THE LIGHTED WAY
E. PHILLIPS OPPENHEIM
Author of Havoc, Peter Ruff and the Double-Four, The Master Mummer, etc.
With Illustrations by A. B. Wenzell
Boston Little, Brown, and Company
I AN INVITATION TO DINNER II RUTH III ARNOLD SCENTS MYSTERY IV THE FACE AT THE WINDOW V AN UNUSUAL ERRAND VI THE GLEAM OF STEEL VII "ROSARIO IS DEAD!" VIII THE DUTIES OF A SECRETARY IX A STRAINED CONVERSATION X AN UNEXPECTED VISITOR XI AN INTERRUPTED LUNCHEON XII JARVIS IS JUSTLY DISTURBED XIII CASTLES IN SPAIN XIV SABATINI'S DOCTRINES XV THE RED SIGNET RING XVI AN ADVENTURE XVII THE END OF AN EVENING XVIII DISCUSSING THE MYSTERY XIX IN THE COUNTRY XX WOMAN'S WILES XXI ARNOLD SPEAKS OUT XXII THE REFUGEE'S RETURN XXIII TROUBLE BREWING XXIV ISAAC AT BAY XXV MR. WEATHERLEY'S DISAPPEARANCE XXVI ARNOLD BECOMES INQUISITIVE XXVII THE LETTERS IN THE SAFE XXVIII TALK OF TREASURE SHIPS XXIX COUNT SABATINI VISITS XXX SOME QUESTIONS ANSWERED XXXI A LUNCHEON-PARTY XXXII ISAAC IN HIDING XXXIII SABATINI'S DAUGHTER XXXIV CLOSE TO TRAGEDY XXXV MR. WEATHERLEY RETURNS XXXVI COUNTERCLAIMS XXXVII THE SHIP COMES IN
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
Her head sank upon his shoulder, her hands clasped his (Frontispiece) "I was waiting here for you," he explained The eyes of every one were turned toward the wall "For myself," he declared, "I remain" "Where is this man?" he demanded Mrs. Weatherley and the cashier looked over his shoulder
AN INVITATION TO DINNER
Mr. Samuel Weatherley, sole proprietor of the firm of Samuel Weatherley & Co., wholesale provision merchants, of Tooley Street, London, paused suddenly on his way from his private office to the street. There was something which until that second had entirely slipped his memory. It was not his umbrella, for that, neatly tucked up, was already under his arm. Nor was it the Times, for that, together with the supplement, was sticking out of his overcoat pocket, the shape of which it completely ruined. As a matter of fact, it was more important than either of these—it was a commission from his wife.
Very slowly he retraced his steps until he stood outside the glass-enclosed cage where twelve of the hardest-worked clerks in London bent over their ledgers and invoicing. With his forefinger—a fat, pudgy forefinger—he tapped upon a pane of glass, and an anxious errand boy bolted through the doorway.
"Tell Mr. Jarvis to step this way," his employer ordered.
Mr. Jarvis heard the message and came hurrying out. He was an undersized man, with somewhat prominent eyes concealed by gold-rimmed spectacles. He was possessed of extraordinary talents with regard to the details of the business, and was withal an expert and careful financier. Hence his hold upon the confidence of his employer.
The latter addressed him with a curious and altogether unusual hesitation in his manner.
"Mr. Jarvis," he began, "there is a matter—a little matter—upon which I—er—wish to consult you."
"Those American invoices—"
"Nothing to do with business at all," Mr. Weatherley interrupted, ruthlessly. "A little private matter."
"Indeed, sir?" Mr. Jarvis interjected.
"The fact is," Mr. Weatherley blundered on, with considerable awkwardness, for he hated the whole affair, "my wife—Mrs. Weatherley, you know—is giving a party this evening—having some friends to dinner first, and then some other people coming to bridge. We are a man short for dinner. Mrs. Weatherley told me to get some one at the club—telephoned down here just an hour ago."
Mr. Weatherley paused. Mr. Jarvis did his best to grasp the situation, but failed. All that he could do was to maintain his attitude of intelligent interest.
"I don't know any one at the club," continued his employer, irritably. "I feel like a fish out of water there, and that's the truth, Mr. Jarvis. It's a good club. I got elected there—well, never mind how—but it's one thing to be a member of a club, and quite another to get to know the men there. You understand that, Mr. Jarvis."
Mr. Jarvis, however, did not understand it. He could conceive of no spot in the city of London, or its immediate neighborhood, where Mr. Samuel Weatherley, head of the firm of Messrs. Weatherley & Co., could find himself among his social superiors. He knew the capital of the firm, and its status. He was ignorant of the other things which counted—as ignorant as his master had been until he had paid a business visit a few years ago, in search of certain edibles, to an island in the Mediterranean Sea. He was to have returned in triumph to Tooley Street and launched upon the provision-buying world a new cheese of astounding quality and infinitesimal price—instead of which he brought home a wife.
"Anything I can do, sir," began Mr. Jarvis, a little vaguely,—
"My idea was," Mr. Weatherley proceeded, "that one of my own young men—there are twelve of them in there, aren't there?" he added, jerking his head in the direction of the office—"might do. What do you think?"
Mr. Jarvis nodded thoughtfully.
"It would be a great honor, sir," he declared, "a very great honor indeed."
Mr. Weatherley did not contradict him. As a matter of fact, he was of the same opinion.
"The question is which," he continued.
Mr. Jarvis began to understand why he had been consulted. His fingers involuntarily straightened his tie.
"If I could be of any use personally, sir,—"
His employer shook his head.
"My wife would expect me to bring a single man, Jarvis," he said, "and besides, I don't suppose you play bridge."
"Cards are not much in my line," Mr. Jarvis admitted, "not having, as a rule, the time to spare, but I can take a hand at loo, if desired."
"My wife's friends all play bridge," Mr. Weatherley declared, a little brusquely. "There's only one young man in the office, Jarvis, who, from his appearance, struck me as being likely."
"Mr. Stephen Tidey, of course, sir," the confidential clerk agreed. "Most suitable thing, sir, and I'm sure his father would accept it as a high compliment. Mr. Stephen Tidey Senior, sir, as you may be aware, is next on the list for the shrievalty. Shall I call him out, sir?"
Mr. Weatherley looked through the glass and met the glance, instantly lowered, of the young man in question. Mr. Stephen Tidey Junior was short and stout, reflecting in his physique his aldermanic father. His complexion was poor, however, his neck thick, and he wore a necktie of red silk drawn through a diamond ring. There was nothing in his appearance which grated particularly upon Mr. Weatherley's sense of seemliness. Nevertheless, he shook his head. He was beginning to recognize his wife's point of view, even though it still seemed strange to him.
"I wasn't thinking of young Tidey at all," he declared, bluntly. "I was thinking of that young fellow at the end of the desk there—chap with a queer name—Chetwode, I think you call him."
Mr. Jarvis, human automaton though he was, permitted himself an exclamation of surprise.
"Young Chetwode! Surely you're not in earnest, sir!"
"Why not?" Mr. Weatherley demanded. "There's nothing against him, is there?"
"Nothing against him, precisely," Mr. Jarvis confessed, "but he's at the lowest desk in the office, bar Smithers. His salary is only twenty-eight shillings a week, and we know nothing whatever about him except that his references were satisfactory. It isn't to be supposed that he would feel at home in your house, sir. Now, with Mr. Tidey, sir, it's quite different. They live in a very beautiful house at Sydenham now—quite a small palace, in its way, I've been told."
Mr. Weatherley was getting a little impatient.
"Send Chetwode out for a moment, anyway," he directed. "I'll speak to him here."
Mr. Jarvis obeyed in silence. He entered the office and touched the young man in question upon the shoulder.
"Mr. Weatherley wishes to speak to you outside, Chetwode," he announced. "Make haste, please."
Arnold Chetwode put down his pen and rose to his feet. There was nothing flurried about his manner, nothing whatever to indicate on his part any knowledge of the fact that this was the voice of Fate beating upon his ear. He did not even show the ordinary interest of a youthful employee summoned for the first time to an audience with his chief. Standing for a moment by the side of the senior clerk in the middle of the office, tall and straight, with deep brown hair, excellent features, and the remnants of a healthy tan still visible on his forehead and neck, he looked curiously out of place in this unwholesome, gaslit building with its atmosphere of cheese and bacon. He would have been noticeably good-looking upon the cricket field or in any gathering of people belonging to the other side of life. Here he seemed almost a curiously incongruous figure. He passed through the glass-paned door and stood respectfully before his employer. Mr. Weatherley—it was absurd, but he scarcely knew how to make his suggestion—fidgetted for a moment and coughed. The young man, who, among many other quite unusual qualities, was possessed of a considerable amount of tact, looked down upon his employer with a little well-assumed anxiety. As a matter of fact, he really was exceedingly anxious not to lose his place.
"I understood from Mr. Jarvis that you wished to speak to me, sir," he remarked. "I hope that my work has given satisfaction? I know that I am quite inexperienced but I don't think that I have made any mistakes."
Mr. Weatherley was, to tell the truth, thankful for the opening.
"I have had no complaints, Chetwode," he admitted, struggling for that note of condescension which he felt to be in order. "No complaints at all. I was wondering if you—you happened to play bridge?"
Once more this extraordinary young man showed himself to be possessed of gifts quite unusual at his age. Not by the flicker of an eyelid did he show the least surprise or amusement.
"Bridge, sir," he repeated. "Yes, I have played at—I have played occasionally."
"My wife is giving a small dinner-party this evening," Mr. Weatherley continued, moving his umbrella from one hand to the other and speaking very rapidly, "bridge afterwards. We happen to be a man short. I was to have called at the club to try and pick up some one—find I sha'n't have time—meeting at the Cannon Street Hotel to attend. Would you—er—fill the vacant place? Save me the trouble of looking about."
It was out at last and Mr. Weatherley felt unaccountably relieved. He felt at the same time a certain measure of annoyance with his junior clerk for his unaltered composure.
"I shall be very much pleased, sir," he answered, without hesitation. "About eight, I suppose?"
Again Mr. Weatherley's relief was tempered with a certain amount of annoyance. This young man's savoir faire was out of place. He should have imagined a sort of high-tea supper at seven o'clock, and been gently corrected by his courteous employer. As it was, Mr. Weatherley felt dimly confident that this junior clerk of his was more accustomed to eight o'clock dinners than he was himself.
"A quarter to, to-night," he replied. "People coming for bridge afterwards, you see. I live up Hampstead way—Pelham Lodge—quite close to the tube station."
Mr. Weatherley omitted the directions he had been about to give respecting toilet, and turned away. His youthful employee's manners, to the last, were all that could be desired.
"I am much obliged to you, sir," he said. "I will take care to be punctual."
Mr. Weatherley grunted and walked out into the street. Here his behavior was a little singular. He walked up toward London Bridge, exchanging greetings with a good many acquaintances on the way. Opposite the London & Westminster Bank he paused for a moment and looked searchingly around. Satisfied that he was unobserved, he stepped quickly into a very handsome motor car which was drawn up close to the curb, and with a sigh of relief sat as far back among the cushions as possible and held the tube to his mouth.
"Get along home," he ordered, tersely.
* * * * *
Arnold Chetwode, after his interview with his employer, returned unruffled to his place. Mr. Jarvis bustled in after him. He was annoyed, but he wished to conceal the fact. Besides, he still had an arrow in his quiver. He came and stood over his subordinate.
"Congratulate you, I'm sure, Chetwode," he said smoothly. "First time any one except myself has been to the house since Mr. Weatherley's marriage."
Mr. Jarvis had taken the letters there one morning when his employer had been unwell, and had waited in the hall. He did not, however, mention that fact.
"Indeed?" Chetwode murmured, with his eye upon his work.
"You understand, of course," Mr. Jarvis continued, "that it will be an evening-dress affair. Mrs. Weatherley has the name of being very particular."
He glanced covertly at the young man, who was already immersed in his work.
"Evening dress," Chetwode remarked, with a becoming show of interest. "Well, I dare say I can manage something. If I wear a black coat and a white silk bow, and stick a red handkerchief in underneath my waistcoat, I dare say I shall be all right. Mr. Weatherley can't expect much from me in that way, can he?"
The senior clerk was secretly delighted. It was not for him to acquaint this young countryman with the necessities of London life. He turned away and took up a bundle of letters.
"Can't say, I'm sure, what the governor expects," he replied, falsely. "You'll have to do the best you can, I suppose. Better get on with those invoices now."
Once more the office resounded to the hum of its varied labors. Mr. Jarvis, dictating letters to a typist, smiled occasionally as he pictured the arrival of this over-favored young man in the drawing-room of Mrs. Weatherley, attired in the nondescript fashion which his words had suggested. One or two of the clerks ventured upon a chaffing remark. To all appearance, the person most absorbed in his work was the young man who had been singled out for such especial favor.
In the topmost chamber of the last of a row of somber gray stone houses in Adam Street a girl with a thin but beautiful face and large, expectant eyes sat close to the bare, uncurtained window, from which it was possible to command a view of the street below. A book which she had apparently been reading had fallen neglected onto the floor. Steadfastly she watched the passers-by. Her delicate, expressive features were more than once illuminated with joy, only to be clouded, a moment later, with disappointment. The color came and went in her cheeks, as though, indeed, she were more sensitive than her years. Occasionally she glanced around at the clock. Time dragged so slowly in that great bare room with its obvious touch of poverty!
At last a tall figure came striding along the pavement below. This time no mistake was possible. There was a fluttering handkerchief from above, an answering wave of the hand. The girl drew a sigh of inexpressible content, moved away from the window and faced the door, with lifted head waiting for the sound of footsteps upon the stairs. They arrived at last. The door was thrown open. Arnold Chetwode came hastily across the room and gripped the two hands which were held out to him. Then he bent down and kissed her forehead.
"Dear little Ruth!" he exclaimed. "I hope you were careful crossing the landing?"
The girl leaned back in her chair. Her eyes were fixed anxiously upon his face. She completely ignored his question.
"The news at once!" she insisted. "Tell me, Arnold!"
He was a little taken aback.
"How did you know that I had any?"
She smiled delightfully.
"Know, indeed! I knew it directly I saw you, I knew it every time your foot touched the stairs. What is it, Arnold? The cheeses didn't smell so bad to-day? Or you've had a rise? Quick! I must hear all about it."
"You shall," Arnold replied. "It is a wonderful story. Listen. Have you ever heard the fable of Dick Whittington?"
"Married his employer's daughter, of course. What's she like, Arnold? Have you seen her? Did you save her life? When are you going to see her again?"
Chetwode was already on his knees, dragging out an old trunk from underneath the faded cupboard. Suddenly he paused with a gesture of despair.
"Alas!" he exclaimed. "My dream fades away. Old Weatherley was married only last year. Consequently, his daughter—"
"He can't have one," she interrupted, ruthlessly. "Tell me the news at once?"
"I am going to dine with old Weatherley," he announced.
The girl smiled, a little wistfully.
"How funny! But you will get a good dinner, won't you, Arnold? Eat ever so much, dear. Yesterday I fancied that you were getting thin. I do wish I could see what you have in the middle of the day."
"Little mother!" he laughed. "To-day I gorged myself on poached eggs. What did Isaac give you?"
"Mutton stew and heaps of it," the girl replied, quickly. "To-night I shall have a bowl of milk as soon as you are gone. Have you everything you ought to have to wear, Arnold?"
"Everything," he declared, rising to his feet with a sigh of relief. "It's so long since I looked at my clothes that to tell you the truth I was a little bit anxious. They may be old-fashioned, but they came from a good man to start with."
"What made Mr. Weatherley ask you?" she demanded.
"Wanted one of his clerks to fill up and found that I played bridge," Arnold answered. "It's rather a bore, isn't it? But, after all, he is my employer."
"Of course you must go and behave your very nicest. Tell me, when have you to start?"
"I ought to be changing in a quarter of an hour. What shall we do till then?"
"Whatever you like," she murmured.
"I am coming to sit at the window with you," he said. "We'll look down at the river and you shall tell me stories about the ships."
She laughed and took his hand as he dragged a chair over to her side. He put his arm around her and her head fell naturally back upon his shoulder. Her eyes sought his. He was leaning forward, gazing down between the curving line of lamp-posts, across the belt of black river with its flecks of yellow light. But Ruth watched him only.
"Arnie," she whispered in his ear, "there are no fairy ships upon the river to-night."
"Why not, little one? You have only to close your eyes."
Slowly she shook her head.
"Don't think that I am foolish, dear," she begged. "To-night I cannot look upon the river at all. I feel that there is something new here—here in this room. The great things are here, Arnold. I can feel life hammering and throbbing in the air. We aren't in a garret any longer, dear. It's a fairy palace. Listen. Can't you hear the people shout, and the music, and the fountains playing? Can't you see the dusky walls fall back, the marble pillars, the lights in the ceiling?"
He turned his head. He found himself, indeed, listening, found himself almost disappointed to hear nothing but the far-off, eternal roar of the city, and the melancholy grinding of a hurdy-gurdy below. Always she carried him away by her intense earnestness, the bewitching softness of her voice, even when it was galleons full of treasure that she saw, with blood-red sails, coming up the river, full of treasure for them. To-night her voice had more than its share of inspiration, her fancies clung to her feverishly.
"Be careful, Arnold," she murmured. "To-night means a change. There is something new coming. I can feel it coming in my heart."
Her face was drawn and pale. He laughed down into her eyes.
"Little lady," he reminded her, mockingly, "I am going to dine with my cheesemonger employer."
She shook her head dreamily. She refused to be dragged down.
"There's something beating in the air," she continued. "It came into the room with you. Don't you feel it? Can't you feel that you are going to a tragedy? Life is going to be different, Arnold, to be different always."
He drew himself up. A flicker of passion flamed in his own deep gray eyes.
"Different, child? Of course it's going to be different. If there weren't something else in front, do you think one could live? Do you think one could be content to struggle through this miserable quagmire if one didn't believe that there was something else on the other side of the hill?"
She sighed, and her fingers touched his.
"I forgot," she said simply. "You see, there was a time when I hadn't you. You lifted me out of my quagmire."
"Not high enough, dear," he answered, caressingly. "Some day I'll take you over to Berlin or Vienna, or one of those wonderful places. We'll leave Isaac to grub along and sow red fire in Hyde Park. We'll find the doctors. We shall teach you to walk again without that stick. No more gloominess, please."
She pressed his hand tightly.
"Dear Arnold!" she whispered softly.
"Turn around and watch the river with me, little one," he begged. "See the lights on the barges, how slowly they move. What is there behind that one, I wonder?"
Her eyes followed his finger without enthusiasm.
"I can't look out of the room to-night, Arnold," she said. "The fancies won't come. Promise me one thing."
"I promise," he agreed.
"Tell me everything—don't keep anything back."
"On my honor," he declared, smiling. "I will bring the menu of the dinner, if there is one, and a photograph of Mrs. Cheesemonger if I can steal it. Now I am going to help you back into your room."
"Don't bother," she begged. "Open the door and I can get there quite easily."
He set the door open and, crossing the bare stone landing, opened the door of another room, similar to his. They were somber apartments at the top of the deserted house, which had once been a nobleman's residence. The doors were still heavy, though blistered with time and lack of varnish. There were the remains of paneling upon the wall and frescoes upon the ceiling.
"Come and see me before you go," she pleaded. "I am all alone. Isaac has gone to a meeting somewhere."
He promised and returned to his own apartment. With the help of a candle which he stuck upon the mantelpiece, and a cracked mirror, he first of all shaved, then disappeared for a few minutes behind a piece of faded curtain and washed vigorously. Afterwards he changed his clothes, putting on a dress suit produced from the trunk. When he had finished, he stepped back and laughed softly to himself. His clothes were well cut. His studs, which had very many times been on the point of visiting the pawnbroker's, were correct and good. He was indeed an incongruous figure as he stood there and, with a candle carefully held away from him in his hand, looked at his own reflection. For some reason or other, he was feeling elated. Ruth's words had lingered in his brain. One could never tell which way fortune might come!
He found her waiting in the darkness. Her long arms were wound for a moment around his neck, a sudden passion shook her.
"Arnold—dear Arnold," she sobbed, "you are going into the storm—and I want to go! I want to go, too! My hands are cold, and my heart. Take me with you, dear!"
He was a little startled. It was not often that she was hysterical. He looked down into her convulsed face. She choked for a moment, and then, although it was not altogether a successful effort, she laughed.
"Don't mind me," she begged. "I am a little mad to-night. I think that the twilight here has got upon my nerves. Light the lamp, please. Light the lamp and leave me alone for a moment while you do it."
He obeyed, fetching some matches from his own room and setting the lamp, when it was lit, on the table by her side. There were no tears left in her eyes now. Her lips were tremulous, but an unusual spot of color was burning in her cheeks. While he had been dressing, he saw that she had tied a piece of deep blue ribbon, the color he liked best, around her hair.
"See, I am myself now. Good night and good luck to you, Arnold! Eat a good dinner, mind, and remember your promise."
"There is nothing more that I can do for you?" he asked.
"Nothing," she replied. "Besides, I can hear Uncle Isaac coming."
The door was suddenly opened. A thin, undersized man in worn black clothes, and with a somber hat of soft black felt still upon his head, came into the room. His dark hair was tinged with gray, he walked with a pronounced stoop. In his shabby clothes, fitting loosely upon his diminutive body, he should have been an insignificant figure, but somehow or other he was nothing of the sort. His thin lips curved into a discontented droop. His cheeks were hollow and his eyes shone with the brightness of the fanatic. Arnold greeted him familiarly.
"Hullo, Isaac!" he exclaimed. "You are just in time to save Ruth from being left all alone."
The newcomer came to a standstill. He looked the speaker over from head to foot with an expression of growing disgust, and he spat upon the floor.
"What livery's that?" he demanded.
Arnold laughed good-naturedly.
"Come, Isaac," he protested, "I don't often inflict it upon you, do I? It's something that belongs to the world on the other side, you know. We all of us have to look over the fence now and then. I have to cross the borderland to-night for an hour or so."
Isaac threw open the door by which he had entered.
"Get out of here," he ordered. "If you were one of us, I'd call you a traitor for wearing the rags. As it is, I say that no one is welcomed under my roof who looks as you look now. Why, d—n it, I believe you're a gentleman!"
Arnold laughed softly.
"My dear Isaac," he retorted, "I am as I was born and made. You can't blame me for that, can you? Besides,—"
He broke off suddenly. A little murmur from the girl behind reminded him of her presence. He passed on to the door.
"Good night, Isaac," he said. "Look after Ruth. She's lonely to-night."
"I'll look after her," was the grim reply. "As for you, get you gone. There was one of your sort came to the meeting of Jameson's moulders this afternoon. He had a question to ask and I answered him. He wanted to know wherein wealth was a sin, and I told him."
Arnold Chetwode was young and his sense of humor triumphant. He turned on the threshold and looked into the shadowy room, dimly lit with its cheap lamp. He kissed his hands to Ruth.
"My dear Isaac," he declared, lightly, "you are talking like an ass. I have two shillings and a penny ha'penny in my pocket, which has to last me till Saturday, and I earn my twenty-eight shillings a week in old Weatherley's counting-house as honestly as you earn your wage by thundering from Labor platforms and articles in the Clarion. My clothes are part of the livery of civilization. The journalist who reports a Lord Mayor's dinner has to wear them. Some day, when you've got your seat in Parliament, you'll wear them yourself. Good night!"
He paused before closing the door. Ruth's kiss came wafted to him from the shadows where her great eyes were burning like stars. Her uncle had turned his back upon him. The word he muttered sounded like a malediction, but Arnold Chetwode went down the stone steps blithely. It was an untrodden land, this, into which he was to pass.
ARNOLD SCENTS MYSTERY
From the first, nothing about that evening was as Arnold had expected. He took the tube to Hampstead station, and, the night being dry, he walked to Pelham Lodge without detriment to his carefully polished patent shoes. The neighborhood was entirely strange to him and he was surprised to find that the house which was pointed out to him by a policeman was situated in grounds of not inconsiderable extent, and approached by a short drive. Directly he rang the bell he was admitted not by a flamboyant parlormaid but by a quiet, sad-faced butler in plain, dark livery, who might have been major-domo to a duke. The house was even larger than he had expected, and was handsomely furnished in an extremely subdued style. It was dimly, almost insufficiently lit, and there was a faint but not unpleasant odor in the drawing-room which reminded him of incense. The room itself almost took his breath away. It was entirely French. The hangings, carpet and upholstery were all of a subdued rose color and white. Arnold, who was, for a young man, exceedingly susceptible to impressions, looked around him with an air almost of wonder. It was fortunate, perhaps, that the room was empty.
"Mr. and Mrs. Weatherley will be downstairs in one moment, sir," the man announced. "Mr. Weatherley was a little late home from the city."
Arnold nodded and stood upon the hearthrug, looking around him. He was quite content to spend a few moments alone, to admire the drooping clusters of roses, the elegance with which every article of furniture and appointment of the room seemed to fit into its place. Somehow or other, too, nothing appeared new. Everything seemed subdued by time into its proper tone. He began to wonder what sort of woman the presiding genius over such perfection could be. Then, with a quaint transition of thought, he remembered the little counting-house in Tooley Street, the smell of cheeses, and Mr. Weatherley's half-nervous invitation. His lips twitched and he began to smile. These things seemed to belong to a world so far away.
Presently he heard footsteps outside and voices. The door was opened but the person outside did not immediately enter. Apparently she had turned round to listen to the man who was still some distance behind. Arnold recognized his employer's voice.
"I am sorry that you are displeased, my dear Fenella, but I assure you that I did the best I could. It is true that the young man is in my office, but I am convinced that you will find him presentable."
A peal of the softest and most musical laughter that Arnold had ever heard in his life effectually stopped Mr. Weatherley's protestations. Yet, for all its softness and for all its music, there was a different note underneath, something a little bitter, unutterably scornful.
"My dear Samuel, it is true, without doubt, that you did your best. I do not blame you at all. It was I who was foolish to leave such a matter in your hands. It was not likely that among your acquaintances there was one whom I would have cared to welcome to my house. But that you should have gone to your employees—that, indeed, is funny! You do amuse me very much. Come."
The door was pushed fully open now and a woman entered, at the sight of whom Arnold forgot all his feelings of mingled annoyance and amusement. She was of little over the medium height, exceedingly slim—a slimness which was accentuated by the fashion of the gown she wore. Her face was absolutely devoid of color, but her features were almost cameo-like in their sensitive perfection. Her eyes were large and soft and brown, her hair a Titian red, worn low and without ornament. Her dress was of pale blue satin, which somehow had the effect of being made in a single piece, without seam or joining. Her neck and throat, exquisitely white, were bare except for a single necklace of pearls which reached almost to her knees. The look in Arnold's face, as she came slowly into the room, was one of frank and boyish admiration. The woman came towards him with a soft smile about her lips, but she was evidently puzzled. It was Mr. Weatherley who spoke. There was something almost triumphant in his manner.
"This is Mr. Chetwode, dear, of whom I was speaking to you," he said. "Glad to see you, Chetwode," he added, with ponderous condescension.
The woman laughed softly as she held out her hand.
"Are you going to pretend that you were deaf, to forgive me and be friends, Mr. Chetwode?" she asked, looking up at him. "One foggy day my husband took me to Tooley Street, and I did not believe that anything good could come out of the yellow fog and the mud and the smells. It was my ignorance. You heard, but you do not mind? I am sure that you do not mind?"
"Not a bit in the world," Arnold answered, still holding the hand which she seemed to have forgotten to draw away, and smiling down into her upturned face. "I was awfully sorry to overhear but you see I couldn't very well help it, could I?"
"Of course you could not help it," she replied. "I am so glad that you came and I hope that we can make it pleasant for you. I will try and send you in to dinner with some one very charming."
She laughed at him understandingly as his lips parted and closed again without speech. Then she turned away to welcome some other guests, who were at that moment announced. Arnold stood in the background for a few minutes. Presently she came back to him.
"Do you know any one here?" she asked.
"No one," he answered.
She dropped her voice almost to a whisper. Arnold bent his head and listened with a curious pleasure to her little stream of words.
"It is a strange mixture of people whom you see here," she said, "a mixture, perhaps, of the most prosaic and the most romantic. The Count Sabatini, whom you see talking to my husband, is my brother. He is a person who lives in the flood of adventures. He has taken part in five wars, he has been tried more than once for political offenses. He has been banished from what is really our native country, Portugal, with a price set upon his head. He has an estate upon which nothing grows, and a castle with holes in the roof in which no one could dwell. Yet he lives—oh, yes, he lives!"
Arnold looked across at the man of whom she was speaking—gaunt and olive-skinned, with deep-set eyes and worn face. He had still some share of his sister's good looks and he held himself as a man of his race should.
"I think I should like your brother," Arnold declared. "Will he talk about his campaigns?"
"Perhaps," she murmured, "although there is one about which you would not care to hear. He fought with the Boers, but we will not speak of that. Mr. and Mrs. Horsman there I shall say nothing about. Imagine for yourself where they belong."
"They are your husband's friends," he decided, unhesitatingly.
"You are a young man of great perceptions," she replied. "I am going to like you, I am sure. Come, there is Mr. Starling standing by the door. What do you think of him?"
Arnold glanced across the room. Mr. Starling was apparently a middle-aged man—clean-shaven, with pale cheeks and somewhat narrow eyes.
"An American, without a doubt," Arnold remarked.
"Quite right. Now the lady in the gray satin with the wonderful coiffure—she has looked at you already more than once. Her name is Lady Blennington, and she is always trying to discover new young men."
Arnold glanced at her deliberately and back again at his hostess.
"There is nothing for me to say about her," he declared.
"You are wonderful," she murmured. "That is so exactly what one feels about Lady Blennington. Then there is Lady Templeton—that fluffy little thing behind my husband. She looks rather as though she had come out of a toy shop, does she not?"
"She looks nice," Arnold admitted. "I knew—"
She glanced up at him and waited. Arnold, however, had stopped short.
"You have not yet told me," he said, "the name of the man who stands alone near the door—the one with the little piece of red ribbon in his coat?"
It seemed to him that, for some reason, the presence of that particular person affected her. He was a plump little man, sleek and well-dressed, with black hair, very large pearl studs, black moustache and imperial. Mrs. Weatherley stood quite still for a moment. Perhaps, he thought, she was listening to the conversation around them.
"The man's name is Rosario," she replied. "He is a financier and a man of fashion. Another time you must tell me what you think of him, but I warn you that it will not be so easy as with those others, for he is also a man of schemes. I am sorry, but I must send you in now with Mrs. Horsman, who is much too amiable to be anything else but dull. You shall come with me and I will introduce you."
Dinner was announced almost at that moment. Arnold, keen to enjoy, with all the love of new places and the enthusiasm of youth in his veins, found every moment of the meal delightful. They took their places at a round table with shaded lights artistically arranged, so that they seemed to be seated before a little oasis of flowers and perfumes in the midst of a land of shadows. He found his companion pleasant and sympathetic. She had a son about his age who was going soon into the city and about whom she talked incessantly. On his left, Lady Blennington made frank attempts to engage him in conversation whenever an opportunity arose. Arnold felt his spirits rise with every moment. He laughed and talked the whole of the time, devoting himself with very little intermission to one or the other of his two neighbors. Mr. Weatherley, who was exceedingly uncomfortable and found it difficult even to remember his few staple openings, looked across the table more than once in absolute wonder that this young man who, earning a wage of twenty-eight shillings a week, and occupying almost the bottom stool in his office, could yet be entirely and completely at his ease in this exalted company. More than once Arnold caught his hostess's eye, and each time he felt, for some unknown reason, a little thrill of pleasure at the faint relaxing of her lips, the glance of sympathy which shone across the roses. Life was a good place, he thought to himself, for these few hours, at any rate. And then, as he leaned back in his place for a moment, Ruth's words seemed suddenly traced with a finger of fire upon the dim wall. To-night was to be a night of mysteries. To-night the great adventure was to be born. He glanced around the table. There was, indeed, an air of mystery about some of these guests, something curiously aloof, something which it was impossible to put into words. The man Starling, for instance, seemed queerly placed here. Count Sabatini was another of the guests who seemed somehow to be outside the little circle. For minutes together he sat sometimes in grim silence. About him, too, there was always a curious air of detachment. Rosario was making the small conversation with his neighbor which the occasion seemed to demand, but he, too, appeared to talk as one who had more weighty matters troubling his brain. It was a fancy of Arnold's, perhaps, but it was a fancy of which he could not rid himself. He glanced towards his employer and a curious feeling of sympathy stirred him. The man was unhappy and ill at ease. He had lost his air of slight pomposity, the air with which he entered his offices in the morning, strutted about the warehouse, went out to lunch with a customer, and which he somehow seemed to lose as the time came for returning to his home. Once or twice he glanced towards his wife, half nervously, half admiringly. Once she nodded back to him, but it was the nod of one who gathers up her skirts as she throws alms to a beggar. Then Arnold realized that his little fit of thoughtfulness had made a material difference to the hum of conversation. He remembered his duty and leaned over toward Lady Blennington.
"You promised to tell me more about some of these people," he reminded her. "I am driven to make guesses all the time. Why does Mr. Starling look so much like an unwilling and impatient guest? And where is the castle of the Count Sabatini which has no roof?"
Lady Blennington sighed.
"This table is much too small for us to indulge in scandal," she replied. "It really is such a pity. One so seldom meets any one worth talking to who doesn't know everything there is that shouldn't be known about everybody. About Count Sabatini, for instance, I could tell you some most amusing things."
"His castle, perhaps, is in the air?" Arnold inquired.
"By no means," Lady Blennington assured him.
"On the contrary, it is very much upon the rocks. Some little island near Minorca, I believe. They say that Mr. Weatherley was wrecked there and Sabatini locked him up in a dungeon and refused to let him go until he promised to marry his sister."
"There are a good many men in the world, I should think," Arnold murmured, "who would like to be locked up on similar conditions."
She looked at him with a queer little smile.
"I suppose it is inevitable," she declared. "You will have to go through it, too. She certainly is one of the loveliest women I ever saw. I suppose you are already convinced that she is entirely adorable?"
"She has been very kind to me," Arnold replied.
"She would be," Lady Blennington remarked, dryly. "Look at her husband. The poor man ought to have known better than to have married her, of course, but do you think that he looks even reasonably happy?"
Arnold was beginning to feel rather uncomfortable. He was conscious of a strong desire not to discuss his hostess. Yet his curiosity was immense. He asked one question.
"Tell me," he said, "if she came from this little island in the Mediterranean, why does she speak English so perfectly?"
"She was educated in England," Lady Blennington told him. "Afterwards, her brother took her to South America. She had some small fortune, I believe, but when she came back they were penniless. They were really living as small market gardeners when Mr. Weatherley found them."
"You don't like her," he remarked. "I wonder why?"
Lady Blennington shook her head.
"One never knows," she replied. "I admire her, if that is anything."
"But you do not like her," he persisted.
She shrugged her shoulders slightly.
"I am afraid it is true," she agreed.
"You admit that and yet you are willing to be her guest?"
She smiled at him approvingly.
"If there is one masculine quality which I do appreciate," she said, "it is directness. I come because I love bridge and because I love my fellow-creatures and because my own friends are none too numerous. With the exception of those worthy friends of our host and his wife who are seated upon your right—Mr. and Mrs. Horsman, I believe they are called—we are all of the same ilk. Mr. Starling no one knows anything about; Count Sabatini's record is something awful."
"But there is Rosario," Arnold protested.
"Rosario goes into all the odd corners of the world," she replied. "Sometimes the corners are respectable and sometimes they are not. It really doesn't matter so far as he is concerned. Supposing, in return for all this information, you tell me something about yourself?"
"There isn't anything to tell," Arnold assured her. "I was asked here to fill up. I am an employee of Mr. Weatherley's."
She turned in her chair to look at him. Her surprise was obvious.
"Do you mean that you are his secretary, or something of that sort?" she demanded.
"I am a clerk in his office," Arnold told her.
She was evidently puzzled, but she asked him no more questions. At that moment Mrs. Weatherley rose from her place. As she passed Arnold she paused for a moment.
"You are all coming in five minutes," she said. "Before we play bridge, come straight to me. I have something to say to you."
He bowed and resumed his seat, from which he had risen quickly at her coming. Mr. Weatherley motioned to him to move up to his side. His face now was a little flushed, but his nervousness had not disappeared. He was certainly not the same man whom one met at Tooley Street.
"Glad to see you've made friends with the wife, Chetwode," he said. "She seems to have taken quite a fancy to you."
"Mrs. Weatherley has been very kind," Arnold answered.
"Enjoying yourself, I hope?" Mr. Weatherley asked.
"Very much indeed," Arnold declared. "It has been quite a treat for me."
Sabatini and Starling were talking earnestly together at the other side of the table. Rosario, bringing his wine down, came and sat at his host's other side.
"Beautiful vintage, this, Mr. Weatherley," he said. "Excellent condition, too."
Mr. Weatherley, obviously pleased, pursued the subject. In a way, it was almost pathetic to see his pleasure in being addressed by one of his own guests. Arnold drew a little away and looked across the banks of roses. There was something fascinating to him in the unheard conversation of Sabatini and Starling, on the opposite side of the table. Everything they said was in an undertone and the inexpressive faces of the two men gave no indication as to the nature of their conversation. Yet the sense of something mysterious in this house and among these guests was growing all the time with Arnold.
THE FACE AT THE WINDOW
Mr. Weatherley laid his hand upon his young companion's arm as they crossed the hall on their way from the dining-room.
"We are going to play bridge in the music-room," he announced. "Things are different, nowadays, than when I was a boy. The men and the women, too, have to smoke cigarettes all the time while they play cards. A bad habit, Chetwode! A very bad habit indeed! I've nothing to say against a good Havana cigar in the dining-room or the smoking-room, but this constant cigarette smoking sickens me. I can't bear the smell of the things. Here we are. I don't know what table my wife has put you at, I'm sure. She arranges all these things herself."
Several guests who had arrived during the last few minutes were already playing at various tables. Mrs. Weatherley was moving about, directing the proceedings. She came across to them as soon as they entered, and, laying her hand upon Arnold's arm, drew him on one side. There was a smile still upon her lips but trouble in her eyes. She looked over her shoulder a little nervously and Arnold half unconsciously followed the direction of her gaze. Rosario was standing apart from the others, talking earnestly with Starling.
"I want you to stay with me, if you please," she said. "I am not sure where you will play, but there is no hurry. I myself shall not sit down at present. There are others to arrive."
Her brother, who had been talking languidly to Lady Blennington, came slowly up to them.
"You, Andrea, will wait for the baccarat, of course?" she said. "I know that this sort of bridge does not amuse you."
He answered her with a little shrug of the shoulders and, leaning towards her, spoke a few words in some tongue which Arnold did not at once recognize. She looked again over her shoulder at Rosario and her face clouded. She replied in the same tongue. Arnold would have moved away, but she detained him.
"You must not mind," she said softly, "that my brother and I talk sometimes in our native language. You do not, by chance, know Portuguese, Mr. Chetwode?"
"Not a word," he replied.
"I am going to leave all these people to amuse themselves," she continued, dropping her voice slightly. "I want you to come with me for a moment, Mr. Chetwode. You must take care that you do not slip. These wooden floors are almost dangerous. I did give a dance here once," she continued, as they made their way across the room, talking a little vaguely and with an obvious effort. "I did not enjoy it at all. To me the style of dancing in this country seems ungraceful. Look behind, Mr. Chetwode. Tell me, is Mr. Rosario following us?"
Arnold glanced over his shoulder. Rosario was still standing in the same place, but he was watching them intently.
"He is looking after us, but he has not moved," Arnold announced.
"It is better for him that he stays there," Mrs. Weatherley said softly. "Please come."
At the further end of the apartment there was a bend to the left. Mrs. Weatherley led the way around the corner into a small recess, out of sight of the remainder of the people. Here she paused and, holding up her finger, looked around. Her head was thrown back, the trouble still gleamed in her eyes. She listened intently to the hum of voices, as though trying to distinguish those she knew. Satisfied, apparently, that their disappearance had not occasioned any comment, she moved forward again, motioned Arnold to open a door, and led him down a long passage to the front of the house. Here she opened the door of an apartment on the left-hand side of the hall, and almost pushed him in. She closed the door quickly behind them. Then she held up her finger.
"Listen!" she said.
They could hear nothing save the distant murmur of voices in the music-room. The room which they had entered was in complete darkness, through which the ivory pallor of her arms and face, and the soft fire of her eyes, seemed to be the only things visible. She was standing quite close to him. He could hear her breathing, he could almost fancy that he heard her heart beat. A strand of hair even touched his cheek as she moved.
"I do not wish to turn the light up for a moment," she whispered. "You do not mind?"
"I mind nothing," Arnold answered, bewildered. "Are you afraid of anything? Is there anything I can do?"
A sense of excitement was stirring him.
"Just do as I ask, that is all," she murmured. "I want to look outside a moment. Just do as I ask and keep quiet."
She stole from him to the window and, moving the curtain a few inches, knelt down, peering out. She remained there motionless for a full minute. Then she rose to her feet and came back. His eyes were becoming more accustomed to the gloom now and he could see the outline of her figure as she moved towards him.
"Take my place there," she whispered. "Look down the drive. Tell me whether you can see any one watching the house?"
He went down on his knees at the place she indicated and peered through the parted curtain. For a few seconds he could see nothing; then, as his eyes grew accustomed to the gloom, he discerned two motionless figures standing on the left-hand side of the drive, partly concealed by a tall laurel bush.
"I believe," he declared hoarsely, "that there are two men standing there."
"Tell me, are they moving?" she demanded.
"They seem to be simply watching the house," he replied.
She was silent. He could hear her breath come and go.
"They still do not move?" she asked, after a few seconds.
He shook his head, and she turned away, listening to some footsteps in the hall.
"Remember," she whispered, "I am standing where I can turn on the light in a moment. If any one comes, you are here to see my South American curios. This is my own sitting-room. You understand?"
"I understand," he assented. "Whatever you tell me to say, I will say."
She seemed to be gathering courage. She laughed very softly, as though amused at his earnestness. There was little enough of mirth in her laughter, yet somehow it gave him heart.
"What do these men want?" he asked. "Would you like me to go out and send them away?"
"No," she replied. "I do not wish you to leave me."
"But they are terrifying you," he protested. "What right have they in your garden? They are here, perhaps, as thieves."
She sprang away from him. The room was suddenly flooded with light. She was leaning with her arm upon the mantelpiece, a statuette of black ivory in her hand.
"If you are really fond of this sort of thing," she began, "you should come with me to the South Kensington Museum one day—Who is that?"
The door had opened. It was Mr. Weatherley who appeared. Mr. Weatherley was distinctly fussy and there was some return of his pompous manner.
"My dear Fenella!" he exclaimed. "What on earth are you doing in here, with half your bridge tables as yet unarranged? Your guests are wondering what has become of you."
"Has any one fresh turned up?" she asked, setting down the statuette.
"A Lady Raynham has just arrived," Mr. Weatherley replied, "and is making herself very disagreeable because there is no one to tell her at which table she is to play. I heard a young man who came with her, too, asking Parkins what time supper was. I do not wish to criticize the manners of your guests, but really, my dear Fenella, some of them do seem to have strange ideas."
"Lady Raynham," she remarked, coldly, "is a person who should be glad to find herself under any respectable roof without making complaints. Mr. Chetwode," she continued, turning to him, "it is my wish to finish showing you my treasures. Therefore, will you wait here, please, for a short time, while I go and start another bridge table? I shall return quite soon. Come, Samuel."
Mr. Weatherley coughed. He seemed unwilling to leave Arnold behind.
"I dare say young Chetwode would like a hand at bridge himself, my dear," he protested.
"Mr. Chetwode shall have one later on," she promised. "I think that very likely he will play at my table. Come."
They left the room together. She looked back for a moment before, they disappeared and Arnold felt his heart give a little jump. She was certainly the most beautiful creature he had ever seen, and there was something in her treatment of him, the subtle flattery of her half appealing confidence, which went to his head like wine. The door closed and he was left alone. He listened to their departing footsteps. Then he looked around him, for the first time forming some idea of his surroundings. He was in a very charming, comfortable-looking apartment, with deep easy-chairs, a divan covered with luxurious cushions, numbers of little tables covered with photographs and flowers, a great bowl of hot-house roses, and an oak cabinet with an oak background in the further corner of the room, which was packed with curios. After his first brief inspection, however, he felt scarcely any curiosity as to the contents of the room. It was the window which drew him always towards It. Once more he peered through the chink of the curtains. He had not cared to turn out the lights, however, and for several moments everything was indistinguishable. Then he saw that the two figures still remained in very nearly the same position, except that they had drawn, if anything, a little closer to the house.
A tiny clock upon the mantelpiece was ticking away the seconds. Arnold had no idea how long he remained there watching. Suddenly, however, he received a shock. For some time he had fancied that one of the two figures had disappeared altogether, and now, outside on the window-sill, scarcely a couple of feet from the glass through which he was looking, a man's hand appeared and gripped the window-sill. He stared at it, fascinated. It was so close to him that he could see the thin, yellow fingers, on one of which was a signet ring with a blood-red stone; the misshapen knuckles, the broken nails. He was on the point of throwing up the window when a man's face shot up from underneath and peered into the room. There was only the thickness of the glass between them, and the light from the gas lamp which stood at the corner of the drive fell full upon the white, strained features and the glittering black eyes which stared into the room. The chink of the curtain through which Arnold was gazing was barely an inch wide; but it was sufficient. For a moment he stared at the man. Then he threw the curtains open and stooped to unfasten the window. It was the affair of a few seconds only to throw it up. To his surprise, the man did not move. Their faces almost touched.
"What the devil do you want?" Arnold exclaimed, gripping him by the arm.
The man did not flinch. He inclined his head towards the interior of the room.
"Rosario, the Jew," he answered thickly. "He is in the house there. Will you take him a message?"
"Ring at the door and bring it yourself," Arnold retorted.
The man laughed contemptuously. He stared at Arnold for a moment and seemed to realize for the first time that he was a stranger.
"You are a fool to meddle in things you know nothing of!" he muttered.
"I know you've no right where you are," said Arnold, "and I shall keep you until some one comes."
The intruder made a sudden dive, freeing himself with an extraordinary turn of the wrist. Arnold caught a glimpse of his face as he slunk away. While he hesitated whether to follow him, he heard the door open and the soft rustle of a woman's skirts.
"What are you doing out there, Mr. Chetwode?"
He turned around. Mrs. Weatherley was standing just behind him, leaning also out of the window, with a little halo of light about her head. For a moment he was powerless to answer. Her head was thrown back, her lips parted. She seemed to be listening as well as watching. There was fear in her eyes as she looked at him, yet she made the most beautiful picture he had ever seen. He pulled himself together.
"Well?" she asked, breathlessly.
"I was waiting here for you," he explained. "I looked through the curtains. Then I saw a man's hand upon the sill."
Her hand shot to her side.
"Go on," she whispered.
"I saw his face," Arnold continued. "It was pressed close to the window. It was as though he meant to enter. I threw the curtains back, opened the window, and gripped him by the arm. I asked him what he wanted."
She sat down in a chair and began to tremble.
"He said he wanted Rosario, the Jew," Arnold went on. "Then, when he found that I was a stranger, he got away. I don't know how he managed it, for my fingers are strong enough, but he wrenched himself free somehow."
"Look out once more," she implored. "See if he is anywhere around. I will speak to him."
He stood at the window and looked in every direction.
"There is no one in sight," he declared. "I will go to the corner of the street, if you like."
She shook her head.
"Close the window and bolt it, please," she begged. "Draw the curtains tight. Now come and sit down here for a moment."
He did as he was bidden with some reluctance.
"The man was a villainous-looking creature," he persisted. "I don't think that he was up to any good. Look! There's a policeman almost opposite. Shall I go and tell him?"
She put out her hand and clasped his, drawing him down to her side. Then she looked steadfastly into his face.
"Mr. Chetwode," she said slowly, "women have many disadvantages in life, but they have had one gift bestowed upon them in which they trust always. It is the gift of instinct. You are very young, and I know very little about you, but I know that you are to be trusted."
"If I could serve you," he murmured,—
"You can," she interrupted.
Then for a time she was silent. Some new emotion seemed to move her. Her face was softer than he had ever seen it, her beautiful eyes dimmer. His mind was filled with new thoughts of her.
"Mrs. Weatherley," he pleaded, "please do believe in me, do trust me. I mean absolutely what I say when I tell you there is nothing in the world I would not do to save you from trouble or alarm."
Her moment of weakness was over. She flashed one wonderful smile at him and rose to her feet.
"It is agreed," she declared. "When I need help—and it may be at any moment—I shall call upon you."
"I shall be honored," he assured her, gravely. "In the meantime, please tell me—are we to speak of this to Rosario?"
"Leave it to me," she begged. "I cannot explain to you what all this means, but I think that Mr. Rosario can take care of himself. We must go back now to the bridge-room. My husband is annoyed with me for coming away again."
Mr. Weatherley met them in the passage. He was distinctly irritable.
"My dear Fenella!" he exclaimed. "Your guests do not understand your absence. Mr. Rosario is most annoyed and I cannot imagine what is the matter with Starling. I am afraid that he and Rosario have had words."
She turned her head as she passed, and smiled very slightly.
"I have no concern," she said, "in the quarrel between Mr. Starling and Mr. Rosario. As for the others—Mr. Chetwode and I are quite ready for bridge now. We are going in to do our duty."
AN UNUSUAL ERRAND
Arnold arrived at the office the next morning punctually at five minutes to nine, and was already at work when Mr. Jarvis appeared ten minutes later.
"Gayety's not upset you, then, eh?" the latter remarked, divesting himself of his hat and overcoat.
"Not at all, thanks," Arnold answered.
"Nice house, the governor's, isn't it?"
"Very nice indeed."
"Good dinners he gives, too," continued Mr. Jarvis. "Slap-up wines, and the right sort of company. Must have been an eye-opener for you."
Arnold nodded. He was not in the least anxious to discuss the events of the previous evening with Mr. Jarvis. The latter, however, came a little nearer to him. He took off his gold-rimmed spectacles and wiped them carefully.
"Now I should like to know," he said, "exactly how Mrs. Weatherley struck you?"
"She appeared to me to be a singularly charming and very beautiful lady," Arnold replied, writing quickly.
Mr. Jarvis was disappointed.
"She's good-looking enough," he admitted. "I can't say that I've seen much of her, mind you, but she gave me the impression of a woman who wasn't above using the powder-puff. She drove down here with the governor one day, and to look at her you'd have thought she was a princess come among the slums."
"She was born abroad," Arnold remarked. "I dare say this atmosphere would seem a little strange to her."
"Sort of half a foreigner, I've understood," Mr. Jarvis continued. "Speaks English all right, though. I can't help thinking," he went on, "that the governor would have done better to have married into one of our old city families. Nothing like them, you know, Chetwode. Some fine women, too. There's Godson, the former Lord Mayor. He had four daughters, and the governor might have had his pick."
"Here he comes," Arnold remarked, quietly.
Mr. Jarvis took the hint and went off to his work. A moment or two later, Mr. Weatherley arrived. He passed through the office and bestowed upon every one his customary salutation. At Arnold's desk he paused for a moment.
"Feeling all right this morning, young man?" he inquired, striving after a note of patronage which somehow or other eluded him.
"Quite well, thank you, sir."
"You found the evening pleasant, I hope? Didn't lose any money at bridge, eh?"
"Mrs. Weatherley was good enough to take on the stakes, sir," Arnold replied. "As a matter of fact, I believe that we won. I enjoyed the evening very much, thank you."
Mr. Weatherley passed on to his office. Jarvis waited until his door was closed.
"So you played bridge with Mrs. Weatherley, eh?" he remarked.
"I did," Arnold admitted. "Have you noticed the shrinkage of weight in these last invoices?"
Mr. Jarvis accepted the papers which his junior passed him, and departed into the warehouse. Arnold was left untroubled with any more questions. At half-past twelve, however, he was sent for into Mr. Weatherley's private office. Mr. Weatherley was leaning back in his chair and he had the air of a man who has come to a resolution.
"Shut the door, Chetwode," he ordered.
Arnold did as he was bidden.
"Come up to the desk here," he was further instructed. "Now, listen to me," Mr. Weatherley continued, after a moment's pause. "You are a young man of discretion, I am sure. My wife, I may say, Chetwode, thought quite highly of you last night."
Arnold looked his employer in the face and felt a sudden pang of sympathy. Mr. Weatherley was certainly not looking as hale and prosperous as a few months ago. His cheeks were flabby, and there was a worried look about him which the head of the firm of Weatherley & Co. should certainly not have worn.
"Mrs. Weatherley is very kind, sir," he remarked. "As to my discretion, I may say that I believe I am to be trusted. I should try, of course, to justify any confidence you might place in me."
"I believe so, too, Chetwode," Mr. Weatherley declared. "I am going to trust you now with a somewhat peculiar commission. You may have noticed that I have been asked to speak privately upon the telephone several times this morning."
"Certainly, sir," Arnold replied. "It was I who put you through."
"I am not even sure," Mr. Weatherley continued, "who it was speaking, but I received some communications which I think I ought to take notice of. I want you accordingly to go to a certain restaurant in the west-end, the name and address of which I will give you, order your lunch there—you can have whatever you like—and wait until you see Mr. Rosario. I dare say you remember meeting Mr. Rosario last night, eh?"
"Certainly, sir. I remember him quite well."
"He will not be expecting you, so you will have to sit near the door and watch for him. Directly you see him, you must go to him and say that this message is from a friend. Tell him that whatever engagement he may have formed for luncheon, he is to go at once to the Prince's Grill Room and remain there until two o'clock. He is not to lunch at the Milan—that is the name of the place where you will be. Do you understand?"
"I understand perfectly," Arnold assented. "But supposing he only laughs at me?"
"You will have done your duty," Mr. Weatherley said. "There need be no mystery about the affair. You can say at once that you are there as the result of certain telephone messages addressed to me this morning, and that I should have come myself if it had been possible. If he chooses to disregard them, it is his affair entirely—not mine. At the same time, I think that he will go."
"It seems an odd sort of a thing to tell a perfect stranger, sir," Arnold remarked.
Mr. Weatherley produced a five-pound note.
"You can't go into those sort of places without money in your pocket," he continued. "You can account to me for the change later, but don't spare yourself. Have as good a lunch as you can eat. The restaurant is the Milan Grill Room on the Strand—the cafe, mind, not the main restaurant. You know where it is?"
"Quite well, sir, thank you."
Mr. Weatherley looked at his employee curiously.
"Have you ever been there, then?" he inquired.
"Once or twice, sir," Arnold admitted.
"Not on the twenty-eight shillings a week you get from me!"
"Quite true, sir," Arnold assented. "My circumstances were slightly different at the time."
Mr. Weatherley hesitated. This young man's manner did not invite confidences. On the other hand, he was genuinely curious about him.
"What made you come into the city, Chetwode?" he inquired. "You don't seem altogether cut out for it—not that you don't do your work and all that sort of thing," he went on, hastily. "I haven't a word of complaint to make, mind. All the same, you certainly seem as though you might have done a little better for yourself."
"It is the fault of circumstances, sir," Arnold replied. "I am hoping that before long you will find that I do my work well enough to give me a better position."
"You are ambitious, then?"
The face of the young man was suddenly grim.
"I mean to get on," he declared. "There were several years of my life when I used to imagine things. I have quite finished with that. I realize that there is only one way by means of which a man can count."
Mr. Weatherley nodded ponderously.
"Well," he said, "let me see that your work is well done, and you may find promotion is almost as quick in the city as anywhere else. You had better be off now."
"I trust," Arnold ventured, as he turned toward the door, "that Mrs. Weatherley is quite well this morning?"
"So far as I know, she is," Mr. Weatherley replied. "My wife isn't usually visible before luncheon time. Continental habits, you know. I shall expect you back by three o'clock. You must come and report to me then."
Arnold brushed his hat and coat with extra care as he took them down from the peg.
"Going to lunch early, aren't you?" Mr. Jarvis remarked, looking at the clock. "Not sure that we can spare you yet. Smithers isn't back."
"I am going out for the governor," Arnold replied.
"What, to the bank?" Mr. Jarvis asked.
Arnold affected not to hear. He walked out into the street, lit a cigarette, and had his boots carefully polished at London Bridge Station. Then, as he had plenty of time, he took the train to Charing Cross and walked blithely down the Strand. Freed from the routine of his office work, he found his mind once more full of the events of last night. There was so much that he could not understand, yet there was so much that seemed to be leading him on towards the land of adventures. He found himself watching the faces in the Strand with a new interest, and he laughed to himself as he realized what it was. He was looking all the time for the man whose face he had seen pressed to the window-pane!
THE GLEAM OF STEEL
At the Milan, Arnold found himself early for luncheon. He chose a table quite close to the entrance, ordered his luncheon with some care, and commenced his watch. A thin stream of people was all the time arriving, but for the first half-hour there was no one whom he could associate in any way with his commission. It was not until he had actually commenced his lunch that anything happened. Then, through the half-open door, he heard what he recognized instantly as a familiar voice. The manager of the restaurant hurried toward the entrance and he heard the question repeated.
"Is Mr. Rosario here?"
"We have a table for him, madame, but he has not yet arrived," the maitre d'hotel replied. "If madame will allow me to show her the way!"
Arnold rose to his feet with a little start. Notwithstanding her fashionable outdoor clothes and thick veil, he recognized Mrs. Weatherley at once as she swept into the room, following the maitre d'hotel. She came up to him with slightly upraised eyebrows. It was clear that his presence there was a surprise to her.
"I scarcely expected to see you again so soon," she remarked, giving him her fingers. "Are you lunching alone?"
"Quite alone," Arnold answered.
She glanced half carelessly around, as though to see whether she recognized any acquaintances. Arnold, however, was convinced that she was simply anxious not to be overheard.
"Tell me," she inquired, "has my husband sent you here?"
Arnold admitted the fact.
"I have a message," he replied.
"For Mr. Rosario?"
"For Mr. Rosario."
"You have not seen anything of him yet, then?" she asked quickly.
"He has not been here," Arnold assured her. "I have kept my eyes glued upon the door."
"Tell me the message quickly," she begged.
Arnold did not hesitate. Mr. Weatherley was his employer but this woman was his employer's wife. If there were secrets between them, it was not his concern. It seemed natural enough that she should ask. It was certainly not his place to refuse to answer her question.
"I was to tell him that on no account was he to lunch here to-day," Arnold said. "He was to go instead to the grill room at Prince's in Piccadilly, and remain there until two o'clock."
Mrs. Weatherley made no remark. Her face was emotionless. Closely though he was watching her, Arnold could not himself have declared at that moment whether indeed this message had any import to her or not.
"I find my husband's behavior exceedingly mysterious," she said thoughtfully. "I cannot imagine how he became concerned in the matter at all."
"I believe," Arnold told her, "that some one telephoned Mr. Weatherley this morning. He was asked for privately several times and he seemed very much disturbed by some message he received."
"Some one telephoned him," she repeated, frowning. "Now I wonder who that person could be."
She sat quite still for a moment or two, looking through the glass-paneled door. Then she shrugged her shoulders.
"In any case," she declared, "I am here to lunch and I am hungry. I will not wait for Mr. Rosario. May I sit here?"
He called a waiter and the extra place was very soon prepared.
"If Mr. Rosario comes," she said, "we can see him from here. You can then give him your message and he can please himself. I should like some Omelette aux Champignons, please, and some red wine—nothing more. Perhaps I will take some fruit later. And now, please, Mr. Arnold Chetwode, will you listen to me?"
She undid her ermine cloak and laid aside her muff. The collection of costly trifles which she had been carrying she threw carelessly upon the table.
"Last night," she continued, softly, "we agreed, did we not, to be friends? It is possible you may find our friendship one of deeds, not words alone."
"There is nothing I ask for more sincerely," he declared.
"To begin with, then," she went on, "I do not wish that you call me Mrs. Weatherley. The name annoys me. It reminds me of things which at times it is a joy to me to forget. You shall call me Fenella, and I shall call you Arnold."
"Fenella," he repeated, half to himself.
"Well, then, that is arranged. Now for the first thing I have to ask of you. If Mr. Rosario comes, I do not wish that message from my husband to be delivered."
Arnold frowned slightly.
"Isn't that a little difficult?" he protested. "Mr. Weatherley has sent me up here for no other reason. He has given me an exact commission, has told me even the words I am to use. What excuse can I possibly make?"
"You shall be relieved of all responsibility," she declared. "If I tell my husband that I do not wish you to obey his bidding, that will be sufficient. It is a matter of which my husband understands little. There are people whose interest it is to protect Rosario. It is they who have spoken, without a doubt, this morning through the telephone, but my husband does not understand. Rosario must take care of himself. He runs his own risks. He is a man, and he knows very well what he is doing."
Arnold looked at her thoughtfully.
"Do you seriously suppose, then," he asked, "that the object of my message is to bid Mr. Rosario keep away from here because of some actual danger?"
"Why not? Mr. Rosario has chosen to interfere in a very difficult and dangerous matter. He runs his own risks and he asks for a big reward. It is not our place to protect him."
She raised her veil and he looked at her closely. She was still as beautiful as he had thought her last night, but her complexion was pallid almost to fragility, and there were faint violet lines under her eyes.
"You have not slept," he said. "It was the fear of last night."
"I slept badly," she admitted, "but that passes. This afternoon I shall rest."
"I cannot help thinking," he went on, "about those men who watched the house last night. They could have been after no good. I wish you would let me go to the police-station. Or would you like me to come and watch myself, to-night or to-morrow night, to see if they come again?"
She shook her head firmly.
"No!" she decided. "It wouldn't do any good. Just now, at any rate, it is Rosario they want."
Their conversation was interrupted for several moments while she exchanged greetings with friends passing in and out of the restaurant. Then she turned again to her companion.
"Tell me," she asked, a little abruptly, "why are you a clerk in the city? You do not come of that order of people."
"Necessity," he assured her promptly. "I hadn't a sovereign in the world when your husband engaged me."
"You were not brought up for such a life!"
"Not altogether," he admitted. "It suits me very well, though."
"Poor boy!" she murmured. "You, too, have had evil fortune. Perhaps the black hand has shadowed us both."
"A man makes his own life," he answered, impulsively, "but you—you were made for happiness. It is your right."
She glanced for a moment at the rings upon her fingers. Then she looked into his eyes.
"I married Mr. Weatherley," she reminded him. "Do you think that if I had been happy I should have done that? Do you think that, having done it, I deserve to know, or could know, what happiness really means?"
It was very hard to answer her. Arnold found himself divided between his loyalty towards the man who, in his way, had been kind to him, and the woman who seemed to be stepping with such fascinating ease into the empty places of his life.
"Mr. Weatherley is very much devoted to you," he remarked.
A shadow of derision parted her lips.
"Mr. Weatherley is a very worthy man," she said, "but it would have been better for him as well as for me if he had kept away from the Island of Sabatini. Tell me, what did Lady Blennington say about us last night?"
His eyes twinkled.
"She told me that Mr. Weatherley was wrecked upon the Island of Sabatini, and that your brother kept him in a dungeon till he promised to marry you."
"And you? What did you think of that?"
"I thought," he replied, "that if adventures of that sort were to be found in those seas, I would like to beg or borrow the money to sail there myself and steer for the rocks."
"For a boy," she declared, "you say very charming things. Tell me, how old are you?"
"You would not look so old if it were not for that line. You know, I read characters and fortunes. All the women of my race have done so. I can tell you that you had a youth of ease and happiness and one year of terrible life. Then you started again. It is true, is it not?"
"Very nearly," he admitted.
She never finished her sentence. From their table, which was nearest to the door, they were suddenly aware of a commotion of some sort going on just outside. Through the glass door Rosario was plainly visible, his sleekness ruffled, his white face distorted with terror. The hand of some unseen person was gripping him by the throat, bearing him backwards. There was a shout and they both saw the cloakroom attendant spring over his counter. Something glittered in the dim light—a flash of blue polished steel. There was a gleam in the air, a horrible cry, and Rosario collapsed upon the floor. Arnold, who was already on his feet and half-way to the door, caught one glimpse of the upstretched hand, and all his senses were thrilled with what he saw. Upon the little finger was a signet ring with a scarlet stone!
The whole affair was a matter of seconds, yet Arnold dashed through the door to find Rosario a crumpled-up heap, the cloakroom attendant bending over him, and no one else in the vestibule. Then the people began to stream in—the hall porter, the lift man, some loiterers from the outer hall. The cloakroom attendant sprang to his feet. He seemed dazed.
"Stop him!" he shouted. "Stop him!"
The little group in the doorway looked at one another.
"He went that way!" the cloakroom attendant cried out again. "He passed through that door!"
Some of them rushed into the street. One man hurried to the telephone, the others pressed forward to where Rosario lay on his back, with a thin stream of blood finding its way through his waistcoat. Arnold was suddenly conscious of a woman's arm upon his and a hoarse whisper in his ear.
"Come back! Take me away somewhere quickly! This is no affair of ours. I want to think. Take me away, please. I can't look at him."
"Did you see the man's hand?" Arnold gasped.
"What of it?"
"It was the hand I saw upon your window-sill last night. It was the same ring—a scarlet signet ring. I could swear to it."
She gave a little moan and her whole weight lay upon his arm. In the rush of people and the clamor of voices around, they were almost unobserved. He passed his arm around her, and even in that moment of wild excitement he was conscious of a nameless joy which seemed to set his heart leaping. He led her back through the restaurant and into one of the smaller rooms of the hotel. He found her an easy-chair and stood over her.
"You won't leave me?" she begged.
He held her hand tightly.
"Not until you send me away!"
"ROSARIO IS DEAD!"
Fenella never became absolutely unconscious. She was for some time in a state apparently of intense nervous prostration. Her breath was coming quickly, her eyes and her fingers seemed to be clinging to his as though for support. Her touch, her intimate presence, her reliance upon him, seemed to Arnold to infect the very atmosphere of the place with a thrill of the strangest excitement.
"You think that he is dead?" she faltered once.
"Of course not," he replied reassuringly. "I saw no weapon at all. It was just a quarrel."
She half closed her eyes.
"There was blood upon his waistcoat," she declared, "and I saw something flash through the window."
"I will go and see, if you like," Arnold suggested.
Her fingers gripped his.
"Not yet! Don't leave me yet! Why did you say that you recognized the hand—that it was the same hand you saw upon the window-sill last night?"
"Because of the signet ring," Arnold answered promptly. "It was a crude-looking affair, but the stone was bright scarlet. It was impossible to mistake it."
"It was only the ring, then?"
"Only the ring, of course," he admitted. "I did not see the hand close enough. It was foolish of me, perhaps, to say anything about it, and yet—and yet the man last night—he was looking for Rosario. Why should it not be the same?"
He heard the breath come through her teeth in a little sob.
"Don't say anything at present to any one else. Indeed, there are others who might have worn such a ring."
Arnold hesitated, but only for a second. He chanced to look into her face, and her whisper became his command.
"Very well," he promised.
A few moments later she sat up. She was evidently becoming stronger.
"Now go," she begged, "and see—how he is. Find out exactly what has happened and come back. I shall wait for you here."
He stood up eagerly.
"You are sure that you will be all right?"
"Of course," she replied. "Indeed, I shall be better when I know what really has happened. You must go quickly, please, and come back quickly. Stop!"
Arnold, who had already started, turned back again. They were in a ladies' small reception room at the head of the stairs leading down into the restaurant, quite alone, for every one had streamed across the courtyard to see what the disturbance was. The side of the room adjoining the stairs and the broad passage leading to the restaurant was entirely of glass. A man, on his way up the stairs, had paused and was looking intently at them.
"Tell me, who is that?" demanded Fenella.
Arnold recognized him at once.
"It is your friend Starling—the man from South America."
"Starling!" she murmured.
"I think that he is coming in," Arnold continued. "He has seen you. Do you mind?"
She shook her head.
"No. He will stay with me while you are away. Perhaps he knows something."
Arnold hurried off and met Starling upon the threshold of the room.
"Isn't that Mrs. Weatherley with you?" the latter inquired.
"Yes," Arnold told him. "She was lunching with me in the Grill Room. I believe that she was really waiting for Rosario—when the affair happened."
Arnold stared at him. It seemed impossible that there was any one ignorant of the tragedy.
"Haven't you heard?" Arnold exclaimed. "Rosario was stabbed outside the Grill Room a few moments ago."
Starling's pallid complexion seemed suddenly to become ghastly.
"Rosario—Rosario stabbed?" he faltered.
"I thought that every one in the place must have heard of it," Arnold continued. "He was stabbed just as he was entering the cafe, not more than ten minutes ago."
Starling's words came with the swift crispness of a pistol shot. Arnold shook his head.
"I didn't see. I am just going to ask for particulars. Will you stay with Mrs. Weatherley?"
Starling looked searchingly along the vestibule. The news seemed to have affected him strangely. His head was thrown a little back, his nostrils distended. He reminded Arnold for a moment of a watch-dog, listening.
"Of course," he muttered, "of course. Come back as soon as you can and let us know what has happened."
Arnold made his way through the reception hall and across the courtyard. Already the crowd of people was melting away. A policeman stood on guard at the opposite door, and two more at the entrance of the cafe. The whole of the vestibule where the affair had happened was closed, and the only information which it was possible to collect Arnold gathered from the excited conversations of the little knots of people standing around. In a few minutes he returned to the small reception room. Fenella and Starling looked eagerly up as he entered. They both showed signs of an intense emotion. Starling was even gripping the back of a chair as he spoke.
"What of Rosario?" he demanded.
Arnold hesitated, but only for a moment. The truth, perhaps, was best.
"Rosario is dead," he replied gravely. "He was stabbed to the heart and died within a few seconds."
There was a queer silence. Arnold felt inclined to rub his eyes. Gone was at least part of the horror from their white faces. Fenella sank back in her chair with a little sob which might almost have been of relief. Starling, as though suddenly mindful of the conventions, assumed a grimly dolorous aspect.
"Poor fellow!" he muttered. "And the murderer?"
"He's gotten clean off, for the present at any rate," Arnold told them. "They seem to think that he reached the Strand and had a motor car waiting."
Again there was silence. Then Mrs. Weatherley rose to her feet, glanced for a moment in the looking-glass, and turning round held out both her hands to Arnold.
"You have been so kind to me," she said softly. "I shall not forget it—indeed I shall not. Mr. Starling is going to take me home in his car. Good-bye!"
Arnold held her hands steadfastly and looked into her eyes. They were more beautiful than ever now with their mist of risen tears. But there were other things in her face, things less easy to understand. He turned away regretfully.
"I am sorry that you should have had such a shock," he said. "Is there any message for Mr. Weatherley?"
She exchanged a quick glance with her companion. Then for the first time Arnold realized the significance of the errand on which he had come.
"Some one must have warned Mr. Weatherley of what was likely to happen!" he exclaimed. "It was for that reason I was sent here!"
Again no one spoke for several seconds.
"It was not your fault," she said gently. "You were told to wait inside the restaurant. You could not have done more."
Arnold turned away with a little shiver. His mission had been to save a man's life, and he had failed!
THE DUTIES OF A SECRETARY
It was twenty minutes to four before Arnold reached the office. Mr. Jarvis looked at him curiously as he took off his hat and hung it up.
"I don't know what you've been up to, young man," he remarked, "but you'll find the governor in a queer state of mind. For the last hour he's been ringing his bell every five minutes, asking for you."
"I was detained," Arnold answered shortly. "Is he alone now?"
Mr. Jarvis nodded.
"I think that you had better go in at once," he advised. "There he is stamping about inside. I hope you've got some good excuse or there'll be the dickens to pay."
The door of the inner office was suddenly opened. Mr. Weatherley appeared upon the threshold. He recognized Arnold with an expression partly of anger, partly of relief.
"So here you are at last, young man!" he exclaimed. "Where the dickens have you been to all this while? Come in—come in at once! Do you see the time?"
"I am very sorry indeed, sir," Arnold replied. "I can assure you that I have not wasted a moment that I know of."
"Then what in the name of goodness did you find to keep you occupied all this time?" Mr. Weatherley demanded, pushing him through into the office and closing the door behind them. "Did you see Mr. Rosario? Did you give him the message?"
"I had no opportunity, sir," Arnold answered gravely.
"No opportunity? What do you mean? Didn't he come to the Milan? Didn't you see him at all?"
"He came, sir," Arnold admitted, "but I was not able to see him in time. I thought, perhaps," he added, "that you might have heard what happened."
Mr. Weatherley had reached the limits of his patience. He struck the table with his clenched fist. For a moment anger triumphed over his state of nervous excitability.
"Heard?" he cried. "Heard what? What the devil should I hear down here? If you've anything to tell, why don't you tell it me? Why do you stand there looking like a—"
Mr. Weatherley was suddenly frightened. He understood from Arnold's expression that something serious had happened.
"My God!" he exclaimed. "Mrs. Weatherley—my wife—"
"Mrs. Weatherley is quite well," Arnold assured him quickly. "It is Mr. Rosario."
"What of him? What about Rosario?"
"He is dead," Arnold announced. "You will read all about it in the evening papers. He was murdered—just as he was on the point of entering the Milan Grill Room."
Mr. Weatherley began to shake. He looked like a man on the verge of a collapse. He was still, however, able to ask a question.
"The murderer was not caught," Arnold told him. "No one seems to have seen him clearly, it all took place so quickly. He stole out of some corner where he must have been hiding, and he was gone before anyone had time to realize what was happening."
Mr. Weatherley had been standing up all this time, clutching nervously at his desk. He suddenly collapsed into his easy-chair. His face was gray, his mouth twitched as though he were about to have a stroke.
"My God!" he murmured. "Rosario dead! They had him, after all! They—killed him!"
"It was a great shock to every one," Arnold went on. "Mrs. Weatherley arrived about a quarter of an hour before it occurred. I understood that she was expecting to lunch with him, but when I told her why I was there she came and sat at my table. She was sitting there when it happened. She was very much upset indeed. I was detained looking after her."
Mr. Weatherley looked at him narrowly.
"I am sorry that she was there," he said. "She is not strong. She ought not to be subjected to such shocks."
"I left her with Mr. Starling," Arnold continued. "He was going to take her home."
"Was Starling lunching there?" Mr. Weatherley asked.
"We saw him afterwards, coming up from the restaurant," Arnold replied. "He did not seem to have been in the Grill Room at all."
Mr. Weatherley sat back in his chair and for several minutes he remained silent. His eyes were fixed upon vacancy, his lips moved once or twice, but he said nothing. He seemed, indeed, to have lost the power of speech.
"It is extraordinary how the affair could have happened, almost unnoticed, in such a crowded place," Arnold went on, feeling somehow that it was best for him to talk. "There is nearly always a little stream of people coming in, or a telephone boy, or some one passing, but it happened that Mr. Rosario came in alone. He had just handed his silk hat to the cloakroom attendant, who had turned away with it, when the man who killed him slipped out from somewhere, caught him by the throat, and it was all over in a few seconds. The murderer seems to have kept his face entirely hidden. They do not appear to have found a single person who could identify him. I had a table quite close to the door, as you told me, and I really saw the blow struck. We rushed outside, but, though I don't believe we were more than a few seconds, there wasn't a soul in sight."
"The police will find out something," Mr. Weatherley muttered. "They are sure to find out something."
"Some people think," Arnold continued, "that the man never left the hotel, or, if he did, that he was taken away in a motor car. The whole hotel was being searched very carefully when I left."
There was a knock at the door. Mr. Jarvis, who had been unable to restrain his curiosity any longer, brought some letters in for signature.
"If you can spare a moment, sir," he began, apologetically, "there is this little matter of Bland & Company's order. I have brought the reports with me."
Mr. Weatherley felt his feet upon the ground again. He turned to the papers which his clerk laid before him and gave them his close attention. When Arnold would have left the room, however, he signed impatiently to him to remain. As soon as he had given his instructions, and Mr. Jarvis had left the room, he turned once more to Arnold.
"Chetwode," he said, looking at him critically, "you appear to me to be a young man of athletic build."
Arnold was quite speechless.
"I mean that you could hold your own in a tussle, eh? You look strong enough to knock any one down who attempted to take liberties with you."
"I dare say I might manage that, sir," he admitted.
"Very well—very well, then," Mr. Weatherley repeated. "Have your desk moved in here at once, Chetwode. You can have it placed just where you like. You'll get the light from that window if you have the easy-chair moved and put in the corner there against the wall. Understand that from now on you are my private secretary, and you do not leave this room, whoever may come in to see me, except by my special instructions. You understand that, eh?"
"Your business is to protect me, in case of anything happening—of any disagreeable visitors, or anything of that sort," Mr. Weatherley declared. "This affair of Mr. Rosario has made me nervous. There is a very dangerous gang of people about who try to get money from rich men, and, if they don't succeed, use violence. I have already come into contact with something of the sort myself. Your salary—what do you get at present?"
"Twenty-eight shillings a week, sir."
"Double it," Mr. Weatherley ordered promptly. "Three pounds a week I will make it. For three pounds a week I may rely upon your constant and zealous service?"
"You may rely absolutely on that," Arnold replied, not quite sure whether he was on his head or his feet.
"Very well, then, go and tell some of the porters to bring in your desk. Have it brought in this very moment. Understand, if you please, that it is my wish not to be left alone under any circumstances—that is quite clear, isn't it?—not under any circumstances! I have heard some most disquieting stories about black-mailers and that sort of people."
"I don't think you need fear anything of the sort here," Arnold assured him.
"I trust not," Mr. Weatherley asserted, "but I prefer to be on the right side. As regards firearms," he continued, "I have never carried them, nor am I accustomed to handling them. At the same time,—"
"I wouldn't bother about firearms, if I were you, sir," Arnold interrupted. "I can promise you that while I am in this office no one will touch you or harm you in any way. I would rather rely upon my fists any day."
Mr. Weatherley nodded.
"I am glad to hear you say so. A strong young man like you need have no fear, of course. You understand, Chetwode, not a word in the outer office."
"Certainly not, sir," Arnold promised. "You can rely entirely upon my discretion. You will perhaps tell Mr. Jarvis that I am to do my work in here. Fortunately, I know a little shorthand, so if you like I can take the letters down. It will make my presence seem more reasonable."
Mr. Weatherley leaned back in his chair and lit a cigar. He was recovering slowly.
"A very good idea, Chetwode," he said. "I will certainly inform Mr. Jarvis. Poor Rosario!" he went on thoughtfully. "And to think that he might have been warned. If only I had told you to wait outside the restaurant!"
"Do you know who it was who telephoned to you, sir?" Arnold asked.
"No idea—no idea at all," Mr. Weatherley declared. "Some one rang up and told me that Mr. Rosario was engaged to lunch in the Grill Room with my wife. I don't know who it was—didn't recognize the voice from Adam—but the person went on to say that it would be a very great service indeed to Mr. Rosario if some one could stop him from lunching there to-day. Can't think why they telephoned to me."
"If Mr. Rosario were lunching with your wife," Arnold pointed out, "it would be perfectly easy for her to get him to go somewhere else if she knew of the message, whereas he might have refused an ordinary warning."
"You haven't heard the motive even hinted at, I suppose?" Mr. Weatherley asked.
"Not as yet," Arnold replied. "That may all come out at the inquest."
"To be sure," Mr. Weatherley admitted. "At the inquest—yes, yes! Poor Rosario!"
He watched the smoke from his cigar curl up to the ceiling. Then he turned to some papers on his table.
"Get your desk in, Chetwode," he ordered, "and then take down some letters. The American mail goes early this afternoon."
A STRAINED CONVERSATION
Arnold swung around the corner of the terrace that evening with footsteps still eager notwithstanding his long walk. The splendid egoism of youth had already triumphed, the tragedy of the day had become a dim thing. He himself was moving forward and onward. He glanced up at the familiar window, feeling a slight impulse of disappointment when he received no welcoming wave of the hand. It was the first time for weeks that Ruth had not been there. He climbed the five flights of stone stairs, still buoyant and light-hearted. Glancing into his own room, he found it empty, then crossed at once the passageway and knocked at Ruth's door. She was lying back in her chair, with her back toward the window.
"Why, Ruth," he exclaimed, "how dare you desert your post!"
He felt at once that there was something strange in her reception of him. She stopped him as he came across the room, holding out both her hands. Her wan face was strained as she gazed and gazed. Something of the beautiful softness of her features had passed for the moment. She was so anxious, so terrified lest she should misread what was written in his face.
"Arnold!" she murmured. "Oh, Arnold!"
He was a little startled. It was as though tragedy had been let loose in the room.
"Why do you look at me like that, dear?" he cried. "Is there anything so terrible to tell me? What have I done?"
"God knows!" she answered. "Don't come any nearer for a moment. I want to look at you."
She was leaning out from her chair. It was true, indeed, that at that moment some sort of fear had drained all the beauty from her face, though her eyes shone still like fierce stars.