THE LOST AMBASSADOR
THE SEARCH FOR THE MISSING DELORA
E. PHILLIPS OPPENHEIM
AUTHOR OF "THE ILLUSTRIOUS PRINCE," "THE MISSIONER," "JEANNE OF THE MARSHES," ETC.
With Illustrations in Color by
HOWARD CHANDLER CHRISTY
BOSTON LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY 1910
I. A RENCONTRE
II. A CAFE IN PARIS
IV. DANGEROUS PLAY
VI. AN INFORMAL TRIBUNAL
VII. A DOUBLE ASSIGNATION
VIII. LOUIS INSISTS
IX. A TRAVELLING ACQUAINTANCE
X. DELORA DISAPPEARS
XI. THROUGH THE TELEPHONE
XII. FELICIA DELORA
XIII. LOUIS, MAITRE D'HOTEL
XIV. LOUIS EXPLAINS
XV. A DANGEROUS IMPERSONATION
XVI. TWO OF A TRADE
XVII. A VERY SPECIAL DINNER
XIX. WHEELS WITHIN WHEELS
XX. A TERRIBLE NIGHT
XXI. A CHANGE OF PLANS
XXII. FORMAL CALL
XXIV. A TANTALIZING GLIMPSE
XXV. PRIVATE AND DIPLOMATIC
XXIX. AN UNSATISFACTORY INTERVIEW
XXX. TO NEWCASTLE BY ROAD
XXXI. AN INTERESTING DAY
XXXII. A PROPOSAL
XXXIII. FELICIA HESITATES
XXXIV. AN APPOINTMENT WITH DELORA
XXXV. A NARROW ESCAPE
XXXVI. AN ABORTIVE ATTEMPT
XXXVII. DELORA RETURNS
XXXVIII. AT BAY
XXXIX. THE UNEXPECTED
"If monsieur is ready," he suggested, "perhaps we had better go" Frontispiece
She took up a magazine and turned away with a shrug of the shoulders Page 66
"By Jove, it's Bartot!" I exclaimed " 135
I raised her fingers to my lips, and I smiled into her face " 275
THE LOST AMBASSADOR
There was no particular reason why, after having left the Opera House, I should have retraced my steps and taken my place once more amongst the throng of people who stood about in the entresol, exchanging greetings and waiting for their carriages. A backward glance as I had been about to turn into the Place de l'Opera had arrested my somewhat hurried departure. The night was young, and where else was such a sight to be seen? Besides, was it not amongst some such throng as this that the end of my search might come?
I took up my place just inside, close to one of the pillars, and, with an unlit cigarette still in my mouth, watched the flying chausseurs, the medley of vehicles outside, the soft flow of women in their white opera cloaks and jewels, who with their escorts came streaming down the stairs and out of the great building, to enter the waiting carriages and motor-cars drawn up in the privileged space within the enclosure, or stretching right down into the Boulevard. I stood there, watching them drive off one by one. I was borne a little nearer to the door by the rush of people, and I was able, in most cases, to hear the directions of the men as they followed their womankind into the waiting vehicles. In nearly every case their destination was one of the famous restaurants. Music begets hunger in most capitals, and the cafes of Paris are never so full as after a great night at the Opera. To-night there had been a wonderful performance. The flow of people down the stairs seemed interminable. Young women and old,—sleepy-looking beauties of the Southern type, whose dark eyes seemed half closed with a languor partly passionate, partly of pride; women of the truer French type,—brilliant, smiling, vivacious, mostly pale, seldom good-looking, always attractive. A few Germans, a fair sprinkling of Englishwomen, and a larger proportion still of Americans, whose women were the best dressed of the whole company. I was not sorry that I had returned. It was worth watching, this endless stream of varying types.
Towards the end there came out two people who were becoming almost familiar figures to me. The man was one of those whose nationality was not so easily surmised. He was tall and thin, with iron-gray hair, complexion so sallow as to be almost yellow, black moustache and imperial, handsome in his way, distinguished, indescribable. By his side was a girl who had the air of wearing her first long skirt, whose hair was arranged in somewhat juvenile fashion, and whose dark eyes were still glowing with the joy of the music. Her figure, though very slim, was delightful, and she walked as though her feet touched the clouds. Her laugh, which I heard distinctly as she brushed by me only a few feet away, was like music. Of all the people who had passed me, or whom I had come across during my fortnight's stay in Paris, there was no one half so attractive. The girl was absolutely charming; the man, remarkable not only in himself, but for a certain air of repressed emotion, which, while it robbed his features of the dignity of repose, was still, in a way, fascinating. They entered a waiting motor-car splendidly appointed, and I heard the man tell the tall, liveried footman to drive to the Ritz. I leaned forward a little eagerly as they went. I watched the car glide off and disappear, watched it until it was out of sight, and afterwards, even, watched the spot where it had vanished. Then, with a little sigh, I turned back once more into the great hall. There seemed to be no one left now of any interest. The women had become ordinary, the men impossible. With a little sigh I too aimlessly descended the steps, and stood for a moment uncertain which way to turn.
"Monsieur is looking for a light?" a quiet voice said in my ear.
I turned, and found myself confronted by a Frenchman, who had also just issued from the building and was himself lighting a cigarette. He was clean-shaven and pale, so pale that his complexion was almost olive. He had soft, curious-looking eyes. He was of medium height, dark, correctly dressed according to the fashion of his country, although his tie was black and his studs of unusual size. Something about his face struck me from the first as familiar, but for the moment I could not recall having seen him before.
"Thank you very much," I answered, accepting the match which he offered.
The night was clear, and breathlessly still. The full yellow moon was shining in an absolutely cloudless sky. The match—an English wax one, by the way—burned without a flicker. I lit my cigarette, and turning around found my companion still standing by my side.
"Monsieur does not do me the honor to recollect me," he remarked, with a faint smile.
I looked at him steadfastly.
"I am sorry," I said. "Your face is perfectly familiar to me, and yet—No, by Jove, I have it!" I broke off, with a little laugh. "It's Louis, isn't it, from the Milan?"
"Monsieur's memory has soon returned," he answered, smiling. "I have been chief maitre d'hotel in the cafe there for some years. The last time I had the honor of serving monsieur there was only a few weeks ago."
I remembered him perfectly now. I remembered, even, the occasion of my last visit to the cafe. Louis, with upraised hat, seemed as though he would have passed on, but, curiously enough, I felt a desire to continue the conversation. I had not as yet admitted the fact even to myself; but I was bored, weary of my search, weary to death of my own company and the company of my own acquaintances. I was reluctant to let this little man go.
"You visit Paris often?" I asked.
"But naturally, monsieur," Louis answered, accepting my unspoken invitation by keeping pace with me as we strolled towards the Boulevard. "Once every six weeks I come over here. I go to the Ritz, Paillard's, the Cafe de Paris,—to the others also. It is an affair of business, of course. One must learn how the Frenchman eats and what he eats, that one may teach the art."
"But you are a Frenchman yourself, Louis," I remarked.
"But, monsieur," he answered, "I live in London. Voila tout. One cannot write menus there for long, and succeed. One needs inspiration."
"And you find it here?" I asked.
Louis shrugged his shoulders.
"Paris, monsieur," he answered, "is my home. It is always a pleasure to me to see smiling faces, to see men and women who walk as though every footstep were taking them nearer to happiness. Have you never noticed, monsieur," he continued, "the difference? They do not plod here as do your English people. There is a buoyancy in their footsteps, a mirth in their laughter, an expectancy in the way they look around, as though adventures were everywhere. I cannot understand it, but one feels it directly one sets foot in Paris."
I nodded—a little bitterly, perhaps.
"It is temperament," I answered. "We may envy, but we cannot acquire it."
"It seems strange to see monsieur alone here," Louis remarked. "In London, it is always so different. Monsieur has so many acquaintances."
I was silent for a moment.
"I am here in search of some one," I told Louis. "It isn't a very pleasant mission, and the memory of it is always with me."
"A search!" Louis repeated thoughtfully. "Paris is a large place, monsieur."
"On the contrary," I answered, "it is small enough if a man will but play the game. A man, who knows his Paris, must be in one of half-a-dozen places some time during the day."
"It is true," Louis admitted. "Yet monsieur has not been successful."
"It has been because some one has warned the man of whom I am in search!" I declared.
"There are worse places," he remarked, "in which one might be forced to spend one's time."
"In theory, excellent, Louis," I said. "In practice, I am afraid I cannot agree with you. So far," I declared, gloomily, "my pilgrimage has been an utter failure. I cannot meet, I cannot hear of, the man who I know was flaunting it before the world three weeks ago."
Louis shrugged his shoulders.
"Monsieur can do no more than seek," he remarked. "For the rest, one may leave many burdens behind in the train at the Gare du Nord."
I shook my head.
"One cannot acquire gayety by only watching other people who are gay," I declared. "Paris is not for those who have anxieties, Louis. If ever I were suffering from melancholia, for instance, I should choose some other place for a visit."
Louis laughed softly.
"Ah! Monsieur," he answered, "you could not choose better. There is no place so gay as this, no place so full of distractions."
I shrugged my shoulders.
"It is your native city," I reminded him.
"That goes for nothing," Louis answered. "Where I live, there always I make my native city. I have lived in Vienna and Berlin, Budapest and Palermo, Florence and London. It is not an affair of the place. Yet of all these, if one seeks it, there is most distraction to be found here. Monsieur does not agree with me," he added, glancing into my face. "There is one thing more which I would tell him. Perhaps it is the explanation. Paris, the very home of happiness and gayety, is also the loneliest and the saddest city in the world for those who go alone."
"There is truth in what you say, Louis," I admitted.
"The very fact," he continued slowly, "that all the world amuses itself, all the world is gay here, makes the solitude of the unfortunate who has no companion a thing more triste, more keenly to be felt. Monsieur is alone?"
"I am alone," I admitted, "except for the companions of chance whom one meets everywhere."
We had been walking for some time slowly side by side, and we came now to a standstill. Louis held up his hand and called a taximeter.
"Monsieur goes somewhere to sup, without a doubt," he remarked.
I remained upon the pavement.
"Really, I don't know," I answered undecidedly. "There is a great deal of truth in what you have been saying. A man alone here, especially at night, seems to be looked upon as a sort of pariah. Women laugh at him, men pity him. It is only the Englishman, they think, who would do so foolish a thing."
Louis hesitated. There was a peculiar smile at the corners of his lips which I did not quite understand.
"If monsieur would honor me," he said apologetically, "I am going to-night to visit one or perhaps two of the smallest restaurants up in the Montmartre. They are by way of being fashionable now, and they tell me that there is an Homard Speciale with a new sauce which must be tasted at the Abbaye."
All the apology in Louis' tone was wasted. It troubled me not in the least that my companion should be a maitre d'hotel. I did not hesitate for a second.
"I'll come with pleasure, Louis," I said, "on condition that I am host. It is very good of you to take pity upon me. We will take this taximeter, shall we?"
Louis bowed. Once more I fancied that there was something in his face which I did not altogether understand.
"It is an honor, monsieur," he said. "We will start, then, with the Abbaye."
A CAFE IN PARIS
The Paris taximeters are good, and our progress was rapid. We passed through the crowded streets, where the women spread themselves out like beautiful butterflies, where the electric lights were deadened by the brilliance of the moon, where men, bent double over the handles of their bicycles, shot hither and thither with great paper lanterns alight in front of them. We passed into the quieter streets, though even here the wayfarers whom we met were obviously bent on pleasure, up the hill, till at last we pulled up at one of the best-known restaurants in the locality. Here Louis was welcomed as a prince. The manager, with many exclamations and gesticulations, shook hands with him like a long-lost brother. The maitres d'hotel all came crowding up for a word of greeting. A table in the best part of the room, which was marked reserve, was immediately made ready. Champagne, already in its pail of ice, was by our side almost before we had taken our places.
I had been here a few nights before, alone, and had found the place uninspiring enough. To-night, except that Louis told me the names of many of the people, and that the supper was the best meal which I had eaten in Paris, I was very little more amused. The nigger, the Spanish dancing-girl with her rolling eyes, the English music-hall singer with her unmistakable Lancashire accent, went through the same performance. The gowns of the women were wonderful,—more wonderful still their hats, their gold purses, the costly trifles which they carried. A woman by our side sat looking into a tiny pocket-mirror of gold studded with emeralds, powdering her face the while with a powder-puff to match, in the centre of which were more emeralds, large and beautifully cut. Louis noticed my scrutiny.
"The wealth of France," he whispered in my ear, "is spent upon its women. What the Englishman spends at his club or on his sports the Frenchman spends upon his womankind. Even the bourgeoisie, who hold their money with clenched fists like that," he gesticulated, striking the table, "for their women they spend, spend freely. They do all this, and the great thing which they ask in return is that they are amused. After all, monsieur," he continued, "they are logical. What a man wants most in life, in the intervals between his work, is amusement. It is amusement that keeps him young, keeps him in health. It is his womankind who provide that amusement."
"And if one does not happen to be married to a Frenchwoman?"
Louis nodded sympathetically.
"Monsieur is feeling like that," he said, as he sipped his wine thoughtfully. "Yes, it is very plain! Yet monsieur is not always sad. I have seen him often at my restaurant, the guest or the host of many pleasant parties. There is a change since those days, a change indeed. I noticed it when I ventured to address monsieur on the steps of the Opera House."
I remained gloomily silent. It was one thing to avail myself of the society of a very popular little maitre d'hotel, holiday making in his own capital, and quite another to take him even a few steps into my confidence. So I said nothing, but my eyes, which travelled around the room, were weary.
"After all," Louis continued, helping himself to a cigarette, "what is there in a place like this to amuse? We are not Americans or tourists. The Montmartre is finished. The novelists and the story-tellers have killed it. The women come here because they love to show their jewelry, to flirt with the men. The men come because their womankind desire it, and because it is their habit. But for the rest there is nothing. The true Parisian may come here, perhaps, once or twice a year,—no more. For the man of the world—such as you and I, monsieur,—these places do not exist."
I glanced at my companion a little curiously. There was something in his manner distinctly puzzling. With his lips he was smiling approval at the little danseuse who was pirouetting near our table, but it seemed to me that his mind was busy with other thoughts. Suddenly he turned his head toward mine.
"Monsieur must remember," he said quietly, "that a place like this is as the froth on our champagne. It is all show. It exists and it passes away. This very restaurant may be unknown in a year's time,—a beer palace for the Germans, a den of absinthe and fiery brandy for the cochers. It is for the tourists, for the happy ladies of the world, that such a place exists. For those who need other things—other things exist."
"Go on, Louis," I said quietly. "You have something in your mind. What is it?"
He shrugged his shoulders.
"I think," he said slowly, "that I could take monsieur somewhere where he would be more entertained. There is nothing to do there, nothing to see, little music. But it is a place,—it has an atmosphere. It is different. I cannot explain. Monsieur would understand if he were there."
"Then, for Heaven's sake, let us pay our bill and go!" I exclaimed. "We have both had enough of this, at any rate."
Louis did not immediately reply. I turned around—we were sitting side by side—wondering at his lack of response. What I saw startled me. The man's whole expression had changed. His mouth had come together with a new firmness. A frown which I had never seen before had darkened his forehead. His eyes had become little points of light. I realized then, perhaps for the first time, their peculiar color,—a sort of green tinged with gray. He presented the appearance of a man of intelligence and acumen who is thinking deeply over some matter of vital importance.
"Well, what is it, Louis?" I asked. "Are you repenting of your offer already? Don't you want to take me to this other place?"
"It is not that, monsieur," Louis answered softly, "only I was wondering if I had been a little rash."
"Rash?" I repeated.
Louis nodded his head slowly, but he paused for several moments before speaking.
"I was only wondering," said he, "whether, after all, it would amuse you. There is nothing to be seen, not so much as here. Afterwards, perhaps, you might regret—you might think that I had done wrong in not telling you certain things about the place which must remain secret."
"We will risk that," I answered, rising. "Let me come with you and I will judge for myself."
Louis followed my example, but I fancied that I still detected a slight unwillingness in his movements. My request for the bill had been met with a smile and a polite shake of the head. Louis whispered in my ear that we were the guests of the management,—that it would not be correct to offer the money for our entertainment. So I was forced to content myself with tipping the head-waiter and the vestiaire, the chausseur who opened the door, and the tall commissionnaire who welcomed us upon the pavement and whistled for a petite voiture.
"Where to, messieurs?" the man asked, as the carriage drew up.
Even then Louis hesitated. He was sitting on the side of the carriage nearest to the pavement, and he rose to his feet as the question was asked. It seemed to me that he almost whispered the address into the ear of the coachman. At any rate, I heard nothing of it. The man nodded, and turned eastward.
"Bon soir, messieurs!" the commissionnaire called out, with his hat in his hand.
"Bon soir!" I answered, with my eyes fixed upon the flaring lights of the Boulevard, towards which we had turned.
I found Louis, during that short drive, most unaccountably silent. Several times I made casual remarks. Once or twice I tried to learn from him what sort of a place this was to which we were bound. He answered me only in monosyllables. I was conscious all the time of a certain subtle but unmistakable change in his manner. Up to the moment of his suggesting this expedition he had remained the suave, perfectly mannered superior servant, accepted into equality for a time by one of his clients, and very careful not to presume in any way upon his position. It is not snobbish to say this, because it was the truth. Louis was chief maitre d'hotel at one of the best restaurants in London. I was an ex-officer in a cavalry regiment, brother of the Earl of Welmington, with a moderate income, and a more than moderate idea of how to spend it. Louis was servant and I was master. It had pleased me to make a companion of him for a short time, and his manner had been a perfect acknowledgment of our relative positions. And now it seemed to me that there was a change. Louis had become more like a man, less like a waiter. There was a strength in his face which I had not previously observed, a darkening anxiety which puzzled me. He treated my few remarks with scant courtesy. He was obviously thinking about something else. It seemed as though, for some inexplicable reason, he had already repented of his suggestion.
"Look here, Louis," I said, "you seem a little bothered about taking me to this place. Perhaps they do not care about strangers there. I am not at all keen, really, and I am afraid I am not fit company for anybody. Better drop me here and go on by yourself. I can amuse myself all right at some of these little out-of-the-way places until I feel inclined to go home."
Louis turned and looked at me. For a moment I thought that he was going to accept my offer. He opened his mouth but said nothing. He looked away into the darkness once more, and then back into my face. By this time I knew that he had made up his mind. He was more like himself again.
"Monsieur Rotherby," he said, "if I have hesitated at all, it was for your sake. You are a gentleman of great position. Afterwards you might feel sorry to think that you had been in such a place, or in such company."
I patted him on the shoulder reassuringly.
"My dear Louis," said I, "you need have no such fears about me. I am a little of an adventurer, a little of a Bohemian. There is no one else who has a claim upon my life, and I do as I please. Can't you tell me a little more about this mysterious cafe?"
"There is so little to tell," Louis said. "Of one thing I can assure you,—you will be disappointed. There is no music, no dancing. The interest is only in the people who go there, and their lives. It may be," he continued thoughtfully, "that you will not find them much different from all the others."
"But there is a difference, Louis?" I asked.
"Wait," he answered. "You shall see."
The cab pulled up in front of a very ordinary-looking cafe in a side street leading from one of the boulevards. Louis dismissed the man and looked for a moment or two up and down the pavement. His caution appeared to be quite needless, for the thoroughfare was none too well lit, and it was almost empty. Then he entered the cafe, motioning me to follow him.
"Don't look around too much," he whispered. "There are many people here who do not care to be spied upon."
My first glance into the place was disappointing. I was beginning to lose faith in Louis. After all, it seemed to me that the end of our adventure would be ordinary enough, that I should find myself in one of those places which the touting guides of the Boulevard speak of in bated breath, which one needs to be very young indeed to find interesting even for a moment. The ground floor of the cafe through which we passed was like a thousand others in different parts of Paris. The floor was sanded, the people were of the lower orders,—rough-looking men drinking beer or sipping cordials; women from whom one instinctively looked away, and whose shrill laughter was devoid of a single note of music. It was all very flat, very uninteresting. But Louis led the way through a swing door to a staircase, and then, pushing his way through some curtains, along a short passage to another door, against which he softly knocked with his knuckles. It was opened at once, and a commissionnaire stood gazing stolidly out at us, a commissionnaire in the usual sort of uniform, but one of the most powerful-looking men whom I had ever seen in my life.
"There are no tables, monsieur, in the restaurant," he said at once. "There is no place at all."
Louis looked at him steadily for a moment. It seemed to me that, although I was unable to discern anything of the sort, some sign must have passed between them. At any rate, without any protest or speech of any sort from Louis the commissionnaire saluted and stood back.
"But your friend, monsieur?" he asked.
"It will be arranged," Louis answered, in a low tone. "We shall speak to Monsieur Carvin."
We were in a dark sort of entresol, and at that moment a further door was opened, and one caught the gleam of lights and the babel of voices. A man came out of the room and walked rapidly toward us. He was of middle height, and dressed in ordinary morning clothes, wearing a black tie with a diamond pin. His lips were thick. He had a slight tawny moustache, and a cast in one eye. He held out both his hands to Louis.
"Dear Louis," he exclaimed, "it is good to see you!"
Louis drew him to one side, and they talked for a few moments in a rapid undertone. More than once the manager of the restaurant, for such I imagined him to be, glanced towards me, and I was fairly certain that I formed the subject of their conversation. When it was finished Louis beckoned, and we all three turned towards the door together, Louis in the centre.
"This," he said to me, "is Monsieur Carvin, the manager of the Cafe des Deux Epingles. He has been explaining to me how difficult it is to find even a corner in his restaurant, but there will be a small table for us."
Monsieur Carvin bowed.
"For any friend of Louis," he said, "one would do much. But indeed, monsieur, people seem to find my little restaurant interesting, and it is, alas, so very small."
We entered the room almost as he spoke. It was larger than I had expected to find it, and the style of its decorations and general appearance were absolutely different from the cafe below. The coloring was a little sombre for a French restaurant, and the illuminations a little less vivid. The walls, however, were panelled with what seemed to be a sort of dark mahogany, and on the ceiling was painted a great allegorical picture, the nature of which I could not at first surmise. The guests, of whom the room was almost full, were all well-dressed and apparently of the smart world. The tourist element was lacking. There were a few men there in morning clothes, but these were dressed with the rigid exactness of the Frenchman, who often, from choice, affects this style of toilet. From the first I felt that the place possessed an atmosphere. I could not describe it, but, quite apart from Louis' few words concerning it, I knew that it had a clientele of its own, and that within its four walls were gathered together people who were in some way different from the butterfly crowd who haunt the night cafes in Paris. Monsieur Carvin himself led us to a small table against the wall, and not far inside the room. The vestiaire relieved us of our coats and hats. A suave maitre d'hotel bent over us with suggestions for supper, and an attendant sommelier waited by his side. Monsieur Carvin waved them away.
"The gentlemen have probably supped," he remarked. "A bottle of the Pommery, Gout Anglais, and some biscuits. Is that right, Louis?"
We both hastened to express our approval. Monsieur Carvin was called by some one at the other end of the room and hurried away. Louis turned to me. There was a curious expression in his eyes.
"You are disappointed?" he asked. "You see nothing here different? It is all the same to you."
"Not in the least," I answered. "For one thing, it seems strange to find a restaurant de luxe up here, when below there is only a cafe of the worst. Are they of the same management?"
"Up here," he said, "come the masters, and down there the servants. Look around at these people, monsieur. Look around carefully. Tell me whether you do not see something different here from the other places."
I followed Louis' advice. I looked around at the people with an interest which grew rather than abated, and for which I could not at first account. Soon, however, I began to realize that although this was, at first appearance, merely a crowd of fashionably dressed men and women, yet they differed from the ordinary restaurant crowd in that there was something a little out of the common in the faces of nearly every one of them. The loiterers through life seemed absent. These people were relaxing freely enough,—laughing, talking, and making love,—but behind it all there seemed a note of seriousness, an intentness in their faces which seemed to speak of a career, of things to be done in the future, or something accomplished in the past. The woman who sat at the opposite table to me—tall, with yellow hair, and face as pale as alabaster—was a striking personality anywhere. Her blue eyes were deep-set, and she seemed to have made no effort to conceal the dark rings underneath, which only increased their luminosity. A magnificent string of turquoises hung from her bare neck, a curious star shone in her hair. Her dress was of the newest mode. Her voice, languid but elegant, had in it that hidden quality which makes it one of a woman's most attractive gifts. By her side was a great black-moustached giant, a pale-faced man, with little puffs of flesh underneath his eyes, whose dress was a little too perfect and his jewelry a little too obvious.
"Tell me," I asked, "who is that man?"
Louis leaned towards me, and his voice sunk to the merest whisper.
"That, monsieur," said he, "is one of the most important persons in the room. He is the man whom they call the uncrowned king. He was a saddler once by profession. Look at him now."
"How has he made his money?" I asked.
Louis smiled—a queer little contraction of his thin lips.
"It is not wise," he said, "to ask that question of any whom you meet here. Henri Bartot was one of the wildest youths in Paris. It was he who started the first band of thieves, from which developed the present hoard of apaches."
"And now?" I asked.
"He is their unrecognized, unspoken-of leader," Louis whispered. "The man who offends him to-night would be lucky to find himself alive to-morrow."
I looked across the room curiously. There was not a single redeeming feature in the man's face except, perhaps, the suggestion of brute, passionate force which still lingered about his thick, straight lips and heavy jaw. The woman by his side seemed incomprehensible. I saw now that she had eyes of turquoise blue and a complexion almost waxenlike. She lifted her arms, and I saw that they, too, were covered with bracelets of light-blue stones. Louis, following my eyes, touched me on the arm.
"Don't look at her," he said warningly. "She belongs to him—Bartot. It is not safe to flirt with her even at this distance."
I laughed softly and sipped my wine.
"Louis," I said, "it is time you got back to London. You are living here in too imaginative an atmosphere."
"I speak the truth, monsieur," he answered grimly. "She, too,—she is not safe. She finds pleasure in making fools of men. The suffering which comes to them appeals to her vanity. There was a young Englishman once, he sent a note to her—not here, but at the Cafe de Paris—at luncheon time one morning. He was to have left Paris the next day. He did not leave. He has never been heard of since!"
There was no doubt that Louis himself, at any rate, believed what he was saying. I looked away from the young lady a little reluctantly. As though she understood Louis' warning, her lips parted for a moment in a faint, contemptuous smile. She leaned over and touched the man Bartot on the shoulder and whispered something in his ear. When I next looked in their direction I found his eyes fixed upon mine in a steady, malignant stare.
"Monsieur will remember," Louis whispered in my ear softly, "that I am responsible for his coming here."
"Of course," I answered reassuringly. "I have not the slightest wish to run up against any of these people. I will not look at them any more. She knew what she was doing, though, Louis, when she hung blue stones about her with eyes like that, eh?"
"She is beautiful," Louis admitted. "There are very many who admire her. But after all, what is the use? One has little pleasure of the things which one may not touch."
We were silent for several minutes. Suddenly my fingers gripped Louis' arm. Had I been blind all this time that they had escaped my notice? Then I saw that they were sitting at an extra table which had been hastily arranged, and I knew that they could have only just arrived.
"Tell me, Louis," I demanded eagerly, "who are those two at the small round table on the left,—the two who seem to have just come in,—a man and a girl?"
Louis turned his head, and I saw his lips come together—saw the quick change in his face from indifference to seriousness. For some reason or other my interest in these two seemed to be a matter of some import to him.
"Why does monsieur ask?" he said.
"The idlest curiosity," I assured him. "I know nothing about them except that they are distinctive, and one cannot fail, of course, to admire the young lady."
"You have seen them often?" Louis asked, in a low tone.
"I told you, Louis," I answered, "that my mission in Paris is of the nature of a search. For ten days I have haunted all the places where one goes,—the Race Course, the Bois, the Armenonville and Pre Catelan, the Rue de la Paix, the theatres. I have seen them nearly every day. To-night they were at the Opera."
"You know nothing of them beyond that?" Louis persisted.
"Nothing whatever," I declared. "I am not a boulevarder, Louis," I continued slowly, "and in England, you know, it is not the custom to stare at women as these Frenchmen seem to do with impunity. But I must confess that I have watched that girl."
"You find her attractive," murmured Louis.
"I find her delightful," I assented, "only she seems scarcely old enough to be about in such places as these."
"The man," Louis said slowly, "is a Brazilian. His name is Delora."
"Does he live in Paris?" I asked.
"By no means," Louis answered. "He is a very rich coffee-planter, and has immense estates somewhere in his own country. He comes over here every year to sell his produce on the London market. I believe that he is on his way there now."
"And the girl?" I asked.
"She is his niece," Louis answered. "She has been brought up in France at a convent somewhere in the south, I believe. I think I heard that this time she was to return to Brazil with her uncle."
"I wonder," I asked, "if she is going to London with him?"
"Probably," Louis answered, "and if monsieur continues to patronize me," he continued, "he will certainly see more of them, for Monsieur Delora is a client who is always faithful to me."
Notwithstanding its somewhat subdued air, there was all the time going on around us a cheerful murmur of conversation, the popping of corks, the laughter of women, the hurrying to and fro of waiters,—all the pleasant disturbance of an ordinary restaurant at the most festive hour of the night. But there came, just at this moment, a curious interruption, an interruption curious not only on its own account, but on account of the effect which it produced. From somewhere in the centre of the room there commenced ringing, softly at first, and afterwards with a greater volume, a gong, something like the siren of a motor-car, but much softer and more musical. Instantly a dead silence seemed to fall upon the place. Conversation was broken off, laughter was checked, even the waiters stood still in their places. The eyes of every one seemed turned towards the door. One or two of the men rose, and in the faces of these was manifest a sudden expression in which was present more or less of absolute terror. Bartot for a moment shrank back in his chair as though he had been struck, only to recover himself the next second; and the lady with the turquoises bent over and whispered in his ear. One person only left his place,—a young man who had been sitting at a table at the other end of the room with one of the gayest parties. At the very first note of alarm he had sprung to his feet. A few seconds later, with swift, silent movements and face as pale as a ghost, he had vanished into the little service room from which the waiters issued and returned. With his disappearance the curious spell which seemed to have fallen upon these other people passed away. The waiters resumed their tasks. The room was once more hilariously gay. Upon the threshold a newcomer was standing, a tall man in correct morning dress, with a short gray beard and a tiny red ribbon in his button-hole. He stood there smiling slightly—an unobtrusive entrance, such as might have befitted any habitue of the place. Yet all the time his eyes were travelling restlessly up and down the room. As he stood there, one could fancy there was not a face into which he did not look during those few minutes.
I leaned towards Louis, but he anticipated my question. His hand had caught my wrist and was pinning it down to the table.
"Wait!" he muttered—"wait! You perceive that we are drinking wine of the vintage of '98. I will tell you of my trip to the vineyards. Do not look at that man as though his appearance was anything remarkable. You are not an habitue here, and he will take notice of you."
As one who speaks upon the subject most interesting to him, Louis, with the gestures and swift, nervous diction of his race, talked to me of the vineyards and the cellars of the famous champagne house whose wine we were drinking. I did my best to listen intelligently, but every moment I found my eyes straying towards this new arrival, now deep in apparently pleasant conversation with Monsieur Carvin.
The newcomer had the air of one who has looked in to smile around at his acquaintances and pass on. He accepted a cigarette from Carvin, but he did not sit down, and I saw him smile a polite refusal as a small table was pointed out to him. He strolled a little into the place and he bowed pleasantly to several with whom he seemed to be acquainted, amongst whom was the man Bartot. He waved his hand to others further down the room. His circle of acquaintances, indeed, seemed unlimited. Then, with a long hand-shake and some parting jest, he took leave of Monsieur Carvin and disappeared. Somehow or other one seemed to feel the breath of relief which went shivering through the room as he departed. Louis answered then my unspoken question.
"That," he said, "is a very great man. His name is Monsieur Myers."
"The head of the police!" I exclaimed.
"The most famous," he said, "whom France has ever possessed, Monsieur Myers is absolutely marvellous," he declared. "The man has genius,—genius as well as executive ability. It is a terrible war that goes on between him and the haute ecole of crime in this country."
"Tell me, Louis," I asked, "is Monsieur Myers' visit here to-night professional?"
"Monsieur has observation," Louis answered. "Why not?"
"You mean," I asked, "that there are criminals—people under suspicion—"
"I mean," Louis interrupted, "that in this room, at the present moment, are some of the most famous criminals in the world."
A question half framed died away upon my lips. Louis, however, divined it.
"You were about to ask," he said, "how I obtained my entry here. Monsieur, one had better not ask. It is one thing to be a thief. It is quite another to see something of the wonderful life which those live who are at war with society."
I looked around the room once more. Again I realized the difference between this gathering of well-dressed men and women and any similar gathering which I had seen in Paris. The faces of all somehow lacked that tiredness of expression which seems to be the heritage of those who drink the cup of pleasure without spice, simply because the hand of Fate presses it to their lips. These people had found something else. Were they not, after all, a little to be envied? They must know what it was to feel the throb of life, to test the true flavor of its luxuries when there was no certainty of the morrow. I felt the fascination, felt it almost in my blood, as I looked around.
"You could not specify, I suppose?" I said to Louis.
"How could monsieur ask it?" he replied, a little reproachfully. "You will be one of the only people who do not belong who have been admitted here, and you will notice," he continued, "that I have asked for no pledge—I rely simply upon the honor of monsieur."
"There is crime and crime, Louis," said I. "I have never been able to believe myself that it is the same thing to rob the widow and the millionaire. I know that I must not ask you any questions," I continued, "but the girl with Delora,—the man whom you call Delora,—she, at least, is innocent of any knowledge of these things?"
"Monsieur is susceptible," he remarked. "I cannot answer that question. Mademoiselle is a stranger. She is but a child."
"And Monsieur Delora himself?" I asked. "He comes here when he chooses? He is not merely a sightseer?"
"No," Louis repeated, "he is not merely a sightseer!"
"A privileged person," I remarked.
"He is a wonderful man," Louis answered calmly. "He has travelled all over the world. He knows a little of every capital, of every side of life,—perhaps," he added, "of the underneath side."
"His niece is very beautiful," I remarked, looking at her thoughtfully. "It seems almost a shame, does it not, to bring her into such a place as this?"
"If she were going to stay in Paris—yes!" he said. "If she is really going to Brazil, it matters little what she does. A Parisian, of course, would never bring his womankind here."
"She is very beautiful," I remarked. "Yes, I agree with you, Louis. It is no place for girls of her age."
"Monsieur may make her acquaintance some day," he remarked. "Monsieur Delora is on his way to England."
"She is a safer person to admire," I remarked, "than the lady opposite?"
"Much," Louis answered emphatically. "Monsieur has already," he whispered, "been a little indiscreet. The lady of the turquoises has spoken once or twice to Bartot and looked this way. I feel sure that it was of you she spoke. See how she continually looks over the top of her fan at this table. Monsieur would do well to take no notice."
I laughed. I was thirty years old, and the love of adventure was always in my blood. For the first time for many days the weariness seemed to have passed away. My heart was beating. I was ready for any enterprise.
"Do not be afraid, Louis," I said. "I shall come to no harm. If mademoiselle looks at me, it is not gallant to look away."
Louis' face was puckered up with anxiety. He saw, too, what I had seen. Bartot had walked to the other end of the room to speak to some friends. The girl had taken a gold and jewelled pencil from the mass of costly trifles which lay with her purse upon the table, and was writing on a piece of paper which the waiter had brought. I could see her delicately manicured fingers, the blue veins at the back of her hands, as she wrote, slowly and apparently without hesitation. Both Louis and myself watched the writing of that note as though Fate itself were guiding the pencil.
"It is for you," Louis whispered in my ear. "Take no notice. It would be madness even to look at her."
"Louis!" I exclaimed protestingly.
"I mean what I say, monsieur," Louis declared, leaning toward me, and speaking in a low, earnest whisper. "The cafe below, the streets throughout this region, are peopled by his creatures. In an hour he could lead an army which would defy the whole of the gendarmes in Paris. This quarter of the city is his absolutely to do with what he wills. Do you believe that you would have a chance if he thought that she had looked twice at you,—she—Susette—the only woman who has ever led him? I tell you that he is mad with love and jealousy for her. The whole world knows of it."
"My dear Louis," I said, "you know me only in London, where I come and sit in your restaurant and eat and drink there. To you I am simply like all those others who come to you day by day,—idlers and pleasure seekers. Let me assure you, Louis, that there are other things in my life. Just now I should welcome anything in the world which meant adventure, which could teach me to forget."
"But monsieur need not seek the suicide," Louis said. "There are hundreds of adventures to be had without that."
I shrugged my shoulders.
"If mademoiselle should send me the note," I said, "surely it would not be gallant of me to refuse to accept it."
"There are other ways of seeking adventures," Louis said, "than by ending one's days in the Seine."
The girl by this time had finished her note and rolled it up. She looked behind her to the other end of the room, where only Bartot's broad back was visible. Then she raised her eyes to mine,—turquoise blue as the color of her gown,—and very faintly but very deliberately she smiled. I was not in the least in love with her. The affair to me was simply interesting because it promised a moment's distraction. But, nevertheless, as she smiled I felt my heart beat faster, and I reached a little eagerly forward as though for the note. She called a waiter to her side. I watched her whisper to him; I watched his expression—anxious and perturbed at first, doubtful, even, after her reassuring words. He looked down the room to where Bartot was standing. It seemed to me, even then, that he ventured to protest, but mademoiselle frowned and spoke to him sharply. He caught up a wine list and came to our table. Once more, before he spoke, he looked behind to where Bartot's back was still turned.
"For monsieur," he whispered, setting the wine list upon the table, and under it the note.
I nodded, and he hastened away. At that moment Bartot turned and came down the room. As he approached he looked at me once more, as though, for some reason or other, he was more than ordinarily interested in my presence. It may have been my fancy, but I thought, also, that he looked at the wine card stretched out before me.
"Be careful!" Louis whispered. "Be careful! And, for God's sake, destroy that note!"
I laughed, and as Bartot was compelled to turn his back to me to regain his seat, this time at the table with his companion, I raised my glass, looking her full in the face, and drank. Then I slipped the note from underneath the wine card into my pocket. She made the slightest of signs, but I understood. I was not to read it until I was alone.
"Go outside," Louis whispered to me. "Read your letter and get rid of it."
I obeyed him. A watchful waiter pulled the table away, and I walked out into the anteroom. Here, with a freshly lit cigarette in my mouth, I unclenched my fingers, and looked at the few words written very faintly, in long, delicate characters, across the torn sheet of paper:
Monsieur is in bad company. It would be well for him to lunch to-morrow at the Cafe de Paris, and to ask for Leon.
That was all. I tore it into small pieces and returned to my seat, altogether puzzled. It seemed to me that Louis watched me with an incomprehensible anxiety as I resumed my place by his side.
"If monsieur is ready," he suggested, "perhaps we had better go."
I rose to my feet reluctantly.
"As you will, Louis," I said.
But the time for our departure had not yet come!
During the whole of the time people had been coming and going from the restaurant, not, perhaps, in a continual stream, but still at fairly regular intervals. It seemed to me, who had watched them all with interest, that scarcely a person had entered who was not worthy of observation. I saw faces, it is true, which I had seen before at the fashionable haunts of Paris, upon the polo ground, at Longchamps, or in the Bois, yet somehow it seemed to me that they came to this place as different beings. There was a tense look in their faces, a look almost of apprehension, as they entered and passed out,—as of people who have found their way a little further into life than their associates. Louis was right. There was something different about the place, something at which I could only dimly guess, which at that time I did not understand. Only I realized that I watched always with a little thrill of interest whenever the hurrying forward of Monsieur Carvin indicated the arrival of a new visitor.
We had already risen to go, and the vestiaire was on his way towards us, bearing my hat and coat, when Monsieur Carvin, who had hurried out a moment before, reappeared, ushering in a new arrival. The events that followed have always seemed a little confused to me. My first thought was that this was indeed a nightmare into which I had wandered. The slight unreality which had hung like a cloud over the whole of the evening, the strangeness of my being there with such a companion, the curious atmosphere of the place, which so far had completely puzzled me,—these things may all have served to heighten the illusion. Yet it seemed to me then that, dreaming or waking, this thing with which I was confronted was the last impossibility. I suppose that I must have stared at him like some wild creature, for the conversation around us suddenly stopped. Standing upon the threshold, looking around him with the happy air of an habitue, I saw this man to whom I owed my presence in Paris, this man concerning whom I had sworn that if ever I should meet him face to face my hand should be upon his throat. I remember nothing of my progress, but I know that I stood before him before he was conscious even of my presence. I addressed him by name. I believe that even my voice was not upraised.
"Tapilow!" I said.
He turned sharply towards me. I saw him suddenly stiffen, and I saw his right hand dart as though by instinct to his trousers pocket. But I was too quick for him. The blood was surging into my ears. Nothing in the whole room was visible to me but that pale, handsome face with the thin lips and dark, full eyes. I saw those eyes contract as though my hand upon his throat were indeed the touch of Death. I shook him until his collar broke away and his shirt-front flew open, shook him until from his limp body there seemed no longer any shadow of resistance. Then I flung him a little away from me, watching all the time, though, to see that his hand did not move towards that pocket.
"Tapilow," I cried, "defend yourself, you coward! Do you want me to strangle you where you stand?"
He came for me then with the frenzy of a man who is in a desperate strait. He was as strong as I, and he had the advantage in height. For a moment I was borne back. He struck me heavily upon the face, and I made no attempt to defend myself. I waited my time. When it came, I dealt him such a blow that he reeled away, and before he could recover I took him by the back of his neck and flung him from me across the table which our struggle had already half upset. He lay there, a shapeless mass, surrounded by broken glass, streaming wine, a little heap of flowers from the overturned vase. Then the hubbub of the room was suddenly stilled. A dozen hands were laid upon me.
"For God's sake, monsieur!" I heard Louis cry.
Monsieur Carvin led me away. I looked back once more at the prostrate figure and then followed him.
"This is not my fault," I said calmly. "He knew quite well that it was bound to happen. I told him that wherever we next met, whether it was in a street or a drawing-room, or any place whatsoever upon the face of the earth, I would deal out his punishment with my own hands, even though it should spell death. Perhaps," I continued, "you would like to send for the police. You can have my card, if you like."
"We do not send for the police here," Monsieur Carvin said hoarsely. "Louis will take you away at once. Where do you stay?"
"At the Ritz," I answered.
"Keep quiet to-morrow!" he exclaimed. "Louis will come to you. This way."
I shrugged my shoulders. At that moment it mattered little to me whether I paid the penalty for what had happened or not. I even looked back for a last time into the restaurant. I saw the strained, eager faces of the people bent forward to watch me. Some of the men had left their seats and come out into the body of the hall to get a better view. The man Delora was among them. The girl was leaning forward in her place, with her fingers upon the table, and her dark eyes riveted with horrible intensity upon the fallen figure. I saw mademoiselle—the turquoise-covered friend of Bartot. She, too, was leaning forward, but her eyes ignored the man upon the floor, and were seeking to meet mine. There was something unreal about the whole scene, something which I was never able afterwards to focus absolutely in my mind as a whole, although disjointed parts of it were always present in my thoughts. But I know that as I looked back she rose a little to her feet and leaned over the table, and heedless of Bartot, who was now by her side, she waved her hand almost as though in approbation. I was within a few feet of her, upon the threshold of the door, and I heard her words, spoken, perhaps, to her companion,—
"It is so that men should deal with their enemies!"
A moment later, Louis and I were driving through the streets toward my hotel. It was already light, and we passed a great train of market wagons coming in from the country. Along the Boulevard, into which we turned, was sprinkled a curious medley of wastrels of the night, and men and women on their way to work. It had been raining a little time before, but as we turned to descend the hill a weak sunshine flickered out from behind the clouds.
"It is later than I thought," I remarked calmly.
"It is half-past five o'clock," answered Louis.
He accompanied me all the way to the hotel. He asked for no explanation, nor did I volunteer any. As we drove into the Place Vendome, however, he leaned towards me.
"Monsieur is aware," he said, "that he has run a great risk to-night?"
"Very likely," I answered, "but, Louis, there are some things which one is forced to do, whatever the risk may be. This was one of them."
"You have courage," Louis whispered. "Let me tell you this. There were men there to-night, men on every side of you, to whom courage is as the breath of life. They have seen a man whom nobody loved treated as he probably deserved. Let me tell you that there is no place in the world where you could have struck so safely as to-night. Remain in the hotel to-morrow until you hear from some of us. I may not promise too much, but I think—I believe—that we can save you."
At that moment Louis' words meant little to me. I was still under the spell of those few wonderful moments, still mad with the joy of having taken the vengeance for which every nerve in my body had craved. It was not until afterwards that their practical import came home to me.
AN INFORMAL TRIBUNAL
I was awakened about midday by the valet de chambre, who informed me that a gentleman was waiting below to see me—a gentleman who had given the name of Monsieur Louis. I ordered him to prepare my bath and bring my coffee. When Louis was shown upstairs I was seated on the edge of my bed in my dressing-gown, smoking my first cigarette.
Louis had the appearance of a man who had not slept. As for myself, I had never opened my eyes from the moment when my head had touched the pillow. I had no nerves, and I had done nothing which I regretted. I fancy, therefore, that my general appearance and reception of him somewhat astonished my early visitor. He seemed, indeed, to take my nonchalance almost as an affront, and he proceeded at once to try and disturb it.
"Monsieur was expecting, perhaps, another sort of visitor?" he asked.
I shook my head.
"I really hadn't thought about it," I said. "After what you told me last night I have been feeling quite comfortable."
"Do you know that it is doubtful whether Monsieur Tapilow will live?" Louis asked.
"It was the just payment of a just debt," I answered.
"The law," he objected, "does not permit such adjustments."
"The law," I answered, "can do what it pleases with me."
Louis regarded me steadily for a moment or two, and I fancied that there was something of that admiration in his gaze which a cautious man sometimes feels for the foolhardy.
"Monsieur has slept well?" he asked.
"Excellently," I answered.
He glanced at the watch which he had taken from his waistcoat pocket.
"In twenty minutes," he announced, "we must be at the Cafe Normandy."
I raised my eyebrows.
"Indeed!" I said dryly. "I don't exactly follow you."
Louis shrugged his shoulders.
"Monsieur," he said, "it is no time, this, for the choice of words. There is a man who lies very near to death up there in the Cafe des Deux Epingles, and it must be decided within the next few hours what is to be done with him."
"I am not sure that I understand, Louis," I said, lighting a cigarette.
"You will understand at the Cafe Normandy in half an hour's time," Louis answered. "In the meanwhile, have you a servant? If not, summon the valet de chambre. You must dress quickly. It is important, this."
"I will dress in ten minutes," I replied, "but I must shave before I go out. That will take me another ten. In the meantime, perhaps you will kindly tell me what it all means?"
"What it all means!" Louis repeated, with upraised hands. "Is it not clear? Have you forgotten what happened only a few hours ago? It rests with one or two people as to whether you shall be given up to the police for what you did last night,—does monsieur understand that?—the police!"
"To tell you the truth, Louis," I answered, "I never dreamed of escaping from them. It did not seem possible."
"In which case?" Louis asked slowly.
I pointed to the revolver upon my mantelpiece.
"We all," I remarked, "make the mistake of overestimating the actual importance of life."
Louis shivered a little. I noticed both then and afterwards that he was never comfortable in the presence of firearms.
"A last resource, of course," I said, "but one should always be prepared!"
"In this city," Louis said, "it is not as in London. In London there are no corners which are not swept bare by your police. In London, by this time you would have been sitting in a prison cell."
"That," I remarked, "is doubtless true. So much the more fortunate for me that I should have met Monsieur Tapilow in Paris and not in London. But will you tell me, Louis, why you want me to go with you to the Cafe Normandy, and how you think it will help me?"
"It would take too long," Louis answered. "We will talk in the carriage, perhaps. You must not delay now—not one moment."
I humored him by hastening my preparations, and we left the place together a few minutes later. There were many things which I desired to ask him with regard to the events of last night and the place to which he had taken me, but as though by mutual consent neither of us spoke of these things. When we were already, however, about half way towards the famous restaurant which was our destination I could not keep silence any longer.
"Louis," I said, "tell me about this little excursion of ours. Who are these men whom we are going to meet?"
He turned towards me. The last few hours seemed to have brought us into a greater intimacy. He addressed me by name, and his manner, although it was still respectful enough, was somehow altered.
"Captain Rotherby," he said, "you do not seem to appreciate the position in which you stand. You are young, and life is hot in your veins, and yet to-day, as you sit there, your liberty is forfeit,—perhaps even, if Tapilow should die, your life! Have you ever heard any stories, I wonder," he added, leaning a little toward me, "about French prisons?"
"Are you trying to frighten me, Louis?" I asked.
"No!" he answered, "but I want you to realize that you are in a very serious position."
"I know that," I answered. "Don't think, Louis," I continued, "that what I did last night was the result of a rash impulse. I had sworn since a certain day in the autumn of last year that the first time I came face to face with that man, whether it was in the daytime or the nighttime, in a friend's house or on the street, I would punish him. Well, I have kept my word. I had to. I have had my fill of vengeance. He can go through the rest of his life, so far as I am concerned, unharmed. But what I did, I was bound to do, and I am ready to face the consequences, if necessary."
Louis nodded sympathetically.
"Monsieur," said he, "you have but to talk like that to convince the men whom you will meet in a few moments that you had a real grievance against Tapilow, and all may yet be well."
"Who are these men?" I asked. "Is it a police court to which you are taking me?"
"Monsieur," Louis answered, "there are things which I cannot any longer conceal from you. I myself, believe me, am merely an outsider. I am, as you know, a hardworking man with a responsible position and a family to support. But here in Paris I come on to the fringe of a circle of life with which I have no direct connection, and yet whose happenings sometimes touch upon the lives of my friends and intimates. It is a circle of life into which is drawn much that is splendid, much that is brilliant; but, monsieur, it is life outside the law, life which does as it thinks fit, which lives its own way, and recognizes no laws save its own interests."
"Go on, Louis, please," I said, "Tell me, for example, who these men are whom I am going to meet."
"They are men," Louis answered, "who have great influence in that world of which I spoke. The law cannot touch them, or if it could it would not. They wield a power greater than the power which drives the wheels of government in this country. If they hear your story, and they think well, you will go free, even though the man Tapilow should die."
"You believe this, Louis?" I asked curiously.
"I am sure of it," he answered.
It was not for me to dispute what he said. I merely shrugged my shoulders. Yet, as a matter of fact, I was expecting every moment to find the hand of a gendarme upon my shoulder. I expected it as the carriage stopped before the restaurant and we crossed the pavement. I expected it even when two men who were sitting in the anteroom of the restaurant rose up to meet us. Louis, standing between, performed an introduction.
"Monsieur Decresson and Monsieur Grisson," he said, stretching out his hand, "permit me to make you acquainted with Monsieur le Capitaine Rotherby, a retired officer in the English army, and brother of the Earl of Welmington."
The two men bowed politely and held out their hands. They were both typical well-dressed, good-looking Frenchmen, apparently of the upper class. Monsieur Decresson had a narrow black beard, a military moustache, a high forehead, pale complexion, and thoughtful eyes. Monsieur Grisson was shorter, with lighter-colored hair, something of a fop in his attire, and certainly more genial in his manner.
"It is a pleasure," they both declared, "to have the honor of meeting Monsieur le Capitaine."
The usual inanities followed. Then Monsieur Decresson pointed with his hand into the restaurant.
"If monsieur will do us the honor to join us," he said, "we will take luncheon. Afterwards," he continued, "we can talk over our coffee and liqueurs. It would be well for us to become better acquainted."
I saw no reason to object. I was, in fact, exceedingly hungry. We lunched at a corner table in the famous restaurant, and I am bound to admit that we lunched exceedingly well. During the progress of the meal our conversation was absolutely general. All the events of the previous night were carefully ignored. When at last, however, we sat over our coffee and liqueurs, Monsieur Decresson, after a moment's pause, turned his melancholy gray eyes on me.
"Capitaine Rotherby," he said, "my friend and I represent a little group of people who have some interest in the place where we met last night. We are deputed to ask you to explain, if you can, your conduct,—your attack, which it seemed to us was absolutely unprovoked, upon an habitue of the place and an associate of our own."
"There is only one explanation which I can make," I answered slowly. "I went there, as Louis will tell you, absolutely a stranger, and absolutely by chance. Chance decreed that I should meet face to face the one man in the world against whom I bear a grudge, the one man whom I had sworn to punish whenever and wherever I might meet him."
Monsieur Decresson bowed.
"There are situations," he admitted, "which can only be dealt with in that manner. Do not think me personal or inquisitive, I beg of you, but—I ask in your own interests—what had you against this man Tapilow?"
"Monsieur Decresson," I said, "I will answer you frankly. The man whom I punished last night, I punished because I have proved him to be guilty of conduct unbecoming to a gentleman. I punished him because he broke the one social law which in my country, at any rate, may not be transgressed with impunity."
"What you are saying now," Monsieur Grisson interrupted, "amounts to an accusation. Tapilow is known to us. These things must be spoken of seriously. You speak upon your honor as an English soldier and a gentleman?"
"Messieurs," I answered, turning to both of them, "it is agreed. I speak to you as I would speak to the judge before whom I should stand if I had murdered this man, and I tell you both, upon my honor, that the treatment which he received from me he merited. He borrowed my money and my brother's money. He accepted the hospitality of my brother's house, the friendship of his friends. In return, he robbed him of the woman whom he loved."
"The quarrel," Monsieur Decresson said softly, "seems, then, to have been another's."
"Messieurs," I answered, "my brother is an invalid for life. The quarrel, therefore, was mine."
Decresson and his companion exchanged glances. I leaned back in my chair. The three of them talked together earnestly for several minutes in an undertone. Then Louis, with a little sigh of relief, rose to his feet and came over to my side.
"It is finished," he declared. "Monsieur Decresson and Monsieur Grisson are of one mind in this matter. The man Tapilow's punishment was deserved."
I looked from one to the other of them in wonder.
"But I do not understand!" I exclaimed. "You mean to say, then, that even if Tapilow himself should wish it—"
Monsieur Decresson smiled grimly.
"What happens in the Cafe des Deux Epingles," he said, "happens outside the world. Without special permission it would not be possible for Monsieur Tapilow to speak to the police of this assault. Buy your Figaro every evening," he continued, "and soon you will read. In the meantime, I recommend you, monsieur, not to stay too long in Paris."
They took leave of me with some solemnity on the pavement outside the restaurant, but Monsieur Decresson, before stepping into his automobile, drew me a little on one side.
"Capitaine Rotherby," he said, "you have been dealt with to-day as a very privileged person. You were brought to the Cafe des Deux Epingles a stranger, almost a guest, and your behavior there might very well have been resented by us."
"If I have not said much," I answered, "please do not believe me any the less grateful."
"Let that go," Monsieur Decresson said coldly. "Only I would remind you of this. You are a young man, but your experience has doubtless told you that in this world one does not often go out of one's way to serve a stranger for no purpose at all. There is a chance that the time may come when we shall ask you, perhaps through Louis here, perhaps through some other person, to repay in some measure your debt. If that time should come, I trust that you will not prove ungrateful."
"I think," I answered confidently, "that there is no fear of that."
Monsieur Decresson touched Louis on the shoulder and motioned him to enter the automobile which was waiting. With many bows and solemn salutes the great car swung off and left me there alone. I watched it until it disappeared, and then, turning in the opposite direction, started to walk toward the Ritz. Curiously enough it never occurred to me to doubt for a moment the assurance which had been given me. I had no longer the slightest fear of arrest.
On the way I passed the Cafe de Paris. Then I suddenly remembered that strange little note from the girl with the turquoises. I never stopped to consider whether or not I was doing a wise thing. I opened the swing doors and passed into the restaurant. It was almost empty, except for a few people who had sat late over their luncheon. I called Leon to me.
"Leon," I said, "you remember me? I am Captain Rotherby."
He held up his hand.
"It is enough, monsieur," he declared. "If monsieur would be so good."
He drew me a little on one side.
"Mademoiselle still waits," he said in an undertone. "If monsieur will ascend."
"Upstairs?" I asked.
Leon bowed and smiled.
"Mademoiselle is in one of the smaller rooms," he said. "Will monsieur follow me?"
"Why, certainly," I answered.
A DOUBLE ASSIGNATION
I followed Leon upstairs to the region of smaller apartments. At the door of one of these he knocked, and a feminine voice at once bade us enter.
Mademoiselle was sitting upon a lounge, smoking a cigarette. On the table before her stood an empty coffee-cup and an empty liqueur-glass. She looked at me with a little grimace.
"At last!" she exclaimed.
"It is the gentleman whom mademoiselle was expecting?" Leon asked discreetly.
"Certainly," she answered. "You may go, Leon."
We were alone. She gave me her fingers, which I raised to my lips.
"Mademoiselle," I said, "I owe you a thousand apologies. I can assure you, however, that I have come at the earliest possible moment."
She motioned me to sit down upon the lounge by her side.
"Monsieur had a more interesting engagement, perhaps?" she murmured.
"Impossible!" I answered.
Now I had come here with no idea whatever of making love to this young lady. My chief interest in her was because she, too, was an habitue of this mysterious cafe; and because, from the first, I felt that she had some other than the obvious reason for sending me that little note. Nevertheless, it was for me to conceal these things, and I did not hesitate to take her hand in mine as we sat side by side. She did not draw it away, and she did not encourage me.
"Monsieur," she said, "do not, I beg of you, be rash. It was foolish of me, perhaps, to meet you here. We can talk for a few minutes, and afterwards, perhaps, we may meet again, but I am frightened all the time."
"Monsieur Bartot?" I asked.
"He is very, very jealous," she answered.
"You go with him every night to the restaurant in the Place d'Anjou?" I asked.
"I go there very often," she answered. "Monsieur, unless I am mistaken, is a stranger there."
"Last night," I told her, "I was there for the first time."
"You came," she said, toying with her empty liqueur-glass, "with Louis."
"That is so," I admitted.
"Louis brings no one there without a purpose," she remarked.
"You know Louis, then?" I asked.
She raised her eyebrows.
"All the world knows Louis," she continued. "A smoother-tongued rascal never breathed."
"Louis," I murmured, "would be flattered."
"Louis knows himself," she continued, "and he knows that others know him. When I saw monsieur with him I was sorry."
"You are very kind," I said, "to take so much interest."
She looked at me, for the first time, with some spice of coquetry in her eyes.
"I think that I show my interest," she murmured, "in meeting monsieur here. Tell me," she continued, "why were you there with Louis?"
"A chance affair," I answered. "I met him coming out of the Opera. I was bored, and we went together to the Montmartre. There I think that I was more bored still. It was Louis who proposed a visit to the Cafe des Deux Epingles."
"Did you know," she asked, "that you would meet that man—the man with whom you quarrelled?"
I shook my head.
"I had no idea of it," I answered.
She leaned just a little towards me.
"Monsieur," she said, "if you seek adventures over here, do not seek them with Louis. He knows no friends, he thinks of nothing but of himself. He is a very dangerous companion. There are others whom it would be better for monsieur to make companions of."
"Mademoiselle," I answered, looking into her eyes, "these things are not so interesting. You sent me last night a little note. When may I see you once more in that wonderful blue gown, and take you myself to the theatre, to supper,—where you will?"
She shot a glance at me from under her eyelids. The blind was not drawn, and the weak sunlight played upon her features. She was over-powdered and over-rouged, made up like all the smart women of her world, but her features were still good and her eyes delightful.
"Ah, monsieur," she said, "but that would be doubly imprudent. It is not, surely, well for monsieur to be seen too much in Paris to-day? He was badly hurt, that poor Monsieur Tapilow."
"Mademoiselle," I assured her, "there are times when the risk counts for nothing."
"Are all Englishmen so gallant?" she murmured.
"Mademoiselle," I answered, "with the same inducement, yes!"
"Monsieur has learned how to flatter," she remarked.
"It is an accomplishment which I never mastered," I declared.
She sighed. All the time I knew quite well that she carried on this little war of words impatiently. There were other things of which she desired to speak.
"Tell me, monsieur," she said, "what had he done to you, this man Tapilow?"
I shook my head.
"You must forgive me," I said. "That is between him and me."
"And Monsieur Louis," she murmured.
"Louis knew nothing about it," I declared.
She seemed perplexed. She had evidently made up her mind that Louis had taken me there with the object of meeting Tapilow, and for some reason the truth was interesting to her.
"It was a quarrel about a woman, of course," she murmured,—"the friend of monsieur, or perhaps a relation. I am jealous! Tell me, then, that it was a relation."
"Mademoiselle," I answered gravely, "I cannot discuss with you the cause of the quarrel between that man and myself. Forgive me if I remind you that it is a very painful subject. Forgive me if I remind you, too," I added, taking her other hand in mine for a moment, "that when I saw you scribble those few lines and send them across to me, and when I read what you said and came here, it was not to answer questions about any other person."
She raised her eyes to mine. They were curiously and wonderfully blue. Then she shook her head and withdrew her hands, sighing.
"But, monsieur," she said, "since then many things have happened. You must not show yourself about in Paris. It is better for you to go back to England."
"I am quite safe here," I declared.
"Then it has been arranged!" she exclaimed quickly. "Louis is, after all, monsieur's friend. He has perhaps seen—"
"We will not talk of these things," I begged. "I would rather—"
She started, and drew a little away, glancing nervously toward the door.
"I am terrified," she said. "Monsieur must come to my apartments one afternoon, where we can talk without fear. There is one more question, though," she continued rapidly. "Louis looked often at us. Tell me, did he say anything to you about Monsieur Bartot and myself?"
"Nothing," I answered, "except that Monsieur Bartot held a somewhat unique position in a certain corner of Paris, and that he was a person whom it was not well to offend."
"No more?" she asked.
"No more," I answered.
"I saw him point us out to you," she remarked.
"I asked him to show me the most beautiful woman in the room," I answered.
She shook her head.
"You are too much of a courtier for an Englishman," she said. "You do not mean what you say."
"Even an Englishman," I answered, "can find words when he is sufficiently moved."
I made a feint again to hold her hands, but she drew away.
"When are you going back to England?" she asked abruptly.
"To-morrow, I think," I answered, "if I am still free."
"Free!" she repeated scornfully. "If you are protected, who is there who will dare to touch you? Monsieur Decresson has all the police dancing to his bidding, and if that were not sufficient, Monsieur Bartot could rescue you even from prison. No, you are safe enough, monsieur, even if you remain here! It is Louis, eh, who is anxious for you to return to England?"
"My time was nearly up anyhow," I told her. "It is not until this moment that I have felt inclined to stay."
"Nevertheless," she murmured, "Monsieur goes to London to-morrow. Is it permitted to ask—"
"Anything," I murmured.
"If monsieur goes alone?"
"I fear so," I answered, "unless mademoiselle—"
She laid her fingers upon my lips.
"Monsieur does not know the elderly gentleman and the very beautiful girl who sat opposite him last night?" she asked,—"Monsieur Delora and his niece?"
Somehow I felt convinced, the moment that the question had left her lips, that her whole interest in me was centred upon my reply. She concealed her impatience very well, but I realized that, for some reason or other, I was sitting there by her side solely that I might answer that question.
"I heard their names last night for the first time," I declared. "It was Louis who told me about them."
She looked at me for several moments as though anxious to be sure that I had spoken the truth.
"Mademoiselle!" I said reproachfully. "Let us leave these topics. I am not interested in the Deloras, or Louis, or Monsieur Bartot. Last night is finished, and to-morrow I leave. Let us talk for a few moments of ourselves."
She held up her finger suddenly.
"Listen!" she exclaimed, in a voice of terror.
Footsteps had halted outside the door. She ran to the window and looked down. In the street below was standing an automobile with yellow wheels. I was looking over her shoulder, and she clutched my arm.
"It is he—Bartot!" she cried. "He is here at the private entrance. Some one has told him that I am here. Mon Dieu! It is he outside now!"
It was bad acting, and I laughed.
"Mademoiselle," I said, "if Monsieur Bartot is your lover, be thankful that you have nothing with which to reproach yourself."
I rang the bell. She looked at me for a moment with eyes filled with a genuine fear. Obviously she did not understand my attitude. From my trousers pocket I drew a little revolver, whose settings and mechanism I carefully examined. There was a loud knock at the door and the sound of voices outside. Monsieur Bartot entered, in a frock-coat too small for him and a tie too large. When he saw us he fell back with a theatrical start.
"Susette!" he exclaimed. "Susette! And you, sir!" he added, turning to me.
He slammed the door and stood with his back to it.
"What the devil is the meaning of this?" he asked, looking from one to the other of us.
I shrugged my shoulders.
"You had better ask mademoiselle," I answered.
"She is, I believe, an acquaintance of yours. As for me—"
"My name is Bartot, sir," he cried fiercely.
"An excellent name," I answered, "but unknown to me. I do not yet understand by what right you intrude into a private room here."
He laughed hardly.
"'Intrude'!" he cried. "One does not call it that. 'Intrude,' when I find you two together, eh?"
I turned to the girl, who, with her handkerchief dabbed to her eyes, was still affecting a perfect frenzy of fear.
"Has this person any claims upon you?" I asked. "He seems to me to be an exceedingly disagreeable fellow."
Bartot's face grew purple. His cheeks seemed to distend and his eyes grow smaller. It was no longer necessary for him to play a part. He was becoming angry indeed.
"Monsieur," he said, "I remember you now. It was you who tried to flirt with this lady last night in the Cafe des Deux Epingles. You have not even the excuse of ignorance. All the world knows that I have claims upon this lady."
"Claims," I answered, "which I can assure you I am not in a position to dispute."
"How is it, then," he asked fiercely, "that I find you two, strangers last night, together to-day here?"
I altered one of the cartridges in my revolver and let it go with a snap. Bartot took a quick step backwards.
"It is a long story," I said softly, "and I doubt whether it would interest you, Monsieur Bartot. Still, if you are really curious, mademoiselle will satisfy you later."
I saw a look pass between the two, and I no longer had any doubt whatever. I knew that they were in collusion, that I had been brought here to be pumped by mademoiselle.
"Monsieur," Bartot said, "you are apparently armed, and you can leave this room if you will, but I warn you that you will not leave Paris so easily."
The situation was quite plain to me. However little flattering it might be to my vanity, I should not have been in the least surprised if Monsieur Bartot had held out his hands, begged my pardon, and ordered a bottle of wine.
"Be reasonable, monsieur," I begged. "It is open to every one, surely, to admire mademoiselle? For the rest, I have been here only a few moments. So far as I am concerned," I added, glancing at the table, "mademoiselle has lunched alone."
"If I could believe that!" Bartot muttered, with a look of coming friendship in his eyes.
"Mademoiselle will assure you," I continued.
"Then what are you doing here?" he asked.
I raised my eyebrows.
"I was not aware," I said, "that this was a private restaurant."
"But these are private rooms," he answered. "Still, if it was a mistake,—I trust mademoiselle always."
She held out her hands to him with a theatrical gesture.
"Henri," she cried, "you could not doubt me! It is impossible!"
"You are right," he answered quickly. "I was too hasty."
I smiled upon them both.
"Mademoiselle," I said, "I am sorry that our pleasant little conversation has been interrupted. Believe me, though, to be always your devoted slave."
I opened the door. Monsieur Bartot turned towards me. I am convinced that he was about to offer me his hand and to call for that bottle of wine. I felt, however, that flight was safest. I went out and closed the door.
"The bill, monsieur?" a waiter called after me as I descended the stairs.
I gave him five francs for a pour boire.
"Monsieur there will pay," I told him, pointing towards the room.
I arrived at the Ritz to find Louis walking impatiently up and down the stone-flagged pavement outside the entrance. He came up to me eagerly as I approached.
"I have been waiting for you for more than an hour!" he exclaimed.
I looked at him in some surprise. I had not yet grown accustomed to hear him speak in such a tone.
"Did I say that I was coming straight back?" I asked.
"Of course not," he answered. "After you left, though, I had some trouble with Monsieur Grisson. There is a chance that we may have to move Tapilow to a hospital, and he is just one of those fools who talk. Monsieur Grisson insists upon it that you leave Paris by the four o'clock train this afternoon."
I shook my head.
"I could not catch it," I declared. "It is half-past three now."
"On the other hand, you can and you must," Louis answered. "I took the liberty of telephoning in your name and ordering the valet to pack your clothes. Your luggage is in the hall there, and that automobile is waiting to take you to the Gare du Nord."
I opened my mouth to protest, but Louis' manner underwent a further change.
"Captain Rotherby," he said, "it is I and my friends who save you, perhaps, from a considerable inconvenience. Forgive me if I remind you of this, but it is not fitting that you should argue with us on this matter."
Louis was right. For more reasons than he knew of, it was well that I should leave Paris.
"Are you coming with me?" I asked.
"I am crossing by the night boat," Louis answered. "I have not quite finished the work for which I came over. I have some things to buy."
"Upon my word," I said, "I had forgotten your profession."
I went back into the hotel and paid my bill. Louis drove with me to the station and saw to the registration of my luggage. Afterwards he found my reserved seat, in which I arranged my rug and books. Then I turned and walked down the corridor with him.
"I trust," he said, "that monsieur will have a pleasant journey and pleasant companions."
I glanced into the coupe which we were just passing. It seemed curious that even as the wish left his lips I should find myself looking into the dark eyes of the girl whose face had been so often in my thoughts during the last few days! Opposite her was the gray-bearded man Delora, already apparently immersed in a novel. Every seat in the compartment was laden with their small belongings,—dressing-bags, pillows, a large jewel-case, books, papers, flowers, and a box of chocolates. I turned to Louis.
"Again," I remarked, "we meet friends. What a small place the world is!"
We stepped down on to the platform. Louis, for some reason, seemed slightly nervous. He glanced up at the clock and watched the few late arrivals with an interest which was almost intense.
"Monsieur," he said, a little abruptly, "there is a question which I should like to ask you before you leave."
"There are a good many I should like to ask you, Louis," I answered, "but they will keep. Go ahead."
"I should like to know," Louis said, "where you spent the hour which passed between your leaving the Cafe Normandy and arriving at the Ritz."
I hesitated for a moment. After all, I had no reason to keep my movements secret. It was better, indeed, to avoid complications so far as possible.
"You shall know if you like, Louis," I said. "I kept my appointment with the young lady of the turquoises."
Louis' pale face seemed suddenly strained.
"It was my fault!" he muttered. "I should not have left you! You do not understand how those affairs are here in Paris! If Bartot knew—"
"Bartot did know," I interrupted.
Louis' face was a study.
"Bartot came in while I was talking to mademoiselle," I said.
"There was a scene?" Louis inquired breathlessly. "Bartot threatened monsieur? Perhaps there were blows?"
"Nothing of the sort," I answered. "Bartot blustered a little and mademoiselle wrung her hands, but they played their parts badly. Between you and me, Louis, I have a sort of an idea that Bartot's coming was not altogether accidental."
"It was a trap," Louis murmured softly. "But why?"
I shook my head.
"Louis," I said, "I am the wrong sort of man to be even a temporary dweller in this nest of intrigue. I do not understand it at all. I do not understand any of you. I only know that I owe you and those other gentlemen a very considerable debt, and I have been solemnly warned against you by the young lady whom I met at the Cafe de Paris. I have been assured that association with you is the first step toward my undoing. Monsieur Bartot, for all his bluster, seemed very anxious to be friendly."
"It was the girl!" Louis exclaimed. "Bartot was too big a fool to understand!"
"I fear that I am in the same position as Monsieur Bartot," I said. "I do not understand!"
There was a warning cry. I had only just time to swing myself on to the slowly moving train. Louis ran for a moment by the side.
"Those people are harmless," he said. "They merely wished, if they could, to make use of you. Mademoiselle has tied other fools to her chariot wheels before now, that Bartot may grow fat. But, monsieur!"
I leaned over to catch his words.
"If Monsieur or Mademoiselle Delora should address you," he said, "you need have no fear. They are not of the same order as Bartot and Susette."
"I will remember," I answered, waving my farewells.
I regained my compartment, which I was annoyed to find had filled up till mine was the only vacant seat. I had not had time to buy any papers or magazines, but, after all, I had enough to interest me in my thoughts. Of Tapilow I scarcely thought at all. He and I had met, and I had kept my oath. So far as I was concerned, that was the end. I had not even any fears for my own safety as regards this matter. My interview with Decresson and his friend had had a curiously convincing effect upon me. I felt that I had been tried for my crime, and acquitted, in the most orthodox fashion. For me the curtain had fallen upon that tragedy. It was the other things which occupied my mind. I seemed to have found my way into a maze, to have become mixed up in certain affairs in a most mysterious and inexplicable way. What was the meaning of that place to which Louis had introduced me? Was it some sort of secret organization,—an organization which assumed to itself, at any rate, the power to circumvent the police? And Bartot, too! Had he really the power which Louis had declared him to possess? If so, why had he baited a clumsy trap for me and permitted me to walk out of it untouched? What did they want from me, these people? The thought was utterly confusing. I could find absolutely no explanation. Then, again, another puzzle remained. I remembered Louis' desire, almost command, that I should return to London by this particular train. Had he any reason for it? Was it connected in any way, I wondered, with the presence of this man and girl in the next compartment? It seemed feasible, even if inexplicable.
I rose and strolled down the corridor, looking in at the coupe where these two people sat, with all the banal impertinence of the curious traveller. The girl met my eyes once and afterwards simply ignored me. The man never looked up from his magazine. I passed and repassed three or four times. The effect was always the same. At last I resumed my seat. At any rate, they showed no pressing desire to make my acquaintance!
At Boulogne I descended at once into the saloon and made a hasty meal. When I came up on deck in the harbor I found that the chair which I had engaged was lashed close to the open door of a private cabin, and in the door of that cabin, standing within a few feet of me, was the niece of Monsieur Delora. I racked my brains for something to say. She gave me no encouragement whatever. At last I descended to a banality.
"We shall have rather a rough crossing, I am afraid," I said, touching my cap.
She looked at me as though surprised that I should have ventured to address her. She did not take the trouble to be annoyed. She answered me, indeed, with civility, but in a manner which certainly did not encourage me to attempt any further conversation. There was a moment's pause. Then she turned away and spoke to some one behind her in the cabin. A moment or two later the door was closed and I was left alone. After that it seemed ridiculous to imagine that there was any special significance to be attached to the fact that we were fellow passengers.
The crossing was a rough one, and I saw nothing more of either Delora or the girl. I had very little hand baggage, and I was one of the first to reach the train, where I made myself comfortable in the corner seat of a carriage towards the rear end. The inspector, whom I knew very well, locked my door, and until the last moment it seemed as though I should have the compartment to myself. The train, indeed, was on the point of starting, and I had almost given up looking out for my fellow passengers when they came hurrying up along the platform. I saw them glancing into the windows of every carriage in the hope of finding a seat. Two porters carried their small baggage. An obsequious guard followed in the rear. Just as they were opposite to the carriage in which I was sitting the whistle blew.
"Plenty of room higher up!" the inspector exclaimed. "Take your seats, please."
"We will get in here," the girl answered,—"that is to say, unless it is a reserved carriage. Please to open the door at once."
The inspector hesitated, remembering the tip which I had given him, but he had no alternative. The guard produced his key and opened the door. It was not until that moment that the girl recognized me. She stepped back, and the look which she threw in my direction was certainly not flattering.
"Can you find us another carriage?" she asked the guard, imperiously.
"Quite impossible, miss," the man answered. "You must get in here or be left behind."
They had barely time to take their seats. As my place was next to the window, I felt bound to help the porter hand in the small packages. The man Delora, who was wrapped up in a fur coat, and who looked ghastly ill, thanked me courteously enough, but the girl ignored my assistance. They took the two corner seats at the further end of the carriage. Delora immediately composed himself to sleep.
"It was a wretched crossing!" he said to the girl,—"the most miserable crossing I have ever had! And these trains,—so small, so uncomfortable!"
She shrugged her shoulders.
"When one travels," she said, "I suppose that one must put up with inconveniences of all sorts."
I knew very well that the last part of her sentence not only had reference to me, but was intended for my hearing. I affected, however, to be absorbed in the magazine which I was reading, and under cover of which I was able to make a close observation of the man, who was sitting on the same side as myself. He had put up his feet and closed his eyes, but he had evidently suffered badly from sea-sickness, for his face remained almost deathly white, and he shivered now and then as though with cold. He had lost the well-groomed air which had distinguished him in Paris. His features were haggard and worn, and he looked at least ten years older. His clothes were excellently made, and the fur coat which he had wrapped around himself was magnificent. For the rest, he seemed tired out—a man utterly wearied of life. Before we had reached the town station he was asleep.
The train rushed on into the darkness, and after a time I ventured to glance toward the girl. She, too, was leaning back in her place, but her face was turned a little away from me towards the window, through which she was gazing with the obvious intentness of one whose thoughts are far away. I had all my life been used to observing closely people of either sex who interested me, and I found now, as I had found during those various accidental meetings in Paris, that the study of this young woman afforded me a peculiar pleasure. Apart from her more personal fascination, she was faultlessly dressed. She wore a black tailor-made suit, perhaps a little shorter than is usual for travelling in England, patent shoes,—long and narrow,—and black silk stockings. Her hat was a small toque, and her veil one of those for which Frenchwomen are famous,—very large, but not in the least disfiguring. This, however, she had raised for the present, and I was able to study the firm but fine profile of her features, to notice the delicacy of her chin, her small, well-shaped ears, her eyebrows—black and silky. Her eyes themselves were hidden from me, but their color had been the first thing which had attracted me. They were of a blue so deep that sometimes they seemed as black as her eyebrows themselves. It was only when she smiled or came into a strong light that they seemed suddenly to flash almost to violet. Her figure was slim—she was, indeed, little more than a girl—but very shapely and elegant. She could scarcely be called tall, but there was something in her carriage which seemed to exaggerate her height. The very poise of her head indicated a somewhat contemptuous indifference to the people amongst whom she moved.