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These six stories, under the general title of "The Whimsical Three," were originally syndicated in the USA in 1919-1920. Judging by the "open" ending of the last story, Oppenheim probably intended to write more stories in this series. So far, however, none have been discovered.
Credit and thanks for making this book available to RGL readers go to Gary Meller, Florida, who made and donated scans of his personal copy of The Little Gentleman from Okehampstead. The illustrations are from the syndicated versions of the stories as they were published The Chicago Sunday Tribune in 1920. —RG
IT was about half-past five in the afternoon when a taxicab with a moderate amount of luggage, palpably trans-Atlantic in origin, drew up before the Milan Hotel and its solitary occupant, brushing on one side the question of payment or instructions to the commissionaire, passed through the swing-doors and made his way towards the office. He carried a visiting-card in his hand, and his expression was one of bland, almost childlike, amiability. By the side of the reception clerk who presently accosted him, there seemed something almost pathetic in his lack of height and stature. He was, in fact, little more than five foot two and a half, and thin in proportion. His face was clean-shaven and lined, he wore gold-rimmed spectacles, and his hair was sprinkled with grey. His clothes were of the type called on this side "very American."
"Mr. Mendel Honeywood, my name is," he explained, looking hopefully up at the august person who had confronted him—"of New York. My friend Mr. Charles P. Disney recommended me to apply to you for accommodation. He stayed here for some time last spring, I believe."
The clerk bowed without comment. He was used to this ingenuous belief in the efficacy of such an introduction from trans-Atlantic visitors. However, he had rooms to let, and this applicant, if undistinguished, seemed at any rate harmless.
"We are very full, Mr. Honeywood," he said, in his well-known, doubting manner. "What class of accommodation did you require?"
"A bed and bathroom, any way," was the almost wistful reply. "I came over on the City of Florence. We had a wretched voyage, and I have, unfortunately, a weak stomach."
The reception clerk, without a word, turned over the pages of a book which lay on the counter by his side, tore out a green slip and scribbled a number upon it. A porter, hovering in the background, glanced at it and hurried out for the luggage.
"If you will come this way, Mr. Honeywood," the clerk observed, "I will show you your room."
The newcomer's gratitude was almost pathetic.
"Will you be so kind as to have the hall-porter pay the taxicab," he begged. "I am not yet thoroughly acquainted with the handling of English money."
Everything was done in accordance with Mr. Honeywood's wishes. In a few minutes he was seated in a very comfortable chair in a very comfortable room, watching the unstrapping of his suit-case by a porter with lingering propensities. Finally, with a gentle sigh, he handed out half-a-crown, and the man withdrew. The traveller was left to his own reflections—reflections which were apparently of a somewhat mixed character. He first of all surveyed his immediate surroundings with an air of satisfaction. Then he proceeded to a task not altogether so pleasing. He drew from his breast-pocket a note-book, shook it out, thrust his fingers into every partition and finally replaced it with a sigh. He then turned out and examined the corners of every pocket of his clothes, disclosing thereby a variety of useful but inexpensive articles, but not a single coin of the realm. Finally, he leaned back in his easy-chair with his hands in his pockets, and summarised the position.
"Free board and lodgings, say, for a week. So much to the good. An excellent address—also to the good. Not a darned cent to buy myself a drink with—very much to the bad!"
His mental stocktaking could scarcely be termed encouraging, but Mr. Honeywood was obviously an optimist. After a brief rest, he decided to make use of such luxuries as were afforded to him without payment. He thoroughly enjoyed a very luxurious bath, and dressed himself leisurely in black trousers and waistcoat, a white shirt, and a garment which he alluded to as a "tuxedo." His contemplated visit to the barber's shop he was obliged to abandon with reluctance, but he shaved himself with great care, and finally dallied forth and rang for the lift with a little more confidence than he had displayed in entering the hotel. His first need being for refreshment of a trans-Atlantic character, he inquired the way to the American Bar, and seated himself in an easy-chair in the small smoking-room adjoining.
The situation was not without its pathos. This little man of harmless and genial appearance liked cocktails, and many excellently mixed ones were being handed about on silver trays by an attentive waiter. To order one, give his number, and be told that this was against the rule, might jeopardise his position in the hotel, all the more important to him by reason of his financial position. To sit there and watch other men consuming what he so greatly desired, he felt, was fast becoming impossible. At that moment, however, Fate solved the question for him. A tall, exceedingly good-looking young man of distinguished appearance came through the swing-doors and passed on towards the bar. He was dressed for the evening in the height of fashion, his silk hat was just a trifle tilted on the back of his head, and he carried a silk-lined overcoat on his arm. He glanced at the disconsolate lounger as he passed, with the faintest expression of half-supercilious curiosity. Then a smile parted his lips, and he paused. Mr. Honeywood's answering smile of recognition was beatific and ingratiating.
"Cleaned you out the other night, didn't they?" the young man asked.
Mr. Honeywood glanced around as though to be sure that no one was listening.
"Every cent," he confessed sorrowfully. "I had to borrow the money to get here from the deck-steward."
His questioner laughed softly.
"Your first trip across?" he inquired.
"That's so," was the candid admission. "I'm in an insurance office. I was coming across for a short vacation."
"What did they rook you of?"
"Seven hundred dollars," the victim confessed, with a little choke, "and since you've been so kind as to speak to me, I might confess that I haven't a quarter to buy myself a cocktail."
The young man laughed, and threw his overcoat into a vacant chair in which he ensconced himself.
"Tim," he ordered, "two dry Martinis, quickly."
"This is exceedingly kind of you," Mr. Honeywood declared warmly. "I can assure you I very much appreciate it."
"Note of fellow-sympathy," his benefactor declared carelessly. "You're broke for a few hundred dollars, I'm the same for a few millions."
"But I beg your pardon," Mr. Honeywood asked timidly, "aren't you Mr. Van Clarence Smith?"
"That's my name."
"Then of course you're joking! Your family is one of the richest and most respected in the States."
"My family may be," the young man replied curtly, "but they've given me the chuck. However, that doesn't matter. Whatever induced you, with your limited knowledge of the world, to sit down and play bridge with such a gang?"
Mr. Honeywood coughed apologetically.
"If it had been poker," he explained, "I should never have dreamed of it, but as a matter of fact I play bridge every Saturday evening at the Okehampstead Golf Club, where I am supposed to play a very fair game. I quite expected to hold my own.... Ah!"
The cocktails arrived, and Mr. Honeywood gave himself up to a few moments' undiluted rapture.
"Bring a couple more, Tim," his companion directed, throwing a note upon the tray.
"I ought not to drink these," Mr. Honeywood murmured, "being dyspeptic. I seldom have the courage to refuse one, however."
"Even if you'd been able to play bridge decently," the young man continued, "you wouldn't have had the ghost of a chance in that crowd. Didn't you realise that there wasn't one of them who couldn't stack the cards as he chose?"
"I am rather good at card tricks myself," Mr. Honeywood said gently. "Where I went wrong was, I forgot that there would be three deals against one."
Mr. Van Clarence Smith paused in the act of raising his wine-glass to his lips. Then he laughed incredulously.
"Perhaps you are not such a greenhorn as you look, eh?"
"I should not have dreamed of playing unfairly except in self-defence," was the quiet remonstrance. "When I saw what was happening, I dealt myself a hundred aces and two kings, and my partner eight spades, with a card of re-entry. The worst of it was that before the deal came round to me again, the thing was over."
Mr. Van Clarence Smith laughed until the tears stood in his eyes. He sipped his second cocktail with far more appreciation than his first.
"What are you, anyway?" he asked bluntly. "One of the lads, eh?"
"I am in the insurance business," Mr. Honeywood replied mildly.
"Going to do any business over here?"
"If any opportunity should present itself,"
Mr. Honeywood confessed, "I should be only too thankful of the opportunity of replacing the amount I had set on one side for my holiday."
"I may look you up," Mr. Van Clarence Smith declared. "Care to borrow a fiver to keep you going?"
"It would be exceedingly kind of you, sir," was the grateful reply.
The scion of a princely house departed, but Mr. Mendel Honeywood, notwithstanding his dyspeptic condition, indulged in a third cocktail. Afterwards, he made his way into the grill room, and, humbly taking his turn to address a portly and Mogul-like individual who was busy dispensing favours to a little queue of clients, begged for an inconspicuous corner in which he could dine. Pleased with his humility, the great man made a tour of the room with his prospective patron at his heels. For once it appeared that the eternal shibboleth of the place was justified. There was not a single vacant table. The great man, however, was never beaten. He stooped and whispered in the ear of a youth who was dining alone, received an acquiescent reply, and swept around to his unassuming follower.
"This gentleman will allow you a seat at his table, sir," he announced.
The great man bowed and passed on, to receive with kindly patience the complaints of a duke, whose window table had been appropriated. Mr. Mendel Honeywood seated himself and bowed with his best Okehampstead manners to the young man whom he recognised at once as the type of the young Englishman of fashion immortalised in the comic papers of his country.
"It is very good of you to allow me to share your table, sir," he said. "The place seems full."
The young man scrutinised his companion through an eyeglass, and continued his dinner.
"Top-hole grub here," he remarked simply. "Regular flapper market, too."
Mr. Honeywood coughed, and ordered a modest meal. His companion called for the wine-list. Mr. Mendel Honeywood ventured to intervene.
"Sir," he said, "you have shown a most hospitable courtesy to a stranger about to take his first meal on British soil. Will you do me the favour of drinking a glass of wine with me?"
The young man closed the wine-list which he had been studying, and appeared to consider the proposition favourably.
"Will it run to pop?" he asked.
Mr. Honeywood appeared troubled. Light suddenly, however, broke in upon him.
"Champagne?" he exclaimed. "By all means! Do me the kindness to order a bottle. I know that your English taste is good. I myself am not acquainted with the best vintages."
The young man graciously consented, and ordered Pommery 1904, which matter being settled, he proceeded to engage his host in sprightly conversation.
"American, what?" he inquired.
"I am from Okehampstead, in Massachusetts State," was the genial reply. "My name is Horace P. Mendel Honeywood, and I am in the insurance business."
"Harold Underwood here," the young man confided. "I am articled to a lawyer. No end of a swat, what?"
"I have always understood that the study of the law in its initial stages is somewhat strenuous," Mr. Underwood remarked sympathetically.
"Sickening grind! . . . See those two old Johnnies over at the corner table by the door?"
Mr. Honeywood glanced in the direction indicated.
"Two middle-aged gentlemen, with somewhat fresh complexions? Yes, I see them."
"My uncles. Simply rolling in it. Fifty thou, a year each!"
"Pounds," the young man declared. "Both bachelors, both absolutely struggling to get rid of the 'oof.'"
Mr. Mandel Honeywood coughed.
"I congratulate you," he said.
"Not much good to me," Harold grumbled. "They stumped up for my education, and I can touch them for a bit now and then, but they've got what they call principles about me. They'll buy me a partnership in a firm of lawyers as soon as I have passed my final, but until then they've caged the 'oof-bird.'"
Mr. Honeywood was looking across the room meditative fashion.
"They seem pleasant and kindly gentlemen," he observed. "Are they in a general way close with their money?"
"Falling over one another to spend it," was the somewhat wistful reply. "Got some idea it's their duty to spend half their income."
"It seems a reasonable idea."
"They can't do it," the young man confided, emptying his glass and nodding towards the wine steward. "Simply can't do it. The poor old dears dabble in everything that's brought to them, but they can't even chuck it away. They've the devil's own luck. If a man thinks he's salted them for a bit, they come out on top before the deal's over. Their latest craze is for buying pictures. That ought to hit 'em up a bit."
"Are they bankers?"
"Tea and rubber plantations—millions of acres of them."
Mr. Honeywood sighed. Through his gold-rimmed spectacles his eyes seemed to be worshipping the two figures in the distance.
"I should much esteem the privilege of meeting your uncles, Mr. Underwood," he said humbly.
"What's that? Eh?" the young man asked.
"I should greatly esteem the privilege of shaking hands with English merchant princes of such standing," Mr. Honeywood declared.
Harold stared for a moment at his insignificant-looking little companion and smiled.
"Insurance business, eh?"
"I should not presume to address your uncles on that subject," Mr. Honeywood expostulated in a shocked tone. "Besides, I am on a vacation."
"You shall know the old boys, if it gives you any pleasure," Harold promised. "Drink up your wine, and we'll go and take our coffee with them."
Mr. Honeywood drank a brimming glass of champagne without flinching, signed his bill, laid down his tip like a man, and followed his young companion down the room. Harold's introduction was characteristic.
"Here's Cousin Jonathan at his rapidest wants to shake hands," he announced—"Mr. Mendel Honeywood of Okehampstead in the State of Massachusetts—absolutely his first appearance in England. Mr. Stephan Underwood, Mr. George Underwood. What-ho!"
Mr. Honeywood was almost eagerly deferential. The young man's uncles greeted him with their usual calm and unruffled courtesy.
"You will do us the favour of taking your coffee with us, sir," Stephen suggested.
"Two chairs, waiter," George Henry directed.
"Nothing doing with yours truly," Harold declared. "I've got a read on with old Swivels down at Lincoln's Inn. Bye-bye, everybody!"
"A most amiable young gentleman," Mr. Honeywood murmured, as he gazed at Harold's disappearing figure.
"Is your acquaintance with our nephew of long standing?" Stephen asked, as he superintended the filling of his guest's glass with the finest brandy.
"I only met him this evening," Mr. Honeywood acknowledged—, "in fact I am a stranger in England. I arrived here on my first visit this afternoon."
"A holiday trip, I presume?" George Henry inquired courteously.
"Not altogether," Mr. Honeywood replied a little dubiously. "This trip across was urged upon me by my wife and all my friends, for a definite purpose. Now that I have arrived, however, I still feel in great difficulty. Having been privileged to make your acquaintance, gentlemen, I wonder if I might venture to ask you for a word of advice?"
The little man's manner was so nervous and supplicating that both Stephen and George Henry endeavoured to adopt as encouraging an attitude as possible. Mr. Honeywood sipped his brandy and sat a little further on his chair.
"Your nephew," he began, "when he pointed you out to me, remarked that you are fond of pictures."
"We are certainly very fond of oil-paintings," Stephen admitted.
"Quite a hobby with us," George Henry murmured.
"I am myself," Mr. Honeywood confessed, "utterly and entirely ignorant of all branches of art. You have perhaps heard, gentlemen, of Mr. Ebenezer Chance, the great American railway millionaire?"
"The name seems familiar," Stephen conceded.
"Mr. Ebenezer Chance," his guest continued, "was a client of our company, the company in which I hold a very humble salaried position. It fell to my lot to attend to his business, and I was very frequently brought into contact with him. He always expressed himself in very kindly terms as to my efforts. Some years ago he built a magnificent mansion on the shores of the lake at Okehampstead, near where I have a very modest dwelling. He was exceedingly kind to me, and used often to invite me to wander over his gardens and his magnificent picture-gallery. Unfortunately, he became involved in the great railway crisis of last year, and before we could realise it he was a ruined man. On the night the news came out I happened to be wandering in his picture-gallery and found him standing there with folded arms.
"Mendel," he said to me.... He was very condescending and used often to call me by first name—"I am ruined."
I am a sensitive man, gentlemen, and I am afraid that I wept a few tears. He patted me kindly on the back, and, going up to one of the pictures which I had often admired, he cut it out of its frame with his pocket-knife, rolled it up and handed it to me.
"That'll do you more good than my creditors, Mendel," he said. "Be off with it as soon as you can, and when you try to sell it, sell it in Europe. The next morning, gentlemen, Ebenezer Chance was found dead in his bed."
"And the picture?" the brothers asked in unison.
"I told my wife the whole episode, naturally," Mr. Honeywood continued, "also, in confidence, certain of my friends. Their advice was unanimous. They told me to bring the canvas over here and dispose of it. That is the real reason of my visit to England, and it occurred to me, when your nephew happened to mention that you were fond of pictures, that I might trouble you so far as to ask you for the name and address if a reputable firm of dealers,"
"We will give you a list with the utmost pleasure," Stephen declared. "But where is this picture? Would it be possible for us to examine it?"
"We should, not, of course, take any advantage of you," George Henry put in hastily. "You need not sell it without referring the price to a dealer."
"Quite so," Stephen agreed. "We lie, as it happens, Mr. Honeywood, engaged in forming a small collection, to which your picture, with its history, might form a pleasing addition."
Mr. Hollywood's manner was never self-possessed, but at the present moment he was almost painfully confused. The colour streamed into his cheeks, almost to his temples. He looked down upon the tablecloth.
"Gentlemen," he faltered, "you shall see the picture, with pleasure. You shall see it before anyone. I only regret that it cannot be for a few days."
The brothers were a little puzzled. Mr. Honeywood broke in upon their hesitation. He lifted his head and spoke to them frankly.
"I shall tell you the truth, gentlemen," he decided. "After all, I have nothing to be ashamed of certain amount folly entirely due to inexperience. I am accustomed on every Saturday evening, and occasionally on wet Saturday afternoons, to play auction bridge with three friends of mine at the Okehampstead Golf Club, and am considered by them, and by my wife, to be a fair player. I found the time hang a little on the steamer, and one evening I was invited by three gentlemen to join them in a rubber of bridge. I was very grateful for their notice, but I ventured to ask what points they proposed playing. The reply was a dollar. I took this to mean a dollar a hundred, and although at home I have never played for more than twenty-five cents a hundred, the idea of the little companionship and sociability was so pleasing to me that I sat down to play. I lost the first rubber—five hundred points—and on tendering my twenty-five dollars, I found to my horror that these men, who were very wealthy, were playing dollar points, not a dollar a hundred, and that my indebtedness to them was exactly the amount of my letter of credit, namely five hundred dollars."
"Surely," Stephen asked, "they were willing to accept your explanation?"
"They were, I think, exceedingly hard upon me," Mr. Honeywood replied sadly. "They sent for the purser and I had to pay. To get down here, I was obliged to leave a portion of my luggage, including the picture, in pawn at Liverpool."
"Most unheard-of conduct!" George Henry declared. "The steamship company should have been written to."
"Outrageous!" Stephen concurred.
"It was rather a severe lesson," Mr. Honeywood sighed. "Of course, I had been fully warned not to join in any gambling game on the steamer, but a rubber of bridge with gentlemen of standing naturally did not seem dangerous. However, I have cabled home for funds, which I am sure my wife will send me in the course of a few days, and the moment my picture is released, I shall show it to you gentlemen."
Stephen glanced at his brother and met mute assent in his face.
"Might I inquire," he asked, "for what sum you left your luggage—er...."
"Ten pounds," Mr. Mendel Honeywood confessed.
Stephen produced his pocket-book.
"Let us be your bankers for the moment," he begged. "You can send this money off to-night, and come and see us with the picture on Thursday."
Mr. Honeywood blinked, took off his spectacles and rubbed them. Then he shook hands solemnly with both Stephen and George Henry, and pocketed the two five-pound rotes. He seemed at the moment incapable of speech.
"You will find us in suite sixty-nine," Stephen told him. "Pray do not exaggerate the importance of this little affair."
Mr. Honeywood rose to his feet. One again he looked very much like a small boy masquerading in his father's spectacles.
"It is not the amount," he said gently. "It is your trust and your kindliness. You will excuse me. I go to write my letter."
He made his way through the crowded room. George Henry and Stephen exchanged sympathetic glances.
"America, too, has its simpletons," the latter remarked.
A kindly little person in his proper place, George Henry acquiesced....
Mr. Honeywood, after an hour or two spent with Kelly's Directory, devoted the greater part of the next day to visiting various second-hand establishments where the cast-off trifles of an impoverished world are apt to accumulate, It was not until late in the afternoon, however, at a dingy establishment in Wardour Street, that he discovered something which seemed likely answer his purpose. A woman with flaming hair and bellicose appearance answered his timid inquiry.
"Have I any second-hand copies of old masters? Why, I've a room chock-full of them I brought up from the Fulham Road. Come in and help yourself."
Mr. Honeywood spent a dusty and energetic half-hour in the corner of the shop to which he had been directed. Handicapped by a complete ignorance of pictures and all that they stood for, he nevertheless had perceptions enough to discard without a second glance the flamboyant landscapes and fleshy nymphs and Venuses which stared up at him from canvas after canvas. It was not until he was nearing the end of the collection that he came to a sudden pause before a picture which he instinctively felt possessed the qualities he desired.
"What about this one?" he inquired.
"That one?" the lady with the flaming hair replied, a little disparagingly, as she brushed the dust off with her apron. "Well every one to their taste, of course, but I like a little more subject myself. We get too many of them invalid-looking ladies, nursing cherubs."
"What would be the price?" Mr. Honeywood ventured.
"It's one of a pair," was the somewhat doubtful reply. "The other's underneath."
Mr. Honeywood was proceeding to explain that he only needed one, when the words seemed suddenly to fail him. His companion had drawn out the other canvas and held it up.
It was the picture of a girl, standing in a stiff and artificial garden, a young girl apparently fourteen or fifteen years of age, whose eyes seemed at that moment to have been shyly and wonderingly raised. Mr. Honeywood took off his spectacles and wiped them.
"How much for the two?" he asked.
"Dunno as I ought to sell 'em at all," the woman answered. "Chap came rushing in here one night a few months ago, talking a lot of foreign gibberish. All I could make out was that he wanted the money to buy a ticket for somewhere. Six pounds I gave him. More than they're worth, perhaps, but I was alone in the shop and, though you wouldn't believe it, he scared me. I don't know now, whether he wanted to borrow money on them or to sell them outright."
Mr. Honeywood controlled his anxiety.
"If eight pounds," he began——
"Make it nine, dearie, and march off with them," the woman suggested.
Mr. Honeywood paid the nine pounds and escaped. He entered the hotel a little furtively and hastened to his room. He was conscious of a curious tingling of the fingers as he unfastened the strings of his parcel, and, without even a glance at the Madonna, drew out the picture of the girl. It seemed to him that he had stumbled upon something new in life. A strange content and pleasure thrilled in his pulses as he sat and gazed at it. The figure was immature, the costume quaint and mediaeval, its sex appeal entirely non-existent. Yet at the end of an hour, when very reluctantly Mr. Honeywood tore himself away from its contemplation, his sense of pleasure was unabated. With jealously careful fingers, he concealed it in the one place of absolute safety known to him. For the rest of the evening, with bread crumbs, India-rubber and a pair of scissors, he devoted himself to the other picture.
At half-past nine on the following morning, in accordance with an appointment made over the telephone, Mr. Honeywood presented himself at the the very handsome suite occupied by the millionaire brothers. They were both awaiting him; so also was another visitor, whose presence Mr. Honeywood noted with sinking heart. The brothers shook hands with him kindly, however, and cleared a place upon the sideboard for the picture.
"We have invited a friend of ours," Stephen observed—"Lord Grim, who is an expert judge of pictures—to have a look at your picture. You have no objection, I am sure?"
"Why should I have?" Mr. Honeywood asked ingenuously. "The more people see it the better. I shall then be able to get some idea of its value, if it has any."
"Most interesting story," George Henry remarked to the gentleman who had been introduced as Lord Grim. "This picture was cut out of its frame and presented to Mr. Honeywood by an American millionaire who was on the point of ruin."
Lord. Grim seemed a little bored. He was a tall, thin man, with a mass of white hair, but darker eyebrows. His face was the face of a dreamer, his mouth large and sensitive. He wore the fob and stock of bygone days, and lie leaned a little heavily upon a walking-stick, the top of which seemed to consist of a round and polished agate. A ring of the same shade of green was upon his third finger. The fingers themselves were yellow-stained with tobacco smoke.
"Indeed?" was his polite reply... "Ah!"
Mr. Honeywood displayed the picture, and there was a long—rather a curiously long silence. The first impression conceived by its possible purchasers was one of disappointment. The cracks across its surface seemed almost defacing, and the angularity of the woman's face, with its narrow chin and rather high cheek-bones was scarcely attractive. And yet, when Lord Grim, with a flick of his fingers, placed it in such a position that the light was neither too strong nor insufficient, they were both conscious of a peculiar fascination in the sad yet spiritual eyes, the tightly-drawn lips, the quaint air of aloofness from the rest of the world possessed by the central figure of the picture, aloofness even from the infant crouching at her bosom. Even its temporary owner, blinking at it from behind his gold spectacles, congratulated himself upon his choice. The presence of Lord Grim would probably prove fatal to his scheme, yet in a certain way he felt that he would be able to escape from a position which might have been embarrassing, without trouble or suspicion.
It was Stephen who broke the long silence.
"I like your picture very much indeed, Mr. Honeywood," he said. "Its condition appears to me to be a little dilapidated, but skilful handling and framing would no doubt alter that. How do you feel about it, George Henry?"
"The picture has charm," the latter assented.
"It is," Stephen continued, turning to Lord Grim, "a copy, I presume, of one of the lesser known 'Madonnas '?"
"I beg your pardon," Mr. Honeywood interrupted timidly, "I know nothing about pictures, but Mr. Ebenezer Chance used to pay immense sums for what he bought, and there is an idea amongst my friends, and my wife, too, who is very artistic, that it may not be a copy at all—that it may be what is known as one of the 'Old Masters.'"
"And what does your lordship think about that?" Stephen asked, appealing to the expert.
The latter, who was standing in the background, contemplating the canvas through a horn-rimmed eyeglass with a steadfast and peculiar absorption, advanced a little nearer at this direct appeal. He produced from his inner pocket and put on a pair of huge spectacles, with which he made a careful examination of the whole canvas. Finally, he answered Stephen's inquiry in a curiously vague and unconvincing manner.
"It is a very interesting piece of work," he pronounced. "I do not seem to recognise the name of the gentleman from whose gallery it came."
"It was an American railway man of the name of Ebenezer Chance," Mr. Honeywood told him.
"Could one communicate with him at all?"
Mr. Honeywood shook his head.
"Mr. Chance," he said, in a hushed tone, "is dead. He shot himself, a few days after his bankruptcy. The rest of his pictures were sold under the hammer. One or two them, I believe, realised as much as fifty thousand dollars."
"Do you know how this one was catalogued?" Lord Grim asked.
"I have no idea," was the regretful reply. "You see, although I take it that Mr. Chance had at that time a perfect right to make me this present if he desired, the creditors might no doubt be troublesome if it should by any chance turn out to be of great value. My object in bringing it to England, therefore, is to dispose of it without any reference to its history."
"You mean," Lord Grim persisted, "that you would not care to have me apply to Mr. Chance's executors for a history of this picture?"
"It might lead to grievous trouble, your lordship. I wish to dispose of it entirely for my own benefit. That, I am sure, is what Mr. Chance wished."
"Have you any idea as to the price?" Stephen inquired.
"I have not the slightest idea as to its value," Mr. Honeywood confessed, with childlike candour. "That being so, I scarcely know what to ask for it."
"What does Lord Grim say?" Stephen asked.
The critic knocked the ash from his cigarette.
"Well," he said, "my opinion is that we have here a particularly quaint copy of one of Perugino's 'Madonnas.' Its intrinsic value would be exactly according to how the picture happened to strike a would-be purchaser. I should expect, for instance, to find it in a dealer's shop for a matter of five guineas. I could quite understand a man who took a fancy to it, and could afford it, giving two or three hundred guineas. The copyist has caught more of Perugino's eh arm and mannerism than an ordinary daubster. For that reason, if it had not been against Mr. Honeywood's wishes, I should rather like to have traced the history of the picture."
Mr. Honeywood looked very much like a child who is going to cry.
"You do not consider the possibility, then," he asked, in a lachrymose tone, "of its being an original?"
"The idea, I must confess, did occur to me," Lord Grim admitted, "and I believe it is a fact that there is one 'Madonna' unaccounted for, having a certain peculiarity in the fingers of the left hand, which peculiarity is also present in this canvas. So far as I know, however—and I believe my knowledge to be unassailable—no Perugino 'Madonna' has ever left Europe for America, That is why I am compelled to look upon it as an extraordinarily ingenious copy."
"What would it be worth," Mr. Honeywood asked in an awed whisper, "if it were an original?"
"I should say," Lord Grim replied deliberately, "about ten thousand pounds."
Mr. Honeywood sighed.
"I am afraid it is going to be a very difficult thing for me to dispose of," he said lugubriously. "According to Lord Grim, it is worth either five guineas or ten thousand pounds. Does your lordship think," he added, turning to the latter, "that I could find anyone who could tell me for certain what its value is?"
"It would not be easy," Lord Grim admitted, "and in face of your story I am afraid there would be a considerable difference of opinion. I should recommend you to put it up at Christie's, but I must warn you of this—you will find a great many more people who, in the light of its present history, will laugh at it as a daub, than you will believers in its genuineness or even its beauty."
Mr. Honeywood studied his possession dolefully.
"If only it had been a parcel of railway stock," he sighed, "so that I could have settled it up once and for all, and enjoyed a short holiday here!"
"Well, well," Stephen suggested, "do you feel like a little speculation? What do you say, George Henry?"
"I like the picture," the latter declared.
"Let me have one word with you two gentlemen," Lord Grim begged.
Stephen waved him away.
"Before Mr. Honeywood, if you please, your lordship," he insisted. "If you think that the canvas may possibly be an original, say so openly. If you are sure that it is only a copy, well, tell us so. As you know, my brother and I are not commercial in our purchases. We like this picture. If Mr. Honeywood cares to fix upon a price which is not absurd from either point of view, we will buy it. Think it over, sir . . . think it over. Decide for yourself what sum would make you quite comfortable and happy, and we will tell you at once whether we care to give it."
The proud possessor of the picture blinked behind his gold spectacles, looked foolishly from the canvas to Lord Grim, and back again at the brothers.
"My wife and I," he blurted out at last, "used to think that we should be perfectly happy if we could get a thousand pounds for it."
"Very well," Stephen agreed. "Write down upon a piece of paper, Mr. Honeywood, that you sell us the picture for a thousand pounds, having calculated the chances of its being an original or a copy, and I will write you a cheque."
"As your technical adviser," Lord Grim put in, "I feel it my duty to point out to you that, taking Mr. Honeywood's story as being strictly accurate, you are probably paying nine hundred and ninety-five pounds more than its value."
"Its value to us, Lord Grim," Stephen said simply, "will consist largely in the pleasure my brother and I may derive from looking at it. We have both come under its charm. Shall I write out the cheque, Mr. Honeywood?"
"If you please, sir. Kindly deduct the ten pounds you were good enough to advance to me."
Stephen, with George Henry looking over his shoulder, wrote out, signed and blotted the cheque. He handed it over to Mr. Honeywood, who had also been writing on a half-sheet of hotel note-paper.
"Now, sir," Stephen said, "let this be clearly understood between us. I am giving you a thousand pounds for that picture. If it turns out to be an original, and worth ten thousand pounds, you are still satisfied with the bargain you have made. If it turns out to be a copy, and worth a mere bagatelle, we are still satisfied."
"I have endeavoured to express those sentiments, sir," Mr. Honeywood pointed out, "upon this sheet of paper. I return you, gentlemen, my most humble and hearty thanks for your kindness."
The little man from Okehampstead bowed himself out of the room, called for his hat, and drove off to the bank upon which the cheque was drawn. Stephen, George Henry, and Lord Grim remained looking at one another for a moment in a somewhat embarrassed silence.
"I suppose, your lordship," Stephen said pleasantly, "you think we have been throwing our money away, eh?"
Lord Grim withdrew his eyes reluctantly from the canvas which he had been studying.
"I think you have made a very remarkable purchase," he pronounced enigmatically.
MR. MENDEL HONEYWOOD, fresh from the attentions of a barber, and neatly attired in his dinner-suit, entered the smoking-room of his hotel at seven o'clock that evening, looking very much like a boy tasting the first delights of his holidays. He cheerfully obeyed the summons of Mr. Van Clarence Smith, who motioned him to a place by his side. The divan was rather high, and Mr. Honeywood's small feet, encased in their trim court shoes, hung suspended in the air.
"You're looking chirpy, little man," the great American vouchsafed.
"I am feeling in good spirits, sure," was the prompt reply. "Allow me to return you the five-pound note you were good enough to loan me. Tim, two—extra dry."
"Flush, are you?" was the somewhat inquisitive inquiry.
"I have made a fortunate business deal," Mr. Honeywood confessed modestly.
"No, pictures—or, rather, a picture," was the somewhat hesitating admission.
"Know anything about them?"
"And you made money on the deal?"
"Nine hundred and ninety-one pounds," Mr. Honeywood confided. "It was not difficult."
"On the square?"
Mr. Honeywood was a little hurt.
"I am sorry that you should ask that question," he said primly. "The transaction was a perfectly legitimate one."
Lord Grim, having the air of a very unaccustomed visitor in such places, came slowly through the room on his way from the bar, peering about him. He recognised his acquaintance of the morning with an inscrutable smile and made his way at once to the divan upon which the two men were seated,
"Good-evening, Mr. Honeywood," he said.
"Good-evening, Lord Grim," the little mail replied, rising to his feet. "Make you acquainted with my friend, Mr. Van Clarence Smith—Lord Grim."
The newcomer acknowledged the introduction with the faintest indication in his manner of its irrelevance.
"I have been looking for you, Mr. Honeywood," he said, seating himself in a corner of the divan. "Now that the commercial side of the transaction is concluded, I am anxious, for a very special reason, to ask you if you know anything of the history of the picture—or the original?"
Mr. Honeywood shook his head.
"Beyond what I told you and Mr. Underwood, nothing."
"The original was stolen, with one other, from the collection of a Count Andrea di Marioni," Lord Grim announced, his voice subsiding into a lower key. "The thief is supposed to be the Count's valet, who murdered his master, disappeared with the pictures, and has never been heard of since."
"Was this lately?" Mr. Honeywood inquired.
"Only a few months ago."
"It is a very hideous story," Mr. Honeywood remarked, with a little shiver. "I have always felt convinced, myself, that the picture which I have just sold Mr. Underwood was a masterpiece. I am quite sure, however, that my friend Mr. Ebenezer Chance had no dealings with criminals. He was a very devout and ardent Wesleyan."
Lord Grim dropped his eyeglass and polished it for a moment. It became more than ever evident that he was suffering from in attack of nerves. His fingers shook, and there was a quaint wistfulness in his voice.
"Dealing in pictures," he pronounced, "is a very complicated and sometimes a romantic business. Negotiations are very seldom conducted at first-hand, and the wise man asks no questions. What I wish to say to you, Mr. Honeywood, is this. If by any chance your friend Mr. Ebenezer—Ebenezer——"
"Chance," his listener put in softly.
"Mr. Ebenezer Chance—became possessed of the other stolen picture and cared to employ you as his agent, I should be very happy to have the opportunity of discussing its purchase under any conditions agreeable to you."
Mr. Honeywood looked somewhat distressed.
"I fear," he regretted, "that my dear friend's collection is now dispersed. I believe that I told you the unfortunate circumstances under which the canvas which I showed you this morning came into my possession."
"Quite so, quite so," Lord Grim assented. "Still, Mr. Honeywood, will you bear in mind what I have said? I am not a rich man but I am not a mean man, and as regards the purchase of any picture upon which I have set my heart, I have no conscience. My address is 71, St. James's Street. Good-evening, Mr. Honeywood."
Lord Grim rose to his feet and strolled away. Mr. Honeywood gazed after him for a moment, and then sipped his cocktail thoughtfully.
"God bless my soul!" he murmured.
"Who the mischief is Ebenezer Chance?" Mr. Van Clarence Smith demanded.
"There is no such person," his companion confided. "I made him up."
"Where did you get the picture from which you sold this morning, then?"
"From a second-hand shop not far away," Mr. Honeywood replied, making signs to the waiter with reference to their empty glasses. "You see, this is what happened. I made, quite by accident, the acquaintance of two wealthy gentlemen who have commenced to collect pictures. I ventured upon a little romance—a millionaire client, to whom in my small way I had been useful, and whose mansion was close to my own humble abode in Okehampstead, and who, on the night before his suicide and bankruptcy, cut from its frame and presented me with a picture, which I had brought to Europe to sell."
"They swallowed that?"
"Oh, yes!" Mr. Honeywood replied, his eyes widening a little. "They asked to see the picture, but I explained that I had had to pawn my things to get here from Liverpool. Mr. Underwood kindly lent me ten pounds to extricate them, and with this ten pounds I bought the picture and another one, in Wardour Street. It was really a very attractive canvas."
Mr. Van Clarence Smith was deeply interested.
"Say, let me get at this! You pitched in that yarn about having brought the canvas from America, you bought this picture with the money he lent you to get it out of pawn, and you sold it for a thousand pounds on the strength of that cock-and-bull story of yours! Shake hands, Mr. Mendel Honeywood. You're the man I've been looking for!"
"There was a great deal of fortune about the transaction," Mr. Honeywood said modestly. "Perhaps the most singular part of it is that we all seem to be satisfied."
Mr. Van Clarence Smith shook with laughter.
"Come in and dine with me, little man," he insisted. "I'm not going to lose sight of you."
FURTIVELY, like sinister shadows escaped out of the fog-hung thoroughfare, the two figures, the man and the woman, paused in front of the gloomy shop in Wardour Street. On the threshold they hesitated. The woman gripped her companion's arm.
"Is it here?" she whispered.
"Here," he assented.
"How I tremble!"
"Be brave," he muttered hoarsely. "It will be over in a minute."
"Supposing," she faltered, "there have been inquiries!"
He bent down as though to examine some ancient and discoloured jewellery in the window.
"If a thunderbolt should come from heaven and kill us," he said, "that is the end. If the pictures have been traced here, that again will be the finish. But I do not believe it. Courage! Follow me."
He lifted the latch and they entered. The interior of the shop, lit only by a single gas-jet, was almost as uninviting as the dismal streets outside. Little patches of fog seemed to hang about in the distant corners. The articles for sale had all a tawdry and unclean look. There was a musty smell of discarded and moth-raided garments. The man noticed none of these things. There was a little quiver of relief in his pulses. The woman with the flame-coloured hair looked up from the book in which she had been writing, and stood expectantly behind the counter.
"We have come to see you," the man began in a low tone, "concerning some pictures which were left with you in May last."
"Some pictures?" the shopkeeper repeated.
The woman who had entered with the man, took up the conversation.
"There were two of them," she explained. "They were left here on the 13th of May last by William Lane. You lent him six pounds upon them."
The woman behind the counter nodded shortly.
"William Lane he called himself," she observed. "Some sort of a foreigner I reckoned him."
The inquirer nodded. She had not lifted her veil, and her voice sounded a little thick and smothered.
"That does not matter, does it?" she went on. "With great generosity you lent him six pounds upon them. He cannot return to this country. He is very ill."
"He is dying," the man put in.
"Dying," his companion repeated. "Therefore, when he knew that we were coming to London, my husband and I, he gave me this paper and the six pounds, and some more money for interest, and we promised that we would send him back his pictures."
She fumbled in the little bag which she was carrying, drew out a slip of paper which she laid upon the counter, and held some notes tentatively in her hand. The shopkeeper picked up the former and read it:
This is to entitle the bearer to redeem on my behalf the pictures deposited at Atkins', number 17, Wardour Street, as security for a loan of £6.
(Signed) William Lane.
"Yes," she said, putting it down, "that's all right, but it comes a little late."
The man, who had been standing in nervous silence, his hat drawn over his eyes, his ungloved hand playing with his beard, gave vent to a sudden hoarse exclamation. The woman's eyes glowed beneath her veil.
"Too late?" she repeated. "What do you mean?"
"I mean that I have sold the pictures," the shopkeeper declared, a note of belligerency already creeping into her tone. "There was nothing said about how long I was to keep them. Times are bad, and it's more than six months ago since they were left here."
There was a moment's intense silence. The woman seized the back of a chair, dragged it round and collapsed into it.
"But you had no right to do that," she protested. "The pictures were only left with you as security. They were quite valuable—"
"Can't help that," the shopkeeper replied. "I sold the two for nine guineas. I don't want any profit. You pay me a sovereign for the loan and I'll hand you back the balance—"
"The balance," the woman repeated—"two pounds!... My God!"
Tho man suddenly struck the counter with his fist.
"Ain't it!" the shopkeeper retorted. "I'm not so sure of that! Anyway, I've no more time to stand here jawing. I sold the pictures and that's the end of it. If you're going to make a disturbance, we'll have the policeman in. He's a friend of mine, and there he goes on the other side of the road."
Somehow or other, the man and the woman stumbled out of the shop. Flushed
with triumph, the shopkeeper watched them disappear into the fog. Then she
took up the
two pounds which they had left upon the counter, threw it into the till, and locked
it up. The honours remained with her.
MR. MENDEL HONEYWOOD, the little man from Okehampstead, U.S.A., was lunching with his friend, Mr. Van Clarence Smith, at a window table in the Milan grill-room, one morning a few days later. At the next table, a man and a woman, olive-skinned, black-eyed, listened for the crumbs of their conversation. A little further away, Lord Grim, the collector of nameless pictures and the autocrat of Christie's, ate a solitary meal with a newspaper propped up in front of him.
"I wonder," the great Mr. Van Clarence Smith asked his companion a little curiously, "what really brought you to Europe?"
Mr. Honeywood was quite ingenuous and straightforward about the matter.
"You cannot wonder more than I do," he confessed. "For fifteen years I lived with my wife a life of absolute and flawless respectability. I attended church twice on Sundays. I owned my home. I took my wife buggy-driving on fine evenings. I played golf once a week, my salary was five thousand dollars a year, and I was looked upon as the If steadiest man in the office. Yet all the time there must have been something inside me dragging me out of the ruts. I used to idle away valuable minutes of the day, hanging around the tourist offices, looking at the coloured photographs of steamers crossing the ocean. I used to stuff my pockets full of pamphlets containing information about tours to all sorts of impossible places. The week before I came away, the manager of our company called me into the office. He told me that they had decided next year to give me a rise of five hundred dollars and the management of a small branch office. My wife was delighted. She proposed that we should sell our buggy and buy a Ford. She had no further ambition."
"You've still got me puzzled," Mr. Van Clarence Smith declared frankly.
"What I don't understand myself," was the quiet reply, "it is scarcely possible that you would. I only know that the day after that interview I realised all my savings and placed them in the bank in my wife's name. I kept exactly five hundred dollars, and I landed in London with half-a-crown. I lost the rest at bridge on the steamer."
"What sort of a woman is your wife?"
Mr. Honeywood coughed, and looked down at his plate.
"She is a little older than I am," he said, "and when I married her she was what is called a fine woman. She is now heavy—very heavy. Her sight is unfortunately bad and she wears glasses. Ever since we were married she has laboured under the impression that I am deaf, and in our little house and garden her voice follows me wherever I go."
Mr. Van Clarence Smith was no longer puzzled.
"Does she know where you are?" he asked.
"She has no idea," Mr. Honeywood replied. "If she should discover, I must move on. I am employing an hour a day in studying the French language. At the same time, I do not think that my wife would venture upon the sea. She has a horror of travelling."
Mr. Van Clarence Smith smiled curiously, his interest in his companion remained unabated..
"You're a queer little chap," he remarked, "to take a plunge like this. I still don't quite see——"
"You wouldn't," Mr. Honeywood interrupted hastily. "I can't understand it myself. I only know that day by day things lost their savour for me. I didn't care about my seat in front of my roll-top desk, the details of my business, my luncheon-club, the ride home in the cars, our stiff evening meals—my wife never allowed liquor in the house—nor any damned thing I had to do. I just felt that I wanted to tear off the coat of respectability I'd kept buttoned around me all my life, trample it underfoot, get rid of all that the President of our Company used to call the moral principles of a business man's life. I just felt I had to go on an everlasting bust, or quit it for good and all. I chose the former."
"You're some sport," Mr. Van Clarence Smith declared, with a sort of humorous admiration. "You've made a pretty good start amongst the boys, too. What are you going to do about the other picture?"
At the word "picture," the couple at the adjoining table suddenly broke off in the middle of a spirited conversation. They both listened. By some curious coincidence, Lord Grim, although well out of ear-shot, at I that moment laid down his paper and glanced across the room.
"I have not decided," Mr. Honeywood replied.
His companion frowned slightly.
"I wish you'd make up your mind. The fact is," he went on, dropping his voice a little, "I've a scheme of my own coming on which I thought you might take a hand in."
"I shell be honoured," Mr. Honeywood murmured.
"You can quit that attitude once and for all," Mr. Van Clarence Smith insisted. "You want to put it right out of your head that I am a Van Clarence Smith My family have chucked me. Their name is the only asset I have left. In a sense, I am exactly in your position when you landed in London with half-a-crown. And I need money very badly."
"I must try to get this into my head," Mr. Honeywood said slowly. "For myself, my tastes and my ways of life are simple, but more than anything else I need what I have missed throughout the whole of my life. I need excitement."
"Some sport," Mr. Van Clarence Smith remarked approvingly.
"I don't know about that," was the modest rejoinder, "and I don't know as I have any particular ability. All I can promise is that you won't make me afraid."
Six foot four of fine young manhood looked curiously at five foot two of insignificant middle-age. There was not a strong line in Mr. Honeywood's face. Even his eyes blinked frequently behind his gold-rimmed spectacles. Yet those simple words were spoken with a certain measure of inspiration.
"Shouldn't wonder if you weren't right," Mr. Van Clarence Smith decided. "I wish you'd get this picture off your mind."
Again, at that word "picture," the couple at the next table, mastering their eagerness with such powers of self-control as they possessed, paused in their feast and listened. Lord Grim, who had finished his luncheon, paid his bill and came strolling down the room. He stopped in front of the table at which the two men were seated, and Mr. Honeywood received him genially.
"Say, you know my friend Mr. Van Clarence Smith, don't you?" he asked. "We were thinking of taking our coffee in the lounge. Won't you join us?"
Lord Grim accepted without hesitation, Mini Mm three men left the restaurant. The eyes of the man and the woman who had been listening met. A little gasping breath seemed to come through the teeth of the former.
"That is Milord Grim, who used to come to the house of the old Count and sit with him for hours before the picture," he muttered. "He is on its track. That is why he speaks with the little man."
"And we?" she exclaimed, throwing out her hands. "Four days we have stayed here, without result. To-morrow the bill. We have no money and you do nothing. We had better go away."
"Back into service?" the man whispered fiercely. "Back and give up the reward of what I did? Nurse my spectre, and yet live here under these grey skies, a slave?"
The woman shrugged her shoulders.
"If you are not man enough," she murmured, "if you have not brains enough—As for me, there is always escape."
He leaned across the table. Fortunately for him, perhaps, there was no one who saw what flashed from his eyes into hers.
It did not need even the smothered words, spoken in his own language. The woman shivered.
"Succeed, then," she faltered, rising to her feet. "That is the simplest way."
THERE happened to be only a sprinkling of people in the lounge that afternoon, and Lord Grim somewhat eagerly directed the attention of his companions to an empty corner, hemmed in by a gigantic palm. Here coffee and liqueurs were ordered and consumed, the picture dilettante talking at random, and drawing a strangely-shaped ring round and round his long, nervous fingers. His soft white hair was more unkempt than usual, and his pallid cheeks were flushed. He had tho manner of a man disturbed by unsettling thoughts.
"Mr. Honeywood," he said at last, a little abruptly, "can I, before I leave, be favoured with five minutes' private conversation with you?"
"Sure, if it is necessary," was the affable reply. "My friend here don't count, though. He happens to know all about my little picture enterprise."
"In that case," Lord Grim declared, with a courteous little bow, "I have no objection whatever to Mr. Van Clarence Smith's presence."
"Then let her go," Mr. Honeywood invited, helping himself to a cigar.
"The circumstances," Lord Grim began, "under which I was requested to give my opinion upon the picture which you sold to Mr. Underwood, have precluded my making any inquiries as to the truth of the story—a very ingenious story, Mr. Honeywood—by means of which you explained your possession of it. I therefore appeal to you as man to man who cannot possibly hurt one another—who may, on the contrary, be of great service to one another—was that story true?"
"An entire fabrication," Mr. Honeywood confessed simply. "No one is supposed to tell the truth about pictures, are they?"
Lord Grim's satisfaction shone out of his face.
"You are behaving like a man of sense," he declared eagerly. "You remember that I told you at the time the history of the original picture—that it was stolen from the collection of Count Andrea di Marioni in Berkeley Square, who was murdered by his valet."
"Leave it at that," Mr. Honeywood begged. "Go on."
"There were two pictures stolen."
"There are two," Mr. Honeywood corrected.
Lord Grim's eyes flashed.
"You have brought me to the point," he assented. "Where is the other one?"
"In my possession," Mr. Honeywood admitted, "and I should very much like to get rid of it profitably. Does that simplify the matter?"
"Immensely! But tell me how you came across them," Lord Grim asked hoarsely.
"Luck," Mr. Honeywood acknowledged. "I had an introduction to a Mr. Underwood, learned that he was very wealthy and commencing a collection of pictures. I, on the contrary, am a pauper, and commencing a new career. I invented the story you know of, and ransacked the second-hand shops of London for a picture which might look worth more than it was. I found two. One I disposed of. The other I kept. I was only sorry," Mr. Honeywood added regretfully, "that I had not framed my story to Mr. Underwood so as to include two."
"I will buy the second one," Lord Grim exclaimed.
"And I shall certainly sell it to you," Mr. Honeywood agreed, "only, although you may not think it," he went on, "I like to deal upon the square. The possession of this picture might lead to trouble."
"What do you mean?" Lord Grim demanded.
Mr. Honeywood sighed gently. There was something exceedingly quaint about his lack of stature as he leaned back in his easy-chair between his two long-limbed companions, his feet dangling in the air and a cigar of unusual length between his teeth.
"I do not know why," he complained, "but more than one person, since I arrived In England, has taken me for a fool. There are a man and a woman in this hotel who seem to know about my picture. The woman," he went on, with puckered forehead, "has made overtures to me of a friendly nature. Her companion is always prowling about the corridor, and has already, I believe, subjected my room to a search."
Lord Grim was looking through the screen of drooping palm leaves as one who sees a ghost.
"Until," Mr. Honeywood went on, with a little sigh, "I became convinced of the existence of some ulterior motive, I was induced to flatter myself that the lady was taking a kindly interest in me. When her husband's attention is directed elsewhere, she has a most wonderful smile."
"I know the two whom you mean," Lord Grim said slowly. "They sat near you at luncheon-time. The face of the man haunted me. I know now who it is! It is the man who murdered Count Andrea di Marioni and stole those pictures!"
"I am not in the least surprised," Mr. Honeywood assented. "He looks as though he would murder any one."
"But where do you keep the picture?" Lord Grim demanded anxiously. "The man is desperate or he would not risk coming here."
"The picture is where he will not find it," was the confident reply. "The question is, what are you going to do now?"
Lord Grim finished his cigarette and lit another. He smoked for a minute thoughtfully. Mr. Van Clarence Smith, whose interest in the whole affair was growing, leaned forward.
"Guess you'll have to hand him over to Scotland Yard, eh?"
Lord Grim waved the suggestion on one lido.
"In that case," he reminded the two men, "the picture would be traced and would go back to the Marioni family, the present representatives of which live in Italy. If I commit murder for it myself," he went on slowly, "that picture shall not leave England."
Mr. Honeywood knocked the ash from his cigar.
"Kind of queer," he reflected, "how some of you collectors get stuck on certain pictures."
Lord Grim's voice trembled for a moment.
"There are just two or three pictures in the world," he said, "which possess an influence greater than anything words can describe, an influence over certain men, that is to say. The 'Mona Lisa' was one. This picture you have is another."
"It's a young girl," Mr. Honeywood explained amiably, "saying her prayers in a garden."
"It is a picture of the Madonna in her youth," Lord Grim said reverently, "painted by a man named Salvini. He painted that one picture and died."
The man and the woman came down the stairs into the lounge and glanced towards the trio. The woman remained cool enough, but the man showed something very like agitation. They seated themselves at the nearest table and ordered coffee. The woman turned and looked once at Mr. Honeywood from underneath her eyelids.
"I guess they want that picture bad," the latter remarked, pinching a fresh cigar.
"Mr. Underwood," Lord Grim said, "gave you a thousand pounds and a letter of indemnity for your Perugino. I am not a rich man. For years my pictures have been only a hobby with me, and an expensive one. I will give you a thousand for the present one, and a similar undertaking. If a thousand pounds is not enough, say so, and I will go and see what I can borrow."
"Say, they'd skin you alive in the States If you tried to do business that way!" Mr. Honeywood exclaimed. "A thousand pounds is plenty for me. It's a deal."
Lord Grim did not hesitate. He rose to his feet at once.
"In an hour," he promised, "I shall bring you the notes."
The two watched his departing figure. So did tho man and his wife who were
seated a few yards away. Then, a moment later, Van Clarence Smith rose to his
feet with a
"Gee, but this is some mix up!" he muttered. "Look out for sparks, little man!"
Two very beautiful women, the advance guard of a luncheon-party issuing from the restaurant, came strolling down the broad, carpeted way. One was fair, Saxon, an Englishwoman who had learnt the art of wearing French clothes; the other, dressed in deep mourning, with pale features and large brown eyes, had the air of a foreigner. Her smile was almost dazzling as she held out her hand to Van Clarence Smith.
"How are you, Countess?" he said. "And you, Lady Felicia?"
"Over-fed," the latter replied. "I didn't see you in the restaurant."
"I was lunching in the grill-room with a friend from the other side. Let me introduce Mr. Honeywood—Lady Felicia Lakenham, the Countess of Marioni."
"Pleased to meet you, ladies," was Mr. Honeywood's hearty greeting, accompanied by an unexpected handshake.
"Mr. Honeywood's first visit to England," his companion murmured.
Even in that moment of temporary embarrassment Mr. Honeywood was conscious of the greater things. He glanced around. The two figures in deep mourning had left their places. He fancied he could see them making their stealthy way to a distant and deserted reception-room, fancied that he could even realise the vibrating thrill of terror left behind them. Then the two women passed on, to mingle with their follow-guests. Mr. Honeywood and his companion slowly walked up the stairs.
"That was a narrow shave for our friends!" the latter observed. "A glance to the right, and tho Comtessa would have recognised her father's murderer and her discarded maid."
"What are you going to do about it?" Mr. Honeywood inquired.
Mr. Honeywood drew a little sigh of relief.
"You mean that, sure?"
Mr. Van Clarence Smith was emphatic.
"Honeywood," he said, "you are one of the noble army of crooks. So am I. This is your set-up and I shan't interfere. Very soon I am going to propose to you, with reference to another little scheme I have in my mind, something in the nature of a partnership."
Mr. Honeywood beamed. Incredulity, however, struggled with his satisfaction.
"I can't quite grasp your position yet, and that's a fact," he confessed. "Your name alone stands for millions."
"My name happens to be my only asset," was the grim reply. "Now show me where you have hidden the picture."
They made their way to a modest apartment upon the sixth floor. Mr. Honeywood carefully locked and bolted the door, and pulled down the blind. Then he divested himself of his coat, waistcoat and shirt, and finally, a strange little figure, drew off his vest and passed it to his companion for examination.
"In the insurance business," he explained, "I have sometimes been trusted with large sums of money. I got this idea from a book, written by a Frenchman called Gaboriau. You see, the vest is double. You just slit it up at the bottom like that, and behold!"
He drew out the picture, enclosed in a double sheet of tissue-paper, and commenced to dress again. Van Clarence Smith studied the ancient canvas with deep interest.
"Seems an insipid-looking face," he muttered, "and yet—I don't know, Honeywood, there is something about it."
"I sat and gazed at it for half an hour last night," Mr. Honeywood confessed. "At the end of that time I put it away. I couldn't look at it any more. I began to feel that I didn't want to part with it."
Van Clarence Smith laughed curiously. He noticed that even now his little companion was keeping his eyes sedulously turned away from his possession. Then there was a knock at the door, They heard Lord Grim's voice outside, and admitted him. He was accompanied by a tall, broad-shouldered manservant, who at a word from his master remained on guard in the corridor.
"I am taking no risks," Lord Grim explained, as he produced a roll of notes and commenced counting them out. "That fellow Donetti and his black-browed wife are haunting the place.... My God!"
He had suddenly seen the picture. He paused in his task. The air of restless melancholy fled from his face, his eyes grew softer, his lips trembled, he muttered something to himself in Italian. Mr. Honeywood turned the picture with its face to the wall.
"We'd better get on with the business side of this transaction," he suggested. "You can spend the rest of the day looking at it, if you want to."
Lord Grim smiled ecstatically.
"Ah!" he murmured. "To-day and many days!"
The business of the counting of the notes was completed. Mr. Honeywood buttoned them up in his pocket together with the memorandum which Lord Grim had tendered him. Then the latter moved towards his prize, At that moment came a knocking at the door. Lord Grim swung around, with his back turned to the picture.
"It's one of those damned blackbirds," lie muttered. "Have them in and have done with it."
The woman alone entered. The three men turned questioningly towards her. Her black eyes flashed as she looked from one to the other. She seemed to understand that the transaction was already concluded.
"Gentlemen," she said, "I have come on business."
Mr. Honeywood motioned her to a chair.
"Where is your husband, madam?" he asked, for want of something better to say.
"He is in hiding." she replied. "He has what he calls an attack of the nerves, and he is better away. I speak good English, and he gets all excited."
"What is your business with us, madam?" Mr. Honeywood asked simply.
"Very plain words," the woman assured them. "Some time ago, Donetti, my husband, stole from the Comte di Marioni, after his sudden death, two pictures. Unfortunately, he was obliged to leave the house so precipitately that he fled without money. To obtain some, he deposited the two pictures at a shop in Wardour Street. You, Mr. Honeywood," she went on, "discovered them there and induced the woman to sell them to you, although the transaction was dishonest—they were not hers to sell."
"Perhaps," Mr. Honeywood suggested amiably, "all suggestions of dishonesty had better be left out of this discussion."
"It is well," the woman answered gloomily. "My husband returns to redeem these pictures and finds them gone. He traces their possession to you. You have disposed of one. You are on the point of disposing of the other."
"The transaction is concluded," Lord Grim announced triumphantly. "The picture is mine."
The woman's eyes flashed, but she conquered the passion which flamed for a moment in her face.
"Listen to me," she said. "So much is clear. Not one of us three can speak of the law. Let us, then, speak of our interests. My husband has a purchaser for that picture. He is a man who is willing to give a great price. It is for money my husband stole the pictures, it is for money you seek to dispose of them. Very well, then. There is enough for all. This madman in Italy will give ten thousand pounds. Let us share."
"The picture," Mr. Honeywood pointed out, "is no longer mine. I have disposed of it to Lord Grim."
"It is not too late," the woman declared. "Let him, too, share in the extra price. In that way we shall all get something."
"Your lordship," he enjoined, "must have a care."
Lord Grim smiled. He lit a cigarette and shook hands with the two men.
"I have taken my precautions," he assured them. "I have had trouble before in some of my dealings for rare objects. My servant here was once a prize-fighter. The picture, as you see, is safe. And so, gentlemen, good-day!"
THAT evening, Mr. Honeywood and Mr. Van Clarence Smith sat for a few minutes in the bar smoking-room before going in to their dinner. Mr. Honeywood was looking almost childishly happy and thoroughly satisfied with life.
"What gets me!" he observed, twirling the stem of a wine-glass between his fingers, "is why you are, so to say, joining up with me. I am out for the goods all right but I'm only a beginner."
"You've done pretty well to net two thousand pounds within a week," Mr. Van Clarence Smith reminded his friend.
"As an argument," Mr. Honeywood replied, "that demands analysis, and when you analyse it, it comes to this—I've had luck. It was nothing but luck made me decide upon the purchase of those two pictures. I scarcely know a picture from a chromo."
His companion smiled.
"I'd sooner have luck than brains," he said simply, "and I fancy you have both. But if you want to know what really took my fancy, well, it was borrowing the ten pounds from your friend Mr. Underwood to buy the picture which didn't exist."
"I have ideas sometimes," Mr. Honeywood confessed thoughtfully. "Even when I plodded along in the ruts and earned my five thousand dollars a year, I used to scheme things. Some of my ideas may be useful to us later on. I remember one day when my wife had dragged me to church—a very hot summer morning it was. I sat in a corner of the pew and dozed, and I had an idea——"
His reminiscences were suddenly interrupted. His companion had taken a paper from the page-boy who was passing through the room, and was staring at a certain paragraph upon the front page. Mr. Honeywood looked over his shoulder and read:—
SHOCKING OCCURRENCE IN ST, JAMES'S STREET.
This afternoon, at about four o'clock, a horrible assault was committed upon Lord Grim, the well-known art critic and picture buyer. It appears that he had just descended from a taxi-cab, and was crossing the pavement to enter the block of buildings in which his chambers are situated, when a woman, who, according to the evidence of a policeman, had jumped out of a taxi which had followed his, dashed the whole contents of a phial of vitriol into his face. It is feared that his lordship's sight will be permanently lost. The woman escaped in the confusion, but the police are confident of being able to effect her arrest.
"Gee, that's rough!" Mr. Van Clarence Smith muttered hoarsely.
Mr. Honeywood's spectacles were blurred. The hand which had grabbed at the paper was trembling. His voice shook with very genuine emotion. The whole tragedy loomed up before his eyes.
"He'll never see the picture!" he gasped.
"My God—that's what she meant! He'll never see it again."
ONLY a woman, and certainly, of all women there present, only Cynthia Bellamy could have been capable of so deliberate and calculated an act of cruelty. She came in fresh from her golf match to the winter garden at Ranelagh, where Felicia was the central figure in a somewhat extensive tea-party, comprising, amongst others, Sir Julian Kand, the great banker, and Van Clarence Smith, the young American polo player, and threw her bombshell with deadly malice.
"You've all heard the news, of course?"
They were all interested. Afterwards, Felicia felt that she ought to have been warned by the glitter in her quondam friend's eyes, but the news itself was too unexpected.
"Glendower's engaged to Maggie Foljambe. It will be in The Morning Post to-morrow."
There were murmurs of incredulity, almost of stupefaction, and whilst Mrs. Bellamy gave confirmatory particulars, everyone avoided looking at the person who might be supposed to be chiefly concerned. Van Clarence Smith, under the pretext of lighting a cigarette was standing in front of her, interposing his six feet two inches between the two women. Not that Felicia showed any sign of needing such protection. After that first queer look of despair which had flashed for a moment in her eyes, her behaviour was entirely normal. Mrs. Bellamy, a little disappointed, but still excited with her news, fluttered off to join her own friends, and a few minutes later, the tea-party, into which she had introduced an element of sensation, was broken up. Sir Julian drew Felicia on one side.
"Lady Felicia," he begged earnestly, "will you allow me to take you back to town in my car?"
"You are very kind," she replied, "but I think Mr. Van Clarence Smith——"
"I ask this as a special favour," he persisted. "I should be glad of a few minutes' private conversation with you."
She looked at him in faint surprise. He was a tall man, with a heavy black moustache, sallow cheeks, a somewhat lumpy figure, but keen, black eyes and slow, forceful manner.
One of the richest men in Europe, he was also one of the most confirmed bachelors living. A momentary thought brought a queer light into her eyes. She laughed softly to herself.
"I don't suppose Van will mind," she said. "Yes, I'll come; with pleasure. I shall at any rate be sure of reaching home safely.... Forgive me."
She turned aside for a moment and called her escort over to her.
"Van," she whispered, "I am driving home with Sir Julian."
"The mischief you are!" he answered, a little aggrieved. "What's the matter with the Renault?"
"Nothing," she replied, "but I just want to do this."
"Where shall you be to-night?" he asked.
"Dining somewhere with you, if you'll have me. I am certainly not going to the Foljambe's dance. A grill-room, please. I shall wear a hat and veil."
"The Milan, at eight?"
She nodded and would have passed on, but he detained her.
"Say, what does the old boy want with you?"
"I'll tell you at dinner-time," she promised. "He simply said that he wanted to speak to me particularly."
There was a distinct frown upon the young man's face.
"You don't think he wants to marry you?" he exclaimed.
"I can't imagine it," she sighed. "Of course, one never knows. We may have mistaken his character all these years. He may be one of these secret philanthropists, brimful of heart and sympathy."
The young man's hand tightened upon the riding-whip which he had been holding.
"What about Glendower, Felicia?" he asked.
She shrugged her shoulders. "Well?"
"Did he give you any intimation of this?"
Van Clarence Smith hesitated. There were just a few times when he looked a little like a prize-fighter. This was one of them.
"Look here, Felicia," he said, "you haven't a brother. The only people left to you seem to be old fossils."
She shook her head firmly.
"It won't do, Van," she said. "Glendower has behaved abominably, of course, but after all I had my chance.... At eight o'clock."
Felicia took her place in the sixty-horsepower Rolls-Royce and in due course was spirited away towards London. She was a little confused by the unexpectedness of what had happened—the engagement of a man whom she had made up her mind to marry—but she was yet conscious of some curiosity as to what her companion might have to say to her. He did not leave her long in doubt. While they were still in the avenue, he turned towards her.
"Lady Felicia," he began, "I am one of the richest men in the world, and one of the most successful bankers. I am also an incorrigible bachelor."
"Thank heavens!" she exclaimed. "I was afraid you were going to propose to me!"
"Nothing," he assured her coolly, "is further from my thoughts. On the other hand, I may be in a position to be of service to you."
For a moment her eyebrows were raised. He proceeded, however, in the same cold and calculating voice:
"I am not supposed to know, of course, that you are in need of either sympathy or assistance. That is part of the sham world we live in. I am above it, I speak my mind, and when I see the truth I am not afraid of it. Hence my success. I know exactly the tone of voice in which you feel inclined to murmur the word 'impertinent,' and exactly the look destined to annihilate me. Keep them in reserve, please. What I am going to say is worth hearing."
She leaned a little further back in her corner of the car. The odour of his cigar—he was smoking, with her permission—was aromatic, and there was a quaint perfume from his shirt and handkerchiefs of Russian leather or some similar scent. These things, however, were in no way effeminacies. Everything about him made for strength.
"The secret of my success," he went on, "has been knowledge—social and political knowledge. To acquire it the intelligence branch of my firm expends a sum of fifty thousand pounds a year. Two thousand of that, Lady Felicia, can be yours, paid quarterly, in advance, if you choose to be of service to me."
"Upon my word!" she exclaimed. "How do you know that I need money?"
He looked at her from under his heavily-lidded eyes.
"I will give you an abstract of the situation," he said, "so far as you are concerned. You are an orphan, and for an ancient family you have singularly few relatives. Your aunt and uncle with whom you have been living are poor, disagreeable and intolerant. You are twenty-six years old, and you have failed to make the marriage they expected of you. When you meet your aunt to-night she is going to ask you to pack up and leave. That I know for a fact. You have two hundred a year, and you are in love with Mr. Van Clarence Smith, who is on the debit side of fortune to the extent of about a million dollars, and Glendower, whom you had probably made up your mind to marry, has become weary of waiting and engaged himself to someone else."
"You certainly have a correct grasp of the situation," she admitted dryly. "Now will you explain what services you require from me in return for two thousand a year?"
"The nature of them, certainly," he replied, "and I may add that there is no other way in the world in which you could earn that sum or any portion of it in such an unequivocal manner. First of all, have you any political ideas at all?"
"None whatever," she confessed.
"So much the better. I am thankful you are not one of those fanatical persons who go about prophesying a war between England and Germany. Let me explain here my own views. Such a war would be fratricidal, an absolute insanity. War there will be within the next ten years, because nothing else can save the monarchy in Russia, but it will be between Russia and Austria, and provoked by Russia, and if France joins in, it will be her own fault, and at her own desire. If England is wisely guided, and all her well-wishers abroad wish as I do—and I, as you know, am an Englishman—she will maintain her insularity. That is one of the fundamental bases of the policy of my firm. All our financial future is based upon it. We work for that end in the United States of America, and in England. It is work in which a patriotic English person can join with clean hands. Will you help?"
"But what can I do?" she demanded. "Of course I would help if I could."
"You would have to leave that to me," he said. "I should want you to maintain your present circle of friends in London. You have connections and acquaintances who hold high positions in the army, the navy, and politics. Through you, in indirect fashion, I may sometimes be able to influence people whom I could not otherwise reach. With your aid I may sometimes obtain information from which I should be otherwise debarred. And let me tell you this, Lady Felicia," he concluded, "I have others helping me, who bear names as honoured as your own."
She moved in her place a little nervously.
"It seems perfectly wonderful," she admitted, "and yet, in a way, it makes one feel uneasy."
"It should not," he said firmly. "Remember that we work for the greatest of all causes—we work to keep England out of war. You could not undertake a more patriotic task."
"You were born a German," she remarked thoughtfully.
"True," he acknowledged, "but I am a naturalised Englishman, and by far the greater part of my fortune is invested in England and America. Therefore, you see, I have at least as much reason as you have for being patriotic.... You consent, of course?"
"How can I help it?" she answered. "I consent, with one reservation—that if at any time you should ask me to do anything which I considered dishonourable, our agreement comes to an end."
"Naturally," he agreed. "It would not suit me to have people in my service who are capable of doing a dishonourable action. I on my part have a condition, and that is secrecy."
"You mean that I am not to tell a soul of our compact?"
"Only one," he replied, "and that one I shall nominate."
"Who is it?" she asked curiously.
"Van Clarence Smith."
"But why Van?"
"Because," he confided, "it is very possible that I may see my way to making a somewhat similar offer to that young man.... Now I have no wish to rush you into anything, Lady Felicia. We are arriving, as you see, in Grosvenor Square. All that you have to do, if you change your mind about accepting my proposition, is to send me a line to Park Lane. If, on the other hand, you remain favourably disposed towards it, let me know your banker's name. After that, you will simply wait until you hear from me. You understand?"
The car had stopped, and the footman was holding the door open. Felicia laughed softly as she stepped out.
"A most absorbing ride," she declared. "You have really almost made me forget my troubles, Sir Julian."
VAN CLARENCE SMITH heard Felicia's story at dinner that evening with mingled suspicion and enthusiasm. Felicia laughed the former to scorn.
"Sir Julian has no designs upon me," she assured him, "A woman always knows. I am just as mystified as you are as to how he expects to get value for his money, but that is rather his look out, isn't it?"
The young man nodded.
"What's the alternative?"
"Leicestershire and a hundred and eighty a year, a post as companion, or the stage," Felicia replied.
"Nothing doing there," he declared firmly.
"I agree," Felicia assented. "Of course, the thing sounds rather like a chapter out of the 'Arabian Nights,' but on the other hand, two thousand a year to Sir Julian is something like a five-pound note to me.... Tell me, Van, who is the queer little man with the face like a boy's, who bowed to you just now when he came in?"
"Mr. Mendel Honeywood, of Okehampstead in Massachusetts," Van Clarence Smith replied. "You'll have to meet him when we're through with dinner, Felicia."
"Why?" she asked. "Not that I mind. Ho looks quite fascinating."
"He is my future partner in crime," her companion confided. "Some day I must toll you about the picture deals he has just brought off."
Felicia contemplated the boyish figure with interest.
"He is the most ingenuous-looking thing I ever saw," she declared.
"Useful phiz for the crooked path," he agreed. "He landed in London ten days ago, with half-a-crown in his pocket. He's roped in a few thousands already."
Felicia was slightly disturbed.
"Just what are your plans, Van?" she inquired.
The young man's face became set.
"Felicia," he said, "there's a matter of five hundred millions in my family—dollars, I mean—not pounds. If the history of the railroad deals by which most of that was made, could be published, I should say that there isn't a Van Clarence Smith living, except myself, who hasn't qualified for Sing-Sing. The whole of my family have been thieves, buying and dodging the law the whole of the time. I don't set up to be any better. I am going to do what I can for myself—within the law if I can, outside it if I can't. And the little man over there is my chosen partner."
Felicia laughed softly.
"What a trio!" she exclaimed. "Here am I, a sort of secret service, semi-political adventuress; your little friend with the wistful face, a professional crook; and you his pupil! What a pity——"
Felicia did not finish her sentence. She was suddenly aware that the attendant from the telephone-box outside was standing before their table. He bowed as she looked up inquiringly.
"Lady Felicia Lakenham?"
"That is my name."
"You are wanted on the telephone, madam."
Felicia rose in some surprise. On the way out, her perplexity increased. She could not remember having told a soul of her whereabouts.
"You are quite sure that it is I who am wanted?" she asked.
The man was positive. She stepped into the little box, closed the door and took up the receiver.
"This is Lady Felicia Lakenham," she said. "Who is it wants me?"
A slow, familiar voice answered her.
"This is Sir Julian Kand speaking."
"But how did you know that I was here, Sir Julian?" she asked.
"Never mind. I am ringing up to ask for your assistance in a certain matter. I know just where you are seated with Mr. Van Clarence Smith. At a table diagonally opposite to you, in the window, two men are dining. One is a small man, with white hair and sallow complexion."
"I know the two whom you mean," Felicia acknowledged. "One looks like a Japanese who has lived in Europe, the other like an English professional man."
Sir Julian's tone betrayed a certain amount of satisfaction.
"You have observation," he observed. "The little man is a Japanese nobleman. His companion was once a cashier in the Bank of England, although he has now found more important employment. They discuss to-night a subject in which I am deeply interested. The slightest item of information concerning their doings or sayings will be acceptable to me. I shall be starting directly to pay a call at number 89, Milan Court. Please call and see me there later on."
Felicia replaced the receiver and returned to her companion, whom she at once took into her confidence. The young man was disposed to enter into the spirit of the thing. There were obvious difficulties, however, in the way of overhearing anything of what seemed to be a most intimate conversation. The two men were three or four tables away, they spoke with their heads close together and with very apparent precautions against eavesdroppers.
"The only thing that occurs to me," Van Clarence Smith suggested, "is for me to go down and speak to my little pal Honeywood, at the next table. He might pick up just a word or two."
She nodded assent, and he departed on his errand. Mr. Honeywood welcomed him cordially, and accepted with much pleasure an invitation to come over and renew his acquaintance with Felicia. She motioned him to sit by her side.
"Tell me, Mr. Honeywood," she began, "we are interested in the two men at the next table to you. Have you heard anything of their conversation?"
"Only a word or two," Mr. Honeywood replied cautiously.
"This is business," Van Clarence Smith intervened. "Lady Felicia is very likely to be our partner, Honeywood."
"I see," the latter observed. "And yours is a business interest?"
"Precisely!" Felicia assented.
Mr. Honeywood took off his spectacles and wiped them. It was a curious fact that without them his face seemed older.
"You will pardon my being frank," he said. "I notice everybody and everything. It is a habit of mine. Those men, Lady Felicia, noticed you pointing them out to Mr. Van Clarence Smith. From that moment they hunched up together and have scarcely raised their voices above a whisper. So far as you two are concerned you would do better not to take any more notice of them. If there's a word or two to be heard, you shall have it."
Mr. Honeywood went back to his place. His two neighbours were now rapidly approaching the close of their meal. The smaller man had drunk nothing but water, his companion a small whisky and soda. They were drinking coffee now without liqueurs. Mr. Honeywood, to all appearance, was buried in the evening paper for which he had sent.
"It's a queer world," Van Clarence Smith observed. "Those two men don't seem to be any more than a couple of harmless businessmen, fixing up some sort of a deal, yet they've got old Kand going."
The persons under observation at that moment left their places, the foreigner signing the bill and tipping the waiter. They disappeared in the direction of the hotel. Mr. Honeywood laid down his paper. He looked across the room, and though his summons was of the slightest, they both understood it. They left their places and made their way towards him. Mr. Honeywood rose to receive them.
"Say, waiter, one moment!" he exclaimed sharply.
The man who had been about to remove the things from the adjoining table, turned towards the speaker and was dispatched for a special brand of cigars.
"They talked," Mr. Honeywood said simply, "like men who were hatching a plot. Just look at the table, though, before anyone disturbs it. The little man with the white hair had a trick of moving his forefinger about the tablecloth as he spoke. I believe you'll find some figures there. Look across towards the courtyard, with your back to the room."
They stood for a moment before the deserted table. Upon the tablecloth were still clearly to be traced the marks of figures. Felicia glanced at them and then turned away. It had been an affair of seconds.
"You are very observant, Mr. Honeywood," she said. "A one and eight noughts, whatever they may stand for."
Mr. Honeywood was pleased.
"That may or may not be useful to your friend," he remarked, "but it is interesting. We know now that they spoke of figures, and large figures, too. A one and eight noughts represents a hundred millions."
There was nothing else to be learned from the deserted table. They all three left the room together, Mr. Honeywood making his way into the lounge and Van Clarence Smith ringing the bell for the lift. At the last moment, Felicia's courage failed her.
"Come with me," she begged.
He assented promptly. As they walked along the corridor of the fourth floor, he leaned down towards her.
"Felicia," he began earnestly, "that fellow Kand——"
"Don't be silly," she interrupted. "I don't know what his interests in life do consist of, but he is certainly not a woman's man."
"What does he want to see you here for, then?"
She shrugged her shoulders, and touched the bell of number eighty-nine. The door was opened almost immediately by a maid, who ushered them into the sitting-room. Sir Julian was standing upon the hearthrug, smoking a cigar. A few feet away, a woman was seated before a typewriter—a dark-browed, massive woman. By her side was a little pile of manuscripts. Sir Julian promptly introduced her.
"You know Miss Miller by name, I dare say," he observed. "She is the European agent for the American Playwrights' Association. This is Lady Felicia Lakenham and Mr. Van Clarence Smith."
"A business-woman, young people," the person designated remarked, as she shook hands with them both. "I had a production in Paris last night, and only crossed this afternoon. Won't you be seated?"
"Shall I wait for Lady Felicia outside?" Van Clarence Smith suggested.
"By no means," Sir Julian replied. "I take it that you are in Lady Felicia's confidence, and I include you willingly in mine. Miss Miller, too, knows of my interest in the matter we have been speaking of," he added, turning to Felicia. "If you have anything to tell me, pray do not hesitate."
"I am afraid I have very little," she replied, "and what I have is due to the observation of a little friend of ours who was seated at the next table. The man in whom you were particularly interested had a peculiar habit—I noticed it even from where we sat—of tracing what seemed to be signs upon the tablecloth, with his forefinger. I glanced at the tablecloth after he had left, and twice I found a one with eight noughts afterwards."
"A one and eight noughts," Sir Julian repeated—"one hundred millions!"
For a moment he stood quite still. Then his face and manner underwent a singular change. His eyes flashed with a sort of dull fury. He seized a cushion and flung it to the further end of the room. He muttered some incomprehensible words to himself, words in some foreign language, but obviously profane. The veins upon his clenched fists suddenly stood out. Watching him closely, Felicia realised with amazement that he was struggling with a paroxysm of anger. He snatched a strip of paper from his waistcoat pocket, glanced at it, crumpled it up and threw it into the fire. Miss Miller rose to her feet with a slow smile.
"Let me offer you young people some cordial," she suggested, opening a cupboard and producing a liqueur bottle and some glasses. "If you have quite finished damaging my property, Sir Julian, perhaps you would like some of your own brandy?"
Felicia and Van Clarence Smith were frankly curious. Sir Julian recovered himself with an effort.
"I found that your news confirmed a very disturbing suspicion of mine, Lady Felicia," he explained. "An attempt is being made to take from my hands a financial loan of some importance."
"Those figures, then——" Felicia began.
"They are convincing," Sir Julian declared. "One hundred million was to be the amount of the loan."
"And you mean to say that those two insignificant-looking people," Felicia exclaimed, "were talking finance on such a scale?"
Sir Julian poured himself out and drank a glass of brandy.
"One of them," he said, "was Prince Ioto, an envoy from Japan."
"And the other?" Van Clarence Smith asked.
Sir Julian hesitated.
"The other man," he replied, "is in the financial department of our Secret Service."
Van Clarence Smith set down his liqueur glass empty.
"I guess Wall Street finance," he remarked, "is kind of A.B.C. compared with what goes on right here."
Sir Julian nodded. He was rapidly becoming himself again.
"Finance amongst us," he observed, "is continually subject to political considerations. I am much obliged for your help, Lady Felicia," he went on. "If it is any satisfaction to you to know it, you have thoroughly earned your first three months' emolument."
The young people went off together. Sir Julian stood listening to their retreating footsteps, waited until he heard the lift bell ring, and the rattle of the doors.
"That's hell!" he remarked tersely.
His companion swung round in her chair and faced him.
"Nothing else to be done, I suppose?"
"Nothing," he replied. "It's a delicate situation. I offered the loan through our German house, under the pretext that we had funds there. If Ioto is treating to-day with the British Government, he must be acting under express directions from his Government. If I move further in the matter, I shall only awaken suspicions that might be fatal."
"Yet you don't mean to give up?" she asked quietly.
"I must think," he muttered.
PRINCE IOTO was greeted, on the following afternoon, by the very great man whom he had come to visit, cordially, but with just a suggestion of that condescension which the Britisher invariably employs in his dealings with even super-civilised Orientals.
"It has given us very great pleasure, Prince Ioto," the Cabinet Minister declared, "to accept tho suggestions made by you to Mr. Lumley for a loan of a hundred million pounds."
Prince Ioto listened without change of countenance. If the speaker expected any expression of satisfaction or gratification, he was to be disappointed.
"The terms," the Cabinet Minister went on, "are scarcely those which we should accept from any except an ally. It gives us pleasure, however, to consolidate in such a fashion the excellent understanding between our two countries."
There was the barest flicker of a smile upon Prince loto's lips.
"You consider the terms generous, then?" he asked.
"Without a doubt," was the well-satisfied reply. "There is certainly no other country in the world from whom you could borrow on such a proposition."
Prince Ioto shook his head very slowly.
"That is not quite so," he said. "I have been offered better terms since I arrived in London."
The Cabinet Minister was surprised, more than a little annoyed. Then he remembered that he was dealing with an Oriental, and sighed. Even in the big affairs it seemed that the spirit of huckstering remained.
"You mean that an emissary of a foreign country has offered you better terms than His Majesty's Government for this loan?" he asked incredulously.
Prince Ioto hesitated. Just at that moment there was a knock at the door and a young man presented himself. He addressed the Cabinet Minister with the impersonal air of a perfect secretary.
"There is an inquiry upon the telephone, sir," he announced, "for Prince Ioto."
The Japanese rose to his feet. His host pointed to an instrument by his side.
"If you will speak here, Prince," he said, "I will take the opportunity of giving my secretary an important letter."
"It is not necessary that you leave the room," Prince Ioto protested.
"You will excuse me," the Cabinet Minister replied blandly.
Prince Ioto took up the receiver.
"I am Prince Ioto," he announced. "Who wishes to speak to me?"
A woman's voice answered him at once.
"I speak on behalf of one whose name I will not mention over the telephone, but who is acquainted with the business which has taken you to Downing Street. You follow me?"
"Perfectly," was the composed reply. "Pray deliver your message."
"I am to say," the voice continued, "that a certain offer made to you within the last twenty-four hours must not be spoken of in Government circles."
"Must not," the Japanese murmured.
"There is honour even in diplomacy," his unrevealed interlocutor went on. "If you should betray the confidence which has been placed in you, you will make an enemy whose hand is heavy and far-reaching."
"Is that all?"
"That is all."
"Then you can tell the person for whom you speak," Prince Ioto announced, "that I shall say what seems fair and right to me to those who are my friends, and that no threats will deter me. If I decide to maintain a reserve with regard to certain matters, it will be for national reasons. Where I work for my country, personal considerations do not exist."
Softly he replaced the receiver upon the instrument, and stood motionless, his hands hanging down by his sides, looking through the high barely-curtained windows into the gathering gloom of the streets. So the Cabinet Minister found him, when he returned five minutes later. He waved his visitor back to his chair and pushed the cigarettes towards him.
"Let us have a few minutes together, Prince Ioto," he proposed. "You were speaking of another offer."
"Sir Julian Kand approached me, on the day of my arrival in England, with an offer of a loan of a hundred million pounds."
"Kand?" the Cabinet Minister repeated. "But he is an Englishman! If you had dealt with him privately, a portion of the funds would have come through the Bank of England."
"Sir Julian spoke of large surpluses lying at their bank in Germany," Prince Ioto continued deliberately. "The money was to have come from there."
The Cabinet Minister smiled in a somewhat superior fashion.
"Kand is a very good fellow," he said. "He would have consulted us before he had moved in the matter."
"Sir Julian Kand is a German," the Japanese remarked.
"A mistake, I can assure you," the other replied, smiling. "He became a naturalised Englishman fifteen years ago, and very seldom even visits the country of his birth."
Prince Ioto was more thoughtful than ever.
"You believe that?" he asked simply.
"The whole world knows it," was the somewhat impatient reply.
"Many years ago," Prince Ioto said pensively, "I came on a mission to this this country. I was in the close confidence of the Mikado, and it pleased His Majesty to send me here and to Germany and to hear my report concerning a prospective alliance between ourselves and one of the two countries. I advised my master to conclude a treaty with Germany."
"We have forgotten all that," the Cabinet Minister declared magnanimously.
The slim white hand of Prince Ioto flashed through the twilight in a protesting gesture.
"Ah, no!" he said. "One does not forget. It was no personal matter with me. I like England, and I have never liked Germany, but I saw into the future then as I think I see now. Germany is still your enemy. Germany is prepared for great things and you are not."
The statesman was becoming more reserved.
"These matters," he said, "have been discussed between your Government and mine. They were fully considered when the treaty between us was signed."
"It is true," Prince Ioto replied. "It is also true that many of the politicians of my country do not agree with me, but I am right, and time will prove it."
The Cabinet Minister smiled.
"We have considered this matter of possible trouble with Germany, from every point of view," he declared, "and we have dismissed it from the range of practical politics."
Prince Ioto rose to his feet. His host touched the bell. For a single moment the former hesitated. There was still something in his mind, one disclosure which he could make. He stood thoughtfully silent. Imperturbable though he was, that faintly cynical smile which had parted the lips of his companion, decided him upon a middle course,
"There is one more thing," he confessed, "arising out of my negotiations with Sir Julian Kand, which troubles me. I do not clearly see whether it is my duty to reveal it, or, in justice to Sir Julian, to remain silent, I shall consider that matter for some hours,"
The Cabinet Minister smiled pleasantly.
"My dear Prince," he begged, "pray do not worry about it. A summons on the telephone would bring Sir Julian round at any time—and ho would not hesitate for a moment to tell the whole story of his negotiations with you,"
The butler was standing in the doorway. The Cabinet Minister shook his departing visitor heartily by the hand. He did not notice even the latter's silence.
"We shall meet to-morrow at Wedderburn House," he said. "You will find all your old acquaintances delighted to welcome you back to London."
"That will be very pleasant," Prince Ioto murmured....
The departing visitor waved aside his waiting automobile and, buttoning his overcoat around him, turned through the Horse Guards and towards St. James's Park. The eternal shrouds of February mist blended with the falling twilight. It was a mantle of veritable obscurity through which he moved, through which the gas-lamps, the distant lights of Piccadilly and Buckingham Palace glowed like little specks of fire. He walked on very slowly, his hands behind his back, his head upturned to the starless sky. The roar of the traffic, the brazen voices of the great city, came to him here with a muffled insistence. His lips moved for a moment to the thoughts which passed through his brain.
"Oh, mighty city," he murmured, "to what end will your blindness bring you!"
The instincts of a lifetime were strong, and Prince Ioto was no dreamer. He took a path to the left, another to the right. Always the footsteps of which he had been dimly conscious since he left Downing Street, followed him. Now, in the Broad Walk, he saw shadowy figures on either side, never closing in yet always at the same distance. He stopped short. The figures loitered. He quickened his pace—they followed suit. His slight frame became tense, his fingers stole to tho middle of the agate-headed cane which he carried. So he walked forward, always with his half-invisible escort. His pulses were steady, his heart light with the joy of living. Intrigue still flourished, then, even in this city of foolish people!
Ho was in the Mall now, walking in the middle of the broad path. An automobile with brilliant search-lights passed him very slowly. The horn was blown, without apparent cause, twice quickly and then twice slowly. Those attendant escorts of his seemed to fade away as though upon some signal. The car passed on. Prince Ioto paused to light a cigarette. He was an epicure in sensations, and he needed this, his one sensuous form of enjoyment, to complete the rapture of the moment. He had caught a glimpse of the man in the automobile. He understood.
PRINCE IOTO, on the next night, was the lion of a very remarkable gathering at Wedderburn House. With a gentle ease of bearing which charmed everybody, and a memory which was truly remarkable, he renewed many old friendships in the social and diplomatic world. Never had the charm of his manner been more universally acknowledged. People moved everywhere with a word of praise for him upon their lips. Towards the close of the evening, his host brought Felicia to his notice.
"Prince," he said, "I desire to present you to Lady Felicia Lakenham. She remembers that you were kind to her as a child, upon your first visit."
Felicia was inclined to be nervous, but the kindly little gentleman with the insignificant stature and wonderful smile, quickly put her at her ease. A trifle timidly she laid her fingers upon his coat-sleeve.
"Prince Ioto," she murmured, "I have a favour to ask."
"It is granted," he replied.
"I want your autograph."
The polite smile faded at once from Prince loto's lips.
"You know the house well," he said. "Take me somewhere where I can use a pen."
She took him to a corner of the great library, which was almost deserted. He withdrew a thin sheet of paper from his breast-pocket, a paper already covered with writing inside, scrawled his name across it and handed it into her keeping. Afterwards, he looked at her for a moment thoughtfully.
"You are English?" he inquired,
"Naturally," she answered, with a little laugh. "Lord Wedderburn is a distant connection of mine. You stayed with us once, many years ago."
He bowed a little coldly. Once more he offered his arm. They passed into the reception-rooms without another word. They were immediately surrounded, and Felicia moved away with Van Clarence Smith. She was looking a little pale.
"Fix that all right?" he asked her.
"Yes," she admitted.
"Kind of worried, aren't you?" he ventured, after a moment's hesitation.
"Absurd of me, of course," she replied, with the air of one seeking to rid herself of a disagreeable impression. "He was so charming at first, yet when I carried out Sir Julian's instructions and he handed me over the paper, he was like ice. He asked me if I were English."
Van Clarence Smith smiled reassuringly.
"Prince Ioto is a great patriot," he reminded her, "and, above all, a great Japanese. He believes in their own standards and their own ideals."
"I understand," she murmured. "A lady of Japan would scarcely——"
Warned by her tone, he stopped her.
"We are Westerners, Felicia, and don't you forget it," he declared. "And now?"
"Let us get the thing over, if you don't mind," she begged.
SIR JULIAN was waiting in Miss Miller's sitting-room when Felicia was ushered in, a few minutes before midnight. A certain look of strain seemed to pass from his mouth and about his eyes as he stooped down towards the fire and laid the paper which she had brought him upon the embers. In that moment, before the flames leaped up to conceal it, it seemed to Felicia that one sentence stood out in magnified characters:
"Nor in the event of a European War, shall the troops of His Imperial Majesty, the Mikado, be under any circumstances used or transported outside the boundaries of Asia."
Felicia pointed to the sentence and looked up at her companion.
"What does that mean?" she asked curiously.
"Remember our bargain," he said. "No questions."
She made a little grimace.
"At least tell me what that paper was which I collected from Prince Ioto in such a roundabout fashion?" she begged.
"That," he replied slowly, "was a copy of the draft agreement between the Banking House of Kand and the Japanese Imperial Government. Prince Ioto is indisposed to accept our conditions and has placed the loan elsewhere."
Felicia gazed at the little pile of ashes. She was still puzzled.
"I don't understand," she confessed, "the meaning of that clause about Japanese troops."
Sir Julian lit a cigarette with firm fingers.
"That clause," he explained, "was just a whim of one of my partners. He dabbles u little in world-politics."
"He must be a very interesting person," she observed.
Sir Julian was looking through the walls of the sitting-room. For a single moment his expression had changed. Then he moved to the sideboard and poured himself out a liqueur of brandy.
"We will drink," he said almost reverently, "to my partner."
THE wonders of Battleden Abbey, exploited by a millionaire of taste, were revealed on that first night of their arrival by Sir Julian Kand, to a little trio of guests, forerunners of a larger house-party—Lady Felicia Lakenham, Mr. Van Clarence Smith, and his newly-appointed secretary, Mr. Honeywood of Okehampstead. Marble-tiled bathrooms with sunken baths, and a variety of silver taps, indicating many forms of ablutionary temptation, opened out from each of their luxuriously-appointed bed-chambers. The perfection of service attended upon their slightest wants. Even the nationality of the two male guests was divined and ministered to in the shape of the little silver tray, with its frosted wine-glass, which stood upon the dressing-tables of each when they emerged from their aquatic debauch. Dinner was served in the great banqueting-hall, where science, controlled by artistic inspiration, had ministered to the gloomy splendours of space and architecture. Lady Felicia and Van Clarence Smith, more or less accustomed to the things of which their present surroundings were merely a superlative, were able to contemplate and enjoy. Mr. Honeywood, on the other hand, confronted with the rarest of food, served upon gold plate; Venetian glass, filled with wonderful amber-coloured wine; hothouse roses and the choicest of exotic flowers; and finding himself in an apartment more magnificent than anything he had ever seen outside a museum, was compelled occasionally to pinch his leg. Usually by no means at a loss for words, or the inspiration to use them, he ate his meal in awed silence.
The conversation of the other three was confined for some time to the subject of the pictures and the antiquity of the house. Sir Julian himself was taciturn, not to say gloomy, and with the lighting of cigarettes he led his guests away from the more splendid apartments of the house into a small study leading out of the library, an octagonal chamber with ecclesiastical windows, and reserved entirely for his private use. Coffee, liqueurs and cigars were brought and silently laid upon a small Queen Anne sideboard of black oak. Then the great door closed, and Sir Julian roused himself a little from his abstraction.
"I must apologise to all of you," he said, "if I have seemed a little absent-minded this evening. The fact is that I am confronted by an annoyance which might easily become a danger. You two, Lady Felicia and Mr. Van Clarence Smith, are my established friends, and Mr. Honeywood is also, you give me to understand, to be trusted. Your utility to me consists in the very divergence of our lives. I consider you a sort of bodyguard. I am extending to you, at the present moment, a considerable confidence."
"I am sure," Lady Felicia declared, "we shall listen most sympathetically, Sir Julian. You know, apart from the more sordid side of it, we are all quite crazy for anything in the shape of an adventure."
"The adventure in this present instance," Sir Julian remarked dryly, "seems focussed upon me. As I explained to you, Lady Felicia, and also subsequently to Van Clarence Smith here, the part of my life which is undoubtedly played out behind a curtain is the part devoted to secret finance. Finance, however, sometimes becomes inextricably mixed with politics, and some years ago I was led by a person temporarily resident in this country, into the consideration of a certain political scheme, which, had it materialised, would have undoubtedly made an important chapter in the secret diplomacy of this decade. I have nothing to tell you about it. The necessity does not arise. The person with whom I was holding negotiations was murdered suddenly, and the whole affair came to an end. Certain papers, however, were not discovered amongst the murdered man's effects. The possible existence of those papers has always been an anxiety to me. Yesterday I received a threatening and anonymous letter with regard to them."
"You are giving us your confidence," Lady Felicia observed soothingly. "Will it be possible for us to help you towards their recovery?"
"That is my hope," Sir Julian admitted.
"May we know the name of the man who was murdered?" Mr. Honeywood inquired.
"He was an Italian—Count Andrea di Marioni. He was murdered by his valet."
The three exchanged quick glances.
"The world of adventure is small," Lady Felicia murmured.
"The Count was an Italian nobleman married to a German woman," Sir Julian continued. "He was engaged in England upon a secret mission in which he wished to interest me. His murder, I believe, was simply a sordid affair of robbery, but the fact remains that certain papers disappeared from his house which he had always assured me were in a safe hiding-place."
Lady Felicia and Van Clarence Smith glanced towards Mr. Honeywood. It was he who told the story.
"Coincidences," he began pleasantly, "in fiction as in real life, become inseparable from a career of adventure. I hope I'll interest you some in what I am going to tell you, Sir Julian. The reason that I am here as Mr. Van Clarence Smith's secretary, the reason that we have become, as it were, your bodyguard, can be traced back to the day when Donetti, the valet, with his wife in the background, murdered your Italian Count, and marched off with two of his most valuable pictures."
Sir Julian's unemotional face remained changeless, but there was a steady fire in his eyes as he watched the speaker.
"I happened to be on the look-out," Mr. Honeywood continued, "for one or two second-hand pictures of mediaeval subjects. I bought two at a small shop in Wardour Street. As it turned out afterwards, those two pictures were the very ones stolen from your friend the Count, and had simply been deposited there for safe-keeping. Anyway, I got them and I disposed of them. One I sold to a great art connoisseur, Lord Grim. You remember what happened to him. A woman, the wife of that valet, threw vitriol in his face because he wouldn't part with the picture."
"To make your coincidence complete," Sir Julian interposed, "Lord Grim's estates join mine. He is living now at Grim Castle, within seven miles of here."
"Sure!" Mr. Honeywood assented quietly. "We'd figured on that. Do you happen," he continued, after a moment's pause, "to have that anonymous letter upon you?"
Sir Julian, still retaining it in his hand, drew a folded letter from his pocket-book and held it out in front of his questioner. The latter merely glanced, at it.
"Same writing," he announced. "The valet who murdered Count Andrea di Marioni is the man who has your papers."
Sir Julian considered for a moment.
"I cannot understand," he reflected, "why, if that is so, some previous attempt to blackmail me has not been made."
"It is a circumstance," Mr. Honeywood conceded, half closing his eyes, "which requires some consideration."
Sir Julian rose to his feet.
"At any rate," he said, "your information has given me something to work upon. I shall ask you, my three friends, to amuse yourselves for the rest of the evening, and to-morrow during my brief visit to town. On Wednesday I am expecting a houseful of guests. To-night I fear there is for your entertainment only the picture-gallery, the orchestra, who await your orders, and the billiard-room. To-morrow you will find my yacht in the harbour, or, if you care to explore the country, there are plenty of automobiles. Grim Castle is visited by many tourists. I would suggest a visit there."
"We shall have no trouble in amusing ourselves," Lady Felicia assured him.
"A visit to Grim Castle," Mr. Honeywood said softly, "was already part of our programme."
LORD GRIM stood bareheaded on the time-worn terrace of his west-country castle, gazing seaward. The wind blew through his picturesque grey hair but brought no colour to his waxen cheeks. One hand was pressed against the disfiguring black band which sheltered his sightless eyes. By his side stood the faithful Johnson.
"Johnson," he asked dreamily, "tell me, what is the colour of the sea this morning, out by the point?"
The man gazed out critically towards where the waves came tumbling in round a rough headland.
"Blue, my lord," he answered, "and yet," he went on, a little doubtfully, "it looks kind of green sometimes."
His master inclined his head.
"A strong sea, then. There's white foam at the point?"
"A regular shower-bath of it, my lord."
A brief silence ensued. Lord Grim's face was still turned seaward, his head a little thrown back as though to catch the odour of the salt wind.
"By Dead Man's Rock," he murmured, "there are sometimes little patches of purple?"
The man gazed stolidly in the direction of a low, sunken rock, a few hundred yards out.
"Can't see nothing of that sort, my lord."
Lord Grim suddenly lowered his head. Ho pointed downwards to the winding paths which led through a kind of rock-garden to the beach.
"There are some daffodils out this morning, Johnson!" he exclaimed. "I can smell them. I am certain that I can smell them."
The servant nodded. The little pathway was starred with yellow blossoms.
"There's a sight of them just opening, my lord. The flower-boat from Scilly brought the first load across yesterday."
Steadily, for one hour, the afflicted man paced up and down the stone terrace, taking his daily meed of exercise. Then, at his murmured direction, they paused before one of the long line of windows which was protected by a safety blind of thin steel slats. Johnson manipulated a spring lock and released it, revealing ordinary French-windows. Through these the two men stepped into a small, circular room, the walls of which were hung with pictures. Lord Grim threw himself into an easy-chair in the centre of the room.
"That will do, Johnson," he said quietly.
Silently the man arranged an electric bell so that it hung over the arm of his master's chair. Then he made his way through a stout, open door, protected on the other side by what seemed to be a fireproof partition, which opened and closed with a click. Lord Grim leaned back in hie chair. His face assumed an expression of ecstatic satisfaction. Once more he lived.
"My Mona Lisa," he murmured, "how is your smile this morning, sweetheart? Do you mock me, or love me, or hurt me? Is the lure in your eyes a lure for humans, or are you looking into space, wondering? ... And my child—my woman-child! Do those white souls still watch your footsteps ... and your eyes ... they seek still?"
His head sank back upon the delicate fingers of his long hand. He seemed absorbed in a reverie which had nothing to do with the past and took no count of the future; to be steeped in a sort of Nirvana of content, an epitome of still happiness. Around him, few but wonderful pictures hung upon the walls. Opposite was the canvas which had cost him his eyesight; near it, the great copy of the "Mona Lisa," for which the Continent had been ransacked. An Andrea del Sarto "Madonna" smiled beatifically upon him from a little further away. A Claude landscape, showing the entrance to a forest, dark and mysterious, kept it company. There was about this small chamber a strange and indefinable atmosphere of secret things. The pictures, with their strange charm, breathed unrecorded history. Connoisseurs, detectives, the giant receivers of the underground world, sought for this hiding-place in vain. It was the home of stolen masterpieces....
Towards the end of the second hour, a change came over the attitude of the absorbed man. He lifted his head towards the closed doors. For a few moments he listened intently. Then he touched the bell by his side. Almost at once Johnson appeared.
"Who are in the picture-gallery?" he asked.
"Visitors from Battleden Abbey, my lord," Johnson replied. "They came over in one of Sir Julian Kand's cars."
"I fancied that I recognised a voice," his master murmured. "Is one a small American with gold-rimmed spectacles?"
"Little gentleman we seed once before," Johnson assented.
Lord Grim rose to his feet and laid his hand on Johnson's shoulder.
"I do not understand what they can want here," he said uneasily. "I will go and talk to them."
Lady Felicia, with Mr. Van Clarence Smith and Mr. Honeywood, were engaged in the critical examination of some ancient tapestry when they were suddenly aware that the owner of all this magnificence had entered the gallery by some unseen means and was making his hesitating way towards them. They broke off at once in their conversation.
"I am honoured," Lord Grim said courteously. "It is my little friend, is it not, who has the genius for collecting mysterious pictures?"
"You've got me right," Mr. Honeywood assented, with an appreciative beam, "only I guess it was luck that served me, and not genius."
"Yours," Lord Grim continued suggestively, "was the only voice which I happened to recognise."
Mr. Honeywood's transatlantic partiality for introductions leaped up at the challenge.
"Make you acquainted with Lord Grim—Lady Felicia Lakenham. Mr. Van Clarence Smith I think you've met once before. We've been taking the liberty of a look round at your treasures."
Lord Grim's bow was comprehensive.
"You are very welcome," he declared. "You are, I understand, all three staying with my neighbour, Sir Julian Kand?"
"That's so," Van Clarence Smith replied. "You know, we Americans can't resist a show place, Lord Grim."
"The Abbey itself is a very fine piece of architecture," the latter remarked.
"A marvellous old place, externally," Van Clarence Smith agreed. "Sir Julian, however, is not a collector, and the finest of the family pictures have been dispersed."
"Social amenities have never existed between my house and the Abbey since Sir Julian's tenancy," Lord Grim observed. "You will find a few of the late Marquis's pictures in my gallery, however."
Mr. Honeywood coughed.
"We were wondering," he ventured, a little diffidently, "if the picture which led to your lordship's unfortunate accident, was on view?"
"That picture is not on view," was the quiet reply.
There was a moment's pause. Lady Felicia laughed softly.
"Mr. Honeywood's new enthusiasm for art," she remarked, "leads him a little far sometimes."
Their host bowed slightly.
"I must not interfere," he said, "with your investigation of my treasures. I only regret that my infirmity prevents me offering myself as showman. If you will do me the honour of lunching with me at one o'clock I shall be delighted. You will probably find sufficient to amuse you until then. The views from some parts of the grounds are quite wonderful."
"Say, this British hospitality of yours is great!" Mr. Honeywood murmured ecstatically.
"You are very kind. Lord Grim," Felicia said hesitatingly, "but are you sure that you care for company?"
"I am quite sure," ho replied, with a courteous smile, "that company is good for me.... Poulett," he added, turning to the man who was in charge, "show my guests all that they care to see, and let Mrs. Poullet send one of the maids to attend upon this lady before luncheon.... You will excuse me."
With a little bow Lord Grim took his leave. He left the picture-gallery by the orthodox entrance, and regained his own apartment by a circuitous route. As soon as the door was safely fastened behind them, he threw himself into his easy-chair and lit a cigarette.
"What do you think of these visitors, Johnson?" he asked.
"Same as any others, as far as I can see, my lord," the man replied.
"I wonder," his master murmured....
THE three visitors dismissed their guide at about midday, and sat on one of the wonderfully placed seats which looked over the Channel. Mr. Honeywood was jubilant, Lady Felicia thoughtful, Van Clarence Smith negative.
"This isn't an enterprise," Mr. Honeywood declared, "it's a tea-party. Gee, it's a long way from Okehampstead!"
"I can't help wishing," Felicia admitted, "that Lord Grim were a different type of man. The story of his daily vigils in that secret chamber, amongst those pictures which mean so much to him, gives one almost a catch in one's throat."
"My dear young lady," Mr. Honeywood expostulated, "ask yourself this plain question—of what use are pictures to a blind man?"
"I suppose you will both laugh at me," she replied, "but I have the most extraordinary conviction that he will feel the difference."
"That's a very romantic idea of yours, Felicia," Van Clarence Smith remarked, "but when you come down to hard possibilities, how can he? What he can't sec he can't miss, or else I wouldn't be in this thing. Fifty thousand pounds' worth of pictures for a blind man to look at, with the deserving poor at his gate, is no sort of a proposition to my mind."
"And yet," Felicia murmured, "it isn't only by means of the eyes that we apprehend the beautiful. They are just the windows by which the light goes through to our souls."
Mr. Honeywood moved in his place uneasily.
"That's very pretty," he admitted, "but it seems to me that your eyes have got to do their job before the other machinery can start working. I am willing to risk my share of this little set-out, that he'll never know the difference when my copies are fitted into the frames."
"What have you done with them?" Felicia asked.
"They are in the dressing-case at present, in the car, together with the rope ladder. I'll find a place for them before we leave, don't you worry."
"What I don't understand," Van Clarence Smith remarked, "is how you propose to enter the room?"
Mr. Honeywood smiled the smile of the master-criminal.
"The fates," he pronounced, "chose that I should become an insurance agent. I was only a moderate insurance agent, but I should have been the finest burglar the world has ever known if I had not been a man of peace and a lover of orderly ways. When I was a child there wasn't a lock in my father's house I couldn't pick, and before I was of age I invented the little instrument I have in my pocket. If I had dared to patent it, there would have been an end of the lock industry in the United States."
Very slowly Mr. Honeywood drew from his overcoat pocket, and displayed, a small piece of machinery about half a foot in length and a few inches only in diameter. Along the central bar wore several small elevations, like the stopped-up holes of a flute, and at the top was a small wheel with a black ebony handle, which he turned after the manner of an egg-whisk. As he did so, he moved his fingers from the raised places, and there shot out, as though by magic, from the conical body of the thing, a little collection of tweezers, of revolving instruments of all shapes, some of them as fine as a needle, others blunt and strangely shaped. With a few turns of the handle, and a few changes of his fingers, a score of different instruments seemed to appear and disappear in all manner of distorted shapes. His two companions gazed upon it, fascinated.
"In the wrong hands," the manipulator remarked with a sigh, as he drew a black case from his pocket and put it away, "an instrument like this would be a great temptation."
THE sun shone almost us brilliantly on the following morning, as Lord Grim took his usual promenade along the terrace, one hand pressed a little heavily upon his rubber-shod stick, the other on the arm of his faithful servant. The sunshine still lay upon the cliffs and the sea, but huge fragments of fleecy, grey-white cloud were being driven across the skies, and every now and then, when the sun was hidden, Lord Grim shivered.
"Six weeks too early, Johnson," he murmured. "A sane man would be on the terrace at Monte Carlo to-day."
"Your lordship would like a thicker coat, maybe?" the man suggested.
His master shook his head.
"I shall not stay out for quite so long. One turn more and I will go inside. Tell me what the sea looks like?"
"There are white-topped waves as far as you can see, my lord," the man replied. "There's only one sailing-boat, and she's dipping and tossing like a cork. There's spray at all the points, and there's a long shaft of green over the bar."
"I can hear the roll of the breakers," Lord Grim murmured. "I heard them in the night. Are there more tourists this morning, Johnson?"
"There's a walking party from Cambridge, been with their tutor," Johnson replied, "two gents of bicycle and the three who were here yesterday, who stayed to lunch. They've come to look through the miniatures in the south rooms. Your lordship gave permission yesterday,"
"That young lady's voice pleased me," Lord Grim said thoughtfully. "It is strange that I never came across her. Is she anything like the picture of Lady Ann Grim, John ion, in tho main gallery? Lady Ann must have been her great-aunt."
"There is a strong likeness, my lord. I noticed it when they were being shown round,"
"My study now, Johnson," his master directed. "I slept badly. My nerves are wrong."
Johnson, with a key which was attached to a chain and fastened to his belt, threw up the steel shutters, opened the French-windows of the secret chamber, and stood by to allow his master to enter. Then he shook out the cushions upon the easy-chair, and took up some vases of flowers.
"I will get the fresh flowers, my lord," he said. "They are ready in the house-keeper's room. Them daffodils—"
He broke off suddenly in his speech. He was a strong man, without nerves, but the vase of yellow flowers slipped from his fingers and he felt himself suddenly dumb. Lord Grim was standing perfectly still. His arms were stretched a little out, his head was turned towards the wall. There was in his face the look of a man stricken to death. Every particle of colour had left his cheeks, his shoulders shook, his whole frame seemed vibrating with some nervous spasm. He caught at tho air as though for support. Johnson wan only just in time to catch him.
"Your lordship is ill!" Johnson cried. "Let me get some brandy."
Lord Grim shook his head. The quaint remnant of an unrecognisable voice produced words which Johnson heard and understood, though it seemed that it must be some stranger who was speaking..
"Lead me to the wall, Johnson."
The man obeyed, wondering. Lord Grim stretched out his hand, his fingers passed slowly down the canvas of four of the pictures which hung upon the wall. Then he drew back with a little shudder.
"Is there anything strange in the room to you, Johnson?" he asked.
"I don't know as there is, my lord," was the doubtful reply, "except—them pictures don't seem the same, somehow."
"My pictures—my wonderful pictures have been stolen," the stricken man groaned. "Some coloured trash has been left in their frames. A thief has been here, Johnson."
The man was thunderstruck. He felt the belt around his waist.
"My lord," he said, "I slept with those keys around my body. That steel shutter was closed and locked yesterday when you left the room. Both doors were locked at the same time. The locks are whole. It isn't possible."
"My pictures have gone," Lord Grim muttered.
He sank into his easy-chair, suddenly an aged and broken man. Johnson stared at the doors, at the walls, and at the master whom he loved. Then a sob came into his own throat.
"I'm kind of dazed, my lord," he confessed. "There's miracles here. The keys have never left my body, and without them no one could enter this room. And if them pictures is different, how does your lordship know it?"
Lord Grim made no reply. He was leaning back in his chair, which he had wheeled round so as to face the window. His fingers were nervously closing and unclosing. A cold and terrible fear had chilled his blood.
"Johnson," he ordered, "go into the south room. Bid Lady Felicia come to me for a moment."
"What, bring her in here, your lordship?"
"In here," was the sad reply. "This is no longer my treasure-house. My treasures have gone. You can leave the doors open, Johnson, and throw your keys into the sea. There is nothing left to guard. Go quickly upon your errand."
"What about telephoning to the police-station, my lord?" the man asked from the threshold.
"A waste of breath," his master answered drearily.
Johnson found the three sightseers in the south rooms, inspecting a very wonderful collection of miniatures which were only shown to favoured visitors. Lady Felicia looked up a little anxiously at his entrance. The man was evidently perturbed.
"His lordship's compliments," he announced, "and would your ladyship come to him for a moment in his study?"
Lady Felicia obeyed without hesitation. A meaning glance passed between her and her companions as she left the room.
"His lordship is quite well, I hope?" Felicia asked.
"His lordship is in great distress," Johnson confided. "I don't rightly understand it myself, but it seems that something is missing."
Felicia followed her guide in silence. He led her into the strange but beautiful little apartment into which only one or two visitors had ever found their way. Lord Grim, whose manners had made him the admiration of a punctilious Court, remained seated in his chair. He waved Johnson away.
"My dear," he said, "you are nearer to me because I cannot see your face, which might be unfamiliar. I can only hear the voice which is so like the voice of one who was very dear to me. Come and sit by my side. I am in great trouble."
"I am so sorry," she murmured.
"I have not needed sympathy and companionship down here," he went on, "because I have had these pictures in a way which no one could know or dream of. And now everything has been snatched away from me, and I am a lonely, desperate person, with a terrible pain at my heart. Tell me, do you feel anything strange in this room?"
"I feel," she confessed—"oh, I do not know what I feel—but there is nothing strange that I know of. The sun is shining in and your tapestries are beautiful—"
"There are eyes upon the walls that have been gouged out," he groaned, "sockets where eyes were. Look!"
She glanced at those strangely-filled frames upon the walls, and looked back, shivering.
"Something strange seems to have happened here," she admitted, "but how can you tell? Who told you?"
"Must you ask me those questions with a voice as understanding as yours?" he asked. "Do you believe, then, that the blind cannot feel?"
"Of course they can," she faltered.
"Don't you know," he continued, "the real and vital difference between a thing that is beautiful and a thing that is not? Beauty lives. A picture, a statue, even a tiny bronze which has the touch of God in it, does more than call for the worship of the eye. It lives, it makes its presence known, it soothes and it delights, it brings to the heart the quiet joys which wipe away sorrows, even affliction. I brought my sorrow here and I forgot it, because my treasures were here, because they sweetened the long hours of loneliness. Not loneliness with them—I was never lonely. And now some thief has been here, some thief who has outraged my secret happiness. There is ghastly mockery there upon the walls."
"Stop!" she begged.
"My dear," he went on, "I am a suppliant at your feet. There is a little man, a strange little American, who wears gold-rimmed spectacles, and comes from a place called Okehampstead. That man is a wizard. He has stolen my pictures. Wait, my dear ... wait," he went on. "You see that drawer in the buhl escritoire. There is my chequebook."
Her soft white hand was suddenly pressed upon his lips. She was on her knees, her other arm was around his neck.
"Oh, dear Lord Grim," she implored, "don't make this any more terrible! We stole the pictures, but with one common understanding, and that was that if you understood, if you really felt their loss, then they should be replaced. The pictures are here. They are in the car with us. Give us five minutes and I will bring them back."
He kissed the fingers which still covered his lips.
"Bring them and bring your friends," he said simply. "I must speak to you all three."
She hurried speechlessly away, and there returned presently a quaint little procession, Felicia still tearful, Van Clarence doubtful, Mr. Honeywood, carrying the small dressing-case under his arm, in the depths of depression. Lord Grim himself was painfully agitated. His voice shook as he spoke.
"Upon the table," he begged feverishly. "Lay them out upon the table."
Mr. Honeywood, with a sigh, opened the dressing-case, and deliberately laid out the canvases as directed. Lord Grim's long white fingers hovered over them for a moment, strayed over the landscape towards the "Mona Lisa," lingered there, wandering up and down with strange, loving touches, and then passed on to rest upon the figure of the girl in the picture which had been his latest purchase. Then suddenly peace seemed to come to him. His thin, agitated form seemed to gain strength and vigour. Even his fingers ceased to tremble. If ever hands caressed the thing they touched, his fingers laid soft embraces upon the canvas they wandered over.
"My child Madonna!" he murmured. "Thank God!"
Mr. Honeywood cleared his throat. "I am not pretending," he confessed, "that I understand this little deal. I want to be perfectly frank with all concerned, and I'm admitting that I am the guilty party so far as regards the theft of those canvases. Whether it's a theft to steal pictures that belong to some one else, is a question I'm not going to drag upon the tapis, but what I should like to say is this—I suggested the theft of these pictures because for the life of me I couldn't see what use valuable pictures were to you, Lord Grim, under the circumstances. I agreed with Lady Felicia here that if you missed them, you should have them hack, and there they are, just as I took them out of the frames—and a neat piece of work it was, too. I'm not the man, sir, to add to the troubles of one who is already afflicted, but how the jumping Moses you can miss pictures when you can't see 'em, fairly gets me."
Lord Grim was very nearly himself again.
"Mr. Honeywood," he said, "you are in your way an extraordinarily clever and capable person—also, I should imagine, a very accomplished burglar—but there are some things which you do not understand. There are so many of you people whose cleverness extends just as far as the outside edge, even, of the material world, but who cannot see across even the narrowest gulfs. There are many things which, if you took them from this room, or from any part of my house, I should never miss, but there are some things which, when you touch, you tear my heart-strings. That is a little beyond your understanding, is it not, but it is the truth. You see, when beauty enters into a thing, life enters, and when there is life there, it speaks and breathes and lives in a way that not all the world understands, in a way which I think those understand best who are like me—afflicted.''
"I made it a rule in life," Mr. Honeywood conceded, "never to disbelieve anything because it seemed impossible. I'm up against a new thing, Lord Grim. I give in. There are your pictures, with my apologies."
"The business side of this affair," Lord Grim said, "must now be alluded to. I will not offer you the whole of the reward I should have been glad to pay for their return. I shall ask you to accept—"
"Nothing doing," Mr. Honeywood interrupted. "We are not out after small fish, any one of us. This job was to come off or it wasn't to come off. It hasn't come off. That's all there is about it. For the few hours' anxiety you have suffered, sir, we are sorry."
Lord Grim extended both hands.
"You are the most amiable thieves," he murmured, "who ever wandered into the gardens of wrongdoing."
He whispered an order to Johnson, who had appeared upon the threshold, and looked back towards his guests.
"Grim Castle," he said, "has other curios besides miniatures and pictures. We have a few bins of wonderful wine. I have sent for one of my unique possessions. In the meantime, will my accomplished friend tell me how, with a Yale-locked steel shutter and a door also of solid steel, he was able to walk in here at his will?"
Mr. Honeywood shook his head.
"I guess I'm not talking about that," he replied, "only, while we are upon the subject, I'd like to make it plain that none of your servants, or any one belonging to you, were in this little do. It was a single-handed job."
"My servants are my compensation," Lord Grim declared gravely. "I would stake my life upon their fidelity."
The forefingers of his hand had rested nearly all this time upon the surface of his most prized picture. Slowly they moved from side to side. A slight frown appeared upon his face. He turned the canvas over. Mr. Honeywood was by his side in a moment.
"Lord Grim," he exclaimed, in sudden excitement, "there is a double back to that picture I can see where it has been gummed on, and there is something between the two canvases."
"I believe," the other admitted, "that you are right."
"There will be letters there," Mr. Honeywood declared, in a burst of inspiration. "They were the property—the joint property—of the murdered man and a patron of ours. May we have them as our reward?"
"You are welcome to anything so long as you leave me the picture," Lord Grim assured him earnestly.
Mr. Honeywood ripped down the false back of the picture and drew out a long envelope, sealed with a blue seal. The face of the envelope was blank, but in the left-hand corner were a few words in a spidery handwriting:—
Draft agreement with J. K. on behalf of G.
He showed it to the other two and thrust it into his pocket.
"What did you find?" Lord Grim asked curiously.
"Just some papers in a long envelope," was the tremulous reply.
"You are sure that the canvas is unhurt?"
They hobnobbed with strange-coloured wine, of marvellous potency, in long-stemmed glasses, wine which Mr. Honeywood sipped and sipped again with becoming reverence.
Ah they looked back for a moment after making their adieux they saw their late host standing a few feet back from the most prized of his recovered treasures. His hands were a little raised, his head thrown back. His attitude was one of worship, his expression one of beatific happiness. Mr. Honeywood hunched his shoulders and thrust his hand deep down into his trousers pocket.
"He feels those pictures all right," he admitted, "I guess we'll have to give Lady Felicia best this time."
SIR JULIAN came down from London that night, still harassed. They almost hustled him into his study.
"My correspondent," he confided, "eludes an interview and yet demands money."
"Precisely," Mr. Honeywood acquiesced. "That is because he wants the money but he hasn't got the goods."
"I expect you're right," Sir Julian admitted, "but if he hasn't, where are they?"
"Here," Mr. Honeywood declared, producing the envelope from his pocket and waving it in the air with a gesture of pure melodrama.
Sir Julian Kand walked the crowded thoroughfares of life with the footsteps of a strong man, but as he opened the seal of that envelope and drew out its contents, joy shone out of his face, the tense lines disappeared from about his mouth. Then he smote the little man from Okehampstead a blow between the shoulders which practically doubled him up.
"Are you a wizard?" he cried. "How did you come by this?"
"It was hidden in the back of one of the pictures which Count Andrea's valet stole, the night he murdered his master," Mr. Honeywood explained. "We three just motored over to Grim Castle this morning and recovered it."
Sir Julian walked straight to his writing-cabinet, shook the ink into his fountain pen, and wrote three cheques. Felicia and Van Clarence Smith shook their heads doubtfully.
"We weren't in this," they declared.
Mr. Honeywood smile. Tho joy of a happy chlld radiated from his face,
"We are partners three," he replied. "My turn today and yours to-morrow."
"This is one of those times," Sir Julian declared, laying his hands upon Mr. Honeywood's shoulders, "when money doesn't talk loud enough. What else can I do for you, Mr. Honeywood?"
"Lord Grim," the little man murmured, with reminiscent appreciation, "gave us Tokay, a hundred years old."
Sir Julian turned to the butler, who was just entering the room with a tray of cocktails.
"Present this gentleman," he ordered, "with the key of the wine-cellar."
PROBABLY the only person who did not seem to be thoroughly appreciating Sir Julian Kand's country house-party was that scion of a great American family, James Van Clarence Smith. His fiancée and fellow-conspirator, Lady Felicia Lakenham, became quite distressed about him towards the close of an afternoon upon which she had particularly enjoyed herself. She broke up a set of tennis to come over and console him.
"My dear Jim," she exclaimed, "why are you looking so melancholy?"
Van Clarence Smith, who had risen at her approach, sank back once more into the garden seat which she was now sharing with him.
"All play and no work, I guess, Felicia," he replied gloomily.
"Well, that doesn't worry me," she laughed, "or Mr. Honeywood! Look at him playing bowls over there with the Duke, with the perspiration dripping from his face, and his coat hanging on the tree! Did you ever see a man enjoying himself more?"
"That's all very well," the young American pointed out, "but you see you've both had an innings. I haven't. Just look at the situation for a moment from my point of view, Felicia. We three are practically in old Kand's employ. We all have our qualifications, I suppose. You belong to the inner circles of the English aristocracy. You can go where you like, and talk to whom you please; pump Cabinet Ministers, or play the ingenue with diplomatists."
"Dear me!" she murmured. "I begin to think that I've undervalued myself."
"You've had your show," he continued, "and you scored all right over it.... Then there's little Honeywood, an American country town insurance agent, run away from a nagging wife and a narrow life in search of adventures. Look at the way he's turned out trumps. No wonder old Kand pats him on the back! Yet he's down here, supposed to be my secretary, and so far I've been nothing but a looker-on."
"Your time will come, Jim dear," she assured him.
"A couple of thou a year is all very well," the young man admitted, balancing his racquet on his forefinger, "but I should like to feel that I was earning a bit of it, at any rate. So far, all I seem to have done is to have supplied the picturesque background."
Felicia laughed softly.
"Don't be a booby!" she exclaimed. "We each need the other, really, and, apart from anything else, you discovered Mr. Honeywood and brought him into the show."
"He's a peach, Honeywood is!" was her companion's admiring comment.
"He's quite the social success of this party," Felicia observed.
Van Clarence Smith grinned.
"Say, if his account of himself is really true, and I believe it is, how his friends at Okehampstead would stare if they could see him here! Why, the Duchess in feeding out of his hand, and directly he tells a story everyone stops talking. It's a case of 'Love me, love my employer!' If ever I do get a little notice from anyone, it's because Mr. Honeywood is my secretary. I'm getting fed up with it."
"It won't last much longer," Felicia assured him encouragingly.
"I came into this thing," he went on, "just as much because I thought there was going to be a little spice in it, as for the sake of the dollars. Just think of the week I've had! I've been obliged to play tennis with a lot of rabbits, make myself agreeable to His Mightiness's secretary because I can speak a few words of German, and plan the new holes on the golf-links. Incidentally, I have to watch you flirting with old Kand and pretend I don't mind. That gets me, Felicia."
She laughed more heartily than ever.
"You seem to forget that Julian Kand hasn't a thought in life except for his bank, his stocks and his shares. All this entertaining and social life is part of the game with him. He has great ambitions. What they are I don't know. No one ever will know. But of one thing I am certain: women mean a little less to him than his early-morning cigar."
The young man's gloom was unrelieved.
"Well, I'm sick of playing the muscular butterfly," he grumbled. "I'm not English enough to be able to enjoy nothing but games."
Felicia patted his hand.
"Jim," she begged, "don't worry. I haven't any definite news for you but I can give you a hint. There's something on foot, and I believe that you're not only in it, but you are the only one in it."
Van Clarence Smith unwound the arms of his white jersey from around his throat, and leaned forward.
"Is that straight, Felicia?"
"Word of honour! Listen. Sir Julian asked me to walk on the lawn with him after breakfast this morning. I suppose that was the time when you thought he was flirting with me. He talked about nothing else but you. He wanted to know whether you were as strong as you looked and if I thought that you had real courage. He wound up by asking me to let you know during the day that he wanted to see you for a few minutes before dinner in his study. Now do you feel better?"
"Gee, but I should think I do!" the young man declared heartily. "That's fine, Felicia. Sounds as though there might be a scrap in it, too."
"Oh, I daresay you'll get all the scrapping you want," she replied, "before we have finished our contract with Sir Julian! Jim," she went on, laying her hand upon his arm, "wouldn't you like to know what those three are talking about?"
She moved her head slightly in the direction of three men who were approaching the tennis-courts from the park. One was their host; in the middle, his most distinguished guest, Prince Terniloff, the representative of a great European nation; and on the other side, the Right Honourable Hardy Smith.
"I think I could give a pretty good guess," Van Clarence Smith declared. "The stock markets are jumping all over the place, and Sir Julian is trying to find out whether there is any political reason for it."
Felicia looked thoughtful.
"Somehow or other," she reflected, "I can't help fancying that if the stock markets are really as disturbed as you say, Sir Julian knows all there is to be known about the cause of it."
"Perhaps so," her companion acquiesced, "and yet over here, as well as with us, the queerest things will sometimes knock the whole bottom out of a market. Way over in New York, the health of a railway or bank president, or even his departure for a holiday, will send Wall Street mad. On this side, if any lunatic in the Balkans walks through the streets of a town, doing the Bronchi Bill act with a couple of revolvers, you get just the same scare,"
"I can quite understand now," Felicia said, "why Sir Julian explained that for the sake of his financial interests he was obliged to keep in intimate touch with politics. I thought it sounded rather far-fetched at first, but the idea is growing on me.... Here come Amy Murdoch and Captain Ashford. I can see a challenge in their eyes. Shall we play them a set?"
The match was quickly arranged, and the three passers-by, seeing that the tennis was likely to prove interesting, ensconced themselves in basket-chairs and resumed the conversation in which they had been engaged.
"It is a relief," the Prince confided to his two companions, "to escape for a little time from the atmosphere of diplomatic restrictions, and to talk with one's friends about matters which are nearest to one's heart. When I speak to you two I feel that I speak to England. I am an ambassador with a frank and open mission. I have no need to cover up anything, to withhold or to deny. I am here on behalf of all that is best in Germany, to encourage a lasting peace between our two countries."
"It is a noble aim," the Cabinet Minister declared emphatically. "You will find us more than ready to meet you in every respect."
"So far," the Ambassador continued, "I think I may say that I have met with a certain measure of success. I have convinced myself of your earnest desire for peace. I think I have convinced you that the powers who count for all that is best and most enduring in my country are equally in favour of it. But I would be deceiving you, and I should be doing less than justice to myself, if I were to fail to impress upon you, as I have done in private conference with your Prime Minister and your King, the fact that there is a disagreeably strong faction in Germany which is absolutely anti-English and which would welcome a war between our countries. That is not the faction whose leaders will ever gain supreme authority, but it exists, and I am here to work against it."
"It is this faction," Mr. Hardy Smith observed,"—the Militarists I suppose you would call them—upon whom the alarmists is this country continually fix their eyes. They have a powerful Press and great leaders. I am convinced, however, that they do not represent intellectual and responsible Germany."
"Indeed they do not," the Prince assented, "but, at the same time they carry weight with some people, and they very seriously increase the difficulties of my task over here. I am determined, however, that no one in Germany shall be deceived as to the pacific intentions of your diplomatists. I have kept a volume of memoirs ever since I arrived here, in which I have recorded the substance of all the conversations which I have had with your principal statesmen. I have accumulated proof therein of the undoubtedly peaceful intentions of your Cabinet. This book will be a great weapon in my hands if the time should come when that much-to-be-distrusted Party in my country should attempt to force their bellicose plans upon the Kaiser. By means of that little volume, Sir Julian, I shall preserve the peace."
Sir Julian was looking across the tennis-courts, through the trees. His expression was almost sphinx-like.
"It is a very fortunate circumstance," lie declared, "both for my country and my adopted country, that the Kaiser sent you to England, Prince, just when he did."
"I love England," the latter said simply, "and when the diplomatic history of these days is written, I shall always be glad to reflect, and proud to have it demonstrated, that my endeavours were partly instrumental in saving her from the horrors of war. To tell you the truth, although I am a German and have done my service, I am not a militarist. I look upon our immense armaments with suspicion and sometimes alarm. It is my constant prayer that if in time to come a use must be found for them, their movement may be eastwards, and eastwards only."
"If German diplomacy," Mr. Hardy Smith propounded, "could disengage France from her Russian obligations, it would achieve the greatest triumph of modern days."
Tho Prince smiled gently. He was an intellectual-looking but mild-featured man, with a slight grey moustache, sunken cheeks, but broad, fine forehead.
"When my task here is finished," he said, "nothing would give me greater pleasure than to go to Paris. The Franco-Russian alliance is an unnatural one. Russia in its present form cannot long continue a great empire. It must either collapse at the hand of the revolutionary or at the hand of some foreign foe. If the former should be the case, think of the disaster to France!"
"Russia has immense sources of wealth and strength," Sir Julian observed thoughtfully.
"All the potentialities are there," the Prince agreed, "but the Romanoffs are a doomed race. Monarchy in Russia is a doomed thing. The country will go through much suffering before it is able to develop its resources and become the power it undoubtedly must be some day. I have not the friendly feelings for Russia that I have for England. I tell you frankly that in the councils of my country, when I have been called to them, and the expansion of our frontiers has been urged, I have pointed always eastwards. Sometimes here in London," he went on, dropping his voice a little, "I have felt like a hypocrite, for the Russians whom I meet, diplomatically and otherwise, are charming people.. Unfortunately they are not representative of Russia."
"Tell us more," Sir Julian begged, "about this volume of memoirs which you are preparing, this justification, if I may call it so, of English policy towards Germany."
"There is very little to tell you about it beyond the fact of its existence," the Prince replied. "I carry it with me wherever I go. I am beginning to look upon it as the textbook of my life."
"Let me put this question to you," his host continued. "What should you do with it in the remote contingency of the Military Party in Germany gaining the ascendancy and dragging your country into war with England?"
The Ambassador hesitated. He obviously found the consideration perplexing.
"I am first of all a citizen of Germany," he said, "but I am also a citizen of the world. I think that if, in spite of all the evidence I could bring before her of England's desire for peace, my country still insisted upon war, then some day or other, for the sake of history, to whom we all owe so much, I should permit the truth to be known."
The Cabinet Minister inclined his head in approbation.
"That," he declared, "is the decision of a great mind. Still, you know our belief, a belief encouraged by many of our statesmen who have been entertained at your Court. Germany will never be so short-sighted as to seek a quarrel with a country who only wishes her well."
"Personally," the Prince observed, "I am inclined to account for the distrust which undoubtedly has existed between our two nations as largely the result of amateur diplomacy. There is no doubt whatever that the frequent visits of your late Sovereign to Paris, and his known attempt to bring about an alliance between the two countries, were intensely irritating to Berlin."
"If there were no difficulties," Sir Julian reminded his guest, "there would be no scope for the talents of you master-diplomats."
The Prince shook his head.
"History will never call me that," he pronounced. "I should be more content to-day to be living upon my estates than to be fighting the cause of the better part of my country, here in London. However, I do not complain. There could be no diplomatic task more to my liking than the one with which I have been entrusted, and my English friends make my duty at times a very pleasant one.... I find your country house-party, Sir Julian, delightful."
"You honour me."
"One meets one's friends here, those with whom one has serious dealing, in a congenial and delightful atmosphere," the Prince continued. "One can unburden oneself of one's secret thoughts. You attain a cosmopolitan atmosphere, too, in your parties, Sir Julian, which we in Germany, alas! can never emulate. We meet always our friends and relations and nobody else, until we get tired of them. With you there are always fresh faces, people of different nationalities.... A fine young fellow that Mr. Van Clarence Smith, playing with Lady Felicia. He is one of the great American family, I suppose?"
"One of the family who rule American finance," Sir Julian assented, "although he personally is rather an outcast just at present. He is ambitious, by-the-bye, to make your acquaintance, Prince. Perhaps you will permit me to present him?"
"It will give me the utmost pleasure," was the gracious reply.
The tennis was just over, and the introduction was promptly effected. The Prince stretched out his hand cordially.
"We see too few of your nationality in Germany," he said, "but I must have met some of your relatives at Kiel and Homburg?"
"My uncle goes there every year," the young man replied.
"You should come and play tennis at Homburg and Wiesbaden," the Prince suggested. "You Americans and our English friends are fast developing the liking for games amongst our own young people."
"They've made good already on the river, sir," Van Clarence Smith remarked.
"Some day you must try the courts at one of my country estates," the Prince invited, as they turned and walked towards the house. "My turf, they told me, was too old at first, but I had an English gardener sent over and he has improved it wonderfully. Then I have some hard courts, too, made of a new material, which I believe are good. Have you any relatives, by-the-bye, in the Embassy at Berlin?"
"My people have always stuck to finance."
"And very wisely! Diplomacy has its triumphs, but it has many disappointments.... You will excuse me? I see the Princess signalling. I think that means that she is ready for our afternoon game of croquet."
The Ambassador left them with a smile and a nod. Sir Julian gripped Van Clarence Smith by the arm and drew him a little apart.
"A very extraordinary man, Prince Terniloff," he remarked.
"He's a fine fellow," the young man declared enthusiastically. "He isn't in the least what I thought an ambassador must be like."
"He is not of the usual type," Sir Julian agreed, "and yet.... Now tell me, my young friend—I take some interest in the inner thoughts of all my friends—let me have your judgment: should you call him an honest man?"
"I should swear that he was honest," was the prompt pronouncement. Sir Julian nodded.
"That is the general opinion," he admitted. "Don't forget, I am expecting to see you at half-past seven in my study."
"I shall be there," the young man promised.
Sir Julian was seated alone in his study when, punctually at half-past seven, Van Clarence Smith presented himself. He swung round in his chair, pointed to a seat and lost very little time in opening the conversation.
"Lady Felicia tells me that you want work."
"Well, I think it's time I did something for my money, sir."
Sir Julian eyed his companion thoughtfully. The cold spring twilight dealt a little unkindly with his sallow complexion, but his face was set in firm lines, and his eyes, though they had narrowed a little, were hard and bright.
"I have work for you," he said. "The question is, will you undertake it?"
"Is there any reason why I shouldn't?"
"None," was the firm reply, "unless you are cursed with one of these over-sensitive, Puritanical consciences. The work I have is a man's work."
"I'd like to hear about it right now," the young man declared simply.
"I presented you this afternoon," Sir Julian continued, "to Prince Terniloff, with an intent. I asked you for your opinion of his character. You believed him to be an honest man."
"I certainly did."
"You were wrong. I do not blame you, because for a long time I was deceived myself. That man is a hypocrite. He is planning to embroil this country in war with Germany."
"If that war should come," Sir Julian continued impressively, "I am a ruined man."
"War between England and Germany!" Van Clarence Smith muttered. "It seems off the map, somehow."
"On the contrary," Sir Julian pronounced, "it is so imminent that it probably rests with you and me whether it comes off or not."
His companion was incapable of speech. He sat and stared.
"The one thing," Sir Julian continued, "which would make the war improbable is that the English Government should obtain possession of a certain volume of memoirs which the Prince carries always with him. Do I make myself clear?"
"That volume is in the Prince's sitting-room, locked up in a bureau of black oak. I want it."
"Show me the way there," the young man declared hopefully, "and I'll get it. But, say—you'll excuse my mentioning it, Sir Julian—what about your Secret Service? Isn't this rather a job for them?"
"There isn't such an institution," Sir Julian replied contemptuously. "The village policeman who patrols the road outside the park would be as useful in a case like this as the cleverest man who ever worked for what they call the English Secret Service. Their officials are all hide-bound, prejudiced, unimaginative. Frankly, my young friend, if I were to go to any one of our politicians, to any one of our diplomatists, to the chief of our police, and tell them to-day what I know to be the truth—that Prince Terniloff was intriguing to drag this country into war with Germany—they would look upon me as a lunatic. Furthermore, supposing I were able to convince them that there was the slightest chance of this, and to point out that this volume of memoirs, put into the right hands, would probably save the country, it is my honest belief that they would reply at once that they could do nothing against the person or the belongings of an Ambassador. In plain words, our Secret Service has about as much initiative when it is up against a big proposition, as the old lady who opens my lodge gates."
"You are saying things!" the young man murmured. "All those stories, then——But, gee! That don't matter! Where do I spring in here, Sir Julian?"
"To-night," his employer announced, "or rather to-morrow morning, there will be a burglary here."
"Property will be stolen in other directions, but the end rooms of the second floor of this wing will also be entered, and the apartments of the Prince ransacked."
"Am I the burglar?"
"You are not. I am not asking you to play the part of an ordinary criminal. His role is already filled. I want you to act where finesse is required. You will be the person who will hear the burglar, who will hasten to the scene and struggle with him. The burglar will be there for jewellery and money, and anything he can get hold of. You will play first walking gentleman hero, but all you will really have to do is to look for a small, grey, morocco-bound volume in the cabinet which will already be broken open with a jemmy. Secure me that volume, my young friend, and you will have earned your year's salary. You will also incidentally have averted a European war."
"I'm all on to it," the young man declared. "What time does the curtain ring up?"
"It will happen at three o'clock precisely," Sir Julian announced. "Set your watch by mine and be punctual to the second, for although you will say afterwards that you were awakened by the sounds, there will, we hope, be no disturbance at all. The Prince's rooms are the three at the end of your corridor. They are all en suite, but the doors of the two bedrooms will be locked, so that egress to them is only possible through the sitting-room, which will be the scene of the burglary. You must enter that sitting-room at precisely three o'clock. If all has gone well, the Prince will be gagged and bound and locked in his bedroom beyond. The burglar will know you by sight and will assist you in the search. As soon as you have the book, help him to escape, wait as long as you safely can, conceal the book in your room, and then give the alarm. If the burglar is caught, Well, he will turn out to be one of my old servants, and I shall get him off with as light a sentence as possible."
"I'll bring you that book, sir, if it's anywhere in the room," the young man promised.
"It is a very handsome volume," Sir Julian concluded, "bound in grey, shiny morocco, and with a coronet and coat of arms on the outside cover. The Prince takes the greatest possible care of it, but he permitted me a glimpse of it the other day. It is filled with very small writing in his own hand, and the matter has become urgent because I know that he means to send it by messenger, within the course of the next week or so, to Germany."
The dinner-gong sounded. Sir Julian took his young companion's arm and they strolled out into the hall. The butler was passing around a tray of cocktails.
"I appreciate confidence," Sir Julian declared, "and I believe in you. We will drink to the success of your first exploit on my account."
Lady Felicia, on her way to the drawing-room, caught sight of them and came across.
"A toast!" she exclaimed. "Can't I join it?"
She took a glass from the tray. The three were alone for a moment.
"We are drinking," Sir Julian confided, in a low tone, "to the success of a little adventure which Mr. Van Clarence Smith is undertaking to-night."
Felicia smiled as she raised her glass.
"I told you, Jim," she murmured, "that your time was coming...."
At half-past two on the following morning, Van Clarence Smith mixed himself a strong whisky and soda and lit a cigarette. At a quarter to three he listened to the owls in the park, and although he remained on the qui vive all the time, he heard no other sound. At three o'clock to the second he left his room, attired in pyjamas and a dressing-gown, and made his way down the corridor towards the end apartment. His confidence was strengthened by the fact that a light was gleaming underneath the door, and that a subdued rustling, mingled with the sound of stertorous breathing, indicated the fact that events were proceeding as per programme. He opened the door, therefore, and prepared for his previously-rehearsed performance. Here, however, the programme appeared to falter, for he found himself gazing into the very ugly circle of a most disagreeable-looking revolver, held in the firm hand of a man in evening dress, whose features were concealed by a black silk mask and whose attitude was distinctly threatening.
"Throw your hands up!"
Van Clarence Smith saw no reason to disobey. His eyes made a swift survey of the apartment. A man, obviously the original burglar, who had apparently received a blow on the forehead, was lying doubled up upon the floor, moaning softly. The bureau which Sir Julian had spoken of had been prised open and ransacked. The little grey book was in the left hand of the masked man whose figure was somehow familiar.
"I seem to have missed my cue," Van Clarence Smith confessed. "Who the devil are you?"
The man with the revolver answered without hesitation.
"I am exactly what I seem to be," he said, "and I mean business."
"An opposition party to the gentleman on the floor?"
"What have you done with the Prince?"
"Tied to the bed-post and gagged by my predecessor. He'll come to no harm. Look here, are you going to be reasonable?"
"I don't know what you mean by being reasonable," Van Clarence Smith muttered, his eyes glued upon that small volume.
"I'll tell you, then," the other went on. "—Stay where you are!" he broke off sharply. "Not another foot, or, by God, I'll put a bullet through you."
Van Clarence Smith had swayed a little towards that coveted volume. He calculated the effect of a spring, but postponed the idea.
"Look here," the masked man proceeded, "I'm not after valuables. On the contrary, I haven't stolen a single thing belonging to Sir Julian Kand, and I've stopped a burglary. Take my revolver and keep that other fellow covered. Give the alarm as soon as I've passed out of the room and am clear away down the corridor."
"Why the devil should I?" was the fierce retort. "You're as much in this as that fellow upon the floor. How do I know that you are speaking the truth?"
"Be reasonable," the other begged. "I don't want to be caught here, I'll admit, but I'm not a burglar in the sense that that man is. If you handed me over to the police I should just melt through their fingers. Can't you forget that you ever saw me here, and deal with the other man as you like? I give you my word of honour I am taking nothing away from this room except this little book, and that——"
"And that I'm damned if you'll take!" Van Clarence Smith shouted.
Then pandemonium came. With a football rush, the ex-Harvard full-back got his shoulder into the chest of his opponent, and struck his right arm from underneath, so that the revolver fell clattering to the ground. They were locked together at once in a breathless struggle. The man who had been lying upon the floor crawled to the window and disappeared. Van Clarence Smith spared a finger to press the bell.
"Burglar or no burglar, you've got to have it," he muttered, clenching his teeth and raising his right knee.
The masked man took his fall and lay motionless. His late assailant untied the strings of black silk, looked into the unconscious man's face, and himself received a shock. Then he threw the mask out of the window and leaned exhausted against the wall.... The door of the inner room was suddenly thrown open. The Prince, with the gag hanging down and his hands still half-bound, came stumbling across the threshold shouting furiously for help. Simultaneously, there was the sound of many hurrying footsteps on the other side. Sir Julian, two or three of the guests, and half-a-dozen of the servants, all in different stages of déshabillé, rushed, in.
Everybody seemed to be asking questions at once. The Prince, with livid face, was standing before his rifled desk.
"This is all there is to tell you about it," Van Clarence Smith announced, still breathing heavily. "There's been a robbery. He must have heard it before I did," pointing to the figure upon the floor. "I was just in time to take a hand in the scrap, but I couldn't hold the burglar. He was as slippery as an eel, and armed, too."
"Which way did he go?" the Prince demanded.
Van Clarence Smith pointed to the window.
"There's a rope ladder hanging from there."
Terniloff himself would have been the first to descend but they held him back. Already the alarm had been given and there were men in the park, running in different directions. The Prince supported himself by the sash of the open window.
"A thousand pounds," he called out—"two thousand pounds—for the man who catches the burglar!"
He collapsed into a chair. Sir Julian hastened to the side of his maltreated guest. The man, whose mask had been torn away, still lay groaning upon the floor. It was altogether a most complicated scene.
Van Clarence Smith handed over the little grey volume to Sir Julian after breakfast on the following morning. Sir Julian's dark eyes glittered as he turned over the pages.
"Your story sounded all right," he observed. "Do you think that any one has any suspicion that you got away with this?"
"Certainly the Prince hasn't," was the confident reply, "I don't know so much about Captain Ashford."
"Because I took the book out of his pocket."
Sir Julian seldom showed surprise. On this occasion only his eyebrows were raised a little.
"I see," he remarked thoughtfully. "Then Ashford was a competitor?"
"Sure," the young man acknowledged. "He'd finished with your professional burglar and was just off with the swag when I arrived. He gave me a sticky few minutes at the end of his revolver."
"An interesting situation," Sir Julian murmured. "Did you recognise him at the time?"
"I did not. He was wearing a mask, but I knew he wasn't in the gang, because he'd frozen on to the book and he kicked at my interference. I waited until I caught him a little off guard and then rushed him."
"I knew your muscle would be of service to me some day," Sir Julian said approvingly. "Tell me about that mask, though? Ashford hadn't it on when we came in,"
"I took it off and threw it out of the window just before you all arrived. They picked it up in the flower-beds this morning."
"Tell me why you did that?" Sir Julian asked curiously.
"I just can't," was the frank acknowledgment. "It was kind of an impulse. I thought he might have been working for you and there had been some sort of a misunderstanding." Sir Julian nodded.
"You displayed extraordinary intelligence. Ashford was not acting for me, but I fancy there can be very little doubt as to whom he was acting for. You say that the book was already in his possession when you entered the room?"
"He had just taken it from the desk."
"I present my apologies," Sir Julian said, "to our Secret Service. I did them an injustice when I spoke of them before dinner."
"Then Captain Ashford—"
"Precisely! I must confess that I have known him for some years and even entertained him at my house without having had the slightest suspicion of it."
Van Clarence Smith's face fell.
"Seems to me, then," he observed, "that I needn't have butted in at all?"
Sir Julian laid a kindly hand upon his shoulder.
"That is where you are wrong, my young friend," he assured him. "It is far better for this little volume to reach its final destination through me than through any one else, in fact, I desire from the present moment to take the matter out of your hands entirely. You know nothing whatever about the book. You closed with Ashford, not recognising him, and believing him to be engaged in an ordinary burglarious enterprise. That is plausible, isn't it?"
"Quite! As a matter of fact, I didn't recognise him until I took off his mask. I'd sized him up as a butter-in of some sort, but I'd no idea he was for us."
"Very well," Sir Julian continued. "The Prince offered, I believe, a reward of two thousand pounds for its return. Next time you look at your bank-book, I trust that you will find its contents satisfactory.... Not a word, please," he added, as the young man started to protest. "As you may find some day, I am a hard taskmaster and merciless to failure, but I reward success as it deserves. It is my principle.... I see Lady Felicia is out there on the lawn. Take her for a spin in my new Rolls-Royce. I dare say she will like to hear all about it.... A telephone call. Please excuse me...."
"Well, what luck?" Felicia asked eagerly, as her companion presently led her away towards the garage.
"Colossal! I've earned two thousand pounds and averted a European war. Why shouldn't we get married?"
Felicia laughed softly.
"We're both too fond of adventure."
"Adventure? Gee! Doesn't marriage count?"
"Desperately," she answered, "only I think we ought to keep that for the last one of all."
MR. MENDEL HONEYWOOD had never been more entirely satisfied with himself and his immediate outlook upon life. He had spent an hour in true American fashion at the barber's, during which time he had submitted his chin, his hands and his hair to the skilful care of willing and complacent myrmidons. He had been electrically massaged, sprayed and shampooed—he had, in fact, exhausted the resources of what he humorously termed "the male beauty parlour." His tuxedo coat, with its assisted shoulders and unusual length, was carefully brushed. His little court shoes shone with polish. His white shirt, with its solitaire gold stud, was impressively dazzling, and his black silk bow was tied with the little flop which was always his aim. He was seated at his favourite table in the Milan grill-room, with his partners in crime on each side of him. A tray of cocktails, borne in the hand of the one sommelier whom he could trust, was less than half a dozen yards away. The menu in front of him comprised American dishes of rare succulency. A gold-foiled bottle stood already in a zinc pail by his side. Mr. Honeywood was happy.
"My friends," he said, raising his glass, "to our next adventure!"
"Some way off, apparently," the massively-built young American with the millionaire's name, remarked, setting down his glass empty.
"Perhaps," his very beautiful vis-à-vis murmured hopefully, "we may pick up something for ourselves."
Mr. Honeywood beamed.
"There," he declared, "spoke the artist. That is what I feel myself. That is why this long-deferred freedom, in which I may say that I am now revelling, is such a joyous thing to me. I walk, as it were, on tiptoe all the time. I say to myself—'This is the city of adventures. I have met with one. I shall meet with more.' Every face I see, therefore, attracts me. Every hour of the day is interesting. And meanwhile, we have lobster Newberg."
"Reminds me of Sherry's," the young man remarked.
"I look upon our little dinner to-night as a festivity," the host continued. "It is very nearly a year since I landed in England, since I sneaked up to my room across the courtyard there because I hadn't enough money to pay the taxicab."
"You have found London an Eldorado," the girl observed,
"London," Mr. Honeywood replied, "has provided me with more than money. It has given me such associates as I certainly had not the right to expect.... you, Lady Felicia Lakenham, a young lady with great connections, the entrée to any sort of Society you fancy, and yet admitting me to a much-esteemed companionship because of that one taste which we share in common—the love of adventure."
"Don't forget that my impecuniosity counts," Felicia laughed. "I dare say, if I had had the usual income, I should have lived the usual humdrum life."
"It is hard to believe it.... Then," Mr. Honeywood continued, "I turn to Mr. Van Clarence Smith here, a scion of one of those great American families whose name I never heard in the States without a little feeling of awe. It is marvellous for me to sit here and reflect that he, too, through kindred tastes, has become my other associate."
"Kindred tastes and lack of dollars," the young man reminded his host.
"There is plenty of money in the world—plenty!" Mr. Honeywood pronounced, as he sipped his champagne. "All that is necessary is to see that it is diverted into the right quarters."
Felicia laughed again.
"What a delightful way of putting it! I do wonder, though," she went on, "whether we shall have to wait till Sir Julian gets back from the States before we get another thrill out of life."
The swing-doors of the restaurant opened at that moment to admit a very wonderful vision, in pink muslin, a white floppy hat, and white shoes and stockings. The young lady herself was dazzlingly fair, and her features sufficiently recognisable through the united efforts of the weekly illustrated papers.
"Ella Rumboldt," Van Clarence Smith murmured under his breath. "And gee! Look who's with her!"
The young lady was attended by a maid who carried a small dog, a flat jewel-case and a bunch of roses, and followed by a tall, well-groomed Englishman of familiar aspect. He glanced at Mr. Honeywood's table in passing, and met the latter's half-anticipatory smile of greeting with a stare of bland non-recognition. Van Clarence Smith chuckled as the two seated themselves at a neighbouring table, and the maid, having laid the jewel-case and roses upon the table, and arranged the dog upon a cushion, retired.
"Isn't that Captain Ashford?" Felicia asked.
"Say, he didn't seem to recognise us!" Mr. Honeywood observed, in a hurt tone. "He was quite genial down at Sir Julian's."
"That's all right," Van Clarence Smith explained. "It's one of the queer tricks they've got over here. He loves us just the same, but if he's caught out with anything of the Ella Rumboldt type, and we've our own womenkind with us, both sides play a little game. We've got to imitate that glassy eye, Honey."
"Pretty hard to tumble to some of their customs over here," Mr. Honeywood grumbled. "Can't see how a nod and a how-do-you-do matters, anyway. The young lady," he went on, with a little cough, "strikes me as being extremely attractive."
"So a good many other people think," Van Clarence Smith declared. "She gets a hundred pounds a week for waltzing once round the stage at the Frivolity and smiling at the audience."
"It makes one feel very humble to realise how little we understand our fellows," Felicia sighed. "Captain Ashford is the last man I should have thought likely to be amused by this sort of thing."
"Another hero fallen off his pedestal," her vis-à-vis remarked.
"Mind you stay on yours," Felicia warned him. "That's the second time I've caught the minx looking over her shoulder at you."
Van Clarence Smith loved Felicia, but he was young and human. He straightened his tie, talked vigorously about something else, and was ready to receive with empressement the third glance which the young lady undoubtedly threw him a few minutes later.
"I'm glad I didn't embark upon that last adventure you suggested," Felicia said, with just a spice of malice in her tone. "I should hate to have to keep guard over a husband, with all these houri about."
"Your husband would never need guarding," the young man replied promptly. "Your kept-at-arm's-Iength admirer may surely help himself to a cup of water in the wilderness?"
"I don't think that young lady knows much about water!" Felicia murmured. "Isn't she Austrian, or German?"
"Austrian," Mr. Honeywood intervened. "I remember reading about her. She came over with that man who writes wonderful waltzes, I believe she has appeared in New York."
The meal progressed pleasantly and bountifully. Mr Honeywood was at the summit of his bliss. He was proud of his companions, fascinated with his new life, a genial and entertaining host. There was only one possible cloud to the evening's success, and that was a scarcely tangible one. Miss Ella Rumboldt seemed determined to pursue her flirtation with the good-looking young American, and Felicia had intercepted more than one of her glances in his direction. She took the matter, on the whole, good-humouredly, however. Towards the close of the meal, the maid reappeared with a wonderful theatre-coat. Miss Rumboldt glanced at her watch, and rose. The theatre-coat was wrapped around her, and the little procession passed out in the same order. As they neared Mr. Honeywood's table, the sideway glance from Ella Rumboldt's beautiful eyes was unmistakable.
"They must have queer customs in Austria," Felicia remarked, with some asperity. "The selection of friends appears to rest with my sex. Wouldn't you like to change our box at the Alhambra for one at the Frivolity, Jim?"
The young man was good-natured but a little sheepish.
"As a matter of fact," he declared modestly, "I think it was Mr. Honeywood she was after."
Their host waved aside the insinuation.
"In Okehampstead, U.S.A.," he said, "I saw and suffered plenty at the hands of the other sex. I guess I'm fixed up in the path of safety for the rest of my days over here, Life's too good to run any risk of spoiling it."
In a few minutes Captain Ashford returned, took his seat at his own table, and calmly finished his dinner. Once or twice he glanced towards Van Clarence Smith, and on the last occasion his slight gesture was almost imperative.
"I fancy Ashford wants to speak to me," the young man remarked. "Will you excuse me if I just say how do you do to him?"
"She can't have been so brutal as to send you a message by him!" Felicia exclaimed.
"Captain Ashford is a very interesting man," Mr. Honeywood declared. "I should miss no opportunity of improving an acquaintance with him."
Van Clarence Smith rose to his feet and strolled across to the neighbouring table. Captain Ashford's imperturbability vanished at once at his approach. He smiled, held out his hand, and motioned his visitor towards the vacant seat.
"I hope I am not taking you away from your friends," he said.
"Not at all."
"You will have a cup of coffee here with me?" Captain Ashford invited. "I have something important to say."
"Go right ahead," was the amiable response. "I'll take the coffee, with pleasure."
"And a liqueur?"
"Brandy, if you are having one."
Captain Ashford pushed across his cigarette-case.
"You've plenty of common-sense, haven't you, Van Clarence Smith?" he asked.
"Well, I hope so," the young man replied.
"I am going to talk to you very frankly—just a few words straight from the knuckle."
"We shall know what we are at, anyway."
"I made certain inquiries about you," Captain Ashford continued, "after that night at Battleden Abbey when, by a combination of jiu-jitsu and American football tactics, you treated me as though I were a puff-ball."
"No apologies, please. It was a perfectly fair do, only of course I hadn't counted upon your being in the way. You spoilt a little enterprise on which I was engaged that evening, and a certain part of it is still wrapped in mystery so far as I am concerned. . . . Don't be afraid. I am not going to ask you any questions. I know perfectly well that what you did, you did at the instigation of Sir Julian Kand. I wouldn't feel the trust in you that I do at the present moment, if I weren't convinced that I couldn't bribe or force you to clear up the mystery of that evening.''
"This sounds like the goods," Van Clarence Smith declared approvingly. "Get right on with what you have to say, Captain Ashford. Yours is the sort of talk I can understand."
"Sir Julian," Captain Ashford went on, "rather unfortunately for the stock markets in this country, has chosen the present moment for a visit to New York. It occurs to me, therefore, that you might have a little time to spare."
"I've plenty of time," the young man confessed.
"Just so! Now I've made very careful inquiries about you, Mr. James Van Clarence Smith. You must please hear that without offence, because I did it as a duty, and you know very well that in any form of service we all have to obey our superior officers."
"I'm not worrying," the young man assured his companion tersely.
"I have come to the conclusion," the latter proceeded, "that you have attached yourself to the interests of Sir Julian Kand partly out of love of adventure and partly for the sake of your pocket. I have also come to the conclusion that you do not trouble about his motives, that you have no strong political bias, that so long as he can show you a task with a little excitement in it, a little profit, and nothing that offends your personal standard of wrong- and right-doing, you are glad to work for him."
Van Clarence Smith was becoming impressed. He had sometimes mocked at the Englishman's slow enunciation and slight drawl. He found in them now a new quality, the quality of precise and well-thought-out reasoning.
"I have asked myself, therefore," Captain Ashford went on, "whether, having a few days or a few hours free, you would not accept a commission, an adventure, from another source? It should promise you a certain amount of amusement or excitement. It should also be made remunerative."
His listener did not hesitate.
"If this job you are talking about," he decided, "is not inimical to Sir Julian Kand's interests, and if it's the sort of thing I can tackle, I'm your man."
"I know you too well, my young Hercules," Captain Ashford said tolerantly, "without knowing you at all, to suggest any enterprise in which you could not honourably engage. All that I want you to do for me is to take Miss Ella Rumboldt out to supper to-night and to find out why she is leaving the Frivolity Theatre."
Van Clarence Smith stared. This was not at all the sort of thing he had been expecting.
"Say, I don't understand," he admitted frankly. "There must be more in it than that?"
"There is not," was the confident reply.
"But why don't you do it yourself?"
"For the simple reason," Captain Ashford confessed, "that Miss Rumboldt would not tell me. She knows me, and she has a very fair idea as to what my interest in the matter is. At any rate, I am English, and that is enough. I do not mind confessing that I asked her to dine here with me this evening to try to discover what I want to know for myself. She seemed to welcome my inquiry. She entered into a long explanation, replete with theatrical terms. I listened and was apparently satisfied. Of course, I know that the whole story was a fabrication."
"But why should you think that she'd tell me?" the young man asked. "We've never even met."
Captain Ashford smiled a little enigmatically.
"Miss Rumboldt," he explained, "is a young lady of swift fancies. She has taken one for you. Besides, you are an American, and she professes to like Americans as much as, in her heart, I know she dislikes Englishmen. There remains, too, a third reason why I know she would give you the information I want, and deny it to me."
"Let me just get this into my mind," Van Clarence Smith said. "I have to get her to tell me something, and pass it on to you. How do I stand so far as regards the young woman afterwards? Seems a trifle low-down, doesn't it?"
"I see your point," his companion acknowledged. "' I shall never ask you to depart in the slightest from your standard of what may or may not be honourable. What I would suggest is that you find out what I have asked, and then, if you feel it dishonourable to tell me, just don't."
"It's a bargain," the young American agreed."—But say, I don't know Miss Rumboldt!"
"The matter is easily arranged," Captain Ashford pronounced. "I am supposed to fetch her from the theatre myself to-night. I shall send a line from here, regretting my inability to do so. You will write a line, indicating who you are and asking her to sup with you. Say that you had been promised an introduction, and explain that your impatience, etc., etc. You need not be afraid of her refusing. Be at tho stage-door at twenty past eleven. Engage a table here, and do not be surprised if you see something of me afterwards."
Van Clarence Smith suddenly laughed.
"Are you married, or engaged to be married, Captain Ashford?" he asked.
"Neither," was the somewhat surprised reply. "Why?"
The young man rose to his feet.
"I am engaged to Lady Felicia," he reminded his companion. "I am just wondering how to explain my supper-party."
Captain Ashford smiled.
"You will have no difficulty," he said. "Lady Felicia is a young lady of sound common-sense. Besides, you three stand together in these matters, don't you? We have a note about you somewhere. 'The whimsical trinity' one of our men calls you."
Van Clarence Smith stared for a moment and then laughed.
"You fellows do find out things over here," he remarked.
>"Mr. James Van Clarence Smith," the beautiful lady murmured, an hour or so later, across the supper-table, "I like you—I like you very much—only your name is so long."
"It is kind of a mouthful, isn't it?" he agreed. "Call me anything you like, for short."
"I shall call you Jimmy," she declared, her really very wonderful eyes quite close to his, her chin supported upon her clasped hands, the fingers of which were aflame with several priceless emeralds. "You make me very sorry that I am going away."
"Why are you going?" he asked carelessly.
She shrugged her shoulders. For a moment she was silent.
"I fatigue myself here," she confided. "London is very well, but it is not Vienna. It is not even Paris, The acquaintances which I make here do not much please me."
"And so you are going!"
"Yes, I go away," she admitted. "They are not pleased at the theatre. Why will you not take me to Paris—Jimmy? I do not like to travel alone."
He became Machiavellian.
"Stay in London another month," he begged, "and I'll take you all the way, if you like."
She made a little grimace at him, then unclasped her fingers, took a cigarette from her tortoiseshell case, accepted a light from him, and smoked meditatively. She had found time to change her clothes since her departure to the theatre. Her black gown and hat were of the Rue de la Paix, her make-up slight but effective. She was quite the most beautiful woman in the supper-room, the cynosure of many eyes.
"Jimmy," she said, "I would not stay in London for another month if you gave me—well, what have you that is precious?"
"Your heart, say, then. No, not even for your heart, my friend!"
"Why on earth not?" he asked. "London isn't such a bad place. A bit cramped after New York, or sombre after Paris, but when you begin to find your way about, London has its points."
"And yet, I tell you," she insisted, "I would not stay here another month for all the great things which the gods could give."
"I am not good at riddles," he confessed. "—Here, waiter! Another liqueur before you take that bottle away."
Their glasses were filled. The lights had been lowered. The atmosphere of the place was a little heavy with the aroma of cigarette smoke, the incense of the women's clothes and perfumes.
"You, too," she went on reflectively, "you are a foreigner... You are not English."
"Bet your life I'm not," he assured her.
"Then what is good for me is good for you in a lesser degree," she continued. "It is good for me to get away before August; so, also, for you. Come with me to Paris, my child."
"Why won't it be good for me to be here in August?" he asked bluntly.
She leaned further still across the table.
"Listen," she said. "I did not mean to tell a soul before I left. My word is really pledged that I should tell no one. I will not count you because you are not English. I have a great friend who is highly placed in the Austrian Government. From him I received last week a private letter. He begged me to destroy it the moment I had read it, and he warned me to leave London before August the first, because any day after that war might be declared."
"War?" he repeated incredulously.
"Austria and Germany are going to fight," she went on, "against Russia, against France, and against England. It is not we, mind, who wish it. It is Germany. But we are pledged and we must keep our word. My friend has warned me before. He promised to send me word in time. He has kept his promise. So you see, dear Jimmy, that it will be better for you, too, to be out of this country when the blow falls. You will come with me to Paris? Yes?"
"There are difficulties," he admitted.
"Difficulties!" she scoffed, with narrowed eyes, a soft and noiseless laugh. "You are the first man who has ever spoken to me of them!"
There was a single moment during which Van Clarence Smith missed his cue. Then Providence intervened. The maid appeared, looking through the doors. As soon as she had recognised her mistress, she hastened to the table and, leaning over her, whispered something in her ear. Miss Ella Rumboldt frowned angrily. Her eyes flashed, she struck the table with her fist. The two women engaged in a whispered conversation. Van Clarence Smith, to distract his attention, called for the bill. Presently the maid retreated, leaving her mistress white and angry. She turned to her companion, and at her first words he recovered his cue.
"I am broken-hearted, dear Jimmy," she said. "A friend has called, a very distinguished gentleman whom I dare not offend. He has been my patron. In Austria he will mean success or failure for me. He desires to see me urgently."
"You must go?" her companion exclaimed in well-simulated dismay.
Her eyes soothed him with an unspeakable regret, promised him the next moment a wonderful future.
"I must go," she sighed "but to-morrow—the next day—yes?"
Van Clarence Smith bent over her hands.
"Until the earliest moment," he murmured.
>Left alone, he lit a cigar, paid his bill, stretched himself, and made a leisurely departure. In the lobby he suddenly felt an arm thrust though his.
"Let me drive you home," a familiar voice invited. "My car is here."
Captain Ashford led the way to a waiting automobile and ushered his companion in.
"Where to?" he asked.
"I am staying at some rooms in Clarges Street," Van Clarence Smith answered.
"Good! Then we'll call at my little show in Whitehall Court and have a drink. Had a pleasant evening?"
"Great!" was the enthusiastic reply. "She's some girl!"
Captain Ashford smiled, made a few remarks about Miss Rumboldt's professional career, and said nothing more of interest until they were seated in arm-chairs in his very handsome study, and his manservant had wheeled a little table between them, upon which were set out cigars and cigarettes, and other forms of refreshment.
"Brandy or whisky?"
"I see ice," the young American observed complacently. "Guess I'll mix myself a Scotch highball."
"I am not altogether sure," his host ventured, "whether I interpreted your wishes correctly in breaking up your tête-à-tête this evening."
"Say, had you anything to do with that?"
"Naturally! Miss Ella Rumboldt has a great admirer, very highly placed in the Austrian Embassy here. I managed to have news of your little supper-party conveyed to him. I thought perhaps his advent might afford you the means of a strategic retreat."
"You certainly do see things through!" Van Clarence Smith acknowledged. "You bring the young lady to me and you take her away! Incidentally, you gain your purpose. I can tell you exactly why Miss Rumboldt is giving up her place at the Frivolity."
"She has received an intimation from a friend in the Austrian Cabinet that England will be at war with Germany and Austria within a month. She is advised to be out of England by August the first."
Captain Ashford sat quite still for a moment. The hand which held his richly-chased tumbler was steady enough, and his expression scarcely changed. Yet he had the air of one whose brain is strangely occupied.
"Thank you," he said. "That is exactly the suspicion I myself entertained. His Majesty's Government is your debtor, Mr. Van Clarence Smith."
"Let it go at that," the latter begged. "I've had a pleasant evening and an interesting one, an adventure which has been thoroughly worth while." His host nodded.
"Complete my obligation, then. I particularly desire to entertain Lady Felicia, Mr. Honeywood and yourself to lunch tomorrow. Do you happen to know if they have any engagement?"
"I am sure they haven't," the young man replied, "because they were both lunching with me."
"Will you bring them here at one o'clock," Captain Ashford begged. "Apologise to Lady Felicia that I do not ask you to a restaurant, but there are reasons why I should prefer to receive you here."
>Precisely at one o'clock on the following day, Captain Ashford welcomed his expected guests in the same apartment. On the sideboard was a silver cocktail-shaker, a bowl of ice and a long row of bottles. Mr. Honeywood's eyes glistened.
"My servant," their host explained, "is moderately expert, but I have an idea, Mr.Honeywood," he added, waving his hand towards these preparations, "that you could teach him something in that direction."
"At the Okehampstead Country Club," Mr. Honeywood confessed, as he set to work with zeal, "they christened my favourite concoction 'The Honey Bitter.' Perhaps you would like to try it."
They sampled the result of his efforts in front of the great windows looking out upon the Thames, and Mr. Honeywood received compliments of a nature which necessitated a second visit to the sideboard. Then the butler rolled open some folding doors, announcing luncheon. They passed into a dining-room which also commanded a view of the river, and were served with a meal which seemed to call for some explanation.
"I have just given up my little flat in Paris," their host told them, "and I have brought my chef over here for a time. He was at the Pré Catelan before he came to me, and his omelette aux fines herbes is supposed to be a wonderful creation. Lady Felicia, I hope, will appreciate my fraises de hois au vin rouge, presently. There is something in the red wine sauce which defies analysis."
Luncheon was a delightful and unexpectedly recherché meal, served to the accompaniment of a pleasant ripple of general conversation, interspersed by many amusing reminiscences of travel on the part of the host. Coffee was served at the table, with many sorts of strange liqueurs. As soon as the servants had left the room, Captain Ashford leaned a little forward in his place.
"I have something to say to you, my three guests," he began, "and I wish to say it to you together. It refers, to a certain extent, to a person with whom you have recently had associations. I mean Sir Julian Kand."
"Sir Julian has been very kind to us," Felicia murmured warningly.
"I shall only state facts," Ashford continued. "Any decision which you may make rests entirely with yourselves. The warning conveyed to Ella Rumboldt from Vienna is well-founded. The present European crisis will lead to war. If this crisis had not arisen, another would have come in its place. The war arrives according to the programme of Germany."
There was a moment's pause. The speaker knocked the ash from his cigarette.
"Sir Julian Kand," he went on, "has been one of the chief schemers on behalf of Germany in this country. He has known precisely what was going to happen, for some months past. He has taken refuge in the United States in ample time, but with very sufficient reasons. In the meantime, he has thrown upon the Stock Exchange here the whole of his enormous holdings of stock in this country, he has ruined very many highly respectable firms, and the proceeds of his sales are being remitted, day by day, to Germany and New York, a step which we are powerless to prevent."
"But Sir Julian always declared," Felicia protested, "that he was working for peace! Why, when Prince—"
She stopped short. Ashford nodded gravely.
"I am well aware, Lady Felicia," he said, "that you believed in Sir Julian Kand. You believed in the very plausible explanation he no doubt gave you, before you consented to enter upon certain enterprises on his behalf. The same applies to Mr. Van Clarence Smith here, and Mr. Honeywood, although they, being Americans, might naturally look upon the matter a little differently. What I have told you is word for word the truth. Sir Julian Kand has been one of the worst traitors with whom we have had to deal. I do not ask for your belief. Give it to me or not, as you choose. I only anticipate what the world will know in a very short time. But I do ask you, until that time, to bear my words in mind if by any chance Sir Julian should attempt, from the States, to make any further use of you. Your acquiescence might be looked upon seriously, a little later on, by the Government of this country."
Not one of the three dreamed of disbelieving their host. His measured words brought instant conviction. Nevertheless they looked at one another in something like dismay.
"Our Eldorado gone up the spout!" Van Clarence Smith muttered.
"This is some shock," Mr. Honeywood sighed.
"It is utterly hateful!" Felicia declared.
Captain Ashford passed around the liqueurs, lit another cigarette and leaned a little further still across the table.
"You three," he said, "have come within the sphere of my observation for some time. I feel sure I understand the position so far an you are concerned. You all need money but you have a greater craving still for adventure. You have found something of both, serving Sir Julian Kand. Now I beg you to wait. Wait till the inevitable happens, and then make up your minds where the right lies. Of you, Lady Felicia, there can be no doubt, because you are English, but you others are neutrals—for anything I know, with German friends. Balance, when the time comes, the rights and wrongs of this war that is to be, and if you can throw in your lot with us, with England and her Allies, come to me, and there is no reason why you should not yet find adventures and the profit that goes with them."
"That sounds good to me," Mr. Honeywood acknowledged.
Van Clarence Smith stretched out his hand.
"We'll wait, as you say," he declared, "but I'm backing the old country every time."
Captain Ashford led them all to the window. In the centre of the street outside was a very handsome Rolls-Royce two-seater.
"I happened to hear you say, Van Clarence Smith, down at the Abbey, that you had sold your car. In this country, the custom of engagement presents is becoming popular. Will you allow me, in offering my congratulations to Lady Felicia and my best wishes to yourself, to beg your acceptance of that little runabout which you see down there. Your fiancé," he added, turning to Felicia, "performed a service for me last night which I appreciate officially at far more than the value of the trifling gift I am venturing to offer him."
There was a great deal of the boy about Van Clarence Smith, and a great deal of the child about Felicia. In the midst of the former's protestations of gratitude, his impatience to depart became obvious. Captain Ashford smiled.
"Shall I seem inhospitable now," he said, as he rang the bell, "if I tell you that I have an engagement? Before many weeks are past, I shall send to you for your decision."
"If I can help——" Lady Felicia began.
"I guess our decision will come out all right," Van Clarence Smith declared.
"I follow my leader," Mr. Honeywood assured his host....
They hurried down in the lift and crowded around the car. The man recognised his new master and at once vacated the driving-seat.
"I am Captain Ashford's chauffeur, sir," he announced, "but I am to stay with you for a fortnight. You've got a flier here," he added.
A few minutes' of enthusiastic discussion followed. Then the proud possessor of this reputed "flier" took his place at the wheel, Felicia by his side. Mr. Honeywood looked a little forlorn. Van Clarence Smith waved him up into the dickey.
"You hold on behind there, Honeywood, and catch on to your eyebrows," he directed. "I'll take you down to Guildford for tea."
"Any old place for me," the little man assented blithely as he scrambled in.
They glided up Whitehall into the Mall, along Piccadilly to Knightsbridge, across Hammersmith Bridge and on to the Portsmouth Road. Then Van Clarence Smith's heart grew light within him as he toyed with the accelerator.
"We'll have a good week's holiday," he shouted, turning a little round towards Honeywood, "and then we'll get level with old Kand."
"What?" Mr. Honeywood bellowed, half rising from his place and clasping his hat. "Come again!"
"Get level with old Kand," the driver roared, with even more prodigious vigour.
"Sure!" Mr. Honeywood agreed, settling down contentedly in his place.