E. Phillips Oppenheim
Part 3 out of 6
The Colonel seemed in some measure to have recovered himself. He looked
Wrayson in the face, and though grave, his expression was decidedly
"Herbert," he asked, sinking his voice almost to a whisper, "who do you
believe murdered Morris Barnes?"
"God knows," Wrayson answered.
"Do you believe--that--my daughter had any hand in it?"
"No!" Wrayson declared fiercely.
The Colonel was silent for a moment. He seemed to be contemplating the
label on the bottle of claret which reposed in its cradle by their side.
"And yet," he said thoughtfully, "she would necessarily be involved in
any disclosures which were made."
"And so should I," Wrayson declared. "And those two, Sydney Barnes and
Heneage, mean to bring about disclosures. That is why I felt that I must
talk to some one about this. Colonel, can't you get your daughter to tell
us the whole truth--what she was doing in Barnes' flat that night, and
all the rest of it? We should be forewarned then!"
The Colonel covered his face with his hand for a moment. The question
obviously distressed him.
"I can't, Herbert," he said, in a low tone. "You would scarcely think,
would you, that I was the sort of man to live on irreconcilable terms
with one of my own family? But there it is. Don't think hardly of her. It
is more the fault of circumstances than her fault. But I couldn't go to
see her--and she wouldn't come to see me."
"It is like the rest of this cursed mystery, utterly incomprehensible,"
he declared. "I shall never--"
With his glass half raised to his lips, he paused suddenly in his
sentence. His face became a study in the expression of a boundless
amazement. His eyes were fastened upon the figures of two people on their
way up the room, preceded by the smiling _maître d'hôtel._ Some words, or
rather an exclamation, broke incoherently from his lips. He set down his
glass hurriedly, and a stain of red wine crept unheeded across the
"Look," he whispered hoarsely,--"look!"
A CONFESSION OF LOVE
The Colonel turned bodily round in his chair. The couple to whom Wrayson
had drawn his attention were certainly incongruous enough to attract
notice anywhere. The man was lank, elderly, and of severe appearance. He
was bald, he had slight side-whiskers, he wore spectacles, and his face
was devoid of expression. He was dressed in plain dinner clothes of
old-fashioned cut. The tails of his coat were much too short, his collar
belonged to a departed generation, and his tie was ready made. In a small
Scotch town he might have passed muster readily enough as the clergyman
or lawyer of the place. As a diner at Luigi's, ushered up the room to the
soft strains of "La Mattchiche," and followed by such a companion, he was
almost ridiculously out of place. If anything, she was the more
noticeable of the two to the casual observer. Her hair was dazzlingly
yellow, and arranged with all the stiffness of the coiffeur's art. She
wore a dress of black sequins, cut perilously low, and shorn a little by
wear of its pristine splendour. Her complexion was as artificial as her
high-pitched voice; her very presence seemed to exude perfumes of the
patchouli type. She was the sort of person concerning whom the veriest
novice in such matters could have made no mistake. Yet her companion
seemed wholly unembarrassed. He handed her the menu and looked calmly
around the room.
"Who are those people?" the Colonel asked. "Rather a queer combination,
"The man is Bentham, the lawyer," Wrayson answered. His eyes were fixed
upon the lady, who seemed not at all indisposed to become the object of
any stray attention.
"That Bentham!" the Colonel repeated, under his breath. "But what on
earth--where the mischief could he pick up a companion like that?"
Wrayson scarcely heard him. He had withdrawn his eyes from the lady with
"I have seen that woman somewhere," he said thoughtfully--"somewhere
where she seemed quite as much out of place as she does here.
"H'm!" the Colonel remarked, leaning back in his chair to allow the
waiter to serve him. "She's not the sort of person you'd be likely to
forget either, is she?"
"And, by Heavens, I haven't!" Wrayson declared, suddenly laying down his
knife and fork. "I remember her now. It was at the inquest--Barnes'
inquest. She was one of the two women at whose flat he called on his way
home. What on earth is Bentham doing with her?"
"You think," the Colonel remarked quietly, "that there is some
"Of course there is," Wrayson interrupted. "Does that old fossil look
like the sort to take such a creature about for nothing? Colonel, he
doesn't know himself--where those securities are! He's brought that
woman here to pump her!"
The Colonel passed his hand across his forehead.
"I am getting a little confused," he murmured.
"And I," Wrayson declared, with barely suppressed excitement, "am
beginning to see at least the shadow of daylight. If only you had some
influence with your daughter, Colonel!"
The Colonel looked at him steadfastly. Wrayson wondered whether it was
the light, or whether indeed his friend had aged so much during the last
"I have no influence over my daughter, Wrayson," he said. "I thought that
I had already explained that. And, Herbert," he added, leaning over the
table, "why don't you let this matter alone? It doesn't concern you. You
are more likely to do harm than good by meddling with it. There may be
interests involved greater than you know of; you may find understanding a
good deal more dangerous than ignorance. It isn't your affair, anyhow.
Take my advice! Let it alone!"
"I wish I could," Wrayson answered, with a little sigh. "Frankly, I would
if I could, but it fascinates me."
"All that I have heard of it," the Colonel remarked wearily, "sounds
"I think," he said, "that it is the sense of personal contact in a case
like this which stirs the blood. I have memories about that night,
Colonel, which I couldn't describe to you--or any one. And now this young
brother coming on the scene seems to bring the dead man to life again.
He's one of the worst type of young bounders I ever came into contact
with. A creature without sentiment or feeling of any sort--nothing but an
almost ravenous cupidity. He's wearing his brother's clothes now--thinks
nothing of it! He hasn't a single regret. I haven't heard a single decent
word pass his lips. But he wants the money. Nothing else! The money!"
"Do you believe," the Colonel asked, "that he will get it?"
"Who can tell?" Wrayson answered. "That Morris Barnes was in possession
of valuables of some sort, everything goes to prove. Just think of the
number of people who have shown their interest in him. There is Bentham
and his mysterious client, the Baroness de Sturm and your daughter,
and--the person who murdered him. Apparently, even though he lost his
life, Barnes was too clever for them, for his precious belongings must
still be undiscovered."
The Colonel finished his wine and leaned back in his chair.
"I am tired of this subject," he said. "I should like to get back to
Wrayson called for the bill a little unwillingly. He was, in a sense,
disappointed at the Colonel's attitude.
"Very well," he said, "we will bury it. But before we do so, there is one
thing I have had it in my mind to say--for some time. I want to say it
now. It is about your daughter, Colonel!"
The Colonel looked at him curiously.
"My daughter?" he repeated, under his breath.
Wrayson leaned a little forward. Something new had come into his face.
This was the first time he had suffered such words to pass his
lips--almost the first time he had suffered such thoughts to form
themselves in his mind.
"I never looked upon myself," he said quietly, "as a particularly
impulsive person. Yet it was an impulse which prompted me to conceal the
truth as to her presence in the flat buildings that night. It was a
serious thing to do, and somehow I fancy that the end is not yet."
"Why did you do it?" the Colonel asked. "You did not know who she was. It
could not have been that."
"Why did I do it?" Wrayson repeated. "I can't tell you. I only know that
I should do it again and again if the need came. If I told you exactly
how I felt, it would sound like rot. But I'm going to ask you that
The Colonel's grey eyebrows were drawn together. His eyes were keen and
bright. So he might have looked in time of stress; but he was not in the
least like the genial idol of the Sheridan billiard-room.
"If I came to you to-morrow," Wrayson said, "and told you that I had met
at last the woman whom I wished to make my wife, and that woman was your
daughter, what should you say?"
"I should be glad," the Colonel answered simply.
"You and she are, for some unhappy reason, not on speaking terms. That--"
"Good God!" the Colonel interrupted, "whom do you mean? Whom are you
"About your daughter--whom I shielded--the companion of the Baroness de
Sturm. Your daughter Louise."
The Colonel raised his trembling fingers to his forehead. His voice
"Of course! Of course! God help me, I thought you meant Edith! I never
thought of Louise. And Edith has spoken of you lately."
"I found your younger daughter charming," Wrayson said seriously, "but
it was of your daughter Louise I was speaking. I thought that you would
"My daughter--whom you found--in Morris Barnes' flat--that night?"
"Exactly," Wrayson answered, "and my question is this. I cannot ask you
why you and she parted, but at least you can tell me if you know of any
reason why I should not ask her to be my wife."
The Colonel was silent.
"No!" he said at last, "there is no reason. But she would not consent. I
am sure of that."
"We will let it go at that," Wrayson answered. "Come!"
He had chosen his moment for rising so as to pass down the room almost at
the same time as Mr. Bentham and his strange companion. Prolific of
smiles and somewhat elephantine graces, the lady's darkened eyes met
Wrayson's boldly, and finding there some encouragement, she even favoured
him with a backward glance. In the vestibule he slipped a half-crown into
the attendant's hand.
"See if you can hear the address that lady gives her cabman," he
The boy nodded, and hurried out after them. Wrayson kept the Colonel back
under the pretence of lighting a fresh cigar. When at last they strolled
forward, they met the boy returning. He touched his hat to Wrayson.
"Alhambra, sir!" he said, quietly. "Gone off alone, sir, in a hansom.
The Colonel kept silence until they were in the street.
"Coming to the club?" he asked, a little abruptly.
"No!" Wrayson answered.
"You are going after that woman?" the Colonel exclaimed.
"I am going to the Alhambra," Wrayson answered. "I can't help it. It
sounds foolish, I suppose, but this affair fascinates me. It works on my
nerves somehow. I must go."
The Colonel turned on his heel. Without another word, he crossed the
Strand, leaving Wrayson standing upon the pavement. Wrayson, with a
little sigh, turned westwards.
AN AMATEUR DETECTIVE
Wrayson easily discovered the object of his search. She was seated upon a
lounge in the promenade, her ample charms lavishly displayed, and her
blackened eyes mutely questioning the passers-by. She welcomed Wrayson
with a smile which she meant to be inviting, albeit she was a little
suspicious. Men of Wrayson's stamp and appearance were not often such
"Saw you at Luigi's, didn't I?" he asked, hat in hand.
She nodded, and made room for him to sit down by her side.
"Did you see the old stick I was with?" she asked. "I don't know why I
was fool enough to go out with him. Trying to pump me about poor old
Barney, too, all the time. Just as though I couldn't see through him."
"Old Barney!" Wrayson repeated, a little perplexed.
She laughed coarsely.
"Oh! come, that won't do!" she declared. "I'm almost sure you're on the
same lay yourself. Didn't I see you at the inquest?--Morris Barnes'
inquest, of course? You know whom I mean right enough."
"I know whom you mean now," Wrayson admitted. "Yes! I was there. Queer
affair, wasn't it?"
The lady nodded.
"I should like a liqueur," she remarked, with apparent irrelevance.
They were seated in front of a small table, and were at times the object
of expectant contemplation on the part of a magnificent individual in
livery and knee-breeches. Wrayson summoned him and ordered two
"Now I don't mind telling you," the lady continued, leaning over towards
him confidentially, "that I'm dead off that old man who came prying round
and took me out to dinner, to pump me about poor Barney! He didn't get
much out of me. For one thing, I don't know much. But the little I do
know I'd sooner tell you than him."
"You're very kind," Wrayson murmured. "He used to come to these places a
good deal, didn't he?"
She nodded assent.
"He was always either here or at the Empire. He wasn't a bad sort,
Barney, although he was just like all the rest of them, close with his
money when he was sober, and chucking it about when he'd had a drop too
much. What did you want to know about him in particular?"
"Well, for one thing," Wrayson answered, "where he got his money from."
She shook her head.
"He was always very close about that," she said. "The only story I ever
heard him tell was that he'd made it mining in South Africa."
"You have really heard him say that?" Wrayson asked.
"Half a dozen times," she declared.
"That proves, at any rate," he remarked thoughtfully, "that there was
some mystery about his income, because I happen to know that he came
back from South Africa a pauper."
"Very likely," she remarked. "Barney was always the sort who would rather
tell a lie than the truth."
"Did he say anything to you that night about being in any kind of
danger?" he asked.
She shook her head.
"No! I don't think so. I didn't take particular notice of what he said,
because he was a bit squiffy. I believe he mentioned some thing about a
business appointment that night, but I really didn't take much notice."
"You didn't tell them anything about that at the inquest," Wrayson
"I know I didn't," she admitted. "You see, I was so knocked over, and I
really didn't remember anything clearly, that I thought it was best to
say nothing at all. They'd only have been trying to ferret things out of
me that I couldn't have told them."
"I think that you were very wise," Wrayson said. "You don't happen to
remember anything else that he said, I suppose?"
"No! except that he seemed a little depressed. But there's something else
about Barney that I always suspected, that I've never heard mentioned
yet. Mind you, it may be true or it may not, but I always suspected it."
"What was that?" Wrayson demanded.
"I believe that he was married," she declared impressively.
Wrayson looked incredulous. It certainly did not seem probable.
"Where is his wife then?" he asked. "Why hasn't she turned up to claim
his effects? Besides, he lived alone. He was my neighbour, you know. His
brother has taken possession of his flat."
The lady rather enjoyed the impression she had made. She was not averse,
either, to being seen in so prominent a place in confidential talk with a
man of Wrayson's appearance. It might not be directly remunerative, but
it was likely to do her good.
"He showed me a photograph once," she continued. "A baby-faced chit of a
girl it was, but he was evidently very proud of it. A little girl of his
down in the country, he told me. Then, do you know this? He was never in
London for Sunday. Every week-end he went off somewhere; and I never
heard of any one who ever saw him or knew where he went to."
"This is very interesting," Wrayson admitted; "but if he was married,
surely his wife would have turned up by now!"
"Why should she?" the lady answered. "Don't you see that she very likely
has what all you gentlemen seem to be so anxious about--his income?"
"By Jove!" Wrayson exclaimed softly. "Of course, if there was
anything mysterious about the source of it, all the more reason for
her to keep dark."
"Well, that's what I've had in my mind," she declared, summoning the
waiter. "I'll take another liqueur, if you don't mind."
Wrayson nodded. His thoughts were travelling fast.
"Did you tell Mr. Bentham this?" he asked.
"Not I," she answered. "The old fool got about as much out of me as he
deserved--and that's nothing."
"I'm sure I'm very much obliged," Wrayson answered, drawing out his
pocketbook. "I wonder if I might be allowed--?"
He glanced at her inquiringly. She nodded. "I'm not proud," she
* * * * *
"As an amateur detective," Wrayson remarked to himself, as he strolled
homewards, "I am beginning rather to fancy myself. And yet--"
His thoughts had stolen away. He forgot Morris Barnes and the sordid
mystery of which he was the centre. He remembered only the compelling
cause which was driving him towards the solution of it. The night was
warm, and he walked slowly, his hands behind him, and ever before his
eyes the shadowy image of the girl who had brought so many strange
sensations into his somewhat uneventful life. Would he ever see her, he
wondered, without the light of trouble in her eyes, with colour in her
cheeks, and joy in her tone? He thought of her violet-rimmed eyes, her
hesitating manner, her air always as of one who walked hand in hand with
fear. She was not meant for these things! Her lips and eyes were made for
laughter; she was, after all, only a girl. If he could but lift the
cloud! And then he looked upwards and saw her--leaning from the little
iron balcony, and looking out into the cool night.
He half stopped. She did not move. It was too dark to see her features,
but as he looked upwards a strange idea came to him. Was it a gesture or
some unspoken summons which travelled down to him through the
semi-darkness? He only knew, as he turned and entered the flat, that a
new chapter of his life was opening itself out before him.
Wrayson felt, from the moment he crossed the threshold of the room, that
he had entered an atmosphere charged with elusive emotion. He was not
sure of himself or of her as she turned slowly to greet him. Only he was
at once conscious that something of that change in her which he had
prophetically imagined was already shining out of her eyes. She was at
once more natural and further removed from him.
"I am glad," she said simply. "I wanted to say good-bye to you."
He was stunned for a moment. He had not imagined this.
"Good-bye!" he repeated. "You are going away?"
"To-morrow. Oh! I am glad. You don't know how glad I am."
She swept past him and sank into an easy-chair. She wore a black
velveteen evening dress, cut rather high, without ornament or relief of
any sort, and her neck gleamed like polished ivory from which creeps
always a subtle shade of pink. Her hair was parted in the middle and
brushed back in little waves, her eyes were full of fire, and her face
was no longer passive. Beautiful she had seemed to him before, but
beautiful with a sort of impersonal perfection. She was beautiful now in
her own right, the beauty of a woman whom nature has claimed for her own,
who acknowledges her heritage. The fear-frozen subjectivity in which he
had yet found enough to fascinate him had passed away. He felt that she
was a stranger.
"Always," she murmured, "I shall think of London as the city of dreadful
memories. I should like to be going to set my face eastwards or westwards
until I was so far away that even memory had perished. But that is just
where the bonds tell, isn't it?"
"There are many who can make the bonds elastic," he answered. "It is only
a question of going far enough."
"Alas!" she answered, "a few hundred miles are all that are
granted to me. And London is like a terrible octopus. Its arms
stretch over the sea."
"A few hundred miles," he repeated, with obvious relief. "Northward or
southward, or eastward or westward?"
"Southward," she answered. "The other side of the Channel. That, at
least, is something. I always like to feel that there is sea between me
and a place which I--loathe!"
"Is London so hateful to you, then?" he asked.
"Perhaps I should not have said that," she answered. "Say a place of
which I am afraid!"
He looked across at her. He, too, in obedience to a gesture from her,
"Come," he said, "we will not talk of London, then. Tell me where you
She shook her head.
"To a little Paradise I know of."
"Paradise," he reminded her, "was meant for two."
"There will be two of us," she answered, smiling.
He felt his heart thump against his ribs.
"Then if one wanted to play the part of intruder?"
She shook her head.
"The third person in Paradise was always very much _de trop_," she
"It depends upon the people who are already there," he protested.
"My friend," she said, "is in search of solitude, absolute and complete."
He shook his head.
"Such a place does not exist," he declared confidently. "Your friend
might as well have stayed at home."
"She relies upon me to procure it for her," she said.
A rare smile flashed from Wrayson's lips.
"You can't imagine what a relief her sex is to me!" he exclaimed.
"I don't know why," she answered pensively. "Do you know anything about
the North of France, Mr. Wrayson?"
"Not much," he answered. "I hope to know more presently."
Her eyes laughed across at him.
"You know what I said about the third person in Paradise?"
"I can't admit your Paradise," he said.
"You are a heretic," she answered. "It is a matter of sex, of course."
"Naturally! Paradise is so relative. It may be the halo thrown
round a court in the city or a rose garden in the country, any
place where love is!"
"And may I not love my friend!" she demanded.
"You may love me," he answered, the passion suddenly vibrating in his
tone. "I will be more faithful than any friend. I will build Paradise for
you--wherever you will! I will build the walls so high that no harm or
any fear shall pass them."
She waved him back. Something of the old look, which he hated so to see,
was in her face.
"You must not talk to me like this, Mr. Wrayson," she said. "Indeed you
"Why not?" he demanded. "If there is a reason I will know it."
She looked him steadily in the eyes.
"Can't you imagine one for yourself?" she asked.
He laughed scornfully.
"You don't understand," he said. "There is only one reason in the world
that I would admit--I don't even know that I would accept that. The other
things don't count. They don't exist."
She looked at him a little incredulously. She was still sitting, and he
was standing now before her. Her fingers rested lightly upon the arms of
her chair, she was leaning slightly forward as though watching for
something in his face.
"Tell me that there is another man," he cried, "that you don't care
for me, that you never could care for me, and I will go away and you
shall never see my face again. But nothing short of that will drive me
He spoke quickly, his tone was full of nervous passion. It never occurred
to her to doubt him.
"You can be what else you like," he continued, "thief,
adventuress--murderess! So long as there is no other man! Come to me and
I will take you away from it all."
She laughed very softly, and his pulses thrilled at the sound, for there
was no note of mockery there; it was the laugh of a woman who listens to
"You are a bold lover," she murmured. "Have you been reading romances
lately? Do you know that it is the twentieth century, and I have seen you
three times? You don't know what you say. You can't mean it."
"By Heaven, I do!" he cried, and for one exquisite moment he held her in
his arms. Then she freed herself with a sudden start. She had lost her
composure. Her cheeks were flushed.
"Don't!" she cried, sharply. "Remember our first meeting. I am not the
sort of person you imagine. I never can be. There are reasons--"
He swept them aside. Something seemed to tell him that if he did not
succeed with her now, his opportunity would be gone forever.
"I will listen to none of them," he declared, standing between her and
the door. "They don't matter! Nothing matters! I choose you for my wife,
and I will have you. I wouldn't care if you came to me from a prison.
Better give in, Louise. I shan't let you escape."
She had indeed something of the look of a beautiful hunted animal as she
leaned a little towards him, her eyes riveted upon his, her lips a little
parted, her bosom rising and falling quickly. She was taken completely by
surprise. She had not given Wrayson credit for such strength of mind or
purpose. She had believed entirely in her own mastery over him, for any
such assault as he was now making. And she was learning the truth. Love
that makes a woman weak lends strength to the man. Their positions were
becoming reversed. It was he who was dictating to her.
"I am going away," she said nervously. "You will forget me. You must
"You shall not go away," he answered, "unless I know where. Don't be
afraid. You can keep your secrets, whatever they are. I want to know
nothing. Go on exactly with the life you are leading, if it pleases you.
I shan't interfere. But you are going to be my wife, and you shall not
leave London without telling me about it."
"I am leaving London," she faltered, "to-morrow."
"I was thinking," he remarked, calmly, "of taking a little holiday
She laughed uneasily.
"You are absurd," she declared, "and you must go away. Really! The
Baroness will be home directly. I would rather, I would very much rather
that she did not find you here."
He held out his arms to her. His eyes were bright with the joy of
"I will go, Louise," he answered, "but first I will have my answer--and
no answer save one will do!"
She bit her lip. She was moved by some emotion, but he was unable, for
the moment, to classify it.
"I think," she declared, "that you must be the most persistent man
"You are going to find me so," he assured her.
"Listen," she said firmly, "I will not marry you!"
He shrugged his shoulders.
"On that point," he answered, "I am content to differ from you.
She stamped her foot.
"I do not care for you! I do not wish to marry you!" she repeated. "I am
going away, and I forbid you to follow me."
"No good!" he declared, stolidly. "I am past all that."
She held up her finger, and glanced backward out of the window.
"It is the Baroness," she said. "I must go and open the door."
For one moment she lay passive in his arms; then he could have sworn that
her lips returned his kiss. She was there when they heard the turning of
a latch-key in the door. With a little cry she slipped away and left him
alone. The outer door was thrown open, and the Baroness stood upon the
STABBED THROUGH THE HEART
The Baroness recognized Wrayson with a little shrug of the shoulders.
"Ah! my dear Mr. Wrayson," she exclaimed, "this is very kind of you. You
have been keeping Louise company, I hope. And see what droll things
happen! It is your friend, Mr. Barnes, who has brought me home this
evening, and who will take a whisky and soda before he goes. Is it not
so, my friend?"
She turned around, but there was no immediate response. The Baroness
looked over the banisters and beheld her escort in the act of ascending.
"Coming right along," he called out cheerfully. "It was the cabman who
tried to stop me. He wanted more than his fare. Found he'd tackled the
wrong Johnny this time."
Mr. Sydney Barnes came slowly into view. He was wearing an evening suit,
obviously too large for him, a made-up white tie had slipped round
underneath his ear, a considerable fragment of red silk handkerchief was
visible between his waistcoat and much crumpled white shirt. An opera
hat, also too large for him, he was wearing very much on the back of his
head, and he was smoking a very black cigar, from which he had failed to
remove the band. He frowned when he saw Wrayson, but followed the
Baroness into the room with a pronounced swagger.
"You two need no introduction, of course," the Baroness remarked. "I am
not going to tell you where I found Mr. Barnes. I do not expect to be
very much longer in England, so perhaps I am not so careful as I ought to
be. Louise, if she knew, would be shocked. Now, Mr. Wrayson, do not hurry
away. You will take some whisky and soda? I am afraid that my young
friend has not been very hospitable."
"You are very kind," Wrayson said. "To tell you the truth, I was rather
hoping to see Miss Fitzmaurice again. She disappeared rather abruptly."
The Baroness shook her finger at him in mock reproach.
"You have been misbehaving," she declared. "Never mind. I will go and see
what I can do for you."
She stood for a moment before a looking-glass arranging her hair, and
then left the room humming a light tune. Sydney Barnes, with his hands in
his pockets, flung himself into an easy-chair.
"I say," he began, "I don't quite see what you're doing here."
Wrayson looked at him for a moment in supercilious surprise.
"I scarcely see," he answered, "how my movements concern you."
Mr. Barnes was unabashed.
"Oh! chuck it," he declared. "You know very well what I'm thinking of. To
tell you the truth, I've come to the conclusion that there's some
connection between this household and my brothers affairs. That's why I'm
palling on to the Baroness. She's a fine woman--class, you know, and all
that sort of thing, but what I want is the shino! You tumble?"
Wrayson shrugged his shoulders slightly.
"I wish you every success," he said. "Personally, I think that you are
wasting your time here."
"Perhaps so," Barnes answered. "I'm taking my own risks."
Wrayson turned away, and at that moment the Baroness re-entered the room.
"My friend," she said, addressing Wrayson, "I can do nothing for you.
Whether you have offended Louise or made her too happy, I cannot say. But
she will not come down. You will not see her again to-night."
"I am sorry," Wrayson answered. "She is going away to-morrow, I
The Baroness sighed.
"Alas!" she declared, "I must not answer any questions. Louise has
Wrayson took up his hat.
"In that case," he remarked, "there remains nothing for me but to wish
you good night!"
There was a cab on the rank opposite, and Wrayson, after a moment's
hesitation, entered it and was driven to the club. He scarcely expected
to find any one there, but he was in no mood for sleep, and the thought
of his own empty rooms chilled him. Somewhat to his surprise, however, he
found the smoking-room full. The central figure of the most important
group was the Colonel, his face beaming with good-nature, and his cheeks
just a little flushed. He welcomed Wrayson almost boisterously.
"Come along, Herbert," he cried. "Plenty of room. What'll you have to
drink, and have you heard the news?"
"Whisky and soda," Wrayson answered, sinking into an easy-chair, "and I
haven't heard any news."
The Colonel took his cigar from his mouth, and leaned forward in his
chair. He had the appearance of a man who was striving to appear more
grave than he felt.
"You remember the old chap we saw dining at Luigi's to-night--Bentham, I
think you said his name was?"
"Of course! What about him?"
"He's dead!" the Colonel declared.
Wrayson jumped out of his chair.
"Nonsense!" he exclaimed. "You don't mean it, Colonel!"
"Unfortunately, I do," the Colonel answered. "He was found dead on the
stairs leading to his office, about ten o'clock to-night. A most
interesting case. The murder, presuming it was a murder, appears to have
Wrayson was suddenly pale.
"Murder!" he repeated. "Colonel, do you mean this?"
The Colonel, who hated being interrupted, answered a little testily.
"My dear Wrayson," he expostulated, "is this the sort of thing a man
invents for fun? Do listen for a moment, if you can, in patience. It is a
deeply interesting case. If you remember, it was about nine o'clock when
we left Luigi's; Bentham must have gone almost straight to his office,
for he was found there dead a very few minutes after ten."
"Who killed him, and why?" Wrayson asked breathlessly.
"That, I suppose, we shall know later," the Colonel answered. "The
police will be on their mettle this time, but it isn't a particularly
easy case. He was found lying on his face, stabbed through the heart.
That is all anybody knows."
The thoughts went rushing through Wrayson's brain. He remembered the man
as he had seemed only a few hours ago, cold, stonily indifferent to
young Barnes' passionate questions, inflexibly silent, a man who might
easily kindle hatreds, to all appearance without a soft spot or any
human feeling. He remembered the close of their interview, and Sydney
Barnes' rash threat. The suggested idea clothed itself almost
unconsciously with words.
"I have just seen young Barnes," he said. "He has been at the Empire all
The Colonel lit another cigar.
"It takes a man of nerve and deliberation," he remarked, "to commit a
murder. From what I have heard of him, I should not imagine your young
friend to be possessed of either. The lady whom he was entertaining, or
rather failing to entertain, at dinner--"
"I have seen her since," Wrayson interrupted shortly. "She went straight
to the Alhambra."
The Colonel nodded.
"I would have insured her against even suspicion," he remarked. "She was
a large, placid woman, of the flabby order of nerves. She will probably
faint when she hears what has happened. She might box a man's ears, but
her arm would never drive a dagger home into his heart, especially with
such beautiful, almost mathematical accuracy. We must look elsewhere, I
fancy, for the person who has paid Bentham's debt to society. Heneage,
here, has an interesting theory."
Wrayson looked across and found that his eyes met Heneage's. He was
sitting a little in the background, with a newspaper in his hand, which
he was, however, only affecting to read. He was taking note of every word
of the conversation. He was obviously annoyed at the Colonel's reference
to him, but he did his best to conceal it.
"Scarcely a theory," he remarked, laying down his paper for a moment. "I
can hardly call it that. I only remarked that I happened to know a little
about Bentham, and that his clients, if he had any, were mostly
foreigners, and their business of a shady nature. As a matter of fact, he
was struck off the rolls here some years ago. I forget the case now, but
I know that it was a pretty bad one."
"So you see," the Colonel resumed, "he was probably in touch with a loose
lot, though what benefit his death could have been to any one it is, of
course, a little hard to imagine. Makes one think, somehow, of this
Morris Barnes affair, doesn't it? I wonder if there is any connection
between the two."
Heneage laid down his paper now, and abandoned his attitude of
indifferent listener. He was obviously listening for what Wrayson
had to say.
"Connection of some sort between the two men there certainly was,"
Wrayson admitted. "We know that."
"Exactly," Heneage remarked. "I speak without knowing very much about
the matter, but I am thoroughly convinced of one thing. If you can find
the murderer of Morris Barnes, you will solve, at the same time, the
mystery of Bentham's death. It is the same affair; part and parcel of
the same tangle."
The Colonel was silent for a few moments. He seemed to be reflecting on
"I believe you are right," he said at last. "I should be curious to know,
though, how you arrived at this decision."
Heneage looked past him at Wrayson.
"You should ask Wrayson," he said.
But Wrayson had risen, and was sauntering towards the door.
"I'm off," he remarked, looking backwards and nodding his farewells. "If
I stay here any longer, I shall have nightmare. Time you fellows were in
bed, too. How's the Malleni fund, Colonel?"
The Colonel's face relaxed. A smile of genuine pleasure lit up his
"Going strong," he declared triumphantly. "We shall ship him off for
Italy next week with a very tidy little cheque in his pocket. Dear old
Dobson gave us ten pounds, and the concert fund is turning out well."
Wrayson lit a cigarette and looked back from the open door.
"You're more at home with philanthropy than horrors, Colonel," he
remarked. "Good night, everybody!"
THE FLIGHT OF LOUISE
The Baroness was looking her best, and knew it. She had slept well the
night before, and her eyes were soft and clear. Her maid had been
unusually successful with her hair, and her hat, which had arrived
only that morning from Paris, was quite the smartest in the room. She
was at her favourite restaurant, and her solitary companion was a
good-looking man, added to which the caviar was delightfully fresh,
and the toast crisp and thin. Consequently the Baroness was in a
particularly good temper.
"I really do wish, my dear friend," she said, smiling across at him,
"that I could do what you ask. But it is not so simple, not so simple as
you think. You say, 'Give me the address of your friend,' You ask me
nicely, and I like you well enough to be glad to do it. But Louise she
say to me, 'Give no one my address! Let no one know where I am gone.'"
"I'm sure she didn't mean that to apply to me," Wrayson pleaded.
"Ah! but she even mentioned your name," the Baroness declared. "I say to
her, 'Not even Mr. Wrayson?' and she answered, 'No! No! No!'"
"And you promised?" he asked.
"Why, yes! What else could I do?" she replied. "I say to her, 'You are a
very foolish girl, Louise. After you have gone you will be sorry. Mr.
Wrayson will be angry with you, and I shall make myself very, very
agreeable to him, and who knows but he will forget all about you?' But
Louise she only shake her head. She knows her own countrymen too well.
They are so terribly insularly constant."
"Is that such a very bad quality, Baroness?"
"Ah! I find it so," she admitted. "I do not like the man who can think of
only one thing, only one woman at a time. He is so dull, he has no
imagination. If he has only one sweetheart, how can he know anything
about us? for in a hundred different women there are no two alike."
"That is all very well," Wrayson answered, smiling; "but, you see, if a
man cares very much for one particular woman, he hasn't the least
curiosity about the rest of her sex."
She sighed gently, and her eyes flashed her regrets. Very blue eyes they
were to-day, almost as blue as the turquoises about her throat.
"They say," she murmured, "that some Englishmen are like that. It is so
much a pity--when they are nice!"
"I suppose," he suggested, "that yours is the Continental point of view."
She was silent until the waiter, who was filling her glass with white
wine, had departed. Then she leaned over towards him. Her forehead was a
little wrinkled, her eyebrows raised. She had the half-plaintive air of a
child who is complaining of being unjustly whipped.
"Yes! I think it is," she answered. "The lover, as I know him, is one who
could not be unkind to a woman. In his heart he is faithful, perhaps, to
one, but for her sake the whole world of beautiful women are objects of
interest to him. He will flirt with them when they will. He is always
their admirer. In the background there may always be what you call the
preference, but that is his secret."
Wrayson smiled across the table.
"This is a very dangerous doctrine, Baroness!" he declared.
"Dangerous?" she murmured.
"For us! Remember that we are a susceptible race."
She flung out her hands and shook her head. Susceptible! She denied it
"It is on the contrary," she declared. "You do not lose your heads or
your hearts very easily, you Englishmen."
"You do not know us," he protested.
"I know _you_," she answered. "For myself, I admit it. When I am with a
man who is nice, I try that I may make him, just a little, no more, but
just a little in love with me. It makes things more amusing. It is better
for him, and we are not bored. But with you, _mon ami, I_ know very well
that I waste my time. And so, I ask you instead this question. Tell me
why you have invited me to take luncheon with you."
She flashed her question across at him carelessly enough, but he felt
that she expected an answer, and that she was not to be deceived.
"I wanted Miss Fitzmaurice's address," he said.
"Naturally. But what else?"
"I want to know more than you will tell me, I am afraid," he said. "I
want to know why you and Miss Fitzmaurice are living together in London
and leading such an unusual life, and how in Heaven's name you became
concerned in the affairs of Morris Barnes."
"Ah!" she said. "You want to know that? So!"
"I do," he admitted.
"And yet," she remarked, "even for that it was not worth while to make
love to me! You ask so much, my friend, and you give so little."
"If you--" he began, a little awkwardly.
Her light laugh stopped him.
"Ah, no! my friend, you must not be foolish," she said. "I will tell you
what I can for nothing, and that, I am afraid, is very little more than
nothing. But as for offering me a bribe, you must not think of that. It
would not be _comme-il-faut;_ not at all _gentil_."
"Tell me what you can, then," he begged.
She shrugged her shoulders.
"It is so little," she declared; "only this. We are not adventuresses,
Louise and I. We are living together because we were schoolfellows, and
because we are both anxious to succeed in a certain undertaking to which,
for different reasons, we have pledged ourselves. To succeed we needed
some papers which had come into the hands of Mr. Morris Barnes. That is
why I am civil to that little--what you call bounder, his brother."
"It sounds reasonable enough, this," Wrayson said; "but what about
the murder of Morris Baines, on the very night, you know, when Louise
"It is all a very simple matter," the Baroness answered, quietly, "but
yet it is a matter where the death of a few such men would count for
nothing. A few ages ago it would not have been a matter of a dozen Morris
Barnes, no, nor a thousand! Diplomacy is just as cruel, and just as
ruthless, as the battlefield, only it works, down there--underground!"
"It is a political matter, then?" Wrayson asked swiftly.
The Baroness smiled. She took a cigarette from her little gold case
and lit it.
"Ah!" she exclaimed, "you must not try to, what you say, pump me! You can
call it what you will. Only to Louise, as to me, it is very much a
personal affair. Shall we talk now, for a little, of other things?"
"I may not know, then," he begged, "where Louise has gone, or why?"
"It would not be her wish," the Baroness answered, "that I should
"Very well," Wrayson said, "I will ask you no more questions. Only this.
I have told you of this man Bentham."
The Baroness inclined her head. He had told her nothing that was
news to her.
"Was he on your side, or opposed to you?"
"You are puzzling me," the Baroness confessed.
"Already," Wrayson explained, "I know as much of the affair as this.
Morris Barnes was in possession of something, I do not know whether it
was documents, or what possible material shape it had, but it brought him
in a considerable income, and both you and some others were endeavouring
to obtain possession of it. So far, I believe that neither of you have
succeeded. Morris Barnes has been murdered in vain; Bentham the lawyer,
who telephoned to me on the night of his death, has shared his fate. To
whose account do these two murders go, yours or the others'?"
"I cannot answer that question, Mr. Wrayson," the Baroness said.
"Do you know," Wrayson demanded, dropping his voice a little, "that, but
for my moral, if not actual perjury, Louise herself would have been
charged with the murder of Morris Barnes?"
"She had a narrow escape," the Baroness admitted.
"She had a narrow escape," Wrayson declared, "but the unfortunate part of
the affair is, that she is not even now safe!"
The Baroness looked at him curiously. She was in the act of drawing on
her gloves, but her fingers suddenly became rigid.
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"I mean," Wrayson said, "that another person saw her come out of the
flats that night. It was a friend of mine, who kept silence at first
because he believed that it was a private assignation of my own. Since
then events have occurred to make him think differently. He has gone
over to the other side. He is spending his time with young Sydney
Barnes, and he has set himself to discover the mystery of Morris Barnes'
murder. He has even gone so far as to give me warning that I should be
better out of England."
"Who is this person?" the Baroness asked calmly.
"His name is Stephen Heneage, and he is a member of my club, the club to
which Louise's father also belongs," Wrayson replied.
The Baroness suddenly dropped her veil, but not before Wrayson had seen
a sudden change in her face. He remembered suddenly that Heneage was no
stranger to her, he remembered the embarrassment of their meeting at
"You know him, of course," he repeated. "Heneage is not a man to be
trifled with. He has had experience in affairs of this sort, he is no
ordinary amateur detective."
"Yes! I know Mr. Stephen Heneage," the Baroness said. "Tell me, does
Wrayson shook his head.
"I have had no opportunity of telling her," he answered. "I might not
have thought so seriously of it, but this morning I received a note
"Yes! What did he say?"
"It was only a line or two," Wrayson answered. "He reminded me of his
previous warning to me to leave England for a time, and he underlined it.
Louise ought to know. I want to tell her!"
"I am glad you did not tell me this before," the Baroness said, as they
left the room together, "or it would have spoiled my luncheon. I do not
like your friend, Mr. Heneage!"
"You will give me Louise's address?" he asked. "Some one must see her."
"I will send it you," the Baroness promised, "before the day is out."
THE CHÂTEAU OF ÉTARPE
"One would scarcely believe," Wrayson remarked, leaning back in his chair
and drawing in a long deep breath, "that we are within three miles of one
of the noisiest and most bustling of French watering places."
"It is incredible," his companion admitted.
They were seated in a garden behind the old inn of the _Lion d'Or_, in
the village of St. Étarpe. Before them was a round table, on whose
spotless white cloth still remained dishes of fruit and a bottle of
wine--not the _vin ordinaire_ which had been served with their repast,
but something which Wrayson had ordered specially, and which the landlord
himself, all smiles and bows, had uncorked and placed before them.
Wrayson produced his cigarette case.
"How did you hear of this place?" he asked, watching the smoke curl
upwards into the breathless air. "I fancy that you and I are the only
Wrayson's companion, tall, broad-shouldered, and heavily bearded, was
busy filling a pipe from a pouch by his side. His features were
unmistakably Saxon, and his cheeks were tanned, as though by much
exposure to all sorts of weathers. He was still apparently on the right
side of middle age, but his manners were grave, almost reserved.
"I was in the neighbourhood many years ago," he answered. "I had a fancy
to revisit the place. And you?"
"I discovered it entirely by accident," Wrayson admitted. "I walked out
from Chourville this morning, stayed here for some luncheon, and was so
delighted that I took a room and went straight back for my bag. There
isn't an emperor in Europe who has so beautiful a dining-room as this!"
Together they looked across the valley, a wonderful panorama of vine-clad
slopes and meadows, starred with many-coloured wild flowers, through
which the river wound its way, now hidden, now visible, a thin line of
gleaming quicksilver. Tall poplars fringed its banks, and there were
white cottages and farmhouses, mostly built in the shelter of the
vine-covered cliffs. To the left a rolling mass of woods was pierced by
one long green avenue, at the summit of which stretched the grey front
and towers of the Château de St. Étarpe. Wrayson looked long at the
fertile and beautiful country, which seemed to fade so softly away in the
horizon; but he looked longest at the chateâu amongst the woods.
"I wonder who lives there," he remarked. "I meant to have asked
"I can tell you," the stranger said. "The château belongs to the Baroness
"A Frenchwoman?" Wrayson asked.
"Half French, half Belgian. She has estates in both countries, I
believe," his companion answered. "As a matter of fact, I believe that
this château is hers in her own right as a daughter of the Étarpes. She
married a Belgian nobleman."
"You seem well acquainted with the neighbourhood," Wrayson remarked.
"I have been here before," was the somewhat short answer.
Wrayson produced his card-case.
"As we seem likely to see something of one another during the next few
days, _nolens volens_," he remarked, "may I introduce myself? My name is
Wrayson, Herbert Wrayson, and I come from London."
The stranger took the card a little doubtfully.
"I am much obliged," he said. "I do not carry a card-case, but my name
"An Englishman, of course?" Wrayson remarked smiling.
"I am English," Mr. Duncan answered, "but I have not been in England for
There was something about his manner which forbade any further
questioning on Wrayson's part. The two men sat together in silence, and
Wrayson, although not of a curious turn of mind, began to feel more than
an ordinary interest in his companion. One thing he noticed in
particular. Although, as the sun sank lower, the beauties of the
landscape below increased, Duncan's eyes scarcely for a moment rested
upon them. He had turned his chair a little, and he sat directly facing
the chateâu. The golden cornfields, the stained-glass windows of the grey
church rising like a cathedral, as it were, in the midst of the
daffodil-starred meadows, caught now with the flood of the dying sunlight
mingled so harmoniously with their own time-mellowed richness, the
increasing perfume of the flowers by which they were surrounded,--none of
these things seemed for one moment to distract his attention. Steadily
and fixedly he gazed up that deep green avenue, empty indeed of any
moving object, and yet seemingly not empty to him. For he had the air of
one who sees beyond the world of visible objects, of one who sees things
dimmed to those of only natural powers. With what figures, Wrayson
wondered, idly, was he peopling that empty avenue, what were the fancies
which had crept out from his brain and held him spellbound? He had
admitted a more or less intimate acquaintance with the place: was he,
perhaps, a former lover of the Baroness, when she had been simply Amy de
St. Étarpe? Wrayson forgot, for a while, his own affairs, in following
out these mild speculations. The soft twilight stole down upon them; here
and there little patches of grey mist came curling up the valley. A bat
came flying about their heads, and Wrayson at last rose.
"I shall take a stroll." he remarked, "and turn in. Good night, if I
don't see you again!"
The man named Duncan turned his head.
"Good night!" he said, mechanically.
Wrayson walked down the garden and passed through a wicket-gate into the
broad white road. Setting his back to the village, he came, in a few
minutes, to the great entrance gate of the château, hung from massive
stone pillars of great age, and themselves fashioned of intricate and
curiously wrought ironwork. The gates themselves were closed fast, and
the smaller ones on either side, intended for pedestrians, were fastened
with a padlock. Wrayson stood for a moment looking through the bars into
the park. The drive ran for half a mile perfectly straight, and then,
taking an abrupt bend, passed upwards into the woods, amongst which was
"What do you want?" an abrupt voice demanded.
Wrayson looked round in surprise. A man in gamekeeper's clothes had
issued from the lodge, carrying a gun.
"Good evening!" Wrayson said. "Is it permitted for the public to enter
"By no means," was the surly answer. "Cannot monsieur see that the gates
"I understood from the landlord of the _Lion d'Or_" Wrayson said, "that
the villagers were allowed the privilege of walking in the park."
The man looked at him suspiciously.
"You are not of the village," he said.
"I am staying there," Wrayson answered.
"It makes nothing. For the present, villagers and every one are forbidden
to enter. There are visitors at the château."
Wrayson turned away.
"Very well," he said. "Good night!"
The man did not answer him. Wrayson continued to climb the hill which
skirted the park. He did not turn round, but he heard the gates open, and
he was convinced that he was being watched, if he was not followed. He
kept on, however, until he came to some more iron gates, from which
stretched the grass avenue which led straight to the gardens of the
château. Dimly, through the gathering dusk, he caught a view of it, which
was little more than an impression; silver grey and quiet with the peace
which the centuries can bring, it seemed to him, with its fantastic
towers, and imperfectly visible outline, like a palace of dreams rather
than a dwelling house, however magnificent, of material stone and brick.
An owl flew out from the trees a few yards to the left of him, and
drifted slowly over his head, with much flapping of wings, and a weird,
soft call, faintly answered in the distance by his mate; from far away
down in the valley came the slow ringing of a single evening bell. Save
for these things, a silence almost wonderful reigned. Gradually Wrayson
began to feel that sense of soothed nerves, of inexpressible relief,
which Nature alone dispenses--her one unequalled drug! All the agitation
and turmoil of the last few months seemed to fall away from him. He felt
that he had been living in a world of false proportions; that the maze of
doubts and fears through which he had wandered was, after all, no part of
life itself, merely a tissue of irrelevant issues, to which his distorted
imagination had affixed a purely fictitious importance. What concern of
his was it how Morris Barnes had lived or died? And who was Bentham that
his fate should ever disturb him? The secrets of other people were theirs
to keep. His own secret was more wonderful by far. Alone, from amidst the
tangle of his other emotions, he felt its survival--more than its
survival, its absolute conquest of all other feelings and considerations.
It was truth, he knew, that men sought after in the quiet places, and it
was the truth which he had found. If he could but see her coming down the
avenue, coming to him across the daisy-strewn grass, beneath the shadow
of the stately poplars! The very thought set his heart beating like a
boy's. He felt the blood singing in his veins, the love-music swelling in
his heart. He shook the gates. They, too, were padlocked. Then he
listened. There was no sound of any footfall in the road. He moved a few
steps higher up, and, making use of the pillars of the gate, he climbed
on to the wall. It was a six-foot drop, but he came down noiselessly
into a bed of moss. Once more he paused to listen. There was no sound
save the burring of some night insect over his head. Stealthily, and
keeping in the shadow of the trees, he began to climb the grassy avenue
towards the château.
A PASSIONATE PILGRIM
It seemed to Wrayson, as by and by he began to make bolder and more
rapid progress, that it was an actual fairy world into which he was
passing with beating heart and this strange new sense of delicious
excitement. As he drew nearer, the round Norman towers and immense grey
front of the château began to take to themselves more definite shape.
The gardens began to spread themselves out; terraced lawns, from whose
flower-beds, now a blurred chaos so far as colour was concerned, waves
of perfume came stealing down to him; statuary appeared, white and
ghostly in the half light, and here and there startlingly lifelike;
there were trimmed shrubs, and a long wall of roses trailed down from
the high stone balcony. But, as yet, there was no sound or sign of human
life! That was to come.
Wrayson came to a pause at last. He had passed from the shelter of the
woods into a laurel walk, but further than this he could not go without
being plainly visible to any one in the château. So he waited and
watched. There were lights, he could see now, behind many of the ground
floor windows of the chateâu, and more than once he fancied that he could
catch the sound of music. He tried to fancy in which room she was, to
project his passionate will through the twilight, so that she should come
to him. But the curtains remained undrawn, and the windows closed. Still
Then at last Providence intervened. Above the top of the woods, over on
the other side of the château, came first a faint lightening in the sky,
which gradually deepened into a glow. Slowly the rim of the moon crept
up, and very soon the spectral twilight was at an end. The shadowy
landscape became real and vivid. It was a new splendour creeping softly
into the night. Wrayson moved a little further back into his shelter, and
even as he did so one of the lower windows of the château was thrown
open, and two women, followed by a man, stepped out. Their appearance was
so sudden that Wrayson felt his breath almost taken away. He leaned a
little forward and watched them eagerly.
The woman, who was foremost of the little group, was a stranger to him,
although her features, and a somewhat peculiar headdress which she wore,
seemed in a sense familiar. She was tall and dark, and she carried
herself with the easy dignity of a woman of rank. Her face was thoughtful
and her expression sweet; if she was not actually beautiful, she was at
least a woman whom it was impossible to ignore. But Wrayson glanced at
her only for a minute. It was Louise who stood by her side!--the music of
her voice came floating down to him. Heavens! had he ever realized how
beautiful she was? He devoured her with his eyes, he strained his nerves
to hear what they were saying. He was ridiculously relieved to see that
the man who stood by their side was grey-headed. He was beginning to
realize what love was. Jealousy would be intolerable.
They moved about the terrace. He scarcely knew whether he hoped or feared
the more that they would descend and come nearer to him. After all, it
was cruelly tantalizing. He dared not disobey the Baroness, or he would
have stepped boldly from his hiding-place and gone up to them. But that,
by the terms of his promise, was impossible. He was to make his presence
known to Louise only if he could do so secretly. He was not to accost her
in the presence of any other person. It might be days or weeks before the
opportunity came--or it might--it might be minutes! For, almost without
warning, she was alone. The others had left her, with farewells, if any,
of the briefest. She came forward to the grey stone parapet, and, with
her head resting upon her hand, looked out towards the woods.
His heart began to beat faster--his brain was confused. Was there any
chance that she would descend into the gardens--dare he make a signal
to her? Her head and shoulders were bare, and a slight breeze had
sprung up during the last few minutes. Perhaps she would feel the cold
and go in! Perhaps--
He watched her breathlessly. She had abandoned her thoughtful attitude
and was standing upright, looking around her. She looked once at the
window. She was apparently undecided whether to go in or not. Wrayson
prayed then, if he had never prayed before. He didn't know to whom! He
was simply conscious of an intense desire, which seemed somehow
formulated into an appeal. Before he was fully conscious of it, she was
coming down the steps. She stood on the edge of the lawn for a moment, as
though considering; then, carefully raising her skirts in both hands, she
picked her way amongst the flower-beds, coming almost directly towards
him. Glancing round, he saw her objective--a rustic seat under a dark
cedar tree, and he saw, too, that she must pass within a few feet of
where he stood. She walked as one dreaming, or whose thoughts are far
distant, her head thrown back, her eyes half closed. The awakening, when
it came, was sudden enough.
"Louise," he called to her softly, "Louise!"
She dropped her skirts. For a moment he feared that she was going
to cry out.
"Who is that?" she asked sharply.
"It is I, Herbert Wrayson," he answered. "Don't be afraid. Shall I come
out to you, or will you come down the laurel path?"
"You!" she murmured. "You!"
He saw the light in her face, and his voice was hoarse with passion.
"Come," he cried, "or I must fetch you! Louise! Sweetheart!"
She came towards him a little timidly, her eyebrows arched, a divine
smile playing about her lips. She stood at the entrance to the laurel
grove and peered a little forward.
"Where are you?" she asked. "Is it really you? I think that I am a little
He took her into his arms with a little laugh of happiness. Time and life
itself stood still. Her feeble remonstrances were swept away in the tide
of his passion. His lips hung burning against hers.
"My sweetheart!" he murmured. "Thank God you came!"...
She disengaged herself presently. A clock from the stables was striking.
She counted the hours.
"Eleven o'clock!" she exclaimed. "Herbert, how long have I been here?"
"Don't ask me that," he answered. "Only tell me how long you are
going to stay."
"Not another minute, really," she declared. "They will be sending out
search parties for me directly. And--Herbert--how did you get here?" she
"I climbed over the wall," he answered cheerfully. "There didn't seem to
be any other way."
She seemed almost incredulous.
"Didn't you see any watchmen?" she asked.
"There was one at the gates," he answered. "I fancied he followed me up
the road, but I gave him the slip all right."
"Be careful how you go back," she begged. "This place is supposed to be
"Watched! Why?" he asked. "Are you afraid of robbers?"
"How much did the Baroness tell you?" she asked.
"Nothing, except that I should find you here," he declared. "She made me
promise that I would wait for an opportunity of seeing you alone."
"And why," she asked, "have you come?"
He took her into his arms again.
"I have learnt what love is," he murmured, "and I have forgotten the
"That is all very well," she laughed, smoothing out her hair; "but the
other things may be very important to me."
"A man named Stephen Heneage has taken up this Barnes affair," he
answered. "He saw you leave the flats that night, and he is likely, if he
thinks that it might lead to anything, to give the whole show away. He
warned me to get away from England and--but you want the truth, don't
you? All these are excuses! I came because I wanted you!--because I
couldn't live without you, Louise! Couldn't we steal away somewhere and
never go back? Why need we? We could go to Paris to-morrow, catch the
Orient express the next day--I know a dozen hiding-places where we should
be safe enough. We will make our own world and our own life--and forget!"
"Forget!" She drew a little away from him. Her tone chilled him.
"Herbert," she said, "whatever happens, I must go now--this moment. Where
are you stopping?"
"The _Lion d'Or_," he answered, "down in the village."
"I will send a note in the morning," she said eagerly. "Only you must go
now, dear. Some one will be out to look for me, and I cannot think--I
must have a little time to decide. Be very careful as you go back. If you
are stopped, be sure and make them understand that you are an Englishman.
He kissed her passionately. She yielded to his embrace, but almost
immediately drew herself away. He clutched at her hand, but she eluded
him. With swift footsteps she crossed the lawn. Just as she reached the
terrace, the windows opened once more and some one called her name.
"I am coming in now," he heard her answer. "It has been such a
AN INVITATION TO DINNER
The landlord of the _Lion d'Or,_ who had appeared for a moment to chat
with his guests while they took their morning coffee, pointed downwards
into the valley, where little clouds of mist hung over the lowlands.
"The _messieurs_ will find themselves hot to-day," he remarked. "Here,
only, there will be a breeze. Eleven hundred feet up, and only three
miles from the sea! It is wonderful, eh?"
Wrayson pointed across towards the château, whose towers rose from the
bosom of the cool green woods.
"There, also," he said, "it will be very pleasant. The château is as high
as we are, is it not so?"
The landlord shrugged his shoulders.
"There is little difference," he admitted, "and in the woods there is
always shade. But who may go there? Never was an estate kept so zealously
private, and, does monsieur know? Since yesterday a new order has been
issued. The villagers were forbidden even their ancient rights of walking
across the park! The head forester has posted a notice in the village."
"I have heard something of it," Wrayson admitted. "Has any reason been
given. Are the family in residence there?"
The landlord shook his head.
"Madame la Baronne was never so exacting," he replied. "One hears that
she has lent the château to friends. Two ladies are there, and one
gentleman. It is all."
"Do you know who they are?" Wrayson asked.
The landlord assumed an air of mystery.
"One," he said, "is a young English lady. The other--well, they call her
Madame de Melbain."
The exclamation came like a pistol-shot from Wrayson's fellow-guest at
the inn, who, up to now, had taken no part in the conversation. He had
turned suddenly round, and was facing the startled landlord.
"Madame de Melbain," he repeated. "Monsieur, perhaps, knows the lady?"
There was a moment's silence. Then the man who had called himself Duncan
looked away, frowning.
"No!" he said, "I do not know her. The name is familiar, but there is no
lady of my acquaintance bearing it at present."
The landlord looked a little disappointed.
"Ah!" he remarked, "I had hoped that monsieur would have been able to
give us a little information. There are many people in the village who
would like to know who this Madame de Melbain is, for it is since her
coming that all has been different. The park has been closed, the
peasants and farmers have received orders forbidding them to accept
boarders at present, and I myself am asked--for a consideration, I
admit--to receive no further guests. Naturally, we ask ourselves,
monsieur, what does it mean? One does not wish to gossip, but there is
much here to wonder at!"
"What is she like, this Madame de Melbain?" Duncan asked.
"No one has seen her, monsieur," the landlord answered. "She arrived in
a close carriage, since when she has not passed the lodge gates. She has
her own servants who wait upon her. Without doubt she is a person of some
importance! Possibly, though, she is eccentric. They say that every
entrance to the château is guarded, and that a cordon of men are always
"A little exaggeration, my friend, there, eh?"
The landlord shrugged his shoulders.
"One cannot tell," he declared. "This, at least, is singular," he
continued, bending forward confidentially. "Since the arrival of these
two ladies several strangers have been observed about the place, some of
whom have endeavoured to procure lodgings. They spoke French, but they
were not Frenchmen or Englishmen. True, this may be a coincidence, but
one can never tell. Monsieur has any further commands?"
Monsieur had none, and the landlord withdrew, smiling and bowing.
Duncan leaned across the table.
"My French," he said deliberately, "is rotten. I couldn't understand half
of what that fellow said. Do you mind repeating it to me?"
Wrayson did so, and his companion listened moodily. When he had finished,
Duncan was gazing steadfastly over towards the château, and knocking the
ashes from his pipe.
"Sounds a little feudal, doesn't it?" he remarked, drawing his pouch
from his pocket. "However, I don't suppose it is any concern of yours
or of mine."
Wrayson made no direct answer. He was fully conscious that his companion
was watching him closely, and he affected to be deeply interested in the
selection of a cigarette.
"No!" he said at last; "it is no concern of ours, of course. And yet one
cannot help feeling a little interested. I noticed myself that the lodge
gates of the château were rather strictly guarded."
"Very likely," the other answered. "Women of fashion who suffer from
nerves take strange fancies nowadays. This Madame de Melbain is probably
one of these."
"Very likely," he admitted. "What are you going to do with
yourself all day?"
"Loaf! I am going to lie down in the fields there amongst the wild
flowers, in the shade of the woods," Duncan answered; "that is, if
one may take so great a liberty with the woods of madame! This sort
of country rather fascinates me," he added thoughtfully. "I have
lived so long in a land where the vegetation is a jungle and the
flowers are exotics. There is a species of exaggeration about it all.
I find this restful."
"Africa?" Wrayson asked.
The other nodded silently. He did not seem inclined to continue the
"You are the second man I have met lately who has come home from Africa,"
Wrayson remarked, "and you represent the opposite poles of life."
"It is very possible," Duncan admitted. "We are a polyglot lot who come
"You were in the war, of course?" Wrayson asked.
"I was in the war," Duncan answered, "almost to the finish. Afterwards I
went into Rhodesia, and incidentally made money. That's all I have to
say about Africa. I hate the country, and I don't want to talk about it.
See you later, I suppose."
He rose from his chair and stretched himself. Across the lawn the
landlord came hurrying, his face perturbed and uneasy. His bow to Wrayson
was subtly different. Here was perhaps an aristocrat under an assumed
name, a person to be, without doubt, conciliated.
"Monsieur," he announced, with a little flourish of the white serviette
which, from habit, he was carrying, "there is outside a young lady from
the château who is inquiring for you."
"Which way?" Wrayson demanded anxiously.
"Monsieur will be pleased to follow me," the landlord answered.
Louise was alone in a victoria, drawn up before the front door of the
inn. Wrayson saw at once that something had happened to disturb her. Even
under her white veil he knew that she was pale, and that there were rings
under her eyes. She leaned towards him and held out her hand in
conventional manner for the benefit of the landlord, who lingered upon
"Come round to the other side of the carriage, Herbert," she said. "I
have something to say to you. The coachman does not understand English. I
have tried him."
Wrayson crossed behind the carriage and stood by her side.
"Herbert," she asked, anxiously, "will you do something for me, something
I want you to do very much?"
"If I can," he answered simply.
"You can do this," she declared. "It is very easy. I want you to leave
this place this morning, go away, anywhere! You can go back to London, or
you can travel. Only start this morning."
"Willingly," he answered, "on one condition."
"What is it?" she asked quickly.
"That you go with me," he declared.
She shook her head impatiently.
"You know that is not what I mean," she said reproachfully. "I was mad
last night. You took me by surprise and I forgot everything. I was awake
all night. This morning I can see things clearly. Nothing--of that
sort--is possible between you and me. So I want you to go away!"
He shook his head, gently but firmly.
"It isn't possible, Louise," he said. "You mustn't ask me to do anything
of that sort after last night. It's too late you see, dear. You belong to
me now. Nothing can alter that."
"It is not too late," she answered passionately. "Last night was just
an hour of madness. I shall cut it out of my life. You must cut it out
He leaned over till his head nearly touched hers, and under the holland
dust-sheet which covered her knees he gripped her hand.
"I will not," he answered. "I will not go away. You belong to me, and I
will have you!"
She looked at him for a moment without speech. Wrayson's features, more
distinguished in a general way by delicacy than strength, had assumed a
curiously set and dogged appearance. His eyes met hers kindly but
mercilessly. He looked like a man who has spoken his last word.
"Herbert," she murmured, "there are things which you do not know and
which I cannot tell you, but they stand between us! They must stand
between us forever!"
"Of that," he said, "I mean to be the judge. And until you tell me what
they are, I shall treat them as though they did not exist."
"I came here," she said, "to ask you, to beg you to go away."
"Then I am afraid you must write your mission down a failure," he
answered doggedly, "for I refuse to go!"
Her eyes flashed at him from underneath her veil. He felt the pressure
of her fingers upon his hand. He heard a little sigh--could it have been
"If I failed--" she began.
"And you have failed," he said decidedly.
"I was to bring you," she continued, "an invitation to dine to-night at
the château. It is only a verbal one, but perhaps you will forgive that."
The colour streamed into his cheeks. He could scarcely believe his ears.
"Louise!" he exclaimed, "you mean it?"
"Yes!" she answered softly. "It would be better for you, better, perhaps,
for me, if you would do as I ask--if you would go away and forget! But if
you will not do that, there is no reason why you should not come to the
château. A carriage will arrive for you at seven o'clock."
"And you will come with me again into the gardens?" he whispered
"Perhaps," she murmured.
The horses, teased by the flies, tossed their heads, and the jingling of
harness reminded Louise that half the village, from various vantage
points, were watching the interview between the young lady from the
château and the visitor at the inn.
"I must go at once," she said to Wrayson. "About to-night, do not be
surprised at anything you see at the château. I have no time to say more.
If you notice anything that seems to you at all unusual, accept it
naturally. I will explain afterwards."
She spoke a word to the immovable man on the box, and waved her hand to
Wrayson as the horses started forward. They were round the corner in a
moment, and out of sight. Wrayson turned back to the inn, but before he
had taken half a dozen paces he stopped short. He had happened to glance
towards the upper windows of the small hotel, and he caught a sudden
vision of a man's face--a familiar face, transformed, rigid, yet with
staring eyes following the departing carriage. Wrayson himself was
conscious of a quick shock of surprise, followed by a sense of
apprehension. What could there possibly have been in the appearance of
Louise to have brought a look like that into the face of his
THE MAN IN THE YELLOW BOOTS
The two men did not meet again until luncheon-time, Anglicized into a
one-o'clock meal for their benefit. Already seated at the table they
found a short fair man, in the costume of a pedestrian tourist. He wore a
tweed knickerbocker suit, and a knapsack lay upon the grass by his side.
As Wrayson and his fellow-guest arrived almost at the same time, the
newcomer rose and bowed.
"Good morning, gentlemen!" he said. "I trust you will permit me a seat at
your table. It appears to be the only one."
Duncan contented himself with a nod. Wrayson felt compelled to be a
little more civil. The man certainly seemed harmless enough.
"A very delightful spot, gentlemen," he continued, "and a fine, a very
fine church that in the valley. I am spending my holiday taking
photographs of churches of a certain period in this vicinity. I am
looking forward to explore this one."
"I am afraid," Wrayson remarked, "that I do not know much of
ecclesiastical architecture, but the aesthetic effect of this one, at
least, is very fine."
The newcomer nodded.
"You are an artist perhaps, sir?" he asked innocently.
"I hope so--in some degree," Wrayson answered.
"Every one is fundamentally an artist, I suppose, who is capable of
appreciating a work of beauty."
Duncan smiled slightly to himself. So far he had not spoken.
"It is all new country to me," the newcomer continued, "but from what I
have seen of it, I should think it a grand place for painters. Not much
for the ordinary tourist, eh?"
"That depends," Wrayson answered, "upon the ordinary tourist."
"Exactly! Quite so!" the little man agreed. "Of course, if one wanted a
quiet time, what could be better than this? There must be others who
think so besides yourselves."
"Who?" Wrayson asked.
"Your fellow-guests here."
"We have no fellow-guests," Wrayson answered, a little incautiously.
The newcomer leaned back in his chair with a disconcerted look.
"Then I wonder why," he exclaimed, "the landlord told me that he had not
a single room."
Wrayson bit his lip.
"I fancy," he said, "that he is not in the habit of having people
"I am afraid," the little fair man said, "that it is not an hospitable
village. I tried to get a room elsewhere, but, alas! with no success.
They do not seem to want tourists at St. Étarpe."
Wrayson looked at the knapsack, at the camera, and at the little man
himself. He spoke English easily, and without any trace of an accent.
His clothes, too, had the look of having come from an English
ready-made shop. Yet there was something about the man himself not
"I fancy the people are busy getting ready for the harvest," Wrayson
remarked at last. "You will find lots of places as pretty as this along
"Perhaps so," the visitor admitted, "and yet when one has taken a fancy
to a place, it seems a pity to have to leave it so soon. You couldn't
speak a word to the landlord for me, sir, I suppose--you or your friend.
I don't fancy he understood my French very well."
Wrayson shook his head.
"I'm afraid it wouldn't be any use," he said. "As a matter of fact, I
know that he does not intend to take any more visitors. He has not the
staff to deal with them."
"It is a pity," the little man said dejectedly. "I think that I must try
again in the village. By the by, sir, perhaps you can tell me to whom the
château there belongs?"
"Madame la Baronne de Sturm," Wrayson answered. "At least, so our host
told me yesterday."
"It is a very beautiful place--very beautiful," the tourist said
reverently. "I dare say there is a chapel there, too! Can one gain
admission there, do you know, sir?"
Wrayson laid down his knife and fork.
"Look here," he said good-humouredly, "I'm not a guide-book, you know,
and I only arrived here yesterday myself. You've reached the limit of my
information. You had better try the landlord. He will tell you all that
you want to know."
Duncan pushed his chair back. He had eaten very little luncheon, but he
was filling his pipe preparatory to leaving the table. As soon as it
began to draw, he rose and turned to Wrayson. The little tourist he
absolutely ignored, as he had done all the time during the meal.
"I should like a word with you before you go out," he said.
Wrayson nodded, and followed him in a few minutes to the summer-house at
the end of the lawn. Duncan did not beat about the bush.
"That little brute over there," he said, inclining his head towards the
table, "is neither an Englishman nor a tourist. I have seen him before,
and I never forget a face."
"What is he then?" Wrayson asked.
"Heaven knows what he is now," Duncan answered. "I saw him last at
Colenso, where he narrowly escaped being shot for a spy. He is either a
Dutchman or a German, and whatever he may be up to here, I'll swear
ecclesiastical architecture is not his game."
There was a moment's silence. Wrayson had turned involuntarily towards
the château, and Duncan had followed suit. They both looked up the
broad green avenue to where the windows of the great building flashed
back the sunlight. At the same moment their mutual action was realized
by both of them.
Wrayson first turned away and glanced round at the table which they had
just quitted. The little man, who was still seated there, had lit a cigar
and was talking to the waiter. He looked back again and moved his head
thoughtfully in the direction of the château.
"He asked questions about the château," Wrayson remarked. "Do you suppose
that there can be anything going on there to interest him?"
"You should know better than I," Duncan answered. "You received a visit
this morning from one of the two ladies who are staying there."
Wrayson turned a little pale. He looked at Duncan steadily for a moment.
A giant in height, his features, too, were of a large and resolute type.
His eyes were clear and truthful; his expression, notwithstanding a
certain gloom which scarcely accorded with his years and apparent
health, was unmistakably honest. Wrayson felt instinctively that he was
to be trusted.
"Look here," he said, "I should like to tell you the truth--as much of it
as is necessary. I happen to know that the young lady with whom you saw
me talking this morning, and who is a friend of the Baroness de Sturm's,
is suspected in certain quarters of being implicated in a--criminal
affair which took place recently in London. I myself, in a lesser degree,
am also under suspicion. I came over here to warn her."
Duncan was looking very grave indeed.
"In a criminal affair," he repeated. "That is a little vague."
Back to Full Books