Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.
Credit and thanks for making this work available to RGL go to Gary Meller, Florida, who donated the scanned images from his print edition of Shudders and Thrills: The Second Oppenheim Omnibus (Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1932) used to produce this e-book.
THE teacups clattered, a violin from somewhere in the adjoining room seemed to be seeking new notes from impossible heights, a little group of people were talking with all the zest which the desire of a hostess for silence seems alone to provoke. A girl was drawing the attention of her neighbours to something which was taking place a few yards away—a very familiar happening at such gatherings. Their hostess was performing an introduction.
"Look!" the girl exclaimed. "Pamela has her heart's desire at last. The duchess is presenting Lord Evelyn."
"Scarcely her heart's desire, I should imagine," a man at her elbow remarked. "I have seen them at the same functions many times this season. She could easily have met him at any one of them."
"I heard Lady Armhurst tell her that she was sending Lord Evelyn to take her down to tea at Armhurst House the other afternoon," another girl remarked, "and Pamela excused herself—said that she had to leave. She could have met him at any time during the last few months if she had chosen."
"Nevertheless," the first girl declared firmly, "I repeat that to-day she has her heart's desire. Pamela may not know it, but she is a poseuse! She isn't like the rest of us. If she wants a thing she doesn't rush at it— she rather avoids it!"
"She is afraid to court disappointment, perhaps," a man from the edge of the group remarked, "or perhaps she knows that pleasure in life only exists in its foretastes! It is the artistic temperament."
"I want you all to look at her," the first girl suddenly remarked. "Is she really so beautiful? If so, can anyone tell me why?"
There was a moment's silence. Everyone looked across the room.
They saw the disappearing hostess, and they saw the man and the girl whom her careless words had brought into the conventional knowledge of each other. No one looked at the man, for the simple reason that notwithstanding his reputation for extreme exclusiveness, there was no person in London whose face and figure were more familiar to these few people. They looked at the girl. She was tall and slender almost to thinness; her fair hair was parted in the middle and just visible under her black picture hat; her profile was like a delicate etching of Hellier's; her eyes were soft and large and gray, with the glint of a warmer colour when she smiled or looked interested, as the sun may draw life from the still land.
"She is too thin," one girl declared, "much too thin. Her clothes are loose enough, and yet she looks like a lath."
"I am sure that she is delicate," another declared.
"A complexion like hers will fade in a few years," a man remarked, dropping his eyeglass. "Sort of girl, you know, who wouldn't dare to be out for a moment without a parasol. Never catch her on a yacht, for instance!"
The first girl—who was an American and loved the truth—wound up the conversation.
"She is the most beautiful person I ever saw in my life," she declared. "I cannot see anything about her that is not perfect."
There was a moment's silence. Then one of the other girls rose with a little shrug of the shoulders.
"You may be right, Miss Van Heldt," she said. "And yet I do not believe that she is witch enough to get what she wants from Lord Evelyn. Here is Mr. Mallison. Ask him what he thinks."
She leaned forward and touched a passer-by on the arm—a middle-aged man, slight and immaculate, who was not short-sighted, but who walked always with half-closed eyes, as though it were too great trouble to recognise familiar things and people.
"Mr. Mallison," she exclaimed, "we want you to look at your new recruit, over there talking to Lord Evelyn."
Herbert Mallison followed her gesture quickly enough. His eyes were wide enough open now. For some reason he seemed to find the girl's words disconcerting.
"Ah!" he said slowly, "it is Miss Pamela Cliffordson, is it not?"
The girl nodded.
"She has been introduced to Lord Evelyn just now," she said.
"A friend of mine and hers once told me that Pamela had only one idea in life, and that was to become a 'Ghost.' Do you think that Lord Evelyn will be able to resist her?"
Mallison looked at the two for a moment longer before he answered. Then he turned to the girl who had questioned him. Notwithstanding an attempt at lightness, he was unable to conceal the fact that the matter appealed to him seriously.
"I have never considered Lord Evelyn impressionable," he said slowly, "and our numbers are full!"
Mallison passed on. The girl who had detained him had committed a breach of decorum in alluding to a certain matter, and his tone and stiff farewell bow seemed intended to convey his appreciation of that fact. Sophy Van Heldt leaned forward.
"Do you know," she declared, "I think that Society of Ghosts, or whatever they call it, is just about the queerest thing I ever knew. Why can't I get hold of some one to tell me all about it? I'd love to start one over in New York."
They looked at her as though she had committed sacrilege. No one said a word. The girl continued gaily and unembarrassed.
"There you are, you see!" she declared. "That's just what I can't understand. None of you belong to it and yet you seem to think it terrible if one even mentions a thing about it. Mind, if that's the right attitude, I'd like to be with you, but in my present state of ignorance I can't. I simply know that seven of the most delightful, the most charming, the cleverest, and most desirable people in every way in your Society here seem to have a sort of little club of their own. They call themselves 'Ghosts.' You mayn't ask them what it is all about. No one knows what they do or why they do it. To mention the matter to one of them is tantamount to social suicide. That's all very well for you people who've been brought up in the fear of it,'but I think a stranger might ask a few questions without being jumped upon."
"A stranger may," a quiet voice answered at her elbow. "Ask on, Miss Van Heldt. I will try and satisfy your curiosity."
The girl turned suddenly round to find Mr. Mallison standing by her side. She was in no way disconcerted.
"That's kind of you, Mr. Mallison," she declared heartily. "I warn you I'm inquisitive."
"Ask on," he answered simply. "I promise nothing, but if I can answer you I will."
"First, then," the girl said, turning upon him the full artillery of her blue eyes and piquant expression, "what are the qualifications of a would-be 'Ghost'?"
Mallison answered her readily enough. His expression was changeless, his tone matter-of-fact. The animation of his questioner, designedly provocative, found him absolutely irresponsive.
"Birth, culture, and understanding," he said. "In the case of your sex, one might add a certain rare reticence and an earnest desire to acquire some interest in life apart from the purely mundane."
"My!" the girl declared. "That sounds difficult. Well, what do 'Ghosts' do, anyway?"
"They devote a certain amount of time," Mallison answered, "to the cultivation of their secondary selves."
"One more question," the girl persisted, making a brave fight against the indefinable antagonism with which she felt herself confronted. "Could I—if I tried—really tried—make myself eligible?" ,
"Never!" Mallison answered coldly. "You have not a single one of the essential qualifications."
"You're not over-polite, are you?" the girl remarked, ruffled at last.
Mallison looked at her with the faintest of smiles upon his thin lips.
"You are a newcomer here," he said, with covert insolence, "and you do not understand. You have asked your questions and I have answered them. Forgive me if I add that no one except a stranger amongst us would have dreamed of exhibiting such curiosity."
He passed on with a stiff little bow. Sophy Van Heldt turned round to the others with scarlet cheeks.
"Well, of all the rude old men!" she exclaimed. "Did you ever hear anything like that?"
She scarcely found the sympathy she expected. Everyone seemed to avoid accepting her appeal as personal. Her best friend, a young diplomat, drew her a little to one side.
"It's a queer sort of institution that you've run up against, Miss Van Heldt," he remarked confidentially. "I can understand how you feel about it, of course, but to us who know 'em all, and that sort of thing, it's got to be considered a kind of bad form to ask any questions or show any curiosity about the 'Ghosts.' I don't suppose for a moment that they do anything except read 'Omar Khayyam' and talk esoteric rubbish. All the same, it's got to be a sort of shibboleth with us to think they're very wonderful and to let 'em alone. See?"
"No, I do not see!" the young woman answered frankly. "I do not see why that old stick should look at me as though I were a kitchen maid out in my mistress' clothes, because I asked a few simple questions."
The young man was in despair.
"I don't suppose I can make you understand," he said. "It's one of those things like not turning your trousers up, or wearing a ready-made tie. The unprepared mind cannot appreciate the enormity of such things. I can only say that not one of us would have dared to have asked such questions. It would have seemed to us just as bad form as to ask a man who was dining you how much he gave for his champagne."
"Well, you're a queer lot," Miss Van Heldt remarked, with a resigned sigh. "I'll never find my way about in such a fog."
"Come and look for an ice," the young man suggested suddenly, with a brilliant inspiration.
"I'm not sure that I want any more freezing," the girl remarked, placing her hand willingly upon his arm. "I'll be glad to come, all the same, though."
They passed down the room together, but as they reached the main entrance they were confronted with a little stir, and every one drew back to leave a clear passage into the room. The girl's fingers tightened upon his arm.
"Do tell me what is going to happen," she whispered. "Another of our absurd conventions," he answered, smiling.
"The gentleman who enters must be treated as royalty, although he comes from a very far-off country. We must stand still while he passes. You see even the duke is playing usher in his own household."
"Who is it?" she whispered once more.
He signed to her to be silent for a moment. Tall and dignified, dressed in a costume which was a strange admixture of the picturesqueness of the East and the requirements of Western conventions, there came into the room the ruler of one of those countries whose curiosity as to Western civilisation had only recently been aroused, and whose visits, though so desirable as a matter of policy, are for a time particularly embarrassing to those who from necessity become their hosts. The Sultan of Dureskan boasted a descent longer even than that of the duke, who walked by his side. His subjects were numbered by the millions, his wealth was boundless, his good will almost a necessity. His appearance was impressive enough. He wore a plain black frock coat, covered with ribbons and ablaze with such marvellous jewels that a little wave of half-uttered wonder escaped from the lips of the women who bent forward to look at him. Upon his head was a small blue cap, crowned with an aigrette of diamonds.
The man's appearance, if one found time to look at his features, was sufficiently forbidding. His mouth was coarse and cruel. His eyes were set too close together. His features seemed to reflect the long centuries of unbridled power and natural cruelty which lay behind him. Nevertheless, he carried himself with the dignity of a born ruler of men as he passed across the great reception room thronged with people, whose costumes, whose manners, even whose speech was strange to him. He carried himself with all that amazing self-possession which seems to be the peculiar heritage of people from Eastern countries.
Sophy Van Heldt looked away from his disappearing figure and turned toward her companion.
"What a marvellous person!" she exclaimed. "Do tell me who he is."
"He is called the Sultan of Dureskan," the young diplomat answered, "and he is the ruler of a State which lies close up against some of our Eastern possessions. I only wish," he added, "that those fellows would stay at home. My chief has been in a fever since the day he landed. Take my advice, and if anyone offers to present you to him, don't have anything to do with him. It's an impossibility to teach the beast manners!"
The girl laughed softly.
"I can assure you," she declared, "that I have not the least desire to make his acquaintance. You see, in my country we cannot think of these coloured races as you do. Doesn't it seem a hideous shame, though," she added, with a little sigh, "to think of all those magnificent jewels being wasted upon a man's coat?"
He shrugged his shoulders as he piloted her along toward the reshment room.
"That isn't the worst of it," he answered. "He carries on his person alone jewels worth something like a million pounds, and I believe that if he lost one of them he would expect us to fill our prisons with suspects. We have to keep him surrounded by detectives."
They reached the refreshment room at last. Sophy Van Heldt sighed as she drew off her gloves and sipped the coffee which her companion brought her.
"After all," she said, "I am afraid that I shall never be able to live in your country."
"Why not?" he asked. "A good many of your country people seem to get along here very well."
She shook her head.
"There are too many complications for me," she declared. "For instance?" he asked.
"Well, the Society of Ghosts," she replied. "They certainly are the most impossible people in the world."
He took the cup from her outstretched fingers and looked into it silently for a moment.
"Take my advice, Miss Van Heldt," he said, "and don't bother about them any more. They are too strong a combination to run up against. Society, you know, is one of those mysterious bodies which loves to feel the whip of a master or mistress. Evelyn and his friends seem somehow to be able to do what they like with it."
The girl did not answer for a moment. With a slight frown upon her forehead, she was watching two figures who were passing through the room toward an inner suite beyond. She motioned silently toward them.
"They say," she murmured, "that Miss Cliffordson wants to become a 'Ghost.' Will she succeed, do you think?"
Her companion shook his head.
"I think not," he answered.
"She is very beautiful," the girl remarked doubtfully.
"No doubt," her companion answered. "All the same, I do not think that that will help her. Evelyn has many weaknesses, but no one has ever heard him called impressionable."
The girl laughed a little hardly.
"Impressionable!" she. repeated. "I don't think that word would apply to your countrymen at all. I haven't met one yet, at any rate."
"And when you do?" he asked, smiling.
"I shall make him tell me a little more—perhaps all there is to tell—about this Society of Ghosts," she answered, rising. "Shall we go back? I want to hear Calve sing and to catch one more glimpse of those wonderful jewels."
The conventional words which followed the introduction of these two people, in whom others besides Sophy Van Heldt had shown so much interest, were so softly murmured, if spoken at all, as to be almost unrecognisable. Evelyn's mother, who was above all things a wonderful hostess, and whose absent eyes had been watching somebody else all the time, hurried away to greet some late comers, all unconscious of the significance of this thing which she had done. The man and the girl remained standing alone.
Even then they were in no hurry to commit their thoughts to speech. Their silence had no kinship to the silence of awkwardness. It was simply that they were both people with many emotional qualities—he, at any rate, had become an Epicure in all that appertains to the sensations.
"I suppose," she said at last, with a little sigh, "that it was unavoidable."
"Entirely so," he assented, "and now that it has come, I am glad. After all," he continued, with only a momentary pause, "we have been behaving rather like children, haven't we?"
"Like children, or very wise people," she assented. "Perhaps there is no essential difference. Children and animals are wise by instinct. It is when we know a little that we commit follies."
"Let me take you somewhere where we can talk for a few minutes," he said. "You do not wish to listen to the music?"
She shook her head.
"The violin, in a drawing-room crush like this, sounds wrong, doesn't it?" she answered. "It shows what pagans we are getting, that we should expect artists to give us of their best in such an atmosphere."
They moved slowly away, side by side. Soon they came to a small room which was almost deserted.
"I must not stay," she said, as he drew up a chair for her. "My aunt, who is chaperoning me, detests this sort of crush, and I promised not to leave her for more than a few minutes."
"I will not keep you," he answered. "Now or another time—it does not matter. We have a lifetime before us. Only I want to look at you. I want to see whether you seem different to me now that those fatal words have been spoken. Do you realise that we have been introduced—that some one has told you that I am Lord Evelyn Madrecourt, and me that your name is Pamela Cliffordson?"
She nodded gravely.
"Perhaps," she said, "we should have been wiser to have avoided it."
"I cannot believe that," he answered. "Now that it has happened, I cannot imagine why it has not happened before. You are wonderful," he added, a little abruptly.
She laughed easily.
"You are the only person who thinks so, then," she answered. "Most of my friends are quite disgusted with me. I am counted a failure."
"Why?" he asked calmly.
"I have painted a picture which no one would buy, which no one would even look at," she answered. "I have written a book which did not sell even its first edition. I have been out for four years and I am still a spinster."
"These things," he answered, "count for success, not failure. The books that are bought, the pictures before which the world gapes—we know them for what they are, you and I. For the rest, to speak of it is sacrilege! What should you be doing with a husband?" .
"Come and ask my aunt," she answered lightly. "I am partly emancipated, it is true, but only partly. My aunt still feels me on her conscience. She was so successful with her own children!"
"Forgive me," he said. "For a moment there was a thought I could not grapple with. If you had been different!"
She laughed a little unsteadily.
"Well," she said, "I am what I am. I have only one ambition that I know of, and something which you have said encourages me to tell you what that is."
"Ambition," he said deprecatingly, "is too positive a word. It does not harmonise. It is not in you, I am sure, to be guilty of anything so near vulgarity."
"You can call it what you like, then," she answered simply—"a desire instead of an ambition, if you will. I want to be a 'Ghost'!"
Evelyn remained perfectly silent for an appreciable space of time. Her words had not the effect upon him which she had imagined possible. Indeed, his attitude puzzled her. His eyes, dark and tired, and set in hollow places, seemed suddenly to dilate. His face lost its immobility. His lips distinctly twitched. He was like a man struggling with a secret fear. When he spoke, his voice had altered. He seemed to have become hoarse.
"It is not possible," he said, "You must not think of that! Promise me that you will not."
His attitude astonished her. She had no words ready for the moment. He recovered himself a little and continued more in his usual tone.
"I will tell you," he said, "what I have told no one else, what I would tell no one. We shall never elect another 'Ghost.' There are twelve of us now, but five exist only in name. That is to say that there are but seven left. We shall never add to that number."
"If one should die—or drop out?" she asked.
"Their places will not be filled," he answered. "Those who are there to-day will go on to the end. But there will be no more. That is my fixed intention!"
Then they heard the sound which both had been dreading—the rustling of gowns, the babbling of inquiring voices. Their tête-à-tête was at an end. She leaned toward him.
"If it is vulgar," she murmured, "to be ambitious, surely it is worse to be mysterious?"
"There is only one mystery in this world," he answered—"the mystery of life and death. The rest are trifles."
"But you were—almost melodramatic," she persisted.
"Your fancy," he assured her lightly. "Is this your aunt? I wonder?" he added, turning toward the door.
It was Evelyn's mother who entered, and Evelyn was aware at once, from his first careless glance, that something very unusual had happened. The duchess was one of those women whose self-possession was a thing almost as stable and certain as the granite front of the great house in Grosvenor Square in which she entertained so brilliantly. Evelyn remembered only two occasions in his life upon which he had seen her show any signs of excitement. This, it seemed, was the third. He rose at once to his feet and she came with unaccustomed haste across the room toward them.
"You were looking for me?" he asked.
"My dear Evelyn," she exclaimed, "you must come into the library at once! This is the result of trying to oblige your friends. We had that terrible man here just because Lord Singleton persuaded your father into it, and now can you imagine what has happened?"
Evelyn shook his head.
"How can one imagine?" he answered. "Anything might happen when you let a sort of Bluebeard like that, with a king's ransom upon his chest, go wandering about among your guests."
The duchess frowned.
"Do be serious, Evelyn!" she begged. "The man has been robbed!"
"What, here?" Evelyn demanded.
"In this very house," the duchess answered impressively, "within the last few minutes. He declares that a great cluster of diamonds, which has been among the crown jewels of his family for heaven knows how many hundreds of years, has been stolen. You had better come into the study at once. He is there with your father."
Evelyn smiled as he made his hasty adieux to Pamela.
"After all," he said, "your words were only a little prophetic. The melodramatic has arrived."
There were three men already in the library when Evelyn entered—the duke, Mallison, and the sultan himself. The sultan, a stiff and somewhat solemn figure, was standing upon the hearth-rug. His features had lost none of their magnificent impassivity. There was about him none of that agitation which the occasion seemed certainly to warrant. His very repression of tone and manner, under such circumstances, seemed to lend him an added dignity. Of the three men the duke seemed by far the most disturbed.
"Come in, Evelyn, and shut the door!" he exclaimed quickly, as his son entered. "You have heard what has happened I suppose?"
"I have just been told," Evelyn answered.
The duke turned once more to his august visitor.
"Can Your Highness give us any idea," he asked, "as to the value of these jewels?"
The sultan raised his eyebrows ever so slightly.
"In your English money," he said, "I should find it hard to tell you. It matters very little. There are none others like them and I hold them in sacred trust for my nation. Pardon me if I repeat that their value in money does not disturb me. It is only that if I return to my country without them, I return as a man in disgrace."
"You must not return without them!" the duke exclaimed. "The thing is preposterous! Evelyn what can you suggest?"
"When did His Highness miss them?" Evelyn asked.
"A few minutes ago only," the sultan answered. "It is possible, however, that they may have been missing from my coat for a longer time. It is only a few minutes ago that I chanced to glance at the place where they should have been."
"There is a detective in the house, is there not?" Evelyn asked.
"I understood that one arrived here at the same time as His Highness."
"I saw him," the duchess answered. "He whispered to me who he was as he came into the room."
"We must send for him at once," Evelyn declared. "Everyone who is not known to us personally must be questioned and detained and the back entrances to the house secured. We can deal with the servants later."
"There are carriages coming up now," the duchess remarked, looking out into the street.
"Go and stop the people leaving," Evelyn begged, laying his hand upon her arm. "You can easily make some excuse if you are there. And send us down that detective at once. You will be able to recognise him, I daresay."
The duchess hurried away.
"After all," Evelyn remarked, "it is not certain, of course, that this is a matter of theft. The jewels may possibly," he added, turning to the sultan, "have fallen from Your Highness' coat."
The sultan laid his fingers upon a portion of his sash.
"You will see," he said, "that the ribbon here, and the gold wire which passes through it, have been cut. It was very cleverly done. The thieves of your country have certainly little to learn."
The duke turned toward Mallison.
"What do you think about it, Mallison?" he asked. "You have had some experience in this sort of thing."
Mallison shook his head.
"My dear duke," he said, "I can only say that the man who stole those jewels in your reception rooms, provided they were fastened as His Highness assures us that they were, was a greater genius than any I have ever been brought into contact with. You must remember that there has not been a second since the arrival of His Highness when he has not been the centre of observation. I cannot conceive how it was possible for anyone to have been foolhardy enough even to have attempted such a thing."
"I have heard," the sultan said slowly, "that there have been others besides myself who have suffered in this way. For practice in your language I read the Times newspaper. I have done so, indeed, for years. Is it not true that there have been lately many most mysterious robberies, especially in the houses of your noblemen?"
"That is true, certainly," the duke admitted reluctantly, "but nothing of the sort has been brought so close to us as this."
"There have been many daring robberies," Mallison said slowly, "but none so audacious as the present one."
A servant knocked at the door, and a man entered, following closely upon his footsteps. He was dressed as any other guest in the house might have been. Not until he spoke would it have been possible to have regarded him as anything else but one of the little crowd of young men who were still enjoying this latest sensation in the drawing-rooms beyond.
"Your Grace," he said, "forgive me if I speak rapidly. I am sent here from Scotland Yard and I have been in attendance upon the sultan since his arrival. I understand that he has lost some jewels?"
"Such is unfortunately the case," the duke answered.
"Your Grace," the detective continued, "let me suggest that some member of your household, known to all your guests, stand with me at the main entrance to your house. At a gathering such as this it would be, I imagine, perfectly possible for anyone suitably dressed to mingle with the crowd. I want to have no one leave the house who is not personally known to some of you. All the back entrances are already in charge of my men."
"I will go with you myself," Evelyn said quickly. "I do not fancy that anyone can have left yet."
The detective nodded.
"If the thieves are really as clever as they seem to be," he remarked, "they will not have been in a hurry to rush away. If you will go first, Lord Evelyn, I will follow you."
FOR the duke, who was a proud and sensitive man, the hour which followed was probably the longest which he had ever spent. More than once he tried to make conversation with his august guest, who remained always standing, courteous, impassive, yet with that faint, almost indefinable air of a man who, finding himself in a position which he does not quite understand, holds himself altogether in reserve. His replies to the duke's remarks were never more than monosyllabic. He remained magnificently aloof from the two men, who each in their turn tried to break down the barrier which seemed to have sprung up between them and their guest. The sultan was, after all, in his way a great gentleman, and no word or look from him betrayed the agitation, perhaps even the suspicion, of a man who has sustained a loss which, from his peculiar point of view, was as great almost as the loss of life itself. He made no attempt to explain his feelings to them. How were they to understand, the people of this strange, cold nation, whose first question to him had been as to the value of these gems in their vulgar money—how were they to understand the almost holy significance of heirlooms passing from generation to generation of a race which was ancient when the history of these people was unborn? Between him and them was fixed a gulf so deep that he made no effort to bridge it. The methods which they were now employing to regain possession of his property were strange to him, but in their country it was perhaps best that they should pursue them. If such a thing had happened in his own palace, it would not have been policemen with suave questions who would have stood at the front door, but lines of soldiers whose sabres would have glittered before the eyes of guilty and innocent alike. There would have been no risk there of anyone stealing away with their booty. Better that a hundred should die than that one man escape to bring disgrace upon their ruler. There would have been confusion and death cries before now in his palace. Yet all that he could hear, standing there in the great, dimly lit library, was the soft music of violins, the unbroken tide of conversation, the passing back and forth of these people to whom the robbery which had taken place amongst them was nothing more than an agreeable sensation, a pleasant diversion to lend zest to their afternoon!
These were the thoughts which passed through his brain. Yet he made no complaint, no sign of his feelings escaped him. With the magnificent philosophy of his race and great descent, he waited for the return of Evelyn and his companion, as though the issue of their search were indeed a matter of but little moment to him. Nevertheless, when at last they reappeared, and he read in their faces the fruitlessness of their quest, there flashed for a moment from his eyes the light of the great ruler, deprived for the time of the powers which he had come to look upon as legitimate.
"You have no news?" the duke asked, a little hoarsely.
"There is no news as yet, Your Grace," the detective answered.
"The guests have all left?" the duke demanded.
"All except the sultan and this gentleman here," the detective answered, glancing to where Mallison was standing among the shadows.
Mallison came forward with grave face.
"I am sorry to hear of your failure," he said.
The detective bowed his acknowledgment.
"This gentleman, I presume," he said softly, looking across the table to where Mallison and Evelyn were standing side by side —
The duke interposed.
"This is my friend Mr. Mallison, King's Counsel, whom you probably know by sight," he said. "I called him in, hoping that his professional experience might be of service to us."
The detective bowed.
"I recognise Mr. Mallison now, Your Grace," he said quietly. "With your permission I will go and see whether my men at the other end of the house have anything to report."
"Certainly," the duke answered. "And, Mr —"
"Carmichael is my name," the detective interposed.
"Mr. Carmichael," the duke answered, "I wish you to understand that the recovery of these jewels is a matter of the greatest, the most vital importance. Their intrinsic value, I believe, is very great, but whatever it may be, I myself offer a reward of a thousand pounds for their recovery."
"It is a most generous offer, your Grace," the detective said.
The sultan intervened. So still and silent had he remained since the reappearance of these two men that they had both almost forgotten his presence. He drew from his finger a ring, whose diamonds flashed like the gleam of bare steel against the dark tablecloth.
"And I," he said, "I will give this ring and ten thousand pounds to the man who brings me back my jewels."
"Ten thousand pounds!" Mallison murmured.
"It is nothing," the sultan said quietly. "Money counts for less, I think, with us in the East, than with you nations whose greatness has sprung from your love of commerce. With us, life and honour count for more than gold. I cannot go back to my people with a broken trust. If your Grace will permit me," he added, turning with a grave bow toward his host, "I will now take my leave."
He left the room, preceded a little by the duke. Evelyn and Mallison lingered behind for a moment. Evelyn was searching in a bureau for a box of Russian cigarettes, which he produced at last and handed to the other. Mallison lit one and sniffed the tobacco approvingly.
"These are the real thing, Evelyn," he said. "Better than any blend, by a long way. By-the-bye —"
He glanced toward the door. Evelyn closed it, and taking a cigarette himself, lit it.
"Most extraordinary thing, this robbery!" he murmured.
"Most extraordinary!" Mallison assented. "I think," he continued, "under the circumstances, that if I were the thief, and bearing in mind the difficulty of disposing of jewels of such a value, I should be inclined to content myself with the reward of—what was it—ten thousand pounds? Ten thousand pounds is a great deal of money."
"I am inclined to agree with you," Evelyn assented. "Have you had enough of this excitement? If so, I will let you out myself."
"Very good of you," he said. "I am dining somewhere early to-night, so I must get away. We shall meet later on."
"Naturally," Evelyn answered. "Come along and I will see you safely out."
They stood together for a moment on the steps of the great house in Grosvenor Square. A man came up and was on the point of accosting them when he recognised Lord Evelyn and turned respectfully away.
"Do you want a hansom?" Evelyn asked.
Mallison shook his head.
"My electric is here, I think," he said. "Yes, the man sees me. Till to-night, then."
"Till to-night," Evelyn answered, turning back into the house.
THERE were seven people seated around the oval table when the bell began to ring. One of them had been speaking, but the sentence, whatever it may have been, was never finished. Evelyn glanced rapidly around at their faces and smiled faintly. It was a triumph, this! Not a single start of fear, not even an exclamation! Softly and persistently the bell, set in some hidden place in the wall, rang and ceased to ring three times. Then there was silence. Evelyn looked around him.
At his right hand sat the youthful Duchess of Winchester, married from the nursery, separated from her husband at twenty, suspected of an attempt at suicide, at twenty-seven beautiful, heartless, and brilliant, a gambler with the remnants of her emotions, yet with a brave face set toward the world. On his left was Mallison, K. C., ageless, passionless, the human automaton of Society. Next to him was Margaret Delancy, authoress of two mystical novels, a woman of forty or more, charming and popular always, but a woman of whom there were stories. She was rich and a law unto herself. Her friends called her a visionary, remembered that she came from a wild family, and ignored her misdeeds. It was she who was responsible for that trite saying by a very great man found often at her receptions—one should never criticise genius from the domestic standpoint. Next to her was Professor Herman, white-haired, kindly, benevolent, a courtier amongst the savants, but a hopeless dilettante. He was the greatest authority in the world on Asiatic literatures and Gaiety plays. His friends said that he showed his appreciation of the dead world by his devotion to the living one. Then came a man whose whole history no man could tell, not even his dearest friend. His name was Leslie Coates, and he had been a great traveller in the silent corners of the world, where no glory is to be gained and which hired explorers avoid. What he had learned he had kept to himself. He had published no book nor had he electrified the world with tidings of any new continent. But men said that sometimes in the still hours he would talk, and teach them in a few hard sentences and unimpassioned words to realise what terror might mean. Sir Philip Descartes sat by his side, naturally enough, since he spent half of his life seeking the unusual—Descartes, whom the newspapers called the "gifted baronet", a man of old family, brilliant, versatile, composer of passionate love songs, a writer of comedies, essayist, sportsman, anything so that his hands were not idle or his brains at rest. Sallow, with straggling black moustache, bald-headed, and with a broken front tooth, he called himself Caliban, and was worshipped by every woman into whose ear he whispered. These six, with Lord Evelyn himself, were the seven people so greatly envied by the fashionable youth of London.
"I'm afraid," Lord Evelyn said calmly, "that some one is going to have the presumption to break in upon our very pleasant evening. I will, however, with your permission, continue those few remarks which were interrupted by our friend's thoughtful summons from below. Duchess, you must permit me."
In front of Lord Evelyn stood a glass decanter of curious shape and exquisite workmanship, half filled with some liqueur, ruby-coloured, opalescent. Around it was a circle of liqueur glasses. Lord Evelyn filled them with steady hand and passed them on. Descartes and Coates helped themselves to the cigarettes which were piled up in a carved cedar box at the end of the table.
"We spoke last week," Lord Evelyn continued, leaning a little back in his chair and looking steadfastly at the blank wall in front of him, "of some of the psychological features of this struggle between our two selves, from which the human existence is rarely, if ever, free. The tendency of these times, the whole tendency of our modern life, is toward the triumph of the physical self and the gradual weakening, if not total elimination, of that more real part of life, which one of our great masters has called our secondary self. It seems to me—"
There was a knock at the door, a knock apologetic and yet peremptory. Lord Evelyn broke off in his sentence and turned slowly round.
"Come in!" he said.
The door opened. A man in plain clothes, but obviously a servant, entered, and with his back to the door, as though guarding it, addressed Lord Evelyn.
"I beg your lordship's pardon," he said, "but there is a person here who insists upon entering and whom I cannot induce to go away. He has brought with him—"
The man hesitated for a moment and looked at his master, as though doubtful whether to continue.
"Go on, Morgan," Lord Evelyn said.
"He has a policeman with him, sir," the servant continued.
"In that case," Lord Evelyn remarked, "you had better admit him at once. It would never do to defy the law."
The door was gently pushed from without. Morgan stood aside, and there entered a middle-aged man, wearing a carefully brushed blue serge suit and carrying his hat in his hand. He was clean-shaven, with hard, not ill-cut features, keen eyes, and a humorous mouth. He bowed first to Lord Evelyn and then to the rest of the little company. Finally, he produced a card from his waistcoat pocket and approached the table.
"I am exceedingly sorry, my lord," he said, "to disturb you and your friends. I am here, however, upon a small matter of business which it was not possible to delay. May I suggest —"
He glanced toward the still open door. Evelyn waved his hand and his servant disappeared, closing it after him. The newcomer bowed approvingly.
"My name, as you will see, sir," he said, "is Acheson, Superintendent Acheson from Scotland Yard."
Lord Evelyn held up the card which his visitor had placed upon the table, looked at it with languid curiosity, and then back at the man who presented it.
"Well, Mr. Superintendent Acheson," he said, "what can I have the pleasure of doing for you?"
"Nothing, I am quite sure," the other answered, "which will lead to any unpleasantness. I have an official outside, but I brought him merely as a matter of form. To be quite frank with your lordship, I have a warrant in my hand here entitling me to search this room, and, if necessary, the persons of yourself and your guests. It is a search warrant," he continued, "issued under an act which is not generally known, but I can assure you that it is perfectly legal."
"I have not any intention of doubting it," Evelyn declared.
"Search, my good friend, by all means. Go round the room and see what you can find. Lift up my pictures, if you will, and tap the walls for secret passages. But in the meantime, by all that is reasonable, do tell us what it is that you are searching for and what it is all about."
Superintendent Acheson looked the picture of apologetic reticence.
"It is not for me to say," he answered. "You and these other ladies and gentlemen, calling yourselves 'Ghosts', I believe, or something similar, have got yourselves talked about, and from information placed before the chief of my department, I have been instructed to search your rooms for any trace—but there, I am talking too much. Permit me..."
Superintendent Acheson proceeded to make a rapid and very conscientious search of the table, and various possible hiding places close at hand. He raised the cloth, he tapped the table for secret drawers, he went carefully over the carpet. In short, he performed a minute and careful search of the room, especially that part of it which was within easy distance of the table. Then he once more addressed Lord Evelyn.
"I am sorry, my lord," he said, "You will notice the terms of the warrant. I see that you have some papers in your breast pocket. Will you be so good as to lay them on the table?"
Evelyn obeyed at once and, standing up, turned his pockets inside out. With a word of apology the superintendent ran his hands over him and satisfied himself that nothing else could be concealed upon his person. Then he went rapidly through the letters and papers, which he quickly returned. One only he kept in his hand. It was an appeal for help from a well-known London hospital, with a full statement of its financial position. Lord Evelyn smiled as he restored the others to their places.
"Perhaps," he said, "the document you have selected, if it does not help you in your present search, may induce you to become a subscriber to what I am sure is a most deserving charity."
The superintendent slipped the paper into his pocket.
"I am a great believer in hospitals, my lord," he said, "and since you permit me, I will read through this appeal with pleasure. It is not much that I can afford in charity, but even the widow's mite—excuse me, sir."
He broke off suddenly and leaned across the table.
"I am sorry, Mr. Coates," he said, "but my warrant entitles me to search every person within these rooms. You have some papers in your pocket, I see."
Coates, with immovable face, laid them on the table before him.
One by one the superintendent glanced them through and returned them to him. The last he kept and studied curiously.
"An appeal," he remarked, "from the Cripples' Guild,—a very admirable association, I am sure. Another one here, I see, from the Society for sending London children to East Anglian farmhouses. Excellent! These matters of charity appeal to me always. Perhaps you will permit me to keep this, sir. It may be the means of my sending a small donation."
"Keep it, by all means," Leslie Coates answered. "Perhaps you would like to hand me a small subscription. I am one of the backers of this scheme."
The superintendent did not at once reply. His frame seemed suddenly to have stiffened. He was listening all the time intently.
"Books!" he murmured. "A Persian poet, I see, with whose works I am unacquainted. And wine, or is it a liqueur? A very harmless little gathering this, my lord," he added, turning back to Lord Evelyn, "if I may be permitted to say so. I cannot understand why I should have been sent here. A matter of jealousy, no doubt. I shall be able to assure my chief that there is nothing in your ghostly meetings likely to be disturbing to public morals."
He moved a step away toward the door and stopped again. Just then it was thrown open. Morgan, Lord Evelyn's servant, stepped quickly in. He held his handkerchief to his cheek, and there was blood upon his face.
"Your lordship," he said, "do not let this person go. The man whom he has brought with him, dressed in policemen's clothes, is not a policeman at all. I had a brother on the force and I noticed that the numbers on his collar were wrong. I charged him with it, and when he found that I was coming to you, he knocked me down and bolted. This man," he added, pointing to Acheson, "must be an impostor, perhaps a thief."
There was a second's breathless silence. Then Lord Evelyn sprang to his feet, but Acheson was too quick for him. With one bound he had reached the door and they heard his footsteps flying down the stairs. Lord Evelyn picked up the warrant, which was left upon the table, and glancing it over, leaned back in his chair and laughed.
"We have been sold," he declared. "That man was an impostor. We ought to have known better than to have believed in him for a minute."
The duchess laughed.
"We ought to have known," she declared. "The man was obviously an American. I knew it directly he opened his mouth."
Lord Evelyn was annoyed.
"I hope that no one hears of this," he said. "We can survive everything but ridicule. What were you saying, Descartes?"
Descartes turned away from Leslie Coates, to whom he had been whispering.
"I was wondering," he said, "from whom the fellow did come. Was he a newspaper man, do you suppose?"
Coates shook his head briefly.
"A newspaper man," he said, "would not run such risks. If he were really not employed by the police, I think that he must be acting for some private client."
Evelyn sipped his liqueur and motioned to his servant to leave the room.
"An affair of curiosity, very likely," he remarked lightly.
"Duchess, I trust that you are not alarmed? Your hand is shaking."
"I am better now," the duchess answered.
"And you, Mrs. Delancy?" Evelyn continued. "You, too, look as though you had seen a ghost."
Margaret Delancy shook her head and turned toward him with a smile.
"I was only wondering," she said, "why on earth that man should walk off with the appeal from St. Matthew's Hospital and one from the Cripples' Guild!"
SOPHY VAN HELDT laid down her pen and turned around in her chair to greet the visitor who was being ushered into the room. She nodded to him in a friendly manner and motioned to the maid to withdraw.
"Well, Mr. Grunebar," she asked, "any news?"
Mr. Grunebar, who had still the mouth of Superintendent Acheson, although in many other respects his physiognomy seemed altered, laid his hat upon the table and bowed.
"There is news of a sort," he announced, "and after all there is no news."
"We can get on without riddles," the young lady remarked.
"What happened last night?"
"Up to a certain point," he replied, "I succeeded. I made my way into the room where our friends were having their meeting."
"This is great!" Miss Van Heldt declared in delight. "You mean to say that you were actually in the room?"
"Actually in the room," Mr. Grunebar echoed.
"What were they doing? Were they all there?" she asked.
"All the seven," Mr. Grunebar answered. "As for what they were doing, there wasn't anything very exciting going on. They were all seated around the table. Some of them were smoking cigarettes and some of them were drinking a weird-looking liqueur which smelt like opium. Lord Evelyn was talking to them about their secondary selves."
"Is that all?" the young lady demanded, in a tone of disappointment.
"That," Mr. Grunebar replied, "was very nearly all."
"There was nothing to discover, then?" she asked. "Nothing interesting to tell me?"
"No," he admitted, "I cannot say that there was. And yet—"
"Go on, please," she insisted. "If there is anything else, tell me exactly what it is."
"I am not sure that there's anything to tell," Mr. Grunebar continued slowly. "I am open, however, to admit this. I couldn't somehow make up my mind that there wasn't something in the background."
"I am sure that there is," the girl declared. "There must be. Those people don't meet just for the sake of talking esoteric nonsense. There's something else goes on, and I've got to find it out. If you want to earn my money, Mr. Grunebar, you've got to find it out for me. Perhaps you have a clue already."
"I cannot even go so far as that," Mr. Grunebar admitted. "In fact I have very little to go upon at all except—what shall we call it—inspiration. I looked at those seven people, and I looked at them knowing pretty well who they were and what they were, and it didn't seem to me to be exactly a credible proposition that they were sitting around that table to hear Lord Evelyn tell them about their secondary selves and to drink little sips of that rose-coloured liqueur. I ran a good many risks last night, Miss Van Heldt."
"You went as a police officer, didn't you?" she remarked carelessly.
"Not only that," he admitted, "but I took with me a bogus policeman, who was found out and had to bolt, and I had also a bogus search warrant. In the end, I had to bolt myself to save my skin."
"Well," she said, "I guess that's your lookout. You get well paid and there is danger in most things of that sort, I suppose. You came away with some sort of a clue, I'm sure. I wish you would tell me what it was."
"It is not a clue," Mr. Grunebar answered slowly. "It is only these."
He handed her two pieces of folded paper. Sophy Van Heldt snatched them up and took them into the window recess. She glanced at them hurriedly and looked back at Grunebar in surprise.
"But these are nothing," she declared. "One is an appeal for funds from a hospital and another a report from the Cripples' Guild. Have you given me the wrong papers?"
Mr. Grunebar shook his head.
"No, Miss!" he said. "I found them in the possession of Lord Evelyn and Mr. Coates there, and I took the liberty of keeping them. Of course," he continued hesitatingly, "they may not mean anything at all, and yet I can't help feeling that they may mean a good deal."
Sophy Van Heldt looked at the man a little doubtfully. She had known of him in America, where his reputation had been a great one for many years, and she had engaged him eagerly enough when she had happened to see his name upon a doorplate in Charing Cross Road. She was beginning now, though, to doubt the wisdom of her choice. Very likely American methods would not succeed in this country. She threw the papers from her.
"If you can make anything out of them," she declared, "you are pretty smart."
"It is only an idea, of course," he answered. "It seemed to me, in an ordinary way, that both those men, Lord Evelyn and Mr. Coates, would have torn up any such appeal which they might have found amongst their letters. They're not what I should have called really charitable men, and I can't imagine why they should be carrying these about quite, unless..."
"Unless what?" Miss Van Heldt demanded.
Grunebar shook his head.
"No!" he said. "The little idea which I had is not worth parting with just at present. I would only go so far as to say this: I seem to have made a mess of things last night and I really have no information to give you for your money, but if you like to keep me on for a short time longer, there are still a few investigations which I might make."
She looked at him curiously. There was something in his mind, of course, but it was obviously something which he did not mean to tell.
"Why, I don't know that I mind having you go on with this thing," she said, "if you think there's any chance of finding out anything, but I don't quite see why you can't take me into your confidence. If there's anything to tell, I should say it belongs to me—the information, you know. I'm paying for it."
Grunebar nodded, and took up his hat. First of all, however, he carefully pocketed the two charitable appeals.
"If my idea leads nowhere," he said, "it isn't worth telling you. If anything comes of it, you'll soon know."
Something in his tone kindled her hopes. She came across the room and stood leaning against the table, facing him.
"Mr. Grunebar," she said, "you don't understand, of course, what my interest in this affair is. I don't know that it's necessary that you should. But I can tell you there are a great many things over here that an American girl finds it pretty hard to put up with. Now I wanted to join these 'Ghosts', or whatever they call themselves. I didn't mind paying, if it was a matter of money, or even studying hard on the subjects they go in for. I said something about it to one of them and he was just about as rude to me as any man I ever knew. They wouldn't have me, and I tell you I'm not used to being treated by these sort of people as though I didn't amount to anything. I made up my mind then that they should be sorry for it, and if there's anything behind which they don't care to have known, any little game they're up to that's kept secret, well, I'd like to find it out and get even with them. That's why I've called on you, Mr. Grunebar. You've had some of my money and it's up to you to show me something for it. If you do, you can have more, all you want more. I am not mean when I see there's a chance of success."
Mr. Grunebar took up his hat.
"Miss Van Heldt," he said, "I appreciate all you say. I have made a good many inquiries and I have thought very carefully over this matter, and without being able to say anything more to you, I should like to say this. I believe that there is something behind these weekly meetings of your friends. I think that they are mixed up in something a good deal more dangerous than this Buddhism they talk about. I tell you this so that you may not think that you are altogether throwing your money away. Next time I see you I may be able to talk a little more plainly."
The girl watched him go, with parted lips and a bright light in her eyes. She had visions of Lord Evelyn dashing up to the door, imploring her to stay her hand, begging her to become one of their little band as soon as she chose! She went back to her letters with a little gleam in her eyes.
A MILLIONAIRE baronet, who expected soon to be made a peer, had lent his house in Cavendish Square to the Government for the entertainment of the Sultan of Dureskan. On the third day after the robbery, Evelyn and Leslie Coates made their way there and the former sent with his card a request for a few minutes' interview.
"You can tell his Highness," he said, "that we shall not detain him long. I would not have troubled him, but the matter is of some importance."
The man returned in a few moments and showed them into a waiting room.
"His Highness," he announced, "will have the pleasure to receive you in less than a minute. The gentleman with whom he has been engaged is just leaving."
Evelyn nodded and selected an easy-chair.
"I suppose," he remarked to Coates, "we ought really to have asked for an audience. What with interviewers and photographers and tailors and diplomats, His Royal Highness is in great request just now."
The inner door of the room in which they sat was suddenly opened, and the servant reappeared, ushering out the visitor who had been with the sultan. Evelyn recognised him with a slight smile.
"How do you do, Mr. Carmichael?" he said. "Perhaps you do not remember me. I am Lord Evelyn Madrecourt."
Mr. Carmichael bowed.
"I remember your lordship quite well," he said.
"Am I out of order," Evelyn continued, "in asking whether you have been able to give the sultan any news respecting his missing property?"
"Up to the present," the detective replied, "I am sorry to say that I have not been able to give His Highness any definite information. However," he continued, "I do not despair. There are several indications which lead me to hope that the matter may be cleared up within the next few days."
"We shall expect nothing less from you, Mr. Carmichael," Evelyn declared. "Let me wish you good luck! It will be a great relief to all of us when this matter is finally disposed of."
"I thank your lordship," Mr. Carmichael answered.
He hesitated for a moment, and then suddenly looked up at Evelyn, who was on the point of resuming his seat.
"By-the-bye," he said slowly, "it is just possible that I might have to ask your lordship's help—just a little information concerning one or two people who are probably better known to you than to me."
"If I can help in any way, Mr. Carmichael," Evelyn answered courteously, "please consider me wholly at your service."
Leslie Coates laid his hand for a moment upon the detective's shoulder.
"Mr. Carmichael," he said, "I know that it is scarcely the thing to ask you too many questions, but I am really very curious to know whether you are able to connect this matter in any way with what the newspapers have called these recent robberies in High Life. The Press would have us believe, you know, that there is a very dangerous gang of thieves working in our very midst. In fact, if one took the newspapers seriously, one would scarcely dare to trust one's own friends."
The detective smiled.
"The Press," he answered softly, "have a certain public to cater for and they do their work very well. Up to the present, Mr. Coates," he added meditatively, "I have not been able to connect this theft with any previous affair. I must wish you, gentlemen, good-afternoon. "
He left the room with the air of a man who had no wish to be questioned further. As the door closed behind him, Evelyn glanced at his companion with a faint smile.
"One must remember," he murmured, "that even a detective is human. If the affair is left to himself, and the thing is obvious enough, he may even stumble sometimes upon the truth."
"You are such an optimist, my dear Evelyn," he murmured.
"Fancy Carmichael even stumbling upon the truth!"
The servant returned and motioned to the two men to follow him. They passed into a suite of reception rooms, in the further one of which the sultan was awaiting his visitors. He held out his hand, but he made no forward movement to greet them.
"I have received your message, Lord Evelyn Madrecourt," he said, "and I am glad to see you."
"You are very kind," Evelyn answered. "I want to ask your permission to present to your Highness my friend, Mr. Leslie Coates. You will pardon the informality of this visit, I am sure, when you have learnt its purport."
The sultan bowed solemnly toward Coates and motioned both men to chairs.
"I am very glad," he said, "of any excuse which brings you to see me, Lord Evelyn, and which procures for me the acquaintance of your friend."
"Your Highness," Evelyn answered, "we should not have intruded with so much informality but for the fact that our visit has a serious object. We have come to see you about the missing jewels."
The sultan's face showed no signs of added interest. The courteous smile still remained upon his thick lips, only there flashed for a moment into his eyes a light which neither of his two 'visitors wholly understood.
"About the jewels," he repeated slowly. "Have you brought me any news of them, Lord Evelyn?"
"I have brought you no direct news," Evelyn answered, "but in connection with them my friend, Mr. Coates, has made a somewhat curious discovery. Mr. Coates, I must tell you, has been a great traveller. He has been in Your Highness' country, and in practically every country of the civilised world. He has mixed with people of every class and every degree amongst us, and he has earned some fame, both on account of his travels themselves, and of the manner in which he has refrained from giving his experiences to the world."
"The name of Mr. Coates is well known to me," the sultan declared, with courteous but magnificent disregard of the truth.
"I have mentioned these things," Evelyn continued, "because I want you to understand that my friend, in the course of his life, has been brought into touch with all sorts and conditions of people and met with many curious adventures."
"I am greatly interested," the sultan declared.
"I believe," Evelyn remarked, "that you are on the point of becoming still more so. We are not sure, but we have some reason to believe that we may be able to assist you in the recovery of your jewels."
The sultan was silent for several moments. Watching him earnestly, Evelyn could not help but wonder what thoughts were passing through his brain.
"Do I understand," he asked calmly, "that your friend Mr. Coates has by some chance stumbled across a clue which may lead to the apprehension of these thieves?"
"Not exactly that," Evelyn answered. "The matter is a complicated one and there are several issues concerned in it. We come, in fact, to ask Your Highness a question. Which would you rather have—the return of your jewels or the punishment of the thief?"
Again the sultan was silent for several moments and again his impassive exterior gave no indication as to the nature of his thoughts.
"Am I to understand," he asked, "that both are impossible?"
"We do not go so far as that," Evelyn said, "only this much is very certain. If we were to go to the police here and give them the information which has come to us, there is a bare chance that they might be able to make an arrest, but there is also a certainty that the jewels would never be recovered."
"The jewels," the sultan declared, "must be recovered!"
"Ethically," he remarked, "the suggestion which I am now about to make to you is without a doubt immoral. The circumstances of the case, however, are peculiar. You want the jewels, and the money is a small matter. Would you be willing to pay the reward and to take no steps towards the punishment of the thief, supposing these jewels were restored to you?"
The sultan moved across the room and returned with a box of cigarettes.
"You will allow me," he said, "to offer you, perhaps, some refreshment."
He touched the bell as he spoke. A servant entered almost immediately, and silently arrayed upon the sideboard whisky and soda, wine, and small cakes. The sultan served his guests and himself. Then he raised his glass.
"I drink very seldom, Lord Evelyn," he said, "but I will drink now my thanks to you for this visit. I drink, also, to a successful issue to this problem which you have propounded."
Evelyn smiled as he raised his glass to his lips.
"I drink to your toast with pleasure, Your Highness," he said. "I only wish that it could have been my good fortune to have brought to you this afternoon both the thief and the jewels."
"I presume," the sultan said, turning to Coates, "that you have told me as much as you feel inclined to?"
"Your Highness," Coates said, "the information which came to me came through a source with which I dare take no liberties. My lips are sealed. I have gone a long way out of my way," he added, "to come here to-day and to say as much as I have said."
The sultan stretched out his hand and deliberately lit a cigarette. "I find this matter," he said, "one that is exceedingly difficult to decide upon. Above all things I desire the return of my jewels, but in my country it is not one man who would suffer for a theft like this. It might even be a hundred. I do not quite understand why your friend Mr. Coates, Lord Evelyn, cannot go with many of your policemen and make prisoners of everyone whom he thinks may have stolen or helped to steal my jewels."
"The matter is one," Evelyn admitted, "which it is indeed very hard to explain. After all, you must remember that our information does not lead us so far, by any means, as the actual thief."
The sultan looked at Coates long and silently. Then he turned once more to Evelyn.
"You said, I believe, that your friend was not connected with the police?" he asked.
"In no way," Evelyn answered.
"Nor, I presume, with the criminal classes?" the sultan added.
"Nor with the criminal classes," Evelyn assented drily. "Still, there are rings within rings of crime, you know, and on the outer edges are many of the most interesting people in the world. My friend Coates has simply come into some information, in a very roundabout way, from one of these."
The sultan stood for several moments as though lost in thought.
His black eyebrows were closely knit, his lips were drawn tightly together. His eyes flashed with a light which would certainly have meant very evil things indeed to any of his unhappy subjects who might have chanced to come in his way, had he been back behind the great belts of mountains which separated his kingdom from civilisation. With a little sigh he made his choice.
"Lord Evelyn," he said, "it was in your father's house that my jewels were lost and I feel that you must surely be deeply interested in their recovery. In your hands I place myself. What you think best for me to do I will do. But, above all things, I desire the jewels. They come to me in trust. They belong to me, not in my own person, but as the head of my house, to hand on to my heirs as those who have gone before have faithfully done."
Evelyn nodded sympathetically.
"In other words, your Highness," he said, "you will pay the reward for the recovery of the jewels if I am able to assure you that this is the only safe way of insuring their return to you."
"I will do as you say," the sultan assented.
"Our friend from Scotland Yard," Evelyn continued, "may try to dissuade you from this course."
"When my word has been given," the sultan said, "the matter is ended."
The two men rose to their feet. The sultan escorted them courteously toward the door. Almost for the first time Coates, of his own accord, addressed their august host.
"Your Highness," he said, "our mission, considering who we are, has doubtless seemed a strange thing to you. Yet, if you reflect, you will understand that even in your own country the underneath world is peopled by many curious beings. There are the criminal classes and there are the classes even behind them, from whom, in the first place, all crime is inspired. You kill a thief, a conspirator, a murderer, but you do not always kill the man whose brain inspired the crime. In London, it is almost impossible to arrive directly at the perpetrator of any great crime by direct means. If I succeed, for instance, in restoring to you your jewels, I believe that I shall accomplish what no one else in this country could do."
The sultan bowed his farewell.
"I take your word for this, Mr. Coates," he said, "as I have taken the word of your friend. If the jewels are restored to me, I shall pay the money and my lips will be sealed. I wish you success."
The two men went out together into the street and Evelyn led the way toward the Park. He walked with his hands behind him and his eyes fixed upon the ground. His hat was brushed to perfection, his clothes were the creation of a genius, his gray suede gloves were of exactly the right shade. He walked with a slow and yet graceful deliberation, copied by many of his youthful admirers, and to the casual observer he seemed to have nothing whatever on his mind. Nevertheless, as they turned into the Park he passed his arm through his companion's.
"Leslie," he said, "I am not sure that I quite like the taste of this affair. I am not sure that it would not be better to let the ten thousand pounds go. The sultan is scarcely the ruffian that I expected. As a matter of fact, he is almost a gentleman. What do you say?"
Coates shrugged his shoulders.
"My dear fellow," he answered, "what does it matter what I say? If you have made up your mind, nothing will change it. All I can tell you is that his manner is simply and purely a veneer. In his own country the fellow is a tyrant and a blackguard. He rules through his executioner and his people are the poorest and the worst cared for in the whole of Asia."
Evelyn was a little relieved.
"Well," he said, "I suppose I can take your word for it, Leslie. I am going to make a call in Berkeley Square. Mallison will be at my rooms at seven o'clock."
"I will be there a few minutes before," Coates declared, with a farewell nod.
EVELYN heard the clatter of teacups as he crossed the little hall of the house in Berkeley Square. He was unable to repress a slight gesture of weariness. The room into which he was ushered, however, was a small one and there were only four or five people present. He shook hands with his hostess, who received him with surprise, delicately tempered with gratification. Pamela made room for him next to her.
"How nice of you to come!" she said. "I know that you hate it all, but it will not last very long. You must have some tea, or pretend to, and afterward I will take you away. Don't look so hopeless a martyr, please. I promise that you shall not be introduced to anybody, if I can help it, and that these little cakes, at any rate, are not poisonous."
Evelyn smiled as he helped himself.
"My ingenuous countenance," he remarked, "always betrays me. I should like to say that afternoon tea is my favourite meal and that to be the only man amongst half a dozen women affords me the most unqualified gratification. And you see I cannot do it . You have read my thoughts."
Pamela sighed. She was eating cakes herself, and Evelyn found himself admiring her white, perfectly formed teeth.
"I wonder," she said, "why we cannot all be a little more natural."
"To be natural," he murmured, "is only another word for being selfish. Most of the so-called virtues are really vices in disguise, and some of them very unpleasant ones."
"What an heretical doctrine!" she murmured. "And the worst of it is that if anyone heard you, they would certainly accept whatever you say as the gospel truth itself. I wonder who gave you and your friends such unlimited powers over the minds and souls of us outside the pale."
"Have we unlimited powers?" he asked.
"Without a doubt," she answered. "You could break every social law, and people would only shrug their shoulders. You are a 'Ghost', you see. Your point of view is not the same as other people's."
"You mean," he asked, "that I should be excused, as a matter of indulgence? "
"Not at all," she declared. "People would believe that you would be right, that you must be right. Please do something absolutely foolish one of these days, or you will be in a position to turn topsy-turvy our whole scheme of morality."
"I am not sure," he answered, "that the world would suffer."
She shook her head.
"You must not be cynical," she said. "We do not expect that sort of thing from you. Cynicism is the mental recreation ground for the very young. By-the-bye, do you know that there is a girl here," she added, dropping her voice a little, "who has been listening to every word that you have said as though you were some inspired being, and who frankly stated, only ten minutes ago, that one of the objects of her life was to make your acquaintance?"
"How unpleasant!" he declared. "What could I possibly say to a person who expected so much?"
"Nothing at all," Pamela answered. "As a matter of fact, you probably would not have a chance to say much. The young lady—she is there on your left, by-the-bye—prefers to do most of the talking herself."
"Spare me that introduction," he begged, "and you will earn my life-long gratitude. Frankly, there is only one thing I detest more than talking to that sort of person, and that is listening to them."
"I am afraid," she answered, "that the issue remains with my aunt. See, .she is whispering to her now. Be brave, for your time has certainly come."
Lady Marlingham leaned forward in her chair.
"Lord Evelyn," she said, "let me introduce you to my niece's friend, Miss Van Heldt—Lord Evelyn Madrecourt—Miss Van Heldt. Miss Van Heldt," Lady Marlingham continued, "comes from the States, and if she will say all the flattering things to you that she has been saying to me, you ought to find her a very charming companion."
Lord Evelyn smiled, but it was not at Lady Marlingham's words. He had caught a gleam of laughter in Pamela's eyes.
"I am not prepared to admit," he said, bowing to the girl, "that anything which you said could possibly have been flattering. I am always glad to meet your country people, Miss Van Heldt. They were very kind to me when I was over there."
"I should think they would be," Miss Van Heldt declared. "You see, you are a very famous person over there, Lord Evelyn, and if there is anything which we do adore, it is people who are notorious.
He raised his eyebrows slightly.
"Surely," he protested, "I cannot lay claim to fame in any of its branches. A more unknown person than myself could scarcely exist."
Miss Van Heldt laughed.
"What unexampled modesty!" she declared. "Don't you know that in New York they talk of nothing but the 'Ghosts'?"
There was a dead silence in the little room. Everyone there realised precisely the solecism of which Sophy Van Heldt had been once more guilty. She became immediately conscious of their attitude, but she tried to brazen it out, laughing into Lord Evelyn's immovable face.
"What!" she exclaimed. "Have I been guilty of high treason again? You are not cross with me, are you, Lord Evelyn? Remember that after all I am the poor little dog that is barking outside. The dearest, the only ambition of my life is to become a 'Ghost.' I told Mr. Mallison so the other night and he was shockingly rude to me.
"Mallison," Lord Evelyn remarked easily, "is one of those men whose stern regard for the truth has seriously affected his career. Personally, I consider his point of view a little crude. If one feels any desire to rebuke impertinence, silence is really almost as effective."
The colour flashed for a moment in Sophy Van Heldt's face and died away almost immediately. She was unusually pale as she held out her hand to her hostess, but she carried herself indifferently enough.
"So glad I found you all at home," she said. "I want you and Pamela to use my box at the Opera one night next week. I'll write you about it. I know that you prefer Wagner and I can't bear him. Good-bye, Pamela and everybody! Good-afternoon, Lord Evelyn!" she added, turning toward him as though with a sudden thought, and dropping him a low curtsey. "I shall be able to thrill all my friends at home when I write and tell them that I have really met the wonderful Lord Evelyn."
Evelyn's bow was perfectly correct, if a little frigid. Conversation broke out on all sides directly the door was closed. Pamela rose and, kissing her aunt, turned to her companion.
"I must go now," she said. "I had no idea that it was so late. Will you walk a little way with me, or have you a very busy afternoon?"
"I will walk with you, if I may," he answered, as they passed out of the room, "wherever I am permitted. Are you going to pay calls?"
She shook her head.
"I do not live here," she said. "I come to see my aunt most days, but I live in a very different neighbourhood."
He looked at her in surprise.
"Really?" he exclaimed. "I quite thought that this was your home."
"My aunt would like it to be so," she said, as they crossed Piccadilly and turned down St. James's Street. "I tried it for some time, but I found the environment impossible. I am one of those unfortunate creatures, you know, who feel bound to do something with their lives. Sometimes I feel that it would be very pleasant to give it all up and to float down with the tide. One has so many disappointments."
"For you," he answered, "that could never become a serious temptation. You were never meant to be a machine for exploiting the latest creation in millinery, or to learn to talk the jargon of the multitude."
"That is all very well," she answered, "but exclusiveness has its penalties. One feels the want of friends, the need sometimes of that most misquoted of all words—sympathy. It sounds banal, doesn't it? But nevertheless the empty places and the tired hours are there. With you," she continued, after a moment's pause, and glancing into his face, "it is different, of course. You are specially privileged."
He walked on for a few yards in silence. He knew very well what she meant and he was at a loss how to answer her.
"I am sorry," she continued, "that you should have had the annoyance of meeting that extraordinary young woman this afternoon. She does not understand, of course. It is hard to blame her, she is so utterly and profoundly ignorant."
"I am not sure," he said slowly, "whether her point of view is not, after all, a perfectly natural and sane one. Society has taken our little circle too seriously, because it has been our métier never to talk about ourselves or to encourage remarks or questions from others. People have attributed to us powers and an importance which we should certainly never have claimed for ourselves. We are marvellous creatures of habit, all of us, ready to accept anybody or anything at the valuation of the majority. Miss Van Heldt had no idea that she was walking upon holy ground. Why should she? Why should we claim, indeed, that the ground is holy?"
She leaned a little toward him.
"Shall you think me as bad as Miss Van Heldt," she said softly, "if I ask you once more—"
He interrupted her. Perhaps her slight pause invited him to save her from putting her thoughts into words.
"Don't!" he said. "Please don't go on! I have something to say to you."
She looked at him in surprise. There was a new note in his tone, some unrecognisable quality which sounded strange to her.
"I will tell you something," he said. "Perhaps it is only a repetition of what I have told you before, but I want to emphasize it. It is the truth. There are seven of us left, and as we die or fall out, our places will never be filled. That we have practically settled amongst us. I cannot tell you anything more except that it is a very wise, I should say an inevitable, decision. If we were all that you think us," he continued, "and that the world thinks us, and nothing more, it would be one of the greatest pleasures which could come into my life to bring you into our little circle. But changes have come—changes and new obligations. We have passed outside the gates of the little world of thought, which we used to garnish with flowers and furnish with all the beautiful things which we could win from life. We have passed outside, and we have gone very far amongst the other places. The time has passed away when it would be of any benefit or any profit to you to belong to us."
They reached the front of Buckingham Palace. Gradually, during the last few moments, she had been walking more and more slowly. She held up her hand and called a hansom.
"I am not going to take you any farther," she said. "My rooms are over near Battersea Park and I shall take a cab from here. Perhaps some day you would like to come and see me—Number 3 Cyril Mansions. Good-bye!"
He felt himself dismissed, but he knew better at that moment than to protest. He turned around and walked slowly back toward Pall Mall.
ANIYTOS stretched out his hand and took another cigarette from the box which stood on the small round table between the two men. As he did so, he glanced curiously at his companion.
"Lord Evelyn," he said softly, "I trust that you will not consider it an impertinence if I say that I am finding your visit most interesting."
"I am very glad, I'm sure," Lord Evelyn answered politely. "I can assure you that for me, too, it is quite a new experience."
"My personality is, I presume, something of a surprise to you," Aniytos said softly.
"Your personality, if I may be forgiven for saying so, and your surroundings," Lord Evelyn replied.
Aniytos leaned back in his basket chair and exhaled a little cloud of blue smoke from between his thin lips. To smoke was one of his few pleasures, or rather one of the few pleasures that were possible to him, for of Aniytos there was little to be seen except the head and the unshapely shoulders. The rest of him, from morning till night, remained hidden in the little basket carriage which he manipulated with so much skill.
"I am very glad that you came," he said. "I hope that you will not be bored and that you will not mind coming again. Presently I will explain to you why I think it wise that you should do so. Our little talk must be postponed till after luncheon, for that, I think, is the gong."
A musical tinkle of silver bells came floating out to them through one of the open windows of the long, low villa. Aniytos, with a turn of his wrist, had pointed his queer little carriage toward the house. Evelyn walked across the lawn by his side. He found conversation a little difficult with a person of whom there remained only the face and the voice of a man.
"You manage your little machine very cleverly," he remarked, as his companion skilfully avoided a croquet hoop.
"I can do anything with it," he said, "except go upstairs. Fortunately, that is not necessary. As you see, my cottage is nearly all on one floor."
Evelyn looked toward the long bungalow-shaped house, covered with clematis and honeysuckle, with windows opening out of unexpected places and flowers springing from every corner.
"It is a very charming abode," he said politely.
A slight frown deepened upon his forehead. In the open windows of the room in which luncheon was set out, a girl had suddenly appeared and was standing prepared to welcome them. She had strange dark eyes, black hair, and a complexion so dusky as to be almost Oriental. She was dressed in white and she had drawn a great red rose through her belt.
"I do not know whether I told you that I had a daughter," Aniytos said. "Juliet, this is Lord Evelyn Madrecourt—my daughter!"
The girl held out her hand shyly and Evelyn noticed that the fingers over which he politely bowed were unusually cold.
"My daughter," Aniytos remarked, as he wheeled his chair into position at the table, "is only recently home from boarding school. She has no companions of her own age here and is a little shy."
Evelyn, glancing across the round table smothered with flowers, saw that his host's words were true and he smiled encouragingly.
"It is very delightful," he said, "to think of the time when one was young—and shy. We all have to gain confidence, you know, Miss Aniytos, and nothing but experience will help us."
Luncheon was delightfully served and excellently cooked. The table appointments were all perfect. The two men who waited were quick and perfectly trained. More than once Evelyn had to repress a smile as a humorous thought flashed into his brain, and once he fancied that he caught an answering gleam of amusement in the eyes of his host.
"It was kind of you, Lord Evelyn," he remarked, "to humour the whim of one who finds it difficult to stir far from this place. I had a fancy to see you and I am glad that you came."
"And I also," Evelyn admitted. "When our friend gave me your message, it seemed to me at first a little unnecessary, but after all—"
He paused, remembering that the servants were in the room, and Aniytos glibly continued the sentence.
"After all, it was much better that we should know each other," he continued. "I hope that you will try my Bernkastler. I am rather proud of it, though my doctor unfortunately gives me few opportunities to indulge myself."
"It is a wonderful wine," Evelyn admitted, with truth. "I seldom drink anything in the middle of the day, but a Moselle like this is irresistible."
Aniytos shrugged his shoulders slightly.
"Are you, too, one of the faddists," he asked, "who take things or leave them alone for the health's sake?"
"Scarcely," Evelyn answered, with a smile, "for I have come to the conclusion lately that we are happiest in ill health. Rude health means physical supremacy. The indisposition which brings lassitude, and checks one's superfluous animal vigour, has many advantages."
Aniytos raised his glass to his lips.
"I am not sure," he said thoughtfully, "that you are not right. There are many men who pity me. I do not think that I pity myself. Once I was strong and well as a man could be. I rode and shot and walked, and at night I slept. My days now are more nervous things, but my brain works as it never did before. Sport, after all, is a narrowing thing. The man who shakes himself free from its slavery is clearing the way for his passage into the larger world. Years ago, Heine and Pater, De Musset, Balzac, and Shakespeare, were little more than figures of speech to me. I scarcely knew a note of music, the most exquisite melodies left me unmoved. I have gained a great deal since my limbs were withered.... We will take our coffee under the tree," he continued, after a moment's pause. "Juliet shall sit with us for a moment and afterward we will have our talk."
They made their way into the garden. Aniytos pointed toward the red brick wall on the left.
"Juliet shall show you the rose garden and the way down to the river," he said, "It will take you only a minute. Come back then and I think that I can give you some Turkish coffee which you will find fit to drink."
The girl looked at Evelyn for a moment doubtfully.
"I should be charmed," he murmured. "Which way, Miss Aniytos?"
"I will show you," she said timidly, "but I am afraid that there are not many roses for you to see. The season is so backward and the gardener here speaks always of the blight."
"You have a charming home," Evelyn said, looking toward her curiously.
"Yes," she answered, speaking so softly that her voice was almost a whisper. "It is very beautiful here, much more beautiful than where I was at school."
"You were abroad?" he asked.
"In Switzerland," she answered. "This is the way into the rose garden. You see, there is not much here. Beyond are the steps which lead down to the river. I will show you."
She moved on ahead and he watched her with some faint interest. She was marvellously graceful and she walked so lightly that her feet seemed scarcely to touch the ground. There was something a little elfin, certainly un-English, about her. She seemed indisposed for conversation and only anxious to hurry' back. Yet he reflected that behind her silence was probably some of the brain of the man who called her his child.
"You go on the river often?" he asked.
"Very seldom," she answered. "I can row only a little and I punt very badly, and so my father does not care for me to go alone."
"You have neighbours I suppose? he remarked.
She shook her head.
"We do not know people," she said. "My father has always been like that. He does not care for acquaintances."
"It must be dull for you," he remarked.
Her eyes shot a rapid glance up at him and Evelyn was amazed to realise how beautiful they were.
"Yes," she said, "it is sometimes dull."
She led him back on to the lawn, and with a shy little nod, flitted away into the house. Evelyn joined his host under the cedar tree.
"Confess," Aniytos remarked, with a queer smile upon his lips, "that your visit has amazed you."
Evelyn shrugged his shoulders.
"Amazed is a strong word," he said, "yet I must confess that I did not expect to find, Mr. Aniytos — "
"A jewel in such a setting," Aniytos interrupted, with a little laugh. "Our business negotiations certainly could not have led you to expect it. By-the-bye, I have a word to say to you. You can take it, if you like, as a word of warning."
Evelyn nodded. "Go on," he said.
"You are marvellous people," Aniytos continued, turning toward his companion, "and you have been marvellously successful, but you can't expect it to go on forever, can you?'''
"One runs risks, of course," Evelyn answered, "but we are careful."
"There is one person," Aniytos continued, "who seems to have suspicions."
"We had an experience of it the other night," he said. "We were fooled, but nothing worse."
"The man is an American detective," Aniytos said thoughtfully. "He is clever, and his methods are a little puzzling. Who is behind him I cannot say, but I rather believe that it is some one of your own order, to whom one of you has given offence."
Evelyn looked at him curiously.
"How do you discover these things?" he asked.
Aniytos smiled but for a moment made no answer.
"They used to tell me," he added, in a lower tone a few minutes later, "years ago, when I was somewhat of a prominent figure in certain circles, that I had an extra sense. I could divine things sometimes that no one else could even guess at. If I am in the room with a traitor, I can tell him. There were five of us once, and no one knew, not a breath of suspicion had been kindled, but I felt it. I remember now getting up and laying my hand upon that man's shoulder and looking into his eyes. I remember his look of fear. I remember dragging the truth from him. We were in time, just in time to save our lives."
"And this man?" Evelyn asked curiously.
Aniytos shrugged his shoulders.
"Death," he said, "is the smallest penalty which the mind of man can suggest for treachery which has no excuse save the love of gain. They found him there when they came for us, with a bullet in his brain, and I have always thought that we let him off cheaply. Those days are not quite over for me, Lord Evelyn. There is a thread which leads from you to me, and from many others in different parts of the world. It is hard to find or to trace, perhaps, but there is always a chance. Let me give you an instance of it. Last night, between the hours of ten and eleven, Mr. Leslie Coates returned to the Sultan of Dureskan the jewels which were stolen from him at the reception in Grosvenor Square, and received in return bank notes to the value of ten thousand pounds."
"You are a marvellous person!" he declared.
Aniytos shook his head.
"There is nothing marvellous about that," he said. "It is simply the information which comes to me as my right. There is no man in London better informed as to such doings than I."
"Why do you keep on with it?" Evelyn asked.
Aniytos leaned forward in his chair. Once more his lips were parted in that mysterious smile.
"Why do you?" he asked. "Son of a duke, rich, with the world at your feet to kick, why do you juggle with fate and walk the tightrope? A little accident, and I presume that you would take your plunge into the abyss, you or anyone of you at whom fortune might chance to frown. Why do you do it? Why don't you shoot your pheasants, ride your hunters, make love to your friend's wife, move your feet upon the treadmill? Why do you come outside into the by-places?"
Evelyn threw away his cigarette.
"You know very well," he answered. "One does not need to talk about it. You have found out for yourself what weariness may mean!"
"Yes," Aniytos answered, "I have found out, but mine has been a bitter lesson! As for you and your friends, I have spent long afternoons and evenings, too, out here amongst the trees, thinking and wondering. I imagine that I am beginning to understand. The weariness you speak of has been common to a certain sort of people in every age. You have gifts for which you have no outlet. If you and your friends, Lord Evelyn, had been born in the middle classes, with a trade or profession ready to your hand, a necessity of your existence, you might have achieved greatness. As it is, you are asked to live the life of a pampered animal, and you have within you that mysterious something which will drive a man to hell rather than leave him content to eat only the empty husks of life."
"You appear," Evelyn remarked, "to have made a study of our infirmities."
"It has interested me," Aniytos admitted. "I found it at first so hard to understand you. And listen," he continued, "there is something I want to ask you. Before you leave to-day, I have a cheque for you, a cheque worth having. You see, you're a valuable client and I want to keep you. But I want you to promise me something."
"Well?" he said.
"Come down and see me sometimes," Aniytos begged earnestly. "We can do our business here. It is not well for you to be seen too often with my people in town. Besides, it does me good to talk to you, and it may—listen, it may be very useful to you," he added, dropping his voice a little. "I live in a quiet place," he went on. "Day by day there is little to be heard here but the rippling of the river and the murmuring of the wind in the trees, and the swish of oars as some one passes by the bottom of my lawn. But I hear things here, Lord Evelyn. It is my hobby to hear them. You see that wire? It is a private telegraph wire. I have that as well as the telephone. People think that I am a gambler on the Stock Exchange. So I am, but it is only a blind. There are many strange things which come to me along that wire. The knowledge of them some day may be useful to you and to your friends."
"I will come with pleasure," Evelyn answered. "To be frank with you, your house, and you, and the manner of your life attract me."
Aniytos smiled and glanced back over his shoulder. Juliet was coming across the lawn toward them, her feet moving as though in tune with some invisible music.
"And my little daughter," he said softly. "I want you to like her too. She is a strange child, and you people for whom the world holds no new thing are always attracted by what you cannot wholly understand. Some day she will make music or poetry, I do not know which, but I have watched her sitting out here with me at night, and I have seen the thoughts shine out of her eyes. Come, I will take you into the study now and give you that cheque."
"There is some one on the telephone," Juliet announced, "some one who wants to speak to you at once."
PAMELA stood under the trees, the centre of a little group of admirers, and wondered why she was bored. She spoke at the right time and smiled where a smile was befitting, but those who knew her best were aware that something was wrong. Mallison at last drew her a little on one side on the pretence of showing her a wonderful view through a gap in the trees.
"You are bored," he remarked sympathetically.
"To death," she answered. "Take me away, won't you?"
He led her to a rustic seat and carefully dusted a place for her with his handkerchief.
"The most accursed thing about motor cars," he remarked, "is that they have made it possible for our friends to give garden parties and expect us to be present, however far away they may be. Do you realise that we are forty miles from London?"
"I do," Pamela answered. "I wish that we were a hundred and forty."
"And I," he admitted, "a thousand and forty. I do not think that in the history of the world there was ever created a city so hideously, so cruelly monotonous."
"No doubt," she murmured, leaning backwards, "the weary dwellers in Babylon and Nineveh looked up to the skies and said something of the same thing. After all, it isn't the place. It is ourselves that grow tired before our bodies decay."
"You talk," he murmured, "as though you had been at Mrs. Howard Williams' dance last night."
"I was there," she admitted. "The same struggling crowd of youths tried to dance with me. I tried to listen to sentiment in the conservatories and to smile when some clodhopper of a man trod on my frock. Life is getting very difficult, Mr. Mallison."
A woman came sweeping up to them, a woman with pale, tired face, beautifully dressed in white muslin and with a great black picture hat crowned with sweeping feathers.
"Dear people," she murmured, "may I sit down with you? Somehow you look to me sympathetic. Why do people give garden parties, or, rather, why do we come to them?"
"My dear duchess," Mallison remarked, as he dusted another part of the seat, "such questions will remain unanswered for all time. Miss Cliffordson here has been asking me exactly the same thing in other words. There is some modern disease, I am sure, which takes away the desire to live while the body still flourishes."
"Life would be beautiful enough," Pamela murmured, "if one could only ignore, absolutely and completely, the mundane side of it."
"It is," Mallison declared, "an impossible proposition. Of our two selves, it seems as though indeed the physical self were born to triumph, for wherever it clashes with the spiritual it triumphs. It must triumph. The very necessities of life proclaim it. One must eat and drink to live."
"There are other necessities," the duchess murmured under her breath, "but perhaps they do not count. I wonder," she continued, "was I interrupting a very personal conversation?"
Mallison leaned a little forward in his place.
"No," he said, "you were not. Yet, as a matter of fact, if I had been left here alone another five minutes with Miss Cliffordson, I should have said something to her of some importance."
Pamela looked at him curiously.
"Perhaps," she said, "you were going to propose to me?"
Mallison shook his head.
"If you will promise to accept my offer," he declared, "you can consider that I have done so."
"What else could it have been?" she asked.
"I was going to speak to you," Mallison continued, in his cold, even tones, "of a matter concerning which we do not as a rule speak to anyone. I was going to ask Miss Cliffordson what price she would pay for a new experience."
Pamela looked into his face and knew very well what he meant. "I would pay," she answered, "with any coin which you could name—but it is useless."
"Why useless?" he asked.
"I spoke of it to Lord Evelyn only a few days ago," she murmured.
The Duchess of Winchester leaned forward. Her eyebrows were slightly contracted, there was a distinct change in her tone.
"You mean," she whispered, "that he discouraged you?"
"Absolutely," Pamela answered.
The duchess and Mallison exchanged quick glances.
"Under those circumstances," the former said, rising, "I suppose it is unnecessary for us to discuss it. Let us go and watch the tennis. Afterwards I want you to take me over the aviaries, Mr. Mallison. You know your way about here so well."
Pamela was led away to relieve her aunt, almost directly they rose, the duchess and Mallison walked together toward a secluded part of the gardens.
"Do you suppose," she said, laying her hand upon Mallison's arm, "that Evelyn had any reason for this? The girl's name has been before us for a year. We have watched her and we know all about her. Her admission was practically a certainty. What has made Evelyn turn round like this?"
"Heaven knows!" Mallison answered.
"She is beautiful, of course," the duchess continued, "but Evelyn is surely hardened by this time to that sort of thing. If he is not, the sooner we disband the better. Where there is weakness there is risk. We go, everyone of us, with the knife at our bosoms, but we go with a complete understanding of one another. If that fails, I have finished. Tell me, is not that Evelyn's motor?"
"I should say so," Mallison answered, quickening his step. "No one else would come up the park at such a pace. We shall catch him here at the bend. Wave your handkerchief. There, he has seen us."
With grinding of brakes and a swerve which nearly sent the car off the narrow road on to the grass, Evelyn brought his Mercedes to a standstill and descended. He took off his coat and glasses, and his servant from the tonneau handed out his hat from a hatbox.
"Were you people waiting for me?" Evelyn asked, as they strolled back toward the gardens.
"Not exactly," the duchess answered, "and yet perhaps we were. We have been talking to Pamela Cliffordson, and something which she said surprised us so that we left her and walked down here together."
"Pamela Cliffordson," Evelyn repeated, in an unemotional tone, "—the young lady with the beautiful pose and the Burne-Jones face?"
"The young lady, also," the duchess remarked drily, "whom you have discouraged in a very natural ambition."
"Has she told you of that?" he asked quickly.
"Yes!" the duchess answered.
Evelyn looked around. There was no doubt that they were out of earshot of any possible listeners.
"She is only a girl," he said. "She is too young to come into a thing which means an end of all the other side of life. She thinks she is tired because the years have passed swiftly with her, but after all it may be only a mood. I say again that she is too young for us. We need no one else. We are better without anyone. Sometimes I think that seven are too many."
"There are seven of us now," the duchess remarked grimly, "but who knows how many there will be in six months' time? I believe the girl would come if you used your influence, Evelyn, and she would be useful for many reasons."
"I will talk to her again," Evelyn answered carelessly. "At present, I confess that I think she is too young. Do you know where I was yesterday?"
Mallison looked at him curiously.
"No!" they answered.
"I have been to see Aniytos," he answered, dropping his voice a little. "I have met the man face to face—the strangest creature that ever breathed. He gave me a cheque for nine thousand pounds."
"That's over our estimate," Mallison remarked.
"Two thousand pounds over," Evelyn admitted. "He's a wonderful fellow. By-the-bye, there is Miss Cliffordson. I will go and improve my acquaintance with her. I may even yet change my mind."
He left them without another word. The duchess and Mallison exchanged a quick glance. Then they turned toward where the people were crowded together upon the lawns.
"They say," he murmured, "that a man may pound and pound and pound away, and when he thinks that he has destroyed every park of humanity, and has turned himself into a lifeless and absolutely material person, that there is always some little space, some little corner which he has over looked. I wonder whether it is so with Evelyn?"
The duchess looked after him with clenched fingers.
"I wonder!" she repeated.
EVELYN led Pamela away from a protesting group. "This is your aunt's party," he remarked, "and in a sense you are my hostess. Please to find a place where I can sit down and be cool and talk to you without interruption."
"Really," she declared, smiling, "you ask a great deal. Have you just come down from town?"
"This instant," he declared. "I shook hands with your aunt and came at once in search of you."
"You must have some tea or something," she declared.
He shook his head.
"Thank you," he answered, "I never touch tea."
"A whisky and soda, then?"
He shook his head.
"I am not thirsty," he answered. "Certainly I want nothing else just now except to talk to you."
She led him away, and by and by the sounds behind them grew fainter and fainter. He was not fluent. Indeed he said very little. Soon they came around to the back of the house, to the edge of a hay field, bordered by an iron railing. She pointed to a bank and they sat down together.
"I know exactly what has been happening," he began at last. "The Duchess of Winchester and Mallison have been talking to you about becoming a 'Ghost' and you have told them —"
"I have told them nothing," she interrupted—"nothing definite, that is."
"Listen," he said, "I do not wish you to come to us. You are too young to realise the gulf which you would have to cross. If you knew the whole truth, I believe at this minute that you would be shocked and scandalised. 'Qui s'excuse s'accuse!' I am not going to say very much to you about our doings, but I want you to understand this. There is not one of us who is not firmly convinced that he has done with life. There is the duchess, broken-hearted, with no ambitions, of whom it is an open secret that she tried to take her own life soon after the separation. Mallison, a human machine. Leslie Coates, the shadow of a dead man. Margaret Delancy, the woman of dreams, who has torn up with her own fingers every tie that held her to life. Herman, as mad as any man with human brains can be. Descartes, a decadent before he left Eton, weary to death of a life he has no idea how to live. These are no company for you, Pamela. You are young and the iron is not yet in your soul."
"And you?" she murmured. "What about yourself?"
"Need I tell you that?" he answered. "I am one of those who has passed to the other side. I cannot come back. I am not sure whether I would if I could. But believe me, stripped of all its unrealities, the land in which we dwell is nothing more nor less than the land of despair."
"What would you have me do, then?" she asked him gravely. "I have no gifts, I have proved it. What am I to do? Marry, perhaps? Have houses for my friends, entertain, press the treadmill with both feet? Is this what you would have me do?"
"Your feet may seem to press the treadmill, but your head may be in the clouds," he answered. "All that I can tell you is this. Yours has been a vain quest. We cannot escape from ourselves. While our earthly bodies last, the earthly life is best. We have turned over the carpet of life, those others whom you know of, and I, in the frantic search for new sensations, for excitement, any manner of excitement. We have found it, of a sort, and the finding of it has certainly taken us out of the every-day world. But there is a price and we must pay it. I know what that price is and I want you to stay where you are."
Pamela raised her eyes and looked him steadfastly in the face.
"Between us two," she said, "nothing has passed save the truth. We are neither of us overburdened with sentiment. You will not misunderstand me if I say that having found a companion with whom the days go easier, that I wish to be where he is."
He looked at her for a moment without change of feature and then he shook his head slowly.
"You have your life to live," he said slowly. "You are a woman and for you there is always the great possibility. I tell you that where you are is best."
She shook her head sadly.
"I am too old," she said, "and the freshness has gone out of my life. The great possibility that you speak of will never come to me."
He looked away. He looked across the hay field, over the forest, and beyond, to where the rising hills touched the skies. Slowly he was conscious, unwillingly, fearfully conscious of a new and incredible emotion. After all, was his life built so completely upon the sands? Was it possible that weariness, even such weariness as his, was only a transitory state, a thing which could be charmed away? He felt his heart beat. Something in his pulses seemed to be singing to him of the days of his not so distant youth. Was it magic which she had poured into his blood? His brain seemed suddenly in a turmoil. He heard the soft flowing of the river. He heard the voice of Aniytos, cold and silvery. He saw the light flash from Juliet's dark eyes suddenly lifted to his. He heard her shy voice and saw her once more cross the lilac-shaded lawn. Then, with a cold rush of thought, he remembered where he stood. He remembered that all the regrets that were ever breathed out into the world could not alter or change certain grim facts.
"My dear friend," he said, "I would have you come to us to-morrow, but I know that it would be a sin."
"I would as soon sin as die of weariness," she murmured.
"On principle, I agree with you," he answered, smiling, "but the worst of it is that there are no great sins left. All that we can do is to paddle in the black waters, to splash our fingers about in the shallows. The deep places, alas, are not for people of taste! Sin is unfortunately so ugly a thing."
The duchess and Mallison came up behind them.
"Absolutely rustic!" the duchess declared. "Have you good people been hay making?"
"We have been talking nonsense," Evelyn declared.
Pamela rose and smoothed out her skirts.
"I am going," she said decidedly, "to have my fortune told."
They all walked back to the grounds. On the way they passed Margaret Delancy, who came out of a small tent, white-faced and shivering as though with cold. She would have hurried on but they stopped her. She pointed back toward the tent.
"I have been," she said, "to have my fortune told. If any of you want to sleep to-night, keep away. I mean it. Mr. Mallison, could you spare five minutes? If I could only find some one to get me to my carriage!"
Mallison hurried away. The others looked back toward the tent.
Evelyn, with a little laugh, stooped down and entered.
"Wait for me," he said. "I at least am one of those fortunate people who have nothing to fear from fate."
EVELYN found the tent empty, but was conscious of whispering voices behind the curtain spread across the lower end. The voices ceased at his entrance and he felt himself regarded through a small hole. When he remembered Margaret Delancy's terror as she had come out into the sunlight, he almost smiled at the obviousness of these arrangements.
"Is the wizard there?" he asked. "I am waiting to have my fortune told."
The curtains were drawn aside. A girl stepped a little timidly out and took a seat close to the curtain. Evelyn would have risen to his feet but she waved him back.
"Stay where you are," she said, "for a moment. I want to look at you."
Evelyn leaned toward her with a slight smile. She was closely masked and her voice seemed in no way familiar.
"Do you not wish to see my hand?" he asked.
"Presently," she answered, "but first I want to see your face."
She studied him closely and carefully. Evelyn, who at first returned her gaze carelessly enough, became a little conscious at last under the soft persistent fire of those half-hidden eyes. They seemed to pass from his forehead to his eyes, to linger around his mouth, and to look once more into his eyes, as though they had the power even to see to the back of his brain, to spell out the thoughts as they formed themselves there. Evelyn frowned uneasily. He was without a doubt relieved when at last she looked away and glided toward him.
"Give me your hand," she said.
He stretched it out and she took it in hers. She looked at the hand for a few moments only. Then she withdrew to her former seat.
"Why," she asked, "do you wish to know your fortune?"
He shrugged his shoulders.
"Curiosity," he suggested.
She shook her head slowly.
"You have no curiosity," she answered.
"Tell me, at any rate," he said. "See if you can terrify me as you did the lady whose afternoon you have just spoiled."
"It may spoil yours," the girl said, in a voice so low as to be scarcely audible.
"Unlikely," he answered. "I have no nerves."
"That, I suppose, is true," she continued, after a moment's pause, "You have no nerves, no heart, no conscience. You can defy fate because you believe that fate is powerless against the armour of your indifference. Dangers would only amuse you, because you do not know fear. That is not your character or your fortune, Lord Evelyn. That is what you believe yourself. You may be wrong."
She spoke very slowly and Evelyn was aware from the first that she was prompted by some one behind the curtain. He affected, however, not to notice it.
"Come," he said, "if I am not what I believe myself, where is the weak spot?"
She lean a little forward.
"Can you guess?" she said. "You are honest so far as you know yourself, and yet, like many others, if you had the courage to look with wide-open eyes into the great looking glass, you would know that you are a poseur. Probably within the last few weeks you have been conscious of it. Probably in a few weeks' or a few months' time, the knowledge of it may be living with you, an aching memory."
"The consciousness of what?" he demanded.
"The consciousness that you are still a man," she answered, "that the flavour of life may still become sweet to you, that you may look back into the world and long once more to enter. Be careful, Lord Evelyn. You are in danger. A month ago that might have sounded piquant to you. To-day you should be careful, for you know the price."
Lord Evelyn changed his position a little and looked steadfastly at the small shrouded figure, and from her he looked to the curtain.
"You are very mysterious," he said quietly.
"No," she answered, "it is not that. It is simply that you are overconfident."
"Is this a friendly warning?" he asked.
"There is neither friendship nor enmity in it," she answered.
"You come to me and you ask me to speak true things about yourself and your future. Your hand and your face told me all and more than I have told you. I might go on to say that you are making two mistakes. You believe yourself to be what you are not. You are engaged in an enterprise which, if you persevere in it, will inevitably bring you all the unhappiness you go out of your way to seek."
"May I know," he asked, "the name of your coadjutor?"
"Coadjutor?" she repeated uneasily.
"There is some one," he remarked, "behind the screen."
"I need no help," she answered. "You are mistaken."
He rose to his feet.
"I challenge you," he said. "You dare not let me see. You have hinted at things which have interested me so much that I am even more interested to discover your source of information."
The girl laughed, a queer crooning sort of sound.
"Seek for yourself," she said contemptuously.
Evelyn strode across the room and raised the curtain. There was no one there, but there was another exit. He passed out and looked about. There was no one in sight who looked in any way different from the gaily-dressed throng which promenaded and sauntered and gossiped. He stepped back to where the girl remained in her place.
"You are a wonderful child," he said, "even though I do not admit that you are a seer. Have you no advice to give?"
"Why should I give advice?" she answered coldly. "Your future does not interest me. I only see the road by which you are travelling, and the end of it. If I tell you that, it is for you to turn aside if you will, if you think it worth while."
She pointed toward the door and Evelyn understood that she wished him to go.
"Pardon me," he said, "but is this a free entertainment?"
"You are permitted," the girl answered, pointing to a little wooden coffer, "to contribute toward a charity."
Lord Evelyn took up the box and read its inscription. It was for the benefit of the Cripples' Guild. He set it down deliberately and looked once more at the child.
"It is a worthy cause, this?" he asked.
She did not answer and he felt the significance of her silence.
"I shall contribute nothing," he said. "You have told me nothing of any moment."
"As you will," she answered indifferently.
Evelyn passed out into the sunshine. From somewhere amongst the trees, Mallison, who had been waiting for him, came up. Evelyn took his arm.
"Mallison," he said, "have you any idea who is doing the fortune-telling there?"
Mallison shook his head.
"A child," he answered, "whom no one knows. Mrs. Delancy was certain she had never seen her before."
"There was some one behind the curtain," Evelyn said, "and some one who knew a good deal more than was well for them to know."
Mallison shrugged his shoulders.
"Well," he said, "a little longer or a little shorter, it makes very little difference, does it? I was never sure of Margaret Delancy. A woman's nervous system will sometimes reassert itself in all sorts of ways. Look, she is coming."
The two men watched her curiously as she hurried toward them. She certainly had the air of a woman who had dwelt for a time in another world. She hurried up to them, and Evelyn, at any rate, guessed almost at once what it was that she had come to say.
"You have been in there?" she asked him eagerly, pointing toward the tent.
"What did she tell you?"
"I was told some things," Evelyn admitted, "that I think it were a good deal better for the person who told me to have remained ignorant of."
"What she said to me," Margaret Delancy murmured, "I am struggling already to forget. I only know that she has found life in some of the dead places. I am going back to town at once."
Evelyn handed her to the carriage and the two men watched her drive off.
"Nerves!" Mallison remarked laconically.
"A bad attack," Evelyn assented.
The Duchess of Irchester stood a little apart from her guests in the centre of the hall of her great country house in Huntingdonshire. As though by common consent, everyone had moved away and left her free to talk to her husband, who had just appeared upon the scene. Her manner was distressed but also a little contemptuous.
"I cannot imagine," she said, "why I ever invited these people here. In London one has to see a little of everybody. Down here, up to the present, at any rate, I have always succeeded in being surrounded only by my own friends. As a matter of fact, I really believe, now I come to think of it, that it was Evelyn who persuaded me to ask the woman!"
Her husband who had just been summoned from the billiard room and who stood by her side with a cue still in his hand, smiled as though the idea amused him.
"My dear Emily," he said, "are we to believe, then, that a person so critical as Evelyn could possibly be deceived—perhaps I should say could possibly be attracted—by the small airs and graces of this Lady Vanderheim?"
"I only know," the duchess answered impatiently, "that Evelyn suggested having them. Of course, the woman must bring jewels enough for a king's ransom, and now we are going to provide another great scandal for the newspapers. Henry, I do not understand it at all. Do you realise that it is only a few weeks since the Sultan of Dureskan lost his jewels at Irchester House? What on earth will people think? This is the seeond great robbery which has occurred under our roof."
The duke shrugged his shoulders.
"It is certainly an unfortunate coincidence," he remarked. "Beyond that, I scarcely see what people can say."
"I suppose," the duchess declared, frowning, "that it is entirely my own fault for having such persons in the house. Something always happens if one makes such stupid mistakes—either the husband kills some one out shooting, or the wife drives away the very people one would like to have stop, by her vulgarity."
The duke yawned. He was anxious to get back to his billiards. "Where are they all?" he asked.
"Sir Jacob has gone over to Irchester in the motor to get some one from the police station," the duchess answered. "When he comes back, we shall have the place full of policemen and clumsy country detectives going about with notebooks and questioning everybody."
"Rather amusing, I should think," the duke remarked consolingly. "Where is Lady Vanderheim?"
"In her room, I believe," the duchess answered, "indulging in some complicated form of hysteria. I suppose I ought to go to her."
Some one from an adjoining group leaned over.
"Lady Vanderheim is coming downstairs," he whispered.
There was a little silence in the hall, where several groups of men and women were standing about, talking over this new sensation which had suddenly been sprung upon them. They all looked up at the tall, fair woman who was coming down the oak staircase.
The duchess advanced slowly and unwillingly to meet her.
"Posing already l" she muttered to Mallison, who was by her side. "Look at her neck and bosom. I pity the thieves could not have taken all her vulgar jewellery while they were about it."
Lady Vanderheim came down into the hall, with the feeling that for once in her lifetime she was the centre of interest even in a gathering such as this. There was a rumour that her husband had married her in Africa, where he had found her playing the part of a persecuted heroine in some small melodrama. The look which she threw now upon her hostess might well have been the remnant of some such histrionic ability.
"My dear Duchess," she exclaimed, in a broken tone, "you have heard the news, I suppose?"
The duchess deftly avoided the outstretched hands, which she was presumably supposed to have clasped.
"I am very sorry, I am sure," she declared, in a tone which was almost matter of fact. "Very likely your jewels will all turn up soon, though. Your husband has gone off to find the police, I hear. Surely they haven't taken everything?"
"Everything worth taking," Lady Vanderheim answered, a little sharply, for she felt that her hostess's attitude was scarcely as sympathetic as was befitting. "One does not talk of the money value of these things, but I believe that the necklace and tiara alone were worth more than a hundred thousand pounds. You see, it is no slight loss, Duchess. You must not mind if I am a little upset."
'My dear woman, of course you are upset," the duchess declared, "but it isn't the least use making a fuss, is it? I only pray that they will turn up again. I can assure you that I don't relish having such a thing happen in my house."
"Nor do I," Lady Vanderheim answered, clutching her handkerchief tightly in her fingers, "relish having such a thing happen anywhere. It is very strange indeed. Everything was put out for me to wear as usual tonight and my maid was not away from the room for five minutes." .
"And where were you?" the duchess asked.
"I was in Sir Jacob's room for a short time," Lady Vanderheim
answered, after a second's pause.
"Was Sir Jacob there?" the duchess asked.
Lady Vanderheim flushed a little.
"No!" she answered. "I think, if you don't mind, we will not talk any more about it until the detectives are here."
The duchess made a wry face.
"Just as you say, of course," she answered. "Would you like some bridge or some music, or do you care to play billiards?"
Lady Vanderheim looked around the hall, as though seeking for some one. .
"I was wondering," she said, "whether Lord Evelyn was here."
The duchess turned away.
"My son," she remarked, "did not dine with us to-night. He is still in his room, I believe, but you could send a message up if you cared to."
Lady Vanderheim took some coffee from the footman and turned to where Mallison was lecturing to a little group of people upon the different periods of the armour which lined one side of the wall.
"Mr. Mallison," she said appealingly, "don't you think that the duchess is quite unkind to me?"
Mallison smiled coldly.
"My dear Lady Vanderheim," he replied, "you must remember that the duchess is not of a sympathetic nature and that she detests a fuss. This affair, coming so soon after the other one, naturally worries her tremendously."
Lady Vanderheim remained dissatisfied.
"I don't see what I have to do with the other affair," she said. "When one comes to think of it, though, it is rather strange that two people should have lost very valuable jewels in the duchess' house within the space of a few weeks. Not that that Indian man's diamonds were anything to be compared to mine," she added, with a touch of self-complacency. "Still, it does set one thinking, doesn't it? I must mention it to the detective when he comes."
"The detective will probably know all about it," Mr. Mallison replied. "If I were you, I would not allude to that other affair. The entire household here is different from the one in London. So it is certainly only a coincidence. Any allusion to it just now would naturally worry the duchess a good deal."
Lady Vanderheim raised her eyebrows.
"Well," she said, "I should like to know who has the more to worry about—the duchess, because my jewels were stolen in her house, or I, because I have lost my diamonds. It is all very well to say that they will be recovered. I am not so sure about that. It seems to me very much like a cleverly planned robbery."
"The Sultan of Dureskan recovered his jewels," Mallison reminded her.
"Yes, but they say that he had to pay a very large reward and ask no questions," Lady Vanderheim answered. "Sir Jacob would not care about that, I can tell you."
There were plenty of people quite as anxious to talk to Lady Vanderheim about her loss as she was to discuss it, and before long she was the centre of a deeply interested group. Mallison, finding that his little company of listeners had melted away, went in search of the duchess, who was still fuming in the corner.
"Detectives in my house, indeed!" she exclaimed. "It was bad enough to have them in London, but it is perfectly hateful to think of them here. I wonder how it is that it is always these outré sort of people who get their jewels stolen!"
"Probably," Mallison remarked, "because their jewellery is more valuable than other people's."
The duchess shook her head.
"There are the Ingleby pearls in my room," she said. "I wore I hem last night—I have worn them a dozen times during the last month. I have never found a jeweller who will even put I price upon them. They are absolutely unique. No one ever tries to steal them. Thank goodness the woman's going upstairs!" Lady Vanderheim went slowly up the great staircase until she reached her rooms. Her maid was sitting upon the chair by the side of the bed, from which she had been forbidden to stir. The door connecting with Sir Jacob's apartments was open. Lady Vanderheim hesitated for a moment.
"Annette," she said, "I am going downstairs again. I shall be alway only for a minute or two. Please understand that you are not to move from here."
Lady Vanderheim turned as though to rejoin the party, who were filing their way now through the hall into the bridge and billiard rooms. Before she reached the stairs, however, she turned around another corridor to the left, and knocking softly at one of the doors, opened it quickly. Lord Evelyn was sitting before the window, looking across the park. Directly he saw who his visitor was, he turned on the electric lights and pulled down the blind.
"Any news?" he asked politely.
Lady Vanderheim came toward him with outstretched hands. "Lord Evelyn," she said, "your mother has been so unkind to me. I felt that I must come in and see you again. No one seems to sympathise with me a little bit and I am really most unhappy."
Evelyn took her hand for a moment and touched it with his lips, Then he gently motioned her to an easy-chair.
"My dear lady," he said, "I can assure you that I sympathise with you most profoundly. But, after all, you must remember that the loss is not irreparable. Your husband can give you other stones just as valuable, without feeling it. It is not as though something had been stolen that you could never replace."
Lady Vanderheim dabbed at her eyes with the little morsel of white lace which she was carrying in her hands.
"I think that you are very cruel," she said, looking toward Evelyn, "especially—"
"Especially why?" he asked civilly.
"Especially as it would never have happened," she continued, in an undertone, "if I had not come here to see you before I went in to dress."
"By-the-bye," Evelyn said calmly, "are you going to give the detective, whom your husband has gone to fetch, an exact account of your movements between the time you came up-stairs and the time you missed your jewels?"
She hesitated and looked at him doubtfully.
"That is what I came to see you about," she said. "What do you advise?"
"I should do exactly as you felt inclined," he answered slowly. "You must remember that if you admit having sent your maid with a message which would probably detain her for a quarter of an hour, and that you then came around to my rooms here and waited for me, you will probably give cause for a certain amount of gossip. You need not consider me for a moment; nothing," he added, with faint emphasis, "can hurt my reputation. On the other hand, your husband, and perhaps even some other of your friends, might consider your having come here a little—shall we say indiscreet?"
"I know it," she answered softly, "but you must not blame me. I wanted to see you and you told me that you would be here. That is why I came. I really didn't see any harm in it."
"Well," he remarked, "the question you have to decide is whether you are going to tell your husband that you came, or whether you are going to say that you were in his room during the time that your maid was away."
"I shall say that I was in his room," Lady Vanderheim answered.
"My husband is jealous enough of you already."
"It may make it more difficult for them to trace the jewels," Evelyn said thoughtfully.
"I cannot help it," she answered, tapping the floor softly with her foot. "I cannot possibly say that I was here. Even now it is rlsky. Sir Jacob may be back at any moment."
She came over and stood by his side, with the air of having something further to say. She was a fair woman, tall, presentable enough, and never without admirers, even before her husband's wealth made them a matter of course. Nevertheless, she knew that this man, whose caress she had for a moment silently invited, remained absolutely unattracted by her.
"I wonder," she said abruptly, "why you have taken the trouble to be decent to me. My husband's money is of no use to you and I know that your mother hates the sight of us both in the house. Why did you get us asked here?"
Evelyn leaned toward her. There was a very fair semblance of softening in his tone and manner as he passed his arm for a moment around her waist.
"My dear Lucy," he said, "you know very well why I wanted you here."
He kissed her lips and she was more contented. She picked up her skirts and stole toward the door.
"I am going to make a rush for it now," she said. "Remember, then, that I did not see you at all between luncheon time and dinner time."
"You have not seen me at all since luncheon time," he corrected. "You must remember that I was not down for dinner."
She nodded, and opening the door softly, looked up and down the corridor and then glided away. Evelyn locked the door after her and raised the newspaper which he had thrown over the table upon the entrance of his visitor. Underneath it flashed a wonderful collection of diamonds, most of them loose, a battered tiara, and a pair of pincers. He took them all up, and throwing them into his writing cabinet, turned the key and put it into his pocket. Then he rang the bell for his servant.
"James," he said, "bring some whisky and soda and go down and find Mr. Mallison. Tell him that if he is not busy, I should like him to come up and sit with me for a few minutes."
"Very good, my lord," the man answered, and withdrew. Evelyn lit a cigarette and, taking down a volume of poetry from the shelves by his side, made himself comfortable in an easy-chair.
MALLISON came up a few minutes later and exchanged laconic greetings with Evelyn.
"Quite a disturbance down below, I gather," Evelyn remarked.
"Is Vanderheim back yet from Irchester?"
"Not yet," Mallison answered, taking a seat and helping himself to whiskey and soda. "Can't you imagine the sort of person he will bring back with him—something red-faced, very fussy, and very mysterious. He will discover half a dozen clues in as many minutes."
"The jewels," he remarked, "are really very fine. Care to look at them?"
"I think not," Mallison answered drily, "to say nothing of the chances of our being disturbed. I think it quite as well that they remain where they are for a time. I presume you have found some satisfactory hiding place?"
Evelyn yawned slightly.
"No, I haven't bothered about that," he answered. "They're just inside my cabinet there. I think as there's likely to be some disturbance here, I shall run up to town to-morrow for the day."
"The sooner you're rid of them, the better," Mallison answered.
"Hullo, some one wants you!"
There was a knock at the door.
"Come in!" Evelyn said quietly.
Both men looked up, a little surprised. It was their host, Evelyn's father, the Duke of Irchester, who had entered. He greeted them both with the stiff formality which never left him. Evelyn rose at once and offered him a chair.
"Thank you, Evelyn," the duke said, seating himself with much deliberation. "You have heard, I suppose, of the unfortunate occurrence which has taken place here?"
"Who hasn't? " Evelyn answered. "It's a big thing, sir, to lose a hundred thousand pounds' worth of jewels. Lady Vanderheim's not likely to keep quiet about it."
"If the alternative had been offered to me," the duke continued calmly, "I should have preferred to replace the jewels sooner than allow the matter to become public. Since it has happened, however, I presume that the most satisfactory thing would be that we discover the thief."
"Easy enough, I should think, sir," he answered, "unless there are some very clever people concerned in it."
"Thefts are never easy to detect," the duke remarked. "The very simplicity of this one makes it all the more difficult. A person is here now from Irchester making an examination of Lady Vanderheim's rooms. So far as I can see, he has not an idea in his head, nor the inkling of one."
"I can imagine the type," Evelyn said drily. "Does he nod his head often and look mysterious?"
The duke sighed.
"You shall judge for yourself," she said. "He is coming to visit you presently, I believe."
"I shall feel honoured, I am sure," Evelyn remarked, "but I don't quite see where I come in."
"Well, you appear to be the only person who was on this floor about the time the thing happened," the duke remarked. "He will probably ask you whether you heard any noise or were disturbed in any way."
"How's Lady Vanderheim taking it?" Evelyn asked. The duke shrugged his high shoulders.
"Those sort of people," he remarked, "cannot conceal their emot ions. They are behaving, both of them, husband and wife, like a pair of children who have been robbed of a sweetmeat. I cannot understand how they ever found their way here. Your mother must have been in an unusually lenient frame of mind."
"My fault," Evelyn confessed with a sigh. "I thought that Lady Vanderheim might have amused me. I won't interfere again."
"I am glad to hear it," the duke remarked. "We don't make a practice of entertaining at Madrecourt people who are either buffoons or adventurers."
There was a knock at the door. The duke glanced toward it.
"Ah!" he said, "our friends have arrived, then."
"Come in!" Evelyn shouted.
Sir Jacob Vanderheim entered—short, Semitic, excited to the point of apoplexy; in his wake Inspector Ormaston, from Irchester, carrying a notebook in his hand. Evelyn saw at once that he was scarcely of the rural type. He was rather an intellectual-looking man and his face was perfectly impassive. Sir Jacob explained the reason of their visit.
"You'll forgive our coming in, my dear Lord Evelyn," he said, "but the inspector was very interested when he heard that you must have been in your room here at the exact time when this dastardly robbery was committed. He would like to ask you, if you do not mind, a few questions."
"I shall be delighted," Evelyn declared. "Sit down, won't you?
Mr. Ormaston, I am at your service."
The inspector bowed a little vacantly. His eyes were travelling restlessly around the room. .
"From the information which I have gathered, Lord Evelyn," he said, "this robbery must have taken place between half-past six and half-past seven this evening. Lady Vanderheim herself must have been in her husband's apartments, only a few yards away, at the time when the jewels were abstracted. The robbery, it appears, was committed from the inside of the house. I think that this makes it tolerably certain that it was committed by some member of the household."
The duke carefully adjusted his horn-rimmed eyeglass and gazed at the inspector.
"I am sorry to hear you say so, sir," he admitted.
The inspector bowed slightly.
"Your Grace," he said, "in a case of this sort we have no alternative but to consider simply the actual probabilities."
"You will do your duty, sir, I am convinced," the duke answered. "We can have no other desire."
The inspector bowed slightly.
"Lord Evelyn," he said, "may I ask if you heard any sounds at all on this floor during the times I have mentioned?"
"None that I am aware of," Evelyn answered carelessly. "Some of the time—during the latter part, for instance—I was in my bathroom, and afterwards changing my clothes. I daresay that from half-past six to seven I was sitting here. I certainly heard nothing during that time."
"Your bathroom and dressing room adjoin this apartment, perhaps?" the inspector remarked.
"Through that door," he remarked, pointing to it.
"So that this particular apartment," the inspector continued, "was vacant for some time during the hours I have mentioned?"
"Certainly!" Evelyn answered.
Inspector Ormaston drew himself up. He was a tall and somewhat slight man, with penetrating eyes, which still seemed somehow or other to have a continual far-away expression.
"Your Grace," he said, turning to the duke, "and your lordship will, I am sure, excuse me if I do not tell you all that is in my mind at the present stage of this inquiry. I feel, however, that the robbery having been committed from the inside, there will necessarily be some very curious circumstances in connection with its solution. I look upon it as almost a certainty that the thief, whoever he or she may be, concealed the diamonds somewhere close to hand. I do not think that they would have made any effort yet to leave the house."
"You think, then," the duke remarked, "that the diamonds, or whatever they are, are hidden quite close to us?"
"I feel sure of it," the inspector remarked. "I am going to ask you to allow me to search all the rooms upon this floor."
The duke drew himself up stiffly.
"The rooms of my guests," he said, "must be inviolate. I cannot allow any interference with them or their belongings."
Lord Evelyn turned toward the mantelpiece and helped himself to a cigarette.
"That is a very admirable sentiment, Father," he said, "but on the other hand, I am not quite sure but that the inspector is right. I think if I were you, that I would put it to the occupants of our guest rooms upon this floor. If they are willing to have their rooms searched, well and good. I do not think that they will refuse, under the circumstances, nor do I believe that they would consider it an indignity. The inspector, Mr. Ormaston I believe, is perfectly willing to commence with my own apartments. I fear," he added, looking around him, "that I cannot boast of many hiding places here, but such as they are, pray search them."
The duke rose to his feet with the air of one who washes his hands of a disagreeable matter.
"If you say so, Evelyn," he declared, "I presume that the search wuld be a relief to our friend here."
Sir Jacob was at a loss for a moment how to reply.
"It is not for me to say," he said. "I want my jewels—that is very natural. I do not mind that you all know—I will tell you that they cost me very nearly two hundred thousand pounds. If the inspector here thinks that the rooms on this floor should be searched, and the duke does not object, I would say let them be searched. It is not, of course, that any of the occupants are to be doubted, but a thief who was a servant, or some one with the run of the place, might, of course, hide them anywhere and come again a little later and fetch them. Is it not so, Mr. Ormaston?"
The inspector assented gravely.
"That is so, Sir Jacob," he admitted. "It is no reflection at all upon the people who occupy the rooms that we should search them."
The duke departed, with the air of one who escapes from an unpleasant atmosphere. Mallison rose slowly to his feet.
"This," he remarked, "is interesting. A search for diamonds, eh? Two hundred thousand pounds' worth of diamonds! By-the-bye, Evelyn, was this communicating door open while you were dressing?"
"Yes!" he said.
"And when you were in your bath?" the inspector asked.
"The outside door there was locked," Evelyn answered. "Nevertheless, you had better search. Perhaps the others will take it with a better grace if you tell them that you have already overhauled my apartments."
The inspector's keen eyes had already travelled round the room.
"There are certainly very few hiding places here, my lord," he said.
"There is my writing cabinet," Evelyn declared. "Here are the keys, if you would like to open it."
The inspector took the keys from Evelyn's outstretched hand.
Evelyn thrust his fingers into his waistcoat pocket and drew out a small tube. Unseen, he drew the cork and held it in readiness. Mallison looked at him with the face of a man in whom all expression seems dead. Nevertheless, there was a gleam in his eyes which spoke of admiration. The inspector balanced the keys in his hand. He moved a little toward the writing desk.
"The longer one is the key of the cabinet," Evelyn remarked. "I locked it only a moment before you came in."
The inspector nodded. He looked at the key and then at the cabinet. An open drawer in the chiffonnier attracted his attention. He glanced in and closed it.
"I think, Lord Evelyn," he said, "from what you have told me, that the thief would never have chosen your rooms as a hiding place. I do not think that I need waste time here. If you would really be so kind, what I should like would be for you to interview the occupants of the other rooms upon this floor and get them to allow me to make a search. Especially I should like," he added, "to go through those rooms on either side of Lady Vanderheim's."
Lord Evelyn nodded and accepted the keys which the inspector returned to him. He slipped them into his pocket indifferently. With the other hand he replaced the cork in the little tube and restored it also to his pocket.
"Come along, then," he said, "we shall not find it at all a difficult matter. All the people around here will be only too pleased to get a little excitement for nothing. Dicky Pounds and Lady Agnes are next to you, I think, Sir Jacob. I will go and interview Dicky. I'm perfectly certain he won't have a word to say. Come with me, Mallison."
The two men descended the staircase together. Mallison paused more than once to examine the pictures on the walls.
"Never saw a house," he remarked, "so full of the old masters. Even the dark corners seem all of them to hold something good. Your people didn't care much for copies, Evelyn."
Evelyn shook his head.
"No," he said, "we've always gone in for the real thing where we could get it. By-the-bye," he added, dropping his voice for a moment, "that was rather a close shave."
"I was thrilled," he declared solemnly.
"And I," Evelyn declared. "It was a most impressive moment. I was prepared, actually prepared, to make a most dramatic departure from these garish scenes."
"I guessed where your left fingers were," he said. "It has all been most refreshing. Hi, Dicky," he called out to a man who was playing bridge at a small corner of the hall, "the 'tecs want to search your room!"
The man addressed dropped his eyeglass.
"The devil they do!" he answered. "Hell, I don't object. I'm coming up to see the fun."
He excused himself and rose.
"Where are they?" he asked.
"Waiting up-stairs," Evelyn answered. "The fellow who's come over from Irchester thinks that they ought to search all the rooms close to Sir Jacob's. You see, the robbery was committed from inside, so he thinks the chances are that the jewels are still on the premises."
"Right, oh!" Dicky Pounds declared cheerfully. "I'll come up and lend a hand."
"SO THESE," Aniytos remarked, "are the Vanderheim diamonds!"
He studied them for several moments through a variety of glasses. Then, as the window was wide open, he dropped his handkerchief over the stones and looked up at the man who sat opposite to him. His long, drawn face, usually expressionless enough, was a little flushed; his eyes were bright with admiration.
"You're a very marvellous being, Lord Evelyn," he remarked.
Evelyn knocked the ash from his cigarette.
"Not at all," he answered. "You see my position makes it quite easy for me. A burglar might have found it an impossible task to penetrate into the dressing room of Lady Vanderheim. For the son of her host it was easy enough. Afterward, who was there fool enough to suspect? No one! To tell you the truth, I came away from the castle with the jewels in my trousers pockets."
"What," he asked, "do you expect me to give you for them?"
Evelyn shook his head.
"I have no idea," he said. "Sir Jacob valued them at two hundred thousand pounds, but Sir Jacob's character for veracity is about as shaky a thing as I know. Probably they are worth one hundred thousand pounds, in which case I suppose you will give me sixty."
"It is a great deal of money," Aniytos remarked thoughtfully.
"They will take some distributing, too, these stones. Everyone of them will have to be altered in shape and repolished."
"Quite an interesting branch of our profession it must be," he remarked, "to make these little alterations. However, that is a matter of detail, and details are things in which I have no interest. Tell me what you would like to give me for these stones and when you will pay. That is all we want to know."
"Your estimate of the value," Aniytos said, "is very nearly a correct one. I should imagine that their intrinsic worth is anything between one hundred and one hundred and fifty thousand pounds. Jacob Vanderheim knew what he was about when he bought diamonds. He bought nothing that was not worth the money. As regards their worth to me, if I pay you sixty thousand pounds, as you suggest, I shall make a very handsome profit, but I run a considerable risk and I am the only man in Europe who could dispose of them as advantageously."
"Sixty thousand pounds," Evelyn said, "will do us."
Aniytos fingered his cheque book.
"I must not give you the amount," he said, "in one cheque. I will give you three cheques on three different banks, all payable to different names, and I will give you some dividend warrants which I have in the house and which are immediately realisable."
"That sounds sensible," he said. "You are prepared to pay up at once, then?"
"Whatever I buy," he said, "even though it should be the crown jewels of Russia or the throne of Persia, I pay for as I will. Go into the garden and talk with my daughter. You shall receive your cheques and warrants in a packet before you leave."
Evelyn strolled through the open window. Juliet was lying upon the grass close to the edge of the river, with a pile of cushions beneath her head. He paused for a moment, on his way down, to admire the sinuous yet almost sexless grace of her slim, exquisite limbs.
"Your father has sent me out to talk to you," he explained, as she started up at his coming. "I dare say," he continued, with a sudden thought, "he will not be ready for a few minutes. Wouldn't you like to punt me down the backwater into the stream? I haven't been on the river for years."
She had sprung to her feet and was looking at him, her hair a little untidy, her lips parted, her dark eyes bright as an untamed child's.
"I punt so badly," she said, "and the breakwater is quite near."
"Very well, then," he said, "I will punt, and you shall lie upon the cushions and think, as you were thinking when I disturbed you just now. I make only one condition."
"We will get into the punt first," she declared, "and afterward you shall tell me what that condition is."
"The condition," he remarked, as with a few rapid strokes the little craft swung clear of-the breakwater and out into the broad river, "the condition is that you tell me something about those thoughts which go flitting through your brain and which I seem always fated to disturb."
"You are very welcome," she answered, looking at him with a smile and with wide-open eyes. "I lie here and I wonder and I think. It is because I know so little of life and of the world outside these gardens. I wonder what it is all like, I wonder if I shall ever know anything of its real meaning. I wonder why my father does not let me make more friends and why no one visits us here."
He nodded sympathetically.
"You are young," he said, "and, of course, to you life must seem interesting or the reverse, according to the people with whom you are brought into contact."
"I am brought into contact with no one," she declared. "We have no friends nor any visitors."
"Some day," he said, "that will be changed. In the very nature of things, it must change. You are very young yet, too young to understand all that is meant by the life which we others have round something of a furnace. Your time will come. You will find yourself in the maelstrom. There is no one to whose lips the cup is not pressed sooner or later. How old are you, child?"
"I am not a child," she declared, almost passionately. "I am eighteen years old."
He laughed. They were out in the river now, drifting down with the tide.
"Eighteen is not old," he said. "At eighteen you have everything to learn, everything to enjoy, everything to suffer."
"How old are you?" she asked.
"Thirty-eight," he answered. "From twenty years old until thirty I went out to meet life with my head thrown back and my arms outstretched. I sought experience and every new thing which I cried to possess. And then the evil day came, as it comes to all of us who are so placed that no limit need be drawn as to their progress. I knew what it was to have drunk of every cup in life. I knew what it was to feel the fires burn out, to feel the old emotions grow faint, the old pleasures flavourless. I knew what it was to feel as a young man that all the colours of life were fading away, all resolving themselves into the dull eternal grey of disappointment. We stand at the opposite poles, you and I. You have not yet entered the world with which I have finished. Perhaps we are not so far apart, after all. I have only my experience to weigh me down."
"You talk," she said softly, "like one who has been unhappy."
"No one," he said, "who has tasted life in any of its forms can avoid unhappiness. It is not possible. It is the natural sequence of a desire to live."
"I think," she said, "that you must be what they call a pessimist. I lie on the lawn there and listen to the birds, and I hear the laughter of the people who go down the stream, and I dream many dreams of life and the joys it may hold. They do not seem so impossible."
"And they are not for you," he answered. "Remember that a man demands more from life. A woman, as a rule, asks but one thing."
"What is that?" she asked softly.
He looked at her again, leaning for a moment on the pole which he was now scarcely using. Was it wise to talk to her like this? While he hesitated, it seemed to him that he saw beyond the dark eyes raised so fearlessly to his. He saw the coming of the woman; he knew that this was at least no child from boarding school, ignorant of the things of life.
"Love," he answered, almost reluctantly. "That is what a woman demands. It is only a small part of what man craves."
She let her fingers dabble in the water upon which they were gliding. Her eyes had fallen from his. She was uneasy but she was still able to conceal it.
"Who can blame you?" he continued, as he turned the punt around and commenced the more laborious effort of retracing their way. "All the poets of all the ages have sung to you of nothing else. All the music which was ever great has breathed to you the same epic. All the pictures before which you stand enthralled spell out the same story to your heart, and it is Nature herself which helps you to understand. If I were a woman, a girl like you, I would become a hedonist pure and simple. I would live in the beautiful places, I would dream and read poetry, and live in the thoughts of all the great men who have kept the world young for generation after generation. And I would stay like that until the love came, and when it came I would say that this was life, and that there was nothing else, and that there could be nothing else, and if the flames of the fire which consumes others ever leaped up to scorch me, I would fly away as from the pestilence."
She leaned forward, her face all aglow.
"Have you," she asked, "have you ever been in love?"
"I have called myself in love a hundred times," he answered, "and yet, I wonder...."
He was silent for several moments. She was watching him intently.
"Perhaps," she murmured, "your time has not come yet."
He laughed hardly.
"My dear child," he said, "you do not know what you are saying. Look at me. I am old. The days of living have passed by for me. What I have known of love I have known. What there may be which has not come, I shall never know."
"Are you so sure?" she murmured. "It is foolish for you to say that you are old, for you are not. If there is love in the world for me, why not for you?"
He was busy for a moment guiding the punt past the breakwater. When they were in the still waters, they were almost opposite the grounds of the villa where she lived, and at the edge of the lawn was Aniytos in his little basket chair.
"Well," he said, "you have the golden eyes of youth. Everything that you see is idyllised, even my grey hairs and wrinkles. In a year or two's time you will wonder why I should be alive."
She smiled at him mysteriously. His eyes lingered upon her as she stood up and sprang lightly out of the boat, scarcely touching his hand.
"Do you still think," she. whispered, "that I am a child, so much of a child as that? Perhaps in a year or two's time we may know each other. You will understand then some things of which you seem very ignorant to-day."
She bent over her father's form for a moment and then flitted away into the house. Aniytos held out a packet to his guest.
"Here," he said, "button this up in your pocket and you will find my motor waiting for you outside. Do not think me discourteous if I hasten you away. I have another visitor on the way down and it is perhaps just as well that you should not meet. What do you think of my daughter?"
Evelyn started at the question. It seemed to him a little abrupt.
"I think that she is charming," he said gravely, "but she needs friends and society."
The face of Aniytos clouded over as he nodded assent.
"It is not so difficult," he muttered. "I shall be seeing about that very soon now."
EVELYN threw the little scented note impatiently into the fire but he nevertheless obeyed its summons. At four o'clock that afternoon: he was shown into Lady Vanderheim's boudoir. She was reclining upon a sofa piled with wonderful cushions and she stretched out her hands to him with a gesture and a movement which she had studied several times before the looking glass. The wide sleeves of her loose gown fell back and showed her bare arms, devoid of bracelets. In her voice there was a suggestion of tears.
"Evelyn!" she exclaimed. "At last! How unkind you have been!"
Evelyn looked at her for a moment with faintly upraised eyebrows and an expression of polite surprise. She felt her courage weakening and she turned a little away from him.
"I did think," she exclaimed, "considering it was for your sake that I met with this terrible loss, that you would have been more kind to me!"
Evelyn seated himself at a little distance from the couch.
"I do not quite understand," he said. "Are you blaming me for the loss of your jewels?"
"If I had not come to your room and waited there for you," she said, "they could never have been stolen. I am not sure even now whether the detectives believed me. I could have heard anyone in my room from my husband's apartments."
"My dear lady," he said, "believe me, the theft of your jewels was no accident due to the fact that you happened to be away from your room for a moment. It was obviously the result of a carefully contrived theft and you would have lost those jewels in any case, sooner or later. I am very sorry for you indeed, but it might have been worse, mightn't it? You will have the pleasure of buying them all over again."
Lady Vanderheim dabbed at her eyes with a little handful of lace, watching her visitor furtively all the time.
"I do not want the pleasure of buying fresh jewels," she said. "I shall never find any so beautiful as the old ones. Jacob is furious too. He has not said a word yet about replacing them and I know that he will expect me to be horribly nice to him before he does that, and," she continued, taking the handkerchief away from her eyes and looking at him, "I am not at all sure that I want to be nice to him."
"My dear Lady Vanderheim," Evelyn said, "Sir Jacob is your husband, and, of course, you must be nice to him. You know very well that the only way to exist tolerably when one is married is for you to humour your husband in those little ways."
She was silent for several moments. The little subtleties which she had practised seemed altogether wasted. She could not believe her visitor stupid. Was she to believe that notwithstanding those few moments when she had begun to hope for other things that he was really indifferent?
"I believe," she said, with a little pout, "that you are like the rest of your people. You are angry with me because my jewels were lost in your house. I couldn't help it, could I?"
"Of course not," he answered. "You are full of fancies this afternoon."
"One thing," she said, "I am sure is not a fancy at all, and that is that you have not been a bit nice to me since that evening at Irchester when I promised to come up and see your study. I ran quite a risk in coming, you know, Evelyn, and I did it for your sake. You see what the result has been. Don't you think that you ought to try and make up to me for it a little?"
"My dear Lady Vanderheim," Evelyn said, "if there were any appreciable way in which I could make up to you for it, I am sure I would do so."
"You could be kinder to me," she said softly.
"I dare not," he answered, shaking his head and looking at her with a slight smile. "To tell you the truth, I am much too impressionable to try and make up for their losses to pretty woman like you, especially when I have a regard for their husband. But I tell you what I will do. You shall have a card for the Duchess of Winchester's dance."
She had counted upon obtaining that from him but not exactly in this way. Nevertheless, she was clever enough to know that he was not in the mood for sentiment. She made no effort even to stop him when he rose to go a few moments later.
"You will come again?" she begged.
"Yes, I will come," he answered, bending down and kissing her fingers, with a sudden feeling of humorous contrition. He owed her that, at any rate. "I will come again, of course," he said. "Forgive me if I am a little dull this afternoon. I am in the unexpected position of having a lot of business to attend to."
He left the house in Grosvenor Square with a little sigh of relief and jumped at once into his automobile. In a few minutes he had arrived at Cadogan Place and was ushered into the room where the Duchess of Winchester was receiving a few friends. She welcomed him with her usual cold smile.
"You are late, Evelyn," she remarked. "Do you want some tea?"
"Badly," he answered, sinking into an easy-chair. "I have been trying to console Lady Vanderheim."
The duchess permitted a slight smile to disturb the cold serenity of her features.
"How amusing!" she murmured. "By-the-bye, there is a young lady there talking to Mr. Mallison whom I think you know. I want you to take especial notice of her."
Evelyn, with an unexpected sensation, recognised Pamela. He checked his first impulse, which was to spring to his feet and hurry across the room to her side. Instead he turned toward his hostess with a slight gesture of irritation.
"What is she doing here?" he asked. "I thought we were to have this afternoon to ourselves, we and the others?"
The duchess nodded.
"There is no one else here," she explained, "nor will anyone else be admitted, but to tell you the truth, Leslie Coates and Mr. Mallison and I have been talking about Miss Cliffordson. It seems to me that there is no one else so suitable to take Margaret Delancy's place."
"What do you mean by taking Margaret Delancy's place?" he asked, startled.
"One must look a little into the future," the duchess declared.
"I am perfectly certain that that ridiculous garden party means the beginning of the end for Margaret. I do not know who that wonderful fortune teller was, or what she said, but Margaret has lost her nerve. She is no use to us. I expect every day to hear that she is seriously ill or that she is leaving England."
"I had no idea that she was serious," Evelyn said thoughtfully. "You have been busy, you see," she reminded him. "I suppose that we ought to congratulate you upon the success of your operations."
Evelyn ignored the latter part of her speech. He was apparently thinking of something else.
"I can see no necessity," he declared, "for filling Margaret Delancy's place if she does fall out. Apart from that, I am not at all sure that I should consider Miss Cliffordson in any way suitable."
"Why not?" the duchess asked calmly.
"She is very young," Evelyn remarked, "and we do not know enough about her. Remember," he continued, dropping his voice a little, "if we really go on with this thing, we shall be playing pitch and toss with fate with every breath we draw. The more there are of us, the greater the risk. This girl is too young to have arrived in her life at that particular period where we others are."
"You appear," the duchess remarked, "to have made a study of Miss Cliffordson."
"I have seen her but two or three times in my life," Evelyn answered. "Once would have been enough. You need do no more than talk to her for half an hour. She still has enthusiasms. Her outlook upon life is still perfectly normal. It is not a person such as this who needs to sacrifice so much to support the pain of living."
The duchess leaned a little toward him.
"Evelyn," she said, "are you speaking honestly, or are you speaking because this girl has in some way attracted you?"
"I am speaking honestly," Evelyn declared. "Don't you know—"
Mallison strolled up to them before Evelyn could finish his sentence. He had a London paper in his hand.
"I have just been reading," he remarked, "a very clever article upon the new craze."
"Do tell us what that is," Pamela asked, joining the little group and acknowledging Evelyn's salutation with her characteristic smile. "The new craze! It must have been born yesterday to be really new, nowadays."
"You must read what the Daily Telegraph says about it," Mallison declared. "There is quite an interesting article here. It is called the craze of anonymity. Formerly, when people wished to give away large sums of money, they were glad to do so in their own name and to go about accepting the congratulations and thanks of everybody. To-day all that seems changed. There were five separate donations made to different hospitals and charitable institutions on one day during last week, which amounted to over sixty thousand pounds. St. Matthew's Hospital, I see, is put out of debt. The Cripples' Guild, which was nearly broken up, is reformed and going stronger than ever. The institutions benefited seem, in fact, to have been very carefully selected, and in each case the money was given anonymously."
Lord Evelyn smiled.
"Wait till the weekly papers come out," he remarked. "There will not be one of them who will not be able to tell us all about this anonymous benefactor."
"Let me see the article," the duchess said, reaching out her hand.
Evelyn glanced across at Pamela and led her a little on one side. "Come to the window," he said. "I should like to talk to you for a few minutes."
THEY stood together, a little removed from the group which had gathered around the duchess. Evelyn was aware, almost from the first, that Pamela's attitude had somehow changed toward him.
"You are not pleased with me," he said. "Tell me why?"
"I think," she answered, "that you know."
"I can surmise, of course," he said slowly. "It is because I am not anxious to have you join us."
"In some measure it is that," she admitted. "I do not understand why you should deny me a thing which you know that I have set my heart upon. But there is another thing. You told me, when we first spoke of this, that there would be no more 'Ghosts.' Mr. Mallison has told me differently."
Evelyn hesitated for a moment before he answered. Watching his face with some curiosity she saw a new and unaccustomed seriousness shining out of his eyes. His mouth had lost its half-humorous, half-cynical curve. Even his voice was different.
"It is not for Mallison to decide, or for me," he said quietly. "It is a matter for the majority. I tell you frankly that I am opposed to any extension whatever of our little body. Margaret Delancy is ill, I know, and I imagine that she will leave us. If so, it is my desire that her place be not filled up."
"And Mr. Mallison," she declared, "is anxious that I should fill it."
He hesitated for a moment and then drew her, with a little imperceptible movement, a little farther away from the throng of passers-by.
"Unless," he said, "you are content to have faith in me, it is a very hopeless thing to try and make you understand. If explanations beforehand were possible, I do not for one moment believe that you would want to join us. We are not in the least what you imagine us to be. We have wandered, indeed, a very long way from the ideas which first linked us together. Our quest of absolute truth, our dreams of intellectual detachment, of the refinement and cultivation of our secondary selves, have passed away into thin air. They did not satisfy us. Our disease called for stronger measures. We have gone farther than we ever intended. We have gone a great deal lower down."
She looked at him earnestly.
"I do not believe," she said, "that you, Lord Evelyn, would lend yourself to anything which was low down."
"That is because you do not understand," he answered. "Leslie Coates, the duchess, Mallison, and I, we are people who have lived out our lives too quickly. We came to a point where we looked around, and we found the burden of existence day by day was becoming almost insupportable. We had eaten up our energies, the ways about us were scattered with the fragments of our broken dreams. There was not a thing in the world to attract. There was not a person left who could add to life the flavour which keeps us from madness. It was in this mood, and this mood only, that we who call ourselves 'Ghosts' entered upon the latest stage of our being."
"Look at me," she said quietly.
He obeyed, and in a moment or two he understood the reason of her bidding. There was something, too, of that indefinable weariness in her face, smooth and unlined though it still was. Her eyes were sad, her lips had the tired droop of a weary child.
"I, too," she said, "I .have tried many things, and I am beginning to think that the days which come and go are worse even than the treadmill which one mounts because it is a habit. Soon my nerves will find me out. Only this morning I could have shrieked in m room when I woke up and thought of the long day. If this neurotic weariness of life of which you have spoken is the only qualification in which I am lacking, I think you had better accept rue at once."
"Yours," he answered, "is only a mood, —a malady if you will. With us it is an incurable disease."
"If we were wise," she murmured, "you would ask me to marry you and we should go out to Canada second class and farm. You would work from daylight to dark, hewing down trees, clearing the ground, and ploughing. I should send eggs and milk to the nearest town."
He nodded gloomily.
"Ten years ago, or even five," he said, "it would have been possible. Now I am quite sure that I could not travel second-class or take a keen interest in the clearing of a wilderness, any more than you could develop tastes for poultry and become a judge of cows."
"Why will you not admit, then," she asked, "that I, too, am like you others?"
"I have the remnants of a conscience," he answered. "If such a thing were possible, I should say that I had spoken to you to-night with absolute unselfishness. At any rate, I fear for you the things that I see these others embrace without a qualm."
"I am afraid it is selfishness," she said.
The duchess rose from her place and came across toward them.
They both watched her as she drew near. Tall and slim and elegant, her still youthful face seemed to lack, to an almost unnatural extent, one spark of life or animation. She moved as one of the beautiful women of past ages called back from the grave, in whose veins the blood has ceased to flow, and whose heart beats only with the mechanical stroke of a watchmaker's pendulum.
"Like that?" he whispered to her. "Do you wish to be like that? You have something left of the woman in you. I would rather that you kept it."
She had no time to answer. The duchess was standing by her side.
"Evelyn," she said quietly, "the others are anxious to go into the library. I am afraid that I must send Miss Cliffordson away. Next time, perhaps, it may not be necessary."
Pamela held out her hand, and Evelyn, who stood a little on one side, clenched his fingers and swore softly to himself. In that moment he saw the difference between life and death, between the woman suffering merely from the slight intellectual weariness which comes and goes with the moons, and the woman who had drunk to the full the cup of life and found it bitter, and in whose heart there dwelt not one single spark of desire. Pamela was beautiful— beautiful still with the beauty of earth. Her cheeks were pink, her footstep had still the grace of girlishness. There was laughter even in her eyes as she held out her hand to him.
"I am not so sure," she said, with faintly uplifted eyebrows, "that that time is ever coming for me. Lord Evelyn and I seem to agree so seldom. Good-bye, Mr. Mallison and Mr. Coates. You are all of you very much nicer than Lord Evelyn."
"If you knew them better, Miss Cliffordson," he murmured, bowing over her hand, "you would retract that. Some day I shall hope to hear you do so."
Pamela departed, and the duchess led the way into the library.
Certain precautions against interruption which they always adopted were taken and they seated themselves in a close semicircle about the great fireplace. The duchess, who occupied a position in the centre, turned toward Evelyn. A little rash of triumph illuminated her face.
"At last," she said, with a little sigh of content, "we are all alone. Evelyn, is it true that the sultan leaves for Paris to-morrow?"
"It is quite true," Evelyn answered.
"Has he kept his word?" she asked.
"Absolutely," Evelyn answered. "I know that the man Carmichael has tried to get at him once or twice, but the answer has always been the same. The jewels have been restored and the matter is ended. The sultan has kept his word like a gentleman."
"I consider," Mallison said, "that the affair was skilfully managed. And St. Matthew's Hospital is out of debt!"
The duchess sighed.
"I find it," she declared, "most stimulating to reflect that we have really become criminals. Of course, Evelyn here has had a most unfair share of the guilt, but he has done it so cleverly that we ought not to complain."
"On the contrary," Evelyn protested, "I managed this last little affair so clumsily that I very nearly had to make my little expedition into Paradise. The detective stood in my room with his hand upon the cabinet where the jewels were. Nothing but Mallison's presence of mind saved us."
"Well, we will not discuss that," Mallison interrupted. "I propose that Evelyn now analyse for us his sensations. He has stood with one foot outstretched to cross the great gulf. He has become an absolute criminal, and if excitement is in any way possible, he must at any rate have come very near it. We should like to hear, Evelyn, an epitome of your sensations from a moral and physical point of view."
"Excellent!" Descartes remarked. "Above all things, we must not forget that ours is a psychological body. The experiences which we seek are emotional and should be common to all of us. I am now trying to become, in fact, a burglar, while I listen to Evelyn's interesting narration."
"I will do my best," Evelyn said, "but I warn you that you will be disappointed. I have come to the conclusion that emotions cannot be passed on or adequately described, even by the greatest artist. We have passed the age of thrills. You are all too case-hardened to feel the things that happened to me because I relate them to you. However, I will do what I can. Mallison has effectually proved to us the morality of theft. He has shown us that in transferring the superfluity of riches to institutions existing for charitable purposes, which are handicapped for lack of funds, we are merely doing a just and human action. Nevertheless, whatever my emotion may have been, for an hour or two, at any rate, I was a thief; and not only that, but a thief expecting exposure. I will tell you the truth. I held the poison so thoughtfully prepared by our friend Descartes in my left hand, and my heart thumped against my ribs in absolutely the most approved fashion. I kept cool purely as a matter of temperament. I hated the thought of being found out or of having to take that poison."
"This," Mallison remarked softly, "is most interesting. You mean to say, then, that you, who have so often declared yourself weary of life and whose constant pose is one of absolute fatigue, when you found yourself face to face with the granting of your desire, turned a mental somersault?"
"Precisely," he answered, "except that I deny that my attitude was ever a pose. Weary I have been and am of life, after that fashion in which we live it, but I am going to admit now that there are moments when it is possible to derive a tolerable amount of satisfaction out of one's surroundings."
"It seems to me," the duchess remarked, "that Evelyn is becoming almost a renegade."
"It would be piquant," Evelyn answered thoughtfully, "but I am afraid it is not true. Listen!"
A bell rang in the room. A moment or so later, a visitor was announced in the ordinary way by a footman, only it was the one visitor still privileged to enter.
THEY opened their circle at once to admit the newcomer, but she seemed for some reason in no hurry to take the chair which Lord Evelyn had placed for her. She remained a little outside the group, and with a sudden impulsive gesture she tore up her veil. There were black rims under her eyes, her face was like the face of a ghost. The duchess, who had once been a woman of quick sympathies, leaned toward her with an irresistible exclamation.
"My dear Margaret," she said, "for Heaven's sake, sit down and tell us what is the matter with you!"
The newcomer laughed uneasily.
"The matter with me!" she repeated. "Oh, I don't know! The end, I suppose—what we are all trying for. I was going away without a word. All my boxes are packed. I have taken my passage for India. And then at the last minute I felt that I couldn't do it. I felt that I must come and see you all first."
The duchess had recovered herself. The emotion which had temporarily made a natural woman of her she had thrust aside.
"My dear Margaret," she said, "we should like to be able to understand you, but it is very difficult. Supposing you tell us what it is that has changed you in so extraordinary a manner:"
"I have come here for that," Margaret Delancy answered. "I have come here to warn you all. You remember the fortune teller at Lady Marlingham's garden party?"
"Perfectly well," Evelyn answered. "I paid my respects to her myself."
"She was a child," the woman continued, "no more than a child! I am sure that I had never seen her before, and yet she held my hand, and she looked into the crystal, and she told me things. Listen! Do you know what it was that she told me?"
They all prepared to listen. After a moment's pause the woman on whom their eyes were bent, continued.
"She looked at my hand, but only for a moment. Then she looked into my face for some time and I thought that she was not going to say anything. Then she told me in a few words that I belonged to a society of lunatics and that I myself was not sane. She looked at me steadily all the time and I could not move. 'As yet,' she said, 'your mind is very little less than normal in its capacity, but all the same you are a little mad, and you will find that day by day the madness will grow. You will do things of which you will be ashamed. You may even commit crimes. Those others, your friends, they are in the same way. There is not one of them who is in full possession of his senses. Even now they have strange schemes on hand. They are mad with the desire for excitement, for change of any sort. There is not one of you all,' she added, 'for whom I could prophesy happy days. As for you, you are weaker than the others,' she said. 'There is a chance for you only if you hurry away to the most distant corner of the world and bury yourself there. If you do this, you may escape.'"
The woman finished with a little gasp and there was an uneasy silence for several moments. Then Leslie Coates turned toward her.
"Was this all that you were told?" he asked.
"All!" she nearly shrieked. "Can't you understand? The girl, or woman, or whoever she was, knew about us, knew what we were going to do, knew that we have made up our minds to walk even in the shadow of death, so that we might escape for a few hours from the thrall of life. She knows it now. She could, if she would, betray you. Can you stay here and feel that there is someone in your very midst who knows everything? The very thought is madness! If there is any strength in my limbs to-night, I shall sleep in a stateroom of the Ophir."
"You did not recognise this soothsayer?" Descartes asked calmly.
"I only know that I have never seen her before," Margaret Delancy answered. "She is a stranger to us."
There was another silence. Then the duchess spoke.
"Well," she said, "I think that you are doing a very wise thing, Margaret. Your nerves have broken down. It is a risk, of course, which we all run. You are free from us, willingly free. Settle down in any corner of the world you like and send us over some more of your wonderful work—and good-bye!"
The duchess' hand went out in formal farewell. Margaret Delancy looked from one to the other of them with eyes that had in them a gleam of terror.
"You none of you believe?" she exclaimed. "You stay?"
She saw the same expression in the faces of all of them. She turned abruptly to leave the room, but before she opened the door, she paused and turned toward Lord Evelyn.
"Lord Evelyn," she said, "of all of you, you, I believe, are the sanest— the most human. Don't take anyone else in my place. Whatever you do," she added, "don't take any woman for whom you have any regard."
Then she went and they all looked at one another. Mallison sighed and stretched out his hand for a cigarette.
"I was always afraid that Margaret Delancy would break down," he said. "For years she smoked too much, thought too much, worked too much. Then that time she spent out in Burmah did her no good. I always fancy that there is so much charlatanism about Oriental notions."
"Her story of the fortune teller," Herman remarked thoughtfully, "is interesting."
"Exaggerated probably," Descartes answered.
. "I," Lord Evelyn said, "can tell you something about that. I had my fortune told—the usual sort of rot. It was told me by the same child, but I found out one thing. She was only an agent. There was another person behind the curtain who told her what to say."
"Have you any idea," the duchess asked, "who that person might have been?"
Lord Evelyn nodded.
"I have more than an idea," he answered. "I am tolerably certain that it was our friend Sophy Van Heldt. I have noticed," he went on, "that there is about people of the American race a certain tenacity or obstinacy—call it what you will—which seems to me distinctly reprehensible. They get hold of an idea, and having played with it for a little time, you would think that they would be willing to throw it aside and take up something new. Not so with an American. They get their teeth into a thing and they hold on. For such an original nation, it seems a curious trait, but it is perhaps their womenkind who are chiefly afflicted with it. Some of us have offended this young woman. After her own fashion, I believe that she considers herself to have declared war against us."
"Do you think that she knows anything?" Herman asked.
"Probably not," Evelyn answered. "I should imagine that she is working solely upon an idea. The unfortunate part of it is that Margaret's flight will encourage her."
"I remember that young woman," Mallison said softly. "I think that it would not be a bad plan to give her a lesson."
Lord Evelyn intervened languidly.
"One cannot make war against women," he said. "Miss Van Heldt is a foolish child who will probably learn wisdom."
"Nevertheless," Mallison said, "I see before us some very interesting times and I am not inclined to have them spoilt for the sake of so unimportant a person. What do you say, Duchess?"
"I agree with you," the duchess said coldly. "I should agree with any scheme to make that young woman realise her position over here. And I am also in favour of accepting Pamela Cliffordson to take the place of Margaret Delancy."
There was a moment's silence.
"I oppose both," Lord Evelyn remarked calmly. "Our numbers, I consider, are large enough for effective work. If our object were only to discuss scientific problems, a limit to our numbers would be scarcely necessary, but if in future we are going to accomplish any serious work, I think that the fewer we have the better."
"It will be a matter for the vote, then," the duchess said calmly. "I am not disposed to give up my idea of having Pamela Cliffordson come to us. In fact, my word is pledged."
Her eyes travelled round the circle and Lord Evelyn found himself in a hopeless minority. He rose to his feet and stood for a moment looking around at them.
"Perhaps," he said, "I have been guilty of a certain amount of egoism, but I have always considered, as I am responsible in a great degree for the existence of our little society, that I have had some claims upon you. In the days when our doings were not doings at all, but simply discussions, it was I who planned our programmes and directed the course of our studies. Now we are in deeper waters, it is I who have attempted to carry into practice what we have theorised upon for so long. For these reasons I claim some consideration from all of you. I do not wish the name of Miss Pamela Cliffordson added to our list."
The duchess rose slowly to her feet. She stood in front of Evelyn and there was something in her face, for all its colourlessness, which he scarcely understood. She looked him in the eyes.
"Evelyn," she said, "if I persist, it is in your interests. The first essential to which all of us have agreed is the abnegation of personal sentiment. If you begin to feel again the small things of life, if you come down from whatever we may have attained to and find your feet upon the earth, almost, I should say, upon the highroads, you are in danger, Evelyn. Pamela may be useful to us. That is all that we have to consider."
Evelyn was silent. He dared not altogether trust himself to words. He felt that everyone was looking at him.
"Whether your statement is true or not, Duchess," he said, "the fact remains that on the other ground alone, the ground of numbers, I have the strongest objection to any fresh associates being elected. I object particularly to Miss Pamela Cliffordson. We are all older people and we are all on the other side of life. It is not for us to beckon across some one whose heritage still belongs to the world which we have left."
"I myself," the duchess murmured, "am but twenty-seven."
Her hands had been resting upon his wrists. He was suddenly conscious that they were burning him. He looked down at her face. His feelings at that moment seemed to defy analysis.
"We are drifting into misunderstandings," he said slowly, "misunderstandings which it would be well for us to avoid. Pamela Cliffordson is only a girl. She desires to join us because she wishes to be associated with that peculiar reputation which our little body seems to have acquired. She does not realise what our objects are or the risk she runs. She does not realise the finality of the thing—that we are, in short, people who have thrown away our lives like a sponge and simply dally with the time which passes while the breath lingers in our bodies. I tell you that I will not have her join us until she understands exactly what it means ans until I have convinced myself that she does."
The duchess had turned away. He could no longer see her face.
Mallison rose up.
"Whatever happens," he said smoothly, "there is one thing that must not happen and that is any disagreement between us. Our rules, written and unwritten, do not admit of it. We will leave this question alone till Wednesday night. Do you agree, Duchess?"
"I agree," she answered.
Evelyn shrugged his shoulders.
"I give you notice," he said, "that on Wednesday night my opinion will be the same as it is now."
"And mine also," the duchess echoed, with a faint note of defiance in her hard tone.
LESLIE COATES and Mallison were driving together in the latter's electric brougham along Piccadilly. Their progress was slow, for it was drawing close to the fashionable dinner hour, and the thoroughfare was blocked with motors and carriages wending their way westwards.
"Evelyn's message was a little peremptory," Coates remarked, "or I think that I should have cried off. I was going down to Bournemouth for a few days by the eight o'clock train."
"And I," Mallison remarked, "was dining with the Thespians. I believe they were expecting me to make a speech. Perhaps I shall be able to get in later on. Evelyn says very little when he speaks to you over the telephone, but he has a way of impressing you."
"Some new scheme, I suppose," Leslie Coates remarked musingly. "I only hope that we are not piling them up a little too quickly."
Mallison glanced indifferently out of the window.
"A week or a month earlier or later," he remarked. "It really doesn't much matter, does it?"
The two men were aware, directly they entered Evelyn's sitting room, of the presence of a stranger—a stranger in more senses than one. Evelyn was lounging upon the hearthrug, his elbow upon the mantelpiece, a cigarette between his lips. Descartes was standing by his side, his feet a little apart, and his accustomed ugly smile parting his crooked lips. Opposite to Evelyn, but seated in a comfortable easy-chair, and with a large tumbler of whisky and soda by his side, was a person whose acquaintance neither of the newcomers had as yet made. They exchanged brief greetings with Evelyn and Descartes. Evelyn extended his hand toward the individual in the easy-chair.
"This, my dear friends," he said, "is Mr. Herbert Johnson, gcnerally known, I believe, in the circles where he is somewhat of a celebrity, as Bert Johnson."
The person of the name of Johnson performed a clumsy salute.
He was of the nature and type of a light-weight prize fighter, with a broad face and protruding ears. He was cheaply, not to say flashily, dressed, and he wore, with every appearance of satisfaction, a pin set with many diamonds.
"Glad to know you, gentlemen," he remarked, raising his glass.
"Drink your very good health!"
The newcomers were a little mystified. Evelyn proceeded to explain.
"It has been suggested to us," he remarked smoothly, "by a person in whose judgment I have every confidence, that a little professional assistance in some of our schemes might be invaluable. Coupled with the suggestion, I may add, came an introduction to our friend Mr. Johnson here. Mr. Johnson, I have every reason to believe, is a first-rate and experienced burglar."
Coates took a chair and joined the little circle.
"This," he remarked, "sounds very interesting. Is it proposed then, may I ask, that we make use of the services of our friend here?"
"There are times," Evelyn said, "when a little mutual help between members of different branches of the profession is exceedingly desirable. Take the case in point. There is a house not far from here, stocked with treasures, whose intrinsic value is almost beyond computation. The treasures in question are within the reach of our friend here, but to dispose of them afterward would be an impossibility for him. We were discussing, when you came in, some plan by which we might be mutually helpful to one another."
"Is the owner of these things," Leslie Coates asked, "upon our black list?"
"He deserves," Evelyn answered, "to be at the head of it. He is known to be worth between five and six hundred thousand pounds. His donations to charity have amounted in the last six or seven years to less than a hundred pounds. His servants are underpaid. The cabmen refuse to take him as a fare if they can possibly avoid it. He sued a poor man for a small debt only the other day, and it was proved in court that he had been charging him interest at the rate of nearly four hundred per cent. He started life as a pawnbroker and obtained a technical knowledge of the value of antiques. Since then his name as a collector has become famous. The man himself, however, remains unchanged. He is small-minded, avaricious, and a miser. I do not think that we could have selected a more suitable person from whom to solicit a contribution toward the new wing of St. Matthew's Hospital."
Mr. Bert Johnson grinned broadly. He apparently considered this a stroke of humour.
"To proceed to details," Descartes remarked drily, "you have probably guessed our friend's name?"
"The beast," he said, "deserves stripping of every halfpenny he has in the world. All the same, I am afraid that antiques, priceless though they may be, are a little bit difficult of disposal."
"That," Evelyn remarked, "is where we come in. We have a better market than Mr. Johnson could hope to obtain."
"Our friend," Descartes continued, "is perfectly confident of being able to enter the house and to leave it with a collection of curiosities which would make his brief visit not only interesting, but exceedingly remunerative. The trouble is, to put it bluntly, that he does not see his way to get off with the swag. That is where we come in. Both you and I, Evelyn, have those long leather bags for our polo things. Now one of these would be exactly what Mr. Johnson would find most convenient."
Mr. Johnson nodded his approval.
"That there bag as you showed me," he said, "would hold all as I could stowaway. It's a convenient shape, too."
"What we propose," Descartes continued, "is to lend Mr. Johnson one of these bags with a polo stick attached. He has been fortunate enough to make friends with the man and his wife who have the care of our friend's house. He has also, I think, concluded some satisfactory arrangements with the policeman who is on duty from twelve till three in this locality. It only remains, therefore, to set Mr. Johnson down with his bag in front of the house at one o'clock in the morning, to have the car waiting close
by, for his exit, and to receive the bag, which should be placed upon the roof of the automobile. Mr. Johnson then goes his way, wherever that may be. He will probably indulge in a little liquid refreshment and one of those excellent cigars with which I have just had the pleasure of filling his pockets. You, my dear Evelyn, will be driving the car, and will arrive at your rooms home from playing polo at Rugby, at somewhere about three o'clock in the morning. At that hour you will naturally have to carry your own bag into your rooms."
"That part of the matter," he said, "is perfectly simple."
"Is any date fixed, may I ask?" Coates inquired.
"The date is fixed by necessity," Descartes answered. "To-morrow night is the night on which our friend will be alone in the house with only this caretaker and his wife. He relies a great deal, I might tell you, upon burglar alarms, and a somewhat fierce boar hound, but to-morrow night it has been arranged that the boar hound will not be on the scene or the burglar alarms in working order."
Mr. Johnson nodded his approbation.
"If you gents," he remarked, "don't give the show away, it's a real soft job. I've not much faith in amateurs as a rule, but if what I've heard's true, you're not exactly bunglers either, and before we go any further, gents, what I say is, let's understand one another. We go halves of whatever the stuff realises, fair and square?"
"Mr. Johnson," Descartes said, "you can rely upon our honour. At five minutes to one o'clock to-morrow morning, on the unlit side of the square, you will find a motor car and a polo bag. choosing your moment—you can wait, of course, to gape at the car, as half the idiots in the world do when they see it standing still—you can wait your opportunity, I say, to take the bag. You will only have a few yards to carry it. When you emerge, the car will be still waiting for you. The rest will be a matter of a few seconds only."
"I'm on to it," Mr. Johnson declared. "I tell you I reckon this thing's fixed up A1. I've never seen a soul in the square at that time, and the policeman is going to be the blindest bobby that ever walked the streets. If it's all settled, then, gents, I'll bid you good evening," he added, rising. "A night's sleep'll do me no 'arm."
"Just a drop more, Mr. Johnson," Descartes said, pointing to the sideboard.
Mr. Johnson shook his head and sighed the sigh of virtue.
"After to-morrow," he said, "I'll have a skin full. Until then I sha'n't touch another drop. Wishing you good night, gents!"
He made his way awkwardly to the door and Descartes showed him out. Mallison mixed himself a whisky and soda and lit a cigarette.
"Of all the sensations in the world," he declared, "give me the sensation of doing good anonymously. I declare I went out of my way yesterday to look at the space all marked out for that new wing. Think of the hundreds of people who are going to be indebted to us, perhaps for life itself."
"The philanthropist," Evelyn declared, "is obviously the most selfish person alive. We, who have run the whole gamut of the pleasures, can find none equal to the pleasure of doing good. Talk about your charitable institutions, why, they aren't in it with us. We're the greatest distributors of ill-earned wealth this generation has known."
"All the same," Coates remarked, "don't you think that we are going just a little too fast? Sixty or eighty thousand pounds, given away anonymously within the course of a week or so, may set some of our clever friends guessing."
Evelyn looked up and nodded.
"However careful we are," he said, "they'll trace the money to us, if we don't mind. I propose that after this little affair which we have just arranged, we disband for a little time."
Descartes stood upon the hearthrug, his lips parted in their peculiar smile.
"Yes," he said, "you talk sensibly. We will go, you to Scotland, I suppose, Evelyn, I to my yacht, Coates to where the devil he pleases, and I tell you it will be a race to see which of us is first back in town, waiting for the others. All my life I have been hunting for excitement, and I find it now for the first time. There's no fun in gambling when you've the money to lose, but when you toss your coin, and it's heads you win and tails you die, the thing goes through your veins like wine. Mark my words. A few days of your grouse shooting, Evelyn, and you'll want to be back after bigger game."
Evelyn rose with a little laugh and put on his hat and coat.
"There's truth in what you say, Descartes," he remarked. "Nevertheless, we must give it up for a little time. Aniytos, even, insisted upon it. If we disappear for a bit, we shall find out whether there are any suspicions travelling our way."
"The wonderful Aniytos again?" Coates asked.
"I only wish I could take one of you fellows down to see him," he said. "I suggested it, but he was very keen that only one of us should ever come. Listen!"
They all stood still for a moment. Unmistakably there were foot-steps outside. Evelyn walked softly to the door and threw it open. The corridor was empty.
"It proves what I say," he remarked softly. "There is no danger like the danger of too great security."
THE car was drawn up upon the remote side of the square. One of the occupants had descended and was standing upon the pavement. The other remained in the driving seat. Both were unrecognisable in their motor coats and goggles.
Evelyn leaned a little forward over the wheel and addressed his companion.
"My dear Leslie," he expostulated, "it is no use standing upon the pavement there, gazing with that far-away look at our fully inflated tire. You must cultivate an expression of concern. Bend over it, if you please, and prod it with your forefinger. Remember that in this profession, in which we are, alas! only the humblest of amateurs, it is necessary to act all the time to the unseen audience who may be there."
Coates did as he was told and the flaring light shone for a moment on his pale face. The rain dripped from the trees in the square upon the pavement around him. He took out his watch and glanced at it. It was precisely the hour agreed upon.
"Our friend," he murmured softly, "should be coming soon."
A quiet voice from immediately behind made Coates start.
Even Evelyn turned round quickly. Mr. Johnson, as a professional, was quick and stealthy in his movements. He had come upon them unheard and unperceived. He was wearing a grey cap, but no overcoat or mackintosh, and his shoes were apparently shod with rubber. He touched his hat to the two man.
"This 'ere is the bag, Guv'nor?" he remarked. "I'll take care of it. Thank 'ee kindly. Sit tight," he added, in a lower tone, "for a minute or two. Then drive off, and in twenty minutes be opposite the small house across there."
He stretched out his finger.
"It's empty, but no one'll notice, and you mustn't stand here all night."
He was gone almost directly, carrying the bag, large and clumsy though it was, with the utmost ease. Evelyn looked after him and nodded approvingly.
"You see, my dear Coates," he remarked, "where the professional puts us to shame. Until he was sure that there was no one else here and had dropped his voice, the whole world might have heard his remarks. We had a job for him to carry that bag somewhere. That is all anyone could gather from the audible part of his conversation. Ah, I see he has entered the gate. He is now descending to the area. If you will turn the handle, Leslie, we will take a little spin for twenty minutes."
They glided off and turned slowly into Piccadilly. Without any exchange of conversation they made a little detour, until the twenty minutes were more than up. Then they turned back again into the little square and pulled up in front of the house to which Mr. Johnson had pointed. A few yards away towered the mansion of the great Mr. Berteiner, lightless, to all appearances unoccupied.
"Our period of waiting here," Evelyn remarked, "may possibly be protracted. Will you, my dear Leslie, oblige me by stepping down and opening the bonnet. We will presume that one of our cylinders is missing fire."
Leslie Coates descended slowly. There were scarcely any passers-by, for the end of the square which they were facing was a cul-de-sac. The rain was pouring down now and the trees in the enclosed gardens were bent by a strong south wind. Only a few hundred yards away was the roar of traffic and the lights of Picadilly. Here the place seemed deserted. The gas lamps, misty and dull with the streaming rain, gave little light.
"A gloomy neighbourhood this," Evelyn remarked. "I scarcely think our friend was wise in his selection of an abode to hold treasures of such value. Be sure that you do not disturb that sparking plug, Leslie. Remember that we might have to start in a hurry. Our friend—"
Evelyn broke off short in his sentence. Leslie Coates started suddenly upright. Both leaned with pale, tense faces toward the dark house. Both had seen the same thing—a dull flash of red light at one of the windows, followed immediately by a muffled report. Leslie Coates shut down the bonnet and sprang to the handle of the car, but Evelyn stopped him.
"Wait a moment," he declared. "We can't leave the fellow, even if he has made a fool of himself. Wait! There's no one else near enough to have heard that, unless it's the people in the house. Wait a moment, I say!"
Coates' face in the light of the acetylene lamps looked ghastly as he leaned forward across the bonnet.
"Evelyn," he said hoarsely, "this is outside the game. There was to have been no violence. We don't either of us want to have that man's life at our door. Let me turn the handle."
"No!" Evelyn said shortly. "We've nothing to do with what's happened in there. If the man comes out, we must give him a chance. What's that?"
They saw a black shape come stealing up the area steps. Leslie Coates tore at the handle and the engine of the car began to beat. From the other side of the railings the figure paused, looking up and down the square with eyes trained to see through the darkness. Then he came out, staggering beneath the weight of the bag he carried. Evelyn lifted up his feet.
"Slip it underneath," he said shortly. "It's too heavy to lift to the top of the car. What's happened in there?"
"God knows!" the man muttered and plunged away into the shadows.
Leslie Coates climbed in and once more the car glided off. This time they did not choose the retired streets. Evelyn drove boldly into Pall Mall and drew up in front of his club. The doorkeeper came hurrying down, cap in hand.
"Stand by the car a moment or two, will you, Harris?" Evelyn said. "We've had a long drive up from the country and I want a drink. Come in, Coates."
They entered the club and made their way to the smoking room.
A few men were still there, with whom they exchanged the ordinary commonplaces.
"Polo down in the country," Evelyn remarked, in reply to a question. "Beastly muddy drive back and lost our way. Had to turn in here to get Coates a drink."
They made their way outside. The car still stood by the pavement, with its flaring lights, and the long, brown leather bag in the front, but on the pavement before it an inspector and policeman were talking to the commissionaire in the club uniform.
"I tell you," they heard the man say, "this car belongs to Lord Evelyn Madrecourt. He drove up here not ten minutes ago and has just gone in to have a drink. Here he is," the man added, turning abruptly around. "I beg your pardon, your lordship," he added, raising his hat, "the inspector here seems to think that you have stolen your car."
Evelyn smiled faintly and turned toward the inspector.
"What's the trouble, Inspector?" he asked. "If you are looking for a missing motor car, I'm afraid you'll have to go further afield. There is no doubt whatever but that I am Lord Evelyn Madrecourt, and that this is indeed my motor car. We've just come in from the country."
"I am very sorry, your lordship," the inspector said. "Fact is, there's some trouble at Mr. Berteiner's house in Bristow Square, and some one concerned in it left there a few minutes ago in a car very much like this one, and with a bag in front. When I saw this car outside, I naturally stopped to make some inquiries."
"Of course," he answered. "However, I can assure you that I have driven this car myself straight up from Warwickshire, where we have been playing polo. This is my friend, Mr. Leslie Coates, whose name is doubtless known to you. There are only one or two men in the club, but I can send for them if you like, that is if you require any further proof as to my identity. There is General Neville there, and the Marquis of Castletown. Better ask Castletown to come out, Harris," he said, turning to the commissionaire.
The inspector put out his hand.
"Please do not trouble," he said. "I am quite prepared to believe that this is not the car I am in search of. The bag, too, I presume, is your lordship's?"
"Just my polo kit," he remarked. "Want to see inside?"
The inspector hesitated and Evelyn's hand stole into his waistcoat pocket, where that little ever-present tube reposed. At that moment a man came down the steps of the club.
"By Jove," Evelyn declared, "here's the Home Secretary! Sir James," he called out, "come and identify me, if you please. Am I or am I not Lord Evelyn Madrecourt, and is this or is it not my motor car and my polo bag?"
The man addressed looked sharply at the inspector, who stood bareheaded.
"Not the slightest doubt about it, my dear Evelyn," he said.
"What's the trouble?"
"None at all, sir," the inspector said, "so far as regards this gentleman. There has been a robbery at Mr. Berteiner's a few minutes ago. Mr. Berteiner himself has been shot, and the burglar, whoever he was, seems to have left in a motor car very similar to this one. I stopped to make a few inquiries, but his lordship has already satisfied me. If you will excuse us, sir, we will hurry on."
"Don't mention it, Inspector," Evelyn said. "Thanks very much, Sir James," he added, nodding to the other man. "Can I give you a lift anywhere?"
"No thanks!" Sir James replied. "My cab's somewhere around. Thick-headed lot, some of these inspectors, I am afraid. Good-night!"
Leslie Coates turned the handle and the car glided off. They drove without a check to Evelyn's rooms. Outside on the pavement his chauffeur was waiting, half asleep. Lord Evelyn dismounted and shook himself.
"Better give the car a rest to-morrow, Felix," he said. "We've been rather a long way. Sorry to keep you waiting. No, don't bother about the bag. I'll take that in myself. Jump into the car and get away home."
The man raised his hat but still made for the bag.
"You'll allow me to carry it in for you, sir," he said. "I'm afraid that Hassell has gone to bed. He thought perhaps your lordship might not be returning."
"It's all right, Felix," Evelyn answered languidly. "I shall drop the bag in the hall. You get the car off to the garage."
The man touched his hat and obeyed. Evelyn set the bag down in the hall with a little groan.
"Leslie," he said, "you must come up with me and stow these things away somewhere. They'll be searching for leather bags all over London to-morrow. I've got some soiled polo things somewhere about. We'll stuff 'em in here and pack the other articles in my wardrobe."
Evelyn's rooms were on the fourth floor, but there was a small lift, automatically worked, into which they dragged the bag. Arrived in his bedroom, Evelyn turned on the lights and they opened the bag. Coates drew in his breath with a little murmur of amazement.
"Good God!" he exclaimed. "I never saw anything like it out of Christie's!"
Evelyn was already at work. He pulled out an empty drawer of an old-fashioned wardrobe.
"You see," he said, "this thing has a double back. I'm going to stow the things away here. Hand them to me, Leslie."
Coates filled his hands with a collection of gold snuff-boxes, every one of them priceless.
"Seems to me," he remarked, "they'd have been almost as safe in the bag."
"I'm not so sure of that," Evelyn remarked thoughtfully.
They listened intently for a moment.
"I fancied I heard footsteps in the street," Evelyn remarked.
"Don't go to the window. Give me the things out of the bag, Quick! Heavens! He's cut out the great Holbein and the Raphael's 'Madonna.' Give me that other canvas quickly. Now the jewels. Never mind how. In here with them. Empty the bag upon the floor."
Coates did as he was bid.
"I can't understand why you're in such a devil of a hurry," he remarked.
"Presentiment, I tell you," Evelyn continued, talking rapidly.
"Now open that third drawer in the other wardrobe. See any riding clothes?"
Coates did as he was bid.
"White riding breeches," he remarked, "slightly soiled. Stockings, silk shirt, stock, sash."
"Into the bag with them," Evelyn ordered. "Isn't there a cap there?"
"Hurlingham cap and sash," Coates assented, producing them.
"Stuff 'em into the bag," Evelyn ordered. "Now quick, look inside the bathroom. See if there are any riding boots there."
Coates disappeared and came back again in a second or two.
"Three clean and one dirty pair," he said.
"In with the dirty pair," Evelyn ordered. "Is the bag pretty full?"
"Not yet," Coates answered. "It's quite light."
"A change of clothes! Those gray tweeds, quick! Some underclothes, too. That's right, and a pair of the clean riding boots. There, I've got my things stowed away," he added, closing the drawer of the wardrobe. "Shove the things in anyhow, Coates. Now close the bag. Good!"
Coates stood up.
"What the dickens I've been working for like this—" he began.
"Don't be a fool!" Evelyn answered in a low tone. "Follow me to the sideboard. I'm going to get a drink. I heard those footsteps outside distinctly. Some one rang the bell. By this time, I expect the caretaker is awake. Listen!"
They heard the rattle of the lift ascending. Evelyn, with a whisky and soda in his hand, threw himself into an easy-chair.
"Keep your hat on, Coates," he said softly. "You have driven back with me and you're just off to your own rooms. One more drink before you go, old chap. We've had a hard day and I'm sure you need it."
Coates had no time to answer. The door of the room was softly opened. The inspector, whom they had left a few minutes ago in Pall Mall, was standing there!
EVELYN withdrew the cigarette from his mouth and regarded the inspector with astonishment, apparently not unmixed with indignation. Coates was too genuinely surprised to appear anything else.
"Our friend, the inspector, again!" Evelyn remarked.
The inspector removed his hat.
"I am sorry to intrude, your lordship," he remarked. "I hope you'll understand that I don't wish to annoy in any way. I've had orders telephoned me from Scotland Yard and I'm obliged to obey them."
Evelyn raised his eyebrows.
"Do I understand," he asked, "that you still doubt my identity?"
"No, your lordship!" the inspector answered. "We were quite satisfied, of course, with what Sir James said, and your own declaration. Besides, your name is on the door here—Lord Evelyn Madrecourt. It isn't that exactly. It's the question of the bag."
Evelyn sighed, as a man might sigh who sees set before him a problem impossible of solution.
"You do not doubt me but you suspect my bag," he remarked. "For that reason, although you know perfectly well who I am, you have the unqualified impertinence to enter my room at this time of the night without knocking or ringing. I presume, however, that your uniform, and the stupidity of your employers, must be your excuse. Now tell me exactly what you want, either of me or my bag."
"Your lordship," the man answered, "we are quite prepared to admit that you are Lord Evelyn Madrecourt, and to believe that you have driven your car, as you say, straight from the country. There has been a very serious robbery committed, however, within a few hundred yards of the place where your car was standing unattended outside your lordship's club in Pall Mall. The proceeds of the burglary are believed to have been concealed in a long leather bag very similar to your lordship's, and the thief, whoever he may be, is believed to have got away in a motor car and to have passed along Pall Mall. I have instructions from headquarters to ask your lordship to make sure that during the time your car was left unattended in Pall Mall, your bag was not exchanged or tampered with."
"This," he said, "is very plausible, but I am afraid I cannot accept it. The hall porter of the club was within sight of my automobile all the time it remained outside. How could anyone exchange a bag of that size without his being aware of it?"
The inspector gazed at the bag as though he were fascinated.
"Your lordship," he said, "there is a simple way to get rid of me."
"Then, my goodman, please name it," Evelyn answered, "and take a drink and go! To tell you the truth, I am tired of you, and I refuse to be dissociated from my bag. If the proceeds of the burglary are there, then I am the burglar."
"I was about to suggest, your lordship," the inspector said, "that in order to make my report at headquarters, you allow me to examine the contents of the bag."
"Do so, by all means," Evelyn answered—"the bag, or the room, my drawers, any other place you want to. Search my person, if you like, only for Heaven's sake finish this time and let's have done with you."
"I'm only obeying orders, your lordship," the man said, manifestly ill at ease. "If I examine the bag, that will be sufficient."
He knelt down and pushed back the spring lock. Evelyn watched him with a curious smile, as he drew out the riding breeches and felt with his hand rapidly amongst the other contents. Then he stood up and Evelyn could see very well that he was sorely disappointed.
"Your lordship," he said, "I shall report that the bag upon your car contained exactly the articles of wearing apparel that your lordship was kind enough to indicate. The bags were certainly not changed. We must go back to our other clue."
"I'm glad you have another clue," he answered. "I hope that you will find it a more satisfactory one."
The inspector moved toward the door and yet seemed loath to leave the room. His eyes were travelling around it with quick, furtive glances. Evelyn watched him with a pleasant smile upon his lips.
"Good night, Inspectorl" he said. "Give my compliments to your chief, and if he likes to call round and see me, I'll tell him what I think of you."
The man saluted silently.
"I wish your lordship good nightl" he said. "I am sorry to have troubled you."
He closed the door behind him and they heard him descend the stairs. Evelyn and Coates exchanged a quick glance.
"One can drown even in the desert, if one finds water deep enough," Evelyn remarked softly. "A month or so ago, and my life, yours too, Coates, was starving for want of excitement. For my part, I'm getting all I want now. That's twice within a fortnight I've held that tube of Herman's in my left hand, ready, and nothing but chance has decided whether or no I shall make my bow. That was a devilish close shave, Leslie!"
"Too close for me," Leslie Coates answered, wiping his forehead. "I tell you I have shot lions—I killed one once with my last cartridge—I have looked starvation in the face, and I've been marooned, hopelessly it seemed, but somehow or other I never seem to have been so close up against the end of things as during the last few hours. What are you going to do with the plunder? Leave it there?"
"There's nothing else to be done with it," Evelyn answered slowly. "If they've any suspicions left, and if they search these rooms, they'll find it. If they haven't, it'll be as well where it is as anywhere. I didn't like the look of that inspector, Leslie. He wasn't at all the sort of fool I thought him at first. All that talk about Scotland Yard was rubbish, of course. He came here on his own. I could see he. hated letting us drive away from the club."
Leslie moved toward the window and threw it open.
"I feel stifled," he declared. "Evelyn, I wonder what that flash meant. Do you Suppose that our friend, Mr. Johnson, was driven to use violence to-night?"
"I'm afraid so," he answered. "That's what makes them all so keen. Mind you, I've no sympathy with Berteiner. He's lived the life of a dog, and if he's died like one he's been asking for it for a good many years. The only thing is, I hope they won't catch Johnson. The best man in the world will open his mouth to save his life. You'd better go, old chap. It's getting late."
"You don't mind being left here alone with that?" Coates asked, nodding toward the wardrobe.
Evelyn smiled contemptuously.
"When we were vain enough to suppose that we had conquered sensation," he remarked, "fear was certainly the first thing that died. No, I am not afraid of being found with the proceeds of this wonderful burglary! To-morrow, I suppose, we shall read all about it."
Coates took up his hat and turned toward the door.
"You've lots of pluck, Evelyn," he said, "and I don't call myself a coward, but when I open my paper to-morrow morning, I only hope that I'll find that pistol shot meant nothing serious."
Evelyn yawned and stretched himself.
"Well," he said, "I'm off to bed. See you to-morrow, Leslie. Take care of the step and good night!"
THE professor cleared his throat. It was scarcely necessary for, although low-pitched, his tone was always clear and soft.
"My dear young lady," he said, "you come to us free, and, if you will, you have but to wish your hostess good-afternoon and pass from this room as free as when you entered it. We, in this most modern of cities, do not seek to emulate the secret societies of Venice, of Babylon, of Jerusalem. We speak of the matters which concern us to none save those whom we trust, and if at any time we make a mistake, it is irretrievable. We trust, in short, to the honour of our associates. There is no law to bind you to us. There is. no law, when once you understand the course which we are now taking, to compel you to come to us at all. There is no law to prevent your going into the market place and proclaiming the things which you are about to hear."
The same six people were sitting in the great library of Winchester House. The room was lit only by a maze of electric lights at the farther end. Pamela's pale face was half unseen, shrouded by her large hat with its clustering black feathers. Yet, during the silence which followed the professor's words, she changed her position slightly, so that she no longer sat in the shadows. The expression of her features was manifest to everyone. A passionate curiosity seemed striving with some natural antipathy to the things which she had heard. She did not understand. As yet she was hard at work trying to reconcile a new sense of values.
"After all," she said softly, "the things which you have spoken of are thefts. They seem small. It seems a small thing, does it not, to descend to the level of the criminal classes, however great the use to which this money may be put?"
Descartes leaned forward.
"Let me explain," he begged.
The duchess intervened.
"No!" she said firmly. "You are too cynical, Philip. Evelyn, you try and make Miss Cliffordson understand our point of view."
Evelyn roused himself from what had seemed to be a profound fit of abstraction. He looked steadily across to where Pamela's eyes sought his.
"I am not sure that I can," he answered. "Two people may argue and explain all day, but if their standpoint is not the same, nothing will ever bring them any nearer. You see," he went on, "we are none of us particularly honest people. We were none of us at any time particularly moral people. We were none of us at any time remarkably conscientious. What there may have been of good impulses in us, time and, in the case of some of us, trouble has withered up. We have not embraced our new profession for the good of suffering humanity. We have not done it with any disinterested motive whatever. The use we make of the money is merely accidental. A freak of vanity, perhaps, to cover our disgrace whenever the truth shall be made known. What we do, we do because, when every legitimate source of sensation has been exhausted by the jaded liver, one by one the illegitimate sources are tested, approved of or disapproved, according to the result they bring. We who had become strangers to excitement and needed it as a drug-drinker his drug, or others of us, perhaps, to whom memory was so keen a scourge that we must needs seek relief from it, tried this new means of distraction. Briefly, it has proved a success. We have known thrills. We have felt the life beat once more in our veins. Therefore we continue. But you, Miss Cliffordson," he continued sternly, "you have no need to come to us. Life with you has not yet become Dead Sea fruit. I have heard many people say that they would give their lives to become a 'Ghost.' Remember that that is exactly what you do give, that across the threshold of this door the old words of warning might well be written. Once you are with us you cannot leave us. None of the ordinary joys of life can come to you. You are known as a 'Ghost' and at any moment you may be caught up in the greatest sensation of these days. I am very much in earnest, Miss Cliffordson, when I advise you to wish the duchess good-afternoon and pass out through that door, which I shall have the greatest pleasure in holding open for you."
Pamela had no opportunity for reply. The duchess broke in with a hard little laugh.
"When we need recruits, my dear Evelyn," she said, "we shall not send you out into the highways and the by-ways. If such a thing were possible, Miss Cliffordson, I should think that our friend Lord Evelyn was suffering from an attack of sentimental shivers. There is nothing so extreme in our doings. There is nothing disgraceful in what we do, even though the offence against the law remains the same. We take from no one save those who persistently decline to give to charity, who show themselves miserly in disposition, and whose life is an offence against the unwritten laws of Christianity. The philosophers teach us that in the course of generations this sort. of thing rights itself, that the man who heaps up money and pays no heed to the thousands who starve at his gates, meets with his reward as do those others, the poor sufferers who starve in the sight of his plenty. Only the way of the philosophers is too slow for us. We say that we commit no sin nor any offence if we hasten matters a little. Therefore, when we come across a person whom we consider overburdened with this world's goods, and who shows no desire or design of doing anything else except spending his money upon himself and for his own gratification, we use our courage and our brains to make him pay a very legitimate fine."
Descartes stepped into the little circle of firelight on the hearth-rug. His usual smile parted his crooked lips. He waved his hand toward Pamela with an airy grace.
"My dear young lady," he said, "you have heard the same subject discussed, briefly discussed, of course, but still discussed, from the two opposite poles. Listen to me now, who in a dozen words will put the matter before you more simply. If life has still plenty of interests for you, run away back to your playthings. If you are bored, and if you are strong enough to remember that a few additional years of life are insignificant, come to us and you will be amused. We carry our life in our hands, or rather in a small tube in our waistcoat pockets. Twice, I believe, our friend Evelyn here has had the privilege of finding his fingers go seeking death. That may come or it may not. If you are afraid of it, stay away. Remember you are not pledged to take an active share in our work. Our doings are mostly voluntary."
Pamela leaned a little forward. The agitation had passed away from her face, but her eyes avoided Evelyn's.
"Tell me," she said, "is there no other end or aim which you have in view? To us, who have been outsiders, there has always been a certain belief in your strugglings to attain to a certain hedonistic philosophy, to a careful refining and development of what we have heard you speak of as the secondary self."
The duchess smiled.
"We preferred to tell you the worst first, Pamela," she said. "We are strugglers, all of us. We have our course of work. We have our hours of thought and study. We do aim at the complete subjection of certain parts of our physical nature. After all, you know, the essence of true philosophy is to escape from the thraldom of fear, the fear of life and the fear of death—to taste the best things in the days that dawn and pass away. Sometimes, in the fiercer excitement of these new doings of ours, we have forgotten this other side of our existence. But it shall be developed. We will show you the grooves into which we have turned our thoughts and we will help you also to follow them."
"But remember," Evelyn said from his chair, "that as a little company of philosophers seeking the immortal truth, we are, comparatively speaking, failures. We set ourselves the task of appreciating the beauty of quietism and we found ourselves driven by the necessities of our end into this almost fierce quest of new sensations. We are working against ourselves. We sin on the one hand to pander to emotions which our tenets call upon us to conquer."
The duchess yawned.
"My dear man," she said, "you are pedantic. All has been said that need be said. We have nothing left to do but to ask Miss Cliffordson—"
"No!" Evelyn interrupted sharply.
"To ask Miss Cliffordson," the duchess continued calmly, "whether she cares to come to us."
"I will come," Pamela answered. "I may find it a little difficult at first," she continued, after a moment's hesitation, "to realise your point of view, but I believe that I shall grow into it."
The duchess held out her hand.
"We have no ceremonies," she said softly, "but one. We take hands for a moment."
Everyone stood up, and five times Pamela felt her fingers pressed. Then she turned to Evelyn. He seemed for a moment about to refuse to greet her. They stood face to face and their eyes met.
The duchess watched them narrowly.
"Won't you be even as kind as the others?" Pamela asked, smiling.
Evelyn held out his hand.
"If I must," he said gravely, touching her fingers for a moment with his, "but I am sorry."
The duchess laughed a little scornfully.
"Play the game, my dear man," she said. "Who are you to show your feelings like a child who has failed to get his own way? It was written that Pamela should be one of us."
"IF WE are seen," Pamela declared, as she looked around the room with keen interest, "my reputation will be gone."
"Not in the least," Evelyn answered calmly. "Now that you are known and recognised as a 'Ghost', you may do as you choose."
"I am not at all sure about my aunt," Pamela objected. "She is quite old-fashioned enough to think that dining at a public restaurant alone with you is latitude greater even than a 'Ghost' should claim."
"You are independent of your aunt," he remarked quietly. "Whatever we may lack in other ways, we are socially too strong to strike against. Even that disagreeable young American person whom I met at your aunt's, and who was kind enough to express her desire to join us, could scarcely make unkind remarks."
"Well," she said, "nothing in the world is going to interfere with my enjoyment of dinner. I think that if you had not ordered asparagus I should have cried. Shall you think me painfully greedy if I let him give me a little more caviar?" she asked, yielding to the insinuating arm of the maître d'hôtel.
"What frauds we are!" Evelyn murmured. "We yield every day to pleasures which, as poseurs, we declare that we have outlived. I myself was just appreciating the flavour of this Chablis. By-the-bye, who is the young lady with feathers in her hat, who looks at you so much?"
Pamela glanced over her left shoulder and smiled.
"The very person of whom you spoke a moment ago," she answered "Sophie Van Heldt."
"She looks older," Evelyn remarked.
"London has scarcely produced the triumph she hoped for," Pamela remarked. "She tried to take it by storm the first time and she hasn't pluck enough left for another assault. I wonder what she stays in London for. She goes out very little now."
Pamela raised her glass.
"This has been something of a struggle between our wills," she remarked softly. "Won't you be generous and drink with me to my triumph?"
"I will drink with you," he answered, raising his glass. "I will drink, at any rate, to our comradeship. I will drink, too, to as much of the new state as brings us closer together."
"Yet in your heart," she remarked, "I believe that you would rather I were still outside."
His face admitted it.
"I cannot tell you," he said, "altogether what the feeling was that I had. You see, in those brief glimpses I had of you, you came to mean something to me in my thoughts which I can scarcely explain, only I know that if at any time I felt that escape from this hideous finality were possible, I always thought of it in connection with you."
"Well," she murmured, "what is there that is impossible? I am here."
"Yes," he answered, "it is true that you are here, but it is you who have joined me in bondage. Sometimes I used to think of you as a deliverer. I used to think that if ever anything could lift my feet from the dull earth, it would be the joy of walking side by side with you."
She shook her head.
"I used, too, to think of you sometimes," she said, "but—shall I tell you the truth?—I never used to think of you as a lover. You used to mean something to me which I could scarcely explain. I did not associate you with everyday life so much, even, as to count you an admirer."
He laughed a little uncertainly.
"You see," he said, "I carry my fate in my face. Even you, who made my heart beat, and drew me back now and then toward life, and the things of life, looked upon me as a person incapable of human joys."
"Wasn't I right?" she asked. "Tell me, even now that we are alone here together, and that there is nothing between us. You have a feeling for me. What is it? I appeal, perhaps, to your sense of the order of things with which you like to be surrounded. I appeal to your taste. You find a sort of far-away pleasure in hearing me speak and sitting opposite to me here. Beyond that there is little in you that I can command. Tell the truth," she whispered, leaning over toward him. "If I took your hands in mine, if the lights of this great place went out, and the walls shrunk so that we were alone, and you felt my lips touch yours—would that seem to you like the happiness which could bring you back into the normal world, one of your fellows? Would you be content to feel yourself an ordinary man like the others, breathing the same air, living by the same joys?"
She had leaned across the little table till the magnetism of her close presence could scarcely fail to have some effect upon him; and into their ears floated strange chords, and the Hungarian music of the orchestra. Evelyn was amazed to find himself almost unmoved.
"You need not answer me," she murmured, looking into his face. "I know very well the truth. What you would give me you would give me with the same half-weary grace with which you still ride to hounds and play polo, and dabble in the superficial pleasures of life. I think I know why it is that your feeling for me was only a visionary one. It is because I am too much like yourself. If I were younger, more ignorant, a child of nature, with all the bloom of life untouched, it might have been a real feeling. Even now, you see," she continued lightly, "there may come a deliverer; only when she comes she will come straight from the skies or the backwoods, or some of those impossible places from which the people come drifting into life with blank pages. Can you read the writing on mine, I wonder, Evelyn?"
"You have suffered, I believe," he answered.
"I have suffered," she continued, a little abruptly, "because of my incapacity to find the things that sometimes my body and soul crave for. A more ignorant person than you, who tried to tell me the truth, would say that I had frittered away my capacity for emotion on small things. Indeed I have not. Mine has been a life of essays. I have tried and tried and tried. Three times I have been engaged to be married, or rather I have accepted a lover on probation, and each time I have had to send him away. I cannot feel what I want to feel. What is it with some of us, Evelyn? Do we inherit some of the cursed tiredness of these days, breathe it in from our cradles? I don't understand it. I don't want to pose as being superior to the simple joys of life, the natural ones, I mean. I want to taste them, Evelyn. A year ago I told myself that it was the ambition of my life to be a 'Ghost.' I knew it to be false then as I know it to be false now. I would sooner be a gardener's wife, and have children, and live as a servant on one of my own estates, if I could but feel."
He touched her fingers which had strayed across the table.
"Why not?" he whispered. "The thing you speak of is an inspiration. It comes sometimes in the night. It comes sometimes when one has given up hope. I knew very well, from the first, that you were not one of those others, a woman to make a marriage because it is the natural thing to do, a woman to whom life presents no problems because the obvious is there written down before her, and the paths to the plain have been trodden by generations of their ancestors. But even for you there is hope, Pamela. It may come differently, more slowly, more swiftly—who can tell? You analyse my emotions and you believe that you are right. Mind, I do not admit it. There are times, even now, when I find myself longing to be back with you in that queer little hotel, when we leaned over the wooden railing side by side and looked out upon the wonderful desert."
She laughed a little mysteriously. The waiters were busy with the service of another course, and for a moment or two the thread of their conversation was broken.
"Don't think it necessary," she begged afterward, "to make tired love to me because we are dining together. Some nights I might find it amusing. To-night it hurts; poor captives that we are, we each of us need a deliverer, but I know very well that your fingers will never turn the key which releases me, and I know very well that nothing that I could do or say or be to you could set you free. Somehow, I have lost faith in the coming of my own deliverer."
"And if you are not mine," he said softly, "I fear that she will never come. Do you really remember that night on the borders of the desert?"
"Don't!" she cried, and there was in her tone a note of real pain. "Don't remind me of that!"
"Why?" he asked.
She did not answer. She continued to shake her head slowly.
"My time," she said, "may never come now, but you —"
She looked him steadily in the eyes.
"I wonder!" she said thoughtfully.
He returned her gaze, but his eyes seemed suddenly to travel outside the consciousness of her presence, outside the brilliantly lit room, with its white-panelled walls, its Empire decorations, its soft air of luxury and voluptuousness. He looked across a lilac-shaded lawn to where a backwater from the river went rippling by. He saw the figure of a child come hesitatingly across the lawn. The eyes into which he looked were no longer world-weary and tired. They became greyer and softer, wistful, and more mysterious, soft with all the wonderful longing of the child who sees only the beauty of the great world into which she peers so longingly. He came to himself with a little start and Pamela became suddenly rigid.
"I wonder," she whispered, "into whose eyes you were looking just then."
The maître d'hôtel mercifully intervened with a question as to the coffee—should it be Turkish or French? Pamela leaned back in her chair and laughed. It seemed to her that she was choking, but she laughed the light into her eyes and the colour into her cheeks.
"What babies we are!" she declared scornfully. "We sit here and talk sentiment like schoolboy and schoolgirl. Do you know that I absolutely must be at Hereford House at ten o'clock?"
They walked through the crowded room, observed of many people. A few minutes later he handed her into a hansom.
"Tell me," she said, "you were disappointed? Is it not so?"
He looked back at her earnestly. There was everything in her face at that moment which should stir the heart of a man. In the half-light, and with her slightly parted lips, she was wonderfully seductive.
"I cannot tell," he answered. "There is something that is missing. Perhaps we shall find it later."
She drove off to her dance, crouching back in the hansom as though she feared to be seen, with still, cold face. Once she raised her handkerchief to her eyes and bent her head.
Evelyn walked back to his rooms, where a guest was already awaiting him. He bought an evening paper on the way and carried it with him.
Mr. Bert Johnson was sipping his seond whisky and soda. He had not forgotten his manners. however, and he rose to his, feet as Evelyn entered.
"Good evening, Guv'nor!" he said. "How goes it?"
Evelyn stood upon the hearthrug, frowning a little.
"We cannot, at present," he said, "attempt anything in the nature of a settlement, but it occurred to me that you might be wanting something on account. There are five hundred pounds here."
He handed a packet of notes across to Mr. Johnson, who received them with every sign of satisfaction.
"That', what I call fair doing', Guv'nor," he said. "When's the next job?"
"We shall have no more occasion," Evelyn remarked, "for your services."
The man looked at him, open-mouthed.
"Are you going to chuck it, Guv'nor?" he demanded.
"Not necessarily," Evelyn answered, "but you will perhaps remember that you disobeyed instructions. We do not permit any violence to ourselves, or on the part of any of our allies."
"But I had to shoot!" Mr. Johnson exclaimed. "The old man had a pistol himself, only he was so slow getting at it."
Evelyn shrugged his shoulders.
"The details," he remarked, "do not interest me. On the present occasion the man's injuries seem to have been slight, but you might just as easily, shooting in the dark, and from that distance, have killed him. We are not sentimentalists, but physical violence of any sort does not enter into our programme."
Mr. Johnson looked dissatisfied.
"Blowed if I understand this 'ere!" he said grumblingly. "You don't reckon I was going to stay there and be nabbed?"
"We will not discuss the matter," Evelyn answered. "Our connection is at an end, that is all. We shall deal with you fairly, and I imagine that you will have a considerable amount still coming to you."
Mr. Johnson was not altogether consoled. His professional vanity was touched.
"Well," he said, turning toward the door, "if you can find any one to go about your business in kid gloves, you're welcome. You know my address, when you've got the rest of the boodle. If you change your mind—"
Evelyn interrupted him a little sharply.
"We shall not change our minds, Mr. Johnson," he declared. "You have disobeyed our instructions and we have no further use for you. In fact, I may as well tell you frankly that if you had killed Berteiner we should probably have given you away!"
The man stood at the door for a moment, glowering at Evelyn, and his face was like an epitome of all evil passions. Evelyn smiled back at him pleasantly.
"Run away now," he said. "Forgive me if I seem impatient, but I have had enough of you."
The man went out, slamming the door behind him.
"They would have given me away, eh?" he muttered to himself. "Let me swing for a rat like that, eh?"
He stopped for a moment on the stairs, as though about to return. Then he changed his mind, and lighting one of the big cigars to which he had helped himself during Evelyn's absence, he stepped out into the street.
ANIYTOS sat in his chair in the little circular hall watching, through the open door, the arrival of his guest. Evelyn, who had just stepped out of the car, had turned around to give some instructions about his luggage.
"I am ashamed," he declared, turning toward his host, "to have brought so many things for one night, but as a matter of fact I am going on from here to Oxford. I hope you will not let the size of my trunk and dressing case terrify you."
Aniytos smiled in courteous deprecation.
"Whatever you choose to bring," he said, "we can find room for. Take these things up to Lord Evelyn's room carefully, James," he ordered the servant. "If you would like them unpacked, Lord Evelyn, will you give my man your keys?"
"If you don't mind," Evelyn answered, "I will look out my own things to-night. They are all together in the dressing case, and no one except my own servant could tell exactly what to unpack. What a glorious afternoon. I hope that your daughter is well."
They passed through the hall and out on to the smoothly shaven lawn which led down to the river.
"You think," Aniytos asked softly, "that you are free from any sort of suspicion?"
"Absolutely!" Evelyn answered.
"Nevertheless, I think that you are going a little too fast," Aniytos said, working his basket carriage across the lawn. "Take my advice. Rest for a little time. This last exploit has many weak points. You see, the things which are really valuable cannot be destroyed, and some day or other the risk of their being traced back will be a real one. You have had all the excitement you need for a time, l am sure. Give it a rest, Lord Evelyn."
"I believe you are right," he said. "Between you and me, Aniytos, this last affair was closer even than the Vanderheim one. It was simply the absurdity of suspecting anyone in my position which kept me safe."
"After all," he said, "you and your people are but amateurs. Sooner or later you will make the .one fatal mistake that leads to ruin."
Evelyn yawned slightly. He had not come down here for this sort of thing.
"Well," he said, "we are all right up to now, at any rate, and I think you will find the contents of my trunk remarkably interesting. Here are the keys. Examine it when you will."
Aniytos received them and checked the progress of his little carriage.
"Forgive me," he said, "if I return for a few minutes to my study. I should like to telephone London and make sure that it is really safe for me to receive them. You will find my daughter in the punt, I think. She was sleeping there a short time ago."
Evelyn strolled down to the water's edge. Juliet was lying at full length upon a mass of cushions piled up in the boat. Whether she slept or not her eyes were closed, and she did not open them at his approach. He stood for a moment looking down at her. Was it his fancy, or was there indeed some faint suggestion of coming maturity in the long, delicate figure, the head thrown back, the hands clasped behind it? One knee was drawn slightly up. The outline of her slender, delicate limbs seemed clearly, yet not immodestly, defined. Her white flannel gown, her shoes and white silk stockings, were all immaculate. She wore no hat, and her dark hair was soft and almost wine-coloured in the shifting sunlight.
She opened her eyes and saw him. With a vivid blush she started into a sitting posture.
"Lord Evelyn!" she exclaimed. "How long have you been there?"
"A few seconds," he answered. "Why do you look at me as though my coming were such a terrifying thing?"
Her eyes softened. She smiled up at him, and for a moment he thought of the time when, only a few hours ago, seated with Pamela in the great restaurant, his thoughts had wandered back to the first time he had seen her. He suddenly realised the mystery of absolute youth, of complete innocence.
"I have been sitting here waiting for you," she said timidly. "I thought, perhaps, if you were not too busy talking to my father, that you might take me a little way in the punt."
He stepped lightly in.
"I will take you down into the river," he said, "but I think that I must give you a lesson."
"I have had lessons every day," she said, a little shyly, "from an old waterman here. If you like, I will punt, and you shall watch me and tell me when I am wrong. You shall lie down amongst the cushions here and forget your hot, tiresome journey from London."
"You would like to?" he asked.
"I would like to very much," she assured him. "Ever since you gave me that first lesson I have been so anxious to learn. I want you to see whether I have not improved."
He sank down into the soft nest of cushions and watched her through half-closed eyes. She was almost an expert now and she needed no tuition. With long, graceful strokes she sent the punt gliding down the narrow waterway, past the lawns of many villas, past a meadow yellow still with buttercups, through a dark archway of overhanging trees, out at last into the river itself. Evelyn lay back and watched her. She seemed to him somehow typical of all those things in life which he had given up seeking for. How did the man Aniytos, he wondered, manage to own a child so beautiful? With the complete joy of an artist he studied her limb by limb. He watched her perfect movements, the play of her features, the tremulous quiver of her mouth, the half-frightened light which flashed into her eyes when she looked toward him. It was not only that she was young. There seemed to be something half-tamed about her, a strain of savagery, something indefinable and yet curiously seductive. Was it this that Pamela had meant, he wondered ? Was it at the hands of a child like this that the stones of life might turn into bread? He watched her so long that the silence became like an unnatural thing.
"I think," she said, as she swung the punt around and turned homeward, "that you really needed a rest. You have not said a word since we left home."
"I have been selfish," he answered. "I have been content to watch and to enjoy. I forgot that it was my duty to talk. Shall I compliment you on your progress? You punt no longer as an amateur. I never had a pupil who did me greater credit."
She smiled with pleasure.
"It is really very easy," she said. "One only needs to be told. After dinner, if you do not talk with father all the time, I will take you round the island. We all of us hang lights out at night time. To me it seems like fairyland."
"I should like to come very much," he answered.
She sighed a little.
"After all," she said, "I suppose you have been to Venice, and to all those countries where there are so many beautiful places. Perhaps it would not seem worth while to you."
"If you will take me," he said softly, "I am very sure that it will seem worth while."
He saw the colour stream into her cheeks. There was a sudden change in her manner. The directness of his speech seemed to have awakened some slumbering instinct. She devoted herself wholly to her task for several minutes and she avoided meeting his eyes.
"Have you made any friends yet?" he asked her presently.
"No one who interests me," she answered. "I have been to two parties with a lady whom my father knew. One," she added, flashing a quick glance at him over her shoulders, "was amusing, but at the other I was very dull, for I knew no one."
"I don't know," he said quietly, "whether to sympathise with you or congratulate you upon your few friends. On the whole, I think I would prefer to congratulate you. If you mixed with a lot of other young people, you would probably become very much like them. As it is, you are something different, something unique."
"I do not know that I find any pleasure in being different," she answered gravely. "Sometimes, as I lie on the lawn or in the punt, I hear boatloads of young people go by to picnics, or just to row upon the river, and they all seem so happy. They laugh and talk to one another all the time, as though they were too light-hearted to remain silent for a moment. I feel lonely at times like that. And then sometimes, especially in the evening, when the moon comes up through the trees, and the nightingale sings over in the plantation there, and the perfume of the flowers grows fainter and fainter, then I am satisfied to be alone. I can lie down in the punt and listen to the soft murmur of the water here, and listen to all those beautiful things, and dream that I am somewhere in fairyland. I do not want anyone with me at times like that."
"No one?" he asked softly.
She looked at him innocently enough, but something in his gaze brought the colour again to her cheeks. Her face grew troubled as she looked away.
"No one who laughs and chatters or plays the banjo," she said. "The people who seem happy enough, and whom I envy in the daytime, seem somehow commonplace at night. You see," she added, bringing the punt up to the landing stage, "my father is waiting for us, and there is tea upon the lawn. I expect that he has grown impatient."
He helped her to fasten the punt and they stepped out together.
Aniytos brought his little chair round in a circle.
"Juliet," he said, "you must come and make tea for us; but first of all will you get me my horn-rimmed eyeglass? I left it, I think, in the study."
She hurried away and Aniytos turned toward Evelyn.
"You have the beginner's luck," he said. "I can assure you, if it is any relief, that the police are very busy indeed upon an altogether wrong clue."
"You have looked at the things?" he asked.
"Yes, I have looked at them!" Aniytos answered, with a little sigh. "The cutting out of those canvases is sheer vandalism. I should not dare to attempt to dispose of them for many years to come, and even then it must be from Italy. Shocking vandalism it seems!" he added. "But, after all, the pictures were locked up in one man's room, and even if they had been in the National Gallery itself, I doubt whether the British public would have benefited much. You are not an artistic race, Lord Evelyn. Your middle classes have less knowledge of how to gain from the study of beauty than the very peasants of the Southern countries."
"The other things are all right, are they not?" Evelyn asked.
"Yes, they are all right in their way," Aniytos declared. "Their value is terribly discounted, however, by the fact that to offer them at all in their present shape is dangerous. I shall give you fifteen thousand pounds down and twenty-five per cent upon all receipts after fifteen thousand pounds. Does this satisfy you?"
"Completely," Evelyn answered. "What shall you do with the things? Can you keep them here?"
"Perfectly well," Aniytos answered. "I am known to be a collector of curios. The canvases I shall send away one by one to the Continent. I know exactly what to do with them. Be careful. I can see Juliet coming. What do you think of my daughter, Lord Evelyn, now that you know her better?"
"She is charming," Evelyn declared.
"I am glad that you find her so," Aniytos said. "Her mother was a great beauty, and very much admired. I should like after dinner to talk to you a little about her. I see so few people down here whose ideas would be likely to coincide with my own. Juliet," he added, turning to his daughter, "we are starving our guest. Come and make tea at once."
EVELYN leaned forward in his chair, curiously stirred by those few notes of strange music, which came throbbing out to him through the open windows. He was sitting with his host underneath the cedar tree, and the dusky twilight had deepened until there was nothing of Aniytos to be seen but the red tip of his cigar. Around the lawn itself the shrubs looked like black sentinels. Beyond, a row of fairy lights marked the waterway. Little dots of lights, also, marked the outline of the house, and a warm glow from rose-shaded lamps shone out from the room whence came those first few notes of music. Evelyn caught at his breath.
"It is your daughter who plays?" he asked. Aniytos assented.
"She plays the violin," he answered, "not well, I believe, and yet she makes music."
Evelyn was silent. It was true, indeed, that the unseen performer, child though she was, and untrained though she might be, was making music which came out in little throbs to the scented darkness. What it was she was playing he had no idea, only it seemed to him that all the poetry and the desire and the passion of life were beating underneath those low, sweet notes which came quivering out into the darkness. Was it the cry of the poet for some golden but elusive thought which he sees flitting away through the shadows forever—the last breath of a great but unsatisfied conqueror, stricken in the midst of victory—the passionate cry of youth, struggling to gain a foothold in the slippery walks of life? What was it that the music cried for?
Evelyn felt it tearing at his heart strings. He rose to his feet with an involuntary movement, and almost as he did so she came out, framed for a moment in the low French windows, a slim, strange-looking figure in a dark red dress, her eyes half-closed, her head thrown back, her brown fingers still drawing that wonderful music from the violin she carried. She came toward them, still playing, making music at every footstep, but music which the brain of man had never conceived—little bursts of melody, wonderful, heart-shattering melody, as it seemed to Evelyn.
"Have you finished your coffee?" she asked, letting her arms drop as she approached. "I want to take Lord Evelyn around the island."
"Presently, dear," her father answered. "Go down to the river for a few minutes. You can take Lord Evelyn away very soon."
"Don't be long," she murmured. "Soon the moon will be up, and all the world can see the entrance into fairyland. I am going to sit on the steps and play to the fairies."
She crossed the lawn, a strange figure indeed, still making music, but of a lighter sort, to which her feet every now and then kept time, and even her body swayed to its rhythm. Evelyn resumed his seat.
Evelyn inclined his head. His eyes travelled through the dusky twilight to the spot where she had disappeared.
"You had something to say to me?" he remarked, curiously anxious for his release.
Aniytos assented silently. His eyes, too, were strained in the effort to watch the disappearing figure of the girl in the deep-red gown.
"I want to speak to you," he said, "about my daughter—to ask you, perhaps, for some advice."
"Advice!" Evelyn repeated thoughtfully.
"Hardly that, perhaps," Aniytos continued. "You will think it strange that I should trouble you at all, having regard to the nature of our connection. Yet perhaps you can imagine that I am no more altogether what I seem than you. That is to say that I am no more, in the everyday sense of the word, receiver of stolen goods, than you are thief."
Evelyn flinched a little at the word, but he said nothing. He kept his attention fixed upon the speaker.
"That I am rich," Aniytos said, "it will not, perhaps, surprise you to hear. I have money, funds, and property, in most of the countries of Europe. The little girl there, who sings to herself and to the river, will be a great heiress."
"Life, the philosophers tell us," Aniytos continued, "is made up on a system of recompenses. Life, which doubled me up, and kept alive the spirit when it crushed the body, has done its best to atone to me in every material way. There are some people to whom I could not hope to explain why I have chosen to embrace a dishonest profession. To you it may be more easy. Something of that same spirit, Lord Evelyn, which drove you and your friends to prey upon the pariahs of society, drove me, too, to a similar revolt. Save for my transactions with you, however, I have finished. The acquisition of money, for many years, has ceased to interest me particularly. All that I have belongs to her. How can I buy happiness for her to go with it?"
"It is a curious question," Evelyn answered thoughtfully.
"She must have friends," Aniytos said, "friends of her own order, for her mother was the daughter of a Portuguese nobleman, and my own name is not ignoble. She must have friends and an assured position. They tell me that in England such things are easy, yet how can I"—he stretched out his hands—"how can I, tied here, stir hand or foot to help her?"
"You have no friends," Evelyn asked, "at all? No connections?"
"In Lisbon, perhaps," Aniytos answered. "Not here. They tell me that there are women of good birth, who will undertake the care of girls placed as mine, who are in a position, as well, to secure their entrance into Society."
"Have nothing to do with any of them," Evelyn answered hastily. "The sort of woman who would do that for money, and there are plenty of them, I know, is the sort of woman who would make the best bargain for herself with any broken-down roué or well-born young idiot who is looking for a wealthy wife."
"What must I do, then?" Aniytos asked. "I cannot marry her from here. At least," he added, his eyes fixed keenly upon Evelyn, "it does not seem to me for the moment possible. If," he continued, speaking almost under his breath, "if it were possible, it would be a very easy way out of all our difficulties. It would mean perpetual safety for you, Lord Evelyn, and it would mean great wealth, with which you should be able to buy for yourself experiences more wonderful even than these things which you have tried."
Evelyn was discomposed. The idea had a curious effect upon him. His first instinct of amusement had suddenly been swept away by the rush of blood through his veins, by a sudden curious thrill of excitement. He set his teeth hard. There was another part of this man's speech which he did not understand.
"You say," he remarked, "that I should buy for myself safety. What do you mean?"
Aniytos drew a little breath through his teeth. Evelyn leaned forward, anxious that nothing in the man's expression should miss him. Yes, he was right! There was something faintly malign, almost threatening, in the black eyes which met his without a quiver—in the somewhat drawn smile.
"Surely you can understand, Lord Evelyn," he said. "We are in the hands of the Fates, both of us. Any moment an astute detective might find himself upon the track. Sooner or later, the trail would lead to me. Could I, even at the risk of disgrace and imprisonment, could I do anything else save protect the man to whom I had committed the care of my child?"
"You talk a little hyperbolically," Evelyn answered. "I do not quite understand. I like plain words and plain facts. Do you suggest that, whereas you might give me away under certain circumstances, my marriage with your daughter would keep your mouth closed?"
Aniytos' slim fingers stole into the box of cigarettes. He took one and lit it before he answered.
"Imagine for a moment," he answered, "that I do mean that."
Evelyn leaned back in his chair and laughed. It was not, perhaps, a natural laugh—it was not a laugh wholly of mirth, but yet he found a certain enjoyment in it. The situation had developed in an altogether unexpected manner, and the unexpected had always its fascination.
"My dear Aniytos," he said at last, "if you knew much about Society, you would have understood long ago—the whole world would have told you—that there does not breathe a more hopeless bachelor than I. Besides, supposing your proposition were not in itself so outrageous, have you forgotten—forgiven my alluding to such a matter, I do it only for the sake of a clear understanding—that I am Lord Evelyn Madrecourt, and that the woman whom I married would have to stand the test of a great many searching inquiries concerning her parentage and ancestry?"
"Perhaps," Aniytos answered, "I am not so ignorant of Society and its ways as you imagine. I have heard of cases where the girl who brought her husband a dowry of a million pounds found the halo of her great fortune sufficient to create all that was necessary in the way of parentage. In other words, Lord Evelyn, a person like yourself, with a great crowd of relatives and intimate friends, could carry my daughter exactly where you chose and how you chose."
Evelyn saw suddenly that the man was in earnest. At first he had looked upon this later suggestion of his as an impulse of the moment only.
"Very well," Evelyn said, "let us put this matter clearly. On one side there is this child of great fortune, and safety for me. On the other the knowledge that a very dangerous secret is in the hands of a person who is ill-disposed toward me. You see I am putting it mildly. Tell me, though, how you hope to guard your own end in this. What you desire is your daughter's happiness, is it not? Is there ever a man breathing less likely to make a child happy than I?"
"One runs risks," Aniytos answered, "but the study of my life has been the study of men."
"You flatter me," Evelyn answered coldly.
Aniytos leaned forward. His thin fingers clutched at the other's coat sleeve.
"Lord Evelyn," he said, "I have said more than I meant to. I have gone in advance of my thoughts, my hopes. Let the matter rest where it is for a short time. Help me only to think of some way by which my daughter may see a little more of life. That is all I ask you. Of the other matter we will speak again. Forgive me, I am tired now, I cannot talk any more."
Evelyn rose to his feet with sudden alacrity.
"I will see," he promised, "whether there is anything I can suggest."
"I am tired," Aniytos said suddenly. "I am going to my room, If you care to, talk to Juliet for a little time. Afterward, my servant will show you the smoking room, and give you anything you care for. Good-night!"
He started his little carriage and went off abruptly. Evelyn turned toward the river and walked slowly across the dark lawn.
SHE was sitting on the steps leading down to the landing stage, and as he approached a little white hand flashed out toward him.
"Come quietly," she whispered. "A nightingale is in those trees opposite. Soon, I think that, if we do not make a noise, he will sing."
"But we may talk?" he asked, seating himself by her side.
"In whispers," she said, "if you like. You are only just in time.
Soon the moon will be up, and then it is fairyland no longer."
"Why not?" he asked. "I thought that it was the moon that made the world so beautiful."
She shook her head.
"When the moon comes, one can see," she answered. "Before one sees, one can imagine. The world one imagines is far more beautiful than the world one sees."
He looked at her curiously.
"But I," he said, "can see nothing."
"You have not lived here night after night," she answered. "You have seen too many electric lamps and spent too much time indoors. I can see everything now dimly, just as I should see it clearly if the moon shone. Listen!"
She laid her fingers for a moment upon his arm. The nightingale from the trees opposite commenced to sing. Then from somewhere in the distance a sound disturbed him. His song ended abruptly, Juliet sprang to her feet.
"He has gone," she said. "I saw him fly. He has gone to the grove beyond the lindens. Would you like me to punt you around the island?" she asked, "or would you rather sit here and smoke?"
"I do not want to smoke," he answered. "I should like you to take me around the island, if you can talk while you punt."
She smiled and motioned him to take a seat amongst the cushions. She stood for a moment with the pole in her hands and pointed over the tops of the trees.
"See," she said, "there is the moon coming. Even you will be able to see everything now."
He caught his first glimpse of her face—the face of a little child it seemed, with great steadfast eyes and gleaming hair. Even her dress was unlike anything he had ever seen before—a deep mysterious red, made with an absence of encumbering draperies, reaching almost to her ankles. A string of strange-coloured stones hung almost to her waist. She smiled at him as they glided into the middle of the stream. Her face was no longer so altogether the face of a child.
"Do you know," she said, "this is the first night that I have ever been around here, except alone?"
"I am glad," he answered, "that I am your first companion."
She leaned a little toward him, her lips parted. Her eyes sought his seriously.
"I wonder," she said, "whether you mean that, or is it because you wish to be polite?"
"No!" he answered. "I am glad."
"Then I will sing to you," she said. "Listen!"
She kept her eyes fixed upon his, and she sang, something half-gay, half-pathetic, with a long refrain into which she drifted every now and then. The words of the song were in a tongue that was strange to him, though he leaned forward eagerly, anxious if only to guess at her meaning. All the time she sang her eyes never left his. Sometimes she smiled, sometimes she frowned. Once her unoccupied hand flashed out as though to wave him away. Once her whole body leaned toward him as though almost inviting his embrace. Then with a gay little laugh she finished.
"You like it, my singing?" she asked.
"Yes!" he answered. "Tell me what language that song was in."
"Portuguese," she answered. "I do not speak it very well, but I learned that song once in Lisbon, when I was a child. At school they would not let me sing it, but it is pretty. Do you find it pretty?"
"I find it charming," he answered.
"Ah!" she declared, "now you will hear something better. You see we have come to the grove. It is here that the nightingale sings. If we wait a little time, I think that he will begin."
They were in the deep shadow of the trees. She sat down facing him.
"Tell me," she said, "about your life, about the lives of the people amongst whom you live."
"There is nothing in the life I know of," he answered, "more beautiful than this."
"You are kind," she answered, "or perhaps you are laughing?"
"That would not be possible," he assured her gravely. "To-morrow ask me all the questions you wish. To-night it is too beautiful to think of other places."
"But you are going to-morrow," she remarked, a little pouting.
"I had forgotten," he answered, "but I need not go very early."
"Lately," she said, "my father has spoken to me about going away from here. He has told me that I must make friends and come to London. Would you be one of those friends if I did come, Lord Evelyn?"
"I hope so," he answered, sincerely enough.
She held up her finger. The nightingale was singing almost over their heads. He leaned back, listening mechanically, watching always the changes in her face. She seemed never for a moment still. Her face was upturned at first to the trees, her eyes were half-closed, she seemed drinking in the music as though it were something more than an actual aesthetic delight, as though there were indeed some quality in the sound appealing to more than the senses themselves. Then she changed her position. Her eyes were soft and bright with delight. She moved her head a little. The song of the bird was awakening some echoes in her mind of one of her own melodies. Then came interruption. A noisy dinner party came trooping out of the open windows of a house opposite to which they were, and the song of the bird was ended. He scarcely recognised her face as she threw one contemptuous glance at the little company of white-shirted men and. women in low-necked gowns.
"Oh, I hate those people!" she said, digging her pole savagely into the river bed and sending the punt once more into the middle of the stream. "They talk so loudly. They forget that a noise like that disturbs everything that is beautiful. They eat and drink too much, and sometimes they come out here on the river and play the banjo, and sing what they call comic songs."
He laughed at the disgust in her tone, and in a moment she was laughing too. Once they had to stoop low to pass under a little archway. Again her hand touched his as she dragged him down.
"You are too tall," she declared. "If we go under again, you must lie at full length in the boat. You see where we are?"
They were at the landing stage again. He drew a little breath of surprise.
"Have we been all the way around?" he asked.
"All the way," she answered, "and I am afraid that it is late."
"Once more!" he begged. "One more song!"
She made a little face and pointed to the grave figure of the butler, who was standing upon the landing stage.
"If you will allow me, your lordship," he said, "I will show you the smoking room."
He held her hands as she sprang lightly out. They rested quite easily and naturally in his for a second or two longer than was necessary. He felt, even, that had he kept one she would have walked without any trace of self-consciousness, hand in hand with him across the shadowy lawn. She was the strangest mixture of child and woman that he had ever known.
"To-morrow night," he whispered in her ear, "you will be alone."
For the first time she did not look him in the face. She kept her head turned away.
"Yes!" she said softly. "I shall be sorry."
"Are you sure?" he asked eagerly.
She turned and flashed a sudden look at him. Then she caught up her skirts and, running up the high bank, disappeared into the window with a little backward wave of the hand. Evelyn waited for the butler, who was following at a discreet distance.
"If your lordship will come this way," the man said, opening another window. "There is whisky and brandy there, and I can bring any sort of mineral water your lordship prefers. Mr. Aniytos was anxious that you should try his Cabanas."
THE Duchess of Winchester raised her eyebrows.
"My dear Evelyn," she exclaimed, "you are becoming quite democratic. Positively, you are the last person I should have expected to meet here."
"I came," he answered, "to find you. I looked in at Winchester House and took the liberty of asking your maid for a list of your evening engagements. I couldn't very well force myself upon the Ampthill's dinner party, but you see I came to the next place."
"I am more than flattered," she declared.
With a polite word or two, she dismissed the man upon whose arm she had been crossing the crowded reception room.
"Since you are so gallant," she remarked, "I am entirely at your service. By-the-bye, my dear Evelyn," she continued, dropping her voice a little, "hasn't it occurred to you that you are becoming rather the squire, of dames lately?"
He looked at her quickly, but of course it was impossible that she should have known where he had spent most of the last two days. .
"Well, no!" he answered. "I have never aspired to be considered any such thing. Tell me what you mean?"
"I heard about your dinner at the Carlton the other night," she said. "You have not yet explained," she added, "your reason for objecting so vigorously to Pamela's joining us."
He felt unreasonably irritated.
"Why should there necessarily be any special reason?" he asked. "What I said at the time, I think now. We are safest with as few members as possible."
"We have not added to them," she reminded him.
"No," he answered, "but if I had my way, I would create no new members at all. As one dropped out, and another, I would let, in time, our company dissolve itself."
"Look at me, Evelyn," she said abruptly.
He obeyed her. They were sitting now upon a lounge in one of the smaller rooms. Her dark eyes, set a little close together in her oval face, met his steadfastly. She herself that night was looking almost at her best and knew it. A necklace of pearls hung from her long, shapely neck. Her complexion was as pale and flawless as her features were delicately formed. Tall and slim, she fully justified the reputation she had enjoyed since her marriage as one of the most beautiful women of the English aristocracy. This moment, though, she was scarcely thinking of herself. Her eyes were fixed upon Evelyn's face, as one who seeks there for some new thing. He bore her gaze without flinching, but his laugh, as she at last looked away, was scarcely a natural one.
"Well," he said, "have you found what you sought for? Are you going to tell me that I am getting older, that my lines are deeper? Or perhaps it is my tie that does not suit you?"
She shook her head.
"There is something in your face," she said, "which is different. I have been wondering what it was, that is all. I have been wondering during the last few days whether it had anything to do with Pamela Cliffordson."
"And now?" he asked.
"I am not sure," she answered. "You are changed, I am sure of that."
"It is the stimulus," he answered, "the excitement of the last few weeks. If you had been in my place, my dear Alice, I believe that even you would have felt occasional moments when you were absolutely aware that you were alive."
"Are you sure," she asked, "that I do not sometimes feel them now?"
Evelyn shrugged his shoulders.
"I think," he said, "that we are all becoming a little more human. It is a sad confession, but I fear that it is true. When we go down to the country, I shall not be in the least surprised to find Mallison flirting with the milkmaids and Leslie playing golf."
"As yet," she reminded him abruptly, "you have not told me why you have done me the honour to face a political reception for my sake."
"I can do so in a few words," he answered. "You have heard me speak of Aniytos?"
She nodded and drew a little closer to him.
"There is nothing wrong with him?" she asked quickly.
"Nothing in the world," Evelyn answered. "I do not know, though, that I have ever told you how extraordinary a man he is. He is really a Spaniard of excellent birth, who married the daughter of a Portuguese nobleman. They had one child, who lives with him now. She is, I think, about eighteen."
"And how," the duchess asked, "did he come to be—what is it that you term these people—a receiver?"
"He meddles with these things," Evelyn answered, "like ourselves, only on a great scale. He was crushed out of all shape, and almost killed, in the great Nice railway accident twenty years ago, and I fancy that since then he has done many irregular things simply with a view to killing thought. He has made an immense fortune. Except for his connection with us, he has given up his somewhat dangerous profession. The night before last he asked my advice about his daughter."
The duchess smiled, not wholly an agreeable smile.
"I am not sure," she said, "that I can congratulate him upon his choice of an adviser. Is the child good-looking?"
"I believe so," Evelyn answered calmly. "She is very young and wholly undeveloped. They have not a single friend where they live and she will have a fortune which will make her husband a millionaire. He wants some one in our set to be kind to the child, to have her up here, and put her in the way of making some friends."
The duchess was genuinely surprised. Her imagination had not carried her so far as this.
"My dear Evelyn," she exclaimed, "do you know what you are saying? The daughter of a person like that amongst us!"
"I know all about it," Evelyn answered. "The awkward part of it is that Aniytos has us in his power and he gave me last night the most delicate reminder of it."
"Absurd!" the duchess declared. "There are plenty of women whom he can pay for taking charge of his brat. The Wolfenden woman, and persons of that class. They can take her into what she will be quite ready to accept as Society."
"Unfortunately," Evelyn answered, "Aniytos knows a great deal too much to render such a scheme acceptable to him. He has asked me point blank whether one of us will not receive her for a little time. Think for a moment, Alice. The man has us in his power. By simply doing what he asks, we can make a friend of him for life."
"But it is too absurd!" the duchess declared. "Why should I burden myself with the chaperonage of a child whom I do not know or care anything about and whose very parentage will have to be a mystery?"
"It is hard luck," Evelyn answered, "but you must remember, Alice, that whereas some of us have had some very hard rubs up against fate, we haven't asked anything from you yet."
"Is the child presentable?" the duchess asked, after a moment's pause.
"So far as I can judge," Evelyn answered languidly. "She wears queer frocks, but they rather suit her style. In any case she would have carte blanche with the dressmakers, you must remember."
"Do you ask me to do this, Evelyn?" she whispered, leaning a little toward him.
"I'm really afraid that I must," Evelyn said. "I hate to submit you to any inconvenience, but it will be an immense relief to me if you say, Yes." .
"In that case, I suppose I must say it," she answered. "You can take me home to-night after the Clifford's ball and tell me what to write. I hope the child won't turn out to be a beauty, or anything notorious."
"I don't think there is the least chance of it," he answered. "She seems to me much too well-behaved to become popular."
He rose from his chair a moment or two later.
"I shall see you," he said, "at the Clifford's. I must positively go and make my bow to my hostess."
"After which?" the duchess asked, smiling.
"After which you may be very sure that I say adieu," he answered. "I am going nowhere else to-night. Coates and Mallison are meeting me at my rooms at eleven o'clock."
"Is there anything fresh?" the duchess asked, with a quick look of interest.
"I think not," Evelyn answered. "Aniytos has been giving me a word of advice and I think he is right. We have been going rather fast lately. We have set people guessing, too, a little more than is discreet, over all these anonymous gifts."
On his way across the room he passed Sophy Van Heldt. She looked at him a little curiously. Some instinct prompted him to stop.
"You did not see me the other evening at the Carlton?" he remarked, as she detached herself for a moment from the little group with whom she had been talking.
She shook her head.
"I wonder," she said, "that you ever expect me to see you again, considering how unkind you have been."
"Unkind!" he repeated. "My dear Miss Van Heldt, it is you who have the reputation of treating all the world cruelly."
She smiled at him enigmatically.
"For an Englishman," she said, "you know how to talk all right. But there's just one little lesson you may have to learn some day and I only hope it won't cost you more than you can afford to pay."
"And the lesson?" he asked.
She shook her head.
"I'm not going to give the show away," she answered, "but you were very rude to me once."
She turned back to the group from which she had come. Evelyn went on his way a little puzzled. He felt that there was something ominous underneath the girl's manner, and he carried with him out into the street, and during the drive back to his rooms, a slight but gathering sense of apprehension.
EVELYN found upon his arrival that his two guests were before him. Mallison and Leslie Coates were sitting side by side upon a lounge, talking together earnestly, and a little way off Morgan, his servant, was standing. Evelyn let himself in with a latchkey, and stood in the doorway looking at the three men. Something was obviously wrong. Even Mallison was not himself.
"Glad you've come, Evelyn," he said, looking up with an air of relief. "Don't go, Morgan. Your master will certainly want to question you."
"Anything wrong?" Evelyn inquired laconically, turning his back toward the man, who mechanically drew off his overcoat and took his hat.
"Something rather curious has happened," Mallison declared. "Last night your rooms were broken into and within an hour mine also were entered."
"That so, Morgan?" Evelyn asked, turning toward his servant.
"It is as Mr. Mallison has stated, sir," the man answered. "The thief must have opened the door with a skeleton key and gone about his work noiselessly. The young man under me, sir—Peggs—distinctly heard the door open, but he naturally thought it was you and took no notice. You see, we were not aware that you were not coming home last night."
"What's the damage?" he asked. "What's been stolen?"
"Nothing at all," Mallison answered.
Evelyn lit a cigarette and poured himself out a whisky and soda.
"What's the trouble, then?" he asked. "I thought, from your grave faces, all of you, that I had been robbed of my most cherished possessions."
"The fact that you have been robbed of nothing," Mallison said calmly, "seems to us more serious."
Evelyn turned toward his servant, who was waiting there with his hat and coat.
"Do you mean to say that absolutely nothing is missing?" he asked.
"Nothing whatever, your lordship," the man answered. "The whole of your jewellery was easily accessible, but it was left untouched. The thief, whoever he might have been, seems to have paid particular attention to your lordship's cabinet and writing desk. Every paper has been disturbed but, so far as we can tell, nothing was taken away."
"That all seems very satisfactory," he said. "You can go, Morgan. I'll ring if I want anything else."
The man departed, closing the door.
"The curious part of this affair," Mallison said, "is that my rooms were ransacked within an hour of the same time."
"Anything stolen?" Evelyn asked.
"Not a thing," Mallison answered.
"To proceed to my own case," Leslie Coates said, "this afternoon at four o'clock a gentlemanly looking person called at my rooms and said he had an appointment with me. He was allowed to wait in my sitting room, where he appears to have made a careful study of any papers he could find lying about, forced the lock of my desk, and gone through a lot of documents I kept there. When I returned he had left, of course. Couldn't wait any longer."
"The outcome of all this is simple," Mallison remarked. "Someone is on our track. So far as my papers are concerned, there was not a single thing to connect us in any way with any of our late enterprises. What we are anxious about is you. Had you any receipts from Aniytos—cheque books, memoranda of accounts, or anything whatever of that sort?"
"Not a scrap," Evelyn answered. "There is not a single written word upon the face of the earth which could do me or any of us harm. I have never even made a note of the sums Aniytos has given me. I have always had open cheques, which I have cashed, and the proceeds I have generally managed to turn over once or twice on the Stock Exchange before handing them to the hospitals. There isn't a thread of documentary evidence of any sort, but at the same time — "
"At the same time," Mallison interrupted, with a nod of his head, "it is not pleasant for us to know that there is anyone who has even come near penetrating our secret. I have always felt this. It is common sense. No one was likely to suspect us. If ever they did, the rest was easy."
"I wonder," Evelyn remarked, "whether it is the police who are doing this?"
Mallison shook his head.
"I don't believe it for a moment," he said. "The same person planned these searches who broke in upon us with a false search warrant some weeks ago. Now I know who that man is."
Evelyn raised his eyebrows.
"Well, that is a step in the right direction," he said. "Who is he?"
"He has half a dozen names," Mallison answered, "but the one by which he announces himself to the world is Grunebar. He has an office in Charing Cross Road with a brass plate outside. He calls himself a private inquiry agent. He is, by-the-bye, an American."
"An American," Evelyn remarked thoughtfully.
"Whether he is doing this on his own," he continued, "or whether he has some one behind him who is finding the money, I don't know. The thing is, dare we approach him?"
"How did you find him out?" Evelyn asked.
Mallison smiled grimly.
"I have a memory for faces," he said, "and a capacity for reading through disguises, which is practically the sole benefit which my twenty-five years at the Criminal Bar brought me. I watched that man in this very room, and his face remained in my memory. I saw him enter the offices I spoke of, two days ago. I sent him a bogus client yesterday. There is no doubt about the man's identity. I can tell you more, too. He is a dangerous fellow. He has at least a dozen confederates, and they are about as awkward a combination to run up against as you could find. They are all Americans, men who have come over here for different reasons, but mostly because their own country was too hot for them, and they stick at nothing. They are clever, too—keen as they can be. Grunebar pays well, and these men of his have twice the nerve and smartness of the touts employed by English detectives."
The telephone bell rang at that moment. Evelyn took up the receiver from the table and held it to his ear. A clear, soft voice addressed him by name. He felt a sudden glow of interest.
"Is that Lord Evelyn Madrecourt?"
"Yes!" he answered. "And you?"
"I am Juliet Aniytos," was the answer. "My father wants to speak to you. He asked me to ring you up. Will you wait a moment while I fetch him?"
"With pleasure!" Evelyn answered. "How is the river this evening?"
"Dull," she answered, "very dull indeed."
"I am afraid," he said, "that I am glad."
He fancied he heard her laugh as she turned away. Soon the voice of Aniytos came, shrill but clear.
"Is that Lord Evelyn?"
"Yes!" Evelyn answered. "Good-evening!"
"I thought I would let you know," Aniytos remarked, in dull, even tones, "that you have friends to whom your whereabouts seem interesting. There has been a fellow down here to-day inquiring about your visit—inquiring, too, about a good many things. I never write letters and I seldom use this infernal machine except for the Stock Exchange. All the same, I thought I should like a word with you."
"I am much obliged, I'm sure," Evelyn answered. "What sort of a fellow was it?"
"My servant," Aniytos answered, "thought that he was an American. I should imagine, from what he said, that he was a tout employed by some inquiry agency. He has shown a flattering interest in my affairs, also, and I understand that he remains in the village."
"It causes you no inconvenience, I hope?" Evelyn asked.
Aniytos laughed scornfully.
"Nothing in the world of that sort," he answered, "could disturb me one iota. But with you it is different. You are an amateur . You may make mistakes with every word you say and every step you take. I suppose it is too early in the season to advise you to leave London, but you would find it wise to remember the advice I gave you when you were here."
"You need not repeat it," Evelyn answered. "I know what you mean, and I agree. I have news for you with regard to the other matter you spoke of. I mean with regard to Miss Juliet. I shall write to you to-night."
"Write or come down," was the curt answer. "Good night! No, don't ring off. Juliet wishes to speak to you once more."
In a moment her voice, more delightful than ever, it seemed to him, after the sharp, curt notes of her father's somewhat harsh speech, came floating along the wire.
"Lord Evelyn," she said, "I really do not want to speak to you at all, but I thought I would like to say good night, and to tell you that the nightingale is singing."
"I wish I were there to hear it," he answered.
Her voice seemed to drop a little.
"And I, too," she said. "Good-night!"
He heard the receiver replaced and he rang off himself.
"The message," he said, "was from Aniytos. He says that a man has been down there making inquiries about my business in the neighbourhood. He thinks that he was an American."
"They are evidently hard at it," Mallison said. "I wonder whether it is the Vanderheim affair or the Berteiner?"
"What does it matter?" Coates answered. "There is only one way they can get at us, and that is through Aniytos. Do you think, Evelyn, that he is safe?"
"Yes!" Evelyn answered, "I believe that he is. Aniytos is a great man and a dangerous man, but I think that with us he is safe. All the same, one cannot tell. Yesterday we spoke of a certain matter. He asked me a favour and the same moment his demand became almost a threat."
"Aniytos has too much to lose himself," Leslie Coates said drily.
"Well," Evelyn remarked, "as I am doing what Aniytos put to me as a great favour, I think that we need not fear anything from him at the present, but in any case I tell you that dangerous though that man may be, I do not think that he would ever stoop to treachery. To me he seems a gentleman, one of the most extraordinary personalities I have ever encountered. If it were not that it is better for only one of us to have any dealings with him, there is nothing I should like so much as to have you men meet him."
"To return," Mallison remarked, "for a moment, to the first subject of our conversation. You say, Evelyn, then, that there was nothing whatever which anyone could have found amongst your papers?"
"I am absolutely convinced of it," Evelyn remarked. "You need not have one second's uneasiness."
There was a knock at the door. Morgan entered.
"There is a gentleman here, your lordship, from St. Matthew's Hospital, who would like to have a word with you, if convenient."
The three men exchanged quick glances. Evelyn for a moment was silent.
"You had better show him in," he said. "Tell him I am engaged with two gentlemen, but I will see him, if his business is of any importance, for a moment or so."
"What did you send there lately?" Mallison asked quickly.
"Twenty-five thousand pounds, three days ago," Evelyn answered.
THE door was thrown open. Morgan ushered in a young man dressed in professional morning clothes and wearing gold-rimmed spectacles. He bowed at once to Lord Evelyn, whom he apparently knew by sight.
"I am sorry to disturb your lordship at such an hour," he said, "but the fact is that I've already called here three or four times and been unable to catch you. To-night I saw your motor outside, and I ventured to persist in my request for a few minutes' interview."
Lord Evelyn was standing upon the hearthrug, drawn to his full height. His face had suddenly assumed the vacuity of utter boredom. He gazed at his visitor with a tired expression in hi eyes.
"I didn't catch your name," Lord Evelyn remarked. "Did I understand that you were from some hospital?"
"My name is Gordon, your lordship," the young man answered, "and I come from St. Matthew's Hospital."
Evelyn waited, as though for the young man to declare his business, but he remained silent.
"Are you, then," Evelyn asked, "looking for donations—collecting, or that sort of thing? It seems to me rather an odd way to set about the business."
The young man shook his head.
"My business with your lordship," he said, "is of a more important nature than the soliciting of donations."
"Kindly proceed to state it," Evelyn said. "I am waiting to go out with my friends."
The young man looked around.
"If I could have a word with you in private," he said doubtfully. Evelyn shook his head.
"From these gentlemen," he said, "who are my intimate friends, I have no secrets, nor," he added, "am I in the habit of discussing important business with perfect strangers without witnesses. Say what you have come to say, please."
"I have called," the young man said slowly, "with reference to a very large anonymous donation which has recently been made to the hospital of which I have the honour to be acting treasurer."
Evelyn looked puzzled.
"Well?" he said. "Please go on."
"There have been speculations," the young man continued, "in the Press, and in many quarters, as to the source from which these large donations which have recently been given to hospitals and to the Cripples' Guild, have been drawn. It is not our business—I hope you will understand me, your lordship, when I repeat this—it is not our business to make inquiries or to seek to ascertain the name of the donor of a contribution which is made to us anonymously, but in this case unusual interest seems to have been incited. We have had, to put it briefly, at least half a dozen detectives, regular and irregular, worrying us to death with questions, and Heaven knows how many journalists. Quite an extraordinary amount of interest has been evinced with regard to this last twenty-five thousand pounds."
Lord Evelyn yawned slightly.
"My dear sir," he said deprecatingly, "all this does not concern me or interest my friends. We are already twenty minutes late for a somewhat important engagement. Come to the point, if you have one."
"Briefly, then, your lordship," the young man said, "by the merest chance I happen to have discovered the name of our anonymous benefactor."
There was a moment's silence in the room. To all appearance Evelyn had not flinched or changed countenance. The two men who listened had steeled themselves to hear something of the sort and showed no emotion. The young man looked from one to the other of the three faces. He saw nothing save a reasonable amount of curiosity in anyone of them. Evelyn, as a matter of fact, seemed almost devoid of that.
"Well," he said, "if you have made the discovery, why not go and tell these journalists? They will probably make you a handsome present. What I cannot understand is why you should come here."
"Because, your lordship," the young man answered, "it appears to me that that twenty-five thousand pounds, if not a direct gift from you, at any rate passed through your hands."
Evelyn's expression never changed in the slightest, only he raised his eyebrows and looked steadily at the young man.
"This," he said, "is overwhelming. You say that you have traced a gift of twenty-five thousand pounds to me?"
"To your lordship," the young man answered.
"For Heaven's sake," Evelyn said earnestly, "don't let my creditors know. If such a report once got into circulation, I really think I should have to go through the bankruptcy court. However, tell me this, if you please, Mr. Gordon. Granted that you believe that this money came from me, I still do not understand why you have come to tell me about it."
The young man hesitated for a moment. Then he reached for his hat, which he had laid on a small table by his side.
"Perhaps," he said quietly, "it was ill-advised. I had an idea that you might be glad to know twenty-four hours before it was common property, that your identity had been discovered."
"You mean, then," Evelyn said, "that you intend to sell your information to the Press?"
"As your lordship denies being the anonymous giver," the young man said, "it would surely be interesting to hand over the proofs of which I have spoken to the men who are so anxious to verify them."
"What do you want me to do?" Lord Evelyn asked.
"I want you to do nothing," was the quiet answer. "I have come here without hope of reward, or without any desire to place you under any obligations to me. I have come here simply to tell you that within twenty-four hours the Daily Mail will be in a position to announce the name of our mysterious patron."
Mallison rose slowly to his feet.
"Mr. Gordon," he said politely, "you will forgive me if I intervene for a few moments. So will you, I am sure, my dear Evelyn. I have listened to this discussion with very great interest. So far as I can gather, our young friend's motives for coming here are exceptionally kind and thoughtful. Believing you, Evelyn, to be the donor of this money he, in the interests of his hospital, as well as in your own, desires to acquaint you with the fact that your anonymity is threatened. It has never occurred to him that of all the men in London, who by pawning their last acre of property could raise as much as twenty-five thousand pounds, that you are about the least likely to inconvenience yourself to that or any extent. That is because he does not know you. It would be interesting, however, if Mr. Gordon would kindly tell us what his reasons are for supposing you to have been the anonymous benefactor of his hospital."
"I have no objection to stating them, sir," the young man answered. "The money was brought to the hospital in a brown paper parcel. The brown paper had been used before. I was rather curious, and I took it with me to my room. I peeled off with great care one label, and underneath it I found another. It was an Army and Navy Stores label, and it was addressed to Lord Evelyn Madrecourt."
"That," he remarked, "does not seem to me to prove that the twenty-five thousand pounds also came from Lord Evelyn."
"Perhaps not," Mr. Gordon answered drily, "and yet I am very sure that if I wished to part with it, that piece of brown paper would fetch me a very convenient sum of money."
"We are getting," Mallison said, "a little nearer to the point. Supposing, then, that Lord Evelyn should see the annoyance of being connected in any way with your mysterious benefactor and should he disposed to make you an offer for that sheet of paper, what should you say?"
The young man smiled. From his breast pocket he produced a roll of brown paper tied up with a piece of string. He threw it lightly into the fireplace.
"Your lordship," he said, "and this gentleman here, both misunderstand the reason of my coming. I am not here to play the blackmailer. I believe that without difficulty I could have obtained a good many hundred pounds for what I have just destroyed; but I do wish," he added, turning to Evelyn, "to impress upon your Lordship that some very strange things have been said about these large sums given by anonymous donors. I do not profess to understand the matter myself. My interest is wholly with my hospital. The money has been our salvation. It makes the future for us a wholly different thing. Whatever the source may be from which that money came, I cannot help but think that it might have been just as easily spent in much less worthy fashion. And for this reason, Lord Evelyn," he concluded, turning toward the door, "I have burned that sheet of paper, and the memory of the name which was upon it has already passed from me. I wish your lordship good night! Good-night, gentlemen!"
He passed out, giving them no opportunity to question him further. The three men looked at one another.
"Was he honest, do you suppose?" Leslie Coates asked slowly.
"I believe so," Mallison answered.
"After all my precautions!" he said. "And yet, who could have dreamed that there was a label underneath! Next time, I promise you both that I will choose absolutely virgin paper."
"It is by just such slips as this," Mallison remarked, "that the greatest mysteries in the world have been solved. Considering all that we know, I think that we are fortunate. To-morrow I propose that we go and interview Mr. Grunebar."
SOPHY VAN HELDT laid down her bankbook and looked across the table toward Mr. Grunebar.
"I'd like you to understand, Mr. Grunebar," she said, "that I am not grudging this money, and that I am perfectly willing to spend it, but I do say that you ought not to leave me altogether in the dark. Mind, I believe that you are honest when you tell me there is something going on which you do not understand and that you are doing your best to find out what it is. Only I think that you ought to share your suspicions with me. As it is, I don't consider that I am getting a run for my money."
Mr. Grunebar fingered the cheque which she had just given him, and placed it carefully in his waistcoat pocket.
"My dear Miss Van Heldt," he said, "I cannot say that I have any direct suspicions. On the other hand, there is, without doubt, something going on amongst those society faddists who call themselves 'Ghosts', which I cannot fathom, but which presents a very pretty problem. They have connections with the most extraordinary people."
"Such as?" Sophy Van Heldt asked.
Grunebar hesitated for a moment.
"A man named Aniytos is one," he said. "He is an immensely wealthy person who has a little cottage down at Bourne End, which he is supposed never to leave. He is a mixture of Spaniard, Portuguese, and Jew, and there are many things about him which are in a sense suspicious. He has private telegraph and telephone wires to his house, under the pretence of being a great gambler on the Stock Exchange. This may be true, but if he does operate largely, he manages to keep it uncommonly close, as I cannot find any broker who will admit to even having had dealings with him."
"Go on!" Sophy Van Heldt said. "I am interested in this."
"Lord Evelyn has been down to this man's cottage three times. He went for the first time on business. The man, Aniytos, is a cripple, and although he is a person of much education and culture, he is certainly a very odd acquaintance for Lord Evelyn. He has a daughter too."
Sophy Van Heldt nodded.
"Yes, I know about her," she said. "I saw her driving with the duchess this morning. Some one said that the duchess was going to present her."
"You are alluding, perhaps," he asked, "to the Duchess of Winchester?"
Sophy Van Heldt nodded.
"Yes!" she said.
"Exactly!" Grunebar remarked. "She, too, is a 'Ghost.' Why is she troubling herself about this child, and why did Lord Evelyn pay these visits to her father? I wish I knew. Once or twice I seemed to have been on the point of discovering something, but each time an accident intervened. All that I can say is that I am certain of one thing. There is something to discover. You are not spending your money in vain."
Sophy Van Heldt looked thoughtfully at her visitor. Something in the set lines of her fair, pale face seemed reminiscent of those sterner qualities which had enabled her father to leave her a great fortune.
"That is all very well, Mr. Grunebar," she said, "but I think you ought to tell me what it is that you have in your mind."
Mr. Grunebar shook his head. .
"There are many reasons," he said, "why it would not be wise; and, further, I have at present absolutely no idea as to where the investigations which I am making will lead me. These people are concerned in something which I believe to be criminal. I believe," he continued, "that before I have finished, I shall be able to make public one of the greatest scandals of modern days. I tell you frankly, Miss Van Heldt, if you were to stop supplies now, I should go on, however inefficiently I might be able to do the work, on my own account."
"I do not grudge the money," the girl said, "only I dislike your lack of confidence."
"It is for such a short time," he pleaded.
"You knew, I suppose, before I told you," she said, "that the girl who is called Juliet Aniytos is staying with the Duchess of Winchester?"
"I knew it," Grunebar assented.
"The child is being chaperoned by the duchess entirely at the request of Lord Evelyn," Sophy Van Heldt continued. "There was no previous acquaintance whatever between them. One feels inclined to wonder whether this is kindness or compulsion."
"Do you see anything of them in Society?" the man asked.
The girl's eyes flashed for a moment.
"Very little," she answered. "We meet at the same houses sometimes, but we are not in the same set."
Mr. Grunebar nodded sympathetically. He had understood from the first something of the causes which had prompted his client's action. He stretched out his hand apologetically for his hat.
"Well, Mr. Grunebar," she said, "I will not keep you now, but I want you to understand that on your next visit I shall expect something a little more definite."
"It is possible," he answered, with a smile, "that I may be able to bring you news which will amaze you."
Mr. Grunebar took his leave, and Sophy Van Heldt went into her drawing-room to wait for some expected callers. First of all, however, she was to receive one whose coming was wholly unexpected. While she was wondering which of her friends might own the smartly appointed electric brougham which was just visible from her window, the door was thrown open and the footman ushered in a familiar figure.
"The Duchess of Winchester!" he announced.
Sophy Van Heldt rose slowly from behind her tea tray. The Duchess came into the room with a conventional smile of greeting upon her lips, which died away, however, as soon as the servant had departed.
"Miss Van Heldt," she said, without withdrawing her hands from her muff, "I will not pretend that mine is an ordinary social visit."
Sophy Van Heldt prepared for war. She resumed her seat and regarded her visitor coldly.
"Since I have not the honour of knowing you," she said, "I presume that your visit has some special purpose."
"I have come," the duchess said, "because we hear that you are giving yourself a great deal of trouble in prying into our affairs."
"Our affairs?" Sophy Van Heldt asked, with gently upraised eyebrows.
"I speak, as you are without doubt aware," the duchess continued, "on behalf of Lord Evelyn and the others, the company of 'Ghosts.' You have shown what we consider to be an unwarrantable curiosity in our doings. I have called to tell you this, that if you persist you will have to face the social enmity of every one of us. I presume you know what that means?"
Sophy Van Heldt smiled.
"Then you do not care," she said quietly, "to have your affairs inquired into?"
"We regard it as impertinence," the duchess answered. "I am not here to discuss the subject. I am simply here to tell you that if you persist in the course you are at present adopting, you may as well let your house and go back to your wonderful country, for you will find that the number of your acquaintances is likely to diminish rapidly."
"Is this what you have come here to tell me, Duchess?" Sophy Van Heldt asked.
"It is," the duchess answered calmly, "and having told you I will wish you good-afternoon!"
"One moment, please," the girl said, rising to her feet. "I should like you to understand this. You and your friends can use all the influence you possess. You can take away my friends and acquaintances. No doubt you will be able to ostracise me socially. I should like you to understand that I don't care two cents. From what I have seen of you all over here, I prefer Newport."
The duchess shrugged her shoulders.
"I should imagine," she said, "that you would be more comfortable in your own wonderful country. At the same time, you would scarcely care to return there a social pariah."
"Well, I like that!" the girl declared. "You may be very powerful, you and your friends, Duchess, and you may be able to stop people sending me invitations and being nice to me, but—"
"We can do more than this," the duchess interrupted. "We could send you back to America in the very dubious position of having had your presentation at Court publicly cancelled."
"I don't believe it," Sophy Van Heldt declared vigorously.
The duchess smiled.
"There was a very important fact," she said calmly, "which was not disclosed at the time the Lord Chamberlain had your name under consideration. I think it was not mentioned by your friends that your mother had been divorced."
"It was because she and my father disagreed!" the girl exlaimed. "There was no suggestion of anything else."
"In England," the duchess said, "we do not discriminate. All I can say is that the omission of that fact could be used in the manner I have suggested. If I were you, Miss Van Heldt, I would be sensible. It annoys us to have people trying to pry into our secrets, harmless though they are, and we do not intend to be annoyed with impunity. You had better give in. You have only to give us your word, and I think you will find that we can be better friends than enemies."
"Thank you," Sophy Van Heldt said, "I do not need the friendship or patronage of anyone. As to any inquiries I may have been making about you and your friends, I rather think I'll go on with them if it pleases me to."
The duchess turned away.
"Good-afternoon, Miss Van Heldt!" she said. "I am sorry that my mission has been a failure. Perhaps, before long, you may be sorry too!"
THE duchess recounted her failure to Evelyn that night, as they sat in the background of her box at the opera.
"The girl would not listen to me, Evelyn," she said. "She was impertinent, and she evidently means to do what mischief she can. Fortunately, I should imagine that this cannot be very much. I am sorry, however, that I went to see her.".
Evelyn's expressionless face was a little overcast. A slight frown drew his eyebrows closer together.
"Well," he said slowly, "it is rather a pity. There is someone working against us, and from what I can hear, I believe that it is someone employed by this young person. Such a very little thing," he added thoughtfully, "might put anyone with brains upon our scent. Have you seen Mallison to-day, by-the-bye?"
The duchess shook her head.
"He called," she answered. "but I was out. What is it?"
Evelyn was silent for several moments. He leaned a little forward to assure himself that the three people in the front of the box were completely absorbed in their own conversation. When he continued, his voice had fallen almost to a whisper.
"We made a mistake," he said, "in that Berteiner affair. It was Coates who was so keen upon it. We employed, as you know, a professional housebreaker."
The duchess nodded.
"I heard about it," she murmured.
"The man did his work well," Evelyn continued, "but he disobeyed us. He used firearms and Berteiner, as you know, was wounded. I see that he has recovered, but we were obliged to speak very plainly to this person—a gentleman of the name of Johnson. He went off in a huff and we have not seen him since. Mallison has an idea that he may prove dangerous."
The duchess half closed her eyes. She raised her hand for a moment to her forehead. As she withdrew it, her fingers touched Evelyn's and lingered there for a moment, as though inviting his grasp.
"Evelyn," she said, "it was a mistake to have employed that man. There is the girl, too, and there are all these newspapers trying to discover the anonymous philanthropist. We are taking too many risks."
Evelyn sighed gently.
"They have accumulated upon us," he said. "At any rate, if anything happens, we have had a run for our money."
The duchess looked back into his eyes.
"After all," she said softly, "what does it matter? It may as well be now as later."
The orchestra, which had been playing an overture, suddenly ceased. They heard the tap of the conductor's baton, the ring of the bell preparatory to the raising of the curtain. Juliet looked back at them from the front of the box and her eyes at once sought Evelyn's.
"Won't you come and take your place again?" she asked, with a little glance of shy invitation. "I want you to go on with the story. You have only told me up to the end of the second act."
Evelyn rose to his feet. One of the men who had been talking to Juliet made his adieux and departed. Evelyn would have taken the vacant place, but the long white fingers of his companion rested upon his coat sleeve.
"One moment, Evelyn," she said. "I want to ask you something."
He bent down to listen, but his eyes were looking away toward the empty chair. The duchess noticed it and a light which few people had ever seen there flashed for a moment in her eyes.
"Evelyn," she said, "something is changing you. Has anything come into your life which matters? Tell me. I have a right to ask you this."
The low music of the overture came creeping through the house.
Evelyn looked into his companion's face. She was as pale as ever, but her eyes were wide open and there was a fire in them, a fire of earnest questioning, such as he had seldom seen there.
"There is nothing different in my life," he answered. "How could there be?"
She leaned toward him so that her hair almost brushed his cheek.
"We are fools, Evelyn," she said—"fools, all of us! The passions do not die and flowers may spring up in the dryest and most hopeless of deserts. An absolute philosophy is all very well for Mallison or for Descartes. Do you think that we, you or I, will be content for ever to walk with our heads in the clouds?"
Once more Juliet looked around and this time her expression was almost plaintive.
"Do come," she begged. "The music tells me so much, but I must know the whole. I want the end of the story, please. Are those violins preparing us for something tragic?"
The duchess' white face suddenly resumed its old expression.
She leaned back in her chair with half-closed eyes. Evelyn had risen to his feet readily enough. He took the chair behind Juliet's and leaned over her.
"Nearly all the great stories," he said, "which have inspired the masters of music, have been tragedies. Are you like a child who dreads a story with a sad ending?"
She shook her head.
"No!" she said. "There are very many stories which must end sadly. I know that, of course. Nothing that is really perfect and beautiful seems to make for happiness."
"You must not talk cynicism," he said, "until you have been grown up at least six months."
"It is not cynicism," she murmured. "It is truth. All beautiful things are sad. You said yourself that happiness was a florid state. The story, please, quickly!"
He told it her in a few sentences. She looked into his face with glowing eyes, the warm colour coming and going under her dusky cheeks. Some spark of the child's marvellous vitality seemed to become communicated to him. His voice grew more human as he talked, his eyes were softer, the tired lines in his forehead relaxed. From the back of the box the duchess watched them, the long black feathers of her fan moving slowly back and forth. The act commenced, the lights in the house went down, and the story of the world was told once again in thrilling bursts of melody, with all the passionate background of divine music. Love and passion and joy and sorrow, as those wonderful notes went pealing through the house, each seemed to find their home for a moment in the strange, mobile face of the girl who leaned forward in the box, listening, watching, with such curious and passionate intentness. No word was spoken between the three until the fall of the curtain. Then the duchess rose and came to the front of the box. Her fingers played nervously with the wonderful string of pearls which hung from her neck. She was trying to ignore something which every day was becoming more real to her.
"My dear Evelyn," she said, "one does not always find you in the mood for Wagner. Do you see Pamela opposite? She is with the Crutchleys and those cousins of theirs. I wonder if she would come here if you went and asked her. I want to see her."
Evelyn rose at once. The mention of Pamela seemed suddenly to have brought his feet back to earth.
"I will go and see if I can tempt her away," he said.
The duchess took his place.
"You are enjoying it?" she asked her guest.
Juliet looked at her wonderingly.
"It seems such a strange word," she said. "One does not enjoy anything like this. One simply feels that all life is different."
The duchess looked at her steadfastly. Yes, in her way the girl was attractive! She had a strange, almost elflike beauty of form and features, and the light which shone in her eyes was the light of coming knowledge.
"You are young," she said composedly, "and I suppose you will have to feel these things. If I were you, I would not encourage them too much. The higher one rises, the greater the fall."
"But why should there be any fall?" the girl asked. "Why should we not hope and expect to find the beautiful things in life and to keep them with us always?"
The duchess half closed her eyes. She was not willing that this child should see the pain which for a moment softened them.
"When one is young," she said, "one feels like that. Why not? It is better for you, perhaps, to live for a little time amongst your illusions. The awakening comes soon enough. Soon enough you will find that life holds no joy which has not its antidote, no happiness that does not pass away and leave us more weary, a little lower down than when it came."
The girl looked puzzled. Her eyes travelled round the brilliantly lit house and she felt reassured.
"Look!" she said. "If you see one sad-looking person, you see fifty who are smiling and laughing, who enjoy life. Is it not so?"
The duchess almost smiled.
"My dear Juliet," she said, "you have come into a world whose first motto is that everything the heart feels the face must hide."
The door of the box behind was softly opened. Pamela and Evelyn entered.
"How good of you to rescue me!" Pamela declared, sinking into a chair. "I was simply bored to death. Why does one come to this place, I wonder, to sit amongst these tiers of smug, grinning people, and listen to too florid music, hideously played?"
The duchess smiled lightly and Pamela found herself attracted by the wonder in Juliet's eyes.
"Don't," she said, half playfully and half with a note of mockery in her tone. "You will distress my little ingénue. Juliet thinks it all very wonderful indeed."
"And you should certainly let her think so as long as she can," Evelyn said. "There is no gift in the world for which we suffer so much as the critical faculty."
The duchess laughed.
"Critical faculty, indeed!" she declared. "Pamela has been sitting with enthusiasts, ignorant enthusiasts, and it has got on her nerves. You mustn't take much notice of Miss Cliffordson," she added, turning to Juliet. "You must remember that you have come into the world of mummers. We are all so anxious not to wear our hearts upon our sleeves that we bury them a very long way out of sight. Isn't that so, Evelyn? Deep down out of sight?"
"So deep," he answered, "that when one would find them, one must sometimes dig in vain!"
EVELYN rose hastily from his chair.
"My dear Alice!" he exclaimed, a little doubtfully.
The manservant who had shown her in withdrew. The duchess laughed softly as she threw back her furs.
"My dear Evelyn," she said, "don't look so shocked. This isn't the first time, you know, that I have invaded your bachelor solitude. May I have a chair—and why this darkness?"
Evelyn turned on the electric light and drew up an easy-chair in front of the fire for his visitor. Something in her appearance struck him at once as being singular. She was dressed in unrelieved black, but the pallor of her face was less noticeable than usual, her eyes were softer, there was something almost tremulous about the smile which played upon her lips.
"You are surprised to see me, of course," she said. "Last night at the Opera I had no idea. I had a telegram from Paris this afternoon."
"About—Douglas?" he asked.
"It was from a hospital," she said. "He died quite late last night."
"They did not send for you?" he asked a little mechanically.
She shook her head.
"Why should they?" she asked. "He was surrounded by the people with whom he has spent all his time for the last few years. Mademoiselle Carmino was there and all the rest of them. There was no place for me."
Evelyn was silent for several moments.
"It is a release," he said at last.
"It is a blessed release," she assented. "You see, I am not a hypocrite. As I drove down here a few minutes ago, I heard the newsboys shouting in the street, 'Death of the Duke of Winchester!' I suppose it sounds very horrid, Evelyn, but to me it is like the gift of a new life."
"A new life!" he repeated.
She threw back her veil and he looked at her wonderingly. The woman of stone was gone. It was the woman of flesh and blood who smiled at him.
"Evelyn," she said, "we are all more or less frauds. I did not take my life into my hands and go about prepared to give it in exchange for a moment's excitement, because there was nothing in life which appealed to me. I did it simply because I had suffered so much and there seemed no hope. It is different now. Life has a new value. Can't you understand that?"
"Yes," he answered, "I understand!"
"Let us give it up, Evelyn!" she begged. "What we have done cannot be undone and I do not regret it, but the time has come to stop. To-night, as you know, we are all going to meet. Come over to my side, Evelyn. Let us go back to philosophy with a dash of the occult. Let us give up the other things once and for all. We have tried them. We know what it is like to come near to death. Now let it go."
"That is all very well," Evelyn said, "but you are the only one of us to whom the gods have given a safe conduct back into life. Nothing has changed for me or for the others."
She leaned across toward him. Her eyes were questioning him almost fiercely.
"Evelyn," she said, "we have been friends so many years. Does this mean nothing to you too?"
"Leave me out of the question," he answered quickly. "There are Mallison, Herman, Coates, and Descartes, besides Miss Cliffordson. We cannot disband one by one. We must disband as a body, if at all."
"There is no need to disband," she protested. "We can go back to the old days."
"It would be a virtual disbandment," he answered. "However, you had better leave it until this evening. If the others are willing, I shall not object."
She held out her hand impulsively.
"Then it does make a little difference, Evelyn!" she exclaimed. "Oh, I have felt sure lately that you were getting as tired of it as I have been! There is no need for us to be a slave to our vows. We have the right to freedom and we will take it."
"We must see what the others say," he answered.
She rose to her feet.
"At one o'clock at my house, is it not?" she said.
He assented and escorted her toward the door. She walked slowly; she seemed, indeed, not altogether willing to depart. To Evelyn the change appeared inconceivable. It was the girl whom he had first known who walked by his side, the girl who had come to London with her countless millions, eager for pleasure, demanding happiness as her bounden right. The change, in a few short hours, was marvellous.
"Until one o'clock," she whispered, as he handed her into her brougham. "Of course, I am staying at home. I think that I shall go down into the country next week."
Evelyn turned thoughtfully back into his rooms. Some trace of the excitement which had thrilled in her pulses seemed to have communicated itself to him. Why should he not take advantage of the desertion of this woman, who had been almost their leader? He knew very well that the same desire which she felt also animated him. Further than that, he would not allow himself to think. It was because he was weary of their dangerous game that he was willing to abandon it. He told himself this and tried hard to believe it, yet as he walked restlessly up and down the room, his brain was full of fancies. The days seemed somehow to wear a different outlook. They were no longer cold, flat, and profitless. He felt himself forced into an attitude of contempt toward his unstable self. It was certain that life was stirring once more in his veins. He went to the telephone and called up Aniytos. He told him of the duke's death in Paris, where he had lived, or rather hung on to life, for the last eighteen months.
"Shall I bring Juliet back to you?" he went on to ask. "I have a free day to-morrow until the evening."
Aniytos was grateful.
"Get down in time for lunch," he begged. "I have something to say to you—something to propose."
Evelyn assented and rang off. Then he sent for his valet and proceeded to dress for the evening. Something, however, he felt had altered his whole point of view with regard to the next few hours. He had meant to go to a stupid dinner and a stupider dance, and he had been looking forward to both with absolute though unacknowledged enthusiasm. To go to either now he felt would be impossible. Juliet would have to remain at home! He scribbled off a note of apology to the house where he had been dining. Then he made some slight change in his costume, and with his coat upon his arm descended to the street, where his brougham was waiting.
"Where to, my lord?" the man asked.
Evelyn hesitated for a moment.
"To Winchester House," he answered.
The duchess was sitting in her small morning-room, reading in the evening paper a brief and mercifully glossed-over abstract of her late husband's life. She wore a dinner gown of perfectly plain black velvet, without jewels or ornaments of any sort. A little tinge of colour, which for years her maid had begged for, had stolen of its own accord into her cheeks. Only her long, delicately shaped neck was as white as ever, more graceful, perhaps, for this unaccustomed absence of any form of jewellery. She looked up in surprise at the opening of the door and Evelyn's arrival.
"You!" she exclaimed, with parted lips. "Are you on your way to the Partington's, then?"
"I am a truant," he declared, smiling. "I was only going to the Partington's because you were going to be there. I have sent a note of excuse. I thought, perhaps, if I threw myself upon your compassion, you would give me some dinner here."
The duchess was not a demonstrative woman, but her face dearly showed her pleasure.
"You could not have done anything that would have pleased me more,".she answered softly. "Unfortunately," she added with a little grimace, "we shall not be tête-a-tête. I can't send my little protégée away until to-morrow."
"Of course not," he assented. "I will see to that for you. I have telephoned to her father already."
"I am not sure," the duchess remarked, "whether it will not be a relief for her. There are some things which seem to make her very happy, and she receives, of course, all the attention a girl could wish for. But she has a curious disposition. I do not think that she was made to shine in Society."
"You pay her a high compliment," Evelyn remarked with a smile.
The door opened and Juliet came in. She had no black dress, so she wore a plain white gown, high-necked and very simply made. She seemed, indeed, as she came a little hesitatingly into the room, younger and more childish than he had ever seen her.
"Lord Evelyn has come to dine with us," the duchess said, smiling. "We must do our best to entertain him."
"I am very glad," Juliet said, as he took her hand. "It is very nice to see you for once," she added simply, "without such a crowd of people."
The duchess, struck by something in her tone, looked narrowly into her face and back at Evelyn's. She accepted his arm as the butler announced dinner and walked across the hall in silence. She did not fail to notice that he held out his hand, too, to Juliet, who walked at his other side.
"I suppose," the duchess said, "that if people could see me to-night and know that I was entertaining even you, my dear Evelyn, to dinner, they would think me a very heartless and a very shocking woman. It all comes of my love of truth. I cannot affect a thing I do not feel."
. "There is no reason," Evelyn remarked, "why one should live for the public."
Dinner was served in a room smaller than the ordinary dining room, and at a round table which brought them all close together. The duchess talked more than usual. A little spot of colour burned in her cheeks. She was obviously excited. Juliet spoke scarcely at all and answered Evelyn's few remarks only in monosyllables. More than once he looked at her across the deep scarlet flowers which decorated the table and each time he fancied that she seemed inclined to avoid his gaze.
"What are you going to do after dinner?" the duchess asked.
"Stay with you, if I may," he answered. "I may like to go around to the club and see a man for a few minutes at half-past eleven. Until then I have nothing to do."
"We will sit and talk," she said, "and Juliet shall play to us. You have heard Juliet sing?"
"Once or twice," he answered. "Never in a drawing-room, though."
Juliet shook her head.
"I cannot sing in London at all," she said. "Something seems to have gone wrong with my voice. It is my throat, I think," she added, touching it lightly. "I shall not sing again until I get back home."
"I am going to take you down to-morrow," he said, "in the motor. Or would you rather go by train?"
Her eyes flashed for a moment with a brilliant gleam of pleasure.
"Oh, the motor, if you please!" she declared. "There is nothing more lovely. It is very kind of you, Lord Evelyn," she added, a little more quietly. "You must let me know at what time I am to be ready."
The duchess was vaguely irritated.
"You have arranged this with Juliet's father?" she asked.
"I am going to take her home and stay to lunch," he said.
"And afterwards shall we go up on the river?" she pleaded.
"It seems so long since I was in the punt."
"Three weeks exactly," the duchess remarked .
"But three such wonderful weeks," Juliet answered softly.
The duchess rose a little abruptly.
"You will smoke with us," she said to Evelyn. "I think that we will go into the library. It is the most comfortable room in the house and there is a piano there if Juliet feels that she can play. We will have this couch up to the fire and a few less lights," she directed.
With a little sigh of content she threw herself back into the corner of the lounge and her head sank into a little sea of pillows. A smile parted her lips. She made room for Evelyn by her side and Juliet hesitated with a sudden gravity.
"I think," she said, "that I will go upstairs for a few minutes."
The duchess nodded her approval, but Evelyn intervened.
"No!" he said. "I have been promised music. Play something, Miss Juliet. Play the little air that your violin seemed always to be losing and finding again."
Juliet turned toward the piano. She did not see the duchess' frown.
"Foolish!" she murmured to him. "We might have been quite alone."
Evelyn started. The soft familiarity of her voice troubled him.
He turned toward her thoughtfully. Long and slim and elegant, she was lying back against the cushions in an attitude the abandon of which seemed somehow a new thing. Was she intoxicated, he wondered, by this new sense of freedom, or had it indeed changed her so completely that all the coldness and self-restraint had passed away forever? Her attitude perplexed him. She was looking at him now through nearly closed eyes. There was something in her manner which seemed to be demanding from him a corresponding change in his own demeanor.
Juliet played, and once more Evelyn felt the fascination of those delicate, almost tremulous notes, under which the very spirit of melody seemed to be quivering. The duchess seemed to be content with silence, so he, too, leaned back and let his thoughts slip away. His eyes were fixed upon the ceiling, and as he listened to the music which grew and swelled beneath her fingers, there was a change, too, in his face, of which he was wholly unconscious. The woman who sat by his side wondered, with a strange new fear, what those thoughts might be.
They were disturbed presently by a servant, who brought a message to the duchess. She rose with a little gesture of despair.
"It is the family lawyer," she said, "or rather one of the partners. Mr. Penderick himself has gone over to Paris. He wants to see me."
"Shall I wait for you?" he asked.
"Won't you come and help me interview him?" she asked. "I know nothing about law and you will help me, will you not, with all this business?"
"I will help you with pleasure," he answered, "but I think, perhaps, that you had better see him first alone. I will wait here and you can send for me if I can be of any service."
She left him, even then, reluctantly, but before the servant, who waited, there was little else that she could say. Once she made a movement as though to speak to Juliet, but Juliet seemed unconscious that anyone was in the room. Her fingers were still moving upon the piano, her eyes fixed upon vacancy. The duchess hesitated.
"Don't stop her, please," Evelyn begged.
The duchess inclined her head slightly and passed out of the room. Evelyn watched the door until it was finally closed. Then he looked toward the piano. Juliet was still playing.
ALMOST as the door closed upon the duchess, it seemed to Evelyn that the music changed. Juliet raised her eyes and looked at him—looked at him fixedly and with the faintest of smiles upon her lips. The music which flowed from her fingers seemed to him to grow more and more seductive. Softer it grew, with long, languorous chords, and underneath, a melody, continually repeated, almost a human note. Her eyes glowed, her lips parted, as she watched the effect of the music upon him. Evelyn moved slowly toward the piano. She was no longer a child, then. It was no child's playing—this. She was calling him to her and he moved almost without any conscious effort over to her side.
"Juliet," he said quietly, "why do you play like that?"
"Because I wanted you to come," she answered. "Because my heart was full and this is the only way I can speak."
"You are sorry to go?" he asked.
"I am sorry," she answered, "and I am glad. But I shall not be sorry at all if you will come down and see us sometimes."
"Of course I shall come," he answered. "Am I not going to take you home to-morrow?"
"Yes!" she answered. "When are you coming back to London?"
"Late in the day," he answered. "I shall want to talk for a time with your father."
"The same day?" she repeated, her eyes shining into his. "We shall not be able to go around the island, then. I want you to hear our nightingale once more. The noisy people have gone away and he sings all the time."
"I am not sure," Evelyn answered slowly. "If your father asks me, I might try and stay."
"He will ask you," she murmured. "I am sure he will ask you, because he likes you. He talks to no one else as he does to you. He is never so amiable as when you are coming."
"I am afraid," Evelyn said, "that he will be disappointed. He was hoping that you would be able to stay here for some weeks."
"I know what he wants," the girl answered. "For me it is all nothing—that. He wants me to learn how to talk to these foolish people who live in great houses and have a language of their own—the people you call Society. They do not please me. I would rather have my violin and the river and our flowers and the nightingale."
"Perhaps," Evelyn said, "he thinks that it is not good for you to be so much alone."
"I am not always alone," she answered, "for sometimes you come, and when you are not there I can think of your last visit, or I can wonder when you are coming again."
Her eyes scarcely left his, and all the time while she talked, her fingers seemed to be drawing from the notes over which they wandered, a thread of music which was like a passionate prayer. He turned and walked to the other end of the room, determined that he would have nothing to do with this madness, but the music called him back. He came again to her side and she laughed up into his face.
"Why do you wish to go?" she said. "Yes, I can see that you wish to go! You do not like to talk with me. When we have been together we have been silent. Sometimes I like that best. Sometimes I feel that I must talk, and if I cannot talk, I must make music that speaks for me. To-night I feel like that."
"You are a strange little witch," he answered.
"Ah, I am no witch!" she declared. "If I were—"
The music suddenly stopped. Her head was thrown back and her eyes lifted to his.
"If I were," she murmured, "I should not go away from you—I should not let you go away from me."
Evelyn laid his hand upon her shoulder. She thrilled under his touch. Her cheeks were aflame with colour, colour which stayed only for a moment.
"You are a strange child," he said.
"I am not a child at all," she answered. "I am nearly nineteen years ald."
"You are a child," he declared, "because you have seen nothing of life and you know nothing of it. You are a child because you speak the things that come into your heart and you have never been taught to hide your feelings."
"Why should I hide them?" she asked simply. "Perhaps," she added doubtfully, "I ought to be ashamed to say these things to you, but you know, you know very well, whether I say them or not, that I mean them."
"You are a dear child," he said. "Some day...."
She smote the piano with both hands, a crash of chords, so that his sentence was broken in upon and he looked at her in astonishment.
"I am not a child," she cried passionately. "I am a woman—a woman—as you are a man."
"You may be a woman," he answered, "a woman of nineteen, but you must not forget that I am a man of thirty-eight."
"Is thirty-eight old?" she asked. "I have no idea. You are yourself. I cannot see what age has to do with it."
"You will find out," he answered. "Look ahead a few years—say ten. You will be a young woman. I shall be nearly fifty—an old man."
She laughed at him softly. Again her fingers had stolen into the melody which had first warmed his senses.
"Age," she asked, "what is age? I do not know. You are like those people who think, think, think all the time. I do not think. I am content to feel."
"You are an artist," he said, "an artist to your finger tips, but all the same you are a child."
One hand stole from the piano and rested upon his. A strange little hand it was, with delicately shaped finger nails, extravagantly manicured.
"Do not call me a child any more," she begged. "Indeed, I do not like it. If I am a child now, I shall be a child always, for I do not think that there is anything left in the world for me to learn."
The door opened a little abruptly and the duchess entered. For a moment she stood upon the threshold watching them. The new-found colour left her cheeks. She looked at them as though she saw a tragedy in the passionate devotion which was shining out of the girl's eyes.
"I am sorry," she said calmly, "to have had to leave you so long. Juliet, I think that you had better go to bed. The house will be invaded presently and I must have a little talk with Lord Evelyn before the others come."
Juliet rose obediently. She laid her hands in Evelyn's, but she wished him good-night with downcast eyes.
"I shall be ready to-morrow," she said, "at whatever time you say."
"At eleven o'clock," he answered. "We shall get down in comfortable time for lunch."
"At eleven o'clock I will be ready," she answered. "Good night!"
Evelyn held the door open for her and she thanked him with one dazzling upward glance. Then he closed it softly and returned to where the duchess was standing with her arm resting lightly upon the mantelpiece.
"Evelyn," she said, "you should not amuse yourself with children. You are a great sportsman. I don't suppose that you would shoot sitting game. You shouldn't let a child like that look at you with all the silly sentiment of her life shining in her eyes."
Evelyn frowned a little.
"You are mistaken, Alice," he said. "Juliet is neither foolish nor sentimental. She is emotional, if you like. Need we discuss her?"
The duchess shook her head.
"No!" she said. "After all, it is not worth while. You have spoken to her father? He understands that her return is imperative?"
"He quite understands," Evelyn answered. "He has not a word to say against it."
"That is well, then," the duchess answered. "I have done what you asked me. It has not been an altogether pleasant task, although the child is, of course, presentable. Evelyn, I want to talk to you about the meeting to-night."
He bowed his head.
"I think I can guess what you have to say," he began. She shook her head.
"No!" she said. "I do not want to be a renegade. On the other hand, I cannot pretend any longer that I am weary of life and fearless of death. My freedom has always been dear to me. Even though my husband has only been dead a few hours, Evelyn, I could not be a hypocrite to you. It is a release, a great release. It makes all the difference in my life."
"No one," he said gravely, "could blame you for feeling like that."
"I want to suggest," she continued, "that we think of some new thing and that we choose something which is not out of accord with the laws of the country. A week or a month ago, it seemed to me a small thing to carry in my pocket the means of death and to know that at any moment I might be driven to use it. To-day everything is changed. I do not wish to die. On the other hand, I do not wish to live to be one of the central figures of a great social scandal. Don't you think, Evelyn, that we might find another channel for our energies? Honestly, now?"
Evelyn did not hesitate.
"I am inclined to agree with you," he said. "Personally, I should be quite content to rest upon my laurels, such as they are. On the other hand, we might find Mallison and the others a little difficult."
"It is you who have done the work," she reminded him. "The responsibility rests upon you. Those men have done nothing."
"Circumstances," he murmured, "have been against them."
"You can't go on for ever," the duchess said, "and I think that the time has come to stop. The newspapers have already commenced to hint things about us. Fortunately, they have not an inkling of the truth, but their speculations are interesting. I wonder," she added, meditatively, "what Pamela will think of "us."
"She will probably think," Evelyn answered, "that we have come back to our senses. Some of our doings, or rather misdoings, did not appeal to her at all."
The duchess nodded.
"Evelyn," she said, looking steadily toward him, "I have been very frank with you. I have spoken openly of this change in myself. Is it my fancy, or have not you; too, lately found something new in life?"
"You are wizard, Alice," he said. "It is true. I have come to the conclusion that this absolute weariness of life, although it has not been a pose with us, is little more than a mood. It is not a perpetual state. To-day, if I were driven, as I may be at any hour, to take our friend Herman's poison, I should do so with a distinct feeling of annoyance. To-morrow, perhaps, I might look upon it as a welcome release. One cannot tell. One's moods change like the clouds."
"Like the clouds, or a man's fancy, perhaps," she said softly.
"Is it Pamela Cliffordson who has worked the change in you, Evelyn?"
"Must it necessarily be one of your sex?" he asked lightly.
"Moods are subject to a hundred caprices."
"You have many interests in life, of course, Evelyn," she said thoughtfully. "And yet, after all, whatever a man's life may be, however full or however empty, if he has sufficient temperament, it is the woman who makes it heaven or hell for him. Who is the woman, Evelyn?"
He laughed as he kissed her hands and pointed to the clock.
"It is too late for confession," he declared. "In half an hour our friends will be here, and I must positively call for a minute or two at the club first."
She let him go, but the absolute buoyancy of a few hours ago had left her. She closed the piano with a little slam.
"If I thought," she murmured, "that it had come too late!"
IN MORE ways than one, it was a strange little company which came together in the drawing-room of Winchester House a few minutes after one o'clock. Herman had come straight from his study. His fingers bore still the traces of ink stains. He had the half-awakened air of a man who had torn himself away from more engrossing work. Leslie Coates, dressed for the evening, except that he was wearing a large black bow instead of the ordinary white tie, had been lecturing before a learned society on a buried city which he alone had visited. Descartes, immaculate, well-groomed as ever, came, as he always did, from no man knew where. Pamela was soft and splendid in white lace and muslin. She had been dancing, but not even the exercise had brought into her cheeks one iota more than her usual slight colouring. Mallison, who had been her escort, was only now removing his perfectly fitting white kid gloves. The duchess, who sat as usual at Evelyn's right hand, wore still her gown of black velvet, but in appearance and demeanour she was a woman so changed that even her associates scarcely recognised her. For the first time they saw the flawless marble ·of her cheeks stained with the colour of life. The drooping eyelids drooped no longer. Her eyes were wide open, bright, and soft. She was no longer like a piece of wonderful Italian sculpture, perfect but dead. She had become a live woman, a woman whom they scarcely recognised. They looked from her to Evelyn, who was paler even than usual, and if their chairs had not been drawn so closely around the table, the looks which flashed from one to another would certainly have been expressed in whispered words.
There was never any formality about their proceedings. It was Evelyn who as usual had first something to say.
"I think," he remarked, touching the table in front of him lightly with the tips of his fingers, "that we may congratulate ourselves upon the fact that we are able to meet again once more, at any rate."
Herman looked up quickly.
"Is there any definite news?" he asked.
"There is nothing definite at all," Evelyn answered. "On the other hand, there is no doubt that, in the language of the newspapers, suspicion has been aroused. We are not sure of our friend Mr. Johnson, and I hear that there are several very astute persons who have pledged themselves to solve the mystery of these mysterious riches with which we have endowed several charitable institutions. Under all these circumstances, I have come to the conclusion that we should do well if, for the present, we abandoned altogether our career of crime."
There was a sort of silence. No one was ever sure when Evelyn was in earnest.
"Are we to understand," Mallison asked, "that this is a definite proposition? "
"Absolutely!" Evelyn answered. "The secret of success in life, as you were probably told when you were young and did the things which you ought not to do with zest, is moderation. I think that for the present, at any rate, we have reached the boundary. This country is not peopled altogether by fools. The hushed-up theft of the Sultan of Dureskan's jewels, the robbery at Berteiner's, and the theft of the Vanderheim diamonds, seem to have puzzled the police, and those who make it their business to inquire into these things, very completely. But it is certain that if these exploits are followed up, our chances of success will be considerably lessened. The criminals have been looked for in all reasonable places. Before long some enterprising investigator will, without a doubt, turn his attention toward less likely quarters. As a matter of fact," Evelyn continued, "we know quite well that we are already under suspicion and our friend Aniytos has warned me that it is time for us to rest upon our laurels. I propose that we revert to a further study of that science, devotion to which first brought us together. What do you say, Mallison?"
"I have not been able," Mallison answered, "altogether to follow you. It seems to me that you have forgotten for a moment the first qualification for admission into our little company. It was, I believe, a frank and truthful declaration to the effect that the small thing which moves in our veins, and which we call life, is no longer of personal value to one of us. Yet you speak, my dear Evelyn, as though it were something to be preserved. One is forced to ask you whether you are indeed a renegade, whether the life which you held a year ago as an indifferent and tiresome gift, has increased in value to you. If so, I declare that ipso facto you are no longer a member of our little company."
Mallison's words, spoken with his usual deliberation, his usual smooth and clear-cut intonation, produced something of an electrical effect in the little company. It was revolt—direct and absolute revolt. From the days of their initiation Evelyn, who possessed many of the gifts which in a larger sphere make for leadership, had spoken his say without any question or contradiction. Now they all looked at him to see what answer he would make to Mallison's words. If he were annoyed he showed no signs of it. He stretched out his hand for a cigarette and lit it thoughtfully. "It seems to me, Mallison," he remarked quietly, "that yours is somewhat a crude view. It is not life itself which has acquired a fresh value to me, but it is the fact that detection, anything with which the word failure may become coupled, always brings with it a certain amount of humiliation, if not ridicule. It is that which I propose we shall avoid, not the loss of our lives."
"Leaving your argument for the moment untouched," he said, "may I ask what substitute you propose for our present indulgences?"
"For the moment," Evelyn admitted, "I can think of none."
Mallison smiled very slightly.
"If you were anyone else, Evelyn," he said, "I should consider that you were trapped. You want to live again, as the others live. You are cured of your sickness, eh? You can find enough in life to keep you sane without resort to the extravagances which were once a necessity."
The duchess leaned forward in her place.
"Mr. Mallison," she said, "let me for a moment consider that your challenge was addressed to me. I take it up and I accept it. I am no longer willing to gamble with life as a thing of no value."
"Then Your Grace," Mallison answered calmly, "is no longer a member of our company."
Evelyn raised his eyebrows.
"My dear Mallison," he said, "you speak as one having authority. Matters of this sort have, as a rule, been settled by me. To-night it may seem that I am prejudiced, because I have already declared my views. We will leave it, therefore, to the majority. My own proposition is, as you know, that we continue, or rather that we revert, to what we were eighteen months ago—simply a little society of people who have learned to value the material things of life at their proper value and who are willing to devote time and mental energy to an honest attempt to acquire something of that philosophy which certain masters in Oriental countries have adopted as the standard of life. We recognise the fact that we Westerners have lost to a great extent our sense of values. We do not understand, for instance, the relative value of life and death. We do not understand the government of the will. We do not understand the glowing chambers of what our master has called that secondary life, to pass into which should be possible for even the weakest of us. In other words," Evelyn concluded, flicking the ash from his cigarette, "I propose that our company turn its attention to scientific research of a more inexact nature."
Descartes shrugged his shoulders.
"My dear Lord Evelyn," he said, "one finds your remarks almost amusing. Who are we to talk of science, we poor little dabblers in the earliest footsteps of the great army of those who understood? There is nothing for us to learn that way, no escape whatever from the pain of physical life."
Herman blinked upon them all.
"You talk of science," he thundered, "you babies! You know nothing. You have not time to learn anything. I came to you because the shadow of madness lives with me day by day. Do you know, my good people, why I am afraid of madness? It is because, as the hours go by, I am terrified by my own colossal and helpless ignorance. Yet you, you talk of science! Bah!"
"For my part," Leslie Coates said, "I agree with no one. I maintain that since a year ago our little company existed for the purpose of seeking any justifiable form of distraction which was sufficiently dangerous to give it zest. I do not think that we can go back from that attitude. On the other hand, I find no satisfaction in the con· templation of detection. I agree with Lord Evelyn that we had better discontinue our burglarious efforts, but I certainly am of the opinion that we must find, to take their place, some similar form of excitement. Theft is thrilling, but there are other things. We have justified to ourselves the taking from certain people out of their superfluity to give to the poor. Can we not equally justify to ourselves the taking of life from those who have proved unworthy of it?"
"It is a pretty notion," Herman declared, with a gleam in his eyes, visible even behind his thick spectacles, "a very pretty notion, indeed."
"And I think that it is horrible," the duchess declared.
"We are getting," Evelyn remarked, "into a hopeless muddle. Let us narrow down our points. I propose that the 'Company of Ghosts' be to-day disbanded. I think that the time has arrived when we have ceased to be useful to one another. What do you say, duchess?"
"I agree with you," the duchess declared.
Pamela looked from Evelyn's face into the face of the duchess.
"I," she said quietly, "am against our disbandment."
"And I," Leslie Coates declared.
"And I," Descartes echoed.
"And I," Herman grunted.
"And I," Mallison said.
"The matter is settled," Evelyn remarked. "The 'Company of Ghosts' continues to exist. We cannot," he added, turning toward the duchess, "we cannot, I think, disassociate ourselves from our friends."
The duchess shook her head a little wearily.
"I suppose not," she said.
"At the same time," Evelyn continued, looking round the table, "I claim some consideration from you all. It is my honest belief that any further movement on our part just now would be fatal. In a few months' time, everything may have blown over. Until then, let us hold our hand."
"I think," Mallison said quietly, "that our friend has earned the right to ask us anything. I think that we must agree. But," he added, "I do not admit the justice of his reasoning. It is because I, too, believe that we are at the present moment on the brink of a volcano, that I should be inclined to have one more plunge before the end."
The duchess leaned across the table with whitening cheeks.
"You believe, Mr. Mallison," she said, "that we are really in danger?"
"I am sure of it," Mallison answered. "There is nothing we can do but sit and wait. Perhaps," he added, "we may not have to wait very long."
MR. GRUNEBAR was indulging in a few moments of quiet relaxation. He had just replaced the receiver upon the telephone instrument which stood by his side, and the few sentences of information which had come to him, unimportant enough, considered by themselves, had given him perhaps the greatest thrill of happiness which he had ever experienced. He had gone to a cupboard and helped himself plentifully to the whisky and syphons of soda which he found upon the shelves. He had lit a big cigar and sat once more in the chair in front of his desk. Without the shadow of a doubt his fortune was made. He could make his bargain either with Scotland Yard, to whose eternal indebtedness he might very well leave his future, or he could strike a blow on his own account, and cover himself with glory as the discoverer of the most remarkable series of crimes in modern times. Or he could go to these people himself and demand for his silence a price which would make him forever rich. He blessed the day when he had first come into contact with Miss Sophy Van Heldt. It was not remarkable, therefore, that when his small office boy brought in a card upon which was engraved that young lady's name, that he should have immediately bustled out to greet her.
"My dear Miss Van Heldt," he said, "your visit is most opportune, absolutely the most opportune thing that ever occurred. In ten minutes I should have been on my way to see you."
"Well, I am glad to hear it," the young lady declared, a little brusquely. "I can't say that you've bothered me much with visits lately."
"What was the use?" he asked. "There was only the same thing to tell you. This morning it is different. Everything that I prophesied has come to pass. We have succeeded, Miss Van Heldt. This little 'Company of Ghosts', as they call themselves, are utterly and entirely at our mercy. I can prove them to have been concerned in things which will absolutely stagger society."
Miss Van Heldt's face was transfigured.
"Well, I declare!" she exclaimed, drawing her chair a little closer. "This is the best news I have heard for a long time, Mr. Grunebar. I was beginning to be afraid that they were too clever for us."
"It was only a question of time," he declared. "I always felt that sooner or later I should have them in a tight place, but I never dreamed—"
"Go on, go on, do!" Sophy Van Heldt declared.
Mr. Grunebar was silent for a moment. He remembered that as yet he had not made up his mind with whom to deal.
"Miss Van Heldt," he said impressively, "for twenty-four hours I want you to be content with what I have told you. I assure you that we have absolutely and entirely succeeded. There is no escape for them. They are there in the hollow of my hand. Before I move, there are one or two small matters which require careful thought. I want, naturally, to have the credit of this thing myself. On the other hand, I wish to keep friendly with the authorities over here. You see, I committed an illegal act when I made use of a bogus warrant to break in upon one of their meetings, and they might bring that back upon me. Twenty-four hours only, Miss Van Heldt."
Miss Van Heldt appeared dissatisfied.
"Well, you might tell me the sort of thing," she said. "Is it anything for which they will be punished—I mean legally, as well as in other ways?"
"I will tell you, Miss Van Heldt," he answered good-humouredly, "only this. You will be satisfied. You will be more than satisfied. At precisely this time to-morrow I will come, if you will allow me, to your house."
Miss Van Heldt asked a few more questions, but elicited nothing of particular interest. She took her leave, however, in a glow of content. As she stood on the curb looking for a hansom, the salutation of two men who were passing by attracted her. Mallison she ignored. She held out her hand, however, to Descartes.
"You look," he remarked, as they stood for a moment talking, "more than usually content with the world this morning."
"I am," she answered frankly. "I am very happy, indeed. Oh! I would give anything in the world," she added with a little laugh, "to call back that stiff, hateful man who was walking with you and just whisper something in his ear."
"You do not like Mr. Mallison?" Descartes remarked, smiling.
"I hate him!" she answered. "He was very rude to me once and I made up my mind that he and some of the others should suffer for it. They will find," she added, with a little smile, "that I am going to keep my word."
Descartes was suddenly interested. He was careful, however, to hide the fact from his companion.
"Mallison," he remarked indulgently, "is not an easy man to score off. I do not know who the others are whom you were talking of, but I should say that Mallison is a very difficult nut to crack."
"The others," she answered, dropping her voice for a moment, "are Lord Evelyn Madrecourt and the Duchess of Winchester. I do not mind telling you, because it is all finished now. In a very few days—"
She stopped short. She had in her face a look of self-disgust, as though she could have bitten out her tongue.
"Why," she exclaimed suddenly, "you are a 'Ghost', are you not?"
"I have that distinction," Descartes answered calmly. "What of it?"
"Oh, nothing! Nothing at all!" she answered. "I must not stop here any longer, talking nonsense. Please do not think any more of what I said. I did not mean anything. Indeed, I did not."
"Well," he said, "you did not say anything very definite, did you? In any case, I promise you to forget it. Only if I were you, I wouldn't run up against Mallison. As I said before, he gets the best of most things in the long run. Were you looking for your carriage, I wonder, or a hansom?"
"I wanted a hansom," she answered, "but that taxicab will do. Thank you so much," she added, as Descartes summoned it.
"Good-bye! I suppose we shall meet somewhere or other to-night."
Descartes stood bareheaded upon the pavement for a moment. Then he hurried after Mallison and together they slowly retraced their steps. They stood for a moment or two talking on the pavement. Then Descartes moved into the lobby of the suite of offices from which Sophy Van Heldt had descended and studied the brass plates there. He drew the attention of Mallison to one which he indicated with his forefinger.
"Philip G. Grunebar," he remarked slowly—"Agent."
Mallison nodded thoughtfully. Descartes pushed the bell of the lift.
"I think," he said "that I will take the lift and you the stairs. We must not miss this gentleman. I fancy that we may find an interview of great interest."
EVELYN helped his companion to alight in front of the low, ivy-covered porch. She was little more than a bundle of wraps and veils.
"I do not think," he said, "that motoring is a sociable sport, You have scarcely spoken to me for the last half-hour."
"How could I?" she answered. "Besides, you were busy driving."
"Did we come too fast?" he asked.
"I loved it," she answered, "and yet it seems a shame to tear through this beautiful country."
Aniytos came around the corner of the drive in his little carriage.
"So you are back again!" he exclaimed. "I was watching for you from the lawn, but you were on the hilltop one moment and coming up the approach the next. You drive fast, Lord Evelyn."
"Your roads are good," he answered.
"Good, but dusty," Aniytos remarked. "Come into the study. You must need a drink."
Juliet hurried up-stairs to change her clothes. Evelyn followed his host into his own little den, but declined a drink.
"I will wait till luncheon time," he said. "It is only a short run from London and we had the screen up."
"Still," he said, "I thought that Englishmen were always thirsty. Tell me, Lord Evelyn," he added, looking at him a little anxiously, "there is no news of any sort?"
"None that I am aware of," Evelyn anwered. "What do you mean?"
Aniytos gazed for a moment thoughtfully at his fingernails.
"To tell you the truth," he said, "I do not exactly know. Only my people in London all seem uneasy. There is a rumour about that something big is brewing. I think that if you had brought me a Koh-i-noor, I should scarcely dare to sleep to-night with it in the house."
Evelyn shrugged his shoulders.
"Your people have been having nerves," he said. "So far as we are concerned, we are safe enough."
"Have you seen or heard anything of that fellow Grunebar?"
"Nothing," Evelyn' answered. "Really, I can't see," he added, "that we have anything to be uneasy about."
"You haven't noticed any change in people's deportment toward you?" Aniytos asked. "In Society, for instance, you still hold the same position?"
"Absolutely, so far as I am aware," Evelyn answered.
"It can't go on for ever, you know," Aniytos said. "Why don't you drop it for a time ? You have not experience enough to carry on these things without making a mistake. You have been infernally lucky so far. Let it alone for a time."
"Exactly what I propose doing," Evelyn answered, "only, unfortunately, I am in a minority."
Aniytos looked disturbed.
"You must tell your friends, then," he said, "that they must not send or bring me any more of your business. I should not care," he continued, "if it were the Order of the Sun from the uniform of the Shah of Persia. I trust a great deal to my instinct and my instinct tells me that there is danger in the air just now."
He leaned forward in his chair and placed his long thin fingers upon the other's arm.
"Have nothing at all to do with any more of these schemes for the present," he said impressively. "Give it up. You are still a young man, Lord Evelyn. Perhaps you are not so tired of the world as you think. Perhaps it might still be possible for you to find distractions in other and more natural ways."
"Such as?" Evelyn asked.
"In marriage, for instance," Aniytos answered.
Evelyn laughed softly.
"That," he remarked, "is certainly one of the contingencies of life which I have not seriously considered."
Aniytos set his teeth. His eyes glowed. He leaned forward.
"What do you think of Juliet?" he asked.
"I think that she is charming," Evelyn answered, a little puzzled. "Your daughter interests me immensely."
"I shall give her half a million," Aniytos said, "the day that she is married, and I have already given up any transaction with anybody which is likely to involve me in the slightest risk. Why don't you marry her, Lord Evelyn?"
Evelyn was silent. He had opened his lips for a moment, inclined to destroy at once and forever such an absurd idea by a gentle effort of sarcasm. Then a sudden daring thought had swept into his brain. After all, why not? There was something of the witch about her. She had made him see and feel things which he had fancied had passed him by forever. It would be such an amazing change, an absolute reversal of every tenet of his life. He tried to think of some cutting speech to put the thought once and forever out of the mind of this strange human being who was eyeing him so closely, but the speech would not come.
"Do you know," he said to Aniytos, "that I am nearly forty and that your daughter is not yet twenty? The very idea is absurd."
"It is not absurd," Aniytos answered. "Take my word for it, it would be your salvation. Her mother was noble, What I have been will never be known. If you marry her, I shall go South. I will not tell you where. I have lived only for the child's future, and when once it is assured I shall go away. Think of it, Lord Evelyn."
Evelyn strolled through the open windows into the garden.
"It is absurd!" he repeated, as he sauntered out into the sunlight. Juliet came down in a few moments, clad in a fresh white muslin gown. She came singing into the garden, picking flowers as she walked. She threw a red rose at Evelyn, who was standing with his hands behind him, looking down at the backwater.
"The bell for luncheon will ring in five minutes," she said, "or I should make you take me on the river."
The gong sounded even as they stood there.
"After luncheon, perhaps," he said, "if your father does not want you."
At luncheon Aniytos was more silent than usual. He watched the two who sat on either side of him with covert but intense interest, yet all the time his brow was clouded. When Juliet had gone and the cigarette smoke was curling over the table, he leaned over toward Evelyn.
"If I were you," he said, "I would go back to London this afternoon and I would see this man Grunebar. It is he, I know, who has been making so many enquiries. I do not think that in the regular circles there is the least suspicion o£ any of you. I do not like that man Grunebar. He knows how to work and how to wait."
"I'll look him up," Evelyn said carelessly. "Personally, I don't think that he amounts to much."
Aniytos looked at ais guest thoughtfully.
"Lord Evelyn," he said, "sometimes I cannot understand you. I wonder whether it is bravado or a very rare quality o£ courage which keeps you so indifferent."
"It is neither," Evelyn answered. "It is simply because I am indifferent."
"You are a young man," Aniytos said, "to find life so flavourless."
"At thirty-eight," Evelyn answered, "one has sometimes lived."
"You will think," Aniytos continued, "that I am a very imaginative person. It is not that. Some of us have gifts and senses more highly developed than others. I tell you this, not as a matter o£ speculation, but as a matter o£ certain knowledge. There is danger in the air. Come over with us to-night to Paris. Marry Juliet, and I will take you where no one in the world shall follow, where you will be safe, although a thousand Grunebars were on your track."
Evelyn laughed, a little recklessly.
"What if I accepted?" he declared. "But o£ course you are not in earnest."
"I am," Aniytos answered. "You cannot look at me and doubt it."
"I would not run the risk," Evelyn said, "of so much unhappiness for your little daughter, even if I myself had any desire to seek safety by such means."
Aniytos moved away from the table pettishly.
"Sometimes," he said, "you talk like a man and sometimes you talk like a creation o£ cardboard and sawdust. I am going to rest. I have one of my bad headaches to-day. Go into the garden and talk to Juliet, and do not leave before you see me."
EVELYN had always an indistinct idea of the details of that afternoon pilgrimage. He remembered that they floated down the backwater, past the lilac-shaded lawns, under the drooping lime trees, out into the broad river, that they loitered here and there, that they spoke mostly in monosyllables, and that no words passed between them which the whole world might not have heard. Once, as she changed her position, her little brown fingers had rested in his, and he had resisted an almost uncontrollable desire to raise them to his lips. All the time, as she lay upon a little bank of cushions, she was crooning odd snatches of melody, or lying with her hands clasped behind her head, gazing sometimes at him and sometimes down into the river. Once he found himself trying to analyse the sensations with which her proximity inspired him. It was certain that he felt differently toward her than toward any one else. He forced himself to think of her father's words, to look at her and imagine her lying in his arms, to fancy himself away from the treadmill of life, in some new country, on the mountains, perhaps, or by the sea, where the people spoke a different language and the shibboleth of Society had never penetrated. Would he ever dare to take such a plunge, he wondered? Were the cobwebs of habit woven so strongly around him that he must needs go on and on to the end, a slave to the passing hours? Why not make his effort, he asked himself, with a sudden passion. Here was salvation at the hands of this child, salvation which none of his own sort or set could bring him, the salvation of a being who came to him from a different world, with different ideas and different customs, freer, more passionate, a child of the more beautiful ways of life. His eyes glowed for a moment as he looked at her, crouched upon her brilliant pile of cushions, lithe, but as graceful as a young tigress. Child though she was, she needed but to be awakened.
Once he leaned toward her and his heart beat fast. Dared he do it? Dared he run the risk of the awful awakening, should such an experiment prove a failure? She sat up, as they turned from the river into the stream, and leaned a little toward him, her head resting upon her clenched hands.
"We shall be home too soon," she said softly. "You are going to stay for dinner?"
"If I am asked," he answered.
"You will be asked," she answered. "I ask you. I want you to take me out around the island, while the lights are shining and the nightingale sings. Do you blame me that I like this better than your drawing-rooms? You think, perhaps, that I am farouche. I was not made for that life. I shall never, never be suited for it," she added, a little sadly.
"So much the better,' he answered. "If I were you, I would choose this."
"Yet you," she said, "you live in the midst of it. You dine, you go to receptions, on to dances; you play bridge, you go to your club, you ride in the Park, you drive a coach. These things make up your life. Are you, too, always satisfied?"
"Never!" he answered. "I am going to give it all up. I have sought distraction in many ways, but none are sufficient."
"There is a world that is different," she murmured. "There is a world where one can close one's eyes and wander, and the flowers are always sweet there and the birds sing. Sometimes it is a little sad. Often it is very lonely. And yet I think it is better to find oneself there than to live with the Duchess of Winchester."
They were by the landing stage and waiting in the background was the butler.
"Your lordship is wanted on the telephone," he said. "Somebody has already rung up twice. You are please to ring up I732 Mayfair."
"My own number," Evelyn remarked, as he helped his companion to alight from the boat.
They walked to the house together. The butler ushered him into the library, where the telephone instrument was. Evelyn rang up the number desired, and waited a few moments for the answering call. It came soon enough.
"Is that Evelyn?"
Evelyn recognised at once that the voice was the voice of Descartes.
"Yes!" he answered. "What is it? Do you want me?"
"Immediately!" Descartes answered. "I am here in your rooms. You have your car there?"
"Yes!" Evelyn answered.
"Start back, then, within five minutes," Descartes said. "If you have a fine or two to pay to-morrow, it is no matter. Only come quickly!"
"I will be there in an hour," Evelyn answered. "There is nothing that you can tell me?"
"There is nothing," Descartes answered, "which I care to tell you now. Things in which you and I are interested have taken a curious turn. It is necessary that I should see you."
Evelyn hung up the receiver and turned toward Aniytos, who was sitting in a corner of the room. .
"I am sorry," he said, "that I must start at once for London."
Aniytos brought his little chair vigorously over to the side of the table.
"I knew it," he muttered. "There is trouble there?"
"Descartes has telephoned for me," Evelyn said. "He is waiting in my rooms. Something, I suppose, has gone wrong."
Aniytos laid his hand upon the other's arm.
"I am afraid for you," he said. "You can reach Southampton in three hours. Why go back at all?"
Evelyn laughed. .
"What, and leave my friends there?" he said. "No! To tell you the truth, I do not even now believe that any of us are in the slightest danger. Still, I must go back. Descartes would not have rung me up if it had not been urgent."
Juliet saw the car tearing its way up the long hill and vanishing in a cloud of dust. She looked after it until it had disappeared. Then she came down slowly into the study and her footsteps seemed to fall like lead upon the ground.
"He promised that he would stay to dinner," she said to her father.
Aniytos put his long slim arm around her shoulder.
"He will come back, dear," he said. "Do not be afraid, he will come back."
EVELYN reached his rooms about nine o'clock. His servant, who admitted him, allowed an expression of relief to disturb for a moment the studied immobility of his features.
"I am glad your lordship is back," he said. "Mr. Descartes has been waiting here for some time."
"He is in the study, I suppose?" he enquired.
"I believe so, my lord," the man answered. "He has been telephoning, or being rung up on the telephone, nearly ever since he was here."
Evelyn took off his hat and coat and opened the door of the room where his visitor was waiting. Descartes had just replaced the telephone receiver, and Evelyn, entering without knocking, surprised an expression in his white cynical face which startled him. Descartes was looking into vacancy, but he had the air of a man who sees there some terrible thing. He seemed to have shrunk. His face was pinched. He had grown suddenly older. When he saw Evelyn, however, he made a great effort, and welcomed him with his usual nonchalance.
"So you are here at last!" he said. "Have you seen the evening papers?"
Evelyn shook his head.
"I never see the evening papers," he answered drily. "I have had them shoved into my face, though, by every newsboy at every street corner. What's wrong?"
"Nothing but a murder," Descartes answered. "I can hear the boys howling it out down below now."
Evelyn stood suddenly still, riveted to the spot by something in the other's tone.
"Are we concerned in this?" he asked quickly.
"Yes!" Descartes answered.
Evelyn drew a little breath through his clenched teeth. He was looking fixedly at his visitor.
"Go on!" he said. "Who is it?"
"Grunebar," Descartes answered. "The fool asked for it. I felt certain from the first that he was upon our track. It seems that he discovered pretty well all there was to discover. We found it out by accident."
"How?" Evelyn asked.
"He was employed by that spiteful young American woman, Miss Van Heldt. We, that is, Mallison and I met her coming out of his office. She stopped to speak to me and gave herself away. She forgot that I was a 'Ghost.' She forgot everything except her hatred of Mallison and you others. She couldn't help telling me something of what Grunebar had just told her."
"What did you do?" Evelyn asked.
"Mallison and I went back to see him," Descartes answered.
"Go on," Evelyn said.
"We found him in his office," Descartes said. "We tried, of course, the reasonable thing. We tried to buy. Mallison offered him five and twenty thousand pounds. The man wouldn't accept. He wouldn't accept anything. He told us plainly that he was going to immortalise himself by disclosing the whole truth. We argued with him until arguments were no longer of any use. He tried to show us out. There was some sort of a scuffle. In the midst of it Mallison stepped back, and I saw that he was holding something in his hand. 'Twenty-five thousand pounds!' he called out. 'Twenty-five thousand devils!' Grunebar answered. 'I'll see you all in gaol!' Then Mallison shot him through the heart.
"What afterward?" Evelyn demanded.
"We walked outside, closed the door, and rang for the lift."
"Was there no one about to hear?" Evelyn asked.
"Apparently not," Descartes answered. "We descended to the street and walked away. We went into the club together, spoke to everyone we knew, and Mallison played a rubber of bridge. Then he went back to his rooms to wait for the evening papers and I came on here and telephoned for you. Better see what the papers say. They are all here."
Evelyn took one up. A headline in great, bold letters confronted him:
Mysterious Murder in Rowland Buildings.
An American Agent Shot Through the Heart!
There was a brief account of the occurrence in every paper.
Evelyn glanced them through hastily.
"Where is Mallison now?" he asked.
"From the club," Descartes said, "he went to Miss Van Heldt's house. He knew something of the butler there, and he made certain arrangements with him. Half an hour ago the butler turned up at Mallison's rooms. Miss Van Heldt had just read the news and had sent him with a note to Scotland Yard."
"She would connect you and Mallison with the affair, of course," he said. "Go on."
"The note," Descartes continued, "asked that an inspector should be sent at once to her house. She had an important statement to make," it continued, "with reference to the murder of the man Grunebar."
"And the messenger," Evelyn interrupted, "took the note instead to Mallison. What happened then?"
"Mallison tore it up," Descartes said quietly. "He left his rooms at once for Miss Van Heldt's house."
"For Miss Van Heldt's house?" Evelyn repeated.
"Of course!" Descartes answered. "That girl's evidence would be all that the police needed. Mallison has gone to see her."
Evelyn started and looked with sudden horror at his companion's face. Descartes' thin lips had parted in a smile—diabolical smile. Evelyn felt his blood run cold, but he suddenly remembered that Descartes was sitting by the side of the telephone, and he only shrugged his shoulders.
"Have the others been told?" he asked.
"I have telephoned," he said. "We are all to go on as usual. I am going back to my rooms now that I have seen you. I have to see Johnson again. He admits having put Grunebar on the scent, but he is our man now. He starts for Australia to-morrow."
Evelyn turned toward the door.
"I must go and see the duchess," he said, "at once. Excuse my hurrying away, Descartes."
Evelyn was in the street in a moment. He had not even waited for an overcoat. He hailed a passing hansom.
"Twenty, Endsleigh Gardens," he said. "See what you can get out of your horse. There's a sovereign for you if you do it in five minutes."
Miss Van Heldt was standing before the pier glass in her drawing-room, regarding with some satisfaction a toilette which her maid had a few minutes before described, with some reason, as ravissante. She was really a pretty girl, notwithstanding her somewhat peevish expression. To-night she was conscious of looking her best. A slight glow of excitement had brought the colour into her cheeks. Her face seemed rounder and fuller. She smiled at herself in the glass with delight.
"After to-night," she said out aloud, "we shall see, my dear Duchess, and my dear hateful Lord Evelyn. I may be only a little outsider, but I guess you will be sorry you told me so, every one of you."
Her maid came hurrying in with her cloak and gloves.
"I thought you were never coming, Annette!" her mistress exclaimed.
"I stayed but for one moment," the maid declared, as she held up the cloak and arranged it around her young mistress's shoulders. "James had just brought in an evening paper. There is a so horrible murder in a London office."
"A murder? Whereabouts?" Sophy Van Heldt asked indifferently.
"It was a place called Rowland Buildings," the maid answered. "There was a man there in his office alone and he was found shot—"
Sophy Van Heldt had turned suddenly around. The colour was flying from her cheeks.
"The man's name?" she exclaimed.
"Ah! I have forgot it, mademoiselle," the woman declared.
"It began with G."
Miss Van Heldt pushed her from the room.
"The paper!" she exclaimed. "Get me the paper, quick!"
The woman hurried out, muttering to herself. Miss Van Heldt remained leaning against the mantelpiece, her hand pressed to her heart. To do her justice, it was not the fear of being robbed of her revenge which had seized her. It was the horror of the thought that this man with whom she had spoken so lately might be a murdered man. Annette brought in the paper. She snatched it from her fingers and hurried underneath the lamp. A single glance was sufficient. The little pink sheet slipped from her nerveless fingers. She sank down upon an easy-chair.
"But mademoiselle is ill!" Annette declared in alarm.
"Get me some brandy," her mistress ordered. "I am faint, that is all."
The maid hurried away. For a few moments the room went swimming around. The horror of this thing was indescribable. Only a few hours ago she had talked with him. He had spoken with joy of his success, had spoken of a future now assured! And he was dead—killed! Who had done it? She started a little as the thoughts went flashing through her brain. She had told Descartes. Descartes had told Mallison. And the man Grunebar was dead! She drank the brandy which the maid brought her.
"Send away the carriage," she ordered. "I shall not go out this evening. Bring me pen and paper. I must write a note at once."
The maid obeyed her, wondering. Sophy Van Heldt walked up and down the room, her little hands clenched, her eyes bright.
"They shall pay for this!" she muttered. "They shall pay for this before many hours are passed."
She sat down and wrote her note, addressing it to headquarters at Scotland Yard.
"Send Greatson to me," she ordered.
The butler, who had been with her since her arrival in England, came respectfully into the room. He had already been kept pretty well informed of what had happened, but his face showed no sign of his knowledge. His mistress held out the note to him.
"Greatson," she said, "take this at once to Scotland Yard. Bring back some one with you. Take a hansom and be as quick as you can.
"Very good, Madam," the man answered.
He left the room. She heard him whistling a moment later for a hansom, and lifting the blind saw him driven off. Annette returned to know whether she would take some dinner and was promptly sent away. Once more Sophy Van Heldt read through those few hasty lines. She remembered the interior of the bare little office, she saw the man lying where he was found—dead, with outstretched hands, and cold, with the memory of his success fading away from his lifeless brain. With a little shiver she commenced to walk up and down. The thing was too horrible—this. What manner of people were they who, to keep their secret, would resort to such means? She became almost frantically anxious to tell her story, to feel that Grunebar would be avenged. At last she heard the front door open and close. There were steps in the hall. She moved eagerly toward the door. She had in her mind some sort of idea as to the man whom they would send—a man of swift questions, of piercing eyes, who would take down her story in his notebook and would hasten away in silence. But it was no such person as this who came suddenly into the room, closing the door behind him. It was Mallison, the last man of all others in the world whom she had expected to see.
MALLISON had entered so suddenly and so silently that for a moment Sophy Van Heldt lost her presence of mind. She shrank back, her eyes fixed upon him, her knees trembling. The thought of the dead man had been terrible enough, but the presence of the man who had killed him was in itself a tragedy. He bowed politely upon his entrance, but he seemed in no hurry to speak. Clutching at the tablecloth, she leaned a little toward him.
"You!" she exclaimed. "What do you want here? What do you want with me?"
"A few words only," he answered calmly. "There is no reason, my dear Miss Van Heldt, for my presence to terrify you."
"But," she exclaimed, "I do not understand! I do not wish to see you here, I do not know who allowed you to enter. I—"
She started across the room toward the bell, but Mallison stretched out his hand and placed himself in the way.
"My dear Miss Van Heldt," he said, "I have strained a point to come and see you. I must really insist that for a few moments, at any rate, you give me your attention."
The horror of him was growing upon her. He was a murderer, this smooth-faced, slow-tongued man, from whose lips that faint supercilious smile seemed never absent. A murderer!—this quiet, passionless creature! She began to shiver.
"I cannot understand," she said, "why you should have thought of coming here to-night."
"My dear young lady," Mallison said, "remember that I am a 'Ghost.' Ghosts have eyes and ears and senses which other people lack. We know, for instance, what is going on in the world around us, because we have only to open our arms and flit and we can listen or watch from whatever corner of the world we choose. It is merely a question of loosening the bondage of the flesh. We go where we choose. We listen to what we please."
Her courage began to revive. After all, why need she be afraid?
This man had come, perhaps, to make terms with her. There wa no need nor any reason for her to show fear.
"Mr. Mallison," she said, "your eloquence is most impressive, but you have not yet explained your presence here. I should like you to understand that you are not a welcome visitor. I wish to ring for my servants. Do you deliberately obstruct me?"
He held out his arm.
"Miss Van Heldt," he said, "you must listen to me for a minute or two first."
"Why should I?" she demanded.
"Necessity," he answered. "I am a man with the means of death upon me and we are alone. I do not wish to be melodramatic, but you and I are playing around the borderland of life and death. Half an hour ago you sent a note to Scotland Yard."
She drew herself up. After all, though his coming had been a shock to her, she had plenty of courage.
"I did," she answered, "and I am waiting every moment for an inspector to come and take my sworn statement."
"Concerning what?" he asked politely.
"Concerning the murder of the man named Grunebar this afternoon," she answered, "in Rowland Buildings."
"Dear me!" he said. "You are interested in that?"
"I am interested in it," she answered, "because half an hour before he met his death I was with him. He was my servant. I was his employer. He told me then that he had succeeded. He told me that he was able to prove the things which I had suspected concerning that little gathering of men and women who have posed before the world as being something better than their betters—you who call yourselves 'Ghosts.' He told me this, and when I left him, I very foolishly could not resist telling Mr. Descartes what I had heard. I forgot that he was a 'Ghost.' You were with him. Within twenty minutes Grunebar was a dead man."
"Exactly," Mallison assented. "I killed him."
"And you will hang for it!" she cried.
Mallison laughed, as though the idea amused him. "My dear young lady," he said, "that is not in my programme. The necessity for it could never arise. But we will leave that. We waste time talking. You sent for a detective. I intercepted the note—never rnind how. Remember only that I am a 'Ghost.' Believe, if you please, that I can see and hear under every roof in London. You sent for a detective and he will not come. In his place I am here. I have come to tell you that you must not disclose to a single soul on earth the knowledge which you alone possess."
"What knowledge?" she demanded.
"The knowledge that Grunebar died because he had played the spy upon us," Mallison answered calmly. "Yours is the only evidence extant. To you alone had he disclosed his success. The man is dead and his secret dies with him. Only you remain, Miss Van Heldt. I have come to insure your silence."
"You cannot insure it," she answered firmly. "What you have done, what you are guilty or capable of, I do not know, but I do know that it was you who killed Grunebar, and I know why, and within a very few minutes the police shall know it too."
He shook his head.
"The police will not know it," he answered. "Your note is torn to atoms. It has brought me here, none other, and I have come to say that we do not propose to be made the scandal of this generation to please you, Miss Van Heldt. Life with us is a small thing. It is one of our tenets that it counts for little. My own I count but as a trifle. I am ready to end it to-morrow or the next day—what does it matter? Yours," he added, taking a step nearer, "is worth as little to me, if I find you in the way."
She shrank back. The vagueness of her fears was suddenly dissolved. She realised, impossible though the first idea had been, that this man, Herbert Mallison, a King's Counsel, a man of Society, whom people mostly suspected as being too little in earnest, was there to insure her silence. or to kill her. Once more the room seemed suddenly spinning around with her. She stretched out her hands.
"What would you do?" she cried.
Mallison caught her wrists with a sudden dextrous movement.
She opened her lips, but his right hand covered her mouth.
"Miss Van Heldt," he said, "be sensible. What is your price for silence? I move away my hand from your lips, see, but if you scream I shall strangle you where you stand."
"I cannot be bought," she answered. "I mean to see you in th dock."
She raised her voice suddenly and would have shouted, but she was suddenly borne backward. His grip upon her was like a band of iron. Half-stifled, she felt herself carried to an easy-chair. His fingers for a moment were busy with his handkerchief. When he withdrew them she was effectually gagged. Her wrists he held easily in his right hand.
"Come," he said, "this is childish. We waste time. Grunebar is dead and nothing in the world can bring him to life again. It is only you who can connect us with his death. We are willing to make terms. We will take you in. You shall be one of us, if you will. You shall call yourself a 'Ghost', but we must have silence. Nod your head three times if you agree."
She shook it vigorously. He came a little nearer and leaned down. His left hand still held her wrists. His right fingers were upon her throat.
"Miss Van Heldt," he said, "you are young, and life to you should mean many things worth having. We know nothing about the other world, but at your age there is plenty to be got out of this. It's an ugly voyage, that across the black river, and there's no need for you to take it unless—-unless you shake your head. Will you make terms with us? Will you come?"
For one moment she hesitated. Then the blood of her hard-working, hard-fighting ancestors asserted itself. She shook her head and almost at the same moment she felt his fingers upon her throat. She struggled madly; the grip only grew tighter. The gag was so cruelly and firmly placed that no sound came from all her frantic efforts. She felt the blood rush into her head. Then of a sudden there was the sound of a man's voice outside raised in anger, a fall, and the crashing open of the door. It was Evelyn who entered. She could not move. She could not cry out. But her strained, panic-stricken eyes seemed leaping from their sockets as they turned toward him. Evelyn crossed the room with swift footsteps.
"What the devil is the meaning of this, Mallison?" he asked.
Mallison pointed to the girl.
"She knows," he answered.
Evelyn swung him away and tore the handkerchief from her mouth.
"Then in God's name let her go and tell!" he said.
MALLISON made no attempt at resistance. He stood away with a little shrug of the shoulders. "I am sorry, Evelyn," he said, "that you have intervened. What I was doing I was doing for all your sakes. My own life is already forfeit. There are six of you now who must follow me."
Evelyn shrugged his shoulders.
"For my part," he said, "I am quite ready. When it comes to using force against women, foolish and irresponsible persons though they may be, I think that it is time for us to make our bow."
Sophy Van Heldt looked from one to the other.
"What do you mean?" she exclaimed.
Mallison shrugged his shoulders.
"I killed Grunebar," he said, "and I was prepared to kill you to save the lives of the others. Evelyn doesn't see it exactly in the same light. He values your life, apparently, more dearly than his own. Pray send your note, Miss Van Heldt, to Scotland Yard."
Mallison felt about in his waistcoat pocket. Evelyn held out his hand.
"Not here," he said. "We must not compromise Miss Van Heldt. Besides, I must telephone to the duchess first." .
She looked toward them. There was a new terror in her eyes.
She had only just regained her breath and her fingers clutched every now and then at her throat.
"What is it that you mean to do?" she asked.
"To take a short cut to Paradise," Mallison answered bowing. "We are quite prepared. It was you or us, and Lord Evelyn has chosen that it should be us."
"But I do not understand," she interrupted. "What is it that you have done, all of you, that discovery should have been so terrible?"
They were both silent. Evelyn looked at her for a few minutes thoughtfully.
"Miss Van Heldt," he said, "you do not seem to me to be a vindictive person. Listen to the truth. Do as you please afterward. I am going to entrust you with a secret which, if you care to tell your friends at Scotland Yard, will certainly result in the hurried exit from this life of a good many of us. You want to know what it was that Grunebar discovered. I will tell you. He discovered that it was the 'Ghosts', principally myself, who were responsible for the robbery of the Sultan of Dureskan's jewels, the Vanderheim diamonds, and the Berteiner burglary."
"You!" she exclaimed, bewildered. "Thieves! Lord Evelyn!"
"It was our secret," he answered, "and Grunebar discovered it."
"But why?" she exclaimed. "You did not need the money."
"We did not," he admitted. "You may have noticed an interesting discussion in the papers as to the large sums given anonymously to hospitals within the last few months. We were those anonymous donors. The money which we realised by our thefts we passed on to charity."
"Then why on earth—" she began.
"My dear young lady," Evelyn said, "it is too long a story. It is a story, too, which I fancy would not appeal to your Western instincts. If I tell you the truth, it will sound crude and unconvincing, and yet the truth it must be. We planned these things solely with the hope and desire of experiencing a new sensation."
"You and the duchess and Mr. Descartes and Mr. Coates?"
"All of us," he interrupted. "We were all in it. We ran the risk of detection. Apparently Grunebar found us out. With your evidence, we shall probably be tracked down. I may say that it is not upon the cards that any of us should make our appearance in a court of justice. From the moment we began our little exploits, we have carried with us always," he remarked, taking out a tube and glancing critically at its grisly contents, "the means of instant death."
"But this is horrible!" she exclaimed, shrinking away. "This is more terrible than anything I had thought of."
Evelyn shrugged his shoulders.
"To tell you the truth," he said, "we have had about enough of it ourselves. We were on the point, I think, of giving it up, when this disaster overtook us. Now, Miss Van Heldt, you must do precisely what you choose. We are in your hands. You can wipe us out and have done with us, or you can hold your tongue and be content with a silent victory."
She sank down in her chair and covered her face with her hands.
"I wish I had gone back to New York," she sobbed. "This is terrible! Do you know," she added, looking up at him with horror, "that that man," pointing to Mallison, "killed Grunebar?"
"I am sorry," he said.
Mallison smiled jauntily. He held up to the light and dropped into the palm of his hand a pellet,
"My dear Miss Van Heldt," he said, "if that is what is troubling you, remember the old adage, 'A life for a life!' It is sufficient, isn't it? You see how gaily one to whom the coming of the days brings only weariness can make his adieux. Like this!"
His hand went to his mouth and came away again empty. Even Evelyn started back. Miss Van Heldt was pale with terror. Mallison alone was unmoved.
"It is finished," he said. "In half an hour, if only I could talk with you, I could tell you more wonderful things than all the philosophers from Confucius to Spenser have ever learned. As it is, I must be off. Excuse me, both of you, if you will. My mission is an urgent one and my time short."
Somehow or other he seemed to inspire obedience. They neither of them moved. They both watched him with horrified eyes. They heard the door close behind him. Sophy Van Heldt burst into tears.
"Lord Evelyn," she said, "this is all my doing. I am very, very sorry. I shall go back to America at once and I shall not say a word."
He lifted her hand to his lips.
"My dear Miss Van Heldt," he said, "if it is any satisfaction to you to know it, our career of crime is over."
Mallison walked a few minutes later into the nearest police station. A couple of detectives were sitting in a corner. An inspector was writing at a desk. Mallison approached him politely.
"Mr. Inspector," he said, "take your pencil and notebook. My name is Herbert Mallison. I have come to give myself up for the murder of Philip Grunebar in Rowland Buildings this afternoon."
A policeman moved from the door and stood behind Mallison.
The detectives came slowly forward. The inspector reached for his book.
"This is a serious matter, sir," he said. "Are you in earnest?"´
"Entirely," Mallison answered, "but I am exceedingly unwell. Take down what I say quickly. The man Grunebar was a private detective and a blackmailer. He tried to blackmail me. I lost my temper and I shot him at half-past five this afternoon. The revolver will be found in my rooms, Number 7 Park Place, St. James. It was a Smith and Wesson, and there are five chambers still loaded. No one else is concerned in this. I—"
A detective caught him as he reeled upon his feet. They laid him upon the floor and loosened his collar. One of the men hurried out for a doctor, but the inspector shook his head.
"Open the windows," he said, and "give him air."
Mallison's lips parted for the last time.
"My friends," he faltered, "pray do not disturb yourselves. I have taken poison enough to kill a dozen men."
He leaned back and a shadow of the old smile flickered across his lips. They carried him as he was into the dormitory, but he never moved again.
"MALLISON'S letter," Evelyn remarked thoughtfully, "was in itself a masterpiece. It was never overdone. One seemed to read there a lifelike story of the impudent blackmailer and his unfortunate victim. Unfortunately, there remains Miss Van Heldt. She has given us a promise; she may keep it, but she knows!"
The others were all there—the duchess, Pamela, Herman, Descartes, and Coates. As though in silent assertion of the principles they had espoused, the faces of all of them were free from any manner of concern. Evelyn's manner was even more languid than usual, although underneath it, every now and then, a very close observer might have discovered something of real earnestness. Descartes sat with the same half-bitter, half-derisive smile upon his thin lips. The pallor of the duchess might easily have been explained by the high-necked black dress she wore.
"It would be interesting," Herman remarked, "to know whether it is proposed for us to take any steps toward the silencing of that young lady."
"I should say not," Evelyn declared.
"Self-preservation is our first law," Herman answered.
"There are times," Evelyn said, "when self-preservation can be too dearly bought."
"I detect in that last speech," Descartes remarked, "something of the sentimentalist. If we allow ourselves to be swayed in any degree by sentiment in discussing these matters, then I maintain that we falsify our traditions, that we have no longer a claim upon existence."
"As you will," Evelyn answered carelessly. "I take it that we have drifted into this communion with one another, and into such irregularities as we have committed, through finding ourselves in that peculiar condition of existence where sentiment and feeling of any sort are presumably dead. We have never assumed it to be a virtue to be callous—only a qualification. I do not think that there is one of us here who would not welcome a return into his life of the earlier weaknesses of humanity. What do you say, Duchess?"
"I say that you are right," she answered.
"And you, Miss Cliffordson?"
Pamela looked him steadily in the face.
"How can I tell?" she said. "Yes, I suppose I would welcome anything that came which stirred the imagination more gently. We are driven here to violent methods. I suppose we should all prefer the same results by simpler means."
"Exactly!" Evelyn remarked. "Frankly, then, speaking on my own account, I cease from this instant to call myself a 'Ghost', and I suggest once more, not our final disbandment, but our reversion to the rules and conditions prevailing twelve months ago."
Descartes leaned across the table, white and sullen.
"You are a renegade!" he exclaimed.
"Happily so," Evelyn answered, rising. "We have all been sailing upon the black seas. If one sees the light, why not admit it? It may be the dawn, or it may be only the lantern from some passing ship, but for me it has come."
Herman rose to his feet.
"Ah!" he said. "This is what comes of a man of science like myself playing about with a pack of over-pampered children. I go."
Descartes held out his hand.
"Be sure first," he cried, "that Evelyn is not alone. I am for bringing this thing to an end, if to an end it must come, in a very different manner."
Coates shook his head.
"It is finished," he said. "Ours is one of those little associations doomed to ruin at the first rift. Come with me, Descartes, if you have a cheap life to give away, and I will take you up a new river whose source no man has traced. I will show you forests where the foot of man has never trodden. We shall not come back alive, but it is a great death there in the silence. Come along to my rooms. I will show you maps. Men like you and I should have known better than to have searched for the great things amongst the muckheaps."
Evelyn smiled as they passed out arm in arm.
"The treasures of the earth are strangely hidden," he said. "What do you say, Duchess?"
She rose slowly to her feet.
"For me," she said, "the world is a changed place. I have not tried to deny it. Why should I? I do not excuse myself for siding wholly and entirely with you, because it is not I who have changed, but circumstances. A month ago I was a bondwoman, whose only chance of escape was along the great highroad of vulgar sins. To-day it is all different. I am a free woman and I look into a different world."
Pamela seemed still busy with her thoughts. Once or twice she looked curiously at Evelyn. He had the air of one living in a place apart.
"It is only one more failure," she murmured. "One wearies of these efforts to step out from the maze."
The duchess looked across at her not unkindly.
"There is only one way," she murmured.
Evelyn stood upon the hearthrug, his hands behind him. The two women watched him, the duchess standing, her head a little thrown back, her eyes seeking his; Pamela still in her chair.
"We are like children," Evelyn said grimly, "who have destroyed their latest plaything. The duchess is free on her own declaration. You, Pamela," he added, looking toward her, "must also make your effort. The trouble is that the world, or rather the little corner of the world in which you have chosen to live, is one where thoroughness is a vice, and where one must needs skim over the surface only of life. One is weary, but it is weariness of the outside of things. The weariness becomes a pose and the pose second habit."
Pamela smiled very faintly.
"Tell me, then, O master," she said, with the faintest note of mockery in her tone, "how shall one escape? Granted that I, for instance, am a dabbler in the little places of life, and that my weariness is the weariness that passes, have you a key which will open the gates and set me free?"
"Neither I nor any man," he answered, "because the key must be of our own fashioning. Whether it be of gold or of silver or of base metal, depends upon you yourself. Go to the mountains, if your feet can climb, and look back at where you were. A bird's-eye view may show you the way out—I mean the way out that calls for no return. For women there should he many, because the heart of a woman is never so thickly encrusted, is never so deeply buried, as the heart of selfish man."
"We seem back again," the duchess murmured, "in the days when Evelyn used to lecture to us, when we were content to dabble in the by-ways of philosophy, to clutch at the shadows as they passed by."
"Who will tell us," she said, "which are shadows and which is the substance? One loses faith in one's own judgment. One needs the guiding hand."
"Even that comes," Evelyn answered.
There was a somewhat prolonged silence. If Evelyn knew at that moment that it was toward him that both these women were looking, he showed no sign of it.
"I believe," he said, "that we have each one of us pandered too much to the other's weaknesses. After all, it is some sort of a mental disease, this deathly weariness, this unwholesome seeking for something from the clouds or under the earth to stir the blood and paint the colours into life. Together, we administered to one another's weaknesses. We shall be better apart for a time."
Once more the colour passed from the cheeks of the duchess.
"You are going away?" she asked.
"I am going away," Evelyn said, "for a while. I am going to try the effect of a little detachment. Where I am going I shall not tell you, but when I come back I hope to see life with clearer eyes."
"So this is the end of us," the duchess remarked, with an attempt at levity, as Evelyn raised her fingers for a moment to his lips. "There are to be no more 'Ghosts.' "
"When I come back," Evelyn said, smiling first at Pamela and then at her, "we will found a new society, but we will eschew philosophy, and we will never believe that we are stronger than the man or the woman who lives inside us."
They heard him depart. The duchess laughed a little nervously.
"You came to us a little late, my dear Pamela," she said.
"Most things come a little late," Pamela answered.
THE girl was sitting a little apart from the scattered groups of people who thronged the room. She was very young and there was something in her expression a trifle pathetic. A man who had been observing her from the other side of the room came over to where she sat and smiled at her pleasantly.
"I believe," he said, "that you have lost your chaperon."
"My chaperon," she answered, "has gone off to dance. She promised me that she would not be gone more than ten minutes. I am beginning to believe that she has really forgotten all about me."
He smiled as he sat down by her side. She moved her skirts willingly enough. More than once she had noticed him moving about the rooms, tall, very bronzed, with just that suggestion of coming grey in his thick hair which seems less an indication of coming age than of a certain dignity.
"The modern chaperon," he declared, "is a most neglectful person. It would serve her right, wouldn't it, if we went into supper and left her in doubts as to your whereabouts?"
"I should love to," the girl answered. "I do not feel that she deserves a particle more consideration from me."
He rose and offered his arm. They moved slowly across the room.
"You know, I have just come from America," she said, "and everything here is new to me. I hope you will forgive me if I seem to have a perfect thirst for information, but there are so many things I want to know." .
"I have been away myself," he answered, "for a year. Still, it is possible that I may be able to gratify your curiosity."
"Tell me, then," she begged, "who were these people whom everyone was talking about last year when I came out? 'Ghosts I think they called themselves. I heard so much about them. Did you ever know one?"
The man smiled.
"I think I may say," he answered, "that I knew them all."
"They were frightfully clever, were they not?" she asked. "Quite different from everyone else?"
"Well," he answered, "they were people, with one exception, perhaps, who had gone at life with too much of a rush. Life, you know or rather you will know some day, is made up of many chambers and a man or a woman cannot live in all of them. These people made the mistake of trying to do this. They rushed from room to room. They drank great gulps where they should have only sipped. They plunged head-foremost where they should have only paddled. Then, when they were still young, weariness came, They had tried everything. They were foolish enough to suppose that they had given everything a fair trial. And so they began to fancy themselves philosophers, not of the robust type, but of the most enervating period of all. They tried strange means to obtain the thrills of excitement which they fancied could no longer come to them by ordinary methods. They fancied themselves being of a different order from those who were able to find pleasure and content in the commonplace ways of life. Of course they were, after all, only very ordinary men and women, and in time they were most of them sensible enough to realise it. The one amusing thing about them is that Society accepted them seriously."
"This is so interesting," the girl murmured. "Are there any of them left?"
The man paused and looked around the room. He altered their direction a little.
"Look!" he said.
A very beautiful woman, tall and slim, with dark, soft eyes, and a neck from which hung a circle of magnificent pearls, passed by on the arm of a somewhat older man who wore a uniform covered with orders.
"There is one," he whispered to the girl. "She was once the Duchess of Winchester. Only a few months ago she was married to the Prince of Elstein."
"She looks human enough," the girl said, smiling, "and happy, too."
"I believe she is," he answered. "Come this way a little. You see that group of people?"
"What a beautiful woman it is standing with the man whom they are all talking to!"
"Both ex-'Ghosts,''' he said. "One is Leslie Coates, the great traveller, the other was a Miss Pamela Cliffordson. She is now his wife. Their history is rather a curious one. When this company of 'Ghosts' was really dissolved, a man named Descartes and Leslie Coates there started for Africa together, with the intention, I believe, of ending their lives there. On the voyage Descartes went mad and jumped overboard, and this had such an effect upon the other man, Coates, that he came straight back to England. I believe that he proposed to Miss Cliffordson a few days after his return."
"She is very beautiful," the girl murmured.
Her escort assented.
"She is," he admitted. "A year ago she had little lines about her mouth and her eyes were almost heavy with weariness. She was one of the most rabid of the 'Ghosts.' She was one of those who declared, with what sounded very much like truth, that there was no emotion in life left for her. You see, she has accepted her fate—the fate of all your sex."
"And what became," the girl asked, "of the man who was at the head of all of them—Lord Evelyn Madrecourt?"
"He has the pleasure," the man answered, "of being your escort."
The girl half drew away. She looked at him fearfully.
"Have I said anything I shouldn't?" she asked.
"Not a thing," he answered. "To tell you the truth, I only came back to England this week, and I have only just heard of most of these changes myself."
"Where have you been?" she asked.
"Ah!" he answered, "I wonder sometimes whether I shall ever tell anyone that. I have been in a great country. I have lived with the sun and the moon and the winds and the stars, but for months I scarcely saw a human face. When one feels a little insane, solitude is the greatest tonic in the world. I have come back feeling older, perhaps, but very much saner. Here we are at the supper room. Now you must tell me what you would like and let me wait upon you."
"How nice of you to take care of me!" the girl declared. "Do you see, that is my chaperon sitting over there, actually having supper."
"Lady Norris!" he exclaimed.
The girl nodded.
"My cousin was staying with her a year ago," she said. "I wonder whether you met her—Miss Van Heldt."
"Sophy Van Heldt?" he asked.
The girl nodded.
"Yes! She is such a dear, but she didn't seem to get on in England, somehow. She is married to an American manufacturer and living in Pittsburg."
"I met her once or twice," Evelyn declared, "and thought that she was a most charming young lady. We will drink her health together."
Juliet sat with her knees drawn up within her clasped hands, looking out across the stream which flowed down to the river. The lilac trees were budding, but spring was not yet past. The beds were still golden with yellow crocuses and daffodils, and the soft west wind seemed heavy with the perfume of the long border of hyacinths, purple and pink and white. Opposite, a chestnut tree was in blossom. The apple trees in the orchard were breaking into pink and white buds. Her violin was by her side, but she did not play. It was only a year later, but she felt very much more than a year older. From where she sat there was little sound save the murmur of the water and the singing of birds. In the distance she could hear the faint hum of a mowing machine on a neighbour's lawn. Further away still she heard the voices of men in the hay-field. Her thoughts were not very cheerful ones and more than once she sighed. She was dressed in deep mourning and she was feeling very lonely.
"He will come," she said to herself once. "He must come!" Suddenly she listened. It was a sound which she had heard so many times, which had startled her so often—a sound which had brought her so many disappointments. Three times she heard the horn blow, and then the rush of an approaching automobile. This time, however, it stopped. She was sure that it had stopped. Her little hands dug into the ground upon which she was sitting. She did not dare to turn her head. She had been disappointed so often. Through the silence of the soft spring morning she heard the ringing of the bell, the butler's measured voice, his tread across the lawn, followed by another's footsteps. They grew nearer and nearer. She turned at last. The servant was discreetly retiring.
It was Evelyn who stood by her side. She sprang to her feet. She had prepared a very harmless little speech, but it never passed her lips. It was Evelyn, indeed, but there was something in his face which she had never seen there before, something which it seemed to her brought him so much nearer. It was no ordinary smile with which he held out his hands. The little speech died away on her lips and it seemed to her the most natural thing in the world that she should find herself, a minute later, in his arms, telling him the story of the things which had happened during his absence .
"My father," she said softly, "was never happy out of England. He died quite suddenly in a little village in Portugal. It was his wish that I should come back here, but I did not know, he did not tell me, that he had made you my—what is it you call it—executor—guardian? I do hope that it will not be a trouble to you."
He laughed softly and she was dimly conscious of a new and wonderful sweetness in life, a new joy in the perfume of the hyacinths and the song of the birds, for he took her into his arms and she saw the things in his eyes which a woman looks all her life to see, if only once.
"My little girl," he said, "I will be the best of guardians to you in the world. Come and take me around the stream and I will tell you—"
"What?" she begged, trembling.
"Nothing new, I am afraid," he said. "We lose so much, we who go our way in life looking always for new things."
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.