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Title: A Cabinet Secret
Author: Boothby, Guy Newell, 1867-1905
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Cabinet Secret" ***

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A Cabinet Secret

[Illustration: SHE STOOPED OVER ME. 'A Cabinet Secret.'

_Page 118._ (_Frontispiece_.)]


A Cabinet Secret

By Guy Boothby

Author of "Dr Nikola," "The Beautiful White Devil,"
"Pharos the Egyptian," "A Sailor's Bride," etc., etc.

With Illustrations by A. Wallis Mills

London

F. V. White & Co.

14 Bedford Street, Strand, W.C.

1901



INTRODUCTION


The Author deems it right to preface his work with the remark, that
while the War between England and the South African Republics forms the
basis of the story, the characters and incidents therein described are
purely fictional, and have no sort of resemblance, either intended or
implied, with living people. The Author's only desire is to show what,
under certain, doubtless improbable, conditions, might very well have
happened, had a secret power endeavoured to harass the Empire by taking
advantage of her temporary difficulties.



A CABINET SECRET



INTRODUCTION


Night was falling, and Naples Harbour, always picturesque, appeared even
more so than usual in the warm light of the departing day. The city
itself, climbing up the hillside, almost from the water's edge, was
coloured a pale pink by the sunset, and even old Vesuvius, from whose
top a thin column of black smoke was issuing, seemed somewhat less
sombre than usual. Out Ischiawards, the heavens were a mass of gold and
crimson colouring, and this was reflected in the calm waters of the Bay,
till the whole world was a veritable glow. Taken altogether, a more
beautiful evening could scarcely have been desired. And yet it is not
with the city, the mountain, or the sunset, that we have to do, but
with the first movement of a conspiracy that was destined ultimately to
shake one of the greatest Empires, the earth has ever seen, to the very
foundations of its being.

Though the world was not aware of it, and would not, in all human
probability, have concerned itself very much about it even if it had,
the fact remains that for some hours past two men, from a house situated
on one of the loftiest pinnacles of the city, had been concentrating
their attention, by means of powerful glasses, upon the harbour, closely
scrutinizing every vessel that entered and dropped her anchor inside the
Mole.

"Can anything have happened that she does not come?" asked the taller of
the pair, as he put down his glasses, and began to pace the room. "The
cable said most distinctly that the steam yacht, _Princess
Badroulbadour_ passed through the Straits of Messina yesterday at seven
o'clock. Surely they should be here by this time?"

"One would have thought so," his companion replied. "It must be borne in
mind, however, that the _Princess_ is a private yacht, and it is more
likely, as the wind is fair, that the owner is sailing in order to save
his fuel."

"To the devil with him, then, for his English meanness," answered the
other angrily. "He does not know how anxious we are to see her."

"And, everything taken into consideration, it is just as well for us and
for the safety of his passengers that he does not," his friend retorted.
"If he did, his first act after he dropped anchor would be to hand them
over to the tender mercies of the Police. In that case we should be
ruined for ever and a day. Perhaps that aspect of the affair has not
struck you?"

"It is evident that you take me for a fool," the other answered angrily.
"Of course, I know all that; but it does not make me any the less
anxious to see them. Consider for a moment what we have at stake. Never
before has there been such a chance of bringing to her knees one of the
proudest nations of the earth. And to think that if that vessel does not
put in an appearance within the next few hours, all our preparations may
be in vain!"

"She will be here in good time, never fear," his companion replied
soothingly. "She has never disappointed us yet."

"Not willingly, I will admit," the other returned; "but in this matter
she may not be her own mistress. She is a beautiful woman, and for all
we know to the contrary, this English _milord_ may be prolonging the
voyage in order to enjoy her society. Who knows but that he may carry
her off altogether?"

"In that case his country should erect a memorial to him, similar to the
Nelson Monument," said the smaller man. "For it is certain he will have
rendered her as great a service as that empty-sleeved Hero ever did."

The other did not reply, but, after another impatient glance at the
Harbour, once more began to pace the room. He was a tall, handsome
fellow, little more than thirty years of age, and carried himself with
soldierly erectness. The most casual observer would have noticed that he
was irreproachably dressed, and that his manners were those of one
accustomed to good society. His companion, on the other hand, was short
and stout, with a round bullet head, and closely cropped hair. He was
also the possessor of a pair of small twinkling eyes, and a neck so
thick, that one instinctively thought of apoplexy and sudden death in
connection with its owner. The room they occupied was strangely at
variance with the appearance of the younger and taller man. It was
little more than a garret, very dirty, and furnished in the poorest
fashion. But it had one advantage: it commanded a splendid view of
Naples Harbour, and, after all, that was what its present occupants
required. At last, the younger man, tired of his sentry-go up and down
the room, threw himself into a chair and lit a cigarette. For some
minutes not a word passed between them; all the time, however, the
shorter man remained at the window, his glass turned seaward, watching
for the smallest sign of the vessel they were so eagerly expecting.
Suddenly he uttered an exclamation which caused the other to spring to
his feet.

"What is it?" cried the latter; "what do you see?"

"I fancy she is coming up now," his friend replied. "If you run your
glass along the sky-line, I fancy you will be able to detect a white
speck, with a tiny column of smoke above it."

The other followed the directions given him, and, after a careful
scrutiny, gave it as his opinion that what his companion had said was
correct. Nearly an hour elapsed, however, before they could be quite
certain upon the subject. At last the matter was settled beyond doubt,
and when a magnificent white yacht rounded the Mole and came to its
anchorage in the Mercantile Harbour, they prepared to make their way
down to the water-side in order to board her. Before they started,
however, the elder of the two men effected sundry changes in his attire.

"Forgive the mummery," he remarked, as he took a somewhat clerical hat
and cloak from a peg, "but, as they say upon the stage, 'the unities
must be observed.' If our beautiful Countess has played her cards
carefully, Monseigneur should be of great benefit to us hereafter. It
would be a thousand pities to scare him away at the beginning. For this
reason it will be as well for you to remember that I am her Excellency's
lawyer, who has hastened to Naples in order to confer with her on a
matter of considerable importance, connected with her Styrian estates.
No suspicion will then be excited."

By the time he had finished speaking he had donned the hat and cloak,
and when he had given another expression to his face--for the man was a
consummate actor--he was satisfied that he looked the part he was about
to play. After that they descended the narrow, rickety stairs together,
and passed out into the street. It was a warm afternoon, and in
consequence Naples was in her most unsavoury humour. The two men,
however, did not appear to trouble themselves very much about it. Side
by side they made their way through the crowded streets, almost in
silence. Each was thinking of the approaching interview, and of what was
to result from it. Reaching the Harbour, they chartered a boat and bade
the rower convey them to the white yacht which had just dropped her
anchor. The man obeyed, and in less than five minutes they were lying
alongside one of the most beautiful pleasure vessels that has ever
upheld the shipbuilding honour of the Clyde. The Port formalities had
already been complied with, and now the accommodation ladder was hanging
at the side in readiness for visitors. When they drew up at its foot,
the tall man, addressing the quartermaster on duty at the gangway,
enquired whether Madame la Comtesse de Venetza were aboard, and, if so,
whether she would permit visitors to pay their respects to her.

It was noticeable that he spoke excellent English, with scarcely a touch
of foreign accent.

The man departed with the message, to presently return with the report
that Madame would be pleased to see the gentleman if they would "come
aboard." They accordingly climbed the ladder, and followed the
quartermaster along the deck to a sumptuous saloon under the bridge. The
owner of the beautiful craft was in the act of leaving the cabin as they
approached it.

"Won't you come in?" he said, pausing to open the door for them. "The
Countess will be very pleased to see you."

As he said this he glanced sharply at the two men, with an Englishman's
innate distrust of foreigners. He saw little in them, however, to
criticise, and nothing to dislike. They, on their side, found him a
tall, stalwart Englishman of the typical standard--blue eyes, ruddy
cheeks, close cropped hair, the latter a little inclined to be curly,
well, but not over dressed, and carrying with him an air of latent
strength that, in spite of his good-humoured expression, would have made
most people chary of offending him. When the two men entered the cabin,
he closed the door behind them and ran lightly up the ladder to the
bridge.

After his departure there was a momentary, but somewhat embarrassing,
silence. A long shaft of sunlight streamed in through one of the
windows (for they resembled windows more than port-holes) and revealed
the fact that the lady, who was reclining in a long easy-chair, was
extremely beautiful. Despite the cordial message she had sent, her
visitors could scarcely have been welcome, for she did not even take the
trouble to rise to receive them, but allowed a tall grey-haired man, who
might very well have passed for her father, to do the honours for her.

"My dear Luigi--my dear Conrad," he said, offering his right hand to the
smaller of the two men and his left to the other. "It is indeed kind of
you to be so quick to welcome us. The Countess is a little tired this
afternoon, but she is none the less delighted to see you."

The scornful curl of the lady's lips not only belied this assertion, but
indicated that _miladi_ was in a by no means pleasant temper. The
impatient movement of the little foot, peeping from beneath her dress,
said as much, as plainly as any words could speak.

"We have been waiting for you all day," the younger man began. "There is
news of the greatest importance to communicate. Every hour that passes
is now so much time wasted."

Then, for the first time during the interview, the lady spoke.

"You infer that I might have been quicker?" she said, with a touch of
scorn in her voice. "You evidently forget that, had it not been for this
English _milord's_ kindness, I should not be here even now."

It looked as if the younger man, while really uncomfortable, were trying
to act as if he were not afraid of her.

"Is there not such a thing as the Oriental Express?" he asked. "Had you
used that, we might have met at Turin, and have saved a great deal of
trouble and valuable time."

The lady turned impatiently from him to his companion.

"What form does your news take?" she enquired. "Is it contained in a
letter?"

"No, _Excellenza_, it was to be delivered by word of mouth," the other
replied. "The Council, who were in Prague at the time, paid me the
compliment of trusting to my discretion, and despatched me immediately
to you. We heard that you were in Constantinople, and the Secretary
undertook to have a message transmitted to you there. Our friend, Conrad
here, is perhaps not aware that the Oriental Express is occasionally an
impossible medium. But, while condoling with you on that score, I must
congratulate your Excellency in having pressed the Duke of Rotherhithe
into your service."

"Pray spare yourself the trouble," the lady replied. "I do not know that
I am particularly fond of obtaining hospitality, such as his, under
false pretences. It is sufficient for your purposes, is it not, that I
am here, and ready to do the Council's bidding, whatever that may be.
Perhaps you will be good enough to tell me what is expected of me?"

"Is it safe for me to tell you here?" Luigi enquired, and as he said it
he looked anxiously about him, as if he feared the presence of
eavesdroppers.

"As safe as it will be anywhere," the lady answered. "It is an
Englishman's yacht, and, whatever we may say of them, they are not in
the habit of listening at keyholes. Now what have you to tell me?"

The man hesitated once more before he replied. He was the chosen
mouth-piece of one of the most powerful organisations in Europe, and ere
now affairs involving death, and worse than death, had been entrusted to
him, and he had brought them to a satisfactory issue. As a rule, and
certainly when dealing with men, he did not know what fear was. In this
lady's presence, however, he was strangely nervous.

"Come," she said, "you are a long time telling me. Is it so very
difficult to explain? Or am I to anticipate a repetition of the Palermo
Incident?"

Whatever the Palermo Incident may have been, it was certainly not a
pleasant recollection to either of the men before her; the elder man
became uncomfortable, while the younger moved uneasily in his seat.

"You hit hard, madam," the elder man returned; "but, thank goodness, I
am not thin-skinned. That the Palermo affair was a mistake, I am quite
prepared to admit; it is possible, however, the success which will
doubtless attend this affair, will make ample amends for it."

"You have not told me what the affair is," the lady replied. "Unless you
make haste, I fear I shall not be able to hear it to-night. It would be
as well for you to remember that I am not my own mistress, and that, in
return for his hospitality, my host has at least some claim upon my
society."

"I will not detain you longer than is absolutely necessary," the other
replied. "With your permission I will now explain my mission. Of
course, your Excellency is aware that the British Empire is on the eve
of a serious struggle with the two South African Republics. The
Republics in question have been arming for several years, and there can
be no sort of doubt that the war, which is now about to begin, will make
the most enormous demands upon the resources and capabilities of even
that great Empire. That the country, at least so far as its military
organisation is concerned, is not properly prepared for such an
encounter, admits of no doubt. Her armament is well known to be
deficient, if not defective; she possesses but few Generals whose
experience entitles them to the right of leading her troops as they
should be led against a foe which will have in its ranks some of the
best fighting men in the world; while the nature of the country in which
she will have to fight, and the peculiar tactics of the enemy, are
unfavourable to her in the highest degree. Apart from this, it has been
her boast that she occupies an isolated position in Europe, if not in
the world. France, Russia, Germany and Holland are avowedly
unfavourable; Spain remembers Great Britain's sympathy with America in
the Cuban affair; Portugal will wait to see what turn events take
before she commits herself; while America will stand strictly neutral.
We all remember that the larger Republic has beaten her before: it is
possible that it may do so again. All these things having been taken
into consideration, it must be quite clear to an observant mind that if
England is ever to be humiliated, now is the time to do it. With this
end in view, the Council was summoned hastily to meet in Prague. The
result of their deliberations was the drawing up of a plan of action,
and as soon as this had been agreed upon, I was ordered to place myself
in communication with you. You were in Constantinople, and, as I have
said, a message was immediately despatched by the Secretary to you."

"I received it, and am here. What am I to do?"

"I can tell you no more than that you are to make your way to England at
once, _via_ Rome and Paris. Von Rosendell is in Rome. He will meet you,
and give you full particulars of the scheme which has been proposed."

"And when am I to leave Naples in order to meet him?"

"As soon as possible," the other replied; "there is no time to waste. I
was to invite you to make your arrangements at once, and to telegraph
the hour of your departure in the usual way."

"In that case I need not detain you any longer," she answered with
chilling politeness. "Should it be necessary for me to communicate with
you, I presume the usual address will find you?"

"But----"

"But what? Is there anything else I am to hear?"

"There is this--that I am to go with you," the younger man put in,
almost apologetically. "I received my orders from the Council this
morning. I hope you do not disapprove?"

He looked at her almost beseechingly; the expression upon her face,
however, betrayed neither pleasure nor annoyance. Do what he would, he
could not prevent a sigh from escaping him as he became aware of it. All
day he had been hoping that she would be pleased when she heard that he
was to co-operate with her; now, however, his heart sank like lead. It
was just the sort of enterprise he liked. It was daring, reckless to a
degree; they would carry their lives in their hands, as they had so
often done before; indeed, the mere fact that he was to share the
dangers with her had been the greatest pleasure he had known for months
past.

"If you are to accompany us," she said, scarcely looking at him, "you
had better hold yourself in readiness. It will be safer if we travel
apart during the time we are in Italy, and afterwards other arrangements
can be made so that we----"

"We will leave you and return to the shore," interrupted the man called
Luigi, who did not altogether approve the turn affairs were taking. "I
have carried out my instructions, and so far as I am concerned,
individually, the matter is at an end."

Five minutes later they had left the yacht, and the Countess de Venetza
was apologizing to the Duke of Rotherhithe for the intrusion of her
lawyer people on his yacht.

"It is really too hard," she said pathetically; "they give me no peace.
When my husband died and I inherited his estates, he had no thought of
the trouble and anxiety the management of them would cause me. My
lawyers are perpetually grumbling because they cannot obtain interviews
with me. I often think that they look upon me as a sort of
Will-o'-the-Wisp, flickering about Europe, and impossible to catch. Why
they could not have transacted the business with my father instead of
bothering me with it, I cannot imagine. However, you will forgive me,
will you not?"

The Duke, who by the way, was extremely susceptible, looked unutterable
things. He had first met the Countess in Algiers a year before, and had
fallen desperately in love with her before he had known her twenty-four
hours. The mere fact that she did not encourage his attentions only
served to attract him the more. They met at Cairo six months later--and
now, when he discovered that it was in his power to do her a service by
conveying her from Constantinople to Naples, he was only too glad to
avail himself of the opportunity.

"It is a shame, indeed, that they should worry you so," he said
sympathetically, looking as he spoke into his fair friend's eyes in a
manner that would have carried consternation into the hearts of not a
few mothers in England. "They worry me at home in much the same way. As
I say to them, what's the use of employing lawyers and Estate Agents,
and all those sort of people, if they cannot do their work without your
assistance? You might just as well do it yourself in the first instance,
and save their salaries. But then, you see, I am not so clever as you
are, Countess, and that makes all the difference."

"What makes you think I am so clever, pray?" she enquired, looking up at
him with innocent eyes.

"Oh, I don't know," he replied; "I've noticed it on lots of occasions.
Do you remember the day that plausible Greek beggar worried us so in
Constantinople, and you whispered something to him that sent him off
about his business like a shot out of a gun. And in Algiers, when that
Frenchman made himself so objectionable and you managed to send him to
the right-about after a few moments' conversation. How you did it I
never could understand, but it was jolly clever all the same."

The Countess regarded him attentively for a moment. Was he really as
innocent as he made out to be, or had he noticed anything else? No; one
moment's examination was sufficient to convince her that, so far as he
was concerned, all was as it should be. Strolling to the port side of
the bridge, she looked down at the boat-load of musicians who were
strumming guitars, and bawling "_Finiculi Finicula_," with all the
strength of their Southern lungs.

"What a way in which to spend one's life," said the Duke, as he joined
her, and tossed some silver into the boat. "Fancy shouting that wretched
thing, week after week, and year after year! Italy is a funny
country--all bandits, soldiers, beggars and musicians. I suppose, if the
truth were known, each of those men belongs to some secret society or
another. Either the Cammoristi, or the Mafia, or some such organisation.
How would you like to be a conspirator, Countess, and be always in
terror of being caught?"

The Countess's hand clenched the bar before her, and, for a moment, her
face turned deathly pale.

"What an extraordinary question to ask," she began, fighting hard for
her self-possession. "Do you want to frighten me out of my wits? I am
afraid I should make the poorest conspirator imaginable. I should be too
deficient in courage."

"I am not inclined to believe that," said the Duke, reflectively. "I
think you would have plenty of courage when it was required."

"I am afraid you must think me an altogether remarkable person," she
returned. "If you go on in this way, I shall scarcely have presence of
mind enough to remain in your company. Seriously, however, Duke, I
don't know how to thank you for the services you have rendered my father
and myself. But for your assistance we should not be in Naples now, in
which case we should have been too late to have joined the party with
whom I am proceeding to England."

"You are going to England then after all?" he cried in great
astonishment and delight. "I thought you were only going as far as
Rome?"

"That was our original intention," she replied. "However, some letters
that we received to-night have altered our plans. But why do you look so
astonished? Are we poor foreigners not to be allowed to enter your
country?"

"It is not that," he said. "I was so pleased to hear that you intend
honouring us with a visit. When do you think you will reach England, and
where will you stay while you are there?"

She shook her head.

"Those are questions I cannot at present answer," she said. "It will
depend upon circumstances. As our arrangements stand at present, I think
it is extremely likely that we shall be in London in less than a week's
time."

"And will there be any means of learning your whereabouts?" he asked.
"You will surely not be cruel enough to visit England without permitting
me to call upon you?"

"Call by all means," she answered. "At present, however, I cannot tell
you what our address will be, for the reason that I do not know it
myself."

"But perhaps when you are settled you will let me know. You know my
house, I think?"

"I will do so with pleasure," she replied. "Then you will come and see
me, and I shall be able to thank you again for the kindness you have
shown my father and myself in our present trouble."

"It has been a very great pleasure to me," he said, "and I cannot thank
you sufficiently for honouring my yacht as you have done."

At that moment the elder man, to whom she had referred as her father,
made his appearance on the bridge and came towards them.

"My dear," he began, "has it not struck you that it is time for us to be
thinking of bidding His Grace farewell? Remember we have to start for
Rome by the early train to-morrow morning. It behoves us, therefore, to
make our preparations as soon as possible."

The Duke, however, would not hear of their leaving the yacht before
dinner, and in consequence it was quite dark when the Countess de
Venetza and her father, or, to be more correct, her reputed father, were
rowed ashore by four stalwart yachtsmen, steered by the Duke of
Rotherhithe himself. He would have accompanied them to their hotel, but
this the Countess would not permit.

"You have done too much for us already," she said; "we cannot let you do
more. We will not say _adieu_, but _au revoir_, since, in all
probability, it will not be long before we meet again."

"I hope, with all my heart, it may not be," he replied, and then the cab
they had engaged rattled away over the stones and was soon lost to view.

The Countess's stay in Naples was a short one, for next morning she left
by an early train for Rome. According to the plan he had prepared, His
Grace of Rotherhithe, having made enquiries as to the trains leaving
Naples for the capital, was present on the platform when the first took
its departure. With an eagerness that could only be accounted for by his
infatuation, he scanned the faces of the passengers, but the lady for
whom he had been so anxiously waiting was not among them. Greatly
disappointed by his discovery, he went off in search of breakfast, only
to return a quarter of an hour before the next train was due to leave.
Unfortunately, on this occasion, he was no more successful than before.
The train was well filled, but among the passengers there was not one
who bore any sort of resemblance to the lady he was hoping to see. So
anxious was he to make sure that he did not miss her, that, just before
the train started, he came within an ace of being run into by an invalid
chair, in which was seated a man closely muffled up with shawls. By the
side of the chair walked a nurse in English hospital uniform, who wore
large blue glasses, and carried more wraps and a couple of cushions upon
her arm. Even had he been aware of their identity, the Duke would have
found it difficult to recognise in the pair his guests of the previous
day. It was not the first time in their careers that they had been
compelled to adopt such disguises, and only that morning news had
reached them to the effect that, if they desired to get safely out of
Naples, disguises such as they had assumed would be imperative
necessities. A carriage, it appeared, had been reserved for the invalid
Englishman, and towards it they made their way. Having seated the old
gentleman in one corner, the nurse took her seat opposite him, and
busied herself preparing for the journey. It was not until Naples was
far behind, however, that she removed her spectacles and the invalid
discarded his wraps.

"That was as narrow an escape as we have ever had," said the former.
"The Head of the Police was upon the platform, and I recognised two
detectives in the crowd. However, all is well that ends well, and if
Luigi's arrangements have been properly made, we should be in Paris
before they know we have left Naples, and in London forty-eight hours
afterwards."

"Then you still feel certain that they were aware of our presence in
Naples?"

"Luigi's message said there was no doubt about it. Though he did not
know it, they must have been watching him, and have followed him to the
yacht. It was foolish of him to run such a risk. Let us hope, however,
he will be able to get out of Naples without their laying hands upon
him."

Shortly after one o'clock the train reached Rome and they alighted from
it. Such travellers as had witnessed the arrival of the invalid at the
Neapolitan railway station, would have observed now that he seemed
greatly fatigued by the journey. He was even more muffled up than
before, while the nurse was, if possible, more assiduous in her
attentions than she had been at the southern station. It was noticeable
also that she was a poor Italian scholar. Indeed, her pronunciation of
such words as she _did_ know was of the most erratic and elementary
description.

       *       *       *       *       *

Later in the day, just as dusk was falling, an artist's model, in the
picturesque dress of the country, might have been observed making her
way slowly down the Via Sistina in the direction of the Piazza S.
Trinità de' Monti. She appeared to be familiar with the neighbourhood,
though, on the other hand, no one seemed to have any acquaintance with
her. She had reached the Casa Zuccheri, when she was stopped by a tall
artistic-looking man, who walked with great uprightness, and carried a
portfolio beneath his arm. For the benefit of the passers by, he
enquired in broken Italian, whether the girl could inform him as to the
locality of a certain artist's studio, whereupon she personally offered
to conduct him to it. He thanked her courteously, and proceeded with
her in the direction indicated. They had no sooner left the vicinity of
the Via Sistina, however, than he turned to her and said, in the purest
Italian: "I was afraid you were not coming. You are very late."

"I am aware of that," the girl replied. "I had a suspicion that I was
being watched. Now, what have you to tell me?"

"You saw Luigi in Naples, I believe?"

"He met me there, with Conrad," the girl answered. "I could not help
thinking that it was an imprudence on his part."

"Luigi is always imprudent; and yet I cannot help feeling that he is
safer in his folly than we are in our care. He told you of the scheme
the Council had originated?"

The girl nodded an assent.

"He gave me to understand, however, that you would furnish me with full
particulars," she said.

"I am prepared to do so now," her companion replied.

As he said this, he led her from the main street into a dark alley,
where, having convinced himself that they had not been followed, he set
to work and told his tale. So anxious was he that there should be no
mistake about the matter, that when he had finished it he began it
again, only to repeat it a third time. The woman listened with rapt
attention.

"In conclusion," said he, "I might add that the money will be paid to
your credit at whatever London Bank you may select. One of the most
handsome residences, replete with all the necessaries, has been taken
for you in a fashionable quarter, and on your arrival in London you will
be left to act as your knowledge of the situation and the dictates of
the Council may determine. It is needless to caution you as to the risks
you may be called upon to run. The Council has, moreover, authorised me
to say that it places implicit trust in your discretion. Should you
require further advice, it will be furnished you at once, with any help
that may be considered needful."

"In the meantime, Paris is the first stage," the girl answered. "You are
quite certain that this Englishman, Sir George Manderville, has not yet
returned to England?"

"No, he is still there," her companion replied. "We have learnt,
however, that he will cross the channel on Friday next."

"On Friday next?" she repeated. "In that case there is no time to lose.
At first glance it would appear that he is the key to the situation."

"That is exactly the opinion of the Council," the man answered. "Now,
farewell, and may good luck attend you!"

So saying they retraced their steps to the main street. At the entrance
to the alley they separated, the girl returning to the Via Sistina--the
man going off in an opposite direction.

By the first train next morning the Countess de Venetza made an
unostentatious departure from Rome, for Paris, accompanied by her father
and her cousin, Conrad, Count Reiffenburg.



CHAPTER I


As a preface, I might explain that I have had the pleasure of knowing
Paris and De Belleville for more than twenty years. Both are, therefore,
old friends, the city and the man. The fact, however, remains, that De
Belleville, though a most charming companion, has one fault. Few people
would be prepared to admit it, but unfortunately, I am not only
compelled to recognise it, but to proclaim it to the world. As a friend,
he has not his equal--at least so far as I am concerned; he is certainly
not punctual, however. It is of that I complain. I have remonstrated
with him on the subject times out of number, but it makes no sort of
difference. If one has an appointment with him, he is invariably late,
but when he does put in an appearance, he will greet you with such
charming assurance, that you feel angry with yourself for having been
led into commenting upon the lapse of time.

On the particular afternoon which I am now about to describe to you, we
had arranged to meet at my hotel and then to go on together to call upon
the D'Etrebilles, who were just off to Cairo and the Upper Nile. He had
promised to be with me at three o'clock, and, as usual, at twenty
minutes past the hour he had not put in an appearance. Now, I flatter
myself that I am a punctual man in every respect, and when one is ready
to go out, a twenty minutes' wait is an annoyance calculated to test the
serenest temper. In my case it was certainly so, and, as I sat in the
picturesque courtyard of the hotel, you may be sure I called down the
reverse of blessings upon De Belleville's handsome head. Carriage after
carriage drove up, but not one of them contained my friend. I took a
third cigarette from my case and lit it, and as I did so, lay back in my
chair and amused myself watching my neighbours.

To my thinking, there are few places more interesting (that is, of
course, provided one has a weakness for studying character) than a hotel
courtyard. In sheer idleness I speculated as to the nationality and
relationship of the various people about me. There were several probable
Russians, one or two undoubted Germans, two whom I set down as
Italians, one might have been a Greek, but the majority were undoubtedly
English. And that reminds me that, as I waited, I was the witness of an
amusing altercation between a cabman and an English lady of considerable
importance and mature years. Both were playing at cross purpose, and it
was not until the Hotel Commissionaire, the _deus ex machina_, so to
speak, appeared upon the scene and interposed, that the matter at issue
was satisfactorily adjusted.

"Your pardon, Madame," he said, bowing low, "but ze man meant no harm.
It was his misfortune that he did not comprehend the words what Madame
said to him."

For a person who prided himself upon his tact, the poor fellow could
scarcely have said a more unfortunate thing. The matter of the
overcharge, Madame could have understood and have forgiven, but to be
informed in so many words that her knowledge of the French tongue was
deficient, was an insult not only to her intelligence, and to her
experience, but also to the money that had been spent upon her
education. Casting a withering glance at the unhappy functionary, she
departed into the hotel, every hair of her head bristling with
indignation, while the Commissionaire, shrugging his shoulders, went
forward to receive a tall, picturesque individual, who at that moment
had driven up.

The new-comer interested me exceedingly. In my own mind I instantly set
him down as a _dilettante_ Englishman of good birth and education. He
looked the sort of being who would spend the greater part of his time in
foreign picture-galleries and cathedrals; who would carry his Ruskin
continually in his pocket, and who would probably end by writing a
volume of travels "_for private circulation only_." I should not have
been surprised had I been told that he dabbled a little in
water-colours, or to have heard that he regarded Ruskin as the greatest
writer, and Turner as the greatest painter, of our era. One thing at
least was self-evident, and that was the fact that he was a person of
considerable importance at this particular hotel. The Commissionaire
bowed before him as if he were a foreign potentate, while the _maître
d'hôtel_ received him with as much respect as if he had been an American
millionaire. When he in his turn disappeared into the building, I
beckoned the Commissionaire to my side.

"Who is that gentleman that has just entered the hotel?" I enquired.

"Is it possible that Monsieur does not know him?" the man replied, with
an expression of wonderment upon his face.

His answer more than ever convinced me that the other was a very great
man, at least a German princeling, perhaps an Austrian archduke.

"No," I said, "I do not know him. As a matter of fact, I do not remember
ever having seen him before. Who is he?"

"He is Monsieur Dickie Bucks," answered the Commissionaire, with as much
respect as if he were talking of the Czar of all the Russias.

My illusion vanished in a trice. "Dickie Bucks,--Dickie Bucks," I
repeated to myself. "Gracious heavens! what a name for such a man! And
pray who is Mr Dickie Bucks, for I assure you his fame has not yet
reached me?"

"Monsieur surely knows the great bookmaker," said the man, with an air
of incredulity. "He is the great bookmaker, the very greatest, perhaps,
in all England. Monsieur is not perhaps aware that there are races at
Auteuil to-morrow."

And so my _dilettante_ Englishman, my artist, my amateur author, was,
after all, nothing more than a famous betting man, who, had I spoken to
him of Ruskin, would probably have offered to lay me five to one against
him for the Lincolnshire Handicap, and would have informed me that there
was a general opinion in Sporting Circles that "Sesame and Lilies" was
not the stayer she was popularly supposed to be. Well, well, it only
proves how little our judgment is to be trusted, and how important it is
that we should not pin our faith upon externals.

I was still moralising in this fashion when a smart equipage drove up to
the steps, and the Commissionaire once more went forward to do his duty.
In the carriage a lady and gentleman were seated, and it was evident,
from the fact that a man,--who until that moment had been sitting near
the hotel door--hastened forward to greet them, that their arrival had
been expected by one person in the hotel at least. As the trio I am now
about to describe to you are destined to play an extraordinary part in
the story I have to tell, I may, perhaps, be excused if I bestow upon
them a little more attention than I should otherwise feel justified in
doing. Out of gallantry, if for no other reason, it is only proper that
I should commence with the lady.

That she was not English was quite certain. It was difficult to say,
however, to what European nation she belonged. Her face, from the moment
I first saw it, interested me strangely. And yet, while it was
beautiful, it was not that which altogether attracted me. I say
_altogether_, for the reason that it owed more, perhaps, to its general
expression than to the mere beauty of any individual feature. It was a
countenance, however, that once seen would not be likely to be
forgotten. The eyes were large and thoughtful, and of a darkness that
suggested Southern birth. The mouth was small, but exquisitely moulded,
the lips full, and the teeth, when they showed themselves, delightfully
white and even. Her hair was black and, what is not commonly the case
with hair of that colour, was soft and wavy. Though it would have been
difficult to find fault with her attire, a fastidious critic might have
observed that it was not of the very latest fashion. In London, it is
possible it might have passed muster, but in Paris it was just one
pin-prick behind the acme of the prevailing mode. As I looked at her I
wondered who she might be. The eyes, at a hazard, might have been set
down as Italian, the hair as Spanish, the nose had a suggestion of the
Greek, while the sum total spoke for Southern France, or, at any rate a
country bordering upon the Mediterranean.

As I have already said, her companions were two in number. The elder,
who had driven up with the lady I have been endeavouring to describe,
was a tall and handsome man of a little past middle age. He carried
himself with considerable erectness, might very well have once been a
soldier, and was possibly the lady's father. When he descended from the
carriage, I noticed that he was a little lame on his left leg, and that
he walked with a stick. Like his companion he was the possessor of dark
eyes, but with the difference that they looked out upon the world from
beneath white bushy eyebrows, a fact which, combined with his fierce
grey moustache, produced a most singular effect. He also was fashionably
attired, that is to say, he wore the regulation frock coat and silk hat,
but, as was the case with the lady, there was the suggestion of being
just a trifle behind the times.

As much could not be said of the second man, the individual who had been
seated near the door awaiting their coming. So far as outward
appearances were concerned he was the pink of fashion, and not only of
fashion, but of everything else. Tall, lithe, handsome, and
irreproachably turned out, from the curl of his dainty moustache to his
superbly shod feet, he appeared at first glance to be a typical
_boulevardier_. Yet when one looked more closely at him, he did not
strike one as being the sort of man who would idle his life away on the
pavements or in the clubs. I could very well imagine his face looking
out from beneath a helmet or _kepi_, under a _tarbush_ with Arabi, or a
_sombrero_ with Balmaceda--anywhere, in point of fact, where there was
vigorous life and action. He would certainly be a good shot, and, I
reflected, not very particular what he shot at, that is to say, whether
it was at man or beast, or both. For the moment, however, he was content
to hand his fair friend from her carriage with the most fastidious
politeness. They stood for a moment talking at the foot of the steps.
Then they ascended, and, entering the hotel, were lost to my sight;
whereupon I resettled myself in my chair with the reflection that they
were the most interesting people I should be likely to see that
afternoon, and then went on to wonder why De Belleville did not put in
an appearance. Then another carriage drove up, and a moment later he
stood before me.

"I must offer you ten thousand pardons, _cher ami_," said he, as we
shook hands. "I fear I have kept you waiting an unpardonable time.
Forgive me, I implore you; I am prostrated with sorrow."

The words were apologetic enough, but the face belied the assertion. A
more cheerful countenance could scarcely have been discovered in all
Paris. I had promised myself that I would give him a good rating for his
unpunctuality, but, as usual, I found that when he _did arrive_ it was
impossible for me to be angry with him. De Belleville, as I have already
remarked, boasts the most ingratiating manners I know; is an ideal
companion, for the reason that he is never put out or, apart from his
unpunctuality, puts others out. He is one of the best hosts in Europe,
and regards life as life regards him, that is to say, with invariable
cheerfulness and goodfellowship.

Having taken our places in the carriage, we set off for the
D'Etrebilles' residence in the Faubourg St Germain. Throughout the drive
my companion rattled on continually. He was well up, none better, in the
gossip of the day, and could use his knowledge to the wittiest effect.
Fortunately, the D'Etrebilles were at home, and appeared delighted to
see us. They were, moreover, kind enough to congratulate me upon my
acceptance of my new position in the English Cabinet.

"As you are strong, be merciful," said D'Etrebille, with a smile.
"Remember, the peace of Europe is in your hands, and at the end of your
term of office we shall require it of you again intact."

"A life-long study of European politics," said De Belleville, "has
convinced me that the peace of Europe is never so much assured as when
the various nations are struggling to be at each other's throats. This
is a point of which so many people, renowned for their political
perspicuity, seem to lose sight. Our very good friend and visitor, the
Czar, would have us disarm and turn our swords into ploughshares. By
this time, however, he must agree that, if only from a humanitarian
point of view, he has made a mistake. It may appear paradoxical, but
there is certainly nothing that promotes peace so much as war. I never
feel sure in my own mind that the next year will be a quiet one until I
am told that the military bloodhounds are about to be unchained. By the
way, what do you think of your country's prospects of war in South
Africa?"

"If I am to judge the situation by your own theory, I should say that
the possibilities are remote," I replied. "From my own stand-point,
however, I am by no means so optimistic. The look-out is undoubtedly a
grave one, and, while I have the greatest faith in our strength to
assert our own supremacy, I cannot help thinking that matters may in the
end prove somewhat different to our expectations."

Without wishing to pose as a prophet after the event, on looking back on
all that has happened, I cannot help being struck by the aptness of my
prophecy. This, however, is no place for such reflections. What I have
to do is to tell my story as quickly and concisely as possible, and,
above all, to avoid undue digressions.

Strange indeed is the way in which a face or a voice once seen or heard,
if only for a moment, has the power of seizing and taking possession of
the memory, when there is little or no reason that it should not be
forgotten. It was certainly so in my case on this particular afternoon,
for, during the time I was with the D'Etrebilles, during our drive in
the Bois afterwards, and in fact for the remainder of the evening, the
face of the woman I had seen entering my hotel a few hours before,
haunted me continually.

It went to the Opera with me, accompanied me to a supper at the
Amphitryon Club afterwards, and returned with me again to my hotel. The
memory of a pair of beautiful eyes, such as hers undoubtedly were, might
appear to many men a light burden to have placed upon them. By some
strange irony of Fate, however, it was otherwise with me. Instead of
being charmed by them, I dreaded them with a fear that was as
inexplicable as it was unpleasant. I laughed at myself for my folly,
ascribed my absurd condition to indigestion, and endeavoured by every
means in my power to drive the matter from my mind. I went to bed and
tried to sleep. I was not successful, however. When I closed my eyes,
the eyes of the woman were still there, gazing at me with a
steadfastness that produced a sensation almost describable as hypnotic.
I tried to picture other scenes, recalled the events of the day--De
Belleville's prophecies for the future--his witty remarks on Paris
topics--but without success. At last, unable to bear it any longer, I
rose from my bed, turned on the electric light, and, having donned a
dressing-gown, began to pace the room. I had drunk scarcely any wine
that evening, so that my condition could not be ascribed to that source.
Nevertheless, an ill defined, yet none the less real, fear was steadily
taking possession of me. I could not remember ever having been affected
in this way before. Could it be that I had not the same power over my
intellect as of yore? In other words, was this the beginning of some
brain trouble that would eventually land me in a lunatic asylum? I knew
in my inmost heart that such was not the case. Yet how to account for
the eyes that haunted me so peculiarly, I could not say. Until I had
seen the woman's face that afternoon, I had been as rational and evenly
balanced a man as could have been discovered in the French capital. No!
it was all nonsense! My internal economy was a little out of gear, my
nerves and brain were indirectly affected, and this illusion was the
result. In that case the eyes, haunting as they were, would disappear
before the magic wand of Calomel.

Being too wide awake to return to bed, I seated myself in a chair and
took up a book on the Eastern Question which I had been reading during
the day, and in which I was greatly interested. The fact that I did not
entertain the same views with regard to the Russo-Chinese-Japanese
_entente_ as the author only added to my enjoyment of the work. I
remembered that when I had taken it up in the morning I had found it
difficult to lay it aside again; now, however, though I glued my eyes to
the pages by sheer will pressure, I was scarcely conscious of the
printed words before me. As I read, or rather tried to read, it appeared
to me that somebody was standing in the room, a few paces from my chair,
intently regarding me. More than once I involuntarily looked up, only to
find, as it is needless to state, that there was no one there. At last I
put down the book in despair, went to the window and, leaning my arms
upon the sill, looked out. Sleeping Paris lay before and around me,
scarcely a sound was to be heard; once the roll of distant
carriage-wheels, from the Rue de Rivoli, came up to me, then the
irregular striking of the clocks in the neighbourhood announcing the
hour of three.

As I stood at the window, I thought of the crisis which England was
approaching. Many years had elapsed since she had been involved in a
great war. In these days epoch succeeds epoch with incredible rapidity,
and public opinion has the knack of changing with each one. The
stolidity, the self-reserve, the faculty of being able to take the hard
knocks and yet continue the fight, that had characterised us at the time
of Waterloo and the Crimea, did that still exist? Then again, were we as
fully prepared as we might be? Were our Generals as competent as of
yore, or had the long spell of peace wrought a change in them also? They
were weighty questions, and a man might very well have been pardoned had
he asked them of himself with an anxious heart. Our "splendid isolation"
had been the jeer and taunt of the world. Would that very isolation
prove our downfall, if by any evil chance matters took a wrong turn with
us? For a moment I could see England as she would be were her armies to
be defeated in the present struggle. The croaking prophecies of her
enemies would have proved too true, and she would be at the mercy of the
yelping mob that had once only dared to bark and snap at her from a
distance. "O God! grant that such a thing may never come to pass," I
muttered, and, as the prayer escaped my lips, there shaped themselves in
the darkness in front of me, the eyes that had haunted me all the
afternoon and evening. As I gazed into their soulless depths, a
sensation of icy coldness passed over me.

"This will never do," I said to myself. "If I go on like this I shall
have to see a doctor; and yet how ridiculous it is. Why that woman's
eyes should haunt me so I cannot understand. In all probability I shall
never see her again, and if I do, it will only be to discover that she
is very beautiful, but in no respect different to other people."

But while I endeavoured to convince myself that it was all so absurd, I
had the best of reasons for knowing that it was not so silly as I was
anxious to suppose. At any rate, I did not go to bed again, and when,
some hours later, my servant came to call me, he found me seated at my
table, busily engaged writing letters. Years seemed to have elapsed
since I had bade him good-night.

The last day of my stay in Paris had dawned, and, after my experience of
the night, I began to think that I was not altogether sorry for it. A
cold tub, however, somewhat revived me, and when I left my room I was,
to all intents and purposes, myself once more.

It is one of those little idiosyncrasies in my character which afford my
friends such an excellent opportunity for making jokes at my expense,
that when I go to Rome, Paris, Berlin, St Petersburg, or any other city
I may be in the habit of visiting, that I invariably stay at the same
hotel and insist on being given the same bedroom I have occupied on
previous occasions. For some reason a strange room is most obnoxious to
me. In Paris, worthy Monsieur Frezmony is good enough to let me have a
suite of apartments at the end of a long corridor on the first floor.
They boast an excellent view from the windows, of the gardens of the
Tuileries, and the whole suite is, above all, easy of access at any hour
of the day or night. On this particular occasion, having dressed, I left
my room and passed along the corridor in order to descend to the hall
below. I was only a few paces from the head of the stairs when a door
directly opposite opened, and a lady emerged and descended the stairs in
front of me. She was dressed for going out, but, for the reason that my
letters had just been handed to me and I was idly glancing at the
envelopes, beyond noticing this fact, I bestowed but little more
attention on her. She had reached the first landing, and I was some few
steps behind her, when the chink of something falling caught my ears.
Surely enough when I, in my turn, reached the landing I discovered a
small bracelet lying upon the carpet. I immediately picked it up with
the intention of returning it. But the lady was too quick for me and had
reached the courtyard before I could set foot in the hall. A carriage
was awaiting her coming at the foot of the steps, and she had already
taken her place in it when I approached her. For the reason that she was
putting up her parasol, it was impossible for me to see her face, but
when she lifted it on hearing my voice, I discovered, to my amazement,
that she was none other than the lady whose arrival I had witnessed on
the previous afternoon, and whose eyes had had such a strange effect
upon me ever since.

"Permit me to ask if this is your property, madam?" I began, holding out
the bracelet as I spoke. "I had the good fortune to discover it on the
stairs just after you passed."

"Ah, yes, it is mine," she answered in excellent French, and in a voice
that was low and musical. "I would not have lost it for anything. It was
careless of me to have dropped it. I thank you most heartily."

She bowed, and at a signal from the Commissionaire, the coachman started
his horses, and a moment later the carriage had left the courtyard.

For some moments after it had passed out of sight I stood looking in the
direction it had taken. Then turning to the Commissionaire who stood
before me, I enquired if it were in his power to tell me the name of the
lady to whom I had rendered so small a service.

"She is Madame la Comtesse de Venetza," the man replied.

"The Countess de Venetza?" said I to myself, "that tells me nothing. It
sounds Italian. At the same time it might be almost anything else."

Circumstances forbade me that I should question the man further, though
the temptation was sufficiently great. Nothing remained, therefore, but
to withdraw and to derive what consolation I could from the fact that I
had spoken to her and knew her name.

"The Countess de Venetza," I repeated, as I made my way up the steps
once more. The name had suddenly come to have a strange fascination for
me. I found myself repeating it again and again, each time deriving a
new sensation from it.

Having procured a morning paper, I returned to the verandah, seated
myself in the place I had occupied on the previous afternoon, when I
had first seen the Countess, and turned my attention to the English
news. If the information set forth there were to be believed, there
could be no sort of doubt that we were distinctly nearer the trouble
which had been brewing for so long. The wildest rumours were afloat, and
the versions printed in the Parisian papers were not of a nature
calculated to allay my fears. If what they said were correct there could
be no doubt that England was standing face to face with one of the
greatest dangers that had threatened her in her life as a nation. And
yet it was impossible to believe that the Might, Majesty, Dominion, and
power of Great Britain could be successfully defied by a rabble horde
such as we knew the Boers to be. But had we not the remembrance of '81
continually with us to remind us that on another lamentable occasion we
had been too sanguine? This time, I told myself, it was vitally
necessary that it should be all going forward and no drawing back. If we
set our hands to the plough, it must be with a rigorous determination
not to remove them until the task we had set ourselves should be
accomplished.

At last I threw down my paper in disgust. An overwhelming desire to
thrash every journalistic cur who yelped at the heels of the British
Lion was fast taking possession of me. For the first time since I had
known her, Paris was positively distasteful to me.

"Perhaps monsieur will pardon me if I ask permission to glance at the
paper he has just thrown down," said a polite voice at my elbow. "I have
tried to obtain one at the hotel, but without success."

Turning, I saw beside me the taller of the two men I had seen with the
Countess de Venetza on the preceding afternoon--the man with the bushy
eyebrows who had driven up with her in the carriage, and who was lame.

"Take it by all means," I replied, handing it to him as I spoke. "I
doubt, however, if you will find anything in it but a series of insults
to England and her soldiers. That seems to be the _metier_ of the
Parisian Press just now."

"It is a thousand pities," the stranger replied, slowly and solemnly;
"and the more to be regretted for the reason that it does not voice the
public sentiment."

I had no desire to be drawn into a political controversy with a man who,
for all I knew to the contrary, might be an anarchist, a police spy, or
an equally undesirable acquaintance. I accordingly allowed him to seat
himself at some little distance from me and to peruse his paper in
peace. He was still reading it when a carriage drove up, bringing the
Countess de Venetza back to the hotel. Seeing her friend she approached
him, whereupon he rose to greet her, still retaining the newspaper in
his hand.

A few moments later another carriage drove up, and, when it came to a
standstill, the well-dressed individual who had waited in the verandah
on the previous afternoon, alighted. That he was much agitated could be
seen at first glance. I noticed also that he was doing his best to
conceal the fact. As he approached his friends, he raised his hat with
ceremonious politeness. Then he said something in an undertone which
would have been inaudible more than a few paces away. The effect upon
his comrades was electrical. The man gave a start of astonishment and
horror, while the woman turned deathly pale, and for a moment looked as
if she were about to faint. With an effort, however, she recovered her
self-possession, and as she did so I noticed out of the corner of my eye
(for the life of me I could not help watching them), that the man who
had brought this disconcerting intelligence turned quickly round as if
to satisfy himself that her agitation had not been noticed by any one
near at hand. Next moment they were walking slowly towards the main
entrance, the woman's hands clenching and unclenching at every step. It
was no business of mine, of course, but I felt as certain that the drama
I had seen acted in front of me was of vital importance to the trio, but
more especially so far as the woman was concerned. Had I known what the
communication was, it is just possible I might have been able to avert
what promised to be a great National calamity, and one which even now I
can scarcely contemplate without a shudder.

How I came to know these things and how innocently I walked into the
trap that had been so artfully laid for me, you shall hear. Believe me,
if I say, without conceit, that the story is an exceedingly interesting
one.



CHAPTER II


My arrangements were completed, and in spite of De Belleville's entreaty
that I should remain for at least another day, I was adamant in my
determination to leave Paris for England that night. In view of the
existing state of affairs there, it would be a truism to say that there
was much to be done before the assembling of Parliament; it behoved us
all, we knew, to put our shoulders to the wheel and to do our utmost to
help our country in her hour of need. Accordingly, the appointed moment
found me at the railway station, whither my servant had preceded me.
Williams is the best courier as well as the best servant in existence,
and when I reached the platform it was to find my compartment reserved
for me, my books and papers spread out to my hand, my cap and travelling
rug in readiness, and the faithful man himself on guard at the door. It
only wanted three minutes to starting time, and already the various
functionaries were busying themselves with intending passengers.

"It looks as if we shall have a full train, Williams," I said, as I
stood at the door gazing down the platform. "Let us hope we shall have a
good crossing!"

"The weather report is favourable, sir," he replied.

I returned to the other end of the carriage to look for my cigar-case
and was in the act of cutting a weed when I heard Williams' voice raised
as if in expostulation.

"I must beg your pardon, sir," he was saying in his curious French, that
no experience ever makes any better or any worse, "but this is a
reserved compartment."

"But, my good fellow, there is no more room in the train," said a voice
I instantly recognised. "Pray speak to your master and I am sure he will
not deny our request."

I walked to the door where this conversation was being carried on, to
discover the lady and the two men who have already figured so
prominently in my narrative, standing upon the platform.

"I am afraid we are taking an unwarrantable liberty in asking such a
favour from you," the elder man began, "but by our carelessness we are
placed in a dilemma. We omitted to secure a compartment, and now the
train is so full that we cannot procure seats. It is most necessary for
us to cross to London to-night, and unless you will go so far out of
your way as to permit us to share your carriage with you, I fear we must
remain behind. The train is about to start even now."

Though I had no desire for their company, courtesy forbade that I should
insist upon my rights. Nothing remained for it, therefore, but for me to
submit with as much graciousness as I could assume.

"Pray step in," I said. "It is the fault of the Railway Authorities who
should provide sufficient accommodation for travellers. May I ask which
seat you prefer, madame?"

With an expression of her thanks she chose the corner at the further end
of the compartment, and opposite the corner Williams had prepared for
me. Her companions followed her, and a moment later the train moved
slowly out of the station and our journey had commenced. That journey
will be remembered by two of our number, at least, so long as they can
recollect anything. I am not going to pretend that I felt at my ease for
the first part of it. Far from it. I fancy the Countess must have
noticed this, for she did not address me for some time, vouchsafing me
an opportunity of becoming accustomed to the novelty of the situation.
Then, feeling that it was incumbent on me to do the honours of the
compartment, I offered her her choice of papers. She chose one, and,
when she had opened it, assured me that I was at liberty to smoke,
should I care to do so. Her companions had also made themselves at home,
so that by the time our train ran through Ailly-sur-Noye we might have
been said to have been on comparatively intimate terms with each other.

"I have an idea that my father and I have had the pleasure of meeting an
old friend of yours lately," said the Countess, when the station to
which I have just referred was a thing of the past and we were speeding
on towards the sea.

"Really!" I replied, with some little astonishment. "Pray, who might
that friend be?"

"The Duke of Rotherhithe," she returned, and, as she said it, she neatly
folded the paper she had been reading and laid it on the seat beside
her.

"A friend of mine, indeed," I answered. "I fancied, however, that he
was yachting in the Mediterranean?"

"Exactly! He was! We met him quite by chance in Constantinople, and,
finding that we were anxious to reach Naples as quickly as possible, he
offered to convey us thither in his yacht. I remember that he spoke most
kindly of you."

"The dear fellow!" I replied. "We were at school together and afterwards
at the 'Varsity."

So easily impressed is the human mind by former associations, that the
mere fact that the Countess de Venetza and her father had lately been
the guests of my old friend, Rotherhithe, was sufficient to make me
treat them in an entirely different fashion to what I had hitherto done.
Until that time I had rather prided myself upon being a somewhat
sceptical man of the world, but, now I was giving splendid proofs of my
peculiar susceptibility. There was, however, a grain of suspicion still
lingering about me. I accordingly proceeded to indirectly question her
concerning my friend, and, as I noticed that she answered without
hesitation or any attempt at concealment, my doubts faded away until
they vanished altogether. We talked of the _Princess Balroubadour_ with
the familiarity of old friends; Rotherhithe's antipathy to those whom he
described as "foreigners" afforded us conversation for another five
minutes; while the Malapropisms, if I may coin a word, of his head
steward, were sufficient to carry us through two more stations without a
single break in the conversation. We discussed the various Ports of the
Mediterranean, ran up to Assuan in a _dahabiyeh_, and afterwards made a
pilgrimage to Sinai together. The Countess was a witty conversationalist
and, as I discovered, a close observer of all that went on around her.
Her father and cousin, beyond putting in a word now and again, scarcely
spoke, but seemed absorbed in their books and papers.

At last we reached Calais, and it became necessary for us to leave the
train. It was a beautiful evening; the sea was as smooth as glass, while
there was not enough wind to stir the pennant on the steamer's masthead.

"I am sure we cannot thank you enough for permitting us to share your
carriage," said the Countess as we left the train and prepared to go on
board the steamer. "Had it not been for your kindness, I fear we should
still be in Paris, instead of being well on our way to England."

I returned something appropriate to this remark, then, side by side, we
boarded the steamer.

"Since you have been yachting with the Duke of Rotherhithe," I said,
when we had gained the deck, "it is only fair to suppose that you are a
good sailor, Countess?"

"Oh, yes!" she answered, with a little laugh; "I am an excellent sailor.
But--forgive my asking the question--how did you become aware of my
identity?"

"I happened to hear your name at the hotel this morning," I replied. "It
was told me after I had restored the bangle you so nearly lost."

At this moment her father put in an appearance and caused a diversion by
enquiring after the safety of her jewel-case, which, it appeared, stood
in continual danger of being lost. A few seconds later the boat was
under weigh and we had said good-bye to French soil. As we left the
place of embarkation it seemed to me that my companion gave a little
sigh, and noticing that it was followed by a slight shiver, I enquired
whether she felt cold. She replied in the negative, though at the same
time she drew her furs a little closer round her.

"I wonder whether certain places affect you as they do me," she said,
when the French port lay well astern and we were heading for the white
cliffs of England. "It is strange that I never leave Calais without
undergoing a decided feeling of depression. I don't know why it should
be so; it is a fact, nevertheless."

"I hope it is not the thought of visiting England that causes it?" I
replied with an attempt at jocularity. "You have visited our country
before, of course?"

"Very often," she answered; "we have many friends in England."

"In the list of whom I hope you will permit me some day to number
myself?" I continued with an eagerness that was not at all usual with
me.

"I shall be very pleased," she returned quietly, and then looked away
across the still water to where a French pilot cutter lay becalmed half
a mile or so away.

An hour later we reached Dover.

Just as we were entering the harbour, the Countess's father approached
me and thanked me effusively for my kindness in permitting them to share
my carriage from Paris.

"But you must not let my generosity, such as it is, cease there!" I
replied. "I hope you will also share my carriage to London, that is to
say if the Countess is not already too tired of my society."

"It would be ungenerous to say so if I were," she answered with a smile.
"But if you, on your side, do not feel that we have trespassed too far
already, I am sure we shall be only too glad to accept your kind offer."

The Custom authorities having been satisfied as to the innocence of our
baggage, we took our seats in the carriage which had been reserved for
me. My indispensable Williams made his appearance with an armful of
papers, and then we started upon the last stage of our journey. When I
had handed the Countess a copy of the _Globe_, I selected a _Pall Mall_
for myself, and turned to the page containing the latest war news. From
what I found there, there could be no doubt that the situation was
hourly increasing in danger. There were complications on every side, and
the position was not rendered easier by the fact that a certain number
of prominent politicians were endeavouring to make capital out of the
difficulties of the Government.

"I suppose there can now be no doubt as to the probability of war?"
said Count Reiffenburg, looking up from his paper as he spoke.

"None whatever, I should say," I answered. "If the papers are to be
believed the clouds are blacker and heavier than they have yet been. I
fear the storm must burst ere long."

The Countess did not take any part in our conversation, but I fancied
that she was listening. Not feeling any desire to continue the
discussion with the younger man, I returned to my paper, leaving him to
follow my example. A few minutes later the Countess put down her
_Globe_, and sat looking out upon the country through which we were
passing.

"I see they have captured another notorious anarchist in Naples," I
said, after we had been sitting in silence for some minutes. "So far as
can be gathered from the report given here, the arrest is likely to
prove important in more respects than one."

"Indeed," said the Countess, looking steadily at me as she spoke. "The
police are certainly becoming more expeditious in the matter of arrests.
The only difficulty they experience is the finding of any substantial
crime against their victims when they have brought about their capture.
Pray, who is this particular man?"

"An individual rejoicing in the romantic name of Luigi Ferreira," I
answered. "It appears that they have been endeavouring to lay their
hands upon him for some time past. Until now, however, he has managed to
slip through their fingers."

"Poor fellow!" said the Countess, still in the same even voice. "I hope
it will not prejudice you against me, but I cannot help feeling a little
sympathy for people--however misguided they may be--who imperil their
own safety for the sake of bringing about what they consider the
ultimate happiness of others."

Then, as though the matter no longer interested her, she returned to the
perusal of her paper. Her cousin had all this time been drumming with
his fingers in an impatient manner, so I thought, upon the glass of the
window beside which he sat. For my own part, I scarcely knew what to
make of this young man. Though he did not show it openly, I could not
help thinking that he was jealous of the attention I was paying his fair
cousin. As the idea crossed my mind I remembered the previous afternoon,
when I had sat in the portico of the hotel, speculating as to the
nationality and lives of the people about me. How little I had thought
then that twenty-four hours later would find me seated with them in an
English railway carriage, discussing the fortune of another man with
whom neither I, nor they, for the matter of that--at least, so I then
supposed--had even the remotest connection.

It was not until we were approaching the end of our journey that I spoke
to my _vis-à-vis_ concerning her stay in London.

"We shall in all probability remain in London for some three or four
months," she said. "I hope, if you can spare the time, that you will
call upon me. I have taken Wiltshire House, by the way, and shall be
most pleased to see you."

I must confess that her announcement caused me a considerable amount of
surprise. All things considered, it was rather a strange coincidence,
for, only that morning, I had received a letter from my sister Ethelwyn,
who, as you are doubtless aware, is the Countess of Brewarden, in which
occurred the following significant passage (Ethelwyn, I might here
remark, is somewhat given to the florid style):--


     "Existence is now altogether a blank! the dream of my
     life--Wiltshire House--has vanished. Some rich foreigner has taken
     it, and in consequence George (my brother-in-law) and I have
     quarrelled desperately. He declares it is a good thing it is let,
     as he couldn't think of it. He moreover avers that it would cost a
     king's ransom to keep up. Nevertheless, I shall detest the
     foreigner whoever she or he may be."


I can scarcely say how I derived the impression, but, until that moment,
I had not supposed my fair friend to be the possessor of any great
wealth. It was the more surprising, therefore, to hear that she was not
only a rich woman, but also that she was to be the temporary mistress of
one of the most beautiful and expensive dwellings in the Metropolis.
Needless to say, I did not let her become aware of the surprise she had
given me, but contented myself with thanking her and expressing the hope
that shortly I should be able to do myself the honour of calling upon
her.

"You won't allow your public duties to make you forget your promise to
come and see me, I hope," said the Countess, as we shook hands.

"You may be quite sure that I shall not," I replied.

"Then, _au revoir_, and many thanks for the kindness you have shown us."

"It has given me the greatest possible pleasure," I answered, and, as I
said it, I had a guilty remembrance of my uncharitable feelings that
morning, when I had discovered that my privacy was destined to be
disturbed. Yet so pleasantly had the time passed, that I felt as if I
had known the Countess for years instead of hours.

When I reached my house it was to find everything just as I had left it.
A cheerful fire blazed in my study, the latest evening papers lay, cut
and folded, upon a table beside my favourite chair; a subdued light
shone above the table in the dining-room adjoining, and everything
denoted the care and comfort which a master possessing good servants has
a right to expect. Having removed the stains of travel, and changed my
attire, I sat down to dinner, afterwards spent an hour skimming my
correspondence, then, to fill up the time, I ordered a cab and drove to
my favourite Club.

Though I had only been absent from England a short time, and had not
been further than Paris, I discovered that I had a vast amount of news
to hear. Men imparted their information to me as if I had that day
returned from Central Africa or the Australian Bush. Young Paunceford,
the member for Banford, for which place his father had sat before him,
was good enough to give me his views on the Crisis. His complaint was
that no one would listen to him, and, in consequence, he was only too
glad to find some one who required bringing up to date. That I happened
to be a Cabinet Minister as well as an old friend made no sort of
difference.

"By Jove, I envy you," he said, as he lit a fresh cigar. "I can tell
you, if you play your cards carefully, you'll be no end of a swell over
this business. Why on earth couldn't I have had such an opportunity?"

"For the simple reason that you know too much, my boy," said a man in
the Guards, who happened to be sitting near. "Haven't you heard that a
little knowledge is a dangerous thing? They know Manderville's safe on a
secret, so they gave him the job. What's the use of a secret unless
there's some mystery about it. By the way, talking of mysteries, what's
this about Wiltshire House? Somebody tells me that it has been let to
the prettiest woman in Europe. Do any of you know anything about her?"

Paunceford was as well informed upon this as upon all other subjects.

"Of course," he replied; "the news is as old as the hills. I heard it
from Bill Kingsbury, who was in the agent's shop, or office--whatever
they call it--when the business was being arranged. But it's all
nonsense about her being the prettiest woman in Europe. Hailed from
Jamaica, I believe; has to own to curly hair and to just one touch of
the tar-brush."

"Paunceford seems to know all about her," said another man. "He always
is well informed, however, upon any matter, whatever it may be. If
there's going to be a war the House ought to vote a sum sufficient to
send him out, in order that he may keep the Authorities posted on the
progress of affairs. You've missed your vocation, Paunceford; you'd make
an ideal War Correspondent."

"Too much imagination," said the man in the Guards; "military matters
must be taken seriously. But nobody has answered my question yet. Who is
this lady who has taken Wiltshire House?"

"I have already told you," said Paunceford sulkily. "I never came across
such a set of unbelievers."

"Elderly, coloured, and of West Indian origin?" said the Guardsman. "It
doesn't sound well."

I could stand it no longer.

"For goodness sake," I put in, "don't go about the town spreading that
report. I assure you Paunceford is, as usual, altogether out of it."

"How do you know that?" asked Paunceford suspiciously.

"Because I happen to have had the good-fortune to travel with the lady
from Paris to-day," I replied, with just that little touch of
satisfaction the position warranted.

"And yet you kept quiet about it," said another man. "Well, you are a
reticent beggar, I must say. Don't you know this has been one of the
mysteries of the town. My goodness, man, you shan't escape from this
room until you have told us all about her! Who is she? What is she? What
is her name? How much money has she? Above all, is she pretty?"

"She is the Countess de Venetza," I replied. "Italian, I should say;
rich--since she has taken Wiltshire House; and as for her personal
appearance--well, when you see her, you will be able to judge of that
for yourselves."

"Excellent!" said the Guardsman. "I prefer Manderville's report to
yours, Paunceford. Is she married?"

"A widow, I fancy," I replied.

"Still better! If she is kind to me I will make her reputation, and
Wiltshire House shall be the smartest caravansérai in London. Not
shooting in your wood, Manderville, I hope?"

"I wish to goodness you men wouldn't spend your time so much in
inventing new slang," I answered. "But some of you seem to have nothing
else to do. Now that I have satisfied your curiosity, I shall go home to
bed. The early bird catches the early news. In these days one lives for
the morning papers."

Paunceford saw another opportunity.

"Talking of morning papers----" he began, but before he had finished the
sentence I had left the room.

Being tired when I reached home I went straight to bed. Remembering my
experience of the previous night, I was determined that this one should
make up for it. To my disappointment, however, I discovered that, tired
though I was, sleep would not visit my eyelids. I was as wide awake when
I had been two hours in bed as I was when I entered my room. Once more,
as on the previous night, I was haunted with the remembrance of the
Countess's eyes; do what I would, I could not get them out of my mind.
Tired at last of tumbling and tossing, and thoroughly angry with myself,
and the world in general, I rose, donned a dressing-gown, and went into
the small study that adjoins my bedroom. The fire was not quite
extinguished, and with some little coaxing I was able to induce it to
burn again. Taking a book I drew up my chair, seated myself in it, and
tried to read. I must have done so to some purpose, for after a time I
fell asleep. Possibly it may have been due to the fact that I had had no
rest on the previous night, and that my mind was naturally much occupied
with the gravity of England's situation, and the part I had to play in
the coming strife; at any rate, my dreams were not only vivid but
decidedly alarming. I dreamt that I was in a transport _en route_ to the
Cape, and that the vessel struck a rock, and sank with all the troops on
board. There was no time to get out the boats, and, in company with some
hundreds of others, I was precipitated into the water. While we were
still struggling with the waves, a life-boat made her appearance, and,
to my intense astonishment, standing in the bows was no less a person
than the Countess De Venetza. What was stranger still, she carried in
her hand a heavy spear, or harpoon, with which, whenever a drowning man
approached the boat, she stabbed him in the back, laughing as she did
so. Then, by means of that wonderful mechanical ingenuity with which the
theatres of the land of dreams are furnished, the scene changed to a
lonely plain at the foot of a rugged mountain-range. A battle had been
fought upon it, and the dead and wounded still lay where they had
fallen. So real did it appear to me, that when I recognised here and
there the faces of friends, I found myself wondering what I should say
to their loved ones when I returned to England. Suddenly, in the weird
light, for the moon was shining above the mountain-peaks, there appeared
from among the rocks on the further side of the plain a woman, whose
face I instantly recognised. With stealthy steps she left her
hiding-place and descended to where the wounded lay thickest. In her
hand she carried the same spear that I remembered in my previous dream,
and with it she stabbed every man who remained alive. So terrible was
the expression upon her face as she did so, that I turned away from her
in loathing and disgust. When I looked again she was bending over the
body of a man who still lived, but who was bleeding from a deep wound
in his side. Picture my consternation when I discovered that he was none
other than the Guardsman who had been so persistent in his inquiries
that night concerning her. As I watched, for I was unable to move hand
or foot to save him, a low moan escaped his lips, followed by an appeal
for water. With the same expression of fiendish rage upon her face that
I had noticed before, she raised the spear, and was about to plunge it
into his breast, when with a cry I awoke, to find the sun streaming into
the room, and my respectable Williams standing before me.

"Good gracious, Williams, how you startled me!" I said. "What on earth
am I doing here? Ah, I remember! I could not sleep, so I came in to get
a book. I suppose I must have fallen asleep over it. What news is there
this morning?"

There was an air of mystery about Williams that I knew heralded the
announcement of some extraordinary information.

"Yes, sir," he said, "there is some important news. The papers do say
that 'War is declared.'"



CHAPTER III


During the week which followed my return to London, events followed
thick and fast upon each other. The now famous Ultimatum issued by the
enemy, though surprising enough at the time, was not altogether
unexpected. Its presumptuous tone, however, was the cause of general
comment. As a matter of fact, it was not until it became known that the
enemy, instead of waiting to be attacked in their own territory, had
invaded that of Her Majesty the Queen, that the first feeling of
amazement changed to one of anger, and, if the truth must be told, to
one of no little anxiety. Our Force at the front was well known to be
inadequate, and, as we had the best of reasons for being aware, a
considerable time would have to elapse before it would be possible for
it to be supplemented.

In my new capacity as a member of the Cabinet, my knowledge of the
country in which we were about to fight stood me in good stead;
consequently, I was kept busily employed after my return to England. The
situation, as I have already said, was one of considerable anxiety, but
as soon as it was announced that that popular soldier, Sir William
Woller, had been selected to proceed to the South, in order to take up
the Chief Command, the public fears were in a great measure allayed.
With perhaps but three exceptions, no more popular choice could have
been made, and I do not think I am breaking faith with my colleagues
when I say that we were all agreed upon this point. The decision was
arrived at on Wednesday afternoon, and orders were issued that the
General in question should sail from Southampton on the following
Saturday. On the Friday morning he was to be present at an important
Council at the War Office; in the afternoon he was to be received in
Audience at Windsor, and at eleven o'clock on Saturday morning he was
due to leave Waterloo for Southampton Docks.

Now, Woller and I had been friends for many years, and immediately his
appointment was made known, I hastened to write him a letter of
congratulation. In it I said that if he should have sufficient time at
his disposal to allow me a chance of seeing him, before he left London,
I should like to shake him by the hand and wish him God-speed. He
replied to the effect that he would be dining with the
Commander-in-Chief on Friday evening, and informed me that I was to be
one of the party. In confirmation of this the next post brought me an
invitation which I hastened to accept.

In due course Friday evening arrived, and the appointed hour found me at
the Commander-in-Chief's residence in Bruton Street. I had already been
informed that it was to be quite a small and friendly affair--as a
matter of fact, the guest of the evening, myself, and two other friends,
constituted the party. I was the first to arrive, Sir George Brandon
followed me, Berkeley Burroughes came next, and as soon as he had put in
an appearance, we only required Woller to make the number complete. He
was late, however. Eight o'clock struck, and still there was no sign of
him. Our host, in apologising for the delay, reminded us that, owing to
the multitudinous claims upon Sir William's time, it might be impossible
for him to avoid being just a little late. When, however, the clock upon
the mantel-piece stood at half-past eight, we began to look at each
other and to wonder what could have become of him. At last the
Commander-in-Chief was unable to bear the suspense any longer.

"If you will excuse me," he said, "I will telephone to his house, and
find out at what time he left there. Woller is such a punctual man that
this delay is, to say the least of it, extraordinary."

He left the room, and during his absence we kept up that desultory kind
of conversation with which one endeavours to cover the uneasiness caused
by the non-arrival of an anticipated guest. A few moments later the
Commander-in-Chief returned with a puzzled expression upon his face.

"It becomes more inexplicable every minute," said he. "From what I can
gather Woller has not been seen at his house since he left it for
Windsor. It is really most singular, and I am at a loss to know what
construction to put upon it. However, if you have no objection, we will
give him another quarter of an hour's grace, and if he is not here then,
go into dinner."

We waited the allotted time with what patience we could command, and
when it had expired, left the drawing-room and proceeded to the
dining-room, where we sat down to the long-delayed meal.

I cannot pretend for a moment that the meal was a success. The
non-appearance of our old friend, the man who on the morrow was to leave
England on one of the most important errands she has ever intrusted to a
son, sat like a wet blanket upon us. If at the last moment he had been
prevented from coming, how was it that he had not sent a note of apology
and explanation to his host? Had he met with an accident, or been taken
suddenly ill, he would at least have given instructions that a telegram
should be sent. Woller, as we were well aware, was the pink of
politeness; he was also a strict disciplinarian, not only of others, but
also of himself. That he would, therefore, have treated with discourtesy
a man who besides being his senior officer was also his old friend, was
the most unlikely thing in the world. There were special reasons that
prevented us discussing the matter in all its bearings just then, but
that we were all equally disquieted by his absence was quite certain. I
was the first to leave the house, and I can remember that it was exactly
a quarter past eleven when the front door closed behind me. Up to that
moment no word of apology, excuse, or explanation had been received from
the missing man.

"It's just possible that I may find a message from him awaiting me when
I reach home," I said to myself as I took my place in my brougham.

I was destined to be disappointed, however.

There were several letters and two telegrams lying upon my table, but
not one of any sort from Woller.

"Are you quite sure that no messenger has called from Sir William
Woller?" I asked Williams, when he came to my dressing-room, a quarter
of an hour later.

"No, sir, I am quite sure of that," he replied; "had any one called I
should have been informed of it."

With that assurance I was perforce compelled to be content. I can give
you my word, however, that I was by no means easy in my mind concerning
Sir William's silence.

Next morning, when I was in the middle of my breakfast, a note was
handed me from the Commander-in-Chief. It ran as follows:--


     "DEAR MANDERVILLE,--Could you spare me ten minutes as soon as
     possible after your receipt of this? I would call upon you myself,
     but for various reasons, which I will explain to you when I see
     you, I am unable to leave the house until I go down to Pall Mall."


Here followed an assurance that the writer was very truly mine, his
signature, and a postscript to the effect that the bearer would wait for
an answer. I scribbled a hasty reply, saying that I would come round to
Bruton Street at once, and as soon as I had made my toilet, called a cab
and set off. On my arrival there I was shown direct to the
Commander-in-Chief's study, where I found him awaiting my coming with
considerable impatience.

"It is very good of you to come so promptly," he said. "To tell you the
truth, I am very uneasy, and as we are both old friends of the man, I
thought I would consult you in an _ex-officio_ capacity, before going to
the Secretary of State for War."

"I am to gather from this, I suppose, that up to the present, you have
not heard anything of Woller," I answered, with a little sinking of the
heart, for I made sure that morning would dispel the mystery that
enveloped his behaviour.

"You have guessed correctly," he said. "I have caused the most careful
enquiries to be made, and have learnt that he left Windsor by the 3.25
train, reached Paddington at 4.2, entered a cab there, and has not
since been heard of. Unfortunately, as nobody seems to have been aware
of his identity, the number of the cab was not taken, and, so far as we
are able to ascertain, none of the drivers in the station-yard at the
time appear to be able to recollect whose vehicle it was that he
employed. If you reflect that it has been arranged that he shall leave
London for Southampton at eleven o'clock this morning, and that an
enormous crowd will be at the station to see him off, it will at once
become evident to you that his non-appearance will be far from making a
good impression upon the public mind."

"But what has become of him? He can't have vanished into space."

"There are many other ways in which he might disappear," said my
companion gloomily.

"Surely you don't suppose he has been the victim of foul play?"

I put the question hesitatingly, for I knew the thoughts that were in my
own mind.

"I scarcely know what to think," the other replied. "I can only confess
that I am alarmed, seriously alarmed, by his prolonged absence. Woller,
as you know, is a man who realises to the full the responsibilities
entailed by his present position. Duty with him is more than duty, it
is a matter of life and death; he knows that the eyes of England, of
Europe, and I might even say of the whole world, are upon him, and for
that reason alone I feel sure he would not cause us so much anxiety of
his own free will."

"In that case, what do you intend doing?" I enquired, for I could well
foresee the terrible trouble to which the situation would give rise. "It
is now a quarter to ten, and in little more than an hour he will be
expected at Waterloo. If the crowd don't see him they will begin to
wonder, the man in the street will begin to talk, the newspapers will
take up the tale, and in a few hours we shall have entered on a new
phase of the situation."

The Commander-in-Chief rose and began to pace the room.

"I have already sent a special messenger with a letter to the Secretary
of State," he replied. "In it I have told him what I fear and also what
I have done. I shall consult the various heads of Departments as soon as
I reach Pall Mall, on the bare chance that one of them may be able to
elucidate the mystery.

"At the same time I should communicate with the railway authorities, if
I were you," I continued. "I should inform them that, owing to the fact
of his being detained by matters of the greatest importance, it is
possible that Woller may not be able to travel by that particular
train."

"That is a good idea," the Commander-in-Chief replied; "I will act upon
it at once. In the event of our receiving no news, that should be
sufficient to give us time to arrange some other plan. It will mean
delaying the vessel at Southampton, however, and--good gracious
me!--what a pile of difficulties it will land us in! The Colonial
Secretary must be informed, and the matter must come before the Cabinet.
As you said just now, if by any chance it should leak out and the Press
get hold of it, there is no telling where it will end."

"You have communicated with Scotland Yard, of course?"

"I sent a messenger to them shortly after midnight, that is to say, as
soon as I had found out that Woller had left Windsor, and that he had
not been to his Club, or to his own house. Their best men are at work
upon it, but so far without any satisfactory result."

"And can his own servants throw any light upon the matter?"

"None whatever!" the Commander-in-Chief replied. "When he left for
Windsor he informed them he should be back early, in order to dress for
my dinner in the evening. They say he appeared to be in the best of
health and spirits, and seemed greatly pleased with the arrangements
made for his journey to-day. Lord Laverstock accompanied him from the
Castle, and was the last to speak to him at Windsor Station. From the
conversation I have had with him by telephone, I gathered that Woller
was looking forward to his dinner with us last night. The guard of the
train corroborates the fact that he travelled to Paddington. For the
reason that the Railway Authorities expected him by the next train,
there was no crowd upon the platform to witness his arrival. On
alighting he simply called a cab and drove away. After that he vanishes
completely."

"There is no way, I suppose, in which we can make further enquiries
concerning him?"

"There is nothing so far as I can see. We are doing all that is
possible, but our position in the meantime is a most anxious and
unpleasant one. Now I shall hasten along to see the Secretary of State
for War, and hear what he thinks of the situation. He will doubtless
consider it necessary to call an immediate meeting of the Council, when
the situation can be discussed in all its bearings."

"Let us hope that he may be heard of before very long," I replied.

So saying I left him and drove home again, feeling sadly upset by the
untoward turn events had taken. What could have become of poor Woller?
Had he been decoyed into some slum and murdered? A hundred fears for his
safety assailed me, each one equally probable and equally cruel.

When I reached my house I found that the letters had arrived, and were
spread out upon my study table. Still thinking of Woller, I opened the
envelopes and scanned their contents. One was larger than the others,
and on opening it I found that it contained a card, upon which the
following words were printed:--


     "The Countess de Venetza at Home on Wednesday, November the 21st,
     from nine until eleven o'clock."


In the bottom left-hand corner was the address, "Wiltshire House."

As I stood with the card in my hand, the memory of my first meeting with
the Countess came back to me. So rapidly had events moved of late, that
it seemed as if a year had elapsed since I had last seen her. I recalled
the impression her dark haunting eyes had made upon me, and,
discourteous though it may be to say so, I must confess that a shudder
passed over me at the recollection. I placed the card upon my
mantel-piece, and, for the time being, thought no more about it. There
were other and more weighty matters than an invitation from a pretty
woman to be considered that day.

Every one who has followed the progress of the war--and there are few
who have not--will recall the wave of consternation and dismay that
swept over England when the news became known that Sir William Woller,
the newly-appointed Commander-in-Chief for South Africa, had
disappeared, and could not be found. A thousand rumours, all of them
equally sensational, and all equally wide of the mark, flew about the
country; but despite the efforts of the police, the jibes of the Press,
the scarcely veiled sneers of Little Englanders and the openly-expressed
contempt of our Continental neighbours, not a trace of the missing man
could be discovered. A meeting of the Cabinet was immediately summoned,
with the result that General Grey-Mortimer, a gallant gentleman and an
experienced soldier, was at once despatched to the front, in temporary
command. In the meantime, the wildest excitement prevailed in England.
Transports were leaving the various ports every day, the Reservists were
called up, the Militia and Volunteers were being equipped and drilled,
if necessary, for active service. Plainly the heart of the country was
stirred to the very centre of its being.

Such was the Public Temper at the time that few entertainments were
given by Society. Such as there were, and to which I was invited, I, for
the most part, declined. An exception was made, however, where the
Countess de Venetza was concerned. The temptation to see her play the
part of a hostess was more than I could resist, and for this reason, ten
o'clock on the night set forth upon her card found me mounting the
magnificent staircase of Wiltshire House. From the number of arrivals
and the crowding of the stairs, it was plain, despite the excitement of
that period, that her "At Home" was likely to be a crowded one. Her
beauty, her wealth, the fact that she was for the time being the
possessor of Wiltshire House, her famous team of black Orloffs, behind
which she drove in the Park, had combined to make her one of the year's
sensations. The grandeur of her entertainments had quickly become
proverbial, and in consequence, to admit that one had not the _entrée_
to Wiltshire House, was to argue oneself unknown. Ascending the
staircase by my side, cool, calm and collected, as if the enormous
weight of responsibility he was then carrying were of no account, was no
less a person than the Colonial Secretary. When the history of the
century, and of this war in particular, shall come to be written, the
character of the Honourable Benjamin Castellan will shine prominently
out. The possessor of a serene imperturbability that nothing could
disturb, a keen observer, a born leader of men, and boasting that most
necessary of all qualifications, a firm belief in himself, a better man
for the arduous post he occupied could not have been discovered.

"I was not aware that you knew the Countess," I said, as we climbed the
stairs together.

"Nor did I that until a few days ago," he answered. "May I ask where you
made her acquaintance?"

"In Paris," I replied. "We stayed at the same hotel. She and her father
had just returned from a yachting trip in the Mediterranean with the
Duke of Rotherhithe."

[Illustration: WE WERE RECEIVED BY THE COUNTESS.

_To face page 89._]

Now, I am sorry to have to confess it, but that little speech of mine
was destined to work an incalculable amount of harm. Castellan has
confessed to me since that he was at first inclined to be somewhat
distrustful of the Countess. When I informed him, however, that our
hostess had been the guest of such a well-known personage as the Duke of
Rotherhithe she figured in his eyes in a different light, with what
result you shall presently hear.

On the broad landing at the head of the staircase we were received by
the Countess. A more beautiful figure than she presented at that moment
it would have been difficult to find. Perfectly dressed, carrying
herself with a graceful assurance as to the manner born, she made an
ideal hostess. If further evidence of her wealth were wanting, it might
have been found in the magnificent diamond tiara she wore upon her head,
in the broad collet of the same precious stones about her neck, and in
the beautiful bracelets that encircled her wrists. Only once before
could I recall such a display, and then the wearer was an Emperor's
escort. As you may remember, when I first saw her in Paris, it had
struck me that her attire was just one little point behind the
"prevailing mode." Now, however, it was as near perfection as it was
possible for human hands to make it. She greeted Castellan first.

"It is indeed kind of you, Mr Castellan, to come to me when every moment
of your time is of such value," she said, as she shook hands with him.
"I follow your doings with the greatest eagerness, and marvel that you
should have the strength to accomplish so much."

"Have you ever discovered that stress of work promotes growth of power,"
said the Colonial Secretary. Then, with one of his inscrutable smiles,
he added: "Pardon me, Countess, I had forgotten for the moment that your
power does not depend upon your work!"

"Ah! I fear you intend a compliment," returned the lady with a smile.
"Must it remain for a foreigner to remind you of your own Milton?


     'What is strength without a double share
     Of wisdom? vast, unwieldly, burdensome,
     Proudly secure, yet liable to fall
     By weakest subtilities; not made to rule,
     But to subserve where wisdom bears command.'"


It was not difficult to see that the aptness of the quotation
astonished the Colonial Secretary. The purity of the Countess's English
was also a surprise to me; but for certain unmistakable indications it
would not have been thought that she was a foreigner. When Castellan had
passed on his way, she turned to me with a little gesture, as if she
were pleased to welcome an old friend.

"Ah! Sir George," she said, "I am so pleased to see you. But I think I
should give you a scolding for not having been before."

I hastened to excuse myself on the plea of over-work, and, having
obtained forgiveness and promised to amend my conduct in the future, I
passed on to shake hands with her father. When I had been again thanked
for my kindness in the matter of the French train, I followed the
Colonial Secretary into the ball-room. I had not been there many minutes
before I was greeted by a voice, which I instantly recognised, saying:
"How do you do, Sir George," and turning, I found myself face to face
with the handsome young Count Reiffenburg, Madame's cousin.

"And how do you like London?" I enquired, after the usual polite
salutations had passed between us. "I think I understood you to say, on
the occasion of our crossing from Paris, that this was your first
visit?"

"I like it very much," he replied, "but, to be candid, not so much as
Paris. I trust that is not a rude thing to say in London?"

"Every one is entitled to express his own opinion," I answered, somewhat
coldly, for I had taken an instinctive dislike to this young fellow.
"You must remember that you are seeing England at her worst just now.
The times are too anxious for us to be very gay."

"You refer to the war, I suppose?" he answered. Then he added with what
I could not help thinking was intended for a sneer: "The war is the
sensation of the moment."

"It naturally would be," I replied. "Though proverbially phlegmatic, we
still have sufficient feeling left to be patriotic; but perhaps your
sympathies are with the other side?"

"One can scarcely help feeling some sympathy----"

"My dear Conrad," said the Countess, who had come upon us unperceived,
"I really cannot let you talk politics in my ball-room. Go away and find
your partner at once. Prove to her that you have learned to valse in
Vienna."

She tapped him playfully on the arm with her fan, but for my own part I
could not help thinking that her words were not meant to be taken as
lightly as she had spoken them. At any rate, the young man muttered
something under his breath and left us.

"Conrad is a foolish but a warm-hearted boy," said the Countess, looking
after him. "Because Messieurs les Boers don't wear uniforms, and are not
nice to look at, he calls them patriots fighting for their country, and
honours them as such."

"I fear there are many like him," I replied. "I trust, however,
Countess, that we have the good fortune to possess your sympathy?"

"Could any one help sympathising with the handsome British officers?"
she answered. "I have no doubt----"

At that moment a sudden buzz of excitement ran through the room, and she
stopped without completing her sentence. It began near the door, and
quickly spread from group to group. Whatever the news was, it caused a
look of consternation to appear on every face.

"What can be the matter?" asked the Countess. "I wonder what they are
all talking about?"

As she finished speaking the Colonial Secretary came up to us.

"I hope that you are not the bearer of evil tidings," said my companion
to him. At the same moment I noticed that her face was very white, and
that there was a frightened look in her eyes.

"We have just received terrible intelligence," he replied. "The steamer,
_Sultan of Sedang_, with Sir Grey-Mortimer, his staff, and the first
Midlandshire Regiment on board, has been blown up at Madeira, and only
three men saved."

The shock was so terrible, that for a moment I stood as if tongue-tied.

"And Grey-Mortimer?" I asked, when I could speak.

"Killed," was the reply.

"Good Heavens! how terrible!" I said. "Are you quite sure it is true?
How did you hear the news?"

"A message has just reached me from the Office," he replied. "There can
be no doubt about it!"

"Woller first, now Grey-Mortimer," I said to myself. "What can it mean?
I shall go to the Admiralty and obtain full particulars."

"I will accompany you," said the Colonial Secretary. "Good-night,
Countess, and many thanks for your hospitality. I am sorry indeed that
this news should have reached us at such a time."

"And I too," she answered. Then, turning to me, she continued: "I hope
you will come and see me again, Sir George?"

As she said it, she looked into my face with a glance that would have
set many hearts, less susceptible than mine, beating with unusual
vigour. The memory of that look accompanied me down the stairs and
remained with me for some time after I was seated in the Colonial
Secretary's brougham. Then we set off to the Admiralty to learn the
details of the disaster. Alas! as Castellan had said, it proved only too
true. The steamship _Sultan of Sedang_ had reached Madeira safely, and
had anchored in the Bay. Nothing of a suspicious nature occurred, nor
was any boat seen near the ship after dark. Suddenly a terrific
explosion was heard, and the great vessel was blown to pieces, the only
men who escaped with their lives being a stoker, a sergeant in the
Midlandshire regiment, and an officer's servant. At the time of
telegraphing, boats were out searching the Bay, while the most careful
investigation as to the cause of the disaster was proceeding on shore.
The Colonial Secretary and I left the Admiralty when we had heard all
there was to be told, and proceeded into the street once more. The
coachman had been ordered not to wait, as we had decided to walk on
home.

Late as the hour was the alarming intelligence had spread like wildfire
through London, and already a considerable crowd had collected in
Whitehall. Fortunately, Castellan and I were able to slip out
unrecognised, and then we set off in the direction of Trafalgar Square.
The Colonial Secretary's residence, as all the world is aware, is in
Carlton House Terrace. At the corner of the small thoroughfare that
winds its way from Cockspur Street into Carlton House Terrace, we
stopped, and stood for some moments conversing there together. Then we
wished each other good-night, Castellan going down the narrow street of
which I have spoken, while I proceeded along Pall Mall and Piccadilly in
the direction of my own abode. My thoughts were the reverse of pleasant
as I strode along. A Cabinet Council had been summoned for the following
morning, and, with this sad intelligence to be brought before it, there
could be no doubt that it was likely to be a gloomy one.

Next morning I rose early. I had a large amount of work to get through
before the meeting, which was to take place at eleven o'clock. At a
quarter to that hour I drove down to Whitehall, and made my way to the
Foreign Office.

"This is terrible news indeed, Manderville," said the Prime Minister, as
we shook hands. "Poor Grey-Mortimer and all those gallant men! I
scarcely like to think of the effect it will produce upon the country.
First, that succession of disastrous defeats, then Woller's
extraordinary disappearance, and now this new catastrophe. However, as
we shall have to discuss that directly, I will say no more at present.
Are we all here?"

There was only one person who had not arrived, the Colonial Secretary.

"It's not like Castellan to be unpunctual," said the Prime Minister.
"Doubtless, however, it won't be long before he puts in an appearance."

When ten minutes had elapsed and still he did not come, a messenger was
despatched to the Colonial Office in search of him. It was not long
before he returned with the information that Castellan had not yet
arrived at his office. Close upon the heels of this message came another
from Mrs Castellan anxiously inquiring for her husband, who, it
appeared, had not come home on the previous night, nor had any
communication been received from him. As I heard this a great fear took
possession of me. I had said good-night to him in Cockspur Street, only
a few paces from his own front door, and had seen him walk in that
direction. How was it, then, that he had not reached it? Was he the
victim of a plot? Had he disappeared like Woller, never to be heard of
again?



CHAPTER IV


Some idea of the wave of consternation which swept over England, when it
became known that the Right Honourable Benjamin Castellan, Secretary of
State for the Colonies had disappeared as mysteriously as Sir William
Woller had done before him, will be derived when I say that edition
after edition of the evening papers had been sold by three o'clock in
the afternoon. It was in every sense a grave national calamity, for, as
we all know, at this particular juncture in the country's history,
Benjamin Castellan, of all others, was the man who could least be
spared.

"You are sure, I suppose, Sir George, that Castellan intended going home
after you parted in Cockspur Street," the Prime Minister enquired,
looking at me along the table.

"As certain as I am of anything," I replied. "He complained of feeling
tired, and laughingly declared his intention of going to bed early, in
order that he might be fresh for our meeting this morning."

"He did not seem depressed in any way, I suppose?" put in the First Lord
of the Admiralty.

"He was naturally extremely downcast by the news we had received
concerning the _Sultan of Sedang_, but in no other sense," I answered.
"I am sorry now that I did not walk with him to his door as I originally
intended doing."

"It is, perhaps, as well that you did not," asserted one of the others,
"for in that case we might have lost you too. Surely my Lord," he
continued, addressing the Prime Minister, "the Police Authorities should
be able to obtain some clue respecting his disappearance? Deserted as
the passage usually is at that hour of the night, for I have passed
through it myself, there _must_ have been some one in the main
thoroughfares at either end who would have given the alarm had they
noticed anything out of the common."

"It is not altogether certain that the crime, if crime it is--and of
that we have as yet no evidence--was perpetrated in the passage of which
you speak," said the Prime Minister; "but wherever, or however, the
deed was committed, the Police I am sure will do their utmost to unravel
the mystery. The mere fact that General Woller's disappearance has not
yet been accounted for is giving rise to a vast amount of uneasiness.
That the same fate should have befallen Mr Castellan will not be likely
to add to the public peace of mind. I am sure the Secretary of State for
the Home Department will do all that lies in his power to see that no
time is lost in bringing the offenders to justice."

When the meeting broke up I made my way with all haste to Carlton House
Terrace, in order to assure my friend's wife of my sympathy, and to help
her in any way that lay in my power. Prostrated with grief though she
was, she consented to see me, and I was accordingly admitted to her
presence.

"Oh, Sir George!" she cried, hastening forward to greet me, "is it
possible that you bring news of him? Ah! I can see you do not."

She threw herself into a chair with a little cry of despair, and for a
moment I scarcely knew what to say to comfort her.

"We must hope for the best, Mrs Castellan," I said at last, and then
added with an assurance that my heart was far from sharing--"no one
knows what the next few hours may bring forth."

"But where can he be?" she cried--"and who can have been base enough to
harm him? I know that he has enemies, as every man who has made a great
name for himself must have, but I cannot think of one who would go so
far as to rob me of him. Oh! it is too cruel! too cruel!"

We were still talking when news reached us that two members of the
Police Department had arrived, and were anxious for an interview.

"I cannot see them," the poor lady declared. "I can tell them nothing
that they do not know!"

"Then let me see them for you," I said. "I think I can answer any
questions they may ask, and at the same time it will spare you the pain
such an interview would entail."

"God bless you for your kindness! You are a true friend."

I thereupon left her, and followed my colleague's secretary along the
hall in the direction of the study.

"This is a sad affair indeed, Mr Gedge," I said, after we had left the
morning-room. "I presume you have never heard Mr Castellan say anything
as to his being shadowed by any one?"

"Never," he replied; "though I will confess that I have suggested to him
on numerous occasions the advisability of having a companion with him
when he walked home late at night from the House. That, you remember,
was a favourite habit of his. He used to say that the fresh air revived
him after a long debate."

"And he was quite right," I replied. "Now let us hear what the police
have to say."

The two members of the Detective Force, who had been detailed to take
charge of the case, rose as we entered the room. They seemed somewhat
surprised at seeing me, but upon my informing them how I came to be
connected with the matter, willingly excused Mrs Castellan from
attendance.

"Do I understand you to say that you were the last of his friends to see
Mr Castellan before his disappearance?" asked the taller of the two men,
who looked more like a burly Yorkshire farmer than a member of the
Scotland Yard Detective Force.

"It would appear so," I replied. "We left Wiltshire House on hearing
the news of the disaster to the _Sultan of Sedang_, drove to the
Admiralty to learn the latest particulars, and then, having dismissed
the carriage, strolled as far as Cockspur Street in each other's
company."

"And you parted at the passage that leads from Cockspur Street into
Carlton House Terrace, I believe?" said the other man. "You did not
happen to notice whether any person was following you, I suppose?"

"I don't fancy either of us looked round during the whole distance," I
answered, with an inward wish that I had been suspicious enough to have
taken that simple precaution. "We had too much to occupy our thoughts
without observing the actions of other people."

"And how long did you remain on the pavement? I should be obliged if you
would endeavour to be as accurate as possible, sir, in your answer to
this question."

I considered a moment before I replied.

"Between eight and ten minutes I should say, certainly not more. I
remember comparing my watch with a clock above the shop window at the
corner, and remarking as I did so that I was nearly three minutes slow."

"In that case you should be able to fix the time of his leaving you to
within a minute or two," said the elder of the two men, taking a
note-book and pencil from his pocket as he spoke.

"I can do so exactly. It was five minutes past twelve when we bade each
other good-night."

"Was any one near you on the pavement while you were standing talking?"

"No one, the street was almost deserted."

"I notice that you say _almost_ deserted, sir. Then there were other
people in sight. Do you happen to remember if any one was standing near
you--that is to say, within fifty feet or so?"

"I recollect that there was a policeman on the opposite side of the
road. Two youths in evening dress, both far from sober, passed at the
moment that we stopped. Stay, now I come to think of it, there was an
old woman near us just before we said good-night to each other, and, if
my memory serves me, she disappeared down the narrow passage. It is
strange that I should have forgotten the circumstance."

"An old woman? Can you give me a rather more detailed description of
her? Of what class was she?"

"Of the very poorest, I should say, and half witted. She was in rags,
and was muttering some gibberish to herself. I am afraid I cannot tell
you any more about her."

"That is rather a pity," said his companion. "I should like to have a
little conversation with that good lady."

"You surely don't think she had anything to do with the Colonial
Secretary's disappearance?" I replied with some surprise. "Why, she
couldn't have had sufficient strength to harm a child, much less a
strong, active man such as Mr Castellan was."

"Perhaps not, sir; it's just possible, however, that she may have had
friends to do the work for her. I don't say, of course, that she _had_
anything to do with it, but it is our duty to look after every detail,
and my experience has taught me that the most unexpected places often
provide the most likely clues. Let us suppose, for instance, that she
was only the decoy bird, and that the real perpetrators of the crime
were concealed in the passage. As soon as she had discovered Mr
Castellan, she passed into the lane and bade her confederates be on the
alert; then, when he appeared, they would be ready to effect his
capture. Doesn't that plot seem feasible enough, sir?"

"Very feasible," I felt compelled to admit; "but your case, like the
proverbial figures, can be made to prove anything. However, if you think
the old woman had anything to do with it, what action do you propose to
take?"

"I shall try the street first, and endeavour to discover whether any one
heard a scuffle or cries for help last night. Then it's possible the
police on the beat may know something of the old woman, and be able to
give us an insight into her character and identity. In the meantime, if
Mrs Castellan will permit it, I will interview the servants and
endeavour to discover whether they noticed any suspicious characters
loitering about near the house."

"I am sure Mrs Castellan will be only too pleased if you will do what
you deem necessary," I replied.

The man thanked me, and the necessary orders were given for the servants
to be ushered into the room. One by one they were subjected to a
rigorous cross-examination at the hands of the two detectives. Neither
the butler nor any of the men-servants had noticed anything suspicious
in the front of the house, nor had they seen any old woman, answering to
my description, hanging about the premises. The housekeeper and cook
were equally positive in their assertions; indeed, the only person who
had noticed anything peculiar was a young housemaid, who declared that
she had seen two well-dressed men pass the house on three different
occasions during the day. Each time they used the small passage to which
reference has been so often made. When pressed to describe them more
accurately, she was unable to do so.

"They were just ordinary gentlemen," she said, "dressed in frock coats
and silk hats, and they might have, or might not have, carried umbrellas
in their hands." Further than this she declared she could not go, not if
her life depended upon it.

"What makes you so sure that they passed three times?" asked the smaller
of the two detectives.

"Because I saw them first after breakfast, sir," the girl replied, "then
in the middle of the morning, and the last time just before dinner."

This being all that could be extracted from her, the girl was dismissed
from the room, and Mr Castellan's valet was recalled. From him an exact
description of the clothes the missing man was wearing, and a record of
the jewellery he had about his person, was obtained.

"This is no ordinary case of robbery," said the elder detective, "but it
is always as well to know these things. One never knows how useful they
may prove later on."

After asking a few more questions, they thanked me for the information I
had given them and prepared to leave the house.

"You will be sure to acquaint Mrs Castellan with any discovery you may
make?" I said. "I should like to be able to assure her of that?"

"You may, sir. She shall know directly we hear of anything."

Then they bowed themselves out, and I was at liberty to make my missing
colleague's wife acquainted with the result of our interview. I found
her still prostrated with grief and anxiety, a prey to the most
agonising thoughts. I did what I could to comfort her, though I felt
that my ministrations could do her no good. In my own heart I was quite
certain that Castellan had been spirited away by the same mysterious
agency that had deprived us of Woller. What that agency was, however,
was more than I, or any one of us, could determine. When I left Carlton
House Terrace I drove to the Foreign Office, where I had a consultation
with the Prime Minister which lasted upwards of an hour, after which I
returned to my residence.

I had intended going into the country that afternoon, but, in the light
of this new calamity, I changed my mind and resolved to remain in Town.
Accordingly, after lunch I drove to my office, and remained there until
towards evening. By three o'clock, as I have already said, the terrible
intelligence was known all over the town. In all my experience I cannot
remember a scene of greater excitement. Downing Street, in particular,
was filled with an enormous crowd, eager to learn the latest news. In
the public mind Castellan's disappearance figured as the work of an
enemy, very probably by reason of the prominent part he had played in
the history and development of the war. The wildest rumours were afloat
concerning the affair, and every edition of the evening papers contained
some new item connected with it. At four o'clock I bade my secretary
telephone to Scotland Yard and enquire whether they had any information
to impart. The reply was to the effect that their labours had so far
been entirely fruitless. As in poor Woller's case, not a trace of the
missing man could be discovered. Castellan could not have vanished more
completely had he been caught up to the sky at the very moment that I
had said "good-bye" to him.

"It is really most uncomfortable for every one concerned," my secretary
remarked. "If this sort of thing is to continue, one does not know who
the next victim may be."

He was quite right; one certainly _did not_ know. This much, however,
was quite certain: whoever the persons might be who perpetrated the
crime, they were past masters of their art. Their arrangements and the
general conduct of the affair was perfection itself, and against such
science it was almost impossible to guard. For my own part--and I don't
think my worst enemies can accuse me of cowardice--I must confess to a
distinct feeling of uneasiness when I reflected that this mysterious
individual, or band, might possibly try his, or their, hand upon me. The
suggestion emanating from Scotland Yard to the effect that we should
avail ourselves of the offer of police protection, I politely, but
firmly declined. The idea of being shadowed night and day by detectives
was more than distasteful to me.

"Yet we do not desire to lose you, Sir George," said the Prime Minister
later, and in saying it he was kind enough to pay me a compliment which
my modesty will not permit me to repeat here. I owe him an apology in
this matter, however, for I now see that he was right. If I should have
to go through it all again, however, I feel that I should act as I did
then.

At half-past four o'clock I left the office--by the back door this time,
for I had no desire to be recognised by the crowd--and when I had
crossed the Horse Guards Parade, set off in the direction of Marlborough
House. As I walked along I thought of Castellan and of our meeting on
the previous night. How little he had dreamt when he had carried on his
airy badinage with Madame de Venetza that in less than three hours he
would be gone from the sight of men! This naturally led me to think of
the Countess. I recalled the expression upon her face, and the look in
her eyes, when she had invited me to visit her again, and though, as I
have said before, I do not in any way consider myself a lady's man, I am
willing to confess that the recollection of her condescension gave me
considerable satisfaction.

Not feeling in the humour for Piccadilly, and the raucous voices of the
newsboys shouting--


     "DISAPPEARANCE OF THE SECRETARY OF STATE
                 FOR THE COLONIES:
          DISAPPEARANCE OF MR CASTELLAN!"


I continued my walk across the green Park in the direction of Hyde Park
Corner. It was a beautiful evening, and in the twilight the Park
presented as peaceful a scene as the soul of man could desire. Reaching
the exit opposite Hamilton Place, I stood for a moment wondering whether
I should cross into Hyde Park or stroll leisurely home. What it was I
cannot say, but for some reason or another I had a strange desire for
the companionship of my fellow men or women. It may have been that the
sudden disappearance of Castellan had upset me more than I supposed. At
any rate, I was far from being myself. As I stood there an idea struck
me, and I wondered why it had not occurred to me before. What was there
to prevent my visiting the Countess that evening? She had declared that
she would be very glad to see me whenever I might call.

My mind was no sooner made up than I crossed the road and steered a
course for Wiltshire House. On the way many friends would have stopped
me had I permitted them to do so, but I strode resolutely along, paying
no heed to them beyond returning their salutations. At last I reached
the Countess's house and learnt that she was not only at home but would
receive visitors. I found her in her boudoir seated before a bright
fire, though the day had been comparatively warm.

"It is kind indeed of you to take pity upon my loneliness, Sir George,"
she said, as she rose to receive me. "No one could be more welcome. I
have been feeling so very sad this afternoon, and now your society will
cheer me up."

"You have heard of Mr Castellan's disappearance, I suppose?" I remarked,
as I seated myself in the chair she indicated. "It has shocked you as it
has done all of us!"

"Have you any way of accounting for it?" she asked.

"None whatever," I replied. "The whole affair is shrouded in mystery.
The police are unable to discover the faintest clue to work upon."

"It will have a very serious effect upon the country, will it not?" she
enquired. "He has played such a conspicuous part in politics of late!"

"He will be missed, I fear," I answered, and stopped there, for I had no
desire to discuss current politics just then.

Putting the topics of the day on one side, we at last came to the
duration of her stay in London.

"I scarcely know how long we shall remain," she said. "I fancy my father
is growing tired of London already. The war is perhaps accountable for
it, but England is too sad just now. I do not like sad places. I prefer
the sun, the warmth, the glitter, and to have smiling faces about me. I
am afraid I must be peculiarly constituted, for the least thing is
sufficient to raise or depress me." Then suddenly brightening up, she
continued: "But there; what a foolish hostess I am to talk to you in
this fashion. I shall frighten you away, and then you will not come and
see me any more. I have no desire to lose so good a friend."

Man of the world though I was, the compliment tickled my vanity, and I
hastened to reply in a suitable fashion. Then I congratulated her upon
the success which had attended her "At Home" on the previous evening.

"In the matter of an 'At Home' it is not so very difficult to be
successful," she replied. "One has only to give _carte blanche_ to one's
cook and house-steward, dress oneself in one's best, and stand at the
head of the stairs to receive one's guests with a conventional smile
upon one's face. A dinner is a somewhat more difficult affair, and
there, I think, without vanity, I may justly pride myself upon my
ability. A cosy little dinner for, let us say, not more than eight
people, each to be most carefully selected. Will you make one of them?"

"I shall be delighted," I replied. "But may it not be a competition? My
man has ambition. Why not let me try to equal your effort, even if I
cannot excel it?"

"Try, by all means. And the prize?"

"The knowledge of success! What prize could be more worth winning?"

"It is settled then?" she returned. "We are each to give a dinner and to
endeavour to outdo each other. I shall make my arrangements
accordingly."

After that we drifted into a discussion upon books, pictures, and, by
the natural transition of things, came at last to music. On this
subject she was as well informed as upon every other.

"It is my passion," she said in explanation. "My piano is the greatest
treasure I possess. I could not live without it."

"I felt certain from the first that you were a musician," I replied. "I
wonder if I could induce you to play to me?"

"I will do so with pleasure if you wish it?" she answered, and
accordingly crossed the room to the corner where the piano stood.
Prepared as I was to find her a good _pianiste_, I did not dream for a
moment that her talent was so great. As it was, she fascinated me from
the moment that her fingers touched the keys. In explanation I might
here remark that I am particularly susceptible to music, and now, under
her influence, I sat spell-bound. The work was Saint Saën's "Danse
Macabre," and in her hands the fierce madness of that remarkable
composition was brought out with more than its usual _diablerie_.

In order to understand what is to follow, it must be remembered that I
was seated near the fire-place, and that her piano was at the further
end of the room, so that, placed as I was, I could not see my hostess.

Having once felt the divine _afflatus_, she played on and on, without
stopping to enquire whether I was tired, wandering from master to master
as the fancy seized her. Such was the effect of the music upon me, that
in a short time I became scarcely conscious of mundane affairs. A
delicious languor was stealing over me, and little by little I felt my
eyes closing. The music appeared to be growing gradually fainter, until
it could scarcely be heard. I tried to rouse myself, but was unable to
do so. At last, even the inclination to battle with the feeling of
drowsiness left me, and I abandoned myself to my fate.

Whether I fell asleep and dreamt what I am about to describe, or whether
the Countess, in the exercise of a deadly power which I feel convinced
she possessed, had hypnotized me, I cannot say. The fact remains, that
in my mind's eye, for my eyes were closed, I saw her rise from the
instrument and approach me. Then, she came closer, stopped, and stooped
over me until her eyes were close to mine. There was a light in them
that pierced my eyelids and penetrated to the centre of my brain.

"It is useless for you to strive with me," she said; "you are mine, and
must do my bidding."

Then she began to question me on certain matters connected with the war
and with European politics. I appeared to be telling her secrets, so
vital in their importance, that to have breathed them aloud to the world
would have been to run the risk of causing the most serious
international complications. Yet, still powerless to resist, I answered
the questions as they were put to me, keeping nothing back. When she had
learnt all that she wanted to know, she moved away from me, and returned
to the piano. Then once more she began to play, the music growing louder
and more distinct as it progressed. Then I woke, to find her still
playing the same piece as when I had closed my eyes. When she had
finished it, she rose from her seat.

"I think of all the great masters, I prefer Chopin," she said, as she
crossed the room. "Yes, I am certain that he stands first in my
admiration."

Her manner was so open, so sincere, that the suspicion I had been
tempted to entertain against her vanished in a trice. It was all
imagination, I told myself. Under the influence of her music I must have
fallen asleep and dreamt it all. Had I not good proof of this? Had it
really happened, it would have taken nearly a quarter of an hour for me
to impart the information she had asked of me. Yet the long hand of the
clock upon the mantel-piece had only advanced three minutes since I had
last looked at it. How comforting this assurance was to me I must leave
you to understand. It was the most singularly vivid dream, however, I
had had in my life, and, but for the evidence of the clock, and the
sincerity of the Countess's manner, I could have sworn that the incident
I have just described had really occurred. Yet there was another side to
the question. I had fallen asleep while paying an afternoon call, and
the idea disquieted me more than I cared to admit. Then a servant
entered with tea, and under the influence of the Countess's Pekoe and
fashionable chit-chat my powers of conversation returned to me. At last
I rose to take leave.

"I fear I have paid you an unconscionably long visit," I said. "Your
beautiful music, however, must be blamed for my over-stepping the bounds
of politeness. I hope you will forgive me?"

"It has been a pleasure to me to play to you," she answered. "One does
not always have such a sympathetic audience."

With that I left her, and on reaching the street turned in the direction
of the Park.

"I should have just time enough for a sharp walk before I dress," I said
to myself, and took my watch from my pocket and glanced at the dial. The
clock on the mantel-piece of the Countess's boudoir, when I had said
good-bye to her, had pointed to half-past five. My watch showed a
quarter to six. This was very singular, for I remembered looking at my
watch as I stood in the portico, after ringing the bell, and also my
laughing remark to the Countess to the effect that I was glad to have
found her at home at such an hour, glancing at the clock as I did so.
Yet now there was a difference of rather more than a quarter of an hour
between the two? What did this signify? Could the Countess's clock have
stopped while she was playing and then have gone on again of its own
accord? It was scarcely likely that, while I was asleep, she had risen
from the piano and had set it going, for going it certainly was when I
bade her good-bye. The remembrance of the dream I had had still weighed
heavily upon my mind, and, do what I would, I could not throw it off.
Yet how absurd it was. Moreover, though I had more than once suspected
her of taking an interest in European politics, she had always denied
the fact to me. Besides, even if this were so, and granted that she had
the power, what reason could she possibly have had for extracting
secrets from me? At this point the remembrance of her eyes and the
singular influence they had had over me in Paris, returned to me.

"What does it all mean?" I asked myself, as if in despair of arriving at
a definite conclusion.

I was to find that out, however, in good time!



CHAPTER V


You will remember that in the preceding chapter I described to you the
conflicting emotions with which I viewed my now famous call at Wiltshire
House. Beyond remarking that I was quite at a loss to account for it,
and that the passing of time did not throw any further light upon the
mystery, I need say no more about it. There is so much to tell of vital
importance, that it behoves me to be economical of space. Needless to
say, the Colonial Secretary's disappearance continued to attract its
full measure of public attention. Despite the endeavours of the police,
however, no clue of any sort could be discovered, either as to his
present whereabouts, or as to the manner of his departure. Enormous
rewards were offered, but without success. He was gone, and that was all
that could be said about it.

Meanwhile, the most alarming telegrams were being received from the
Front. Day after day the news of reverses filled the columns of the
Public Press, until it began to look as if the prestige of England would
be destroyed for ever and a day. Parliament had by this time assembled,
and questions innumerable were addressed to the Secretary of State for
War as to the reasons for the deplorable condition of affairs at the
Front. Public opinion was at fever heat, and only a small spark was
needed to bring about an explosion. Troops were pouring out of England
by every available boat, while the Home Defence Force was being
increased to its utmost limit. Never since the Crimea had such a state
of affairs been known, and never had the resources of the Empire been so
severely taxed. Then came the news of the loss of another transport at
sea, a catastrophe ascribed to the presence on board of a clock-work
infernal machine; this was followed by the stranding of the _Son of
Neptune_, with the 36th Lancers on board, at Las Palmas, by which the
horses and men, so badly needed at the seat of war, were detained on the
Island inactive until another vessel could be sent from England to pick
them up and convey them to their destination.

By this time every one, save those whom the most visible proof would
not convince, had arrived at the conclusion that we were fighting, not
only our ostensible and declared enemies, the two South African
Republics, but also another powerful yet mysterious foe, whose
machinations were responsible for the disappearance of Woller and the
Colonial Secretary, for the blowing up of the _Sultan of Sedang_, the
destruction of the _Son of Neptune_, and sundry other occurrences so
vividly and painfully impressed upon the public mind. Then, for upwards
of a fortnight, a respite was given us, and the British taxpayer was
able to take up his paper without finding the news of some new
misfortune, for which he would eventually be called upon to pay for both
in money and self-esteem, described in its columns. It was fortunate
that we could not foretell the even greater troubles that were still in
store for us.

One memorable Friday morning, exactly a fortnight after my call at
Wiltshire House, a rumour ran through the town to the effect that
Woolwich Arsenal had been destroyed. Knowing the precautions that were
taken at that splendid institution to guard against such a thing, the
report was at first discredited. It was soon found, however, to be only
too true. A terrific explosion had taken place, a large number of
employees had been killed and wounded, while the works, then so vitally
necessary, were placed at a complete standstill. The lamentable
occurrence was reported to the House by the Home Secretary that
afternoon, and, as usual, the authorities declared there was no clue to
guide the police in their search for the author of the dastardly deed.
It was in vain that questions were asked in the House; in vain that
public orators demanded of the authorities that they should exercise
more care in guarding their institutions; in vain that the man in the
street forwarded his theories, and suggested remedies, to the Press.
England had a mysterious enemy who could think as well as act, and who,
when he has finished his work, left no trace behind to lead to his
identification.

In consequence of the excitement caused by the last disaster, the guards
upon all the public buildings were doubled, no precaution was omitted
that wisdom could dictate, and then we waited to see where the next blow
would fall. In this fashion another fortnight went by, during which an
incident of no small importance occurred. Quite by chance an explanation
was forthcoming as to how the news of the series of disasters that had
been our portion in South Africa during the last few weeks reached our
shores. It was discovered that the cable, the only one then working, had
been cleverly tampered with, the wires milked, to use an American
expression, and a doctored version sent home for consumption. This was
corroborated by the mail reports, and despatches describing the course
of events in South Africa. Henceforth the most rigid precautions were
taken to guard against a repetition of this practice, and then once more
we sat down to wait.

I had seen nothing of the Countess for some time. The fright I had
received on the last occasion that I had called upon her, was still
sufficiently impressed upon my memory to make me a little chary of
allowing her to obtain so much influence over me. As will doubtless be
agreed, this was a somewhat contradictory decision on my part, for in
arriving at it, I had no excuse to offer, save that I entertained for
her a mixture of admiration and, I might almost say, of innate distrust.
The admiration was easily accounted for; the distrust was somewhat more
difficult to explain. Was she not the bosom friend of many of the
greatest people in the land? She was to be met everywhere, and was as
well known a personage in London Society as Royalty itself. Her father,
it appeared, had left England for the Continent, and it was doubtful
when he would return. Her cousin was still with her, and was to be
encountered at every social gathering of importance. Young, handsome,
and the reported possessor of considerable wealth, it was small wonder
that he found himself in request, when so many young men were absent
from England. I have stated that I did not care for the young Count
Reiffenburg, and now I will go even further by saying that the more I
saw of him the less I liked him.

At this point in my story it is necessary for me to describe a
circumstance, which, though at the time it puzzled me considerably, can
now be very easily explained. It occurred on a night when the House sat
scarcely so late as usual. As a matter of fact it was but little after
midnight when I set off to walk home. For a time after the disappearance
of the Colonial Secretary, I had declined to be shadowed by a detective,
but now, hearkening to the voice of Prudence, I had consented to be
shadowed by a detective whenever I took my walk abroad. Since I am fond
of walking, particularly at night, I am afraid my own particular shadow
had rather a hard time of it. He never complained, however, but,
faithful to his duty, kept me continually in view, obtruding himself
upon my notice as little as possible. The feeling engendered by the
knowledge that a man is continually behind one, watching all one does,
is the reverse of pleasant. However, like everything else in life, one
gets used to it, and after a time I took no notice of it. On this
particular occasion, the night being so beautiful, the moon was full, I
remember, I strolled leisurely home, my thoughts centred on the debate
that had taken place that night. There is a solemnity about Trafalgar
Square at midnight, particularly when viewed by the light of the moon,
that is far from being its principal characteristic by day. As I passed
the spot where I had said good-bye to poor Castellan a few weeks before,
I could not suppress a shudder.

Leaving Cockspur street behind me, I passed on to Piccadilly, afterwards
proceeding by way of Berkeley Square to my abode. By the time I reached
my own door I was in the full enjoyment of the night. It seemed a pity
to shut oneself up in the house when it was so lovely outside. I
therefore waited until my faithful follower came up to me, and then
informed him that I intended going on for a further stroll.

"There is not the least necessity for you to come," I said. "You may go
home to bed as soon as you like."

"I think I would prefer to accompany you, sir," the man replied. "I am
on duty all night, and if anything were to happen to you, it would be my
fault."

"Very well, then," I answered, "come along."

So saying, we resumed our walk, with the difference that on this
occasion I kept the man beside me. He proved an interesting companion,
having seen life under a variety of aspects, and in so doing had
naturally come in contact with many strange characters. What was more,
he had the faculty of being able to put them before you in a novel and
interesting light. He had been three times to America in search of
criminals, once to India, and once to Australia.

By the time I had heard his experiences in the last-named country we had
reached Park Lane, and were drawing near Wiltshire House. At the corner
we called a halt, while I felt in my pocket for a match for my cigar. We
were standing in deep shadow, Wiltshire House being on the further side
of the road, and in the full light of the moon. Having found a match, I
was about to strike it, when the figure of a man on the opposite side of
the street attracted my attention. The moonlight was so bright that I
could see him quite distinctly. He was of the poorest class, evidently a
street loafer of the description to be seen any night stretched out on
the grass of the Park. My astonishment may be imagined, therefore, when
I saw him deliberately ascend the three steps leading to the side door
of Wiltshire House. He paused for a moment, then the door was softly
opened to him, and he passed inside. Scarcely able to believe the
evidence of my eyes, I turned to the man beside me and enquired if he
had noticed it? He admitted that he had.

"What does it mean?" I asked. "Is it a case of burglary, do you think?"

"It looks like it, sir," he replied. "Whatever it is, he has got a
confederate inside."

"What do you think had better be done?" I enquired. "The Countess de
Venetza is a personal friend, and I cannot allow her house to be robbed
without making an effort to prevent it."

"We had better call the policeman on the beat," the man replied; "after
that we can arouse the household. There shouldn't be much difficulty in
securing the fellow. If you wouldn't mind keeping your eye on that door
for a few minutes, sir, I'll go off and find the constable."

I willingly agreed to watch the door, and the detective departed on his
errand. In something less than five minutes he returned, bringing two
policemen with him. The men had evidently been informed of my identity,
for they saluted respectfully, and one of them enquired what I wished
done in the matter.

"I think the better plan would be to call up the house-steward and
inform him of what we have seen," I replied. "You will then be able to
search the house and effect the capture of the burglar."

Leaving us to guard the door through which the old man had entered, one
of the policemen went round to the front of the house. The other
ascended the steps and rang the bell. To his first summons there was no
response, so he rang again. The bell echoed in the basement of the great
house, this time to some purpose, for a few minutes later a shuffling
footstep was heard within. Then the key turned in the lock and the door
was opened on the chain to the extent of a few inches.

"Who's there?" asked a man's voice.

"Police," answered the officer. "I'm here to warn you that there's a man
has just got into the house. Somebody let him in at this door."

"Man got into the house?" was the alarmed response. "You don't mean
that, I hope, policeman?"

"I do," replied the constable. "You had better let us come in and have a
look round. We've been watching the house and he hasn't come out yet. My
mate's round at the front, and there's a detective officer here. Get a
candle and we'll go through the rooms with you."

The thought that he was to be called upon to assist in the arrest of a
burglar was too much for the old man. He tremblingly invited the officer
to lead the way down the stairs to the basement. While they were absent
we remained at the door, expecting every minute to hear the sound of a
scuffle from within. Five minutes or so later they ascended once more
and the constable shook his head.

"Wherever else he is, sir," he said, addressing me, "he's not down
there."

The words had scarcely left his lips before the door at the further end
of the passage opened, and the Countess herself stood before us. Much to
my astonishment I saw that she was in full evening dress. Her appearance
was so entirely unexpected that I could only stare at her in surprise.

"What does this mean?" she enquired, with a haughtiness that sat well
upon her. "Why, surely it is Sir George Manderville! What can have
happened? This is rather a late hour for a call, Sir George!"

I explained what had occurred, told her of the man I had seen enter by
the side door, and whom I was perfectly certain had not come forth
again.

"Then he must be in the house now," she cried in a voice of alarm. "Who
can it be, and who could possibly have let him in?"

"Some dishonest member of your household," I replied. "It would be as
well if you were to find out who that person is. In the meantime, let me
beg of you to permit the officers to search the house."

To this she willingly assented, at the same time bidding the steward
rouse the housekeeper.

"While the search is proceeding won't you come to my boudoir, Sir
George?" she said. "I have been sitting there reading since I returned
from the theatre, and I am quite sure that the wretch, whoever he may
be, is not in that part of the building."

I followed her to the room in question, which was on the other side of
the house, and we were about to enter it, when the sound of a footstep
upon the stairs attracted my attention, and I looked up, to see her
cousin, Count Reiffenburg, descending towards us.

"What is the matter?" he asked. "Why, Sir George Manderville, I did not
expect to find _you_ here!"

I briefly explained the situation to him, whereupon he remarked, with
that curious smile upon his face:--"It seems that you are destined
always to prove our benefactor. But while we are talking here the man
may make his escape. I think I will go round with the police, and see if
I can be of any assistance to them."

He left us, and for something like ten minutes the Countess and I waited
for the sound that was to proclaim the capture of the intruder. But no
such good fortune rewarded us. If the man were in the house--and of this
I had no doubt--he had managed to conceal himself so effectually that
the police could not find him. In the meantime the housekeeper had put
in an appearance, and was despatched to interrogate the female
domestics, and discover, if possible, who it was that had opened the
door. She returned with the information that she had found all the
maid-servants in bed and asleep, while the steward was equally certain
that none of the men under his charge had anything to do with the
occurrence. At last, after searching the house, the police were
compelled to confess that they were at a loss to understand what had
become of him.

"But there can be no doubt about his being here," I declared; "I
distinctly saw him enter. He was an old man, very ragged, with long grey
hair, and stooped as he walked. The detective officer who was with me at
the time can also corroborate what I say, if necessary."

"That is not necessary, for of course we accept your word," said
Reiffenburg with elaborate politeness. "The question is: if, as you say,
he entered, where is he now? He cannot have vanished into space, and we
have searched every corner without success."

"Then he must have an accomplice in the house who is hiding him," I
returned. "If both exits have been guarded, he cannot have got out."

By this time I was beginning to wish that I had had nothing to do with
the matter. The Countess, however, was profuse in her thanks to me, for
what she described as "a most considerate and friendly act."

Seeing that I could be of no further use to her, I apologized for my
intrusion and bade them good-night.

"Should we by any chance manage to secure the fellow, I will let you
know," said Reiffenburg, as we stood together at the front door. "I
fear, however, _we shall not be so fortunate_."

There was a sneer in his voice, for which I could have kicked him.
However, I kept my temper, and murmuring something to the effect that I
was glad to have been of service, I took my departure, and the door
closed behind me.

"That was one of the most extraordinary affairs I have ever known," I
said to the detective, as we turned our faces homewards. "I am quite at
a loss to account for it."

The detective stopped suddenly and looked at me.

"The lady and gentleman are particular friends of yours, sir, I
understand, and I don't know in that case whether I ought to tell you
what is in my mind. But I fancy I could throw a rather unexpected light
upon the affair."

"Speak out, then, by all means," I answered. "What was it you noticed?"

"This, sir," he said, and as he spoke he took from his pocket a small
piece of black matter about half the size of a pea. He handed it to me
and asked if I had seen it before. I informed him that I was quite sure
I had not.

"It only bears out, sir, what I was saying as we came down Park Lane,
just before we reached Wiltshire House. If it weren't for little things,
that they overlook, we shouldn't be able to lay our hands on half the
criminals we want. Now mind you, sir, I don't mean to infer by that that
your friend Count Reiffenburg is a criminal. Not at all; that would be a
very wrong thing to say. He's probably been playing a practical joke, as
gentlemen will. The fact, however, remains that he gave himself away
with that little lump of black stuff, just as surely as Bill Coakes of
the Minories did when he gave his sweetheart the silk handkerchief that
he picked up in old Mrs Burgiss's bedroom. He didn't think it was of any
importance, but she wore it, quarrelled with a girl over it, the police
came to hear of it, and Bill was caught. So it was just that slip that
brought him to the gallows."

"I do not understand you," I replied, still holding the tiny bit of
black stuff in my hand. "What is the connection between this substance
and Count Reiffenburg?"

"It's the key to the whole puzzle, sir," he said, and took it from me.

Turning his face away, he put his hand to his mouth, and then wheeling
round again, parted his lips and showed me his teeth. The eye-tooth on
the right-hand side was missing. He put up his hand once more, and lo!
it was restored to its place.

"That's what I mean, sir," he said. "Now I noticed, when the gentleman
came downstairs, that one of his eye-teeth were missing. He wanted to
make himself look old, I suppose, and when he had taken off the other
pieces, had forgotten to remove that one. Then he must have remembered
it, for his hand went up to his mouth, and next minute it was on the
floor, where I managed to get hold of it."

"Do you mean to infer that the old man we saw enter the house was the
Count Reiffenburg?" I asked, aghast.

"That is my belief, sir," said the man; "and I feel certain that if I
were allowed to search his bedroom, I should find my suspicions
corroborated."

"But what possible reason could he have for masquerading as a pauper
outcast, and who let him in?"

"As to his reason, sir, I can hazard no sort of guess," he continued.
"But it was the lady herself who let him in."

"How on earth do you know that?"

"By a process of simple reasoning, sir. Did you happen to notice that,
when we returned to the hall after our search of the first section of
the house, the gentleman carried a book in his hand?"

"Now that you mention the fact I _do_ remember it," I answered. "But
what has the book to do with it?"

"A great deal," he answered. "You may not be aware of the fact, but
there's a small sitting-room near that side door--a tiny place where the
housekeeper does her accounts. The book, when we first searched the
room, was lying upon the table."

"May not the housekeeper have been reading it before she went to bed?"

"The housekeeper is an Englishwoman, sir, and not very well educated. I
should call it remarkable if she knew Italian, and little short of
marvellous if she read Dante in the original. Now, sir, when Count
Reiffenburg entered the lady's boudoir, he brought that book with him
and placed it on one of the tables. He wouldn't have done that if it had
been the property of the housekeeper, would he? No, sir! Count
Reiffenburg was out, and the young lady, who is his cousin, I think I
understood you to say, sir, sat up for him in order to be near the door.
That's the way I read the riddle."

"And I must confess that you have a certain amount of probability on
your side," I answered. "At the same time, if I were you, I should say
nothing about the discovery. It can serve no good purpose to bruit it
abroad. Do you think the two policemen noticed anything of the kind?"

The detective gave a scornful little laugh. "I don't think you need have
much fear on that score, sir," he answered. "I doubt very much whether
the man who went round with me noticed the book at all. His theory was
that the fellow we saw enter was one of the servants who had been out
late, and not a burglar at all."

By this time we had reached my own residence, and I bade the man
good-night upon the steps. Having let myself in, I went to my study to
deposit some papers I had brought with me from the House, then to my
bedroom and to bed. The incident at Wiltshire House annoyed me, if only
for the reason that I could not understand it. What could the young
Count Reiffenburg have been doing--if it were he, as the detective
declared--wandering about London in that attire? That in itself was bad
enough, but it was made much worse by the knowledge that his beautiful
cousin had been conniving at his escapade. One thing was quite certain;
if I had entertained a dislike for Reiffenburg before, it was doubled
now. At last, tired by my long day and the events that had concluded it,
I fell asleep, and did not wake until I opened my eyes to find Williams
standing beside my bed, overcome with excitement and horror.

"What is the matter, man?" I cried. "What makes you look like that?"

"There's terrible news, sir," he faltered. "There's been a lot lately,
but this is the worst of all."

"What is the matter, man?" I cried for the second time. "Don't stand
there trembling. Tell me what has happened."

"I scarcely know how to tell you, sir," he answered, his voice almost
failing him.

"Then give me the paper and let me look for myself," I said, and took it
from him. On the page before me, in large type, was an announcement that
made me feel sick and giddy:--


     "ASSASSINATION OF THE PRIME MINISTER!"


My horror was greater even than Williams's had been. I read the heavy
black lines over and over again, as if unable to grasp their meaning.
The Prime Minister dead! My old friend and Chief murdered! Could it be
possible?

When I had recovered my composure a little, I took up the paper, and
tried to read the account there set forth. There had only been time for
the insertion of a short paragraph, but its importance was such that it
would ring throughout the world. It ran as follows:--


     "It is with a sorrow that cannot be expressed in words, that we
     record the fact that the Right Honourable, the Earl of Litford,
     Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and Prime Minister of
     England, was assassinated soon after midnight. The Prime Minister
     was last seen alive by his private secretary, in the study at his
     residence at Grosvenor Square. He had left the House of Lords
     early, but, with the exception of a slight headache, appeared to be
     in the best of health and spirits. The presumption is that he was
     stabbed in the back, but how the wound was inflicted, and by whom,
     are matters which, at present, cannot be explained."


I could find no words to express my horror and surprise. It was only a
few hours since he had congratulated me upon my speech in answer to the
accusations of certain members of the Little Englander Party; now
England was bereft, by as foul an act as had ever been committed in the
annals of crime, of one of her greatest statesmen and of one of her
noblest sons.

Craving further particulars, I dressed with all speed, and then drove to
his residence in Grosvenor Square. Leaving my cab, I walked towards the
well-known house, before which a large number of people had collected.
Recognising me, they allowed me to pass, and so I gained the front door
of the house I had so often entered as the friend and colleague of the
dead man. I was shown into the morning-room, where presently I was
joined by the secretary, who, as the newspapers had reported, had been
the last to see him before the tragedy took place.

"Tell me about it," I said, after we had greeted each other.

From his narrative I gathered that the dead man, on his return from the
House, after spending half-an-hour with his wife, went to his study. His
secretary followed him there, to ascertain if he could be of any further
assistance to him. He found him seated at the table writing, and was
informed by him that he required nothing more, and that it would not be
very long before he himself retired to rest.

"Was the window in the study open?" I asked.

"No," he answered; "it was closed, and the shutters were barred. That
was at half-past eleven. At half-past twelve, wondering why her husband
did not come upstairs, Lady Litford went in search of him. Her horror
may be pictured when she discovered him, seated in his chair, quite
dead. He had been stabbed to the heart from behind."

"And were there no traces of any one having entered the room?"

"Not one. The police have taken possession of it, but so far they have
been unable to discover any trace of the assassin's entry or the means
by which he effected his departure."

"And Lady Litford? How does she bear up under the blow?"

"So bravely, that it makes one's heart ache to see her."

Then, at my request, he conducted me upstairs, and I was permitted to
gaze upon the face of the dead man. It was as peaceful as in life's
serenest moments, calm and dignified--the face of a man who has done his
duty to his Sovereign and his country, and whose life has been given in
her service. Then, with a sorrow in my heart greater than I had known
for many years, I looked my last upon the face of the dead, and I left
the room.

When I had sent a message of deepest sympathy to the widow, I bade the
secretary good-bye, and left the house. So awe-struck was the crowd by
the magnitude of the tragedy, that scarcely a sound came from it,
though, as if in proof of sympathy, here and there a hand was stretched
out to me.

"He was a good man and a proper gentleman," said a burly costermonger.
"It's a pity we hadn't more like him."

It seemed to me that that homely speech was as fine an eulogium of the
dead as could have been spoken by the most cultured tongue.

I often wonder now what I should have done, had I known the part I had
unconsciously played in that terrible drama. At that moment, lying, no
one knew where--perhaps in the crevice of some paving-stone, or carried
into the water-table by a passing shower--was a small piece of black
wax, which, could it have spoken, would have been able to tell a tale
without its equal for treachery and villainy in all the world. How I
became aware of this, you will learn as my story progresses.



CHAPTER VI


The catalogue of woes, which it has been my ill-fortune to be compelled
to chronicle, is indeed a long one, but of all the items I have set
down, none had had such a terrible effect upon the public mind as the
assassination of the Prime Minister. Expressions of genuine sorrow
poured forth from every side, and party feeling, for the time being at
least, was forgotten. Even the most antagonistic of the Continental
journals, though perhaps rejoicing in their hearts at Great Britain's
misfortune, admitted that she was passing through a time of severe
trial, and while they prophesied our ultimate downfall, showed very
plainly their admiration for our fortitude. Indeed the self-control of
the nation at this particular period was a little short of marvellous.
The war was draining her of her best blood; those at the helm of the
Ship of State were being one by one mysteriously done away with; she had
been the victim of a vast scheme of false intelligence, her great
arsenal had been blown up and the supply of munitions of war thereby
seriously imperilled at the most critical juncture; a large proportion
of her army were prisoners in the enemy's hands, and three other
portions were locked up in beleaguered towns. Yet, with it all, she
continued the struggle with as much determination as she had first
entered upon it. The bull-dog tenacity permeated all classes; it was
shared by the peer, the country squire, the small farmer, the tradesman
and the artizan; it was voiced by the Prime Minister, and echoed by the
costermonger. Whatever it might cost, England was resolved to win in the
end. That end, however, was still far off, and much blood would have to
be spilt and a large amount of money spent before we should be able to
call ourselves the victors.

Meanwhile, troops were still pouring out of England, and more were
hastening to her assistance from Australia and Canada. Even in these
loyal portions of the Empire, however, strenuous efforts were being made
by some mysterious power, upon which it was impossible to lay hands, to
undermine their affection for the mother country. Treasonable pamphlets
were distributed broadcast; an infernal machine was discovered on board
a troop-ship on the point of sailing from a Queensland port; another was
discovered on board a transport in Sydney harbour; while a third vessel,
owing to the wilful carelessness of the captain, who was afterwards
arraigned on a charge of High Treason, but was acquitted for want of
sufficient evidence, was put ashore, with all her troops on board, on
the coast of South Australia. It was in Canada, however, that the
trouble was worst. Its proximity to the United States favoured the
Fenian propaganda, and, despite the loyalty of the French Canadians--of
which no one felt a doubt--an attempt was made to induce them to swerve
in their allegiance to the Empire. Such was the state of affairs when
Lord Litford's successor took up the reins of office.

It must not be thought that, because they achieved no result, the police
were lax in their attempts to discover the perpetrator or perpetrators
of that cruel crime. To employ again that well-worn phrase, not a stone
was left unturned to arrive at an understanding of the manner in which
the deed was done. One thing was quite certain, it had been carefully
planned; but then so had the disappearance of Woller and the Colonial
Secretary. The destruction of Woolwich Arsenal was a work of devilish
ingenuity; while the blowing up of the transport _Sultan of Sedang_ at
Madeira was arranged to a nicety. In the case of the Prime Minister, the
servants and members of his household were interrogated, but were all
dismissed from the case as being beyond suspicion. They unitedly
declared that, to the best of their belief, no stranger had entered the
house up to the time of their going to bed, nor had any suspicious
person been seen in its vicinity during the day. Moreover, the police on
duty in the Square had been instructed to keep a watchful eye upon the
house, and they were able to affirm that they had seen no one loitering
near the Prime Minister's residence from the earliest hours of morning
until the time that the news of the tragedy was made known. Yet the fact
remained that some one _had_ entered the house, and had been able to
make his way unobserved to the library, where the crime was committed,
and afterwards to get out again undiscovered. Needless to say, a large
reward was offered by the authorities for any information which would
lead to a conviction; but though a multitude of communications were
received in answer to it, from all sorts and conditions of people, not
one was of any value.

On the Friday following the assassination of the Prime Minister, and
the day before the funeral, according to custom I took a constitutional
in the Park before going down to my office. As a matter of fact I was
somewhat earlier than usual, and for that reason, with the exception of
a few riders in the Row, and the customary bicycle contingent, the Park
was comparatively empty. I entered by the Grosvenor Gate, walked as far
as the Barracks, and then retraced my steps towards Piccadilly, passing
along the north bank of the Serpentine. I had several difficult problems
to work out that day, and one of them was occupying my mind as I walked
beside the lake. Suddenly a voice I recognised fell upon my ear, and I
looked up to find, seated a few paces distant from me, no less a person
than the Countess de Venetza. She was engaged in an earnest conversation
with a dark, foreign-looking individual, an Italian, without the shadow
of a doubt. The Countess did not see me at first, but, as soon as she
did, she said something hurriedly to the man beside her and came forward
to greet me.

"You are out early, Sir George," she began. "The Park is delightful at
this time of the day, is it not?"

"Delightful indeed," I replied. "I did not expect, however, to have the
pleasure of meeting you in it."

"I walk here almost every morning," she answered. And then, after we had
uttered a few commonplaces, she continued: "And now, while I think of
it, let me apologize to you for my rudeness in having omitted to thank
you again for the great service you rendered us on the occasion of the
burglary at Wiltshire House. Had it not been for your prompt action, we
should have been more seriously robbed, while it is quite possible that
something worse might have happened."

"You say that you might have been '_more seriously robbed'?_" I
returned. "Am I to understand, then, that the man was found in the house
after all?"

"He was not found _in the house_," she replied. "But we have discovered
by what means he effected his escape from it. While Conrad and the
police were looking for him downstairs, he was hidden in a dressing-room
adjoining that which used to be my father's apartment, at the back of
the house. When they ascended the stairs he opened the window and
lowered himself down to a roof below. Then he must have made his way
through the mews at the back and reached safety again. In proof of this
a small silver ornament, one of the few missing things, was found next
day in the guttering of the roof."

If this were so, then the detective's statement to the effect that the
man who had entered the house was none other than young Reiffenburg was
altogether beyond the mark, and would only serve to show the folly of
judging by purely circumstantial evidence.

"In that case, who do you suspect of having admitted him to the house?"
I enquired, for this was a point of considerable importance.

"An under-footman," she replied, "who has since been discharged. His
behaviour struck Conrad as being rather suspicious at the time, but it
was not until other things were found to be missing, that we derived a
real knowledge of his character."

"I am rejoiced to know that the mystery has been solved," I said. "But
pray forgive me, Countess; see, I have driven your friend away."

She gave a start before she replied.

"He is not my friend," she answered somewhat hurriedly, "merely a
begging compatriot. The poor fellow is a teacher of music, who puts
forward his art as a claim upon my bounty. He is anxious to return to
Italy, but cannot do so for want of means."

Now there was one point about this speech that I did not understand. As
I had approached the seat, I distinctly heard the foreigner say
authoritatively in Italian: "It is the order of the Council and must be
obeyed." Of course the words might have meant anything, but the tone was
certainly one of authority. It struck me as being peculiar that an
impoverished music-master, soliciting the Countess's assistance, should
address her in such a tone. Why I should have bothered myself with the
fellow's affairs I cannot say. The impulse, however, was irresistible.

"To be stranded in a strange country is a hard fate," I said. "Since I
am also a devotee of his beautiful art, will you not permit me to assist
you in your work of benevolence. If you will furnish me with the man's
name and address, I will see that he is helped to attain his object."

As I said this I could not help thinking that I detected a frightened
look in her face.

"Oh, no, you must not do that," she said hurriedly. "He is a very proud
man, and would only accept help from me because I am a compatriot and
happen to know something of his family. I feel sure that he would be
extremely angry with me if he knew that I had said anything to you upon
the subject."

"I am sorry that you will not let me assist him," I said. "I have no
desire, however, to hurt his feelings. Forget that I said anything about
it."

"Ah! now I have offended you," she continued, with a look of pain upon
her face. "Forgive me, I am very thoughtless. Had we been speaking my
own Italian it would have been different. Your English is so hard, so
unsympathetic."

Her voice was so full of entreaty, her whole demeanour so expressive of
sorrow, that I almost repented me of the trick I had endeavoured to play
upon her. What did it matter to me whether the man were an old friend,
or only the stranger she had represented him to be? I accordingly begged
her to say no more upon the subject, assuring her that I was not in the
least hurt at her declining my offer. This seemed to soothe her, and
presently, when we had walked some little distance beside the water, her
cheerfulness returned. She had been amusing herself of late, so she
informed me, by working out a sketch for the dinner-party to which she
had invited me. It was to be an unique affair of its kind.

"All that remains to be settled is, when shall it be?" she asked. "How
would Thursday next suit you?"

"Impossible, I am afraid," I answered. "I have promised to go to
Aldershot on Wednesday, to be present next day at an inspection of the
men who are to sail on Saturday for the South."

"Then would the Wednesday following suit you?"

"Admirably," I replied. "It would be more convenient for a variety of
reasons."

"Then it is settled that we are to dine together on Wednesday week at
eight o'clock. You will not forget?"

"Is it likely that I should be guilty of such rudeness?" I asked, and
then added, with what was for me unusual gallantry, "I shall count the
days that must elapse before the time can arrive."

"I am hopeful of being able to get the Duke of Rotherhithe to meet you,"
she said. "Do you know that he is in England?"

"I was not aware of it," I answered; "but I am very glad to hear it,
nevertheless."

I did not say that one of my reasons for being glad was that I hoped to
be able to obtain from him some particulars concerning my fair friend. I
remembered the statement she had made during our journey from Paris
together, to the effect that she and her father had been yachting with
Rotherhithe in the Mediterranean. If they were on such intimate terms it
was more than likely that my old friend would know more about her than
any one else in our world of fashion would be likely to do.

When we reached Hyde Park Corner we paused for a few moments. I do not
think she could ever have looked more beautiful than she did then,
certainly never more dangerous.

"I wonder if, after we part, we shall ever meet again?" she said, with
what was almost a touch of sadness in her voice.

"Are you, then, thinking of leaving England soon?" I asked in some
surprise, for until that moment she had not spoken of terminating her
visit.

"I do not think we shall remain very much longer," she replied. "I have
duties abroad that are calling for my attention."

"I hope when you go that you will be able to say you have enjoyed your
stay with us?" I said.

"I should have," she replied, "had it not been for this dreadful war.
But as things are, how could one enjoy oneself?"

Had I known then all that I now know, I should have realized the double
meaning contained in her remark. But more of that anon.

At last we bade each other good-bye, and separated, she crossing the
Park in the direction of Wiltshire House, while I passed out and made my
way over Constitution Hill towards Pall Mall.

On the Wednesday following the event I have just described, I
accompanied the Commander-in-Chief and several other members of the
Government to Aldershot, to inspect the large body of troops then about
to leave for the front. We were to be the guests of Lord Beckingdale
during the time we were there, and were to return to London on the
Thursday evening after the inspection. We accordingly left Waterloo
together, proceeded by train to Farnborough, and then drove to Lord
Beckingdale's residence by coach. It was a glorious afternoon, and the
change from London to the country was delightful. I commented upon this,
whereupon Beckingdale, who is one of my oldest friends, began to rally
me on my preference for the Metropolis.

"I thought you would get over it in time," he said with one of his
hearty laughs. "Why don't you marry, George, and settle down in the
country? You would make an ideal Squire."

"I should be bored to death in a week," I replied. "Besides, who is
there that would take pity on me? I am not so young as I was, and I am
afraid that I have had my liberty too long to make a good husband."

As I said this the image of the Countess rose before my mind's eye,
though why it should have done so at this particular moment is more than
I can say. Though I admired her intensely, my admiration went no
further. She was a delightful hostess and an exceedingly clever woman,
but I should no more have thought of making her Lady Manderville than I
should have tried to jump from the Clock Tower of the Houses of
Parliament into the river.

At that moment we were descending a steep hill, through a closely-wooded
plantation. We were half-way down, when I happened to catch sight of a
man standing among the trees, some fifty yards or so from the road.
Strange to say, he was watching us through a pair of field-glasses, and
was evidently much interested in our movements, though it looked as if
he himself had no desire to attract attention. Then he disappeared
amongst the brushwood, and, for the time being, I thought no more about
him.

On reaching the Park, we were most cordially received by Lady
Beckingdale, and partook of afternoon tea with her in the hall, which is
one of the most charming features of that beautiful house. A stroll
round the grounds, and a visit to the stud farm afterwards, wiled away
the time until the dressing gong sounded. Then we returned to the house,
and made our way to our various rooms. Before commencing to dress I went
to the windows and looked out. The gardens on that particular side of
the house slope upwards until they reach the small paddock which
separates them from the woods behind. Now I have a fairly sharp eye, and
a faculty of noticing, which sometimes stands me in good stead. On this
particular occasion I was watching the evening light upon the trees in
the plantation opposite, when suddenly I saw a brace of pheasants fly
quickly out, followed by half-a-dozen more. They had evidently been
disturbed by some human being.

"Just give me my glasses for a moment, Williams," I said, and in a trice
he had handed me the pair I had brought down for the inspection next
day. Seating myself in the window, I brought them to bear upon the spot
where the birds had flown out. For a moment I could see nothing. Then I
thought I could detect what looked like a grey trouser-leg, peeping out
beneath the branches of a fir. I called Williams to my side and handed
him the glasses, directing him where to look.

"What do you make of it?" I asked.

"It looks as if there's somebody hiding there, sir," he answered. "Yes,
sir, I'm sure of it," he added a few moments later. "If you will look
now, you will be able to see him creeping away."

I took the glasses again and once more turned them upon the spot. What
he had said was quite correct; the figure of a man dressed in a grey
suit could just be distinguished disappearing into the deeper part of
the wood. It immediately occurred to me that the man I had seen that
afternoon, when we were on our way to the Park, had also been dressed
in grey. Could this be the individual who had watched us then? And if
so, what were his reasons for behaving in this mysterious fashion? I did
not like the idea of it, remembering as I did the dangerous condition of
the times, and the manner in which so many of my friends had been
attacked.

"Keep what you have seen to yourself, Williams," I said; "I will speak
to Lord Beckingdale myself about it when I go downstairs. If the man is
a poacher, or has any dishonest reason for being there, he will know
what to do in the matter."

Williams promised to obey my instructions, and when I had dressed, I
made my way downstairs to find our host and the Commander-in-Chief
standing before the fire-place, in which a cheerful fire was burning.

"By the way, Beckingdale," I said, when I had answered the remark one of
them made to me as I descended the stairs, "who is the man in your
plantation with the grey suit and field-glasses."

"Man with grey suit and field-glasses?" he repeated, with a look of
surprise on his face. "I have many friends who are the happy possessors
of both articles. But what makes you ask me such a question at the
present moment?"

"For a good and sufficient reason," I replied, and went on to tell him
of the two occasions that afternoon upon which I had seen the person in
question.

"What a singular thing!" he said, when I had finished. "I wonder who the
fellow is, and what his idea can be in watching the house? As you are
aware, the place is being patrolled by police to-night, and I think I
had better inform them of the circumstance. After the terrible events of
the last few weeks it does not do to run any risks. Can you describe the
man?"

I furnished him with as accurate a description of the fellow as it was
possible to give, whereupon he departed in search of the officer in
command of the police. When he returned we joined the ladies in the
drawing-room, and then went in to dinner. It was not until the ladies
had withdrawn and cigarettes were lighted, that the subject of the grey
man was introduced. A small piece of paper was handed to our host by the
butler. He glanced at it and then looked across the table to where I
sat.

"Here is the police report," he said. "It informs me that they have
scoured all the plantations round the estate with the assistance of the
keepers, but have not been successful in discovering the man you saw. No
doubt he was some prying celebrity hunter, who has taken himself off, to
Aldershot probably, where he will have no opportunity of seeing you
to-morrow."

This brought a round of questions from the others, who, with the
exception of the Commander-in-Chief, had not heard of the incident. When
each man had settled the question to his own satisfaction, the subject
was dropped, and we rose from the table to return to the drawing-room.
Here we indulged in music and conversation until half-past ten o'clock,
smoked in the billiard-room for another hour, and at half-past eleven
bade each other good-night in the gallery that ran round the hall, and
retired to our respective rooms. By this time the character of the night
had changed. A boisterous wind had risen, and heavy rain was driven
tempestuously against the window-panes. It certainly did not look very
promising for the inspection on the morrow. I inquired from Williams
whether anything further had been heard concerning the man we had both
seen in the plantation opposite the house.

"Not that I know of, sir," he replied; "I did not hear it mentioned. But
there's one thing that's been on my mind ever since you spoke to me
about it to-night, and I must own that it puzzles me. I don't say it's
right, of course; at the same time I've got a feeling that I'm not so
very far wrong."

"What is it?" I enquired with interest, for Williams is a staid and
circumspect individual, and is not in the habit of committing himself to
a rash statement.

"It is just this, sir. When you sent me down to the Commander-in-Chief's
residence with that note this morning, there was a man walking on the
opposite side of the street who, to the best of my belief, was dressed
just as this man was--that is to say, in a grey suit and a soft black
hat."

"There is nothing very remarkable in that," I answered, a little
disappointed. "You would probably find a dozen men dressed in a similar
fashion in a short walk through the West End."

"I beg your pardon, sir, but I thought the coincidence worth
mentioning," Williams replied in rather a crestfallen way. Then he bade
me good-night and I retired to rest.

That night I slept like a top, and did not wake until Williams entered
my room next morning. He informed me that the rain had passed off, that
it was a fine day, and then busied himself with preparations for my
toilet. These were barely accomplished, and I was in the act of
commencing to shave, when the handle of my door turned, and Beckingdale,
almost beside himself with excitement, entered the room.

"Great Heavens! Manderville," he cried in a voice which, had I not seen
him, I should scarcely have recognised as his, "a most awful thing has
happened. The Commander-in-Chief is missing."

"Missing?" I echoed, as if I scarcely understood the meaning of the
word. "What do you mean?"

"I mean that his valet came to my man, Walters, about half an hour ago,
and told him that he had knocked repeatedly on the door of his master's
bedroom and could get no reply. My man came to me with the story, and
when I had tried the door myself with the same result, I gave orders
that it should be broken in. You may imagine our feelings when we
discovered the room to be empty. The bed had been slept in, it is true,
but there was not a trace of the man we wanted. What was more, the
windows were shut. The police are now searching in all directions. What
on earth shall we do? The inspection is at eleven o'clock, and it is
most unlikely that we shall have the good fortune to find him before
then."

Terrible as the situation was, I could not help recalling the fact that
I had taken part in just such another interview on the morning of
Woller's disappearance, when the Commander-in-Chief had asked my advice
as to what should be done to find the missing man before that identical
hour.

"Help me if you possibly can," cried Beckingdale, who, like myself, was
quite overwhelmed by the magnitude of the misfortune. "Though I know I
am not to blame, I cannot help reproaching myself for having permitted
this to happen in my house. How can it have been managed, and who can
have done it?"

I shook my head.

"The same mysterious power that is responsible for Woller's
disappearance and for the Prime Minister's death," I said. "But who is
there amongst us who can say what that power is. Good Heavens!" I
cried, as the consequences rose before me, "the Commander-in-Chief gone!
I can scarcely credit it. Surely some one must have heard something?
What room is beneath his bedroom?"

"The dining-room, unfortunately," Beckingdale replied, "and as ill luck
would have it, the room adjoining it on the right is empty, while
M'Innister occupies that on the left. The latter says he heard nothing
suspicious, but that's easily accounted for, by reason of his deafness
and the storm we had. But what on earth can have become of him? I would
give anything to have him before me now. How cheerful he was last night,
and how sanguine as to the ultimate end of the war! This will prove
another bitter blow to the nation."

"And it has had enough already," I replied. "We had better telegraph to
the War Office and Scotland Yard at once."

"I have already done that," he said. "I have also sent a special
messenger to the commanding officer down here, informing him of the
occurrence, and asking him to send out troops to scour the country in
the hope of discovering some trace of the missing man. I do not see
what else we can do at the present."

Then a thought struck me. What about the grey man whom Williams declared
he had seen on the previous morning near the Commander-in-Chief's
residence, whom I had seen watching us through field-glasses, on our way
to Beckingdale Park, and whom Williams and I had both seen in the
plantation opposite the house when I went up to dress for dinner? I
recalled the fact of his presence to Beckingdale.

"I have not forgotten him," he said. "Directly I heard that they could
not get into his room, a suspicion of what might be in store for us
flashed through my mind, and I said to myself, 'If anything has happened
to him, I shall say that Manderville's grey man is mixed up in the
business.' As soon as the worst was apparent, I spoke to the police upon
the subject, and they have once more made an effort to find him or to
hear of him, without success. The grey man is as mysteriously missing as
the Commander-in-Chief himself, and as to the part he played in the
other's disappearance, it seems to me that we are likely to remain as
ignorant as we are of everything else. Now, dress as quickly as you
can, there's a good fellow, and come down to my study. We must hold a
council together, and see what's to be done."

I did as he desired, and when I was ready I made my way to his study.

When I reached it I found Beckingdale and the one other guest awaiting
my coming. The terrible effect that had been produced by the news of the
morning was to be seen on their faces. For upwards of an hour we
discussed the question in all its bearings, but eager as we were to do
all that lay in our power to render assistance to the missing man, we
were obliged to confess that we were unable to do anything. By this time
wires were pouring in from all parts, and it is quite certain that the
powers of the little village telegraph office had never been so severely
taxed before. At ten o'clock it was decided, by unanimous consent, that
the inspection should be abandoned in the absence of the Commander-in
Chief, and accordingly, at half-past ten, we returned to town. It is
needless for me to say that it was a miserable journey. Our spirits were
as low as it was possible for the spirits of human beings to be. On
reaching Waterloo we drove direct to the Foreign Office, where a
Cabinet Council had been hastily called together. When it was over I
drove home. The streets echoed to the cries of the newsboys:--


     "DISAPPEARANCE OF THE COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF!

     DISAPPEARANCE OF THE COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF!"


That evening a new sensation was added to the already long list when it
was known that the notorious anarchist, Luigi Ferreira, had managed to
escape from prison some days before, and was supposed to have crossed
the Channel and to be in London. Had I only known then that he was the
man I had seen talking so excitedly to the Countess in the Park, a few
mornings before, and that at that very moment he was occupying a room at
Wiltshire House, as a supposed invalid, how speedily might retribution
have descended upon him.

Unfortunately, however, I did not know!



CHAPTER VII


The state of mind into which England was plunged by the news of the
disappearance of the Commander-in-Chief cannot be fittingly described by
a pen so weak as mine. It was not that we had lost anything of our
former courage, or that we had resigned all hope of coming out victors
in the struggle. We were as resolved as ever to carry this war through
to the bitter end, yet the news clanged like a death knell upon a
thousand hearts. Of my own feelings I will not speak. That expressed by
the nation voices my own. I was sad, how sad few can guess, but despite
my sorrow I declared that the war must go on--that the end should be
reached. And now to turn to a brighter subject.

On the Tuesday before the day I was due to dine at Wiltshire House, I
had the good fortune to receive a visit from an old friend. He was none
other than the Duke of Rotherhithe, the gentleman who had been obliging
enough to convey the Countess de Venetza and her father from
Constantinople to Naples on a certain memorable occasion, and who was
known to entertain a great admiration for her. Having had a somewhat
busy morning, I did not reach home until after two o'clock. I had
scarcely sat down to lunch, before Thompson, my butler, informed me that
the Duke of Rotherhithe was anxious to see me.

"My dear fellow, this is friendly of you," I said, as we shook hands a
few moments later. "You are just in time for lunch. I have only this
minute commenced."

"You couldn't offer me anything better," he replied. "I have eaten
nothing all the morning. By Jove! how good it is to see your face again,
old man, and what a swell you have become, to be sure, since I saw you
last--Cabinet Minister, and I don't know what else besides. You'll be
Premier before you've done."

"Not quite so high as that," I answered. "I have my ambitions, I will
admit, but I am afraid that the Premiership is scarcely the one that
will be likely to be realised."

One thing was quite certain: Rotherhithe was in the most excellent
spirits. His honest, manly face was wreathed in smiles, and had an
artist been present he might have used it for the personification of
Happiness. Throughout the meal he laughed and joked continually,
recalled old days, old escapades, long since forgotten on my side, and
vowed that we were both of us growing younger instead of older. That
there was something unusual about it all I could plainly see, but what
that something was I had not then the least idea. My suspicions,
however, were aroused very soon.

"By the way," I said, when we had finished lunch, "let me tell you that
I have lately had the pleasure to be of some service to an old friend of
yours."

"An old friend of mine?" he said, with what I could not help thinking
was pretended surprise. "Who is the friend?"

"The Countess de Venetza," I replied. "The lady whose wealth and beauty
have made her such a prominent figure in London Society of late. She
told me that she had been yachting with you in the Mediterranean, and
spoke quite feelingly of your kindness to herself and her father. Do you
mean to tell me that you don't recollect her?"

"Recollect her? of course I do," he said, still with the same sheepish
look upon his face. "Oh yes, I remember her well enough. And so you've
been kind to her, have you?"

Here he laughed in a foolish fashion to himself.

"Umph!" I said to myself, "surely he cannot have been idiotic enough to
have----"

I stopped myself abruptly. I knew very well that I should hear all the
news he had to tell quite soon enough.

At last Thompson and the men left the room, and an expression of great
solemnity took possession of my friend's countenance. What was more, he
drew his chair a little closer to mine.

"My dear old fellow," he said, laying his hand on my arm, "we have been
friends many years. In point of fact I don't know of a man whose good
wishes I should so thoroughly appreciate. By Jove, old fellow, I am the
happiest being in the world! So happy, in fact, that I'm dashed if I
know whether I am standing on my head or my heels!"

"Let me reassure you then," I said dryly. "You are standing on your
heels at the present moment."

"Confound your silly jokes," he said angrily. "Any one but a Cabinet
Minister would have seen that I was speaking metaphorically. Now I want
to tell you that----"

"If you are going to be confidential," I replied, "let us adjourn to the
smoking-room. I shall give you much better attention over a cigar, and
you will doubtless prove more eloquent."

We accordingly adjourned to the room in question, where I produced a box
of cigars, furnished the Duke with a light, and then, when we had seated
ourselves, bade him commence his tale. I have often noticed that when a
man who is anxious to be communicative is invited to begin his
confidences, he finds that his stream of loquacity has dried up. It was
so in Rotherhithe's case. He hummed and hawed, gazed very steadily at
the ceiling for some seconds, and finally rose from his chair and began
to pace the room.

"You may remember," he began in the tone of a man addressing a public
meeting, "that you and several other of my friends have continually
endeavoured to impress upon me that it is my bounden duty, not only to
myself, but to the name I bear, to marry and settle down. You can't
grumble, therefore, if I take you at your word."

"You couldn't do better," I said reflectively, examining the ash of my
cigar as I spoke. "There is only one objection to the scheme so far as I
can see."

"Objection?" he cried, firing up as usual. "What sort of objection can
there be to such a thing?"

"It is just possible you may marry the wrong girl," I said quietly. "You
must admit that _that_ would be a very decided one."

"I am not likely to be such an idiot," he returned. "What is more, I am
not about to marry a girl."

I was becoming more and more convinced that my suspicions were correct.

"In that case, the objection is removed," I said. "And now let me offer
you my heartiest congratulations. I sincerely hope you may be happy."

"But hang it all, you haven't asked me yet who the lady is! You might
have done that."

"If I wanted to waste time I might very well have done it," I replied.
"There is no need, however, seeing that I already know who she is."

"The deuce you do! Then who is she?"

"The Countess de Venetza," I answered, shaking the ash of my cigar into
the tray beside me. "I had my suspicions at lunch, and you afterwards
confirmed them. I presume I am correct?"

"Quite correct," he said in a tone of relief. "And, by Jove, don't you
think I am a lucky man? Isn't she simply beautiful?"

I offered no reply to the first question. On the second point, however,
I was fortunate enough to be in a position to reassure him. Whatever
else she might be, or might not be, the Countess was certainly very
beautiful.

"I shall have her painted by Collier," he continued, "or another of
those artist fellows. She will be in black velvet, holding the folds of
a curtain in her hand, and I'll hang it in the gallery at the old place,
with all the other family pictures round her. There'll not be another
there to equal her."

In my own heart I wondered what those stately old ladies in frills and
brocades would say to the new-comer. I did not mention the fact,
however, to Rotherhithe. In his present condition he was ready to take
offence at anything, at least where she was concerned.

"And when will the wedding take place?" I enquired. "And where?"

"I can't quite say," he replied; "there's such a lot to be settled
first, you see. I want her to let it be in London, but, so far, she
hasn't given me a definite answer."

"And her respected father? What has he to say upon the subject?"

"Oh, he's pleased enough. I had a telegram from him this morning.
Between ourselves, I think foreigners overdo it a bit, don't you?"

"They certainly express their feelings somewhat more warmly than we
usually do," I said, as if in explanation of my own conduct; "but in
this case one feels justified in launching out a little. Might I ask how
long you have known the lady?"

I put the question listlessly, seeing that the chance of my learning a
little of her past history was a poor one.

"Oh, I have known her a long time," he answered vaguely. "We were
together in Cairo and Algiers, and other places. What a fellow you are,
to be sure, to ask questions! Does it mean that you think----"

He stopped and glared at me, but I soothed him down.

"My dear fellow," I said, "I think nothing at all, except that the
Countess is a most charming lady, and that you will doubtless live a
most happy life together. I am sure I hope you may."

He looked at me queerly for a moment, and then brought his hand down
with a whack upon my shoulder.

"By Jove! Do you know, I believe you have been in love with her
yourself," he said. "Now own up!"

"It is very possible," I answered, feeling that my only safety lay in
answering as I did. "I have been in love with her ever since I have
known her, and with all due respect to you, I shall remain so after she
has become Her Grace the Duchess of Rotherhithe. If you are jealous, you
will have to forbid me the house."

He laughed uproariously, his confidence quite restored by my candour.
Then, with an assurance that I had better not let him catch me flirting
with her, he informed me that it was time for him to be off, as he had
promised to call at Wiltshire House that afternoon.

"One last question," I said, as we walked towards the door, "and I mean
it seriously. What does cousin Conrad say to the arrangement?"

"I don't know what he says in the least, and what is more I don't care,"
he replied, an angry look coming into his face. "Between ourselves,
George, I don't like that young fellow. I shall take care, once I am
married, that he doesn't enter my doors."

"I think you would be wise," I said, and there the matter dropped.

When he had gone, I sat myself down to consider the situation. It
displeased me for more reasons than one. Rotherhithe was my old friend.
I was exceedingly fond of him, and I had no desire that his married life
should prove a failure. Yet what reason had I for supposing that it
would? It is true I had seen a good deal of the Countess lately, but not
sufficient to be able to declare that I knew her intimately. She was a
beautiful woman, an excellent hostess, the possessor of great wealth,
and--though beyond her father I knew nothing of her family--evidently of
gentle blood. This much was in her favour, yet there were other things
which rankled in my memory, and which, had I aspired to the honour of
her hand, I should have wanted explained to me. How was it that no one
had ever heard of her before she appeared to dazzle all London? Was
Count Reiffenburg really her cousin? Who was that mysterious foreigner
who had plainly been threatening her on the morning that I had met her
in the Park? And last, but not least, what was the real story of that
old tramp's entrance into Wiltshire House on the night of the supposed
burglary?

The most alarming question, and the most difficult of all to decide, was
whether it was my duty to say anything to Rotherhithe upon the subject.
He was, in the main, an easy-going, happy-go-lucky fellow, not
overburdened with brains, but in every other respect a high-minded
English gentleman. Yet I knew him well enough to feel sure that in a
case like this he would have been the first to resent--and, looked at
from his own light, quite rightly too--any aspersion that might be
thrown upon the character of the woman he loved. That he _was_ in love
with her there could be no sort of doubt. One had only to look into his
face to see it. But _I_ was also fond of him, and if I knew there were
anything hidden from him which he ought to know, was it not my duty, as
his friend, to risk his anger, and the possible rupture of our
friendship, in order to make him acquainted with it?

For the remainder of the day I debated this question seriously with
myself, but try how I would I was quite unable to arrive at a
satisfactory decision regarding it. This much, however, I _did_
do--common politeness demanded it of me: I sat down and wrote a note of
congratulation to the Countess. Though I knew in my heart it was a
somewhat traitorous proceeding, yet, when the note had been despatched,
I must confess I felt easier in my mind. A twinge of conscience,
however, still remained to plague me. If only I had not taken the walk
that night, or if only I had been too late to see the old man enter the
house, I should have been able to regard the whole affair, if not with
pleasure, at least with a measure of equanimity. Now, however, it was
otherwise.

Next morning a charming little note arrived from the Countess, thanking
me for my good wishes, and referring to herself as one of the most
fortunate women in the world. As a letter it was delightful; as an
expression of the writer's true feelings, well--I was not quite so
satisfied as to its genuineness. Charming though the lady undeniably
was, and sympathetic to an eminent degree, I found it extremely
difficult to imagine her in love. If by chance she were so, however,
Rotherhithe was certainly the last man whom it would have been with. The
news of his engagement had caused quite a stir, even at that time of
almost daily sensations, in the fashionable world. In consequence of
it, however, those who had hitherto been inclined to hold a little aloof
from her, as one whose antecedents were not sufficiently well known to
warrant the intimacy, now that the Duke had, so to speak, stood sponsor
for her, were prepared to admit her into their inmost circle.

As for Rotherhithe he conducted himself like an amiable lunatic,
frequented Wiltshire House to an extent that almost bordered on the
indecent, and was making plans for the future with the impetuous
recklessness of a fifteen-year-old schoolboy. His beautiful home in the
Midlands was to be prepared for occupation, a new yacht was to be built
that would be the finest of her kind, while Rotherhithe House, in
London, was to be refurnished and decorated throughout. Altogether, as
somebody said, the Duke's love-affair would be likely to prove the
costliest hobby he had indulged in since his majority. But as I have
said before, if he desired to marry the Countess, and was convinced that
his happiness lay in that direction, it was no business of mine to
contradict him.

From the tone I have adopted in speaking of this matter it may be
surmised that I was jealous of Rotherhithe's success. Allow me to
assure you, most emphatically, that such was not the case. I am quite
prepared to admit that I admired the Countess, as not only a beautiful,
but also an exceedingly clever woman. As I have once or twice remarked,
however, I am a confirmed bachelor, and I do not think it would be in
the power of the fairest daughter of Eve to induce me to change my
state.

It was in this frame of mind that I entered the portals of Wiltshire
House on the evening of the Countess's dinner. In some ways my interest
had departed from it. I was merely a looker-on at a game which was being
extremely well played, and, knowing something of the rules by which it
is governed, I was able to appreciate the importance of the various
moves, while being in no way dependent upon their skill.

The Countess, looking like the Queen of Beauty, received me in the
drawing-room. Rotherhithe had already arrived, and, as was plainly to be
seen, was ensconced on the summit of happiness.

"I am glad you should be the first to arrive," she said, as if her
_fiancé_ counted for nothing, "and, while I have the opportunity, I must
thank you once more for your charming letter, and for the kindly
sentiments it expressed."

"It was awfully nice of you, by Jove!" put in the Duke, and then added
with boyish _naïveté_: "Manderville always knows how to do and say the
right thing. He's a past master of tact."

I happened to be looking at the Countess's face as he said it, and
if--as I feel sure I did--I read it correctly, it spoke volumes.

"She does not care about him an atom," I said to myself; and then I
added, "if that's so, God help my poor old friend!"

A few moments later, when we were nearly at the end of our stock of
commonplaces, the other guests arrived. So far as they were concerned,
the dinner was likely to prove a success. Besides the Countess,
Rotherhithe, and myself, there was Lady Deeceford, who, besides being
one of the prettiest women in England, is also one of the wittiest;
Deeceford himself, who had just returned from the Pamirs, and who, while
being one of the geographical lions of the day, was also a well-informed
man of the world; Montague Wordley, the dramatist, whose wit was a
puzzle, even to himself; and pretty Mrs Van Hoden, the American
actress, famous alike for her beauty and her talent. These, with Lady
Susan Pedthorpe, whose powers are too well known to need description,
completed the list.

The honour of escorting our hostess into dinner was given to me, while
Rotherhithe gave his arm to Lady Deeceford; the latter's husband took
Lady Susan; Wordley, Mrs Van Hoden. To attempt a description of the meal
to which we sat down would be impossible; let it suffice that it was
unique in every sense of the word. Looking back over a period of more
years than I care to think about, I am unable to recall one
entertainment that in any way equalled it. The whole thing was original
from end to end. The earth seemed to have been ransacked for our
delectation. The wines were of the choicest vintages, and the waiting
was all that could be desired. By reason, I suppose, of what followed
later, every detail of the entertainment is indelibly impressed upon my
memory. I can recall the smallest items connected with it. The
Countess's Southern beauty, Rotherhithe's jovial countenance, Mrs Van
Hoden's rippling laugh, the perfect modulation of Lady Susan's voice,
even the glitter of a splendid sapphire on one of Lady Deeceford's
shapely fingers, are as deeply engraved upon my memory as if it were but
yesterday. One thing, I must confess, surprised me, while at the same
time it added to my pleasure. That was the absence of our hostess's
cousin, Reiffenburg. Unable to account for it, I was later on induced to
enquire after him.

"He has gone into the country," she replied. "He has heard of some
shooting that would appear to be perfection, and he has gone to prove
it. Conrad is rapidly becoming Anglicized."

"Consequently, discovering a fine day, he enquires what he shall kill,"
I put in.

"That pleasant illusion, I fear, is fast passing away," said Deeceford
from across the table. "With the abolition of bull-baiting,
badger-drawing, cock-fighting, and similar sports, the old order has
changed. Fox-hunting is deteriorating before the steady advance of
barbed wire; deer-hunting is declared to be an inhuman sport, while
pigeon-shooting is fast becoming a purely mechanical performance, played
with an inverted saucer and a spring."

The conversation drifted into another channel, and after that nothing
more was said about the Count Von Reiffenburg's absence. Personally, I
could not help feeling sure that the reason the Countess had advanced to
account for it was far from being the correct one. As I have said
elsewhere, I had long ago arrived at the conclusion that the young man
entertained a more than cousinly regard for the lady; his absence from
the dinner, therefore, was merely an arrangement to ensure his not
meeting his more successful rival. The engagement by this time was known
throughout London, so that I was only voicing a popular sentiment, at
dessert, when I proposed the health and happiness of the affianced pair.
The Countess murmured her thanks, while Rotherhithe declared that it was
jolly good of us to wish them luck, and, by way of adding to the general
cheerfulness, hoped that we should all be as friendly after his marriage
as we had been before. Then the ladies left the room.

Half an hour later we joined them in the drawing-room, where I was
fortunate enough to be able to induce the Countess to play to us. She
complied without hesitation, and, if the truth must be told, her music
was to me the greatest pleasure I received that evening. As I listened
to her, I could not help recalling that memorable afternoon when she
had played to me before. After she had finished, a famous musician, then
in London, and whom she had induced to come to her house, played to us
superbly. To me, however, his performance was insipidity itself compared
with that to which I had just listened. At a quarter to twelve the
various carriages were announced, and the guests departed until only
Rotherhithe and I were left.

"Well, Sir George," said the Countess, as she stood before the
fire-place, one dainty hand up on the mantel-piece and a pretty foot
resting upon the brass bar of the fender, "I hope I have succeeded in
demonstrating to you the fact that, even at the close of the Nineteenth
Century, it is possible to be original in one of the most prosaic
actions of life."

"You have certainly given us a delightful proof," I answered. "When my
turn arrives, I fear I shall find it difficult to equal, much less to
eclipse, your effort."

"I thought nothing was impossible to a Cabinet Minister," put in
Rotherhithe, who had, of course, been informed of our rivalry. "We shall
look forward to seeing what you can do."

"I fear you will be disappointed in the result," I replied. "And now I
must be going. Good-night, Countess. When I say that you have eclipsed
even yourself to-night, I cannot pay you a greater compliment."

"Praise from Sir George Manderville is praise indeed," she quoted
demurely. Then she added with gracious kindness--"Good-night."

I held out my hand to Rotherhithe, but he did not take it.

"Look here, George," he said, "if you are willing to walk home, I'll
tell you what I'll do--I'll come with you. Broughams are not much in my
line. If we walk we can smoke a cigar together."

I would far rather have gone home by myself, but it was impossible to
put Rotherhithe off. I accordingly consented, though I knew very well
what the result would be. Being anxious to leave them alone for a
moment, I strolled into the hall, where Rotherhithe presently joined me.
We donned our hats and coats and set off, my shadow picking me up at the
foot of the steps according to custom.

"Well, old fellow," said Rotherhithe, slipping his arm through mine
after we had turned the corner, "what do you think of her? Isn't she
simply perfect? Don't you think I'm the luckiest fellow on earth?"

"Three questions in one breath," I said; "how on earth do you expect me
to answer them? Of course you're a lucky fellow, and of course we all
envy you your happiness." Then, with an air of seriousness, I continued,
"I suppose, Rotherhithe, you are quite convinced that she is the one
woman in the world for you?"

"Convinced?" he replied, with a short laugh at the absurdity of the
question, "of course, I am convinced. Why, my dear old chap, if I were
to hunt the whole world over, I shouldn't find her equal. You've no idea
how good she is. What's more, do you know, she's the soul of caution.
She's got what I lack--the business instinct."

"Indeed!" I said, for this side of the Countess's character had never
been revealed to me. "So she is business-like, is she?"

"I should think she is. Why, when I spoke to her of what I thought of
doing at Rotherhithe House, that is to say, of pulling a lot of it down,
you know, and rebuilding it, to say nothing of redecorating and
refurnishing it throughout, she wouldn't hear of it. 'Wait,' she said,
'and let us see how we like it. It will be quite time enough when we
have been married a few years to think of making changes in what has
served so long.'"

"A very sensible remark too," I replied. "I am glad she is not going to
lead you into useless expenditure. It's no business of mine, I know, but
that collet of diamonds must have cost a fortune?"

"Thirty thousand pounds," he answered. "But it's worth every penny of it
to see it round her neck. She is passionately fond of diamonds. They are
the only stones she cares for."

Decidedly I began to think the Countess was a business woman. Had I
aspired to the honour of her hand, she would perforce have had to be
content with a single string of pearls. Collets of diamonds, costing
thirty thousand pounds, are the peculiar gifts of millionaires. Now
Rotherhithe, I knew, while a rich man, was far from being overburdened
with money. I wished that he had not done it, though why I should have
done so, it would have puzzled me to say.

When we reached my house, I invited him to accompany me inside; he would
not hear of it, however.

"No," he said, "I'll be getting home now; late hours don't agree with
me. But before we part, old friend, there's one thing I want to say to
you. I'm going to make a rather big settlement on my wife that is to be,
and I want to know if you have any objection to my putting you down as
one of the trustees? If you could manage it, I should be more than
grateful to you. Should anything happen to me, there is nobody else I
know who would look after her interests so well."

I scarcely knew what answer to make. The proposal was one that did not
commend itself to me for several reasons. But what objection could I
raise to it? I was his friend, and presumably hers also. It would be
only natural that he should ask me, and, in the ordinary course of
things, it would be only natural that I should accept. For some vague
reason, however, events seemed to be moving outside the ordinary course
of things, so I determined not to give him an answer then.

"Don't disappoint me, there's a good fellow," he went on. "You can have
no idea what importance I attach to your acceptance of the position."

"Let me have until to-morrow morning to decide," I replied. "It is not
my habit, as you are aware, to do anything in a hurry, and I should like
to think it over before giving my consent. There are many things to be
considered. You may be sure, however, that if I can possibly convince
myself that I shall be really serving your interest and hers by acceding
to your request, that I shall do so. If I did not think so, I should ask
you to find some one else at once, and trust to our old friendship to
make you believe that I am right."

"Very good, then, we will leave it like that, and you shall give me an
answer to-morrow. And now good-night, George. You may not think so, but
this has been the happiest evening of my life." Here we shook hands.

"Let us hope," I said, "that this is only the beginning of your
happiness. You will possess a wife of whom you are sure to be proud; you
have rank, wealth, and innumerable friends. What more could any man
desire? Good-night!"

He waved his hand to me in farewell, and then set off down the street.
When he had disappeared, I beckoned my shadow to me, and bade him
good-night also. Then I, in my turn, retired from the world.

Not feeling in the humour for bed, I went to my study and, contrary to
my usual habit, lit another cigar. I had a variety of papers to look
through, so I seated myself in a comfortable chair and set to work to
peruse them. It was a useless endeavour, however, for try how I would to
rivet my attention upon them, I found my thoughts reverting continually
to the entertainment I had been present at that evening. For more than
an hour I remained in my study, then, feeling that I should be better in
bed, I went upstairs. I had scarcely reached my dressing-room, however,
before the sound of a bell reached my ears. A few minutes later there
was a tap upon the door, and Williams entered with a note. I took it
from him, and looked first at the address and then at the back. Greatly
to my surprise I found that it was from Rotherhithe, to whom I had said
good-bye on the pavement outside the house an hour or so before. The
contents ran as follows:--


     DEAR GEORGE,--Something terrible has happened. For the sake of our
     old friendship I implore you to come to me at once. I am sending my
     carriage to fetch you. For Heaven's sake don't delay a moment
     longer than you can help. Ever your friend,
                                                  ROTHERHITHE.


What on earth could be the matter? I asked myself. Had the Countess
changed her mind or had Rotherhithe met with an accident? Not knowing
what might be asked of me, I changed my dress clothes for a morning suit
as quickly as possible, informed Williams of the fact that I was going
to Rotherhithe House, and then descended the stairs.

A brougham with servants in the well-known Rotherhithe livery, was drawn
up beside the pavement, and in it I took my place. The door was then
closed and we set off.



CHAPTER VIII


As the brougham sped on its way through the almost deserted streets, I
sat and wondered as to what it could have been that had induced
Rotherhithe to send such an urgent message to me. That something serious
had happened I had not the least doubt, for the Duke was a self-reliant
man, and at no time given to the display of emotion. Taking the letter
from my pocket again, I endeavoured to read it by the light of the lamps
we passed, but it was impossible. The fear that underlay everything was
that Count Conrad had returned to town, had met Rotherhithe, and that
there had been trouble between them.

After we had been driving for something like five minutes, a most
curious thing happened. I was trying to make out an object in the street
through which we were passing, when suddenly I found myself in total
darkness. Putting my hand up to the right-hand window to see what had
occasioned it, I found that a sheet of iron had interposed itself
between me and the glass. The same thing had happened in front and on
the opposite side, though how it had been arranged, I could not for the
life of me discover. Then I tried the doors, but the handles refused to
turn. I felt that I was trapped indeed, and to make matters worse, a
villainous smell of gas was fast taking possession of the carriage. I
shouted for assistance with all the strength of my lungs, but no help
came. I tried to force the panels of the carriage, but it was a useless
endeavour. Still the sickening smell of gas increased, until I felt
that, unless I could get into the fresh air without delay, I should be
suffocated--as a matter of fact my senses were already leaving me. Was
this how Woller and Castellan had died? I asked myself, for in my own
heart I felt that my last hour had come. Scarcely conscious of what I
was doing, I believe I stood up and struggled with the door, but with as
little success as before. Then I fell back upon the cushions and became
oblivious to everything.

How long I remained in this condition I cannot say; I only know that my
next waking thought was the realisation of a spasm of acute pain. It was
as if every muscle of my body were being drawn by red-hot pincers. My
brain whirred as though to the rattle of a thousand pieces of machinery,
while an indescribable nausea held me in its grip. I could not have
lifted my head, or have opened my eyes, had my life depended upon my
doing so. For what seemed an interminable time, I lay like this, totally
unconscious of my surroundings, and, indeed, of everything else save my
agony. After a time, however, my senses began to return to me, and I was
able to reduce my thoughts to something like order.

At first I had no recollection of what had transpired since I had left
home, but little by little it all came back to me. I recalled the letter
I had received from Rotherhithe, and the haste with which I had complied
with the summons it contained. I remembered the drive through the
lamp-lit streets, the sudden darkness that had descended upon me, the
overpowering smell of gas, and the sensation, which I could compare to
nothing, save that of approaching death, which I had experienced when I
fell back upon the street.

At last I opened my eyes and looked about me. Had I found myself in a
vault, I doubt whether I should have been more surprised. As it was, my
astonishment was the greater at finding myself in a comfortable
bed-room, not very large, it is true, but cheerful to an eminent degree.
The furniture was useful, but not luxurious; it consisted of a wash-hand
stand, a chest of drawers, a toilet table, two chairs, and the bed upon
which I was lying. There were also two pictures, I remember; one, of
German origin, in colours, represented the sale of Joseph to the
Ishmaelites, and the other, a print of Exeter Cathedral, in which the
façade of that fine building was entirely out of the drawing. There was
a fire-place, but no fender; a skylight, but no other window. A strip of
Dutch matting covered the floor on the left-hand side of the bed, and
when I have recorded that fact, I think I have given you a description
of everything in the room.

As for myself, when I had taken these things in, I closed my eyes and
tried to rest. The clang and whir still echoed in my brain, and when I
endeavoured to lift my head I discovered that I was as weak as a baby.
Though I tried hard to arrive at an understanding of the situation, the
attempt was far from being a successful one.

That I was the victim of that same mysterious power which had abducted
Woller, Castellan and the Commander-in-Chief, I had not the least doubt;
but if they had taken me off, where was I now, and what were they going
to do with me? Was I to be retained as a perpetual prisoner, or were
they only keeping me until a good opportunity presented itself for doing
away with me? Either theory, as I think you will agree, was of a nature
calculated to render me sufficiently uncomfortable.

After a time I must have fallen asleep again, for I remember opening my
eyes and feeling much stronger than when I first woke. What was more, I
was also conscious of a decided sensation of hunger. From the waning
light in my room, I gathered that the day was far advanced, and I
groaned aloud as I thought of the trouble my absence must be causing my
friends. It seemed to me I could hear the cries of the newsboys in the
streets as they shouted:--


     "DISAPPEARANCE OF ANOTHER CABINET MINISTER!"

          "SIR GEORGE MANDERVILLE MISSING!"


I could picture the anxiety of my own household, and Rotherhithe's anger
when he discovered, as discover he certainly would, the use that had
been made of his name. Then an overwhelming desire to find out something
concerning my whereabouts took possession of me, and I rose from the bed
upon which I had hitherto been lying. As I did so a handful of money
fell from my pocket. Instinctively, I felt for my watch; it was still in
its accustomed place. It was certain, therefore, that robbery had no
part in the business.

With tottering steps I approached the door, only to find, as I expected,
that it was locked. I looked at the skylight above my head and reflected
that by placing a chair on the chest of drawers it might be possible to
reach it; in my present weak state, however, such a feat was out of the
question. Even this brief inspection of my surroundings taxed my
strength severely, and I accordingly once more laid myself down to rest.

I had one source of comfort, however. Captive though I was, I should at
least be able to solve a problem which the great world had given up as
hopeless. In other words I should be able to fathom the mystery that
surrounded the disappearance of General Woller, of the Colonial
Secretary, and also of the Commander-in-Chief. I should know something
of the members of that power which had for so long a time past been
exercising its malignant influence upon England. The unfortunate part of
it was that when I had obtained the knowledge it would be of no use to
me.

All this time the feeling of hunger, to which I have already alluded,
was gradually growing stronger; imprisonment was bad enough in its way,
but imprisonment combined with starvation was intolerable. Unable at
last to bear it any longer, I rose from my bed, and beat upon the door
with my fists in the hope of attracting attention. Loud, however, as
was the noise I made, it elicited no response. The house might have been
deserted for all the answer I received. I beat upon the panels again and
again, continuing my efforts until I was exhausted. Still no attention
rewarded me. At last, tired out by my efforts, I returned to my bed and
sat down upon it. I had scarcely done so, before the sound of footsteps
in the corridor on the other side of the door reached my ears. A key was
placed in the lock and turned, the door opened, and a man entered the
room.

It would be difficult for me to express the surprise I felt at seeing
him. You will be in a position to realize something of my feelings, when
I say that the man before me was no less a person than the impoverished
music-master I had seen appealing to the Countess de Venetza in the
Park, and whom I had offered to help. That I was not deceived I was
quite certain. I should have known him anywhere by reason of his
extraordinary dark eyes and hair.

"Good afternoon, monsieur," he said in French, with an assurance that
showed me he was aware of my familiarity with that language. "What may
I have the pleasure of doing for you?"

His calm insolence surprised me. I had expected rough treatment,
possibly abuse; to be a prisoner and yet to be treated with such
elaborate politeness was not at all what I had pictured for my portion.

"I desire to be set at liberty at once," I replied, with as much
firmness as I could muster up. "If you have had a hand in this business,
which it seems only right to suppose, let me inform you that it is
likely to prove an expensive amusement for you. What treatment you may
afterwards receive at my hands will be estimated by the expedition you
show in releasing me."

"I sincerely trust, monsieur, that no violence has been used towards
you," he said. "The instructions were merely to bring you here with as
little inconvenience to yourself as possible. You may rest assured that
if those instructions have not been complied with, the offenders will be
punished. In the meantime, perhaps it is possible that I can be of some
service to you?"

"You can provide me with food," I answered angrily; "and, since my
watch has stopped, perhaps you will be good enough to tell me the time."

"I will do so with pleasure," he said. "If Monsieur will permit me, I
will arrange that dinner shall be served at once; at the same time I
will inform him as to the state of the clock."

Having said this he bowed and left me.

Ten minutes or so later I again caught the sound of footsteps in the
corridor, the key was turned in the lock, and the door opened. This time
he carried in his hand a tray, upon which were set out the various
necessaries for a meal. He laid the table in silence, and then again
withdrew. When next he returned he brought with him a number of covered
dishes, and, what was more, an ice-bucket, in which stood a bottle of
champagne.

"I trust Monsieur will find everything to his satisfaction," he said, as
he removed the covers. "If the cooking is not exactly what Monsieur has
a right to expect, perhaps he will remember the inconveniences under
which we are labouring. Should he need anything further, there is a
bell, which Monsieur has not noticed, beside the fire-place, and the
summons will be instantly obeyed."

"But, my good fellow," I cried, "this sort of thing is all very well in
its way, you know, but----"

"If Monsieur will take my advice, he will dine before his food gets
cold," the man replied. "The kitchen is in the basement; the viands
have, therefore, been already some time upon the road."

I saw that it was useless to argue, or to attempt to extract any
information from him. I accordingly allowed him to bow himself out
without further words. When he had gone, and the door had been locked
behind him, I approached the table and lifted the covers. On the first
dish was a pheasant roasted to a nicety; the potato chips were
exquisitely crisp, the bread-crumbs just what they should be.

"It is very evident that they do not intend to starve me," I said to
myself as I drew up my chair. "If ever I get out of this mess, what a
tale I shall have to tell! Last night the guest of the Countess de
Venetza at Wiltshire House: to-night the guest of----well, of whom? Can
it be possible that this is the head-quarters of a secret society, and
that my unfortunate friends are concealed in it?"

This should have afforded me food for reflection, but, strangely enough,
it did not interfere with my enjoyment of the meal. I could not remember
ever to have tasted so delicious a bird. Never before had I drunk
champagne with such a keen appreciation of its delicacy. When at last I
put down my knife and fork I was a different man, and was able to look
my affairs in the face with a greater amount of equanimity than I had
yet felt.

By this time night was drawing in and very soon it would be dark. I
accordingly rang my bell in order that the table might be cleared. The
summons was answered with a sufficient promptness to suggest the idea
that the man who had brought the meal to me had been waiting outside.

"I trust his dinner has been to Monsieur's satisfaction," he said, as he
placed the various articles upon the tray.

"Upon that score I have no fault to find," I replied. "And now perhaps
you will be kind enough to let me have a little talk with you?"

"It will give me the greatest pleasure to talk with Monsieur, provided
he does not touch upon forbidden subjects," he answered. "Should he do
that, my lips will be immediately sealed."

"I have yet to find out what those forbidden subjects are," I said,
affecting a coolness I was far from feeling. "I presume you mean with
regard to my detention here?"

"Exactly," he replied. "It is with regard to the reason for the
detention of Monsieur that I am unable to speak with him."

"I know how I got here," I returned. "What I want to know is, who
brought me, and what is to be done with me?"

He only shook his head.

"My lips are sealed. I must beg that Monsieur will put no further
questions to me upon this matter."

Seeing that it was useless to do so, I complied with his request,
contenting myself by asking him if it would be possible to procure me a
lamp and a book. He replied to the effect that it would give him the
greatest pleasure, and once more left the room, as usual taking care to
lock the door behind him. Presently he returned, carrying a lamp in one
hand, and in the other half a dozen books, which he placed upon the
table.

"I fear our stock of literature is not extensive," he said. "Doubtless,
however, Monsieur will find something here to interest him. Should he
require anything further, perhaps he will ring the bell. Our desire, as
I said before, is to do all that we can to ensure Monsieur's comfort."

"But not his happiness," I replied; "otherwise he would scarcely be
here."

"Once more I must remind Monsieur that we are treading upon dangerous
ground," he said.

Without another word he bade me good-night, and left me to derive what
amusement and instruction I could from the collection of books he had
placed upon the table.

They were, in truth, a motley assortment, comprising two volumes of
sermons by a Divine who had flourished at the commencement of the
century, a book of poems by a lady of whom I had never heard, "Cæsar's
Commentaries" in the original, and the second volume of "Pride and
Prejudice," with the label of a seaside circulating library upon the
cover. I chose the last-named for preference, and not having read it
before, and knowing nothing of what had taken place in the previous
chapters, endeavoured to interest myself in it. The result, however,
scarcely justified the labour. Heaven forbid that I should belittle a
work that has given pleasure to so many thousands, but that night I was
not only unable to derive any satisfaction from it, but found that it
produced a feeling that might almost be described as one of prolonged
bewilderment. After a time I exchanged it for one of the volumes of
sermons, only to be equally bemused. The worthy divine's style was, if I
may so express it, of the bigoted, yet argumentative, order. Never
before had my own spiritual outlook appeared so ominous. I could plainly
see that I had nothing to hope for in my present or future state. Almost
in fear I closed the book and placed it with its fellows. Then I rose
from my seat, and crossed to the door and examined it. It was as
securely fastened as before.

Not a sound reached me from the other portions of the house; so quiet
indeed was it, that had I not had evidence to the contrary, I could
have believed myself its sole occupant. Having convinced myself that I
was not likely to be disturbed, and making as little noise as possible,
I placed one of the chairs upon the chest of drawers. By standing upon
the latter I found that I was just able to reach the skylight. I tried
to open it, but a few attempts were sufficient to show me that it had
been made secure from the outside, doubtless in preparation for my
coming. So far, therefore, as that exit was concerned, my escape was
hopeless. Bitterly disappointed, I descended from my perch, and pushed
the table back to its original position in the corner. It looked as if I
were destined to remain a prisoner. In a very dejected state of mind I
threw myself upon the bed, and it is not to be wondered at if my dreams
that night were of a disturbed and depressing condition.

Punctual to the stroke of eight o'clock my gaoler entered the room,
bringing with him the various articles necessary for my toilet.

"In case Monsieur would like to see what the world thinks of his
disappearance," said the man, with his usual politeness, "I have
brought copies of several of the morning papers. Monsieur will see that
it has caused quite a sensation in England."

He said this with such respect and civility that had a stranger who was
not aware of the real state of the case been present, he would have
found it difficult to believe that the man was in any way concerned in
the affair.

I am inclined to think that an experience such as mine has never
befallen another man. Here I was in captivity--if not in the heart of
London, at any rate in one of her Suburbs--sitting down to peruse, in
cold blood, a newspaper account of my own abduction. The first I picked
up recorded the fact that I had been present at a dinner at Wiltshire
House, on the previous evening, and that I had returned to my own abode
afterwards. My servant, Williams, had given evidence as to the receipt
of a note by me, which purported to have been written by the Duke of
Rotherhithe. In it the latter asked me to come to him at once. "His
Grace sent one of his carriages," Williams remarked in conclusion, "and
when my master got into it, that was the last I saw of him." Then came
Rotherhithe's vehement declaration that the letter was a forgery, and
his most positive assertion, corroborated by his head coachman, that not
one of his horses or carriages had left the stables after his return
from Wiltshire House. "The fact therefore remains," said the writer, at
the termination of his article, "that the disappearance of Sir George
Manderville must be relegated to that catalogue of inexplicable crimes,
to which so many of our foremost men have fallen victims of late."

The reports in the other papers were, for the most part, couched in
similar language.

As soon as I was dressed, my breakfast was brought to me, but while I
had no fault to find with the cooking, I scarcely touched it. I was
turning over in my mind a scheme for making my escape, which had
suddenly occurred to me, and which, I could not help thinking, possessed
a considerable chance of being successful. What was to prevent my
springing upon my gaoler when he next entered the room, overpowering
him, and then rushing out? Even if I did not succeed in getting away
from the house, I might at least be able to attract the attention of
people in the street, and thus be able to induce them to communicate
with the Authorities. The idea seemed feasible enough, but I had not
only to remember that my keeper was a muscular fellow, but that he would
be fighting for what he knew to be a desperate cause. So far as strength
went, however, I felt convinced I was his equal. Besides, I should have
the advantage of taking him off his guard, which would be many points in
my favour. At any rate I was prepared to try. This settled, the next
thing to be decided was when would be the best time to put the plan into
execution. Should I make the attempt when he returned to take away my
breakfast things, or at mid-day when he brought my lunch? To do so at
night would, I knew, be useless, since there would not be so many
passers-by, and if the windows were dark--and I had every reason to
suppose they would be--I should stand but little chance of being seen,
and the _raison d'être_ of the whole affair would be gone. At last, on
the principle that there is no time like the present, I determined to
strike while the iron was hot, and to tackle him when he next entered
the room. I made my plans accordingly.

In order to reach the table at the further end of the room, it would be
necessary for him to go round at the foot of the bed. It was while he
was there that the attempt must be made. Having got him down, I would
endeavour to take the key from him and reach the door before he could
sound the alarm or get upon his feet again. After that I must act as
circumstances dictated. On this occasion he was somewhat more dilatory
than usual. At last, however, I heard his footsteps in the corridor
outside, then the key was inserted in the lock, and a moment later he
had entered the room.

Having closed the door behind him, he passed round the bed on his way to
the table. My heart by this time was beating so furiously that it seemed
impossible that he could fail to hear it. I had been careful to observe
in which pocket he placed his key, for I knew that upon my finding that
all my hopes depended. An hour seemed to have elapsed before he was
bending over the table, engaged in collecting the various articles upon
it. On this particular occasion he was in a somewhat more taciturn mood
than usual, a fact for which I was not altogether sorry, for had he
addressed me, my nervousness must surely have aroused his suspicions.

At last the moment for action arrived, and I rose from my seat upon the
bed. I had scarcely taken a step forward, however, before he turned,
and, divining my intentions, prepared to receive me. This was more than
I had bargained for, but I had gone too far to turn back. He muttered
something in Italian which I did not catch, then I was upon him, had
caught him by the throat, and the struggle had commenced.

As a youngster I had won some little notoriety among my companions as a
wrestler. The tricks I had learnt then stood me in good stead now. The
man, as I have said, was muscular and heavy, but I soon found that I was
quite his match. We rocked to and fro, turned over a chair, and on
several occasions came perilously near the table. So tight was my grip
upon his throat that, though he made two or three attempts, it was
impossible for him to give the alarm. How it was that the noise we made
did not attract the attention of the other inmates of the house, I am
at a loss to understand. Little by little I began to get the upper hand
of him. Then putting forth all my strength, and bringing into play a
certain trick that had been an especial favourite in younger days, I
threw him heavily backwards. The ruse was a complete success, and so
violent was the fall, and with such force did his head strike the floor,
that he lay insensible.

As soon as I had recovered my own equilibrium, I knelt beside him and
searched his pocket for the key. Having obtained it, I went to the door,
unlocked it, and got into the passage outside. One glance was sufficient
to show me that the house was of the typical suburban pattern:
reception-rooms on the ground floor, bed-rooms on the next, and
servants' quarters under the roof. My room was at the top of the house,
and probably had once been a housemaid's apartment.

Once in the corridor I paused, to lock the door, thus making my captor
doubly secure, after which I made my way towards a door at the further
end of the passage, to find it locked. I tried another with the same
result, after which only one remained. Turning the handle of this I
entered, to discover that the window of the room looked over the back,
upon a long strip of garden, at the end of which were some high
trees--limes if I remember correctly. Escape from the house by this room
was plainly impossible. There was nothing for it, therefore, but for me
to descend the stairs and try my fortune elsewhere. If the rest of my
gaolers were not aware that the man who waited upon me was prisoner in
my room, it was within the bounds of possibility, I argued, that they
might mistake my step for his.

Accordingly, I wasted no time, but descended the stairs, keeping a sharp
look-out over the banisters as I did so. I had reached the next floor in
safety and was preparing to descend to that below, when the sound of a
door being closed in the basement caused me to hesitate. It was followed
by a man's laugh, and a moment later, some one, who I could not see,
began to ascend the stairs. In another second he would have turned the
corner and have seen me. I can assure you it was one of the most anxious
moments of my life. To go on was impossible; to go back more dangerous
still. I had only two seconds' grace in which to act, but which door
should I choose? Having selected that immediately opposite me, I softly
turned the handle and entered the room--to make a discovery which for a
moment deprived me not only of the power of locomotion, but even of
thought. My readers will appreciate this when I say that, standing
beside the fireplace, with one elbow resting on the mantel-piece, and a
cigarette between his lips, _was no less a person than Conrad
Reiffenburg_; while seated in a comfortable chair, her dainty feet
resting on the brass fender before her, was his cousin, _the Countess de
Venetza_!

"So you have managed to escape from your room, have you?" said Conrad
with the utmost coolness, and without any apparent surprise. "I wonder
how you did that?"

"You here?" I said, addressing the Countess, and disregarding him
altogether. "What on earth does this mean? Have I gone mad?"

She was quite equal to the emergency. There was not a tremor in her
voice when she replied.

"Not at all mad, my dear Sir George. It simply means that you have to
thank me for saving you from a terrible death. Quite by chance I became
aware that there was an anarchist plot in preparation against yourself
and certain other members of your Government. To have revealed my
knowledge to the Authorities would have been to implicate several of my
dear, but misguided, friends, while to have appealed to them for mercy
would have been as useless as it would have been dangerous. I therefore
took what I deemed the next best course, and removed you out of the
reach of harm."

"Can this be true?" I asked, for the whole thing seemed too wildly
improbable.

"You surely would not doubt the Countess's word," Conrad put in.

I paid no attention to him, however.

"But if there was a plot against me, why did you not warn me?" I
continued. "I could then have taken steps to insure my own safety."

"Impossible," she replied. "You would have communicated with the Police
at once. No, the only thing was to act as we did, and I think, since you
are still alive, that you have every reason to be thankful that we
adopted such prompt measures."

I remembered the precautions that had been taken to prevent my leaving
the brougham, and the peculiar smell of gas which had caused me to lose
consciousness. No; I felt convinced in my own mind that the story the
Countess had told me was pure fiction--that is to say, so far as any
desire went to save me from harm. However, I was wise enough to control
myself, and to appear to credit her assertion.

"And now that the danger is over, when shall I be at liberty to go into
the world again?" I asked.

"To-night your freedom shall be restored to you," she answered. "I have
every reason to suppose that you will be quite safe now."

This was agreeable news indeed, if only I might credit it. But by this
time my suspicions were so thoroughly aroused, that I did not feel
inclined to trust anybody.

What was I to do? I had no desire to return to my prison, yet if I ran
to the window, there was still a long strip of garden between the house
and the street, and it was likely that my cries, even supposing I were
permitted to get so far, would not be heard by the passers-by. I had
already noticed that Conrad's hand was in his coat-pocket, and my
imagination told me what that pocket contained. Then the sound of some
one descending the stairs reached my ears, and next moment my gaoler
burst furiously into the room. His relief at seeing me was evident, but
he seemed unable to understand how it was that he found us conversing so
quietly together. He looked from one to the other of us as if for an
explanation.

"I have put the situation before Sir George," said the Countess, "and I
have also told him that the danger is over now, and that to-night he
will be at liberty to go where he pleases."

"And for the present what is to become of me?" I enquired, before the
man could say anything.

"We shall be delighted if you will give us the pleasure of your
company," said the Countess. "Forgive me for not having asked you to sit
down before."

Having by this time made up my mind as to how I should play my part, I
did as she suggested, and for the rest of the morning remained in the
room, conversing with her on a hundred different subjects, and acting
for all the world as if our meeting had been of the most casual
description. At one o'clock luncheon was served, and we sat down to it,
still on as friendly terms as ever. As I had noticed with regard to the
previous meals of which I had partaken in the house, the cooking was
perfect, the wines excellent, and the waiting all that could be desired.

On one point, by this time, my mind was quite made up. As soon as I
escaped from captivity, I would open Rotherhithe's eyes as to the true
character of his _fiancée_. One thing, I must confess, puzzled me
considerably. I could not understand why, if they had been at such pains
to secure me, they should be willing to liberate me so soon. I was
destined to be better informed on this point, however, before very long.

During the progress of the meal the Countess chatted with me as
pleasantly as if we were sitting in her dining-room at Wiltshire House.
It was significant, however, that Rotherhithe's name was never once
mentioned. When the meal was at an end she gave us permission to smoke,
and accordingly, after our coffee had been handed to us, Conrad
proffered me his cigarette case. How was I to know that the coffee had
been drugged, and that within a quarter of an hour of my drinking it, I
should be lying fast asleep in my chair, beyond all knowledge of my
surroundings. The Countess had scored another trick.



CHAPTER IX


Of all that occurred after I became unconscious I am quite ignorant.
From the moment of my closing my eyes until six o'clock next morning my
mind is a perfect blank. All I remember is, that little by little I
became aware of a strange oscillation. It was as if my bed were being
tossed violently about, to the accompaniment of a noise like the
groaning of a thousand tormented souls.

"It will go off if I lie still," I said to myself. But instead, every
moment, it grew worse. At last, when I could bear it no longer, I opened
my eyes and looked about me. What I saw was calculated to afford me
considerable astonishment. I had imagined myself to be lying in the room
whence I had escaped, what I supposed to be a few hours before. I was
not there, however. The place in which I was lying was the cabin of a
ship, and was some nine feet long by six in width. Opposite the bunk in
which I lay, was the customary brass-bound port-hole, with a cushioned
settee, or locker, below it. The door was at the foot of the bed; a
wash-hand stand with a mirror above it stood against the bulkhead, there
was a narrow strip of faded carpet upon the floor, and when I have noted
these things I have furnished you with a detailed description of the
cabin. What the name of the vessel was and how I had got there were
questions I could not answer. One thing, however, was quite certain;
whatever else she might be, the ship was not a good sea boat. She rolled
abominably, and from the pounding noise on deck I gathered that she was
taking aboard more seas than was altogether comfortable. With my head
clanging like a ship's bell, I managed to scramble out of my bunk and
approach the port-hole. Constantly blurred though the glass was by the
waves that dashed against it, I was able to convince myself that there
was no land in sight. All I had before me was a confused, tumbling mass
of water, an expanse of cloud-covered sky, and once, when we rose upon a
particularly heavy sea, the fleeting picture of a barque making
extremely bad weather of it, three miles or so distant.

Turning from the dismal scene, I tried the door, to find, as I had
expected, that it was locked. It was evident from this that though a
decided change had come over my affairs, I was still a prisoner. The
situation was both dispiriting and perplexing; my head, however, ached
too much to allow me to worry over it for very long. I accordingly
climbed back into my bunk and composed myself for sleep once more.
Success must have crowned my efforts, for when I woke again, the
comparative steadiness of the vessel convinced me that the weather had
taken a turn for the better. From a ray of sunlight that danced in and
out through the port-hole, it was plain that clouds, which had hitherto
covered the sky, had disappeared, and that there were hopes of better
weather. My headache had almost left me, and I felt that if I could
procure something to eat I should be almost myself once more. On looking
at my watch I found to my annoyance that it had stopped at five minutes
to six, so that I was unable to tell what the hour was. Once more I
climbed out of the bunk, and this time seated myself upon the settee.

I had not been there many minutes before the sound of voices reached my
ears. The speakers were in the saloon, so I gathered, and one of the
voices sounded strangely familiar to me. I tried to locate it, but for a
time was unable to do so. Then in a flash it occurred to me, and I
wondered that I had not recognised it before. It was the voice of Senor
Sargasta, the Countess's father, or at any rate her reputed father.

"I am still in their clutches," I said to myself, with something that
was very like despair, as I realised the meaning of this new discovery,
"but how on earth did they get me aboard this boat, and what are they
going to do with me now that they have got me here?"

The question was beyond me, however. I was compelled to leave it
unanswered.

A few seconds later I heard the sound of footsteps approaching my cabin.
Then the door was unlocked and opened, and the grey-haired,
military-looking man, who had driven up with the Countess to the hotel
in Paris, and who had been introduced to London society as her parent,
entered the cabin. Behind him was the young Count Conrad, with the same
supercilious smile upon his face.

"Good-morning, my dear Sir George," said the elder man, with one of his
extraordinary bows. "I am rejoiced to find that your adventure of last
night has had no ill effect upon you. Allow me to offer you a hearty
welcome to this gallant vessel. I fear that she has not behaved herself
altogether as she might have done since you have been on board, but the
North Sea is at the best of times a discourteous host."

"So I am in the North Sea, am I?" said I to myself, as I registered that
piece of information in my mind. Then I continued aloud, "You have
played me a scurvy trick between you, and one that, if I ever get out of
this, will be likely to cause you a considerable amount of trouble."

The smile widened on Conrad's face. Evidently he thought the possibility
of my regaining my freedom was a very remote one.

"I am desolated to think that we should have so much inconvenienced
you," Sargasta replied. "But, alas, we had no option. However, we must
do our best to make your stay with us as pleasant as is compatible with
the circumstances. Doubtless you are hungry after your long fast. If so,
will you permit me to conduct you to the saloon, where you will find
that a meal has been prepared for you."

"You give me my liberty on board, then?" I said, with some surprise.

"Since we are clear of the coast, and provided of course that you do not
abuse it, we will do so to a certain extent," he replied. "Should you
give us a cause to regret our decision, nothing will remain but for us
to confine you to your cabin once more. Pray let me lead the way."

With a feeling of vague bewilderment, almost impossible to describe, I
followed them into the saloon, where I discovered, as he had said, that
a meal had been arranged for me. In spite of my sorry position, I found
that I possessed an excellent appetite and, in order that they might
not think that they had overawed me, I fell to work upon the joint
before me with an avidity that I flatter myself considerably surprised
them. Meanwhile the steamer rolled incessantly, until it looked as if
even the fiddles upon the table would be unable to keep my plate and
glass in position. Fortunately, I am an excellent sailor, otherwise I am
doubtful whether I should have been able to continue my meal. During its
progress the older man had seated himself near me, as if to make sure
that I did not cut my throat, or do myself any other mischief with the
knife I held in my hand. When I had finished he pointed to the deck
above.

"Perhaps you would like to take a little fresh air," he shouted
politely, for the noise below was such that we could scarcely make each
other hear. "If so, permit me to be your escort."

In reply, I bowed and followed him along the saloon to the small
companion ladder which led to the deck above. It was a fine scene that
met our gaze as we opened the door and stepped out. I have already said
that the violence of the gale had abated somewhat, but there was still
a sufficiently high sea running, to make it difficult to retain one's
footing without holding on to something. After the stuffiness of my
cabin, however, the pure air was vastly refreshing. As I stood in the
hatch I took stock of the vessel. She could not have been more than
fifteen hundred tons, and was as ancient a tub as could be safely
trusted to put to sea. She was the possessor of an old-fashioned poop,
from which two brass-railed ladders led down on either side to the deck
below. On the small bridge forrard I could catch a glimpse of the
officer of the watch, pacing to and fro, but at the distance I was from
him, it was impossible to say whether I was acquainted with him or not.

"Let us walk aft," bellowed the old gentleman in my ear.

I accordingly turned and staggered with him as far as the taffrail, then
forward again to the sheltered side of the deck. Here a surprise, to
which my discovery of the Countess in that suburban house was as
nothing, was in store for me. You will realize what I mean when I say
that, comfortably stretched out on deck-chairs on the lee side of the
hatch were three men, who one and all uttered exclamations of
astonishment on seeing me. As for me, I stood clutching the rails, and
staring at them as if they were spirits from the grave come to mock at
me. The man nearest to me was none other than the Commander-in-Chief,
who had disappeared so mysteriously from Lord Beckingdale's residence on
the night before the Aldershot review; next to him, with a rough
sou'wester tied under his chin, was the Honourable Benjamin Castellan,
Secretary of State for the Colonies, who had vanished shortly after I
had said good-night to him in Cockspur Street, and whom I had thought
never to see again; while furthest from me, and nearest the poop ladder,
a stubby grey beard covering his usually well-shaven chin, was my old
friend, General Woller, who had apparently been caught up into space at
Paddington Station, after his return from audience at Windsor. The
Colonial Secretary was the first to speak.

"Good Heavens, Manderville," he shouted, "is it you, or your ghost?"

"It is I, Manderville," I answered, as if the assertion were necessary.
"But you--we thought you were dead. How in the name of all that's
wonderful, did _you_ get here?"

By this time they were all on their feet, holding on to the rail of the
hatch by one hand, shaking my hand by the other.

"That's too long a story to tell you now," said the Commander-in-Chief.
"The question is, how did you get here?"

I could furnish them with no answer to that question, but referred them
to the men who had kidnapped me. Meanwhile, the old Italian stood a few
paces away, holding on to the rail and watching us. Even by this time I
had not recovered from my surprise. In London we had all looked upon
them as dead men, and now to find them my companions on a small steamer
on the high seas, was almost too great a surprise.

"It seems beyond belief to find you here," I said, as we made our way
back to the shelter of the companion hatch, where there was comparative
silence. "The almost universal belief in England is that you have been
murdered by Anarchists."

"We might as well have been," Woller replied gloomily. "Until Castellan
came, I was alone upon this tub, and you can imagine the sort of life I
led."

"I can imagine all sorts of things," I replied. "But I want to hear your
story. The others have doubtless told you how completely your
disappearance puzzled us, Woller? We traced you as far as Paddington,
and then lost sight of you altogether. It was said that you had taken a
cab in the station yard and had driven away in it, but no trace of the
driver could ever be discovered, in spite of the large rewards we
offered."

"No one saw me drive away from Paddington," he answered, "for the simple
reason that I walked from the station. They must have mistaken me for
some one else. The scheme which brought about my destruction was, I must
admit, a singularly ingenious one, if there is any comfort to be derived
from that fact, and yet it was simplicity itself. As you are aware, the
train by which I left Windsor, after stopping at Slough, does not do so
again, except for ticket collecting, until it reaches Paddington. I
should here mention that before leaving London that morning for
Windsor, I had received a note from my old friend, Mrs Marchingham, who
is a great invalid, and whose son is at the Front, asking me if I could
possibly spare the time to call upon her in order to wish her good-bye.
On receipt of her letter I telegraphed to her saying that I would make
every endeavour to comply with her request. It would have been strange
had I not, for we had been playfellows as children, and had always been
on the most affectionate terms."

"One moment," I said, for an idea had struck me. "If you telegraphed to
her, how was it that the Department did not make us aware of the fact?
We caused every enquiry to be made."

"Because I signed the telegram with my Christian name, and I am quite
certain that no one recognised me at the Post-Office," he replied, and
then continued his story.

"Well, as soon as I reached Paddington on my return from Windsor, I
alighted from the train, and remembering that Exminster Terrace, where
my old friend's residence is situated, is only a short distance from the
station, I did not take a cab. On reaching the house, the front door
was opened to me by a neat maid-servant, who informed me that Mrs
Marchingham was at home, and was expecting me. I accordingly followed
her upstairs to the drawing-room where I waited, while the maid informed
me that she would acquaint her mistress of my arrival. I might here
explain that the drawing-room is a double one, and that the portion into
which I was shown was at the back of the house, and overlooked the
garden. The double doors were closed and heavy curtains draped either
side of the window. Having no thought of treachery, I was standing
beside the fire, waiting for my old friend to make her appearance, when
two men suddenly emerged from behind the curtains, and pointed revolvers
at me. One was the young Count Reiffenburg, cousin to the famous
Countess de Venetza, of Wiltshire House, the other I had never seen
before. In answer to my demands to be informed what their conduct meant,
they told me that I was their prisoner, that Mrs Marchingham was abroad,
and that they were her tenants for the time being. The letter I had
received was a forgery. Had there been the least chance of escape, or
had it been possible for me to defy them, I should have done so, but
one glance was sufficient to show me that the case was hopeless. That
night I was drugged, and when I recovered my senses I found myself on
board this vessel, though how I got here I cannot say. Such is the
unvarnished record of my adventures."

Turning to the Colonial Secretary, I asked him to make me acquainted
with his story.

"I am afraid that mine is rather more prosaic," he answered. "You will
remember that on the night of my disappearance you and I walked together
as far as Cockspur Street. There we stood talking upon the pavement for
a short time, after which I wished you good-night and went down one of
the side streets leading to Carlton House Terrace. I do not know whether
you can recall the occurrence, but just before we bade each other
good-night, an old woman passed us?"

I admitted that I remembered the fact, whereupon he continued:

"That old woman's presence in the passage had escaped my memory when I
entered it. I had not advanced twenty paces, however, before I saw her
turn and come towards me. I was quite prepared for her to beg, and I
was not disappointed. She implored me to give her a trifle in order that
she might obtain a lodging for the night. Producing a coin, I was about
to hand it to her, when something was slipped over my head from behind,
and tightened round my neck. In such cases thought is quicker than
action, and in a flash I realized that I was being garrotted. I have a
vague recollection of being picked up and carried into a house close by,
and then my senses left me and I remembered no more until I found myself
on board this ship. My astonishment at finding Woller here to greet me
may be better imagined than described. One night we came to anchor off
the coast, though at what particular spot I cannot say, and next morning
we discovered that the Commander-in-Chief had become one of our party.
Now you had better ask him for his story."

I was about to do so when Sargasta who, as I have said, had all the time
been standing near us, stated that it was time for us to return to our
cabins. I wondered at the ready obedience that was given to his orders,
but my wonderment did not last long, when a man stepped from a spot
alongside the mizzen-mast and I saw that he carried a rifle in his hand.
We accordingly descended the companion ladder in single file, and once
more entered the saloon. It was then that I discovered that two of our
state cabins were on one side and two on the other, all of which when we
were in them were kept securely locked.

When I was once more a prisoner in my cabin, I sat myself down upon the
locker and endeavoured to appreciate my position. In whatever way one
looked at it, it was far from being an enviable one. What our fate was
to be it was difficult to see. Was it possible our captors intended to
maroon us in some desolate region, or did they intend doing away with us
altogether on the High Seas? In the latter case we should perish without
a chance of helping ourselves, and our friends would remain in ignorance
of our fate for ever. If we could only manage to communicate with the
outside world, it might then be possible to capture the diabolical woman
who was at the head of the affair. I felt that I could almost meet death
complacently were I able to bring about that happy circumstance. When I
thought of all that had happened to me through her agency, I was nearly
beside myself with contempt for having allowed myself to be so easily
trapped.

So old-fashioned was the vessel that when darkness fell, instead of the
electric light, an oil lamp was inserted in the receptacle outside the
door. It had not been there very long before the door was unlocked, and
a man whom I had not before seen, informed me that supper was upon the
table. Eager to meet my comrades once more, I hastened into the saloon
to find the Commander-in-Chief seated on one side of the table with
Conrad beside him. I was invited to take my place on the other side,
next to that occupied by Senor Sargasta. The violence of the sea had
abated considerably, though the use of the fiddles had still to be
retained. I looked about me for a sign of the Colonial Secretary and
Woller, but as they were not present, I came to the conclusion that our
gaolers were adopting, what must have struck them as being a very
necessary precaution, namely, dividing our party into two portions.
This proved to be the case, for from that time forward, we were not
permitted to take either our meals or our exercise together. The
Commander-in-Chief and I were to be companions; the Colonial Secretary
and Woller following suite. By this course the danger of any rising on
our part was reduced by one half, while the strain of guarding us was
not nearly so great.

During the progress of the meal, scarcely a word was spoken. We waited
upon ourselves, and it was only when something that did not happen to be
on the table was required, that the man who had called me to the meal
made his appearance. After supper was over, we were informed that we
might go on deck if we pleased, and, needless to say, we eagerly
embraced the opportunity. Having donned our hats, we once more made our
way to the companion ladder.

It was a brilliant moonlight night; scarcely a cloud was to be seen in
the sky, while the wind and sea were abating every hour. Arm-in-arm we
began to pace the deck, at the same time noticing the fact that the man
with the rifle was as usual stationed near the poop-rail.

"It is evident that no precaution is to be omitted," said the
Commander-in-Chief, with a bitter laugh. "I wonder what our friends in
England would say if they could see us now?"

"I wonder what they would say," I replied, "if they knew who was at the
bottom of it all? I suppose the Countess de Venetza is still giving her
charming little dinners at Wiltshire House, and is still talking so
regretfully of the losses England has sustained by reason of the
disappearance of her prominent officials. Heaven send that Rotherhithe
finds her out in time!"

"What do you mean?" my companion asked. "Why should he find her out?"

Then I remembered that Rotherhithe's engagement to the Countess had been
announced since the Commander-in-Chief's disappearance, whereupon I made
him acquainted with the facts of the case, and in doing so gave him a
description of the dinner at Wiltshire House, which had been the
preliminary to my capture.

"If we could only find some means of making the world aware of what we
have discovered," he said, after a few moments' silence.

"That's what I was thinking this afternoon," I replied. "It appears to
be impossible, however. If we were to throw a message overboard, it is a
million to one against its being picked up or believed, while if we were
in any way to attempt to attract the attention of a passing vessel, we
should in all probability be dead men before they could come to our
assistance."

"Be careful not to speak too loud," said my companion. "That fellow at
the rail possesses sharp ears. You may be sure he will report anything
he may regard as suspicious in our conversation or behaviour."

"By the way," I said, "I have not yet been told how your capture was
effected. Had the man I saw in the wood, and whose presence I reported
to Beckingdale, anything to do with it?"

"I am quite sure he had," was the reply. "In point of fact I incline to
the belief that he was the ringleader in the whole affair. Taken
altogether, it was not a very brilliant piece of work, and I have never
ceased to be angry with myself for having been taken in so easily. But
that is our general complaint. In its simplicity, however, lay its
greatest chance of success. I can see that now."

"My own affair was simple enough. Observe how it succeeded. Now give me
the details."

"You shall have them. Doubtless you remember the fact that I was paying
my first visit to Lord Beckingdale's new house. I had stayed at his old
residence before it was burnt down, but had never been there since the
restoration. That will be sufficient to account for my ignorance of its
general plan. On the night of which I am speaking, I was located, as you
will recollect, in the South Wing. Where Beckingdale's own quarters were
I have no idea, and, as you may suppose, since then I have had no
opportunity of finding out. I forget whether I mentioned the fact to you
that I had brought a new man down with me. Poor old Simmons no longer
felt equal to his work, and in consequence I had been compelled to
engage a new man--a thing I hate doing. The fresh importation, however,
seemed a very quiet and respectable fellow, and he had just completed
his first month's service with me, when my visit to Aldershot was
arranged. On the evening in question I was tired, and dismissed him as
quickly as possible. I don't think my head had been upon the pillow for
more than five minutes before I was fast asleep. How long I slept I have
no idea, I only know that I suddenly awoke to find my servant standing
beside my bed, looking as if he himself had been hastily aroused from
sleep.

"'What is it?' I asked as soon as I was able to say anything. 'What
brings you here at this hour of the night?'

"'A message from his Lordship, sir,' the man replied in a low voice.
'His servant called me up to come and tell you that his Lordship would
be glad if you would go to him as soon as possible in his study. A
messenger has arrived from London with most serious intelligence. The
other gentlemen have been roused, and his Lordship begs that you will
not lose a moment in joining them. He would ask you to be as quiet as
possible, in order that the ladies may not be alarmed.'

"'Have you any idea what the news is?' I enquired, as I got out of bed,
for I thought it was just possible that Beckingdale's servant might
have said something to him when giving him the message.

"'No, sir,' he replied; 'I have no notion, except that it is very
serious. His Lordship's man, sir, went so far as to say that all London
is in an uproar.'

"Without more ado I sprang from my bed and commenced dressing. In a very
few minutes I was sufficiently presentable to proceed on my errand.

"'Where did you say Lord Beckingdale is?' I asked, as we prepared to
leave the room.

"'In his study, sir,' the man replied. 'If you will allow me I will take
you to him.'

"Bidding him step quietly so that the rest of the household should not
be disturbed, I followed him from the room, and down the passage in the
direction of the hall. A faint glimmer of light illumined the passage,
so that we were able to make our way along it without the assistance of
a lamp or candle. Having reached the gallery, my man did not descend by
the stairs to the hall below, but branched off down a side passage into
a portion of the house I had not yet penetrated. Having passed along
another corridor, we approached a door before which he paused. Still
with the utmost respect, he opened it very quietly, and bowed as if for
me to enter. Never for a moment suspecting such a thing as treachery, I
did so, and, a moment later, had received a blow on the head, and was
lying upon the floor, insensible. I can leave you, Manderville, to
estimate the daring of the trick that had been played upon me. I have no
doubt that it was with the deliberate intention of taking part in it
that that wretched valet had entered my service. Little did I think,
when I congratulated myself upon having secured him, that he was
ultimately to bring about my ruin."

"But do you mean to tell me that, while we were all asleep, the very man
whom I had seen watching the house from the plantation, and against whom
I had warned Beckingdale, had entered it and taken possession of one of
the rooms, in order to kidnap his most important guest?"

"I do mean it," he replied. "Improbable, impossible, though it may
appear, it was certainly the case."

"And what happened to you afterwards? Remember the house was guarded by
the police, and that, as soon as your disappearance was made known, the
country for miles around was scoured in search of you."

"It was not of the least use, for I did not leave the place until two
days later," he replied. "As a matter of fact, for more than forty-eight
hours I lay concealed, wishing myself dead, between the roof and the
ceiling of that quaint old summer-house on the little knoll at the
further end of the lake. How they got me there I cannot say, but that I
was there and was prevented from making my presence known, even though
my friends searched the room below for me, is as true as I am talking to
you now. Then, when the search must have lost some of its energy, I was
brought down in the dead of the night, carried through the wood, and
placed in a conveyance of some sort, which immediately drove away with
me. Shortly before daybreak we arrived at a house standing a good
distance back from the road. From what I could see of it, it was a
ramshackle old place, but the man who owned it, or at any rate the
individual who came out to meet us, seemed to be on familiar terms with
my guards. He helped them to escort me into the house, and, if I am not
mistaken, he himself locked the door of the small room in which I was to
be confined for the next twenty hours. At the end of that time, still
powerless to help myself, I was once more brought downstairs and placed
in the cart. Again we drove off, and, for six hours, I suffered every
imaginable torture. My hands and feet were tightly bound, and my mouth
was secured so that I could not utter a cry for help. The cords used
lacerated my wrists and ankles, while my head ached from the violence of
the blow it had received on the night of my abduction. At last the cart
stopped, and one of the men sprang out. A voice asked a question in
Italian, then there was the sound of some one moving away, after which
not a word was spoken for upwards of half-an-hour. At the end of that
time the man who had absented himself returned and said in English, "It
is all right." An interval of whispering followed, and then I was lifted
out and placed upon the ground.

"'Not a word as you value your life,' said a voice, which I recognised
as belonging to Count Reiffenburg. 'If you speak, you're a dead man.'

"Another man took his place beside me and we entered a small field,
crossed it, and then passed through a thick pine wood, which in its turn
led up to some sandhills, whence we could see the moonlit waters of the
Bay. A fishing-boat was being put out, and towards it my captors hurried
me. Where the place was or whither they were taking me, I could not
imagine, nor did I dare to offer any expostulation. I merely took my
seat in the boat and waited to see what would happen. A quarter of an
hour or so later, under the influence of a steady breeze, we were
outside the Bay, making for the open sea. As the sun was in the act of
rising, we saw a steamer heading in our direction. It proved to be this
vessel, and when we were alongside, I was immediately transferred to
her, Reiffenburg returning to the shore. You must picture for yourself
my surprise at finding Woller and Castellan aboard her. Now you know my
story. If any one had told me a month ago that I should figure in such
an affair, I should not have believed them."

"Another illustration of the old saying that the unexpected always
happens," I replied.

"If we are fortunate enough to see our friends again, we shall have some
extraordinary stories to tell," said the Commander-in-Chief. "The
question is, however, shall we ever see them again?"

"That remains to be proved," I answered. "We must put our wits to work
to see what can be done."

The words had scarcely left my lips, before young Reiffenburg appeared
upon the scene and abruptly informed us that our promenade was at an
end, and that it behoved us to return to our cabins, in order that our
companions, who had just finished their meal, might take our places. We
followed his instructions, and made our way slowly to the saloon below,
half hoping that we should have a chance of exchanging a few words with
our friends. They were not there, however, having been ordered to their
cabins so that we should not meet. There was nothing for it, therefore,
but to bid each other good-night, and to retire to our respective
state-rooms with as good grace as possible.

Next morning, after breakfast, we were allowed on deck again for an
hour, also after luncheon, and again in the evening. During the progress
of the latter meal I was struck by the expression on the
Commander-in-Chief's face. It was as if he were suffering from a severe
attack of suppressed excitement. He fidgeted uneasily in his seat, and
seemed to experience great difficulty in eating the food set before him.
This excitement found vent while we were in the companion ladder on our
way to the deck above. Half-way up he took me by the arm and said in a
hoarse whisper--

"My God! Manderville, quite by chance to-day, I have discovered the most
diabolical plot ever hatched by mortal man."

"Then be careful," I returned, "that they do not suspect you of knowing
it. Wait until we are safely out of ear-shot before you say anything to
me on the subject."

When we reached the deck we found the sentry on guard as usual. We
accordingly walked aft, and had paced the poop two or three times before
I would permit the Commander-in-Chief to unfold his tale. Then leaning
upon the taffrail, and looking at the white streak of our wake, I asked
him what he had discovered.

"The most villainous plot, imaginable," he replied. "You will remember
that Reiffenburg left the saloon before we had finished luncheon this
afternoon, and that I was the first to go up on deck. You will also
recall the fact that the fellow with the rifle kept close to us while we
were on deck, so that it was impossible for me to tell you what I had
heard. On reaching the top of the companion, I found Reiffenburg and the
dark man who acts as steward, and yet who seems to be on such familiar
terms with them, in close conversation beside the door."

"What were they talking about?"

"Even now I can only hazard a conjecture," he answered. "What I heard
Reiffenburg say was this, word for word: '_Fully wound up she will run
for an hour. Then will come the explosion. Sixty minutes exactly after
it has been placed in the stokehole, it will blow the bottom out, and
she will go down like a stone._' On hearing this the other paused for a
moment, then he said:

"'When do you think it will be?'

"'_The day after to-morrow_,' Reiffenburg replied. '_If all goes well,
and she keeps to the arrangement, she should be in sight._' When he had
said this he strolled away towards the poop ladder, while the other took
up his position, with his rifle, alongside the mizzen-mast, preparatory
to our coming on deck."



CHAPTER X


For some minutes after the Commander-in-Chief had finished speaking, I
stood staring down at the white whirl of water below me, wrapt in what I
might term, for want of a better simile, an overwhelming bewilderment of
terror. There could be no doubt that the construction he had placed upon
what he had heard was a correct one. Yet it seemed beyond belief, as I
reviewed it in my mind, that there could exist men in the world, so
base, so callous, as to even contemplate putting such a scheme into
execution. And yet, what other construction could we place upon it?

"Are you quite sure that you have told it to me exactly as you heard
it?" I said, trying to speak calmly. "As you are aware, the mere
substitution of one word for another, or the change of a sentence, might
make all the difference."

"Oh no," he said, "I am absolutely certain that I have repeated the
conversation word for word as I heard it. In fact, I should be prepared
to stake my life upon it."

"Very well. Now let us look at the matter from every point of view. You
say that Reiffenburg asserted that a certain something, when fully wound
up, would run for an hour. Is that not so?"

The Commander-in-Chief nodded.

"In that case," I continued, "we may believe ourselves to be right if we
describe that something as a clock-work machine. We may also be sure
that if the explosion to which he referred is to take place, it will be
when the machine has run for the allotted time. In other words, it is an
anarchist bomb, of superior construction and capable of being set, like
an alarum clock, to go off at a given time. The mere fact that it is to
be placed in the stoke-hole, shows that it is to be used on board a
steamer, and it is scarcely likely to be on any other than this boat.
Putting all these things together, we arrive at this conclusion: The day
after to-morrow another vessel is due to join us. Our captors and the
crew of this boat will leave her and go aboard the new-comer, having
previously set the machine going, and----"

"And we shall be left locked in our cabins to drown like rats in a
trap!" said my companion in an awed whisper.

"That, I take it, is the idea," I answered slowly.

"My God! Manderville, how can you speak so quietly. Don't you realise
what an awful position we are placed in?"

"I realize it perfectly," I answered. "I am trying to think what we can
do to save ourselves."

The situation was so terrible that for a few moments I stood looking
across the waste of water, seeing nothing but a man locked in his cabin,
knowing that the ship was sinking, and battling vainly for life. "The
day after to-morrow! The day after to-morrow!" The words rang in my
brain like the tolling of a funeral knell.

"Surely there must be a way out of it if we can only find it," I
said--"some manner in which we can thwart these murderous ruffians. Let
us put our wits to work with all speed, and see whether or not we can
find a loophole of escape."

"I have been doing that all the afternoon," the Commander-in-Chief
replied, "but so far without any success. If we are locked in our
cabins, I don't see how it will be possible for us to do anything. A
mouse confined in a trap, when a servant-girl plunges it into a bucket
of water, is not more helpless than we shall be."

"Come, come, old friend," I said, "you must not give way like that."

"I don't think any man can accuse me of cowardice," he replied, "but I
must confess that when I think of what may happen the day after
to-morrow, my courage fails me."

"But it's not going to happen," I answered. "Make up your mind to that.
As I said just now, there must be a way out of it, and we've got to find
it. In the meantime, we must endeavour, if possible, to let the others
know the position of affairs, though how that's to be managed, I must
confess I don't quite see. It is not possible to approach their cabins,
and, according to the new arrangement, we are not allowed to come into
personal contact with them."

"Could it not be managed by means of the port-holes?" my companion
enquired. "Your cabin and that occupied by Castellan adjoin, I believe?"

"That is so," I replied, "but I could not reach a quarter of the
distance that separates his port-hole from mine, and I have nothing in
my cabin to assist me. But we must think it over and see what can be
done. Now we had better begin to pace the deck again, or they may grow
suspicious."

With that we set out, and for upwards of an hour religiously patrolled
the poop. At the end of that time we were ordered below, and when my
cabin door was locked upon me, I sat myself down on my locker and put my
brains to work. The first point to be decided, as I have said above, was
how we were to communicate with the others; the second and all
important, was to find a means of escape from the doom that had been
prepared for us. At last, my head in a whirl, I turned into bed and
endeavoured to divert my mind from the burden it carried. The attempt
was useless, however, as may be easily understood. Think of what I
would, my thoughts invariably came back to the same subject. I recalled
that night in Paris, when the eyes of the woman we had known as the
Countess de Venetza had exercised such a strange effect upon me. I
remembered the nameless horror they had inspired in me, and the
sleepless nights I had had in consequence. I also recalled our first
meeting and our crossing to London together. Who would have dreamt then
that that meeting would have ended in this terrible fashion?

Hour by hour the night wore on until the faint, weird light of dawn
crept into the sky. We might now say that _to-morrow_ we should know our
fate. Then, tired of tumbling and tossing in my bunk, I left it, and
stood at the open port-hole, watching the great, grey waves go by. There
was a fair sea running, and, in consequence, the steamer was rolling
heavily.

"If only I could find some means of communicating with Castellan," I
said to myself for the hundredth time. "He and Woller might put their
wits to work, and possibly hit upon a scheme that would save us." Then,
in a flash, as is generally the way, an idea occurred to me. If I were
permitted a chance of carrying it out, it was quite within the bounds of
possibility that it might succeed.

Taking my letter-case from my pocket, I selected a clean half-sheet of
note-paper, and wrote upon it a letter to the Colonial Secretary. In it
I told him what the Commander-in-Chief had discovered, and what our
suspicions were. I begged him to tell Woller, and between them to try
and think out a scheme for our deliverance. When I had finished, I made
the note into a cocked hat and slipped it into my pocket. I might here
remark, that the doors of the various cabins opened directly into the
saloon, and that at the foot of each door there was the space of nearly
an inch. My object, therefore, was to get the note under the door
without our gaolers observing what I was doing. At first glance this
would appear a difficult matter to accomplish, but I had every
confidence in my plan, and was determined to make the attempt. As good
fortune had it, Castellan's cabin was almost directly behind my seat in
the saloon, and this was a point in my favour. Having settled upon an
idea for delivering this note, I was in a fever to put it into
execution. It seemed as if the breakfast hour would never arrive, but at
last the door was unlocked, and I was informed that the meal was upon
the table. Now or never must my scheme be carried out.

As I have said, the ship was rolling heavily, and for this reason I
clutched at the rail running along the side of the saloon, while with my
left I made a feint of reaching the back of the seat at the table. Then,
abandoning the rail, I staggered forward, just as the ship was finishing
her downward roll. The natural consequence was that I lost my footing as
she came up again, and found myself lying in a heap upon the floor of
the saloon, just before Castellan's cabin. While in this position, it
was quite easy to push the note underneath the door without attracting
attention. This accomplished, I staggered to my feet and to my position
at the table, flattering myself that the whole thing had been so natural
that the suspicions of our captors could not possibly have been
aroused. Our meal at an end, I followed the Commander-in-Chief to the
deck above.

"Well," I said, when we reached the taffrail, "have you anything to tell
me?"

"Nothing," he answered lugubriously. "I lay awake all night puzzling my
brains, but without success. If only we could communicate with
Castellan, I feel sure he would be able to work out some scheme."

"It is already done," I replied. "I managed to get a note to him this
morning."

"You did," he said, with a look of incredulity upon his face. "Then how
on earth did you manage it?"

"By giving myself a bump which I shall remember for some hours to come,"
I replied. "You observed the fall I had in the saloon, when trying to
reach the breakfast-table?"

"Yes, I noticed it," he answered; "but what had that to do with it?"

"Everything in the world," I said. "Perhaps it did not strike you that
my fall took place outside Castellan's cabin door. That was when I got
the note to him. If you did not see it, it is more than probable that
the others did not. In that case, we need have no fears in that
direction."

"There is the making of a strategist in you," he said, with the first
smile upon his face I had seen there since he told me his dreadful news.

"Many thanks. Now the next thing to consider is, how is Castellan to
reply."

"He'll find a way," my companion replied. "Never fear, Castellan is a
resourceful man, and all I hope is that he'll find a way of getting us
out of this hole. If we could only manage to get out of our cabins,
there might be some chance for us, but so far as I can see, there is not
the slightest possibility of being able to do that. What is more to the
point, did you observe that they are making assurance doubly sure by
putting a padlock on each cabin door?"

"No, I did not notice it," I replied. "How do you know it?"

"Because the carpenter was at work on my door before breakfast," he
answered.

If this were so, our case was indeed hopeless, for while we might be
able to force the lock, it would be impossible to break through both
lock and staple. When we returned to the saloon, I found that what my
companion had said was only too true. The man had placed the necessary
fittings on each of my friends' cabin doors, and was just commencing on
mine. He stood aside to let me pass, and as he did so, I noticed that
behind the flap of his tool basket, and less than a couple of inches
from the door, lay a small gimlet, which doubtless he had been using for
the work he had been engaged upon. As I saw it, a longing to possess it,
such as I never had for anything in my life, came over me. If only I
could get it into the cabin unobserved, it would be worth more to me
than a hundred times its weight in gold. Was it possible, however, to
secure it? I had only a second in which to hit upon a scheme, but that
was sufficient. Putting my hand to my waistcoat, I gave a tug at the
cord which carried my eye-glass. It snapped and the glass rolled away
across the floor towards the spot where the man was standing. He stooped
to pick it up, but before he had time to stand upright again, I had
given the gimlet a push with my foot, and it was inside the cabin. When
the man returned the glass to me, I gave him a coin for his trouble,
thanked him, and then walked into my cabin and shut the door. Once that
was closed behind me, I picked up my treasure and thrust it under the
mattress of my bunk. The question the next few minutes would have to
decide was whether the loss would be discovered, and if so, whether the
man would accuse me of taking it. So invaluable would it be to me, that
I felt as though I would have fought the world for its possession. I
could plainly hear him driving in the last screws, and afterwards
placing the tools he had been using in his basket with the others. A
moment later the padlock was placed on the door and locked, and then my
hearing told me that he was leaving the saloon. When all was safe, I
took the gimlet from its hiding-place once more, and regarded it with an
interest that, I can assure you, no article of that description had ever
inspired in me before. Now, if only it were not discovered that I had it
in my possession, I felt that I should be able to make my escape from
the cabin when the proper time arrived.

When we went on deck after luncheon, I informed the Commander-in-Chief
of my good fortune, and of the use I intended putting it to. His delight
was as sincere as my own, and we were about to discuss the possibilities
it opened up for us, when I felt compelled to take off the yachting cap
Reiffenburg had lent me on the morning after my arrival on board.
Hitherto it had been tolerably comfortable, now it did not fit at all. A
nasty lump was pressing upon my forehead, and in order to discover what
occasioned it, I lifted the strip of leather inside, to find a piece of
paper there that had certainly not been in the cap when I had last worn
it. One second's consideration was sufficient to convince me that this
was Castellan's method of conveying a message to me. He must have worn
my cap when on deck, and have placed the strip of paper in a place where
he knew I should be well-nigh certain to find it.

Leaning on the taffrail, with our backs turned to the sentry, I opened
it and eagerly scanned the contents. It ran as follows:--


     "DEAR MANDERVILLE,--Your letter astounded me. The plot you speak of
     only serves to show what a set of fiends we have fallen in with.
     Since receiving it, I have been puzzling my brains for a solution
     of the difficulty, but so far have discovered no plan that could
     have the remotest prospect of success. As you will by this time
     have noticed, our enemies have taken double precautions to ensure
     our remaining prisoners. Unless we can manage to force our way out
     at the last moment, I fear that our fate is sealed. Should any idea
     occur to either of us, I will communicate with you again by the
     same means that I have employed on this occasion. God bless you
     both, and may He help us in our trouble.--Your friend,       B. C."


When we had read it I tore it into small pieces and threw the fragments
overboard. Half an hour later, when we went below, I wrote him a brief
note in which I told him to be of good cheer, for I thought I had hit
upon a scheme which might very possibly prove successful. This, when
next we were on deck together, I placed in the hat, and on the following
morning had the satisfaction of finding it gone.

Try, if you can, to imagine with what feelings we greeted the dawn of
the day that was to mean so much for us. Who knew what the end of it
would be? The mere idea was quite bad enough, but the uncertainty as to
when the event we dreaded would take place was much worse. It might not
be until towards evening, or it might be at any moment. I was well aware
that to carry out the plan I had proposed to myself--namely, the boring
holes with the gimlet round the lock and the hasp and staple that
secured the padlock, would take a long time, and, if left until the last
moment, would be useless. On the other hand, for all our sakes, I dared
not begin the work while there was even the remotest chance of our
enemies discovering it. I was not afraid of their looking behind the
door, for the simple reason that when I was out of the cabin, it was
invariably hitched back, by means of a brass catch, to the end of the
bunk--and there would be no reason for them to examine it. Yet if the
point of the gimlet should chance to penetrate the smooth surface round
the lock on the other side, detection would be certain, and the plot
would fail by reason of it. Therefore, when we returned from our morning
spell on deck, I embraced a momentary opportunity that presented itself,
and measured the exact thickness of the door. Then when the latter was
closed upon me and I was alone, I was able to mark the gimlet to
correspond. Having allowed a sufficient margin to ensure the point not
going quite through the door, I mapped out my plan of operations, and
set to work. The gimlet was not a large one, nor was its point
particularly sharp. The labour was therefore prodigious; the tiny
box-handle cut and blistered my hand, my face streamed with
perspiration, but still I worked on and on, remembering always that not
only my own life, but the lives of my companions, depended upon my
exertions. By mid-day more than three-parts of the work was
accomplished. As a memento of the occasion, large blisters covered the
palm of my hand, while every muscle of my arm ached as if I had been
placed upon the rack. That no suspicions should be aroused, I removed
every particle of sawdust from the floor, and dropped it out of the
port-hole, to be carried away by the breeze. By the time I was summoned
to the luncheon only some twenty holes remained, and these I resolved to
complete as soon as we returned from our airing on deck.

During the progress of the meal, it was easily to be seen that something
unusual was going on. Our guards were unmistakably excited, and I will
do the older man, Sargasta, the credit of saying that he appeared
sufficiently alive to his own villainy to have no desire for
conversation with either the Commander-in-Chief or myself. Conrad, on
the other hand, was even more flippant than usual. I noticed also that
both men watched the deck uneasily, as though they were momentarily
expecting news from that quarter. If this were so, they were destined to
be disappointed, for the meal ended as uneventfully as it had begun.

According to custom, we had left our chairs and were proceeding to the
door at the further end of the saloon, in order to take our usual
promenade, when a hail reached us from the deck above. Conrad's face--he
was standing in front of us at the time--turned as pale as the cloth
upon the table, and when he ordered us back to our cabins, a second or
so later, it was in a voice so unlike his own that I scarcely recognised
it. As for myself, a sudden, and peculiar, feeling of composure had come
over me. I felt sure the vessel they were expecting was in sight, and
that in a short time they would be on their way to board her, leaving us
to meet, with what fortitude we might, the miserable death they had
arranged for us.

To have let them have the least suspicion that we were aware of what
they were about to do, would have been madness on our part, for in that
case they would either have killed us outright, or have taken the
precaution of making our cabins so secure, that we could not possibly
escape from them in time. Once in my cabin I went to the port-hole and
looked out. As I expected, I had interpreted the hail from deck aright,
for, coming swiftly towards us, was a handsome vessel of the yacht type.
Already, as I could tell from the revolutions of the screw, we had
slackened our pace, and were doing but little more than crawl through
the water. If we were to save ourselves we had not a moment to lose.
Going to the bunk and procuring my gimlet, I set about the completion of
my task with feverish energy. The blisters in the palm of my hand burnt
like fire, my arm still ached from its morning exertion, but I kept
steadily on, remembering that every turn of the little point was
bringing us one revolution nearer safety. Only pausing now and again to
look out of the port-hole, in order to note the vessel's progress, I
continued the work until only some half-dozen holes were required to
finish the task. In the saloon outside perfect silence reigned, and I
could guess why--they were either preparing the machine, or making ready
to leave the ship. It seemed to me that I could hear the ticking of the
clock-work of the bomb. What if it were already in the stoke-hole, and
had been running for half-an-hour? Another half-an-hour might elapse
before I should be able to open the door. This thought sent the sweat of
pure terror rolling down my face, and caused me to work with feverish
haste. At last I could see the new-comer without moving from the door.
She was still little more than a mile away, and was signalling our
vessel. Overhead the tramp of feet was to be heard, followed by the
whine of a rope running through a sheave. A moment later a boat was
lowered, and lay for a moment in full view of my port-hole, before she
disappeared.

By this time I had thrown caution to the winds, and was boring my holes
right through the door, and out on the other side. I had just finished
the last but one, and was about to withdraw the gimlet, when, without
warning, the frail shaft broke off near the handle, and the little
instrument, which a moment before had been our connecting link with
life, lay at my feet as useless as a straw. I gazed at it for a moment,
and then threw the handle from me with a gesture of despair. If I had
not already done enough to make the door yield, my work would be of no
avail. Suddenly a voice from the deck above called through the skylight
in the saloon, "Conrad."

"Well?" cried the voice of Reiffenburg in answer from his cabin on the
port side; "what is it?"

"What are you about that you do not come? Don't you know that the time
is half gone?"

On hearing this, I sank back upon the locker almost beside myself with
terror. My suspicions were correct after all. _The machine had already
been running for half-an-hour._ A few seconds later a light step sounded
in the saloon and went clattering up the ladder. I waited a few moments,
and then, with agonizing curiosity, got on to my feet and looked out of
the port-hole once more. I was just in time to see three boats leave
the side, and push off in the direction of the stranger. Reiffenburg,
Sargasta, and the man who had waited upon us, were in that nearest me;
the rest were filled with the officers and crew. As they drew further
away they looked back at our doomed vessel, while Reiffenburg, upon
whose face I can quite imagine that devilish smile to be playing, took
off his hat and waved it to us, as if in ironical farewell. Then I
sprang off the locker, and, seizing the handle of the door, pulled with
all my strength. To my horror it stood the test. I tried again, with the
same result, and then fell back against the wash-hand-stand, hopeless,
for the moment, to the very centre of my being. All the time a little
voice within me was telling me that in the stoke-hole the wheels were
going round remorselessly, ticking off the seconds that separated us
from death. Not more than a couple of minutes could have elapsed since
the men had deserted the ship, but to me they seemed like hours. Then,
gathering all my strength together, for one great effort, I once more
gave the door a terrific pull. This time I was more successful, for the
wood cracked. Another crash followed, the door gave way under the
strain, and I found myself stretched on my back upon the floor. _I was
free!_

Regaining my feet I did not hesitate. I had arranged the whole plan in
my mind beforehand, and did not waste a second considering what should
be done. Shouting to my companions that I would free them in a few
minutes, I rushed along the saloon, down the little alleyway, past the
steward's cabin, and so on to the main-deck. Before a man could have
counted twenty I was standing among the polished wheels and rods of the
engine-room. "Heaven send they remained true of their decision to place
it in the stoke-hole," I said to myself as I descended the narrow ladder
that led to the furnace-room below.

[Illustration: CLUTCHING IT IN MY ARMS.

_To face page 281._]

It is strange how, in moments of such awful mental anguish, the mind
will revert from the matter in hand to some apparently trivial subject.
On this occasion I remembered how, many years ago, the Chairman of a
great Steamship Company had been kind enough to take me over one of
their new vessels, and had shown me the engine-room and the stoke-hole
below. How little I had thought then that my next visit to a similar
place would be in search of an infernal machine that was intended to
take my life! Rung by rung I descended the ladder and at last found
myself in the stoke-hole. The furnaces were still alight, the men not
having taken the trouble to draw the fires. Their rakes and shovels lay
just as where they had thrown them down, but not a trace of the object I
was searching for could I discover. Like a madman I ran hither and
thither, hunting high and low: indeed it was not until I was almost
giving up the search in despair, and was going off to look elsewhere,
that my diligence was rewarded. Then, in a corner, I made out a black
object, in shape not unlike a large band-box. That it was the bomb there
could be no doubt, for when I placed my ear to its side, I could
distinctly hear the ticking of the clockwork within. Clutching it in my
arms, regardless of what would happen should the allotted time expire
while I was carrying it, I climbed the ladder, passed through the engine
room, and into the alley beyond. A mist was clouding my eyes, my breath
came in heavy gasps, but I heeded nothing save the necessity for getting
that devilish contrivance overboard, and out of harm's way. Reaching
the bulwarks on the starboard side, that is to say, on the side opposite
to that on which the strange vessel was lying, I raised it high above my
head and threw it from me. It struck the water with a splash, a few
bubbles followed it, and then it was gone. So far as that was concerned,
we were saved.

Having thrown the machine overboard, I made my way to the saloon as
quickly as possible. Much still remained to be done. I could imagine
with what impatience my companions were awaiting my return; being in
ignorance of what was going on, their anxiety must have been greater
than mine. Hastening to the Captain's cabin on the port side, which
during our term on board had been occupied by Sargasta, I flung open the
door and hurried in, to find a scene of the wildest confusion. Clothes,
papers, and books were strewn about the floor in hopeless disorder, but
the articles which I had come in search of, the keys of my friends'
cabin doors, also those of the padlocks, lay in a bunch before me upon
the table. I picked them up and hastened into the saloon once more. In
but little longer time than it takes to tell, the doors were opened, and
they were at liberty.

"And the machine?" cried Castellan, while the others looked the
question.

"Overboard," I answered. "I hastened to get it out of the way, before
coming to relieve you."

"God bless you, Manderville," said Woller, taking my hand. "You have
saved our lives!"

"There can be no doubt of that," put in the Commander-in-Chief. "And
now, what is to be done?"

"We must get away from that boat over there," I answered. "Castellan,
you have always had a liking for mechanics and engineering, do you think
you could undertake the engines?"

"I think I could manage them at a pinch," he replied. "At any rate, I am
quite willing to try."

"And you?"

"I must go to the wheel," I answered. "Whatever happens, we must give
that vessel yonder a run for her money. Now let us be off, but be sure
to keep out of sight as you cross the deck. They'll be waiting and
watching for the explosion."

"In that case, Heaven be thanked, they are doomed to disappointment,"
said Woller.

"Now, Castellan," I said, "if you can do us the favour of setting this
crazy old tub going again, we shall be grateful." Then turning to Woller
and the Commander-in-Chief, I added: "I am sure, gentlemen, you will,
for once in your lives, condescend to officiate as stokers."

Both were quick to express their willingness to do all that lay in their
power to help, and then we left the saloon and, keeping under cover of
the bulwarks, made our way along the main deck to the midships of the
vessel. In the alleyway at the entrance to the engine-room we paused for
a moment, and Castellan held out his hand, which I took without a word.
The others followed suit, and then I sped on towards the ladder leading
to the bridge. Reaching the wheel-house in front of the chart-room, for
I had no intention of going upon the bridge itself, I shouted down the
tube to the engine-room, to know how soon it would be possible for them
to put her ahead.

"I am starting her now," was the reply. "I am afraid, however, that it
will be some time before I can get much out of her."

True to his word, a moment later the vessel began to draw slowly ahead,
but her speed was so slow as to be scarcely perceptible. As I stood at
the wheel I wondered what they were doing on board the other vessel.
Fully half-an-hour had elapsed since they had left the ship, and yet
there had been no explosion. I could distinguish the boats lying
alongside her, and could well imagine how puzzled their occupants must
feel. Then a thought came into my mind which almost brought my heart
into my mouth. What if they should suppose that something had gone wrong
with the mechanism of the bomb, and should return to the vessel to make
sure of our destruction by scuttling her themselves? Under the impulse
of this new fear I applied my mouth to the speaking tube again.

"For Heaven's sake, get all the speed you can on her," I cried. "I am
afraid of their coming back."

"We are doing our best," was the reply. "The pressure is rising
steadily."

I prayed that it might rise in time to save us, and turned my attention
to the wheel once more. Then a sudden and very natural curiosity came
over me to discover, if possible, our whereabouts on the seas. When I
had first come on board they had talked about the North Sea, but I had
now quite convinced myself that this was not the case. At the slow pace
at which she was travelling, the vessel required little or no watching,
so, leaving her to her own devices, I went out of the wheel-room by the
starboard door, in order that I should not be observed by the people on
board the other vessel, and so entered the old-fashioned chart-room. I
quite expected to find the chart there with the run marked out upon it,
and I was not disappointed. The navigator, whoever he was, must have
been both a careful and conscientious man, for I found that he had
pricked off his run up to mid-day. I found it very easy, therefore, to
settle our position. It proved to be as I expected. We were not in the
North Sea at all, and, so far as that chart was concerned, had never
been there. Our true position was three degrees, or thereabouts, west of
Achil Head, on the west coast of Ireland. I had just convinced myself on
this point, when I chanced to look out of the window on the port side.
Almost before I had time to think, I was back in the wheel-room once
more.

"The boats are returning," I shouted down the tube, in a voice that
might have been heard a couple of hundred yards away, and then added
illogically--"can you do nothing?"

I looked again, and sure enough two of the boats were heading directly
for us. It was plain that they had noticed something suspicious, either
from the smoke escaping from the funnel, or the splashing of the screw
astern, otherwise they would not have deemed it necessary to send a
second boat. They must have guessed that we had escaped from our cabins,
and that we had taken charge of the ship.

For a moment a feeling of exultation seized me as I thought of the
disappointment and rage which must be filling their hearts. The feeling,
however, was short-lived. Let them once get aboard, I reflected (and I
did not see how we were to prevent them), and the end, so far as we were
concerned, would be the same as though the bomb I had thrown overboard
had been allowed to do its deadly work. I looked out again, to discover
that the leading boat was now less than a quarter of a mile away; so
close indeed was she that I could plainly see the men in her--the dark
man, who had officiated as steward, in the bows, and Sargasta and Conrad
in the stern. Every stroke of the oars was bringing her nearer, and
already the man in the bows was getting his boat-hook ready to hitch on
to the accommodation ladder. In another two or three minutes at most,
they would have been aboard. Then in a voice which at any other time I
should not have recognised for my own, I shouted down the tube--"For
Heaven's sake, give her steam. They are close alongside." Then came back
the answer I shall not forget as long as I live: "It's all right now, I
can let her go."

I had scarcely withdrawn my ear from the tube before I felt a throb run
through the vessel, and she was going ahead at a speed that could
scarcely have been less than eight knots an hour. Throwing prudence to
the winds, I ran out to the deck and looked at the boats, now lying
motionless upon the water some considerable distance astern. One of the
occupants of the first boat was standing up watching us through a pair
of glasses. Then, realizing that it was hopeless for them to think of
catching us, the boat's head was turned, and they pulled back at a fast
pace towards the yacht. That it would be necessary for the latter to
remain in order to pick them up was quite certain, and in this lay our
chance of obtaining a good start. Through the medium of the
speaking-tube I shouted words of encouragement to the engine-room below.
It needed only a glance over the side to be assured that our speed was
materially increasing. If only we could manage to keep it up until
nightfall, it was just possible we might manage to escape after all. At
one time and another I have sailed many an exciting race, but never one
for such a big stake as that we were now contesting. It was nearly five
o'clock by this time, and the afternoon was rapidly drawing in. In half
an hour it would be dark, then, if we were not overhauled and captured
before, our opportunity would come. Kind, however, as Providence had so
far been, even greater good fortune was still in store for us. I
remember that I had just called down to the engine-room to know if one
of them could come up to me for a consultation. The Commander-in-Chief
was selected, and it was not long before he made his appearance before
me, collarless, with his shirtsleeves rolled up, and begrimed from head
to foot with coal-dust.

"Where is she?" he asked, as soon as he reached me.

In answer I led him to the door of the wheel-room and pointed astern.

"She has got the boats aboard, and will be after us in a few minutes," I
said. "Let us hope that we shall be able to show them a good pair of
heels. Can she do any more than her present running?"

"Not very much," my companion replied. "We are all inexperienced down
below, you know. If you could see Castellan's face as I saw it just now,
you would see the very picture of anxiety. He says he doesn't know at
what moment he may turn a wrong handle and blow us to pieces."

"I trust he will not do so just yet," I answered. "Tell him we are all
agreed that he is doing splendidly. And now let us see how our friend,
the enemy, is get---- Why, what's this? what's become of the yacht? I
can't see her!"

We stood at the wheel-house door straining our eyes, but we could see no
sign of the yacht. Providence had sent to our assistance one of those
extraordinary fogs which spring up so quickly on the west coast of
Ireland, and this was the stroke of Good Fortune to which I have already
referred. A moment before the sea had been as open as a mill pond; now
it was covered with an impenetrable blanket of mist.

"If we don't run into anything, or anything doesn't run into us, I fancy
we shall be able to give her the slip, after all," I said. "Now the
matter to be settled is the course we are to pursue. Shall we continue
as we are going, that is to say, parallel with the coast, or shall we
bring her head due west and make for the open sea?"

"There can be no doubt that under the present circumstances, the open
sea is the right place for us," my companion replied. "The western coast
line of Ireland is proverbially treacherous, and if this fog continues,
we ought to have plenty of sea-room about us."

"I agree with you. And the others, what do they say?"

"They are willing to fall in with anything we may decide," he answered.

"In that case, let us steer for the open sea," I said, and put the wheel
over as I did so.

The vessel's head turned slowly round, and when I had got her into the
position I wanted, I resigned the wheel to my companion, telling him to
keep her as she was going, while I went into the next cabin to look at
the chart. On examining it, I was relieved to find that, according to
the course we were now steering, and the speed at which we were
travelling, it would be all straightforward sailing for some hours to
come.

By this time the vessel was encompassed in a white shroud, so that it
was impossible to see more than a few yards ahead. As an example, I
might remark that from the wheel-house even the foremast was invisible.
Not a sound was to be heard save the throbbing of the engines and the
dripping of the moisture upon the deck. Nevertheless, regardless of
consequences, we steamed steadily on, trusting to the good fortune which
had followed us so far to keep any vessel out of our way.

When I returned to the wheel-room, the Commander-in-Chief left for
below, promising, on his arrival there, to send Woller to the cuddy in
search of food. The necessity for husbanding our strength, in view of
the work we had before us, was apparent to all. That the General was
successful in his search was proved by the fact that when he joined me a
quarter of an hour later, he brought with him a bottle of claret, some
excellent ham, and enough bread and cheese to have satisfied two men,
with appetites bigger than my own. After he had left me, I lighted the
lamps in the binnacle and then fell to work upon the food.

So far as that night is concerned there is little else to chronicle.
Hour after hour, that is to say until ten o'clock, we continued our due
westerly coast, and then left the fog behind us, as suddenly as it had
overtaken us. Overhead the stars shone brilliantly, while the sea, save
for the long Atlantic swell, was as smooth as glass. Though I searched
the waste of water as far as my eye could reach, not a sign of a vessel
could be discovered. Having satisfied myself upon this point, I made the
wheel secure and set off in search of the ship's lights. These I
discovered in the forecastle, and when I had placed them in position I
lighted them, and then returned to the wheel-room. I had not been there
many minutes before the sound of a footstep on the deck outside
attracted my attention, and a minute later Castellan stood before me. No
one would have recognised in the figure he presented, the trim,
well-dressed Colonial Secretary of a few months before.

"All well so far, Manderville," he said cheerily; "but I can tell you
it's terribly anxious work below. I've just run up to obtain a breath of
fresh air and to see what you are doing. I am afraid you must be very
tired."

"Not more tired than you are, I expect," I answered. "I intend bringing
her head round to south-west in a few minutes; that should put us in the
track of ships by daylight. Our luck will have deserted us indeed, if we
cannot find one and get them to take us aboard. Do you think you can
manage to hold out below until then?"

"We must," he replied; "there is nothing else for it. This has been a
terrible day, Manderville. We ought to be thankful that we have come so
well out of it."

"Hear, hear, to that," I answered.

"And now I must be getting back to the engine-room," he said. "Call
through the tube if you want anything, won't you?"

I promised to do so, and then with another good wish, he bade me
farewell and disappeared.

When he had gone I brought the vessel's head round to the course
indicated, and then settled myself down to a long night's vigil. How
wearying it was I must leave my readers to imagine. The night was
bitterly cold, but I was so wrapt up in what I was doing, that I paid
small heed to that. At regular intervals I left the wheel-room and went
to the bridge above, to make sure that no vessel was in sight. Then I
would return to my post and remain there for another quarter of an hour.
It was wearying work, and more than once I was so nearly over-powered by
sleep that it became necessary for me to stamp my feet and pinch myself
in order to keep awake. At last, after what seemed an eternity of
waiting, the first signs of approaching day were to be observed in the
sky. Then a faint grey light overspread the sea, touching the little
waves until they had the appearance of frosted silver. When it was quite
light I left the wheel and made my way up to the bridge. Still no sail
was in sight, and for all I could see to the contrary, ours might have
been the only vessel upon the ocean.

At seven o'clock, when I was beginning to feel faint for want of food, I
spoke through the tube to Castellan, asking him to send one of his
companions in search of a meal. He informed me that Woller would go
immediately, and on hearing that I returned to my post. I had not been
there many minutes, before I heard a shout outside, and Woller, excited
beyond measure, made his appearance at the wheel-house door.

"A ship! a ship!" he cried. "A man-of-war, if I'm not mistaken, and not
more than five miles away!"

Before he could say anything more I was out on the deck beside him,
holding on to the rail and watching a large black man-of-war coming up
hand-over-hand. She was certainly not more than five miles distant, and
every moment brought her nearer. Hastening to the engine-room tube, I
called to Castellan to stop our vessel; then, asking Woller to take the
wheel, I ran aft to the signal-locker in the companion hatch. To pick
out the Union Jack and to bend it on the peak halyards occupied scarcely
more time than it takes to tell. Then I ran it up to half-mast as a
signal of distress, and having done so, went aft to the taffrail and
waited for the other vessel to come up to us.

She made an imposing picture in the bright morning light as she came
cleaving her way through the water, and when I remembered all that her
coming meant to us, I could have kissed her very decks in thankfulness.

Returning to the bridge I found Castellan, the Commander-in-Chief, and
Woller awaiting me there. Not a word passed between us for some moments.
We stood gazing at the Queen's ship in silence, waiting to see what she
would do. Then a stream of signals broke out at her mast-head, but as
it was impossible for us to interpret them without the necessary code,
we were obliged to disregard them. She must have understood this, for
she gradually drew closer until she was less than half a mile distant,
when she came to a standstill.

Shortly after we distinctly heard a boat piped away, saw it leave her
side, and watched it come towards us. A large lump was steadily rising
in my throat as I saw the blue-jackets at the oars and the officer
seated in the stern, and I felt that I was getting perilously near
making a fool of myself. Churning the water under her bows into
snow-white foam, the boat drew alongside. Then the handsome young
officer ascended the accommodation ladder. We had by this time descended
to the main deck to receive him. That he did not recognise us (and he
might very well not have done so) was evident from the fashion in which
he addressed us.

"Well, my men," he began, glancing from one to the other of us, as if to
satisfy himself as to which was the leader, "what is the meaning of your
distress signals? From what I can see of her, your boat looks right
enough."

"There is no fault to be found with the boat," I answered, realizing in
an instant the position of affairs. "The truth is, we want to be taken
off her. It is impossible to work her with only four men."

"But what has become of the rest of the crew?" he asked, looking round
as if he expected to see them somewhere about.

"They left her yesterday," I answered, unable, despite the gravity of
the situation, to refrain from mystifying him. The youth was so full of
his own importance, and so inclined to be overbearing that I could not
help myself.

"And pray what rank do you four hold on board her?" he asked, evidently
not a little surprised by our appearances.

"We are passengers," said the Commander-in-Chief, "and, as my friend
says, we are extremely anxious to leave the ship and go aboard your
vessel."

"That's all very well," he answered curtly, "but I don't think it will
do. The skipper wouldn't hear of it, don't you know. But for the
present, what are your names?"

Here was the opportunity for which I had been waiting.

"This gentleman is the Right Honourable Benjamin Castellan, Secretary of
State for the Colonies," I said, pointing to Castellan, "this is the
Commander-in-Chief of the British Army, and my friend on your left is
Sir William Woller, who some little time ago was appointed
Commander-in-Chief of the British forces in South Africa."

"Stow that," the officer answered angrily. "You'd better not play the
fool with me. What do you take me for?"

At the same time I noticed that he looked curiously from one to the
other of us as if he could not altogether trust his own judgment. Then
he added: "You know very well that the four gentlemen you speak of are
dead."

"You will find, my friend, when you come to know us better, that there
is likely to be a difference of opinion on that score," said the
Commander-in-Chief quietly. "My own is that they are very much alive."

"Perhaps it would be as well for one of us to write a note to the
Captain," Castellan put in. Then turning to the lieutenant, he
continued: "I think it would be better for you to believe our story, my
friend. What you have been told, as you will admit when you have heard
all we have to say, is quite correct. That we are the people in question
I shall soon hope to convince you. Will you accompany us to the saloon,
or do you prefer to remain here?"

He came with us to the cuddy, and when we had found paper and ink in the
captain's stateroom, Castellan sat down and wrote a note to the
commander of the ship. This was despatched by the boat that had brought
the lieutenant, and in less than half-an-hour Captain Breatford was
ascending the steps of the accommodation ladder. In the meantime we had
made ourselves as presentable as possible, and had quite succeeded in
convincing the lieutenant of the truth of our story. He was profuse in
his apologies for his manner towards us, but we bade him think no more
about it. He might very well have been forgiven for not having
recognised us.

I must leave you to imagine the captain's surprise at finding us in such
a strange position. He prophesied a tremendous sensation in England
when our story should become known.

"You are quite certain, I suppose, that it was off Achil Head that you
parted company with the yacht?" he asked when he had heard our
adventures.

"Quite certain," I replied. "But if you would care to convince yourself
on that score, and will come with me to the chart-room, I will show you
the chart worked out by the officer of the watch up to noon yesterday."

He did so, took certain notes, and then invited us to accompany him to
the warship. The necessary officers and crew had already arrived to take
possession of our own vessel, and when all was ready, we bade the old
tub farewell. She had been the theatre of one of the most singular
adventures of the Century, and, but for the fact of my having obtained
possession of that gimlet, might now have been lying at the bottom of
the ocean, with us locked up in her.

On board the man-of-war a consultation was held, and as a result the
captain decided to set off at once in search of the mysterious yacht,
and afterwards to land us at a port whence we could easily reach London.

"In the meantime, gentlemen, permit me to offer you the best hospitality
in my power," he said. "I think, in being permitted to rescue you, I
should deem myself the most fortunate man in the British Navy to-day. To
rescue four such gentlemen is not a chance that falls to a man's lot
very often."

Needless to say we quite agreed with him.



CHAPTER XI


The tale of our adventures has occupied a long time in the telling.
There remains but little more to be added. What there is, however, I
venture to think may be of interest to you.

According to the captain's arrangements, we explored the sea for a
considerable distance round Achil Head, but without discovering any sign
of the yacht. The peasantry, we learnt, had seen nothing of her, and it
was not until we reached the little harbour of Gallisheen that we learnt
how swift, and entirely unexpected, had been her fate. How it happened
no one will ever know, though it is conjectured that the fog was
responsible for the catastrophe. At any rate, the fact remains, that,
when little more than eight miles from Gallisheen, she went ashore on
that terrible coast, and in less than an hour became a total wreck.

You would be quite justified in asking how we knew that it was the same
vessel. Let me explain. When we landed to make enquiries concerning the
wreck, an old man informed us that only one body had been recovered,
that of a woman. If we cared to inspect it, he added, it was at that
moment lying in his cabin awaiting burial. Impelled by a feeling that
was something more than curiosity, we entered the rough hut on the
cliff. I think we all knew what we should see. When we came out into the
sunlight again, Castellan, whose face was very pale, put his hand on my
shoulder.

[Illustration: I THINK WE ALL KNEW WHAT WE SHOULD SEE.

_To face page 305._]

"Manderville, old friend," he said, "Shakespeare was right when he said
that 'there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in
our philosophy.' That woman lying in the hut planned our ruin, and but
for you she would have accomplished it. Now she is dead, while we are
alive. There is a moral in it, if one cared to look for it."

"And Conrad, Sargasta, and the other man, what can have become of them?"

"Drowned, you may be sure," he answered, in the same curious voice.
"Poor wretches! they have received their punishment sooner than they
expected. When all is said and done, we can afford to forgive them."

As he finished speaking we heard the snarl of the waves on the rocks
below. They were telling their own tale, and I shuddered as I heard it.

       *       *       *       *       *

The outburst of excitement, the _furore_, I might say, which greeted our
arrival in London will be well remembered by every one; for this reason
it is not necessary for me to touch upon it here. How Woller completed
his journey to the Cape after all, and the great things that he
accomplished when he got there, are also known to every one.

I think it only right, however, in conclusion, to add that, in giving
this record of our strange adventures to the public, I have done what I
consider to be my duty; and with the hope that no public men will ever
again be called upon to endure so much, I make my bow, and bid my
readers a polite farewell.


THE END.


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+Aletta: a Tale of the Boer Invasion.+ By BERTRAM MITFORD.

+For Right and England.+ By HUME NISBET.

+The Girl at Riverfield Manor.+ By PERRINGTON PRIMM.

+The Empire Makers.+ By HUME NISBET.

+If Sinners Entice Thee.+ By WILLIAM LE QUEUX.

+John Ames--Native Commissioner.+ By BERTRAM MITFORD. (Illustrated).

+The Weird of Deadly Hollow.+ By the same Author. (Illustrated).

+The Ruby Sword.+ By the same Author. (Illustrated).

+Briton or Boer?+ By GEORGE GRIFFITH.

+Gambles with Destiny.+ By the same Author.

+The Great Pirate Syndicate.+ By the same Author.

+The Destined Maid.+ By the same Author.

+For Liberty.+ By HUME NISBET. (With Frontispiece).

+The Revenge of Valerie.+ By the same Author.

+Handsome Phil.+ By Mrs J. H. RIDDELL.

+A Splendid Sin.+ By GRANT ALLEN.

+A Sweet Sinner.+ By HUME NISBET.

+Comrades of the Black Cross.+ By the same Author.

+The Eye of Istar.+ By WILLIAM LE QUEUX.

+Whoso Findeth a Wife.+ By the same Author.

+Scribes and Pharisees.+ By the same Author.

+In Vallombrosa.+ By ADELINE SERGEANT.

+The Great War in England in 1897.+ By WILLIAM LE QUEUX. (Illustrated).

+Zoralda.+ By WILLIAM LE QUEUX. (Illustrated.)

+The Romance of Golden Star.+ By GEORGE GRIFFITH. (Illustrated).

+The Rebel Chief.+ By HUME NISBET. (Illustrated by the Author).

+A Desert Bride: a Story of Adventure in India and Persia.+ By HUME
NISBET. (With Illustrations by the Author).

+A Bush Girl's Romance.+ By HUME NISBET. (With Illustrations by the
Author).

+The Queen's Desire: A Romance of the Indian Mutiny.+ By HUME NISBET.
(With Illustrations by the Author).

+Two Cousins and a Castle.+ By Mrs LOVETT CAMERON.

+A Handful of Trumps.+ By J. JAMES HEWSON.


ONE SHILLING NOVELS.

+In Paper Covers. Also in Cloth, 1s. 6d.+


+The Soldier and the Lady.+ By JOHN STRANGE WINTER.

+The Binks Family.+ By the same Author.

+The Sentimental Maria.+ By the same Author.

+Two Husbands.+ By the same Author.

+In the same Regiment.+ By the same Author.

+A Seaside Flirt.+ By the same Author.

+A Gay Little Woman.+ By the same Author.

+The Troubles of an Unlucky Boy.+ By same Author.

+Grip.+ By the same Author.

+The Same Thing with a Difference.+ By the same Author.

+I Loved Her Once.+ By the same Author.

+I Married a Wife.+ By the same Author.

+Private Tinker+, and other Stories. By JOHN STRANGE WINTER.

+The Major's Favourite.+ By the same Author.

+The Stranger Woman.+ By the same Author.

+Red Coats.+ By the same Author.

+A Man's Man.+ By the same Author.

+That Mrs Smith.+ By the same Author.

+Three Girls.+ By the same Author.

+Mere Luck.+ By the same Author.

+Lumley the Painter.+ By the same Author.

+Good-bye.+ By the same Author.

+He went for a Soldier.+ By the same Author.

+Ferrers Court.+ By the same Author.

+Buttons.+ By the same Author.

+A Little Fool.+ By the same Author.

+My Poor Dick.+ By the same Author. (Illustrated by MAURICE
GREIFFENHAGEN.)

+Bootles' Children.+ By the same Author. (Illustrated by J. BERNARD
PARTRIDGE.)

+The Confessions of a Publisher.+ By same Author.

+Mignon's Husband.+ By the same Author.

+That Imp.+ By the same Author.

+Mignon's Secret.+ By the same Author.

+On March.+ By the same Author.

+In Quarters.+ By the same Author.

+A Guide Book for Lady Cyclists.+ By Mrs EDWARD KENNARD.

+Continental Chit Chat.+ By MABEL HUMBERT.

+Piscatorial Patches.+ By MARTIN PESCADOR.

+A Near Thing.+ By H. CUMBERLAND BENTLEY.

+The Portrait of a Woman.+ By COSMO CLARKE.

+Railway Sketches.+ By MARY F. CROSS.

+Briton or Boer?+ By GEORGE GRIFFITH.


SIXPENNY NOVELS.

COPYRIGHT SERIES.


+Truth Tellers.+ By JOHN STRANGE WINTER.

+The Day of Temptation.+ By WILLIAM LE QUEUX.

+Briton or Boer?+ By GEORGE GRIFFITH.

+Beautiful Jim.+ By JOHN STRANGE WINTER.

+Army Society.+ By JOHN STRANGE WINTER.

+Scribes and Pharisees.+ By WILLIAM LE QUEUX.

+The Rebel Chief.+ By HUME NISBET.

+The Bushranger's Sweetheart.+ By HUME NISBET.

+The Ruby Sword.+ By BERTRAM MITFORD.

+Garrison Gossip.+ By JOHN STRANGE WINTER.

+A Voyage at Anchor.+ By W. CLARK RUSSELL.

+Blake of Oriel.+ By ADELINE SERGEANT.

+Mrs Bob.+ By JOHN STRANGE WINTER.

+The Lodge by the Sea.+ By Mrs LOVETT CAMERON.

+The Girls at the Grange.+ By FLORENCE WARDEN.

+The Great War in England.+ By WILLIAM LE QUEUX.

+A Sweet Sinner.+ By HUME NISBET.

+The Other Man's Wife.+ By JOHN STRANGE WINTER. (_Shortly_).


MISCELLANEOUS.


+GOOD FORM: A Book of Every-Day Etiquette.+ By Mrs ARMSTRONG, Author of
"Modern Etiquette in Public and Private." _Limp Cloth_, 2s.

+LETTERS TO A BRIDE, Including Letters to a Débutante.+ By Mrs ARMSTRONG.
_Cloth Gilt_, +2s. 6d.+


+14 BEDFORD STREET, STRAND, W.C.+





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