I reminded her. “A cricket match lasts three days.”

“Three whole days!” she exclaimed, raising her eyebrows.

“Certainly! unless it is over before,” I replied.

“And you mean to say that you are a prisoner there all that time–that you could not leave if you chose to?”

“I am afraid not,” I answered. “Cricket is a serious thing in this country, you know. If you are chosen to play and commence in the match, you must go through with it. Surely you have met with something of the same sort of thing in the football matches in America!”

“I have never been interested in such things,” she said. “I suppose that is why I have never realized their importance. I am afraid, Mr. Courage–“


She lifted her eyes to mine. What a color!–and what a depth. Then I knew, as though by inspiration, how it was that I found myself passing into bondage. Cold she might seem, and self-engrossed! It was because the right chord had never been struck. Some day another light should shine in those wonderful eyes. I saw her before me transformed, saw color in her still, marble cheeks, saw her lips drift into a softer curve, heard the tremor of passion in her quiet, languid tone.

“Do you know that you are staring at me?” she remarked, calmly.

I apologized profusely.

“It is a bad habit of mine,” I assured her. “I was looking–beyond.”

There was real interest then in her face. She leaned a little forward. Perhaps it was my fancy, but I thought that she seemed to regard me differently.

“How interesting!” she said. “Do you know I had not given you credit for much imagination. You must tell me what you saw!”

“Impossible!” I declared.

“Rubbish!” she answered, “nothing is impossible. Besides, I ask it,”

“I do not know you well enough,” I declared, helping myself to an artichoke, “to be personal.”

“The liberties you take in your thoughts,” she answered, “I permit you to render into speech. It is the same thing.”

“One’s thoughts,” I answered, “are too phantasmagorial. One cannot collect them into speech.”

“You must try,” she declared, “or I shall never, never dine with you again. Nothing is so interesting as to see yourself from another’s point of view!”

“Is it understood,” I asked, “that I am not held personally responsible for my thoughts–that if I try to clothe them with words, I am held free from offence?”

She considered for a moment.

“I suppose so,” she said. “Yes! Go on.”

I drank off my glass of wine, and waited until the waiter, who had been carving a Rouen duckling on a stand by the side of the table, had stepped back into the background.

“Very well!” I said. “I am thirty-three years old and a bachelor, well off, and I have never been a stay-at-home. I know something of society in Paris, in Vienna, in Rome, as well as London. I have always found women agreeable companions, and I have never avoided them. The sex, as a whole, has attracted me. From individual members of it I have happened to remain absolutely heart-whole.”

“Marvellous,” she murmured in gentle derision. “Please pass the toast. Thank you!”

“I have been compelled,” I said, “to be egotistical. I must now become personal. I saw you for the first time in the hall at the Universal, the morning before yesterday. I encountered you the night before under extremely dubious circumstances. I spoke to you for the first time yesterday. I have met other women as beautiful, I have met many others who have been more gracious to me. These things do not seem to count. You have asked for truth, mind, and you are going to have it. As surely as we are sitting here together, I know that, from henceforth, for me there will be–there could be–no other woman in the world!”

She moved in her chair a little restlessly. Her eyes avoided mine. Her eyebrows had contracted a little, but I could not see that she was angry.

“What am I to think of such a declaration as that?” she asked quietly. “You are not a wizard. You have seen of me what I chose, and you have seen nothing which a man should find lovable, except my looks.”

I smiled as I leaned a little forward.

“Don’t do me an injustice,” I begged. “You have brought me now to the very moment when I forgot myself, and prompted your question. Remember that one has always one’s fancy. I looked at you to-night, and I thought that I saw another woman–or rather I thought that I saw the woman that you might be, that I would pray to make you. The other woman is there, I think. I only hope that it may be my good fortune to call her into life.”

Her head was bent over her plate. She seemed to be listening to the music–or was there something there which she did not wish me to see? I could not tell. The waiter intervened with another course. When she spoke to me again, her tone was almost cold, but it troubled me very little. There was a softness in her eyes which she could not hide.

“It seems to me,” she said, “that we have been very frivolous. I agreed to dine with you that we might speak together of this unfortunate person, Leslie Guest. You saw him last night?”

“Yes,” I answered, “I saw him.”

My tone had become grave, and my face overcast. She was watching me curiously.


“I am bothered,” I admitted. “I don’t quite know what I ought to do!”


“It seemed to me,” I said, “that the man was neither more nor less than a prisoner there in the hands of those who, for some reason or other, are his enemies.”

“That,” she admitted, “is fairly obvious; what of it?”

“Well,” I said, “the most straightforward thing for me to do, I believe, would be to go to the nearest police-station and tell them all I know.”

She laughed softly.

“What an Englishman you are!” she exclaimed. “The law, or a letter to the _Times_. These are your final resources, are they not? Well, in this case, let me assure you that neither would help you in the least.”

“I am not so sure,” I answered. “At any rate, I do not see the fun of letting him remain there, to be done to death by those mysterious enemies of his.”

“Then why not take him away?” she asked quietly.

“Where to?” I asked.

“Your own home, if you are sufficiently interested in him!”

“Do you mean that?” I asked.

“I do! Listen! I have no pity for the man who calls himself Leslie Guest! Death he has deserved, and his fate, whomever might intervene, is absolutely inevitable. But I do not wish him to die–at present!”

“Why not?”

“You can imagine, I think. He has the secret.”

“He does not seem to me,” I remarked, “the sort of man likely to part with it.”

“Not to me,” she answered quickly, “not to those others. From us he would guard it with his life! With you it is different.”

“I am not sure,” I said slowly, “that I wish to become a sharer of such dangerous knowledge.”

“You are afraid?” she asked coldly.

“I do not see what I have to gain by it,” I admitted. “I am not curious, and the possession of it certainly seems to entail some inconvenience, if not danger.”

Her lip curled a little. She nodded as though she quite understood my point of view.

“You have said enough,” she declared; “I perceive that I was not mistaken! You are exactly the sort of man I thought you were from the first. It is better for you to return to your cricket and your sports. You are at home with them; in the great world you would soon be weary and lost. Call for your bill, please, and put me in a cab. I have a call to make before I return to the hotel”

“One moment more,” I begged. “You have not altogether understood me! I have spoken from my own point of view only. I have no interest in the salvation of Leslie Guest, beyond an Englishman’s natural desire to see fair play. I have no wish to be burdened with a secret which seems to spell life or death in capital letters. But show me where your interest lies, and I promise you that I will be zealous enough! Tell me what to do and I will do it. My time and my life are yours. Do what you will with them! Can I say more than that?”

She flashed a wonderful look at me across the table–such a look that my heart beat, and my pulses flowed to a strange, new music. Her tone was soft, almost caressing.

“You mean this?”

“Upon my honor I do!” I answered.

“Then take Leslie Guest with you back to your home in the country,” she said. “Keep him with you, keep every one else away from him. In less than a week he will tell you his secret!”

“I will do it,” I answered.



“This,” the nurse said, after a moment’s somewhat awkward pause, “is the doctor–Dr. Kretznow!”

A tall, awkwardly built man, wearing heavy glasses, turned away from the bedside, and looked at me inquiringly.

“My name is Courage, doctor,” I said; “I am an acquaintance of your patient’s.”

The doctor frowned on me as he picked up his hat.

“I have given no permission,” he said, “for my patient to receive visitors.”

“I trust that you don’t consider him too ill,” I answered. “I was hoping to hear that he was better!”

“He is doing well enough,” the doctor declared, “if he is left alone. But,” he added, in a lower tone, “he is a sick man–a very sick man.”

I glanced towards the bedside, and was shocked at the deathly pallor of his face. His eyes were half closed. He had not the air of hearing anything that we said. I walked towards the door with the doctor.

“What is the matter with him, doctor?” I asked.

He glanced towards me suspiciously.

“I was told,” he said, “that my patient was without friends here, or any one for whom he could send.”

“I have only known him a very short time,” I answered, “but I am interested in him. If I may be allowed to say so, I am perfectly willing to defray any charges–“

He stopped me impatiently.

“I am physician to the hotel,” he said, “Mr. Blumentein arranges all that with me!”

“Then perhaps as I have told you I am interested in him, I can trespass so far upon your courtesy as to inquire into the nature of his ailment,” I said.

“I am afraid,” he said, “that as you are not a medical man, I could scarcely make you understand.”

“There was–an accident, I think,” I began.

“A trifle! Nothing at all,” the doctor declared hastily. “The trouble is with his heart. You will excuse me! I have many calls to make this evening.”

“Perhaps you would kindly give me your address,” I said. “Dr. Mumford, the heart specialist, is an acquaintance of mine. You would not object to meet him in consultation?”

He looked at me for a moment fixedly.

“It is not at all necessary!” he declared. “If Mr. Blumentein is not satisfied with my conduct of the case, I will withdraw from it at once! Otherwise, I shall not tolerate any interference!”

He left me without another word. I returned to the bedside. As I approached, Guest deliberately opened one eye and then closed it again. I addressed him in French:

“How are you?”

“About as I am meant to be,” he answered.

The nurse came over to the bedside.

“It is not well for the gentleman to talk to-night,” she said. “The doctor has said that he must be quite quiet.”

“I shall only stay a few minutes,” I answered; “and I will be careful not to disturb him.”

She stood quite still for a moment, looking sullenly at us. Then she turned away and left the room. Guest raised himself a little in the bed.

“She has gone to fetch one of my–guardians,” he remarked grimly.

“I am going to take you away from here–down to my home in the country,” I said. “Do you think you can stand the journey?”

“Whether I can or not makes no difference,” he answered. “I shall never be allowed to leave this room alive.”

The Britisher in me was touched.

“Rubbish,” I answered, “if you talk like that, I shall go to Scotland Yard at once. I tell you frankly, I don’t like your nurse. I don’t like your doctor, I don’t like their shutting you up in this lonely part of the hotel, and I can’t understand the attitude of Mr. Blumentein at all. He must know what he is risking in attempting this sort of thing, in London of all places in the world.”

He interrupted me impatiently.

“Don’t talk about Scotland Yard,” he said. “These people are not fools.