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E. PHILLIPS OPPENHEIM
WRITING AS
ANTHONY PARTRIDGE

THE COURT OF ST. SIMON
(UK TITLE: SEEING LIFE)

Illustration

RGL e-Book Cover 2017©


ILLUSTRATED BY F. VAUX WILLIAMS



First published by Little, Brown & Co., Boston, 1912
Also published by Lloyd's, London, 1918 and 1919 as Seeing Life

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2017
Version Date: 2017-05-05
Produced by Roy Glashan

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Cover

"The Court of St. Simon," Little, Brown & Co., Boston, 1912



TABLE OF CONTENTS



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS



Frontispiece

Illustration

"You had no right to come here," he said curtly.



BOOK ONE

CHAPTER I.—A CAFÉ IN PARIS

THE boy was without doubt inclined towards affectation, yet there was also something of truth, a shadow of honest dejection, in the weariness of his restless eyes. Here, where pleasure had become a science, he sat among the midnight revellers, alone and unamused, flaunting his ennui with something of the self-consciousness to which his years entitled him.

"A type," one murmured, glancing in his direction. "Behold the young Frenchman, a man before he has left the nursery, a man in experience and evil knowledge, worn out with pleasure before he has had time to be young!"

A type beyond a doubt. Eugène d'Argminac—it was name which he had appropriated, for he was really an Englishman—was good-looking notwithstanding his pallid face, slim, and well-built. He was dressed in the somewhat extravagant mode affected by the young Frenchman of fashion, but with all that delicate, almost feminine care about details which excuses even foppishness. The droop of his white tie, the stones in his studs and links, his single ring, his soft-fronted white shirt, were all exactly in the fashion of the moment. But for his eyes, which were distinctly narrow and set too close together, and the unwholesome air of fatigue with which he looked out upon the gay scene from his table against the wall, he was a not unattractive figure.

It was the supper place of the moment—Paris has many such which appear and disappear in rapid succession. Every table was occupied save one or two in the best part of the room, reserved for any visitor of distinction who might appear unexpectedly. The usual attractions were in full swing. A Spanish girl, with black hair and a yellow gown covered with sequins, was dancing, a rose in her mouth. A busy orchestra found it harder work even than usual to make their music heard above the clamor of voices, the popping of corks, and the rattle of crockery. Toy balloons bearing the name of the restaurant were floating from every table. Every one who was not laughing seemed to be talking. The boy, who sat with a plate of biscuits and a bottle of champagne before him, neither of which he had as yet touched, beckoned to the presiding genius of the place.

"Monsieur Albert," he said gloomily, "it is finished here. One amuses one's self no longer. Already the world is prepared to move on to the next place. Mark my words, your reign is over."

The popular maître d'hôtel, a little staggered, for he was more used to compliments, extended his hands towards the over-crowded room; pointed, also, to the visitors waiting for tables, who thronged the doorway.

"But, Monsieur," he protested, "never has the rush been so great. Out there I dare not show myself. There are a dozen who wish tables —English, American, Russian. From all quarters of the world they come to my café. Finished! Mon Dieu! Monsieur cannot be serious."

The young man yawned. "You have the numbers, it is true, dear Albert," he admitted, "but the quality! Saw one ever such a rabble—Tourists, the bourgeoisie of the country towns, shop people from the boulevards, scarcely a person of distinction or interest. How can one amuse one's self among such?"

Monsieur Albert smiled tolerantly. "Monsieur is ennuyé this evening. Another time he will amuse himself well enough here. One cannot pick and choose one's clients, but there are many here of the distinguished world. Over in the corner there is a Russian Prince—he does not like to be talked about, but his name is in all the papers. Fourget, the great actor, sits behind with Mademoiselle Lalage, who created the part of Cléopâtre. The gentleman with the red ribbon in his buttonhole there is Monsieur d'Anvers, who wrote the play."

The boy half closed his eyes. "All the usual claptrap," he murmured. "A Russian prince, a dancer, a dramatist, and an actress. One meets them everywhere at every turn. These are blackberries upon the tree of life here, Albert. Show me, indeed, some one of real notoriety, some one out of the common; show me one single person not of this type."

Monsieur Albert's face was turned toward the door. He gave a sudden start. "But indeed, Monsieur, you may soon be gratified!" he exclaimed. "Wait but a little. I return."

It was Albert at his best who moved toward the entrance, Albert at his best who stood bowing before these two newcomers, who with his own hands removed the cloak from the girl's beautiful shoulders, who himself led the way to the best table the place afforded, moving backward most of the time, talking always in his most impressive manner. Even the young man who called himself Eugène d'Argminac lost for a moment his look of weariness. They were strangers to him, these two, and they were certainly people of marked and unusual distinction. He watched them as they settled themselves into their places. The man was apparently about forty years old, but his exact age it would have been hard to tell. He was inclined to be fair, with a great deal of deep brown hair carefully brushed back from his forehead. His mouth was strong and prominent, a trifle cruel and yet not sensual. There were little lines about his eyes as though he were short-sighted, and the eyeglass which hung from a ribbon about his neck was evidently not for ornament alone. His forehead was good, his face like his frame—long and thin. He looked like a man who had been an athlete and who was still possessed of great strength; a man of breeding, without a doubt. The girl was dark, colorless, as were so many young Parisiennes, powdered, indeed, almost to the dead whiteness of the ladies of Spain. Her eyes were soft and velvety, her eyebrows silken lines, her lips thin streaks of scarlet. A magnificent rope of pearls hung from her neck, and she carried a gold bag set with emeralds. She sat down, calmly contemplating herself through a tiny mirror, a powder puff in her other hand ready for use. Eugène d'Argminac yawned no longer in his corner. He waited almost eagerly for the moment when Albert at last, after a long consultation with a maître d'hôtel, a waiter and a wine steward, left their table. Then he leaned forward and summoned him.

"Monsieur Albert!" he cried.

Albert, with a little triumphant smile, obeyed the summons. "Voilà, Monsieur!" he declared. "There are two of my clients whom I think you will not call commonplace. They are different from the others, are they not?"

"Who are they?"

Monsieur Albert smiled. "If one knew their names, Monsieur, if one could tell who they were or what place they occupied in the world, they would perhaps lose something of their interest. Is it not so? Supposing, for instance, the gentleman were a wine merchant, and the lady a manikin!"

"You know very well that they are nothing of the sort," Eugène protested. "Tell me their names, tell me all you know about them."

Albert made a little gesture of despair. "If only one could tell!" he murmured. "The gentleman calls himself simply Monsieur Simon. He speaks of the lady as his sister. That, however, one is permitted to doubt. They have been coming here now for nearly five months."

"Monsieur Simon—but that is rubbish!" the boy exclaimed. "They are people of account, these. Even if they come here incognito they must have a name and standing elsewhere. You are so clever at these things, Albert. I thought that you made it a point to know the names and standing of most of your regular customers. Surely you have discovered something more about them?"

Albert accepted a cigarette from the gold case of his patron, and leaned across the table. "Monsieur d'Argminac," he said, "I will admit that I have tried to discover who and what they are, these two people, seemingly so rich, certainly so distinguished. I have failed—I admit it—I have failed. We have people about the place, as you know, who are quite willing, for a consideration, to undertake a little espionage. For the sake of curiosity I had these two followed one night. The fellow was caught and beaten, beaten in the open streets by Monsieur there. Since then I have made no effort. Once or twice I have had visitors here who seemed about to claim acquaintance with the gentleman. Always he looks as though he wore a mask. He recognizes no one. I have tried questions, but never have I learned anything for my pains. At present I am content. They are good clients, they excite curiosity, it is a joy to look upon Mademoiselle. I keep my counsel."

"I should like to know them," D'Argminac remarked.

Monsieur Albert shook his head doubtfully. "They make no acquaintances," he said. "I have never seen them speak to a soul."

"Is Mademoiselle also as unapproachable?" D'Argminac asked.

"Absolutely," Albert replied. "And, Monsieur d'Argminac," he added under his breath, "let me have your attention for one moment. Here there are times, on gay nights like this, or towards the time when one leaves, when introductions are dispensed with. A man of fashion like yourself flirts always with the beautiful women. Forgive me if I drop a hint. There was a young man once who tried to flirt with Mademoiselle. He would have slipped a note into her hand. Monsieur observed him. It was all over in a moment, but he is a man of mighty strength. He threw the young gentleman across two tables, caught him up as you or I might a baby. Since then no one has looked at the young lady."

D'Argminac smiled. "Your story inspires me with fear, Albert," he declared. "I tremble and I obey. Nevertheless, the coming here of these two people pleases me. I shall remain a little longer. You have shown me some thing, at least, which it does not weary one to look at."

The monotonous round of gayety rose and fell. More women danced, a negro sang coon songs for the benefit of the Americans. Two Russian dancers, squatting almost on their haunches, went through their ungraceful evolutions. Monsieur Albert walked about, surveying the room with the air of an emperor. He laughed to himself as he thought of the words of his youthful client. Finished, indeed! The café was at the height of its prosperity. There was no such scene as this in all Paris. Suddenly, in the midst of his wanderings, he caught the eye of the patron whom he knew as Monsieur Simon, and obeyed in a moment his commanding summons. Eugène d'Argminac watched their whispered conversation eagerly. Somehow or other he began to believe that he himself was concerned in it. Assuredly Albert had once turned half round and glanced towards him. The face of Monsieur was wholly inscrutable. Only his lips moved, but once his eyes had looked in the direction which Albert had indicated. Eugène d'Argminac was delighted with himself and with the entire evening. After all, then, he was not absolutely past emotions. He had certainly felt his pulses beat a little quicker at the thought that he might be the subject of their conversation.

Presently Albert, leaving his patron with a most respectful bow, came hurrying across the room toward D'Argminac's table. "Monsieur d'Argminac," he announced, "you have indeed the good fortune. The gentleman in whom you are so much interested, and who so seldom asks questions concerning any one, has just been speaking to me about you."

"What did he say?"

"He asked me your name, who you were, why you sat there alone looking so bored and so weary."

"And you? What did you answer?" D'Argminac asked softly.

"I told him what I knew—that you were a young gentleman of fashion and perceptions who came here most evenings, but who was inclined to find the place dull. He said that he would like to know you. I am at liberty, if you will, to conduct you to his table."

Eugène d'Argminac rose slowly to his feet. For a moment he had hesitated. He could not refuse this invitation brought him so triumphantly, yet some part of his magnificent self-confidence seemed to have deserted him as he crossed the floor.

Albert performed the introduction with much ceremony.

"Monsieur," he said, "and Mademoiselle, I have the great honor to present to you Monsieur Eugène d'Argminac, one of my most esteemed clients."

D'Argminac smiled faintly. "Albert has many a better one," he said. "As a matter of fact, he is not pleased with me to-night, for I have told him that this place grows wearisome."

"You will take a glass of wine with us, Monsieur d'Argminac?" the man at the table asked. "Pray seat yourself."

D'Argminac drew a chair towards him. "With Mademoiselle's permission," he replied, bowing to her, "it will give me much pleasure to join you for a few minutes."



CHAPTER II.—MONSIEUR SIMON

THE conversation was almost entirely confined to the two men. Mademoiselle murmured only a few words, and even then D'Argminac was puzzled. She spoke slowly and with much care. The words were correct so far as they went, yet something in their intonation made it very obvious that these two did not belong to the same social station, notwithstanding Albert's statement as to their relationship. For the rest, Mademoiselle took very little notice of this new acquaintance. She was entirely occupied in enjoying an excellent supper. Her two companions ate nothing.

"Our much respected friend Albert," remarked Monsieur Simon, "spoke of you as being the only one of its habitués who found this place wearisome. I must confess that I was interested. You are—pardon me—young, Monsieur d'Argminac, to have exhausted the gaieties of this wonderful city."

The boy felt for his as yet invisible moustache. The faint irony of the other's tone was entirely lost upon him.

"I am perhaps older than I look, Monsieur, Still, a year or two at these places is enough. They are all the same—the dance, the women, the music. There is nothing left."

"You have many friends in Paris?" Monsieur Simon asked.

"I am fairly well known here," the young man answered. "You wonder, perhaps, that I should care to come to such a place alone. It is simply a whim of mine. I have many acquaintances, at any rate."

"Your name is French," Monsieur Simon remarked, "but you are surely English, are you not?"

D'Argminac admitted the fact a little reluctantly. "I was educated in England at Eton, but I prefer the French people and their manner of living. After all, though," he added wearily, "I am not sure that it is any better here than anywhere else. I found London insupportable, but I am not sure that Paris is much better."

Monsieur Simon laughed softly. There was a cynical droop to his lips as he leaned forward and lit a cigarette.

"When one is weary of Paris at your age," he declared, "one must be possessed, indeed, of an original temperament."

"It is a curse," Eugène d'Argminac admitted gloomily. "If one seeks contentment, one should resign oneself to be commonplace."

"You still feel the desire for excitement, I suppose?"

"I would buy it, if I could, at any price."

"You have tried sport?" Monsieur Simon asked. "Polo, for instance, or hunting? Your English blood should serve you there."

D'Argminac shook his head. "Sport does not attract me in the least. I cannot play games, because they do not amuse me. I have driven an automobile for a month. It was a joy to me, but it passes."

"You are destined, perhaps, for one of the professions, or the diplomatic service? Sometimes the necessary work gives a stimulus to life."

"Very likely," D'Argminac assented. "I can only say that for my part I have never felt the slightest desire to take life seriously."

The eyes of Monsieur Simon twinkled. Again he smiled. Mademoiselle glanced at him a little curiously. It was strange to her that he should find so much to interest him in this sulky-looking boy.

"Yours is indeed a hard position," he declared, "but then you are doubtless a singular person. It is unusual, is it not, to find a solitary man at such a Temple of Venus?"

Eugène d'Argminac glanced towards Mademoiselle. It was an impulse which he could not repress. He remembered afterwards Albert's warning and trusted that his glance had been unobserved.

"With a companion," he said, "I bore myself most completely. Adventures —perhaps! One must have adventures in Paris to be in the fashion at all," he continued, feeling again for his moustache, "but there is a sameness about them all. One has a few moments of excitement and then a great revulsion, a complete disillusionment. I brought Mademoiselle Vincelly here, the other evening, from the Folies Bergères. She ate lobster with her fingers and demanded beer."

Mademoiselle for the first time smiled at him ever so faintly—not a particularly gracious smile, but at least it was something that she should take notice of his existence. "Mademoiselle Vincelly is, after all, a German," she declared. "There are very many beautiful young ladies in Paris."

"It is true, Mademoiselle," D'Argminac admitted. "I begin to fear that the fault is with myself. I have not the gift of susceptibility. I call it a gift because I think that it is the most delightful thing in the world," he added, with a little sigh, "to fall in love. When I was younger it was my favorite pastime."

Mademoiselle looked at him, and throwing her head back laughed frankly, showing all her wonderful white teeth, which gleamed like pearls. Her companion smiled, too, in quieter and subtler fashion. He had been right. It was amusing to listen to this strange youth.

"None of us should relinquish hope, my friend," he said, with gentle irony. "You are not too old, even now, to feel once more the gentle passion."

D'Argminac remained entirely unconscious of the fact that he was being skilfully exploited for the amusement of these two people. "Perhaps you are right," he agreed. "Very likely, even now, that will happen. All I can say is that I am here, I am willing, if it comes I should be glad. In the meantime, life remains insupportable. It is only the very old or the very young who are attracted by this sort of place. I hope that I am not conceited, but I need more to excite me. I do not think," he added, "that you, Monsieur, can find any real pleasure in sitting here among such a crowd, in floating toy balloons and listening to this babel. You find no excitement here. Tell me, am I not right?"

"To some extent you are," the older man confessed. "Still, so far as I am concerned, Mademoiselle my sister and I, we come here as a rest. If we seek excitement, we seek it elsewhere and in a different fashion."

D'Argminac tapped a cigarette upon the table preparatory to lighting it. "You have asked me a good many questions," he said slowly. "I have no secrets from you or any one who interests me. It is amusing, I think, to exchange confidences as regards life with people of one's own order whom one meets even so casually as we have met. You say that when you seek excitement you seek it elsewhere and in a different fashion. You look to me as though you would be critical. Tell me how and where you seek it!"

The man who was known as Monsieur Simon leaned back in his chair and looked at his questioner thoughtfully. D'Argminac returned his gaze almost eagerly. Already the boy had begun to feel the fascination of his manner. Whoever he might be, he was distinctly a remarkable man. There was strength in his face, domination in his tone, he had not a single bad feature. D'Argminac felt the mesmerism of a stronger and commanding nature.

"Is that a serious question?" Monsieur Simon asked.

"Absolutely," D'Argminac replied eagerly.

Monsieur Simon turned to his companion. "It is a challenge," he remarked. "Shall we show him? What do you say?"

The girl shrugged her shoulders. It was obvious that she disapproved. "You will do as you wish, I suppose. You do always the rash things."

"Very well, then," said Monsieur Simon, "you shall learn our secret, if you will. Presently we will show you how we two, Mademoiselle and I, escape for a little while from the sameness of a dull existence. You need not be afraid," he continued, smiling, "that you will be asked to gamble; you will not even need your pocket-book at all."

The boy flushed. It was absurd to be read like this! Notwithstanding his immense admiration for this distinguished couple, an admiration which would have rendered him, if necessary, a willing victim had they really had designs upon him, it was a fact that some such thought as Monsieur Simon's words indicated had been crossing his brain at that precise moment. His protest, however, was voluble and emphatic enough.

"No one could have associated such a thought with your charming offer, Monsieur," he declared, "certainly not I."

"You think that you dare trust yourself with us, then?"

"I shall be overjoyed to follow wherever you and Mademoiselle will lead," said the boy. "If you can show me anything new in this city," he added, smiling a little doubtfully, "I shall be glad as well as surprised."

"There is nothing new," Monsieur Simon admitted. "Some things, however, don't occur to one unless they are pointed out. At three o'clock, then, if it pleases you, we will leave this place together."



CHAPTER III.—THE BEGINNING OF AN ADVENTURE

AT three o'clock precisely, Monsieur Simon and his companion, followed by the younger man, left the restaurant.

"My automobile is here if you and Mademoiselle will honor me," the latter remarked, as they stood upon the pavement.

Monsieur Simon shook his head. "If you do not mind," he said, "I will ask you to send yours away. It is better that you come with us."

The young man hesitated. "Do you mean send it away altogether? How about afterwards? Shall I not require it to take me home?"

"We will arrange that," said Monsieur Simon. "Come."

The younger man did as he was bidden, and the three entered a large and remarkably handsome car which was already waiting. Monsieur Simon said but a single word to the chauffeur as they stepped in. D'Argminac sank back in his easy-chair and looked around him with admiration. The upholstering was all white. A soft white rug was upon the floor, and many footstools. There was a table with some books and flowers, an electric shaded lamp.

"No wonder you prefer your own automobile," the boy declared. "Mine is no better than a taxicab compared with this."

Monsieur Simon smiled but said nothing. The car was turned swiftly round, and to D'Argminac's surprise they did not descend the hill. He was beginning now to feel slightly curious.

"We do not descend into Paris, then?" Monsieur Simon shook his head. "We make a call close by," he announced. "After that it is as may be. We shall see."

They drove at a great pace into a quarter of Paris utterly unknown to D'Argminac. Presently they turned off a broad but shabby boulevard into a narrow, ill-lit street, and almost immediately the car came to a standstill in front of a tall, gloomy-looking house. Monsieur Simon descended leisurely and assisted his companion to the pavement.

"We are arrived," he remarked, looking over his shoulder at the younger man. "Follow us, please." Monsieur Simon rang and almost immediately the door was opened from inside. They were now in a very dark courtyard, with another door fronting them. After a moment or two's delay this one also swung back and hey passed into the passage of the house. By the light of an oil lamp which hung down from the ceiling, D'Argminac could see that they seemed to have penetrated into some low-class apartment house. The floor was of uncovered stone, the walls were stained with damp. During the moment that they stood together in the passage, two or three men of villainous aspect came through a door from the interior and swaggered out. A girl in tawdry clothes, smoking a cigarette and shouting the words of a popular song, brushed past them and out into the street. Monsieur Simon drew a key from his pocket and unlocked the door at his right hand. They passed into a small apartment which differed from the rest of the place in that it was apparently clean and moderately well furnished. In the far corner was a desk, at which Monsieur Simon seated himself. He whispered for a moment to Mademoiselle Josephine, who nodded and passed out. Then he rang the bell.

"You had better take a seat by my side," he said to the boy. "It would be really easier for you to come to an understanding of things by listening to me than if I attempt to explain."

D'Argminac did as he was bidden, asking: "One smokes?"

"One smokes always," Monsieur Simon replied, pushing him some matches.

Then the door was opened. A short, pallid-faced Frenchman came hurrying in, carrying a sheaf of papers. He bowed respectfully to Monsieur Simon, but came to an abrupt standstill when he saw a stranger.

"A friend, Briane," said Monsieur Simon. "He is with us for an hour or two, at any rate. What is there to be done?"

"A brave choice, Monsieur," the man answered. "Pierre has just come in with two most excellent reports. Monsieur perhaps remembers the man Jean Henneguy, the thread manufacturer in the Porte St. Martin?"

"He has three black crosses against his name, I believe," Monsieur Simon remarked.

"He deserves more," the newcomer insisted. "We have indeed a long account against him. His workpeople are shockingly underpaid, his wife he illtreats, he gives nothing to the poor, and he binds his customers to him by a system of usury."

"I remember the fellow," Monsieur Simon declared. "There is no one better for our purpose if the circumstances are propitious."

"He visits to-night," Briane said, glancing at the sheaf of papers in his hand, "at number 121, Rue d'Enghin. It is arranged that he shall leave there at four o'clock. Mademoiselle Marquerite has promised that he shall be punctual. Here are some further particulars concerning the man, if you care to look them through."

Monsieur Simon nodded and glanced down a sheet of foolscap. "It is decided, Briane," he announced. "This one affair will be enough for this time. Bring some clothes here for my young friend."

Briane glanced at D'Argminac and nodded. "But certainly, Monsieur," he replied, hastily quitting the room.

Monsieur Simon rose to his feet. D'Argminac had promised himself that he would ask no questions, but it was difficult.

"We are going into a quarter of the city," the former remarked drily, "where our present attire would be a trifle conspicuous. My good friend Briane, the little stout gentleman who has just gone out, will bring you some clothes. I myself am about to change. In ten minutes I shall return. You are still anxious to go on?"

"By all means," answered D'Argminac. "In fact, I am becoming quite interested. I await you here, then?"

"If you please," Monsieur Simon replied.

Briane came in and deposited a bundle upon a chair. Faithful to his resolve, D'Argminac asked no questions. When he saw what was laid out for him, however, he stared. One by one he held up the garments in disgust. A worn black jacket with many buttons, black trousers, frayed and stained, no collar, but a red handkerchief, and a peaked cap.

"The costume of an apache," he exclaimed to himself. He was alone now and slowly he commenced to disrobe himself and don this unaccustomed attire. Notwithstanding his genuine desire for adventure, his fingers trembled as he fastened the last button of his coat and glanced at himself in the cracked mirror. Nothing was left of the elegant young man of fashion. The change of clothes, indeed, had a curious effect upon him; his face seemed to have become more vicious, he was aware that he looked the part for which he was cast.

The door opened. It was Mademoiselle who entered. D'Argminac gave a little start at the sight of her. She, too, was dressed in black. Her gown was ragged, her bodice torn, her head bare. She laughed at his wondering gaze.

"It is a rapid transformation, is it not, Monsieur?" she demanded. "An hour ago we were of the great world. At this moment we are people of the street. You see, we go where the other things are not understood."

She walked to the mantelpiece and, taking up a cigarette, lit it. Then from a drawer she took out a long thin knife, tested its edge with her finger, and thrust it into the bosom of her gown. Afterwards she selected another one and passed it across to him. He accepted it without a word.

"Thank you," he said. "Do I do anything particular with this?"

"Use it if you are attacked," she answered drily. "The best advice I can give you is to show it often but to use it never."

Monsieur Simon appeared at the door. His costume was very nearly the same as D'Argminac's except that he wore a shabby overcoat.

"Come," he said.

They passed out into the courtyard. The door was slowly opened before them and they stepped into the street. A man slunk by them in the doorway, muttering a word as he passed. Monsieur Simon nodded. They entered the automobile. Monsieur Simon whispered an address to the driver and they tore away.

"Do you wish to ask any questions?" he inquired of the younger man.

"I am not in the least curious," said D'Argminac, with a yawn. "If there is anything you think I ought to know, pray tell me. Otherwise, I am well content to wait for this excitement which you have promised me. It is rather a long time coming."

Monsieur Simon smiled. "Perhaps you are right," he remarked. "Just stick to us, then, and act as seems reasonable."

Their ride this time was a short one. When it terminated they were still in an unsavory and unfamiliar part of the city. The automobile stopped at the corner of a street. The other two followed Monsieur Simon on to the pavement, and as soon as they had descended the car at once glided off.

"This way," Monsieur Simon directed. "Keep close to us, my young friend. The brethren of our craft around here are apt to be curious."

They passed a café being swept out by a yawning waiter; another, from behind the closed door of which came the sound of music. Then a row of silent, empty-looking houses. Close to the end of the street they slackened their pace. Four o'clock struck.

"Within five minutes," Monsieur Simon remarked, "a man will come out from that house opposite. When he comes, Mademoiselle will leave us. As for you, you had better follow me closely."

D'Argminac nodded. Almost at that moment the door of a house on the opposite side of the way was opened, and a man came down the steps and turned into the street. Mademoiselle Josephine crossed the road, laughing softly. The man stopped to watch her. She was wonderfully graceful even in her ragged clothes. She seemed about to pass him, but paused to shout a greeting. He caught a glimpse of her face in the gaslight and hurried after her. Monsieur Simon, making a slight detour, crossed the road a little higher up. Mademoiselle and the man were talking now, on the edge of the pavement. Monsieur Simon crept up behind and D'Argminac began to feel that it was coming. His heart was certainly beating faster. What was it that was going to happen! He caught a glimpse of Mademoiselle's face, white and provocative. The man, a coarse, burly brute, was leaning towards her. Monsieur Simon glanced up and down the street. Suddenly he crept up from behind and his arms went around the man's neck like a flash. Almost as he held him, the girl pushed something into his mouth. The man struggled in vain now to speak or cry out. Again the girl leaned toward him, and squirted something from a little bottle into his nostrils. Even from where he stood D'Argminac was conscious of a pungent, extraordinary odor.

"It is enough," Monsieur Simon said calmly. "Help me to support him, if you please," he added to D'Argminac. "Now into the car with him."

Silently and without warning the automobile had pulled up by the side of the pavement. Monsieur Simon, with an effort of marvelous strength, lifted the man in. The other two followed and the car was off once more. Monsieur Simon, with Mademoiselle Josephine and D'Argminac, occupied the front seat. The man whom they had garroted lay on the floor by their feet. His eyes were open and he was breathing heavily, but he seemed barely conscious.

"That is the man," Monsieur Simon remarked, looking down upon him—"Jean Henneguy. There is something in physiognomy, without a doubt. One cannot but remark upon the brutality of that face. Look with me, Josephine. The eyes are too close together, the forehead is too low, the nose is small and insignificant, the mouth is sensual. Can you see a single redeeming feature there? What do you say, Monsieur d'Argminac?"

D'Argminac, who was trembling slightly, did his best to speak with his customary drawl. "An ugly and repulsive person," he declared. "I never saw a worse face."

"I am afraid," said Monsieur Simon, "that his biographer has flattered his career rather than otherwise. It is a pity that such a man should be allowed to live. An absolutely humanitarian government would dispose of him in the quickest way. The world is too full of sentiment nowadays. You agree with me, I am sure, Monsieur d'Argminac?"

"Naturally," D'Argminac replied. "This man is no better than the insects on which we tread because the sight of them offends us."

Monsieur Simon nodded. "Sound, my young friend," he declared, "perfectly sound. Dear me, how fast we travel to-night! Once more we are arrived." To D'Argminac's surprise they were now in an entirely different quarter of Paris. The automobile had paused before the entrance to an old-fashioned white stone house. The door was opened and they passed into a small courtyard. Two servants, who seemed perfectly used to the situation, came swiftly out, picked up the body of the unconscious man, and carried him into the house. Monsieur Simon assisted Mademoiselle and motioned to D'Argminac to follow them.

"This," he explained, looking over his shoulder, "is our little hospital. If our friend who has gone in there before us has any money upon him, he will doubtless give us a small donation. We shall see."

Monsieur Simon led the way into a room the door of which was thrown open by a man-servant dressed in sombre black livery. D'Argminac could scarcely refrain from a little cry of surprise as he entered. The room was plainly but delightfully furnished. On a sideboard were various wines and liqueurs. Monsieur Simon opened a bottle of wine and filled three glasses.

"To the health of our distinguished visitor!" he remarked, bowing and raising his glass. "Mademoiselle and I drink your health, Eugène d'Argminac. Tell me, so far as we have gone at present, have we succeeded in amusing you?"

"The affair was interesting," D'Argminac admitted indifferently, "a trifle tame, though. One reads of such things without emotion every morning in the papers. There is nothing here really stimulating." Monsieur Simon smiled. "Ah, well," he said, "this is, perhaps, not one of our best nights, but it is not over yet! Ah, our friend recovers! Will you put on this, my friend?"

D'Argminac accepted his mask and adjusted it with a slight gesture of condescension. Monsieur Simon and Mademoiselle Josephine had already arranged theirs with deft swiftness. There was the sound of a voice close at hand, half terrified, half bullying. Some folding doors, which D'Argminac had not noticed, were suddenly rolled back from the further end of the apartment. Almost at the same time Monsieur Simon touched the knobs of the electric lights. The room was plunged into darkness.



CHAPTER IV.—THE COURT OF JUSTICE

THE smaller room, disclosed by the rolling back of the folding doors, was brilliantly illuminated, and from their darkened point of vantage seemed to D'Argminac to be something like the stage of a theatre. It was almost devoid of furniture, and the floor was covered with some sort of linoleum. There was a straight broad platform in the middle, on which the man whom they had brought there was sitting. By his side stood the person who was acting as jailer. A smaller man, with black, close-cropped hair, gold spectacles, and the air of a physician, came from the background. He leaned over to Monsieur Simon.

"The man is healthy," he announced. "Pulse and heart action are perfectly normal. He has two hundred and seventy francs, a gold watch, and some unimportant articles in his pocket."

Monsieur Simon sighed. "It is very little," he said. "Destroy everything except the money. Rather a bad case, I am afraid, doctor."

The other nodded. "I have heard of the fellow," he remarked. "He has a shocking reputation."

Their prisoner tried now to rise to his feet. His tie and collar were disarranged, his bulbous eyes were strained in the effort to see into the darkened room.

"Where am I?" he cried. "Is this a hospital? Has anything happened to me?"

Monsieur Simon spoke from the shadows. "Jean Henneguy," he said, "you are before the Court of St. Simon. Have you ever heard of it?"

"The Court of St. Simon," the man muttered angrily. "Is this some silly trick?"

Monsieur Simon sighed. "It is no trick," he said. "I will not explain our title, for I fancy that your reading, Jean Henneguy, has not extended to the ancient history of the world. Let me tell you simply that you are in the presence of those who amuse themselves in their spare moments by endeavoring to equate some of the miserable unfairnesses of life. It is not much that we can do, but here and there, Jean Henneguy, we take hold of a man as we have taken hold of you, whose life does not please us or his fellow men, and in our small way we do some trifling thing towards righting the balance."

"Is this a mad-house?" the man growled.

"No, no!" Monsieur Simon declared soothingly. "You are mistaken. It is precisely what I say. Now listen, and tell me if you recognize yourself. You are Jean Henneguy, of the Porte St. Martin. You are a manufacturer of thread, you employ forty young girls, and your wage bill is the lowest in the district. Your income is perhaps a hundred thousand francs. You tell your wife that it is not fifty. You have friends here and friends there on whom you squander money; your wife is a neglected and broken-spirited woman. You have never been known to spend a centime except for your own gratification, you have never been known to assist a human being or to perform a single act of kindness. Your life is an offence to the community. It is a peculiar offence to us, Jean Henneguy, that on the night when we were so fortunate as to bring you here, you should have been carrying upon your person only the sum of two hundred and seventy francs."

The man began to bluster. "But this is imbecility!" he exclaimed. "It is a robbers' den this, then. You want my money, eh?"

"A little more than your money, Jean Henneguy," Monsieur Simon continued calmly. "It is not enough. If you had been found to-night with ten thousand or even five thousand francs about you, we might have considered such an offering. But two hundred and seventy francs and a gold watch, Jean Henneguy, against the whole list of your misdeeds, is a trifling matter indeed!"

The man was beginning to get uneasy. He was straining his eyes in the effort to see the faces of the men with whom he talked.

"Well, well," he said, "who you are, and how it is you know anything of me or my life, I don't understand. What matter! Am I a prisoner? I wish to go. If I am to be robbed, I may as well put up with it. Keep my money and let me go."

"It is not enough, Jean Henneguy," Monsieur Simon repeated regretfully. "This is a court of justice, but, alas! our powers are limited. We cannot compel you to give more than you have upon you. Even here payment can be exacted from you only up to the pitch of unconsciousness. No, you will not meet with justice to-night, Jean Henneguy, although it is our privilege to deal out some slight measure of punishment."

The man's eyes began to roll. "What do you mean?" he growled.

"Give him twelve lashes," Monsieur Simon ordered—"twenty if he shouts like that. The gag!"

The man's yell was abruptly stifled. The folding doors were slowly returning to their original place. Monsieur Simon strolled towards the switch of the electric lights and pressed it with his forefinger.

"You see, after all, my dear D'Argminac," he remarked, passing his cigarette case to the younger man, "that we are moralists. To judge from our costumes and our methods, people might, perhaps, call us hard names. That would be foolish, for we do not deserve them. Dear me, what a babel! I am afraid that there is still another sin to be charged up to our friend. I am really afraid that he is a coward."

From the inner room came a succession of half-stifled cries, pathetic sobbing, as though some animal were caught in a trap. The soft swish of a whip cut through the air, beating time moment for moment with those hysterical murmurs of agony. D'Argminac felt suddenly sick.

"You would like to come behind the scenes with me, no doubt, and see this creature punished?" Monsieur Simon suggested. "I am afraid he is but a poor subject. He cries all the time like a rabbit."

D'Argminac set his teeth. "Cannot we see from here?" he asked.

"Just as you like," Monsieur Simon replied carelessly. "I thought that perhaps you would prefer closer quarters."

He readjusted his mask, turned out the lights, touched a bell, and the folding doors once more rolled back. Henneguy was lying with his face downward, writhing upon the platform. They had drawn a sheet over him. He seemed still to be sobbing in a half-choked manner.

"Take away his gag," Monsieur Simon ordered. "Let us hear if he has anything to say."

They removed it and the sheet. The man's face was horrible. The perspiration was standing in great globules all over his forehead, a dull streak of color glowed across his livid cheeks.

"Pardon!" he begged. "Pardon, Messieurs! I will pay. I will give five hundred francs—five hundred francs—no, a thousand—if you will put me in a cab and send me home. I will ask no questions, I swear that I will do nothing. I will send the money wherever you will. I am not strong. I cannot stand this. I shall die—oh, my God, I shall die!"

Monsieur Simon listened with immovable face. The girl by his side laughed openly, her white teeth flashing in the dim light.

"It is a pity," Monsieur Simon remarked to D'Argminac, "that to-night we should have had to deal with a coward. Often we have men who, whatever their faults may be, possess courage. Not so this poor lump of flesh! How many lashes did we say?"

"Twelve, sir," answered the man who stood by the side of the platform.

"And how many has he had?"

"Eight, sir."

"You hear?" continued Monsieur Simon, addressing the man who lay writhing upon the platform. "You have four more lashes to receive, Jean Henneguy. Think of that, and remember that you are being punished now for the life you have led. Remember that a single good action committed by you during the last twelve years would have meant a lash the less. If one could learn a single favorable thing concerning you and your pig-like existence, you should be spared, but there has been nothing. You have eaten and drunk, you have fed out of the trough, you have satisfied every coarse appetite which your nature has begotten. You have shown kindness to none. You have not once stretched out your hand to help a poorer brother. It is an inadequate payment that you make to-night, but it is something. Proceed."

The man who was armed with the whip stepped forward. His victim struggled violently.

"Did I say a thousand francs?" he shrieked. "I will give five thousand to any hospital, to any charitable work you will. I will not say that I have been robbed—I swear it. Monsieur—you there whom I cannot see—listen, I pray you! Have mercy! For Heaven's sake, have mercy!"

Monsieur Simon seemed as though he had not heard a word. Turning to D'Argminac, "Perhaps," he suggested, "it would amuse you to wield for a moment the whip? If so, do not hesitate to step upon the platform. No? Then continue, Pierre."

The whip sang through the air. The gag was back in its place, but the man's frantic, half-stifled shriek was like the death cry of a dumb animal. D'Argminac turned and fled into the back portion of the room. Monsieur Simon, with a smile, followed him. The folding doors were closed, the lights shone once more out in the room.

"So, my young friend," he remarked pleasantly, "we have, I trust, succeeded. We have at least shaken that expression of weariness from your face. Once more you look as though life held things which counted. Pardon me, you will drink some wine?"

D'Argminac accepted the glass with shaking fingers. His face was livid, he was feeling horribly sick. "Can't we—can't I get away?" he begged.

"By all means," Monsieur Simon assented. "If it would amuse you to return here afterwards—"

"No!" D'Argminac interrupted. "No, I should like to go home at once! It doesn't matter about my clothes." "As you will," Monsieur Simon answered. "Your clothes shall be returned to your rooms. You will, perhaps, give us the pleasure of your company again before long. Mademoiselle my sister and I are always enchanted."

"I thank you," muttered D'Argminac.

They stood now upon the doorstep. The automobile was waiting. They all three entered.

"You are leaving him here?" D'Argminac whispered.

"But certainly," replied Monsieur Simon. "This is all part of a scheme, my young friend, a perfectly organized scheme. My people know exactly what to do with him."

"But won't he—don't they go to the police afterwards?" D'Argminac asked.

Monsieur Simon shrugged his shoulders. "To tell you the truth, some of them do, but their stories sound strangely, you know. They are drugged in a peculiar manner when they come, and we give them just a little more of the drug when they leave, and they are found practically where we picked them up, robbed, and, to all appearance, recovering from a drunken slumber. Their story, if they venture to tell it, doesn't sound very credible, and for the rest, I will bet you a hundred louis, if you will, Monsieur d'Argminac, that you shall set out tomorrow from your rooms and you shall search all Paris and you will find no trace of the house from which we started, or the hospital we have just left."

"But it is a risk, surely it is a risk!" exclaimed the young man. "There is always a chance that you might be recognized and discovered."

Monsieur Simon sighed. "You talk like a child," he murmured softly. "We came out to-night to try and stir your pulses a little. Is anything in life which creates emotion done without risk? It is all a matter of degree. You risk your life every time you cross the Boulevard. Yes, we chance something, of course, but not so much as you think. The Court of St. Simon is one of the jokes of the magistrates' rooms here. No one believes in it, of course. In a moment or two, Monsieur Eugène, we shall put you down at the corner of the Rue Galilee, and as a matter of form, I must request that your little adventure of to-night remains a secret."

"You trust me, then?"

Monsieur Simon smiled. "There was one who tried to talk," he remarked, "a year ago. He was brought to the hospital and he did not get off quite so lightly as our friend Jean Henneguy, who in a very short time will be found lying, badly beaten and robbed but alive, in the gutter of the street where we found him."

"Will you bring me with you again?" the boy asked. "You mean it?" Monsieur Simon replied.

"I mean it," D'Argminac asserted, though his voice, even when he had asked the question, trembled.

"We will see," Monsieur Simon answered. "We may come across one another again. Let it depend upon the humor we are in."

"May I know your name?" the young man asked. "They call you Monsieur Simon, but one knows—"

"Monsieur Simon is the name by which I am known at night. It is the name which belongs to our acquaintance. Descend here, if you please, Monsieur, and au revoir!"

Eugène d'Argminac was left standing at the comer of his street in the cool dawn-light. The automobile was already rushing on towards the Champs Elysées. Even here, through the stillness of the early morning, he fancied for a moment that he could hear the horrible cry of the beaten man. With a shiver he hurried into his apartments.



CHAPTER V.—BRIANE SEEKS HELP

VALENTIN SIMON, Vicomte de Souspennier, leaned back in his chair upon the worn gray terrace of his chateau in the valley of the Seine, his coffee untasted, a cigarette burning idly between his fingers. His eyes were fixed upon that broad ribbon of white road which stretched from the horizon to the village beneath, straight as the hand of man could build it. It was the road from Paris, and a visitor was even then on his way to the chateau.

The chateau itself was old and rugged, the splendid remains of a fourteenth century fortress. Its interior was a veritable study in contrasts. Some of the rooms seemed to have been left untouched for hundreds of years. Others—the more habitable portion—showed with absolute ruthlessness the modernizing hand of science. On a corner of the round table where Valentin had recently lunched was a telephone instrument, brought out from the room beyond. Even as he watched he raised the receiver to his ear.

"It is the station-master at Neuilly?" he asked. "The mid-day express from Paris, it has arrived? Yes? My car has left, then. Ten minutes ago? Many thanks." He replaced the instrument and looked once more along the road. In his quiet country clothes he had certainly lost none of the distinction which had attracted the favorable notice of so well known a dandy as Eugène d'Argminac. Without a doubt, Valentin, Vicomte de Souspennier, was good to look upon. In his English-made tweeds his long, lithe frame, sinewy, without an ounce of fat, his easy carriage, his slim yet powerful shoulders, were even more noticeable. His face would have been colorless but for a slight tinge of brown; his clear eyes, his glossy brown hair, were trustworthy indices of his perfect physical condition. He looked, indeed, as much at home here, amidst his country surroundings, as in the Abbaye.

Soon a little cloud of dust in the road attracted his attention. He touched a bell by his side. "Monsieur Briane arrives," he told the footman who answered it. "See that fresh coffee be sent up, and liqueurs."

The man withdrew. The car, being driven at a great pace, was soon ascending the tortuous way leading from the village to the chateau, which was literally built upon a rock. Every now and then Valentin caught sight of it with its solitary occupant, flashing through an opening in the trees, climbing up the steep, almost precipitous drive.

Soon it came to a standstill below and Valentin leaned forward.

"Welcome, my friend Briane!" he exclaimed. "Come this way, up the steps. So! The man will take your coat. You are sure that you have lunched?"

"A thousand thanks, Monsieur, I lunched upon the train," the man replied. "With your permission!"

He sank into the seat indicated by Valentin. He, at least, fitted strangely with his surroundings. Everything in his face and general appearance seemed to denote the liver by night. His cheeks were pale and thin, his eyes deep sunken, his bony fingers stained with cigarette smoke. His clothes were Parisian, and one realized that he had with difficulty refrained from the silk hat. He helped himself a little eagerly to brandy and lit a cigarette.

"It is pleasant of you, my dear Briane, to pay me a visit in my country solitude," Valentin remarked, "but I very much fear that it is no ordinary business which has brought you from Paris so early in the day."

"It is no ordinary business, Monsieur," Briane admitted, nodding his head vigorously, "no ordinary business, indeed. What is it that I said to Mademoiselle Josephine only one week ago to-night? 'Monsieur,' I said, 'must do as he thinks best, but he acts too much upon the whim of a moment. It is enough for him that he wishes it and he brings to an assignation, whose secrecy is the very breath of our lives, the veriest strangers. The whim assails him and he invites. What is it that he does by this? He risks everything—everything!'"

Briane was puffing vigorously at his cigarette. His eyes were bright, his tone had been almost hysterical. Valentin regarded his companion gravely. "My indiscretions," he declared with a sigh, "are part of myself. I cannot help them, my dear friend. If I were to promise to be more careful in the future, it would be of no avail. The same thing would happen again, without a doubt. Now tell me, what is it that I have done?"

"A week ago to-night," Briane exclaimed, "you brought to the Rue Druot and to the hospital a young man whose acquaintance you made at the Abbaye only a few moments before. The young man you presented to me—it was your friend, it was enough! By chance, the very next day I met with him, late in the afternoon, at a little bar where I take my aperitif, close to the Elysées Palace. We drank together and we talked."

"Well, I hope you got on well with him, Briane?"

"He pleased me," admitted Briane, "in a way he pleased me. He seemed to me to possess something of the modern spirit. I sympathized with him. Notwithstanding his youth, and a certain immaturity of thought which one could not fail to observe, he was still superior in many ways to those others of his age whom one meets. We spoke together of what he had seen the night before."

Valentin smiled. "I should really like to know," he murmured, "exactly what that young man's impressions were."

"I can perhaps inform you," Briane continued drily. "He found the evening exceedingly interesting, but when he came to examine his sensations afterwards, he was conscious of a certain amount of disappointment. There was, he observed, nothing criminal in what had taken place; nothing, to use his own words, which was unmoral. What was done was deserved. It was, after all, only the inexorable law of justice."

"Dear me!" remarked Valentin. "Was this his point of view or yours?"

"We were, perhaps, agreed," confessed Briane, "on this matter. You know very well, Monsieur, that there are those of us whose aid you frequently seek, and under whose protection, indeed, you carry out your enterprises, who go further than you would dare."

Valentin knocked the ash from his cigarette. "Come," he said, "'dare' isn't quite the right word. I know that some of you in the Rue Druot, some of those who use the place, I mean, are criminals. I have not the slightest objection to making use of them where it is necessary. I have even found a certain thrill of interest from association with them. My direct connection with them, however, ceases at that point."

Briane spread out his hands. "'Dare' is not the word I should have used," he admitted. "Monsieur le Vicomte has reason in what he says. Still, to revert to our young friend Monsieur d'Argminac. Not unnaturally, you will say, his point of view was not without its appeal to me. He was a protegé of yours—it was enough! The night before last he came to the Rue Druot at my invitation."

"The night before last," Valentin said softly, "was the night of the outrage in the Place Ceinture." Briane nodded and glanced for a moment around.

"Monsieur le Vicomte," he whispered, "your young friend D'Argminac was present. It was I who arranged it."

There was a short silence. Valentin's face had become a shade sterner. "Why do you come to tell me this?" he asked coldly.

"It is because of that young imbecile," Briane continued. "All went well, but at the critical moment fear paralyzed him. He could not retreat, he could not even reach his automobile."

"You don't mean to say that he was arrested?" Valentin demanded.

"He was not arrested," answered Briane, "but when the gendarmes came he was held as a passer-by, asked many questions, none of which he seems to have been able to answer through sheer terror, and he will be called as a witness to-morrow in the court. This is what comes of taking strangers into our secrets!"

"My dear Briane," Valentin objected, "I think that you are a little unreasonable. I am quite willing to take the responsibility for bringing the boy to the Rue Druot and on to the hospital, but it seems to me that this is a very different thing which you have done. You know very well that I have no sympathy with such deeds as the deed of the night before last. If you choose to indulge in such and to invite your own audience, I take no responsibility. Why have you come to me?"

"Because," Briane replied, "it is my firm conviction that the young man means to tell everything, not only the events of the night before last, but of his meeting with you, his introduction to me, the Rue Druot and the hospital."

Valentin smoked silently for a moment. "Well," he finally said, "my opinion of you, Briane—my honest opinion—is that you are a consummate ass."

The man's eyes flashed angrily, but he said nothing.

"Having relieved my mind to that extent," Valentin continued, "may I ask what you think I can do in the matter?"

"You must see him," Briane declared. "To me his doors are closed. I have sent my name up in vain. He is confined to his room, his servants say, suffering from shock. Nevertheless, one of them is to be bought. I can have you admitted."

"But what do you gain by that?" asked Valentin. "What can I do even if I see him?"

Briane leaned forward in his chair. The flesh seemed drawn tightly over his cheekbones; underneath there were hollows. His eyes were dry and bright. "Monsieur le Vicomte," he said, "you have gifts, great gifts. You do not fully make use of them, but that is your own affair. You would say to that, perhaps, as you say to so many things, that it is not worth while. Still, you have a tongue, you have a manner, you have force, you have the magnetic persuasion which we lesser mortals lack. If you lay your finger upon his lips, he will not speak."

Valentin leaned back in his chair. He looked over the smooth, sunny landscape, with its tall rows of elm trees, its river winding a way through the meadow-land—a broad thoroughfare of silver. He looked into the mists which rose faintly in the blue distance. He was a fool to have spoken to the boy, a fool to have taken him to the Rue Druot! The momentary attraction which had induced his interest had already faded away, but the regret remained. For some reason or other he felt, even at that moment, that for the rest of his life he would repent that careless invitation.

"I will go," he announced, throwing away his cigarette. "All the same, it is a bore."



CHAPTER VI—A WARNING TO D'ARGMINAC

EUGENE D'ARGMINAC had certainly succeeded in his quest for some new sensation, although the result did not appear to be altogether satisfactory. Wrapped in a rose-colored dressing-gown, he lay upon a deep sofa in his luxurious bedroom, with a pile of novels and newspapers beside him, a basket of peaches, a bottle of absinthe, and a half-empty box of cigarettes. The room was full of strange odors, burning essences, for which he seemed to have a special fondness, and every aperture through which fresh air could enter was closed. Nevertheless, although his immediate surroundings were exactly those most dear to him, it was very clear that he was far from content. As a matter of fact, he was almost prostrated with fear. At the slightest noise he twitched and started nervously. A footstep alarmed him.

"Gustave!" he exclaimed. "Gustave, how is it that you tread so loudly! Where are your slippers, you dolt, you clumsy idiot!"

There was no reply. D'Argminac turned his head and was suddenly speechless. This was not the pale, smooth-faced Gustave who came so leisurely across the room towards him. The boy clutched at the side of his couch. He could scarcely believe his eyes. It was the wonderful stranger of a few nights ago, Monsieur Simon, the man who had first turned the key in the door which had led into this land of strange terrors and delights!

"Monsieur Simon!" he gasped. "You!"

Valentin laid down his hat and stick. "Yes!" he assented shortly. "I had a visit this morning from our friend Briane. I thought that I had better come and see you."

D'Argminac shrank back upon his couch. His face was livid, his forehead damp, the lines under his eyes were almost purple. "You have seen Monsieur Briane?" he faltered. "He has told you everything?"

"He has told me everything," Valentin repeated. "It seems that you have gone a little further, my young friend, in your quest."

"It was Monsieur Briane," the boy muttered. Valentin frowned. "Briane gave you what you asked for," he reminded him sharply. "It is generally a mistake to give people what they ask for."

The boy's lips were slowly parted. "Monsieur Simon," he said hoarsely, "it was horrible! I saw the black figure come up behind, noiseless, creeping like an animal, holding on to the wall, bent double. And then the spring! I saw the knife flash, I heard that man's cry and the drip, drip, drip upon the pavement!"

He began to sob. Valentin looked at him as one might look upon some deformed object.

"Robert—the man who did it," he went on—"I had spoken to him only a minute before—I had taken a petit verre with him. He wiped his knife upon the tunic of the gendarme and leered at me across the street. Then he turned and ran, and all the others ran, and I—oh, my God, I couldn't!" the boy wound up.

Valentin sighed. "This is what comes of taking a nerveless parcel of insignificant humanity like you and treating it as though it were really flesh and blood," he murmured. "You had a beastly unwholesome craving to see crime. You've seen it and it has been too much for you. They tell me that there is some danger of your betraying those who gave you what you asked for."

"The man may die!" D'Argminac faltered.

"Die!" Valentin repeated contemptuously. "You knew quite well that life and death are phases only among these people. You knew that you were going to see an act of revenge—it may even have been justice. It is not your concern. It was bloodshed itself which you desired to see. You were gratified and now you whine like a sentimental puppy. Remember this. No one has made you the judge of my friend Briane or le beau Robert, or any of these others, any more than you have been made the guardian angel of the man at whom they struck. So far as you are concerned, these men have done no ill."

D'Argminac's fingers twitched as they played with the girdle of his dressing-gown. "I don't care what they've done," he muttered. "It isn't that."

Valentin shrugged his shoulders slightly. Then: "The object of my visit," he said, "is to impress this upon you, Eugène d'Argminac. If you are summoned before the magistrate to-morrow, you know nothing about that happening, about what went before or what came afterwards. There is no one concerned in it whom you can identify or whom you can remember to have seen before." D'Argminac listened intently. "No one I can identify, no one whom I can remember to have seen before," he repeated, after a pause. "I will try. But, Monsieur Simon, I am afraid. I suffer terribly from nerves. I do not like to go into any crowded place. I do not like to go into a court of justice. If I stand there, I shall scream. They bully one so, these lawyers. They will do what they will with me. I am terrified lest they should make me answer just as they please. This morning I am ill, Monsieur Simon, indeed I am ill."

He threw himself back upon the sofa with a groan.

Valentin looked around the room with an air of intense disgust.

"Of course you are ill, or think you are," he replied, "breathing an atmosphere like this! Why don't you send for a doctor to prescribe for you, open all the windows, and let in some fresh air?"

D'Argminac shook his head. "I catch cold so easily," he protested. "I like my rooms always warm. As for the doctor, I have sent for him many times, but he does me no good. I have my draught here and some absinthe. Monsieur Simon," he continued pitifully, "it is not that I wish to bring evil upon Monsieur Briane or the man—the man whom they call Robert, but in the court of justice I am helpless. I cannot breathe in a crowd—I shall faint, and when I recover I shall be so weak that I may say anything."

Valentin rose to his feet. His face was dark and menacing. He gripped the other'a shoulders and shook him. D'Argminac began to sob with terror.

"Listen," Valentin said, "I have done my errand. Before I go, let me assure you of this, though. The magistrate's room may have its fears for you, but there are more terrible things in the world. The friends of Monsieur Briane and le beau Robert number something like five thousand in this city, all bound together for purposes of self-protection. If by any single word you give away your knowledge of the affair that night, or mention our little excursion of the other evening, you will need to have exactly five thousand lives to avoid having your throat cut within a month."

"The police would protect me!" the boy muttered.

Valentin laughed scornfully. "The police! The poor fellow whom you saw killed in the Place Ceinture represented the police. They are none too anxious to have anything to do with Monsieur Briane's friends—let me tell you that. They know all about the house you visited with Mademoiselle and with me, but I don't think you will find them making any raids in that direction."

"I could leave the country!"

Valentin sighed. "Really," he said, "I gave you credit for more intelligence. I shall waste no more time upon you, but look me in the eyes, listen to what I am saying to you. Your cross-examination by the magistrate tomorrow will be only nominal. You saw nothing except a dark form steal up behind the gendarme, and you heard a cry. You were paralyzed with terror and you could not speak or move. You did not see the murderer's face. You were there because beyond the Place Ceinture there is a café which you had heard spoken of as a curiosity and worth a visit. Would you like me to repeat it?"

"I can remember it," the boy faltered. "But the magistrate will ask me more questions."

"I think not," Valentin replied. "Between you and me, I think that they are very well content to know as little as possible. Another arrest would mean more reprisals. I think you will find them willing to let things lie. Look at me. You believe what I say? You will obey?"

D'Argminac gazed up with fascinated eyes at the man who was standing over him. "I will do my best," he promised weakly.

Valentin moved away. He took up his hat and stick. He returned, however, to his former position and stood looking into the boy's face. There was a touch there of something feminine, something which seemed to denote an absence of virility, a superabundance of sensitiveness, which, after all, was perhaps a matter of inheritance. Valentin's expression softened; his tone, when he spoke, was kinder.

"My young friend," he said, "for my part I will say this. I regret exceedingly that a moment's idle curiosity should have induced me to make your acquaintance the other night in the Abbaye. Believe me, you are not suited for this life. Take my advice and chuck it all. Go back to England and try living in the open air for a few months. Here you are, after all, only affecting to be weary of a life over whose threshold you have not yet passed. How old are you?"

"Twenty-two," D'Argminac replied.

"Twenty-two!" Valentin repeated. "Haven't you a sister or a mother or some one who'll look after you?" "I have a sister," D'Argminac replied.

"Then go back to her," said Valentin, taking up his hat. "Make up your mind to try my prescription. Three months in England—in the country, mind—and try and fall in love with some nice girl. If you've any manhood in you, that ought to bring it out. And while you are here, break open your windows and let in the fresh air. Stop burning these beastly perfumes, take a cold bath now and go for a brisk walk in the Bois. Do you hear?"

"Yes, I hear," D'Argminac answered. "I'll—I'll try."

Valentin nodded not unkindly and turned away.

"Above all," he said, as he looked back from the door, "remember those few words of warning of mine."



CHAPTER VII.—A WOMAN'S HEART

VALENTIN was dining with Mademoiselle Josephine a few nights later, at a restaurant in the Bois de Boulogne, a miniature palace of glass and gilt and flowers.

"To-morrow," he announced towards the end of the meal, "I go to England."

She started. Her black eyes were full of concern.

"But, Monsieur," she exclaimed, "it is sudden, this! To England?"

Valentin assented. "For several days," he said, "I have felt inclined to take a change. To tell you the truth, Josephine, the affair of the Place Ceinture and that wretched boy's connection with it disgusted me. There is something very sordid, after all, in the passions and weaknesses that go unbridled."

"So Monsieur goes to England," she murmured.

Valentin selected a cigarette with care and lit it. "I shall go," said he, "to a little village in Somersetshire where my sister lives. Such a queer place, Josephine! All the pasture-land is cut up into small fields with high hedges, and the roads are like the country lanes in Normandy—they lose themselves every moment. All the houses in the village are covered with creepers or honeysuckle or roses, and the peasants are not in the least like ours. They have plenty of money, and they do not save, save, save till they seem to grind the very blood and bone of their body into gold."

"I should like to go to England," she declared. Valentin shook his head. "You wouldn't care for it. As a matter of fact, you would dislike it exceedingly. It has occurred to me very often, Josephine, since you became my companion in these little adventures, that you are entirely ill-placed."

Her silky eyebrows drew close together. She looked at him jealously. "What do you mean? You want some one else?"

"Not I!" he assured her. "But you—well, when I found you, you certainly were what you professed to be—a gutter child—with no instincts in the world save the instincts of robbery and cupidity. No one had given you anything, every one had taken what they could. Naturally, therefore, you were one of those who seem born into the world to take from others."

Her face looked very white and set in the artificial light, her eyes were fixed steadfastly upon his. Her lips seemed to move, but she said nothing.

"When I found you," he continued, "you were recommended to me as an expert thief, a trustworthy guide to the backwaters of gutterdom. And withal, one who might be trusted by her friends. It was a true character, Josephine. You are indeed trustworthy."

She laughed, not in the least naturally, but still a laugh. "This amuses you?" she demanded.

"Naturally," he replied. "It is a resume of our relations. To-night it seems fitting that we should speak of them for a moment."

She leaned a little forward; something of the tigress zealously repressed flashed in her eyes. "You are going to leave me!" she cried.

He raised his eyebrows ever so slightly. She seemed to shrivel away back into her place.

"Ah, my God, what have I said!" she exclaimed. "I know very well that it is you who have the right to go when you will. There is nothing between us to hold."

"Our relations," he proceeded, looking at her thoughtfully, "have certainly been unique. The people who have seen us together in the cafés, in the restaurants, sometimes, even, on the race-course, can have had but one thought concerning us. It amuses me sometimes to reflect how wrong they are. And you, Josephine?"

She leaned back in her chair and laughed with all the abandon of the Frenchwoman. "A joke! A joke, indeed!"

"We have wandered from the subject, after all," he remarked. "We were speaking of you and your tendencies. I am not sure, even now, that you were not really meant to be the wife of some deserving young shopkeeper, to bring up his children, to sit with him on Sunday nights in the theatre, to eat your dinner four times a year in the country, to say your prayers, and live the estimable life."

"You mock me!" she muttered.

"No, I am in earnest."

There was a silence between them, a silence which lasted for several minutes. All the time she was watching him. Yes, there was a change in his face! There was something graver there, more thoughtful. Quick to study his every expression, she realized this, perhaps, more readily than any other person in the world could have done. A little of the sparkle had gone from his eyes, the curve of his lips lacked its accustomed cynicism. For a moment she wondered what it all could mean. He had the air of a man who has stopped to think. As she watched him, her heart sank.

"What your relations with my sex may have been before I came, Josephine," he went on, "I do not know. Since then I have always felt that you have respected a condition which I made. I have thought over this, Josephine. We make a jest of happiness in our wittier and saner moments, but after all it is there, and it is only the middle classes who really know how to seize it. Why shouldn't you start again, marry, live out the life which I honestly believe you were born for? Your dot is assured. I am not a rich man, but that is already deposited in your name."

"It is our farewell this, then," she gasped.

"Dear Josephine, yes," he replied, "chiefly," he added, lighting a cigarette, "for your sake. For myself, I am middle-aged, the fires of life have burned out in me, I have nothing to hope for."

She shook her head, but he continued, glancing away for a moment from her swimming eyes.

"You, on the other hand, have everything. When I found you, you called yourself a gutter brat. . I take some pride to myself that I have at least made you a striking and presentable figure in any society you care to frequent. Frankly, however, I do not consider the life which we have been leading, or rather that part of it which we have led together, advantageous for you. For me, whose life is finished, who must have amusement at any price, it is well enough, but you are young and I have noticed in you possibilities of other things. You have affections, I believe, although you do well to keep them so thoroughly under control. It is a great thing to have the power of caring. The next is to find some one worth caring about."

"Are you so sure that I have not found any one?" she murmured.

He shook his head. "It is my impression that you have not. You have spoken once or twice of an aunt who lives near Orleans, a worthy person, I should imagine. Take my advice, child. Go and pay her a visit, show her your bank-book. She will probably ask you to stay. There is no town in France where a young woman with your attractions, and a modest dowry, will not find eager suitors."

There was another short silence between them. The orchestra was playing some fragment of real harmony, and the room was hushed. The man's eyes passed over the heads of the people and rested on the waving green of the trees outside. The girl, too, turned her head away from the crowded restaurant with its brilliant groups of diners. There was a new pain at her heart, yet after all it was an old fear.

"It is for this, then," she said at last, "that you have asked me to dine with you to-night?"

"It is for this."

"Very well, pay your bill here and drive with me for a little time. Then I will tell you what I think."

They moved out into the perfumed twilight and took their places in the roomy automobile which presently came to the front.

"Tell the chauffeur," she begged, "to drive slowly in the Bois. One talks better so."

He nodded, and soon they were off. Bicycles with paper lanterns flitted about under the trees, merry groups of people sat before tables at the cheaper cafés, everywhere the air seemed full of music, of voices raised in laughter. Josephine sat looking steadfastly in front of her. For some few moments she was silent. Then she spoke.

"Listen," she began, "much of what you have said is true. I will tell you more. When you came, I was a wild cat. Perhaps no man wanted me. Certainly there was not one whose lips had ever touched mine. That is because I was ferocious, always in an evil temper, and I suppose my looks and my temperament went together. You wanted to make an experiment, and I suited your purpose. You established me in an apartment, you engaged masters to teach me, you sent me to the best dressmakers, you gave me jewels, gradually I became your companion. On the other hand, I suppose I was useful to you. I showed you the sort of life you wanted to know about, I took you where no one else would have dared to take you, you have learned from me as much of the underneath side of criminal life here as any one may know. You are tiring of it. Good God, I have been sick at heart of it since the first day I was able to live as a free woman! If your fancy for it has gone, so has mine long ago. I do not ask to be always your companion, I do not ask for your lips, for your love, even for the touch of your hands. Those things," she went on, leaning passionately towards him, "are for others worthier than I. Oh, I know that, for I have seen so much of you! I have seen the little things, I know that at heart you are what you profess to despise—a good man. I know that I am not worthy to touch you, and I know that there is nothing I have to hope for from you or from your affection. But if I could be—your servant—"

She stopped for a moment. The tears seemed to be in her throat as well as her eyes. She was shaking as though with cold. All the time she was watching him.

"I have had the most absurd ideas," she went on.

"If I could dress as a boy and go into whatever country you go, if I could be in the same town, even, I should expect so little. I want nothing more. Oh, you must understand!" she cried. "You must understand that you cut into my heart when you speak of a husband and children, and all those things. Do you suppose that one loves to order, even among my class? Do you suppose that after six months with you, even though your kisses have touched only my forehead, I could think of any other man?"

He moved a little in his seat. She clutched at his sleeve. "Do not be angry," she begged. "It is not that I expect anything more from you. I don't! I know that it would be useless. But I want to keep myself as I am, always, because I have known you. Is there anything wrong in that, anything to make you angry?"

He turned towards her. There was an unaccustomed softness in his tone. "Dear Josephine," he said, "I am sorry. My experiment has not been a success. I forgot that in every creature of your sex there is always the woman's heart to be reckoned with."

"If only men had hearts, too!" she moaned.

He looked away into the trees. "Are there any men who haven't?" he asked. "We do not carry them upon our sleeves, you know, Josephine. I speak to you now in return for your words. It is the only kindness I can show you. I speak to you as I have spoken to no other human being, not even my sister, who loved me. There was a time when I felt as you feel, but alas! towards no human being. You find me, Josephine, a little hard, unaffectionate. It seems strange to you, perhaps, that I have never desired the things which other men desire. I wonder if you will understand me when I say that it is not my fault. I have spent years of my life hoping that that thing would come to me which comes to most men. And it doesn't. It passes me by. I never learned the art of pretending to care, Josephine, and the real thing doesn't come. So I grow older every day. Other men are caught up into Heaven. I suppose to love in that way is a gift, a gift which has passed me by."

"You mean to say that you have never loved?" she whispered.

"Foolish child!" he answered. "To have once loved is to love for always." . . .

Presently they found themselves once more on the great highway to Paris.

"To-morrow I leave for England," he said, breaking a long pause.

She held out her hand. "To-night, then, we say farewell," she replied steadily. "I think that you have made it easier for me, somehow, because you have told me what I am sure you have never told any one else."

He handed her out.

"Josephine," he began—for there was something else which he would have said to her. She looked swiftly into his face and he was silent. She flitted away and was lost in the throng. Valentin stepped back into the automobile.



CHAPTER VIII.—ENGLISH COUNTRY LIFE

VALENTIN turned with relief from the dusty road on to the soft green meadow-land. The end of his pilgrimage was very close at hand. He walked for a hundred yards or so across the meadow, starred with yellow buttercups and cowslips, through the long grasses, past the sleek Alderneys that gazed at him with brown, unwinking eyes. Presently he reached a low ring fence, over which he climbed. Before him was the gray stone front of an old English country house, with its sweep of gravel, its flower-beds brilliant with color, its deep, rich lawns, with here and there a cedar tree. On his right was a bed of blossoming rhododendrons—a brilliant patch of color; on his left, a cedar tree, from under whose shade came a murmur of pleasant voices, the soft tinkling of spoons. Valentin gave a little sigh, knocked the dust from his shoes, and bending back the branches presented himself in the open space from which the sounds came.

"Fortunate as usual, my dear Helen!" he murmured, advancing towards the woman who was seated behind the tea-tray. "You see, I took my chance of finding you all at home."

Lady Carlingford was tall and fair, with some of her brother's good looks but without his distinction. With a cream jug in one hand and a cup in the other, she looked at him in blank surprise.

"Valentin!" she exclaimed at last. "It is really you, then! Why do you play us such tricks?"

He smiled and, taking her hands in his, kissed them.

"Dear Helen," he said, "you must not be angry with me. The day before yesterday I had no idea of coming. Last night it seemed to me that there was nothing I desired so eagerly on earth as to sit under your cedar trees and smell your roses and hear your hay-cutting machines make music. Certainly I am more English than French."

"You are a most amazing person, although you are my brother," she declared. "Let me present you to Lady Margaret Simes, Mrs. Henneker, Miss Doris Fielding, Mr. Clarence Gray—my brother, the Vicomte de Souspennier."

Valentin acknowledged his sister's introductions and threw himself into a chair by her side. "Helen," he exclaimed, "this is Paradise! England seems to me more beautiful every time I visit it."

She poured him out a cup of tea. "I don't suppose you will drink it," she remarked. "You want absinthe or some such horrible drink, I suppose."

He shook his head reproachfully. "My dear Helen," he protested, "how could you think me guilty of such an anachronism as to ask for absinthe in such an exquisitely English scene! It is in the miserable quarters of the world that one drinks absinthe. Here—well, tea is more suitable. And how is my esteemed brother-in-law?"

"Charles is well but busy," she replied. "To-day he is at an agricultural show about twenty miles off, where he is one of the stewards. He has to judge things, and I am sure I don't know what time he'll be home."

Valentin, who tolerated his brother-in-law, sighed gently. "And you others?" he asked. "Is this a little house-party? Do I hear voices on the tennis courts?"

"Very likely," his sister answered. "Some of the young people from the neighborhood are playing. Lady Simes is staying with me, and Mr. Gray. I am afraid you won't care about our bridge."

"Bridge!" Valentin repeated. "I shall not touch a card. To-night, after dinner, I shall wander in your rose garden. I suppose you can put me up?"

"What an irresponsible person you are!" she declared, with a laugh. "Your things are at the station, I suppose? I will send a car for them. You might at least have sent a telegram and spared yourself the long dusty walk."

"I liked it," he answered. "I enjoyed every step of it. The country here is wonderful."

"The country around Souspennier is beautiful enough," she remarked.

"Beautiful, but in a different way," he declared. "French country always seems to me to be imbued with a note of theatricality. One is conscious of the artist's touch. Even the elm trees are grouped to let the sunlight come through. It's fancy, of course, but after all, you see, I am an Englishman, and I suppose this sort of thing appeals to me more."

The others drifted away. Valentin was alone with his sister. She was still a very handsome woman and in her youth they had been considered alike. Somewhere or other, however, their lives had parted company. There was little likeness now between the satisfied, well-preserved woman of forty, and the hard, tired-looking man a few years younger.

"What does it mean, this sudden visit to England?" she asked him curiously.

"A whim, dear sister," he replied, plucking a piece of sweetbriar from over his head and holding it to his nostrils. "Paris does that sort of thing to you. She takes all you have to give. Then she throws you away as I do this bruised leaf."

"The pity of it is she ever calls you back again," Lady Carlingford remarked, a little severely. "There is no proper country life for you in France. You should buy a small place here and marry."

He shook his head. "I should like to marry," he admitted, "but I have too much sense of humor."

"I don't in the least see why a sense of humor should be a reason for not marrying," objected Lady Carlingford. "I am sure Charles says very droll things sometimes, and we have always got on together remarkably well."

Valentin smiled as though at some thought. It was queer to come back into a world like this! "In any case," he said, "fate has treated me a little hardly in that one respect. I have had very many charming friends among your sex, friends of all sorts, but I have been left outside the orbit of this wonderful thing you call over here love. I am English enough to want it. A marriage after the French methods seems to me to have in it the very elements of savagery. Dear me," he went on, "how English I am becoming! I am talking of marriage and love as though they were inseparable."

She sighed. Like all the world who knew him, she loved this restless, dissatisfied brother of hers. "You mean to say really, Valentin, that you've never been in love at all?"

"On my honor, no!" he answered. "Doubtless the fact accounts for the wrinkles on my face. They say that it is love alone which keeps a man young."

She sighed. "And you are thirty-seven," she remarked.

"Thirty-eight next birthday," he corrected. "You know how bad it is for a child to dispense with scarlet fever and come out with it at twenty-one. Fancy what a terrible thing if, after all these years, the more mysterious ailment should come to me!"

"If it were only the right woman," Mrs. Carlingford said decidedly.

"It never would be," he replied, getting up. "Come and show me over the gardens, Helen. I want to smell your roses again, and your pinks. Have you still that great bed of lavender? Do you know, a month ago, in the small hours of the morning in a little restaurant, the atmosphere of which would have terrified you, I suddenly thought that I could smell the Carlingford lavender. I think that was the beginning of my homesickness."

She took up her lace parasol and they strolled across the velvety lawn. Valentin drew in a long breath of the flower-laden air.

"It is true," he murmured. "It must have been this which was calling me!"

It was a very small house-party and Valentin was a somewhat notable addition to it. At dinner-time he was always amusing, sometimes brilliant. Charles Carlingford, who secretly admired his brother-in-law more than any man of his acquaintance, chose to call him flippant, but he listened enviously to the stream of light banter of which Valentin was always a perfect master. When dinner was over, however, the bridge tables were drawn out, and Valentin, amid a chorus of regrets, wandered away into the darkness. He passed down the terrace and across the lawns, through the rose garden and down to the sunk fence which hung over the park. Here he hesitated for a moment, finally turning to the left and making his way to the old flower garden. The air seemed almost faint with perfumes from a hundred different sorts of cottage flowers. He threw himself down upon a wooden seat and leaned back gratefully. Far away from him now the beautiful lamp-lit city, with its false atmosphere, its artificial stimulus, its great golden-throated choir voicing their thousand and one calls to the senses and hearts of its victims; far away its surge of eager people, its brazen chorus of invitations to meretricious delights. Valentin felt for those few moments as though a yoke had fallen from his shoulders. Something had passed—the restlessness, the craving for new sensations, the part of him which called out always for distraction. Here was rest—? rest for the nerves, the desires, rest physical and mental, the rest that comes hand in hand with peace. He leaned back in his seat. If only it were possible to live like this!

Then came a wholly unexpected interruption. A curious breeze came rustling among the leaves of the trees. From somewhere in the distance came the ominous rumble of thunder. He looked up. Black clouds had suddenly darkened the night. The cattle in the park were making for the trees. He was on the point of turning toward the house when he stopped short. Coming swiftly towards him across the dimly lit panorama was the figure of a woman.



CHAPTER IX.—IN THE SUMMER-HOUSE

VALENTIN, neither then nor at any future time, attempted to account for the concentrated excitement of those few minutes. Overhead, the violet sky was now almost altogether obscured by rolling masses of black clouds with jagged edges, leaving only occasional patches of the starlit heavens. The tense air was full of electricity. The muttering of the thunder had become a growl, almost incessant. Through it all, the figure of the woman came rapidly nearer and nearer. Valentin stood quite still, waiting—he scarcely knew for what. His eyes, after that first glance around, never left the approaching figure. His thoughts were busy all the time with speculations concerning her. As she came nearer, he saw that she was young, yet old enough to have outgrown the immaturity of girlhood. She walked with an effortless grace which baffled him a little. There was something in it of the trained walk of the coquette as well as the easy dignity of well-bred and healthy womanhood. She was slim but again she was fashionable. Her white gown, which floated around her, was almost daringly cut. For the last few yards she raised her skirts with both hands and moved swifter still. A great raindrop splashed on the gravel path before him. He moved a step towards her. They were only a short distance apart now.

"The summer-house!" she cried. "Quick!"

He followed her mechanically, around a corner of the garden into a tiny pagoda. They were scarcely inside before the thunder crashed once more. The gardens were suddenly illuminated with yellow light, the rain came pattering upon the roof.

"What an escape!" she panted.

The wonder had not passed from him. He stood and looked at her with a passionate and entirely unbridled curiosity. It was no village beauty, this. Her dinner gown was of white silk, and a row of pearls hung from her neck. Her eyes glowed at him through the darkness—gray eyes they were, soft, and lit now with something which he could not wholly understand, a light half humorous, half expectant.

"I can't imagine who you are!" she exclaimed. "I know every one who is staying here."

"I am a trespasser," he answered slowly.

"A trespasser? But where did you come from?"

He waved his hand vaguely. "From somewhere back in the world."

"But what are you doing here?" she demanded.

"I have come," he murmured, "to look for adventures."

"Lady Carlingford would be shocked if she heard you admit it," she declared. "Adventures in her garden, indeed!"

"Why not?" he answered dreamily. "The garden is beautiful enough, and the night. Besides, it is not the place that counts."

"I couldn't think," she protested, "of joining an adventure party with a person to whom I hadn't been introduced."

"Excellent," he declared, "but it is finished long ago—all that. Besides, this isn't a real world, you know!"

"I see," she interrupted. "We are on the stage of a theatre. The thunder is the orchestra and the roses are the inspiration."

"Ah, no!" he replied. "The roses are the background. It is you who are the inspiration—you!"

He leaned towards her. Her bosom was still rising and falling quickly, her eyes glowed at him, her lips were a little parted.

"I must know who you are before I go on with my part," she insisted.

"What does it matter?" he answered. "I am myself and you are you. I have not asked you where you came from—wonderful you—out in a thunderstorm in the middle of a field. I am content because you are here."

"Do you know," she said, "I am afraid you have been living abroad. You don't talk in the least like an Englishman."

"Oh, the madness comes even to Englishmen!" he assured her.

"If there are any doubts as to your mental condition," she began, edging away from him.

"You couldn't leave," he declared composedly. "Even a madman in a pagoda would be safer than the rose gardens in a storm like this."

She looked out. The darkness now was greater than ever. The clouds were low and the rain streaming down, hissing upon the gravel path, pouring with a soft swish upon the lawns and flower-beds.

"Poor roses!" she murmured.

"Don't pity them," he replied. "All day long they have been wanting moisture. Don't pity them because they are surfeited with it now. I think that I, too, was like the roses. For years I haVe been wanting something, something which I fancied was nowhere in the world for me. Perhaps it has come—perhaps—"

"If this is an offer of marriage," she interrupted, "please let me have it in writing. You see, I am twenty-six years old and nobody has proposed to me for at least a month. If you have no pencils and paper, write it on the wall of the summer-house."

"You are the most adorable person who ever escaped from fairyland," he declared. "Marry me and I will never let you go back."

She shook her head. "My fairyland, small though it is, needs its queen," she answered. "If you try to take her away, all the pixies and elves would come and sting you with poisonous weeds."

He leaned towards her. "There aren't pixies and elves enough in the world," he said, a little hoarsely, "to keep me from robbing them. Has any one ever made love to you—has any one ever told you that you are beautiful? Have you ever looked into any one's face and heard him say that he was on fire for a look from you, a touch of you, and looked into his heart and known that what he said was the truth?"

She did not reply. The storm had ceased for a moment. He heard her breathing quickly as though she had been running again. "I am afraid of you," she said softly. "You talk like a poet, not like a man."

"Should one fear poets?" he asked.

She shook her head. "They are proverbially unfaithful."

He laughed. "Men and women are only fools who swear fidelity. Our loves are as the gods will. Only when I cease to love you, I shall cease to live."

She was silent again. When she spoke, her voice was a little tremulous. "It isn't fair," she declared. "In my fairyland there is no one who talks like this. Supposing I believed! Women love so to believe."

"You do believe," he asserted confidently. "You have come from fairyland and I have climbed up out of Hell. One has no lies upon one's lips in the first moments of life."

"Of course you are a dream!" she murmured. "You will go with the storm. Now I look at you, there is something a little Mephistophelian about you. I don't believe that you climbed here at all. I believe that you rode down from Heaven on that last black cloud, my Prince of Darkness."

He shook his head. "Indeed, no!" he answered. "I was on a pilgrimage, a pilgrimage to which I could see no end. It was worse than Hell, that, only—"

"Only what?"

"Only the pilgrimage has ended," he murmured, "ended here."

"In Lady Carlingford's rose garden?" she faltered. He drew her into his arms. She was unresisting, yet for all her brave words he felt her heart beat wildly against his. His lips touched hers. "Here!" he whispered. "Here!"


Illustration

"The pilgrimage has ended," he murmured, "ended here."



CHAPTER X.—LADY CARLINGFORD IS ASTONISHED

LADY CARLINGFORD received a severe shock when she entered the dining-room on the following morning at nine o'clock and found her brother already there.

"Really," she exclaimed, "you are the most unaccountable person, Valentin! You disappeared from the face of the earth last night, and, of all places in the world, one finds you down to breakfast, calmly eating bacon and eggs."

"Must I remind you again," he said, "of that favorite adage of mine,—'When in Rome, do as Rome does'?"

"That's all very well," she replied, looking at him curiously, "but I am convinced, all the same, that there is something the matter with you. When you came, you looked rather like a ghost. This morning you look as though you had bathed in some wonderful waters and found the secret of rejuvenation."

"Quite right," he admitted. "I found it last night in your rose garden."

"In my rose garden, indeed!" she repeated scornfully.

"Besides, you know," he continued, "this air always did agree with me."

"There was no air at all last night," she answered. "It was a hideous, sulphurous atmosphere. What happened to you in the storm, I wonder?"

He smiled. "I very nearly got wet."

"It did rain," she agreed. "I suppose that is why Sophy never turned up."

He turned a little away from her and opened his cigarette case. "And who," he asked, "is Sophy?"

"Sophy," she told him, "is a very extraordinary young woman—a particular friend of mine—who lives at the Old Hall, just across the park. I invited her to dine last night, but she hates dinner-parties. She promised to walk up afterwards."

"What is she like?"

"Beautiful," his sister declared. "There is no other word for her. She is one of the most beautiful women I ever saw."

"And she is really a friend of yours?" he asked.

"My best," Lady Carlingford answered. "Why this curiosity?"

Valentin shrugged his shoulders. "In a month's time," he announced, "she will be your sister-in-law."

Lady Carlingford set down her coffee-cup and gazed at him with wide-open eyes. "You know, Valentin," she said, "there are moments when I wonder whether you are quite sane."

"Any doctor," he declared, "would assure you of the fact. I got up early this morning on purpose to tell you. The only trouble was that I didn't know her name."

"There is a doctor in the village," she murmured. "He isn't very clever, I am afraid. I suppose I ought to telephone to Sorchester."

"What for?" he asked.

"A doctor for you. I wish I could persuade you to lie down for an hour or two."

"Thank you," he told her, "I am going to see my fiancee."

"Whose name you don't even know!" she gasped.

"I know now," he answered, "thanks to you. I met her last night. We were out in the storm together. If it hadn't been so infernally unpractical, I should have carried her off then and there. The worst of it was she wore little white satin slippers and they were wet through. So I took her home instead and I hope she changed her stockings."

"Do you mean to tell me—are you trying to tell me that you met Sophy Arlen last night?"

He nodded. "We took refuge in the summer-house together. I am going to marry her as soon as it can be arranged. Tell me all you can about her."

Lady Carlingford was beginning to recover herself. All this was nonsense, of course, but, on the other hand, Sophy had been abroad lately and it was quite possible that the two had met somewhere. If Valentin had really been attracted, after all, might this not be the solution of his empty life? She was immensely interested.

"Tell you what I know about Sophy Arlen," she repeated. "There isn't much to tell. You don't remember her, I suppose, but she and I were children together."

"It comes back," he admitted. "I hadn't thought of her as being any one's daughter, to tell you the truth. Is the old man dead?"

"Dead, and left Sophy all his fortune," she answered. "She lives quite alone, and practically manages her estates herself."

"No guardian, or anything of that sort?" he asked.

"No, Sophy is twenty-six years old. She lives quite alone. She has been her own mistress ever since I can remember."

"In that case," he replied, "we may be married earlier than I said. There are such things as special licenses. I shall go around presently and have a talk with her."

Lady Carlingford half closed her eyes. Her brother was certainly a trial! "Try and be sane for a single moment, Valentin," she begged. "You really did meet her last night, then?"

"Without a doubt,*" Valentin answered. "I haven't told you a word that isn't true."

Lady Carlingford was conscious of a pleasant thrill of excitement. "You are a wonderful, unexpected person," she declared, "but you really have some common sense. There isn't another woman in the world like Sophy."

"By the way," he said, rising and strolling towards the window, "how do I get to the Old Hall? Your park looks so different in the daytime."



CHAPTER XI.—VALENTIN'S LOVEMAKING

SOPHY shook her head at him reproachfully. "After all, you know," she said, "this is very banale. You really ought to have climbed back on to that black cloud and sailed away again into the thunderstorm."

"Instead of which," he smiled, standing with his hat and gloves in his hand, "I pay a morning call and request to be allowed to pay my addresses to the Lady of the Roses."

"Artistically," she assured him, "you have blundered. Come into the garden and you shall explain your pretensions. By the way, do I know your name?"

"I am Helen's brother," he said. "I thought you might have guessed."

"I couldn't possibly accept a title," she declared. "Look at me, now. Did you ever see a more absolutely British person? Could I, by any chance, pass as a Vicomtesse?"

"At any place among the elect of the earth," he murmured, "you would not only pass—you would reign!"

"If any woman ever does marry you," she said earnestly, "she will make a gross error. To convert a lover so apt and so poetical into a husband would be a heinous fault."

She led the way through an iron gate into a walled garden. In a shady corner were a couple of chairs.

"We will sit here," she continued. "Let me hear how it all sounds in the daylight. The thunder and the darkness have passed away, you know. One feels that the fragments of our dream have gone with them."

"It is not a dream at all," he declared fervently. "I have searched all over the world, praying for what came to me last night."

"I am not sure," she replied, "that the Vicomte de Souspennier has exactly the reputation of one who has sought in life and failed to find."

"The things of yesterday are of no account now," he insisted. "From to-day I am yours—my thoughts, my hopes, every part of me. And you can't refuse me. Mind you, I know it. You can't refuse me. In your heart you know that I am the man for whom you have been waiting."

"Twenty-six years," she murmured. "They are beginning to call me an old maid in these parts."

"I am thirty-seven," he answered. "I would give every one of those thirty-seven years for one of the golden years to come."

"You are a confident wooer!"

"Because I know," he answered. "Such moments as came to us last night can visit no one person alone."

She looked into his face long and earnestly. "Yes, it has come," she admitted quietly. "I don't know why I should fight against it. I always prayed that it might come. I always prayed, too, that it might come like this."

"You live alone here?" he asked, a little abruptly.

"To the scandal of the countryside, yes!" she replied.

"There is no one to consult, then," he went on. "Tomorrow I shall go to town—you can guess what for."

She moved uneasily in her chair.

"I shall get a special license," he continued. "In a week—"

"My dear man," she broke in, "in a week I am going off on a round of house-parties."

"In a week," he replied stubbornly, "we shall have started upon our honeymoon."

"Such confidence!"

"It is only apparent. As a matter of fact, I am dying for a little word of encouragement from you."

She shook her head. "In the morning!" she exclaimed.

"It wasn't like you to have come at all. You ought to have stolen across the fields with the first stars to-night."

"I was much too impatient," he declared. "May I stay and lunch with you?"

She laughed. "After which, I suppose," she said, "you would consider that I was so compromised that I should agree to your special license at once. Let me assure you that it is by no means an uncommon occurrence for me to have a man to luncheon."

"To-day," he assured her, "you shall have more than a man; you shall have a lover."

She drew a sprig of lavender from her bosom and sniffed at it thoughtfully. "Have you made love often in this whirlwind fashion?" she asked.

"Don't use that ghastly phrase," he begged. "You talk of making love as though it were something artificial. I have simply spoken to you the things which came into my heart."

She leaned a little towards him. She was looking at him earnestly. "Am I wise, I wonder," she murmured, "to listen to all this? I have heard of Helen's brother, you know."

"There are many things," he admitted, "which may be urged against me, yet one I think even my enemies will allow me—I do not he. My word is as precious to me as you. Think of that, dear, for I am going to tell you once more that I love you."

"If I could only make you talk common sense!" she protested. "Do you know that we haven't been introduced?"

"That's the glory of it all," he declared,—"the sentiment of it! No one ever shall introduce us to one another. I am Valentin Simon, Vicomte de Souspennier, and I love you."

"And I," she replied, "am plainly called Sophy Arlen, and I am very much afraid—"

"Go on," he begged.

"I am very much afraid," she confessed softly, "that there is something come into my life, something in my heart, dear, when I talk to you, which I don't quite understand. I suppose it is all over with me—a middle-aged woman, too. Do you mean that you are staying to lunch?"

"Of course I am," he answered.

"One cutlet, I expect," she sighed. "I shall have to pretend that I am not hungry, and watch you eat."

"We'll divide," he promised her. "I'm not ravenous. For the sake of hearing all about you, I faced the horrors this morning of an English breakfast."

"Tell me exactly what you learned?"

"Everything I wanted to," he replied,—"much more, in fact. Your name is Sophy Arlen, you are twenty-six years old, your father was the Stephen Arlen whose name has been familiar to me all my life. You have received more offers of marriage than any other woman in the country, you travel a great deal, and you are reported to have ideas on many subjects. With women you are popular; men are a little afraid of you. You are hatefully rich, and you are going to marry me."

"Dear me!" she exclaimed. "There isn't much left, is there?"

"It is really only the last part that interests me," he assured her.

"It sounds like the end of everything," she murmured. "On the contrary, it is the beginning!"

She was silent for several moments. He watched her critically. Without a doubt she was something of an idealist. Just then her eyes were turned almost wistfully toward the skies. Was something passing from her life which, after all, she regretted?

"You see," she said, in answer to his unspoken question, "I have thought of marriage more than once, but I have been afraid; I have been afraid that I might be disappointed. And now you have made me think of it in a different way than any of the others, and still I am afraid. It sounds schoolgirlish, I know," she went on, "and yet it is one of the proverbial faults of my sex that we are a little too trustful. We accept everything a little too readily as we want to accept it. I do not know very much about you, Valentin Simon, Vicomte de Souspennier. There is a good deal which I have to take on trust."

"Yes," he admitted, "there is a great deal."

"Your story," she continued, "always rather fascinated me. At twenty-six—just my age now—you were told that you had only a short time to live. You went to Africa—I like to think that you went there at such a time—and you came back brown and strong. The doctors still refused to believe in you. I think that during the next few years you earned the reputation of a man who is trying to crowd into his life everything that is possible before the end."

"Perhaps!"

"When you were pronounced cured," she went on, "there were no experiences left for you. What have you been doing in France these last four years?"

He shrugged his shoulders.

"Living a vain life," he admitted. "I have painted a little, gambled a little, raced a little, played polo a little, collected a little. I have played at being a patron of the Arts, just as I have played at being a man of fashion. Perhaps I have been a little crazy in that restless quest of the unexplored land. You see, I had lived so long without it that I never imagined that the greatest thing of all could come."

She turned and faced him. Somehow she felt that this was the critical moment. "And has it come?" she whispered.

He looked unflinchingly into her clear gray eyes. All the hardness, the worn lines, had passed from his face. There was a new and wonderful tenderness there.

"It has come," he murmured, "and you know it."

She gave him her hand then, and he knew that the time of probation was over. After lunch they walked across the fields back to Carlingford Court. Lady Carlingford watched them from the terrace. Several of her guests were standing around.

"Look!" she exclaimed. "What has come to Valentin? He walks like a boy!"

"To my mind," her husband remarked, who was glancing over her shoulder, "they are a remarkably sheepish-looking couple."

"I believe that Sophy was the real reason why he came here," Lady Carlingford declared. "But when could he have met her, and why did she never tell me? It all seems so mysterious. Of course, that was all rubbish about meeting in the park last night!"

At any rate, there was to be no more mystery about the present situation. In a very few words Valentin explained it. Lady Carlingford drew Sophy on one side.

"Sophy," she whispered, "this is the most delightful thing that ever happened, but you must tell me all about it. When did you and Valentin get to know one another well enough for this? You have always been so critical and so doubtful where men are concerned. Of course, I think the world of Valentin. We all know that he is a very brilliant person, and I think that he is a much finer character than people realize. But I can't imagine—"

Sophy stopped her friend with a little laugh. "This is going to be one of our secrets for a time, Helen," she said. "Please don't ask us to divulge it."

"We met," Valentin declared, strolling after them, "in a country where I don't think that you, Helen, have ever been, but it is a very wonderful country, all the same, and some day I shall tell you all about it."



CHAPTER XII.—A RESPITE

SIR CHARLES CARLINGFORD selected his after-dinner cigar with care and eyed with sturdy disapproval Valentin's case of fragrant Turkish cigarettes.

"Nasty habit, that cigarette smoking," he declared, lighting his own Havana and leaning back in his chair with a little exclamation of immense satisfaction. "Comes of living abroad so much, I suppose."

"Comes of living the strenuous life," Valentin remarked. "One has no time to smoke cigars, you know, when one has nothing to do."

Carlingford disliked such speeches. He was unused to them and had no idea what was expected of him in reply. He changed the subject abruptly.

"Where are you going to live, Valentin? At Souspennier or here?"

"Between the two, I expect," Valentin replied. "Of course, I can't help my wife having a house of her own, but I have no fancy for living in it."

"It's a beautiful place and a magnificent estate," Carlingford declared impressively, "much better than your old chateau stuck on a hill—breaks any one's back to get up to it. Plenty of shooting and hunting here right on the spot. You take my advice, Valentin. Drop your Continental habits and life. You are a Frenchman only by name, you know. English mother, Eton and Oxford, father died when you were a kid—why, there's nothing French about you except your name. Come and live like the rest of us. Go into Parliament if you want to amuse yourself."

"It's quite an idea," Valentin murmured.

"You'll be uncommonly well off," Carlingford continued. "I don't know how far you've succeeded in getting through your own money, but Sophy has plenty. By the bye, you know that you have one undesirable relative, I suppose?"

Valentin nodded. "Her brother, I suppose you mean? Rather a young wastrel, I am told."

"Worse," Carlingford declared. "He is a weak, dissipated, unwholesome young man. He never even comes here now. They tell me he lives altogether in Paris, and a rotten sort of life, too."

"It seems queer, with such a sister," Valentin remarked absently.

"She has done everything she can, and I believe she is really fond of him still," Carlingford said. "She has been over to Paris after him twice, but he's a hopeless young dog."

Valentin was a little thoughtful when he passed through the drawing-rooms and out on to the terrace. Sophy was there alone, leaning against the stone balustrade. She was looking intently over the gardens away to the fading landscape. Behind a belt of trees a shimmer of light showed where the moon was rising. He passed his arm through hers and they strolled into the garden.

"What have you and Charles been talking about?" she asked. "You look disturbed."

"He was speaking of your brother," Valentin answered gravely.

She turned her head and looked at him. "That is strange," she said slowly. "When you came out to me, I too was thinking of him. Do you mind if I bother you with my own troubles for a few minutes?"

"You have none," he replied. "They are only fancies, shadows, if you like, the shadows of dead sorrows."

Her fingers tightened for a moment upon his arm. Afterwards, however, she sighed. "Let me speak for a moment, then, of the shadows," she said. "I suppose Sir Charles told you what people know generally about my brother. I, unfortunately, know a little more. You don't mind?"

He took her hand and led her to a seat.

"He really wasn't a bad sort of boy," she went on, "queer, perhaps, and with strange tastes. He needed a firm hand and there was no one to look after him. He failed for his first exam into the army and unfortunately there was all his money to come to him at twenty-one. Then he declared that he would go in for diplomacy and he went abroad to study languages. Since then I don't believe that he has set foot in England."

"Do you mean that he travels all the time?" Valentin inquired.

"On the contrary," she replied, "he never moves out of Paris. It is queer. The place seems to have bewitched him. I cannot get him over here even for a couple of days. I am afraid that his life there was never a very reputable one, but lately it has become much worse."

"How do you hear of him?" Valentin asked. "Have you friends there who write you?"

She raised her eyes and looked at him. "You know," she said, "I am very, very fond of Guy, and he was left in my charge. My father always knew that he was weaker than I, and more easily led away. I have been so anxious about him lately that I have done what I scarcely thought it possible that I ever could do. I hope you won't think it mean, but I don't see how else I was to get to know about things. It seemed simply useless my going there myself, as Guy only avoided me, so I engaged a private detective over in Paris."

"There was no harm in that, under the circumstances," Valentin assured her. "Did you find out anything new?"

"The report contained two items of information," she said, "which worried me very much. The man did not mince matters. He told me in his report that Guy is mixed up with the worst and most dangerous set in Paris—not only dissolute people, but absolute criminals."

Valentin turned his head and watched her, but he said nothing.

"Some weeks ago," she went on, "he seems to have come under the influence of a man who is known in Paris as Monsieur Simon—hateful of him, dear," she added softly, "to have appropriated your Christian name. I don't suppose you ever heard of him? He seems to be a perfectly horrible sort of person. The detective writes me that he is on intimate terms with all the criminals in the city. He prosecutes crime as a pastime, he consorts with the lowest class of thieves and murderers. Every now and then he startles Paris by appearing with a very beautiful girl, who is actually one of a band of apaches, at the best restaurants. He is a man of wealth and some distinction, this Monsieur Simon, but I hate him. He had done more towards ruining Guy than any other man."

Valentin's face was white and set. His eyes seemed to be watching the rising moon. In his ears throbbed the music of a Spanish dance. He heard the laughter of the women, the gay French phrases flashing backward and forward, the whisper of Josephine in his ear, the white-faced boy in his corner.

"The second piece of news," she continued, "disturbed me too, although in some respects, perhaps, it is as well. Guy seems to be trying to cut himself away from everything English. He not only affects the Frenchman in his clothes and habits, but he has even changed his name. He is known there as Eugène d'Argminac."

It had been too wonderful to last, Valentin told himself. What a fool he had been to expect Heaven like this! He knew now the meaning of that vague thought which even in those first few moments had carried him back to that night at the Abbaye. The boy's eyes were faintly reminiscent of hers.

"Eugène d'Argminac," he repeated.

"I wonder if you have heard the name?" she asked. "You are not likely to have met him, of course."

It was one of those predestined moments which make or mar lives. The man's passionate desire for this new thing which had come into his life was at war with his hatred of false speech. The truth burned upon his lips, but he set his teeth hard. Like a flash he saw back through the years, the hopeless years of unceasing search. The greatest joy his fancy had ever conceived, the one beautiful hope which had kept him sometimes from despair, had blossomed into life before him. If he spoke, he must watch it wither!

"It is a good name," he said calmly, "but I never heard it."

"It was scarcely likely," she admitted. "The world over which this man rules is far removed from any in which you could be interested. But," she went on, her face becoming suddenly stern, "whoever this Monsieur Simon may be, I hate him. A man like that, who has made a study of debauchery, is bad enough of himself. When he goes out of his way to drag others down with him, there are no words which one could use. I feel," she added, turning her head, "as though if I had a knife in my hand I could kill such a person without a moment's regret."

Her face was cold and pitiless, the light in her eyes was of steel. Her lips had come together. In those few seconds nothing seemed left of her beauty save that slim, suddenly rigid body, the exquisite poise of her head upon her uncovered shoulders. A cloud had passed over the rising moon. Valentin shivered.

"Do you know why I have told you this?" she asked in a moment or two.

It was a different world now, filled with different people, but Valentin, who had bought his respite with a he, answered readily enough. "Because you should have no troubles which I do not share."

She shook her head gently. That moment of hardness had already passed away. She leaned towards him, as beautiful and tender as ever. "Not only that, Valentin. I want you to help me. Let us go to Paris together very soon. Then we can find Guy and you can talk to him. He will listen to you. You are a man of the world and a man of fashion in Paris. You are not like Sir Charles and these strait-laced Englishmen. You understand. He will feel at least that you have sympathy with him. I believe you, if any one in the world, would be able to teach him the difference between a real life of liberty and the life of slavery and debauchment which he has somehow come to think means Bohemianism. I don't expect Guy to reform all at once," she went on. "Don't think that, because I know it would be impossible. But if he must find pleasures in the city and the city only, I want him at least to keep out of the quagmires. If any one can take him away from the influence of this horrible Monsieur Simon, it would be you, I am sure."

The moon was out once more. The breeze which had carried the cloud away brought a wave of delicious perfume from the gardens beyond. Valentin, with a laugh, rose lightly to his feet and held out his hands. "Whenever you say," he declared. "Sometimes I had hoped never to set foot in Paris again, but this is different. We will start on our pilgrimage when you like, but now," he murmured, "to-night, there is our own little fairyland that waits for us."

She laughed softly and her fingers fell caressingly upon his arm. They crossed the lawn and passed through the iron gate.



CHAPTER XIII—A DISTASTEFUL MISSION

VALENTIN, radiant with a happiness which even his present distasteful mission could not wholly cloud, found himself, after some delay, ushered into D'Argminac's apartments in the Rue Galilee. The bedchamber into which he was shown was in almost complete darkness. The blinds were drawn and the outside shutters closed. The atmosphere was heavy and unwholesome with a mingled odor of drugs and perfumes. A little exclamation of disgust escaped from Valentin's lips.

"Are you there, D'Argminac?" he asked. "For Heaven's sake, turn on a light and let me open some of these windows!"

The electric globes in the middle of the room were suddenly illuminated. D'Argminac, still in his pajamas, with a dressing-gown around him, was lying upon the bed. His fingers remained upon the knob of the electric light fittings, his face was turned eagerly towards his visitor. Valentin felt his heart sink. Her brother!

"You here, Monsieur Simon?" D'Argminac exclaimed hoarsely. "You have heard then! Is there any news?"

Valentin threw open a window and came back into the room. "What do you mean by news?" he demanded.

"Have you been getting into trouble again?"

"You haven't heard anything about last night?" the young man gasped.

"I arrived in Paris only this morning," Valentin answered, "and I never read the papers."

"You haven't seen Robert or Briane or Mademoiselle Josephine?"

"I have seen no one," Valentin repeated.

The young man muttered something to himself. Valentin's eyes were attracted by the pile of newspapers which littered the bed. "What have you got there?" he asked.

D'Argminac handed him a copy of the Matin with the page turned down. Valentin glanced it through hastily. As he read, his frown grew deeper. "'A double murder in the Rue St. Antoine last night!'" he remarked. "Is that what you want me to read? 'A man killed and robbed, and the gendarme, who interfered to protect him, murdered!'"

"It wasn't murder!" D'Argminac exclaimed hoarsely. "Neither of them was really a murder. It was nothing of the sort. The man was only stunned. He died in the hospital afterwards. It was an accident."

"And the gendarme?" demanded Valentin.

"There was a knife. He—he fell upon it. That was an accident, too."

Valentin's face was unmoved. "You young fool!" he said sternly. "I thought that you'd had enough of this business last time."

D'Argminac laughed hysterically. "Come, I like that!" he exclaimed. "It's all very well, your coming here to preach. They were your friends who led me into it, the people you took me to. I have been out with them nearly every night since."

"I took you there as a spectator," Valentin said sternly. "I never suggested that you should sink yourself to their level."

D'Argminac rocked himself backwards and forwards.

"I never meant to!" he moaned. "Often I have come home in the morning shivering and frightened, and I have sworn that I will go no more, but when the night comes I seem to find my courage, and something draws me up there to the Rue Druot. I have tried the other things. I have given supper parties, gambled, played the idiot at Maxime's, and all the rest of it. It doesn't count, it doesn't interest me any more. I can't keep away from the Rue Druot. Last night," he went on, dropping his voice and looking half fearfully around the room, "I was out with Robert."

"Is Robert taken?" Valentin inquired grimly.

D'Argminac looked at him with fever-stricken eyes.

"I don't know," he muttered. "That's what I can't find out. I have rung up on the telephone. There are three numbers where one can generally get news. Today there is no reply from any one of them."

"Was it you," Valentin asked, "who struck either of these men? Was it you who used the knife?"

"On my oath it wasn't!" D'Argminac cried. "I'll swear it—swear it if I drop dead the next moment! Only when it was over, Robert pushed the notes into my pocket as he ran, and I have them—I have them here! All the time I am afraid they will come and search!"

"Throw them on to the fire at once," Valentin directed. "He gave them to you to hide, not to carry about in your pocket."

"I daren't destroy them," the young man answered hoarsely. "You see, my money seems to have dwindled away. I have less and less all the time. There are twenty thousand francs here. If I burned them I couldn't pay and Robert would kill me!"

"Where are the notes?" Valentin demanded.

"I did what I could with them," the boy declared weakly. "They are under the carpet, just at the back of the bed. I couldn't think of any other hiding place. It was four o'clock when I came in and I have been lying here ever since. I haven't slept for a moment. Every step I hear terrifies me."

Valentin stooped under the bed, found the thick wad of notes, and moved toward the open fireplace. "You can tell Robert," he said, "that I have taken charge of these."

"What are you going to do with them?" Valentin threw them into the fireplace and watched them burn. "The only sensible thing," he answered. "Don't be terrified, you young idiot. I'll replace the money when this thing's blown over."

He set his heel upon the ashes and watched until they were utterly consumed. Then he drew up the blind from the remaining window and threw open the shutters. "Get up at once," he ordered. "Ring for your man to get you a bath. I am going to take you out."

D'Argminac's face was ghastly pale. He began to shake all over. "I daren't!" he exclaimed. "I daren't!"

"You are a fool," Valentin declared. "If the police want you, they can find you at any time. The way to excite suspicion is to lie here shivering. Get up and dress. I am going to take you to a restaurant. I have some news for you."

"What news? What sort of news?"

"You must really get out of the habit of starting like a criminal every time any one speaks to you," Valentin said coldly. "The news is not bad and it will keep for a few minutes. Ring for your servant. Dress for dinner. You will dine with me."

"It is only five o'clock," the boy faltered.

"We shall dine early," Valentin replied.

"I couldn't eat anything. I'll have some absinthe and get up in half an hour."

Valentin rang the bell contemptuously. "Get your master ready to come out to dinner," he ordered the valet. "Turn on the bath at once. I shall wait here."

D'Argminac gave in. He went off, leaning on his valet's arm. Valentin lit a cigarette and paced the room impatiently. Everything about the place disgusted him. The pictures on the wall, which once he had looked upon unmoved, seemed to him now studies in debauchery. The sickly atmosphere, the titles of the books he found lying about, the photographs with which the walls were covered, were all repugnant to him. And worst of all was D'Argminac himself, who after almost an hour's delay made his appearance. Valentin contemplated him with grim disgust. His eyes seemed to have grown closer together, he had the look of a hunted animal. There was something unwholesome, unnatural, about his high color.

"Good heavens," Valentin exclaimed, "you've rouged your cheeks!"

"I couldn't go out looking such a sight," the young man muttered. "Every one would guess that something was wrong. Gustave did it for me. He is very clever. There are many here who do it every night."

"Go back and wash it off," Valentin ordered. "Do as I say," he added, as D'Argminac hesitated. "I wouldn't be seen with you like that in a public place."

D'Argminac left the room and reappeared a few minutes later, followed by his servant carrying his hat and gloves. Valentin contemplated him for a moment silently. What a brother for her!

"Come," he said, leading the way from the room, "I have an automobile waiting. We will go to Henry's and dine."



CHAPTER XIV.—D'ARGMINAC DECLINES

THEY found a corner table at Henry's in the unfashionable part of the room, where they were secure from listeners. Having ordered the dinner with his usual care, Valentin permitted his companion a cocktail. The latter drank it at once and ordered another before Valentin could prevent him.

"You don't understand," he declared pettishly. "I have had a severe shock. If I didn't take something, I should collapse. Perhaps you'll explain now," he continued, "why you took the trouble to come and find me out."

"Certainly," Valentin replied. "I am here at your sister's request."

For once the young man was shaken out of his absorption in his own affairs.

"My sister! You mean to say that you—you, Monsieur Simon—know Sophy!" he exclaimed.

"Without a doubt," Valentin answered. "Don't stare at me like that. It is, after all, very simple. I have a sister who lives in Worcestershire, within a mile of your sister's place."

D'Argminac still looked bewildered.

"I suppose it's all right if you say so," he said. "It seems very queer, though."

He drank his second cocktail and looked piteously down at his empty glass. Valentin shook his head.

"I have ordered some champagne," he said. "It will be here in a few minutes. Perhaps that will do you good."

D'Argminac brightened up a little. "I can't imagine you and Sophy being friends," he admitted. "She is Anglo-Saxon to the backbone, virtue personified. She believes in the higher life, and all sorts of odd things. That's the reason I always left Paris for a week or so when she came over to see me. I couldn't stand her lectures."

"My impressions of your sister are somewhat different," remarked Valentin. "I found her altogether charming."

They were sitting side by side upon the upholstered seat which bordered the room. D'Argminac leaned toward his companion. There was a gleam of cunning in his dull eyes, a twitch of evil amusement at the corners of his lips. "Does she know about you?"

Valentin felt as though some insect had stung him.

Giving no sign, however, he asked coldly: "What is there to know? You seem to assume that I am a very terrible person."

"Whoever you are," declared D'Argminac, with an unpleasant laugh, "you aren't the sort of fellow I should have thought Sophy would have got on with. You, Monsieur Simon, of the Rue Druot and the little hospital! My sister manages her own farms and never leaves the country, not even for London, unless she is obliged. It doesn't seem to fit in, somehow."

The service of dinner interrupted their conversation. D'Argminac lifted his glass of champagne with trembling fingers, and drained it. "To Sophy!" he gulped. "I'd drink to anybody or anything for the sake of wine like this. It's a queer thing, though. Listen!"

He clutched suddenly at his companion's coat sleeve. Outside they heard the sound of the news-vendors. There was no mention of the murder in the Rue St. Antoine. D'Argminac breathed again, and looked longingly at the champagne bottle. The sommelier, who was hovering around, immediately filled his glass.

"Well," he said, "I suppose I've got to believe anything you tell me. You are here because you have met Sophy and because you and she are friends. You seem to have a sort of mission from her. What is it?" Valentin shrugged his shoulders slightly. "Isn't it a little obvious? Notwithstanding everything, your sister, curiously enough, retains her affection for you. For my own part, I should think that you would be about tired of living like a rat in a sewer. Why not remember that you are an Englishman? What would make her happier than anything else would be for you to cut this sort of life and make a fresh start."

D'Argminac laughed aloud—bitterly, mirthlessly. "It is a situation!" he exclaimed. "Moliere would find here the plot for a farce. Monsieur Simon, the wonderful Monsieur Simon, the friend of Josephine—Queen of the Apaches,—the consort and protector of half the criminals in Paris, wearied of a career of debauchery, finds his way into a quiet English county, makes friends with a beautiful saintly lady, and comes over here to preach to her unregenerate brother. Bah! Don't go on with it, Monsieur Simon. Don't you dare to try and come the schoolmaster over me. If you want to curry favor with my sister, you must find some other way. Worry me, and I shall write and tell her your whole history."

Valentin looked down with speechless contempt in his eyes. "Upon my word," he declared, "you're a sorry young brute! And while we are on the subject of your appearance," he added, "don't you think that you could manage to look a little less like a caged animal? Every time the door opens you start. You shrink back with fear every time a stranger appears. It isn't exactly the way to escape notice, is it?"

D'Argminac, notwithstanding the champagne, had a moment of weakness. "I am afraid!" he murmured.

"So would you be if you were I!"

"I only know what you have told me about the affair," Valentin said; "but if Robert is concerned in it I have no doubt you'll get off all right. Robert is much too clever to be caught."

D'Argminac leaned a little closer towards his companion. "Supposing," he said, dropping his voice, "supposing they catch me and not Robert! Supposing they offer to let me off if I tell the truth. Why shouldn't I? It wasn't I who killed the gendarme. If I don't tell them the truth, they may charge me with it. What do you think, Monsieur Simon?"

"I am a believer," said Valentin coldly, "in an ancient adage: 'Honor among thieves!' You have chosen to throw in your lot with these people, and, since you ask me, I should say treat them honorably. It is a curious fact," Valentin continued, "but I can assure you that it is the truth, that never among these people, thieves and blackguards and murderers though they may be, do you find one willing to give evidence against another. They will stab an enemy in the back, but they won't give a friend away. Since you have mentioned the subject, let me advise you to fall in with their customs. I have an idea that Paris would be rather a terrible place for any one who acted as you have suggested."

"One might escape. One might get to South America, perhaps," muttered D'Argminac.

It was here that Valentin made his effort. Banishing the contempt which he felt from his face and tone, he laid his hand upon the young man's shoulder in friendly fashion, and said: "D'Argminac, what a rotten life it is, after all! Ask yourself whether it is worth while. You cut yourself off from all your friends. Soon you'll have forgotten how to ride or shoot, or do any of the things that an Englishman should. You've got your nose down among the dunghills. Come out of it. We are going for a long cruise, I and—some friends. Come with us. You'll be safer on board my yacht than in America. Break away once and for all from Briane and Robert and the whole gang. I'll see you put right with them. You are young yet, and there's plenty of time to start afresh."

D'Argminac laughed, long, unpleasantly, but heartily.

"It's droll, this!" he exclaimed, wiping the tears from his eyes. "Listen. It was you yourself who took me to the Rue Druot, who introduced me to Briane, who showed me the little hospital. It was you who took me to these places, not much more than a month ago. Now you come and talk to me about my saintly sister and you D'Argminac shrugged his shoulders. It was a poor little affectation of courage, but it gave him a second's gratification.

"If it must come, it must," he declared. "Still, I am beginning to believe that I have been frightened about nothing. Robert is too clever to be caught. I am going to drink more champagne and forget. What about those notes, though? It was you who destroyed them. You are responsible, mind."

Valentin looked him in the face. Vicious and flushed, he was scarcely a pleasant-looking object.

"I am not proposing to shirk the responsibility," he said coldly. "You will find the amount deposited to your credit at my bankers—the Credit Lyonnais." D'Argminac drew a long breath of relief. "That's all right, then," he muttered. "Now I'm going to make an evening of it." . . .

Valentin set his teeth and went back to his wife's rooms. It was characteristic of him that he evaded the embrace with which she would have greeted him. He had made up his mind to lie and he was anxious to get it over.

"I am sorry, dear," he said, "to bring you no good news. Your brother has left for America."

"For America?" she exclaimed hopefully. "But I am not sure that I do not call that good news."

"He seems to have been gone several weeks," Valentin continued. "I think really that he got into some slight trouble—nothing very serious—and decided to leave Paris for a time."

"In any case, America is better than Paris for him," she declared, with a sigh.

He came a little closer to her. The lines were back again upon his forehead; he seemed, for the moment, older. "There is nothing more to stay in Paris for," he said. "Do you mind if we leave for Marseilles to-morrow?"

She noticed his tired look and held out her hands.

"Dear Valentin," she murmured, "I forgot how you hated Paris. Why not to-night?"

An hour later they were rumbling toward the station in the hotel omnibus, piled with luggage. Outside, the newsboys were selling their papers. One of them jumped on to the step of the omnibus and held out the Figaro.

"Evening paper, Monsieur?" he cried. "Arrest of the Rue St. Antoine murderer."

Valentin threw him a coin, but pushed him off the 'bus. He turned resolutely, almost fiercely, towards Sophy.

"I think," he said, "we will leave the newspapers alone. You and I are going into a world where these horrors will never trouble us!"



CHAPTER XV.—A BRIBE

VALENTIN stood before the tall, open windows of his bedroom in the hotel at the top of the Champs Elysées. It was night-time, and Paris stretched at his feet like a carpet brilliant with fireflies; Paris, in which he had set foot a few hours ago for the first time for twelve months. The weather was fine and warm. From below came the shrieking of motor-horns, the jingling of bells, the murmur of voices—all the inspiring clamor of the wonderful city. Women walked up and down along the broad thoroughfares, flitted like gorgeous butterflies, in their fanciful raiment, in and out of the shadows of the streets. Motor-cars flashed by with their sudden visions of elegance and beauty, women with wonderful hats and marvelous toilettes, with jewels flashing from their hair and shoulders, on their way to the restaurants in the Bois. More humble vehicles, too, held their burden of pleasure-seekers, for in Paris it is not only the rich who enjoy life. On all this ceaseless procession Valentin looked down without a single spark of interest or sympathy. It was the tinsel of a life upon which he looked back with loathing.

A tap at the door. It was his own servant who entered. "It is Jacques Mouilleron, the gentleman whom Monsieur le Vicomte was expecting," he announced.

"Show him in," Valentin directed briefly.

The man who entered was a somewhat curious-looking object. He was of a little less than medium height, and inclined to be stout. He wore the clothes of a messenger or guide. His face was round, his cheeks highly colored, his eyes dark and bright. He was possessed of a most engaging smile, and his manner was as nearly perfect as possible.

"Welcome to Paris, Monsieur le Vicomte," he said, bowing. "You have arrived at a beautiful season of the year. The city was never so full. My services, should Monsieur le Vicomte desire them, are entirely at his disposal."

Valentin motioned to his servant to withdraw, then closed the door and drew the bolt. Mouilleron watched him with an air of lively interest.

"Monsieur le Vicomte desires to consult me privately," he remarked.

"Exactly," Valentin admitted. "Sit down."

The man obeyed. His face was absolutely impassive. Not by a single sign did he give any indication that he was aware of what was coming. Yet he knew.

Valentin had seated himself by his writing-table. His cheque book was open before him, he half turned to face his visitor. "Jacques Mouilleron," he began, "I understand that my wife has made use of your services for some time with respect to certain inquiries she has wished to make in Paris concerning a young man calling himself Eugène d'Argminac."

Mouilleron stretched out his hands. He neither denied nor admitted the fact.

"Twelve months ago," continued Valentin, "my wife and I left Paris for a prolonged yachting trip. She left with you then certain instructions."

"Monsieur le Vicomte is entirely correct," Mouilleron murmured. "The instructions referred to the same young gentleman—Monsieur D'Argminac."

"Precisely. In accordance with those instructions, you made certain reports to Madame which I acknowledged on her behalf."

"That is indeed true," admitted Mouilleron. "The object of this interview," Valentin said, "is to inform you that your documents never reached my wife,, who remains, therefore, in entire ignorance as to their contents."

Mouilleron looked up with quickly flashing eyes. His wide mouth had opened a little. One could see him digesting this fact, seeking to make up his mind whether or not it might be to his advantage.

"They were opened by me," Valentin declared, "and their contents, for reasons with which I need not trouble you, were withheld from my wife. Further, I invented certain information purporting to have come by telegram from you. That information was to the effect that Eugène d'Argminac had sailed for America."

Mouilleron was sitting very still, but his black eyes were almost beadlike.

"In the course of action which I took," Valentin went on, "I have gambled upon your being amenable to a certain proposition which I shall presently place before you. Our trip in the East is now finished. We arrived at Marseilles last week. Madame waits over here for a final interview with you. It is my desire that you should corroborate all that I have said."

"But it is impossible!"

"What I require from you is not much," Valentin continued, unmoved. "I require you to forget that you ever sent those two reports to Genoa and Athens, and to remember only that a young man who, to the best of your belief, was Eugène d'Argminac, sailed for New York last August. I should estimate the value of your services, if you acquiesce, at—shall we say five hundred pounds?"

There was a short silence. Mouilleron's fingers were shaking and his breath seemed to be coming short. He was decidedly out of condition. "I am an honest man," he muttered at last. "I refuse. I have always served my clients well."

Valentin glanced out of the window and back at his companion. "You heard me bolt the door," he said. "I should like you to understand this. I think that, sooner than have you go to my wife and tell her that I opened and destroyed those reports and lied to her, I should take you by the neck and throw you out of the window. We are on the seventh story and the pavement is there below us. You would not tell many stories to Madame afterwards, Jacques Mouilleron. Yes, I think that I should do it!"

"It would cost you your own life!" Mouilleron gasped. Valentin smiled. "My friend," he declared, "you do not believe it. Your reputation in this city is none too good. You come here with some wild story, you try to blackmail me. We are near the window and we struggle. Voila!"

Mouilleron kept carefully to his own side of the room. He was mopping his forehead now with a much-soiled pocket-handkerchief. "Monsieur le Vicomte," he began, "there is another matter which I had in my mind."

"Go on," Valentin said. "Out with it."

"In the course of my reports to Madame as to the manner of life led by her brother—the young man who called himself Monsieur Eugène d'Argminac—it became part of my duty to mention the name of Monsieur Simon."

Valentin sat very still. "Well?" he asked.

"Madame," Mouilleron continued, losing his fear in a certain theatrical delight of the situation, "Madame has married Monsieur le Vicomte de Souspennier. I do not think that she knows that she has married also Monsieur Simon."

"So you have something to sell on your own account, eh?" Valentin remarked. "Very well. I am here, my cheque book open. We will do business together, Jacques Mouilleron. You are to be my man. Name your price."

"It must be twenty-five thousand francs," Mouilleron said bravely.

"I will not bargain with you," Valentin replied, drawing his cheque book a little closer towards him. "It shall be five and twenty thousand francs."

His pen scratched across the paper. He tore out the cheque and passed it across to Mouilleron. "You had better go away now," he said, "and present yourself to Madame at nine o'clock, as arranged. You understand distinctly that Monsieur Eugène d'Argminac is in America?"

Mouilleron rose slowly to his feet. He buttoned his short frock-coat tightly over the precious pocket wherein reposed the cheque. He was all in a glow. "It will be a kindly action, Monsieur le Vicomte, to keep the truth from Madame," he declared. "The young man—he was no good. America sounds better than a French prison. But afterwards—"

"It is my affair," Valentin interrupted, waving him away.

Valentin sat for some time with his cheque book before him, gazing at the counterfoil. A little puff of wind blew in at his window and he shivered. Then there was a tap at the door. He sprang to his feet, and Sophy came smiling in, radiantly happy, and more beautiful than ever in her high-necked evening gown and her hat with its waving feathers.

"You poor lonely man!" she exclaimed. "I am sorry I have had to leave you for even an hour if you've been half as miserable as you look. I quite thought you would have gone down to the club."

"I hate Paris!" he exclaimed, with a wholly unexpected vigor. "And I don't want to go near the club. The whole place is full of nothing but tourists." She laughed softly. "Why, I believe you're homesick for England," she declared.

"Perhaps I am. I think I want to walk in Helen's rose garden again. Why need we stay, Sophy?"

She was a little surprised but instantly acquiescent.

"There's no reason at all for us to remain," she said, "if you really mean that you would like to get away. Mouilleron is coming to-morrow morning. I am just hoping that he may have some more news. Afterwards, I really haven't anything to do."

"No dressmakers or anything of that sort?"

She shook her head. "I finished with those vanities when I got my trousseau, and I haven't had an opportunity of wearing any of my clothes yet. I'm dying to be home again."

"What about the day after to-morrow?" he asked, almost eagerly.

She came across the room to him and laughed in his face. She laid her fingers upon his cheek—cool, soothing fingers they were. "Dear," she whispered, "the day after to-morrow it shall be. And now I am very hungry and I look very nice. Please take me out to the Pré Catelan and give me one of your wonderful dinners."



BOOK TWO

CHAPTER I.—TRUTH WILL OUT

HELEN CARLINGFORD found in the outcome of her brother's marriage cause for the most profound surprise. She could not deny facts, but she turned them over and over again in her mind, as though almost anxious to find a flaw somewhere. "I always knew that you were wonderful, Sophy," she declared, leaning back in her friend's most comfortable chair one November afternoon, "but this is the work of a magician. You have been married now exactly two years and three months, and Valentin seems absolutely as devoted as on that first morning when he gave us all such a shock. He tells me now that he has let Souspennier and hopes never to set foot in Paris again." Sophy smiled softly. She was wearing a very becoming tea-gown and looked remarkably well. "Valentin is so foolish about going abroad," she admitted. "I suppose he'll get over it presently. I rather like a few days in Paris myself, between Easter and Whitsuntide."

"He doesn't even care for London," Helen Carlingford went on. "It seems to me he must hunt at least four days a week now, and Charles tells me that there is some talk of offering him the hounds."

"He would make a very good master," Sophy replied composedly.

"But you don't realize the position at all," Lady Carlingford insisted. "For years Valentin lived entirely abroad, hated everything English, made fun of all sports, cared for nothing except painting strange pictures, turning night into day, and living with all sorts of wild people. He seemed to rush from one excess to another, to be simply trying to get through life as quickly as possible."

Sophy frowned slightly. "Those days are finished," she said. "I never like to think of them."

"The odd part of it is, you know, Sophy," her friend continued, "that women never seemed to attract him in the least. Six years ago they tried to make him the fashion in town. He could have married any one. He simply cleared out and went to some unholy village in the Urals to shoot bears—said that people worried him. Of course, that sort of thing is generally a pose, but Valentin was in earnest. Years ago I left off even hoping for such a sensible thing as marriage from him. You must be a very wonderful woman, dear."

Sophy laughed softly. "It was not I," she declared. "It was the unseen hand which deals the cards. Valentin had spent a good many years trying to escape from himself. Quite suddenly he discovered the great secret of life. He left off piling distraction upon distraction, simply because he found himself thinking of some one else. In doing that he forgot himself completely. For all his cynicism, he is as sentimental as a child, you know. You see how absurd he is over baby."

Valentin coughed ostentatiously. He had entered the room a moment before. "If I stay here much longer," he remarked, "I shall begin to understand myself."

He advanced to the fire. He was in hunting kit splashed with mud, but with a healthy color in his cheeks. His appearance was sufficient testimony as to the success of his married life. There remained only that faintly worn look about the eyes, a slight expression of apprehension which very seldom left him altogether.

"I should like some tea," he announced, lifting the cover and helping himself to a hot cake. "By the way, I saw a fly turn in at the back gate. Have you any servants coming or going to-day, Sophy?"

"I don't think so," she replied.

"If it's another of those men trying to sell seeds," Valentin declared impressively, "I've finished with them. He must go down to Heggs's house."

Sophy was suddenly grave. "I expect," she said, "that it is some one to see me. I had quite forgotten for a moment."

Valentin took his tea and returned to the hearthrug.

"Is your mysterious visitor a chiropodist, a hair-dresser, or a sewing-machine agent?" he asked.

Sophy did not at once reply. Valentin glanced up, a little surprised. Then for a moment his heart seemed to stop beating. There was a gleam in his eyes as of a hunted man. He felt the presence of danger.

"I think that it is very likely some one whom Mr. Welgrove has sent down," she remarked. "When I was in London last week, I went to consult him about a little matter."

He set down his teacup. Helen rose to her feet, saying:

"I expect Charles will be home before I can get there, and he likes to have me give him his tea. We do spoil our husbands, don't we, Sophy? Don't trouble to come out, but do bring my godchild over soon."

Valentin walked with his sister to the door and handed her into the motor. On the step she turned back to him. "Valentin," she said, "your married life has been such a wonderful success that I have never felt like offering you even a word of advice. It seemed so altogether unnecessary."

"Advice is a good thing to have," he replied gravely, "and you have known Sophy all your life."

"That is quite true," she admitted. "Sophy is all that you know her to be. I can't say more than that, can I? If she has a fault, it is that her virtues are almost a little too pronounced. Her love of truthfulness, for instance. I have known her to be kind for many years to one of her servants or tenants, and then turn entirely cold towards them because of one slight misrepresentation. It isn't only the actual truth—it's the soul of truth she seems to worship. It sounds foolish to be telling you this, Valentin, but I think you can understand me. To any one like you, who have lived in a very broad school, a harmless fib to help one out of a difficult situation is an absolutely unimportant thing. I should accept it as such without hesitation. Sophy wouldn't—that is all."

"I understand," he said slowly. "I understand quite well."

"One needs to be just a trifle more than ordinarily careful," she added, nodding her farewells. "I think that she would accept and believe anything you chose to tell her. You can take any risks that way. But if—listen, Valentin—if ever you should have to tell her even the least little bit of a fib, do take care that she never finds it out."

The car drove off, and Valentin returned to the library. He took up his tea once more and helped himself to a fresh cake. "About this emissary from Welgrove's?" he remarked.

"I suppose you will think it very foolish of me," Sophy replied, rising and coining over to his side, "but, to tell you the truth, I have never felt happy about Guy." He stirred his tea. His fingers did not even shake, yet he felt the cold band about his heart.

"You see," she continued, "it was all very well for Mouilleron to say that he went to America, but that was two years ago and all this time there hasn't been a line from him. I have written there to every place I could think of, and there has been no reply. It has been the only sorrow I have had, dear," she went on, dropping her voice, "during these two happy years, to think about poor Guy. It would be such a joy to me to have him come here and have you talk to him. I know what your influence would be. I believe, even now, that it would save him. So, you see, when I was in London last week, I had to go and see Mr. Welgrove about some of the new investments, and I asked him to send across to Paris specially and find out if any one there had heard anything from Guy since he had been in America. This afternoon I had a letter—I suppose it ought to have come by the morning post—to say that he was sending his nephew down with a report for me. You're not angry, Valentin? You don't think I was foolish?"

"Not in the least, dear," he answered. "You had better have the young man in and question him."

She was not altogether satisfied. Valentin's manner was almost too self-contained. "You are quite sure that you are not angry with me for not having told you?" she begged. "Really, it did seem rather foolish of me, but you must remember that before I had you, Guy, although he was such a disappointment, was everything to me."

He leaned over and rang the bell. "I think it was quite a natural thing to do, dear," he said. "I only hope that this young man is able to give you some good news. James," he added, turning to the butler who had answered the bell, "if that is young Mr. Welgrove who has just arrived, you can show him in here."

The man bowed and withdrew. The young lawyer who presently entered was well known to Sophy. She shook hands with him and introduced him to her husband. He was a fair-complexioned, good-looking young fellow of about six and twenty.

"It was very kind of your uncle to send you down purposely," Sophy said, motioning him to a chair. "I shall be so interested to hear what you have to tell me."

The young man's face became serious. He seemed a little ill at ease. He took the seat which she had indicated, but he hesitated for a moment before he began to speak.

"I am afraid, Vicomtesse," he began, "that what I have to tell may be rather a shock to you. I returned to England directly I had discovered the truth of what I am about to tell you. My uncle thought I had better come down and lay the facts before you."

"My brother has been ill!" she exclaimed. "He is ill now! Please tell me at once."

"So far as I know," he replied quickly, "your brother's health is everything that it should be."

"He is still in America?" she demanded.

The young man shook his head. "Mr. Arlen," he announced, "never went to America. He is, at the present time, serving a sentence in a French prison. He has been there for more than two years."

The color slowly faded from Sophy's cheeks. She looked at him in amazement.

"In prison!" she gasped. "What for?"

"The charge, I understand," the young man answered, "was one of murder."



CHAPTER II.—VALENTIN LOSES COURAGE

OF the three people, Valentin was naturally the least moved. His eyes were fixed upon his wife.

"Of murder!" she gasped. "Mr. Welgrove, you cannot be serious!"

"I am afraid that there is no doubt whatever about it, Madame," he answered. "The story of his departure for America was an entire fabrication. Somewhere about the same day that you left Paris for your trip to the East, your brother and a man named Robert were arrested for murdering a retired tradesman and a gendarme in the Rue St. Antoine."

"It is incredible," she murmured. "Guy—why, he had plenty of money. Tell me, you say he is in prison. What was his sentence?"

The young man looked away. "It seems that he turned informer. His sentence was reduced to three years' penal servitude. The other man got penal servitude for life."

"But it is terrible!" she faltered, looking away from him to her husband. "Valentin, have you heard this? Valentin!"

He came over to her side and took her hand in his. Something in his face started a new train of thought in her mind. "You—you knew it?" she cried.

He shook his head. He was going through to the end now! "No," he declared, "I believed Mouilleron's story. I believed that he was in America."

She clung to his hand tightly. His words were evidently an immense relief to her. Then she turned once more to the young lawyer.

"Mr. Welgrove," she said, "please tell me all that you know."

"I spent some time making inquiries," the young man continued. "Everything which I heard agreed with what you told me up till a short time before Mr. Arien's arrest. There is no doubt that he got mixed up with a very dangerous gang in Paris, chiefly through the instrumentality of a mysterious person who had great influence with these people, but who was really not of their order at all."

"Monsieur Simon!" Sophy murmured softly. "Oh, how I hate that man!"

Welgrove nodded. "Yes, that is what they called him," he admitted. "If the reports one hears are true, he is a man of fashion, in his way, and of immense wealth. He used to frequent the night cafés with a very handsome girl whom he found in some den in one of the worst parts of Paris. They must have been a strange couple, but I are say Mr. Arlen found them attractive. At any rate, it was through them that he was introduced to a famous thieves' meeting place in Paris which is still, to some extent, undiscovered. They say that the police dare not enter it, that even if they were told where it was they would go the other way. I don't blame them. These apaches in Paris seem to represent a wonderful organization. If one of their number is troubled in certain quarters, a single cry brings a whole army of them to the rescue, like rats coming up from all the holes and corners of a burning house."

"This Monsieur Simon," she said, "why don't they punish him? They could find out who he was easily enough."

"Without a doubt, Madame," the young man replied, "but he himself is never implicated in any of these crimes. He simply appears to treat the entire affair as an amusing novelty."

"A strange notion of humor," Valentin remarked.

"In a way, he stands at the back of the whole organization," the young man continued, "but I have heard it said that he does not countenance any forms of violence whatever. There are some tales in Paris—some call them idle gossip, but there may be truth in them—that he presides over a sort of court, where men who are notoriously bad livers are sometimes secretly tried and forced to disgorge money to charity. The police laugh at these stories, but they exist none the less."

"But what is the chief of police about?" Sophy demanded. "Surely, there must be some means of rooting out these ruffians?"

"A new chief of police, Madame," the young man said, "was appointed only last week. One hears that he has declared war from the start against the apaches. If it is true,I am afraid there'll be some terrible times in Paris."

"Tell me about Guy—more about him," Sophy begged. "Where is the prison?"

"It is about seven miles from Paris," Welgrove answered. "It is very strictly guarded, and no visitors are allowed. Your brother's sentence, however, is very nearly up."

"Nearly up?" Valentin repeated.

The young man nodded. "It was only a nominal one," he explained. "I think they knew that Robert was the main spirit, but they needed your brother's evidence to convict him."

"Do you know exactly when Guy will be out?" she asked.

"No one knows the exact date," the young man replied. "My uncle thought of sending me back again, with your permission, with a letter to the authorities. He might be at liberty any day."

"Tell me," Sophy asked, "had you no idea of this at all?"

"Not the slightest idea in the world," the young lawyer answered. "We knew, of course, that Mr. Arlen had not touched his dividends for the last two years, and we were beginning to be rather uneasy about it. He was hardly likely to be earning money, and, if you will forgive my saying so, Madame, your brother was not the sort of man to live without it."

She nodded. "We ought to have done something before," she declared. "Two years in a prison, and all the time he may be innocent!"

The lawyer hesitated. He was feeling a little embarrassed. "Mr. Arlen's own story was accepted in court, madame," he pointed out.

Sophy scarcely heard him. She had walked to the window and back again. "About going over," she began, "I think your uncle is quite right. You must certainly go. We must meet him, if possible, out of prison. We must try and see that he starts life entirely afresh."

"You mean that you are going?" Valentin asked.

"Can you doubt it?" she answered, turning quickly towards him. "Of course I am going. You must see that I could not do anything else. You will come, too?"

Valentin took her hand and pressed it. "I shall do what seems best to us when we talk it over quietly, dear," he decided. "One thing is very certain—if you go, I shall go."

She gave a little sigh of relief. "Mr. Welgrove," she said, "please go back as soon as you can, and either go yourself or send some one to Paris immediately. You can proceed on my instructions. My husband and I will cross to-morrow. If you once get hold of Guy, don't let him out of your sight. This time we must save him, in spite of himself."

Mr. Welgrove glanced at his watch. "If you wouldn't think me rude," he suggested, "I could carry out your instructions much better if I caught the six-forty train back to town. To do that, I should have to leave now."

"Yes, yes!" she agreed. "I should like it."

"You'll have a drink before you go at any rate?" Valentin insisted. "Come this way with me. I can give you a whiskey and soda quicker in my den."

"To tell you the truth," the young man remarked, as they left the room together, "I am rather glad this is over. The Vicomtesse was always very attached to Mr. Guy. I am afraid she is a good deal upset."

"Naturally!"

"You never met him, I think?" the lawyer asked.

"Never," Valentin replied. "From what I have heard, I imagine I shall not find him a very desirable brother-in-law."

"He is what they call a decadent," the young man said. "Hated all games and every form of rational amusement from his boyhood. Burned the candle at both ends, too, in Paris. I suppose he took up with this gang of fellows really just out of a craze for novelty."

"It seems possible," Valentin admitted.

"At any rate, I'm afraid he's about done for now," the young man continued, lighting a cigarette. "I don't see what decent life there can be open for him. If I were you, sir, I should use my influence to get him out of the country altogether."

"For his own sake," Valentin remarked grimly, "it will probably be best. I have lived in Paris, you must know, and I have some idea what these apaches are like. If your client had been a wise man, I think that he would have held his tongue."

"You think that they will go for him directly he is free?"

Valentin nodded. "This Robert has his friends without a doubt. If this young man escapes them, he will be lucky."

"We shall meet in Paris, then, almost at once, I suppose," Mr. Welgrove said, as they stood upon the steps.

"I shall do my best," Valentin answered, "to persuade my wife not to go. If I am unsuccessful, we shall probably, as you remark, meet there."

The young man drove off. Valentin returned to his smoking-room. For a moment he looked at the whiskey and soda and hesitated. Then he went on to a corner cupboard, which he unlocked with a key from his pocket, and took out a liqueur bottle. He filled a wine-glass with whitish-looking liquid and added a little water. As he drank it, his face seemed suddenly to have changed. Once more he was back again in the throes of that miserable life. He was like a man seeking with drugs to win forgetfulness.

Sophy was leaning back in her easy-chair when he reentered the library. She had evidently been crying and she was still very pale. She held out her hands to him as he crossed the room.

"Dear," she cried, "do you mind very much if we go to-morrow?"

He did not answer for a moment. He came and stood on the hearthrug by her side. Finally, "Sophy," he said, "listen. Should you call me a superstitious man?"

"Never!"

"From the moment that young man entered," he continued, "I have felt that there was trouble coming. I want to ask you something. Let me go to Paris alone."

"My dear Valentin!" she exclaimed. "Without me?"

"Yes! I want to go alone," he said. "I cannot tell you why. There may be no reason. I will do all that any human being can do for your brother, but I know that it would be better if you stayed here."

"Better?" she repeated vaguely.

"Better for you and better for me," he insisted. "Don't look at me as though I were mad. Perhaps there is no reason in what I say, but remember that there are things which are more powerful, even, than reasons. I tell you I feel it in my blood—I know it—that there is trouble before us if we go together there."

"If there were danger or anything of that sort, why should I not be with you? How mysterious you are, Valentin!"

"It is because the memory of these two years is such a wonderful thing to me!" he declared. "I dread anything which might come to disturb such complete and perfect happiness. Sophy, you never asked me any questions. Indeed, there was no real need. But there is a part of my life buried in Paris which, Heaven knows, I should loathe to have unearthed!"

She drew him down towards her and held up her lips.

"Dear," she said, "you are a little fanciful to-night. We will go together, you and I. We will see Guy together. I will be by your side all the time. Nothing can harm one of us then, that does not harm the other. Perhaps I know how you feel. Try and—forget it, for my sake. It is my duty to go. Guy was my father's charge to me. He will come out of prison broken in spirit and in health. If there is no one there to look after him, it will probably be the end. I am going to my room now, dear, to give some orders. If we catch the eleven o'clock train up tomorrow morning, we can go on at two-twenty."

She kissed him once more and passed lightly down the room. Valentin remained upon the hearthrug, gazing into the embers of the fire. There was so little hope left now. What fate, indeed, could seal that boy's lips!



CHAPTER III.—TROUBLE IMPENDING

ON the following night they crossed the Channel. The weather was cold and windy, but the sky was clear and alight with stars. Sophy went at once to her cabin. Valentin paced the deck alone. He had the feeling of a man who goes to something more awful than death. Every throb of the engine seemed to be taking him nearer to the end. Sophy was still to him everything that was adorable and fascinating. Her only fault was the one of which his sister had warned him—she would never forgive!

About half-way across, he stepped into the smoking-room for a drink. He sat in a corner seat for ten minutes or so. When he rose to go, the steward brought him a crumpled-up piece of paper.

"A gentleman asked me to give you this, sir," he said.

Valentin opened it mechanically. There were only a few words, scrawled upon half a sheet of the steamer notepaper in bad French: "Return by the next boat. Danger waits for you in Paris." Valentin tore up the note and flicked the pieces into a corner. He smiled to himself as he rose. There was no danger in the universe for him save one!

They travelled to Paris without incident. As they passed the barrier at the Gare du Nord, he fancied he caught sight of a white face in the crowd. Presently, when he had installed Sophy and the small baggage in the omnibus from the hotel and had returned to the Customs to claim his trunks, he felt a finger upon his arm and a soft voice in his ear.

"Monsieur Valentin!"

He turned his head—it was Josephine who stood there. She was dressed from head to foot in sombre black. Her face was ivory pale and there were violet lines under her eyes.

"Josephine!" he exclaimed.

"Monsieur," she whispered, "they promised to let you have word upon the steamer. It is not safe here for you."

"Not safe?" he repeated.

"They say that that craven cur whom you brought from the Abbaye has told everything."

"Fool!" Valentin muttered. "Does he understand what will happen to him when he gets out?"

"As for that," the girl continued, "there are worse things than he knows of, abroad. Three nights ago Robert escaped. He is hiding now in the Quartier. If he gets hold of D'Argminac, he will tear him limb from limb. But you, Monsieur Valentin, for the love of Heaven, go back!"

"They have nothing serious against me," Valentin assured her.

"They have enough," she pleaded. "Besides, it is not for a great gentleman like you to stand in the dock as the companion and instigator of this canaille. Dear Monsieur Valentin, it is such a joy to see you once more and yet I beg you to go."

He looked around. "It is impossible," he told her. "I would have given my right hand never to have entered this city again, but it was not to be. I can't explain. You must let me fight it out for myself. If the worst comes, one knows how to end it."

She recognized the note of finality in his tone. At any rate, she made no further effort. Only as she went, she leaned towards him and whispered in his ear:

"Number 16, Rue Ponsard. I do not ask you to stay. I do not ask even for the touch of your fingers. But if you would make me happy, come and see me for a few minutes."

He went back to the omnibus a little thoughtfully. Sophy, looking at him curiously, asked: "Who was the strange-looking woman talking to you?"

"She is an artists' model. I used to know her."

They rattled off—the usual melancholy journey over the cobblestones down into Paris. They had wired for rooms at one of the smaller hotels in the Avenue de l'Opéra. As they descended, welcomed by the blue-uniformed concierge, they both recognized the man who was standing in the hotel entry.

"It is Mouilleron," she declared. "Stop him, please, Valentin. Let me speak to him."

Valentin nodded and called to Mouilleron. He laid his hand upon his shoulder. "Madame would like to talk to you," he said. "Stick to it that it was a mistake," he whispered hoarsely. "Say you believed that Eugène d'Argminac went to America."

But Mouilleron only grinned, and Valentin's heart sank. The man was half drunk. He was not in a position to receive a hint. They were all three now in the covered courtyard of the hotel.

"Monsieur Mouilleron," Sophy said, "I was going to try and find you. I want to understand how you dared send me a report which was absolutely false?"

"A false report, my dear Madame?" the little man replied, bowing. "Such a thing from me is not possible. Madame is mistaken."

"But indeed I am not," she persisted. "You told me that my brother, Eugène d'Argminac, had gone to America. All the time he was in France. He has never left France."

"One makes mistakes, dear Madame," Mouilleron declared. "This was one of mine."

It was probable that she would have passed on, but her last contemptuous glance at the man revealed something in his face which puzzled her. He was looking toward Valentin, looking with an air of leering satisfaction which plainly bespoke some common understanding. She turned from one to the other, puzzled. Then she swept slowly past, following the reception clerk who had been awaiting her there.

"Your rooms have been prepared, Madame," he announced. "There are, I believe, some letters for you."

Valentin followed his wife without a backward glance at Mouilleron, who, with a laugh, lit a cigar and swaggered outside. In the lift Sophy remained silent. In the salon a letter in an official envelope was awaiting her. She tore it open and read the few lines it contained. Then she turned to Valentin.

"We are too late!" she exclaimed. "Guy was out this morning."

Valentin shivered for a moment. Somewhere in Paris, then, the seeds of another tragedy were sown. If Guy were to be found, Robert would find him. If he himself dared not venture out, there were still plenty of his friends ready to do his bidding.

"Why do you look like that?" Sophy asked.

Valentin shook his head. "I was thinking that he must be feeling pretty badly," he remarked. "I wonder where one ought to look for him."

"I telegraphed yesterday," she said, "to the prison. I gave this address. I should think that he would come here. Valentin! Dear!"

He looked at her inquiringly. She was obviously a little troubled.

"What did that man Mouilleron mean by looking at you as though there were some understanding?"

"He was drunk," Valentin answered. "Yes, he was drunk," she assented thoughtfully. "That was what made me take notice of it. He was like a man who was forgetting to play a part."

"I know nothing of the fellow," Valentin declared. "Now tell me, would you like me to go out and see if I can find any news of Guy? He may have gone to his old rooms."

She nodded. "I will come with you."

"You will not stir until you have had some dinner," he decided. "We could have something downstairs in a few minutes, if you liked."

"I don't want any dinner," she protested.

"I will make a bargain with you," he answered. "If you will have a change and a wash and go down into the dining-room, I will take a taxicab to his old rooms and see if he is there."

"You take too much care of me, dear," she said, smiling. "Indeed I am not tired. And what about you?"

"I am an old traveler," he reminded her. "A wash, a whiskey and soda and a cigarette, and I shall be as fit as possible. I'll be back in half an hour."

In the Rue Galilee he found no news of Guy. Stepping back into his taxicab, he looked searchingly up and down the street. Exactly opposite was a beggar, standing with his hand in his pockets as though examining the posters upon the wall. Valentin watched him for several moments. At the end of that time he was satisfied. It was some one watching the house.

"I do not think," he said to himself with a shiver, "that Guy will come here. If he is wise, he will not!"

He returned at once to the hotel with news of his ill-success. With difficulty he persuaded Sophy to come down with him into the restaurant. She was still constrained and ill at ease. He felt insensibly that the look which she had surprised on Mouilleron's face was troubling her. They went into the dining-room, and Valentin, ignoring her demeanor, ordered carefully a small dinner. They were about half-way through when, cap in hand, the hall-porter entered the room and approached their table.

"There is some one on the telephone," he announced a little hesitatingly, "who desires to speak with Madame la Vicomtesse."

She rose at once from her place and hurried out of the room. Valentin would have followed her, but she waved him back.

"Please finish your dinner," she begged. "I will come back again directly, or send you word if there is any news."

Valentin returned to his chair. For him there was nothing to do but to wait!



CHAPTER IV.—"IT IS MONSIEUR SIMON!"

THE hall-porter conducted Sophy toward the lift.

"Madame la Vicomtesse will remember telling me," he said, "that if by any chance a young man should ask for her, I was to have him shown at once to her rooms and to invent some pretext for getting her there. I spoke of the telephone—there is a young man who has arrived and who waits."

"A young man!" Sophy repeated.

The hall-porter bowed. "Unless Madame is fully prepared," he said, "it would be as well, perhaps, to have me accompany her to her room. The young man seems to be in a very agitated state."

Sophy waved him away. "It is all right," she declared. "I will see him."

She hurried upstairs. She was prepared to receive a shock, but what she really saw when she entered the room was more terrible than anything she had imagined. Guy, indeed, seemed but the wreck of a human being. He was thin, and even his frame seemed to have shrunken till his clothes hung about him in pitiful fashion. His cheeks were hollow, and a coarse, ungainly beard had grown about his chin. His deep-set eyes were hideous. He was like some caged animal expecting every moment a horrible death.

"Guy!" she exclaimed, closing the door behind her.

He staggered toward her with a little sob. "Sophy!" he cried. "Sophy!"

For a moment he was natural. He wept like a child. Then he seemed to remember. He stiffened and drew back. The fear was there. "You are alone?" he demanded. "Close the door. Lock it."

"I am alone," she answered soothingly. "It is not necessary to lock the door. We are all friends here, Guy. We only want to help you."

"I have been mad," he muttered, "mad! Get me some brandy."

She rang the bell and ordered some cognac and rolls and butter. He tore the bread to pieces like an animal.

"Sophy," he moaned, "I must not stay here. They have been watching me—watching all the time. Can you get me to England? Is there any way I can leave here without being seen?"

She laid her hand reassuringly upon his shoulder.

"But, my dear Guy," she said, "you have nothing now to be afraid of. That was a terrible thing you did, and I will not say that I shall ever be able to forgive you, but we will not talk of that. You have suffered and you have paid the penalty. You are free. There is no reason for this fear."

"You don't know!" he hissed contemptuously. "It isn't the law I am afraid of now. It isn't prison. It's worse. It's death!"

He poured himself out more cognac. His sister gently moved the bottle away. "I don't understand, Guy," she said.

"Why should you?" he cried hoarsely. "Of course you don't understand! Can't you see what I had to do to get off? It was only fair. I didn't kill the man. Robert did it. I went to see. I wanted to see the blow struck, I wanted to see the man shiver. I had to tell the truth to save myself."

She shook her head. She was evidently bewildered.

"Can't you understand? I gave 'em away—Robert and all the lot. I'd have given Monsieur Simon away if I'd known who he was, and if they'd asked me. I was simply mad to escape the block. Now there are worse things. Robert has escaped. He was in for life and the fools have let him out. He'll track me down—he'll have my life. I know how they've served them before—men who've informed!"

Sophy moved slowly to the other end of the room and sank into an easy-chair. "Guy," she said, "this is very terrible, but surely you need have no fear now? Here, in this part of Paris, no one will touch you. We will get you away somehow in the morning, and go to England."

"Bah!" he exclaimed hysterically. "Do you think that Robert and his friends haven't their allies in this part of Paris as well as the other? There isn't a street in the city that's safe for me to-night. I sha'n't sleep. I dare not lie down. There are no locks or bars that could keep them away from me."

"Dear Guy," she said soothingly, "your nerves are wrong. Try and pull yourself together. You shall stay with us in this hotel. It is very small, and only a few of the best families come here. There is no chance of any of those fearful people finding you. You will be quite safe. I shall telephone to the chief of the police. I shall tell him all that you say and beg for an escort of gendarmes to-morrow. We will take you straight over to England. You will be safe there."

"I shall be safe nowhere," he answered, "but it is the best thing to be done, perhaps. They won't listen to you at the police station, though. They are terrified of Robert themselves. I believe that he could march me off before the face of the gendarmes. I don't believe they'd dare to interfere."

She tried to laugh—anything to reassure him. "It is your nerves, dear Guy," she said, "that are wrong. Now please leave off drinking that cognac. I am going to order a little dinner for you to be sent up here. You are half starved. You shall have some soup and a chicken, and, if you like, while you eat we will have one of the porters outside the door. Then you will feel safe."

He looked towards the windows. "There are verandas," he muttered. "Curse those verandas!"

"But, my dear Guy," she exclaimed, "those verandas look out upon the Avenue de l'Opéra. Certainly no one will think of trying to climb up with a crowded street below."

He seemed only half satisfied, but for the moment his speech failed him. He leaned forward in his chair and commenced to sob. She came over to his side and put her arm around his neck.

"Guy, dear," she said, "I blame myself so much that I let you stay on here. I ought to have got you away somewhere."

"Bah! It would have been no use!" he groaned. "I was sick of everything. I was dying to become a real Frenchman, one of a type—you wouldn't understand. I changed my name, I sat about and posed. Even then it would have been all right but for Monsieur Simon. He came just when I was feeling the need for something fresh. I'd used up all the natural excitements. He took me to the Rue Druot with him one night and there I met Briane. Afterwards I met Robert. Briane took me to him. Even now I remember the night he introduced me. 'We have here,' he said to Robert, 'a young man who is weary of love and pleasure and wine. Show him the other way, Robert, that the blood may be stirred.' And Robert laughed and I went out with him, and I saw him use a knife. Oh, it was horrible, but it thrilled me—it thrilled me till I longed to see it again although I hated it! It was like a drug, Sophy, the desire to see blood, to see pain. Horrible! I could have screamed all the time, but I had to go—I had to go again."

She shivered. It seemed to her that he was insane.

"I might have pulled round but for that," he continued. "It was Monsieur Simon—that terrible man. He, too, seemed to be weary of everything, but he only looked on—he and Josephine. Did you ever hear of Josephine?"

"No," she answered. "I am going to order your dinner."

He rambled on all the time, even while the waiter was in the room. "Josephine was always with him. They called her the Lady of the Night. He brought her from the gutter and gave her jewels and wonderful clothes. It pleased him to have her rub shoulders with the others—to remind them, he said, that from the very lowest there could be beauty. She was wonderful to look at. Her cheeks were pale, she never smiled except when she spoke to him, but she was beautiful. When he disappeared, I used to go to the Abbaye sometimes to look at her. She spoke to no one. Mademoiselle Josephine! I never mentioned her name, and now I suppose she, too, hates me."

The door was suddenly opened. Valentin, unconscious of this visitor, walked calmly in. Guy rose to his feet. Suddenly his whole form was rigid with fear. Then his hands went up above his head, his eyes seemed to be starting out, he screamed like a girl in hysterics.

"My God!" he cried. "Monsieur Simon! Monsieur Simon! Save me, Sophy!"

PIC

She looked from one to the other. She did not understand. "Guy, dear," she said, "don't. This is some one who I know wants to be your friend. This is some one I was going to tell you about—your brother-in-law."

He seemed as though he had not heard. He was beating the air with his fingers, his face was the face of a man driven mad with fear. "Sophy," he cried again, "save me! It is Monsieur Simon there—Monsieur Simon who comes! Oh, my God!"


Illustration

"Sophy," he cried again, "save me! It is Monsieur Simon!"


He collapsed and fell upon the floor. Valentin remained motionless a few yards inside the room. Sophy suddenly clutched at the mantelpiece. Her eyes were riveted upon her husband. The world was spinning round with her.

"Valentin, it isn't true!" she faltered. "It isn't true!"

He said nothing. She was suddenly ghastly pale and her knees tottered. For her, too, the darkness came. Neither of them noticed Guy, on all fours like a dog, crawling from his place, crawling round the table, making finally one wild dash for the door.



CHAPTER V.—"THIS IS TRUE?"

IT was Sophy who spoke first. All the time Valentin had not taken his eyes off her. She was dry-eyed when she raised her head, but he knew that the tears were there, stifled.

"This—this is true?" she asked him.

"It is true," he admitted.

"You are Monsieur Simon? It was you who took Guy to the Rue Druot?"

Valentin assented. "Your brother presented himself to me at a café in the Montmartre under a false name. He called himself Eugène d'Argminac. At that time I did not know who or what he was. I was interested in him solely because he was a little different from the other young men of his class."

"When did you know that he was my brother?"

The question was pointed and pitiless. She waited. He did not answer.

"It was before our marriage?" she asked.

"It was," he admitted.

"And you did not tell me?"

He shook his head. "I was not gambler enough," he replied, with a note of fierceness in his tone. "I did not dare to stake everything that seemed worth having to me in life, upon a single throw."

She was silent for several moments, struggling with an agitation which he somehow felt was entirely inimical to him.

"I have a feeling that you have deceived me in more than this," she said at last. "About Mouilleron, for instance."

"It is quite true," he confessed. "Mouilleron was my man. I bought him. He told you that Guy had gone to America, by my orders. It was I who kept the truth from you."

"You knew all the time that he was in prison, that he was in the toils of these horrible people?"

"I knew it," he admitted. "Since I am on my defence, I will say this for myself. When we passed through Paris, I sought him out, as Monsieur Simon, and I did my very best to help him to break away."

She closed her eyes for a moment. It was like the fading of a beautiful dream, for she, too, was something of an idealist.

"And you," she murmured, "you whom I thought to be merely one who loved to live among strange people because you were something of an artist, a wanderer by nature—you, in effect, have been a consort of the lowest of the low. You have been one of a band of murderers and cut-throats; of dissolute, wretched people of every sort. You came from that filth to me—to me—that night!"

"It was like the opening of Heaven to a miserable man!" he cried. "Perhaps the sunlight blinded me, the joy of it all sapped my strength, kept my mouth closed when I should have spoken. You were so wonderful, and it seemed as though the touch of you were purification. I had to keep my place, Sophy. It was Heaven or Hell for me."

"You kept it with lies!" she said fiercely. "With deceit, with every form of trickery!"

"No one in this world is flawless," he answered swiftly. "You use hard words. You belabor me with them. You do not stop to think. Remember that I had to guard against a certain fault in you, Sophy."

"A fault in me?" she repeated.

"Worse than a fault—a sin!" he declared. "Oh, you are wonderful, I know, with your purity, your generosity, your uprightness, but too many virtues carry their canker with them. Isn't it true that you have lost a little the divinest gift—the power to forgive? That is what I was afraid of, Sophy. Your life has been beautiful—oh, I admit that! But why? You have never known temptation. Every one in the world hasn't your disposition. You pride yourself upon your strength. Dear, it is not sinful or even weak to feel pity for those who have come up from the dark places. Look at me as you are looking now, hold me away from you as you are doing now, and you can send me back, if you will, send me back this time for once and for always. Don't do it, dear."

For a moment her lips trembled. Then her face grew hard. "Are you asking me to forgive?" she demanded.

"I am," he answered. "What do you charge me with? I take no responsibility for your brother's downfall. He groped his way through life, asking for it. He was only one of those who touched my hand as he passed by. It wasn't I who gave him his morbid instincts, that strange craving for crime. He didn't get it from me. I don't possess it. I dare even tell you this—that I have done good in that place—rather good than harm."

She shivered. "I can't forget," she said. "These things were in your heart when I came to you and we stood in the summer-house together and watched the lightning. It seemed to me that no one had ever dreamed so beautiful a dream, no one had ever painted or sung or written of anything so wonderful. And you came to me from that sink! Oh, my God!"

Her head drooped into her hands. He moved towards her. She heard him coming and shrank back, shivering. "Don't touch me," she begged. "Don't touch me!"

He stood before her, his hands fallen to his side. There was that in his face which, had she seen, might have made her yield, but she never looked up. "Sophy," he' implored, "can't you remember that you have a husband? There is the future. You won't send me back?"

She dropped her hands and looked him in the face. "It is not I who send you!" she said. "It is not I!"

She passed him on her way out of the room, so closely that her skirts swept over his feet, her hair even brushed his forehead. He stood like one turned to stone until the door had closed behind her. Then he threw himself into an easy-chair and buried his face in his hands.

Valentin was aroused—he scarcely knew how long afterwards—by the ringing of the telephone. He took down the receiver and listened. It was Josephine who spoke.

"This is Monsieur le Vicomte de Souspennier?" she asked.

"I am he, Josephine," he answered.

"They have him," she declared, her voice, even over the telephone, vibrating with emotion. "He was taken down to the Silent Street an hour ago."

"Where did they find him?" he asked mechanically.

"Coming out of your hotel in the Avenue de l'Opéra," she answered. "They were watching the place. If you really want to save him, you had better be quick. Robert is beside himself."

Valentin put down the telephone and stood, for a moment, thinking. Then he crossed the room to his despatch box, took a couple of revolvers from it, and thrust them both in his pocket. Even on the threshold of the door, he hesitated. Should he tell Sophy where he was going? It might be farewell! Slowly, and with beating heart, he moved towards her door. Stooping down, he tried the handle softly. It was locked. With a little shiver he turned away.



CHAPTER VI.—THE SILENT STREET

THE period of merciful unconsciousness had passed away. Guy opened his eyes and looked wildly around him. "Where am I?" he faltered.

There was no reply. He raised himself a little. Gradually it all came back to him. It was worse, far worse than the prison cell, this! There were a dozen men, at least, collected in the long narrow room, which was lit by a single oil lamp, blackened with grease and dirt, swinging from the low roof. There was no table, but on the floor were bottles and empty glasses. The wooden walls were mildewed, the windows were simply narrow slits, thick with dirt. The atmosphere of the place was horrible.

The terror was coming back. "Tell me where I am?" he begged hysterically. "Why do you all stare at me—like that?"

Leaning against the wall was Robert, his hat over his eyes, smoking a long cigarette. He lounged up to the spot where Guy was lying upon the floor, and scowled down into his face. Then he kicked him heavily in the ribs.

"You're in the Street of Silence!" he hissed. "Ever heard of it?"

Guy shrank back. He looked into the faces of the others, wildly, imploringly. His heart sank within him.

They eyed him like a pack of wolves gathered around their quarry.

"You are going to kill me!" he cried.

Robert laughed scornfully. He waved his cigarette in the air dramatically. "Yes, indeed," he declared, "we are going to kill you, right enough, but not yet. Have you seen a wicked child, my young friend, pull an insect to pieces and laugh at its quivering limbs? It is like that that we shall treat you. We have seven stages ready prepared. Death would be better than any one of them, I can promise you that. You are going to suffer, suffer the tortures of the damned, suffer as all informers should! Bah!"

Guy was gray with terror. He screamed, and they all mocked at him.

"There are none in the Silent Street to hear your cries," Robert jeered. "Call again, if you will. Squeal for the gendarmes to protect you. It does no harm. It might amuse you. Perhaps you never heard of the Silent Street?"

"We are on the river!" Guy faltered.

"Quite right," Robert answered approvingly. "We are anchored to a buoy in the middle of the river. There is no one anywhere near."

A sort of fatalism seemed to be creeping over their victim. He asked his next question quite calmly. "In the end, I suppose," he remarked, "you will throw me into the river."

"In the end, who can tell?" Robert retorted roughly. "You will be such a queer-looking object, such a grotesque! Perhaps we may find it hard to part with you. Perhaps we may leave you nailed against the wall to amuse us to-morrow evening."

"You won't dare to kill me!" Guy muttered.

Robert sneered. "Fool!" he answered. "If it were not that we should be putting you out of your misery too soon, I'd wring your neck where you are. As it is—"

He leaned over and caught up a whip. Guy shrank back. "Don't touch me with that!" he almost shrieked. "Don't touch me! Oh, my God!"

Robert raised the whip and lashed him deliberately. Guy sprang up and fell down again. The air was hideous with his cries. Robert laughed as he struck with venomous precision.

"Poor little man!" he exclaimed. "To think that a gentle touch like this should hurt! Why, it's nothing—nothing!" he added emphatically. "Think, my young informer, that before many minutes have passed we are going to deform you just a trifle. We are going to perform wonderful surgical feats to-night, I can assure you."

His knife glistened suddenly in the lamplight. Guy fell on his knees. "For the love of Heaven!" he begged. "I am not strong—I cannot bear it. Forgive me—forgive me, all of you. I will be your slave in the future. You shall have all my money. You shall do with me what you will. Only let me go—let me go away from this awful place. I shall die if I stay here any longer!"

"Oh, you'll die, right enough!" Robert declared. "You haven't a chance in a thousand of leaving here alive. But it is the sort of thing that must be done gradually," he added, sharpening his knife upon the palm of his hand. "We are too fond of you—much too fond of you to hurry over this little affair."

D'Argminac sprang to his feet and leaped at them. It was part of the torture that they had left him unbound. They were men of muscle, all of them, skilled in the underground tricks of throwing an opponent; sinewy, brutal. The boy was weak and nerveless. He was thrown from one to the other until, bruised and exhausted, he fell upon his face.

"For my part," one of the torturers yawned, "this does not amuse me. The creature has no spirit. I would treat him like I would a rat. Set your foot upon him, Robert, and have done with it."

But Robert only laughed. His teeth gleamed white in the lamplit gloom, his face was like the face of a skeleton. "Do you forget, you others," he muttered, "that it is through this cur I am skulking here, that I must live underground like a rat in a sewer? Do you think I don't want the lights and the cafés and the music and the women, and all the rest of it? They were all mine but for him, if only he'd kept his cursed mouth closed!"

"Robert is right," one of the others declared. "Tie him up for a bit. We've given him plenty to think about. Tie him up while we make a bank. One must amuse oneself. Out with the brandy."

Robert suddenly held up his hand. A low whistle came from outside, they heard the splash of muffled oars. The whistle was repeated three times. The men stood and looked at one another. On Guy's face there was, for a second, a gleam of hope. Robert saw it and mocked at him.

"You poor fool!" he cried. "He thinks that it may be a rescuer. It is one of ourselves or they would never be allowed to board. If there were any chance of the gendarmes," he added, picking up the knife which lay by his side, "why, we'd finish you in two seconds!"

They heard the boat touch the side of the barge, the sound of a greeting. A moment later there was a knock at the door. Robert threw it open. It was Valentin who entered.

"Monsieur le Prince!" Robert exclaimed, with an exaggerated gesture of respect. "It is a fortunate night on which you arrive after these many months."

Valentin looked around him rapidly. There were seven men, seven knives, probably seven revolvers. To rescue the boy by force seemed impossible. To rescue him by some means or other was a matter of sheer necessity.

"Monsieur will take a glass of cognac with us," Robert declared, bringing out a bottle and some glasses. "This is better than whipping the tradespeople for charity, eh? Better, even, than seeing the fat rascal of the Porte St. Martin sweat and shriek before he parted with his little donation. You see before you, Monsieur, something lower than the rats, lower than the spiders which breed in foul places. An informer, Monsieur, a creature of the gendarmes, one admitted to companionship among us, who, thinking to save his skin, lies to the gendarmes of a good comrade. What think you of such?"

"I think," Valentin replied, accepting his cognac, "that the fault lies at my door. It was I who brought him to you."

"It was you who brought him, indeed, Monsieur," Robert agreed, "but we do not visit that upon you. We accepted him. He seemed to us one of ourselves. He was one of ourselves in all respects save one. He has not the courage of a chicken," Robert added contemptuously. "Look at him shivering there against the wall. Leave him alone for another moment and he would pray for help. Hear him whine! Faugh! It makes me sick!"

Valentin looked around thoughtfully. His own life at that moment he held to be a thing entirely valueless. He was simply calculating the chances of success should he attempt to carry Guy off. His fingers strayed to the butt of the revolver in his loose overcoat. Three men he could possibly account for—perhaps, even four. More than that would be impossible, however quickly he might shoot. Already, as though from instinct, although not absolutely distrusting him, he could see Robert's hand stray towards his hip pocket. One of the others was standing now within a few feet of him, behind. He knew how agile they were—these men. One spring and he would be upon his back with a knife between his ribs! Valentin sighed. There were other methods, of course, but he would have preferred a fight to the death.

"Robert," he said, "my business here is with you. I may add that it is of importance. If you can tear yourself away for five minutes from your interesting guest, I propose that you walk with me upon the deck."

Robert tossed off another glass of brandy. "A visit to me, Monsieur!" he exclaimed. "You do me honor, indeed. Yes, I come! I regret that our promenade cannot be upon the boulevards, where it would be a joy, indeed, to show oneself with so distinguished a gentleman. We will walk upon the deck together, Monsieur."

They climbed the steps, and Valentin noticed an almost imperceptible sign from Robert to one of the others, who followed them up the ladder. Robert was taking few chances! Outside, the night was a little misty. They could see the long line of lights which bordered the river, the colored lights from the boats at anchor. They could hear the distant murmur of traffic from an arch under whose shelter they were moored. Yet, for all this, it was a lonely spot.

"Robert," Valentin said, passing his arm through his companion's, "my business with you is soon told. I am here to buy from you your prisoner."

Robert's laugh was not a pleasant one. He threw the cigarette he had been smoking on to the deck, and stamped upon it. "Then take your boat and row back again, Monsieur!" he cried savagely. "Listen!" he hissed out, peering through the darkness up at his companion till his long white face was like some ghastly image. "If I go to the Dear Widow for it, I am going to watch the life out of his miserable body!"

Valentin nodded. "Yes," he said, "I thought you'd begin like that! Now, supposing you listen to me. You are a hunted man—not old, not young. You'll be caught before long. If you're not caught, you can't do anything worth while. The cafés, the boulevards, the dances, all the gayety of the city is lost for you. To keep your liberty, you must live like a rat, afraid of the daylight, afraid of every strange face you see. At night you must sometimes wake from your sleep and fancy that you feel a touch upon your shoulder. Not much of a life, Robert."

"Get me a pardon, then," the man growled fiercely. "What's the good of reminding me? You are a brave gentleman, you have great influence. I have been your friend, I have shown you how to amuse yourself. Get me a pardon."

"I can't do that," Valentin replied, "but I propose to give you a few years of the gay life you love, and to give you the means of enjoying it. I buy that poor creature down there for a hundred thousand francs, and I'll send you to Buenos Ayres. A gay city, mind, Robert. They live there. The women—there are none such in Europe."

"A hundred thousand francs!" the man gasped.

"It's more than I can afford," Valentin continued, "but it's no good talking about trifles to a man like you. It isn't for the boy's sake—I needn't tell you that. It's for the sake of his relatives."

Robert was silent. Then he stamped his foot upon the boards. "No!" he exclaimed. "No! A hundred thousand francs—what is it? Two years of life! I cannot save, I must spend. Two years of life and he goes free— that crawling, miserable thing. No! It is worth two years of life to be sure that he has met with his reward."

Valentin's grasp upon his companion's arm tightened a little. "Robert," he said calmly, "I shall not bargain with you. This, at least, is the end of my bargaining. You see where we are now," he added, coming suddenly to a standstill. "I have my back against the rail and there is no one the other side. I have you in my grasp and by chance I am a strong man. Now listen. I make you an offer. It may sound strange to you, but I make it to you as a comrade and as an honest man. You have envied me. You know who I am. I am Valentin Simon, Vicomte de Souspennier, with a chateau, an apartment in Paris, and a fortune altogether of about a million francs. They are yours, Robert—my fortune, my chateau, my name. Give me that boy, and to-morrow, at the Rue Druot, I will bring a notary and do all that is needful."

"This is madness!" Robert muttered.

"No, it is not madness," Valentin went on. "I, too, have come up against the barrier, Robert. One meets them in our lives sometimes as in yours. There is only one thing left in life which I must have, and that is the boy down there. You see, I offer you a great price. I offer you all that I can offer. If you refuse, I swear that I will lift you like this, as you stand now, before you can call out, lift you by the scruff of the neck, and I will fling you into the water there. If your head comes up, I shall shoot at it. I'll take my chance with the others. I have two revolvers in my pocket. It's just possible they may find it safer to let me alone. Now we know where we are, Robert. There's only one thing I want and that's the boy. I've named my price."

Robert gave a little gasp. "Monsieur," he exclaimed, "less tightly, if you please. I admit that I am in your power. Let us consider this matter."

"For five seconds," Valentin answered, watching him intently. "If your hand goes to your pocket, you're overboard, and you might as well have a stone around your neck as try to swim in that filth."

"I have no mind to try," Robert declared. "Have no fear, Monsieur. To let him go cuts me like a knife, but you bid too high. There is no mistake, eh? Your whole fortune, Monsieur, your chateau, and your name if I choose to use it?"

"Not only that, my friend, but I myself shall see that you leave this country safely for Buenos Ayres."

"It is a bargain," Robert assented. "My word upon it, Monsieur, and the hand."

Valentin accepted the latter and shook it gravely. He knew better than to hesitate even for a single second. They moved toward the stairs leading down into the cabin. Here Robert stopped short.

"It would be better for me to go on," he said. "I must explain to the others. After all, it is my affair. I will bring the young man to you."

Valentin nodded and turned away. He walked up and down the deck of the barge, his hands behind him, his head bent. In the far distance he saw the flaring lights of the Eiffel Tower. The sky was lurid with the reflection thrown up from the city. It was an oasis of silence, this place—of silence and gloom.

Robert came up, dragging with him the boy, half dazed, half senseless. "Take him, Monsieur," he cried. "It is a great price which you pay for vermin."

"To-morrow night at the Rue Druot!" Valentin said. "I shall be there. You need not fear but that I shall keep my bargain."

Guy clung to him pitifully, ran on in front and clung to him again. Valentin descended into the boat and unfastened the rope. All the time the boy was shrieking, and Robert had to hold him from behind or he would have jumped. He almost upset the boat, stepping in. His face, as he shrank away from Robert, was awful.

"Row!" he hissed. "Row—row hard! Monsieur, row hard! Let us get away! They may change their minds! Row!"

Valentin bent to his task, but the tide was strong. Across the dark river they shot, drifted a little way with the tide, and then turned in at the miserable landing-stage. A waterman was waiting here. He eyed Valentin and his companion curiously.

"Monsieur is back again safely," he remarked. "There are strange doings down the river at night. It is not wise to be in a boat alone."

Valentin paid him and half led, half dragged Guy along. At the corner of the street was an automobile. The boy staggered in, threw himself back among the cushions, and began to sob. All the time he had not spoken one word of thanks.

"The brutes! The hounds!" he muttered. "The curs! Oh, if I could see them hanged, all of them!"

The hotel was almost deserted when the automobile drove into the courtyard. Valentin took his companion by the arm and led him up the stairs to his rooms. He turned on the lights of the salon and rang for his servant.

"Nichols," he explained, "this gentleman is my brother-in-law. He will occupy my rooms here to-night. See that he has everything he desires. Pack me a bag for the night."

Nichols was too well trained to exhibit surprise. He could scarcely refrain, however, from glancing twice at Guy.

"Wait here a moment," Valentin said. "You'll find brandy and soda on that table, if you care for anything."

Guy pounced greedily upon the bottle. Valentin entered his own rooms and, passing through, stood before the connecting door which led to his wife's apartment. For a moment he hesitated, then softly he tried the handle. His heart sank. It was locked on the other side. He tried it twice, with the same result, Then he walked slowly to his writing-table. He drew out a sheet of paper.

"Sophy," he wrote, "I have brought you back your brother. You need have no more fear for him. He is occupying my rooms here for the night. I am accepting the message of your locked door, and have gone to the Chatham. I shall remain there until three o'clock tomorrow afternoon."

He took the note to the door of her room and, ringing the bell, dropped it in the letter-box. Then he went back into the salon.

"You had better go to bed," he advised Guy. "My man is waiting to show you your quarters. If I were you, I would get away from Paris as quickly as you can."

The young man uttered no word of thanks. He simply rose ungraciously to his feet. "Of course," he said, "those fellows really never meant anything, but they've given my nerves a twisting. I'll do as you suggest."

He went off. Valentin slowly descended the stairs. His dressing-case was already in charge of the hall-porter. He called a cab and drove off. . . .

He slept for scarcely an hour. All the morning he kept asking for a note. He lounged in his apartments, still waiting. Three o'clock came and passed. With a beating heart, he went to the telephone office.

"Ring up the Hotel Eastminster," he directed, "and ask if Madame la Vicomtesse de Souspennier is there."

He waited breathlessly, walking up and down beside the office. In a few moments the boy came out to him.

"Madame la Vicomtesse and her brother," he announced, "left for England a few minutes ago. They have gone to catch the four o'clock train."

Valentin drew a little breath between his teeth. Then he turned away.



BOOK THREE

CHAPTER I.—EIGHT YEARS LATER

"DRUNK, Madame!" Valentin exclaimed, turning around with some slight effort which necessitated, indeed, his grasping the banisters with his left hand.

"A scandalous accusation! Permit me to assure you—that you are mistaken—very much mistaken indeed."

His landlady smiled. On her large face the smile itself was lost. Nevertheless, its effect and her silent scrutiny of him were tantalizing.

"Such insults," Valentin declared, with a little wave of his free hand, "are not what I am accustomed to. With great regret, Mrs. Poynton, I—give you notice—a week's notice."

"A week's notice, indeed!" the lady retorted enigmatically. "Ah! You won't be so keen about that when you get upstairs!"

Valentin was nonplussed. Of his landlady's threats, as a rule, he had no fear. Her last words, however, suggested something incomprehensible. What could there be upstairs to embarrass him! Visitors he never, under any circumstances, received. The threshold of his little apartment was guarded by Ann, the housemaid, who adored him, and even by Mrs. Poynton herself, with the most jealous care. He fidgeted about, for a moment, nervously. Then it occurred to him to satisfy his curiosity at once concerning this vague threat. Somehow the attitude of his landlady puzzled him. Kindly she always was, but to-night, notwithstanding her words of reproof, milder than on most similar occasions, there was an underlying something which he failed utterly to understand. The mystery must be solved! He turned and made his way upstairs. To mark his entire absence of apprehension he whistled a popular French ballad. The stout lady from below watched him disappear with a curious look upon her face. Then, when he was out of sight, she prepared to follow him.

"He'll be shouting hard enough for me directly," she remarked to herself. "I may as well be handy."

Nothing of the sort, however, happened. Valentin crossed the threshold of his room, closing, as was his custom, the door behind him. Nothing more was seen or heard of him for some time. The stout lady, with a groan of discomfort, seated herself upon the stairs. What was passing behind the door she could not hear.

Valentin, on his first entrance, received a shock. His knees began to tremble before he had even closed the door. He leaned against the iron supports of his little bedstead, his eyes wide-open, his whole expression one of blank, almost terrified surprise. With her head upon his pillow, her gray eyes fixed upon his and her lips quivering, a child lay staring at him with an equal and reciprocal amazement. She was dressed literally in laces and fine linen. Her hair was beautifully arranged and tied up behind with a large bow of brown ribbon. Apart from her appearance of prosperity, curiously at variance with the poverty-stricken room, her features and expression were sufficient to proclaim her aristocratic bringing-up.

"Who are you?" she asked him. "I should like my Nanny."

"Yes, of course!" he assented hastily. "Your Nanny, by all means! Yes!"

He came and sat down upon the bed by her side. He was feeling quite helpless, and the blood was surging through his veins like a fever. Sophy had done this to torture him—had sent him her miniature, her living likeness, to tear at his heart-strings, to remind him of the miserable past. Was ever cruelty more subtle?

"Who are you?" she repeated.

"I am Valentin," he answered.

"It is a short name, but I like it very much," she declared. "Please tell me why you are so untidy. Your face wants washing, and your hair—oh, how funny? it is!"

"I—I've been hurrying," he said weakly.

"What a funny black bow!" she exclaimed.

She leaned forward and pulled one end. It came untied, and she shrieked with laughter. Suddenly she frowned.

"Please go away and wash your hands," she ordered. "Mummy does not allow me to play with any one whose hands are not quite clean."

Like a man in a dream, Valentin crossed the uncarpeted floor of his attic room, poured out some water from the battered tin jug, and scrubbed his hands. Then he brushed his hair vigorously, and finally turned round for approval. The child, who was sitting up on the bed now, swinging one long black-stockinged leg and holding the other by the knee, nodded gravely.

"You look much nicer," she decided. "Now, please, tell me where my daddy is? Mummy said she was sending me to him."

He looked around the room as though seeking for inspiration. His embarrassment was almost pitiful. Then his eyes fell upon two strange things. One was a large trunk, on which was emblazoned a coronet and underneath the initials " S. de S." The other was a letter in an oblong envelope, set upon his wooden mantelpiece. He snatched upon the letter eagerly and tore it open with a barely audible groan. There was a lump in his throat and a mist before his eyes as he began to read:

Valentin,
For eight years I have had the sole charge of our daughter Sophy. I think it time that you should share the responsibility. Sophy is a good child, but I am still a young woman and she hampers my movements. I, therefore, send her to you for a time. I do not know what your circumstances are, but if you need money my lawyers shall provide you with a sufficient sum to enable you to continue her education and make such alterations as are necessary in your establishment.

I trust that you will see the justice of my action.
Sophy de Souspennier.

Slowly the words stabbed their way home to the consciousness of the man who had broken the seal of the letter with an emotion which he had fancied dead forever. When he had finished, his eyes were dry and there was no lump in his throat. Nevertheless, something had passed out of his face. He seemed suddenly older. The change was visible even to the child who watched him.

"If you please, I want my Nanny," she declared decidedly.

He reseated himself by her side on the bed. He put his arm around her and drew her towards him. "Sophy," he said, "do you think you would mind sleeping here for the night?"

Her lips quivered. She looked around the room blankly. There was certainly nothing to recommend it from the point of view of comfort. "Without Nanny?" she exclaimed. "Without anybody?"

"I will sleep on the rug, if you like," he said, "or just outside the door. I will be within call. But, you see, your Nanny isn't here, dear, and your mother wishes you to stop."

"Does she say so in the letter?" the child asked. Valentin nodded. "Yes!"

"But why?" she demanded pathetically. "If you please, I do not understand. I am afraid it sounds rather rude, but it is such—a funny little room, isn't it? And I am lonely. I don't know why I am here. You haven't told me yet who you are."

"Sophy, I am your father," the man said softly, with a little choke in his throat.

Her soft gray eyes were round with amazement.

"My father!" she repeated.

"That is so, dear," he told her. "It is many years since I saw you. In fact, I suppose you cannot remember me at all. But it is true. I am your father, Sophy."

"You may be quite nice," she said, after a moment's pause, "but you are not anything like mummy. I couldn't love you like mummy—ever! Not ever!"

"I suppose not, dear," he answered dejectedly.

She looked him over mercilessly. She had been very carefully brought up and she was a little lady at heart, but sometimes the truth burns its way from the lips of children.

"You are not very clean," she said, "even now, and your clothes are very old, aren't they? And your shirt has no cuffs, and—you are very different from the gentlemen who come to see mummy."

He looked upon the floor. "I am afraid that is true, dear," he admitted.

She was intent upon justifying herself, and went on eagerly: "When you are quite close like this—you seem—as though you had been drinking something nasty."

He drew a little breath between his teeth. "I am sorry," he whispered.

Suddenly she put her hand in his. Vaguely she felt that she had hurt him. She was anxious now only to make amends. "I am sure I shall like you very much," she said, "when I know you better, and I promised mummy—"

Her lips quivered. She had come to a standstill.

"Don't cry, dear," he pleaded.

"I never cry," she answered gravely. "When I want to, mummy tells me the story of my great-aunt Madeline, whom the cruel French people killed because she was an aristocrat. I shall not cry—father—but, if you please —if I am to stay here, I should like some supper and a bath."

"I'll inquire about it," he declared, jumping up. She held up her face. "Please kiss me," she begged. "I did not mean that—what I said. I don't notice it at all now."

He kissed her, and she put her arms around his neck.

"I do want my Nanny," she confessed.

"I'll—see about her at once," he promised, feeling suddenly like a child himself.



CHAPTER II.—PROOF OF A ROMANCE

MRS. POYNTON stared at her lodger as he descended the stairs and almost failed to recognize him. The grim and perhaps a little reckless bonhomie which had endeared him to her, and made him a popular personage whenever he could be persuaded to dine in the common room, was gone. His face was pale and serious. He walked like a man half dazed.

"Mrs. Poynton," he said, "I want a nurse at once, some one who understands children, some one who knows what they ought to eat. And a bath and hot water, and I think some toys."

There was a chair upon the landing, and Mrs. Poynton sat down heavily in it. "Bless the man!" she exclaimed. "Do you mean that you are going to keep that child here?"

"For the present, Mrs. Poynton," he admitted, "there is no alternative. Is there any one in the house or among your acquaintances whom I can fetch to look after her?"

Mrs. Poynton reflected for a moment. "Now I come to think of it," she declared, "there's a very quiet, ladylike person in the second floor back, who happened to mention to me this afternoon that she was a child's nurse waiting for a situation."

"Fetch her," Valentin ordered. "Fetch her at once."

His landlady would have preferred to discuss the matter further, but she recognized the new tone in his voice, and went. In a very few moments she returned with a quietly dressed, respectable-looking woman.

"This is Miss Harrison," she explained.

"You are a nurse?" Valentin asked eagerly.

"Certainly," she replied. "Can I do anything for you?" He took her by the arm. "Come this way."

He led her upstairs and into his shabby little attic chamber. "Here is the child," he said, pointing toward the bed. "There shall be a better room for her in the morning. You see, she has some clothes. What she wants now is a bath and something to eat. Can you look after her for to-night, at any rate? I will make it worth your while."

"Certainly, sir," the woman answered. "You can leave her in my charge."

The child sat up on the bed, and Valentin was banished. He walked slowly down the stairs with his hands in his pockets. On the last landing he came face to face with a man who was ascending, hat in hand—a short, fat man, with Jewish features and narrow, cunning eyes looking like slits in his pale face. He held up his finger directly he saw Valentin.

"I was coming for you!" he exclaimed, in a hoarse whisper.

Valentin nodded. "What is it?" he asked.

The man looked around and drew him on one side.

"We want you with us to-night," he said. "Come around with me now to the Swiss House. The others are all there. I was sent to fetch you."

Valentin shook his head. "My friend," he announced, "a strange thing has happened to me. I am entertaining an unexpected guest. I cannot move from this building."

The fat man looked at him with a bewildered expression. He did not understand. "You are speaking like a fool!" he declared roughly. "I tell you there's a big thing to talk about—a big thing. If it comes off, you will be able to visit your beloved Paris, the Riviera, if you will. You will have money to spend once more. After all, it is money one needs, eh?"

He laid his pudgy hand upon Valentin's shoulder, only to find himself repulsed with a gesture of disgust and to be told curtly: "I don't want you here at all, Cohen. When I want to see you, I'll come to the Swiss House. Understand that. And as for to-night's affair, I'll have none of it, whatever it may be. That's plain enough, I hope."

"Plain enough!" the other repeated. "You don't know what you are saying. You cannot be in earnest. At least you'll look round and hear what it is?"

Valentin laughed contemptuously. "Get out," he ordered, "quick! If you say another word, I don't fancy you'll ever see me at the Swiss House again. Be off. Here's my landlady coming and I don't want her to find you here."

"But you will come around just for five minutes?" the fat man pleaded.

Valentin gave him a little push which nearly sent him backwards down the stairs.

"If you say another word," he whispered, "I shall throw you down. I'll come to the Swiss House when it pleases me, but not to-night. To-night, understand you, my friend, I would not leave this roof for a fortune!"

Mrs. Poynton was playing cards with some friends until late that evening, and it was not until she prepared for bed that she began to wonder how her disreputable but favorite lodger had disposed of himself for the night. Shading her candle with her hand, she climbed on tiptoe to the attic. On the topmost step she paused and looked over the banisters. Valentin was stretched on the landing outside the door, with a rolled-up ulster for a pillow and only his coat off. She crept away on tiptoe, fetched a pillow from her own room and placed it gently under his head. Then she shook out the ulster and laid it over him. The man only moved in his sleep and muttered something—it sounded to her like a woman's name.

Slowly she went back to her room, shaking her head. It was true, she felt sure, what she had always declared. The coming of this little stranger had proved it. There was a romance somewhere back in the life of this shabby, reckless, but charming Mr. Valentin!



CHAPTER III.—A FATHER'S RESPONSIBILITIES

SOON after dawn the next morning, while the child still slept, Valentin was in his room, diving deep down to the bottom of an old-fashioned trunk which contained the whole of his worldly belongings. From it he possessed himself of a little bundle of ominous-looking tickets, a sealed envelope, and a small parcel wrapped up in tissue paper which he handled with almost reverent fingers. With these safely disposed about his person, he closed the lid of the trunk and went on tiptoe towards the door. As he passed the bed, he hesitated for a moment and looked at the child. She seemed to be sleeping quite peacefully, but her hair was ruffled and there were stains upon her cheeks. He felt a lump in his own throat as he crept out of the room. As soon as the door was securely fastened behind him, his face suddenly darkened and his eyes flashed with anger.

"I was right," he muttered. "She has no heart—she is as cold as a stone. What mother in the world could send her child to me—like this!"

He stole out of the house soon afterwards, and made his way to a pawn shop. Opening the envelope which he carried with him, he withdrew a five pound note, and, carefully selecting some of the tickets, received a bundle in exchange. He made his way then through the lazily stirring streets to some neighboring baths, from which he emerged an hour later, dressed in clothes comparatively new and fashionable in cut, with a slight color in his cheeks from the unaccustomed exercise of swimming. He called at a barber's, had his hair trimmed and was shaved. When the man had finished, he stood and looked at himself in the glass. Certainly it made a difference! It was no vanity which prompted his half-eager, half-timid scrutiny of his own reflection, or which caused him to smile with satisfaction as he turned away.

"I think," he said softly, as he started back toward Pelham Street, "that she will not be frightened of me now."

He re-entered the house as the other lodgers were coming down to breakfast. They all eyed him with a new respect. The boy who was cleaning the steps looked at him in amazement. The kitchen-maid down in the area stared at him open-mouthed and muttered to herself. Mrs. Poynton, descending the stairs in her morning robe, with her hair still enclosed in curl papers, declared afterwards that she felt like dropping him a curtsey.

"My gracious, Mr. Valentin!" she exclaimed. "You'll excuse me, won't you, but what have you been doing to yourself?"

He smiled. Last night, and for many previous nights, he had stolen into the house a slovenly, carelessly-dressed person, with every detail of his clothes and figure neglected. This morning he was a personage. Mrs. Poynton, who read the Family Herald no longer doubted that he was a nobleman in disguise. He had the air, the unmistakable air, which divides the classes. He took her by the arm and led her, a willing captive, into the tawdry little drawing-room, untenanted at that hour in the morning.

"Mrs. Poynton," he began, "I have done a reckless thing."

"You are very much improved by it, Mr. Valentin," she declared. "I am sure I scarcely knew you, although I always said that if you cared to take more trouble with yourself, you'd be a fine-looking gentleman. Clothes do make a difference, Mr. Valentin."

He shook his head and produced the envelope from his pocket. "Mrs. Poynton," he continued, "in this envelope, on the top of my trunk and addressed to you, were three five-pound notes. They were there in case anything had happened that I died suddenly while under your roof. This morning I have broken the envelope and used one of them. You see that I have two left. You see, also, this."

His voice had suddenly changed. Very slowly he drew from his pocket the little parcel wrapped in tissue paper. With nervous fingers—very white and shapely fingers they seemed this morning—he drew from its wrapping an old-fashioned miniature set with diamonds. The face of a woman, painted with the exquisite touch of a master hand, smiled out at them both. It had been Sophy's birthday present to him once. He kept his thumb carefully over the likeness.

"This," he said, "was the last of my possessions which I had felt inclined to cherish. The picture," he added sternly, "means nothing to me. Still, there were memories. We all have memories, you know, Mrs. Poynton."

She wiped a tear away without knowing it. There was no appeal for sympathy in his tone—no thought of it, even. Yet, without being a woman of perceptions, Mrs. Poynton knew quite well that the man who spoke to her was crushing down strange feelings.

"I show you this," he continued, "because I want you to see the diamonds. I am going to take it to a jeweler's this morning and sell it. You will be able to understand now that I shall have money to-day—money which is honestly mine."

"Mr. Valentin!" she protested. "My dear Mr. Valentin! As though any one would dare to insinuate—"

He stopped her quietly but firmly. "My character," he reminded her, "is scarcely above reproach. It would certainly be matter for suspicion if I were to show myself suddenly possessed of ready money. I am realizing what I can this morning under exceptional circumstances. You see now that for the present, at any rate, I have means, considerable means, which I have come by honestly. I want you to let me have that nice large room of yours that looks over the gardens—for a week, at any rate. I want you, also, to try and persuade the nurse to stay for the present."

"I will do what I can, with pleasure," Mrs. Poynton declared. "I am only too thankful that you are not thinking of leaving. And if you'll excuse my saying so, Mr. Valentin," she went on, "the change in you this morning is more than wonderful, and if you were to go out dressed and looking as you are now, there isn't any one who would refuse a situation. A wine merchant's traveler on commission, now," she suggested, "or something of that sort. Appearances do go a long way, and no mistake about it, and there are not many gentlemen in business to be met with looking as you look this morning."

He laughed softly—it was a long time since he had laughed so naturally. Then he turned away. "I suppose I could go and see about the little girl getting up now," he remarked.

"She's up and dressed," Mrs. Poynton replied. "I told the nurse to take her into the empty sitting-room on the third floor. If you like, she can have her breakfast there while the other room's being got ready."

"Very good of you indeed, Mrs. Poynton!" he exclaimed, turning toward the door. "I think I hear her."

It was a sad-faced little lady whom he found standing before the window, looking aimlessly out. Her face brightened at the sight of him, and it was obvious that she, too, noticed and approved of his changed appearance.

"Good morning," she said shyly.

She held up her lips and he kissed her, not without some awkwardness. "Had breakfast?" he asked.

"Not yet," she replied politely. "I think that the nurse who dressed me has gone to see about it. Is she going to stay, please?"

"That depends upon you," he answered. "Do you like her?"

"Very much indeed," the child assured him. "She is older than my own Nanny, but she is very kind and she has a nice face. Please, do you mind telling me what you have been doing to yourself?"

"I? Oh, nothing!" he answered. "Why?"

She shook her head in a puzzled way. "You have nicer clothes on, for one thing," she remarked, "but, of course, it isn't that only. You look so different, somehow."

"I hope you approve?" he asked gravely.

"Very much," she assured him.

There was a short pause. Valentin felt ridiculously shy. If only she had been a little less like her mother!

"Are you going to have breakfast with me?" she inquired.

"I hope so," he answered. "If Mrs. Poynton allows it, and I believe she will."

"Is Mrs. Poynton the lady with the fair wig?" the child demanded.

He nodded. "You mustn't mind her appearance," he said. "She is really very good-natured and quite an agreeable person."

"Oh, I like her very much!" Sophy declared. "She came in this morning and talked for a long time. She was quite nice, only she would kiss me. I do not think that I like strange people to kiss me."

"Child, how old are you?" he asked suddenly.

"I am eight and a half," she replied, looking at him with wide-open eyes. "You ought to know, if you are my father."

He sighed. "Well, that's what I thought, but really—you'll forgive my remarking it—but you seem rather grown-up sometimes."

She smiled. "Mummy says that's because I've always lived with grown-up people and have no brothers and sisters," she answered. "Here comes breakfast. I am allowed to have coffee, please, daddy, with plenty of milk."

The breakfast came for two, and he noticed with thankfulness that it was more carefully prepared than any meal he had ever seen under that roof. She talked to him most of the time, becoming apparently more at her ease and a little less reserved at every moment. When he suggested the Zoological Gardens, she clapped her hands.

"I should love to go there," she declared. "I have only been on Sunday afternoons when the band plays, and there are so many people I never had a chance to see the animals properly. What time shall we start?"

"In about an hour," he told her, "if that will suit you." She nodded. "I sha'n't have any lessons, I suppose?"

"Not to-day, at any rate," he answered, smiling. "Have you had a governess?"

"Mademoiselle Rigault was my governess," the child replied. "She was very nice but rather strict. A month ago she was taken ill and went away. Annette used to give me French lessons."

"Well, I will take Annette's place," he remarked. "You shall have a French lesson whenever you like."

She laughed. "I don't like regular lessons very much," she said, "but I love talking French if some one will tell me the hard words."

The nurse came in, and Valentin watched her move about the room with approbation. She was quietly dressed; her manners and speech were singularly refined.

"Nurse," he began, "I understand that you were looking for a situation. I hope that you will be able to stay and look after Miss Sophy for a little time?"

"I shall be pleased to stay until I get suited, sir," she promised. "Perhaps you would like to look at my testimonials and take up my character?"

He was on the point of refusing, but he suddenly remembered his responsibilities as a father! "Thank you," he said, "if you will let me have them I should be glad. We will talk about a salary later in the day."

"There will be no trouble about that, sir," she assured him. "I shall like to look after the young lady."

"I have to go out for about an hour," Valentin explained. "Will you have her ready for me by the time I return? We are going to the Zoological Gardens. Do you think you can manage to amuse her until then?"

"Certainly, sir," the nurse answered. "Perhaps Miss Sophy would like to read. Shall I find any books in your room?"

Valentin felt his cheeks suddenly hot. It was a very unexpected sensation. "Please don't touch one of them," he begged. "They are all socialistic rubbish and French books—not fit for a child. We will buy some to-day or to-morrow. I am afraid you must do the best you can this morning."

Before he went out, he spent a few minutes in his room, destroying several paper-backed volumes which were lying about. Then he walked briskly across to the Tube and made his way to a Bond Street jeweler, for whose inspection he produced the miniature.

"I want to sell these diamonds," he announced. "Please value them for me."

In five minutes the transaction was complete. As he was on the point of leaving, the jeweler made a suggestion.

"If the picture is not a family one, sir, or particularly interesting to you," he said, "I should be glad to give five guineas for it. It is very well executed." Valentin hesitated for a moment, then he shook his head.

"No," he replied, "I will take the picture. It is of no value to me except as a curiosity, but I am not sure that I should care to part with it."

They both looked at the smiling face with the broad forehead, the masses of fair hair, the delicate features, the graceful neck and shoulders.

"A very beautiful face," the jeweler remarked.

Valentin slipped the picture into his pocket. "I keep it," he said, "not because of its beauty but because it is, as I said just now, a curiosity. As a matter of fact, it is the face of one of the most brutal women who ever breathed."

The jeweler looked at his customer in surprise. Valentin, with a smile, nodded and walked out. There was a mist before his eyes and he found his way back to the Tube station with almost mechanical footsteps. Very soon he was back in Pelham Street. He knocked at the door of Mrs. Poynton's sitting-room. She admitted him at once with a smile.

"Mrs. Poynton," he announced, "here are ten pounds. I owe you a little which you can deduct from it. Charge what you think fair for the new room and the bedroom opening out of it. I will keep the attic on for myself. I have more money, so you need not be afraid for your rent. In a few days' time, if the child remains, I shall find something to do."

"If you'll excuse my saying so, Mr. Valentin," Mrs. Poynton declared, "I am inclined to think, if you'll pardon the liberty I make in alluding to it, that the young lady's coming is a blessing in disguise."

"I do not agree with you," Valentin said quietly. "It is absolutely wrong that she should be here. That, however, is of no account. I am glad that you can let me have the room, Mrs. Poynton."

There was something very unreal about the rest of that morning to Valentin. For the last few months his days had been spent in another fashion. He had reached home, or rather the attic, which took the place of home to him, between four and five o'clock in the morning, had slept until long past luncheon time, and had awakened to absinthe and French cigarettes. To-day he lunched at a small, pleasant restaurant, with the child opposite to him, really interested and amused to watch the joy with which she looked around her and listened to the music. They had spent two hours at the Zoological Gardens, and her confidence in him was rapidly becoming established. He took her home afterwards in an open taxicab, and handed her over to her nurse.

"Nurse," he said, "I should be glad if you would take the child out presently and buy her either books or toys, whichever she prefers, with this. I myself have a call to make."

The child looked at him, and he was unreasonably pleased at her expression of reluctance. "You won't be very long, daddy?" she asked, quite naturally.

"I shall be back within an hour and a half," he promised her. "There is a visit which I must pay."

"And, daddy," she went on, "you promised that nurse might buy me a book. Please may I have one of those things with the dates on?"

"Do you mean an almanac?"

She nodded. "If you please, daddy," she said, "and a pencil. I want to count the days until something happens," she explained confidentially.

He turned away. "Certainly, dear," he replied. "Your nurse can buy you anything of the sort you would like to have."

Once more he set his face westwards. He passed into the region of Mayfair and turning into a small, fashionable street, rang the bell at the door of a very charming maisonette, painted white, whose window-boxes were full of flowers. A footman answered his summons almost immediately.

"The Vicomtesse de Souspennier lives here?" Valentin asked. "Yes? Will you inquire if she can receive me for a few minutes?"

"What name, sir?"

"Mr. Valentin."

The servant threw open the door of a cosy little waiting-room and disappeared. He returned very shortly. "Her ladyship desires me to say, sir," he announced, "that she knows no one of that name and that she does not receive strangers."

Valentin suddenly drew himself up. His eyes flashed.

"Very good," he replied. "Announce, then, Monsieur le Vicomte de Souspennier!"



CHAPTER IV.—RECRIMINATIONS

VALENTIN was shown without further delay across the polished white stone floor, spread with soft-colored rugs, into a drawing-room which, small though it was, many of her intimates declared to be the most delightful room in London. Sophy was sitting there alone. The last eight or nine years had treated her kindly. She was still a very young-looking woman—a trifle paler, perhaps, a little more fragile, than in the days when he had first met her, but with eyes as beautiful as ever, and a figure which the most celebrated corsetière in Europe had pronounced absolutely faultless. Her lips quivered as the door opened; otherwise, her face was expressionless. The footman, without change of tone, ushered Valentin in.

"Monsieur le Vicomte de Souspennier," he announced, and departed.

Valentin stood upon the threshold of the room, his feet sunk into the pale blue carpet. His quick senses were assailed by the perfume of roses mingled with the fainter and more peculiar fragrance which had been very familiar to him years ago. He held himself sternly, and his tone, when he returned her greeting, was cold.

"So you have been forced to declare yourself, my dear Valentin," she remarked. "Mr. Valentin, indeed! Such modesty is inexcusable. You dislike your name?"

"A name which I share with you," he replied calmly, "is not one which I should have thought to use in your house."

She shrugged her shoulders. "Your visit is certainly somewhat belated," she remarked. "However, since you have favored me, I will not pretend to be in doubt as to your motives. Pray sit down. There is no need for us to conduct this interview as strangers."

"I have come to tell you," he continued, "that I consider your sending the child to me, to my lodgings, a disgraceful piece of inhumanity."

The woman on the sofa visibly flinched. He was not inclined, however, to spare her.

"I am glad," he said, "to find that you are not altogether lost to some sense of shame. You are wealthy, you are well able to give our child all that her position should warrant. Do you know how I have been living?"

"One has an idea," she admitted.

"I will tell you," he went on. "I live in a smoke-begrimed tenement house in the back street of an unwholesome region. My only room is an attic, where the paper hangs down from the wall, where there is no carpet on the floor, and an iron bedstead, my trunk, and a looking-glass nailed on the wall, are the only articles of furniture. I spend my nights, from twilight till dawn, in Soho, among the scum of Europe. When I return to that lodging of mine, I am not fit company for a beast, much more for a child. Yet you have sent her there, alone. Do you know," he continued, his voice dropping a little, and yet, somehow, the fiercer for the deeper note which had crept into it, "do you know, Sophy, that I could take you by the throat, beautiful picture though you are, and shake you for such a wanton piece of brutality."

The woman was breathing fast. She had the air of a woman who has been unexpectedly worsted, who has been thrust on one side from her proposed course of action. She was twisting a lace handkerchief in her fingers, her eyes were softer. This was fear, he told himself, and not a muscle of his face changed.

"I will admit," she said, "that I was unaware that you were still living the life of an unwholesome animal."

"It was your duty to find out," he declared, "before you sent the child. Why, when I came home to rest for an hour before I went out for the night, and found her there on my bed, I was drunk."

She covered her eyes with her fingers. "Don't!"

"How did you know," he went on, "that I should not sell all those fine clothes for what I could get, and dress her in the rags that those others wear who live as I live? My child, indeed!"

"You see," she remarked, rapidly regaining control over herself, "I had some faith in you still."

He looked at her contemptuously. "Sophy," he said, "when I think of the last eight years, there is only one person whom I despise more than myself, and that is you."

She started. "Valentin!" she murmured. "You should not—"

He held out his hand. "Those things which lie between me and you," he declared, "are not things of which we need speak. I had my faults, bad faults, but you were my wife. Perhaps, if you like, I sinned, but you were my wife. It is admitted that I deceived you. Has it ever occurred to you, I wonder, that my sole reason for doing so was the fear of losing you? This brother of yours—what was he? A broken creature before I knew him; a poor, nerveless wreck. And yet, it was for his sake that you planted yourself upon the seat of justice."

"It is not I who judge," she interrupted. "You married me with a lie in your heart."

"We will not discuss it," he said coldly. "You have, I hear, abandoned to some extent your country life, and have become a much admired woman in society; pitied for your unhappy domestic tie; courted, I make no doubt," he continued, looking her in the eyes, "for your many charms. I, on the other hand, am a bankrupt adventurer, living on my wits, moving in a maze of crime, associating with criminals—a very debauched existence, I can tell you. You see, you have won and I have lost. And yet, since you did this thing, since you sent that child to me, I do not envy you."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean this," he replied, moving restlessly about the room. "I am a blackguard, we all know. There are no two opinions about that. But to me a child, and my own child, is something a little too sacred to gamble with. You gambled with that child's soul when you sent her to me yesterday. This morning I am sober. I had a shock. I am wearing decent clothes, I am a reputable member of society. To-night I may be slinking through Soho, drunk, with a knife in my pocket. I've done it—I've done it before. Why not again?"

"Am I to speak now?"

"If you have anything to say, you had better," he replied.

With speech she recovered herself. She sat up and she faced him, cold, beautiful, and composed. "Listen," she said, "the child is your child. She reminds me of you in every action. She is even like you in the face. I stand it as much as I can, but sometimes I could cry out."

"You find a reminder of me so terrible?" he asked, with mock gallantry.

She looked at him steadily. "You at least," she declared, "are associated in my mind with the most agonizing experience through which any woman could ever pass. And she reminds me of you all the time. Why shouldn't you share the burden of her? Why shouldn't you share it, I ask?" she demanded.

"You are, as ever, reasonable," he admitted, with gentle sarcasm, "yet I ask myself how even you could have brought yourself to part with a child eight years old, a pretty, well-nurtured, amiable child, with all her endearing ways and affectionate disposition. I wonder, Sophy, have you any heart at all?"

"Perhaps I have," she answered. "There are women, you know, whose hearts are there and who feel, but they are a long way down. Sometimes the feelings on their way up are strangled before they reach the lips, but the things which wound reach easily."

They were silent for several moments. A little gilt clock ticked gayly upon the mantelpiece, the deadened sound of the traffic in the street reached them faintly. A Pekinese spaniel rose and yawned and went to sleep again at its mistress's feet.

"Suppose you tell me now," she said, "exactly why you have paid me this visit?"

"I came," he replied, "first that you might know from my own lips exactly what I thought of the woman who risked her child as you have done."

"Well, you have told me that. Go on."

"I came, too," he went on, with rising voice, "to tell you this. You sent her to me of your own free will. Now I have her I shall keep her. You see me to-day at my best. What I am at my worst you can imagine. She must take her chance. If I swim, very well. She will be poor, but she will be dragged up somehow respectably. If I sink, and I have sunk every time yet, God knows what will become of her! But we, you and I, Sophy, we shall share the guilt."

The woman's fingers were gripping the sides of her chair. "I'll have her back!" she exclaimed. "It was a mistake. I'll send her to school—she's not too young."

Then Valentin laughed. "Too late, Sophy!" he cried. "The child's future is in my hands, the responsibility will be yours for always. Think of that. Oh, I could tell you some stories of my goings on during the last few years, which would amaze you! The criminal literature of several countries knows something of Monsieur Simon. I am bad to the core, Sophy, and you've sent me the child. You've no heart to feel for a man—I know that. Perhaps the thought of the child, though, may sometimes trouble you. One never knows."

He turned to the door with a little bow. "I will not disturb your footman," he said. "I can find the way out."

"Come back!" she begged, in a suppressed tone. "There is something else I must say, something—"

She broke off. Very softly but very firmly the door had been closed. She heard his footsteps cross the hall. Before she could reach the bell he was gone.



CHAPTER V.—AT THE SWISS HOUSE

IT was three weeks and a day since the coming of Sophy. Valentin sat alone at a corner table in a small Soho restaurant. He was among the latest diners, and the room was more than half empty. The whole appearance of the place was distasteful and unclean. The ventilation was inadequate and the odor of many past dinners hung about. The tablecloths had seen much service; the glass and cutlery were of the coarsest. The only clean thing in the restaurant seemed to be Valentin himself, who sat there with half-closed eyes, an untasted cup of coffee before him, the stumps of many cigarettes in his plate. It was entirely obvious that, whatever his business may have been there, it was not the business of dining. He took, indeed, little pains to hide the disgust he felt at the mingled odors and bad atmosphere; the unkempt, not to say disreputable, appearance of his fellow-customers. He had the air all the time of one who waited with ill-concealed impatience for some belated appointment. He glanced at his watch at last and summoned a person who appeared to be the head-waiter, a man with a small made-up black tie, a grease-stained shirt front, an unclean collar.

"Jules," he declared, "I have waited long enough. Present my compliments to my good friends and tell them so. In five minutes I leave. It is the end."

The man made a slight gesture and departed, leaving the restaurant by what was apparently the entrance to the kitchens. He had scarcely gone when, from her place behind the desk, a girl slipped softly to the ground and came over towards Valentin. She was plainly dressed in black, her cheeks were hollow, her complexion unhealthy. Yet she moved and spoke not without a certain elegance.

"Monsieur Valentin!" she whispered.

He glanced up. "Ah, Janette!" he said. "You see, I am here once more."

"Monsieur," she continued, "I heard what you said to Jules. Do nothing rash, I beg of you. They have been talking about you for days. Luke Cohen, he is in an evil temper, and Felix—he listens to all he has to say. If indeed you mean to break with them all, leave the country, Monsieur Valentin. Go away somewhere—to America or to somewhere a long way off. They are afraid of you. They will not let you alone so long as you are within reach."

Valentin smiled. "If only they would make up their minds!" he said. "This place gets worse than ever, Janette. Don't you ever open a window?"

She sighed. "It is you, Monsieur Valentin, who have grown more particular," she declared. "The place was well enough for you a month ago."

He nodded. "I have had a lapse, my dear Janette," he admitted, "a lapse into the world of responsibilities, and decent clothes, and decent living. Heaven knows how long it will last!" he went on. "Perhaps a week, perhaps a month—who can tell? But, for the present, the Swiss House and the things that go with it are finished for me. I have another vocation."

"The things that go with the Swiss House, Monsieur," she warned him, "are not so easily finished with. You do not know these men. They are pleasant and smooth-tongued enough when you are one of them and all is going well, but now—listen, Monsieur Valentin—you may find a change. They do not like to lose an associate."

A waiter was standing at her empty desk. She glided away, and a moment or two afterwards the maître d'hôtel returned.

"Monsieur Felix presents his compliments to Monsieur, and will Monsieur take his coffee and cognac at his table?"

Valentin rose at once. It was the invitation for which he had been waiting. With the air of one used to the place, he traversed the restaurant and turned abruptly to the left. Here there was an unexpected bend in the room, scarcely visible to the casual visitor, in which were placed several tables, all of which were empty save one in the far corner, where four men were sitting. Valentin was greeted with some restraint, but a place was made for him. There was a pot of specially made coffee upon the table, and a bottle of old cognac, from both of which he was silently served. Then Cohen, looking greasier and fatter than ever in a frock-coat sizes too small for him, leaned across the table.

"Let us hear the truth from you, Mr. Valentin," he said. "You have given notice of your intention to discontinue your visits to the Swiss House. You have also failed to carry out some trifling obligation owing to us."

"I have no particular explanation to give," Valentin replied dryly, leaning back in his chair and lighting a cigarette. "I came here, a year or so ago, for one special reason, a desperate man, starving alike for food and for excitement. It suited me to associate myself with certain schemes propounded by you, Cohen, and our host here. I will not tell you why. I did my share and there is an end of it. Circumstances have arisen in my life which demand a change in its conduct. I intend to come here no more. I have accepted a position in the fencing academy only, and my work during the day is a great deal too strenuous for me to stand the night life as well."

There was a dead silence among the four men. On Cohen's left sat Felix, the proprietor of the place, a swarthy Italian with glittering eyes, a heavy jowl, blue about the chin with his unshaven beard; a man, too, with an unwholesome amount of flesh, but massive shoulders. Of the other two, one was obviously a Frenchman, fair-haired, dandified after the cheapest fashion, with dirty white satin tie and colored waistcoat. His name no one properly knew, but he was called always "The Dandy." His neighbor was older, a man with gaunt, worn face and wicked lips, who was said to have thrown a bomb in Russia for a sum of money paid him by the man selected for the purpose. His name was Govet, and of the four he was the one most feared. It was he now who spoke.

"To be honest with you, friend Valentin," he said slowly, "we do not like to lose those who have once been our comrades. You know too much. A chance word from you and there might be trouble. It is not so much the things that have been done as the things that lie in the future. Look at it in this way. One morning the papers are full of news: a daring robbery has taken place. The thief has escaped, but he has been seen somewhere in Soho. You, my friend, read this and you smile. You say to yourself—'Ha, ha! If I were a detective, I should know where to put my finger upon that man!' You know too much, friend Valentin."

Valentin shrugged his shoulders. "It is one of the risks of your profession," he remarked coolly. "If you require an oath of secrecy from me, you can have it. I have nothing to gain in playing you false. I have been one of you myself. You must trust me as I have trusted you."

"It would be better," Cohen said thickly, "if you reconsidered your decision and remained with us and of us."

"So far as I am concerned, those matters are finished," Valentin declared firmly. "I have gone back to a regular life and a regular way of living. I want neither to see nor hear of any one of you again. That is what I have come here to tell you."

"There is an old saying that comes back to me," Govet muttered—"'He who is not with us is against us.'"

"Rubbish!" Valentin replied. "I am neither with you nor against you. I simply mean to forget your existence."

The man Cohen shook his head. Valentin looked him steadily in the face. "Let there be no misunderstanding," he said. "I am under no promise to you. This is no secret society at whose table I sit. I have chosen to be one of you for a time, and now I leave, with the firm intention of never setting foot across this threshold again, or of seeing any of you, if I can help it. You know my intentions. Do I understand that you threaten me?"

There was a short silence. Govet and Cohen exchanged glances. "No, we do not threaten," the latter replied, "only, to tell you the truth, it is not well for us that one who has sat at our board and knows our secrets should go over on the other side. We do not threaten, but we watch."

Valentin nodded and rose to his feet. "You need not be afraid," he said cheerfully. "You are blackguards, all four of you, but I have been one, too. I cannot accuse you without accusing myself, and at the present moment there are reasons why it would not suit me to have my escapades in your company discussed. The past is buried. For the future you must look to yourselves, as I shall look to myself."

He rose to his feet. No one spoke a word of farewell.

"I won't offer to shake hands," Valentin concluded. "We have done nothing which would make comrades of decent human beings. May we never meet where we deserve to meet!"

He walked out with perfect self-possession. The four men looked at one another. Govet sipped his cognac thoughtfully.

"My friends," he said huskily, "I have had much experience. I have known men who have left us for various reasons, but I have known of no man who has left us like that save with one purpose in his mind."

"You think," Cohen muttered, "that he would dare?"

"He had not a sovereign in the world," Govet continued. "That I know. Whence, then, these clothes, his new manner? He comes here with his head in the air, absolutely an aristocrat. He looks at us as a prince might look at canaille. Whence the money, my friends?"

Again they were silent. Felix struck the bell.

"He shall be followed, step by step!"

"If it be not too late," Govet growled.

Valentin passed out into the street and made his way swiftly through a maze of thoroughfares, westward. With every step he held his head higher, his walk seemed to become more buoyant. So, then, that chapter of his life was finished. An evil, ignoble chapter, the memory of which must haunt him all his days. Only once he looked behind, and then for a moment his heart sank. Was it possible really to escape, to escape wholly and forever, he asked himself? Then a certain natural gayety which he had never entirely lost, reasserted itself. He crossed the road and entered the Shaftesbury Theatre, making his way at once to a seat in the upper boxes. The piece was nearly half through, and Sophy welcomed him with a little gesture of reproof. He sat between her and the nurse, and the child took his hand and held it tightly.

"You are naughty to have been so long," she whispered, "but, oh, it is so beautiful!"

"You are enjoying it?" he asked, with a smile.

"Loving it," she answered, "loving every minute of it."



CHAPTER VI.—AN INTERESTING VISITOR

MRS. POYNTON declared afterwards, and she was fond of recounting the episode, that when the amazing fact was first brought home to her notice, she went hot and cold by turns with nervousness. At exactly the time when such few of her boarders as could afford the luxury were taking afternoon tea in the drawing-room at a cost of sixpence each, a large motor-car, with chauffeur and footman in immaculate livery, stopped exactly in front of her door. The incident was too much for the manners of her guests. There was not one who did not join in the rush to the window. From her point of vantage behind a curtain Mrs. Poynton beheld the footman descend from his seat and ring the bell. A moment later he threw open the door of the car and a lady descended, quietly enough dressed, but whose unmistakable air of breeding was a revelation to that strange little group of watchers.

"She's coming here!" Mrs. Poynton gasped. "Sakes alive! Where's that Albert? Got his coat off, for certain."

She bustled out into the passage, where her visitor was calmly waiting.

"Can you tell me if Mr. Valentin has rooms here?" the lady asked.

"Mr. Valentin has rooms here, madame," Mrs. Poynton admitted. "He is always out until six o'clock, or even seven sometimes."

"He has a little girl," the lady continued. "I should be glad to see her."

Mrs. Poynton led the way upstairs with alacrity. "And a dear little girl it is, too!" she exclaimed. "And what a blessing she must be to poor Mr. Valentin! She has just come in with her nurse."

The lady turned her head. Somehow or other, her presence seemed to make the place seem shabbier and poorer than ever. From head to toe Sophy represented, in these days, everything with which luxury and taste can endow the modern woman. Mrs. Poynton, who had never seen anything of the sort before, was lost in admiration.

"Has Mr. Valentin lived here long?" she inquired, looking around with eyes which seemed to contract.

"For two years and two months, madame," Mrs. Poynton replied volubly, "and he'll not deny it himself, I'm sure, when I say that a lot of trouble he's been at times, what with staying out all night and coming home with the milk, and, like many another gentleman before him, taking a trifle more than is good for him."

"Are those Mr. Valentin's habits?" the lady asked calmly.

"They was, or rather they were, madame," Mrs. Poynton admitted, "but such a change has come over him as never was since that child arrived. New clothes, regular hours—why, he's twice the man he was. But he's been through a lot," she added, shaking her head, "more than I dare tell to any one. . . . This is the room, madame, and it's the best I have."

She threw open the door—the room was empty.

"Well, I never!" she continued. "I could have sworn I saw her and the nurse come in a few minutes ago. Mary!" she shouted over the banisters.

A domestic from below shouted up the intelligence that the young lady and her nurse had gone out for ten minutes, which information Mrs. Poynton, in her turn, conveyed to her visitor. The lady walked to the window.

"I shall wait," she decided. "Pray tell me, is Mr. Valentin himself likely to come in?"

"Not by any manner of chance, madame," Mrs. Poynton declared. "Mr. Valentin goes out at ten and he's never home till just before dinner-time."

"He has some occupation?" the lady asked, in surprise.

Mrs. Poynton, who was beginning to feel more at her ease, came a little closer to her visitor. "I am not sure, madame," she said, "that he wishes it generally known, but he's got a place in a fencing academy in Soho Square. He goes there to fence with the gentlemen every day, and fair exhausted he is sometimes when he comes home. Must be hard work, this fencing, I should think, though I can't say that I've ever seen any of it. Mr. Valentin, he's often as pale as a sheet, and his face all white and drawn."

The lady stood for a moment quite still. She had closed her eyes as though in pain. "This occupation of Mr. Valentin's is a new thing, is it not?"

Mrs. Poynton smiled. "Why, madame," she replied, "it's only since the child came that Mr. Valentin took the trouble to live, in a manner of speaking. Being as you are probably a friend, I don't mind telling you that there were times when I was fairly troubled about him before. He'd come home looking so wild like in the morning, and he wasn't one to stand questioning, either. You know Mr. Valentin, madame?"

"Yes, I have met him," the lady answered calmly.

"One of those gentlemen," Mrs. Poynton continued firmly, "who are gentlemen and can't help being gentlemen. Take hold of you, somehow, they do. He's such a way with him, and always had, in his worst days."

The lady turned her head. "He had always the reputation," she said, "of being attractive to our sex."

"This I will say," Mrs. Poynton declared, "and there's every one here will bear me out, never in my life have I known him exchange an unnecessary word with any lady boarder here, nor never have I seen him with a lady. We all put him down here as a woman-hater."

Again Sophy was silent. Suddenly she clutched the back of a chair against which she was standing. She was looking down into the street below. Mrs. Poynton followed her gaze and saw the child and her nurse approaching.

"I'll let them know you're here, madame," she said. "I'll just go down and hurry them up. Could I make bold to send you up some tea? The young lady will be having hers presently."

"You are very kind," Sophy answered. "Perhaps I will have a cup with her."

"Shall I say that it is just a lady waiting, madame?" Mrs. Poynton asked cunningly.

"You can say, if you like, that it is her mother," Sophy replied.

Mrs. Poynton was a little staggered. She hurried downstairs and met the nurse and the child in the hall. The waiting motor-car, however, had already told its story. The child rushed up the stairs, breathless with excitement. Mrs. Poynton looked after her curiously.

"Well, I never!" she exclaimed. "Her own mother! And as rich as all that! And she sends the child to poor Mr. Valentin! Did you hear that, nurse?" she added.

The nurse smiled and passed on. A most uncommunicative person Mrs. Poynton had always found her. Upstairs, Sophy was waiting, with outstretched arms, counting those flying footsteps.

Altogether it was a most interesting afternoon for Mrs. Poynton's boarders, but their final thrill was yet to come. Sophy stayed, perhaps, longer than she had intended. At any rate, it was quarter past six before she was heard to descend the stairs. She passed out with her veil closely drawn, giving the slightest of farewells to the good-natured keeper of the lodging house, who was there in person to see her out. She had scarcely reached the pavement, however, before Valentin swung round the corner, only a dozen yards away. The people at the window held their breaths and waited. The lady on the pavement, after a moment's hesitation, stood still. Valentin, slackening his speed somewhat, raised his hat formally. His face, however, was dark with anger.

"You had no right to come here," he said curtly.

Illustration

"On the contrary," she answered, "I consider that I have every right. When I found that the child interfered with my life and I sent her to you, it did not mean that I had finished with her forever. I come to see her when I choose."

He laughed bitterly. "I do my best for her," he declared. "I try to provide her with what pleasures I can, but they are necessarily few. How can I hope to keep her contented in such a place as this, when you come here to disturb her imagination by glimpses of the life from which she is parted?"

He glanced contemptuously at the waiting automobile, and the servants with their spotless liveries.

"Would you have me walk?" she asked.

"Why not?" he answered. "If you had walked barefoot from your house to my front door, you could scarcely do penance sufficient for your selfish life. You are one of those people," he continued, looking her steadily in the face, "who, because you are virtuous when others have fallen, think that you have the right to pose as a veritable apostle of righteousness. A fig for your virtue, madame!" he added, lowering his voice a little. "The woman who risks her child as you risked yours, deserves from life what you may some day receive. Permit me."

He opened the door of her automobile. She hesitated for a moment. She was obviously disturbed.

"Wait," she said, "tell me this. Has it ever occurred to you that I might have had some other motive for leaving Sophy here that night?"

"Some other motive!" he repeated scornfully. "Oh, your motive was clear enough! A child who is growing up, and an absentee husband, are perhaps drawbacks for a woman who plays her part in the great world. Never mind, you are rid of both."

She stepped into the automobile without a word. Valentin watched the car glide away and then turned into the house, utterly unconscious of the small crowd of interested gazers. Mrs. Poynton had just propounded a marvelous discovery.

"Why," she exclaimed, "if she's the child's mother, and she said she was, and he's her father, they're husband and wife! To think of him, in rags only a few weeks ago, and her rolling in money, and then saddling the child upon him!"

A little old lady who knitted most of the time and seldom spoke, looked up. "It doesn't seem to have done Mr. Valentin much harm, so far," she remarked. "Listen."

There was a sudden silence. Above, they could hear shrill peals of a child's laughter. They all exchanged glances.

"All the same," Mrs. Poynton declared, "if you want to know what I think of her, with her haughty ways and cool questions, I tell you pretty quick. I've talked to her and I know. I tell you that woman's got no more heart than a stone!"



CHAPTER VII.—TROUBLE AFOOT

A LATE but wonderfully warm spring drew all the grayness out of London and transformed it into a beautiful city. The parks were gorgeous with flowers; street sellers at every corner pushed before them barrowfuls of yellow jonquils and purple lilac. The houses about Mayfair and westward were embowered with hyacinths and all manner of spring flowers. The nights were too hot for sleep, and after their early dinner—sometimes, indeed, before it—Valentin and Sophy rode somewhere out into the country on a motor 'bus, and walked back. Neither of them ever altogether forgot some of those nights when they tramped through the more beautiful parts of the moonlit city. Valentin himself would have been almost happy but for one apprehension which loomed always over all his thoughts. Wherever he went, even on his daily pilgrimage backwards and forwards to his work, he had always the vague, uncomfortable sense of being followed. So it was, too, in these night rambles. Often in some lonely street he stopped short to look behind, only to hear the following footsteps die away round a corner. At such times Sophy looked at him in wonder.

"You seem frightened, daddy," she said once, taking his hand. "Are there bad people about to-night?"

Then, of course, he had to reassure her, but the thing grew upon him. It was of too constant recurrence to be a fancy. The meaning of it puzzled him. It was true that there were certain episodes in his life during the last few miserable years upon which he could only look back with a sort of shrinking self-contempt. They were hard taskmasters, beyond a doubt, these men, with whom, in desperation, he had sometimes associated, yet he owed them nothing. He had broken with them finally. He could imagine no reason why his future movements should be of concern to them.

One evening they had had dinner in a small restaurant, cheap, but as far removed from Soho as possible, and afterwards they had spent some time wandering among the gardens and squares of Mayfair, admiring the beautiful flowers with which so many of the houses were embowered, watching the guests come and go where entertainments were in progress, listening sometimes to the music which came floating out from the brilliantly lit rooms into the violet twilight. Without knowing what he did, they came into the street where Sophy had lived. She gave a little gasp and caught at his hand.

"Mummy's house!" she exclaimed. "Look!"

There was an awning out and several carriages arriving. Together they stood on the other side of the way, the child leaning eagerly forward. They watched the people go in. Some of them Sophy knew by name. Her face was alight with interest. Her eyes were fixed oftenest upon the windows of a room on the second floor, wide-open and curtainless, with two balconies jutting over into the street.

"The drawing-room is up there," she told her father. "That is where mummy is."

He held her hand tightly. "Mummy wouldn't want to see us here,dear,"he said. "Perhaps we'd better move on."

She looked at him pleadingly, a look which he could not altogether understand. He remained where he was.

"Always on hot nights," she whispered, "mummy comes out on that balcony sooner or later. . . . See, she is there! She is coming, daddy! She is there with Ronald."

Valentin drew the child further back into the shadows of the overhanging shrubs. Sophy had come slowly through the window and was standing with her hands upon the iron balustrade, looking downwards. In the soft light, dark all around but with a vivid background from the brilliantly lit room, she looked, indeed, almost spiritual in her plain white dress, and with a rope of pearls hanging from her neck. The child gave a little low cry. Valentin was conscious himself of a lump in his throat.

"Isn't she very beautiful!" Sophy exclaimed. "So beautiful!"

Valentin closed his eyes. "When you have finished looking, dear!"

"That is Lord Ronald Grayson with her," the child continued eagerly. "I know him quite well. He used to bring me sweets. He told me once that he was very, very fond of mummy."

Valentin set his teeth hard and drew her away. "Dear," he muttered, "we must not stand here. If mummy knew, she would not like it."

They walked on, but the joy of it all had gone. They listened to other music with deaf ears; the women with their butterfly-like gowns were no longer attractive. Somehow the savor had gone out of the night.

Valentin turned to the child walking by his side, and asked her a question. "Sophy," he said, "don't you ever wonder how it is that your mother and I see nothing of one another? I do not want you to think of this, and yet I know that you must think of it. You came from her to me and you do your best to seem happy, but sometimes I am afraid—"

She looked up at him with misty eyes. "If I had not come, daddy," she interrupted, "I should not have known that I had a daddy at all. And mummy told me not to ask any questions, however strange things might seem."

He looked at her long and curiously. "You are a queer child, Sophy," he declared. "I wonder, if I were to let go your hand now and point toward the corner of the street there, whether you wouldn't run away from me as fast as your little legs could carry you, back to your beautiful nursery and your maids—"

"And mummy," the child put in.

"And your mother," he assented.

"I should not go," she said gravely, "because I have promised."

That night more than any other, Valentin was conscious of those following footsteps. Already nervous and overwrought, the thing obsessed him. Once, turning around suddenly, he nearly struck a harmless passer-by who was following in his tracks. Even Sophy noticed his irritation.

"You are not telling me many stories to-night, daddy," she remarked, as they turned into Pelham Street.

He smiled. "I am not at my best, child," he admitted. "To-morrow we will have a more cheerful walk. We will go up to Hampstead and count the lights."

"And watch the stars come out, daddy!" she cried. "I love that."

They found Mrs. Poynton and several of her guests sitting out on {he steps of the boarding-house. She rose to her feet directly she saw him, and drew him on one side.

"You remember a stout gentleman, Mr. Valentin," she said, "who used sometimes to come here? A Jewish gentleman he was."

"Yes, I remember him," replied Valentin, frowning.

"He's been here twice," Mrs. Poynton continued. "He's walking up and down the street, waiting for you."

Valentin felt a sudden premonition of evil. A few yards away stood Mr. Luke Cohen, smoking a large cigar.

Valentin turned and kissed Sophy. "Run along upstairs, dear," he begged. "I'll come in before you're asleep."

He watched her enter the house. Then he retraced his steps and walked up to Cohen, a frown upon his face.

"What the devil are you doing here, Cohen?" he exclaimed. "I thought I made myself clear when I came and took my leave of you all."

Luke Cohen spat upon the pavement. "I am here," he said, "because there's trouble afoot, and because you've got to take your share of it like the rest of us. Walk with me as far as the corner."

Valentin hesitated. Cohen swore softly but viciously.

"You've just got to come, Valentin," he insisted, "whether you want to or not. I tell you that young fool of a Frenchman of yours—D'Argminac, or whatever he calls himself? has been making a mess of things, and there's the devil to pay!"



CHAPTER VIII.—THE TRANSOME DIAMONDS

IT was six o'clock in the morning before Valentin returned. He came with slow and weary footsteps, from which all the spring of the last few weeks had gone. Mrs. Poynton, looking sorrowfully from her bedroom window, saw him enter. He had given up carrying a latch-key and was admitted by the little housemaid. The house was at its worst and untidiest. He stole up on tiptoe to his attic and disappeared. At nine o'clock he took breakfast as usual with Sophy and the nurse. He came into the room, however, with his left arm in a sling. Somehow or other, the news of Valentin's delinquency seemed to have found its way throughout the house. The parlor-maid who served the breakfast was gloomy. Johnson, the superior nurse—she admitted that her name was Amy but she preferred to be called Johnson—was stiff in her manner and scant of speech. Even Sophy resented her father's unusual silence.

"Daddy, you're not a bit nice this morning," she complained. "You don't talk to me."

"On Wednesday mornings," he declared, making his effort promptly, "my stock of stories always runs out. If I try to think, I have a headache, and if I talk, my tongue gets into a knot. When I return this evening I shall be wound up again. You will find me irresistible."

"Silly daddy!" she laughed. "What is the matter with your arm?"

"Nothing much," he answered, although the pain of moving it brought the tears into his eyes. "I got a rap there yesterday."

"But your face is so white," she persisted. "Aren't you well, daddy?"

She put one arm around his neck and kissed him with honey-smeared lips. He laughed valiantly. "Well enough to take you both to the Exhibition to-night, if nurse says yes," he assured her.

The child clapped her hands. "And may we stay to see the illuminations just this once?"

Valentin nodded. "If nurse will let us," he promised, rather avoiding her eye.

The child sighed. "I can see that this will have to be one of my good days," she murmured. "Come home early, daddy."

He promised, and escaped upstairs to his room. For a moment or two he sat upon the edge of his untouched bed and groaned. Then, with an effort, he rose and walked stealthily to the window. There was no curtain, and it was hard to see into the street below without disclosing his own presence. In the end he managed it, however, by standing with his back to the wall and looking sideways. He stood there, motionless, for several moments. There were the usual number of ordinary passers-by, obviously harmless, uninteresting people going about their business. And there was one who seemed different. Valentin watched him with a curious light in his eyes. The man wore a gray tweed suit; his face was ruddy, almost sunburnt, and his figure inclined toward corpulence. He walked slowly, and he seemed to be waiting for some one. Once only he glanced toward the lodging-house, and on that occasion, though well out of sight, Valentin shrank back on to the bedstead. He did not return to the window. The minutes passed. Valentin rose at last and lit a cigarette. He took up his hat and began to brush it. He even whistled to himself. After all, was it not the love of danger which had first taken him, in the old days, from the narrow paths of conventional rectitude? Was it not still the spice of life for him? He rearranged his necktie and jeered at his own reflection.

"Poor fool of a Valentin! Heaven has sent you something to do for the sake of the woman you once loved, and your nerves are shaken. You are no longer fit for anything but the little dog and the leading string. What if the amiable Patrick waits below? If he knows, he knows."

A sharp knock at the door. Valentin stood like one turned to stone, his fingers still on the ends of his bow. He stared into the glass. Now he was white indeed. He stared wildly at the bed. He was too late.

"Come in," he said.

Ann showed her unwashed face, and behind her a visitor. It was not the man in tweeds, but a very different person—a tall, middle-aged gentleman, dressed with some formality, but exceedingly well. His perfectly creased trousers fell over his shining boots, he wore an orchid in the buttonhole of his well-cut morning coat, he carried a silk hat in his hand. His gray side-whiskers were a trifle out of fashion, perhaps, but they were invaluable in his profession. No one ever mistook Mr. Alfred Welgrove for anything else but a solicitor in comfortable practice.

"Mr. Welgrove!" Valentin exclaimed.

The lawyer bowed, and glanced at the servant who still stood by his side. She closed the door and disappeared.

"I trust that you will pardon the liberty I have taken in coming to see you," the lawyer said formally. "I do so upon instructions from—from your wife. I may add that I have respected your incognito. I inquired for Mr. Valentin. I believe that is in order?"

"Instructions from my wife!" Valentin repeated. "I do not understand what need there is of any communication between us."

The lawyer drew off his gloves and placed them in his hat. He glanced around, and Valentin pointed to the solitary chair.

"It has occurred to your wife," the lawyer continued, "that she was, perhaps, a little unreasonable in saddling you with the care of your daughter. She was not, at the time, fully aware of the—er—straitened circumstances which your surroundings would seem to indicate. A recent visit of hers impressed her with this fact. She has accordingly given me certain instructions."

Valentin smiled. "Dear me," he said, "I begin to foresee what is coming! This is most interesting. Pray proceed, my dear friend Welgrove."

"Acquainted as I am," the lawyer proceeded, "with all the circumstances of your unfortunate matrimonial differences, you will not object to my speaking plainly. Your wife wishes to settle a certain sum, to be used for Sophy's benefit during her stay with you."

"Was any amount mentioned?" Valentin asked suavely.

"The Vicomtesse spoke of six hundred a year," the lawyer replied. "This amount would enable you to remove into a more desirable locality, and to engage a governess for the child."

"Is that all?"

"All?"

"I mean, is that the whole purpose of your visit to me?"

"Those are my instructions," the lawyer replied.

Valentin moved toward the door. "If, my dear friend Welgrove," he said, "you came here as a stranger and a younger man, it might occur to me to emphasize my reply to Madame by throwing you downstairs. In your case, however, such measures would, of course, be impossible. I charge you, therefore, simply to convey to Madame my most profound appreciation of the generosity of her offer, and my emphatic and unalterable refusal of the same."

"Refusal!" the lawyer exclaimed gravely.

"I trust," Valentin said, "that my words are sufficiently distinct?"

Mr. Welgrove coughed. "Might I remind you, sir," he protested, "that this money is offered not to you but for the benefit of the child? For her sake, are you justified in refusing?"

"My wife," Valentin replied sternly, "should have thought of the child and the child's future before she sent her here. She ran her risk and she must abide by it. She did not take the trouble to find out in what circumstances I was, or whether my life was of good or ill repute. She simply rid herself of the child because she stood a little in her way?limited, perhaps, a few of her amusements. Very well, the law of this country is on my side. I claim the child now and I shall hold her."

"But are you in a position—" the lawyer began.

"Whose business is that save mine?" Valentin interrupted. "You have had your answer, Mr. Welgrove."

Mr. Welgrove took up his hat. Valentin walked with him toward the door. Then suddenly he stopped. A curious expression flitted into his face. He hesitated for a moment and then stood still.

"Mr. Welgrove," he said, "let me remind you that you are also my lawyer, are you not? You are the person to whom I should confide any business of importance connected with my affairs?"

"That is quite true," the lawyer admitted. "Is there anything which I can do for you?"

Valentin turned back toward the bed. "Mr. Welgrove," he continued, "a strange adventure happened to me last night, the details of which I cannot tell you or any one else, but the whole result has been this: a very valuable piece of jewelry has come into my possession. I am going to charge you with the task of restoring it anonymously to its owner."

"My dear sir," Mr. Welgrove protested, "I scarcely see—indeed, I scarcely understand the circumstances."

Valentin was feeling under the mattress of his bed.

Suddenly he drew out a little chain of diamonds. Mr. Welgrove opened his eyes and mouth. "My God," he exclaimed, "they look like the Transome diamonds!"

"Very likely," Valentin answered calmly. "It is to Lady Transome you must return them."

The lawyer plumped down heavily upon the side of the bed. He had lost his manner; he was like a man aghast. "From you!" he gasped. "You have them! You know what happened last night?"

"Do you?" Valentin asked quickly. "Is there anything in the papers, then?"

"Anything in the papers?" the lawyer cried. "Man alive, you stand there and ask me that! Don't you know that Lady Transome's maid was murdered at midnight?"

Valentin stood quite still. "Murdered!" he repeated softly. "Is this in the papers?"

"In every paper!" Welgrove replied. "Lady Transome and the girl arrived yesterday afternoon at Victoria from the Continent. Lady Transome and some friends left in her own carriage. The maid followed in a taxicab with a young man whose acquaintance she had made on the journey. The maid never returned. They rang up all the hospitals and the police station. She was found at last in a house—Pluman's Row, I think it was—murdered. Her mistress's dressing-bag was empty."

Valentin looked at the diamonds which he still held.

"Well," he remarked, "in that case, the sooner they are returned, the better."

The lawyer thrust out his hands. "Don't give them to me!" he exclaimed. "If I have them, I must take them to Scotland Yard."

"You must do nothing of the sort," Valentin replied quietly. "This communication from me to you is privileged. I have a right to demand from you this service. Here, put them in your pocket."

The lawyer hesitated. He showed the strongest reluctance to touch the jewels. Valentin leaned a little toward him. His lighter manner was gone; his face was dark with menace, his tone commanding.

"Welgrove, do as I tell you," he ordered. "Put them in your pocket. They will be quite safe there. Who would suspect such a paragon of respectability of walking about with forty thousand pounds' worth of stolen jewels! Go to your office, make a packet of them, and send them to Lady Transome. I leave it to your ingenuity to devise a means. I only tell you that you must do this."

The lawyer accepted the jewels with shaking fingers.

"Don't walk through the streets like a criminal," Valentin continued sharply. "No one will suspect you of being concerned in the affair, even if they see into your pockets."

"It isn't that," the lawyer answered, his voice shaking little. "Your father was my best client, your family have been connected with my firm for over a hundred years. I have heard strange stories about you, alas!"

Valentin laughed. "My dear Welgrove," he said, "run along and don't be foolish. If you are really devoted to my family, remember that you are serving it now as well as any member of your firm has ever served it in their lives."

The lawyer walked silently away. Valentin heard his steps grow fainter and fainter, then drew a long breath and moved to the window. He saw Welgrove emerge into the street and pass the man in tweeds, who looked at him stealthily but did not attempt to follow him. In a minute or two he was out of sight.



CHAPTER IX.—AT THE FENCING ACADEMY

SOPHY, Vicomtesse de Souspennier, when in town abjured her country habits, and was by no means used to such early callers. Mr. Welgrove's message, however, was an urgent one, and by dint of great exertions she managed to keep the lawyer waiting only half an hour. When she entered her little morning room, he was walking up and down restlessly. He was in a state wholly foreign to his usual lethargic and ceremonious self.

"My dear Mr. Welgrove!" she exclaimed, holding out her hand. "I am ashamed to have kept you waiting. You will forgive me? It is not my custom to receive any one before lunch."

"I know it, madame," the lawyer answered. "The circumstances of my visit, however, will, I think, be sufficient excuse. I have already carried out your commission with regard to—your husband."

She looked up with a sudden eagerness. "Did you see Sophy?"

The lawyer shook his head. "I did not. I only hope that she is better housed than your husband. I found him in a garret in the servants' quarters of a very unsavory lodging-house."

"That must be changed, of course," she admitted, frowning. "Sophy's room is at least clean and large, and Johnson's report is so far favorable. I had no idea, however, that my husband's means were so straitened. I trust that you explained that to him?"

"I was careful to do so, madame," the lawyer answered, "but I regret to say that he absolutely refused to entertain your generous proposition."

"He refuses to accept the money for Sophy?" she exclaimed.

"Absolutely," Mr. Welgrove replied.

"Tell me exactly what he said," she insisted.

"He said that you had taken your risk in sending the child to him, and you must stand by it. He should keep her now and she must live in the way he was able to afford."

The woman frowned, but in spite of herself her face softened. "Poor Valentin," she murmured, "he was always proud. Yet for Sophy's sake I thought that he would have taken the money. You have no idea, I suppose, Mr. Welgrove, as to what his means really are?"

"I have no idea," the lawyer admitted. "Your husband showed no disposition whatever to take me into his confidence. I see no harm in telling you, however, that it is within the knowledge of my firm that some eight or nine years ago, about the time, indeed, of the regrettable difference between you, the Vicomte realized all his available property. What has become of it I do not know."

"One can guess," she answered softly. "Valentin was always at heart a gambler."

"I think it my duty to tell you," the lawyer continued, "that, apart from your husband's financial position, my visit certainly gave me cause for grave uneasiness."

"What do you mean?"

"I am not sure," he said, "that it is poverty only which one has to fear. I am afraid that your husband's manner of life is by no means what it should be."

Sophy was frightened. She leaned a little forward in her chair. "Mr. Welgrove," she begged, "you must please be explicit."

"I have heard rumors," the lawyer went on, "that your husband has been associated more or less directly with a very undesirable class of people. This morning he gave me absolute proof of it."

"Yes, yes! Go on."

"He entrusted to me to return to their proper owner some wonderful jewels, which I regret to say were stolen only last night."

"How do you know that they were stolen?" she demanded.

"Vicomtesse," he said, "I consider it best to tell you the truth, but I beg that you will try to receive it calmly. It is not two hours since your husband placed in my hands the jewels which were stolen from Lady Transome's maid last night, in connection with which the unfortunate young woman was found murdered."

The Vicomtesse was suddenly white to the lips. She swayed in her seat. The lawyer moved toward the bell, but she stopped him.

"I shall be all right in a moment," she declared. "Mr. Welgrove, this is terrible! I can't believe that Valentin has sunk so low as that. I must have Sophy back at once—to-day."

"It would be most desirable," the lawyer admitted frankly, "but I warn you, Vicomtesse, that it may not be easy. Your husband is a peculiar man. If he really wants money, now is his time to demand it from you. He has a right to keep the child; he may ask from you a very large ransom."

She rose to her feet. "Whatever it is, I shall pay it!" she exclaimed. "I will go there at once, I will fetch my child away. This is too horrible!"

"The object of my visit is to advise you to do so," the lawyer said. "You know my respect for your husband's family? the affectionate regard, indeed, in which I hold every member of it. I would do anything I could, but I am afraid—somehow or other, I am afraid that Monsieur le Vicomte has sunk beneath the reach of our help. He had?forgive my saying so?the look of a dying man this morning, the look of a man who is terrified, whom fear has mastered."

A maid entered the room, to whom Sophy gave some rapid orders. "The automobile and some plain outdoor clothes," she directed. "Mr. Welgrove, do you think that you had better come with me?"

"I am at your service, madame," he answered.

They drove to Pelham Street and met with their first check. Miss Sophy was out with her nurse, Mrs. Poynton explained with great volubility, and it was not at all certain when they would be back. She believed that they were to meet the child's father somewhere and go down to the Exhibition during the afternoon. They turned reluctantly away.

"There is only one thing to be done," the Vicomtesse declared. "I shall go to the fencing academy in Soho Square."

They re-entered the car and drove there. The court was a little difficult to find, and in the end they had to walk a few yards up a narrow passage, which terminated in a blank wall. On the left-hand side was a door, which stood open. They passed through into a sort of reception hall, hung with foils and masks. No one came to them and they failed to discover any bell. Finally, guided by the sound of foils, Mr. Welgrove opened another door and they found themselves in a large bare room with a huge skylight. A couple of men—foreigners apparently—were sitting with masks on their knees, smoking cigarettes. In the centre of the room Valentin was fencing with a pupil. They stood and waited for several minutes. Then a man in his shirt-sleeves came from a further room and inquired their business.

"This lady and I wish to speak to Mr. Valentin for a moment," the lawyer told him.

The man assented doubtfully. "He is very busy this morning," he said. "One of our professors is away, and you see there are two more gentlemen waiting to fence with him. Perhaps he can spare you a moment after this bout, but only a moment. Those gentlemen have been waiting for some time."

Sophy nodded. "We will not keep him," she promised. "We will make an appointment for later on."

The man turned away, and almost immediately the bout was over. Valentin had disarmed his pupil and was standing leaning a little forward upon his foil, breathing heavily. The man in shirt-sleeves whispered in his ear, and Valentin turned abruptly round. Very slowly he came toward the two visitors. His left arm was still in a bandage. He was ghastly pale, and the perspiration was standing out in beads upon his forehead. He was obviously out of breath, too, although he was making violent efforts not to show it. So ill did he seem that once he tottered and Mr. Welgrove put out his hand. With a wonderful effort, however, he pulled himself together.

"To what am I indebted, madame, for this most unexpected visit?" he asked coldly. "I do not encourage even my friends to come here in working hours, and, as you see, I am busy to-day."

"I must speak to you about Sophy, Valentin," she began, her voice softening in spite of herself.

"Then it must be at another time and place," Valentin declared. "You are occupying time now which belongs to my employers. Signor Vatelli is in a bad temper already, and you see how he is watching us. Those two pupils are waiting to fence."

"If you will pardon my making the remark," Mr. Welgrove said, "you scarcely seem in the condition yourself for any more exercise."

"I am perfectly well," Valentin answered. "The air of the place is a little close. It will be at least half an hour before I am at liberty, and even then I cannot conceive any subject which we could profitably discuss. I am coming, Signor."

He left them standing there. They moved slowly towards the door. Valentin was already in position, and the clash of foils recommenced. In the small reception hall, Sophy threw herself into an easy-chair.

"I shall wait here," she announced. "Will you write a note, Mr. Welgrove, and take in to him to let him know? I don't care whether he is half an hour or an hour, we must remain."

Mr. Welgrove did as he was bidden, and reappeared.

"I gave the note to the proprietor," he announced. "He has promised that your husband shall have it before the next bout."

The woman leaned back in the dusty, faded plush chair, and sat there patiently. The place was a strangely silent corner, the roar of the streets outside scarcely reached them. Upon the books and magazines, even on the masks and foils, the dust lay thick. Ten minutes or a quarter of an hour passed by, and the only sound was the clatter of the foils inside the room, the stamp of feet, Valentin's voice giving instructions in terse French phrases. Then suddenly they heard something else, a slow, shuffling footstep upon the paved courtyard outside. Sophy opened her eyes and looked up. Upon the threshold of the open door stood the figure of a man. He wore the clothes of a tramp. He was collarless, his hands were thrust into his pockets, and a cap came forward over his eyes. He seemed about to pass straight into the inner room, but glanced first suspiciously at Sophy and her companion. Sophy returned his gaze with something of the natural disgust of a woman of her order for the unclean and the unwashed. Then something fresh crept into her eyes. She looked at him, indeed, as one might look at a visitant from some unknown and horrible world. She did not move—she lacked the power, but she shook all over, shook so that her knees failed to support her when a moment afterwards she tried to struggle to her feet. The young man, whose face was already so deathly pale that any change of color was impossible, betrayed his emotion only in the sudden start of fear, the gleam of his teeth as his lips parted in an ugly snarl. They stood looking at one another for many seconds, strange, tragical figures, the woman sick and for some time speechless with terror.

"Guy!" she exclaimed at last. "What are you doing—dressed like that? What has happened to you?"

He looked swiftly around; it was the searching, shrinking look of the habitual criminal. "Hush!" he muttered. "I did not expect to see you here. Give me some money."

She laid some gold upon the table. He snatched it up with shaking fingers.

"But, Guy," she protested, "you have money enough of your own!"

"I can't touch it for the present," he answered hoarsely.

"You are in trouble again," she faltered, "after all your promises?"

"Curse my promises and you, too!" he groaned.

"Don't sit there looking at me as though I were some sort of an animal. I tell you I like to go about like this. It pleases me—that's enough."

Mr. Welgrove coughed. It was certainly incumbent upon him to intervene. "Mr. Arlen," he said, "you must allow me to express my regret at seeing you bearing such an unworthy part in life. I cannot believe that it is of your own deliberate choice that you attire yourself in this unseemly manner. Surely it is not well that you should crawl about the streets in rags! You have spent, I know, a large part of your fortune, but—"

"Oh, shut up!" the young man interrupted, striking the little table with his fist. "Shut up, old man Welgrove! You don't understand—you can't see any further than your nose. And you, too, Sophy. There's a taint in my blood, I suppose. When things go wrong, I'm like this—I'm terrified to death! I'd do anything to get away from it all. When the danger's over, I'm just as certain to go back again as time is to pass. That's the long and short of it, you know. No use my making promises. . . . Where's Valentin? Is he in there?"

She started. "But, Guy," she pleaded, "you remember your promise. You were to keep away from him."

The young man began to laugh in an unpleasant manner. Then he stopped short. The sound of another footstep was heard coming down the courtyard. With a gesture of silence towards his sister, he stole on tiptoe into the inner room, glancing fearfully behind. Sophy's head for a moment drooped into her hands.

"He's mad!" she muttered. "I'm quite sure that he is mad or bewitched! After all that has happened, here he is still hovering around the man who ruined him!"

She looked up; her face was white and set.

"You mean your husband?"

"Yes!" she answered, almost fiercely. "And to think that a moment ago I was almost sorry for him when I saw him there looking pale and worn out, sorry because he seemed to be trying to earn his living honestly! I even hoped that my plan might have succeeded!"

She sat with clenched fingers. The footstep outside had materialized. Another visitor entered—a somewhat bulky man in tweeds, with a rubicund face. He glanced inquiringly around him. "Any way of getting inside?" he asked good-naturedly.

All the time his eyes were busy about the place. Mr. Welgrove, pointing to the inner door, replied: "The fencing saloon is in there."

The stranger nodded and passed in. He found himself confronted upon the threshold by Valentin, foil in hand.

The entrance to the room was narrow, and Valentin's form blocked the way.

"I beg your pardon," the latter said, "strangers are not allowed in the fencing gallery. What is it that you desire?"

The man's eyes were looking beyond him, sweeping around the place. "Are you the proprietor?"

"I am one of the instructors," Valentin answered, without moving.

"I should like to watch a bout," the stranger said. "I am thinking of taking up fencing again."

"Then you must come another time," Valentin told him. "There will be no more fencing to-day. One of the instructors is away and I have had two hours and a half of it already."

The stranger looked at him and nodded. "You do seem pretty well done," he admitted. "Do you object to my looking around the place?"

"There is nothing to see," Valentin answered. "But you have another pupil here who has not fenced yet," the newcomer remarked. "He entered just before me."

Valentin shook his head. "No one has passed into the hall for the last quarter of an hour," he declared.

The stranger shrugged his shoulders. "A mistake of mine," he admitted. "I wish you good-morning, sir. I will return another day."

He nodded and walked out. Valentin remained leaning upon his foil for a moment. His face was livid, he seemed to be an utter wreck. All the time, however, he kept his eyes fixed upon the door in case the man should return. The sound of his footsteps died away. Valentin, without a glance at his waiting visitors, re-entered the academy.



CHAPTER X.—VALENTIN PROVES OBSTINATE

IT was a quarter of an hour before Valentin finally emerged from the fencing hall. He had changed into ordinary clothes, and though he was still ghastly pale, he was walking with his old air and spirit.

"I am sorry," he said, "to have been detained so long. I am not in the habit of receiving visitors here, however, and I must tell you that I have a very short time to spare even now. I have an appointment in twenty minutes."

"Valentin," she exclaimed quickly, "where is Guy?"

"You saw him go through?" Valentin asked.

"Of course! I spoke to him—I had to. What does it mean? What is he doing here? Is it safe?"

Valentin shrugged his shoulders. "To be candid with you, it is not," he admitted.

She held out her hands to him. "Valentin, be content with what you have done," she prayed. "You have more influence over him, even after all that has passed, than any one. Beg him to go. Do, please! Make him go to America—anywhere. If they take him again, if he gets into more trouble, it will break my heart!"

Valentin looked at her for some moments with expressionless face. Then he nodded slowly. "So you imagine I still have influence over him?" he murmured.

"I know it," she answered. "You can make him do what you will."

"We shall see," Valentin replied. "For the present, I will not conceal the fact from you that he is a source of considerable anxiety to me. He had no right to come here. You saw the man who followed?"

"Yes!"

"A detective," Valentin remarked. "I think he only came to make sure that I was here, but one never knows."

She rose to her feet and came towards him, a very elegant, a very beautiful woman. The sternness of her fair, sad face seemed suddenly to have melted. "Valentin," she said, "for these few minutes I am willing to forget everything; I am willing to forget my own broken heart and your disgrace. You see, I come to you as a suppliant. Break away from these things. Without you as an example, Guy would be a different being. I am sure of it. There was so much good in you once, Valentin. It cannot be all gone. You do seem to be trying now, part of your time, at any rate, to earn an honest living. Give up the rest. You are still proud, I know, and you do not want my money, but surely we could make some arrangement between us?"

He listened to her, and his face was as emotionless as though it had been carved out of stone. Only once he had winced. When she had finished, he turned away. To her he seemed to be hesitating. She laid her finger upon his arm; he drew it away as though it had stung.

"My dear Sophy," he exclaimed, "isn't this rather an absurd way of talking between you and me? We are both a little too old to change our ways. Will you forgive my reminding you that I have an appointment in a few minutes?"

"With Sophy!"

"Exactly," he admitted. "With Sophy and her nurse."

"Well, then, you need not keep it," she declared. "I have come to the conclusion, Valentin, that I made a mistake in sending the child to you at all. You have refused money. I am here now to relieve you of the child. If you will tell me where she and Johnson are waiting, I will go and fetch them at once."

Valentin began to laugh. He sat down in one of the easy-chairs and drew his cigarette case from his pocket.

"You permit me?" he asked courteously. "I have had a tiring morning. To tell you the truth, I was up late."

The woman shivered. "Don't speak of that!" she begged. "Life to-day seems full of horrible things. I don't want to know where you were or what you did. For God's sake, don't tell me! Only give me Sophy back. It was my mistake!"

He nodded. "This is quite interesting," he said. "I must admit that I did consider you to be absolutely the most brutal, the most heartless, the most unfeeling mother that ever breathed, when I came home and found the child asleep on my bed. I am glad to realize that my opinion was a trifle exaggerated. Reflection has shown you the brutality of entrusting an innocent child to the care of such a thorough blackguard. You are right, Sophy, quite right. I am glad to know that you want your child back again. It does you credit. But—"

"Why need there be any 'but' about it!" she interrupted. "I will take her this afternoon."

Valentin shook his head. "I have other plans for her."

"Other plans?" she repeated half angrily. "Don't be too idiotic. There are no other plans for Sophy, and you know it. Her future lies between you and me, and I want her."

"And so," Valentin remarked calmly, "do I."

"You can't mean it!" she exclaimed. "Think of the life you are living, the risks you run! Think that at any moment your end may be disgrace and misery! You wouldn't have the child with you when that came? Listen, Valentin, this is impossible."

"I am living no worse a life," he reminded her, after a brief pause, "than when, of your own free will, you sent the child."

"It was my mistake!" she cried. "Don't visit it upon me. You see, Mr. Welgrove is here now. He shall draw up any arrangement you please."

Valentin nodded. "My dear Sophy," he said, "you are my wife. Be thankful that I only claim the child. Supposing I were to claim you!"

An angry flush stained her cheeks. She took no notice of his speech at all. "I want the child," she repeated doggedly.

"You have your lawyer here," he answered. "Perhaps Mr. Welgrove will explain in what way you can regain possession of her."

"And I thought," she declared, "I thought and believed that you might have still some spark of human feeling about you. You would drag this child into the mire in the same way that you dragged my brother."

"Dear lady," he protested, "it is less than a month since you sent me the child. Why have you changed?"

"Supposing," she said, in an altered tone, "I had sent the child to try you, to see whether it was not possible that you might be drawn back ever so little towards the old life? Supposing I sent her as a peace offering?"

The cigarette was burning unnoticed between his fingers; the smile had faded now from his lips. He was looking at her intently. It was as though he were considering a new idea. "Supposing this were so," he replied, "if you were willing to run the risk one month ago, why not now? Am I a worse man to-day?"

"God knows!" she sobbed. "But those jewels!"

He looked swiftly at the lawyer, and Mr. Welgrove shivered in his seat. "You told her?" he remarked simply.

"I considered it my duty," the lawyer pronounced.

"It is partly for that reason that we have come to fetch away Sophy."

Valentin rose to his feet with something of that swift grace which had made him always so attractive. "Dear Sophy," he exclaimed, "and you, Mr. Welgrove, I must tear myself away—I must, indeed! I leave you somewhat precipitately. I forget, perhaps, my manners. Mr. Welgrove will, however, see you to your car."

He was gone, walking so swiftly that he had already issued from the court and was lost in Soho Square. She rose silently and followed the lawyer into the street.



CHAPTER XI.—IN COUNCIL ASSEMBLED

SOPHY was mistress of the ceremonies that day, and more than a little exacting, but Valentin danced faithful attendance. It was Johnson who at last insisted that it was time to go home.

"Ten rides on the Scenic Railway, Miss Sophy," she exclaimed, "not to speak of all the other shows! If Mr. Valentin isn't tired, I'm sure I am, and it's long past your bedtime."

The child sighed, and thrust her hand into her father's.

"Very well," she said, "it's been a beautiful time, daddy. I don't think there's anything in the world quite so nice as Exhibitions. I can't think why mummy never brought me. You do think of nice things," she broke off, smiling up at him.

Valentin nodded, and made some careless reply. As a matter of fact, he was listening intently. The footsteps which had been dogging theirs for so long were behind no longer. A man was standing almost by his side. Valentin felt a piece of paper slipped into his hand. His fingers closed over it, and the shadow passed on. Under the next gas lamp Valentin read his message. It was short enough.

SWISS HOUSE. COME!

"What are you looking at, daddy?" the child asked. He tore the message up. "A piece of paper I picked up, dear," he answered. "There was nothing on it except some rubbish. Tell me, what do you say to a taxicab home?"

The child clapped her hands. "Beautiful, father!" she exclaimed. "Now it is all over, I do think," she admitted, "that I am just a weeny bit tired."

They drove home, the cool night wind in their faces. When they arrived at Pelham Street, Valentin did not alight.

"I have a call to make, dear," he announced. "Nurse will give you your supper and put you to bed."

Sophy was disappointed; the nurse's expression was severe. The gossip of the boarding-house was scarcely likely to be a secret from her. "You'll forgive my mentioning it, sir," she said, "but you are looking very tired and worn to-night."

Valentin laughed. "Your fancy, nurse," he declared. "We've had a splendid day. I must go out for an hour, but I'll be back soon—in time, I hope, Sophy, to kiss you before you go to sleep."

The taxicab swung around, and Valentin descended near Soho Square. He walked slowly past the passage which led up to the entrance to the fencing academy, and turned into the narrow street in which the Swiss House was situated. He pushed open the swinging doors and entered. The place was half empty, for it was past the dinner hour, too early for supper. Valentin walked straight to the desk where the girl was sitting, adding up some figures. He raised his hat and asked some careless question. Then he bent his head a little lower.

"You sent for me," he said. "Jim gave me your note at the Exhibition."

"There is trouble," she murmured. "You know? You have heard?"

There were dark rims under her eyes, a vague look of terror shining out of them.

"Yes, I heard," he answered.

"One of them," she whispered, "is hiding. They say that his nerve has gone and that he is like a child. And the jewels were lost!"

Valentin nodded. "What do they want with me?" he asked.

"I think," she told him, looking stealthily around, "that they suspect you. If he is taken, they will swear that you gave information. Keep friendly with them, Mr. Valentin. Keep friendly. It isn't worth while to make enemies of such a crew. What they dare not do themselves they can get others to do. There are hundreds of wretches skulking about near here ready to do their bidding."

He patted her hand gently. "You are a dear to have sent for me, Janette," he said. "I must go in and face the music."

He walked up the restaurant and turned into the annex. It was empty, but he walked through to the end. There one of the plate-glass windows yielded to his touch and a door swung back. On the left was a clatter of crockery and knives and forks. On the right, silence. He passed along a short passage and turned abruptly to the right. Here there was a door fast closed before him. He knocked seven times and it was swiftly opened. He was in the fencing academy.

"Is any one here?" he demanded.

There was a dead silence. He closed the door behind him and walked into the middle of the place. It was quite dark except for a very faint gleam of moonlight traveling in through the skylight. He whistled softly to himself a few bars of a quaint, unfamiliar tune, something which sounded a little Oriental in its monotony. Almost at once a dark figure loomed up before him. Valentin peered forward.

"Below?" he asked.

The figure nodded. They both paused for a moment to listen.

"Is the boy there?"

"Damn him, yes!" was the reply. "He's muddled the thing. You've heard—you know—about Jim?"

"Yes, I've heard," Valentin admitted.

The two men had reached the lower part of the fencing hall. Again they listened. Then Valentin's companion stooped down and, feeling for a moment or two upon the floor, touched a spring. A small trapdoor rolled back, and they descended into a sort of cellar, spread with the debris of broken fencing masks, foils, shields, and waste paper. They stepped lightly over this, and towards the far corner, half hidden in the wall, came to a little door. Valentin knocked softly. It was quickly opened. They entered a small chamber, barely furnished and ill-lit. Two planks did service as a table, and the chairs were overturned boxes. Felix was there, Signor Vatelli, and the other two men whom Valentin had met dining at the Swiss House a few nights before. Some distance away from any of them the Dandy was sitting, his head buried upon his arms.

Valentin's entrance seemed to excite some interest. Felix stared at him curiously. "A brave man," he muttered to Govet, who sat next. "A different breed from Dandy there."

The Dandy looked up at the sound of his pseudonym and gave a little gasp of relief as he recognized the newcomer. Valentin had taken a chair nearly opposite him.

"They think that it is I who have the diamonds!" the Dandy exclaimed. "Tell them that it is not true! D'Argminac had them—you know that he had them. Tell them so!"

"The young gentleman is speaking the truth," Valentin admitted. "He passed the diamonds on to D'Argminac."

"Then where are they now?" Govet cried. "D'Argminac does nothing but whine that he has lost them. That sort of story isn't likely to be good enough for us."

"Nevertheless," Valentin remarked, "it is, in a sense, true. I took them away from D'Argminac—stole them, if you like."

Four heads were thrust forward. "Then where are they now?" Govet demanded, striking the table with his fist.

"In Lady Transome's dressing case, for anything I know to the contrary," Valentin replied carelessly. "I sent them back to her this morning."

There was a grim, indescribable silence. Govet wiped the sweat from his forehead with his coat-sleeve. "Let's understand one another," he said. "We need to talk about this. Forty thousand pounds' worth of jewels were in our hands. It was a big game. We paid the price or rather Jim did. Forty thousand pounds' worth of jewels, and you sit there and say that you have sent them back! Why?"

"It is simple enough," Valentin explained. "Dandy there was no more fit to be trusted with the jewels than a baby. He passed them on to D'Argminac; that was more foolish still. Every one knew that D'Argminac came over on the steamer with Lady Transome and flirted with her maid. He was liable to be searched at sight. I took them away, and after I had heard what was in the papers this morning, I returned them."

There was a sound in Govet's throat like the howl of a wolf. "Go on," he muttered. "You've something more to say, haven't you?"

Valentin yawned slightly. There were some loose cigarettes upon the table. He took one up, felt it carefully, and lit it.

"Some months ago," he continued, "I made a statement—I believe in this very apartment. I said that so far as I was concerned, the slightest violence offered towards any innocent person would provoke my resentment. Of the violence used last night I will not remind you. I will only say that I have kept my word. Further than that, I had not been home an hour this morning before I saw Patrick watching the house. It was quite enough for me. I got rid of the diamonds."?

"Do you know," Felix whispered, "that they were valued at forty thousand pounds?"

"I value my neck at slightly more," Valentin answered dryly.

"And what about Jim, poor devil?" Govet muttered.

"My sympathies," Valentin replied, "are not with Jim. It was a cowardly, brutal affair."

Govet leaned across the table, his ugly face black with rage. "For two months we have planned this thing," he growled. "There was enough for all of us. Jim muddled it, perhaps, but he got the goods. It's you who've parted with them. I tell you, friends, there's something about this man"—he pointed with shaking forefinger toward Valentin—"which I don't understand. He spoils everything he touches. I don't understand the kid glove business, I never did, and I've had enough of it! I've had enough of him! He's a white-livered hound, a coward—"

Valentin leaned over and struck him across the mouth. There was an uproar instantly. Two of them held Govet back. Valentin stood among them, cool and collected.

"I only want to warn you," he said, "that if you make just a little more noise your customers in the restaurant will begin to want to know what is going on under their feet. An inquisitive lot, your clients, sometimes, Felix."

"It isn't necessary to make a noise!" Govet cried hoarsely, wiping his mouth. "There's room for him and for the young 'un where they won't be likely to disturb people extra much."

Signor Vatelli struck the table with his clenched fist.

"Enough of this," he said grimly. "We have heard Valentin's story. The jewels are gone, anyhow. The thing is to get Jim out of the country."

Govet leaned forward once more. "Listen," he intervened, "I'm one that believes in sticking to one's pals when one can. Just now I'm not so sure. Jim's gone daft; he's off his head with fear; he lies there like a mad creature. All the time I'm afraid he'll yell. If he does, it's all up. If he's found here, it's all up with us."

"What can we do?" Signor Vatelli asked.

"The oubliette," Govet muttered. "Why not?"

There was a silence. No one seemed to care to speak.

"Why not?" Govet repeated. "Valentin shouldn't mind. He killed the girl, right enough. It's a better death than hanging. We'd get him off if we could, but we can't. Patrick's on the scent already."

"Before you confirm your amiable intentions," Valentin remarked dryly, "may I be allowed a few words with the young man?"

Govet scowled. "There's no use in it!" he exclaimed. "If he sees you, he'll get shouting or crying. Can't afford the risks."

"Nevertheless," Valentin said firmly, "I think that I must see him."

Govet rose to his feet. "I object!"

"And I insist," Valentin replied.

The others held their peace. Govet rolled up his shirtsleeves. "My neck's worth something to me," he declared. "I'm sick of you smooth-tongued gentry who faint at the sight of a drop of blood. I say that no one shall enter 'The Rest.' I say that and I mean it."

"And I," Valentin assured him, "not only intend to visit 'The Rest,' but I'll tell you why. I intend to see who is there."

Govet snarled across the table. He looked like an animal about to spring.

"You know who's there," he muttered. "It's Jim."

"It may be," Valentin replied. "I desire to reassure myself upon the subject."

Govet placed his hand upon the deal boards. He was in the act of springing over. Valentin turned to the others.

"To quarrel among ourselves," he said, turning to Felix, "is to scuttle our own ship. I have no quarrel with Govet, but I intend to see who is in that room. I believe that he is deceiving me, perhaps the rest of you. I do not believe that Jim Macaire is in that room at all."

"Why not?" Felix asked.

"Because he was following me to-night at the Exhibition," Valentin answered calmly. "There's some one else locked up in 'The Rest.' I mean to know who it is and to hear his story."

There was an uneasy murmur. Govet looked from one to the other for support. Felix settled the question. He rose to his feet and moved to the far end of the room. They all followed him. Govet hesitated, and for a moment seemed inclined to crawl away. Finally, however, he followed the others.



CHAPTER XII.—AFRAID!

IT was a room within a room, lighted only from a transom, malodorous, furnished only with a tawdry sofa and one or two articles of discarded bedroom furniture. At first it was not possible to see anything except a pair of burning eyes shining through the gloom from the sofa. Then Govet struck a match and lit the candle which he was carrying. He turned a little defiantly toward Valentin.

"You may say," he exclaimed, "that we have combined to deceive you! Have it so, if you will. But for you, that poor creature would have had his neck wrung half a dozen times. We don't want him and he won't leave us. We kick him out and he crawls back. We gave him one last trial. You know yourself what a mess he has made of it. Now he is here because we daren't let him out. That's the truth of it. Look at him. Judge for yourself if we do not do well to keep him where his mouth is sealed."

It was Eugène d'Argminac who lay there. His face was bloodless with fear, his eyes distended. He seemed to have reverted into some previous state of uncivilized, unnerved animaldom. "What do you want?" he cried harshly. "Are they here? Is there danger?"

Govet laughed harshly. "You hear him? Prating always about danger! Look at him, too. Would it be wise, do you think, to let him go free?"

"But I didn't do it," the young man sobbed. "He knows I wouldn't," he added, pointing to Valentin. "I never thought of such a thing. I talked with her on the boat. She promised to call for one moment at my rooms. When we got to Pluman's Row, it was Jim who was waiting there with the Dandy—it was Jim who did it! Oh, it was horrible!"

Valentin turned to Govet. "Come," he said, "D'Argminac is telling the truth. It seems to me that it would be better for Jim to be hiding."

Govet pointed to the sofa. "Jim is no coward," he answered. "He can walk the streets to-night and keep his mouth closed. What do you think would happen if this creature were at large? Oh, I remember him before! He has had his trial; he is no use. Any fool could shake the truth out of him."

Valentin nodded. "I am beginning to understand," he said. "So that is why you are keeping him locked up? Very well, you need do so no longer. I will take charge of him. I will pledge my word that he says nothing."

D'Argminac shrank away. "No!" he cried. "I am not safe anywhere but here! They know that I talked to her all the way over on the steamer; they know that I left Victoria in a taxicab with her. I will not go out. I am afraid!"

"There is danger here, also," Valentin reminded him sternly. "If you value your own skin, Guy, you will come with me."

"I dare not," he faltered. "Let me stay here."

Valentin walked over to the sofa and seated himself by the side of the boy. "Guy," he said, "your sister is terrified to death about you. Can't you pull yourself together and be a man? Never mind what these people say. If you have the courage, I will take you away."

D'Argminac shook his head. "I dare not! I dare not! I should be recognized! They saw me in the taxicab with her. I didn't know—I didn't dream that they would ever think of murdering her."

"Do you mean to say," Valentin asked, "that you deliberately prefer to remain here?"

"I am safe here!" D'Argminac exclaimed. "I don't want to come out. I don't want to see the daylight. I am afraid—oh, I am afraid!"

He buried his head in his hands. They made their way outside.

"Very well," Valentin decided, "keep him here if you will. Perhaps he is safest."

"There is no safety for any one," Govet muttered under his breath, "while that young cub goes unmuzzled."

"Perhaps not," Valentin admitted quietly. "So long as I know that he is there, it is well, but remember, not even to save our estimable friend James Macaire must there be any sham suicide and confession, or anything of that sort. If the slightest attempt is made in that direction, remember that you will have me to deal with."

There was no answer. Govet was silent but sullen; Signor Vatelli seemed ill at ease. They made their way back into the room where they had been assembled.

"I will not detain you any longer," Valentin said. "I came here to-night to see that the boy was safe. I leave him—"

He ceased to speak, and the little company of men ceased, also, to pay any attention. Their faces were all turned to the wall where, in a hidden place, a small speaking tube had been inserted. Some one was whistling softly but persistently. Felix crossed the floor, moved aside a colored engraving, and held the speaking tube to his ear. As he listened, his face showed his emotion. He replaced the tube and came slowly back. His face was strained, and he spoke as one who tells terrible tidings.

"Robert is upstairs," he muttered, "le beau Robert!"

It was as though a bomb had been thrown upon the table before them. Blank terror was reflected from all their faces. Valentin alone was unmoved.

"There is no one I would rather see," he declared. Govet shivered. "Well," he said, "I don't consider myself a coward, but I am not of your opinion. Robert has too many ugly tricks to make him an agreeable companion. It is only a few weeks since he stabbed a man through the heart in a Montmartre café. The police there know all about it, but they daren't arrest him."

"They are only waiting their time," Valentin remarked grimly. "Tell me, what does he do here? What does it mean?"

"It was Janette who telephoned," Felix answered. "He is sitting there in the restaurant, eating and drinking. The man who served him—it was Jules—saw distinctly the gleam of steel in the breast pocket of his coat. He has his knife all ready. Heaven knows, he has used it often enough!"

"Is there any particular reason," Valentin asked, "why his visit to the café should be inopportune?"

"None whatever," Felix replied gloomily, "except that without a doubt he is here to claim his share of the jewels."

"His share?" Valentin repeated.

"The information came from him," Felix explained.

"They were too well known to make the attempt themselves, but they sent word on to us. Now they have read of the robbery in the papers, and no one will ever be able to convince them that we have not the jewels, or some of them. For my part, I know Robert too well. I shall not go near him, not if I sit here all night."

"Nor I," Govet echoed.

Valentin smiled. "Robert and I are old friends," he said. "I will explain the whole affair to him."

Felix shook his head doubtfully. "Robert has no friends when he is disappointed. If he does not believe you, he will strike. If he does believe you, he will probably strike, too."

"I would suggest," Signor Vatelli said, "that we all avoid him until to-morrow. He will have seen it in print, then, in black and white, that the lady's jewels have been restored to her. He will think us bunglers and fools, but it is possible that he may believe the story."

"We sha'n't get rid of him as easily as that," Govet muttered gloomily. "Valentin here seems to be fond of holding his head in the lion's mouth. I am for letting him tackle Robert at once."

"Under the circumstances," Valentin declared, "I really think that it is no more than fair that I should take the risk."

They were all agreed. Govet smiled heavily. "A very interesting meeting!" he said. "I should like to witness it—from a safe distance."



CHAPTER XIII.—BEARDING THE LION

VALENTIN went calmly into the restaurant and made his way to the table where Robert was sitting alone. Robert was dressed with some abatement of his Parisian eccentricity, and yet in a style sufficiently pronounced to leave no doubt whatever as to his nationality or as to his status. Valentin found himself smiling as he took the opposite seat. His neighbor reminded him somewhat of the bourgeois Frenchman of the English music halls, with his flaming red tie and check trousers.

"So it is you, eh?" Robert muttered, without salutation or any sign of pleasure. "Curse you, I wish your money had lasted a little longer!"

"My friend," Valentin protested, "you are, to say the least of it, not courteous. I stripped myself once of all my earthly possessions and handed them to you. You did a stroke of business with me which should have made you independent for life. As for me, I was beggared. Did I understand you to ask me what I would drink, Monsieur Robert?" he added, turning round and beckoning the waiter. "You are very kind. I will take some Vermouth."

"You can have your Vermouth and welcome," Robert growled, "but no tricks, mind. Somehow, I never expected to see you again like this."

"It is hard to escape—you yourself have proved it so," said Valentin, with a smile.

Giving vent to an expression of contempt, "Am I a fool?" asked Robert. "Do you think I know nothing, hear nothing? It is for the sake of that wretched young cub, whose body and soul you bought from me eight years ago, that you still hang around the flame. By all the saints, you've paid a price for him!"

"The affair," Valentin remarked, "is my own. Since you have mentioned the subject, permit me to say that after your former experience I am somewhat surprised to learn that you still reckon him an associate."

"What we reckon him I will tell you presently," said Robert, leaning a little forward. "I tell you that we are not always to be made fools of, we of the Rue Druot. At the present moment I want that young man of yours and I want him pretty quick. It is for that purpose that I am here. He and I have got to have a reckoning."

"About those jewels, I suppose?"

The Frenchman scowled at him across the table, and looked around half fearfully. "You fool!" he muttered. "Do you think there aren't spies in this place as well as any other? One doesn't talk about such things. However, since you have mentioned it, I am here for my share. They all three knew what it was to be—Jim, the Dandy and D'Argminac. I want the loose stones, thirty-four of them—that's exactly half. Now then, Monsieur, what do you say to that?"

"That's all right," remarked Valentin, "but, you see, the robbery wasn't an entire success. You haven't read the evening papers, I see."

"What do you mean by not an entire success?" Robert hissed. "He had the necklace—I have seen it in black and white."

Valentin sighed. "It is true," he admitted, "that the necklace was for a few moments in the possession of those young gentlemen. For safety's sake, one of them passed it on to me. I, after profound deliberation—returned it to Lady Transome."

Robert's hand shot to his breast pocket, his eyes were blazing—blazing and venomous. Valentin pinned his wrist to the table with a grasp of iron. "Don't make a fool of yourself here, Robert!" he ordered. "There are a dozen policemen in the street outside. If one kills in this country, one hangs. Over here our police are not afraid even of le beau Robert."

"It is a cursed lie!" Robert muttered. "It's a plot to do me out of my share!"

"It's nothing of the sort," Valentin retorted. "So far as D'Argminac is concerned, he did his part, as I suppose you would say, satisfactorily. He flirted with the lady's maid, he left Victoria in her taxicab, and he persuaded her to stay for a moment at his rooms. After that we will draw a veil. I come now to speak of myself."

"It is well," Robert hissed. "Speak, and speak quickly."

"You know very well," Valentin continued, "that my association with you and your honorable confrères of the Rue Druot was not for the purpose of robbery or any individual benefit. I had plenty of money in those days. I whipped those bourgeois tradespeople for amusement, and their money went to charity. I never handled a penny. Theft to me stands for the same as it does to any other honest man. I shrug my shoulders at your doings because criminals must exist in every great centre, and when one is tired of everything else in life, it is a change to watch you others at your work. That was my position in Paris, Robert. That was the extent of my association with you."

"What of it?"

"I speak now," Valentin went on, "of Eugène d'Argminac. I brought him to the Rue Druot for a night's amusement. He was a stranger, a casual acquaintance. At the time it is true that I cared little what became of him. I thought merely that a taste of the reality would sicken and horrify him. But from that grave things happened to me. First of all, this young man turned out to be connected with some one of whom we will not speak, but who has counted to me for more than life itself. Secondly, there was a taint in his blood—God knows how it got there, but the taint of criminality was there. You know what it cost me to get him away from you once. It wasn't any use. He lived a semi-respectable life for a year. Then I found him mixed up again with this gang. I have been hanging around, trying to look after him, and I've failed. It's a hopeless task. One would think that he was born for the hangman, for I found him last night shivering in the streets with those jewels in his pocket. I took them home with me. This morning I sent them back to the woman from whom they were stolen."

Le beau Robert at that moment certainly did not justify his name. His teeth were set, the veins stood out blue upon his forehead as he struggled to wrench his hand free from the other's grasp and to reach his knife. Valentin, however, was easily his master.

"Now listen," he commanded. "We are being observed. Upon my honor, Robert, it was not safe to keep those jewels. The other men did their work well enough, as you would call it, but our young friend has no nerve for the big things. I tell you that I took the jewels from him and returned them to their owner; and I tell you this—that every time I find him being made use of by you or by these others, I shall, if I have the opportunity, do the same again. I tell you he is no good to you. He is a criminal, if you like, but he has no nerve nor any honor. Once before you proved it. Take my warning—let him alone."

Robert was calm again. Valentin seemed to have reacquired all his former influence. "You have stripped yourself to the bone for this creature," he muttered. "You speak to me about him now as no other man breathing would dare to do. Who is he? I am curious."

"It is of no consequence," Valentin answered calmly. "I have told you enough. What I have done, I have done to atone for that unfortunate moment when I brought him to the Rue Druot. I have no more money for you, Robert. I am a pauper, with no expectations. I earn my own living nowadays by giving fencing lessons, but I am still Valentin de Souspennier, and you'll find that I am to be reckoned with when there's trouble about."

"You threaten?" Robert asked.

"If this is a threat, accept it from me," Valentin answered. "Make use of that man again, or encourage them here to make use of him, and there's danger—danger for the lot of you. There was a man once, Robert, in a book which possibly might not appeal to your literary tastes, who pulled down the pillars of a great building wherein he and his enemies were all gathered together. They all perished, he among them. I have the feelings of that man, Robert."

There was a short silence. Valentin very slowly withdrew his fingers from his companion's wrist. Robert made no further movement to reach his knife. Instead he clinked his glass against Valentin's and, leaning back, laughed gayly.

"Monsieur le Vicomte," he said, "one meets a man at times, and it gives one heart!"



CHAPTER XIV.—TWO ACHING HEARTS

VALENTIN walked down Old Compton Street and stopped for a few minutes outside the Palace Theatre, studying the advertisements. There was a great poster of "Josephine, the Wonderful Dancer." He smiled as he stood there, and remembered the time when he had seen her first, dancing to the music of a cracked violin before a café of a few chairs set out upon the pavement.

"Josephine," he said softly to himself, as he turned away, "was one of my good investments. A few thousand francs, spent when they meant nothing, for instruction in music and dancing lessons, and behold! London is at her feet"

He glanced at his watch; it was as yet barely nine o'clock. He walked quickly to Piretti's restaurant at the end of Shaftesbury Avenue. The place, as usual, was crowded, but at her accustomed table he found Josephine. She held out both her hands. There was no mistaking her joy at his coming.

"Ah, it is charming, this!" she exclaimed. "You have come to dine with me? Say you have come to dine?"

He gave his hat to a waiter and sat down. "I will take a glass of wine with you, my dear friend," he said, "but eat I cannot. I thought you ought to know that Robert is here."

"His coming is nothing to me," she answered, with a shrug of the shoulders.

"Naturally," Valentin agreed; "but you remember his infatuation? He will know that you are dancing at the Palace. He may try to force himself upon you."

"I think not," she replied. "Even over here Robert has to be careful."

"Nevertheless, it is wise to be warned," Valentin remarked, helping himself to a glass of the claret which the waiter had brought.

She leaned across towards him. There were many people down the long line of tables who envied him at that moment, for there was no mistaking the tenderness in her eyes.

"But you!" she exclaimed. "It is always you who are warning some one, or advising some one, or helping some one! Name of God, do you never think of yourself? You look as you always must look, a gentleman, a nobleman, but do you think I do not see that you are shabby and poor these days? Do you think that a woman cannot tell those things? And you go to this wretched fencing gallery and work there till you are ready to drop. Where has it gone, all your money? Gone for other people, gone to save that wretched boy, gone to your wife, who has plenty of her own! Oh, Monsieur Valentin, why not be a little kind? Why not remember how old friends we are? They give me one hundred and twenty pounds a week for that one dance. I could get more, if I liked. They would bind me down. What is it that I spend? A trifle—no more. I have still furs and jewels which you gave me. Why not remember that we are friends?"

He patted her fingers gently. "Dear Josephine," he said, "you give me great pleasure by letting me come and talk to you when I will. I feel that you are my friend and it is always a joy, that. But as for your money, that is another affair. It is well earned. Save it. Put it in the bank, little woman, to make a dot for yourself. Some day, when you have finished with dancing, you will marry and settle down. At heart you are wonderfully domestic."

Her lip quivered. "It is because I am a woman," she declared, "that you will not touch my money. It makes for nothing that we are friends. From a man you would accept, perhaps. From me, never. What is the use of it all, then? Why do you call us friends if you will not treat me as one? Why do you torture me so? Do you think that I can sit here and remember all I owe to you, and remember that I have hundreds of pounds coming to me and already much money in the bank, and see you like this and not feel a great pain at my heart?"

"I can assure you that I am not in want, dear Josephine," he protested, laughing lightly. "However, as you will give and I must take, I will have one of your cutlets. A plate, waiter. This place reminds me that after all I have not dined. But soon I must go back. There is the child who waits. She will not go to sleep if I am not there."

"Some day," Josephine said softly, "I should like to see your little girl."

"Why not?" he answered. "By the way," he added, "there is a question which I must ask you."

"Well?"

"Have you seen Monsieur Guy lately?"

"So it is for his sake that you come, eh?" she demanded, looking up quickly.

"Not at all," Valentin declared, helping himself to wine from her bottle. "You see what comrades we are, Josephine. I steal your dinner from your very table and I drink your wine."

"If only you would take something worth having!" she sighed.

"I take away the memory of this little feast," he said. "I can assure you that it is welcome, Josephine, for I have been in trouble again about this young man. It seems impossible to keep him out of mischief."

"He is a young fool," she muttered. "Why do you try? He is not worth it."

Valentin was thoughtful for a moment. "Josephine," he told her, "you are the only person who could do him the least good. I wish you'd marry him."

She leaned back and laughed, showing her beautiful teeth,—laughed scornfully. "Ah, but, my friend," she cried, "you forget, surely! Monsieur Eugène d'Argminac in England has another name. He was born, I believe, a gentleman. What would his beautiful sister say if she knew that he thought of marrying me, a dancer, a child of the gutter!"

"There are some subjects," Valentin admitted calmly, "upon which his sister is a bad judge. She was brought up in a very narrow circle. She knew little of life when I met her first. It was very beautiful, that ignorance, but she has suffered, I am afraid, from her lack of knowledge. In this matter she might, perhaps, feel as you suggest, but is that of any real importance? It is I who know best, I who have done all that I could for that young man. I know you, Josephine. You were, perhaps, born in the gutter, and you are a dancer, but you are also a woman, and I should think you much too good for him if it were not that I believe that with an influence such as yours he might pull himself together. You have strength enough for two, Josephine. I believe that if you would you could save him."

"Monsieur Valentin," she said, "I do not love him."

"Ah, but that love," Valentin answered, "what is it? A thing that comes and goes. It is born in a second. It may spring into life, even, with the clink of a wine-glass, the flashing of a pair of eyes."

She leaned towards him. "Monsieur Valentin," she whispered, "it may come as you say, but it goes—oh, my God, who can say how it goes! Do you think that I have never loved?"

"There are few of us, Josephine, who can say that," he replied.

"You know very well," she went on, a second later, "you know what love is. You have felt it. You have felt it clinging around you, you have felt it breathed into your blood. You have felt it like an atmosphere, for you have had it—man Dieu, how you have had it!"

"It is great good fortune for any man," he answered, "to have possessed a woman's love."

"Even when he doesn't want it?" she asked. "Even when he makes no use of it save to torture the giver? Even when he proposes that the woman who loves him, him only, should marry some other man?"

Valentin's hand shook; his face was troubled. "Dear Josephine," he said gravely, "I had hoped that this was finished. If I have hurt you, I am sorry."

She let down her veil. "It is no matter," she assured him. "As to what you have said about the young man, I will think of it. Send him to me and I will give him some good advice, at any rate."

"You are not angry?" he asked, a little wistfully. "Please do not be angry, Josephine. Remember that I have not too many friends."

She caught at his hand and clasped it in both of hers. For a moment she seemed as though about to raise it to her lips. "Dear one," she whispered, "with you I am not angry, only I am glad that you are not coming to see me dance to-night. I am only a woman, after all, you see, and when my heart aches, my feet will move the more heavily."

She passed down the room. The waiter, whom she had overpaid, came hastily in obedience to Valentin's summons.

"Some brandy," he ordered dejectedly. "Henri," he added to the waiter, whom he knew well, "it is a foolish world."

"Yes, monsieur!" the man answered.



CHAPTER XV:—THE INFORMER

D'ARGMINAC breathed a sigh of immense relief as he gained the street and the swinging doors closed behind him. At last he was free from this endless surveillance! In a sudden fit of courage he had crept out from his hiding place, stolen through the deserted fencing saloon, and emerged into the fresh air. After his long confinement, every moment was full of ecstasy to him. It was his favorite café, this, not many yards from Leicester Square, a combination of the French and English, for there were young ladies behind the bar, although the arrangement of the tables, and the papers which lay upon them, were mostly French. It was here that one found absinthe! The young man with the pale cheeks and hollow eyes ordered some and drank it greedily.

The place was full. All sorts and conditions of loiterers jostled one another at the counter. D'Argminac found himself next to a stout, good-natured-looking man in country tweeds, who was certainly disposed to be friendly. After the contemptuous indifference of his former companions of the Swiss House, D'Argminac found his neighbor's urbanity far from unpleasant.

"Can't think how you came to fancy these French drinks," the latter remarked cheerfully, as he disposed of a whiskey and soda. "Suppose you must have lived abroad, sir? I wonder, now, what that might be that you're drinking?"

"This," D'Argminac answered, sipping it with the air of a connoisseur, "is absinthe. There is nothing like it for helping you to forget!"

"Well, I'd like to say that I've tried it, for once," the man in tweeds declared. "Give me one, miss, just like the young gentleman's. Hope it won't get into my head or anything."

"It will do you good," D'Argminac assured him deliberately. "It will brace up your nerves and make you feel yourself again."

"My name's Patrick," the stout gentleman said. "Suppose we sit down to it."

D'Argminac hesitated. A gleam of fear shone for a moment in his eyes. "Patrick," he repeated doubtfully.

"Irish," Mr. Patrick announced, slipping his arm through his new friend's and leading him toward a retired corner. "Common name, but this one's all right, anyhow."

"A common name, as you say," D'Argminac agreed. "I seem to have it mixed up in my mind with something or other."

They seated themselves side by side. Mr. Patrick sipped his absinthe meditatively. Then he set down the half-emptied tumbler and turned toward his companion.

"You say that this stuff braces up your nerves," he remarked quietly. "Have another."

"I will," D'Argminac assented.

The order was given. Mr. Patrick watched his companion with good-natured tolerance. "Feeling better, eh?" he asked, after the second tumblerful had almost disappeared.

"Much better," D'Argminac replied.

"That's good," Mr. Patrick declared. "Now hang on to yourself and listen to me. I know all about you, Eugène d'Argminac, or Guy Arlen, or whatever you happen to be calling yourself just now. You palled up with Lady Transome's maid coming over on the 'Invicta' the other day. Well, there's not much in that. You took her to some rooms—not much in that, either. Something happened to her there."

D'Argminac was shaking like a leaf. He half rose, but Mr. Patrick was broad and burly, and Mr. Patrick barred the way.

"I want the man who did the trick—Cunning Jim," Mr. Patrick whispered in his ear. "You're no use to me. We'll see you through, but I want Jim, do you hear?"

D'Argminac shook his head. He was shaking now in every limb. "I daren't!" he muttered. "I daren't!"

Mr. Patrick glanced into the bottom of his tumbler.

"Don't say that," he continued. "I'm not asking you to give the show away. Just a hint to me, that's all. I'm not going to take you now. I've had my eye on your whereabouts for days. I could have had you any moment I'd wanted, but I rather hoped you might show us the way to Jim. You may have to appear as a matter of form, but that's all. You're free to walk out of this place, free as you were when you came in. Go and dine and spend the evening at the Empire or where you like. We don't want you. We want Jim."

"They'd kill me!" faltered D'Argminac.

"They aren't going to know," Mr. Patrick declared. "You are going to tell me quietly where to drop in upon that man. We'll do the rest. Come, come, it's the best thing you can do. I'm pretty certain you never thought anything of that sort was going to happen when you tried a little flirtation with a very good-looking lady's maid. I'm sure you're as sorry for her as we all are. Poor girl! It's only just that those who killed her should suffer."

"It was a hideous affair!" D'Argminac said softly.

"You're right," Mr. Patrick assented. "Robbery's all well enough, but to take any one's life, and a girl's, too—well, no one should do it and expect mercy. I only want a hint, mind, my young sir."

D'Argminac glanced around the place. He was shaking all over as though with the cold. "You'll never give it away?" he begged.

"Not on your life," Mr. Patrick promised. "I want the credit of making this capture myself. I don't want to say where I got my clue from."

"Try the Swiss House near Soho Square, where I've been hiding," D'Argminac whispered.

"I've tried it already," Mr. Patrick replied.

"There's a way out from downstairs," continued D'Argminac. "You pass to the right of the kitchens. There's a door in the wall, a trapdoor, and another room below that. From there you can get into the fencing academy and out into Soho Square."

Mr. Patrick whistled softly. "Well, I'm damned!" he said, under his breath. "If I haven't always suspected that! I followed you into the fencing academy only the day after the murder, and then lost sight of you. So that's where he's lying hidden, eh?"

D'Argminac nodded. He moistened his lips with his tongue. "You won't mention my name?" he implored. "Not I!" Mr. Patrick assured him. "Look here, have you just come from the Swiss House?"

D'Argminac assented. "They've been keeping me there for days. They were afraid—afraid to let me out. Then Jim came and they forgot about me."

"Don't you go back there just now," Mr. Patrick advised. "Have a night out and enjoy yourself. Do yourself well. And if you want to know anything, buy the morning papers."

"All right," D'Argminac answered weakly. "I'm not going back."

Mr. Patrick held up his finger, and a man who had been lounging over the bar suddenly joined them. "Friend of mine—Mr. Heathfield," said Patrick. "He'll sit down and keep you company here for a bit. No, you needn't be alarmed. Only for half an hour or so. Can't run any risks of your changing your mind and going back to the Swiss House, you know, to pack your bag or anything of that sort. In an hour's time I don't care what you do. Mr. Heathfield will keep you company until then."

He nodded good-humoredly and went out. D'Argminac stared up at his new friend, who was leaning back in Mr. Patrick's place.

"Is Mr. Patrick a detective?" he asked hoarsely.

"Something of the sort," Mr. Heathfield confessed.

"And you?"

"Also something like it," the other assented. "Let me order a little more of that drink of yours. We may as well make ourselves comfortable."

"I will take one more absinthe," D'Argminac said. "Tell me, Mr. Heathfield," he added, a moment later, "do they always hang murderers in England?"

Mr. Heathfield nodded. "Quite an easy death," he explained. "Rope round their neck, one sharp jerk, and it's all over."

"Have you ever seen any one hanged?" D'Argminac asked fearfully.

"One or two," Mr. Heathfield admitted. "Now our friend who's just gone out has had as much to do as any one I know with bringing them there. Something of that sort on to-night, isn't there?"

"You know all about it, I suppose," D'Argminac muttered. "I wonder—do you think they can do anything to me?"

"Not they," Mr. Heathfield declared. "You're all right. You're on the safe side now. I should advise you to stick to it. Your friend Jim is booked."

D'Argminac shivered. He held out his hands greedily for the fresh supply of absinthe which the waiter was bringing. "I don't dare to think of it!" he gasped. The effect of the absinthe lasted for about an hour. At the end of that time D'Argminac began to get restless again.

"I must go," he declared. "Let us leave this place. It is time for dinner."

Heathfield glanced toward the clock. "If you stay for another quarter of an hour," he promised, "you can go where you will."

"I will go now," D'Argminac insisted fiercely. "I am not under arrest. Mr. Patrick told me so himself."

"Just as you like," the other replied. "You are not under arrest, but for a quarter of an hour you will not object to me for a companion."

They left the place side by side. D'Argminac turned sharply to the right, crossed the road, and plunged into a by-street. "I can't keep away!" he said thickly. "I must see what's going on!"

They crossed Shaftesbury Avenue and walked till they were near the back of Soho Square. D'Argminac led the way into the court, at the end of which was situated the fencing academy. He clutched at his companion's arm. Apparently engaged in conversation, two men were standing outside the entrance to the academy. Notwithstanding their plain clothes, there was something very unmistakable about their carriage and their watchfulness.

"Let us go round to the front," D'Argminac whispered, shuddering.

"Just as you will," the other replied. "Keep close to me, mind."

On the pavement in front of the Swiss House a little knot of idlers were collected, looking through the plate-glass windows of the restaurant. A four-wheel cab was drawn up close to the curb. A close observer—and most of the inhabitants of the neighborhood were close observers on such subjects—would have noticed that around the entrance of the place was drawn a complete cordon of police, nearly all of whom were in plain clothes.

"They haven't got him yet," D'Argminac muttered. "After all, perhaps he will be too clever for them. It's a dark passage, you know—a very out-of-the-way corner. If Mr. Patrick went down alone, he might be caught like a rat in a trap."

Every now and then the swinging doors of the restaurant opened and closed, with customers arriving or departing. A woman in a plain black dress, wearing a black hat and a thick veil, came out and walked leisurely towards them. As she drew near, D'Argminac clung to his companion's arm.

"Keep between us, for Heaven's sake!" he shivered. "Look! Look!"

Heathfield was suddenly interested in the lady who was approaching them. His burly form blocked the way.

"You'll excuse me," he said—

He never finished his sentence. The entire street seemed suddenly in a turmoil. The woman, abandoning all pretense at disguise, stepped back, and pointing a pistol at D'Argminac, took careful aim and fired. Heathfield tried to knock it up, but he was too late. D'Argminac's cry of "Jim!" rang out almost at the same moment as the report. He threw up his arms and fell backward into the gutter. Jim made no further attempt to escape. With his woman's garments all disarrayed, he fired one more barrel of his revolver into D'Argminac's prostrate body. For a second he struggled in Heathfield's arms. Then, with an effort, he turned the revolver towards himself and fired. The crowd came surging up, breaking through the line of police. The tragedy, however, was over!


Illustration

He threw up his arms and fell backward into the gutter.



CHAPTER XVI.—SOPHY IS RELENTLESS

THE Vicomtesse de Souspennier had been holding a small reception. It had been quite an informal affair, and some of her guests had lingered inordinately late. She glanced at the clock as the last one left; it was past seven o'clock. With a little gesture of weariness, she threw herself into her most comfortable chair. It was the hour of the day which she generally found the longest. Presently she would be one of the guests at a great dinner party. Afterwards there was the Opera, and a reception or two if she cared to show herself. But for the next hour there was nothing—nothing but memories.

The house seemed to her that evening strangely silent. She found herself listening more than once. In her heart she knew that it was because the large sunny room on the third floor was empty. She covered her face with her hands. It was a failure, this experiment of hers! It had brought no good; only an ever increasing loneliness. She had parted with the one thing worth having in life, and to no avail.

The door bell rang. At such an hour she knew quite well that her servants would admit no ordinary caller, so she did not move in her seat. A moment afterwards she heard footsteps outside, and the opening of the door. She looked up, frowning. The most trusted of her servants was ushering in visitors.

"Monsieur le Vicomte de Souspennier and Miss Sophy, madame," he announced.

She gave a little start, a gasp, and held out her arms. The child ran to her. It was, perhaps, for both of them, a wonderful moment. Valentin stood in the background. He was very thankful to find the room so dimly lit. Presently she put the child down.

"It is very good of you to bring Sophy to see me," she said, turning toward her husband.

He bowed. "If it is quite convenient," he replied, "I should like to leave her here for a few days."

"Mummy, isn't it delightful!" the child cried. "Daddy says perhaps I may stay quite a long time. It isn't that I don't like being with daddy," she added, with a sudden recollection, turning towards him and holding out her hand. "No one could have been quite so good as daddy has been. But it will be rather nice to be back here for a little time with mummy. You understand?"

She was looking wistfully at her father, who took her up in his arms and kissed her. "I understand perfectly," he said. "Now do you mind running away upstairs into the nursery? I want to talk to your mother."

"You'll let me see you again before you go, daddy?" she begged.

"I will if I can, dear," he promised. "Good-by!"

The door was closed after her. Sophy held the sides of her chair. There seemed to be something ominous in Valentin's attitude.

"You have brought Sophy back of your own accord!" she exclaimed. "Why? Has anything happened?"

"Yes!" he answered.

His very monosyllable seemed to her terrifying. Her eyes shone at him through the gloom.

"Tell me what it is," she faltered.

"I am very sorry indeed," he went on, "but I have brought you bad news about your brother."

He paused. She was trembling all over, but she was able to control her voice. "Well?" she asked calmly.

"An hour ago," he said, "your brother attempted to repeat his somewhat unfortunate performance in Paris. Let me tell you first that he was an accomplice—an indirect one, perhaps, but still he was an accomplice—in the theft of Lady Transome's jewels."

"But they were returned—they were returned to her!" Sophy interrupted.

"It is true," he admitted. "The jewels were returned, but the fact remains that murder was done when they were stolen."

"You don't dare to tell me that Guy was concerned in that?" she asked.

"He was not," Valentin answered. "He was an accomplice in the affair only to the extent of a flirtation with the lady's maid."

"He was the young man who took her to the rooms, then!" Sophy exclaimed.

"He was."

There was a short silence. Then a little cry broke from Sophy's lips. Now, indeed, she was terrified. She had staggered to her feet, but she was holding with both hands to the mantelpiece.

"His confederate! The man who killed her! Don't say—don't tell me—"

"That man was a stranger to you," Valentin went on, "a complete stranger. One of the underneath world, a criminal bred and born."

He paused mercifully to give her an opportunity to recover. What that thought was which had flashed into her mind he knew quite well, and somehow he felt the more kindly towards her for it.

"The police have been searching hard for this man," he continued. "Incidentally, they have been watching also for your brother. They say that they could have arrested him as an accomplice at any moment, but they preferred to wait and see whether he might not lead them at last on the right scent. Yesterday afternoon they adopted bolder tactics. Your brother left his hiding place and was at once run to earth. They gave him his chance. I regret to say that he took it. Once more he played the part of informer."

She buried her face in her hands. "Oh, it is terrible, this!" she moaned.

"What is to come, I am afraid," he declared, "you will find more terrible still, and yet, brutal though it may sound, I am not sure whether it is not for the best. Your brother had, without doubt, a vein of insanity in him. His morbid craving to be associated with criminals, to be a looker-on at deeds which he dared not have attempted himself, proves this. After he had given that information, he could not rest. He stole down into the little street in Soho, where the man was lying hidden. He wanted to see him arrested, to see his face when he was being led away to the gallows. Instead of that—"

He hesitated for a moment.

"Go on," she begged, "quickly, please!" "It is an ugly thing to have to tell you," Valentin went on gravely, "yet it is best that you should know the whole truth. In that narrow street he came face to face with a man trying to escape through the cordon of police who had surrounded the place. The man was dressed in woman's clothes. Your brother called out his name. It must then have been clear to the man that it was Guy who had given the information. He shot him deliberately through the heart. Your brother is dead."

Sophy did not collapse. The horror of the thing seemed to have been already anticipated in her mind. She looked at him almost calmly. "And the other man?" she asked.

"Dead, too," Valentin replied. "I am sorry to have been the bearer of such a terrible story. If you would like me to ring for your maid, or if there is anything I can fetch you—"

"Please stay where you are for a few minutes," she begged. "There is something else I must ask you—presently."

She sank back into her chair; her face was hidden by her hands. It seemed to Valentin, who kept at the further end of the room, that every now and then he could hear the sobs. There was a great lump in his own throat, a mist before his eyes. His heart was aching with a fierce desire. He had need of all his pride, of all his bitter recollections in those few minutes, for, above all things, he knew and realized most completely that his love was unabated and that she was weeping. His finger-nails cut into his flesh as he stood there. It was torture, torture which seemed as though it must reach the breaking point at every second. At last, however, she raised her head.

"It is good of you to have come here—to have told me this story yourself," she said. "I suppose I ought to thank you for it. You must forgive me if I seem ungrateful. When I look back into the past and think what Guy was like when he was a boy, and when I think of him for the last ten years, ruined, a miserable, broken life, I cannot help feeling bitterly."

Valentin made no reply. Her words, however, were like an ice-cold tonic. There was no fear now of that breakdown which he had dreaded.

"Tell me," she asked, "why you have brought Sophy back?"

"I have brought her back," Valentin answered, "because I am not sure of my own position. It is not," he went on, "that I am in any way concerned in this last affair, but I was a frequenter of the Swiss House, where the man lay hidden, and I am known to have had connections with your brother, and with others against whom charges may be made. In any case, I thought it best not to risk anything untoward happening while Sophy was with me."

"It was thoughtful of you," she admitted, "but it was only just. Why don't you leave the country for a time? Mr. Welgrove could make it easy for you. He has my instructions that any time you care to go to him—"

"Thank you," Valentin interrupted, "my movements are quite uncertain. I thank you for your offer. It is, however, unnecessary. By a curious irony of fate, I heard from Paris this morning that my uncle, my father's brother, De Vigneaux, died yesterday, and that I am his heir."

"I suppose I must say that I am glad," she remarked. He shrugged his shoulders. "It is of no consequence," he declared. "I do not know whether it will make little Sophy any happier that in the years to come she will be a great heiress. For my part, I do not find that money takes one very far into life."

She turned towards him earnestly. "Valentin," she said, "why don't you break away from it all? Don't think that I am presuming. I have a right, at least, you know, to offer you advice."

Every nerve in Valentin's body seemed to stiffen at the sound of her words. He was his old self again. He looked across at her with a faint smile and a mocking gleam in his eyes. "It is not for me to deny it, my dear lady," he replied. "Let me have your advice, by all means. What do you think would be the best for me, now? To emigrate and work upon the land, far from temptations of every sort? What do people generally do who abandon a career of vice owing to the gentle persuasions of some adorable being? Shall I write my autobiography as a warning to all young men with leanings towards a wildlife? Shall I—"

"Don't!" she interrupted him sharply. "I can see that I should only waste my words," she added, after a moment's pause. "Only, Valentin, it seems a pity. You could do so much better things. There was a time, even, when you seemed content with an absolutely simple life."

"Content! Oh, my God!" he cried, between his teeth.

"You must know," she went on, "that there is nothing worthy, nothing worth doing in such a life as you have been leading. If it were not for your behavior when I sent Sophy to you—that you tried to find honest work —I should not dare to say so much as this to you. But I know there is good—there must be good somewhere. You were kind to me once, Valentin. You made me for a time very happy. I suppose it was not in you to live like that for long, but while it lasted it was wonderful. I am not trying to dictate to you, Valentin. I cannot. You know best what your destiny must be."

"You have nothing, for instance," he demanded, looking at her steadily, "nothing to offer me?"

Her bosom began to rise and fall. "What could I have?" she faltered.

"It would not interest you," he said, coming a little nearer and looking into her eyes, "to hear my story of the last few years? It would not interest you to have me strip bare every action and thought of mine, to explain to you certain incidents connected with your brother which you do not appear to have realized, to tell you the naked truth concerning those things that have lain between you and me?"

For a moment some wild gleam of hope flashed in her eyes. Then she began to remember. One by one those damning facts, which she had all too unwillingly learned, came back into her mind. She shrank away. "I know too much," she answered, "too much that is terrible—already."

She turned away with her hand pressed before her eyes. When she raised her head, she was alone. Her lips were parted, almost she called him back. Then from the top of the house she heard her child's laughter.

"Mummy, do come up!" Sophy was crying. "Tell father to come up and see my beautiful nursery."

The hall door slammed. She saw his tall, thin figure disappear round the corner of the street. Then she commenced to ascend the stairs.



CHAPTER XVII.—UNDERSTANDING

IT was one of those curious functions, always popular and generally successful, when the aristocracy of theatreland unbends and is willing, even, to acknowledge the existence of the general public. There was a bazaar, sports, and a gymkhana, plentifully patronized by the ladies and gentlemen of the stage, and thronged with visitors from the outside world. Sophy, dressed in black, was standing underneath a tree, talking to some friends.

"Tell me," she asked the man who was nearest to her, "who is the dark woman in the wonderful cream-colored gown? She has the most beautiful figure I have ever seen."

The young man, Lord Ronald Grayson, gazed in the direction towards which she had moved her head. "My dear Sophy," he exclaimed, "that young lady is a celebrity indeed! That is Mademoiselle Josephine, the dancer from the Palace. You've seen her, of course?"

Sophy stood quite still for a moment. She was looking intently in the direction of the other woman. "No," she answered, "I seldom go to music-halls. I wonder if any one knows her. I have a fancy to talk to her for a minute or two, if it is possible."

"Easiest thing in the world," her companion replied. "Every one speaks to everybody here. I knew her by sight when she was about Paris with—"

He stopped short and bit his Up. "I beg your pardon," he said.

"You need not," Sophy assured him coolly. "With my husband, you were about to say, I presume?"

The young man was distinctly uncomfortable. Sophy, however, continued without any sign of embarrassment.

"I have heard many stories concerning that young woman," she said. "It would really interest me to talk to her. See, she is coming this way."

The young man lost his head. In a calmer moment he would have declined to act as intermediary. Sophy's tone, however, was a little insistent. He took off his hat and bowed low to Josephine, who held out her hand.

"It is Monsieur Lord Ronald, is it not?" she exclaimed. "I remember you quite well in Paris. You were a friend of Monsieur le Vicomte de Souspennier."

Lord Ronald murmured his assent. "You honor me by a recollection, Mademoiselle," he declared. "At this moment I am talking with the Vicomtesse de Souspennier, who admires your dancing very much. She has asked me to present you. Mademoiselle Josephine—the Vicomtesse de Souspennier."

Sophy inclined her head, graciously for her. But it was then that the unexpected happened. Josephine, who was thinner in these days, seemed suddenly galvanized into the likeness of a queen of tragedy. She stood perfectly still, her head thrown back, her tired mouth rigid, her eyes full of silent fires.

"I have had the great honor," she said, "to know Monsieur le Vicomte de Souspennier for many years. With his wife I decline acquaintance."

For several seconds no one of the three moved or spoke. Then Josephine walked calmly on. Sophy and her escort looked at one another in blank amazement. For a moment the former was conscious of a most extraordinary sensation. This woman had judged her! It was impossible!

Her companion's commonplace tone recalled her to the present. "I am really very sorry indeed, Vicomtesse," he gasped awkwardly. "I had no idea—that sort of people are generally so well behaved. I had no idea anything of the sort was likely to happen!"

"You are not to blame in any way," Sophy assured him quietly. "Let me sit down. I want to think. I don't understand."

He took her to a retired seat underneath some trees. He had just wit enough to remain silent. Sophy sat there with knitted brows. Wherever she looked, she seemed to see the face of the Frenchwoman. She seemed to see something in her eyes, to hear that curious inflection in her tone, always the same—judgment, accusation! She knew then that this thing would haunt her.

"Ronald," she said, turning to her companion, "I am going to be a trial to you this afternoon. I am going to ask you to do me another favor."

"You have only to ask," he murmured.

"You are to leave me this moment," Sophy said. "You are to go and find that Frenchwoman and you are to bring her to me, somehow or other—I don't care how. I must talk to her. Do you understand?"

"No, I'm hanged if I do!" he replied. "Supposing she won't come?"

"You must go down upon your knees to her," Sophy insisted. "It must be done. She is to come. I rely upon you."

"It is such a public place," he objected. "Can't I try and arrange a meeting somewhere else? Supposing there was a scene here!"

Sophy shook her head. "No other place would do," she declared. "It must be now."

The young man rose unwillingly to his feet. "Trying me a bit high, you know, Sophy," he grumbled. "However, what you say must be done."

He disappeared into the throng and was gone about ten minutes. When he returned, Josephine was walking by his side. Sophy rose to her feet as they came near.

"Mademoiselle," she said, "I want you, if you will, to be so kind as to forgive my persistence. You have a perfect right to refuse my acquaintance, but I want to ask you, even if we remain strangers, to be kind enough to answer me one or two questions."

"Madame," Josephine replied, "I am here to listen to what you have to say."

Sophy hesitated for a moment. Curiously enough, it was she who was ill at ease, and Josephine, still and cold, who was mistress of herself.

"Mademoiselle," Sophy began, "I am perhaps asking you too much, but I am going to be bold. It is difficult for me to talk with you here. Would it spoil your afternoon's enjoyment if I begged you to come home with me for half an hour? My house is at the corner of the park there, and my automobile is waiting. Lord Ronald will fetch it for me."

"I will come," Josephine agreed. "I miss no pleasure here."

The young man hurried off, and they followed slowly. In a few minutes they were in the car. In absolute silence they drove to the little house in Pont Street. In absolute silence Sophy ushered her visitor into her sitting-room.

"Tea in half an hour, Charles," she told the man, "and I am at home to nobody—to nobody at all, you understand. You will sit down?" she added, turning to her visitor almost timidly.

"In your house, Madame, I would rather not," Josephine replied. "We are alone here and not likely to be disturbed. Let me hear what you have to say to me. You think, perhaps, that I am ungracious. Let me tell you first of all, before you say a single word, that I, Josephine, gutter child, music-hall dancer—what you will—know no woman in the whole world whom I despise as I despise you!"

Sophy's hand touched her forehead. What manner of woman this was she could not divine. Her own sense of things seemed at fault. "I do not understand," she said quietly, "why you should have such feelings towards me. I should have thought that it would have been more natural if I—"

"Stop!" Josephine cried. "Before I answer a single one of your questions I tell you this, and if you do not believe me, then I leave your house and I speak with you no more. You know that I have been acquainted for many years with your husband, Monsieur Valentin, the Vicomte de Souspennier."

Sophy once more began to stiffen. "The affair is common knowledge."

"Then let me tell you this," Josephine continued, "and if you do not believe it, then I go, for there can be no more talk between you and me. Your husband has been the most chivalrous and the most generous friend a human being could have, but to me he has been no more than a friend since the day he took me from the gutter, had me taught dancing and paid for my education, because my antics before a café in the street amused him."

Sophy was beginning to tremble. She looked at her companion, and all that she felt was written very clearly in her face.

"Ah, I see!" Josephine exclaimed. "You are one of those to whom it is not given to understand. Now I am glad that I am here, for you shall be made to believe and you shall listen to many things. First of all, then, take that from your mind. Monsieur Valentin is not what you have ignobly thought him. Eleven years ago I met him, and he was kind to me. I loved him from the beginning. At first he laughed at me, then one night he grew serious —he had never spoken to me seriously before. I was fond of him and I was young, and I had had no bringing up at all, and I did not understand what there could be in life to keep me from him. And he tried to tell me. He tried to tell me that love did not come like that, that to misuse its gifts was one of the great unwritten sins of the world. And then I asked him whether he had never cared, and he told me no, but that, old though he was—he was not really old, Madame—he still hoped. And because he hoped he waited. And after that I was his companion, but we seldom spoke seriously again until after his visit to England, and then he told me that that thing of which he had despaired had come. Madame, it was you whom he loved."

"I—whom he loved!" Sophy faltered. "That may have been so—for a time. But—but you speak as though Valentin were a good man. Don't you know of the terrible life he lived, what an evil influence he was to my poor weak brother! Don't you know that he spent his whole estates in dissipation!"

"Madame," Josephine declared, "I think that of all the women I have ever met, you are the greatest fool. I did not think that any one of my sex could breathe and misjudge a man so utterly. Monsieur Valentin was always quixotic. He amused himself, it is true, in those days, by consorting at times with criminals, but never was he at any time a party to any act of injustice. I will tell you what he did; I will tell you the extent of his alliance with that nest of criminals in the Rue Druot. He had prepared for him a list of names—men of evil lives, mean men, wicked men—and these he had brought in and whipped, one by one, till they parted with money, which money he sent always to charity. Was there evil in this? One night your brother was presented to him at a café. I, too, was there. Your brother—bah! Do I not know the type! Monsieur Valentin, thinking to amuse him, took him to the Rue Druot and showed him one of these men being punished, how he whined for mercy, how he parted with money all of which was sent to the poor. It is true that that night your brother met the chief of that band of criminals, but what would you have? It was not Monsieur Valentin who encouraged him. The taint of the criminal was there in his blood. Such mild doings as he saw were nothing to him. From the first he made friends with the scum whom Monsieur Valentin would not have touched with the tip of his glove. Your brother, indeed! I tell you, Madame, that he was what you call decadent, rotten, long before Monsieur Valentin knew him."

There was a pause. "But afterwards," Sophy began—? Josephine threw out her arm. "There are things, without doubt, which I do not know! I am here to speak just what I have seen of the truth. You came to Paris with your husband to save your brother. Let me tell you this, Madame,—no one on earth except Monsieur Valentin could have saved him. They had him imprisoned, cur that he was, in the Silent Street—that is the barge they keep moored on the Seine, to which no man can come nor any depart without their permission. There were seven of them there with your brother, and out came Monsieur Valentin at the risk of his life. He pleaded for your brother to be given up to him. It was in vain. He would have fought, but that, too, was useless. Then he took the leader on one side and he tried to buy your brother's liberty. At first he was only scoffed at. Ah, you see, I know what happened, for I was one with them in those days! Finally the man Robert, against whom your brother had informed, named his price, and that price was every penny Monsieur Valentin possessed in the world. Monsieur Valentin paid and your brother was set free."

Sophy went staggering across the room and snatched up the Morning Post. Josephine's finger pointed to her. "Yes, yes," she cried, "it is there! Monsieur le Vicomte de Souspennier leaves for South America to-morrow morning. He may return, the papers announce, in three years' time. Madame, he will never return. Two days ago I saw him. 'Josephine,' he said, 'for me it is finished, the life. I go that the end may come sooner. In South America one may disappear, one may end one's life calmly and without scandal. And there is the little one.' Madame, when he spoke to me, he spoke as though to the grave, but I break faith and I glory in it. I break faith not for your sake, because I hate you for your coldness, your miserable lovelessness. You—you to have had the love of the best man in the world, and to have treated him as though he were a criminal!"

Then suddenly the positions reversed. Josephine broke down. She flung herself upon her knees, scorning the chair which Sophy pushed towards her, and beat with her hands upon the table. "Oh, how I hate you!" she sobbed. "How I have loathed you all these years for the way you have made him suffer!"

"He has not cared," Sophy whispered. "He came back here; it was the same thing over again."

"You lie!" Josephine almost shrieked. "He lived as a man should live, until that cursed brother of yours turned up again. Always the same! Always the same! Nothing but criminals! It was insanity, I tell you. I know myself the beginning of it here. It was your brother who found out Monsieur Valentin and besought his help. It was through him that Monsieur Valentin ever went near the Swiss House. He has saved his life more than once; saved him from being beaten a dozen times. I have heard Monsieur Valentin beg and pray to your brother that they might go abroad together, anywhere, and start life differently, but Monsieur Guy only scoffed. Listen! Listen, woman! But for your brother, Monsieur Valentin would never have been stripped of every penny he possessed. But for your brother, when he was forced to come to England he would have lived quietly, perhaps, but like those other great Frenchmen who were forced to leave their country years ago. He was giving French lessons, enjoying his afternoon papers and coffee and a cheap seat at the theater, when your brother found him out again. If he were not dead—if he were not dead, that brother of yours—I should curse him! Between you, you have wrecked his life. Never did I think that chains would drag me to your door. Now that I am here, I am glad to tell you these things—glad—glad to see you suffer! I'd like to feel, but for his sake, that you would spend every hour of your life, from now until you die, with a pain always at your heart-strings, knowing by day and remembering even at night, in your dreams, that you had broken the heart of a man who is as much your superior as those in Heaven are to those who walk upon the earth."

Neither of them knew how long the silence reigned that followed. Josephine was sobbing without disguise, with her head buried upon her arms, kneeling still at the table. Sophy had gone away alone to a quiet corner. The dog upon the hearth-rug yawned and curled himself up again. The clock ticked. The faint murmur of distant traffic came like a far-away echo into the room, where two women were living out a brief chapter of their lives. Then at last Josephine rose to her feet, and somewhere from the shadows Sophy came out, a strangely altered woman. Timidly she held out her hands. Josephine made no movement.

"No," she said, "I cannot do that—I cannot take your hands. I cannot feel any kindness toward you. I think that, where you stand, even though the tears are in your eyes, I think that if I dared I would strike you to the ground, because for one tear that dims your eyes, he has shed a thousand; for one half hour of suffering you have known, he has known a thousand. You are the good woman we hear about! Well—I do not envy you."

"Don't!" Sophy begged. "I did not know—I never understood. He should have told me."

Josephine laughed scornfully. "He—the proudest man who ever breathed—defend himself from your suspicions! If there were anything in your heart against him, why not go and beg for the truth? That is what, in my country, we do. But you—you are cold and hard. At the first whisper of suspicion you shrivel up, you draw away. It is perhaps a morbid pleasure you find in believing the worst of those you love, and in steeling your hearts against them. No, I do not touch your fingers, Vicomtesse! I do not think of you without a shudder. But I tell you this. Monsieur le Vicomte does not sail to-morrow. He sails on Saturday. For two days he is with his sister at Carlingford Court. God knows that I tell you this for his sake, and not yours!"

She let down her veil, picked up her muff.

"You will not let me thank you?" Sophy cried.

"Never!" was the fierce answer.



CHAPTER XVIII.—IN THE ROSE-GARDEN

VALENTIN'S farewell visit to Carlingford Court was not altogether a success. His sister was entertaining a large house-party, and she saw Valentin alone for a few minutes only on the night he had fixed for his departure. She asked him then, without any preamble, the question which had been burning in her mind for the last two days.

"Valentin," she said, "are you going to see Sophy before you leave?"

"No!" he replied.

"But the child," she protested.

"She spent three days with me last week," he answered, his voice wonderfully softer. "We went to Brighton together. It was the best thing I could think of. She seemed very happy. She is devotedly attached to her mother."

"Valentin, isn't there a chance? Of course, there is so much that I don't understand, and I know that Sophy—you see, until the last few years she lived so much in the country and alone—I know that she is a little narrow, perhaps, a little unforgiving, but if you went to her and really tried to make her see things differently, wouldn't there be a chance of patching things up, Valentin? I know what you mean when you talk of going to South America. You pretend to be very gay here and looking forward to it, but I haven't any faith in you. I believe you would just as soon go to Margate, if you were sure of not coming back."

"My dear Helen," he replied, "you are marvelous. Don't let us talk of this any more. You know, my one fault was—my one fault, note—that I was rather sentimental, or romantic—call it which you like. I went through life, as it seemed to me, waiting. I suppose I waited too long. When the time came, I expected too much. Of course, the thing is a gamble. Better by far to spread yourself out—an emotion here, a pleasure there; a kiss from one, a kind word from another. All these little joys, Helen, they make up a happy life. To risk everything in one great plunge is foolish."

She looked at him wistfully. She understood him very imperfectly, but in her way she loved him. "Valentin," she said, "you talk lightly. My own life has been so untroubled that I, perhaps, have not much understanding. And yet you have the look to me of a man whose heart is broken. Are you giving it up without one struggle? Sophy is in London still."

He smiled grimly. "I know it," he answered. "She is waiting until I have gone, to come down here."

"Call and say good-by to her, at least," she begged.

He nodded. "If I have time," he said, "I will certainly leave a card. Here comes your husband."

Their tête-à-tête was broken up. At dinner Valentin excelled even himself. Every one learned of his departure that night with regret. It was August—no weather for railway trains, he declared. He had ordered his motorcar for ten o'clock, to drive to London in the cool of the night.

He left the table early, with some excuse about his luggage. In the hall he hesitated. If the door into the gardens had not been open, he would surely have gone to his rooms, but not only was it open, but the moonlight lay upon the lawn, and the smell of the roses came traveling in. With a queer little sigh he passed out. The women, bareheaded, were wandering about on the lawns on the other side of the house. Valentin strolled down the terrace, and keeping in the shadow of the shrubs, skirted the rose-gardens and drew near to the ring fence which bordered the park. As he walked, he groaned to himself.

"After all these years!" he murmured. "After all these years!"

But indeed he seemed to have stepped back again. It was the same month; the perfumes which came to him with every puff of breeze were strangely reminiscent.

"It is a debauch, this," he muttered. "I shall carry the memory of this away with me and hate it."

He reached the sheltered seat and sank down. The cigarette case which came so naturally into his hands, went back again into his pocket. Here, at least, he was unseen. There could be no soul within sight. The mask might fall for a moment or two. He leaned forward, his face fell into his hands. Even though his eyes were closed, it seemed to him that the acute knowledge of his whereabouts was a thing from which he could not escape. A breath of west wind and the perfume of the lavender came to mingle with those poignant garden scents. Far away in the distance a dog was barking, a woman laughed from the other side of the house, a corncrake commenced its melancholy cry from the long grass before him. It was here that she had come to him; it was here that he sat and thought of her, his last night. To-morrow, at eleven o'clock, he sailed. He tried to think of the future—there was none. It was no use seeking for that enthusiasm which drives the traveler into strange countries; there was none of it for him. Escape only was what he sought.

The clock from the stables chimed the hour; it was ten o'clock. A second later he heard the starting of the engine, and his automobile was brought round to the front of the house. This was the end, then! He rose to his feet. For the first time he allowed himself to look across the park. He saw the path along which she had come. He gave a little start. By some curious mockery of fate there was a woman there now, coming nearer and nearer with swift, level footsteps; a woman in white, bareheaded; a woman—He gripped at the back of the seat. It was time, indeed, that he went away. His nerve, which had served him so well, was going; perhaps his brain, too! He covered his eyes for a moment and dropped his hand again. She was still there, this woman, walking with incredible swiftness, looking always towards him. Then his heart began to throb with a sudden fierceness. He was powerless to move; he stood and watched. She came—she even opened the little gate in the fence. He, the most gallant man on earth, took no pains to help her with the rusty fastening. She came on. Her face was clearly visible now, and there was a new, strange thing there.

"Valentin!"

"Sophy!" he murmured.

She held out her hand—she said not another word. She held out her hand and he knew that this was a living world, for her fingers were warm and soft, and they gripped his with all their strength.

"Come," she said.

She led him along. He was content not to speak. Perhaps if he spoke it would all disappear! It was some dream, something which he could not follow or understand, a mirage. If he spoke, it might go. So she led him, step by step, through the tangled maze of the flower garden, past that bed of lavender, whose perfume seemed to strike one more note of reality into those wonderful moments, to the summer-house. When they had reached it, her arms were suddenly around his neck. If he had not held her up, it seemed to him that she would have fallen upon her knees.

"Valentin," she cried, "I have been an ignorant, hard, cruel woman! I have not understood! I have been wicked about everything! I came here because I hoped that if I could find you, if I could bring you here and tell you that whatever you do, whatever you think will always be right, that I love you, that it seems to me I never knew what love was before—if I tell you this and you look into my eyes and you see how true it all is, that perhaps you will forgive."

"Forgive! . . . Oh, my God!" he exclaimed, taking her into his arms.

It was a tangled hour of sensations which followed. Now and then he seemed on earth, and earth was the fairest place he had ever known. And then it seemed unreal again.

"It was Josephine!" she whispered once. "It was she who made me understand."

By degrees his feet felt the earth. He was even able to laugh when he heard them searching for him, heard the motor-horn blow, saw them streaming through the gardens. She thrust her arm through his.

"Come," she said, "this way, quickly. We will go up to the house and the motor-car shall take us home. I have promised Sophy that you shall kiss her to-night before she goes to sleep." . . .

"Of all the extraordinary people!" Helen Carlingford exclaimed, when she saw them coming up.

The guests really understood very quickly. They melted away. It was only Helen who received them. She held out her hands. There was a smile upon her lips and tears of joy were in her eyes.

"Of course, you are both the most amazing people that ever lived!" she said, "but I am glad." . . .

They drove hand in hand through the country lane. The servants at the Old Hall welcomed him without surprise.

"You see, I had faith," she whispered. "I told them that you would be back to-night. You haven't forgotten the way to the nursery? Sophy is sleeping in the room next door."

But Sophy was wide-awake. She held out her arms and welcomed them. "Daddy," she cried, "how lovely! Are you going to stay here until it is our week again?"

Valentin took her into his arms. "Do you know, dear," he said, "we are afraid that it may interfere with your education to have you moving about so much, we are going to have the weeks all together, you and your mummy and I."

She kissed them both. Perhaps she understood!


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
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