DICK OXENHAM had a fascinating subject and a pretty audience of one. Naturally, with every condition favourable to silken dalliance, there was but one crumpled leaf in the heart of the lotus-flower. If only Lady Logsdail were a little less fond of the scent of the tuberose.
The charming drawing-room was faint and sickly with the odour of it. And Oxenham was a healthy man who always slept with the windows open. Still, the inert fragrance troubled him less than usual this afternoon for reasons presently to be unfolded. He never appreciated the careful carelessness, the dainty harmony of Lady Logsdail's salon more than at this moment.
In some fluffy nocturne in black and orange Lily Logsdail sat listening. The dim light, filtered through silken blinds and feathery palms, glistened upon diamonds and almond eyes and amber hair belonging to the cleverest woman in London. With practically a pauper husband, Lily Logsdail had contrived to stem the tide of impecuniosity, to keep up Logsdail Waters and 99A, Hill Street, with never a tradesman with the shibboleth of "account rendered" to trouble her. How the thing had been and was done remained a mystery. But then Lady Logsdail passed for the cleverest woman in London.
"You don't know how you interest me, Dick," she murmured.
"Extraordinary thing, isn't it," said Oxenham. "And it's been going on for months. By some means or other, every dispatch from the Foreign Office to our Embassy at Emsdam gets tampered with. And that's why I have been chosen by the Chief to take over the next important communication."
"What do the thieves gain, Richard?"
"Oh, well. Fair play to them, they don't do much harm. It has something to do with speculation on the London and Berlin Exchanges. Look what happened last week. Nicholson had the Emsdam dispatches. He swears they were never out of his possession for a moment, and yet, before they were fairly delivered, our wily birds were operating with a full knowledge of the contents of those letters. Any amount of money has been spent to probe the mystery, but absolutely in vain. And it's a decided feather in my cap that the Chief has chosen me for the next venture."
"Your merits are voluminous," Lady Logsdail laughed; "but I fancy that a little word or two dropped by myself to Sir James Sawbridge had its weight. He promised me he would test your mettle the first opportunity."
Dick murmured his thanks. He was a little disturbed by the information. He stooped down and picked up a glittering bauble from the floor.
"You'll lose that wonderful Medici ring of yours some of these days," he said. "Why don't you have it made a little smaller? If I had a unique diamond like that, I fancy I should take more care of it. A historic gem, too."
Lady Logsdail carelessly replaced the priceless trifle.
"And so you are going to baffle these mysterious gentry," she said. "Of course everything you say to your affectionate cousin Lily is sacred. Several of the cleverest men in the Foreign Office have failed where you hope to succeed. Now how do you propose to run the gauntlet of your foes?"
"I thought of something cunningly simple," Dick said lazily."A sort of spoof, don't you know. There was once a long-headed fellow in a tale I read, who wanted to hide something, so placed the thing where everybody could see it."
Lady Logsdail clapped her hands gleefully.
"The very thing," she cried. "I know the story you mean. It was written by Edgar Poe, and called 'The Purloined Letter.' Take my advice, and just place those precious dispatches in your portmanteau — an old, battered portmanteau, mind, that looks as if it wasn't worth owning. You can carry your dispatch-box with you, and fuss over it pompously. You might even go so far as to let your portmanteau travel by the luggage van."
"Think so?" Dick asked dubiously.
"Why not? There's your cunningly simple plan to perfection. Don't forget that you are dealing with amazingly clever people—people who know your errand whilst they are as trees to you. They will look for cunning and complexity, and never suspect a dodge like this. It is like the Fools' Mate at chess. And you say that you are carrying something important?"
"Very important, I fancy. Something between England and Germany and the Transvaal. If this thing is good, what a haul it would be for our financial friends! But they are going to be done this time, Lily."
Lady Logsdail was emphatically of the same opinion. She suggested several little improvements upon the scheme, such as Oxenham's seal being placed on his portmanteau.
"In fact," she concluded; "I have the very thing for you—a battered old Gladstone with half the hotel-labels of Europe on it. I'll have your initials placed on it, and send it round to you. What day do you start?"
"Thursday week," Oxenham replied. "To-morrow I'm going down to Tom Saxton's place for a week. When I've seen my tailor in the morning I'm free."
Lady Logsdail was interested. A badly-dressed man was a painful thing to her, and considering his face and figure, Oxenham was dreadfully lax as regarded sartorial matters. Lady Logsdail was emphatic that Dick wanted this and that and the other, and as the accredited agent of Great Britain to Emsdam it was his duty to go suitably attired.
"All right," Oxenham said meekly, "I'll send round the patterns and you shall choose 'em. Thank goodness, Felton, of Bond Street never worries one about trying on. He takes your measure and there you are. What is it—a new dress suit, a frock suit, and something neat in tweeds to travel in. Anything else?"
But Lady Logsdail was satisfied. A scheme had been hit upon which was certain to baffle the conspirators and bring the shining young light of the Foreign Office to the front. Her ladyship glowed with the virtuous feeling that comes from the knowledge of good things done for others.
"This is the first step to fortune," she said. "I don't despair of seeing you an Ambassador yet. With your birth and advantages—"
"And poverty, my dear Lily. Ambassadors are never poor men."
"But you could marry money; you could have done so a dozen times over. Look at the heiresses I have introduced you to."
Dick rose and groped for his hat. This was a subject that usually ended in driving him hence into a cold and unfeeling world.
"I never wanted to look at them," he said.
"As a rule they were not the sort of thing the poet and the painter would rave about. So long as you belong to another, what are all the women in the world to me."
Oxenham passed into the outer air. The pretty salon had been a thought stuffy. And Oxenham hated scents of any kind. With olfactory nerves freshened by the breeze he caught the suggestion of tuberose on his clothes.
"Why does Lily do it?" he muttered, as he lighted a cigarette. "I shall smell that confounded stuff for the rest of the day now."
When the time came, Oxenham saw that Lady Logsdail's instructions were carried out to the letter. The battered old portmanteau forwarded for the occasion might have belonged to the veriest tramp that ever made his home at "The Travellers." No station thief, with a proper respect for himself, would ever touch such a thing.
The portmanteau had been packed ready for the journey by Oxenham's man. Down amongst the contents, Oxenham thrust the precious dispatches. He had only to add the new dress suit that he was at present wearing—for he had been dining out—and the bag could be locked. With his own hands, Oxenham turned the key and sealed the lock with his signet ring.
"It's a bit of a risky game that I am playing," he muttered. "I have engaged to get those dispatches through untouched, and if I succeed very good. If I carried them in the ordinary way and was forcibly robbed, nobody could blame me. But if I came to grief and it leaked out that I had shoved the confounded things into my portmanteau—why—"
The thought was not a pleasant one, and Oxenham did not care to dwell upon it. The thing was done now and he would have to go through with it. Nobody could by any chance know of the scheme, and in any case the dispatches were in cipher. That would certainly baffle the thieves, who hitherto had had to be content with a lightning peep at the documents which they had managed to steal, and read and return without the carrier being any the wiser.
Nobody knew but Lady Logsdail. And of course she was all right. Even as Oxenham thought of her, the bedroom became faint with the smell of tuberose. Oxenham jerked open his window angrily.
"Confound the stuff," he cried. "I wonder where it comes from? I haven't seen Lily for days. And the room reeks with the perfume. What an ass I am to be sure! The smell comes from that old portmanteau. I shall carry the flavour of this wretched tuberose with me to Emsdam."
Oxenham was up betimes in the morning. The dispatch-box, his dressing-bag, and the mournful elderly portmanteau were all ready. There was plenty of time, and after an early lunch Oxenham found himself with a good hour to spare before he was due at the station.
"I'll go round and see Lily." he told himself. "She may have thought of another dodge that might come in useful."
But he found Lily Logsdail in no mood to discuss dodges artful or otherwise. The fair lady with the almond eyes and amber hair was on the verge of tears, or as near tears as a woman who values her complexion ever gets.
"What's the matter?" Oxenham asked. "Anything wrong with Jim?"
Lily Logsdail waved the suggestion aside impatiently.
"Do you think that I should distress myself like this over a mere husband?" she demanded scornfully. " I have had a great misfortune, Richard. My Medici ring—"
"Lost it. I suppose. I always said you would."
"That is the tenth time I've heard the same expression this morning. People who say such things ought to be led to the stake. Don't stay and worry me, Dick, there's a good fellow. I've been distracted since yesterday afternoon."
"I'm very sorry," Oxtnham said sincerely.
"I expect the ring will turn up again. Can I do anything in Zerlinden to-morrow? I stop there at night and go on to Emsdam in the morning. I shall dine with Lewis Annandale."
A quick spasm of pain crossed Lady Logsdail's face. She looked quite old and withered in the morning light for a moment. And the glance which she threw at Oxenham would hardly have been called cousinly.
"Give him my kind regards," she said. "No, you can do nothing for me, Dick, except to find my ring. Good-bye."
Oxenham accepted his dismissal philosophically. Under the circumstances, a tender parting was hardly to be expected, and, so far as the unfeeling man was concerned, the incident of the loss of the ring was soon forgotten, or remembered complacently by one who had prophesied the misfortune. But ere long the matter was destined to come back to Oxenham with tragic force.
Not without some misgivings, he saw his aged derelict of a portmanteau placed in the luggage van. Oxenham was more or less uneasy till Dover was reached, but the portmanteau was intact at Dover, and was still intact what time it was safely landed on the Zerlinden express.
"I won't look at the thing any more." Oxenham muttered. "It is certainly not beautiful, and any anxiety about the wreck might cause attention. And now let me go to sleep and forget all about it."
Sleeping, reading, and eating passed the time away until in the gloom of the next afternoon the express glided into the great glazed arch of Zerlinden station. Oxenham tumbled out sleepily on to the platform. It seemed to his excited brain that more than one pair of eyes were regarding him steadily. For it was here that the Emsdam dispatches were supposed to be perused by second sight, or something equally occult. And there were eyes upon Oxenham, but they belonged to a trio of detectives who were especially told off to follow the messenger. But of this Oxenham naturally knew nothing.
There was the ancient portmanteau on the platform. Oxenham handed it over to the porter who carried his dressing-bag and hat-box. The dispatch-box Oxenham appeared to be clutching affectionately. Not so much as a chip of wax was missing from the battered portmanteau.
Oxenham smiled grimly as he drove off to his hotel. He had outwitted the thieves this time. By means of their diabolical ingenuity they might have got a sight of the dummy papers in the dispatch-box, and much good might it do them. The simple scheme had worked like a charm.
The portmanteau was absolutely intact; a smell of tuberose was getting quite familiar by this time. And the dispatches were safe. Oxenham took out and unfolded his dress clothes lying on top and locked the leather bag away in his wardrobe. He had never felt on better terms with himself in his life than he did at that-moment. But, strange to say, the faint sickliness of the tuberose was still quite noticeable. As he drove towards the Lindenstrasse where Lord Lewis Annandale resided, the cab seemed to be full of it. Annandale was a man who posed as being out of suits with fortune. At a moment's notice he had foresworn all the delights of his native land, and taken up his residence in gloomy Zerlinden. A love affair, a curious twist of the brain, a penance were various reasons assigned for the freak. As to the rest, Annandale was a fine man, with a good record, and an intellect which had rendered him famous had he been a poor man. He greeted Oxenham with effusion, for they were old friends, and Oxenham had more than an inkling of his friend's story. After the first hearty greeting, Annandale fell back with his head in the air. His face paled, and he seemed to breathe with difficulty.
"Faugh!" he gasped. "You are scented, and with tuberose too! If this is a jest, all I have to say is, it is a sorry one."
Oxenham regarded his friend's flashing eyes and white lips with astonishment. The most placid of men was quivering with anger.
"My dear fellow," Oxenham stammered. "Really—"
But Annandale was himself again. He seemed to be almost childishly ashamed of his weakness.
"I'll explain to you presently," he said. "Now come in to dinner."
It was an excellent dinner, daintily served and cooked. Annandale was a man of taste and refinement; the table left nothing to be desired in the way of attractiveness, save that there were no flowers.
"I still retain my dislike to flowers of all kinds," said Annandale, expansive over the post prandial coffee and cigarette, "and you have often rallied me on the subject. The scent of blooms I abhor, and the scent of the tuberose I hold in special detestation. Hence my foolish heat just now."
"It was quite an accident," Oxenham hastened to explain. "I can trust you, so I'll tell you whence comes the odour of the tuberose, and why it is connected with my journey to Zerlinden."
And Oxenham proceeded to tell the whole story, not forgetting a meed of praise to Lady Logsdail en passant. Annandale listened intently. There was a bitter smile on his thin, sensitive lips. It was a long time before he spoke.
"I hope you'll come out all right," he said, "but I doubt it."
"What do you mean by that?-" Oxenham asked.
"I am about to tell you. I daresay that, in common with most people, you wonder why I chose to exile myself from England. Not so very long ago I was a penniless man, but somwhat envied because I was presumedly the heir to my uncle, Russell Annandale.
"He meant to leave me all his money, but he had a rooted objection to parting with any of it in his lifetime. And once upon a time I got into a deuce of a hole for want of a hundred or two, so I had to make a clean breast of matters. My uncle was at his Cheshire place at the time, and he asked me to go down and see him. The house was full of people, and 1 arrived on the day the old man was giving a big dance. I saw him, and a most unpleasant scene followed. Disgrace or not, my uncle refused to assist me.
"I had my consolation, for at the dance I met a girl whom I loved and who loved me in return. I had never expected to come across her there. She had been invited to the dance with friends with whom she was staying. I forgot my troubles for the time being. It was about supper time that something very unpleasant happened. As you know, the Annandale jewels are famous. There was one diamond in a particularly quaint setting—a Medici ring they called it— worth any money. And during the evening it had been stolen. My uncle had been showing it to a friend and had somewhat carelessly placed it on the mantelpiece in the library. Shortly after he found the case empty.
"Well, there was a fine to-do as you can imagine. The girl I spoke of was the only one who kept her head. She chaffed me merrily as to my prospective loss. And to console me for it she took a flower from her corsage and pinned it in my buttonhole. It was a tuberose."
Annandale paused as if lost in thought. Then he resumed:
"After the guests had all departed my uncle called me to him, and accused me of stealing the diamond. I was astounded. I demanded proof of my guilt. By way of reply my accuser handed me the empty case, quested that I should him what it was impregnated with. And surely enough it smelt strongly of tuberose. Then I knew why the prettiest and vilest woman in England had pinned that accursed flower in my buttonhole — the plain evidence of my crime to my uncle's eyes. Doubtless she had been watching near the library, and had guessed my uncle's suspicions as she saw him find the empty case and raise it to his nostrils.
"I was so astounded that I allowed myself to be literally driven out of the house with no protest on my lips. Oxenham, I was half mad that night with shame and anguish and the miserable knowledge that I had given my heart to such a woman. From that day to this I have not seen her, nor have I seen England. My uncle died before he could make another will, and so I am a rich man. And now you can understand why I abhor the scent of tuberose."
Oxenham was silent. His brain was in a whirl. That there was something more to come he felt certain. A feeling of helplessness, almost of fear, came over him. The Medici ring touched a harsh chord.
"Annandale," he said earnestly. "You are warning me in parables. Would you mind telling me the name of the woman who served you so badly?"
"Have you not guessed already, Dick?"
"I'm afraid so," Oxenham murmured.
"But I like to be certain."
"And so you shall, my dear fellow. The woman who has spoilt my life is none other than your cousin, Lady Lily Logsdail. Surely you need not ask now why I have told you this story."
"I've had a shock," said Oxenham, "a painful shock, and I won't deny it. And I would have staked the coat I am wearing on Lily's integrity."
"Dress coat, silk lapels, and all," Annandale replied cynically, "and yet there was a time when you swore to wear no evening attire with silk facings."
Oxenham regarded his coat with a strange puzzled expression.
"Tell you what it is," he said, "I'm going dotty. Two nights ago I wore this coat for the first time. No deception about it, for my name's inside. And I swear that the night before last the facings were plain. There's some underhand work going on here. Hang me if I don't feel frightened. The sooner I get my business over the better I shall be pleased. What are you smiling at?"
"You've made a mistake," said Annandale, "you must have done. My story has got on your nerves. Have a liqueur and another cigarette."
Oxenham returned to his hotel in due course with a heavy foreboding on his mind. He knew that something unpleasant was going to happen, but he would have been puzzled to determine what form it would take. Annandale's story had undoubtedly shaken him, and for the first time it seemed to Oxenham that he had been foolish to trust anyone with the mission that carried him to Emsdam. He knew now that his cousin was heartless and unscrupulous, and he began to fully appreciate the brilliant cleverness that had set the clumsy Logsdail bark afloat, and had steered it into the harbour of prosperity. There was something to Dick's mind especially repulsive in the cynical audacity that caused Lady Logsdail not only to steal the Medici ring, but also to wear it openly. True, Russell Annandale was dead, and his successor was not likely to expose the fraud in any case. But any woman with the slightest sense of shame would have kept the gaud under lock and key.
Vexed thoughts like these kept Oxenham tossing and turning the whole night long. He rose at length with a feeling of relief, nor was he himself again until he was fairly started for Emsdam.
The yellow portmanteau had been consigned to the custody of the guard again. It was absolutely intact, and in any case if the infernal jugglery had been practised, it had been done ere now. Not that Oxenham anticipated anything of the kind. The thing that most troubled him at present was the transformation of the facings of his dress coat. If he suffered from no mental delusion, some queer trick had been played upon him.
Oxenham's spirits rose as Emsdam was reached. The afternoon was well advanced, and the messenger knew that he had no time to lose if he were to see the Ambassador at Potsdam before the business day expired.
The dispatches were all right. Evidently they had not been touched. Once in his bedroom Oxenham hastened to don his frock coat and shiny hat as he stowed the dispatches away. Manlike, he had tumbled half the contents of his bag on the floor. His evening coat lay uppermost. Oxenham regarded it with dilated eyes.
The facings were absolutely plain! A queer, strange feeling of having been there and having gone through it all before possessed the bewildered man. Had his mind gone wrong over this trivial matter? Oxenham had heard of things of the kind, a passing delusion, some figment of the imagination.
"I'd better go and finish my business,and then go in for a lot of exercise," Oxenham muttered as he crept none too steadily down the stairs. "I'm a bit off it. And I fairly cry aloud with the smell of that diabolical tuberose."
The British Ambassador received Oxenham gravely. Though his lips were stern and set, there was just a suggestion of mirth in his grey eyes.
"Your papers appear to be intact, Mr. Oxenham," he said, "and now tell me what design you invented to baffle our mysterious enemies."
Oxenham complied with some little pride. The Ambassador listened with the same stern lips and germ of a smile.
"Excellent," he said; "under ordinary circumstances. it would have succeeded. But those opposed to us foresee everything."
"My lord," Oxenham cried, "you don't mean to say that—"
"1 do indeed, Mr. Oxenham. Some time yesterday and by some amazing means those people contrived to see and read your papers. I am convinced of that because to-day in Paris and London the same parties have been operating in stocks and shares which are naturally enhanced in value by these dispatches. You see, I knew pretty well what to expect. So you see you have failed, Mr. Oxenham, as others have failed before you."
"But, my lord," Oxenham grasped, "how in the world was it possible? Nobody could have touched my portmanteau. The seal was intact, the packet intact also. On the journey anything of the kind was out of the question. I shall wake presently and find it is all a dream."
The Ambassador was kindness itself. He saw that Oxenham was terribly distressed and shaken by his failure and disposed to take it keenly to heart.
"I hold you absolutely blameless in the matter," he said. "Your scheme was a good one, but, like many good schemes, has failed. I have a little plan of my own for teaching these people a lesson, but of that more anon. And now may I have the pleasure of your company at dinner this evening?"
Oxenham made the best excuse he could under the circumstances, and in sooth he was in no mood for the trivialities of social enjoyment. He wanted to be alone where he could think the matter out step by step.
So Oxenham ate his solitary cutlet and sipped his claret reflectively. Ere the subsequent cigarettes were finished his brain grappled the problem. The claret was pure and generous, the sense of bitter disappointment was passing away, and Oxenham's brain was no longer under the cloud of suspected delusions.
"Somebody has played a fine conjuring trick upon me," he muttered. "Of course, the coat I wore last night was not the same. A healthy chap like myself does not have that kind of delusion. Now, I wonder whether Lily had a hand in this thing. It was her influence that got me this job, and it was her scheme. After what Annandale tells me I am quite prepared to believe strange things of Lily. And there must be some clever way in which she has worked up the Logsdail finances. Now, let me see."
For a long time Oxenham lay back in his chair smiling, with a far-away look in his eyes. Gradually and bit by bit he began to see daylight before him. He was not given to romance as a rule, but this business had stimulated his powers of imagination. He was on the track at last.
Then he rose to his feet, and cast his cigarette into the fire.
"I've got it, by Jove!" he muttered. "That's it, right enough. First of all, I had better go and examine my portmanteau thoroughly. Nothing like making absolutely certain about this kind of thing."
In his bedroom Oxenham emptied his portmanteau by the simple expedient of turning it upside down on the bed. As he did so, a glittering object fell from a mass of underclothing and rolled on the floor. Oxenham grabbed it up, and held the flashing, flaming jewel to the light.
"Well, if this doesn't beat everything!" he gasped. "Now, I wonder how the lost Medici diamond ring got in here!"
By the time that Oxenham reached Dover, the situation was clear to him. At the psychological moment the key had been supplied, and the solution to the puzzle was in his grasp. But he had to be sure of his facts first.
It was some consolation to find that the Permanent Secretary at the Foreign Office was not inclined to be too severe upon the unfortunate messenger.
"On the contrary," the great personage said, "your scheme was a very neat one. The thieves have latterly had an uneasy feeling that they were suspected, hence the fact that they had to look for their information in another direction. Before a month is over we shall give them a lesson they are not likely to forget."
Oxenham did understand. If the smart coterie who were working the scheme ventured to speculate on the next information that fell into their hands, dire would be their financial confusion.
From the Foreign Office Oxenham drove away to his tailor's in Bond Street. The interview was not a long one, but quite satisfactory to Oxenham. He had information in his possession now that cleared up the whole mystery.
From there Oxenham returned home, he found his man, grave and subdued as usual, ready to receive him. The master studied the features of the man keenly. Hill's grave face was absolutely without expression.
"James," Oxenham asked abruptly, "what time did you pack my portmanteau on the evening before I started for Emsdam?"
"I did not pack it at all, sir," Hill replied.
"I had an urgent message to meet a friend and I left it to Emily, the housemaid here. She knows your wants quite as well as I do. sir."
"And at what time did you go to keep this appointment?"
"About five, sir. My friend didn't turn up, sir. He was going to Paris with his master, and I expect something detained him."
Oxenham passed off the matter with a trivial excuse for asking the question. A little later and he had an opportunity of a word alone with the pretty little housemaid. Oxenham's first query drove the colour from her cheeks and left her white and trembling. Emily had a great deal to say and took a long time to say it, but the stammering story was complete at last.
"You won't send me to prison, sir," she implored. "I—I didn't know."
"I fancy vou have been more a fool than anything else," Oxenham said. "All you have to do is to be silent, and you will hear no more of the matter. I know you will do this for your own sake. Now go."
A little later and Oxenham was on his way to Lady Logsdail's. He was fortunate in finding the almond-eyed, amber-haired divinity alone. Lily Logsdail was in the best of spirits; she seemed to find the world a pleasant one. She fluttered forward with a smile of welcome on her lips. But somehow Oxenham managed to drop into a chair without taking the outstretched hands. The perfume of tuberose floated breast-high in the warm air.
"You are a successful general," Lady Logsdail cried.
"On the contrary, I am a lamentable failure," said Oxenham. "The enemy were too sharp for me. To quote a card-player's expression, they saw my hand, and went one better."
Lady Logsdail looked ravishingly sympathetic.
"Poor fellow," she murmured, "and such pains as I took too."
"Your pains may have their reward yet," Oxenham said significantly. "But do not let us pursue so painful a topic. Have you found your ring?"
Lady Logsdail had not, needless to say. The loss hail caused her infinite grief. She had positively aged under her affliction.
"1 shall never see it again," she cried. "Never, Dick."
"There you are quite mistaken," Oxenham said grimly, "because the Medici ring is in my pocket at the present moment. I found it in my portmanteau amongst my clothes at Potsdam."
Lady Logsdail gasped as Dick produced the ring. Her face was ghastly pale, save for a red splash stippled on either cheek.
"I must have dropped it into the portmanteau," she said.
"No doubt," was the grim response; "but you see it was in the middle of the clothes. I expect it slipped off your linger last Wednesday afternoon when you came to my rooms and packed my portmanteau for me. You remember—the day you and the housemaid got Hill out of the way, and you were provided by the housemaid with a duplicate set of linen so that you could pack the duplicate portmanteau."
A ghastly pallor crept over the flush-red of Lady Logsdail's cheeks.
"You are either mad or dreaming," she said hoarsely.
"I am neither," Oxenham retorted. "My housemaid has confessed. The old portmanteau you gave me had a duplicate. You managed by visiting my chambers to get a duplicate set of linen, also an impression of my seal. Then you had the audacity to order from my tailor dual garments to those you knew I was going to take with me to Emsdam. When Felton's bill came in it would be as easy for the housemaid to keep it back till it came again as an 'account rendered,' you knowing how very careless I am with figures. Do you follow?"
Lady Logsdail nodded. Words were as jewels just then.
"Of course the portmanteau, facsimiles inside and out, were dexterously exchanged at Zerlinden by your confederates, and thus you had the dispatches in your possession for a whole night until the changes were rung again on the morning when I finally reached Emsdam. I congratulate you, Lady Logsdail."
"Give me my ring," the woman cried.
But Oxenham coolly replaced the bauble in his pocket.
"That goes to the proper owner, Annandale," he said. "He told me the story of the ring and the bloom of the tuberose a night or two ago. But for his catching the scent of that infernal flower, he would never have told me the history of his trouble and of the theft. After hearing that recital, and finding that ring where it was, I began to guess the rest. Take my advice, and abjure strong, sensuous perfumes for the future."
"How clever to find me out!" Lady Logsdail murmured softly.
The sly malice underlying the silky tones aroused Oxenham.
"Have you no sense of shame?" he cried.
"Not a bit," the woman said. "For the sake of the family you will not betray me, and as to the rest I have made £100,000. All's fair in love and war, my dear Richard. Are you going?"
"Going! Why should I stay! I was never rude to a woman in my life yet, and I never had a better excuse or a more fitting opportunity."
Lady Logsdail laughed. Dick can yet see the pearly flash of her teeth.
"Really," she said, "I fancy I should enjoy it. The sensation—from a man—would be so novel. My dear Richard, I—"
Oxenham had gone, slamming the door behind him.
"What strange creatures men are!" Lady Logsdail murmured. "They always hate a woman to be clever. And Dick was such a dear boy. Upon my word I am quite sorry, really I am very sorry—he found me out."