The Great Secret
E. Phillips Oppenheim
Part 2 out of 6
They would have a perfect answer to any charge you might bring."
"You don't mean that you intend to lie here and be done to death?" I
"Death for me is a certain thing," he answered. "I have been a doomed man
for months. There was never a chance for me after I entered the portals
of this hotel. I knew that; but I backed my luck. I thought that I might
have had time to finish my work--to lay the match to the gunpowder."
"Listen," I said, "there is a lady--a young lady staying here, a Miss Van
"It was her suggestion that I should take you away with me!"
His eyes seemed to dilate as he stared at me.
"Say that again," he murmured.
I repeated my words. He raised himself a little in the bed.
"What do you know of her?" he asked.
"Not much," I answered. "She came to Lord's cricket ground. My cousin was
with her. We have spoken about you."
"I know that she is or appears to be one of your--what shall I
"She is willing," he repeated, "for me to go away with you! Ah!"
A sudden understanding came into his face.
"Yes!" he declared hoarsely, "I think that I understand. Go back to her!
Say that I consent. She--she is different to those others. She plays--the
great game! Hush! I go to sleep!"
He closed his eyes. The door opened, and the nurse entered, followed by a
man who bowed gravely to me. He was still wearing a grey tweed suit and a
red tie; his eyes beamed upon me from behind his gold-rimmed spectacles.
"Ah!" he exclaimed softly, "so you have come to see your friend. It is
very kind of you! I trust that you find him better."
I pointed to the nurse.
"Send her away," I said. "I want to talk to you!"
"We will talk with pleasure," the newcomer answered, "but why here? We
shall disturb our friend. Come into my room, and we will drink a whisky
and soda together."
"Thank you, no!" I answered dryly. "I will drink with you at the bar, or
in the smoking-room if you like--not in your room."
"An admirable precaution, sir," he declared. "We will go to the
I glanced towards the bed. Guest was sleeping, or feigning sleep. My
companion's eyes followed mine sympathetically.
"Poor fellow!" he exclaimed. "I am afraid that he is very ill!"
I opened the door and pushed him gently outside.
"We will go downstairs and have that talk," I said.
We found a quiet corner in the smoking-room, where there was a little
recess partitioned off from the rest of the room. My companion drew a
small card-case from his pocket.
"Permit me, Mr. Courage," he said, "to introduce myself. My name is
Stanley, James Stanley, and I come from Liverpool. Waiter, two best
Scotch whiskies, and a large Schweppe's soda."
"Mr. Stanley," I said, "I am glad to know a name by which I can call you,
but this is going to be a straight talk between you and me; and I may as
well tell you that I do not believe that your name is Stanley, or that
you come from Liverpool!"
"Ah! It is immaterial," he declared softly.
"I want to speak to you," I said, "about the man Guest upstairs. It seems
to me that there is a conspiracy going on against him in this hotel. I
want you to understand that I am not prepared to stand quietly aside and
see him done to death!"
My companion laughed softly. He took off his spectacles, and wiped them
with a silk handkerchief.
"A conspiracy," he repeated, "in the Hotel Universal. My dear sir, you
are letting your indignation run away with you! Consider for a moment
what you are saying. The hotel is full of visitors from all parts of
England. It is one of the largest and best known in London. Its
"Oh! spare me all this rot," I interrupted rudely. "Let me remind you of
what happened two nights ago, when you broke into my room in search of
"Ah!" he remarked, "that, no doubt, must have seemed an odd proceeding to
you. But, in the first place, you must remember we had no idea that the
room was occupied. We were very anxious to have an explanation with our
friend, purely a business matter, and he had irritated us both by his
persistent avoidance of it. We have had our little talk now, and the
matter is over. My partner has already left, and I am returning to
Liverpool myself to-morrow or the next day. I fear that you were misled
by my language and manner on that unfortunate evening. I am sorry; but
I must admit that I was over-excited."
"Very good," I said. "Then, perhaps, as you are so fluent with your
explanations, you will tell me why Mr. Guest has been removed to a part
of the hotel which I am quite sure that no one knows anything about, is
being attended by a doctor of most unprepossessing appearance, and a
nurse who treats him as a jailer would!"
Mr. Stanley's face beamed with good-humored mirth.
"You young men," he declared, "are so imaginative. Mr. Guest has simply
been removed to the part of the hotel which is reserved for sick people.
No one likes to know that they have anybody next door to them who is
seriously ill. As for the doctor, he is a highly qualified practitioner,
and visits the hotel every day by arrangement with the manager; and the
nurse was sent from the nearest nurses' home."
"You think, then," I continued, "that if I were to go to Scotland Yard,
and tell them all that I know, that I should be making a fool of myself."
Mr. Stanley's eyes twinkled.
"Why not try it?" he suggested. "There is a detective always in
attendance on the premises. Send for him now, and let us hear what he
"Very well, Mr. Stanley," I said, "your explanations all sound very
reasonable. I am to take it, then, that if Mr. Guest desired to--say
leave the hotel to-morrow, no one would make any objection!"
Mr. Stanley was almost distressed.
"Objection! My dear sir! Mr. Guest is his own master, is he not? He pays
his own bill, and he leaves when he likes. At present, of course, he is
not able to, but that is simply a matter of health."
"I am proposing," I said, "to take Mr. Guest away with me into the
Mr. Stanley looked at me steadily. There was a subtle change in his face.
I was watching him closely, and I saw the glint of his eyes behind his
spectacles. I began to think I had been rash to lay my cards upon the
"I am afraid," he said gently, "that you are proposing what would
be--certain death to Mr. Guest--in his present state of health."
"I am afraid," I replied, "that if I leave him here, it will also be--to
Mr. Stanley called to the waiter.
"One small drink more, and I must go to bed," he said. "Up to a certain
point, I agree with you. I believe that Leslie Guest is a dying man.
Whether he stays here or goes makes little difference--very little
difference indeed to me. Your health, Mr. Courage! A farewell drink this,
I am afraid!"
I raised my tumbler to my lips, and nodded to him. Then I rose to my
feet, but almost as I did so, I realized what had happened. The floor
heaved up beneath my feet, my knees trembled, I felt the perspiration
break out upon my forehead. Through the mist which was gathering in front
of my eyes, I could see the half-curious, half-derisive glances of the
other occupants of the room; and opposite, Mr. Stanley, his eyes blinking
at me from behind his spectacles, his expression one of grieved concern.
I leaned over toward him.
"You d----d scoundrel!" I exclaimed.
After that, my head fell forward upon my folded arms, and I remembered no
AN UNEXPECTED VISITOR
I sat up in bed, heavy, unrefreshed, and with a splitting headache. The
clock on the mantelpiece was striking three o'clock; from below I could
hear the clatter of vehicles in the courtyard, and the distant roar of
traffic from the streets beyond. Slowly I realized that it was three
o'clock in the afternoon; the events of the night before re-formed
themselves in my mind. I rang the bell for the valet and sprang out of
"Why didn't you call me this morning?" I asked angrily.
"You gave no orders, sir," the man answered. "I have been in the room
once or twice, but you were sleeping so soundly that I didn't like to
I began tearing on my clothes.
"What sort of weather has it been?" I asked.
"Pouring rain since seven o'clock, sir!" the man answered. "No chance of
play at Lord's, sir!"
"Thank Heaven!" I exclaimed fervently. "Order me a cup of tea, will you,
and--stop a minute--take this note round to Miss Van Hoyt--367."
He returned in a few minutes with the tea; but he brought my note back
"Miss Van Hoyt left the hotel this morning, sir," he announced.
I turned round quickly.
"She is coming back, of course!" I exclaimed.
"The chambermaid thought not, sir," the man declared. "She has given up
her room, at any rate. They would know for certain down in the office."
I finished the rest of my toilet in a hurry, and went straight to the
reception bureau. I fancied that the clerk to whom I addressed myself
eyed me queerly.
"Can you tell me if Miss Van Hoyt has left the hotel?" I asked.
"She left this morning, sir," he replied.
"Is there any message for me--Mr. Courage?" I asked.
He disappeared for a moment, but I fancied that his search was only
"Nothing at all for you, sir," he announced.
I concealed my surprise as well as I could.
"Will you send my card up and ascertain if I can see Mr. Leslie Guest?" I
asked. "He is staying somewhere in the south wing."
"Mr. Leslie Guest left just before one o'clock, sir," the clerk answered.
"Left the hotel!" I repeated. "Why! He was in bed yesterday, and scarcely
able to move."
The clerk shrugged his shoulders. He had the air of being a little tired
"He was probably better to-day," he answered. "At any rate, he was well
enough to travel."
"Is Mr. James Stanley, of Liverpool, in?" I asked.
"Mr. Stanley paid his bill and went away at eight o'clock this morning,"
the man answered, going back to his ledger.
"I must see the manager at once," I declared firmly.
The clerk called a page-boy.
"Take this gentleman's name down to Mr. Blumentein," he ordered shortly.
I waited for several minutes. Then the boy returned, and beckoned me to
"Mr. Blumentein will see you in his office, sir," he announced. "Will you
come this way?"
It was a very different Mr. Blumentein who looked up now, as I was shown
into his private room. He regarded me with a frown, and his manner was
"You wish to speak to me, sir?" he asked curtly.
"I do!" I answered. "There is a good deal going on in your hotel which I
do not understand; and I may as well tell you that I am determined to get
to the bottom of it. I was drugged in the public smoking-room last night
by a man who called himself Stanley, acting in collusion with one of the
Mr. Blumentein looked at me superciliously.
"Mr. Courage," he said, "the events of last night preclude my taking you
seriously any more; but I should like you to understand that you have
proved yourself an extremely troublesome guest here."
"What do you mean by the events of last night?" I asked.
"You were drunk in the smoking-room," Mr. Blumentein replied curtly, "and
had to be assisted to your room. Don't trouble to deny it. There are a
dozen witnesses, if necessary. I shall require you to leave the hotel
within the next few hours."
"You know very well that I was nothing of the sort," I answered hotly.
"It is easily proved," Mr. Blumentein asserted. "Please understand that I
am not prepared to discuss the matter with you."
"Very well," I answered. "Let it go at that. Whilst I was safely put out
of the way, several of your guests seem to have left. Will you give me
Miss Van Hoyt's address?"
"I will not," the manager answered.
"Mr. Leslie Guest's then?"
"I do not know it," he declared.
I turned towards the door.
"Very well, Mr. Blumentein," I said; "but if you imagine that this matter
is going to rest where it is, you are very much mistaken. I am going
straight to a private detective's, who is also a friend of mine!"
"Then for Heaven's sake go to him!" Mr. Blumentein declared irritably.
"We have nothing to conceal here! All that we desire is to be left alone
by guests whose conduct about the place is discreditable. Good afternoon,
I returned to my room and had my bag packed. Then I sat down to think. I
reviewed the course of events carefully since the night before last. Try
how I could, I found it absolutely impossible to arrive at any clear
conclusion with regard to them. The whole thing was a phantasmagoria. The
one person in whom I had believed, and at whose bidding I was willing to
take a hand in this mysterious game, had disappeared without a word of
explanation or farewell. There could be only one reasonable course of
action for me to pursue, and that was to shrug my shoulders and go my
way. I had my own life to live, and although its limitations might be a
little obvious, it was yet a reasonable and sane sort of life. Of Adèle I
refused resolutely to think. I knew very well that I should not be able
to forget her. On the other hand, I was convinced now that she was simply
making use of me. I would go back home and forget these two days. I would
reckon them as belonging to some one else's life, not mine.
I paid my bill, left the hotel, and caught the five o'clock train from
St. Pancras to Medchester. From there I had a ten-mile drive, and it
was almost dusk when we turned off the main road into the private
approach to Saxby Hall--my old home. Every yard of the land around, half
meadow-land, half park, I knew almost by heart; every corner and chimney
of the long irregular house was familiar to me. It all looked very
peaceful as we drove up to the front; the blue smoke from the chimneys
going straight up in a long, thin line; not a rustle of breeze or
movement anywhere. Perkins, my butler, came out to the steps to meet me,
and successfully concealed his surprise at my return two days before I
"Any news, Perkins?" I inquired, as he helped me off with my coat.
"Nothing in any way special, sir," Perkins replied. "The cricket team
from Romney Court were over here yesterday, sir, for the day."
"Gave 'em a licking, I hope?" I remarked.
"We won by thirty runs, sir," Perkins informed me. "Johnson was bowling
remarkably well, sir. He took seven wickets for fifteen!"
I nodded, and was passing on to my study. Perkins followed me.
"We got your first telegram early this morning, sir!" he remarked.
I stopped short.
"What telegram?" I asked.
"The one telling us to prepare for the gentleman, sir," Perkins
explained. "We had to guess at the train; but we sent the brougham in for
the twelve o'clock, and Johnson waited. We've given him the south room,
sir, and I think that he's quite comfortable."
"What the devil are you talking about?" I asked.
It was Perkins' turn to stare, which he did for a moment blankly.
"The gentleman whose arrival you wired about, sir," he answered. "Mr.
Guest, I believe his name is."
"Mr. Guest is here now?" I asked.
"Certainly, sir! In the south room, sir! He asked to be told directly you
I turned abruptly towards the staircase. I said not another word to
Perkins, but made my way to the room which he had spoken of. I knocked at
the door, and it was Guest's voice which bade me enter. It was Guest
himself, who in a grey travelling suit, which made him look smaller and
frailer than ever, lay stretched upon the sofa over by the great south
"WORTLEY FOOTE--THE SPY"
He sat up at once, but he did not attempt to rise. His eyes watched me
anxiously. My surprise seemed to trouble him.
"I am afraid--" he began hesitatingly.
"You need be afraid of nothing," I interrupted, going over and taking his
hand. "Only how on earth did you get here?"
He looked around before replying. The old habits had not deserted him.
"Your friend, Miss Van Hoyt, arranged it," he said. "The others had
another plan; but they were no match for her."
"But how did you come?" I asked. "You were not well enough to travel
"She left me at Medchester station," he answered. "Your carriage brought
me over here, and your servants have been most kind. But--but before I go
to bed to-night, there are things which I must say to you. We must not
sleep under the same roof until we have arrived at an understanding."
I looked at him with compassion. He had shaved recently, and his face,
besides being altogether colorless, seemed very wan and pinched. His
clothes seemed too big for him, his eyes were unnaturally clear and
"We will talk later on," I said, "if it is really necessary. Shall you
feel well enough to come down and have dinner with me, or would you like
something served up here?"
"I should like to come down," he answered, "if you will lend me your man
to help me dress."
"Come as you are," I said. "We shall be alone!"
He smiled a little curiously.
"I should like to change," he declared. "A few hours of civilization,
after all I have been through, will be rather a welcome experience."
"Very well," I told him, "I will send my man at once. There is just
another thing which I should like to ask you. Have you any objection to
seeing my doctor?"
"None whatever," he answered. "I think perhaps," he added, "that it would
be advisable, in case anything should happen while I am here."
I laughed cheerfully.
"Come," I declared, "nothing of that sort is going to happen now. You are
perfectly safe here, and this country air is going to do wonders for
He made no answer in words. His expression, however, plainly showed me
what he thought. I did not pursue the subject.
"I will send a man round at once," I said, turning away. "We dine at
My guest at dinner-time revealed traces of breeding and distinction which
I had not previously observed in him. He was obviously a man of birth,
and one who had mixed in the very best society of other capitals, save
London alone. He ate very little, but he drank two glasses of my
"Regents" Chambertin, with the air of a critic. He declined cigars, but
he carried my cigarette box off with him into the study; and he accepted
without hesitation some '47 brandy with his coffee. All the time,
however, he had the air of a man with something on his mind, and we had
scarcely been alone for a minute, before he brushed aside the slighter
conversation which I was somewhat inclined to foster, and plunged into
the great subject.
"Mr. Courage," he said, "I want to speak to you seriously." I nodded.
"Why don't you wait for a few days, until you have pulled up a little?" I
suggested. "There is no hurry. You are perfectly safe down here."
He looked at me as one might look at a child.
"There is very urgent need for hurry," he asserted, "and apart from
that, death waits for no man, and my feet are very near indeed to the
borderland. There must be an understanding between us."
"As you will," I answered, "although I won't admit that you are as ill as
you think you are!"
He smiled faintly.
"That," he said, "is because you do not know. Now listen. You have to
make, within the next few minutes, a great decision. Very likely, after
you have chosen, you will curse me all your days. It was a freak of fate
which brought us together. But I must say this. You are the sort of man
whom I would have chosen, if any measure of choice had fallen to my lot.
And yet," he looked around, "I am almost afraid to speak now that I have
seen you in your home, now that I have realized something of what your
life must be."
All the time, underneath the flow of his level words, there trembled the
sub-note of a barely controlled emotion. The man's eyes were like fire.
His cigarette had gone out. He lit another with restless, twitching
"Words, at any rate, can do me no harm," I said encouragingly. "Go on! I
should like to hear what you have to say."
"Words," he exclaimed, "bring knowledge, and with knowledge comes all the
majesty or the despair of life. One does not need to be a student of
character to know that you are a contented man. You are well off. You
have a beautiful home, you are a sportsman, your days are well-ordered,
life itself slips easily by for you. You have none of the wanderer's
discontent, none of the passionate heart longings of the man who has
lifted even the corner of the veil to see what lies beyond. If I speak,
all this may be changed to you. Why should I do it?"
His words stirred me. The eloquence of real conviction trembled in his
tone. I felt some answering spark of excitement creep into my own blood.
"Let me hear what you have to say, at all events!" I exclaimed. "Don't
take too much for granted. Mine has been a simple life, but there have
been seasons when I would have changed it. I come of an adventurous race,
though the times have curbed our spirits. It was my grandfather, Sir
Hardross Courage, who was ambassador at Paris when Napoleon--"
"I know! I know!" he exclaimed. "Your grandfather! Good! And Nicholas
Courage--what of him?"
"My uncle!" I answered. "You have heard of him in Teheran."
A spot of color burned in his pallid cheeks.
"I hesitate no longer," he cried. "These were great men; but I will show
you the way to deeds which shall leave their memory pale. Listen! Did you
ever hear of Wortley Foote?"
"The spy," I answered, "of course!"
He started as though he were stung even to death. His cheeks were
flushed, and then as suddenly livid. He seemed to have grown smaller in
his chair, to be shrinking away as though I had threatened him with a
"I forgot," he muttered. "I forgot. Never mind. I am Wortley Foote. At
least it has been my name for a time."
It was my turn to be astonished. I looked at him for a moment petrified.
Was this indeed the man who had brought all Europe to the verge of war,
who was held responsible for the greatest international complication of
the century? Years had passed, but I remembered well that week of fierce
excitement when the clash of arms rang through Europe, when three great
fleets were mobilized, and the very earth seemed to reverberate with the
footsteps of the gathering millions, moving always towards one spot.
Disaster was averted by what seemed then to be a miracle; but no one ever
doubted but that one man, and one man alone, was responsible for what
might have been the most awful catastrophe of civilized times. And it was
that man who sat in my study and watched me now, with ghastly face and
passionately inquiring eyes. When he spoke, his voice sounded thin and
"I had forgotten," he said, "that I was speaking to one of the million.
To you, mine must seem a name to shudder at. Yet listen to me. My life is
finished. I have lied before now in great causes. No man in my position
could have avoided it. To-day, I speak the truth. You must believe me! Do
"Yes!" I answered, "I hear!"
"Death is my bedfellow," he continued. "Death is by my side like my own
shadow. In straits like mine, the uses of chicanery are past. I come of a
family of English gentlemen, even as you, Hardross Courage. We are of the
same order, and I speak to you man to man, with the dew of death upon my
lips. You will listen?"
"Yes!" I answered, "I will listen!"
"You will believe?"
"Yes!" I answered, "I will believe!"
He drew a breath of relief. A wonderful change lightened his face.
"Diplomacy demanded a victim," he said, "and I never flinched. Two men
knew the truth, and they are dead. My scheme was a bold one. If it had
succeeded, it would have meant an alliance with Germany, an absolute
incontrovertible alliance and an imperishable peace. France and Russia
would have been powerless--the balance of strength, of accessible
strength, must always have been with us. Every German statesman of note
was with me. The falsehood, the vilely egotistic ambition of one man,
chock-full to the lips with personal jealousy, a madman posing as a
genius, wrecked all my plans. My life's work went for nothing. We escaped
disaster by a miracle and my name is written in the pages of history as a
scheming spy--I who narrowly escaped the greatest diplomatic triumph of
all ages. That is the epitome of my career. You believe me?"
"I must," I answered.
"I was reported to have committed suicide," he continued. "Nothing was
ever farther from my thoughts."
I followed an ancient maxim. I sought safety in the shadow of the enemy.
I went to Berlin."
"The man who foiled you--" I said slowly.
"You know who it was," he interrupted. "The man who believes that he
hears voices from heaven, that by the side of his Divine wisdom his
ministers are fools and children, crying for they know not what! I may
not see it, but you most surely will see the pricking of the bubble of
his reputation. His name may stand for little more than mine, when the
book of fate is finally closed."
He was silent for a moment, and glanced towards the sideboard. I could
see the perspiration standing out in little white beads upon his
forehead; he had the air of a man utterly exhausted. I poured him out a
glass of wine, and brought it over. He drank it slowly, and reached out
his hand for a cigarette.
"Never mind these things," he said more quietly. "A man in my condition
should avoid talking of his enemies. I lived for two years quietly in
Berlin. I changed as much of my appearance as illness had left
recognizable; and during all that time I lived the ordinary life of a
German citizen of moderate means, without my identity being once
suspected. I frequented the cafés, I made friends with people in official
positions. At the end of that time, I commenced to shape my plans. You
can imagine of what nature they were. You can imagine what it was that I
desired. I wanted to catch my enemy tripping."
I looked across at him a little incredulously. This was a strange story
which he was telling me, and I knew very well, from the growing
excitement of his manner, that its culmination was to come.
"But how could you in Berlin, alone, hope to accomplish this?" I asked.
"I knew the ropes," he answered simply, "and I lived for nothing else. I
saw him drive amongst his people every day, and I bowed with the rest, I
who could have spat in his face, I who carried with me the secret of his
miserable perfidy, who knew alone why his ministers regarded him as a
spoilt and fretful child. But I waited. Gradually I wormed my way a
little into the fringe of the German Secret Service. I took them scraps
of information; but such scraps that they were always hungry for more. I
posed as a Dutch South African. They even chaffed me about my hatred for
England. All the time I progressed, until, by chance, I stumbled across
one of the threads which led--to the great Secret!"
There was a discreet knocking at the door. We both turned impatiently
around. A servant was just ushering in our village doctor.
"Dr. Rust, sir," he announced.
A LEGACY OF DANGER
I was scarcely aware myself to what an extent my attention had been
riveted upon this strange story of my guest's, until the interruption
came. The entry of the cheerful little village doctor seemed to dissolve
an atmosphere thick with sensation. I drew a long breath as I rose to my
feet. There was a certain measure of relief in the escape from such high
"Glad to see you, doctor," I said mechanically. "My friend here, Mr.
Guest, Dr. Rust," I added, completing the introduction, "is a little run
down. I thought that I would like you to have a look at him."
The doctor sniffed the air disparagingly as he shook hands.
"Those beastly cigarettes," he remarked. "If you young men would only
take to pipes!"
"Our insides aren't strong enough for your sort of tobacco, doctor," I
answered. "I will leave you with Mr. Guest for a few minutes. You may
like to overhaul him a little."
I made my way into the gardens, and stood for a few minutes looking out
across the park. It was a still, hot evening; the scene was perhaps as
peaceful a one as a man could conceive. The tall elms stood out like
painted trees upon a painted sky, the only movement in the quiet pastoral
landscape was where a little string of farm laborers were trudging
homeward across the park, with their baskets over their shoulders.
Beyond, the land sloped into a pleasant tree-encompassed hollow, and I
could see the red-tiled roofs of the cottages, and the worn, grey spire
of the village church. There was scarcely a breath of wind. Everything
around me seemed to stand for peace. Many a night before I had stood
here, smoking my pipe and drinking it all in--absolutely content with
myself, my surroundings, and my life. And to-night I felt, with a certain
measure of sadness, that it could never be the same again. A few yards
behind me, in the room which I had just quitted, a man was looking death
in the face; a man, the passionate, half-told fragments of whose life had
kindled in me a whole world of new desires. These two, the man and the
girl, enemies perhaps, speaking from the opposite poles of life, had made
sad havoc with my well-ordered days. The excitement of his appeal was
perhaps more directly potent; yet there was something far more subtle,
far stranger, in my thoughts of her. She and her maid and her queer,
black-eyed poodle were creatures of flesh and blood without a doubt; yet
they had come into my life so strangely, and passed into so wonderful a
place there, that I thought of them with something of the awe which
belongs to things having in themselves some element of the mystic, if not
of the supernatural. The blue of her eyes was not more wonderful than the
flawless grace of her person and her environment. I could compare her
only with visions one has read and dreamed about in the unreal worlds of
poetry and romance. Her actual existence as a woman of the moment, a
possible adventuress, certainly a very material and actual person, was
hard indeed to realize.
I moved a little farther away into the gardens. The still air was full of
the perfume of sweet-smelling flowers, of honeysuckle and roses, climbing
about the maze of arches which sheltered the lower walks. To-night their
sweetness seemed to mean new things to me. The twilight was falling
rapidly; the shadows were blotting out the landscape. Out beyond there,
beyond the boundaries of my walled garden, I seemed to be looking into a
new and untravelled world. I knew very well that the old days were over.
Already the change had come.
I turned my head at the sound of a footstep upon the gravel path. The
doctor was standing beside me.
"Well," I asked, "what do you think of him?"
He answered me a little evasively. The cheerful optimism which had made
him a very popular practitioner seemed for the moment to have deserted
"Your friend is in rather a curious state of health," he said slowly. "To
tell you the truth, I scarcely know how to account for certain of his
"He seems in a very weak state," I remarked supinely.
"Is he a very old friend?" the doctor asked.
"Why do you ask that?" I inquired curiously.
"Simply because I thought that you might know something of his
disposition," the doctor answered. "Whether, for instance, he is the sort
of man who would be likely to indulge in drugs."
I shook my head.
"I cannot tell," I said.
"There is something a little peculiar about his indifference," the doctor
continued. "He answers my questions and submits to my examination, and
all the time he has the air of a man who would say, 'I could tell you
more about myself, if I would, than you could ever discover.' He has had
a magnificent constitution in his time."
"Is he likely to die?" I asked.
"Not from any symptoms that I can discover," the doctor answered. "Yet,
as I told you before, there are certain things about his condition which
I do not understand. I should like to see him again in the morning!
I am giving him a tonic, more as a matter of form. I scarcely think his
system will respond to it!"
"It has not occurred to you, I suppose," I remarked, "that he might be
suffering from poisoning?"
The doctor shook his head.
"There are no traces of anything of the sort," he declared. "My own
impression is that he has been taking some sort of drug."
"Will you come in and have something?" I asked, as we neared the house.
The doctor shook his head.
"Not to-night," he answered; "I have another call to pay."
So I went back into the house alone, and found my guest waiting for me in
some impatience. He was lying upon a sofa, piled up with cushions, and
the extreme pallor of his face alarmed me.
"Give me some brandy and soda," he demanded. "Your village Aesculapius
has been prodding me about, till I scarcely know where I am."
I hastened to the sideboard and attended to his wants.
"Well, did he invent a new disease for me?" he asked.
"No!" I answered. "On the contrary, he admitted that he was puzzled."
"Honest man! What did he suggest?"
"He asked whether you were in the habit of taking drugs," I answered.
"Never touched such a thing in my life," he declared.
"Neither did I," I remarked grimly, "until last night." And then I told
him what had happened to me. He listened eagerly to my story.
"So there is a division in the camp," he murmured softly. "I imagined as
much. As usual, it is the woman who plays the whole game."
"I wonder," I said, "whether you would mind telling me what you know of
Miss Van Hoyt?"
He moved on the couch a little uneasily. The request, for some reason or
other, seemed to disquiet him. Nevertheless, he answered me.
"Miss Van Hoyt," he said, "is an American young lady of excellent family
and great fortune. She has lived for the last few years in Berlin and
other European capitals. She has intimate friends, I believe, attached to
the court at Berlin. She is a young person of an adventurous turn of
mind, and she has, I believe, no particular love for England and English
"You number her," I remarked, "amongst your enemies?"
"And amongst yours," he answered dryly.
"Yet it was through her that I was able to bring you away," I remarked.
He turned his head towards me.
"You are not supposing, for one moment," he said, "that any measure of
kindness was included in her motive."
"I suppose not," I answered doubtfully.
"Listen!" he said, "I fell into a trap at the Universal. I have been in
danger too often not to recognize a hopeless position when I see one. I
knew that escape for me was impossible. It was not as though my task were
finished. I had months of work before me, and I was tracked down, so that
I could not have moved except on sufferance. Our genial friend, whom you
will remember in the grey tweed suit and glasses, and who has the knack
of sticking to any one in whom he is interested like a leech, thought
that my death, with as much dispatch as was wise, would be the simplest
and pleasantest way out of the difficulty. The young lady, however, plays
for the great stakes, She wanted to succeed where others have failed."
He paused for a moment, and drank from his tumbler. There were dark lines
under his eyes, and I felt that I ought to stop him talking.
"Tell me the rest in the morning," I suggested. "I am sure that you ought
to go to bed."
"You forget," he remarked grimly, "that for me there may be no morning. I
am drawing very near the end, or even she would not have dared to let me
come. Besides, you must understand, for it must be through you that she
hopes--to succeed. She expects that I shall tell you, that you will be
the legatee of this knowledge, which she would give so much to gain. And
I suppose--don't be offended--that she counts you amongst the fools whom
a woman's lips can tempt to any dishonor. You needn't glare at me like
that. Miss Van Hoyt is very young and very beautiful. She has not yet
learnt all the lessons of life--amongst which are her limitations. You
see I do not ask you for any pledge--for any promise. But I do ask you,
as an Englishman--and a man of honor--to take my burden from my back, and
carry it on--to the end!"
I came over to his side.
"What does it mean?" I asked quietly.
"Death, very likely," he answered. "Danger always. No more sport, no more
living in the easy places. But in the end glory--and afterwards peace. A
man can die but once, Courage!"
"I am not afraid," I answered slowly. "But am I the man, do you think,
for a task like this?"
"None better," he answered. "Listen, where do you sleep?"
"In the next room to yours," I answered.
"Good! Will you leave your door open, so that if I call in the night you
"Certainly! You can have a servant sleep on the couch in your room, if
He shook his head.
"I would rather not," he answered. "Just now I cannot talk any more. If
my time comes in the night, I shall wake you. If not--to-morrow!"
A flavor of unreality hung about the events of the last few days. I felt
myself slowly waking as though from a nightmare. The dazzling sunshine
was everywhere around us; the whir of reaping machines, the slighter
humming of bees, and the song of birds, were in our ears; the perfume
of all manner of flowers, and of the new-mown hay, made the air
wonderfully sweet. My guest, in a cool grey flannel suit and a Panama
hat, was by my side, looking like a man who has taken a new lease of
life. He had patted my shire horses, and admired those of my hunters
which were on view. He had walked three times round my walled garden, and
amazed my head-gardener by his intimate acquaintance with the science of
pruning. We had talked country talk and nothing else. From the moment
when, somewhat to my surprise, he had appeared upon the terrace just as I
was finishing my after-breakfast pipe, no word of any more serious
subject had passed our lips. We had talked and passed the time very much
as any other host and guest the first morning in a quiet country house.
We were standing now upon a little knoll in the park, and I was pointing
out my deer. He looked beyond to where the turrets and chimneys of a
large, grey, stone house were half visible through the trees.
"Who is your neighbor?" he asked.
"Lord Dennisford," I answered. "A very decent fellow, too, although I
don't see much of him. He spends most of his time abroad."
I turned to look at my companion. He had repeated the name very softly,
yet with a peculiar intonation, which made me at once aware that the name
was of interest to him.
"Yes! Do you know him?" I asked inanely.
"Is his wife here?" he asked.
"Lady Dennisford is seldom away," I answered. "She entertains a good deal
down here. A very popular woman in the county."
He seemed to be measuring the distance across the park with his eyes.
"Let us go across and see her," he said.
I looked at him doubtfully.
"Can you walk as far?" I asked.
"Yes! I have my stick, and, if necessary, you can help me!"
So we set out across the park. I asked him no questions. He told me
nothing. But when we had crossed the road, and were on our way up the
avenue to Dennisford House, he clutched at my arm.
"I want to see her--alone," he muttered.
"I will see what I can do," I answered. "Lady Dennisford and I are old
We reached the great sweep in front of the house. I pointed to the
terrace, on which were several wicker chairs.
"The windows from the drawing-room, where I shall probably see Lady
Dennisford, open out there," I remarked. "If you could give me any
message which would interest her, perhaps--"
"Tell her," he muttered, "that you have a guest who walked with her once
under the orange trees at Seville, and who--in a few days--will walk no
more anywhere! She will come!"
He made his way along the terrace, leaning heavily upon his stick, and
sank with a little sigh of relief into one of the cushion-laden wicker
chairs. I watched him lean back with half-closed eyes; and I realized
then what an effort this walk must have been to him. Before me the great
front doors stood open, and with the familiarity of close neighborship, I
passed into the cool shaded hall, with its palms and flowers, its
billiard-table invitingly uncovered, its tiny fountain playing in its
marble basin. There was no one in sight; but, stretched upon a bright
crimson cushion, set back in the heart of a great easy-chair, was a small
Our recognition was mutual. The dog rose slowly to his haunches, and sat
there looking at me. His apple-green bow had wandered to the side of his
neck, and one ear was turned back. Yet notwithstanding the fact that his
appearance was so far grotesque, I felt no inclinations whatever towards
mirth. His coal-black eyes were fixed upon me steadfastly, his tiny
wrinkled face seemed like the shrivelled and age-worn caricature of some
Eastern magician. He showed no signs of pleasure or of welcome at my
coming, nor did he share any of the bewilderment with which I gazed at
him. But for the absurdity of the thing, I should have said that he had
been sitting there waiting for me.
While I stood there dumfounded, not so much in wonder at this meeting
with the dog, but amazed beyond measure at the things which his presence
there seemed to indicate, he descended carefully from his chair, and
crossing the smooth oak-laid floor, he made his way to the foot of the
great staircase, and after a premonitory yawn, he indulged in one sharp
penetrating bark. Almost immediately, the French maid came gliding down
the stairs, still gowned in the sombrest black, still as pale as a woman
could be. The dog looked at her and looked at me. Then, apparently
conceiving that his duty was finished, he returned to his chair and
curled himself up. I spoke to the maid.
"Is your mistress staying here?" I asked.
"But yes, monsieur!" she answered. "We arrived yesterday."
"Is she in now?" I asked. "Could I see her?"
"I will inquire," the maid answered. "Mademoiselle is in her room."
She turned and left me, and almost immediately the butler entered the
hall. He was one of the local cricket eleven, and had been in service in
the neighborhood all his life, so he knew me well, and greeted me at once
with respectful interest.
"Is her Ladyship in, Murray?" I asked.
"I believe so, sir," he answered. "Will you come into the drawing-room?"
I followed him into Lady Dennisford's presence. She was writing letters
in a small sanctum leading out of the drawing-room, and she looked round
and nodded a cheery greeting to me.
"In one moment, Hardross," she exclaimed. "I've just finished."
I had known Lady Dennisford all my life; but I found myself studying her
now with altogether a new interest. She was a slim, elegant woman, pale
and perhaps a little insipid looking at ordinary times, but a famous and
reckless rider to hounds, and an enthusiastic sportswoman. She was one of
the few women concerning whom I never heard a single breath of scandal,
notwithstanding her husband's long and frequent absences. She gave me
little time, however, to revise my impressions of her; for, with a little
spluttering of her pen, she finished her letter and came towards me.
"I hope you've come to lunch," she remarked; "I have the most delightful
young person staying with me. You'll be charmed with her."
"A young lady?" I remarked.
"Yes! An American girl who talks English--and doesn't enthuse. Seems to
know something about horses too!"
"Where did you discover this paragon?" I asked.
"My cousin sent her down. She knows everybody," Lady Dennisford answered.
"I met her at lunch last week, and she spoke of hunting with the Pytchley
next season. She's going to have a look at the country. Sorry the rain
spoilt your match."
I hesitated a moment.
"Lady Dennisford," I said, "I had a particular reason for coming to see
you this morning."
She raised her eyebrows.
"My dear Jim!"
"I, too, have a visitor," I told her; "rather a more mysterious person
than yours seems to be. He is very ill indeed; and he is almost a
stranger to me. But he was once, I believe, a friend of yours."
"A friend of mine!" she repeated. "How interesting! Do tell me his name!"
"I cannot do that," I answered, "because I do not know it--not his real
name. But in the park this morning, I happened to tell him who lived
here, and although he is very weak, he insisted upon paying you an
She looked around the room.
"But where is he?" she asked.
"He is outside on the terrace," I answered.
"My dear Jim!" she exclaimed, "really, all this mystery isn't like you.
Aren't you overdoing it a little? Do call your friend in, and let me see
who he is!"
"Lady Dennisford," I said, "of course, my guest may have misled me; but
he seemed to think that an abrupt meeting might be undesirable. He wished
me to tell you that he used once to walk with you under the orange trees
of Seville, and to ask you to go out to him alone!"
Lady Dennisford sat quite still for several seconds. Her eyes were fixed
upon me; but I am quite certain that I had passed from within the orbit
of her vision. The things which she saw were of another world--somehow
it seemed sacrilege on my part to dream of peering even into the dimmest
corner of it. So I looked away, and I could never tell altogether what
effect my words had had upon her. For when I looked up, she was gone! ...
THE SHADOW DEEPENS
I looked up quickly. She was within a few feet of me, although I had not
heard even the rustling of her gown. The dog, with his apple-green bow
now put to rights, was sitting upon her shoulder. By the side of his
uncanny features, it seemed to me that I had never sufficiently
appreciated the fresh girlishness, the almost ingenuous beauty of her own
face. She wore a plain, white, linen gown, and a magnificent blossom of
scarlet geraniums in her bosom.
"Miss Van Hoyt!" I exclaimed.
She nodded, but glanced warningly at the window.
"They must not hear," she said softly. "Remember your cousin introduced
you to me at Lord's--our only meeting."
My heart sank. I hated all this incomprehensible secrecy; a moment before
she had seemed so different.
"Come out into the other room," she said. "They cannot hear us from
there." We passed into the drawing-room. An uncomfortable thought struck
"You were here all the time!" I exclaimed.
"Certainly! I wanted to hear you and Lady Dennisford converse!"
"Eavesdropping, in fact," I remarked savagely.
"Precisely!" she agreed.
We were silent for a moment. Her eyes were full of mild amusement.
"I thought," she said demurely, "that you would be glad to see me."
"Glad! of course I am glad," I answered. "I'm such a poor fool that I
can't help it. Why did you leave me in London without a word?"
"Why on earth not!" she exclaimed, smiling. "Besides, I knew that I
should see you here very soon. I had to act quickly too! They did not
want"--she glanced towards the terrace--"him to leave London."
"It was you, then," I remarked, "who had him sent down to my place?"
"It was not easy," she said. "If they had known that you were going to
have a doctor to visit him, it would have been impossible."
"He has been poisoned, I suppose?" I said calmly.
She shrugged her shoulders.
"He will die, and die very soon," she answered. "That is certain. But I
think you will find no doctor here who will have anything to say about
She moved a little nearer to me. The overhanging bunch of scarlet
geraniums from her waistband brushed against my coat; the beady black
eyes of the dog upon her shoulder were fixed steadily upon me.
"Has he said anything?" she murmured.
"Not yet," I answered.
"He will do so," she declared confidently, "and before long. That is why
I am here. You must come to me the moment--the very moment you know! You
"Yes!" I answered, a little discontentedly, "I understand!"
Her expression suddenly changed. A frown darkened her face.
"Perhaps," she said, "you have already repented."
"Repented of what?" I asked quickly.
"That you have moved a little out of the rut, that you have taken a hand,
even if it is a dummy's hand, in the game of life! Do you wish to draw
"No!" I answered.
"Do you wish to be relieved of Leslie Guest? I could arrange it; it would
be a matter of a few hours only."
"No!" I answered again. "I wish for one thing only!"
"You know!" I declared.
She turned a little way from me.
"I am not a magician," she declared.
"And yet you know," I answered. "A woman always does! I have no idea
what these ties are, which seem to bind you to a life of mystery and
double-dealing, but I should like to cut them loose. You have talked to
me of ambition, of a larger life, where excitement and tragedy walk hand
in hand! I should like to sweep all that away. I should like to convert
you to my point of view."
She looked at me curiously. Never in my experience of her sex had I seen
any one who varied so quickly in appearance, who seemed to pass with such
effortless facility from the girl with the Madonna-like face and dreamy
eyes, to the thoughtful and scheming woman of the world. Her rapid
changes were a torture to me! I felt the elusiveness of her attitude.
"You would like me," she said scornfully, "to lead your village life, to
watch the seasons pass from behind your windows. I was not born for that
sort of thing! The thirst for life was in my veins from the nursery. You
and I are as far apart as the North Star and the unknown land over which
it watches! Sin itself would be less terrible to me than the indolence of
such a life!"
"You have never tried it," I remarked.
"Nor shall I ever," she answered, "unless--"
She raised her eyebrows and flashed a sudden strange look upon me. There
was mockery in it, subtlety, and a certain uneasiness which pleased me
most. After all, she was like a beautiful wild young creature. The ways
of her life were not yet wholly decreed.
"Unless the great magician comes and waves his wand," she declared. "The
magic may fall upon my eyes, you know, and I may see new things."
I touched her hand for a moment. The dog's face was wrinkled like a
monkey's, he growled, and his narrow red tongue shot out threateningly.
"It is that," I murmured, "which I shall pray for!"
She raised her head suddenly. We heard Lady Dennisford moving upon the
terrace. She leaned over towards me.
"Leslie Guest," she whispered, "will not live for more than forty-eight
hours. Make him tell you--to-night! To-morrow may be too late. Do you
I was absolutely tongue-tied. Wherever else she failed, she was certainly
a superb actress. A moment ago, she had been keeping my earnestness at
bay with bantering words; then, at the sound of Lady Dennisford's
approach, had come those few dramatic words; and now, at her entrance, I
felt at once that I was the casual guest, being entertained as a matter
of duty during my hostess' absence.
"I told you, didn't I, that I had met Mr. Courage in town?" she remarked,
looking up. "After all, it is such a small world, isn't it?"
Lady Dennisford was scarcely in a condition to be observant. I believe
that if we had been sitting hand in hand, she would scarcely have noticed
the fact. She was very pale, and her eyes were exceedingly bright. She
passed half-way through the room without even seeming to realize our
presence. Then she stopped suddenly and addressed me.
"I am ordering a pony-cart," she said, "to take Mr. Guest back. He seems
"Very thoughtful of you, Lady Dennisford," I answered. "We certainly did
not mean to walk so far when we came out into the park."
A servant entered the room. She gave him some orders, and then, with a
word of excuse to Adèle, she came over to my side.
"Hardross," she said softly, "what is the matter with him?"
"General breakdown," I answered; "I do not know of anything else."
"What does the doctor say?"
"The London doctor," I admitted, "gave little hope. Rust cannot discover
that anything much is the matter with him."
"You yourself--what do you think?"
I hesitated. Her fingers gripped my arm.
"I think that he is very ill," I answered.
"I should not be surprised."
She looked back towards the terrace. Her eyes were full of tears.
"Do what you can for him," she said softly. "He was once a great friend
of mine. He was different then! Will you go out to him now? I promised to
Guest was sitting upon the terrace, exactly as I had left him. His eyes
were fixed upon vacancy, his lips were slightly curled in a meditative
smile. There was a distinct change in his appearance. His expression was
more peaceful, the slight restlessness had disappeared from his manner.
But he had never looked to me more like a dying man.
"Lady Dennisford sent me out," I remarked, "She has ordered a pony-cart
to take us home."
"I am quite ready," he said.
He tried to rise, but the effort seemed too much for him. I hastened to
his aid, or I think that he would have fallen. He leaned on my arm
heavily as we passed on our way to the avenue, where a carriage was
already awaiting us.
"I was once," he remarked, in an ordinary conversational tone, "engaged
to be married to Lady Dennisford."
"There was no--disagreement between you?" I asked.
"None that has not been healed," he answered softly.
"You would consider her to-day as a friend--not a likely enemy?" I asked.
He looked at me curiously.
"She is my friend," he answered softly. "Of that there is no doubt at
all. Why do you ask?"
"Because," I answered, "for your friend, she has a strange guest."
"Whom do you mean?" he asked.
"Mademoiselle, and her maid--and poodle," I answered. "They are all
I felt him shiver, for he was leaning heavily upon me. Nevertheless, he
answered me with confidence.
"It is the gathering of the jackals," he muttered--"the jackals who are
going to be disappointed. But you may be sure of one thing, my friend.
The young lady is here as an ordinary guest! That was a matter very easy
to arrange. There is a great social backing behind her. She can come and
go where she pleases. But Lady Dennisford's knowledge of her is wholly
We drove back almost in silence. Rust was waiting for us when we arrived,
and he eyed his patient curiously, and hurried him off to the house. They
were alone together for some time, and when he came out his face was very
grave. He came out into the garden in search of me!
"Courage," he said, "I wish to heavens I had never seen your guest!"
"What do you mean?" I asked. "Have you been quarrelling?"
"Quarrelling, no! One doesn't quarrel with a dying man," he answered.
"A dying man!" I repeated.
"He was on the verge of a collapse just now," he said. "I honestly fear
that he will not live many more hours. Yet, though I could fill in his
death certificate plausibly enough, if you were to ask me honestly to-day
what was the matter with him, I could not tell you. Do you mind if I wire
for a friend of mine to come down and see him?"
"By all means," I answered; "you mean a specialist, I suppose?"
"On the heart?" I asked.
"No! a toxicologist!" Rust remarked dryly.
I glanced into his face. He was in deadly earnest.
"What the devil is one to believe?" the doctor exclaimed irritably. "The
man is sound, but he is dying. If I told you that I understood his
symptoms, I should be a liar. I can think only of one thing. You yourself
gave me the idea."
"Wire by all means," I said.
"I shall go to the village," Rust said, "and return immediately. Don't
let him be left alone. He has a draught to take in case of necessity."
I turned back to the house with a sigh. I am afraid that I had as little
faith in medicine as Guest himself.
Guest for the remainder of the morning seemed to have fallen into a sort
of stupor. He declined to sit in the garden or come down to lunch.
When I went up to his room, he was lying upon a couch, half undressed,
and with a dressing-gown wrapped around him. He opened his eyes when I
came in, but waved me away.
"I am thinking," he said. "Don't interrupt me; I want to be alone for an
hour or so."
"But you must have something to eat," I insisted. "You will lose your
strength if you don't."
"Quite right," he admitted. "Send me up some soup, and let me have pencil
He was supplied with both. When I went up an hour later, he was smoking a
cigarette and writing.
"I do not wish," he said, "to be worried with any more doctors. It is
only a farce, and I have little time to spare."
"Nonsense!" I answered. "Rust declares that there is very little the
matter with you. He has sent for a friend to come and have a look at
A little gesture of impatience escaped him.
"My dear Courage," he said, "I am obliged to you for all this care; but I
am quite sure that, in your inner consciousness, you realize as I do that
it is sheer waste of time."
He drew his dressing-gown a little closer around him. The hollows under
his eyes seemed to have grown deeper since the morning.
"I am fairly run to earth," he continued. "Even these few hours of life I
owe to my enemies. They hope to profit by them, of course. If you are the
man I think you are, they will be mistaken. But don't waste my time with
He began to write again. I made some perfunctory remark which he entirely
ignored. Just then I was called away. He watched my departure with
I was told that a stranger was waiting to see me in the library. My first
thought was of the doctor. When I arrived there, I found a young man
whose face was familiar, but whom I could not at once place. Then, like a
flash, I remembered. It was the younger of the two men who had forced
their way into my room at the Hotel Universal.
Now I was in no very good humor for dealing with these gentry. I had a
distinct inclination to take him by the collar of the coat and throw him
out. I fancy that he divined from my face how I was feeling, for he began
hastily to explain his presence.
"I am very sorry to be an intruder, Mr. Courage," he said in his slow,
precise English. "I had no wish to come at all. We were willing to leave
you undisturbed. But we do not understand why you have sent for a doctor
from London--and especially Professor Kauppmann!"
I looked at him deliberately. He was wearing English clothes--a dark
tweed suit, ill-cut, and apparently ready-made; but the foreigner was
written large all over him, from the tie of his bow to his narrow patent
boots. His eyes were fixed anxiously upon me--large black eyes with long,
feminine eyelashes. I think that if he had not been under the shelter of
my own roof, I must have laid violent hands upon him.
"Why the devil should you understand?" I exclaimed. "Mr. Guest is my
visitor, and if I choose to send for a doctor to see him, it is my
business and nobody else's. If you have come here with any idea of
bullying me, I am afraid you have wasted your time."
"You have evidently," he answered, "not troubled yourself to understand
the situation! Mr. Guest is our prisoner!"
"Your what?" I exclaimed.
"Our prisoner," the young man answered. "Let me ask you this! Has Mr.
Guest himself encouraged you in your attempt to interfere between him and
his inevitable fate? No! I am sure that he has not! He accepts what he
knows must happen! A few days more or less of life--what do they matter?"
"You make me feel inclined," I said grimly, "to test your theory."
The young man stepped back. My fingers were itching to take him by the
throat, and I think that he read the desire in my face.
"Will you allow me to see Mr. Guest?" he asked.
"No! I'm d----d if I will," I answered. "I shall give you," I added, with
my hand upon the bell, "exactly two minutes to leave this house."
The young man smiled superciliously, but he picked up his hat.
"I suppose, Mr. Courage, I must not blame you," he remarked, "You have
all the characteristics of your country-people. You meet a delicate
situation with the tactics of a bull!"
I laid my hand gently, but firmly upon his shoulder. We were half-way
down the hall now, and the front door was wide open. I longed to throw
him out, but I restrained myself. He was perfectly conscious, I am sure,
of my inclination, but he showed no signs of uneasiness.
"I admit," I said calmly, "that you seem, all of you, to be engaged in
proceedings of an extraordinary nature, which I do not in the least
understand. But under my own roof, at any rate, I am master. I will not
tolerate any interference with my guests; and as for Mr. Stanley from
Liverpool and you, whatever you may call yourself, I will not have you
near the place! You see my lodge gates," I added, pointing down the
avenue, "I shall stand here until you have passed through them. If you
come again, you will meet with a different reception!"
The young man laughed unpleasantly.
"Never fear, Mr. Courage," he answered. "Always we try first the simple
means. If they should fail, we have many surer ways of gaining our ends.
He left me and walked briskly off down the avenue. I fetched a pair of
field-glasses, and watched him until he reached the lodge gates. A few
moments later I saw him climb into a motor car, and vanish in a cloud
Later in the afternoon a victoria drew up before my front door just as I
was starting for the village. Lady Dennisford leaned forward as I
approached. She was closely veiled, but her voice shook with anxiety.
"How is he?" she asked.
"It is hard to say," I answered. "He has been writing for the last three
hours. I was just going down to see if Rust has heard from the London man
he wired for."
"Do you know why," she whispered, "he is so sure that he is going to
I hesitated for a moment.
"He seems to imagine," I said, "that he has some enemies."
"I am afraid," she said, "that it is no imagination."
I looked at her in surprise.
"He has told me, perhaps," she said, a little hastily, "more than he has
told you, and perhaps I am in a better position to understand. Mr.
Courage, I wonder whether it would be possible for me to have an
interview with any one of these men who are watching him."
"If you had been here a few hours ago," I said, "it would have been very
possible indeed. One of them was here."
"What did he want?" she asked sharply.
"To see Mr. Guest, for one thing!"
"Did you allow it?"
"No! Guest is writing secrets with a loaded revolver by his side. He
certainly does not want to see any of that crew."
"Oh! he is mad," she murmured. "Why should he not buy his life? What else
is there that counts?"
"There are two to a bargain," I answered. "I do not think that he has
value to give."
"Oh! he has," she answered, "if only he would be reasonable."
We were silent for a moment. In the distance, coming up the avenue, was
the figure of a man. I watched him with curiosity. Finally I pointed him
out to Lady Dennisford.
"Do you see this man coming up to the house?" I said--"a sleek,
middle-aged man smoking a cigar?"
"I see him," she answered.
"What do you think he looks like?" I asked.
"A prosperous tradesman," she answered. "A friend of your bailiff's,
"He calls himself Mr. Stanley from Liverpool," I answered, "and you can
bargain with him for Guest's life."
"He is one of them!" she exclaimed.
"He is," I answered grimly, for I had good reason to know it.
She got out of the carriage at once.
"I am going to meet him," she said. "No! please let me go alone," she
added, as I prepared to accompany her. "Afterwards we may need you."
I sent her carriage round to the stables, and I stood upon my steps
watching her. Slim and elegant, she walked with swift level footsteps
towards the approaching figure. I saw him shade his eyes with his hand as
she approached; when she was within a few yards of him he took his cigar
from his mouth and raised his hat. They stood for a moment or two
talking; then Lady Dennisford turned, and they both came slowly towards
the house. As they drew near me, she came on rapidly ahead.
"He is willing," she declared. "He will make terms. Where can we talk
alone, we three?"
I led the way to my study. Mr. Stanley greeted me affably and with a
commendable assumption of bluff respect.
"Fine place of yours, Mr. Courage," he declared. "Very fine place indeed.
No wonder you prefer a country life. Finest thing in the world."
I made a pretence of answering him. But when we were in the study and the
door was closed behind us, I felt that there was no longer any need to
"Mr. Stanley," I said, "Lady Dennisford says that you are willing to
abandon your persecution of my guest for a consideration."
He smiled upon us slowly.
"Persecution," he remarked thoughtfully, "well, it is a harmless word.
Mind, I admit nothing. But I am willing to hear what you have to say."
"This first, then," I declared. "Will you tell me why, as a magistrate of
this county, I should not be justified in signing a warrant for your
"On what charge?" he asked.
"Conspiracy to murder," I answered.
He seemed to consider the suggestion with perfect seriousness.
"Yes!" he admitted, "it could be done. Putting myself in your place I
should even imagine that it might be the most obvious course. But have
you considered what the probable result would be?"
"It would keep you out of mischief for a time, at any rate."
"Not for a day," he answered softly. "In the first place, the slenderness
of your evidence, which, by the by, when the affair came to trial would
disappear altogether, would necessitate bail; and, in the second, were I
to be swept off the face of the earth, there are thousands ready to take
my place. Besides, no man likes to make himself the laughing stock of his
friends and the press; and, forgive me, Mr. Courage, if I remind you that
that is precisely what would happen in your case."
"Suppose, for a moment, then," said, "that I abandon that possibility.
Make your own proposals. I do not know who you are or what you stand for.
I do not know whether this is an affair of private vengeance, or whether
you stand for others. That poor fellow upstairs cannot have a long life
before him in any case. What is there we can offer you to leave him in
"You two--nothing," Mr. Stanley said gravely. "He himself can buy his
life from us, if he wills."
"Then can I--or Lady Dennisford here," I asked, "be your ambassador? Can
we tell him your terms?"
Mr. Stanley shook his head.
"It is impossible," he said. "Matters would have to be discussed between
us which may not even be mentioned before any other person."
"You mean that you would have to see him alone?"
I turned to Lady Dennisford.
"He would never consent!" I declared.
"You must make him," she answered. "Mr. Courage!"
"Let me speak to you alone for a moment," she begged, laying her hand
upon my arm. "Mr. Stanley will excuse us, I am sure."
"By all means," he declared, selecting an easy-chair.
"You will await us here?" I asked.
"On parole, if you will give me a cigar."
I rang the bell for refreshments. Then Lady Dennisford and I left the
A DYING MAN
I had known Lady Dennisford for a good many years in a neighborly sort
of way; but the woman who stood before me in the small sitting-room to
which I had led her was a stranger to me. She had raised her veil; she
was as pale as a woman may be, and her mouth, usually so firm and
uncompromising, was now relaxed and tremulous. Before she spoke, I knew
that tragedy was in the room with me. She tried to speak twice before the
"Mr. Courage," she said, "may I speak to you as a friend?"
"Most certainly you can, Lady Dennisford," I answered.
I said and I meant it, for I was exceedingly sorry for her.
"Once I was to have married him," she said, "and I have cared for no one
else all my life. There was a great scandal--a political scandal--and it
was he upon whom the burden fell. His lips were sealed. I did not
understand then, but I understand now. I sent him away! I joined with the
others who persecuted him. And all the time--all the time he was
Her last words were almost a wail. I was relieved to see that the tears
were in her eyes at last.
"It was very hard fortune," I said awkwardly.
"His life has been one long exile," she said. "He has never married; he
has been dead to the world for many years. His name, of course, is not
Leslie Guest! If I dared tell you, you would understand I want him--oh! I
want him so much to have a few years of happiness."
"What can we do, Lady Dennisford?" I asked earnestly.
"Take me up to him. Leave me with him alone."
I opened the door.
"At once!" I said.
He was still writing. The air of the room was thick with cigarette smoke.
I opened the door gently, and Lady Dennisford glided past me. I myself
Mr. Stanley was apparently very comfortable. He was smoking one of my
best cigars, and a whisky and soda stood at his elbow. He looked up from
behind the _Times_ as I entered.
"Lady Dennisford is with him," I said. "She will endeavor to persuade him
to see you."
"Excellent!" he remarked. "Pray do not trouble to stay with me, if you
have other matters to attend to. I have both time and patience to spare."
I went out into the garden. I began to feel the need of being alone.
Events had marched rapidly with me during the last few hours and I was
not used to such eruptions in my quiet life. I gave a few orders to my
bailiff and gamekeeper, who were waiting to see me. I little guessed then
how unimportant to me would be the prospects of the coming sport. It must
have been nearly an hour before a servant found me, and announced that my
guest desired to see me in his room. I hastened there at once.
Lady Dennisford was sitting at the table by Guest's side. She looked up
as I entered, and I saw that the shadows lay deeper still upon her face.
"He chooses death!" she said simply.
He leaned over and touched her hand. His tone and manner had softened
"Eleanor," he said earnestly, "it is not I who choose. There is no
choice! Your friend downstairs would say, 'Tell me all that you know of a
certain matter, and the sentence which has been passed upon you shall be
held over.' But when I had told him, when he knew everything, no
agreement, no promise, could possibly be binding. I could not myself
expect it. In his place I should make very sure that in a matter of hours
I was a dead man. I say that myself, whose whole life has been sacrificed
to a matter in which honor was largely concerned."
Lady Dennisford began to weep softly. He laid his hand upon hers.
"Are you sure, Mr. Guest," I said, "that you are not exaggerating the
importance of this secret knowledge of yours? I dare say that Mr.
Stanley, like every other man, has his price. If money--"
He interrupted me with a slight gesture of impatience.
"My young friend," he said, "I am not a poor man. Mr. Stanley is not to
be dealt with as a single individual. He represents a system. I do not
blame you for not being able to grasp these things. There is scarcely one
Englishman in a thousand who would. I think that you have shown a great
amount of trust as it is. Believe me now when I tell you that there are
only two things in the world which can be done for me. The first is that
you leave me a few minutes to say good-bye to Lady Dennisford; and the
second that you keep every one away from me for one hour, while I
I left them alone! There was nothing else which I could do, and I waited
in the hall below for Lady Dennisford.
When she came, she walked like a woman in a dream. Her veil was close
drawn, and I could not see her face; but I was very sure that she had
been weeping. I had already ordered her carriage round, and she took her
place in it without a word.
I went back to the man whom I had left in the library.
He had lighted a fresh cigar, and was showing no signs of impatience.
"Our friend," I said, "has asked for one hour for consideration. If you
will allow me, I should be pleased to show you the gardens and stables."
He accepted my offer at once, and proved himself an intelligent
sightseer. He seemed to know a little about everything, including horses.
I took him on to the orchid-houses, and it was quite an hour and a half
before we returned to the house. I left him once more in the library, and
I was on my way upstairs, when I came face to face with Rust and another
man on their way down. For a moment I was speechless.
"Professor Kauppmann was unfortunately indisposed," Rust explained; "but
he has sent this gentleman down--Dr. Kretznow, Mr. Courage. Curiously
enough, Dr. Kretznow has already been called in to attend our friend
"Mr. Courage no doubt remembers me," the newcomer remarked. "I am sorry
to find our patient no better."
I looked him steadily in the face.
"You think that he will die?" I asked.
"I must admit," the doctor answered, "that I think he has very little
chance of recovery. His constitution has gone. He has no recuperative
Rust drew me a little on one side.
"You will be relieved to hear," he said, "that Dr. Kretznow considers
his state quite a natural one. He does not encourage in any way the
suspicions which, I must admit, I had formed."
"Indeed!" I answered.
"We are going to try an altogether new treatment," Rust continued, as we
stood together upon the landing. "I think perhaps you ought to know,
however, that our friend here gives very little hope."
"I shall leave you to entertain Dr. Kretznow," I said, "for a few
minutes. I want to see Mr. Guest!"
I found him anxiously awaiting me. He had ceased writing but he held a
roll of papers in his hand, and there was an ominous bulge in the pocket
of his dressing-gown. He had more color than I had yet seen him with, and
his eyes were unusually bright.
"For Heaven's sake come in, Courage, and close the door," he said
irritably. "You see the result of your little doctor meddling with things
he does not understand. I could have told you that no one would be
allowed to enter these doors who might possibly give them away."
"We sent for Kauppmann," I explained.
"Of course! You will not realize what you are up against. You might as
well have sent for the Angel Gabriel. Now will you do exactly as I ask
"Go on," I said.
"Ring for your man and let him sit in the room with me. Go downstairs and
get rid of those doctors. Then come up yourself, and be prepared to spend
at least three hours here."
I obeyed him. I kept silent as to the fact that Stanley was in the house.
I thought that he was already sufficiently excited. Downstairs I found
that Dr. Kretznow was on the eve of departure. I did not seek to detain
him for a moment. Rust, I think, wondered a little at my apparent lack of
courtesy; but I almost bundled them out of the house.
He offered me his hand as he climbed up into the dog-cart, which I
pretended, however, not to see.
"Mind, I give you very little hope, Mr. Courage," he said. "I studied the
case very seriously in London, and I perceived symptoms which our friend
here has not yet had the opportunity of observing. My own opinion is that
his time is short."
"I am sorry to hear you say so, doctor," I answered; "for I quite believe
that you are in a position to know."
He blinked at me for a moment from behind his thick spectacles, and I
fancied that he was going to say something more. Apparently, however, he
changed his mind, and the carriage drove off. I made my way at once into
the library. Mr. Stanley was still awaiting me.
"My mission," I announced, "has been a failure. He declines even to
discuss the matter."
Mr. Stanley knocked the ash off his cigar and rose to his feet. His face
showed neither disappointment nor surprise.
"The lady, I am afraid," he remarked, "will be sorry."
"It will be a great blow to her," I answered, "if he should die!"
Mr. Stanley shrugged his shoulders.
"He will die, and very soon," he declared. "You and I know that very
well. You are a young man, Mr. Courage," he added very slowly, and with
his eyes fixed intently upon me. "You have a beautiful home and a simple,
useful life--a long one, I trust--before you! Mr. Guest is not by any
means old, but he made enemies! It is never wise to make enemies."
"Is this a warning?" I asked.
"Accept it as one, if a warning is necessary," he answered. "Take my
advice. If Leslie Guest, or the man who is dying upstairs, has a legacy
to leave, let him choose another legatee! There is death in that legacy
"Death comes to all of us," I answered. "We must take our risks."
He picked up his hat.
"Number 317, was it not?" he repeated thoughtfully, "an unlucky number
for you, I fear! ... By the bye, Mademoiselle is in the neighborhood."
"What of it?" I asked.
He looked at me long and curiously. Then he sighed and lit still another
of my finest Havanas as he prepared to depart.
"You will be better off," he said, "without that legacy!"
I TAKE UP MY LEGACY
Towards dawn I lit another lamp in my study and chanced to catch a
glimpse of my face in a small mirror which stood upon my writing-table.
Almost involuntarily I glanced over my shoulder, expecting to find
another man there. It was a moment's madness, but as a matter of fact I
did not recognize myself. It seemed to me that the change in the man
upstairs, who had passed from the world of living things with breath in
his body and life in his brain to the cold negation of death, was a
change no greater than had come to me. For I was passing, as I knew very
well, from behind the fences of my somewhat narrow but well-contained
life into the great world of tragical happenings, where life and death
are but small things, and one's self but a pawn in the great game. This,
because I believed, because I had accepted the trust of the man who, a
few hours ago, had closed his eyes with his hand in mine, and the faint
welcoming smile upon his lips of a brave but weary man, who finds nothing
terrible in death.
There was something almost fearful in a change so absolute and vital as
that which had come over my life. I realized this as I allowed myself a
few moments' rest, and threw myself upon the sofa. The old outlook, the
old ideas had been torn up by the root. The things which had seemed to be
of life itself only a few hours ago seemed now to have lapsed into the
insignificance of trifles. I thought of myself and my old life with the
tolerance of one who watches a child at play. Sport and all its kindred
delights--the whole glorification of the physical life--I viewed as a
Stock Exchange man might view the gambling for marbles of his youth. It
was incredible that I had ever even fancied myself content. My brain was
still in a whirl, but it seemed to me that I was already conscious of new
powers. My thoughts travelled more quickly, I felt a greater alertness of
brain, a swifter rush of ideas. But it seemed to me, also, that something
had gone, that never again would I find my way lie through the rose
gardens of life.
I must have dozed for a time upon the sofa, and was awakened by a soft
tapping upon the low, old-fashioned windows, which opened upon the
terrace. I sprang up, and, for a moment, it seemed to me that I must be
dreaming. It was Adèle who stood there, all in white, with sunlight
around her.... I gasped for a moment, and then recovered myself. It was
Adèle sure enough, in a white linen riding habit, and morning had come
while I slept. But I knew then that one link at least remained with the
She tapped upon the window-pane a little imperiously, and I threw open
the sash. Her eyes were fixed upon my face. I think that she, too, saw
the change. With the opening of the window came a rush of sweet fresh
air. She stepped into the room.
"Don't look at me as though I were something unreal!" she exclaimed. "I
told them that I was fond of early morning rides, and I saw your light
burning here from the park. Tell me--is he worse?"
I was suddenly calm. I realized that this was the beginning.
"He is dead," I answered. "He died about midnight."
There was a momentary horror in her face, for which I was grateful--I
scarcely knew why.
"Dead," she repeated softly, "so soon!"
She looked around the room and back at me.
"Turn out the lamps," she said. "This light is ghastly."
There was little more color in her face than mine. Even the sunlight
seemed cold and cheerless. She came a little nearer to me.
"He was conscious--at the end?"
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