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This series of 16 illustrated stories appeared in the British Sunday newspaper The People from April 13 to July 27, 1924. The British Bibliography of Edgar Wallace (Adley & Lofts, 1969) attributes all of the stories to Edgar Wallace. However, only the first four actually appeared under the latter's name. All four feature, as a secondary character, a lady by the name of Tressa, who serves as a social counsellor to the main protagonists.
The remaining twelve stories, which form a separate series, describe the exploits of a young Australian socialite—Daphne Wyse—who works under false pretences for an organisation called "Social Emergencies.
The People introduce the first four stories with the words:
"'Wonderful London' is a place of many romances and innumerable tragedies. It is the centre of the world, and a city of glitter and gloom. In the series of short stories which Mr. Wallace starts today, there is given the up-to-the-minute life of the great Metropolis, its triumphs, its failures and its dreams."
When the fifth story was printed, the introduction was changed to read:
"'Wonderful London' is the latest idea in romantic narrative. Each story, told by one of the most popular writers of the moment, is a cameo of throbbing present-day life and incident. The writer tears aside the veil which hides the intrigue and drama of the West End, and fascinates you by the life and colour of the plot and the skill of the story."
Here, the phrase "one of the most popular writers of the moment" gives rise to speculation about the authorship of this and the remaining eleven stories, which were printed without any introduction at all.
The title "Wonderful London" is something of a misnomer, since only a few of the stories are actually set in that city.
The texts used to produce this RGL first edition, which contains all 16 stories with their original illustrations, were transcribed directly from copies of The People. Obvious typographical errors hsve been corrected without comment; punctuation and spelling have, where necessary, been modernised. —R.G.
"THERE are generally two sides to every question," said Tressa.
Tressa's flat is over Stobies and Stobies, at the brisk end of Piccadilly. So that Tressa may be said to be in the heart of things.
People, mostly young people, came to Tressa to resolve their immediate problems, for Tressa was wise in the ways of men and women, had London and its queer code at her finger-tips, and, a greater asset than her sophistication, had never lost touch with the human heart. She was fifty, slim, white of hair and hand, and, sophisticated as she was, had the habit of innocent interpretation.
Her visitor at the moment rubbed his silk hat tenderly on the sleeve of his faultless coat.
"What the dickens do they come to see you about?" he asked irritably. "They see me often enough, but it is generally money they want. Take Ella Bray—"
"Ella Bray is a nice girl," said Tressa, "one of the nicest girls I know."
Her elderly caller grunted something.
"She is not even a fool," said Tressa with a faint smile. "That is a fault of yours, Dicky: you think that if you cannot understand a girl, she must necessarily be either a fool or a vampire."
"I understand vampires," he claimed in self-defence. "But Ella is a fool! How a serious-minded fellow like Johnny Bray came to marry her—"
"Probably he's a fool too," said Tressa sweetly and opened the door for her irascible relative.
Ella Bray was not a fool. Ella was indeed one of the cleverest women in London. This fact she twice reported to her youthful husband at breakfast that morning.
"I wish you wouldn't read at breakfast, Johnny," she said. "I was just telling you how clever I have been."
Johnny was at that stage of married life when he was prepared to admit every virtue in his wife. They sat at breakfast in their little flat off Sloane Square, and Ella, beautiful at all times, was especially lovely at an hour when most women would prefer a dark room and shaded lights. Her hair was gold fluff, the lines of her slim body near to perfection.
"I am the very cleverest woman in the world," she said complacently. "Not only have I chosen the right kind of husband, but I've chosen the right kind of career for him. You will be the greatest financial authority in Europe, and I shall be the leader of the English set in Vienna!"
Johnny smiled indulgently. He could better imagine her pre-eminence in the rôle she had assigned to herself than he could picture himself dictating the finances of Middle Europe.
"They're queer devils, the Sebers; some of the old Jewish families are almost puritanical," he said. "Do you know that they've got rid of one of the their partners because they did not approve of his friendship with a French actress?"
"And quite right, too," said Ella primly. "He was probably married."
The good fortune that had come to the Brays was as marked as it was unexpected. Johnny Bray had come down from Oxford with the conventional degree, a passion for classical music, and no particular idea as to how he was to enlarge the £400 a year which his mother had left him. His mind ran immediately to motor-cars, because all gentlemen of leisure who come down from Oxford with no visible means of support, dream of a profession which gives them unlimited leisure, a free choice of cars, and a sufficient income to enable them to pay their racing accounts.
He discovered that there were not sufficient of these jobs in London to go round. Other men had got there first. Johnny married on the strength of his dream prospects, and had his bitter disillusionments.
And then came this amazing offer to take up a position in the Viennese branch of Sebers, and he did not doubt that behind this wonderful happening was the small but capable hand of his pretty young wife.
Confirmation of the appointment had come that morning by letter, and this was the news which Ella carried to Tressa when they met that day for luncheon at the Embassy.
"My dear, isn't it perfectly wonderful! Eight hundred a year as a starting salary, two months' holiday every summer, and Mr. Seber himself wrote to say that he can recommend the dearest little flat in Something-Strasse!"
"When are you leaving?"
"In a fortnight," said Ella. "Vienna must be wonderful!"
"You'll find that kind of wonderfulness in wonderful London," said Tressa drily. "Yes, I think it is an awfully good start for you, and you don't know enough German to get into mischief."
"Mischief? I?" demanded the youthful bride scornfully. "Of course I shan't get into mischief. I shall have all my work cut out to keep Johnny comfortable. I wish Johnny danced," she added regretfully. "That is his one failing. Now if he could only dance as well as Willie Blair!"
Tressa displayed no enthusiasm.
"Do you see much of him?" she asked.
"I see him twice a week; he takes me to dances. Johnny doesn't mind, of course."
Tressa's thin nose wrinkled.
"Surely, darling, you are not so old-fashioned as to think there is anything wrong in going out with Willie? What a queer grandmotherly idea! Tressa, I thought you—you were so modern!"
"A modern woman is very much like the mid-Victorian woman," said Tressa, her lips twitching. "It is an illusion commonly held that the women of to-day have a something which is called freedom, because their mothers no longer send out footmen to walk behind them and because they may discuss things to-day which, apparently, our grandmothers knew very little about. But the truth is, darling, our grandmothers weren't such fools as we think, and the things we discuss openly, they talked about freely in the boudoir. To-day only the audience is different. All the little things that we could not do in grandma's day are as much verboten to-day. Do you believe for one moment that a young married woman who goes about with a man, other than her husband, excites neither comment nor criticism—nor suspicion?"
"Why, of course," said Ella, turning red, "what a horrid thing for you to say, Tressa! This is a new London and a new world and women are different—"
Tressa's soft laughter interrupted her.
"The Sebers wouldn't like it."
"The Sebers!" said the girl scornfully. "How absurd! Besides, everything depends upon a girl's own poise and knowledge of life, her own sense of right and wrong. By-the-way, we're dining with the Sebers to-morrow night. I like to see these paragons at close quarters."
"It will be an experience," was all Tressa's comment, and then: "You're a member of the Pan Club, aren't you?"
Ella looked at her suspiciously.
"Surely, my dear, you're not going to lecture me about that. Why, everybody's a member of the Pan Club. There are, I don't know how many, princes of the blood on the books and it is the most reputable place in London—and it has a most divine floor."
"But are you a member?" insisted Tressa.
"Of course, I'm a member. Johnny knows."
"You dance there pretty frequently with Willie Blair?"
"Now, what on earth are you getting at, Tressa? You know I dance with Willie Blair at the Pan Club. Even the Sebers would not object to the Pan Club."
"They would not object," said Tressa slowly, "unless you happened to be there one night when the police decided to come in to discover how many bottles of champagne were drunk after licensing hours. In that case, even if you were there quite innocently, quite properly, it would not prevent your name appearing in the newspapers or induce an unimaginative magistrate to remit the fine which is usually imposed upon people who are found in these resorts after hours."
Ella gazed at her in horror.
"What a perfectly unpleasant idea, Tressa!"
"I'm only telling you—such things have happened. If you are a member of the chorus in a musical comedy, even if you're a principal of that company, it doesn't really hurt you to be arrested and marched off to Vine Street. A lot of people would think it was good fun. But it wouldn't be very good fun for Johnny. The Sebers would drop him like hot cakes. Must you dance, Ella? Or isn't it possible to confine your dancing to less dangerous resorts?"
Ella's chin was out-thrust, the light of battle was in her eyes.
"Tressa, you're trying to frighten me," she said solemnly, "but I refuse to be frightened. I do go to the Pan Club and I'm going the night after I've got through this ghastly dinner with the Sebers. And, of course, it is going to be a ghastly dinner. I know just what will happen. There will be ten courses and Mr. Seber will talk about the Renten-Mark, and Mrs. Seber will show me her new diamond bangle, and Miss Seber, if there is a Miss Seber, will give me a list of all the country houses she has stayed at, from Goodwood onwards!"
THE Sebers lived in a big house in a most unfashionable square in the West End. They were elderly, unmistakably Jewish, undoubtedly courteous, annoyingly old fashioned. There was, however, one relief to the gloom—a tall, pretty girl of Ella's age, whom she learnt, to her amazement, was a veritable Seber, being the grand-daughter of her host and hostess.
Old Mr. Seber was meekness itself in the presence of his brilliant grandchild, and the talk was mainly taken up with the discussion on the new movement in music. Ella, whose musical yearnings were satisfied with such classical gems as "Last Night on the Back Porch," listened to things that were, in the main, a mystery to her. She heard of string quartettes, of Van Zoom's latest convulsion, of concerts and recitals, of nocturnes in F. It was rather like catching scraps of conversation about a wireless programme.
She heard of rondos and song-cycles and things in G minor and sat abashed and awe-stricken at the ease with which Johnny could discuss such matters. Betty Seber was a musical fanatic.
"Isn't it amazing that we have made such extraordinary progress in England, remembering the horrible indifference of apparently well-educated people to the arts!" she demanded. "When you realise that grown-up people of good birth and otherwise perfect manners can sing the rubbish that these wretched Americans have sent over to us—'When it's Night-time in Italy, It's Wednesday Over here'!" (it was Ella's favourite and she shifted guiltily) "and such awful stuff..."
"Music is the mediator between the spiritual and the material life," murmured Mr. Seber.
"What I complain about in our society," said the learned Betty, with such vigour and such unconscious point that Ella loathed her from that minute, "is the intense vulgarity of London's social leaders. Our chamber concerts are deserted—the thé dansants are crowded with brainless men and women who walk about on a slippery floor in one another's arms and imagine they are dancing! And every other week those whose names do not appear in the Divorce Court are to be found in the reports of the proceedings before the magistrates. London is the most vulgar and the most illiterate city in the world."
Johnny murmured his agreement. Ella looked coldly at the fruit salad on her plate and said "Prig!" but said it under her breath.
"Thank God that's over," said Ella, on the way back to Sloane Square. "I expected to hear Mrs. Seber talk about the folly of modern society and the danger to youthful young people—"
Johnny rubbed his nose thoughtfully.
"A very nice old girl," he said in a half-hearted protest.
"And I could have endured that! But if that wretched girl had talked for another half-hour about music..."
"She's rather pretty," said Johnny, "and clever, too—mind, there's a lot to be said for her point of view."
"And she said it!" snapped Ella.
"I'm taking her to hear a new string quartette to-morrow night," said Johnny; "it will be rather interesting."
NEXT morning Tressa, in her most serious mood, called on Ella, and plunged at once into the business which brought her.
"Ella, are you going to the Pan Club to-night?"
"I am going to the Pan Club," she declaimed with dramatic deliberation; "and with Willie Blair," she added.
Tressa set her lips tight.
"You are not going to the Pan to-night!" she said. "You can go out with Willie—"
"Thank you, Tressa."
"And sarcasm is wasted on me, darling—but not to the Pan. Willie is—nice. He's foolish and careless of quite six of the Ten Commandments; but he's nice, and when you tell Willie that the police are raiding the Pan Club he'll agree with me."
Ella sat down suddenly. And then a sudden suspicion came to her.
"You want to keep me away from dance clubs until we leave London," she said.
There was a ghost of a smile in Tressa's wise eyes, but she shook her head.
"If you think that this is an example of my artfulness I will undeceive you. I'll tell you how I know."
Tressa had mysterious sources of information, but there was no mystery here. She hired a serving woman, and the serving woman had a daughter who was very pretty and engaged to a detective-sergeant at Scotland Yard. The pretty daughter was fond of dancing, and had been warned not to go to the Pan Club that night...
"The Pan Club!" scoffed Ella. "As if your serving-woman's daughter went to the Pan Club!"
Again Tressa's eyes twinkled.
"I don't believe it—honestly I don't, Tressa. You're a wily old darling, but you're not going to stop me dancing to-night. Not you, my beloved, nor Betty Seber nor Johnny himself... and don't, don't tell me that Johnny's career is in my hands. And that if I'm arrested he will become a social outcast. I'm—going—to—the—Pan—Club—this—night!"
Tressa shook her head slightly.
"I am!" insisted Ella.
"I think you will—only I've an idea that you will not go to Vienna—not if Mr. Seber is as strict as they say he is."
And Tressa was right—as usual.
ELLA BRAY had her misgivings. Long before Willie came to her, and whilst she was assisting her musically-minded husband to the selection of a white waist-coat, a sense of dread came upon her to cloud her evening. Once in a panic she thought of denying her dancing cavalier and going with Johnny to hear the wretched string quartette. She mentioned the possibility, tentatively. Johnny looked glum.
"I'm sure it will be all right—I know she only has two tickets, but I could easily stand at the back of the hall. And anyway, the place is certain to be half empty. Everybody knows how brutal the English are in the matter of—"
"Please don't bother," said Ella coldly.
Whatever happened, some of the responsibility had been taken away from her.
Willie came at the moment, a sleek young man, and Johnny took him into his little den.
"...The point is, old man, I'd like you to be awfully careful about where you take Ella. I've had a tip from—er—a woman I know. If you go to the Pan, don't stay after midnight, there's a good fellow. I haven't said anything to Ella... don't want to worry her, and all that sort of thing. You know what the Sebers are. The slightest breath of scandal, and..."
"I quite understand, old thing," said Willie; "trust me. Don't think there's any danger, but if we get pinched I can raise two bails in the shake of a duck's tail."
As Tressa said, Willie was nice... But...
As they were driving eastward:
"Where's Johnny going?" he asked. "He's all dressed up and serious."
"To hear a string quartette," said Ella shortly, "at something or other hall."
"Good Lord! Sort of Hoffman girl idea.* No, they do it with ropes, don't they? Funny, I didn't know Johnny was keen on music halls. By the way, where are we going?"
* An allusion to a then famous troupe of acrobatic dancers managed by Gertrud Hoffman.
"Where are we going?" she repeated.
"What about jolly old Gooki's?" he asked. Willie's sense of humour was slightly perverted.
Now, Gooki's is to the Pan Club what a doss-house is to the Ritz-Carlton. People—good-class people—certainly went to Gooki's in the spirit of adventure, just as people go slumming and other people go into the queer houses of Pompeii where the naughty pictures are. Gooki's was Bohemia; men with unpronounceable names played fiddles divinely, and women with unreadable pasts drank absinthe and green chartreuse.
But nobody in London ever boasted of membership of Gooki's, any more than they ever boasted of having been in prison. The thing to say was that somebody took you there, and that it was awful fun.
Outside The Pan was a line of highly-lacquered and expensive motor-cars that ran round the block, and it was generally conceded that, if you went to The Pan with a tenner in your pocket, you brought away little change.
So that when, in this moment of facetiousness, Willie Blair said, "What about jolly old Gooki's?" Ella shifted round and fixed him with eyes of steel.
"I don't like you to say that sort of thing—even jokingly," she said gently. "I know that you mean no harm, but, Willie, I've got to think of Johnny—"
"I assure you, my dear Ella—" began Willie, thoroughly alarmed.
"I've got to think of his career," she went on remorselessly. "It would ruin him if... well, if there was a raid or anything like that. And the police are awfully strict just now. I'm not even comfortable about the Pan Club."
"Shall we go to the Y.M.C.A. dance?" asked Willie.
She nearly went home again.
BETTY SEBER had a few words to say about night clubs in the interval between something in F and something in G Minor.
"Mr. Seber has very rigid views on these places... I feel that I am doing you a service by telling you this, Mr. Bray."
Johnny nodded unhappily.
"They are rather... I'm not particularly keen on them. I don't dance. Of course, there are clubs and clubs. I'm told the Pan is quite—er—decent."
"There is no difference between one and the other," said Betty Seber. She was a very rich young woman, and a full purse induces dogmatism. "Just near there is a horrible den—Gooki's. A sore place of London. I am a member of a society that is doing its best to close the place. But, of course, the police are hand in glove with these people. They are probably taking bribes to allow it to remain open."
John said nothing. He was thinking apprehensively of Ella.
It was a quarter to two when the telephone bell brought Tressa from her bed.
"Raided!" she almost squeaked. "Of course I'll bail you out—but oh, my dear Ella, what is Mr. Seber going to say?"
"I'm rather wondering," said Ella.
"And I told you not to go to The Pan to-night—"
"The Pan hasn't been raided," said the ice-cold voice of Ella. "Gooki's has been raided, and Johnny and Betty Seber are at Marlborough Street waiting for bail."
JOHNNY lost his job, of course. A curt note cancelling his appointment came on the day of the police court proceedings.
It was a week later when Ella had a letter delivered by hand asking her to be good enough to present herself at Mr. Seber's office.
The old man was troubled and uneasy.
"Won't you sit down, Mrs. Bray?" he said. "I wanted to see you over this unfortunate affair. Perhaps I have been a little harsh. It has—er—occurred to me that I have perhaps been precipitate."
"I rather think you have," said Ella frigidly.
"Night clubs are anathema to me," he went on, growing more and more ill at ease, "but I have accepted the explanation—er—lame as it seemed, that my dear grand-daughter only went to Gooki's in order to show your husband what a den of iniquity it was. How unfortunate that the police should raid the place at the very moment Betty was pointing out its most unpleasant features!"
"Very," said Ella coldly. "What are you going to do, Mr. Seber, to remove my husband from the cultural influences of your grand-daughter?"
"I'm going to send him to Vienna—at an increased salary," said Mr. Seber.
WHEN the Master of the Household telephoned the Marquis of Larborough, he did so in no spirit of malice or unfriendliness.
"Got your note, old boy, but if I were you I should drop the matter... Yes, old boy, I know your family has done wonderful things for the country, but that divorce of yours...phew! Anyway, old boy, there is no question of your coming to Court—not for ages. Dreadfully sorry, and all that, but you know what things are. And about Mrs. Camber Bolt... nothing doing. She's all right, as far as I know, but she's a bit on the climber side—see what I mean?
"Nothing against her, and all that, positively nothing—but she doesn't belong to us, if you understand me... Oh yes, I know she's go stacks of money and gets invitations to places, but she's a climber... Keeps a press agent and all that sort of thing. Anyway, she doesn't know any of the Duke's set, and it would be positively criminal, old boy, to try to push her into a house-party where she doesn't know anybody. If she wants to meet him, why not jog against him on Hampstead Heath? You know his Easter Monday habits.
The Right Honourable the Earl of Callifer hung up the receiver, sighed heavily as a man sighs when a nasty job of work is through, and dismissed Mrs. Camber Bolt from his mind.
Louise Camber Bolt heard the news, and her thin lips grew thinner and tighter. She was not annoyed. In fact, she had expected some such answer to her modest request that she should receive an invitation to Garre Castle to meet His Royal Highness.
She was a pretty woman in a slim way, the widow of Sir Isaac Bolt, the millionaire mine-owner of Johannesburg, and if it is true that she had started life behind the counter of Joe Lewin's Snack Shop, and had served embryonic millionaires with their morning meal of champagne and stout, she was none the worse for that. She was young in those days, and wore a brooch which said "Louise" in diamonds across her black alpaca bosom.
That scintillating "Louise" stamped her so effectively that she had never quite succeeded in effacing the stigmata of her honourable profession, in spite of her house in Knightsbridge, her butler, her footmen, her two Rolls-Royces with chauffeurs to match—in spite of her son in the most exclusive house at Eton.
There was only one thing to be done, and that was to consult Tressa. Even Tressa might not have been worthy of consultation but for the undoubted fact that she lived in a flat in Piccadilly, knew many important personages, and had been presented.
The Maid Intervenes
Mrs. Camber Bolt was completing her preparations for going out when she noticed Southcott. Ordinarily she did not observe servants; they were persons to whom she paid so much or so little a week, and from whom she exacted to the very full the last ounce of service. She did not think of them as inferior human beings; unconsciously they were in the category of domestic animals which served the purpose of man—and woman: and the greatest shock she ever received was to learn on one occasion that her cook had been attacked with appendicitis. She had never accredited people of the lower orders with anything quite as social as an appendix.
But she noticed Southcott for one special reason: her eyes were red and her nose was red. Mrs. Camber Bolt put two and two together and guessed that Southcott had been crying in business hours.
"My good woman," she said, with that irascibility which was so much a part of her nature, "what on earth have you been doing with your face? You have been crying! Go at once to the dentist and have it out."
Southcott gulped something.
"Unhappy? Nonsense! You have a perfect situation, and there are hundreds of girls who would be glad to stand in your shoes."
"If you please, madam, it isn't the situation; it's Clarence Arthur."
Mrs. Camber Bolt stared at her.
"Clarence Arthur?" she repeated. "Who on earth is Clarence Arthur?"
Her mistress looked at her suspiciously.
"I didn't know you were married," she said coldly.
"I mean my young man," the girl blurted with a sob. "Oh, madam, I know he will get into trouble, and he's such a nice boy otherwise! It was in the papers last week, and there was an awful fuss about it... and he's got so swollen-headed——"
Mrs. Camber Bolt arrested her flow with a signified gesture.
"Be pleased to remember, Southcott," she said icily, "that I am not interested in your love affairs. And really, if I had dreamt that you were going to tell me all your domestic troubles, I should not have listened to you"
Tressa's flat over Scobies was a famous rendezvous for Souls in Sorrow. For Tressa was sympathetic and understanding, and Tressa was tremendously wise in the ways of London, which are the ways of no other city in the world, and in the code of London society, which is a code that has no duplicate elsewhere. And Tressa would have been glad at most times to have received the chimney-sweep or discussed the troubles of the butcher. But there were many reasons why she was not particularly happy when Louise burst in upon her.
"Isn't it to disgusting for words?" said Louise. The Duke is going down to stay at Garre, and I really do know the Frintons, who are in the house party, and if Mrs. Frinton hadn't been a pig she would got me an invitation. But it seems that wretched Callifer isn't at all persona grata, and after he'd promised to wangle the invitation for me, I think it is perfectly disgusting! And I did so want to meet the dear Duke!"
Tressa was not passionately fond of Mrs. Camber Bolt, and she had, moreover, a personal grievance, for Louise had used her name unblushingly, to the furtherance of her social ambitions. Nevertheless, Tressa, being Tressa, was sympathetic.
"My dear, why on earth do you want to meet the Duke or anybody else?" she asked good-humouredly. "You have all the money you want, you have plenty of friends, you can get all the amusement out of life you wish—and really, dukes and things aren't so interesting as you imagine."
"But, my dear, the pull they give you!" murmured Louise in despair.
"I don't think so. You see, my dear, these are democratic times, and people aren't frantically keen on you even if you are lunching and dining with royalty every day."
"I must meet him!" said Louise determinedly. "And I am going to meet him! Tressa, do you know what he does on Easter Mondays?"
Tressa's brows wrinkled in a frown.
"I haven't the slightest idea."
"He goes to Hampstead Heath," said Mrs. Camber Bolt impressively. "Didn't you read it last year—see photographs of him throwing balls at a cocoanut-shy? My dear, he always does it! They call him 'The Easter-Monday Prince' for that reason—don't you remember? And he usually goes without his equerry or anybody. Tressa, what a chance!"
Tressa was not enthusiastic.
"I don't see exactly how that will benefit you. You can't go up to a young man and talk to him without an introduction."
"Can't I?" said Louise significantly. "That is just what I am going to do!"
Tressa was for a moment aghast, and then began to laugh softly.
"You bold woman!" she said. "But I warn you that it will lead you nowhere, and may very easily make you look ridiculous."
"I'll take good care of that," said the climber. "But I am going to meet the Duke. And if heaven only puts it into his head to visit Hampstead Heath on Monday, he'll dine with me the week after. And really, there's nothing to laugh at."
Mrs. Camber Bolt was, by instinct and training a strategist, but the week which followed, devoted as it was to the deepest thought and a survey of all the possibilities, brought her no nearer to a solution of the problem which she had set herself. For it was very true, as Tressa had said, that, whilst His Royal Highness might be most gracious to her as a member of the common public, might smile, might stoop to pick up a handkerchief providentially dropped, might even go so far as to escort her from the crowded heath if she developed a sprained ankle (all of these ideas occurred to her), it was unlikely that the friendship would go much farther. For whilst royal dukes do on occasions visit hospitals and pat the heads of invalid children, and even make sympathetic inquiries about the people whom they have run down in their cars, the gulf between Green Park and the slums is not so unbridgeable as that which stretches between Buckingham Palace and Knightsbridge. On the other edge of the chasm stands one who is notoriously a climber.
"I will have to leave it to luck," said Mrs. Camber Bolt at last. And Napoleon had no greater faith in his star that had the lady from Joe Lewin's snack-counter.
Good Friday came, and Easter Saturday, and on the Monday morning Mrs. Camber Bolt dressed herself with the greatest care. She had spent Sunday reconnoitering the ground: the most expensively-bodied of her Rolls Royces had made the circuit of Hampstead Heath. She had seen the booths and the steam roundabouts, the swing-boats and the cockshies which represent, to the well-constituted Londoner, happiness and recreation. She had surveyed from her car the serried rows of stalls, shrouded for the Sabbath day; she had even been tempted—though this temptation she succeeded in resisting—to mingle with the herd that surged down the grassy slopes to the hollow where the machinery of festivity was assembled.
She was in the middle of her dressing when she asked:
"Southcott, do you know Hampstead Heath?"
Southcott's dull eyes lit with a sudden fire.
"Have you ever been on Hampstead Heath on Easter Monday?"
"Oh, yes, madam," said Southcott, shocked at the implied doubt.
"It is very crowded, isn't it?"
"Yes, madam, but it would not be so crowded if I was there to-day," said Southcott cryptically.
It was in Mrs. Camber Bolt's mind to demand an explanation for this mysterious reference, but she refrained.
"I suppose the people like seeing the Duke of Kent amongst them?" she asked carelessly.
"Cuss the Duke of Kent!" hissed Southcott with such ferocity that Mrs. Bolt's jaw dropped.
"Southcott," she said, shocked beyond measure, "do you know what you are saying? Have you been drinking?"
Southcott pressed her lips tightly together and made no reply.
"Do you realise what you have said?" demanded Mrs. Camber Bolt awfully. "I am afraid this makes a great difference to our relationship, Southcott. I could not possibly retain in my service one who has uttered a sentiment so disloyal and so uncalled for."
Still Southcott was silent.
"I shall have to think this matter over. The Duke is a very dear friend of mine," said Louise.
The Arm of Coincidence
Southcott was about the only person in London to whom she could make this statement with impunity, and Louise often made it, unconsciously acting on the dictum that if you say a thing often enough it is so.
"I am very sorry, madam, but I have got my troubles. Clarence Arthur"
Louise drew a long breath.
"I beg of you not to mention that hideous name," she said.
"It was in all the papers," snivelled the girl.
Louise pointed silently to the door. Anyway, she didn't want the assistance of her maid any longer, because she was about to prepare her face for the buffeting winds of April.
Just before she left the house that afternoon Mr. Sturbert called.
Mr. Sturbert was a tall, stout young man, who used his clothes as an ash-tray and whose ochre-coloured fingers betrayed his devotion to that brand of cigarettes which is very properly described as "yellow perils."
He came briskly into her study, because it was the custom of Mr. Sturbert to be brisk in all things except work. He nodded with that air of condescension which only a press agent can adopt, to his patroness.
"I sent for you, Mr. Sturbert, because I am expecting certain things to happen today, and in all probability I shall have a paragraph or two for you this evening. Will you call in about six?"
"Certainly, Mrs. Camber Bolt," said Mr. Sturbert. "You saw that par I got into The Weekly Globe and Mercury about your dinner party at the Savoy? I don't suppose any other man would have got a par into the 'W.G.', but the fact is, the new editor and I are very good friends. I had to take him out to dinner——"
"I had the bill for that paragraph from the advertising department," said Mrs. Camber Bolt, a little chillily.
"But anyway, it didn't look like an ad. It was in the best part of the paper," said the unabashed Mr. Sturbert. "I was wondering whether I couldn't work up a little stunt. You couldn't get yourself thrown off your horse in the Row, or anything of that kind?"
"I will consider that," said Louise, but in the meantime will you be good enough to be here at six o'clock?"
Hamsptead Heath on an Easter Monday is a very busy and a very cheerful place, always providing rain holds aloof and the weather is warm. It is a space given up entirely to revellers with money and children without. Every stall had its wistful but non-productive crowd watching the efforts of the opulent to secure something for next to nothing. A certain dexterity with rings procured pairs of vases and beer jugs, butter-dishes and silver-plated knives and forks; strength and ability brought to the fruitarian a diet of cocoanuts sufficient to last him until the next Easter Monday.
She left her car in a get-at-able spot, and now she walked slowly through the vulgar crowd, her keen eyes scanning every passer-by. An hour's weary tramp brought her nothing but a confused recollection of blaring sound, of Cockney accent. And then, when she had almost given up her search in despair, the miracle happened. Standing talking to the proprietor of a cocoanut-shy was a slim, youthful, smiling figure.
"There he is," said a hoarse voice in her ear, and the crowd made a sudden surge towards the neatly-clad young man who was balancing a ball in his hand.
It was he; there was no mistaking the thin nose, slightly tip-tilted, the firm chin, the large and generous mouth. He laid down his ebony cigarette-holder on the crate where the balls were kept, and, to the admiration of the audience, sent a wooden sphere down the fairway. It struck a cocoanut and knocked it out of its very secure holder—a holder designed to prevent the impoverishment of the gentleman who owned the joint. Another ball went, and another cocoanut followed. The crowd raised a cheer.
"Good luck to your 'Ighness," said the red-faced proprietor.
"I want that ball back," laughed the young man, and, before the proprietor could turn, he had leapt over the rope and was running down the fairway.
The next pitch was occupied by an Aunt Sally outfit. Young men and women were engaged in throwing sticks at grinning faces in an effort to knock them backward, and as the young man reached his ball and stooped for it, a wildly aimed stick came hurtling across the barrier. There was s shout of warning, but before it could reach the youth, the stick had struck him on the side of the head, and he fell inertly to the ground.
The heart of Louis Camber Bolt leapt. Her luck held. Before the aghast proprietor could realise what had happened, she had jumped over the rope, and in another second she was by the side of the stricken youth.
"I am Mrs. Camber Bolt," she said breathlessly to the proprietor. "Help me to carry His Royal Highness to my car."
They lifted the unconscious figure, the crowd gave way before them, and five minutes later Louise's Rolls Royce was speeding southward, a dazed, half-conscious young man by her side. They passed many doctors' houses, but it was not the intention of Louise to allow any common medical man to share the triumph.
"I am taking your Royal Highness to my little house; I am sure you won't mind. And I will get you the best medical assistance. I am Mrs. Camber Bolt."
He muttered something. The skin had hardly been broken, but on the side of his head had appeared a blue and black bruise and a bump which seemed to grow visibly.
With the assistance of the chauffeur they lifted the young man out of the car, and half led, half carried up to Louise's best bedroom. Then, and not till then, did she summon a medical man.
The doctor was out of town, but his youthful assistant was soon with here. He dressed the injury and came downstairs.
"That young man's face is very familiar to me," he said. "Who is he?"
Blessing heaven that the invalid has not recovered sufficiently to betray his identity, Louise answered lightly:
"Oh, he's a great friend of mine."
"He's had a nasty whack, and he's not quite right yet. I should let him lie for an hour or two," said the doctor. "I will come back and see him again this evening.
Southcott was out, but again Mrs. Camber Bolt needed no assistance. It was she who carried the tea to the shaky youth.
"Now you must be very, very quiet," she said, in her best motherly way. "I will see that your dear mother and father are not alarmed."
Mr. Sturbert arrived a quarter of an hour before his time, and found Mrs. Camber Bolt putting the last touches to her literary efforts.
"I think this had better go in The Times," she said, handing him the paragraph. "I have taken the trouble to word it in as stately a manner as possible."
She read it aloud.
"We regret to learn that H.R.H. the Duke of Kent was injured on Hampstead Heath on Monday afternoon. Fortunately, Mrs. Camber Bolt, the well-known society leader, happened to be present, and he was conveyed in Mrs. Camber Bolt's Rolls Royce to here handsome home in Knightsbridge. H.R.H., who at the time of writing is still under Mrs. Camber Bolt's tender care, has expressed his gratification for the treatment he has received. Yesterday, Mrs. Camber Bolt called at Buckingham Palace and reassured the anxious parents of H.R.H. as to his condition. Later, their Majesties paid a visit to Knightsbridge."
"I suppose they will?" said Mrs. Camber Bolt. "I don't see that they can do anything else. The other paragraphs are written in a more breezy fashion; they are for the cheaper Press."
Mr. Sturbert read the paragraph open-mouthed.
"Here?" he squeaked. "In this house? Good Lord! What a stunt! Did you knock him out? That's a grand idea!"
"I did not knock him out," said Louise hotly. "His Royal Highness met with a deplorable accident."
Unconvinced, the dazed Press agent took the papers and made his exit.
Dressed in the severest black charmeuse, Mrs. Camber Bolt drove to the Palace to learn, to her distress, that the royal family was out of town.
"But the Duke of Kent?" she said to the Palace official whom she interviewed.
"I believe His Royal Highness is at Windsor."
"I don't think he is," she said.
"Did you want to see the secretary?" asked the official.
"No, no," said Louise.
She could keep the young man at Knightsbridge all night; the story would be all the better. She wondered whether Windsor Castle was connected by telephone, and drove home again, her feeling of disappointment giving way to one of even greater satisfaction.
She tiptoed up the stairs, lest her illustrious guest be disturbed, and softly turned the handle of the sick-room door. As she did so, she was conscious of voices coming from within.
Southcott! And Southcott was talking in a tone that no hired servant should use when she addresses a person of the blood royal.
"I've always told you, you'd get into trouble. Look at last week—the papers had yards about the Duke of Kent being at Olympia, when he wasn't there at all! It's your fat-headed conceit, Clarence Arthur; because you happen to look like His 'Ighness, there's no need for you to go dressing up like him."
"We are as alike as two peas," murmured the voice of His Royal Highness, with some complacence. "You've never had that feeling of having people touch their hats to you, or you wouldn't go on like this. Besides, there's no harm in it. I never said I was Royalty, did I? If these silly josses"
Mrs. Camber Bolt closed the door and went quietly down the stairs to fetch a policeman.
WHEN Alicia Penton entered the chaste establishment of Max Brabazin in Holland Park Gardens, she did so after consultation with Tressa.
"Uncle is wholly impossible, and I wouldn't stay at Penton Court, not if I were the heiress to millions—which, as a matter of fact, my dear Tressa, I'm not."
"You're rather young to be a governess," murmured Tressa who, knowing all the circumstances, could not honestly advise her against the step. "And besides, Ralph really isn't too bad."
"Uncle Ralph is a smug," said Alicia hotly. "He hates everything I like, and the other day he turned out a gardener who had worked for him for twenty years because he had a bet on the Lincolnshire Handicap! And when I told him I had a bet on every big race, he nearly threw a fit. He said that people who betted were either thieves or fools; they were people who were trying to get money for nothing. He said that cupidity and stupidity were the basis of all gambling, and then he said some horrible things about father—poor daddy did rather overrun the Constable, as we know, but there's no reason why his own brother should sneer about his slow racehorses. But anyway, I'm going to this creature's perfectly awful house to teach. Brabazin and his wife are most impossible people, and the little boy has the manners of a pig—"
"It looks as though you're going to have quite a good time," said Tressa. "Don't you think it would be better if you stayed on at Penton Court and endured Ralph?"
Alicia shook her head.
"I can't," she said emphatically. "When he isn't talking about the evils of betting, he's talking about the excessive taxation which made him so poor that he'd have been obliged to leave Penton Court only, with his usual luck, somebody induced him to put five thousand pounds into an agency business—or at least he answered an advertisement or something of the sort—and he's been drawing fat dividends ever since. No, Tressa, I'm going to earn my living. The only thing I ask of you is that, when I am fired, or I hit the oleaginous Mr. Brabazin over the head, you give me a bed for two or three nights, until I find something better."
She shivered. "Penton Court is a palace of gloom at any time, but at the present moment it is a palace of horror."
Since Penton Court went Methodist, for reasons best known to itself, in the enthusiastic days of Wesley's ministry, it had observed an attitude—no less—of personal conduct which may best be described as serious. Sir Ralph Penton had absorbed all the gloom religion had to impart, pictured hell in detail with the assurance of one who himself would never secure a closer inspection than the lofty crags of heaven afforded, revelled in the Book of Revelations, and found sheer joy in the Mysteries of Vessels which would be unsealed out of the Angel's Trump. He spoke familiarly of the great and sacred figures of Christianity; was, so you might think from his diction, much in God's confidence, moving his mind on even trivial matters.
Thus Sir Ralph knew positively that God did not like bridge at anything over 5d. a hundred. He did not approve of the Socialist Party. He abhorred strikes and the Sunday opening of cinemas. Aviation was directly contrary to the wisdom of providence; "For," said Sir Ralph with the emphasis of one who was enunciating an original theme, "if it had been intended that man should fly, God would have given him wings."
This was too excellent an illustration to devote to one unnatural habit. Sir Ralph also remarked on many occasions that, if men had been intended to smoke, God would have given him a chimney-pot instead of a head.
In what manner the deity would have acted on any occasion, however trifling, was no secret to Sir Ralph, and rightly, for he justified Voltaire's cynicism in that he had created God after his own image.
Sir Ralph was a tall man, broad of shoulder, bushy of beard. He stood well above six feet four. His conception of the saints, of apostles, of the big and bloodthirsty, holy figures of the Old Testament, was that they too were men of six feet odd, broad of shoulder, heavily bearded. He confessed that he had no desire to live contrary to their precepts and examples, and accordingly laid to their charge and upon them the responsibility for his own eccentricities of charity.
Twenty shillings in one pound—and not a penny more. His justice was depressing. He did that which was right in God's eyes, he said, and inferred that he shared vision with the Divinity.
He hated gambling, drinking, dancing and horse-racing, and found no hope of grace in the exponents of either vice.
Sir Ralph did not often come to the flat in Piccadilly Circus—it is a remarkable tribute to Tressa's catholicity of tastes and the wide range of her acquaintanceships that he came at all. Alicia Penton had been installed in the Brabazin household for two months when he called one afternoon, in time for tea, and had the good fortune to find Tressa alone. He grumbled over his cup at the high cost of living, at iniquitous taxations, at the extraordinary demands of agricultural workers: he complained bitterly of the Labour Government, and when he had finished, he asked gruffly:
"Have you any news of Alicia?"
"I believe she's very comfortable," said Tressa. "I had a note from her the other day, saying that she was getting on well."
Sir Ralph grunted.
"It was no wish of mine that she should be earning her living," he said. "London to me is the very pit of the devil. It is filled with temptation for young and old. I find it difficult to walk along Piccadilly without meeting leering and wanton eyes—"
Tressa sighed wearily.
"My dear Ralph," she said, with admirable patience, "are you in the category of those curiously archaic individuals who believe that Piccadilly is the haunt of vice, and Leicester Square the breeding place of sin? You are twenty years behind the times! I think you must have been reading books on the subject, and I rather guess the book is out of print and was bought from one of the second-hand stalls. I have such a large circle of acquaintances that I can almost tell you the real haunts. Do you know that girls who are arrested in Leicester Square are taken to Bow Street and get a month, and that girls arrested in Lisle Street, which is just behind Leicester Square, go to Marlborough Street and are fined? In those circumstances do you imagine that Leicester Square would be filled with these undesirable creatures?"
"Happily, I know nothing about it," said Sir Ralph hastily, getting off a subject which he regarded as so delicate that it might not be discussed except in the clouded privacy of a smoking-room and a respectable smoking-room at that. "Anyway, London is horrible."
"London is beautiful," said Tressa calmly. "Have you walked through Hyde Park when the daffodils are out, or when the rhododendron bushes are in bloom? If you haven't, you've missed something. Or have you looked southward across the lake in Green Park? Or driven down Kingsway in the early hours of the morning?"
"I haven't," said Sir Ralph, and added: "I have no desire to. I'm worried about Alicia," he went on. "I fear that her father's vices are inherited by that unfortunate girl. Do you know that I discovered that she was making surreptitious bets on a horse-race and, when I questioned her, she told me she always backed the horse in the Derby that ran fourth in the Guineas? Do you know that she won thirty pounds on an animal called Captain Kettle, or something of the sort?"
"She was lucky," said Tressa wilfully. "I backed the second!"
Sir Ralph made a little noise of disapproval.
"Is there a possibility of my seeing her?" he said at last. "I shall be up next Wednesday."
Tressa shook her head.
"I don't know," she said, "but I'll ask her to come."
It so happened that the invitation was unnecessary, for things were happening in Holland Park Gardens. One bright spring morning Mr. Brabazin pushed back his chair from the desk. Incidentally he also pushed himself back for, at the moment, he was occupying the chair.
This feat constituted no small exhibition of what Mr. Brabazin described as his "latent strength"; he was on the wrong side of sixteen stone. He was of middle height and hotly dressed. His purple tie, his claret socks and his russet shoes were all on the sultry side. His head was big and his hair well seccotined and brushed. As to his face, it was red and stout—he was one of those men who invariably perspire on the chin; his short, thick nose was retroussé and his sharp, dark eyes set close together under a somewhat blank and unnecessarily expansive forehead.
The "den"—so described by him—in which he sat had been furnished by him "to his taste." These are the exact terms of his boast, so that the responsibility was all his. The carpet that covered the floor was an expensive Axminster, and the scheme of colour was comprehended in two shades of red, four of yellow, with a peacock-blue motif. The furniture was dark red leather. The walls were covered with a red and gold paper, the mantelpiece was of dark mahogany, the desk of varnished pine and that, I think, is a fairly charitable description of the den in which Brabazin sat when he was not occupying an even more beautiful office in Cockspur Street.
Photographs of beautiful actresses adorned the walls—each signed hilariously, familiarly or coyly, according to the temperament or the contract of the signer. There were two telephones in the den, a large painting of Ormonde, and a weedy girl who wore glasses was Mr. Brabazin's secretary, and was invariably addressed as "Miss O."
It is possible that she had another name, but in Mr. Brabazin's records there was no evidence of the fact.
"Miss O.," snapped Max Brabazin.
The apologetic girl at the door clutched her notebook and pencil nervously and said in a pale voice:
"The young lady has come down, sir."
Mr. Brabazin nibbled the forefinger of his clenched hand in thought.
"Show her in, Miss O."
Mr. Brabazin settled back in his chair and waited the advent of "the young lady" with that placid contentment which is the common property of gods and employers of labour who are about to discharge dispensable hands.
The door opened and Alicia came in. She was slim and pretty, plainly but neatly dressed, and she bore on her face that look of superiority which was very annoying to Mr. Brabazin.
"Well, Miss Penton," he said briskly, "so here you are! Will you sit down? I shan't keep you long."
He looked at his watch, for no valid reason, since the morning was all his and he had no appointments within the next hour. Possibly he wished her to appreciate the fact that he could give her any time at all.
The girl seated herself on the edge of one of the chairs which were ranged with geometrical precision all round the walls, and waited.
"You have been with us for six months," said Mr. Brabazin, "and I admit, Miss Penton, that I have nothing against you, your erudition or your general conduct. It grieves me to part with you, but the fact is, Miss Penton, my kid can't stand you any longer."
He added this with a frank and hearty smile, accompanied by the expressive out-throw of hands which was intended to neutralise the undoubted offensiveness of his remarks.
"I'm very sorry, Mr. Brabazin," said Alicia mildly, "but Willie has been rather trying."
"All children are trying," said Mr. Brabazin sententiously. "I was trying as a child, and probably you were too. Boys will be boys."
"Some boys can be little fiends, Mr. Brabazin," said the girl, and Brabazin raised a pained and arresting hand.
"I will hear no word against my child," he said, and his voice rose to a bellow. "Not a word, I tell you—you're simply the wrong kind of governess, and my wife says—however, we won't quarrel."
"I hope we won't," said Alicia. "But on the whole, I prefer you more in a quarrelsome mood than in those tender moments when you have invited me to spend my evening out with you at a little Soho restaurant."
Mr. Brabazin's neck went red, but before he could frame an indignant retort, she went on:
"Certainly I have no quarrel with your child, who merely inherits the peculiar qualities of his parent," she said outrageously. "Most of the bookmakers I have known have been gentlemen."
Mr. Brabazin was apoplectic with anger. He could pass over the charge of not being a gentleman, but that his calling could be so vulgarly described was beyond forgiveness.
"Let me tell you, miss," he spluttered, "that when you call me a bookmaker you are going a bit too far. I am connected with an eminent firm of commission agents, I admit, but that is neither here nor there. We lay and we pay. Nobody can ever raise the finger of scorn"—here he became incoherent, thrust a cheque towards her, and pointed to the door. "You are an ill-mannered young woman," he said, "and if you apply to me for a reference—"
"Is it likely?" said the scornful Alicia and, going upstairs, superintended the removal of her trunk.
"I'm fired," she announced as she came into Tressa's bedroom. "And oh, Tressa, I'm a Christian martyr! What I've endured! I'm going to stay a week with you, and I'll be able to go to the theatre, and could you, like an angel, persuade the Olivers to let me have a seat in their box at Epsom? I'm told Greek Bachelor is a certainty for the City and Suburban!"
Tressa took off her horn-rimmed glasses—she had been reading when the interruption came.
I'm afraid there's one drawback to staying here: you can't very well miss seeing your admirable relative. He's calling this afternoon." Alicia's face fell.
"Uncle Ralph?" she asked.
"He's very anxious for you to go back to Penton Court."
"I will do many things, but not that," said the girl, "I'll let him take me to dinner at the Savoy—I'll even let him take me to see a play. But go back to Penton Court I won't!"
This was the spirit which Sir Ralph encountered when he called in the afternoon. He listened, his tight lips set, his virtuous eyes half-closed, his immaculate finger-tips touching. When she finished a little breathlessly:
"Alicia, I will put the matter to you plainly," he said, "I am, as you know, childless, and you are my sole relative. Penton Court will be yours, and an income, largely curtailed by the wretched and inefficient government and reaching almost the vanishing point under the present abominable administration. Providing you return and take your place in county society, and promise never again to indulge in the pernicious practices which—er—marred our relationship. Quite by accident, I met Sir Bertram Oliver at my club, and was appalled to learn that you intended going to a race-meeting on Wednesday, that you had, in fact, begged a place in his box. That, of course, I cannot allow."
"My dear Uncle Ralph,"—her tone was calm and decisive—"I am going to Epsom on Wednesday and I am going to win a lot of money."
"Ridiculous!" snorted Sir Ralph, and a light gleamed in the girl's eyes.
"If you think I am going to back the favourite, I agree it is ridiculous to take 7 to 4 about a horse that may not get more than a mile at racing pace. I've been talking to Johnnie Boulter, who's got a stable of horses at Newmarket, and he says that he's never known a Phalaris that could stay more than a mile. Now Greek Bachelor—"
"Greek grandmothers!" snapped Sir Ralph. "Now listen to me, Alicia! Whether you win or lose at Epsom—"
"I shall win," murmured his niece.
"Whether you win or lose at Epsom is wholly immaterial. I, happily, shall neither win nor lose. If you insist on working for your living, I will find you an opportunity. As you know, I have a large interest in the firm of Elvert, Card, Rice & Co., and I'll endeavour to secure a position for you, providing you agree to drop your ridiculous gambling—"
Alicia was staring at him.
"Uncle, do you ever bet?" she asked.
"Certainly not," he replied scornfully. "You know I don't. If I won or lost money by racing, I should certainly not be such a hypocrite as to object to your indulging in that disgraceful practice!"
Solemnly she put out her hand and grasped his warmly.
"Thank you," she said.
Epsom Downs, with its banners, its mass movement, its roaring rings and queer air of unreality, was in a condition of hectic excitement when Alicia slipped out of the box and made her way down to the crowded Tattersall's ring. The crowd here was thick, for the runners in the City and Suburban were on their way to the post, and it was with some difficulty that she sidled up to a tall, saturnine man, who stood silently by the rails, a small betting book in his hand. He recognised her almost at once and lifted his hat.
"Good afternoon, Miss Penton," he said, "I hear you've left the governor?"
"I want to have a bet," she said, and he frowned.
"I didn't know you went in for that sort of thing, miss," he said. "What do you want to back?"
"Can you tell me a horse that can't possibly win?"
He frowned at her again.
"Yes, I can tell you that," he said, and named an outsider.
"I want ten pounds on that, please."
"But you'll lose your money."
"I want to lose my money, Mr. Rice. You are the senior partner of your firm, aren't you?"
The bookmaker shook his head.
"No, Miss Penton, the senior partner is Brabazin. We still keep the name of Elvert, Card, Rice & Co., for old associations' sake. Besides it is much more respectable. Very few people know that we are bookmakers at all. As a matter of fact, we'd have been out of business a few years ago, we had such a bad time, only Mr. Card managed to raise a little capital from some gentlemen in the country, which put us on our feet. Brabazin must have told you that?"
He took her ten pounds and put it in his pocket.
"You'll lose," he warned her.
She shook her head.
"Whatever happens, I shall win," said Alicia Penton.
She telephoned Penton Court that night and explained to the agonised Sir Ralph the exact character of the firm he had been financing.
"And didn't you know that a commission agent is a bookmaker?" she asked sweetly. "Poor dear! And to think that all these years you have been drawing dividends from poor, deluded punters! What will you do, uncle—will you send the money back?"
"I must consider my position," said Sir Ralph shakily.
"Will you consider mine?" she asked, in the same dulcet tone. "You said if you won money over the City and Suburban you'd change your point of view. Well, you've won ten pounds of mine!"
When Alicia went back to Penton Court, the subject of Sir Ralph's investment was tacitly avoided. Until, one day, going into the study, she found him reading The Sporting Life, which he hastily concealed under his chair. And when, later that day, he asked her casually which was the best of the Aga Khan's three, she knew that the largest shareholder in the firm of Elvert, Card, Rice & Co., had not severed his connections with the firm.
THE gentle Tressa was remarkable in one respect: she never found bad people interesting.
When Lady Mary Midston told her about the burglar, Tressa was politely interested but not enthusiastic.
"Daddy was in Paris, otherwise I should have called him when I heard the noise in the hall. He's simply furious with me for not calling Thomas. When I got downstairs there was a light in the drawing-room and a little man was tying up the silver in a tablecloth. I must say, Tressa, that he was awfully decent, and when he told me about his sick wife and his poor little children I hadn't the heart to call any of the staff."
"And you let him go?" said Tressa, coldly for her. "My child, you have a certain duty to society—I suppose you realise that? I know you acted as your own kind little heart dictated, but a burglar is a burglar, no matter what the state of his wife's health—"
"That's what daddy said," remarked Mary complacently.
She was a slim, pretty girl, with flawless colouring and anybody but Mike Long would have spent sleepless nights in the fear of losing her. Mike, for the moment being in the grip of the Wembley Vampire, spent his evenings composing letters breaking off the engagement and his mornings in tearing them up.
"My dear Tressa, you are most original! Of course I let him go! And he was an honest man, apart from his burglaries, for he gave me his address, and when I went—"
"You went to his house?" gasped Tressa.
"Of course I went I wanted to know whether his story was true. And, darling, it was! He's got two of the sweetest children, and a wretched, washed- out kind of wife without an 'h' to her name. And I've asked my cousin Arkwright, who's in the City, to find him a job, so that he will never have to go out burgling any more."
Tressa sighed; and then, after a pause:
"Perhaps you're right," she said, "and I am wrong. But I must confess that I do not like the most picturesque of burglars, and he doesn't seem to have been particularly attractive. Bad people do not appeal to me."
Mary said nothing, but thought a great deal, and Tressa, who was something of a thought-reader, smiled and went on:
"Meeting bad people in one's own circle is unavoidable; and besides, there's just a chance that one may be able to switch them on to the right track."
"If you can switch Lila Morestel on to the right track, I shall be both surprised and pleased," she said.
The taunt was not without justification, for Lila had been a constant visitor at the Piccadilly flat in the past few weeks.
"That is one of the things I cannot understand about you, Tressa. Everybody knows about Mrs. Morestel. Why, they took her name off the books of the Jacara Club and they are pretty broad-minded."
"Lila is in trouble and wanted my help," said Tressa shortly.
LILA MORESTEL was frequently in trouble: and as frequently, in her helpless, agonised way, appealed for the assistance of her friends. Sometimes the assistance was such that it could not be rendered without damage to the reputation of the helper.
Her history was a curious one. She had been a shop assistant in an Oxford Street establishment, and her beauty attracted the attention of Vivian Morestel. Nobody knew how Vivy earned his living. It was supposed that he sold cars on commission, and that he acted as agent for a firm of bookmakers in various members' enclosures. He had other sources of income, which only the unfortunate young men who accepted invitations to play cards in his flat knew anything about, and they were naturally reticent.
For some inexplicable reason his hectic courtship of Lila culminated within a few weeks of his meeting her in a visit to the Marylebone Registry Office, where they were joined together in the business-like bonds of matrimony.
Lila's social progress was amazing. There were vague stories in circulation of tremendous adventures with wealthy members of the British aristocracy, and the officials of the Royal Courts of Justice could tell of divorce suits begun by Vivy and 'settled out of court' for a consideration. Generally the sum was about £20,000, and Mr. and Mrs. Vivy Morestel grew opulent, bought Flynn Hall at Wembley, and lived there alternately.
Vivy had discovered a method of earning a livelihood more effective than the most cleverly manipulated pack of cards could give him. There were minor scandals within scandals. Big, bluff Scherzo, the maître d'hôtel at the Fourways Club, complained bitterly that he had introduced Lila to a rich Brazilian and that, no sooner had Lila got her landing hooks into his banking account, than she persuaded him to patronise another establishment—a dead loss to Scherzo of £100 a week, for the Brazilian was a liberal spender.
By mutual consent the two young people lived apart, and only met either in consultation, to decide for how much they could bleed Lila's latest friend, or else to cut up the profits over a pleasant dinner. This sounds incredible, but it is true, and the partnership might have continued for a very long time, with profit to both but Vivy made the mistake of falling in love with somebody, and decided on a real divorce.
That is the story of Lila, known to every clubman in London. It is the story behind the dazzling picture of her published in the daily and weekly press. Into the web of Flynn Hall many bloated flies had flown and struggled helplessly, and had been duly blooded. And now the king fly was buzzing nearer and nearer to the viscid threads.
"I can only tell you, Tressa, that if she gets Mike I'll—I'll murder her!"
Tressa laughed softly.
"Mike's much too sensible," she said, conscious of her own hypocrisy, for she had told other women that other men were 'much too sensible,' and had had to watch the ruin of hopes and ambitions that littered the trail where the triumphant Lila had passed.
She decided in this particular case that it would be wise to see Mike himself; but days passed before she met him, and then the opportunity—it was at the opening match at Hurlingham—was not a particularly good one.
Mike listened, obviously ill at ease, whilst Tressa expatiated on the virtues and sweetness of his fiancée.
"Yes, of course, that's all right," he said awkwardly at last. "Mary is a dear—much too good for me, and all that sort of thing. I wouldn't hurt her for the world. But I'm not so sure that our marriage would be the best thing for her in the long run. Honestly, Tressa, I'd give a million pounds if she'd get fed up with me and break it off."
"Why?" asked Tressa.
Mike fumbled with his tie, ran his hand through his fair hair, pulled at his aristocratic nose, and stammered something about incompatability.
"The point is, Tressa," he said at last. "Mary's much too sweet a girl to marry a rough-and-tumble fellow like me. She's unsophisticated, and it would simply hurt me most damnably to upset her. She's a child. I feel that I ought to marry a girl who has—well, suffered—give her a sort of safe harbour after the storm."
"In fact, Lila Morestel," said Tressa brutally, and Mike went very red.
"Well, yes; I'm awfully fond of Lila, and she's had a perfect hell of a time with that awful husband of hers. You've no idea, Tressa, what that girl has suffered."
"I have a pretty shrewd idea, I think," said Tressa drily, and Mike grew a little peevish.
"Of course, if you are one of the people who believe all these awful stories that are told about her, there's no use in continuing the argument," he said. "'Malice loves a shining mark', Tressa, and naturally these beastly women who invent all kinds of stories about the poor girl"
Tressa realised that this was not the moment to give her views on Lila Morestel and her sufferings. More especially she was embarrassed by the knowledge that she had been the unwilling recipient of that lady's confidence.
When she got home she wrote a little note asking Lila to come and see her, and the next morning came a telephone call from Flynn Hall.
"Is it very important, darling? I'm simply rushed off my feet. I have to see my solicitors today or tomorrow—or perhaps it's next Monday: I'm not quite certain. But anyway, I'm fearfully rushed! You know just how terrible I'm feeling about the whole business."
"Can you come tomorrow?" insisted Tressa, and there came from the other end of the wire a reluctant agreement.
"You know I'm selling Flynn Hall?" she added, just as Tressa thought the conversation was ended and was about to replace the receiver.
IT was perfectly true that Lila contemplated the sale of Flynn Hall. She discussed the matter with Vivy, who came to lunch that day, and he completely agreed with her plans. They sat together in the beautiful, panelled library that looked out on a stretch of lawn and a well tended garden. Lila was at her desk, and had before her a neat array of title deeds and accounts; for she was a business woman of extraordinary ability, methodical to a painful degree—it pained Vivy at any rate—even going so far as to keep the records of many strange but thrilling incidents in a steel filing cabinet. Because, as Lila told her husband:
"You never know when these things may be useful."
A cigarette drooped from Vivy's thin lips, his pale blue eyes surveyed the pleasant vista in a melancholy stare, his hands were thrust deep into his pockets, and his shoulders humped—a favourite attitude of his when he found himself in hopeless conflict with his businesslike partner.
"Well, have it your own way, Lila," he said, "only tell me when you've made the decision. I've never known you to be so undecided before. It seems a perfectly easy thing to do: you can bring a petition: I'll not defend it; and that will be the end of it."
She looked at him thoughtfully.
"I'm not sure that is the best way," she meditated. "Mike and I went to the El Moro last night and had a long talk. He's worth three millions, Vivy, but the money is so tied up that I can't see myself handling a great deal of it."
"Here, what do you mean?" asked Vivian, galvanised to activity in his alarm. "You're not going to cry off? I've promised that dear girl—"
"Never mind what you've promised that dear girl," snapped Lila. "And how you can bring yourself to fall in love with her is beyond me. I'm not going to cry off—I want to marry Mike."
"Isn't he engaged or something?" asked Vivy, with a flicker of interest. "I thought he was tied up with Lady Mary Midston— rather a pretty girl, too."
"He's tied up with nobody," said Lila decisively. "He likes her, and I suppose he is sort of engaged to her. I know he's rather worried about breaking it off, but that's nothing. The point is this"—she folded her hands on the desk and looked him straight in the eyes—"will it be the best for me to divorce you or for you to divorce me? If I bring the action, there's nothing in it for either of us, and there's always a chance that he might back out. On the other hand, if you bring the action, Mike's got such a strange sense of honour that he's certain to marry me and, what is more, there would be a settlement."
Now settlements had been the foundation of Lila's fortune and, incidentally, of Vivy's and they were now on ground familiar to both.
"Only this time, of course," Lila went on, "there would be no cut. Whatever I got would be mine, and I think, with a bit of luck, we could induce Mike to pay a hundred thousand pounds out of court. The only thing is that is mustn't be settled on me, otherwise it might affect my marriage settlement."
Vivian was now thoroughly alert, and for an hour they discussed ways and measures. At the end of that time Lila made a neat little memorandum of the arrangement, cursed her husband for his rapacity—he had ultimately accepted an eight per cent commission—and there, so far as the vampires were concerned, the matter was satisfactorily ended.
To Tressa, the next afternoon, she gave her own version of the agreement.
"My dear, the most terrible thing has happened! Vivy is filing a suit for divorce."
Tressa was staggered.
"He is divorcing you?" she said incredulously. "I thought—"
"I know, I know," said Lila, wringing her hands. She was a tall, svelte woman, with a willowy figure, an over-large chin and eyes of melting blue. "Isn't it too dreadful, Tressa! And after all I have done for him, the sacrifices I have made, after all my subterfuges to keep his name clean!"
"Of course, Mike will defend the action, and you will counterpetition?" said Tressa.
Lila shook her head sadly.
"I could do that, of course," she said mournfully, "but my dear, think of the publicity—I would make any sacrifice for Mike's sake. In fact, I've just seen him and told him so. You can't realise what this means to me, Tressa."
"But," said the incredulous Tressa, "You're not allowing Vivian to bring this action and offering no defence, are you?"
"What can I do?" wailed Lila. "I have to consider Mike. It's the awful publicity of a defended action that I'm thinking about." Tressa frowned.
"Is your husband asking for damages?" she demanded suspiciously.
"I don't know what he's doing. My head is in a perfect whirl, and I'm positively sick with worry and anxiety," said Lila. "Mike has been awfully good about the whole thing. Of course, it's come as a great blow to the poor darling, especially as he is, in a manner of speaking, innocent; and he's threatened to kill Vivy. But he realises that he's been seen about with me so much, and under the circumstances he feels, as I do, that the thing to avoid is publicity—"
"How much is Vivy asking?"
Lila threw out tragic and despairing hands.
"I haven't the slightest idea, darling," she whimpered. "Please don't ask me! The thing is so sordid and horrible that it doesn't bear speaking of."
Mike Long, a very dazed and serious young man, sat down that night and sent a letter which took him two hours to compose; and Mary Midston read it in bed and did not shed a tear. She read it twice, read it again, and then, reaching out of bed, lifted the telephone and called Tressa.
"Have you heard the news?" she asked.
Tressa, who had come in to breakfast early in the expectation of this call, replied cautiously:
"What news is this, Mary?"
"I've had a letter from Mike," said Mary, and her voice was singularly even for one whose engagement had been so unceremoniously broken off. "I won't read it to you, but it's all about my youth and innocence, and the horrible unworthiness of Mike. In fact, Tressa, he's ditched me!"
Tressa winced: she had never taken to the argot of the streets.
"And he's going to marry the Vampire. In fact, Mr. Vampire is bringing an action for divorce, and Mike is the Foolish Third."
There was a long pause.
"What are you going to do?" asked Tressa.
"I'm going to do all that I'm not expected to do," said the cool voice at the other end of the line. "I should be sobbing into my pillow, or writing a tear-stained letter. But, Tressa, I'm not going to allow that poor child—"
"Which poor child?" asked the startled Tressa.
"Mike," was the calm reply. "Do you know anybody who better fills the description? I'm not going to allow him to be ruined by that unspeakable reptile. I'm supposed to be unsophisticated but, Tressa, though I neither dope nor drink, nor indulge in the peculiar pleasures of our mutual friends, I know just enough of the wicked world and its ways to stop this divorce."
"How?" asked Tressa.
"Ha ha!" said the voice, so sardonic that for the second time within twenty- four hours Tressa was staggered.
"I know something about Lila," Mary went on, "and I'm going to learn a little more. Do you remember how she once settled a dispute we had at dinner, as to who won the money when we all went to Ascot with the Gladdings, by producing a four-year-old race-card with all the accounts neatly pencilled on the back?"
"But what on earth has that to do with the divorce?" asked Tressa in amazement.
"We shall see," said Mary, and rang off.
Mike Long was on the point of going out that night when the visitor was announced, and he almost collapsed at the sight of the girl in shimmering blue and white who confronted him in the drawing-room.
"Mary!" he stammered. "My dear, I'm sorry you came. I don't think it's wise of you to distress yourself."
"I'm not distressing myself at all," said Mary. "I thought I would come along and make your mind easy. I'm consoling myself with Social Snaps".
"With what?" gasped Mike.
Had his brutal conduct turned this unfortunate girl's brain?
"You may not have heard of Social Snaps, she said apologetically. "It isn't a very high-class paper—in fact, daddy says that it is a very low- class paper. It has been advertised for sale in the Press for months—you must have read the announcements. I bought it—daddy lent me the money."
"But why in the name of fate do you want to go in for that sort of thing?"
He was so astonished that he forgot the painfulness of the interview.
"You're not a journalist—you can't write—"
"Can't 1?" she said darkly. "Oh, can't I!"
He looked at her uncomfortably.
"I'm glad—I mean, I'm glad that you have taken things so well. The whole business is rather awful, isn't it? Vivy is a so-and-so, but I've got to go through with it. You don't know how terrible I'm feeling"
He babbled further inanities, and she heard him through. Then she made a statement, and he went red and then white.
"You mustn't say that sort of thing about Lila: she's as innocent as a child, and all these stories about her are lies. It is infamous to suggest that she has lived on blackmail—wicked!"
"You must subscribe to my paper, Mike," she said at parting. "Can you drop me at the comer of Russett Street, Lambeth? I saw your car at the door."
"Where!" he squeaked. "Russett Street—why that's one of the lowest neighbourhoods in London!"
"We journalists have to go to strange places," said Mary.
IT was on the fourth day of the second week after this interview that Lila stalked tragically into Tressa's room and dropped onto a chair.
"If I could only find the man I'd give him five thousand pounds," she groaned. "The fool didn't trouble to take my jewel case."
"But why should a burglar trouble to rob your library?" asked Tressa, who had read the account of the burglary in the morning newspaper.
"Because—I don't know!" snapped the Vampire. "Oh my God, why did he? Every paper taken from my safe, every letter stolen from my file! He must have spent hours. And there were two of them. The fool of a policeman said that he saw a little man and a woman coming down the drive and got into a car that was waiting on the road."
"Who was the woman?"
Lila could only wave despairing hands.
Tressa was genuinely puzzled for a day or two, and then one morning there came to her breakfast table a small weekly journal. She tore off the wrapper to examine Mary's initial effort as a journalist, and the first thing that caught her eye was a black letter announcement.
In our next issue we shall tell the story of:
The Vampire of Wembley
and publish extracts from correspondence between
this sinister woman, her wretched victims, and her horrible husband.
We shall also give the confessions of a converted burglar
owing to the influence exercised by a young and charming society woman,
was induced to return to the paths of virtue.
Order Your Copies Now
And then Tressa understood.
Lila read the marked paragraph sent to her by registered post and also understood.
She got on the telephone to Vivy.
"That Midston girl has got the letters, Vivy. I don't know what you'll do, but I'm going to California till things look brighter. I think that is the only way to stop publication. Oh, yes, Mike has a copy of the worst letters. I called him up a few minutes ago, and his valet told me that he was not at home to me."
"MISS ISOBEL HOWARD! There is an important telephone message for Miss Isobel Howard!"
For the third time a wooden-faced page boy walked through the Savoy Restaurant, making this announcement over and over again. The call distracted the attention of Daphne Wyse from the dinner party at which she was a bored guest.
The questions seemed to Daphne much more interesting than the people with whom she was dining: or the evening which was before her. Dinner, a show, and dancing afterwards! The same thing, night after night; and the same people, or exactly similar people. There was plenty of that sort of thing in Australia: and Daphne had not travelled 12,000 miles to see it.
She was not only bored; she was exasperated. Something was escaping her; something of which she received hints at almost every hour of the day. Somewhere in London, behind its veil of indifference and stolidity, things were happening that could only happen in London.
"I beg your pardon!" Daphne said, recalled to her surroundings by a question from the sleek-headed man on her right. "How do I like London? I'm afraid I have not begun to see London yet, so how can I tell?"
Mrs. Wynn-Dunkerly, the chaperone to whom Daphne's father had entrusted the girl when he plunged into the affairs which had brought him to London, coughed deprecatingly.
"You will be able to make a start to-night," said the young man encouragingly. "Everybody is talking about the opera we are to see; by a young English composer, you know. I suppose you don't get any real opera in the Colonies?"
"Melba is doing her best in Australia," Daphne said demurely. "She planned to lose a lot of money by doing it very well, the dear. But our people simply would not have that, you know. They flocked to the theatre, and it paid from the first night onward. So the Melba Opera looks like becoming a permanency."
"Melba? Oh, yes; she's a Colonial, too, isn't she? And she makes opera pay? The opera you'll see to-night is never likely to pay, of course. Opera doesn't pay, in London. This show costs Eldon Harcourt a steady £2,000 a week; and the beauty of it is that he's not supposed to have a bean. How he punts it up so regularly is the real mystery, if you know what I mean."
Taking the Plunge
Yes, Daphne knew what he meant. She had been in London long enough to become acquainted with the average Londoner's satisfaction at the lack of encouragement opera received in the greatest city in the world. Presently this man would begin to boast about the awful London weather; they always did.
"Mr. Eldon Harcourt? He must be a great enthusiast?" she said desperately.
"He's all of that, you know. Few fellows could keep it up, against all kinds of rotten bad luck, as Harcourt does."
"Miss Isobel Howard!" called a shrill voice in the distance. "An important telephone call for Miss Isobel Howard!"
The impulse to escape lifted Daphne to her feet. She could not endure one more evening of it. Dinner, a show, a dance; and Mrs. Wynn-Dunkerly!
She spoke broken phrases of excuse over her shoulder as she hurried away from the table. The page-boy was just passing through a distant doorway; Daphne fixed her eyes on him, as she imagined the explanations Mrs. Wynn-Dunkerly was already making.
"Such a nice girl, really; so unusual, you know. And really pretty, don't you think, for a Colonial! Her father, Mr. Wyse, is enormously wealthy."
Daphne's resolution nearly deserted her as she overtook the boy, who was still going off at intervals, like a minute-gun.
"Who wants Miss Isobel Howard?" she asked.
"Gen'l'man on the 'phone, miss; keeps on ringing up," said the boy, brightening at the thought that he had landed his fish.
Daphne dallied with the open 'phone, then picked up the receiver.
"Who wants Miss Isobel Howard?" she asked boldly.
"At last!" exclaimed a pleasant baritone voice, in accents of relief. "I was wondering if anything could have gone wrong. It was like balancing on the edge of a big deep hole. However, will you kindly present yourself at 119, Berber Street, at eight-thirty. And the fee for the night will be on the highest scale."
With a sigh of patent relief the owner of the voice hung up.
Daphne took from her vanity-bag one of the two five-pound notes she always carried with her; and wrote a hasty note to Mrs. Wynn Dunkerly.
"Please make my excuses: but I must go away to my father at once. I would not spoil your evening because of my own negligence, so I have taken a taxicab. I can manage quite well."
Three minutes later Daphne was rolling comfortably through London streets in the direction of Mayfair.
"I'm doing a perfectly awful thing," she told herself happily. "But the fee is on the highest scale. I wonder how much that is: and... and... wherefore?"
The comforting knowledge that she could always draw back remained with her, as she told the cabman to wait, and rang at the door of a fine old house, well lit behind discreet blinds.
Then a liveried footman stood between Daphne and a wide hall, which corresponded with the exterior of the house. Nothing was noticeable; but everything fine and appropriate.
"Miss Howard?" the man said.
As the door closed behind her Daphne felt braced by the plunge she had taken. Nothing could possibly have induced her to turn back.
"Miss Howard!" said the footman, throwing open the door with a flourish.
After her first amused glance at the startled face of the young man who confronted her, Daphne had no trouble in identifying him as the owner of the voice. He was just the sort of man she had pictured: tall, broad-shouldered, and with a brown, square face which was good-tempered rather than handsome. He looked about twenty-eight, and was openly embarrassed as only a decent young Englishman of that age can be.
"Oh, I say..." He faltered. "There must have been some silly mistake, you know. If you are Miss Howard, I... I'm sorry; but I was expecting another one."
"I was afraid you might be," Daphne said, with downcast eyes. "I thought it could hardly be myself, But the boy called so often. And when you said there was a fee on a high scale... I suppose I ought not to have come!"
She sighed and drooped pathetically.
"Oh, hang it, look here," he said impulsively. "If a fee means anything to you, and you wouldn't mind... I'm not asking you to do anything my own sister mightn't do. I'm Peter Wilmot, by the way. "But you don't look as if a fee..."
He paused doubtfully. Daphne lifted her eyes to his; she had won many a battle with her father just by lifting her eyes like that.
"Have you ever played roulette?" Peter Wilmot asked abruptly.
"No; but I should love to," Daphne answered eagerly.
He consulted his watch.
"As a matter of fact," he said, "you'll have to do it. There's no other way out; and no time to explain even. Just be yourself; and carry out instructions. Now, will you come this way?"
In the next room on the same floor a man was standing erect before the fireplace: a distinguished man of middle age.
"This is Miss Howard, sir," Peter Wilmot said: and the other bowed absently, Daphne thought, for he inclined his head in the wrong direction.
"Will you take my arm, please," he said formally. "We may as well begin at once."
Daphne accepted his arm without hesitation; there was nothing forbidding about either his face or his manner of speaking. But there was something in both which struck her as being rather sad.
Peter Wilmot preceded them rather fussily down the stairs, signing to Daphne as he made a turn to the right. At the first stair Daphne understood his solicitude.
The man on whose arm her hand rested was blind!
After that Daphne devoted her attention to guiding him, without seeming to do so. Peter Wilmot knocked at a door, and once more Daphne knew that bolts were being drawn. They were admitted to a noble room, hung with old tapestry, and finely proportioned.
In the centre, a group of men and women sat or stood about a roulette table.
"Thank you," the blind man said to Daphne, as they stood for a moment. "You have never played roulette, I think; but perhaps you have some idea of the game. In any case, it will be readily grasped by anybody of your intelligence."
Peter Wilmot now spoke to the blind man; he appeared to be telling him the names of the players at the table. Then Peter purchased counters, with a roll of notes the blind player provided.
"Now we will take our seats," said Daphne's companion. "You will kindly stake as I direct."
Nobody showed any surprise at their coming; apparently the blind man was a regular player. A few interested glances were thrown at Daphne, but no word of greeting was passed, as they sat down on two chairs which had obviously been reserved against their coming.
For a time the novelty of the task engaged the whole of the girl's attention.
Presently she had time to observe the company; and to find in her fellow-players the most wonderful feature of that strange house. In vain she sought for any trace of the nervous strain, or of the subtle dissipation she had expected to find at a gaming table.
A girl, a little older than herself, certainly smoked unending cigarettes through an amber tube; but when Daphne met her eyes she smiled in a way that won Daphne's heart. An older woman, stout and matronly, and rather profuse with her diamonds, saw counters worth £200 swept away with benign indifference,
The men were all the type Daphne was accustomed to meet. They had good faces, and the easy unemotional carriage of their kind. Between coups an occasional remark was exchanged on the run of the play; it sounded like pleasant small-talk.
The pile of counters before Daphne grew steadily. She made a third blunder, and again a profitable one.
"Play twenty coups for the maximum," directed her companion. "Stake just when and how your fancy impels you."
The maximum was £500. Daphne obeyed without any question; and for the first time felt the strange urge and thrill which holds the gambler to his amusement. It was not the money: it was an indefinable something she had never experienced before.
In that company, she knew, she must not show it. That was the hardest part of all; to keep her hands from trembling as she gathered in her winnings: to prevent her face from showing any sign of disappointment as she lost.
"Novices' luck," said the banker with a gentle laugh, as she won her fourth successive coup. "May I buy some counters, if you please?"
Other players followed his example, for the greater part of the counter currency in circulation was now piled up before Daphne. As she received their banknotes, she set them before the blind man; and noticed that he passed them, one by one, through his sensitive fingers, almost as though he could tell by touch the value of each note.
"That will do for the present," he said as Daphne completed her series of twenty coups. "I think I should like a little refreshment, if you would take me to the buffet."
At the end of the room, remote from the gaming table, was a buffet, where a man-servant dispensed champagne and other drinks, and an endless variety of sandwiches and similar light refreshments.
"You had better have a glass of champagne as well," said Daphne's companion when he was ordering for himself. "Roulette is an exhausting business, when it is over, as you will find."
He drew from his vest pocket a note: one of those Daphne had just received in exchange for counters.
"Is anybody within earshot?" he asked cautiously. "No? Then kindly tell me the value of this note."
"It is for a hundred pounds."
He nodded, like one whose surmise has been confirmed, while he drew it through his fingers.
"A few nights ago," he said, "I brought away a counterfeit note for a hundred pounds from this house. And here is another one; can you remember who changed it?"
"Yes," said Daphne. "But how can you be sure that it is a counterfeit? I can see nothing unusual about it."
"Blind people have a few compensations," he answered. "My sense of touch enables me to detect a different texture of paper. That, and a keener sense of hearing; a more facile appreciation of the refinements and delicacies of music—are the sole pleasures left to me."
"And gambling?" Daphne suggested.
"I loathe gambling," he said harshly. "Who passed this counterfeit note, may I ask?"
"I do not know his name," Daphne said, "but..."
"And it is useless to describe him—to me," was the reply, spoken with bitterness. "You will take me to a position near this player; and wait until he changes another note. He will surely do so. Then warn me by a touch on the arm."
Daphne hesitated; for the adventure, it seemed, was taking another turn, and a less pleasant one. But it was exciting, nevertheless; and she guided her companion to a place by the table, near the player who had changed the suspected note.
He had first come under her notice because of a subtle difference in his manner from that of the other players. He risked much smaller stakes than they, and always of the even-money chances. He appeared indifferent about his winnings and losings, yet his air was disturbed and anxious.
He was attractive enough: fair and of the athletic type; but Daphne, watching him now more closely, discovered something weak and effeminate in his face.
Presently he felt in his pocket, and drew out a clean banknote. Daphne pressed the blind man's arm.
"Sir Gerald Stowe!" said her companion, in sharp tones, which made every player turn in their direction.
"Yes?" said the banker.
"The gentleman who is about to change a note has already passed a counterfeit upon me this evening. I warn you to examine his money; and his pockets, where he doubtless has a good store of your counters."
If Daphne had not been warned of the imminence of this accusation, she might have stood, like the rest of the company, staggered by the suddenness and the gravity of it. Being prepared, she was able to anticipate the first movement of the accused man. He swung round on his heel and dashed his fist at the blind man's face.
"No, no," Daphne had cried.
Her brothers had not made her box with them to no good purpose, it seemed. Her round white arm, bare to the shoulder, came up in time to deflect the blow; and the striker was gripped by both arms before he had time to deliver another.
Daphne found the girl with the fascinating smile at her side, touching a big red bruise on her soft arm with soft, pitying fingers.
"Oh, bravely done," she whispered. "Come with me quickly or you will not be able to wear evening dress for weeks."
"No, no!" Daphne said quickly; "let me see what they are doing."
It was surely worth seeing—the circle of stern-faced men surrounding the handsome boy, who hid his pale face in his hands, making no further attempt to defend himself.
"Turn out your pockets, Mr. Winslowe," said the banker. "You change a note when you are well-supplied with counters! I think it is all quite clear, gentlemen. He knows he is beyond the reach of the law here; so he comes amongst us to change bad money for good."
"And he would have struck a blind man!" added another voice, in a shocked whisper.
"You understand," the voice of the stern judge continued. "You have twenty-four hours. If you are seen in London after midnight to-morrow, the story will be told everywhere. Now, go!"
"Now, come quickly," urged the girl beside Daphne. "Your pretty arm is all yellow and blue! I've got something for it. But I wish I could have thought to act as you did."
Daphne was carried away to a room and fussed-over and cold-creamed; but she knew by past experience that her arm was in a hopeless state. Nine inches of discolouration; well, it might save her a few evenings of Mrs. Wynn-Dunkerly.
When she emerged again, Mr. Peter Wilmot was waiting anxiously for her; but there was no sign of the blind man.
"Oh, I say," he began, with a rush of words. "You must have been splendid: everybody says so. Are you much hurt?"
Daphne shook her head.
"I'm all right, Mr. Wilmot. But what about the fee on the highest scale? I earned it, didn't I: and some explanation as well?"
He placed an envelope in Daphne's hand. It contained a note for a hundred pounds.
"It's a good one," he said, as the girl's eyes lit at the sight of the first money she had ever earned. "And Mr. Harcourt asked me to give you this, with his grateful thanks."
Daphne unfolded a sheet of paper and read:—
"Stalls D4 and D5 at the New Opera House are permanently reserved for Miss Isobel Howard."
It was signed "Eldon Harcourt," and the strange, hesitating writing made Daphne remember.
"Eldon Harcourt!" she exclaimed. "Then he was not a detective! He's the man who finances the opera company!"
"Out of the proceedings of the roulette," Peter Wilmot agreed. "Perhaps you begin to understand now? Harcourt has all the gambler's superstitions, you see. When he wants to break a spell of bad luck, he turns to the old superstition of novices' luck. Then it is my job to find him a presentable and discreet assistant who had never played roulette before. After to-night I'm beginning to think there must be something in it."
"But—but—" Daphne objected, "some day he will lose; lose everything."
"Then the opera must find a fresh patron; or close down," Peter said cheerfully.
"And you? What have you got to do with it?"
"That's what I wanted to get to, Miss Howard. I'm in business, you see, 'Social Emergencies': that's my show. My card, if you don't mind. And if such a fee as you've just received is any inducement... I wondered if you would join my staff."
"Social Emergencies?" Daphne repeated.
"They're always rising, you know," Peter said. "You have to get the right people to fill them. My job! And to-night I have blundered into a real find. But I suppose it is too much to hope that you'll..."
He indicated the fee envelope vaguely; but there was more of pleading than expectation in his voice.
"It was a big fee," Daphne said. "Do you always...?"
"We pay very well," Peter said, brightening wonderfully.
"Then I'll think it over and let you know. I have your card, you know."
"That's something, anyhow," Peter replied. "And now you'll like to go home. My car is waiting, if I may have the pleasure of driving you."
"If you'll have somebody to get a cab," Daphne replied. "I'd rather go by myself. And thank you for being so nice, Mr. Wilmot. You must have imagined me a... What did you think when the wrong Miss Howard appeared?"
"I'll tell you that later," promised Mr. Peter Wilmot. "She's got the sack, anyhow."
"Then I must think very seriously over your offer," Daphne promised as she offered him her hand.
When Daphne reached her hotel it still lacked an hour of midnight, and the Honourable Gervaise Wise looked up in surprise from the papers which occupied him.
"Home early, aren't you, Daff?" her father asked. "Where's the she-dragon? What did you think of the opera?"
"Wonderful, father," said Daphne promptly; "especially the way it is financed."
"Financed? The Opera? I say, Daff, hadn't you better be running along to bed! What on earth should you know about finance?"
YOU could count on the fingers of one hand all the people who know the history of the Academy "Picture of the Year." With one exception, they all assign the credit of that story to Peter Wilmot, the manager of the useful organisation known as "Social Emergencies."
The exception was young Peter Wilmot himself; for he was cheerfully willing to admit that the whole thing was managed by the girl he knew as Isobel Howard, who had come by chance to his assistance in rather a delicate affair staged in an exclusive gaming club. And even Peter Wilmot did not know that Isobel Howard was really Miss Daphne Wyse, the daughter of a Dominion magnate of the first magnitude, on a visit to London.
Chance had set the feet of Daphne Wyse upon the path which led to the affair of the Academy picture, even before she encountered Peter Wilmot and consented to become a member of the staff of "Social Emergencies."
"Daff," said the Hon. Gervaise Wyse, "early in the season we'll have a guest or two to entertain in London; rather swells in their way. And later in the year we are going down to their place in Devon; fine old place worth seeing."
"Ha!" said Daphne. "And who may these swells be?"
"Lord Mandate and his wife. They're bringing their daughter up to London in May, to be presented at Court, you know. He's a fine fellow, Mandate; though shockingly hard up. Death duties, taxes, and all the rest of it, you know."
"I suppose there's a young man concealed behind the curtains somewhere," Daphne suggested calmly. "I thought so; I could tell the touch of Mrs. Wynn-Dunkerly anywhere. A future peer, eh? Well, I'll take him on appro."
"Daff," said her father with a laugh. "You are incorrigible."
"Oh, never mind the young man for the present. Tell me about the girl."
"Lady Niobe Gardiner is a year younger than you, Daff. She is very beautiful, they say; and has been very quietly brought up. Good at sports, and that sort of thing, I gather."
"She sounds all right," Daphne conceded. "Well, all this means that you must take me to Paris to get some clothes. You, I mean: I refuse to have any chaperone sniffing about, when I'm choosing my own clothes."
They flew both ways between London and Paris, in order to save Wyse's valuable time; and Daphne spent two wonderful mornings at Cassavetti's. When she had chosen everything, down to her fourth Ascot frock, she made her acknowledgements to the beautiful English mannequin, who had not only displayed the models, but helped with a quiet word of advice, now and again.
"I don't know what I should have done without you," Daphne said, with the air of frankness which made people of all classes open their hearts to her. "I'll never be able to wear the rags in the way you do, though. You've the genius for wearing clothes, and the training as well. What do they call you, by the way?"
"Delicia," the girl said, with a smile. "It's not my name, of course. And you've chosen nothing you will not like, when you put it on, Miss Wyse."
"That's comforting, anyhow. But why does a clever English girl like you stay in Paris? I should have thought that in London... but perhaps the pay is better here?"
Delicia smiled and shook her head.
"If you want to be a famous mannequin," the girl replied, "you must be the daughter of a Socialist M.P.; or the sister or cousin of somebody with a title. Another way is to sit in the nude; or to get mixed up in some particularly nasty divorce or dope scandal. Then you're a wonderful mannequin, right off."
She was so good-tempered about it: and she was such a pretty girl, with her red-gold hair and hazel eyes lighted with golden gleams, that Daphne liked her better than ever.
"I'd do something to get myself talked about," she suggested. "Commit a murder, or have a fatal duel fought about me."
"I mean to," she agreed. "When I come back to London, I'll come as a vamp of the first water. The blue sky is the limit with me."
"Let me know when you are coming," Daphne said, giving her a card. "I might be able to help."
"Thank you," Delicia said gratefully. "My real name is Helen Gedge, Miss Wyse."
"It would be," Daphne agreed; and went away without expecting ever to see her again.
But that was before she had ever heard of the Picture of the Year.
DAPHNE got her first glimpse of that canvas on the day of the Academy private view. She was there, with Mrs. Wynn-Dunkerly, her chaperone; and was an amused spectator of that stout lady's effort to wedge herself into the crowd which stood before this picture.
"Let's come back later," Daphne suggested. "They'll go away presently."
"But they won't," said the chaperone fretfully. "You don't understand. This is 'Shop Soiled,' by Conrad Castieau. You must surely have heard of him, Daphne; he's a terrible young man, but such a genius."
Daphne nodded, intent upon the fashionable crowd which obscured her view of the picture. Why were they behaving in such a mysterious, knowing fashion? What was the meaning of the whispers, and becks and nods?
When at last she got a sight of the picture, Daphne was disappointed, repelled, and yet fascinated.
The subject was a girl, tall, graceful, and with a beautiful face. She wore a rich dinner frock, which would not even have been "daring," but for something in her attitude which conveyed wilful immodesty. Her right hand was stretched forward to a phial of cut-glass on a shelf before her: and the phial was half-full of a white powder.
To call such a picture "Shop Soiled" was to underscore the obvious. The title was as blatant as a newspaper headline.
The fascination of the picture arose from the technique, which evidenced a diabolical skill. Into the beautiful face of a gracious girl Conrad Castieau had painted a depraved mind. One could see the emotions, not of an unfortunate slave to the most degrading of vices, but of a novice, exulting in the opportunity of debasing her noble body by a new form of wickedness.
"I don't see why there's such a fuss about it," Daphne said, after a long inspection.. "It's enormously clever, of course; but how obvious."
Mrs. Wynn-Dunkerly smiled mysteriously, just like everybody else. Daphne found her perfectly maddening.
"But the story behind the picture, Daphne!" she said, with the air of gentle pity she kept for untutored colonials.
"Oh!" Daphne said; and turned to look again.
"Do you mean to say," she asked, "that it is not just a subject picture, composed and painted with the aid of ordinary models, and so on? Are you telling me that it is in any way a portrait: that it is a real and individual girl he has painted like that? Somebody people know?"
"S-s-h!" whispered the chaperone. "One doesn't talk so loudly of such things, my dear."
"He'd have been kinder," Daphne said slowly, "if he had thrown a bottle of vitriol over her face. Who is the girl, Mrs. Wynn-Dunkerly?"
"My dear Daphne!" protested the stout lady, at this direct interrogation.
"You don't know, or you'd tell me at once," Daphne said mercilessly. "None of these people know: they are only bluffing. The story has got round that she's a real girl, and people are trying to find out. Isn't that it?"
"Oh, it's quite well known," the chaperone protested. "I shall find out myself before I'm a day older. They may try to keep those things secret, my dear; but it is impossible."
"I suppose it is," Daphne agreed, surveying the whispering, gossiping crowd through half-veiled eyes. "They'll not be happy until they've got the name, will they? Even if it's the wrong name. I think I'll go home, if you'll excuse me. I want to telephone to my father."
She called a cab, leaving the car for Mrs. Wynn-Dunkerly. Daphne wanted a little fresh air, to remove the traces of her experience.
After a circuit of the Park, Daphne went to a public telephone box, and rang up "Social Emergencies."
"Is that Mr. Wilmot?" Daphne asked. "I'm Isobel Howard. Anything for me to-day?"
"Yes, yes," said Peter Wilmot eagerly. "I'm so relieved you rang up. I must see you at once, Miss Howard."
"Then, I think, you may take me to tea somewhere," Daphne replied. "I'm terribly anxious to earn some money."
SITTING opposite Peter Wilmot in a quiet, gloomy tea-room in Bond Street, Daphne reflected that she had not noticed what a wholesome and trustworthy personality the young man possessed.
Perhaps Peter was also renewing a favourable first impression, for he said, reproachfully:—
"Why don't you give me an address where I can find you, instead of giving me a daily ring in this mysterious way? I'm always afraid I shall never hear from you again."
"But you have, Mr. Wilmot; and every day. And this is the first time there's been anything to do since we parted in Berber Street. Now, what is the trouble to-day?"
Peter's face grew very grave.
"It's a very delicate and confidential matter, Miss Howard," he said. "I feel I can trust you. I am acting for Conrad Castieau, the artist. I see you have heard of him. He's a genius, you know; but madder even than geniuses are. And he's done a foolish, bad thing: and wants to undo it, before it is too late."
"What has he done?" Daphne asked, in a hard voice.
"It's rather a long story: and a rotten one as well," Peter said, apologetically. "Last autumn Castieau was commissioned to paint the old Dowager Lady Mandate; and went down to Devon, as the guest of Lord Mandate."
"Lord Mandate," Daphne repeated thoughtfully. "I've heard of him."
"Of course, he met Mandate's daughter," Peter continued. "She's coming out this year: but at present she's practically unknown in Society. She was then just a well-born country girl, fresh from school: great on golf and hunting and that sort of thing. And this idiot Castieau took the opportunity to fall head over heels in love with her."
"That was the trouble. She's not the type to whom genius appeals; she could never have thought of him, even as a man. She refused to take his mad passion seriously, even when he declared it. Just laughed in his face; as though he were perpetrating some silly joke. I shouldn't be surprised if she really thought it was just a burlesque, done to amuse her. But it hit Castieau very hard that she laughed; for he is as vain as he is crazy."
"She gave him no encouragement of any kind?"
"None at all. He freely admits that he hadn't a shadow of grievance against the little child—for she was hardly more. But off he went, in a terrible temper, and began to paint a picture to relieve his outraged feelings. From what he tells me, it is not a nice picture at all."
"It's an abominable picture," Daphne said fiercely. "I was at the private view to-day, and saw it. And I saw the effect it created."
"You were? You did? Then that makes it easier to explain. Castieau began the picture to express his contempt for women as a sex, especially beautiful young girls. He was thinking of one girl in particular; but he swears he had no intention of making his subject in any way like the girl he had in his mind."
"I suppose this girl has never done anything to justify the picture's suggestion?"
"I don't imagine, from what Castieau admits, that she even knows that cocaine exists."
"He ought to be publicly flogged," Daphne declared. "I never heard of such an abominable thing in my life."
"The only thing that can be said for him is that he'd go to any lengths to undo it," Peter replied. "He's mad and utterly unpractical. It never occurred to him, until he saw the crowd about his picture to-day, that people would see there was a story behind it. Now he realises that his visit to Devon will be recalled; and he can even recognise a subtle likeness in his picture to the girl he now wishes to protect."
"Then let him remove the picture from the exhibition at once," Daphne suggested.
"That will only underline the scandal which is just beginning. You must see that, Miss Howard."
Daphne nodded: she could see that point.
"Fortunately the girl is not well-known yet," Peter went on. "People are only guessing, and trying to fit the story to somebody. But in a week or so she will be presented. And after that any fool will be able to fit row and two together. Unless..."
"Unless what, Mr. Wilmot?"
"Unless you can think of something. I don't know why I have faith in you; but I have, somehow. All the resources of 'Social Emergencies' are behind you, and you may rely on Castieau to do anything that would help. Literally anything."
There was a long pause.
"Mr. Wilmot," the girl said at last. "I want you to telegraph a hundred pounds to Paris for me. Send it to Miss Helen Gedge, at Cassavetti's."
"Helen Gedge!" Peter said, noting the name. "And what happens then?"
"You must leave that to me, Mr. Wilmot."
OVER her breakfast, Daphne Wyse scanned the "Round London" column of her favourite newspaper, sipping her tea with infinite satisfaction.
"Among the distinguished people dancing at the Curlew Club last night," wrote the Gossip man, "I noticed Delicia, the wonderful new mannequin, who has come from Cassavetti's, in Paris, to take up a post with Madame Eglantine. She was dancing with Conrad Castieau; and behind that, my gentle reader, lies an interesting story. But I must not be premature; though everybody knows that Conrad Castieau has the most discussed canvas showing in this year's Academy."
"Fine work," approved Peter Wilmot, when she got into touch with him. "Great work, Miss Howard. But she'll carry a little more sail still, so crowd it on. People are talking of the other one, confound them."
"Watch this space to-morrow," Daphne promised. "And keep Mr. Castieau up to the mark. It all depends now upon his keeping his promises."
Peter watched this space eagerly on the next day; meaning, of course, the "Round London" column. He was rewarded by the picture of a very pretty girl.
"This is Delicia," said the writer. "The mannequin of whom all London is talking. It is an open secret, I think, that this clever girl posed for Conrad Castieau's successful picture in the Academy entitled 'Shop Soiled.' Indeed, Delicia told me so with her own pretty lips. 'I was just acting, of course,' she explained, 'but Mr. Castieau is good enough to say that my expression helped to make his picture what it is. I love posing for Mr. Castieau, for he has a stimulating personality; and seems to draw from you your very best.'"
"That's about done it, Miss Howard," Peter Wilmot approved. "Please arrange a meeting, so that I may discharge part of my liability."
"Not yet," Daphne replied. "The third stroke clinches it; and it is to be struck to-morrow."
With Mrs. Wynn-Dunkerly, Daphne visited the Academy to watch the clinching blow delivered. The crowd about "Shop Soiled" was thicker than ever, and buzzed with gossip like a hive of disturbed bees.
Daphne heard a rustle of excitement, a gasping exchange of emotion, a hissing whisper that seemed to fill the whole room. Then the crowd fell back to this side and that, to allow passage to Delicia, whose gloved hand rested lightly on the arm of the famous young genius, Conrad Castieau.
Delicia was gowned in Eglantine's newest and most original creation: a frock which took some wearing, as she confided to Daphne afterwards. In her pretty cheeks rouge had made a hectic patch, and her curved lips were like a red gash in her face.
They whispered it over and over again.
The pair walked to a position immediately before the picture; and Delicia gave it one careless scrutiny, like somebody looking at a very familiar object. Then she turned to Castieau with a dazzling smile, and murmured something in a confidential undertone.
At the moment, a new actor sprang upon the scene. He was a little man with long hair, and soft lustrous eyes; and he was suffering from a very shiny silk hat and much repressed emotion.
"Scoundrel!" he cried. "I challenge you to fight. Yes, you: the provider of drugs for innocent girls. I challenge you to fight me."
Delicia laughed the hard metallic laugh of the vampire-woman, while Conrad Castieau turned to an inspection of his picture with a careless, negligent smile. The intruder permitted himself to be seized by the arms: and to be led away, still vehement in denunciation, thought a well-dressed crowd, which was positively shivering with excitement and satisfaction.
And next day the scene monopolised discussion in all the Clubs of London.
"Yes," Peter Wilmot agreed, as he once more faced Daphne over a tea-table. "You certainly have cleaned up every last speck of mud. What I don't understand, Miss Howard, was the man who butted in providentially. Who was he?"
"Oh, that," Daphne said carelessly. "He's some sort of a he-dressmaker, whom Helen discovered, languishing in obscurity like herself. He's a wonderful designer: and they are getting married and setting up for themselves. 'Delicia-Frocks,' you know. Helen would be mad to waste all this notoriety by remaining simply an employed person."
"Wonderful," Peter approved. "The scandal is killed dead: Castieau is overwhelmed with commissions: you create a famous mannequin and a wonderful dress designer: and we don't do so badly out of it ourselves. And the Mandates have never heard a word of it! Only..."
"Isn't there some moral in those two going into partnership? Now, if you and I... What I mean is, that I must know where to find you at a pinch; now mustn't I?"
"The incident is closed," Daphne said severely.
DAPHNE WYSE found Scarlatti's, hidden discreetly among the beauty specialists, fortune-tellers, psycho-analysts, bridge clubs, vendors of strange pets, and the hundred other ministers to folly and idle extravagance who cluster in the luxury area between Bond and Regent Streets. Scarlatti himself received her, for he had been advised of her coming by Peter Wilmot, the manager of the organization known as Social Emergencies.
Scarlatti struck Daphne as unusual, like his establishment. A tall, bland man, of uncertain age and nationality, his beetling black eyebrows contrasted with the polished dome of his hairless head, just as the horn-rimmed glasses he wore accentuated the piercing quality of the dark eyes which glittered behind them. His big room, which he called his atelier, was furnished with an easy-chair or two. The remaining equipment was entirely of shelves, lined with flasks and bottles of strange exotic shapes; many of them labelled with queer, oriental characters.
"Z-o-o!" said Scarlatti. "You gome from my friend Wilmot? You gannot desire any change to a face so beautiful. Tadtoo marks to remove, perhaps? The inside of your head is sore with too many gocktails? You desire to borrow money on your diamonds? Tell Sgarlatti, if you please."
Daphne rolled back her sleeve, and exhibited a round white arm, bruised and discoloured from the elbow almost to the wrist.
"I am dining out to-night," she said simply.
"Z-o-o!" Scarlatti repeated.
Daphne wondered whether Scarlatti knew that the scar was an honourable one; for Peter Wilmot had said that this specialist, like herself, was a member of the staff of Social Emergencies. As a matter of fact, the bruise had been sustained in protecting a blind man from a blow, and had led directly to Daphne's appointment to the staff.
"I can feex him," Scarlatti said confidently. "Yesterday I feex a lady with two blag eyes."
"How did she get two black eyes?" Daphne asked.
"From her husband, of gourse," Scarlatti explained, as he rubbed a pungent fluid on the bruise with gentle fingers. "Soon this will give you pain; you should have gome sooner. But while you suffer Sgarlatti will distragt your mind."
He clapped his hands and a girl entered. She was about seventeen years of age, and wore a white smock. Her round, colourless face was as devoid of expression as that of a Dutch doll, and the likeness was emphasized by a mop of dark hair, bobbed squarely.
"This is Dolly," Scarlatti said. "Dolly is useful to me, begause she has a face so like a turnip. You shall see Sgarlatti work wonders upon the so blank ganvas of Dolly's face."
Already Daphne was conscious of stinging pains up and down the surface of her arm, and a burning sensation which rapidly increased in intensity and pain. But what was Scarlatti doing? He had turned the girl face about from Daphne, and was working deftly with a number of small articles, which he handled one by one—a camel hair brush, a crayon stump, a small powder puff, and a lip stick.
"Rage!" he said, suddenly twisting the girl about.
In a minute her face had been transformed; and she was a living fury. And then, with one sweep of a cloth, Scarlatti obliterated every trace of his handiwork, and the turnip-faced girl was gazing blankly at Daphne again.
It was so odd that Daphne had to laugh, in spite of the agony she was enduring.
"You are amused?" said Scarlatti. "Good. Now another."
He presented Dolly in turn as a freckled boy, a bland Chinese, a ravishing film beauty, and in half a dozen other different and widely varying guises. It was amazing work, and served to entertain Daphne through a quarter of an hour of exquisite torture.
"And now the arm feels better," Scarlatti said suddenly. "The most pleasant treatment follows. You may go, Dolly."
Gentle massage, fomentations with hot water and the application of many cooling lotions and ointments occupied another hour.
"Z-o-o!" said Scarlatti at length. "Enough for the present. While you are dressing to-night, I will gome and finish my work."
Lord Wanstead took Daphne to dinner that evening: and if he noticed how deliberately the girl lifted her hand to lay it on his sleeve, he gave no sign of it. Scarlatti had warned her that a sudden movement might crack the invisible skin-enamel with which both arms were coated to the shoulder. But there was no sign of the bruise.
Lord Wanstead was the son and heir of the Earl of Mandate; and the only thing Daphne was able to resent about him was his deliberate, premeditated courtship of herself, from the first moment of their acquaintance. The Mandates, with their daughter, Lady Niobe Gardiner, were the guests of her father in London for a few weeks.
Naturally, she saw a good deal of the heir to the broken fortunes of the Mandates, who occupied a minor position at Court; and was an irreproachable young man, always pleasant and purposeful.
"A most dutiful son, my dear," said Mrs. Wynn-Dunkerly, Daphne's chaperone. "He has never given a moment of anxiety. If all young men in his position were as careful to avoid scandal, and as alive to the responsibilities of their position, Society would be so different."
"He's very pleasant," Daphne agreed.
Mrs. Wynn-Dunkerly beamed approval. The Mandates were quietly cordial: and Lady Niobe even made tactful little advances.
"You are quite one of the family already, Daff," grinned the Hon. Gervaise Wyse.
Daphne gritted her teeth: her father was not playing the game.
"IS this Miss Howard?" asked the pleasant voice of Peter Wilmot, over the telephone. "Thank Heavens! Have you had measles, Miss Howard?"
"Lots," said Daphne promptly. "More than I could do with."
"Would you go and see a girl who's down with measles; or are you afraid of catching them again?"
"Is it important, Mr. Wilmot? There are pleasanter sights; and, if I were down with measles, I shouldn't want people to come and stare at me."
"It might be immensely important, if you could do anything. But, of course, it isn't possible. Even you could not help her, I'm afraid."
"That's a challenge, isn't it? Who is she?"
"She's Nesta Landells, an American; and worth millions, of course. Only her mother and her black maid know that she is sick; she will not even see a doctor, for fear it should get out."
"That sounds silly. Why the secrecy?"
"She'll tell you better than I. Will you go?"
"Certainly I'll go."
Mrs. Landells, an alert woman with haggard eyes, received Daphne with a mixture of relief and hopeless resignation.
"It's real kind of you to come, Miss Howard," she said. "But I'm afraid it can be no earthly use. You see, Nesta was to have been presented at Court to-night."
She paused dramatically, to allow the tragedy of it to sink in. Daphne nodded her understanding of the enormity of such an emergency.
"We come from Boltonville, Indiana," Mrs. Landells continued. "You've not heard of that burg, maybe; but it's a rare place for talk. Well, two years ago, Poppa and I brought Nesta to London, to kiss hands with your Queen. All Boltonville knew about it, before we left. And when we got to London, poor Poppa up and died on us."
"That was very sad," said Daphne.
"Wasn't it? And even at that, there was talk in Boltonville that it was just an excuse. That talk got Nesta mad, right through; so this year we came again. And now—"
"The poor kid!" said Daphne, as the full extent of the calamity became apparent to her.
"That's homey talk!" said Mrs. Landells, brightening. "So, you see, Nesta's taking it hard: so hard. I'm scared she'll die of it. She says she wants to die, Miss Howard. She's up there now, saying it over and over. She'll not have a doctor: and she declares she'll dress herself and go just as she is. You must excuse the way she talks, when you see her."
"She cannot say anything I wouldn't excuse," said Daphne sincerely. "I'll go and see her at once."
"Promise her something," urged the distracted mother. "Just so we can get her soothed down a mite, and persuade her to see a doctor. I tell you, Miss Howard, she scares me."
Daphne found the American girl sitting up in bed, tended by a stout, coloured maid, who was vainly attempting to keep her covered and still. Her face was disfigured with scarlet blotches, and her eyes were lit with the fire of fever: but Daphne could see that she was a remarkably pretty girl, of her own figure and type, although her golden brown hair had been shingled.
"Are you this Miss Howard?" Nesta began. "Then I just want you to hear me. I'm not going back to Boltonville, to be laughed at again. I'm going to Court to-night, and kiss hands if I die for it. I want to die. I want to die right here and now. Cant' something be done? I want to die, I say; I—I—"
"Stop that!" Daphne ordered sternly. "It's wicked; and it's silly. Of course something can be done. Let the maid cover you, or you'll catch cold, and be really ill. That's better. Now, who knows about this attack of measles?"
"Only Momma, and Luella there: and your Mr. Peter Wilmot. He arranged the presentation; so we sent to him at once. And now you know," the girl went on, becoming reasonable at the first glimpse of hope. "They wanted a doctor and a fuss: but I said I wouldn't have it."
"That was sensible. Have you a photograph, so that I may see just how pretty you are?"
Luella brought a photograph, and Daphne studied it intently, while Nesta watched her from burning eyes.
"It's not all over yet," Daphne said cheerfully. "Luella, bring me one of Miss Landells' frocks. We ought to be about the same fit."
"You mean——" The American girl gasped. "Oh, but—but—You could never put that over."
"If I did, would you be satisfied? It would be the same thing in Boltonville, you know. You'd have your picture in all the fashion pages in the United States; and the thing would be on record."
"Would I be satisfied?" the girl cried. "I'll tell the world I would. But—but—you'll never get past with it."
"That depends. Are your sponsors intimate with you, that they might find me out?"
"Intimate? Not so's you could notice it. It had to be arranged through Social Emergencies, I tell you."
"Well, your frock fits me, as if it had been made for me," Daphne said, with a satisfied glance in the mirror. "Now, Luella, you have a dressing-room ready, and Miss Nesta's presentation gown and bouquet all set out. And keep a close mouth—"
"But your lovely hair!" Nesta wailed.
"I was thinking of having it shingled, anyway," Daphne answered. "Now, we are trying what can be done; but I'll do nothing more, unless you lie down and compose yourself. Is that a bargain?"
"What is it these English people say?" Nesta asked, sinking blissfully among the pillows. "You are a good sportsman. Is that it?"
"Something like that," Daphne agreed.
Luella was holding the long presentation train over her arm when Scarlatti, working by Nesta's photograph, put the finishing touch to Daphne's transformed face. The girl turned about and anxiously faced the black maid.
"Fo de Lawd's sake!" ejaculated Luella. "It's Miss Nesta's own self, shuah!"
"Z-o-o!" drawled Scarlatti, well pleased. "If the Mamma will gome and say the same thing, I will be satisfied. One thing only, Miss Howard: you may deceive those who know Miss Landells well. It may go hard, though, if you encounter anyone familiar with your real self. That is the one danger."
Mrs. Landells, who had persuaded Nesta to take a sedative, was called from the bedside of the sleeping girl. When saw Daphne she held her hands up in amazement.
"The age of miracles is not past," she said piously. "And whatever happens, I am grateful. If money will repay what you are doing, my dear; and you sir..."
"You mistagke, madam," said Scarlatti harshly. "We are not gommercial adventurers, this young lady and I. We are ardtists, both of us."
"Thank you, Scarlatti," Daphne said, sinking to the floor in the curtsey suitable to her gown. "I hope I may do my share, as well as you have done yours."
All her nerve and fortitude were needed for the long-drawn ordeal which followed. There was the rush to the photographer: and an interminable wait at the Palace, amid the half-fainting girls and anxious sponsors. Daphne began to think the critical moment would never arrive.
But her turn came at last, and she braced herself for it. The long train rustled soothingly as she glided forward into the stately half-circle. She had herself well under control as she sank to the floor in a low curtsey. Only when she was backing away, without mishap, did Daphne venture to raise her eyes to take in the splendid scene.
Then she saw the familiar figure of Lord Wanstead, stiff and erect in the performance of his official duty. He was watching her, with an expression on his well-bred face which recalled Scarlatti's warning. That look gave Daphne something to think about, as she backed into comparative obscurity.
On the plea of a violent headache, she excused herself to her complacent sponsor from the subsequent entertainment, and hurried back to report to Mrs. Landells and to change.
At her next encounter with Wanstead she saw his grey eyes rest upon her shingled hair. They hardened to a steely glint, and the muscles about his firm mouth set more sternly; but he allowed no word to escape him.
It was Mrs. Wynn-Dunkerly, as Daphne presently discovered, to whom was allotted the task of verbal negotiation.
"Have you heard the latest, my dear?" said that good lady. "There's a whisper about a Court presentation, of all things. Two girls are concerned in it, they say; and one of them is one of those rich, vulgar Americans. It may actually lead to the cancellation of a presentation, I'm told."
"That wouldn't be very nice," Daphne managed to say, with a distinct effort.
"Oh, nothing need come out, of course, if the other girl is sensible. She has the chance of becoming engaged in a very influential quarter: and I expect she'll take it. Then nothing will come of it, of course."
"And if she doesn't?"
"Social ruin for them both, naturally. But she'll not be so foolish, I'm sure."
"It's very interesting, dear Mrs. Wynn-Dunkerly," Daphne managed to say.
So that was it! She was to be forced into a highly advantageous marriage, or Nesta Landells would find her last state at Boltonville, Indiana, worse than her first one. For herself, Daphne hardly cared; though she dreaded the necessary explanation to her father.
It was social blackmail. But was it any worse than what she had done; any worse than some of the services rendered by Social Emergencies? Daphne did not trouble to decide the matter. She needed all her wits for encountering the relentless, but correct pursuit of Wanstead; and for staving off the evil day, when a blunt proposal would force her to a decision.
She had managed to postpone that until the Mandates, with Lord Wanstead, joined them at Ascot for a house party Mr. Wyse was giving during race week. And then Daphne saw that the crisis could not be postponed any longer.
And in her extremity she encountered Nesta Landells, now fully recovered, and skirmishing with her mother on the inner edge of desirable things. They were staying at a house only a few doors away, it seemed.
"Nesta," Daphne said. "You called me a sportsman once when I tried to help you. Will you help me, now your turn has come?"
"Give me the chance," the American girl said, with convincing readiness.
For a long time Daphne talked.
"So that's who you are!" Nesta said at length. "I've read about Miss Daphne Wyse and envied her. And you... you really mean it?"
"Of course I do. But could you; would you?"
"Just try me," said the belle of Boltonville, Indiana.
LORD WANSTEAD came down to dinner early, with his chin firmly set, and the fire of resolution in his grey eyes. He had hardly dared to hope it, after the experience of the past weeks, but he found Daphne alone in the drawing-room. There was not a moment to be lost.
"Miss Wyse! Daphne!" he began, "for weeks I have been trying to snatch a minute of private conversation with you..."
"Not now, Wanstead," Daphne said, kindly, but firmly.
"But I have something to say which is of the utmost importance..."
"And somebody may come at any moment! I think I can guess what you have to say; and I am ready to hear you. But this is hardly the time and place, is it? Suppose you met me at the bottom of the garden—you know, where the rustic bridge crosses the stream—just after nine?"
"Do you mean it? I can hardly believe you. After my experiences with you..."
"Hush," said Daphne, a finger to her lips, "somebody's coming."
But she smiled; and Lord Wanstead had never thought she could smile so kindly and encouragingly.
He strolled down the long garden, rose scented and alluring in the white light of the moon, just after nine o'clock had struck. A white-clad figure stood on the bridge, leaning over to look into the bubbling, murmuring water. Wanstead flung away the better part of one of Wyse's finest cigars.
"You are here, Daphne?" he said. "It is almost too good to be true."
She nodded, and turned her face for one brief moment. It looked very beautiful in the moonlight. Then she bent once more to her inspection of the singing water below.
That made it easier; and Lord Wanstead proposed. He had composed the speech with characteristic care; and it was an eminently practical proposition he made, in the most judicious terms.
People such as they, he declared, had responsibilities, and the greatest of them was marriage. Therefore he was not going to talk any nonsense about love. But he could offer her deep regard and respect, and a life which he would keep, as it was at present, unblemished by any scandal.
And so on. There was a good deal of it, all very sensible and convincing; and all very fair. He was sensible of the advantages he gained; but he had also advantages to offer.
The girl heard it all in silence; and then Wanstead waited for his answer.
"It sounds about right to me," said an unfamiliar voice. "You can kiss me, Wanstead, and call it a deal."
Lord Wanstead seized her by the shoulders, and whirled her round to face him.
"What—what—" he stammered. "Who are you?"
"I'm Nesta Landells, Lord Wanstead; and though the wires got crossed for you, I want to say that I'm proud of the honour you've done me."
"But this is outrageous. What do you mean by this masquerade?"
"I'd like you to listen, while I talk," Nesta said coolly. "You've just proposed to a girl, whom you had made up your mind to marry, before you ever saw her. You told her why; and your reasons sounded good to me. You want to marry a pile, with a nice girl of some social standing attached by a string. Well, Daphne doesn't happen to want you; but I do. What's the difference? You mistook me for her, so I can't hurt anybody's eyes so much. I've been presented at court too."
Wanstead muttered something under his breath.
"And coming down to brass tacks," Nesta went on, "my pile is four times as big as hers, and its clean money. I think a lot of you: a man who sets his own wishes aside, and marries to keep up the old family name, just about suits me. And I would make you a good wife, Wanstead."
Nesta put a hand on his arm.
"You come and talk it over with Momma," she advised, "while I clean off this slop Scarlatti mussed my face with. Then you can see just you've bought."
Lord Wanstead's face relaxed, and there was even relief in the little laugh he gave.
"After all," he said, "why not?"
And stooped: and kissed her.
"But, Miss Howard, your hair," cried the horrified Peter Wilmot, when Daphne, after a long interval, once more faced him over the tea-cups. "The first time I saw you, I noticed how glorious it was. What can I ever do——"
"Do I look so terrible, without it?" Daphne asked coldly.
"On the contrary, you seem to me more—more beautiful than ever."
"Well, then," said Daphne contentedly. "Two lumps of sugar?"
"I FEEL rather guilty about dragging you into this," Lady Niobe Gardiner said, as she and Daphne Wyse motored down into Berkshire to spend a week-end at Cranston Court. "I'm terrified every time I have to face Grandpa."
"Is Sir Gerald Cranston so formidable, then?" Daphne asked.
"You'll see for yourself. He used not to be as he is now before my uncle Gerald was killed in the war. It was very sad altogether; for Uncle Gerald, who was Mama's half-brother, you understand, had just been married a few weeks."
"And the widow lives at the Court?"
"Yes. I think you'll find Monica sweet, although she was on the stage for a little while. But she came of a very good family, so that doesn't count. The tragedy is that there's no heir to the baronetcy; and it is one of the oldest in Great Britain. Grandpa broods over it, until he gets terribly morose."
"It must be very hard upon Mrs. Cranston," Daphne suggested.
"Monica does her very best to make up for the great disappointment," Niobe confessed. "Her devotion to Grandpa is wonderful. It would excuse anything."
"Is there anything to excuse?" Daphne asked bluntly.
"Well, she takes up with some strange people," Niobe said doubtfully. "I suppose it is having been on the stage. Only—it makes us wonder, sometimes."
It did not take much to make the Mandates wonder; and Daphne was not surprised to find Monica Cranston as charming as she was beautiful. Her devotion to her father-in-law was patently sincere and touching in its whole-heartedness. And the only guest at the Court who could, by any stretch of imagination, answer to Niobe's description of "strange" was a Mrs. Adrian Wolffe, whom Daphne could not quite place.
Sir Gerald Cranston himself interested Daphne, who quite understood that he might easily terrify a girl like Lady Niobe. He was a massive old man, with a leonine head, and the jowl and watchful, reddened eyes of a great bloodhound.
When Daphne ventured to approach him with one or two respectful civilities, he replied with a morose stare, but no verbal answer. Monica allowed this snub to pass without comment or apology, whereby she further earned Daphne's liking.
That the liking was mutual Monica proved when she came to her guest's room that night, to see that Daphne was comfortable.
"I've come for a little chat, too, if you don't mind," the pretty widow said, sinking into an easy chair. "I wanted to thank you for not being frightened of Sir Gerald, although he did snub you."
"Oh, I'm not frightened of him; but I'm tremendously sorry for him," Daphne answered. "And he's got to talk to me, before I go. I'm not going to forfeit a reputation for getting on with difficult people. I always find they're worthwhile, you see, Mrs. Cranston."
"Oh, he'll like you. He likes you already, as far as he's capable of liking anybody strange. That's why I like you, Miss Wyse."
"He is so good to me," the widow went on, "that I hate to see people go in fear of him, though it is his own fault. And I can never make up to him, for not giving him the grandson he'd set his heart on."
"Has he lost all interest in life, then?" Daphne asked.
"In everything, except in winning the Derby. That has been another of his life-long disappointments. His colours have been second four times: and he has often been almost as near. This year he has a great chance with Hy Brasil: but he knows it will be his last chance."
"But why?" Daphne asked.
"He'll not try again. I doubt if he would survive the disappointment long."
The next day was Saturday, and most of the party attended the races; though Sir Gerald was content to stay at home. At the races Daphne noticed two things which interested her: the first being that Mrs. Adrian Wolffe was very much at home on a racecourse.
The other was more puzzling. During a visit to the paddock with Lady Niobe, Daphne saw Monica Cranston talking to a smart-looking jockey, ready in his satin jacket to ride in the next race. Her manner was merely casual; but there could be no mistaking the look in the little man's face. It spoke of sheer infatuation, and Daphne felt uncomfortable, as she saw how strangely other race-goers glanced at the pair.
On the evening of her departure from Cranston Court, Sir Gerald recognised, in his own way, the steady and unflinching advances Daphne had made to him. It happened after dinner, when the old baronet came across to her with heavy tread.
"You come from Australia, Miss Wyse," he began. "They have no nightingales there, I understand. Have you ever heard the bird sing in the moonlight?"
"Never, Sir Gerald; it is one of the things every Australian longs to hear, and to boast about afterwards."
"If an old man may lean upon your arm, your wish may be satisfied. There is a grove on the hillside where they sing."
There was a rustic seat, under a great chestnut tree; and on this the two sat down, to listen in a long-sustained silence to the liquid bird-song.
"Over there," Sir Gerald said, breaking the spell, "you may see the dim outline of my training stables, on the other slope of the valley. From this spot we used to watch the horses exercise. It was a favourite spot with me, in those days."
"You are still very keen on the sport, are you not?" Daphne asked. "I am told that one of your horses is likely to win the Derby."
"The colt must win," Sir Gerald said, with a sudden gust of passion. "That is all that remains in life to me: to win the Derby. If Hy Brasil does not do it, I shall die, without even accomplishing so much. Does it seem a small thing to you?"
"Not a small thing," Daphne said hesitatingly, "but..."
"Of course, you do not understand. My name dies with me, and the old title as well. But for half a lifetime I had set my heart on this; and my boy was as keen as I. Do you know, Miss Wyse, that he bought the dam of this colt of mine, and presented her to me? And it is the fancy of an old man; the craving, I should say, to see Hy Brasil win for me at last."
"I hope you will be granted your wish," Daphne said sincerely.
"Thank you. I believe you do. It may seem strange, that I should talk so freely to you, a stranger. But it has been easy: where I must have remained silent before those who know me."
"IS that Miss Howard?" asked Mr. Peter Wilmot, over the telephone, when Daphne rang up the office of Social Emergencies. "I have been anxious about you; and lost without the assistance of the most resourceful member of my staff. May I see you without loss of time?"
"Tell me what your difficulty is," Daphne ordered. "Then we'll see."
"I'm afraid this will be a bit beyond even you; it's about the race for the Derby."
"I think I'd like to hear about it," Daphne said; and smiled at Peter's ejaculation of "Thank Goodness!"
"Business first," Daphne insisted, when they had met over the tea-cups. "What is your trouble over the race?"
"I've been consulted by the owner of one of the favourites: a colt called Clean Sweep," Peter explained. "He belongs to a Mr. Adrian Wolffe."
"Ha!" said Daphne.
"Why 'Ha?' You cannot know anything about Adrian Wolffe, even if you are wonderful. He's a rough diamond, who founded his fortunes by betting at starting-price, in the days before the war. Then he embarked upon munitions, and piled up a great heap of money. Whatever may be said of him, nobody would hint that he does not run his horses straight."
"That is something," Daphne conceded. "And what's the trouble about Clean Sweep?"
"That's just what Wolffe is trying to find out. The colt himself was never better; he won the Newmarket Stakes, and ought to be a hot favourite for the Derby. But the betting market tells Wolffe that he's all wrong."
"Things like that are always a matter of money, aren't they?" Daphne suggested.
"It is not often you are so far astray, Miss Howard. In the case of the Derby, where the suspicion exists that a colt is to be prevented from winning, the last motive I should expect to find would be a money motive."
"Then the racing films, and dramas, and novels, are all wrong," Daphne complained.
"I can make you see it quite easily," Peter volunteered. "The inducements to win the Derby are so strong that mere money hardly counts with the people really concerned. An owner, for instance, would be insane to throw away a chance of winning. The stake may be £10,000, and the accrued value to the colt three or four times as much: let alone the honour, and so forth. So nobody could afford a bribe large enough to corrupt an owner."
"But the trainer and the jockey? They are usually the traitors, in fiction."
"Sanders, who trains Clean Sweep, is a young and ambitious man: and Wolffe is remarkably liberal. Sanders will be a made man in his profession if his colt wins. Apart from his known integrity, no bookmaker, or coterie of bookmakers could pay him the price for turning traitor. They couldn't get enough money out of such a swindle."
"Then, the jockey."
"His case is much the same. Gunning will get a present of £5,000 for winning; and his professional reputation will be greatly increased, by riding his first Derby winner. And Wolffe says the lad is absolutely faithful to his interests."
"Did you say his name was Gunning?" Daphne asked. "A very good-looking, dapper little man?"
"The same. But why do you ask?"
"Never mind, Mr. Wilmot. Tell me more. What colt is likely to win, if Mr. Wolffe is correct about Clean Sweep being 'wrong' as you call it?"
"Sir Gerald Cranston's Hy Brasil," Peter answered readily.
"I see. And what exactly does Mr. Adrian Wolffe require of Social Emergencies?"
"He wants the backers of Clean Sweep to have a run for their money," Peter replied. "To do him justice, that is his principal worry. He is prepared to face defeat; but he detests the idea of any doubt being attached to the colt's running."
"Mr. Wolffe has a wife, has he not? I think I have heard of a Mrs. Adrian Wolffe."
"She wants to be heard of," Peter replied. "She's a social climber: but finds the ladder steep and difficult. I believe she was formerly the old fellow's book-keeper, or secretary; in any case she's much younger than he. He trusts her implicitly. I fancy she writes his letters, and directs his business. Education is not exactly his strong point."
"Yet he is an honourable sportsman," Daphne said. "I think I'd rather like to help him get a run for his money, Mr. Wilmot. Would he know, if from being 'wrong' his horse became 'right' again; and would he give Social Emergencies the credit?"
"He'd know, quick enough," Peter answered. "And he would not dispute any claim I felt myself able to make."
"Then good-bye for the present," Daphne said, rising briskly. "I must see what I can do."
When she had left Cranston Court, Daphne had received an invitation from Monica Cranston to visit the place again at an early date: an invitation briefly endorsed by Sir Gerald himself. At the time Daphne little thought she would return so soon, or in such trepidation.
Nevertheless, she put a bold face upon her request for an interview with Sir Gerald. Monica came to greet her, with many kindly excuses: but Daphne refused to be put off.
"Please tell Sir Gerald my business is most important, and will not keep," she said: and in the end she was conducted to the big library. The old man, with his head sunk between his shoulders, glowered at her from bloodshot eyes.
"Sir Gerald," Daphne began, in her firmest voice, though her knees were quaking beneath her. "I come to ask you a question. If Hy Brasil won the Derby, and you knew that he had won through any trickery, would his victory afford you any satisfaction?"
"I do not admit the possibility of trickery," the old man growled. "There is your answer. Kindly disturb me with no more such questions."
"Sir Gerald, do you approve of Mrs. Cranston's friendship with Mrs. Adrian Wolffe?"
"What's this?" he roared. "Do you insinuate anything?"
"Would it not be proper on your part to end it? And have you not the power to forbid any acquaintance between Mrs. Cranston and Gunning, the jockey who is to ride Clean Sweep?"
"My God! You go too far," cried Cranston, starting to his feet. "If you were a man, I'd ram your innuendos down your throat."
"Being only a girl," Daphne said, facing him with steady eyes, "I ask you if you know why Clean Sweep goes so badly in the betting."
Cranston sank slowly into his chair again.
"That will do," he said peremptorily. "Let me think."
For a full five minutes, Cranston neither spoke nor moved.
"Miss Wyse," he said at last, "you may be right; though I do not think so. The matter touches my personal honour, none the less; and I thank you for bringing it before me. But Monica must be spared; you see that. She must never even know what errand brought you here to-day."
"I could wish that, too," Daphne agreed. "Though I do not see how it is to be accomplished."
"I will undertake that," Cranston said. "I give you my word that what you suggest will not happen. Are you satisfied?"
"Of course I am satisfied, Sir Gerald," Daphne answered.
But she departed from Cranston Court wondering how it was to be managed, if no word was to be spoken to Monica Cranston.
FROM the box in the Stand at Epsom which she shared with her father on Derby Day, Daphne Wyse looked cautiously down upon the palpitating betting ring. Something more than usually exciting had convulsed bookmakers and backers alike, and Tattersall's buzzed like a hive of angry bees.
"There's a rush for Clean Sweep," her father explained. "He has been going rather badly all through the week; but he's a strong last minute order. Some of the layers seem terribly upset about it, and will not write another bet about him, at any price."
"How very strange," Daphne murmured, and glanced across to the spot where Sir Gerald Cranston sat between Monica and Niobe Gardiner, watching the turmoil from gleaming, sunken eyes.
Then came the parade, and the long agony of the start: and at last the field started on its journey. Early in the race the orange and black of Adrian Wolffe showed bravely in the van, while Hy Brasil, sporting Cranston's white jacket, blue sleeves, and scarlet cap, lay not far behind.
Clean Sweep was still in front, as they made the bend at Tattenham Corner, and came dancing along the rails, cheered on by thousands of supporters. Almost at the bottom of the incline Hy Brasil threw out a challenge. And then, for the better part of a furlong, the pair fought it out, stride by stride.
"What won?" Daphne gasped, as they shot past the post, locked together.
"Ask the judge, nobody else could know," Wyse replied; and then, as a number appeared in the frame, he consulted his card.s
"Hy Brasil," he murmured. "But only by a short head. What a magnificent race, Daff."
"Magnificent, indeed!" Daphne cried, with glowing cheeks. "Oh, I am so glad. You don't know how glad I am."
Her father looked at her with some surprise, for Daphne was not prone to display excitement. He was even more surprised when Cranston, after leading in the winner, came to the box and asked to speak to Daphne in private.
"Are you satisfied?" the old man asked abruptly.
"More than satisfied. Oh, far more, Sir Gerald."
"It was as you said," he went on. "You have the right to know that. I had it all out with Gunning. He owned up, when I threatened him with the stewards; and was immensely relieved to find his owner did not require him to lose. That's what Mrs. Wolffe and Monica had made him believe, between them. That woman writes her husband's letters, I believe."
"I suppose Mrs. Wolffe set her own social advancement above her husband's ambition to win the Derby," Daphne hazarded. "And Monica would see anything happen rather than that you should be disappointed. It was self-sacrifice on her part, Sir Gerald."
"I thought you might understand. Then you do not condemn her entirely, knowing how matters stand between us?"
"I think I admire her for it," Daphne said. "And I know that I love her more than ever."
"And that's well said," replied Sir Gerald, as he turned away.
"YES," said Peter Wilmot, when he and Daphne met again, "Adrian Wolffe gives Social Emergencies all the credit for getting him a run for his money. He doesn't understand what was behind it any more than I do. You are wonderful, Miss Howard. I wonder if you could give me a hint about the motive behind this?"
"You helped me there," Daphne answered, "when you proved to me that it could not be money, the lowest motive of all. That made me look high: and I discovered the highest possible motive."
"The highest?" Peter repeated. "And what is that?"
"Unselfish love," said Daphne softly.
"FOR you, Miss Howard," said Peter Wilmot, casting an admiring glance at the animated face across the tea table. "What I require should be easy this time. It is merely to win the confidence of a girl."
"Oh!" said Daphne Wyse. "You find such things easy, Mr. Dermot?"
"I said for you," Peter corrected. "I have only tried it once, but I made a wretched failure, I'm afraid, although it was the dearest wish of my heart."
"This was to be a business talk," Daphne said, "not a discussion of your private affairs. Who is the girl, please; and why am I to win her confidence?"
"The girl is Rhoda Slayne," Peter explained; "the only daughter of Roger Slayne—the Roger Slayne, you know. You've never heard of him? Slayne was the greatest all-round amateur sportsman of his day. Might have been boxing champion of the world. Stroked his 'Varsity eight, and won! Open golf champion twice! But his real game was lawn tennis."
"An Admirable Crichton!" said Daphne. "And his daughter?"
"Slayne has devoted years of his life to her," Peter said. "It's a sad story, in a way. Slayne's wife, to whom he was devoted, died very suddenly; and Slayne dropped right out of the picture. He wasn't heard of for years. All the time he was living in some remote corner of Devonshire with no thought except his child."
"The girl whose confidence I am to win?"
"Exactly. It seems she has turned out a female edition of himself. Her mother was a wonderful tennis player, and she has inherited from both sides. And Slayne has been coaching her for years. He is probably the best coach in the world; and he declares she is a marvel."
"Then why has nothing been heard of this marvel?"
"Now we come to the point. Slayne has been preparing a surprise for Italia Pauli, the champion. She publicly disputed a decision of his once, when he as acting as umpire in a game she played. Pauli can be very rude, and Slayne has never forgiven the public affront. He has planned that his daughter shall not only beat Pauli, but that it shall be a complete surprise to the lady champion."
"I'd like to see that myself," Daphne admitted. "And so would a good many other people. But I do not understand where I come into the story."
"I am about to tell you," said Peter patiently. "Until she came up to town about a month ago, the girl was as keen about the championship as her father. Slayne had to let a few keen hands into the secret, to give her a proper try-out. She has put them all through it, he says, and easily. But all of a sudden she seems to have lost all her keenness. She is moping and listless. And when Slayne tries to find out the reason, she retires into her shell. He's sure something is wrong, psychologically, but he cannot get her confidence."
"And you call that easy!" Daphne exclaimed. "Does this girl know that I am coming from Social Emergencies, to worm her secrets out of her?"
"Certainly not," said Peter Wilmot, looking pained. "What I proposed to Slayne was this. He has a house at Surbiton for the season, with tennis lawns, of course; and he's giving a sort of tennis party, with tea; and maybe a little dancing in the evening. I thought I might take you, and help you to make the acquaintance of the Slaynes."
At that, Daphne laughed outright.
"You will never win that other girl's confidence, by obvious devices like that," she mocked. "No, Mr. Wilmot: I'll manage to get an invitation to that party for myself, and even Mr. Slayne shall not know that I come from Social Emergencies."
"If you think you can," said Peter reluctantly.
"Leave that to me," Daphne answered.
In her turn, Daphne left it to her chaperone, Mrs. Wynn-Dunkerly, who would never admit there was anybody she did not know, or anywhere she could not go. And under Mrs. Wynn-Dunkerly's capacious wing, Daphne duly appeared at the Slayne tennis party.
When they arrived, a single-handed game was already in progress between Rhoda Slayne and a rising young player of the opposite sex, who was getting much the worst of it. Ackroyd had recently won a big tournament, but he was clearly no match for Rhoda Slayne.
Daphne began by taking careful stock of the girl herself. Her lissome grace partly concealed the fact that she was almost six feet in height, just as it helped to disguise the lightning speed of her movements. Rhoda's crisp red-gold hair was bobbed to show dainty pink ears, perfectly set on the head. Her blue eyes were frank, and set far apart; her mouth was wide and her smile displayed large teeth, which were wonderfully white and even. Her nose was rather small, but her chin was at once shapely and firm.
Altogether, Daphne thought her a remarkably attractive girl, and wholesome and sweet into the bargain.
As for her tennis—Daphne, who could swing a mean tennis racket herself, decided after witnessing only three games that no woman before had ever played such tennis. She had it all—a back-hand as sure and powerful as her fore-hand strokes: a mastery of the ball, which ended many a rally with an unplayable cross-court shot, a merciless smash accentuated by her height: and an uncanny prevision of her opponent's strategy.
In this game, Rhoda's opponent was a study: Ackroyd's hearty approval of her master strokes was intended as the height of good sportsmanship; but Daphne detected a false ring in his cordiality.
"He's only thinking how he can lose with good grace," Daphne reflected. "He's wishing he had never taken her on, and vowing it shall never happen again."
There was a scrap of conversation she overheard between two neighbours who were of the same hard, brown-faced type, which rounded out her reflection upon Ackroyd.
"Oh, you pet!" one had exclaimed, hardly above his breath, when Rhoda finished a game with a shot more amazing than usual.
"Huh!" grunted the other. "You'd better not try to pet her. You would probably get a straight left on the point, that would put you to sleep for ten minutes."
"You said it," agreed the first speaker. "She's taking no nonsense from any mere man."
And Daphne nodded sagely to herself, as play ceased, with Rhoda winning two straight sets. A little crowd of tennis fanatics flocked about her, bubbling congratulation and admiration. Ackroyd gave a final exhibition of manliness in defeat, and then retired, for a shower-bath, he said. But Daphne noticed that he made no reappearance.
After a minute, Rhoda freed herself from her admirers, and walked across to a group of three, who were sitting in gay deck chairs on the edge of the lawn. Two were elderly ladies, who seemed to be listening attentively to a small and youngish man, or rather romantic appearance.
Rhoda stood before these three, and seemed to address herself to one of the ladies. As she did so, the man rose and offered his seat, with a smile and some remark, apparently jocular. Whatever he may have said, Daphne could see the light go out of the tall girl's face.
She shook her head, and turned away, to rejoin the tennis enthusiasts.
"Who's the man over there with the artistic necktie?" Daphne asked her chaperone. "He looks as if Chelsea were more in his line than tennis."
"My dear, do you mean to say you don't know Hector Mallon, the poet? Would you like to meet him?"
"He's a novelist too, isn't he?" Daphne asked. "Didn't he write The Impenitent?"
"Yes, a wonderful book," said Mrs. Wynn-Dunkerly. "It was all the rage, for quite a long time."
"It would have been more wonderful," Daphne said, "if he had left out a few bits which were just nasty."
Mrs. Wynn-Dunkerly shrugged her shoulders. It was her way of saying that narrow views were to be expected from visiting Colonials.
Daphne made up her mind, as usual, in a moment. She plunged into the little mob about Rhoda, and drew the girl aside.
"I say," she began. "I left my vanity bag in the car, and I know my nose has gone all shiny. Would you mind..."
"Come along," Rhoda answered: and over a powder puff they laid the foundation of a very real friendship.
"YOU can make yourself scarce this afternoon, father," said Daphne kindly to the Hon. Gervaise Wyse. "Rhoda Slayne is spending the afternoon with me, and Delicia is going to show all my frocks. So we shall need the library."
"Isn't that a queer entertainment to offer a sporty young woman?" Wyse asked. "I thought they despised furbelows?"
"I know a prominent Dominion statesman," Daphne answered, "who went to the National Sporting Club and shouted himself hoarse over a horrible boxing match."
"That's quite different," Wyse said, pinching her ear. "But I flee before the coming of Delicia."
Delicia—whose real name was Helen Gedge—was a famous mannequin, and a protégée of Daphne. She brought good-will as well as skill to the impromptu dress display Daphne had arranged.
"I do so love pretty things," Rhoda said, a little wistfully. "I have to get everything so plain, you see."
"I don't see why," Daphne replied.
"Oh, I'm so huge; and besides, what's the use?"
Daphne wondered if the answer to that question might not be found in the remark of the young man who would not dare to "pet" Rhoda Slayne. But she thought it well to change the subject, and unlocked her jewel case, with the question:—
"Would you like to see my treasures?"
They were nothing very wonderful, for the daughter of so rich a man, but Rhoda admired them, especially a small necklet of pearls.
"Yes," said Daphne complacently. "I had a struggle for those. I got them out of father, in the long run, by letting him beat me at golf."
"You let him win!" Rhoda said doubtfully. "My dad would call that hardly sporting."
"Oh, men are never sporting, when they're matched against women," Daphne said positively. "They mean to be, and they think they are, of course. But watch them among themselves. One man can take a licking from another, without thinking he has to be sickeningly polite about it."
"Papa was really delighted, when I began to beat him at tennis," Rhoda said, exploring an idea which seemed novel to her.
"And the others?" Daphne asked. "Were they really delighted too?"
"I never thought," Rhoda answered frankly. "I never seem to bother what they think. Men who talk of nothing but sport don't really interest me."
"No," said Daphne. "That reminds me, that a friend of yours took me into dinner last night, and we talked a little about you. But he didn't seem interested in sport. I mean Mr. Hector Mallon."
As she pronounced the name, Rhoda, who had been fingering the pearl necklet, let it slip through her fingers to the floor. As she would have stooped Daphne took her by the arms and forced her to meet her inquiring glance. The crimson blood surged to Rhoda's very temples, telling its own tale.
"I like him, Rhoda," Daphne whispered, slipping an arm around her friend's waist. "Tell me about it."
Then Rhoda bowed her head into her hands, and gave way to a great sob.
"He avoids me," she said mournfully. "He thinks I'm just a big athletic animal, good only for playing games. At first he wasn't like that at all. He used to talk to me about what he was writing, and tell me bits of his new poems. Have you ever read his poems, Daphne?"
"They're very beautiful," Daphne said.
"Aren't they? And he used to talk to me, just as he writes. It was like going on a journey to fairyland. I know I'm stupid; but I seemed to be able to understand that. And he said I helped him to get his beautiful thoughts clear. And then I read his book, The Impenitent, you know. That was beautiful, too; but there are some parts of it I couldn't understand, so I asked him about them."
"You did," said Daphne, wondering more than ever.
"He put me off," Rhoda said. "He found out I was stupid, I suppose. I didn't understand at first; I tried to talk as we did at first. But he avoids me. I know he hates stupid people."
"You are not stupid, Rhoda," Daphne said. "You have true simplicity of mind, which is a very different thing. It's rare: and it's sweet and beautiful."
"You are trying to comfort me," Rhoda said sadly. "The last time I spoke to him was the day when you and I first met. I'd just won a match; and all he said to me was 'so you've put conquering man to shame again!' So now I keep out of his way."
"And you care?" Daphne asked.
"I don't think I'll ever care about anything else. It's not his fault he cannot be bothered with a game-playing machine, is it? I think I hate tennis, Daphne. And I'm supposed to keep my whole mind on winning the championship!"
"And don't you want to win?"
"I want pretty things and a good time, like other girls. I want a husband, who'll be helped by reading to me what he writes. I want to run a house for him and to... to have babies. Damn the tennis championship."
"I hope that did you good," Daphne said severely. "Because it sounded like the most awful oath I ever heard in all my life."
"You've done me good," Rhoda answered, kissing her. "I'm glad I told you, and I'm not sorry I swore. I've got it off my mind now, and I feel better somehow. You'll keep my secret, I know. And I suppose I might just as well win their old championship, just to please poor old papa."
HAVING steeped herself in the poetry of Mr. Hector Mallon, Daphne set out to capture the poet. She was agreeably surprised in him; and soon abandoned the idea that he had treated Rhoda badly. If, at times, he was inclined to be what Daphne called "long-haired and frantic," that was merely the artistic temperament seeking an outlet. Really, he was a very sincere and lovable little man.
On the opening day of the ladies' championship at Wimbledon, Daphne considered her acquaintance intimate enough to ring Mallon up on the telephone.
"Do you know that Rhoda Slayne is drawn in the first round at Wimbledon against the champion, Italia Pauli?" she asked. "Well, it is so, Mr. Mallon. They are playing to-day; and you are going to take me. Please! I have two seats, but no escort."
That left no way open to a refusal, but he was a very silent and distracted poet whom Daphne picked up in the car which took her to Wimbledon. Daphne, however, was intent upon understanding something which had puzzled her very much, and went directly to the point.
"You know, Mr. Mallon," she began. "Rhoda Slayne and I have become great friends, and I am proud of it. I think she is the most splendid girl, in lots of ways, that I have ever met."
"So do I," he said, unexpectedly. "Miss Slayne has the very beautiful mind of a wise, pure, child, with the glorious form of a Greek goddess."
"Oh?" said Daphne, taken aback by the fervor of this outburst. "You used to see a good deal of her, didn't you?"
"Until I forfeited the privilege," replied Mallon, with deepening gloom. "Until I slank away abased, to pay the penalty of the unchangeable, damnable written word."
He paused, and then added, melodramatically, "Nor all your tears wash out one word of it!"
"There must be some misunderstanding," Daphne suggested. "I happen to know that Rhoda likes you, far better than that tennis crowd from which she cannot escape. I fancy she is even a little hurt."
"If she thinks of me at all, it must be with cold contempt, Miss Wyse. When she first met me, I let myself talk. She inspired me; it was no pose, believe me. I could leave her, and go home and write tender, touching things. I was on the verge of singing the song I dreamed about, when I was a boy. My short acquaintance with her was the one beautiful thing which has happened in my life."
"She came across a book I had written to earn notoriety and success. Have you read it: The Impenitent? It brought her to me with sad, accusing eyes, asking for an explanation. It was like standing before the Eternal Judge, a huckster of filth."
His sincerity was so marked that Daphne laid her hand on his.
"It may not be so bad as you think," she said. "I want to talk to you later—but here we are at the courts. You are still her favourite poet, Mr. Mallon."
The first set between Italia Pauli, the lady champion, and Rhoda Slayne, a novice of whom rumour had said a great deal, drew crowded galleries.
Rhoda played like a genius; but an erratic one. Roger Slayne, seated in the front row of the gallery, hid behind an impassive face alternate spasms of exultation and blind anger. His girl was showing what she could do in one game, and in the next was throwing the match away.
Yet Rhoda made it four all; and then seemed to settle down to her real game. She took the next two games and the set in a style which showed her a better player than the champion herself.
The delight of the crowd was almost too apparent; and nobody showed quite as much enthusiasm as Mr. Hector Mallon. With an approving eye, Daphne noted that he was by no means indifferent to tennis, when Rhoda was playing.
"In Australia, we'd call you a barracker, Mr. Mallon," she said. "I think you want Rhoda to win, don't you?"
"I never wanted anything quite so much in all my life," he replied. "How magnificent she is."
The players were changing courts, and Rhoda cast a look up at the seat where she knew Daphne would be sitting. Her eye fell on Daphne's companion, and even at that distance Daphne could see the hot blood rush to her face. For a moment she stood, as if irresolute. Then the second set began.
The first game was a love game, won by the champion, amid dead silence. Italia Pauli took the second game, just as easily. During the third game an occasional laugh was heard: a laugh of disgusted incredulity. For Rhoda was doing desolating things.
Slayne sat like a man numbed by a great disaster: but the cruelest thing of all was the display of sympathy by Italia Pauli.
"She's doing it on purpose," Daphne told herself, desperately. "And I'm the only person here who knows it, and why she does it. I put it into her head, with that tale of letting Dad beating me at golf. She'd give all the championships in the world, to hear this little man speak a piece of his poetry. She's losing, to try and please him. But it's got to stop: it's got to stop!"
The set ended amid conventional applause for the champion. It was a love set. Stony faces lined the galleries.
Daphne glanced at Mallon, and saw that his face was actually grey, and his lips trembling.
"Mr. Mallon," she said sharply, "if you do as I tell you, Rhoda can still win."
"I? What can I do? What has happened? I fail to understand."
"Rhoda is losing on purpose. Never mind why. Here is paper and pencil. Write her a little note, which I will undertake to deliver."
"But what am I to say?"
"Write: 'Dear Rhoda; if you love me at all, beat that woman,'" Daphne dictated.
"I should not dare"
"Write. Take a chance," Daphne urged. "Time is nearly up. She'll like it better than any poem you ever wrote, and that's saying something."
Dazed, the poet obeyed. Daphne pressed forward and tossed the note, wrapped round a penny, to Rhoda. Rhoda read it twice, and found a safe place for it somewhere inside her close sleeveless jersey.
"Now for fireworks, Mr. Mallon," said Daphne, contentedly. "We've done the trick, you and I."
Wimbledon was wildly elated at the first two games; and then Wimbledon became rather shocked. It was all very well to knock Pauli out as if she were a novice: but it was rubbing it in too deep to throw away a set deliberately. Things like that are not done, you know.
Pauli lost very badly, in both senses of the word, so that the match rather left an unpleasant taste in the mouth, even for those who bowed down enthusiastically to worship the new star.
But Rhoda Slayne gave no thought to applause or criticism. When the match was over, she kissed her father dutifully: and then came straight to Daphne.
"Where is he, Daphne?" she asked.
"In the back seat of my car, trembling and waiting," Daphne said. "I'll have to ride with the driver: it's the best I can do, Rhoda."
"I'll come just as I am," Rhoda answered.
On the way home Daphne started a conversation with the driver, talking loudly and continuously. But presently Rhoda touched her on the shoulder.
"He always loved to see me win, Daphne," she said. "He's written a poem about it, long ago: but he never dared to show it to me. He's coming to dinner with us, to read it. Do you mind?"
"Mind?" Daphne asked. "I don't have to listen to the poem, do I?"
"I ALWAYS think, Miss Howard," said young Peter Wilmot, "that you wear the prettiest dresses I see anywhere. That you have on at present, for instance..."
"Business," interrupted Daphne Wyse, though her eyes and voice were both very kind. "I consented to have tea with you because you wanted to talk business."
"But this is business," Peter replied triumphantly. "Social Emergencies has a new client, and her trouble must be just in your line. She is a very rich girl, with the ambition to be considered the best-dressed woman in London. Miss Molly Winter—have you heard of her?"
"I've seen her," Daphne answered. "She certainly dresses very elaborately, but in wonderful taste; and she's very attractive, as well as beautiful. I shouldn't have connected her with quite such a vulgar aim."
"It's a case of rivalry," Peter explained. "Miss Winter told me that this ambition of hers is quite a recent whim. Her way of putting it was that she was not going to let Mrs. Hugo Branding have it all her own way: as though that were an explanation."
"It explains a lot," Daphne replied. "Mrs. Branding is rather a man-hunter, isn't she?"
"She's a bad lot," Peter said severely. "She's ruined her husband by sheer extravagance in clothes: and now she's up to her eyes in debt. So Miss. Winter chose her time to dress Mrs. Branding off the face of the earth, as she said to me."
"Who's the man?" Daphne asked.
Peter Wilmot blinked at the abruptness of the question.
"Now you come to mention it," he said, "Captain Corliss used to be seen everywhere with Mrs. Branding. But they are never together now; and I heard the other day that an announcement of his engagement to Miss Winter might be expected. You are very shrewd, Miss Howard."
"Huh!" Daphne said. "What more does the girl want? She seems to have won the game."
"Perhaps she's fearing the penalty of success," Peter retorted. "Mrs. Branding is furious at her rivalry: for she held the championship belt, or whatever it is, for elaborate dressing. She is going around now, boasting to her friends and acquaintances that she is preparing a humiliation for her rival. Naturally, these threats have come to Miss Winter's ears; and she has sense enough to know that the woman has ability as well as the desire to hurt her. So she came to me."
"It cannot be pleasant," Daphne reflected, "to live in dread of an enemy like Mrs. Hugo Branding. I'll see your Miss Winter if you like."
And so it was arranged. The heiress received Daphne with a quick glance, which took in every detail of her dress.
"You'll have to be frank with me," Daphne said. "What do you think Mrs. Branding means to do? The whole trouble is about a man, of course."
The Toll of Misery
"Of course," Molly Winter agreed readily, though her face grew rosy at the admission. "I have been crazy about Gerald Corliss ever since I came out, and Mrs. Branding used to keep him in her pocket. A girl like myself has to do something, in these days, Miss Howard; and I played her own game against her. Gerry says he thought it was awfully sporting of me; and that's how things began with us. He's cut her entirely out of his programme now, and she's ready to murder me in consequence. If only I knew what was coming! You've no idea what an awful woman she is."
"Tell me!" Daphne urged.
The stories which followed were not nice ones, by any means; and the sufferers were always young girls who had incurred Mrs. Branding's enmity. One had been ruined by an accusation of cheating at bridge, backed by evidence apparently incontrovertible.
"I could tell you lots more," Molly continued. "People who get in her way just go down, or are made ridiculous. They suffer, without knowing why until later, when Mrs. Branding boasts about it."
"She's threatening you now," Daphne suggested. "What answer are you making?"
"I'm fighting harder than ever," said the girl, her lips tightening. "It may sound a silly game—this rivalry in clothes—but it is the way to hurt her. She's got no money: but still she's putting up a fight. But at Ascot I'll finish her off. I've discovered a new genius in dress design."
"A secret, I suppose?" Daphne suggested.
"Not to you. He recently joined Irma's staff: about the same time as Delicia, Irma's mannequin, got herself talked about over that Academy picture."
"Otto Pieri, perhaps," Daphne suggested.
"You have heard of him? I say, you seem to know a good deal about one thing and another."
"Delicia happens to be a friend of mine," Daphne explained. "She's going to marry Otto, and set up on her own account. Meantime, they are both working for Irma. Delicia says he is very original."
"He's a genius," Molly said enthusiastically. "He's designed a novel dress line for me. It comes"
Assured of her listener's understanding and sympathy, the best-dressed girl entered into technicalities.
"And it will be seen at Ascot for the first time," Molly concluded. "I'll have it to myself, and make it all the rage. And that will be the last straw for Mrs. Hugo Branding."
"How many people know about this?" Daphne asked.
"Not many, naturally. There's Irma herself, and Otto Pieri and Delicia, who stands for me at the drapings. She's about my figure and colouring, you know: and saves all the fag of being there. And there's the woman Irma has for draping, who is also a wonder, in her way. They work in a locked room, and nobody else knows exactly what is going on."
"Irma is taking no chances, then?"
"She even distributed the embroidering over four or five Paris houses," Molly answered. "She has planned a sensation."
"Do you think Mrs. Branding has any inkling of this?"
"She'll expect something," said the heiress, complacently. "She has found that when I start on anything, I do it thoroughly. When I've done with her, that woman will never want to talk about clothes again."
"Then it seems to me," Daphne said, "that it is Mrs. Branding who should be worrying."
IT was by no mere coincidence that Daphne Wyse met Mrs. Hugo Branding at a dinner party a few days later. Daphne wished it to happen: and happen it did.
Mrs. Branding was too engrossed in a pink-faced youth to pay any attention to Daphne, when she was presented in the interval of waiting to go down to dinner. Not so Mrs. Branding's woman-friend of the moment, a Russian lady with a polysyllabic name, who preferred to be known as Princess Nedda.
"Sit down by me, won't you?" the Princess drawled. "That is, if you do not object to associating with working classes."
She was lolling back in an easy chair, smoking a thin cigarette through a long tube of jade; a sinuous woman with eyes that glowed with the brown fire of an onyx. Noting the long, slim fingers, white and perfectly kept, Daphne wondered what her claim to be considered a worker amounted to. Princess Nedda seemed to fathom Daphne's thought, for she continued—
"I work in a dressmaking room, you know; only we call it an atelier. It's that or starve, since those wretched Bolsheviks mopped up the family bullion chest, and everything else."
"How terrible for you," Daphne said, without any great amount of emotion in her voice. London had rather bored her with its stock of noble Russian refugees, always ready to recite their tales of woe.
"You don't mean that," Princess Nedda said with a little laugh. "Well, I do work anyhow, at Madame Irma's. And having worked hard to-day, I'm longing for my dinner."
At that moment the man who was to take Daphne down, a barrister named Borlase, came along, and the line began to form. Daphne and Mr. Borlase were old acquaintances, and he took the first chance of opening the conversational ball.
"What was Nedda saying to you?" he asked. "Telling you about the ancestral millions, all gobbled up the Bolsheviks, I suppose?"
"Right in one guess," Daphne answered. "I suppose it is true, is it not, that she is employed in a dressmaking atelier?"
"She would be," Borlase replied. "If only to develop another industry, in which she is something of a specialist."
"This sounds interesting, Mr. Borlase," Daphne said, in her most encouraging fashion.
The barrister dropped his voice to a confidential level.
"I know about it professionally," he said. "I happen to be concerned in an international law suit. It has to do with a number of costumes, designed for Jewel Fayre, the film star, by a famous Parisian house."
"Dresses!" Daphne said. "Please go on, Mr. Borlase."
"The case was settled, without coming into Court; but the facts were something like this. The dresses were exclusively designed for the cinema lady, who paid fabulous prices for the monopoly of the design. When she returned to the United States, she found dozens of women in every big city already wearing frocks of exactly the same cut, design and material. So she got her money back, and a big solatium into the bargain."
"And where does Princess Nedda come into the story?"
"The pirating had been done, in all innocence, by a big wholesale manufacturer in Chicago. He had bought the designs and patterns from one of his spies in Paris, months before Miss Fayre returned home. And though it was never proved, there was no doubt in the famous Parisian house thus victimised that the thief was Princess Nedda. She had got employment there by means of her hard-luck story; and kept it, by her very real ability."
"How very interesting!" Daphne murmured. "The Princess is a great friend of Mrs. Hugo Branding, isn't she?"
"The Babysnatcher!" said Borlase, with a glance at Mrs. Branding and her very youthful squire. "I hadn't heard that. If so, it is rather a recent friendship, and bodes no good of any kind."
"Tell me all about Mrs. Branding," Daphne suggested. "You know lots of secrets, don't you?"
"I'll tell you one thing about her, to begin," said the barrister grimly. "If she gets her claws into that pretty Winter girl, she will leave a lifelong scar. She's got all London waiting to see just what her boasts and threats amount to."
"You think she is sure to score?"
"She's bad medicine for young girls," Borlase said, darkly.
AFTER a hot and tiring day in Madame Irma's showrooms, Delicia, Irma's most beautiful mannequin, was as delighted as surprised to find the car of Daphne Wyse waiting for her, when she left business. Daphne herself, leaning out of the window, beckoned her over.
"In you get, Helen," she said—for in private life the notorious Delicia was a very proper young woman called Helen Gedge. "I mean to take you home for a quiet dinner with me, and a nice chat afterwards."
"Angels still come to earth sometimes," Helen said, leaning luxuriously back on the cushions, and relaxing. "I've had a hard day of it."
"Then don't talk until you have fed and smoked," Daphne counselled.
When coffee and cigarettes were before them, Daphne asked:—
"How is your wonderful Otto getting on?"
"He is wonderful," Helen said stoutly. "I know you despise men dressmakers, but Otto suits me. And his chance has come at last. Molly Winter is wearing four frocks by him at Ascot. It means the making of him."
"Of both of you," Daphne corrected. "Since you are to marry soon, and set up for yourselves. Are the frocks so wonderful then?"
"It's the line of them," Helen said. "It's sure to be the rage, shown as it will be shown. And they are amazing, of course: elaborate in detail. Nobody else has anything just like them; except one insignificant person."
"Who is that?" Daphne asked, sharply.
Helen blushed, as she indicated herself.
"The dear fellow has designed some frocks for my trousseau," she said happily. "They are simpler than Miss Winter's, naturally; but you should see them. Otto went to Conrad Castieau for the colour schemes, and then put his whole heart into the work. They are just being finished in a little workshop we have taken for ourselves, and where we are gathering the nucleus of a staff. They're the first work turned out from our atelier: and I'll wear them on our honeymoon."
"And rival the best-dressed girl in London," Daphne said.
Helen nodded happily.
"It's absurd, of course," she said. "But it gives him such pleasure, dear fellow."
"It's charming of him," Daphne said, warmly. "You and Miss Winter are about the same figure, aren't you?"
"Exactly the same: and much the same colouring, you know. Between ourselves, I think she'd look even sweeter in these gowns of mine than in those she is to wear. Those would be more suitable for an older woman, to my mind."
"I wonder if I could have a peep."
"Impossible!" Helen cried. "Miss Winter is making a rare fuss about secrecy."
"Just to get a general idea," Daphne coaxed. "You know I am to be trusted, Helen."
"Of course," Helen said, indignantly. "Who suggested anything else? One thing I could do. I have the first sketches: and they show pretty well the general idea. If you cared to see them, they are locked away in my rooms now."
"Let's go!" Daphne answered.
"Otto is certainly a genius," Daphne admitted, when she had inspected the original draft of the Ascot frocks for Miss Molly Winter. "I suppose it would be nothing short of disastrous, if anything should prevent Miss Winter from wearing his frocks?"
"I don't think he'd ever get over it; and I know I shouldn't," Helen replied. "We are risking everything on this chance: and it makes me nervy, just to think of anything going wrong."
"Helen," Daphne said. "I want you to trust your own frocks to me, until Ascot is over. If all goes as it should, nobody shall even get a glimpse of them; not even myself. But I have a reason for asking."
"They are to be Otto's wedding present," Helen said, a little doubtfully.
"You silly child: do you think I'm overlooking that?"
"Of course, you may have them, Miss Wyse," Helen said, her doubt swept away. "If I wouldn't do that much for you"
"Oh, I know what a lot I'm asking," Daphne answered. "But you shall never regret it, Helen: if I can help it."
AN hour and half before the time of the first race, on the opening day at Ascot, young Peter Wilmot waited anxiously at the main entrance to the course; for the girl he knew as Miss Howard had asked him to be there. His face brightened when at last Daphne alighted from a car.
"I say, this is an unexpected pleasure—" he began; but Daphne cut in ruthlessly.
"Who said anything about pleasure?" she asked. "We are here on business, Mr. Wilmot: Miss Winter's business. Please keep a sharp look out for her, for I shall be occupied with looking for something else."
"Whatever you say," Peter agreed, humbly.
Cars were already arriving in one long stream, and every train was contributing its full load to the throng of race-goers. People were coming early, so as not to miss the splendid pageant of the Royal procession.
Suddenly Daphne clutched Peter's arm.
"Who is that?" she asked in an excited whisper.
She was gazing at a woman dressed in a most striking fashion: a woman whose good-natured face, under its plentiful make-up, beamed with satisfaction at the attention she was already attracting.
"Do you mean to say you don't know Peggy Pimlico?" Peter asked. "She's a music-hall artiste, of course; and a jolly good sort: although she will sing songs which need disinfecting. I never saw her dressed so well: generally she is what I call flamboyant."
"Huh!" said Daphne, absently, "and she ought to look well-dressed, too."
"And who is that?" she asked again, a few minutes later.
"Why, it's Eulalie!" Peter exclaimed. "She's Johnstein's famous model, you know: and calls herself Queen of Chelsea. You wouldn't tolerate her at any price. But she's dressed up to match Peggy, by gum."
"So, even you can notice it," Daphne said. "And here's another of them. A third celebrity, I suppose?"
"The notorious Mrs. Belsize," said Peter. "And she's the Queen of the Divorce Court, Miss Howard. But what's it all about?"
"There's Molly Winter!" Daphne cried in quick alarm. "And I cannot get to her for all these cars. Run and prevent her getting out. Say she's got to sit still, and not to remove her wrap on any account. Be quick, Peter, dear."
Peter Wilmot needed no more urging. He dodged among the cars: and was just in time to prevent Captain Corliss from assisting Molly Winter to alight. Daphne, forcing her way towards them, could see Peter gesticulating, and almost forcing the girl back into her seat. A moment later Daphne arrived on the scene, and took charge.
"Miss Winter," she said, briskly. "You are coming with me for a few minutes; not very far. Captain Corliss, you wait here for her, with Mr. Wilmot. Tell the man to drive off as quickly as he can."
"Mrs. Branding, I expect," said Molly Winter bitterly, as the car started off. The girl was pale and shaking, and Daphne's urgent interruption had evidently shaken her nerve.
"That's it," Daphne agreed cheerfully. "But do not worry or get upset. You are coming to my place now, to change your frock."
"I've nothing to change into," Molly said, wringing her hands. "It's impossible. Oh, what is happening?"
"Keep cool," Daphne ordered. "I have a change ready for you. Mrs. Branding doesn't win, believe me."
"But your clothes will not fit me: though I'm sure they're very pretty."
"Please don't argue. Keep your head. Here we are: and you'll find everything ready."
Daphne's own maid had a frock all laid out in the dressing-room to which Daphne led the bewildered girl. Molly submitted in a dazed way to the joint ministrations of the pair of them; and in ten minutes was allowed to inspect herself in a long glass.
A quick exclamation of delight was Daphne's reward.
"Why, why" she cried. "It's the Pieri line. I do believe you are a witch. And I think I like it even better than that."
She pointed to the discarded frock.
"Mustn't I ask questions?" she went on.
"Not now. We must hurry: those men will be impatient."
"But what has Mrs. Branding done?"
"Your own eyes shall tell you," Daphne promised. "When we get back to the course, we'll visit the public enclosure first: and you shall see for yourself."
Mystified and protesting, Captain Corliss accompanied them to the crowded lawns; and Daphne soon found what she wanted.
"Look!" she whispered.
"Peggy Pimlico, in my frock!" Molly exclaimed.
"And there! And there, too! Daphne insisted.
"Mrs. Belsize: and that creature Eulalie!"
The light of battle kindled in Molly Winter's eyes.
"She shall pay for this," she cried. "She planned to make me ridiculous, the subject of a story which would have endured to the end of the season! And you saved me! What can I do to repay you?"
"For the moment, just one little thing," Daphne said. "Give me a minute's start before you go to the Royal enclosure. I want to see Mrs. Branding's face when catches sight of you and of your frock."
It was easy enough to find Mrs. Hugo Branding, and Daphne had no more difficulty in discovering that she was busily preparing the ground for her expected triumph. For Mrs. Branding was exploiting a piece of news, at the full pitch of a very clear and distinct voice.
"Have you heard the joke?" was the question with which she greeted each newly arrived acquaintance. "There's going to be a free fight in the public enclosure between Peggy Pimlico, Eulalie and Mrs. Belsize.
"Yes, my dear, each is accusing the other two of wearing an exact copy of her own special creation. Three exact replicas; you never saw anything quite so funny in your life. All that is needed to cap the joke would be for somebody to walk in here, with another facsimile edition of the same frock. I'm keeping my eyes open for fear I miss the fun."
Other people were also keeping their eyes open. Mrs. Branding's boastings were too recent for her friends to miss the significance of her joke. In some way, people guessed she was about to take her vengeance upon Molly Winter.
So that there was a stir when Molly entered the enclosure, chatting carelessly to Captain Corliss; and the stir was followed by a murmur of admiration. The fashion experts could be seen taking further notes, and exchanging nods of approving criticism. Whatever else might be lacking at Ascot, the best-dressed girl in London had risen to the occasion.
And then somebody remembered Mrs. Hugo Branding. She was standing rigid, with a mechanical smile on her lips: but her eyes betrayed her. All the initiated were able to gather, in one look, that her scheme had gone wrong. All except the vapid youth at her side.
"Oh, Mrs. Branding," he said. "Won't you tell Molly Winter your joke about Peggy Pimlico and the rest of them?"
And having witnessed the smiles which followed, Daphne was satisfied with her work.
But before joining her party, Daphne hastened back to Peter Wilmot, still patiently waiting where she had posted him.
"All right?" he asked.
"As right as rain," Daphne replied. "Virtue victorious, and villainy vanquished. But I—I have to leave you now. I belong to a party here, and—they are waiting for me. I am sorry."
"Not a bit of it," said Peter manfully. "You did call me Peter, didn't you?"
"Peter dear," Daphne corrected: and next second she was gone.
HAVING performed to her own satisfaction in the swallow-dive, the jack-knife and several other feats of fancy diving, Daphne Wyse suddenly realised that it were better she left the water at once. Quite unconsciously, she had attracted a gallery; more people than she had thought it possible to collect in so quiet a place as Scatfield-on-Sea.
Reviling herself for appearing conspicuous, Daphne climbed the diving-platform as the quickest way to reaching the dressing-rooms. In that moment the wailing call of a child arrested her steps; and she flashed into the sea again.
Daphne had noticed her several times on the front: a lovely little girl of eight or thereabouts, with violet eyes and bobbed hair like a helmet of spun gold.
Daphne had noticed her mother with even more interest, because of the wistful sadness in her beautiful eyes and the adoring watchfulness with which she guarded the child at play on the sand. A competent, smart nurse, and the invariable daintiness of the child herself had spoken of abundant means; but the mother herself invariably wore the plainest and severest black dresses.
Self-reproach made Daphne swing her arms desperately now and set her teeth as she put out every atom of here strength. She could visualise it quite easily! The mother's attention caught for a minute by her own showman diving: and the child snatching the opportunity to adventure into deep water!
Nearly there now! Daphne lifted her head as shriek after shriek reached her from the distant beach. In the nick of time a tiny hand appeared above the surface, and with one stroke Daphne had her tight and turned over upon her back.
The rest was easy. The guardian boatman, who had been gaping like the rest at Daphne's diving feats instead of keeping his eyes upon the bathers, had his boat alongside in a minute, and helped Daphne in with many a clumsy apology. And the screaming on the beach turned to wild, hysterical laughter.
"The child's all right," Daphne said, "cutting the boatman short. "Shout to somebody to bring a cab, will you? There's going to be a scene."
Already the crowd was beginning to cheer, as the little girl spat out a mouthful of salt water and sat up and waved a limp hand. The boat neared the sand, and, with a strong stoke, the boatman drove her bow well out of the water. As Daphne lifted the child out, her mother, with streaming eyes, fell on her knees in the wet sand, fondling Daphne's hand and calling blessings down upon her head.
"Please compose yourself," she said as they drove off to her hotel. "You'll only upset the child, you know."
Once within doors Daphne handed the hysterical woman over to her own competent maid.
"Poppet and I can manage, Grace," she said. "If you'll get that nice chambermaid to borrow some dry clothes for her. There are two or three children about her size at the hotel."
"My name is Peggy Osborne," volunteered the youngster, bestowing on Daphne a briny kiss. "And thank you for saving my life."
"That's the way," encouraged Daphne. "Let's make ourselves pretty for mother."
In ten minutes they both presented at least a respectable appearance, and Daphne was able to place a very much alive little girl in her mother's arms. Daphne was recalled from a long inspection of the view from her window by Mrs. Osborne's voice addressing her.
"I've got myself in hand again; and now I can thank you properly," she said quietly. "I'm sorry I repaid what you did by making a scene; I can understand how you hated it. But Peggy is all I have now; and it was my fault that she nearly drowned out there. I just took my eyes off her for a minute to watch your clever divining, and...."
"So it was my fault, after all," Daphne interrupted. "Let is call it quits, and say no more about it.
"You are Mrs. Osborne, aren't you? I'm Daphne Wyse, an Australian girl over on a visit. I've often noticed you and Peggy on the beach, and longed to make friends."
"Yes. I'm Irene Osborne," was the reply. "Mrs. Bill Osborne: or at least I used to be. I suppose you thought I was a widow?"
"Oh!" Daphne said, in momentary embarrassment. "I don't know that I thought a great deal about that."
"I see you know the story; everybody does."
"I was at Colonel Osborne's wedding three weeks ago, "and I never thought.... Oh, how detestable life is sometimes! That wedding!"
"Please!" Mrs. Osborne faltered.
"Oh, I feel angry," Daphne cried. "To see you and that darling hiding away here as though it were you who ought to be ashamed; and to remember that wedding. The cheering crowds around St. Margaret's to see the V.C. hero married! And that girl! She looked like an angel from Heaven instead of a callous husband-stealer. And he looked the part, too: the only satisfactory hero I ever saw. And he deserted you and that sweet little girl. Why is it allowed?"
"Don't! Don't!" Irene cried. "You don't know. You mustn't say such things. You don't know anything. Bill Osborne is a hero: a bigger hero than those people knew, when they cheered him. And Cynthia is a brave girl. And I'm wretched: wretched: because the two dears are under a cloud for my sake. Their's is a clean love-story: and it's not fair. Not fair, do you hear?"
"You praise them?" Daphne cried incredulously, "And Peggy left without a father!"
"She never had a father," Irene Osborne said impulsively. "There: it's out now; and I might as well tell you all about it. I want to; I want to tell everybody. Nobody can do anything, now Bill and Cynthia are married. "
"Hadn't you better lie down again?" Daphne suggested. "This has been too much for you."
"Bill Osborne is not Peggy's father, Miss Wyse. He was never my husband in more than name. Her father was Basil Swayle, Bill's greatest pal. They were captains together in France; and I met Basil when he over on ten days' leave. Before it was up we found that we loved one another, and decided to be married at once. You don't know how it was in those times."
"I've heard about it," Daphne said.
"We had only two days left; just time to get married before Basil went back. It didn't seem to matter then; and even now I should do the same again. Only, Basil was recalled the next day, before we had time to marry. But even then, it didn't seem to matter."
"And he never came back?" Daphne whispered.
Irene bowed her head.
"He was missing; he has been missing ever since. Bill came over a few weeks later, to tell me that there was no hope. I think he must have known a good deal, for he made it very easy for me to tell him how it was with me. And then: dear old Bill! For the sake of his dead friend and his friend's unborn child, he married me."
"Not for your sake?" Daphne could not help asking.
"He knew then my heart was in the grave. We neither of us ever dreamed of anything real ever coming of it. It was done to give Peggy a name. It didn't seem to matter while Bill was on active service; but when he came back he fell in love with Cynthia, and Cynthia with him. Cynthia was my dearest friend, and she couldn't hide it from me, try as she might. And, of course, I told her everything."
"And she?" asked Daphne, catching her breath.
"Loved Bill more than ever. We arranged it between us, then and there. I asked Bill for a divorce one evening, and later Cynthia proposed to him. That's the truth, in plain words. What else was there to be done?"
"She has been very brave," Daphne said, thinking of all the unkind things she had said of Cynthia Osborne.
"So was Bill. I had to be the coward. Poor old Bill! The mean business he had to go through to make a divorce possible. You know, he wrote me a letter giving me the name of a hotel where he had taken somebody. Of course, Bill wasn't that sort of man at all. And it wasn't altogether easy for me either. I had to go into the witness-box and act, or the judge might have suspected collusion. Oh, it was all hateful!"
"So that is why you look so unhappy!" Daphne said. "Because..."
"Because two dear people are misjudged for my sake. But I mean everybody to know now. Bill is married, and they cannot rescind the divorce. So the more people you tell about this, in confidence, the better I'll like it. I won't have hard things said about them any longer."
"And your real husband?" Daphne asked, gently. "I suppose...?"
"There was no hope from the very first. He was as wonderful as Bill. If you will come to see me and Peggy, Miss Wyse, I'll show you his photograph."
"I'd love to," Daphne said. "When you really find out about people, they are not worse than they seem, are they? Usually, they are a great deal better."
DAPHNE WYSE returned to London from Scatfield-on-Sea with her mind made up. It is true that she had gone to that quiet resort on the pretext that she wanted some rest and quiet after a hectic Ascot week. But, really, she had gone to think about everything and come to some decision.
For Daphne had to admit that she had fallen in love, quite romantically and senselessly, with a young man about whom she knew rather less than nothing. The only consolation she had was the obviousness of the fact that Peter Wilmot, the young man in question, returned her violent affection, although he knew even less about her.
For Peter imagined her to be an adventurous and rather needy young girl, who made a mystery about herself, probably because the plain truth was neither interesting nor very palatable. Whereas Daphne did know that Peter was a gentleman, though she wondered why he found it necessary to pursue so speculative a calling as the management of an institution such as Social Emergencies.
In the seclusion of Scatfield-on-Sea Daphne decided that she had carried her harmless mystery far enough, if not too far. It was only fair to Peter that she should tell him just who she was and why she had meddled with the affairs of Social Emergencies. Then, if Peter like to say what he had so often tried to say when Daphne had cut him short....
Why, then, Peter could explain himself and his strange business to the Honourable Gervaise Wyse. Daphne chuckled gleefully, as she pictured her father's face when the surprise was sprung on him. She was still chuckling when she rang up Social Emergencies on the telephone.
"Is that Mr. Wilmot?"
"Peter," corrected an eager voice. "Where have you been all these many years?"
"Seaside," Daphne replied. "I'm just back. And I think, Peter dear, that I would like you to take me to Kew Gardens this afternoon."
"Business?" asked young Peter Wilmot suspiciously.
"Pleasure, I hope," Daphne replied.
Yet, as they strolled through the less-frequented alleys of Kew Gardens, Daphne became conscious of a growing disappointment. Peter, who had never shown himself shy or unenterprising, refused to accept all the clever little openings she made for him. He hardly seemed to be playing the game at all; he was so absent-minded, although obviously very happy.
"What is on your mind, young-fellow-my-lad?" Daphne demanded at last, outraged at finding no chance of imparting her confidence. "You won't talk, and you don't even listen properly."
"Business," Peter said, with a flash of defiance. "Business, if you want to know. Social Emergencies is in the cart at last, and it looked so fatally easy."
In a moment Daphne had shed her growing embarrassment; for the old savour of their acquaintanceship had come back at the mention of the word business.
"Tell me," she said, sitting down on a garden seat. "Anything I can do?"
"Is there anything you can't do?" Peter asked. "But this is a queer fix. It's an Olympic competitor who has jibbed at the last moment. He refuses to compete: and, in a way, he's the most important competitor of all."
"Begin at the beginning," Daphne commanded. "It's the only way, Peter."
"Once upon a time, then," Peter began, "a public subscription was taken up in England, so that Great Britain might be properly represented in the Olympic Games. The public found something like £40,000, mainly in the hope of discovering new talent. It touched their imagination, that a champion runner might be hidden behind a draper's counter, or that a great swimmer might still be lacking enough knowledge to keep himself afloat. Do you follow that?"
"I think I do," Daphne said.
"The money has been spent to the great advantage of the nation as a whole, and in a way to foster athletes for the future. And, in one instance, a romantic discovery was made, a find of a sensational character. It was a miracle, of course: but a navvy was found working on road construction, who would probably win both the weight-putting and hammer-throwing events at Paris, if he would only compete. He allowed himself to be nominated, but now he will go no farther. He refuses to compete."
"One minute, Peter. Why is it such a miracle?"
"My dear girl, it takes years of tuition and practice and experience to convert the finest natural athlete into an Olympic champion. All the money spent on development this year will show results in the future. They have found lots of novices who may be champions in the future. But the selected competitors, with this one exception, are all men of some previous experience and reputation. That is why it is so important that this man should compete. In the final emergency they came to Social Emergencies. I've done my utmost with the chap—his name is Pitt, by the way. Nothing doing. Social Emergencies has skidded at last."
"I suppose I'm very dull," Daphne said plaintively. "Why is it so important that they should come to you?"
"You are not dull," Peter replied. "But four years hence it will be necessary to pass the hat again, for another Olympic contest. They've given good value for money; but they want to illustrate it. If they can only say: 'Last time we unearthed Pitt, the navvy wonder. Subscribe again, and more champions like him will be rescued from obscurity.' their appeal is sure of a response. But he won't play, darn him."
"Does he give any reason?"
"He only says he isn't interested any more. He's a big quiet fellow with a suggestion of better days about him. But he knows his own mind. He refuses to have his photograph taken: declines to do anything. Just in case he might change his mind, I had him snapped, although he doesn't know it. If he would only play, he'd be our star turn."
Peter was fumbling in his pocket, for Daphne had extended her hand as soon as he had mentioned the snapshot. Now he produced an ordinary Kodak print and put it in her hand, as he continued:
"I do hate to be beaten on what looks like such an easy thing. It seems so stupid to funk it. So, if I've been a dull dog...."
He went on with an elaborate apology, never noticing that the girl's lips were parted and her eyes very wide, as she inspected the little snapshot.
"Peter," Daphne said, cutting into his apology, "this might be managed yet. Go straight to that man and never leave him till I come. Write me the address. I must be off at once."
"Do you really mean you have any hope? We have only two days let. If Pitt isn't in Paris by mid-day on the day after to-morrow, he may as well not go."
"Hire an aeroplane," Daphne commanded. "Stick to that man, Peter. I'll wire if I don't come. Now I must run."
When Daphne's big car stopped outside the quiet hotel where Irene Osborne was staying at Scatfield, there was news for the girl: though whether good or bad, she could not decide.
"Mrs. Osborne has gone to Paris," she was told. "She left with the little girl and the nurse only yesterday."
Daphne glanced at her watch. Newhaven was nearest, and she could catch the night boat comfortably. She blessed her habit of regarding her passport as an inseparable companion.
Late on the following afternoon, Peter Wilmot was still pacing up and down a section of broken road in the Midlands, watching a gang of navvies at work on road-making. From time to time, one of the heftiest among them would straighten his back and regard Peter with a resentful glare. Whereupon Peter, sick of waiting, would glare back.
And then the hotel porter came, in a taxicab, as Peter had bidden him.
"Two wires, Mr. Wilmot," he said. "One for you, and one for your care."
Peter tore his own open, before even glancing at the other.
Bring your man straight to colombes stadium. Irene will be waiting there. —Daphne.
"Irene! Who the devil's Irene? And who is Swayle or Pitt? Oh, of course."
The big navvy was bending his back over his shovel, when Peter, with a broad grin on his face, tapped him on the arm.
"For you?" he asked.
At sight of the name, the man recoiled.
"What... what..." he muttered.
"Read it, man," Peter insisted. "The finest girl in the world has gone post-haste to Paris about that wire. Read it."
The man tore the envelope open. Then the slip of paper, with its pasted-up blue tape, flew from his fingers.
"What trick is this?" he cried, turning a furious face on Peter. "Who has dared to meddle with my private affairs?"
Peter Wilmot shook his head.
"Somebody called Irene?" he asked. "It's Greek to me, old chap. The point is: are you coming in my plane to Paris to-morrow morning?"
In the British Club house at Colombes, Daphne and Irene Osborne waited, at eleven next morning, to know the answer to that question.
"Plane in sight," announced a limp official a few minutes later. "There will just be time, if this man can be persuaded."
"You run away and throw weights," Daphne advised, for she was bubbling over with excitement.
Five minutes passed; and Daphne heard Peter's voice, advising: "Steady, old chap. It's sure to be all right."
Irene stood up, erect and still, with the frightened child clinging tightly to her hand.
A big man burst the door open.
"You!" he cried, as soon as he saw Irene. "You found me? And you really want me?"
"Want you? Basil, this is your child. Yours and mine. Do you understand? Bill was nothing. He lent me his name: for your sake. Not for mine, no: for the sake of his dead pal. Can't you see? We were never anything to each other. When the time came I set him free; he was never anything but free, except in name. Oh, don't you understand what Bill did for you?"
"Bill did that?" Swayle said uncertainly. "And I thought, I thought...."
Daphne had Peter by the sleeve now.
"Twenty minutes, Irene," she said, "and you must let Mr. Swayle arrange about the weight-throwing. Come along, Peter."
"Weight-putting," Peter corrected mildly when they got outside. "It is the hammer he means to throw. Not that it matters. Do you mind explaining?"
But Daphne kept her story, until they dined at a table for two, set in a window overlooking the Grand Boulevard, with the roar of Paris in their ears and the glitter of Paris dazzling their eyes.
"Of course, Peter, he must have been made prisoner; and when he came back, he only knew that the man he loved had married the girl he loved. So what could he do but disappear?"
"What a mess people make of their affairs, when they try only to be decent," Peter remarked. "I know: I've been there. It never works. So I'm going to try the other tack. Daphne, there is something I've been trying to say to you—"
"Not here, Peter," Daphne said hastily. "I don't want to hear it in Paris. Nothing seems real in Paris. What you have to say belongs to London, doesn't it, Peter. Keep it for London: for wonderful London."
"We met in London," Peter said, in tones of perfect agreement.
DAPHNE WYSE, propped up in the best end of a comfortable punt with half-a-dozen cushions, let he fingers trail deliciously in the water. Lit with two score of quaint Chinese lanterns, the punt was gliding amid hundreds of similar crafts, all glowing with as many points and tints of softened light.
On the shore a dance was going forward, and the fragments of the band music blended with the murmur of the river and the gay, endless ripples of mirth. It was a perfect night of an English summer; dark and warm and scented.
Henley, Daphne decided, was one of the events of the English summer which did not suffer from being over-rated. It was more spectacular than she had been led to expect, and yet wholesomely informal and innocent. Daphne set it down as one of those British institutions for which the rest of the world has failed to produce any parallel.
The Australian girl smiled a little wistfully in the dark, as a big sampan, blazing with the most fantastic designs in lanterns, came into view. Somebody on board was plucking at a Hawaiian guitar, and extracting from its strings a plaintive air which reminded the girl of home. Poor old Dave; that was his favourite tune, and he used to play it just like that, getting into it all the heartbreak he knew.
Poor old Dave! What a splendid chap he was while he remained in the cattle-country where he belonged, three hundred miles from the end of a railway line, and at least a hundred miles from the nearest drink. He was slaving away out there now, while his father and sister were enjoying themselves in London. Dave, of course, would never do for London.
At the very thought of the follies in which her brother would indulge, if ever he got to London, Daphne indulged in a low chuckle. Dave's exploits were very amusing to remember, when they were all over and the damage had been made good, and the first bitter annoyance had passed away.
"I say, old horse-thief," cried a voice from the sampan as the guitar ceased abruptly, "when is that drink coming up?"
Daphne Wyse ceased chuckling, in order to gasp. The voice and the form of address were unmistakeable: her scapegrace brother had broken bounds again, and followed the remainder of the family to England. It had been amusing to imagine it, but now that the fantastic idea had been converted into actuality, it became a very serious matter indeed.
Apart from any trouble into which he might fall, David was a deserter. He had been entrusted with very wide responsibilities by his father when the latter had left Australia; and for the twentieth time Dave had shelved his responsibilities and gone upon a spree. If Mr. Wyse ever learned of it, there would be an end of Dave at last.
"Oh, please," Daphne said to her host. "Do you know who those people are on the big sampan?"
"I know all I wish to know of them, and that is very little," was the reply. "They're a nondescript collection of young fellows, got together by man named Graham. There are stories about him."
"What kind of stories, please?" Daphne asked.
"Unpleasant ones; mainly about money. His house is a noisy, rackety place, at the best; and nobody seems to know the purpose of his house-boat, one way and another: he is a bit of a mystery."
"A house-boat!" Daphne replied. "Thank you! I don't think I like the sound of Mr. Graham very much."
Henley had lost its magic for the girl now. But Daphne knew where to turn in her time of trouble. At the earliest possible time next morning she put a telephone call through to London, and was soon in communication with the organisation called Social Emergencies.
"Who is speaking?" she asked. "Is that you, Peter? You do get to business early; and I'm glad of it. I have found you a new client, and it's very important. I want you to come to Henley yourself and attend to it."
"Who is the client?" Peter Wilmot asked.
"She is a Miss Wyse," Daphne replied. "Her father is a rather well-known Australian, now visiting England. She has a scapegrace bother, who is supposed to be in Australia, working hard upon a cattle-station. But, really, he is in England playing truant. And I want you—Miss Wyse wants you—to get him out of some bad company into which he seems to have fallen, and to induce him to go back home again before his father finds him out. You'll do it for me, Peter: and for Dave. He's the dearest old boy in the world, if people would only leave him alone."
"An old friend of yours, Miss Howard?"
"Oh, yes," Dave and I have known one another since we were children; and I'm very fond of him. You'll like him, too. You must, for my sake."
"And how do you propose I should make the acquaintance of this amiable truant?"
"Oh, that's easy, Peter. Show Dave how to get a drink after closing-time, and he'll be your friend for life."
"I know that kind of bird," Peter remarked grimly. "This was going to be one of my busy days; but since you ask me I suppose I'd better run down to Henley."
AS Daphne had predicted, Peter had no trouble in discovering Dave Wyse, and no difficulty in scraping acquaintance with him. Dave was waiting wistfully for opening-time, and on Peter's intimation that he "Knew a place," hailed him gratefully as a man and a brother.
"My crowd are not out of bed yet," Dave explained, "and I don't know the ropes here, because I'm an Aussie, but if ever you come out my way, old man——"
"You are with a good crowd?" Peter asked, acknowledging the uncompleted invitation. "Fellows you know well?"
"A first-rate lot," Dave declared. "As to knowing them, well, I've only been in with them for a day or two. But it doesn't take me long to know a fellow well."
Peter could well imagine that. There was something very likeable about this lanky, sun-burnt Australian, with his boyish manner and cheerful grin. Peter wondered just how likeable the girl he knew as Isobel Howard had found him.
"What do you think of the rowing?" Peter asked. "You do a great deal of that 'down under,' don't you?"
"My troubles are not about the rowing," Dave replied with a wink. "I've got a much better game than that—stacks of money with it, too. My pal Graham and I are rooking a big London bookie who runs a sort of club down here."
"A club?" Peter asked, alert at once.
"On a house-boat," the Australian explained. "It is supposed to be rather secret, but I fancy I could get you in. Any pal of mine—that's the sort old Graham is."
"Are you winning a lot of money?"
"I can't handle any of it yet," he said regretfully. "It's a weekly account, you know. But there's a wad of it coming; and there will be lots more before the week is over."
"Let's have some lunch," Peter suggested.
"The very thing. I should have asked you, only I'm stony at the moment. You know how it is, I expect."
Peter nodded understanding; without knowing definitely he was able to guess how it was, pretty closely.
"So you've only started rooking this bookie fellow this week, since you came to Henley?" he said, as the waiter filled the champagne glasses.
Dave's cheerful face clouded a little as he answered.
"Well, we made a start last week, up in town. But the last bet of the lot came unstuck. It was the best thing of the week; of course, we had a big wad on it. It ought to have won, but they don't pay out on horses which ought to have won, do they?"
"So you did the paying, I take it?"
Dave Wyse made a wry face.
"I've got it back, though, twice over," he said hastily. "I only lent the stuff to the bookie for a few days. At the end of the week, I'll put it right."
Peter noted the ominous phrase about "putting it right," as Dave, uninvited, helped himself again from the bottle of wine.
"If we are going to do any betting," Peter suggested, "we had better not take too much of that. By the way, how about a little ready money, just to carry on until settling day?"
"Would you?" Dave asked. "By gum, you are a prince, Wilmot. I've not a feather to fly with; and when all that is coming, it's like starving in sight of plenty."
He accepted £ 25 with the cheery air of a habitual borrower and lender.
"Now I feel like a man again," he said heartily. "Come along; I've got to meet old Graham in a quarter of an hour. They are racing at Newmarket to-day, and he's certain to have two or three good things."
Graham turned out to be a smooth-faced man, remarkable mainly for his careful tailoring and a boisterous note of false geniality. The Australian presented Peter as an old friend; and after one glance of quick suspicion, Graham accepted him joyfully in that capacity.
Without a glance at the alluring scene presented by the regatta course, the three made their way to the house-boat, which was moored at the mouth of a back-water higher up the river. Painted in brilliant orange and black, and gay with flower-boxes and pots of the most striking hues, the house-boat was furnished with the heavy luxury which at once suggested to Peter Wilmot a gambling-hell. Save for the telephone, it had none of the equipment of an ordinary betting-house.
"I suppose the tape is in another room," Peter suggested to the presiding spirit of the place—a cold-eyed, white-faced exquisite, who was introduced as Danny Hoare.
"We have to do without it," Hoare replied shortly. "We are only here for a week or two, and to instal the machine takes time. Results come through on the 'phone almost as quickly, and, any way, all the people who come here are gentlemen."
"Oh, of course," Peter agreed.
Three of four of the young men so described were gambling with a roulette wheel, and rather ostentatiously were passing Bank of England notes after every spin of the wheel. A large sideboard, set out with glasses and opened bottles provided a standing invitation: which Dave, fortified by a warning glance from Graham, manfully resisted.
Graham threw himself into an easy-chair with a copy of a sporting edition of one of the evening papers, and seemed to be lost in a study of the sheet. Dave Wyse, with a similar paper in his own hands, seemed to be equally engrossed in the past performances of the horses engaged to run that afternoon.
Presently the telephone bell rang, and Hoare called out the runners and riders for the first race, while an assistant chalked the names up on a blackboard. The roulette wheel was deserted, and its devotees turned to the problem of picking winners. They betted in respectable sums—ponies, 50's and 100's—and every bet was accepted without hesitation.
As the set time for the first race came near, Peter noticed that Dave was watching Graham with growing expectancy, and could see that the itch for gambling was strong upon him. But Graham would not even look at him, and sat biting his nails as though inspiration would not come to him.
Again the telephone bell rang. Hoare announced the winner of the race, and an adjournment to the sideboard was considered necessary, to console the losers and to congratulate one gambler who had been lucky enough to win.
For the second race, exactly the same procedure was followed. The names of the runners were no sooner announced than Dave became more eager to bet than ever. He had the annoyance of hearing every other gambler in the room backing his fancy; but he himself could get no lead from Graham, upon whom he depended for a tip with such pathetic eagerness.
All this time Peter Wilmot had been studying the keeper of the club and its smart habitués: and he had no difficulty in arriving at one certain conclusion. It was not a genuine betting-club, and Hoare was not a real bookmaker. All the bets recorded were mere bluffs, and the people who made them were all acting rather cleverly in order to mislead Dave Wyse. About Graham, Peter was not so sure: he suspended judgment on that individual until such a time as he should see him in action.
Peter had not long to wait. The time for the third race came round, and as the clock showed a minute or two past the set time for starting, Dave's anxiety became pitiable. Presently Graham looked up from his sporting paper.
"Hoare," he said, "while I think of it, I'll have £ 50 on Gentian, in the fourth race."
Hoare nodded: and Peter saw Dave Wyse anxiously scanning the newspaper he held.
"Can I have a hundred on this race, if it is not too late?" he said: "I want to back Inkpot."
"You're cutting it pretty fine," Hoare said sharply. "If it were anybody but you, you shouldn't get a bet. But you're on."
Almost as he finished speaking, the telephone bell rang, and the result of the race was announced.
"Darn you, Wyse!" Hoare said in grumbling tones. "Inkpot has won all right, and at four to one. I oughtn't to have let you bet, by rights."
All those present seemed to accept Dave's good fortune, and Hoare's easy-going way of transacting his business, quite as a matter of course. They trooped over to the buffet, and exchanged little jokes with the beaming Dave about his invariable good luck.
The same thing happened on the fifth race. Once more taking his cue from a bet Graham made on the last race of the day—the sixth—Dave managed to back the winner of the fifth race. And this time he remembered Peter Wilmot, and insisted that he, too, should be allowed to bet with this very complacent bookmaker.
When the racing was over, Peter left with Dave and Graham. Both of them were in the highest spirits; and when Peter excused himself on the plea of having to return to London, Graham urged him to come back on the following day.
"I had nothing really worthwhile to-day," he said, "only two things worth a trifling bet. But to-morrow I have got a racing certainty, and you must come down and help yourself to a real royal win."
At eight o'clock that night Peter Wilmot rang Daphne up, as he had arranged beforehand.
"Is that you, Miss Howard?" he asked. "Oh, yes, I scraped acquaintance with young Wyse without any trouble. He is an engaging young fool: but I'm afraid his sister has every right to be anxious about the people he is mixed with. I want you to tell me one thing now. Has he, by any chance, the control of any money? I know he had no cash, because he has told me so; but does he control any important sums?"
"Why do you ask?" Daphne said, quickly, and Peter could detect the note of sharp anxiety in her voice. "He has control of no money here, but when his father left Australia he left him a book of signed cheques for current expenses. But he couldn't operate those cheques in England, of course."
"Well," Peter said grimly, "as a bit of preliminary advice, it might be well for his father to cable Australia and stop every one of those cheques."
"But his father doesn't know that Dave is here," Daphne argued. "He would want some explanation."
"Then let Miss Wyse stop the cheques herself in her father's name," Peter counselled. "Somebody ought to warn the bank in Australia against cashing them."
And the next day, after a sleepless night, Daphne despatched a cable to Australia on the lines Peter had suggested.
PETER'S first concern on returning to London that evening was to provide himself with a copy of the edition which had so interested both Graham and Dave Wyse. As he expected, the paper supplied him with a simple explanation of Graham's method of communicating his tips.
Turning to Gentian, the horse Graham had backed in the fourth race, he found it was fifth on the list of probable starters. On the list of probable starters for the third race Inkpot, the winner Dave had backed, he was also fifth. It was quite simple, therefore, when Graham placed his bet on Gentian for Dave to accept the tip for Inkpot in the preceding race.
There was another side to it which gave Peter a great deal more trouble. Graham was evidently "milking" Wyse.
The third race had been run and the winner known before Dave Wyse made his winning bet. How did Graham come into possession of his information so quickly? And was Dave privy to the impudent fraud which he imagined he was turning to his own profit?
A third question which might have arisen from the proceedings of the afternoon did not trouble Peter Wilmot at all. He had not the faintest doubt about the real certainty which Graham had promised to provide for the following day. He knew quite well that it would be one of those unlucky but expensive losers of which Dave had already had one unfortunate experience.
Reasoning the whole thing out, Peter Wilmot came to the conclusion that Dave Wyse was innocent of any intention to defraud the supposed bookmaker. The Australian had no idea that Graham was obtaining results of races already won. Dave evidently thought that his sleek friend was getting last-minute information from the betting market.
It made a good deal of difference to Peter's treatment of the Australian that he was able to acquit him of the desire to defraud.
He met Dave at Henley early in the morning, and Dave, as usual, was anxious to anticipate the opening of the public bars.
"Look here, Wyse," Peter said when the Australian's thirst had been assuaged, "there's one thing I can't quite make out. I don't want to know where Graham gets his tips. You don't ask too many questions of a man who gives you winners. But I should like to know how he gets his tips."
Dave grinned the knowing grin of a man who knows all about it.
"Did you notice the big mirror on the wall behind Hoare's head?" he asked. "That's in line with the window and a little place on the river bank where Graham has a pal stationed. He gets the tips by telephone and flashes the numbers with an electric torch."
"Very nice, indeed," said Peter. "How much are you going to have on this good thing Graham has for us to-day?"
"As much as Hoare will take," said Dave confidently. "When Graham says they are very good they never lose by any chance."
"Then I think," Peter replied, "that you had better put my money with yours; there may not be time to make two separate bets."
Graham turned up to time, more suave and more confident. When they reached the houseboat Peter noticed an accession of three or four fresh faces to the party of reckless gamblers, and they were bad faces, too.
There was a repetition of the theatrical performances of the preceding day. Big bets were lost and won amid much rollicking good humour. But as the time for the third race approached Peter was conscious of a certain tenseness, common to all who were in the room.
At last the signal was given, and Dave Wyse, stammering with eagerness, asked for a big bet on Old Wife.
"How much?" said Hoare. "You haven't much time."
"Will you take £ 3,000?" Dave asked.
"Five, if you like."
"It's a bet."
Everybody stirred uneasily, and Peter noticed a big blue-jowled man move silently towards the doorway, which he presently filled with his bulk.
"The telephone bell rang; Hoare picked up the receiver and took the message.
"Old Wife won," he announced with a string of oaths. "I'll not let you bet again after the set time, Wyse. She was five to one, too. There's something about this I don't like the look of."
"I say you wouldn't like the look of it," interrupted the big man in the doorway. "You've been rooked, Hoare, that's what has happened to you. I saw with my own eyes that chap Graham counting flashlight signals in the mirror."
"What?" roared Hoare. "I don't believe it!"
"Look at Graham," the big fellow insisted. "There's your answer; he's backed a winner after the race once too often this time."
Graham sat limp and drooping in his chair, the very picture of conscious guilt. At the sight of him Hoare seemed to lose control of his temper altogether.
"My God!" he shouted. "I can send all three of you up for this, and I will. A man got two years not so long ago for doing much less than you dogs have tried to pull on me to-day."
"Well, you have got plenty of witnesses," said the big man. "I never saw such a barefaced swindle in all my life."
Dave Wyse, whose elation at the result of the race had been turned to blank dismay by the unexpected charge hurled at him and his friends, found his tongue at last. He sprang to his feet, with his eyes blazing.
"It's a lie!" he shouted. "Tell them it's a lie, Graham. The race couldn't have been won when we made the bet. It was only the tip that was signalled by the flashlight. Why don't you speak, Graham?"
But Graham could only groan and shake his head.
"So you admit the signal," Hoare sneered; "and the bet was made seven minutes after time. I've got enough against you, Wyse, and your two pals, to shut the whole three of you up for a year."
This was the signal for the intervention of a fresh performer in the comedy. He was a little, dapper, smiling man, who had been most jocular about his own consistent losses on the races.
"Look here," he said, "there ought to be some way of squaring this; we none of us want to see any fellows get into serious trouble. It was a dirty trick to play on Hoare, Wyse, and I think you ought to come across pretty handsomely if he and the rest of us agree to hold our tongues."
"But I know nothing about it," Dave protested, although the sight of Graham whimpering in his chair had evidently shaken his nerve. "Why should I pay?"
"Why should you pay?" asked the big man brutally, "To keep out of the booby-hutch, of course. You're lucky to have the money to pay and to be dealing with a man who is pal enough to let it go at that."
And here Peter Wilmot thought it well to speak for the first time.
"I have a better suggestion to make," he said. "I suggest that Graham and Hoare should give back to Wyse the cheque they had from him last week. You see, I brought a few friends of my own down from London, and they happen to be members of the detective police force. They'll be here in about a minute, and if you are not all gone by then you'll have to face a charge of conspiracy to blackmail."
This announcement had the effect of reviving Graham in the most remarkable manner.
He was the first off the houseboat, and there was a rush among the others to be second, not a single man of them showing any desire to linger.
"Never mind your cheque," Peter said, as Dave showed a disposition to follow. "Your sister has stopped payment in Australia. They'll not try to collect, in any case."
"My sister?" Dave repeated. "Did she have a hand in this? Good little old Daphne!"
"What name did you say?" Peter asked.
"Daphne—Daphne Wyse. A great little girl, though it's her brother who says it. Where are those detectives, boss?"
"There were no detectives," Peter said deliberately. "There was no Miss Isobel Howard. There was no betting club. There was no bookmaker. Is there anything at all, Dave Wyse?"
"There's a drink," Dave said, "if you know where to go for it."
MOST of the women at the dinner table at Bearford Abbey blazed with jewels, although the gathering was nominally just a quiet country house party, for the Sussex racing fortnight. Daphne Wyse, who had hesitated even about the modest string of pearls she wore, could not help being fascinated by the display, nevertheless.
The old house had been taken by Mrs. Parsons, as soon as the engagement of that American lady's daughter Netta to Lord Wanstead had been announced. And as Daphne had been instrumental in bringing about the engagement, she had been pleased to join a party of which Wanstead's sister, Lady Niobe Gardiner, was member.
This was Daphne's first night at the Abbey, and she had been taken in to dinner by Wanstead's most intimate friend, Mr. Claude Anstey, a young Englishman whose immovably grave face belied a reputation for practical joking which he had earned at Oxford, and had never been able to cast off afterwards.
"Easily a million pounds, in cold cash, I should say, Miss Wyse," Anstey remarked, in a confidential tone.
"It's not the value, Mr. Anstey," Daphne said hastily. "Though they really are wonderful. I was feeling just a little sorry for Netta."
"Perhaps she's used to it," Anstey suggested. "They say you cannot separate an American woman from her diamonds. Personally, I feel a good deal inclined to try."
"It would be so easy, wouldn't it?" Daphne mocked.
Anstey readily followed her lead away from the subject. He guessed, perhaps, that Daphne's affection for Netta Parsons was very real and sincere, and that she had an objection to discussing with a fellow-guest the vulgar display made by the friends of Netta's mother.
But when Netta came to Daphne's room that night, for the first real chat they had been able to manage since Netta's engagement, the American girl made no bones about discussing the display of jewellery.
"Aren't some American women fierce?" she asked plaintively. "The very first night she arrived, Mrs. Otis Wadley set the pace. She had a million dollars in rocks, even if Sylvia Wadley couldn't catch the Italian Prince she chased all the way to Europe. Since then the others have been coming into it, one by one. Now, it is all I can do to prevent Momma from having her own hardware down from the deposit vault in London."
"I shouldn't let it worry me, Netta," Daphne said. "These are old family friends, and Wanstead understands. He knows you are never likely to be like that."
"He's perfectly sweet about it," Netta said, with enthusiasm. "His only trouble is the fear that some yeggman will come along and mop up the whole collection. That's why Momma sent for Mr. Wilmot."
"Sent for... did you say Peter Wilmot, Netta?"
"Sure as you know, Momma has asked him down to stay. I mean your Mr. Peter Wilmot, of Social Emergencies. Why, honey, what ails you?"
"Nothing!" Daphne said. "Only... I'd rather not meet Peter Wilmot, Netta."
"Nothing!" Netta mimicked scornfully. "And she's as red as a Jonathan pippin. Come across with it, Daphne. Something about Mr. Wilmot? I like that boy. Tell Netta, honey girl."
At first it was not easy; but Netta was a sympathetic listener, and Daphne really wanted to confide in somebody.
"Aw shucks!" Netta exclaimed, when Daphne had finished. "You can't tell me it's all going to stop there. Let me see if I've got you right. You horned into his business just for a bit of fun. And when you got in you stayed in, just for the sake of Mr. Peter Wilmot."
"I never said anything of the sort," Daphne said hotly.
"You didn't have to—I guessed," Netta replied. "When you handed Wanstead over to me, for a misfit, I knew there must be somebody else, didn't I? Very well. Then this bad brother of yours rolls up from Australia, and Mr. Wilmot helps you with him. And so he finds out who you really are; and he cuts the film right there. Isn't that it?"
"He'll have no more to do with me," Daphne answered plaintively. "He leaves my letters unanswered, and when I ring up, he sends a horrible typing girl to the 'phone. 'Mr. Wilmot's engaged. Is there anything I can do?' The little rat!"
"Well, he's in the house now," Netta said, round-eyed. "You stick about in the morning, Daphne, and grab him off when he's done talking to Momma in the library."
"As if I'd do such a thing!" Daphne laughed.
"But you'll be hanging about the library at ten to-morrow morning, just the same," Netta prophesied, as she kissed Daphne good-night.
"WELL, Peter," said Daphne, as Peter Wilmot emerged from the library at Bearford Abbey. "You cannot put anybody up to say you are engaged this time."
Peter stood dismayed, inspecting her with a look in which Daphne fondly imagined she saw yearning, and a great joy, skillfully suppressed.
"Why did you run away from Henley?" the girl continued. "Dave wanted to thank you, before he left for Australia: and I've been wanting to thank you ever since. And I can get no answer of any kind from you. Am I discharged from Social Emergencies?"
Peter found his voice at last.
"It was very indiscreet of you," he said severely. "The whole thing is just an adventure, and I am a common adventurer. Your share in our activities might be discovered at any moment."
"I miss Social Emergencies," Daphne answered. "You don't know how much, Peter. Have I done anything to offend you?"
"Not at all," Peter answered hastily. "Excuse me, Miss Wyse: there was something I overlooked when I was talking to Mrs. Parsons. I ought just to catch her."
"You've put a scare into that young man, Daphne," said Netta when they exchanged confidences later in the day. "It was not your lucky hour when you balled him up, coming out of the library."
"He had just arranged with Momma to stay here, as one of our guests, so as to keep an eye on all those diamonds. But after he spoke to you he just went back and said he could not accept the position of guest, because it was anomalous. But he agreed to guarantee the safety of the jewellery just the same."
"Oh, did he?" Daphne asked, with the light of battle in her eye. "How does he propose to do that?"
"He wouldn't say," Netta replied. "Or, if he did, Momma isn't passing it on to me."
There was dancing that night, after dinner, and Anstey made a point of dancing with Daphne as often as possible.
"Mr. Anstey," she said, after their third dance. "Did you really mean what you said about stealing all those jewels, for a joke? I mean, is it really possible?"
"You and I could manage it, between us, without very much trouble," Anstey said, with his air of assurance. "Of course, you are not really thinking about it?"
"It would be rather fun," Daphne said. "And these people deserve a mild lesson. Tell me how we should have to go about it."
Claude Anstey had an excellent capacity for detail, and an immense fund of ingenuity, unapplied except to the practical jokes for which he had to maintain a long-standing reputation. Daphne had to admit that his plans, when outlined hastily, sounded very convincing. Before they parted that night they had made a compact.
The following day saw the opening of the Goodwood meeting, and the whole party motored to the course for the racing. Daphne was among those who followed Anstey's advice, and backed the winner of the Steward's cup at 25 to 1. There was nothing in Anstey's manner suggestive of undue elation, but the news soon leaked out that he had won a very large sum of money on the race.
His absences between races became longer, and his friend Lord Wanstead looked grave, especially when Anstey did not return to the party for the drive back to Bearford Abbey.
"Wanstead is fussing about Claude Anstey," Netta confided to Daphne before dinner. "Claude met up with some real goers on the race track, and they've gone off to Brighton to play chemin-de-fer and celebrate generally. Wanstead's anxious: but I'd say Claude Anstey is quite able to take care of himself."
Such was Anstey's own conviction. The game of "chemmy" which followed was as much an annual affair as Goodwood races themselves.
Play was high and Anstey's luck held.
"Confound you, Anstey," said one of the principal losers. "Your luck is too good to buck against. You must have nearly doubled to-day's winnings, at the tables to-night. Are you down for any big thing—tennis, or golf, or anything of that sort? Because if you are, I'll back you to win."
"Then back me to bring off the biggest josh I ever planned," Anstey replied. "The biggest thing ever attempted."
"Oh, leg-pulling doesn't count, Claude. Everybody admits you hold the championship there."
"They will, when the story of this one goes round," Anstey boasted. "It's almost more than a josh, by gum! It's poetical justice, and that sort of thing. And it will make a noise."
Thinking it all over next morning, Claude Anstey decided that, for once in his life, he had mixed his drinks too persistently and thoroughly. He wondered if anybody had paid much attention to his boasting: but he thought it prudent to refrain from any questions on the subject.
DRESSED and ready for her share in the exquisite joke planned by Claude Anstey, Daphne surveyed herself in the glass with eyes which held a good deal of contempt. She was as disgusted with her partner in the enterprise as with her own folly in having been led by pique into taking part in it.
It appeared, from Anstey's directions, that the first precaution in executing these "joshes," as Anstey called them, was to wear a costume which would make it clear, in case of detection, that the whole thing was a harmless lark.
Accordingly, Daphne had dressed herself in the traditional garb of the Parisian hotel "rat"—a close-fitting, single-piece garment of woven black silk, like a bathing dress, extending from ankles to writs and neck. A black skull-cap hid her hair, and black mask concealed her face. It was a costume which melted into dark shadows so readily as to be half invisible; a costume which afforded no grip, and allowed the wearer to slip through clutching hands like an eel.
Anstey was to wear a twin costume; but in the allotment of parts, the same equality had not been observed. The practical joker had done what he called the "spade work": for he had supplied Daphne with an exact list of places where each jewel box might be found.
Armed with this list, Daphne was to enter the rooms in turn, carry off the jewel cases, and hand them over to Anstey, who had his own plans for disposing of them. The part allotted to her was quite logical, of course, and consistent with the excuse to be offered in case of detection. But Daphne found herself wondering whether Peter Wilmot would coolly ask a girl take all the risk of a joke, for which he proposed himself to assume the immortal glory.
The thought of Peter nerved Daphne to cast aside her scruples, and ignore the sensible reflection that her freak, at best, was a silly and reckless escapade. She tested the little electric torch she wore at her waist, which kindled into a glow of light when she pressed an india-rubber bulb held in her left hand. The she softly opened the door of her room, and melted into the shadowy passages of Bearford Abbey.
The spirit of the chase kindled in her bosom. She understood why Raffles, and all his imitators, considered burglary an incomparable sport. The room of Mrs. Otis Wadley was her first aim. The door was locked from inside, and the key was in the lock. But a bath-room next door was open, and so was the window of Mrs. Wadley's room. A child could have climbed across the intervening space, on the stout ivy which covered the Abbey wall.
Mrs. Wadley was snoring loudly, and Daphne flitted through her bedroom into the dressing-room, where her maid was established in charge of the jewel case. The tired woman was sleeping even more soundly than her mistress.
It was farcically easy to carry away the jewel case. From the open window Daphne flashed her torch three times, and then slipped a cord through the handle of the jewel case. A slim black figure glided out of the shrubbery, and received the case as Daphne let it down by the cord.
So far everything had gone according to plan.
In her next essay, and the one following that, Daphne had not even to trouble about making herself a way of entry into the rooms which she sought to plunder. The careless owners of jewels had not even locked their doors: so great was the sense of security at Bearford Abbey.
"It's too easy!" Anstey whispered, when Daphne delivered the third jewel case into his hands, at the foot of a little winding staircase which led to the servants' quarters.
To Daphne, there was something ominous about the words. Peter Wilmot hand assumed responsibility for the treasures of Mrs. Parsons' guests, and Peter was neither a fool nor an idler.
"Too easy!" Yes, it was far too easy.
Daphne stole back, up the winding stairs into the gloom of the corridors, with a sense of impending disaster oppressing her. The first excitement of her adventure had worn off, and a sense of her childish folly had replaced it. It was no fear of consequences which made her wish she had never embarked on such an absurdity. She had full confidence in Anstey's ability to extricate himself and her from any real trouble.
It was only the certainty that Peter Wilmot was patiently waiting somewhere, perhaps planning some way of shielding her. It was only the burning wish that she were acting with Peter, instead of against him.
ALMOST sick with disgust at herself, Daphne recklessly committed her fourth burglary, and carried the spoils back to the dark stairs. Ready hands were stretched out to receive it; but some impulse made Daphne draw the jewel case away. She could not see the slim black figure which moved dimly in the shadows, but something told her this was not Anstey.
"Give it me," whispered an eager voice.
"No!" Daphne said. "No! Who are you?"
There was no reply. The man in the dark corner remained perfectly still, but fear came out of the darkness to clutch at the girl's heart. She turned to run back up the steps, and as she moved, rough hands laid hold of her.
The jewel case fell to the ground with an alarming crash, as Daphne twisted in the grip of strange hands, and braced herself for a struggle. The ruffian had freed one of his hands, and she knew he meant to strike her and to terrify her into silence and an end of resistance. She threw herself against him, twining her arms and legs about him, so that he could neither strike an effective blow nor run away.
Her instinct told her she was dealing with a real thief now.
He was raining blows upon her: bruising, maiming blows which seemed to numb her strength, and make it hard to cling to him any more.
Somewhere, not far away, a voice was calling for help: a pitiful voice, with a note of pain in it. Then came the sound of approaching footsteps, and in a desperate attempt to free himself, Daphne's enemy tripped, and they both crashed to the stone floor.
When Daphne opened her eyes again, she looked into a familiar face: very anxious, and very close to her own.
"Peter!" she murmured. "Don't take your arm away. I like it under my head. I knew, all the time, that you'd come out on top."
"Get back to your room and change if you can," Peter said. "I can get you both out of this mess, if you hurry."
"What happened?" Daphne murmured, hardly caring.
"I was watching a real gang of thieves," Peter explained hurriedly. "They were after the jewels, but had little chance to lay hands on them. Then some boasting of Anstey's, in a gambling hell at Brighton, came to their ears. And there was a servant in league with them; there usually is. So they had it all arranged that Anstey should be the catspaw, and they should walk off with the plunder after he had stolen it."
"Three of them knocked him out at his hiding place in the garden, and the fourth went to take his place with you. My chaps have got them all, and they are bringing Anstey round, in his own room. I nipped off here with you, out of the way, until you felt better."
Daphne looked about her in the grey twilight of early morning. She had been carried to the unromantic surroundings of the kitchen garden, to recover from the stunning shock of her fall.
"I'm all right now, Peter," she said. "If only—"
"Slip back to your room and change," he entreated. "We have our story all ready, if only you are not seen in those things."
"I don't care if I am," Daphne said. "What does it matter?"
"Of course it matters," Peter said with authority. "Go and do as I tell you."
"Then we are friends," Daphne cried, springing quickly to her feet. "Say we are friends again, Peter. And it is another score for Social Emergencies, isn't it? And I helped to bring it off! You cannot say I didn't, Peter Wilmot."
"So you did," Peter agreed. "So it was. A score, I mean. So we are. Friends again. Now, will you go and change?"
"Yes," agreed Mr. Claude Anstey, when he and Daphne discussed the matter afterwards. "I'm glad the house party is over. It is not the two black eyes I mind so much as being made a hero, when we both know that that chap Wilmot has got the joke on us. How do you like being a heroine, on his sufferance?"
"Fine!" Daphne answered cheerfully. "You see, Mr. Anstey, I'm engaged to marry Peter Wilmot."
"Huh!" replied Anstey. "Congratulations, of course. But I thought my Goodwood luck was too good to last."
"DO you know, Peter," said Daphne Wyse, "this is the very first time I have ever been in the office of Social Emergencies?"
"I know," agreed Peter Wilmot. "I am glad to see you, of course; here, or anywhere else. But...."
"But you want to know how Papa took the news of our engagement when I broke it to him," Daphne continued. "Well, Pete dear, Papa does not know a single word about it, yet."
"I see," said Peter uncomfortably.
"No, you don't see," Daphne corrected. "When I came back to town from Sussex, the day before yesterday, to break the news as I planned, I found that Papa had not returned from Paris. You know he went over to see some Australians run at the Olympic Games."
"But that's all over now. When do you expect him back?"
"That's the queer part of it, Peter. I had a wire from him this morning, sent from Deauville. And he says I am to go there at once, because he wants to see me about something important.
"Papa got through his business in London too quickly. He's just like a big boy, you know, when he has nothing to keep him busy. He always gets himself into trouble. But if I am to get Papa out of some trouble, you see, he cannot say very much when I tell him about his future son-in-law."
"I expect he'll say plenty," Peter said—and at that moment he touched the spring of the box his fingers clasped, and it flew open.
"Oh!" Daphne exclaimed in rapture. "What beauties! They are emeralds, aren't they, Peter? But what a size; and how perfect!"
Peter Wilmot turned the two big green stones the box held into Daphne's white, outstretched hand: and they lay there, blazing in the sunlight which streamed through the open window.
"If my greatest professional find had not ceased to exist," he said. "If Social Emergencies still had a claim on the services of Miss Howard...."
"What do you mean?" Daphne asked breathlessly. "Is there a story in them? Aren't they real, Peter? What is it all about?"
"In the printed catalogue of the jewel collection of Mrs. Paul Redfern," Peter replied, "those stones are described as the famous Raminiroff emeralds. Mrs. Redfern bought them herself, in Boston, more than two years ago, from a young Russian who claimed to be Prince Raminiroff, and probably was the real article."
"She paid £60,000 for the pair, and they would have been dirt cheap at that, if they had been the real thing."
"And aren't they?"
"Mrs. Redfern has just been visiting Eastern Europe, Daphne. Her money gives her a big pull, you know, even in Soviet Russia. At Moscow, as a great favour, she obtained admission to a collection of jewels now in Government custody: a sort of Soviet hoard against a rainy day. And there she was the genuine Raminiroff emeralds."
"She cabled to Boston, to have these sent to London. There were reasons why she did not court publicity: and your friend, Mrs. Parsons, advised her to come to me. My expert has been gloating over them for three days—the finest 'built-up' emeralds he has ever seen."
"What does that mean, exactly?"
"They are very fine Brazilian aquamarines," Peter explained. "But aquamarine is not an easy stone to carve and work. The artist whose hand has been employed upon these has not only cut each of them in two pieces, and let in the thin strip of glass which turns an aquamarine into an emerald—gives it the true emerald green, you know."
"What else has he done, then?"
"He has cut them to the exact shape of the Raminiroff emeralds, and he has reproduced their weight to the fraction of a grain. And on the underside, as you see, he has carved the Raminiroff crest. Not three lapidaries in the world could have done it, my expert says—and he has made sure that the two he knows had no hand in it."
"But how did Mrs. Redfern come to be swindled? Why didn't she test the stones, before buying them?"
"The young Russian prince who was offering the stones for sale in secret had a sister. And it was she who supplied the test, with a third stone she wore on her forefinger, in a big ring. Mrs. Redfern knew there were three Raminiroff emeralds; and she accepted this third one for the test. It fulfilled all the tests: it was one of the three historical Raminiroff jewels.
"That was clever," Daphne admitted. "And now what does Mrs. Redfern want you to do?"
"She wants her money back, if she can get it," Peter replied.
"Of course, she never will get it," said Daphne. "These are very beautiful, even if they are not real."
"The work on them is real," Peter answered. "My expert tells me that he could not get it done under a thousand pounds. And the faker is an unknown genius!"
"That ought to provide a clue," Daphne suggested.
WYSE was a widower and a very rich man, who worked in spasms of intense energy. He played, as he worked, at high pressure and was still a good looking man, youthful for his years.
"Glad to see me, Dad?" Daphne asked, when she arrived in Deauville and they and they had settled down for a chat.
"Never more glad in my life," Wyse replied heartily.
"You've made some friends here, I suppose?" Daphne asked, leading up to the expected revelation.
"Well... yes," Wyse admitted grudgingly.
"What is she like this time, dad?" Daphne asked; and the form of the question made Wyse frown for a brief moment. Catching the frown, daphne realised that the case was more serious than usual.
"You will meet my friends at dinner, Daphne," Wyse said formally. "I hope you will try to make a good impression."
Her father's guests proved to be Mademoiselle Andrée Ferrier and her brother. The lady was a year or two older than herself, Daphne decided; and she looked it. But that she was a very beautiful and charming woman, well-bred and intelligent, Daphne did not dispute for one second.
Jules Ferrier, her brother, was few years older than his sister: a man of the dark and passionate type. Daphne revised her first unfavourable impression when the man began to talk, for he had travelled far and lived a great deal; and the brilliance of his conversation was arresting.
"Already she knows how to manage him far better than I do, who have known him for years," mused Daphne, "and they're adventurers, both of them."
Having come to that decision, Daphne sat down and wrote a letter to Peter Wilmot.
"I am as certain that the man means to make love to me as that the woman wants to catch poor Papa," she wrote. "So, of course, Peter dear, I am going to let him do it, if you are quite sure you do not mind. You need not, for he is quite detestable, though very clever.
"But I am not going to have this woman marrying poor Papa, so be patient, Peter dear. If I send a telegram asking you to come and help, you'll know that you come for Social Emergencies. But if I just wire 'Come!' the game will be all over, except shouting."
Having salved her conscience by this letter, Daphne devoted herself with single-minded thoroughness to the study of the Ferrier family.
Jules Ferrier's own account of himself was that he was an artist, who had inherited, jointly with his sister, a property in Annam, where he was forced to spend a large part of his time.
That he was an artist in a dozen quaint and out-of-the-way mediums, was one of the things he undertook to prove to Daphne in the course of his very correct love-making. He would take the crumb from his luncheon roll, with a word of apology, and model in miniature anything which caught his eye or captured his fancy. He would pick up a knot of driftwood on the beach, and, with his sharp pocket-knife, would carve a wooden bust of Wyse, or of his sister.
With the prong of a fork he would scratch on the table-cloth an audacious caricature—and not seem to know that he had done it.
Brother and sister lived simply at a good and expensive hotel, but with no show or parade of luxury.
"I am like yourselves," she explained to Daphne. "I know nobody here, and am content in our own little circle. Jules and I regard ourselves as Colonials, like your father and you."
"But I know lots of people in London," Daphne retorted. "And out of London, too, wherever I go in England."
"In France, it is different," Andree replied, with her air of authority. "But we are well content, Jules and I."
Andrée was always at Wyse's side—she even chose for him what he should eat and drink.
And when that began to happen, Daphne recognised her inability to handle the situation single-handed, and telegraphed for Peter Wilmot. "Professional capacity only," Daphne wrote, in the fear of the moment, and some bitterness of spirit.
But the girl was afraid that it was too late for Peter to help her now.
DEAUVILLE was now full to overflowing, and the proportion of English visitors seemed larger than usual.
She had just passed Peter Wilmot, the centre of a group of young people which included a new theatrical star and a very famous dancer from America. Peter had allowed his eyes to rest on her face for one brief moment, in a glance which held no trace of recognition or anything except well-bred, idle curiosity. It was the third time Daphne had encountered Peter—once on the dancing-floor, once in the gaming-rooms, and now at the races. Always with smart people, and always pretending he did not know her.
And why had he been playing for high stakes at the tables, handing those little bundles of ten-mille notes, strapped with a thin elastic band, as if they were trifles? It was true he had won heavily—for Deauville is a small place, and the gossips about the green and orange tables could estimate his winnings to a decimal number of francs.
It was hard to understand, and Daphne might have been stung to some reckless appearance of reprisal but for a timely memory of incidents of no very ancient date.
One encouraging feature of the situation was that both Jules Ferrier and his sister had already exhibited some languid interest in the doings of Peter Wilmot. He was said to be a very wealthy young Englishman, and he was certainly handsome in the English way. Did Mr. Wyse know him, or even Daphne?
Wyse naturally disclaimed all knowledge.
"I've heard of him," Daphne said, carelessly; "but I don't remember hearing that he had any money."
"He stakes only ten-mille packets," said Andrée, with her irritating air of superior knowledge of all mundane matters. "Last night he made the biggest win of the season. He must be wealthy, this Mr. Wilmot."
"If you would like to know him?" Daphne suggested wistfully. "He seems on very good friend with some friends of mine."
"We have no great desire to make new acquaintances," Andrée decided. "It is very pleasant just as we are, I think!"
Nevertheless, before twenty-four hours had passed, one member of the Ferrier family at least had made the acquaintance of the reputedly rich Englishman.
IN one of the least pretentious of side streets in Deauville there is an establishment which bears an unostentatious sign, in small letters, on a brass plate, "Yankee Bar." In the daytime you will find horsey Americans there, talking in low tones and sipping very excellently-made cocktails. In the early hours of night it is dull and almost deserted; but when play is at its highest in the rooms, Yankee Bar wakes up, in its quiet way.
"I've had about enough of baccarat. What about a few rounds of jackpots at Jimmy's?"
"Sounds good to me, for a change."
Foreigners, as a rule, do not approve of poker as a gambling game. They find themselves at a serious disadvantage with the more phlegmatic and stolid Anglo-Saxons—and the people who leave the rooms for a flutter at Jimmy's "with the roof off," are usually Americans or Englishmen.
On the night of the Deauville Grand Prix, the invitation was extended to Peter Wilmot more than once, before he finally abandoned his fitful plunging at the baccarat tables.
Nobody was more observant of him than Jules Ferrier: and nobody was more careful to conceal his interest than Jules Ferrier.
Twice, when the invitation to visit Jimmy's was given to him, Peter noticed that Ferrier had drawn close enough to hear his careless refusal. To the third suggestion Peter said:—
"I think I might, in ten minutes or so. I don't fancy my luck at the moment here; but I'll give it one more try-out before I change over to poker."
A minute after that Ferrier was missing from the Casino, and Peter was not surprised, when he was shown into the quiet room behind "Yankee Bar" twenty minutes later, to find him already at one of the square tables, with a deck of cards in his hand.
"You ought to know Ferrier, Wilmot," said Peter's introducer, a bluff young American who preferred racing and poker to all Casino gambling. "He plays our kind of game."
"But not with Mr. Wilmot's luck," Ferrier said. "One has to be courageous to face him, even for a round of jackpots."
When six players were seated around the table, it seemed for quite half an hour that Ferrier had been justified in his premonition. Peter's luck was amazingly good, and his careless way of staking allowed him to make the most of it....
If his judgment was correct, he had reached not only Ferrier's staking limit, but the limit of every man in the room ready to lend him money to back his hand. Then Peter reached for another pocket and counted out seven more bundles of mille notes.
"You are up a million francs, Ferrier," he said. "I think it is all there, but we can count it afterwards, and I'll make it right. Let's get on with the game now."
"A million francs!" Ferrier said. "A million francs!"
He was calculating too: and he must have known the resources available to him, down to the last hundred-franc note.
"This wants a little managing, Mr. Wilmot," he said, calmly enough, though his eyes were blazing out of a face which had turned dead white. "I may have to realise available assets, perhaps."
"A freeze-out, by heck," called Peter's American introducer. "You can't leave the table, monsieur, and you know it."
Bundles of notes were pushed across to the man and carefully counted. His own pockets were dredged, and the result added to the pile.
"It still lacks 150,000 francs," he announced. "But I intend to see what Mr. Wilmot has got."
"From his vest pocket he produced a finger-ring, set with a very large and very fine emerald.
"That has been valued at 800,000 francs, Mr. Wilmot," he said. "Will you lend me 150,000 upon it, for a minute?"
"You seem very sure that it is only for a minute," Peter said, extending his hand for the ring. "I could refuse, you know."
He took the ring in his hand, examined it amid a breathless silence, and then had recourse to his capacious pockets again. A little case of plum-coloured morocco showed in his hand, and the lid flew back with a click.
Two big green stones, apparently as large and as fine as that Ferrier had produced, caught and held every eye.
"The Raminiroff emeralds, Mr. Ferrier," Peter said, passing the ring back to him.
"I think you are the American vendor of these stones. You can hardly expect, then, that I should advance real money upon your ring."
Ferrier looked Peter in the face for half a minute: and then his eyes roved about the wondering, bewildered faces which ringed the table.
"English gentlemen were once said to be sporting," he muttered. "Under the changed circumstances, I suppose the money is yours."
He gathered up his borrowings, and the sum he had produced in his attempt to match Peter's bet.
"I wish you all good night," he said, accepting defeat with admirable fortitude.
"I may see you to-morrow," Peter said. "I am calling upon my friends, Mr. and Miss Wyse."
But when Peter called, and was introduced to Gervaise Wyse, Andrée Ferrier and her brother were already leaving Deauville as fast as a powerful car would carry them.
"THE doctor says it is gout, Daff," groaned Mr. Gervaise Wyse. "I knew all along that I ought to be more careful with that rich French food. And now I have to spend three weeks at Harrogate, in what he calls a hydro."
"Then I'll end a wire, cancelling our engagement for Cowes," said Daphne Wyse, exhibiting neither the sympathy nor the surprise her father had expected of her.
"Nonsense, Daff: you can go to Cowes. Do you think I am incapable of looking after myself?"
Daphne dutifully refrained from any reply, a more effective reminder to Wyse of a recent adventure at Deauville than any audible mention of his narrow escape from the clutches of a beautiful adventuress. The sufferer of gout restrained himself to a similar silence, with an effort which did not escape his watchful daughter, who scored herself one more point in the duel which was going on between them.
Not that Daphne permitted any open difference to arise between herself and her father. She felt that she had behaved in the most angelic manner about the Deauville incident, never saying one word by way of comment on Wyse's indiscretion. All she had done was to ask his consent to her engagement to a young man of whom Wyse had never heard of.
The young man himself, Mr. Peter Wilmot, of engaging appearance and impeccable manners, had called to make the same request: and Wyse had seen fit to find fault with the manner in which he earned an excellent income, as well as the way in which Daphne had become acquainted with him. Consent to the engagement had not been withheld, but it had not been granted: and Peter Wilmot had weakly consented to refrain from any further communication with Daphne, until he had heard the decision of Daphne's father.
There were, as Daphne triumphantly pointed out, quite a number of pleasant young people staying at the hydro, all of whom, like Daphne herself, were doing their best to make a pleasure out of duty. Gouty uncles and rheumatic aunts lurked in the background, or exchanged symptoms and doctors' addresses in the second row.
Very much in the background, for instance, was the suffering mother of Mr. Raymond Tolworth, a dashing young man who speedily established himself as Daphne's regular dancing partner.
Perhaps it was the memory of two long letters to Peter, neither of which had produced a line by way of answer, which caused Daphne to look kindly upon Mr. Tolworth from the moment of his first appearance. Or it may have been because he, and his raiment, and the super-excellence of his dancing, were all so reminiscent of a popular film star that Daphne had heard him referred to as Rudolfo, even before he appeared on the scene, and promptly obtained an introduction to her.
He was a dutiful son, this Raymond Tolworth, and he spent hours every day in the company of his invalid mother, who was tucked away so closely in some mysterious wing of the establishment that nobody ever saw her, save nurse, doctor and son. And at the outset of their acquaintance, it seemed that Mr. Tolworth was bent upon spending every minute he could spare from his mother in Daphne's company.
In a very few days, as Wyse remarked with a gratified chuckle, the position was slightly altered. Every minute Tolworth could spare from Daphne's society was devoted to his mother. And Daphne, as every spinster and dowager in the hydro agreed, was encouraging him shamefully.
"I'm glad you taking a sensible view of things, Daff," Wyse ventured to say, when the affair had been progressing for a week. "He's a very nice young fellow, and as handsome as paint."
"And a quick worker," Daphne agreed cordially. "Have you written that letter to Peter Wilmot yet?"
"The Doctor tells me to avoid all worrying topics," Wyse replied reproachfully. "There's nothing brings on gout like worry, Daphne."
"Then you'd better not miss a single drink of your water cure," Daphne advised: and went off to play tennis with Raymond Tolworth, leaving her father to wonder what on earth the girl meant by that.
Tolworth, as Daphne had said, was indeed a quick worker. He was a master of all the small arts of love-making which express devotion, and yet are incapable of being resented by any sensible girl.
Daphne had no compunction in experimenting with this rather unusual admirer. For she had the feeling, due to her woman's instinct, that he was not likely to take much harm, however far the flirtation might be carried. Yet he responded nobly to all the tests for single-minded devotion. If she gave a morning up to her father, Tolworth did not transfer his attentions to any of the other girls, who would all have welcomed them with something like rapture. He simply went off, and made up his arrears of duty with his mysterious, invalid mother.
MR. PETER WILMOT, sitting at his desk in the office of Social Emergencies, on a sweltering afternoon in late July, turned over a little sheaf of papers and photographs which lay before him, and cursed aloud
"Damn the League of Bright Young Things," he said petulantly. "And damn this whole business, anyhow."
"Trunk call from Harrogate, Mr. Wilmot," said his elderly typist and incurable worshipper. "It sounded like the voice of our Miss Howard again."
"Impossible," snapped Peter, snatching at the receiver, conscious that his heart was beating against his tonsils, or somewhere in that locality.
"Is that Mr. Wilmot?" asked a well-remembered voice. "Miss Howard speaking. Have you anything for me to-day?"
"I say, Daphne," Peter remonstrated awkwardly. "This is not playing the game exactly, you know. I passed my word to your Governor, who was really very decent. In spite of what you say, and by the rules of the game..."
"This is a business call, Mr. Wilmot," said the voice coldly. "If you have nothing for me, kindly say so; and I'll ring off."
"I... er... Do you think... Oh hang it," Peter said desperately. "I'm hung up here, with the very sort of thing you used to eat up with a soup spoon, if you follow me. A silly sort of thing, that I don't get the hang of, somehow. Looks simple enough, and yet... Well, it has me beaten."
"It sounds very simple," said the voice ironically. "Just a few words more, and I'll know everything I need. What did you say was the name of the lady?"
"It's Eunice Pemberton," said Peter desperately. 'You've heard of her, if you haven't met her personally. Nobody is supposed to know it, but she's been missing for a matter of sixteen days. And her people are really anxious about her."
"They shouldn't worry," said Daphne's voice. "Have you tried inquiring among the League of Bright Young Things?"
"That's the galling part of it," Peter confessed. "Naturally I kicked off from the League. The other Bright Young Things do not profess to deny that they know something about it: but not one of them will stir a finger to help."
"Well, what's all the fuss about?" Daphne asked. "Eunice Pemberton's people must know she is safe: the Bright Young Things will vouch for that much, I suppose. If the Pembertons are not prepared for freak behavior, the should step in, and cut their girl out of the League."
"You don't understand," Peter said fretfully. "There's a rich old maiden aunt turned up from somewhere in the Provinces, where nobody ever heard of the Bright Young Things. Expectations, and all that sort of thing: andshe has come to town specially to see Eunice, and make her will. The girl simply has to turn up at home, within the next day or two."
"I see. Is there any other Bright Young Thing gone missing?"
"None that I've heard about."
"H'm. Try to find out. And I don't seem to remember what Eunice Pemberton looked like. A pretty girl, I suppose?"
"Very pretty," Peter said with an indifference which, uncalculated as it was, earned him a good mark on the highest scale. "I've some photographs here."
"Send me one: to Miss Howard, Poste Restante, Harrogate," Daphne directed. "And live in hope."
"Do you really mean it?" Peter asked.
"Do you mean to tell me that you aren't living in hope?" Daphne asked, in cold wonder.
"That's not in the game, Miss Howard," Peter retorted. "I wish to know whether you think there is any chance of discovering Eunice Pemberton."
"Perhaps—if it's worth while."
And the telephone closed with a vicious click.
THE Saturday evening dances were the real wild events of the week at Daphne's hydro. Patrons invited friends from outside, and gouty patients were encouraged to try their luck on the floor, to show 0utsiders what progress their cures were making.
On this particular Saturday evening, every looker-on agreed that Daphne Wyse was behaving shamelessly. She danced every dance with the almost too handsome Raymond Tolworth, and met him quite half-way in the rather spectacular lovemaking for which he was so much admired and discussed.
Daphne was no niggard when once she decided to let herself go. With her eyes she answered his languishing looks, rolling her own grey orbs in ecstasy which matched his own. Every fervent pressure of his slim hands was returned, sometimes with a vigour which seemed to surprise him.
"I must go and spend a few minutes with mother now," he said reluctantly, as the evening reached the middle of its course. "It's hours since I said a word to her."
"Don't be long," Daphne whispered entreatingly.
Tolworth paused, in the very act of leaving her.
"I might be able to induce her to come down," he said, "just to look on, for one dance. She's better to-day than she has been for months, and the nurse said something about a few minutes of brightness."
"You ought to persuade her," Daphne agreed.
"I've told her such a lot about you," Tolworth volunteered, switching on his most ardent look. "If she does come it will be to see you and me dancing together."
"Do try to persuade her," Daphne urged.
Presently a slow-moving, stumbling procession of three entered the gallery above the dancing-floor. Tolworth on one wside, a uniformed nurse on the other, and a tottering old lady in black satin, with a wrinkled face and quivering hands, moving gingerly in response to their active, but careful assistance. When she was established in a comfortable seat, Tolworth came beaming back to Daphne.
His return had something in the nature of a triumphal re-entry. Matrons and spinsters alike were touched by his filial devotion. It seemed a shame that so good a son should be openly infatuated by a forward girl like Daphne: and they audibly hoped his mother would speak to him about it.
"She has come down for just ten minutes," Tolworth said. "Suppose we dance this one."
They did: and as the news had gone round that old Mrs. Tolworth had ventured out of her room just to see her son dance, the floor was almost entirely left to the pair of them. There was a little outbreak of applause when the music stopped, for both had acquitted themselves creditably: and then Tolworth offered Daphne his arm, with the air of empressment which he brought to most of the minor acts of his life.
"Come!" he said dramatically.
He took Daphne up the stairs to the gallery: and then headed not in the direction of his tremulous but gratified parent, but toward a little nook hidden with evergreens, and evidently designed for very audacious sitters-out.
"I want to be able to delight mother with the best news in the world, before she returns to her room," Tolworth began: and he made the commonplace sentence sound romantic, somehow. Daphne allowed him gently to force her into the little seat, made to hold two at a pinch.
"What news?" she asked, faintly but languishingly.
"Can you ask, Daphne? You must have seen: I know you have seen, that all the desire of my life is set upon yourself. I love you madly, Daphne. To-night, if has seemed to me, the coldness you have hitherto shown towards me has melted. I dare to ask you to be my wife. The news that you have consented: that is the news for which my dear mother is anxiously waiting. Do you consent, Daphne, my darling: Daphne, the light of my life, the star of my existence?"
Daphne closed her eyes, and swayed a little towards him. The speech, as Raymond Tolworth had delivered it, sounded impassioned, and full of yearning, and the promise of a glorious future.
"You may kiss me, Raymond," the girl murmured, like one swept away by the passion he exhaled.
It was nearly a minute before Daphne opened her eyes again.
"It is a pity," she remarked contentedly, "that some film man wasn't about, to take a close-up of that. You may kiss me again, Raymond; I don't mind a scrap."
But Raymond Tolworth was hesitating, and regarding her doubtfully while she swayed toward him more than ever, closing her eyes and sighing rapturously.
"Hurry up," Daphne said sharply. "At the girls' school where I was educated, we used to play these games, and actually imagine it was like the real thing. Of course, I know a lot better now."
"What do you mean?" demanded the handsome, passionate lover, with a sharp note in his melodious voice.
"Girly-girly kisses," said Daphne simply. "Not an ounce of zip in one, if you kept it up for a quarter of an hour. That's where you and your mother slop over, Miss Eunice Pemberton, or whatever your real name is. There's no sweetness in nothing, Old Thing."
The perfect lover held out a slim white hand.
"I don't know what you're going to do about it all," she said. "The joke seems to be on me, all right. But there's one thing, Daphne Wyse: you'll have to let me make you one of the Bright Young Things."
"Well," Daphne said consideringly. "There's no reason why I shouldn't give you away too badly, if you come to terms about it. You see, I've a real love affair on hand, and I'm in need of a little help."
TEN minutes after Raymond Tolworth had been shown into Wyse's private sitting-room, Daphne received a message to say that her father wished to speak to her. She found Tolworth sitting at his ease in the second most comfortable chair, with one of Wyse's choicest cigars alight; while her father, savouring a twin cigar, faced him with every sign of patent goodwill.
"Well, Daff," Wyse said, genially. "I've been having a talk to this young fellow, who says he wants to take you away from me. I thought, as you were the person chiefly concerned, that I should like to hear your views on the matter."
Daphne cast her eyes down dutifully.
"I could never marry anybody, without your full approval, father," she said. "I asked Oswald—I mean Raymond—to see you about it, before I gave him my answer. I shouldn't like to make a second mistake about your wishes."
"Quite so, quite so," Wyse said, hastily. "Well, Tolworth has undertaken to satisfy me on one or two points, on which any father is bound to inquire. And I've told him.... Well, I'll leave you to yourselves now."
"You give your consent?" Daphne asked.
Wyse nodded, with a pleased smile.
Daphne extended her hand to the handsome youth, who threw his cigar on the floor and danced a few wild steps about the girl.
"Congrats, old thing," Daphne said. "You've won your bet, fairly and squarely enough, even if I did spot you."
"What the devil...." cried Wyse, as the two girls executed fantastic steps about him. "Daff! For heaven's sake! Have you gone daft?"
"You'll be famous to-morrow, Dad," Daphne explained. "The Brave Young Things will hold a dinner in your honour. You'll not be there: but they'll toast you, as the parent who gave his consent to the marriage of his daughter to another girl."
"What Brave Young Things?" Wyse stammered. "What on earth are you talking about?"
"Eunice will explain," Daphne promised. "She's the secretary."
"Vice-president," Eunice corrected. "You see, Mr. Wyse, I rather fancy myself my on impersonation of a young man. Batty Clonhugh swore that anybody could spot me; and I bet her that I could get away with it well enough to be accepted as the fiancé of any girl Batty liked to pick for me. Batty is down here, in the part of my aged mother, you know."
"Batty picked your girl Daphne: a smart bit of work on Batty's part, I will say. Daphne spotted me all right—had it in her power to make me look the most perfect fool in London. But Daphne is a good sport: so we put out heads together and passed the buck to you."
"Still I don't understand," Wyse said, in a dazed voice.
"You're the Goat," Eunice explained kindly. "You're It. You'll be the most talked about person in London before you know where you are. The Bright Young Things will see to that, Mr. Wyse."
Wyse looked appealingly at his daughter.
"What have you let me in for now, Daff?" he asked piteously.
"You let yourself in," Eunice said mercilessly. "Daphne might be able to let you out, perhaps. I was let out myself: and I'm quite willing to call it a draw. So is Batty: or she will be, now we have your consent to the marriage."
"You see, Dad," Daphne explained. "You were going to write a letter to Peter. You haven't been playing the game."
"And you are really a young woman?" Wyse asked, after another inspection of the vice-president of the Bright Young Things.
"And can prove it, if you like," said Eunice promptly. Wyse waved away this generous offer.
"You win, Daff," he said humbly. "I never realised it was as serious with you as all this."
"Then sign this wire to Peter," Daphne replied.
"Daphne has found the girl you are seeking. Come and get her: Daphne, I mean."
He wrote at the bottom of this—"Gervaise Wyse."
"Now Wilmot's the Goat," he said. "Now Wilmot is It. But, thank goodness, he at least is not a Bright Young Thing."
"LOOK here, Wilmot," said the Hon. Gervaise Wyse, "I've never pretended that I was entirely content with your way of making a living, have I?"
Peter Wilmot, manager of Social Emergencies, had been dining with Daphne Wyse and her father; and the girl had just left the two men over their cigars and coffee, with a little encouraging smile for Peter as a farewell. The young fellow coloured a little at the brusqueness of the attack, but he smiled cheerfully as he replied:
"If you were trying to conceal that, sir, you did not mislead me in the least."
"One of these days," Wyse went on, "we must talk about fixing you up with something else. Pardon my way of putting it: but if you are as brainy as Daff pretends, you can turn your energy and intelligence to something better. But in the meantime...."
He paused, inspecting the ash of his cigar with such attention that he almost seemed to have forgotten what was to happen in the meantime.
"Yes," said Wyse very deliberately. "In the meantime it might be very handy for me to command your wits in a matter which is of considerable importance to me. And to the Empire," he added: "yes, a matter of Imperial concern—no less."
"You are about to consult me professionally?" Peter asked.
"If you choose to put it that way," Wyse agreed. "I prefer to say, for my own part, that I am about to impart a confidence to a trusted member of my own family."
"That is a pleasant way of putting it," Peter said, colouring with pleasure this time.
"You know, of course, that my chief reason for coming to Great Britain this summer was the question of Imperial Perference," Wyse went on. "You know that your Parliament here has turned down the arrangements made at the last Empire Conference. What you do not know, I assume, is that all the Dominions could make, with another and more prosperous nation than your own, an arrangement of the sort which Imperial Parliament has refused to ratify."
"I suppose I could guess where the offer comes from," Peter said.
"Let us say it comes from Agraria," said Wyse. "The point is that none of the Dominions will admit giving the proposal serious consideration. But in spite of the apparent unanimity of Dominion loyalty, in this matter of trade, I happened to discover, a few weeks ago, that one Dominion—let us call it New Cornwall—is seriously considering the proposal."
"What does that imply, sir?" Peter asked.
"If one Dominion breaks away, the probability is of all the others following," Wyse said. "But the first Dominion to come to terms with Agraria will undoubtedly make the best bargain for itself."
"And you think New Cornwall is double-crossing you?" Peter asked.
Wyse shook his head.
"I could not bring myself to think it," he said. "If anybody were responsible for such a thing, it would be Jamieson. My personal relations with him are so friendly that I broke the usual rules of procedure in such matters. I went to him secretly, and told him frankly what I had heard. And he was so far from denying it that I discovered I had just spoken in time. In another day or two it would have been too late."
"Then you have averted trouble, by speaking frankly?"
Again Wyse shook his head.
"I have merely succeeded in locating the cause of the trouble, and in suspending a decision," he said. "New Cornwall has been in treaty with Agraria, because Jamieson had reason to think that I was already taking the same line. He had reason to think so—good reason."
"What reason?" Peter asked bluntly.
"A strip of cinema film, showing me in secret conference with Wilbur, the President of Agraria," Wyse said.
"I'm afraid I don't quite understand," Peter said.
"Nor do I, Wilmot," Wyse replied. "I have never taken part in such a conference—but I have seen the film. And there am I, and there is Wilbur—and the moving picture shows us as thick as thieves. A more thorough-going pair of conspirators you couldn't see. By Gum, it looked more like a scene from some political film drama, rather than a bit of real life. I denied ever having seen Wilbur under such circumstances, of course. My denial was received with a show of full acceptance—but in his inmost heart I know Jamieson thinks me a liar. I can hardly blame him. I tell you that film startled me. I suppose it is a fake of some sort; but that doesn't help me out."
"So you wish Social Emergencies to handle the case?" Peter said briskly. "Can you arrange that I shall see this film?"
"I couldn't get a second look at it myself," Wyse replied. "Sometimes, when I think it over, I imagine I must be dreaming that such a film exists, or that I did not hold that session with Wilbur. By Gum, Wilmot, the sight of it gave me a shock."
"But are you sure it was not Wilbur? He would have a real inducement..."
"I cannot be sure of anything, except my own innocence of the whole affair."
"You've been filmed before—really filmed, I mean?"
"In Australia. That's one reason why I was so startled. Many people have no idea of their own appearance, but I know just what I look like. As a matter of fact, I used that genuine film to try and correct some mannerisms which I did not like, when I saw myself as others see me. And in this fake film, all those mannerisms have been faithfully reproduced."
"How long have I got?" Peter asked abruptly.
"A week, at the outside," Wyse replied. "I doubt it Jamieson will hold off for so long, unless I provide him with conviction. He is terribly scared: you see, his whole political existence depends on getting in first with Agraria, if anybody goes in at all."
"And you?" Peter asked, more out of personal interest than professional necessity.
"It might break me too," Wyse admitted. "But I'm not worrying about that. Politics would have no further interest for me, if they meant such a break-up of the Empire as I can foresee unless this trouble is averted."
"A week from to-morrow," Peter stipulated. "Promise Mr. Jamieson that you'll have your proof by that day."
AT noon on the following day, Daphne Wyse visited the offices of Social Emergencies, and found Peter's desk littered with photographs, all apparently showing the same man, though in many different poses and capacities.
"President Wilbur," she said, picking up one or two of them and inspecting them. "I never knew so many different pictures of the man existed."
"Nor do they," Peter replied. "That picture you have just set down is the genuine article, but the one you have in your hand is not. It is a picture of Julius Wragge, the man who doubles Wilbur in film productions."
"I think I begin to see," said Daphne thoughtfully, as she turned the picture over in her hands.
"I wish I did," Peter replied ruefully. "Wragge is away in the South Seas at the moment: and there is no way of getting at him in time. I doubt if it would be of any use if I could reach him. If he made this secret film with somebody else impersonating your father, the actors are certain to be too well paid to make a confession possible."
"A double of my father must exist, too," Daphne said, turning the pictures over and over again. "I suppose one can find a double of nearly anybody."
"For photographing purposes, and with the help of make-up, anybody can be doubled," Peter asserted.
"With the help of make-up," Daphne repeated, twisting the picture about in her slim fingers. "Make-up! I see!"
"This afternoon," said Peter, "a film studio is sending me a man who could double your father exactly."
"Do you mean the man who did double him?"
"No," Peter admitted dismally. "The faked film was made in some other country, not England, I'm afraid."
"Then what good will he do?"
"I hardly know," Peter confessed. "I had him sent along, just to see whether he might not suggest some idea. You never know. Anyhow, I like the feeling that I'm doing something, whatever it may be, in an important case like this."
Daphne nodded her comprehension.
"Better lunch with me and see him later," Peter suggested hopefully. "He might prove a source of inspiration for you."
"I've got a lunching appointment," Daphne replied promptly. "I invited myself to lunch with Mrs. Jamieson, if you want to know."
"That sounds very pleasant," Peter said drily; for Mrs. Jamieson's social reputation was that of a bore, who insisted on discussing her family affairs with the most casual acquaintances.
"Mrs. Jamieson is some years older than her husband," Daphne continued.
"And some centuries plainer," Peter agreed. "He's one of the handsomest men I ever saw."
"There are other people who think so, aren't there, Peter?" Daphne asked, with an affectation of innocence. "Who is the latest lady said to be making the running, Peter?"
"Mrs. Dines," Peter confessed reluctantly. "It's just a whisper—probably a malicious one. But there's no doubt that people are talking."
"Mrs. Dines," Daphne repeated. "Good-bye, Peter. I hope poor Papa's double brings you an inspiration. I do so want to change his opinion about Social Emergencies."
Daphne went off to her tête-à-tête luncheon with Mrs. Jamieson, the wife of the prominent Dominion statesman who was New Cornwall's chief representative in London, for the time being. The conversation was mainly a monologue on Mrs. Jamieson's part, and its subject the neglect and shortcomings of her brilliant husband. Three times in the course of the meal she rose and left the table to answer the telephone. On the third occasion she returned almost in tears.
"He's gone to see that woman again, I do believe," she announced. "At least, the man who is watching him for me says that he is lunching in a private room at the Ritz."
"Are you having him shadowed?" Daphne asked, in real surprise.
"That's why I am so unhappy," Mrs. Jamieson confessed. "He is guarded by two detectives, and so I cannot shadow him properly. But I am sure he is going to have lunch with that woman, Mrs. Dines. Why else should he have a private room?"
"Does he ever lunch in public?" Daphne asked. "Papa seldom does."
"I don't care," the other replied. "I'll catch him yet with that woman, and then I'll get a divorce, politics or no politics. I'll endure it no longer. She's got a photograph of him in her bedroom. My man found that out from her maid, at any rate."
"For that matter," Daphne laughed, "I was going to ask for a photograph of your husband for myself. One of the signed ones, if that were possible. And I shall put it in a prominent place, if you are good enough to give me one, dear Mrs. Jamieson. But that does not mean..."
"You are quite different, my dear," said Mrs. Jamieson, and bustled off to get the picture.
Peter Wilmot had arranged to take Daphne to tea that afternoon, but at the appointed hour he received a telephone call instead.
"I cannot come, Peter," the girl explained. "I'm too busy."
"Busy about what?" Peter asked grumpily. "Everything seems to go wrong to-day."
"My dressmaker—and other people," Daphne answered. "Stick to it, Peter. Social Emergencies is never beaten, you know."
"Except the only time when it is really worth while not to be beaten," Peter answered despondently. "If I had time, and could leave England for the purpose, I know just where I could lay my hands upon what I want. But a week!"
"Stick to it, Peter," Daphne urged again; and he heard her low laugh and then the click of the telephone shutting off.
"HOW is Mr. Jamieson these times, Dad?" Daphne asked carelessly on the sixth day of the week which Wyse had allowed Social Emergencies.
"Jamieson is very busy," said Wyse grimly. "Too busy to spare me much of his valuable time."
"That's rather a pity," said Daphne. "Peter and I thought of inviting him to a little show we are giving."
"What do you mean?" Wyse asked sharply. "I suspect that Jamieson will commit himself to-morrow, unless I can bring pressure to bear to-day."
"Commit himself personally or politically?" Daphne asked. "Gossip says that Mrs. Dines interests him more than Agraria just at present."
"Mrs. Dines is Agraria," Wyse answered. "That's the mischief of it. Jamieson never could resist a pretty, flattering woman; and I happen to know that his answer to Agraria, when it is given, will go through Mrs. Dines as mediator."
"Then you had better invite Mr. Jamieson for this afternoon," Daphne said. "There will only be your two selves, Peter and myself. And one other."
"Who's the other?" Wyse asked quickly. "This is a very delicate matter, Daff!"
"Scarlatti," Daphne replied. "The little show we are giving takes place in his big room."
"Scarlatti! You mean that quack who paints out black eyes, and cures sick headaches? Daff, my dear, I must remind you again that this is not only a delicate matter: it is one of supreme importance. How can I ask Jamieson to go to Scarlatti's?"
"Where did you go when Mr. Jamieson showed you the film, on which his unjust accusation of you is based?"
"He showed it to me in his own private sitting-room. He had a screen installed there, for the purpose."
"We have no time for that. And Scarlatti does not understand. He is the least curious man in the world, about the why of things. His only pleasure is in getting them properly done. You'll never hear another word from Scarlatti. In any case, he knows so much now, that he might as well see the thing through to the finish."
"And you offer Jamieson the absolute proof he requires?"
"I think he will find it convincing enough," Daphne replied. "But we shall see."
"Very well," Wyse conceded reluctantly. "I'll bring Jamieson along. At what hour did you say?"
"At four o'clock."
"I wish you wouldn't be so infernally mysterious, Daff," Wyse said irritably. "Can't you and Wilmot give me some idea of the proof you intend to offer?"
"It must come as a surprise to you, as well as to Mr. Jamieson."
"I think I'm pretty certain," Daphne later on remarked to Peter. "If I should turn out wrong, we may have to issue some further invitations to our show. But I'm rather confident that will not be necessary."
Scarlatti, rubbing his hands together and bowing from the waist, ushered his distinguished guests into the strange room which he used at once as consulting-room and operating theatre. It was now darkened by curtains, which covered every window and shut out every ray of light. In the gloom one could just see the white oblong of a miniature screen at one end of the room, and discern a small film projector at the other.
"Get on with the business, if you please," said Jamieson, irritably. "I have important appointments in half an hour, and an hour's time. What I have been brought here to see?"
"A few feet of film, Mr. Jamieson," Daphne explained. "You will remember that you showed my father a few feet of film, not many weeks ago, in which he was supposed to be one of the principal actors?"
"Well?" asked Jamieson.
"My father does not appear in this film at all," Daphne explained. "But you had better see it for yourself. Begin at once, if you please, Scarlatti."
The projector began to buzz; and forthwith there appeared on the screen a picture which made all three men who were spectators simultaneously cry out—
A handsome man, a little over middle age, was kneeling at the feet of a beautiful woman, twenty years his junior, perhaps. She was wearing one of the daring frocks for which the beautiful Mrs. Dines had become notorious; and she was as surely Mrs. Dines herself, as the man who wooed her so ardently was Randolph Jamieson. As they watched, she ruffled his hair with one white hand. while he threw his arms about her, and drew her face down to his, until their lips met.
"It's an honest-to-Goodness kiss," Daphne explained, out of the darkness. "And lasts fifty-four seconds, by my watch. If Mrs. Jamieson ever saw and timed that kiss, Mr. Jamieson..."
"But that is not I," Jamieson said, in a choked voice. "I swear I—that we—it is a foul libel on an innocent woman, and on myself as well. I protest. Wyse, you know very well..."
"Of course I do, my boy," chuckled Wyse, as the ardent screen embrace relaxed. "Who should know, if I do not? I've suffered myself, in much the same way; only you would never believe it. Let's have that first bit again, if you don't mind, Mr. Scarlatti. I didn't see it properly the first time."
"But this is nothing short of blackmail," Jamieson protested furiously. "Wyse, you—you don't believe—you cannot believe."
"It is not what I believe," Wyse replied. "I am not above accepting the evidence of my senses, if it comes to that. Wasn't that the way you spoke, about that faked picture of myself and Wilbur? But what I think doesn't seem to matter so much. As Daphne says, it is what Mrs. Jamieson will think that you have to consider."
There was a long, pregnant pause.
"It's a lie," said Jamieson. "But I could never prove that to my wife. Perhaps I've been over ready to believe in these damned film things. Let's go somewhere and talk things over, Wyse. I suppose I can rely upon the discretion of all who are present?"
"Absolutely, Mr. Jamieson," Daphne promised.
"YES," Peter Wilmot agreed, after another inspection of the thrilling little scene. "Now you tell me, I can see that it is Willing, the actor, who has made up so wonderfully as Jamieson. The two men are much alike, now I come to think of it. But who—if it is no indiscretion—is the lady who is even more beautiful than the lovely Mrs. Dines?"
"That!" Daphne said carelessly. "Well, Peter, you use Scarlatti and I did not want too many people in our secret."
"Well, he made me up for Mrs. Dines. Don't you think I do it rather well?"
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