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Title: The Cardinal Moth
Author: White, Fred M. (Fred Merrick), 1859-
Language: English
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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 "The Cardinal Moth" ***

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[Illustration: "’The Cardinal Moth,’ Frobisher said, hoarsely." (Chapter

                              THE CARDINAL


                             FRED M. WHITE

       Author of "The Crimson Blind," "The Weight of the Crown,"
                     "The Corner House," etc., etc.

                       WARD, LOCK, & CO., LIMITED
                          LONDON AND MELBOURNE

                  Made and Printed in Great Britain by
                   WARD, LOCK & Co., LIMITED, LONDON.




                          *THE CARDINAL MOTH*

                              *CHAPTER I.*

                          *FLOWERS OF BLOOD.*

The purple darkness seemed to be filled with a nebulous suggestion of
things beautiful; long trails and ropes of blossoms hung like stars
reflected in a lake of blue.  As the eye grew accustomed to the gloom
these blooms seemed to expand and beautify.  There was a great orange
globe floating on a violet mist, a patch of pink swam against an opaque
window-pane like a flight of butterflies.  Outside the throaty roar of
Piccadilly could be distinctly heard; inside was misty silence and the
coaxed and pampered atmosphere of the Orient.  Then a long, slim hand—a
hand with jewels on it—was extended, and the whole vast dome was bathed
in brilliant light.

For once the electric globes had lost their garish pertinacity.  There
were scores of lamps there, but every one of them was laced with
dripping flowers and foliage till their softness was like that of a
misty moon behind the tree-tops.  And the blossoms hung
everywhere—thousands upon thousands of them, red, blue, orange, creamy
white, fantastic in shape and variegated in hue, with a diabolical
suggestiveness about them that orchids alone possess.  Up in the roof,
out of a faint cloud of steam, other blossoms of purple and azure

Complimented upon the amazing beauty of his orchid-house, Sir Clement
Frobisher cynically remarked that the folly had cost him from first to
last over a hundred thousand pounds.  He passed for a man with no single
generous impulse or feeling of emotion; a love of flowers was the only
weakness that Providence had vouchsafed to him, and he held it cheap at
the money.  You could rob Sir Clement Frobisher or cheat him or lie to
him, and he would continue to ask you to dinner, if you were a
sufficiently amusing or particularly rascally fellow, but if you
casually picked one of his priceless Cypripediums——!

He sat there in his bath of brilliant blossoms, smoking a clay pipe and
sipping some peculiarly thin and aggressive Rhine wine from a long,
thin-stemmed Bohemian glass.  He had a fancy for that atrocious grape
juice and common ship’s tobacco from a reeking clay.  Otherwise he was
immaculate, and his velvet dinner-jacket was probably the best-cut
garment of its kind in London.

A small man, just over fifty, with a dome-like head absolutely devoid of
hair, and shiny like a billiard-ball, a ridiculously small nose
suggestive of the bill of a love-bird, a clean-shaven, humorous mouth
with a certain hard cruelty about it, a figure slight, but enormously
powerful.  For the rest, Sir Clement was that rare bird amongst
high-born species—a man, poor originally, who had become rich.  He was
popularly supposed to have been kicked out of the diplomatic service
after a brilliant operation connected with certain Turkish Bonds.  The
scandal was an old one, and might have had no basis in fact, but the
same _Times_ that conveyed to an interested public the fact of Sir
Clement Frobisher’s retirement from the _corps diplomatique_, announced
that the baronet in question had purchased the lease of 947, Piccadilly,
for the sum of ninety-five thousand pounds.  And for seven years Society
refused to admit the existence of anybody called Sir Clement Frobisher.

But the man had his title, his family, and his million or so well
invested.  Also he had an amazing audacity, and a moral courage beyond
belief.  Also he married a lady whose social claims could not be
contested.  Clement Frobisher went back to the fold again at a great
dinner given at Yorkshire House.  There it was that Earl Beauregard, a
one-time chief of Frobisher’s, roundly declared that, take him all in
all, Count Whyzed was the most finished and abandoned scoundrel in
Europe.  Did not Frobisher think so?  To which Frobisher replied that he
considered the decision to be a personal slight to himself, who had
worked so hard for that same distinction.  Beauregard laughed, and the
rest of the party followed suit, and Frobisher did much as he liked,
ever after.

He was looking just a little bored now, and was debating whether he
should go to bed, though it was not long after eleven o’clock, and that
in the creamy month of the London season. Down below somewhere an
electric bell was purring impatiently.  The butler, an Armenian with a
fez on his black, sleek head, looked in and inquired if Sir Clement
would see anybody.

"If it’s a typical acquaintance, certainly not, Hafid," Frobisher said,
sleepily.  "If it happens to be one of my picturesque rascals, send all
the other servants to bed.  But it’s sure to be some commonplace,
respectable caller."

Hafid bowed and withdrew.  Down below the bell was purring again.  A
door opened somewhere, letting in the strident roar of the streets like
a dirge, then the din shut down again as if a lid had been clapped on
it.  From the dim shadow of the hall a figure emerged bearing a long
white paper cone, handled with the care and attention one would bestow
on a sick child.

"Paul Lopez to see you," Hafid said.

"Lopez!" Frobisher cried.  "See how my virtue is rewarded.  It is the
return for all the boredom I have endured lately.  Respectability reeks
in my nostrils.  I have been longing for a scoundrel—not necessarily a
star of the first magnitude, a rival to myself.  Ho, ho, Lopez!"

The newcomer nodded and smiled.  A small, dark man with restless eyes,
and hands that were never still.  There was something catlike, sinuous,
about him, and in those restless eyes a look of profound, placid,
monumental contempt for Frobisher.

"You did not expect to see me?" he said.

"No," Frobisher chuckled.  "I began to fear that you had been hanged,
friend Paul.  Do you recollect the last time we were together?  It

The voice trailed off with a muttered suggestion of wickedness beyond
words.  Frobisher lay back in his chair with the tangled ropes of
blossoms about his sleek head; a great purple orchid with a living
orange eye broke from the cluster and hung as if listening.  Lopez
looked round the bewildering beauty of it all with an artistic respect
for his surroundings.

"The devil has looked after his dear friend carefully," he said, with
the same calm contempt. Frobisher indicated it all with a comprehensive
hand.  "Now you are jealous," he said.  "Hafid, the other servants are
gone to bed?  Good!  Then you may sit in the library till I require you.
What have you got there, Paul?"

"I have a flower, an orchid.  It is at your disposal, at a price."

"At a price, of course.  What are you asking for it?"

Paul Lopez made no reply.  He proceeded to remove the paper from the
long cone, and disclosed a lank, withered-looking stem with faded buds
apparently hanging thereto by attenuated threads. It might have been
nothing better than a dead clematis thrown by a gardener on the
dust-heap. The root, or what passed for it, was simply attached to a
slap of virgin cork by a couple of rusty nails.  Frobisher watched Lopez
with half-closed eyes.

"Of course, I am going to be disappointed," he said.  "How often have I
gone hunting the eagle and found it to be a tit?  The rare sensation of
a new blossom has been denied me for years.  Is it possible that my pets
are going to have a new and lovely sister?"

He caressed the purple bloom over his head tenderly.  Lopez drew from
his pocket a great tangle of Manilla rope, yards of it, which he
proceeded to loop along one side of the orchid-house.  Upon this he
twisted his faded stem, drawing it out until, with the dusty laterals,
there were some forty feet of it.

"Where is your steam-pipe?" he asked.

Frobisher indicated the steam-cock languidly. Ever and again the nozzle
worked automatically, half filling the orchid-house with the grateful
steam which was as life to the gorgeous flowers. Lopez turned the cock
full on; there was a hiss, a white cloud that fairly enveloped his
recent work.

"Now you shall see what you shall see," he said in his calm, cool voice.
"Oh, my friend, you will be with your arms about my neck presently!"

Already the masses of flowers were glistening with moisture.  It filled
up the strands of the loose Manilla rope, and drew it up tight as a
fiddle-string. Through the dim cloud Frobisher could see the dry stalks
literally bursting into life.

"Aaron’s rod," murmured Frobisher.  "Do you know that for Aaron’s rod,
properly verified, and in good working order, I would give quite a lot
of money?"

"You would cut it up for firewood to possess what I shall show you
presently," said Lopez. "See here."

He turned off the steam-cock and the thin, vapoury cloud rapidly
dispelled.  And then behold a miracle!  The twisted, withered stalk was
a shining, joyous green, from it burst a long glistening cluster of
great white flowers, pink fringed, and with just a touch of the deep
green sea in them. They ran along the stem like the foam on a summer
beach.  And from them, suspended on stems so slender as to be
practically invisible to the eye, was a perfect fluttering cloud of
smaller blossoms of the deepest cardinal red.  Even in that still
atmosphere they floated and trembled for all the world like a
palpitating cloud of butterflies hovering over a cluster of lilies.
Anything more chaste, more weird, and at the same time more
bewilderingly beautiful, it would be impossible to imagine.

Frobisher jumped to his feet with a hoarse cry of delight.  Little beads
of perspiration stood on his sleek head.  The man was quivering from
head to foot with intense excitement.  With hesitating forefinger he
touched the taut Manilla rope and it hummed like a harp-string, each
strand drawn rigid with the moisture.  And all the moths there leapt
with a new, hovering life.

"The Cardinal Moth," Frobisher said hoarsely. "Hafid, it is the Cardinal

Hafid came, from the darkness of the study with a cry something like
Frobisher’s, but it was a cry of terror.  His brown face had turned to a
ghastly, decayed green, those lovely flowers might have been a nest of
cobras from the terror of his eye.

"Chop it up, destroy it, burn it!" he yelled. "Put it in the fire and
scatter the ashes to the four winds.  Trample on it, master; crush the
flower to pieces.  He is mad, he has forgotten that dreadful night in

"Would you mind taking that tankard of iced water and pouring it over
Hafid’s head?" said Frobisher.  "You silly, superstitious fool!  The
Stamboul affair was a mere coincidence.  And so there was another
Cardinal Moth besides my unfortunate plant all the time!  Oh, the
beauty, the gem, the auk amongst orchids!  Where, where did you get it

"It came from quite a small collection near London."

"The greedy ruffian!  Fancy the man having a Cardinal Moth and keeping
it to himself like that! The one I lost was a mere weed compared to
this. Name your price, Paul, and if it is too high, Hafid and I will
murder you between us and swear that you were a burglar shot in

Lopez laughed noiselessly—a strange, unpleasant laugh.

"You would do it without the slightest hesitation," he said.  "But the
orchid is quite safe with you, seeing that the owner is dead, and that
his secret was all his own.  And the price is a small one."

"Ah, you are modest, friend Paul!  Name it."

"You are merely to tell a lie and to stick to it. I am in trouble, in
danger.  And I hold that hanging is the worst use you can put a man to.
If anything happens, I came here last night at ten o’clock.  I stayed
till nearly midnight.  Hafid must remember the circumstances also."

"Hafid," Frobisher said slowly, "will forget or remember anything that I
ask him to."

Hafid nodded with his eyes still fixed in fascinated horror on the
palpitating, quivering, crimson floating over its bed of snow.  He heard
and understood, but only by instinct.

"I was at home all the evening, and her ladyship is away," said
Frobisher.  "I was expecting a mere commonplace rascal—not an artist
like yourself, Paul—and the others had gone to bed. And you were here
for the time you said.  Is not that so, Hafid?"

"Oh, by the soul of my father, yes!" Hafid said in a frozen voice.
"Take it and burn it, and scatter it.  What my lord says is the truth.
Take it and burn it, and scatter it."

"He’ll be all right in the morning," Frobisher said.  "Lopez, take the
big steps and festoon that lovely new daughter of mine across the roof.
You can fasten it to those hooks.  To-morrow I will have an extra steam
valve for her ladyship.  Let me see—if she gets her bath of steam every
night regularly she will require no more.  Aphrodite, beautiful, your
bath shall be remembered."

He kissed his fingers gaily to the trembling flowers now hooked across
the roof.  Already the loose Manilla rope was drying and hanging in
baggy folds that made a more artistic foil for the quivering red moths.
It was only when the steaming process was going on that the thin, strong
ropes drew it up humming and taut as harp-strings.

"Ah, that is like a new planet in a blue sky!" Frobisher cried.  "Lopez,
I am obliged to you. Come again when I am less excited and I will
suitably reward you.  To-night I am _tête montêe_—I am not responsible
for my actions.  And the lie shall be told for you, a veritable
_chef-d’oeuvre_ amongst lies.  Sit down, and the best shall not be good
enough for you."

"I must go," Lopez said in the same even tones. "I have private business
elsewhere.  I drink nothing and I smoke nothing till business is
finished.  Good-night, prince of rascals, and fair dreams to you."

Lopez passed leisurely into the black throat of the library, Hafid
following.  Frobisher nodded and chuckled, not in the least displeased.
He had not been so excited for years.  The sight of those blossoms
filled him with unspeakable pleasure. For their sakes he would have
committed murder without the slightest hesitation.  He had eyes for
nothing else, ears deaf to everything.  He heeded not the purr of the
hall bell again, he was lost to his surroundings until Hafid shook him

"Count Lefroy to see you, and Mr. Manfred," he said.  "I told them you
were engaged, but they said that perhaps——"

Frobisher dropped into his chair with the air of a man satiated with a
plethora of good things.

"Now what have I done to deserve all this beatitude!" he cried.  "An
unique find and a brother collector to triumph over, to watch, to prick
with the needle of jealousy.  But stop, I must worship alone to-night.
Say that I shall particularly desire to see them at luncheon to-morrow."

                             *CHAPTER II.*


Frobisher sat the following morning in the orchid-house chuckling to
himself and waiting the advent of his two guests to luncheon.  Heaven
alone could follow the twists and turns of that cunning brain.
Frobisher was working out one of his most brilliant schemes now. He took
infinite pains to obtain by underground passages the things he might
have obtained openly and easily.  But there was the delight of puzzling
other people.

He looked up presently, conscious of a presence beyond his own.  In the
dark Frobisher could always tell if anybody came into the room.  He
crooked his wicked head sideways with the air of a connoisseur, and in
sooth there was good cause for his admiration.  Here was something equal
at least to his most beautiful and cherished orchids, a tall, graceful
girl with shining brown hair, and eyes of the deepest, purest blue.  Her
complexion was like old ivory, and as pure, the nose a little short,
perhaps, but the sweet mouth was full of strength and character.

"I came for the flowers that you promised me, Sir Clement," she said.

"Call me uncle and you shall have the conservatory," Frobisher grinned.
"I am your uncle by marriage, you know, and your guardian bylaw.
Angela, you are looking lovely.  With the exception of a peasant woman I
once met in Marenna, you are the most beautiful creature I ever saw."

Angela Lyne listened with absolute indifference. She was accustomed to
be studied like this by Sir Clement Frobisher, whom she loathed and
detested from the bottom of her heart.  But Lady Frobisher was her aunt,
and Frobisher her guardian for the next year, until she came of age, in

"Give me the flowers," she said.  "I am late as it is.  I have sent my
things on, for I shall dine with Lady Marchgrave after the concert, and
come home alone.  Hafid will let me in."

"Better take a latchkey," Frobisher suggested. "There!  Let me pin them
in for you.  I’ll show you an orchid when you have time to examine it
that will move even you to admiration.  But not now; she is too superb a
creature for passing admiration.  Now I think you will do."

There was no question of Frobisher’s taste or his feeling for arranging
flowers.  The blossoms looked superb and yet so natural as they lay on
Angela’s breast—white orchids shot with sulphur. They were the theme of
admiration an hour later at Lady Marchgrave’s charity concert; they
gleamed again on Angela’s corsage as she sat in the Grosvenor Square
drawing-room at dinner. Five-and-twenty people sat round the long table
with its shaded lights and feathery flowers. There were distinguished
guests present, for Lady Marchgrave was by way of being intellectual,
but Angela had eyes for one man only.  He had come a little late, and
had slipped quietly into a chair at the bottom of the table—a tall man
with a strong face, not exactly handsome, but full of power.  The
clean-shaven lips were very firm, but when the newcomer smiled his face
looked singularly young and sweet.  Angela’s dinner partner followed her
glance with his eyes.

"If it isn’t that beast Denvers," he muttered. "I thought he had been
murdered in the wilds of Armenia or some such desirable spot.  You ought
to be glad, Angela."

"I am glad, Mr. Arnott," Angela said coldly. "Permit me to remind you
again that I particularly dislike being called by my Christian name; at
least, at present."

The little man with the hooked nose and the shifting, moist eye, put
down his champagne glass savagely.  For some deep, mysterious reason,
Sir Clement favoured George Arnott’s designs upon Angela, and if nothing
interfered he was pretty sure to get his own way in the end.  At present
Angela was coldly disdainful; she little dreamt of the power and cunning
of the man she was thwarting.  She turned her head away, absently
waiting for Lady Marchgrave’s signal. There was a flutter and rustle of
silken and lace draperies presently, and the chatter of high-bred voices
floating from the hall.  A good many people had already assembled in the
suite of rooms beyond, for Lady Marchgrave’s receptions were popular as
well as fashionable.  Angela wandered on until she came to the balcony
overlooking the square.  She leant over thoughtfully—her mind had gone
back to such a night a year or so before.

"Mine is a crescent star to-night," a quiet voice behind her said.  "I
seemed to divine by instinct where you were.  Angela, dear Angela, it is
good to be with you again."

The girl’s face flushed, her blue eyes were full of tenderness.  Most
people called her cold, but nobody could bring that accusation against
her now.  Her two hands went out to Harold Denvers, and he held them
both.  For a long while the brown eyes looked into the heavenly blue

"Still the same?" Denvers asked.  "Nobody has taken what should be my
place, Angela?"

"Nobody has taken it, and nobody is ever likely to," Angela smiled.
"There is supposed to be nothing between us; you refused to bind me, and
you did not write or give me your address, but my heart is yours and you
know it.  And if you changed I should never believe in anything again."

"If I should change!  Dear heart, is it likely? If you only knew what I
felt when I caught sight of you to-night.  My queen, my beautiful, white
queen!  If I could only claim you before all the world!"

Angela bent her head back behind the screen of a fluttering, silken
curtain and kissed the speaker. He held her in his arms just for one
blissful moment.

"It seems just the same," he said, "as if the clock had been put back a
year, to that night when Sir Clement found us out.  The son of the man
whom he had ruined and his rich and lovely ward!  There was a dramatic
scene for you! But he only grinned in that diabolical way of his, and
shortly after that mission to Armenia was offered to me.  I never
guessed then who procured it for me, but I know now as well as I know
that Sir Clement never intended me to come back."

"Harold!  Do you really mean to say that—that——"

"You hesitate, of course.  It is not a pretty thing to say.  Life is
cheap out there, and if I was killed, what matter?  Let us talk of other
and more pleasant things."

"Of your travels and adventures, for instance. Did you find any
wonderful flowers, like you did, for instance, in Borneo, Harold?  Where
did you get that lovely orchid from?"

A single blossom flamed on the silk lapel of Denvers’ coat—a whitish
bloom with a cloud of little flowers hovering over it like moths.  It
was the Cardinal Moth again.

"Unique, is it not?" Harold said.  "Thereby hangs a strange, romantic
tale which would take too long to tell at present.  What would Sir
Clement give for it?"

"Let me have it before I go," asked Angela, eagerly.  "I should like to
show it to Sir Clement. He has some wonderful flower that he wants me to
see, but I feel pretty sure that he has nothing like that.  I shall
decline to say where I got the bloom from."

Denvers removed the exquisite bloom with its nodding scarlet moths and
dexterously attached it to Angela’s own orchids.  The thing might have
been growing there.

"It seems strange to see that bloom on your innocent breast," Harold
said.  "It makes me feel quite creepy when I look at it.  If you only
knew the sin and misery and shame and crime that surrounds the Cardinal
Moth you would hesitate to wear it."

Angela smiled; she did not possess the imaginative vein.

"You shall tell me that another time," she said.  "Meanwhile you seem to
have dropped from the clouds....  Are your plans more promising for the

"A little nebulous for the present," Denvers admitted, "though the next
expedition, which is not connected with Sir Clement Frobisher, promises
well for the future.  There is a lot to be done, however, and I am
likely to be in London for the next three weeks or so.  And you?"

"We are here for the season, of course.  My aunt is staying at Chaffers
Court till Friday, hence the fact that I am here alone.  If you are very
good you shall take me as far as Piccadilly in a taxi.  I must see a
good deal of you, Hal, for I have been very lonely."

There was a pathetic little droop in Angela’s voice.  Harold drew her a
little closer.

"I wish I could take you out of it, darling," he said.  "For your sake,
we must try and make the next venture a success.  If we can only start
the company fairly, I shall be able to reckon on a thousand a year.  Do
you think you could manage on that, Angela?"

"Yes, or on a great deal less," Angela smiled. "I could be happy with
you anywhere.  And you must not forget that I shall have a large fortune
of my own some day."

Other people were drifting towards the cool air of the balcony now,
George Arnott amongst the number.  It was getting late, and Angela was
tired.  She whispered Harold to procure her a cab, and that she would
say good-night to Lady Marchgrave and join him presently.  The cab came,
and so did the lights of Piccadilly all too soon.  Denvers lingered on
the steps just for a moment.  He was going down to a big country house
on Saturday for the week-end.  Would Angela come if he could procure her
an invitation? Angela’s eyes replied for her.  She was in the house at
length by the aid of her latchkey.  The dining-room door opened for a
moment; there was a rattle of conversation and the smell of Egyptian
cigarettes.  Evidently Sir Clement was giving one of his famous
impromptu dinner-parties.  Angela took the spray of orchids from her
breast and passed hurriedly in the direction of the orchid-house.  The
bloom would keep best there, she thought.

As she passed along the corridor the figure of a man preceded her.  The
stranger crept along, looking furtively to the right and the left.  From
his every gesture he was doing wrong here.  Then he darted for the
orchid-house and Angela followed directly she had recovered herself.
She would corner the man in the conservatory and demand his business.
In the conservatory Angela looked about her.  The man had vanished.

He had utterly gone—he was nowhere to be seen. Angela rubbed her eyes in
amazement.  There was no other way out of the conservatory.  She stood
therewith the Cardinal Moth in her hand, aware now that she was looking
into the scared face of Hafid.

"Take it and burn it, and destroy it," he said in a dazed kind of way.
"Take it and burn it at once.  Dear lady, will you go to bed?  Take it
and burn it—my head is all hot and confused. Dear lady, do not stay
here, the place is accursed. By the Prophet, I wish I had never been

                             *CHAPTER III.*

                           *CROSSED SWORDS.*

Hafid came into the library and pulled to the big bronze gates of the
orchid-house like the portals of a floral paradise.  There were flowers
here: stephanotis climbing round the carved mantel, ropes of orchids
dangling from the electroliers, in one corner a mass of maiden-hair fern
draped the wall.  Even the pictures in their Florentine frames were
roped with blossoms.

Frobisher glanced beyond the carved and twisted gates with a peculiar
smile after Angela had departed.  His luncheon guests were late.  He
looked more like a mischievous bird than usual. There was an air of
pleased anticipation about him as of a man who is going to witness a
brilliant comedy.

There came to him a tall man with a heavy moustache and an unmistakable
military swagger. If Frobisher resembled a parrot, Lefroy was most
unmistakably a hawk.  He passed in society generally as a cavalry
officer high in favour of his Majesty the Shan of Ganistan; more than
one brilliant expedition against the hill-tribes had been led by him.
But some of the hill-men could have told another tale.

"Well, Lefroy," Frobisher exclaimed, genially. "This is a pleasure, a
greater pleasure than you are aware of.  Mr. Manfred, take a seat."

Lefroy’s secretary bowed and sank into a deep chair.  His face was
absolutely devoid of emotion, a blank wall of whiteness with two eyes as
expressionless as shuttered windows.  Most people were disposed to
regard Manfred as an absolute fool.  The hill-men at the back of
Ganistan muttered in their beards that he was, if possible, worse than
his master.

Lefroy reached for a cigar, lighted it, and looked around him.  The
white-faced Manfred seemed to have lapsed into a kind of waking sleep. A
more utter indifference to his surroundings it would be hard to imagine.
Yet he was a kind of intellectual camera.  He had never been in
Frobisher’s library before.  But a year hence he could have entered it
in the dark and found his way to any part of the room with absolute

"I came to see you over that central Koordstan Railway business," Lefroy

"Precisely," Frobisher smiled.  "I might have guessed it.  As an
Englishman—though you have so picturesque a name—you are anxious that
England should receive the concessions.  In fact, you have already
promised it to our Government."

Lefroy made a motion as who should move a piece on a chess-board.

"That is one to you," he said.  "Yes, you are quite right.  Whereas

"Whereas I am interested on behalf of the Russian Government.  I tried
our people here two years ago, but they refused to have anything to do
with me."

"Refused to trust you, in point of fact."

Frobisher laughed noiselessly.  The wrinkled cunning of his face and the
noble expanse of his forehead looked strange together.

"Quite right," he said.  "They refused to trust me.  Any man who knows
my record would be a fool to do so.  But in that instance I was
perfectly loyal, because it was my interest to be so.  Still I bowed
with chastened resignation and—immediately offered my services to
Russia.  Then you slipped in and spoilt my little game."

"There is half a million hanging to the thing, my dear fellow."

"Well, well!  But you have not won yet.  You can do nothing till you
have won the Shan of Koordstan to your side.  Whichever way he throws
his influence the concession goes.  And He of Koordstan and myself are
very friendly.  He dines here to-night."

Lefroy started slightly.  He glanced at Frobisher keenly under his
shaggy brows.  The latter lay back smoking his filthy clay with dreamy

"Yes," he went on, "He dines here to-night to see my orchids.  My dear
fellow, if you and Manfred will join us, I shall be delighted."

Lefroy muttered something that sounded like acceptance.  Manfred came
out of his waking dream, nodded, and slipped back into conscious
unconsciousness again.

"That picturesque and slightly drunken young rascal has a passion for
orchids," said Frobisher. "It is the one redeeming point in his
character. But you know that, of course.  You haven’t forgotten the
great coup so nearly made with the Cardinal Moth."

"The plant that was burnt at Ochiri," Lefroy said uneasily.

"The same.  What a wax the old man was in, to be sure!  Ah, my dear
Lefroy, we shall never, never see a Cardinal Moth again!"

"If I could," Lefroy said hoarsely.  "Your chances with the Shan of
Koordstan wouldn’t be worth a rap.  With that orchid I could buy the man
body and soul.  And the plant that was stolen from us at Turin is dead
long ago.  It must be, such a find as that couldn’t possibly have been
kept quiet."

"I’ll bet you a thousand pounds that orchid is alive," Frobisher said

Lefroy sat up straight as a ramrod.  The waxed ends of his big moustache
quivered.  He turned to Manfred, anxiety, anger, passion, blazing like a
brief torch in his eyes.  Manfred seemed to divine rather than know that
he was under that black battery, and shook his head.

"I fail to see the point of the joke," Lefroy said.

Frobisher signed to Hafid to throw back the gates.  Lefroy was on his
feet by this time.  He breathed like one who has run fast and far.
Manfred followed him with the air of a man who is utterly without hope
or expectation.

"There!" Frobisher cried with a flourish of his hand.  "What is that you
see beyond the third tier of ropes?  Ah, my beauty, here comes another
lover for you!"

Lefroy’s black eyes were turned up towards the high dome of the
orchid-house.  Other tangled ropes and loops of blossoms met his gaze
and held it as he glanced in the direction indicated by Frobisher.  And
there, high up above them all he could see the long, foamy, pink mass of
blooms with the red moths dancing and hovering about them like things of

"The Cardinal Moth," he screamed.  "Manfred, Manfred, curse you!"

He wheeled suddenly round in a whirl of delirious passion, and struck
Manfred a violent blow in the mouth.  The secretary staggered back, a
thin stream of blood spurted from his split lip. But he said nothing,
manifested no feeling or emotion of any kind.  With a handkerchief he
staunched the flow with the automatic action of a marionette.

"The Cardinal Moth," Frobisher said as genially as if nothing had
happened.  "The gem has but recently come into my possession.  It will
be a pleasant surprise for our friend the Shan to-night."

Just for an instant it looked as if Lefroy were about to transfer his
spleen from Manfred to his host.  But Frobisher had been told enough
already. The cowardly blow said as plainly as words could speak that
Frobisher had obtained the very treasure that Lefroy was after.  He
imagined that his secretary had played him false.  And, moreover, he
knew that Frobisher knew this.

"You’ve got it," he said.  He seemed to have a difficulty in swallowing
something.  "But you could not bring yourself to part with it.  You
couldn’t do it."

"My good Lefroy, every man has his price, even you and I.  My beloved
Moth may not be a very good trap, but I shall find it a wonderfully
efficient bait."

"I dare say," Lefroy returned moodily.  "Can I examine the flower

"Certainly.  Hafid, bring the extending steps this way.  Be careful of
those ropes and tangles. An active man like you could climb up the stays
and bracket to the roof."

Lefroy was a long time examining the flower. He was torn by envy and
admiration.  When he came down again his face was pale and his hands

"The real thing," he said, "the real, palpitating, beautiful thing.  But
there is blood upon it."

"Born in blood and watered with the stream of life.  No, I am not going
to tell you where I got it from.  And now, my dear Lefroy, what will you
take for your Koordstan concessions?"

Lefroy said nothing, but there was a gleam in his downcast eyes.  Then
presently he broke into a laugh that jarred on the decorous silence of
the place.

"The game is yours," he said.  "White to play and mate in three moves.
Still there may be a way out.  And, on the other hand, you must be very
sure of your game to show me that.  Lord, I’d give twopence to have you
alone in a dark corner!"

He rose abruptly, turned on his heel, and made for the door, followed by
the white automaton with the bleeding lip.  He could hear Frobisher’s
diabolical chuckle as the big bronze gates closed behind him.  It was
perhaps the most silent meal ever partaken of at Frobisher’s.  He was
glad at length to see the last of his luncheon guests.

Once in the streets Lefroy’s manner changed. He looked uneasy and

"I’m sorry I hit you, Manfred," he said.  "But when I caught sight of
that infernal plant I felt sure that you had sold me.  But even you
couldn’t have carried the thing off quite so coolly as that. And yet—and
yet there can’t be two Cardinal Moths in existence."

"There are not," Manfred said impatiently. "That is the same one I hoped
to have had in my possession to-night.  Didn’t Frobisher say it had
recently fallen into his hands?"

"I recollect that now.  Manfred, I’m done. And yet I regarded it as a

"You were a great fool to strike me just now," said Manfred,
thoughtfully, and without resentment.  "Why?  Because the blow told
Frobisher that he had gained possession of the very thing you were
after.  It was as good as telling him that you thought I had betrayed
you.  To-night when the Shan dines——"

Lefroy grasped Manfred’s arm with crushing force.

"He isn’t going to dine with Frobisher to-night," he whispered.  "We
shall dine there, but his Majesty will be unfortunately detained owing
to sudden indisposition.  In other words, he will be too drunk to leave
his hotel.  Let’s go into your lodgings and have a brandy and soda. I’ve
got a plan ready.  There is just a chance yet that I may succeed."

Manfred let himself into a house just off Brook Street.  In a modest
room upstairs, a box of cigars, some spirits, together with a silver jug
of water, and a box of sparklets were put out.  On the round table lay
an early edition of an evening paper that Manfred opened somewhat
eagerly for him.  He glanced over a late advertisement in the personal
column and shook his head.

"It is as I thought," he said.  "See here. ’The butterflies have gone
away and cannot be found.  My poor friend has broken his neck and I have
gone on a journey’—That is addressed to me, Lefroy.  It is a message
from my man that somebody has stolen the Cardinal Moth, and that my
man’s confederate has met with a fatal accident.  Also it seems likely
that there will be a fuss over the business, so that my correspondent
has gone somewhere out of the way.  We will look for some account of the
tragedy presently; it is sure to be in this paper.  Now tell me what you
propose to do."

Lefroy poured a brandy and soda down his throat without a single
movement of his larynx.

"I’m in a devil of a mess," he said frankly.  "I made certain of getting
the Cardinal Moth."

"So did I.  But that is a detail.  Go on."

"I wanted money badly.  The concession seemed to be as good as mine.
With the Moth as a bribe for the Shan it would have been all Lombard
Street to a green gooseberry.  So I lodged the charter with a notorious
money-lending Jew in Fenchurch Street, and got twenty thousand pounds on

"My dear Lefroy, you hadn’t got the concession to lodge!"

"No, but I had the man’s letters, and I had the draft contract.  So I
forged the Charter, hoping to exchange it for a more broad and liberal
one later on, and there you are!"

"And where will you be if you stay in the country forty-eight hours

"I understand," Lefroy said grimly.  "But there is a chance yet.  The
Shan does not go to Frobisher’s dinner this evening and we do.  You are
suddenly indisposed and sit out.  At a given signal I make a diversion.
Then you hurry into that orchid-house and steal the flower."

"The thing is absolutely impossible, my dear fellow!"

"Not at all.  There is a much smaller Moth growing side by side with the
larger one.  I found that out to-night.  You have only to snap off a
small piece of cork and unwind the stems.  Then you hurry off to my
place with it and put it amongst my orchids.  The old man does not
expect anything beyond a small plant; those we had before were babies
compared to the one yonder.  Then we get the Shan round the next day and
give him the vegetable.  I shall have the concession ready.  And it’s
any money Frobisher never knows how he has been done."

"I’ll make the attempt if you like," Manfred said without emotion.  "We
can discuss the details in the morning.  And now let me see what
happened to my man.  There is sure to be an account in this paper."

Manfred came upon it at length:

"Mysterious Occurrence in Streatham.

"Yesterday evening Thomas Silverthorne, caretaker at Lennox Nursery,
Streatham, was aroused by hearing a noise in the greenhouse attached to
the house.  Silverthorne had not gone to bed; indeed, only a few hours
before his employer had died, leaving him alone in the house.  On
entering the greenhouse the caretaker discovered the body of a man lying
on the floor quite dead. Silverthorne thinks that it was the dull thud
of the body that aroused him.  Some plants in the roof had been pulled
down—rare orchids, according to Silverthorne, who, however, is no
gardener—but there was no means to show how the unfortunate man got
there, as there is no exit from the greenhouse to the garden.  The man
was quite dead, and subsequent medical examination showed that he had
been strangled by a coarse cloth twisted tightly round his throat;
indeed, the marks on the hempen-cloth were plainly to be seen.  An
inquest will be held to-morrow."

"Well, what do you think of it?" Lefroy asked.

Manfred pitched the paper aside in a sudden flame of unreasoning

"Accursed thing!" he cried.  "It is the curse that follows the pursuit
of the Cardinal Moth. It is ever the same, always blood, blood.  If I
had my way——"

"Drop it," Lefroy said sternly.  "Remember what you have got to do."

Manfred grew suddenly hard and wooden again.

"I have passed my word," he said.  "And it shall be done, though I would
rather burn my hand off first."

                             *CHAPTER IV.*

                          *A DUSKY POTENTATE.*

A very late breakfast, past two o’clock, in fact, was laid out in one of
the private sitting-rooms of Gardner’s hotel that self-same afternoon.
Gardner’s only catered for foreign princes and ambassadors and people of
that kind, the place was filled with a decorous silence, the servants in
their quiet liveries gave a suggestion of a funeral of some
distinguished personage, and that the body had not long left the
premises.  But despite the fact, some queer people patronised Gardner’s
from time to time, and His Highness the Shan of Koordstan was not the
least brilliant in that line.

It was nearer three when he pushed his plate away and signified to the
servant that he had finished his breakfast.  A morsel of toast and
caviare assisted by a glass of brandy and soda-water is not a meal
suggestive of abstemious habits, and, indeed, the Shan of Koordstan by
no means erred in that direction.

He looked older than his years, and had it not been for his dusky
complexion and yellow eyes, might have passed for a European of swarthy
type.  His features were quite regular and fairly handsome; he was
dressed in the most correct Bond Street fashion, the cigarette he held
between his shaky fingers might have come from any first-class club.

"I’ve got a devil of a head," he said, as the servant softly crept away
with the tray.  "I shall have to drop that old Cambridge set.  I can’t
stand their ways.  If anybody comes I am out, at least out to everybody
besides Mr. Harold Denvers; you understand."

The servant bowed and retired.  He came back presently with a card on a
salver, and he of Koordstan gave a careless nod of assent.  The next
moment Harold Denvers came into the room. He sniffed at the mingled
odour of brandy and cigarette smoke, and smiled.  Koordstan was watching
him with those eyes that never rested. Their side gleam and the hard set
of the grinning mouth showed that a tiger was concealed there under a
thin veneer of Western civilisation.

"You’ve got back again, Denvers," he said. "’Pon my word, you’re
devilish lucky.  They had quite meant to put you out of the way this

"Your Highness is alluding to Sir Clement Frobisher, of course," Harold

Koordstan crossed over to an alcove and pushed the curtain back.  Beyond
was a small conservatory filled with choice orchids.  They were a
passion with him as with Frobisher.  One of his chief reasons for coming
to Gardner’s was because it was possible to fill the small conservatory
with a selection of his favourites. The atmosphere was damp and
oppressive, but the Shan seemed to revel in it.

"That’s about the size of it," he said. "Frobisher found out that you
were _épris_ of his lovely ward, and he had other views for her.  The
young lady has a will of her own, I understand."

"If you could see your way," Harold murmured, "to leave Miss Lyne out of
the discussion——"

"My dear chap, I have not the slightest intention of erring against good
taste.  I like you, and out of all the men I come in contact with, you
are the only honest man of the lot.  Now I have stated why you were to
be got out of the way I can proceed.  Can’t you see that there is
somebody else who is your mortal enemy besides Frobisher?"

"I cannot call any one particularly to mind at present."

"Oh, you are blind!" Koordstan cried.  "What about George Arnott?  Now I
know that, like a great many people, you regard Arnott as a fool. He has
the laugh of a jackass, with the silly face of a cow.  But behind the
mooncalf countenance of his and that watery eye is a fine brain, and no
heart or conscience.  He and Frobisher are hand in glove together: they
have some fine scheme afloat.  And the price of Arnott’s alliance is the
hand of a certain lady, who shall be nameless."

"Do you mean that Arnott, when I went out to Armenia, actually——"

"Actually!  Yes, that is the word.  I shall be able to prove it when the
time comes.  And now you have come about those concessions that I was to
consider with a view——"

"Begging your pardon—the concessions which your Highness has promised to
my company."

"Drop that polite rot, old chap," Koordstan said, with engaging
frankness.  "You speak like that, but you regard me as a sorry ass who
is building his own grave with empty brandy bottles. _Entre nous_, I did
promise you those concessions, but you can’t have them."

Harold knew his man too well to rage and storm or show his anger.  He
had counted on this matter. He had seen his way through dangers and
perils of the fertile valleys of Koordstan and a fortune and perhaps
fame behind.  The hard grin on the face of the Shan relaxed a little.

"I’ll tell you how it is," he said.  "You know a lot about my people and
what a superstitious gang they are.  And you have heard the history of
the Blue Stone of Ghan.  As a matter of fact it’s a precious big ruby,
and is a talisman that every Shan of Koordstan is never supposed to be
without. Now if I sold that stone or gave it away, what would happen to
me when I got home?"

"They would tear you to pieces and burn your body afterwards."

"Precisely.  Now that is a pretty way to treat a gentleman who merely
has the misfortune to be hard up.  And I have been most infernally hard
up lately, owing to my unlucky speculations and those tribe troubles.
Can’t get in the taxes, you know.  So the long and short of it is, that
I pledged the Blue Stone."

Harold started.  The statement did not convey much to the Western ears
generally, but Denvers realised the true state of the case.  The Shan
was not a popular monarch; he was too European and absentee for that,
and if the fact came out the priests would ruin him.

"That was a most reckless thing to do," Harold said.

"It was acting the goat, wasn’t it?" Koordstan said carelessly, as he
pared his long nails.  "There was a new orchid or something that I had
to buy. Sooner or later I shall recover the Blue Stone. But
unfortunately for you, Lefroy and his set are after those concessions,
and in some way Lefroy has discovered that the precious old jewel is no
longer in my possession."

"So that is the way in which he is putting the pressure on you?"

"That’s it," the Shan said with a dangerous gleam in his eyes.  "Mind
you, he is too good a diplomat to say out and out that he has made that
important discovery.  The Blue Stone is engraved on one side, and that
side is used as a seal for sealing important state documents.  Lefroy is
desolate, but his people will do nothing until they get from me a wax
impression of the seal; he told me that here.  And he smiled.  It was
very near to the last time he smiled at anybody.  If we had not been in

Koordstan checked himself and paced up and down the small conservatory
as like a caged tiger as a human being could be.

"Your answer to that was easy," Harold said. "You might have declined on
the grounds that it would have been too easy to forge a die from that
waxen impression."

"Good Lord, and I never thought of it!" Koordstan cried.  "By Jove, that
opens up a fine field for me!  But it will take time.  In the meantime a
smiling face and a few of those previous subterfuges that men for want
of a better name call diplomacy.  You shall have your concessions yet."

Harold muttered something that might have been thanks, but he had his
doubts.  The Shan was favourably disposed towards him, but he would not
have trusted the latter a yard so far as money was concerned.  But there
was another and better card yet to play.

"I have not forgotten your promise," he said. "When I showed you the
Cardinal Moth."

"Afterwards subsequently destroyed.  Ah, that we shall never see again.
If you could give me that, you could make any terms with me.  By heaven,
I would have all Koordstan back at my feet if I could show them the
’Moth’!  Denvers, you don’t mean to say that you have come here with the

He paused as if breath had suddenly failed him. The yellow face was
quite ashy.

"Indeed I have," Harold said quietly.  "That was one of the reasons why
I came home.  I got scent of the thing on the far side of the Ural
mountains.  My adventures would fill a big book. But I came home with
the ’Moth’ packed up in a quarter-pound tin of navy cut tobacco."

"You have kept this entirely to yourself?" the Shan asked hoarsely.

"Well, rather.  I meant to have brought you a bloom as a guarantee of
good faith.  The plant is at present hidden away in the obscure
conservatory at a nursery in the suburbs.  If you would like——"

Harold paused as a soft-footed servant came in with a card on a tray.
The Shan glanced at it and grinned.

"Tell him to come again in half an hour," he said. "Denvers, you had
better depart by the Green Street door; it’s Lefroy, and it would be as
well for him not to know that you had been here.  Go on."

"If you would like to see the ’Moth’ I can make arrangements for you to
do so.  Only not one word of this to anybody.  We can steal away down to
Streatham and——"

Koordstan bounced to his feet, anger and disappointment lived on his

"Streatham, did you say!" he cried.  "There seems to be witchery about
the business.  Don’t tell me that you left the plant in care of a man

The Shan grabbed for an early edition of an evening paper which
fluttered in his hand like a leaf in a breeze.  He found what he wanted
presently and began to read half aloud.

"Yesterday evening Thomas Silverthorne, caretaker at the Lennox Nursery,
Streatham——  Look here, Denvers, read it for yourself.  At the Lennox
nursery a man was found dead, murdered by having a rope placed round his
neck, and held there till he was strangled.  Silverthorne says there was
a rare orchid or two in the house, and that one of them had been pulled
down and probably stolen.  Now if you tell me that your ’Moth’ was
placed there, I shall want to murder you."

Harold rose, his face was disturbed and uneasy.

"It is as you imagine," he said.  "I did place the ’Moth’ there the
night before last.  And I would have taken my oath that nobody knew that
the plant was in England, I’ll go to Streatham at once; I’ll get to the
bottom of this strange mystery."

"Count Lefroy is sorry," murmured the soft-footed servant, as he looked
in, "but he hopes your Highness will see him now as he can wait no

                              *CHAPTER V.*

                        *AN INTERRUPTED FEAST.*

To Frobisher’s _pêtit dîner_ the same evening of that eventful day
ostensibly to meet the Shan of Koordstan, Lefroy came large and
flamboyant, with a vivid riband across his dazzling expanse of shirt and
a jewelled collar under his tie.  There was an extra gloss on his black
moustache, his swagger was a little more pronounced than usual.  He
looked like what he was—a strong man weighed down by not too many

There were less than a dozen men altogether, a couple of well-known
members of the Travellers’, a popular K.C., and a keen, hatchet-faced
judge with a quiet manner and a marvellous faculty for telling dialect
stories.  The inevitable politician and fashionable doctor completed the
party.  As Lefroy and his secretary entered the drawing-room most of the
men were admiring a portfolio of Morland’s drawings that Frobisher had
picked up lately.

Hafid stepped noiselessly across the floor with a telegram on a salver.
Frobisher read it without the slightest sign of annoyance.

"The Shan is not coming," he said. "Koordstan is indisposed."

"So I gathered when I called professionally this afternoon," Dr.
Brownsmith said dryly.

"Champagne," Frobisher laughed whole-heartedly. "All right, Sir James.
I won’t question you too far.  So white is not going to mate in three
moves this evening, Lefroy?"

Lefroy shrugged his shoulders carelessly.  The Shan of Koordstan was
safe for the present.  He had seen to that.  Manfred had dropped quietly
into a chair with just the suggestion of pain on his face.  A
smooth-voiced butler announced that dinner was served.

"Where does Frobisher get his servants from, Jessop?" Sir James
Brownsmith asked the judge, as the two strolled across the hall
together.  "Now there’s a model of a butler for you.  His voice has a
flavour of old, nutty sherry about it.  By Jove, what are those

There were flowers everywhere, mostly arranged by Frobisher himself.  In
the centre was a rough handful of green twigs bound together with a
silver cord, and the whole surmounted by a coil of the pinky-white
orchid with its fringe of trembling red moths.

"Orchids," said the politician.  "Something fresh, Frobisher?  What do
you call it?"

"The specimen is not named at present," Lefroy said meaningly.

Frobisher glanced at the speaker and smiled.

"Lefroy is quite right," he said.  "The specimen lacks a name.  It came
in the first place from Koordstan, and there were three spines of the
original plant.  It is a freak, there never was anything like it before,
and there will probably never be one like it again.  That self-same
orchid was very near to being the price of a kingdom once upon a time."

"Only it is unfortunately impossible to tell the story," Lefroy

Once again Frobisher glanced at the speaker and smiled.  Most of the
guests by this time were busy over their soup.  They were not the class
of men to waste valuable sentiment over flowers.  It was only Frobisher
who glanced from time to time lovingly at the Cardinal Moth.  Manfred
seemed to avoid it altogether.  He sat at the table eating nothing and
obviously out of sorts with his food.

"I’ve a bilious headache, Sir Clement," he explained.  "The mere sight
of food and smell of cooking makes me sick to the soul.  Would you mind
if I sat in the drawing-room in the dark for a little time?  I am
confident that the attack will pass off presently."

"Anything you please, my dear fellow," Frobisher cried hospitably.  "A
strong cup of tea!  A glass of champagne and a dry biscuit? No?  If you
ring the bell Hafid will attend to you."

Hafid salaamed as he dexterously caught a meaning glance from Frobisher.
Lefroy brutally proclaimed aloud that a good dinner was utterly wasted
upon Manfred.  Brownsmith with his mouth full of aspic was understood to
say something anent the virtues of bromide.  So the dinner proceeded
with pink lakes of light on the table, the flowers and the cut glass and
quaint silver.  And there were blossoms, blossoms everywhere, thousands
of them.  Frobisher might have been a great scoundrel—that he was a man
of exquisite taste was beyond question.  The elaborate dinner dragged
smoothly along, two hours passed, a silver chime proclaimed eleven

The cloth was drawn at length, as the host’s whim was, the decanters and
glittering glass stood on a brown glistening lake of polished oak, with
here and there a dash of fruit to give a more vivid touch of colour.
Hafid handed round a silver cigarette-box, a cedar cigar cabinette on
wheels was pushed along the table.  Over the shaded electric lights a
blue wrack of smoke hung.  The silver chime struck twelve.

"Hafid; you have made Mr. Manfred comfortable?" Frobisher asked.

Hafid replied that he had done all that a man could do.  Mr. Manfred was
reclining in the dark near an open window.  All the other servants but
himself had retired.  The butler had seen that everything necessary was
laid out in the smoking-room.

"Always send the servants to bed as soon as possible," Frobisher
explained.  "What with the spread of modern journalism, I find it
necessary. You never know nowadays how far one’s butler is interested in
the same stock that you are deeply dipped in.  And a long-eared footman
has changed the course of diplomacy before now."

"If everybody pursued the same policy, George," Baron Jessop murmured,
"I and my learned friends of the Bench would have more or less of a

"And Lord Saltaur, yonder would not have lost a beautiful wife," Lefroy
said loudly.

A sudden hush seemed to smite the table.  Lord Saltaur whitened to his
lips under his tan; his long, lean hands gripped the edge of the table
passionately.  His own domestic scandal had been so new, so painful,
that the whole party stood aghast at the brutality of the insult.

"Frobisher," Saltaur said, hoarsely.  "It is not pleasant to be insulted
by a blackguard——"

"What was that word?" Lefroy asked quite sweetly.  "My hearing may be a
trifle deficient, but I fancied his lordship said something about a

Frobisher interfered as in duty bound.  As a matter of fact he was
enjoying the situation. Lefroy had drunk deeply, but then he had seen
Lefroy’s amazing prowess in that direction too many times for any fears
as to his ultimate equilibrium.  No, Lefroy was playing some deep game.
As yet only the first card had been laid upon the table.

"I think that the apology lies with you, Count," Frobisher said

"A mere jest," Lefroy said, airily.  "A _jeu d’esprit_.  Lord Saltaur’s

"You hound!" Saltaur cried passionately. "Whatever I have been, you
might leave the name of a pure woman out of your filthy conversation.
If you don’t apologise at once, I’ll thrust your words down your throat
for you."

A contemptuous reply came from Lefroy.  There was a flash of crystal and
a glass shattered on the Count’s dark face, leaving a star-shaped wound
on his cheek.  A moment later and he and Saltaur were struggling
together like wild animals. Frobisher had so far forgotten himself as to
lean back in his chair as if this were a mere exhibition got up for his

"Is this part of the evening’s amusement, Sir Clement?" the judge asked

Frobisher realised his responsibilities with a sigh for his interrupted
pleasure.  His civilisation was the thinnest possible veneer, a shoddy
thing like Tottenham Court Road furniture.

"Come, you chaps must drop it," he cried.  "I can’t have you fighting
over my Smyrna carpet. Saltaur, you shall have your apology.  Lefroy, do
you hear me?"

Strong arms interfered, and the two men were dragged apart.  Lefroy’s
teeth glistened in a ghastly grin; there was a speck of blood on his
white shirt front.  Saltaur’s laboured breathing could be heard all over
the room.

"I take you all to witness that it was no seeking of mine," he cried.
"I was foully insulted.  In a few days all the world will know that I
have been made the victim of a discharged servant’s perjury. Frobisher,
I am still waiting for my apology."

Lefroy paused and passed his handkerchief across his face.  He seemed to
have wiped the leering expression from it.  He looked a perfect picture
of puzzled bewilderment.

"What have I done?" he asked.  "What on earth have I said?"

"Beautiful," Frobisher murmured.  "Artistic to a fault.  What is he
driving at?"

Baron Jessop explained clearly and judiciously. He was glad to have an
opportunity of doing so. Viewing the thing dispassionately, he was bound
to say that Count Lefroy had been guilty of a grave breach of good
taste.  But he was quite sure that under the circumstances——

"On my honour, I haven’t the slightest recollection of it," Lefroy
cried.  "If there is one lady of my acquaintance I honour and respect it
is Lady —— the charming woman whom Lord Saltaur calls his wife.  A
sudden fit of mental aberration, my lord.  An old wound in the head
followed by a spell in the sunshine.  This is the third time the thing
has happened.  The last time in Serbia nearly cost me my life.  My dear
Saltaur, I am sorry from the bottom of my heart."

"Funniest case I ever heard of," the puzzled Saltaur murmured.  "All the
same, I’m deuced sorry I threw that wine glass at you."

"Oh, so you chucked a wine glass at me! Laid my cheek open, too.  Well,
I should have done exactly the same thing under the same circumstances.
From this night I touch nothing stronger than claret.  If I’d stuck to
that, this wouldn’t have happened."

The good-humoured Saltaur muttered something in reply, the threads of
the dropped conversation were taken up again.  Hafid, who had watched
the sudden quarrel with Oriental indifference, had gone off to the
conservatory for hot water to bathe Lefroy’s damaged face.  There was
just a lull for a moment in the conversation, a sudden silence, and then
the smash of a crystal vessel on a tiled floor and a strangled cry of
terror from Hafid. He came headlong into the room, his eyes starting,
his whole frame quivering with an ungovernable terror.

"Mr. Manfred," he yelled.  "Lying on the floor in the conservatory,
dead.  Take it and burn it, and destroy it.  Take it and burn it, and
destroy it.  Take it——"

Frobisher pounced upon the wailing speaker and clutched him by the
throat.  As the first hoarse words came from Hafid the rest of the party
had rushed headlong into the orchid-house.  Frobisher shook his servant
like a reed is shaken by a storm.

"Silence, you fool!" he whispered.  "You didn’t kill the man, and I
didn’t kill the man.  If he is dead he has not been murdered.  And it is
no fault of yours."

"Allah knows better," Hafid muttered, sulkily. "You didn’t kill him, and
I didn’t kill him, but he is dead, and Allah will punish the guilty.
Take it and burn it, and——"

"Idiot!  Son of a pig, be silent.  And mind, you are to know nothing.
You went to get the hot water from the orchid-house and saw Mr. Manfred
lying there.  As soon as you did so you rushed in to tell us.  Now come

The limp body of Manfred had been partly raised, and his head rested on
Sir James Brownsmith’s knee.  The others stood waiting for the verdict.

"The fellow is dead," the great doctor said. "Murdered, I should say,
undoubtedly.  He has been strangled by a coarse cloth twisted about his
throat—precisely the same way as that poor fellow was murdered at
Streatham the night before last."

A solemn silence fell upon the group.  Hafid stood behind, his lips
moving in silent speech:

"Take it and burn it, and destroy it.  Take it and burn it, and destroy
it, for there is blood upon it now and ever."

The drama was none the less moving because of its decorous silence.  The
great surgeon knelt on the white marble floor of the orchid-house with
Manfred’s head on his knee.  Though Sir James Brownsmith’s hand was
quite steady, his face was white as his own hair, or the face of the
dead man staring dumbly up to the tangle of ropes and blossoms overhead.
There the Cardinal Moth was dancing and quivering as if exulting over
the crime.  A long trail of it had broken away, and one tiny cloud of
blossom danced near the surgeon’s ear, as if trying to tell him the
tragedy and its story.

"A ghastly business," the judge murmured. "How did the murderer get in

"How did he get out?" Frobisher suggested. "There is no exit from here
at all.  All the servants have been in bed long ago, and the front door
is generally secured, at least the latch is always down."

"But what brought poor Manfred in here?" Saltaur asked.  "I understood
from Hafid that he was lying down in the drawing-room.  Oh, Hafid! Wake
up, man!"

"Take it and burn it, and destroy it," Hafid said mechanically.

Frobisher shook him savagely, shook the dreamy horror off him like a
garment.  He was sorry, he said, but he could tell the excellent company
nothing.  A quarter of an hour before and Mr. Manfred had appeared to be
asleep on the drawing-room sofa.  Hafid had asked him if he needed
anything, and he had made no reply.

"Very strange," Sir James murmured, still diagnosing the cruel stranded
pattern about the dead man’s throat.  "Perhaps Count Lefroy—where is the

"He went back into the dining-room," said Saltaur.

Frobisher brought his teeth together with a click.  For the moment he
had quite forgotten Count Lefroy.  He passed from the library and into
the dining-room.  Lefroy stood by the great shining table close against
the fluttering pyramid of red moths, a thin-bladed knife in his hands.

"And what might you be doing?" Frobisher asked softly.

Lefroy smiled somewhat bitterly.  He was perfectly self-possessed with
the grip of the man who knows how to hold himself in hand.  And he
smiled none the less easily because there was murder raging in his

"I am cutting my nails," he said.

"Oh, I’ll cut your claws for you!" Frobisher said.  "Don’t do that, what
will your manicure artist say?  And a social superiority (feminine)
tells me that you have the finest hand of any man in London.  You are
unhinged, my dear Count. This little affair——"

"This cold-blooded murder you mean.  Oh, you scoundrel!"

Lefroy had dropped the mask for a moment. There was contempt, loathing,
horror in the last few words.  Frobisher, counting the nodding swarm of
crimson moths, merely smiled.

"Twenty-seven, thirty-one, thirty-nine," he said.  "You haven’t stolen
any of my flowers yet. Not a bad idea of yours to purloin a cluster, and
send it to our tin Solomon yonder, as an earnest of good intentions
later on.  And why do you call me scoundrel?"

"You are the most infernal villain that ever breathed."

"Well, perhaps I am.  It is very good of you to admit my superior
claims, dear Lefroy.  But I am getting old, and you may live to take my
place some day.  Why——"

"Why did you kill Manfred?"

"My dear fellow, I didn’t kill Manfred.  You think he has been murdered
in the ordinary sense of the word.  Manfred has not been murdered, and
nobody will ever be hanged for the crime.  That you may take my word
for.  It is the vengeance of the Crimson Moth, death by visitation of
God; call it what you will.  And it might have been yourself."

Frobisher’s whole manner had changed, his eyes were gleaming evilly as
he hissed the last words warningly in Lefroy’s ear.  The latter changed
colour slightly.

"I don’t understand what you mean," he stammered.

"And yet you are not usually slow at understanding.  I repeat that it
might have been yourself.  If you had attempted the raid of the Cardinal
Moth, instead of Manfred, you would have been lying at the present
moment with your head on Brownsmith’s knees, and the mark of the beast
about your throat."

"And if I tell those fellows yonder what you say?"

"You are at liberty to say anything you please. But you are not going to
say anything, my dear Lefroy; you are too fine a player for that.  You
are going to wait patiently for your next innings. Come back to the
others.  And perhaps I had better lock this door."

Lefroy, like a wise man, accepted the inevitable. But the rest of the
party were no longer in the orchid-house.  They had carried the dead man
to the back dining-room, where they had laid him out on a couch.
Frobisher rang up the nearest police-station on the telephone with the
request that an inspector should be sent for at once.

"By gad, this is a dreadful thing, don’t you know!" Saltaur said with a
shudder.  "Fancy that poor fellow being murdered whilst we were
wrangling in the dining-room.  I suppose there is no doubt that it is
murder, doctor?"

"Not the shadow of a doubt about it," Sir James replied.  "Poor Manfred
must have been admiring the flowers when the assassin stepped behind him
and threw that coarse cloth over his head.  A knee could be inserted on
his spine, and the head forced backwards.  The cloth must have been
twisted with tremendous force.  It is quite a novel kind of murder for

"Oh, then you have heard of something of the same kind before?"
Frobisher asked.

"In India, frequently.  I had a chance to examine more than one victim
of Thugee, yonder. You remember what a scourge Thugism used to be in
India some years ago.  A Thug killed Manfred, I have not the slightest
doubt about it."

"But there are no Thugs in England," the judge protested.

"My dear fellow, I have had an unfortunate demonstration to the
contrary.  And this crime is not necessarily the work of a native.
Thugee is not dead in India yet, and some white scoundrel might have
learnt the trick.  Your own servant, Hafid——"

"A robust bluebottle would make a formidable antagonist for Hafid,"
Frobisher interrupted. "Hafid, somebody is ringing the bell.  If it’s a
policeman, ask him in."

Inspector Townsend came in, small, quiet, soft of manner, and
undoubtedly dressed in Bond Street.  He listened gravely to all that
Frobisher and Brownsmith had to say, and then he asked permission to
view the body, and subsequently examine the premises.

A close search of the house only served to deepen the mystery.  All the
servants slept on the top floor, and that part of the house was bolted
off every night after the domestic staff had retired. This was a whim of
Sir Clement’s, a whim likely to increase his unpopularity in case of
fire, but at present that was a secondary consideration.  There was no
exit from the orchid-house, no windows had been left open, and despite
the fact that there were guests in the house, the front-door latch had
been dropped quite early in the evening.  A rigid cross-examination of
Hafid led to no satisfactory result.  The man was almost congealed with
terror and shock, but it was quite obvious that he knew nothing whatever
about the mystery.

"There will be an inquest to-morrow at twelve, Sir Clement," Townsend
said.  "It will probably be a mere formal affair at which you gentlemen
will be present.  Good night, sirs."

"We had better follow the inspector’s example," Lefroy cried.  "Good
night, Frobisher."

"My dear fellow, I wish you a cordial adieu," Frobisher cried.  "And I
can only regret that our pleasant evening has had so tragic a
termination. Townsend, you have locked up the back dining-room and taken
the key?  Good!  I want no extra responsibility."

The big hall-door closed behind the last of them. Frobisher took Hafid
firmly by the collar and led him into the orchid-house.

"Now, you rascal," he asked, "what on earth do you mean by it?"

"Take it and destroy it, and burn it," Hafid wailed, with a wriggling of
his body.  He seemed to be trying to shake off something loathsome. "Oh,
master, what is to become of us?"

"You grovelling, superstitious fool," Frobisher said lightly.  "Nothing
will become of us. Nobody knows anything, nobody will ever know anything
as long as you remain silent.  We haven’t murdered anybody!"

"Allah looking down from Paradise knows better than that, master!"

"Well, he is not likely to be called in as a witness," Frobisher
muttered grimly.  "I tell you nothing has happened that the law can take
the least cognisance of.  Mind you, I didn’t know that things would go
quite so far.  When I rang up the curtain it was comedy I looked for,
not tragedy.  Take the key and go into the dining-room.  Remove those
orchids and burn them, taking care that you destroy thirty-nine of the
red flowers.  Then you can go to bed."

Hafid recoiled with unutterable loathing on his face.

"I couldn’t do it," he whispered.  "I couldn’t touch one of those
accursed blossoms.  Beat me, torture me, turn me into the street to
starve, but don’t ask me to do that, master.  I dare not."

He cowered abjectly at Frobisher’s feet.  With good-humoured contempt
the latter kicked him aside.  "Go to bed," he said.  "You are a greater
coward than even I imagined.  Put the lights out, and I’ll go to bed

The lights were carefully put out, except in the smoking-room, where
Frobisher sat pondering over the strange events of the evening.  He was
not in the least put out or alarmed or distressed; on the contrary, he
looked like a man who had been considerably pleased with an interesting
entertainment.  For Manfred he felt neither sorrow nor sympathy.

He did not look fearfully round the room as if half expecting to see the
shadow of Manfred’s assassin creeping upon him.  But he smiled in his
own peculiar fashion as the door opened and a white-robed figure came
in.  It was Angela with her fine hair about her shoulders and a look of
horror in her eyes.

"So you’ve found out all about it," Sir Clement said.  "I’m sorry,
because it will spoil your rest. How did you come to make the

"I had just come in," Angela explained.  "I let myself in with my
latchkey.  I did not come near you because I could hear that you were
entertaining company, so I went straight to bed. Then I heard Hafid’s
cry, and I came to the head of the stairs where I could hear

"You mean to say that you stood there and listened?"

"I couldn’t help it.  So far as I could judge there was an assassin in
the house.  Just for the moment I was far too frightened to move.  That
raving madman might have come for me next."

"Well, you can make your mind quite easy on that score.  As you know,
the whole house has been most thoroughly searched from top to bottom,
and there is nobody here but the servants and ourselves now.  If I were
you I should keep out of it.  Go to bed."

Sir Clement barked out the last few words, but Angela did not move.

"There will be an inquest, of course?" she asked.

"Oh, Lord, yes!  The papers will reek of it, and half the reporters in
London will look upon the place as a kind of public-house for the next
week. Take my advice and keep out of it.  You know nothing and you want
to continue to know nothing, so to speak."

"But I am afraid that I know a great deal," Angela said slowly.  "When I
came in I was going into the conservatory to place a flower that I had
given me to-night.  It is a flower that I am likely to be interested in
another time.  And there I saw a strange man walking swiftly the same
way. From his air and manner he was obviously doing wrong.  My idea was
to follow and stop him.  And when I reached the conservatory, to my
intense surprise, he was nowhere to be seen."

Frobisher bent down to fill his pipe.  There was an evil, diabolical
grin, so malignant, and yet so gleeful, as to render the face almost

"It may be of importance later on," he said. "Meanwhile, I should keep
the information to myself.  Now go to bed and lock your door.  I’m going
to finish my pipe in my dressing-room."

Frobisher snapped out the lights, leaving the house in darkness.  For
once in her life Angela did lock her door.  She could not sleep; she had
no desire for bed and yet her eyes were heavy and tired.  She pulled up
the blind and opened the window; out beyond, the garden was flooded with
moonlight.  As Angela stood there she seemed to see a figure creeping
from one bush to another.

"It is my fancy," she told herself.  "I could imagine anything to-night.
And yet I could have been certain that I saw the figure of a man."

Angela paused; it was no fancy.  A man crept over the grass and looked
up at the window as if he were doing something strictly on the lines of
conventionality.  To her amazement Angela saw that the intruder was in
evening dress, and that it was Harold Denvers.

"Harold," she whispered.  "Whatever are you doing there?"

"I came on the chance," was the reply.  "I have heard strange things
to-night, and there is something that I must know at once.  I was going
to try and rouse you with some pebbles. Dare you go down to the
garden-room window and let me in?  Darling, it is a matter of life or
death, or I would not ask."

Angela slipped down the stairs noiselessly, and opened the window.

                             *CHAPTER VI.*

                          *A BIT OF THE ROPE.*

Sir James Brownsmith thought that on the whole he would walk home from
Piccadilly to Harley Street.  The chauffeur touched his hat, and the car
moved on.  The eminent surgeon had ample food for reflection; it seemed
to him that he was on the verge of a great discovery.  Somebody accosted
him two or three times before he came back to earth again.

"That you, Townsend?" he asked, abruptly. "You want to speak to me?
Certainly.  Only as I am rather tired to-night if you will cut it as
short as possible, I shall be glad."

"I am afraid I can’t, Sir James," Inspector Townsend replied.  "Indeed I
was going to suggest that I walked as far as your house and had a chat
over matters."

Sir James shrugged his shoulders, and Harley Street was reached almost
in silence.  In the small consulting-room the surgeon switched on a
brilliant light and handed over cigars and whisky and soda.

"Now go on," he said.  "It’s all about to-night’s business, I suppose?"

"Precisely, sir.  You’ve helped us a good many times with your wonderful
scientific knowledge, and I dare say you will again.  This Piccadilly
mystery is a queer business altogether.  Do you feel quite sure that the
poor fellow was really murdered, after all?"

Brownsmith looked fixedly at the speaker.  He had considerable respect
for Townsend, whose intellect was decidedly above the usual Scotland
Yard level.  Townsend was a man of imagination and a master of theory.
He went beyond motive and a cast of a footmark—he was no rule-of-thumb

"On the face of it I should say there can be no possible doubt," said
Sir James.

"Murdered by strangulation, sir?  The same as that man at Streatham.  As
you have made a careful examination of both bodies you ought to know?"

"Is there any form of murder unknown to me, Townsend?" Sir James asked.
"Is there any trick of the assassin’s trade that I have not mastered?"

"Oh, I admit your special knowledge, sir!  But it’s a trick of mine to
be always planning new crimes.  I could give you three ways of
committing murder that are absolutely original.  And I’ve got a theory
about this business that I don’t care to disclose yet.  Still, we can
discuss the matter up to a certain point.  Both those men were
destroyed—or lost their lives—in the same way."

"Both strangled, in fact.  It’s the Indian Thug dodge.  But you know all
about that, Townsend?"

"We’ll admit for the moment that both victims have been destroyed by
Thugee.  But isn’t it rather strange that both bodies were found in
close juxtaposition to valuable orchids?  We know, of course, that Sir
Clement’s orchids are almost priceless.  The Streatham witness,
Silverthorne, says that a very rare orchid was recently placed in the
Lennox conservatory.  Now, isn’t it fair to argue that both murdered men
lost their lives in pursuit of those orchids?"

Sir James nodded thoughtfully.  He had forgotten the Cardinal Moth for
the moment.

"I see you have pushed your investigations a long way in this
direction," he said.  "This being so, have you ascertained for a fact
that the Lennox nursery really contained nothing out of the common in
the way of Orchidacæ?  You know what I mean."

"Quite so, sir.  That I have not been able to ascertain because the
proprietor of the Lennox nursery has no special knowledge of his trade.
His great line is cheap ferns for the London market. But he says a
gentleman whom he could easily recognise left him an orchid to look
after—a poor dried-up stick it seemed to be—with instructions to keep it
in a house not too warm, where it might remain at a small rent till

"Oh, indeed!  You are interesting me, Townsend.  Pray go on."

"Well, Sir James, I wanted to see the flowers after the murder, not that
I expected it to lead to anything at that time.  Seeing what has
happened this evening, it becomes more interesting.  Would you believe
it, sir, that the flower in question was gone?"

"You mean that it had been stolen?  Really, Townsend, we seem to be on
the track of something important."

"Yes, Sir James, the flower had gone.  Now, what I want to know is
this—has Sir Clement Frobisher added anything special to his collection

Sir James shot an admiring glance at his questioner.  Seeing that he was
working almost entirely in the dark, Townsend had developed his theory
with amazing cleverness.

"It’s a treat to work with you," the great surgeon said.  "As a matter
of fact, Sir Clement had got hold of something that struck me as
absolutely unique.  It’s a flower called the Cardinal Moth.  A flower on
a flower, so to speak; a large cluster of whitey-pink blossoms with
little red blooms hovering over like a cloud of scarlet moths.  Sir
Clement is very pleased about it."

"From what you say I gather that he has not had it long, sir?"

"Oh, I should say quite recently!  But you are not going to tell me that
you suspect Frobisher?"

"At present, I don’t suspect anybody, though Sir Clement is an
unmitigated rascal who would not stop at any crime to serve his own
ends.  I don’t go so far as to say that he had a hand in the business,
but I do say that he could tell us exactly how the tragedy took place."

Sir James shot an admiring glance in the direction of the speaker.
Frobisher’s elfish interest in the crime, and his amazing _sang-froid_
under the circumstances, had struck the surgeon unpleasantly.  Townsend
looked reflectively into the mahogany depths of his whisky and soda.

"It’s one thing to know that, and quite another to make a man like Sir
Clement speak," he said. "I am more or less with you, sir, over the
Thugee business, but was the crime committed with a rope?  I shall not
be surprised to find that it was done with a bramble, something like
honeysuckle or the like.  But at the same time as you seemed so certain
about the rope, why——"

Townsend waved his hand significantly.  Sir James rose and unlocked a
safe from which he produced an envelope with some fibrous brown strands
in it.  These he placed under a powerful microscope.

"Now, these I took from the throat of the poor fellow who was killed at
Streatham," he explained. "I was rather bored by the case when you
called me in first, and even up to the time I gave my evidence at the
inquest.  After the inquest was over I examined the body over again, and
I confess that my interest increased as I proceeded.  After what you
have just told me I am completely fascinated.  I made a most careful
examination of the dead man’s neck once, and had discovered that he had
died of strangulation, and bit by bit I collected these.  They are
fibres of the rope with which the crime was done."

Townsend nodded so far as Sir James had proved his case.

"Have you done as much with the poor fellow at Sir Clement’s residence?"
he asked.

"No, but I shall do so in the morning.  This is a curious sort of stuff,
Townsend, and certainly not made in England.  It is not rope or cord in
our commercial sense of the word, but a strong Manilla twist of native
fibre.  Thus we are going to introduce a foreign element into the

Townsend smiled as he produced a little packet from his pocket and laid
it on the table.

"You are building up my theory for me, wonderfully, sir," he said.  "I
also have something of the same sort here, only I have more than you
seem to have collected.  Here is the same sort of fibre from Mr.
Manfred’s collar-stud, so that he must have been strangled over his
collar, which means a powerful pressure.  I didn’t think it possible for
human hands to put a pressure like that, but there it is."

"My word, we’ve got a powerful assassin to look for!" Sir James
exclaimed.  "Like you, I should not have deemed it possible.  Did you
find all that on Manfred’s collar-stud?"

"Not all of it, sir.  The collar-stud was bent up as if it had been a
bit of tinfoil.  But I found the bulk of this under the dead man’s
finger-nails. They are long nails, and doubtless in the agony of
strangulation they clutched frantically at the cord.  I am quite sure
that you will find this fibre to be identical with that which you took
from the neck of the Streatham victim."

"And this caretaker you speak of.  Is he a respectable man?
Silverthorne you said his name was, I fancy."

"That’s the man, sir.  He has been in his present employ for
one-and-twenty years, a hard-working, saving man, with a big family. Oh,
I should take his word for most things that he told me!"

Sir James revolved the problem slowly in his mind, as he inhaled his
cigarette smoke.  If the Lennox nursery had been deliberately made the
centre of a puzzling murder mystery, it was quite sure that neither the
nursery proprietor nor his man knew anything whatever about it.  And yet
it had been necessary, for some reason, that a glass-house should play
an important part, for both murders had taken place under glass, and
both suggested that the orchid was at the bottom of it.  Again, Townsend
was not the kind of man to make reckless statements, and when he boldly
averred that Sir Clement Frobisher could tell all about it if he liked,
he had assuredly some very strong evidence to go upon.  A great deal
depended upon the analysis of the red, liquid stain on the fibre taken
by Townsend from the body of Manfred.

"If these little bits of stuff could speak what tales they could tell,"
Sir James said, as he carefully locked up both packets of fibre.  I’ll
get up an hour earlier in the morning and have a dig at these, Townsend.
And meanwhile as my days are busy ones, and it’s past one o clock, I
shall have to get you to finish your drink and give me your room instead
of your company.

Townsend took the hint and his hat and retired. But though Sir James had
expressed his intention of retiring almost immediately, he stretched out
his hand for another cigarette and lighted it thoughtfully.  Was it
possible, he wondered, if Sir Clement Frobisher really could solve the
mystery?  And had he anything to do with it? Not directly, Sir James
felt sure; Frobisher was not that kind of man.  He was much more likely
to get the thing done for him.  He was secretive, too, over the Cardinal
Moth; he had behaved so queerly over that business of Count Lefroy and
his insult of Frobisher’s guest. Brownsmith pitched his cigarette into
the grate, and switched off the electric light impatiently.

"Why should I worry my head about it?" he muttered.  "I’ll go to bed."

                             *CHAPTER VII.*

                           *A GRIP OF STEEL.*

Sir Clement had not gone to bed yet.  He sat over a final pipe in his
dressing-room, the fumes of the acrid tobacco lingered everywhere.  The
owner of the house leant back, his eyes half closed, and the smile on
his face suggestive of one who is recalling some exquisite comedy.  A
shocking tragedy had been enacted almost under his very eyes, and yet
from Frobisher’s attitude the thing had pleased him, he was not in the
least disturbed.

He began to kick off his clothing slowly, the filthy clay pipe between
his lips.  He touched a bell, and Hafid slid into the room.  There was
terror in his eyes enough and to spare.  He might have been a detected
murderer in the presence of his accuser.  He trembled, his lips were
twitching piteously, there was something about him of the rabbit trying
to escape.

"Well, mooncalf," Frobisher said with bitter raillery.  "Well, my
paralytic pearl of idiots. Why do you stand there as if somebody was
tickling your midriff with a bowie knife?"

"Take it and burn it, and destroy it," Hafid muttered.  The man was
silly with terror.  "Take it and burn it, and destroy it."

"Oh, Lord, was there ever such a fool since the world began?" Frobisher
cried.  "If you make that remark again I’ll jamb your head against the
wall till your teeth chatter."

"Take it and burn it, and destroy it," Hafid went on mechanically.
"Master, I can’t help it. My tongue does not seem able to say anything
else.  Let me go, send me away.  I’m not longer to be trusted.  I shall
run wild into the night with my story."

"Yes, and I shall run wild with my story in the day-time, and where will
you be then, my blusterer?  What’s the matter with the man? Has anybody
been murdered?"

"No," Hafid said slowly, as if the words were being dragged out of him.
"At least, the law could not say so.  No, master, nobody has been

"Then what are you making all this silly fuss about?  Nobody has been
murdered but an inquisitive thief who has accidentally met with his
death.  Other inquisitive thieves are likely to meet with the same fate.
Past master amongst congenial idiots, go to bed."

Frobisher shouted the command backed up by a sounding smack on the side
of Hafid’s head.  He went off without sense or feeling; indeed, he was
hardly conscious of the blow.  Frobisher sat there smiling, sucking at
the marrow of his pipe, and slowly preparing for bed.  His alertness and
attention never relaxed a moment, his quick ears lost nothing.

"Who’s moving in the house?" he muttered. "I heard a door open softly.
When people want to get about a house at dead of night it is a mistake
to move softly.  The action is suspicious, whereas if the thing were
openly done, one doesn’t trouble."

Frobisher snapped out the lights and stood in the doorway, rigid to
attention.  Presently the darkness seemed to rustle and breathe, there
was a faint suggestion of air in motion, and then silence again.
Frobisher grinned to himself as he slipped back into his room.

"Angela," he said softly; "I could detect that faint fragrance of her
anywhere.  Now what’s she creeping about the house at this time for?  If
she isn’t back again in a quarter of an hour I shall proceed to
investigate.  My cold and haughty Angela on assignation bent!  Oh, oh!"

Angela slipped silently down the broad stairway, utterly unconscious of
the fact that she had been discovered.  She was usually self-contained
enough, but her heart was beating a little faster than usual.  In some
vague way she could not disassociate this visit of Harold’s from the
tragedy of the earlier evening.  And to a certain extent Harold was
compromising her, a thing he would have hesitated to do unless the need
had been very pressing.  By instinct Angela found her way to the
garden-room window, the well-oiled catch came back with a click, and
Harold was in the room.  They wanted no light, the moon was more than
sufficient.  Harold’s face was pale and distressed in the softened rays
of light.

"My dearest, I had to come," he whispered in extenuation.  "It was my
only chance.  I could not possibly enter Sir Frobisher’s house by
legitimate means, and yet at the same time it is important that I should
see certain things here. If I could only tell you everything!"

"Tell me all or as little as you like," Angela whispered.  "I can trust
you all the same."

"It is good to hear you say that, Angela.  It was wrong of me to come,
and yet there was no other way.  Did you show Sir Clement those blossoms
that I gave you?"

"My dear, there was no possible chance.  I placed the spray in the
conservatory, intending to give my guardian a pleasant surprise
to-morrow, and then the tragedy happened.  But of course you know
nothing of that."

"Indeed I do, Angela.  I know all about it. Jessop, the judge, who dined
here to-night, came into the club full of it.  Manfred, Count Lefroy’s
secretary, wasn’t it?"

"The same man.  I cannot understand it. Harold.  There was a man in the
conservatory, or rather there was a man going towards the conservatory,
who had no business there.  Anybody could see that from his manner.  My
idea was to place the spray there and to ask the intruder what he was
doing.  When I reached the conservatory the place was empty.  Absolutely
empty, and yet I had seen the man enter!  There is no exit either.  I
went back to my room not knowing what to think.  And shortly afterwards
I heard Hafid cry out.  From the top of the stairs I heard all that was
going on.  And the man who had been strangled in the conservatory was
the very man I had seen."

Denvers said nothing for the moment.  He was breathing hard and his face
was pale with horror. Angela could feel his hand trembling as she laid
her own upon it.

"I think you understand," she whispered.  "I fancy that you know.
Harold, tell me what all this strange mystery means."

"Not yet," Denvers replied.  "You must wait. Nobody ever heard the like
of it before.  And so long as you are under the same roof as—but what am
I talking about?  But this much I may say: the whole horrible problem
revolves round the Cardinal Moth."

"Round the flower that you gave me to-night, Harold!  And that so
innocent looking and beautiful."

"Well, there it is.  I have been on the fringe of it for some time.
Angela, you must give me back that spray of blossom, you must not
mention it to Sir Clement at all.  And now I must have a look into the
conservatory, indeed I came on purpose."

"You came expecting to find something, a clue to the mystery there?"

"Well, yes, if you like to put it that way," Denvers murmured, avoiding
Angela’s eyes for the first time.  "I had a plant of that Cardinal Moth
which I deemed safely hidden in Streatham.  Why I had to hide it I will
tell you in due course.  It had a great deal to do between myself and
the Shan of Koordstan, with whom I hoped to do important business.  I
mentioned it to him and he showed me a paragraph in a paper which for
the moment has scattered all my plans.  As soon as I read that paragraph
I felt certain that my Moth had been stolen, though it cost one life to
get it. When I heard of the tragedy here to-night, I was absolutely sure
as to my facts.  Angela, my Moth is in the conservatory here, and
Manfred lost his life trying to steal it for somebody else."

Angela listened with a vague feeling that she would wake presently and
find it all a dream.  A new horror had been added to the house in the
last few minutes.

"Let us hope you are wrong," she said with a shudder.  "Come and see at
once.  But what do you propose to do if you find that your suspicions
are correct?"

Denvers hardly knew; he had had no time to think that part out.  He
reached out to find a switch for the light, but Angela’s gentle hand
detained him.

"The moon must suffice," she said.  "Sir Clement has eyes like a hawk.
What’s that?"

A thud in the hall followed by an unmistakable cry of pain.  It was only
just for an instant, and then there was silence again.  Angela drew her
lover back into the shadow of the curtain.

"That was Sir Clement," she whispered. "Whether he has found me out, or
has merely come down for something, I can’t say.  Probably he kicked
against something in the dark.  Harold!"

For Harold had darted out from the curtain and gripped something that
looked like a shadow.  As he dragged his burden forward the moon shone
on the dull features of Hafid.  Taken suddenly as he had been, he did
not display the slightest traces of fear.

"My beautiful mistress is watched," he said smoothly.  "I came to warn
her.  Sir Clement has gone up to his dressing-room for his slippers. He
struck his illustrious toe against a marble table and——"

"Then follow him and lock him in," Harold said hurriedly.  "Do that and
you shall not be forgotten.  Lock the dressing-room door whilst you are
pretending to look for the slippers."

"You could do me no greater service," Angela whispered sweetly.

Hafid hastened off as noiselessly as a cat.  There was nothing short of
murder that he would not have done for Angela.  There was no light in
Frobisher’s dressing-room, by the aid of the moon he was fumbling for
his slippers.  He turned as Hafid entered.

"My master was moving and I heard him," Hafid said.  "Is there anything
that I can do?"

"Yes," Frobisher said crisply.  "You can hunt round and find my
confounded slippers.  That fool of a man of mine never puts things in
the same place twice."

Hafid came back presently with the missing articles.  The key of the
dressing-room was in his pocket, he slipped through the bedroom and
locked that door also.  Frobisher stood listening a minute or two with a
queer, uneasy grin on his face.  Evidently this little accident had not
frightened the game away.  He turned the handle softly, but with no
effect.  He shook the door passionately.  Something seemed to have gone
wrong with the lock.  That Hafid should have dared to play such a trick
never for one moment entered Frobisher’s mind.  With his well-trained
philosophy Frobisher sat down and filled his pipe. What a woman had done
safely once, she was certain to attempt again, he argued, perhaps try
and attempt a better move.  And there were other light nights before the
moon had passed the full. Denvers stood listening, but no further sound
came.  The attempt must be made now or never.

"Show me the conservatory," he whispered. "There are long folding steps,
of course?  Then you can stay in the doorway till I have finished, My
darling, I am truly sorry to expose you to all this, but——"

Angela led the way.  It was fairly light in the great glass tank with
its tangle of blooms, but as Denvers entered a great gush of steam shot
up from the automatic pipe and filled the dome with vapour.  Harold
quickly drew the long steps to the centre and mounted.  He disappeared
in the mist and was quickly lost amongst the tangle of ropes and
blossoms.  He had to wait for the periodical cloud of vapour to pass
away before he could make a searching examination.  So far as Angela
could see, nobody was in the roof at all, it was as if Denvers had
disappeared, leaving no trace behind.

There was another gush of steam followed by a shower of falling
blossoms, and a quick cry of pain from the dome.  As Angela darted
forward the cry of pain came again, there was a confused vision of a
struggling figure, and then Denvers came staggering down the steps
holding his right arm to his side, his face bedabbled with a moisture
that was caused by something beyond the heated atmosphere.

"What has happened?" Angela asked hurriedly.  "Have you had an accident
with your arm?"

Denvers stood there gasping and reeling for a moment.  The steam had all
evaporated now, and there was nothing to be seen in the dome but a
tangle of blossoms on their rigid cords.  At Denvers’ feet lay a spray
of the Cardinal Moth. Despite his pain he placed it in his pocket.

"Look here," he said hoarsely.  "This is witchcraft.  Somebody grasped
my arm, some unseen force clutched me.  I managed to get away by sheer
strength, but look here."

There was a ring of blood all round Denvers’ wrist, the flesh had been
cut almost to the bone. It seemed almost impossible for a human hand to
grasp like that, but there it was.  And up in the dome now there was
nothing to be seen but the tangled masses of glorious blooms.

                            *CHAPTER VIII.*

                          *THE WEAKER VESSEL.*

Like most men of his class, Frobisher had a perfect knowledge of the art
of using others.  To study their weakness was always the first stage of
the game, and therefore in an early stage of their acquaintance the
little baronet learnt the fact that Paul Lopez was criminally
extravagant with his money.  How Lopez got rid of it Frobisher neither
knew nor cared, the weakness paid him, and there was an end of it.

Therefore Frobisher paid his henchman liberally. There was no generosity
about it, nothing but policy.  That was the secret of Lopez’s life, and
beyond that Frobisher never attempted to penetrate.  Perhaps he knew
that Lopez must not be pushed too far.

Paul Lopez had contented himself with the result of his labours for the
day.  He was a plain, simply-dressed man himself, and gave no suggestion
of a liking for the luxuries and good things of this life.  All the
same, he was seated now at a most perfectly-appointed table, clad in
most immaculate evening-dress, and looking across a table in the centre
of which was a veritable bank of flowers.  Two opal electric swans
floated upon what was meant to resemble a miniature lake, and these gave
the only light to the dinner-table.

The dining-room was small but exquisitely furnished, for Lopez had a
pretty taste that way. There were no servants in the room now, for
coffee had been served, and Lopez was leaning back with the air of one
who has dined wisely and well.

On the other side of the table a girl sat.  She was slight and fair,
with a pretty, petulant face, the spoilt look not in the least
detracting from her Greuze-like beauty.  Her eyes were the eyes of a
woman, and her expression that of a child. Lopez called her simply
Cara—not even his most intimate acquaintances knew her other name—and
she was popularly supposed to be the child of some dead and gone friend.
No daughter had ever had more care and love bestowed upon her than Cara,
she was the one soft spot in Lopez’s life.  Perhaps she cared for him in
a way; perhaps she had come to regard him and all these luxuries as a
matter of course; certain it was that Cara lacked nothing many times
when Lopez had to go without.

There was a queer, half-ashamed look on his face now, as he pulled at
his cigarette.  Cara had been scolding him, and he looked like a
detected schoolboy.

"You have been gambling again," she said, sharply.  "Why do you do it?
You would be a rich man by this time if you would only let those
wretched cards alone.  And you always lose.  You are so headstrong and
rash, you seem to lose your senses over the card-tables.  And you
distinctly promised to take me to Pau this year."

Lopez admitted the fact with a sigh.  Nobody else under the sun would
have dared to speak to him as Cara was doing at this moment.  It never
occurred to him to suggest that Cara might be doing something for a
living.  He had promised her a good time at Pau, instead of which he had
been gambling, and had lost all his money.

"No trouble at all getting cash," he murmured.

Cara crushed a grape between her white, strong teeth.  "That sounds very
pretty," she said.  "But I have had no money for a week, and some of the
tradespeople are beginning to ask about their books.  If I am to be
worried I shall go away. Did you get those tickets for the opera
to-morrow night?"

Lopez nodded.  He had not forgotten them; in fact, he never forgot
anything of that kind.  He looked furtively at the clock, and Cara

"You are going out?" she demanded.  "Which means that I am to have a
long, dull evening at home.  I am sick of these long, dull evenings at

"How long since you had one?" Lopez asked, good-naturedly.  "My dear,
there are few girls who have as good a time as you.  And business must
be attended to.  I have to go out for a little time, but I shall be back
by eleven o’clock. And when I come back I’ll take you to the Belgrave to

A little smile broke out on Cara’s pretty, petulant face.  Already she
was debating in her mind what dress she should wear.  When Lopez made a
promise of that kind he always fulfilled it.  Cara rose, and now gave
her guardian a loving embrace. She smiled engagingly as she lighted a
cigarette for him.

"Then be off at once," she cried, "and then you will have no excuse for
being late.  It will save time if I meet you at the Belgrave.  You are
to get that little table opposite the door for 10.45.  And you will wait
for me in the corridor."

Cara issued her commands in the most imperial way, and Lopez listened
meekly.  He had been used to command and make use of men all his
lifetime, but he never rebelled when Cara was concerned.  He passed into
the road leading to Regent’s Park presently, and hailed a passing taxi.
In the course of time he was set down at the corner of Greenacre Street.

A little way down that quiet, dignified thoroughfare he stopped, and
took a latchkey from his pocket.  The door of the house where he paused
was closed, a feeble light glimmered over the fan, everything looked
most quiet and respectable and decorous.

In the hall was an umbrella-stand, two carved oak chairs and a Turkey
carpet.  Beyond it was a dull baize door, and beyond that an inner hall
magnificently furnished.  A gorgeous footman took Lopez’s hat and coat,
and he proceeded to make his way up the marble staircase.  There were
more baize doors, and as Lopez paused, the murmur of voices grew louder.
Lopez came at length to a magnificent double drawing-room, where the
electric lights were low and dim under crimson shades, and where a score
or two of men were gambling.  There was a roulette-table, which was well
patronised, with tables for other games.  There was no laughter or
badinage; from the players’ faces the stakes were evidently high;
indeed, the proprietor of the Spades’ Club looked with a cold eye upon
the gambler who preferred moderate stakes.  The place was comparatively
new, and as yet the police had no idea of its establishment, and only a
favoured few knew where heavy play was to be found.

Lopez helped himself to an excellent cup of coffee and a liqueur, and
stood smoking placidly, and waiting for a chance to join the
roulette-table. Most of the men round were well known to him as great
lights in the world of fashion, who were killing an hour or so after
dinner before proceeding to one social function or another.  They would,
most of them, return in the small hours.

Another man was waiting, a little, lithe, active man, who suggested the
East.  His dress was quite modern and Western, but his dark eyes and
dusky skin told their own tale.  Lopez gently touched the spectator on
the shoulder, and he turned round sharply.

"Haven’t you been playing at all?" Lopez asked.

"I had my turn," the other man said.  "I’m dead out of luck, Lopez.  I
shall have to help myself to some of my master’s jewels if this goes

"Only unfortunately, he of Koordstan has already anticipated you," Lopez
laughed.  "You will have to think of a better plan than that, Hamid

Hamid Khan smiled sourly.  On the staff of the Shan and sent over on a
secret, political mission, the dark-eyed man was a deadly enemy of the
man he called his master.  He had all the vices and extravagances of his
imperial employer, and he would have done anything for the wherewithal
to carry on the campaign.  Lopez and he had been more or less friends
for many years, and many a piece of shady business had they transacted

"The Shan is hard up?" Lopez suggested.

"The Shan is at the end of his resources," Hamid Khan growled.  "Of
course, it is always possible for him to raise money on those
concessions.  But for the present he’s what you call hard up.  Still,
he’s not without brains, and he may be worth backing."

"If I were you I should back him for all he is worth," Lopez said, as he
thoughtfully watched the rolling marble on the roulette-table.  "I know
that you are in the opposite camp, and that you have elected to throw
your lot in with what is called the progressives in Koordstan. But the
man you want to make Shan is a friend of Russia, and the English
Government may not stand it.  Besides, the present Shan is no fool, and
I happen to know that he is well advised here. If you can, get a grip on

"Oh, I’ve got the grip fast enough!" Hamid Khan said moodily.  "Perhaps
I should like to do what you suggest, but I’m too deeply plunged to the
other side now.  I am forcing the old man’s hand now; I came over on
purpose.  The Blue Stone——"

Lopez suppressed a little cry.  He affected not to be listening.

"If you will favour me with your attention," Hamid Khan said stiffly.

"My dear fellow, I beg your pardon.  But red has turned up ten times in
succession, and I was counting up the theory of chance.  Do you mean to
say the Shan had sold the Blue Stone?"

It was cleverly done, and the shot was an admirable one.  Hamid Khan
fell into the trap at once.

"The Shan’s not quite such a fool as that," he said.  "If he did that
and the fact became public property he wouldn’t be on the throne for a
week. But I happen to know that he hasn’t got the stone at present, and
I’m going to work that fact."

Lopez listened to all that Hamid had to say; indeed, he went further,
and made several suggestions as if he had been advising a friend in the
most disinterested manner possible.  At the same time, he had learnt a
valuable piece of news, and he was trying to find some way to use it to
the best advantage.  There came a gap in the table presently and Lopez
changed a handful of notes into counters.  These notes were all the
money in his possession, but the fact troubled Lopez not at all.  Once
the gambling fever possessed him, common sense went to the winds.

He played on for some time with varying success, everything else
forgotten.  He was fairly temperate at first, but the fever began to
turn in his veins, and he started gambling in earnest. Surely it was
time for black to have a turn after so marvellous a run of the red.  But
according to scientific authorities, this is nothing to go by, and the
chances are quite equal even after a record run, and the end of an hour
saw the last of Lopez’s gold-lettered counters swept with a careless
movement into the clutches of the bank, and he rose with a sigh.

The proprietor of the club, a tall man, with the bland air of a cabinet
minister, came up to him and proffered his condolences.  Lopez lighted a
cigarette with a steady hand.

"I thought you were playing very well," the proprietor said.

"Nobody plays very well at this game," Lopez said with a smile.  "There
are some of England’s best intellects gathered here, well knowing that
the odds are on the bank.  And yet such is the egotism of the human
nature that every individual expects that he is going to be more
fortunate than his fellows, and get the best of a dead certainty.  My
dear Bishop, if it came to a battle of wits between you and myself, the
disaster to you would be great.  And yet we come here and you grow
richer and richer at our expense!"

"If a small cheque is any good?" the other insinuated.

"It would go the same way.  Besides, I cannot stay to-night.  I have a
call elsewhere. I am taking a lady to supper at the Belgrave, where
unhappily they give no credit.  In the temporary insanity of the moment
I have gambled myself dry.  A five-pound note——"

The note was immediately forthcoming, with an urgent request that Lopez
would take what he liked.  He took a further note, and rammed it
carelessly into his pocket.  Hamid Khan rose at the same time from the
other side of the table, his dark eyes gleaming.  He helped himself
somewhat liberally to champagne from the side-table.

"You also, my friend," Lopez laughed.  "Let us depart and console
ourselves upon the road.  If you have not anything better to do walk
with me as far as the Belgrave.  I can’t ask you to join me, because it
is my privilege to be supping with a lady there.  Come along."

They passed presently into Piccadilly, and from thence by degrees
through Grosvenor Square. A great party was going on in one of the big
houses there, and the road was blocked with smart conveyances.  The
lights shined on many lovely women, and Lopez carelessly admired them.
There was one lady in a car alone, a tall woman with a wonderfully
regular face and black hair glowing with diamonds.

"My word, but she is lovely!" Hamid Khan exclaimed.  "Who is she?  Looks
English, but there is a decided suggestion of the East about her."

"A wonderful woman," Lopez said.  "Unless I am greatly mistaken, she is
going to be one of the big sensations of the world here.  She is the
wife of Aaron Benstein, the financier.  The old chap is in his dotage
now, and, of course, she married him for his money.  As a matter of

Lopez broke off suddenly; he was going to say that he had known Mrs.
Benstein pretty intimately at one time, but there was no reason to tell
Hamid that much.  The block of carriages broke up at once, and the
dazzling beauty with the diamonds in her hair was gone.

"I know the name of Benstein," Hamid said. "He is the old man whom the
Shan has had so many dealings with lately.  I shouldn’t wonder——"

It was the turn of Hamid to break off suddenly, and Lopez smiled.  Under
the big portico of the Belgrave, the curiously-assorted couple parted.
Lopez lingered a moment to finish his cigarette. In an ordinary way he
watched the well-dressed crowd flutter up the steps.

"By no means a bad night’s work," he muttered.  "I’ve picked up a piece
of priceless information, at least I hope so.  Unless I am greatly
mistaken my dear little Cara is going to ruffle it with the best of them
at Pau yet."

                             *CHAPTER IX.*

                         *A WORD TO THE WISE.*

A soldier of fortune like Lopez was not easily elated by the smiles of
the first goddess, but he felt on very good terms with himself as he
stood there finishing his cigarette.  Most of the people who passed him
up the flight of marble steps were familiar to him, and Lopez amused
himself by marking them off one by one.  He was in an indolent mood now,
but his glance grew brighter as a smartly-appointed motor-car drove up
and a lady alighted.

She had no covering to her marvellous dead-black hair, though her dress
was hidden by a long wrap.  She was quite alone, her air was absolutely
self-possessed as she looked around her.  As she came up the steps she
became conscious of Lopez’s presence.

She smiled in a slow, languid way, and half held out her hand.  "One
always meets you in unexpected places," she said.  "The last time we
came together the conditions were very different to these."

"That is quite true, Isa," Lopez said gravely.

"Mrs. Benstein, if you please," the woman said, with not the faintest
trace of annoyance in her tones.  The smile was almost caressing.  "We
had better observe the proprieties.  Do you remember the last time we
met, Paul Lopez?"

Lopez bowed gravely.  His mind had travelled back a long way.  He had
never forgotten the marvellous beauty of this woman; it seemed strangely
heightened by the dress and the diamonds.

"You were not Mrs. Benstein then," he said.

"No.  My ambitions did not lie in that direction. I had no liking for a
fortune ready made. I always made up my mind to carve out one for
myself.  But since then I have learnt how hard it is for a woman to do

The great, dark eyes grew thoughtful for a moment, then the woman

"We are all puppets of fate," she went on, "even the strongest of us.  I
am a philosopher, or at least I imagine myself to be one, so it comes to
the same thing.  I am tired of the contemplation of my splendour, so I
am going to make use of it. I shall go into society."

"I am quite sure you will go anywhere you please," Lopez said.

"Yes," the woman spoke as if it were a matter of course.  "To-morrow I
begin.  The wife of Aaron Benstein, the money-lender.  How they will
sneer and mock at me!"

"And how they will envy you from the bottom of their shallow hearts!"

Mrs. Benstein laughed as she walked up the shallow steps.

"That will give salt to the dish," she said. "I came here to-night
because I was tired of my own company.  Let us sup together and talk of
old times."

Lopez was desolated, but he had to decline. There was a girl waiting for
him here, a simple girl who was not used to this kind of thing.  It
seemed dreadfully rude, but Mrs. Benstein would have to excuse him.  The
woman with the dark eyes smiled meaningly.

"As you will," she said.  "Then I will sup alone and study human nature
uninterrupted. Good night."

She passed on to the grand salon where the band was playing, and
hundreds of soft-shaded lights played upon the banks of flowers and on
the jewels that glittered there; Cara had secured her favourite table,
and was busy looking over the menu when Lopez came up.

"I began to think that something had happened," the girl said.  "I
feared lest you had gambled all your money away."

"So I did, as a matter of fact," Lopez said coolly, as he unfolded his
serviette.  "I had to borrow ten pounds for the supper.  But you need
not fear—the information I got was worth the price.  Now let me see what
there is to eat."

"Tell me what you have discovered," Cara demanded imperiously.

"That I shall not do, my child," Lopez replied. "Suffice it, that you
have the benefit of my labours.  Besides, it all refers to a closed
chapter in my life.  I have found a way to put money in my purse, so
that you will ruffle it with the best of them at Pau."

Cara smiled contentedly.  She finished her meal presently, and then she
had time to study the other guests.  It was always a fascination to her
to try and read the history of other people.  As a rule, her guesses
were fairly shrewd, and when she was wrong Lopez corrected her.

"Who are those people at the third table?" she asked.  "The man looks
like a gentleman; he might have been in the army.  But there is a
certain fierce swagger about him that tells a story. There is a man who
is rather cold-shouldered at his clubs.  His wife is pretty, but
shallow, and not at all too straightforward.  The boy with them is
dreadful.  Probably rich, though."

Lopez smiled as he lay back in his chair.

"You are correct," he said.  "That is Colonel Fairford and his wife.
They are the hero and heroine of that Lawton Lodge diamond scandal. Of
course nothing was ever proved, but we have our ideas.  The Colonel
sticks to his clubs, but he has had a bad time there, and nobody will
play cards with him.  The young man comes from Australia.  He is rich at
present, but the Colonel will see that he does not long remain troubled
with superfluous cash."

A gratified little smile played about the corners of Cara’s mouth.

"If the worst comes to the worst, I can call myself by a fancy name and
turn palmist," she exclaimed.  "We are very clever people, you and I.
On the whole, the people here to-night are not particularly interesting.
Who is the lady with the glorious diamonds?"

Cara indicated Mrs. Benstein sitting all alone, self-possessed and
languidly interested in all that was going on around her.

"The recently-married wife of Aaron Benstein, the great financier,"
Lopez explained.  "The old man is more or less in his dotage, and they
say there is nothing that he will not do for his beautiful wife."

"The diamonds are absolutely superb," Cara said.

"Why should they not be?  Benstein is supposed to have two-thirds of the
jewels of society in his charge at one time or another. That is the way
in which your high dame raises the wind.  Most of those stones are kept
at Benstein’s own house.  Doubtless his wife knows all about them.
Then, if she wishes to wear this or that precious gem, why shouldn’t

Cara laughed merrily.  Mrs. Benstein seemed to fascinate her.

"It is no bad thing to be the wife of a big financier," she said.
"Those diamonds and emeralds together are absolutely superb.  Who was
Mrs. Benstein?"

Lopez was understood to say that she was a brilliant mystery.  Nobody
quite knew where she came from, and nobody cared.  But she was rich and
beautiful and clever, and if she made up her mind to play the game of
society, nobody could stop her.  All this Lopez explained as he sipped
his liqueur.  Cara took Mrs. Benstein in steadily.

"She would make a good enemy," she said. "Who is the vulgar woman who is
having supper with that handsome man with the red beard?"

"Oh, that is Lady Beachmore!" Lopez explained. "Beachmore is a man of a
good family, he has a good name, and his career as a soldier was an
honourable one.  There are phases of human nature that beat me entirely,
Cara.  A case like that makes me feel how little I know. Lady Beachmore
was on the variety stage, with nothing piquant about her but her
vulgarity. She is plain, she is horribly made up, and yet Beachmore
married her."

"Is he a rich man?"

"As things go, yes.  He is one of the peers who has enough for his wants
and a little to spare, as the old song has it.  Why did he marry her,

Cara admitted that the problem was beyond her. Lady Beachmore was vulgar
enough, in all conscience; she talked loudly and she drank a great deal
of champagne.  She was extravagantly dressed, but she wore no
ornaments—which was unusual in a woman of her class.

"She ought to be smothered in stones," Cara said.

"Bridge," Lopez explained sententiously. "Lady Beachmore is one of the
most reckless gamblers in society.  Probably that is why she is
tolerated in good houses.  Everybody knows what a gambler she is except
her husband.  If I were to hazard a guess I should say that the
Beachmore jewels are all in the possession of Aaron Benstein."

Cara nodded.  The salon was gradually getting empty.  Lord Beachmore
said something to his wife, who shook her head, and then he sauntered
slowly from the room.  Lady Beachmore looked across to the seat where
Mrs. Benstein was reclining, and her coarse face grew red with anger. By
some kind of magnetic influence the eyes of the two women met, and the
former rose.  She crossed over to Mrs. Benstein’s table, a few low words
followed before Mrs. Benstein rose also.

Her eyes were flashing and her breast was heaving.  She made a motion
towards the jewels in her hair, and then seemed to change her mind. A
few of the low, angry words reached Lopez’s ears.  A sardonic smile was
on his lips.

"A curious coincidence," he muttered.  "She is actually wearing Lady
Beachmore’s diamonds! Well, the information should prove valuable.  I’ll
go and see Frobisher to-morrow.  The mere hint of what can be done
should be worth five hundred pounds."

"What are you muttering about?" Cara asked impatiently.  "Take me home,
I’m tired of all this light and glitter.  Sometimes I wish that I had
never left the country.  All the same, I would give a great deal to know
what those people are talking about."

                              *CHAPTER X.*

                         *A WORD TO THE WISE.*

Sir Clement stood before a looking-glass in the library surveying
himself with a certain saturnine humour.  He was just as fond of
analysing himself as other people, and he had just come to the
conclusion that there was a deal to be said from the Darwinian point of

"Is it the morning-coat or the top-hat?" he asked himself.  "How
terribly like a dissipated old ape I look, to be sure!  And yet in a
velvet dinner-jacket I am quite—well, picturesque.  On the whole, that
is better than being handsome. Ah, somebody is going to suffer for this!
Come in."

The door opened, and Paul Lopez came almost inaudibly into the room.
Not for a moment did Frobisher discontinue his critical examination.

"I’m going to a garden-party," he explained. "I’m taking my womenfolk to
the Duchess’s afternoon affair.  I was just saying to myself that
somebody would have to suffer for this."

Lopez dropped into a chair and lighted a cigarette quite coolly.

"Nobody would suspect you of this personal sacrifice without some
ultimate benefit," he said.

"Spoken like a book, my prince of rascals," Frobisher cried gaily.  "I
see they have adjourned those two inquests again."

The two men looked at one another and smiled. They were not pleasant
smiles, and Frobisher’s teeth bared in a sudden grin that was not good
to see.  He crossed to the table near which Lopez was seated, and began
to play with a cheque-book.

"Artistic things, these," he said.  "Observe the beauty of the
watermark, the fine instinct of the oblong; note the contrast between
the pale pink of the legend and the flaming red of the stamp.  My Lopez,
a cheque, properly verified, and engagingly autographed, is veritably a
joyful thing."

"A study in itself," Lopez said without emotion.  "What are you after,
you rascal?"

"My Lopez, you are taking liberties.  I am a baronet of old creation,
whereas you are what you are."

"Arcades ambo.  You sent for me, and I am here; my time is money.  Once
more, what are you driving at?"

"I’m puzzled," Frobisher replied, still ogling his cheque-book lovingly.
"Frankly, I’m puzzled. If I were not so busy with the big things I’d
soon solve the little ones.  Are you ever puzzled, Lopez?"

"Occasionally," Lopez replied.  "When people tell me the truth, for
instance.  There was one man who had everything to gain by lying to me,
and he didn’t do it.  That was a tough job."

Frobisher did not appear to be listening.  With a pen in his hand he
wrote the words "Paul Lopez" on the top line of a cheque.  The
cosmopolitan’s eyes flashed for a moment.

"Well, I am going to tell you the truth," Frobisher went on.  "Such a
course under the circumstances will save me a lot of trouble.  Mind you,
I am going to tell the absolute truth.  You know all about the Shan of
Koordstan, of course. He promised me certain things, and now he is
trying to wriggle out of his bargain.  At the same time, he wants to
complete it.  There is some obstacle in the way because I am prepared to
pay him more money than any one else, and he wants all the cash he can
get.  Now, if it were worth my while, I could get to the bottom of this
business very soon, but you don’t want sprats on the hook that you have
baited for a whale.  You must find this out for me."

"And if I promise to find this out for you, what then?"

Frobisher wrote the words "five hundred pounds" under the name of Paul
Lopez on the cheque and appended his queer, cramped signature. As he lay
back with a smile, Lopez coolly reached over, tore the cheque from the
counterfoil and placed it in his pocket.

"Good," he said.  "The money is already mine. I’ve had a few of your
cheques in my time, and I have earned every one of them.  I have earned
this already."

Frobisher displayed no surprise or emotion of any kind.  Lopez was worth
his money, and he never boasted.  The information needed would be cheap
at the price.  He waited for Lopez to speak.

"The Shan of Koordstan is generally hard up," the latter said.  "He is a
precious rascal, too.  I have already dogged and watched him because he
might be a profitable investment some day."

"Precisely," Frobisher chuckled, "precisely as you have studied me.
Well, you are quite welcome to all the milk you can extract from this
cocoanut.  You are interesting me, beloved spy."

"Koordstan has been unlucky lately in his many dealings.  The tribes are
fighting shy of him.  And in the depths of his despair he found a friend
and philanthropist in Aaron Benstein.  In other words, he must have
given Benstein really good security for his money.  Mind, I am speaking
from personal knowledge."

"You are earning your money," Frobisher croaked.  "Do you know what the
security is?"

"I know that it isn’t the concession you are after, because there is
another game on over that. And Benstein is not likely to say anything,
nor is the Shan, for that matter.  But one thing is wrapped up in
another, and there you are. Shall I show you how I have earned all that

"Rascal, you are puzzling me.  If Benstein had any kind of weakness——"

"He has.  He is the hardest man in London, the most clever and greedy
financier I know, and yet he has his weak point.  He is old and his mind
is not what it was.  And he has a young wife, a kind of beautiful slave
that he has purchased of recent years.  The fellow is infatuated with
her to the verge of insanity.  She has no heart and no brains, but
cunning and infinite beauty, to say nothing of an audacity that is
thoroughly Cockney in its way.  I dare say you have seen her?"

Frobisher nodded thoughtfully.  Benstein’s wife was one of the stars of
London.  She kept a _queue_ of young men in her box, but no faint breath
of scandal touched her fair fame.  Benstein was too old to run risks
like that.

"We don’t seem to be getting any further," Frobisher suggested.

"Indeed!  The subtle play of your mind is not in evidence to-day, and
perhaps the morning-coat has unsettled you.  My friend, men tell their
wives everything—everything."

"Not every man," Frobisher said, with one of his wicked grins.  "I
don’t, for instance."

"If you did your wife wouldn’t stay here for a day," Lopez said coolly.
"Pshaw, I don’t mean things of that kind; I mean business things,
successful deals, how you have got the best of somebody else; in fact,
the swaggering boasting that man indulges in before the woman of his
choice. Not a single secret of that kind does Benstein keep from his
wife—he couldn’t if he wanted to."

"In other words, Mrs. Benstein has the secret that I would give a small
fortune to possess?"

"Precisely.  The game is in your own hands, _mon ami_.  That woman is
trying to get into society.  And, with her natural audacity and the
money she has behind her, she will succeed.  In a year or so she will be
turning her back upon women who won’t look at her now.  Only up to now
she had got hold of the wrong leaders.  But she is going to your
Duchess’s to-day.  The Duke is in Benstein’s hands."

"That’s a good tip," Frobisher chuckled. "I’ll get an introduction to

Lopez bent across the table and lowered his voice confidentially.

"Get Lady Frobisher to take her up," he said.  "Quite as great ladies
will be doing it before long.  Mark my words, but Mrs. Benstein will be
the fashion some day.  Nothing will keep her out. If your wife holds out
a helping hand—why, it seems to me that I shall have more than earned my

Frobisher lay back in his chair, and laughed silently.  He was quite
satisfied that he had found a most profitable investment for his five
hundred pounds.  In great good-humour he pressed cigarettes upon Lopez.

"We are a fine couple," he said gaily.  "With my brain to plot and yours
to weave, we might possess the universe.  Again, it shall be done; Lady
Frobisher shall take up Mrs. Benstein.  Lord, what a pleasant time I
shall have at luncheon!"

He lay back in his chair chuckling and croaking long after Lopez had
departed.  The second luncheon gong sounded before he rose and made his
way to the dining-room.  Lady Frobisher, tall and slim and exquisitely
patrician, had already taken her place at the table.  Angela came in a
moment later with a murmured apology for keeping the others waiting.

"You have both been out?" Frobisher asked in his politest manner.
"Riding, eh?  Is there anything new?"

Lady Frobisher was languidly of opinion that there was nothing fresh.
Most people were looking fagged and worn out owing to the heat of the
season; she was feeling it herself.

"It’s a treat to see some suggestion of the open country," she said in
her languid way.  "For instance, we met Harold Denvers.  He was like a
whiff of the sea to us."

Frobisher shot a lightning glance at Angela. Try as she would, she could
not keep the colour from her face.  And in that instant Frobisher knew
the meaning of Angela’s secret visit downstairs a night or two before.
Angela also knew that he guessed; the flame on her cheek grew almost

"So he’s back," Frobisher said, with a suppressed chuckle in his voice.
"Don’t you ask him here."

"As if he would come," Angela exclaimed indignantly.  "I am sure Lady
Frobisher would not do anything of the kind.  She would as soon ask that
impossible Benstein woman!"

A queer light flamed into Frobisher’s eyes. Luck had given him an
opening sooner than he had expected.  He was prepared to lead up to his
point by tortuous means.

"Is there anything impossible in society nowadays?" he asked.  "Mrs.
Benstein is beautiful and audacious, and her husband is fabulously rich.
What more could you have?"

"She was actually wearing diamonds this morning," Angela murmured.

"Well, what of that?  Next year, next week, it may be the thing to wear
diamonds in the morning.  After all, fashion is dictated by the
tradesman you buy your stockings from, men with Board School education
for the most part.  Ain’t you photographed in evening dress and
picture-hats? After that atrocity any thing is possible. Mrs. Benstein
will be at the Duchess’s party to-day."

"Really, my dear Clement, I can’t see how that can possibly interest

Frobisher laughed again, and the quick grin bared his white teeth.  He
liked his wife in these moods, he liked to bring her down from her high
pedestal at times.

"It means a good deal to you," he said gaily. "_Ma chérie_, I have a
mood to take Mrs. Benstein up.  The woman fascinates me, and I would
fain study her like one of my valued orchids.  Of course, I don’t make a
point of it, but I shall be glad if you will get an introduction to Mrs.
Benstein, and ask her to your fancy dance next week."

"Clement, you must be mad to insult me by such a suggestion!"

"Not in the least, my dear.  The Duchess is complacent, and why not you?
It is my whim; I have said it.  Or perhaps you would prefer me to bring
the lady to you this afternoon."

"If that woman ever sets foot in this house," Lady Frobisher gasped.
"If she ever comes here——"

"You will be polite and amiable to her, I am sure," Frobisher said in a
purring voice, though his eyes flashed like little pin-points of flame.
"Or perhaps I had better ask the Bensteins to dinner. Sit down."

Lady Frobisher had risen, and Sir Clement did the same thing.  Angela
sat there breathlessly. With a slow, gliding movement Frobisher crept
round the table to his wife’s side.  He took her two hands in his and
gazed steadily into her face. Her eyes were dilated, her lips were
parted, but she said nothing.  Just for an instant she had one glance
into the flame of passion and evil that Frobisher would have called his

"You are not going to make a scene," he said, in the same caressing,
silken voice that made Angela long to rise and lay a whip about his
shoulders.  "After all, Mrs. Benstein has a great pull over many women
that you nod and smile to and shake hands with across afternoon
tea-tables—she is quite respectable.  Besides, this is part of my
scheme, and I expect to be—well, we won’t say obeyed.  As a personal
favour, I ask you to meet me in this matter."

Lady Frobisher dropped into a chair and her lips moved.  Her voice came
weak and from a long way off.

"I’ll do as you wish," she said.  "Of course, it would be far better if
somebody else——"

Frobisher skipped from the room whistling an air as he went.  The sudden
grin flashed all his teeth gleamingly.

"She is going to cry," he muttered, "and I cannot stand a woman’s tears.
If there is one thing that cuts me to my shrinking soul, it is the sight
of a lovely woman’s tears."

                             *CHAPTER XI.*

                           *BORROWED PLUMES.*

Frobisher’s highly sensitive nature demanded a flower as a little
something to soothe his nerves.  He passed into the conservatory where
the Cardinal Moth was flaming overhead, he climbed like an over-dressed
monkey up the extending ladder, and broke off a spray of the blooms.  He
patted them gently as he fixed the cluster in the silk lapel of his
coat.  Hafid looked in and announced that the car was ready.  Hafid’s
face was white and set like that of a drug victim. Frobisher was at his
most brilliant and best as the car flashed away.  Presently the scene
changed from the hot air and dusty glare of the streets, to green lawns
and old trees and the soft music of a band of some colour and doubtful
Hungarian origin.  But there was the clear flow and the throbbing melody
of it, and Frobisher’s gloved hand beat gently to time.  There were
little knots of kaleidoscope colours, graceful and harmonious in
graceful shades and the emerald green for a background.  Here, too, was
the Duchess with a swift, pecky smile for each guest, as if she had been
carelessly wound up for the occasion, and something had gone wrong with
the spring.

Frobisher slipped in and out of the various groups with his hands behind
him.  There were still certain people who seemed to be smelling
something unpleasant as the wicked little baronet passed, but this only
added zest and piquancy to his studies.  It was some time before he
found the object of his search—a study in yellow, and a large black hat
nodding with graceful plumes. Something round her slim, white neck
seemed to stream and dazzle, there was another flash of blue fire on her

Yet the diamonds did not seem in the least out of place on Mrs.
Benstein.  There was something hard and shaky about her beauty that
called for them—blue black hair drawn back in a wave from her forehead,
a complexion like old ivory, and eyes suggestive of mystery.  Frobisher
thought of the serpent of old Nile as he looked at her critically.

A marvellously beautiful woman beyond all question, a woman without the
faintest suggestion of self-consciousness.  Yet she was practically
alone in that somewhat polyglot gathering, and she knew that most people
there were holding aloof from her.  Frobisher strolled up in the most
natural way in the world.  He had had one or two dealings with Benstein,
had dined with the man, in fact, but he had contrived not to see Mrs.
Benstein in public till to-day.  He dropped into a chair and began to

"You feel any attraction to this kind of thing?" he asked.

"Well, not much," was the candid reply.  "I came here out of curiosity.
The Duchess would not have asked me, only that my husband is useful to
the Duke.  So you have got a Cardinal Moth?"

Frobisher fairly gasped, though he dexterously recovered himself.  He
smiled into the dark, swimming eyes of his companion.  Their strange
mystery irritated as well as fascinated him.

"And what can you possibly know about the Cardinal Moth?" he asked.

"Well, I know a great many things.  You see my father was a merchant in
the Orient, and my mother had some of the Parsee about her.  We
gravitate to strange things.  But I see you have the Cardinal Moth, and,
what is more, I know where you got it from."

The last words came with a quick indrawing of the breath that faintly
suggested a hiss.

"Paul Lopez is by way of being a relation of mine," Mrs. Benstein went
on.  "At one time we were engaged to be married.  I was much annoyed
when he changed his mind.  Sir Clement, why do you choose to be so
amiable to-day?"

The quick audacity of the question stirred Frobisher’s admiration.  This
woman was going to get on.  With his fine instinct, Frobisher decided to
be frank.  Frankness would pay here.

"Well, I am a great admirer of courage," he said.  "I admire your
splendid audacity in coming here in broad daylight wearing diamonds."

A wonderful smile filled the eyes of the listener.

"Why shouldn’t I wear them if I like?" she demanded.  "The stones are
wonderfully becoming to me.  And, after all, it is only a matter of what
these chattering parrots here call fashion. See how they are all
watching me, imagine the things they are saying about me."

"And I am quite sure you do not mind in the least?"

"Not I.  I must be doing something out of the common, something daring
and original."

"It was anything but original, but certainly very daring, for one so
beautiful to marry a man as—er, mature, as Aaron Benstein," Frobisher
murmured.  It was an audacious speech, and Mrs. Benstein smiled.  "You
might have had a duke or even a popular actor."

"Well, you see, I was sick of being poor.  It is not my fault that I was
born an artist with a second-hand clothes shop in Hoxton for a home. I
don’t look the part, do I?  And Aaron came and fairly worshipped the
ground I stood on. Except for money, and the making of it, he is
perfectly childish."

"Therefore he tells you all his secrets like the dutiful husband that he

"Oh, yes.  I find some of the secrets useful. There is the Countess of
Castlemanor yonder, who has stared at me in a way that would be vulgar
in the common walk of life.  And yet, if I went up and whispered a word
or two in her ear, she would gladly drive me home in her car."

Frobisher laughed silently.  Here was a woman after his own heart—a
woman who studied society and despised it.  And Frobisher was going to
make use of her, as he made use of everybody, only this was going to be
one of his finest efforts.  Isa Benstein was no ordinary pawn in the

"I should like to see you do it," he chuckled.

"What is the use?  She is a poor creature, despite her title and her
marvellous taste in hats.  Can’t you give me a similar hold on Lady
Frobisher?  There would be some fun in humbling her."

Again Frobisher laughed.  The splendid audacity of the woman fascinated
him.  The people he made use of as a rule were not amusing.  And here
was a power.  It pleased his vanity to know that he was bending a power
like this to his will.

"I am angry with myself to think of what I have lost," he said.  "My
dear Mrs. Benstein, it can all be arranged without annoyance to the lady
who does me the honour to rule my household. I will bring my wife to you
presently, and she shall ask you to her fancy dance next week."

"That will doubtless be a great pleasure to Lady Frobisher," Mrs.
Benstein smiled.  "I shall like her, but I shall like Miss Lyne a great
deal better.  And if you try to force her to marry that detestable
little Arnott I shall do my best to spoil your hand."

Frobisher’s teeth flashed in one of his uneasy grins.  He felt like a
man who has discovered a new volcano quite unexpectedly.  What an
amazing lot this woman knew, to be sure; what an extraordinary
fascination she must exercise over her doting husband.  He followed her
glance now to a distant seat under a tree where Angela and Harold
Denvers were talking together.

"Would you like to match your wits against mine at that stake?" he

Mrs. Benstein declined the challenge.  She was only a woman after all,
she declared.

"I like the look of the girl," she said thoughtfully. "She’s honest and
true.  And he’s a man all through.  Now go and bring Lady Frobisher to
me, and we will talk prettily together, and she shall show me how much
it is possible for a society woman to hate another woman without showing
it. You want to make use of me or some subtle purpose, but it suits my
mood for the present to comply."

Frobisher went off chuckling to himself.  The creature was absolutely
charming, so clever and subtle.  But she was neither subtle nor clever
enough to see his game, Frobisher flattered himself.  In a profound
state of boredom Lady Frobisher was nibbling a tepid strawberry dipped
in soppy cream.  She was tired to death, she said, and wanted to go

"It’s a tonic you need," Frobisher said, with one of his quick grins.
"Come along, and have your mental shower-bath.  I’m going to introduce
Mrs. Benstein to you."

Lady Frobisher rose stiffly.  Her little white teeth were clenched
passionately.  But she made no protest.  Under the eyes of fashionable
London she crossed over to the place where Mrs. Benstein was seated.
She knew perfectly well that her action would be the theme of general
conversation at a hundred dinner-tables to-night, but she moved along
now as if she were sweeping the primrose path of conventionality with
her lace gown.  There was some little seed of consolation in the fact
that Mrs. Benstein made no attempt to shake hands.  On the whole, she
was perhaps the coolest and most collected of the two.

"My wife very much desires to make your acquaintance," Frobisher said in
his smoothest manner.  "Didn’t you say something about a fancy-dress
ball, Norah?"

Lady Frobisher was understood to murmur something that suggested
pleasure and a wish fulfilled.  She was not quite sure whether she had
proffered the invitation or not, but it was a small matter, as Frobisher
was not likely to permit the card to be omitted.

"It is very good of you, and I shall come with pleasure," Mrs. Benstein
said.  "I am not sure, but I fancy that society is going to amuse me.
Of course, it is all a matter of time, though I could have pushed my way
here before.  You see, the Duchess asked me here of her own volition.
My dear Lady Frobisher, do you see how Lady Castlemanor is glaring at
you?  Yes, I will do it.  I will go and dine with that lady as honoured
guest on Monday night.  And you shall come and see my triumph."

Lady Frobisher turned feebly to her husband for support, but he was too
frankly enjoying the performance to interfere.  Here was a new farce, a
new source of amusement.

"You will be a success," he predicted.  "You must come to the dance as
’diamonds’ or something of that kind.  You would carry off any amount of
jewels, and nothing becomes you better.  You see we are already becoming
the centre of attraction."

People were passing by with studied inattention. A great society dame
paused and put up her glasses.  In anybody else the stare would have
been rude.  The great lady’s face flushed crimson with anger, much as if
her own cook had been found masquerading in that select assembly. She
took a step forward, paused, and then walked hurriedly away.  Frobisher
turned away to hide the mirth that he found difficult to control.  He
had come here practically on business, therefore the unexpected pleasure
was all the more enjoyable.  With a bow and a smile Lady Frobisher
turned and took her husband’s arm.

"Well, I suppose you are satisfied now," she said, with a fierce
indrawing of her breath.  "With your saturnine cleverness, perhaps you
will tell me why the Marchioness behaved so strangely."

"The thing is obvious," Frobisher chuckled. "Benstein is a money-lender
in a big way, old plate and jewels, and all that sort of thing.  And
he’s got all her ladyship’s diamonds.  Probably takes the best of them
home and shows his wife.  Being weak and doting, she has them to play
with. And Mrs. Benstein is wearing the old lady’s collar and star this
afternoon.  And people say there’s no comedy in society!"

Lady Frobisher turned away mortified and cut to the quick.  And this was
the class of woman that she had actually asked to her dance, one of the
great social functions of the season!  Frobisher threw himself into a
deck-chair and gave way to his own amused thoughts.

"Clever fellow, Lopez," he chuckled.  "On the whole, he earned that
cheque.  But I don’t quite see what he meant by saying that Mrs.
Benstein—by gad, I’ve got it!  Lopez, you are a genius! It’s any money
that my grip on the Shan is in Benstein’s house, and she can get it."

Frobisher rose and strolled back to Mrs. Benstein’s side.  It would have
been impossible to guess from his face of the fiendish elation that
burnt within him.

"I’ve been thinking over that jewel idea I gave you," he said.  "Are you
disposed towards it?"

"Yes," Mrs. Benstein said, thoughtfully.  "I am very favourably disposed
towards it indeed."

"Then wear rubies," Frobisher urged.  "Rubies will suit you splendidly.
I have the greatest fancy to see you decked out in rubies.  If you can
get hold of some large ones.  I’ll come round and have tea with you
to-morrow, and we can discuss the matter thoroughly."

                             *CHAPTER XII.*

                           *A MODEL HUSBAND.*

Isa Benstein drove in her closed car thoughtfully homewards, a little
less conscious than usual of the attractions caused wherever she went.
On the whole she had enjoyed herself; she had got on far better than she
had expected.  It was characteristic of her self-reliance and strength
of character that she had gone to the Duchess’s party quite alone and
knowing nobody there, whilst she herself was familiar by sight and
reputation to everybody who would be present.

She had directed her husband to obtain that invitation out of a pure
spirit of curiosity.  She had read paragraphs touching the great social
function in the smart papers, and Isa Benstein had smiled to herself as
she remembered that but for her husband and his money-bags the great
gathering could not possibly have taken place at all.

By instinct, by intuition, by observation, Isa had pretty well gauged
modern society.  She had seen it at Ascot and Cowes, at Hurlingham and
Covent Garden, but as yet she had never actually been in it.  And now
her first experience was over.

She had almost come to the conclusion that the game was not worth the
candle, when Frobisher came up and spoke to her.  With her natural
astuteness she had not long to see that Frobisher had some intention of
making use of her.  That being so, the game should be mutual.  Not for
one moment was Mrs. Benstein deceived—by some magnetic process Lady
Frobisher had been forced to be polite, and ask her to that fancy-dress
ball.  Mrs. Benstein had smiled, but she had seen the rooted repugnance
in Lady Frobisher’s face, the constrained look in her eyes.

"I wonder how he managed it?" she asked herself as she drove along.
"And what does that little creature with the brow of a Memnon and the
mouth of a tom-cat want to get out of me? Money is at the root of most
things, but it can’t be money in that quarter."

Berkeley Square was reached at length, and for the moment Mrs. Benstein
banished Frobisher from her mind.  All she required now was a cup of tea
and a cigarette.  Most society women would have sacrificed a great deal
to know the secret of Mrs. Benstein’s complexion, but the secret was a
simple one—she ate sparingly, and she never touched intoxicating drinks
in her life. The tea was waiting in the drawing-room, the water was
boiling on the spirit-kettle.  A slight, dark man rose as Mrs. Benstein

"I’ll take a cup with you, Isa," he said. "Nobody makes such tea as

"Paul Lopez," the hostess said.  "I have not been honoured like this
since the day when you and I——"

"Agreed to part.  Who was wise over that business, Isa?  No sugar,
please.  I loved you too well——"

"Never!  You are incapable of loving anybody, Paul.  I gave you the
whole of my affection—and a scarlet, flaming plant it was—and you
trampled it down and killed it.  Not so much as a cutting remains.  And
why?  Because you were ambitious and I had no money."

Lopez waved the accusation aside with his Apostle spoon.

"It was the wiser part," he said calmly.  "I shall never be rich like
Aaron, for instance, though I have ten times his intellect.  My love of
perilous adventure prevents that.  And when I look round me, I am quite
pleased with myself. Persian carpets, Romneys, Knellers, Lelys, Louis
Quinze furniture, Cellini silver, even Apostle spoons.  Have you got a
complete set?"

"So I understand," Isa Benstein said carelessly.

"And there you have the keynote of this wonderful house.  The exquisite
pleasure you must have had in the collecting of all these beautiful
things!  And yourself?"

Mrs. Benstein smiled queerly as she bent over the teapot.  When the time
came she was going to be even with this man, though, characteristically,
she had no flaming anger against him.  She had loved him once, and let
him see it, and he had weighed the possibilities, and coldly told her it
was not good enough, or words to that effect. The secret was theirs

"You cannot say that you are not happy," Lopez said after a long pause.

"Well, no.  Happiness is but a negative quality, after all.  I am
probably a great deal happier than if I had married a scoundrel like
yourself, for instance.  That is Aaron’s voice in the hall.  I suppose
you have come to see him on business, or you would not be here at all."

Lopez gravely accepted his dismissal.  All this wonderful beauty and
intellect would have been his had he at one time chosen to take it.
Slowly and thoughtfully Mrs. Benstein went up to dress for dinner.  She
chose her gown and her jewels and her flowers with the utmost care; she
might have been going to a state concert or dance, from the nicety of
her selection.

"Madame is going out to-night?" the maid suggested.

"Madame is going to do nothing of the kind," Isa said, with one of her
seductive smiles.  "I am going to stay at home and dine _tête-à-tête_
with my husband.  Always look as nice to your husband, Minon, as to
other people.  You will find the trouble an excellent investment."

Benstein was late.  He had been detained so long that Isa was in the
dining-room before he arrived breathlessly and full of apologies.  With
his fat, fair face, and heavy, pendulous lips, he made an almost
repulsive contrast to his wife. His dress-suit was shabby and
ill-fitting, suggesting that it had been bought second-hand like his
large pumps.  The red silk socks bore a pleasing resemblance to the
cyclist’s trousers when confined to the leg with those inevitable clips;
they bulged over at the ankles.  Benstein wore no diamonds; he had not
even a large stud in his crumpled shirt.  It was a great deprivation,
and the financier mourned over the fact in secret. But Isa was
inexorable on that point.  The man was hideously common enough, without
jewels. Besides, Isa’s interference in the matter was by way of being a
compliment.  It showed at least that she took some sort of interest in
the man she had married.

"Kept by business," Benstein wheezed.  He raised his dyed eyebrows.  He
flattered himself that the dye took from his seventy years, whereas the
deception merely added to them.  "Nice you look!  Lovely!"

His little eyes appraised her.  Despite his many limitations, Benstein
had a keen love of the beautiful—_qua_ beautiful.  Isa stood before him
a vision of loveliness in a dress of green touched here and there with
gold.  The shaded lights rendered her eyes all the more brilliant.

"Give me a kiss," Benstein said hoarsely. "When you look like that I can
refuse you nothing. I am getting into my dotage, men say.  Well,
perhaps.  Good thing some of them can’t see me now."

The elaborate dinner proceeded in that perfect Tudor dining-room.  Not a
single article of furniture was there that lacked historic interest. The
old oak and silver were priceless, and every bit of it had been
collected under Isa Benstein’s own eye.  No dealer had ever succeeded in
imposing on her.

The silk slips were drawn at length from the polished dark oak with the
wonderful red tints in it, so that the nodding flowers were reflected
from a lake of thin blood.  Here and there the decanters gleamed, a
Tudor model of a Spanish galleon mounted on wheels was pushed along the
table, its various compartments filled with all kinds of cigarettes.

"No, a Virginian for me," Isa said, as the servants withdrew.  The
drawing-room was a dream of beauty, but she preferred the dining-room.
For restfulness and form and artistic completeness there was no room
like the Tudor hall, she declared.  "Give me good, honest tobacco."

"How did you get on to-day?" Benstein asked.

"I didn’t.  I sat and watched the procession. Sir Clement Frobisher came
and made himself agreeable to me, and so did his wife—under compulsion.
But she asked me to her dance, and I am going."

"Hope that they won’t ask me, too," Benstein said uneasily.

"You need not go, in any case; in fact, I’d rather you didn’t.  I’ve
been scheming out my dress, Aaron; do you happen to be strong in rubies
just now?"

Benstein nodded his huge head and smiled. More or less, he had the
jewels of the great world in his possession.  It was his whim to keep
them at home.  He trusted nobody, not even a bank. Besides, nearly every
day brought something neat and ingenious in the way of a jewel fraud.

"I can rig you out in anything," he said. "Yes, I could pretty well
cover you in rubies. They’re all on diamonds just for the moment, so
that they bring their emeralds and rubies to redeem the white stones.
Wonder what some of those big swells would say if they knew you had got
their jewels to wear, Isa?"

Isa smiled at some amusing recollection, but she held her peace.  Humour
was not Benstein’s strong point.  He puffed away to the library,
followed by his wife, and once there locked the door.  Here was a large
iron sheet that, being opened, disclosed something in the nature of a
strong-room.  There were scores of tiny pigeon-holes, each filled with
cases and bags all carefully noted and numbered, for method was
Benstein’s strong point.

"More papers," Isa exclaimed.  "A fresh lot since yesterday.  Is it some
new business, Aaron?"

"Count Lefroy," Benstein wheezed.  "Valuable concessions from the Shan
of Koordstan. Shouldn’t wonder if those papers don’t become worth half a
million.  Queer-looking things. Like to see them?"

Isa expressed a proper curiosity on the point. The papers were in
Hindustani and English, with some cramped-looking signature and the
impression of a seal at the bottom.

"Those signatures are both forgeries," Mrs. Benstein said, after careful
examination.  "And that seal, I feel quite sure, is a clumsy imitation
of something better."

"Doesn’t matter if they are," Benstein said without emotion.  "If they
are real, I only get a finger in the pie; if they are forged I bag the
whole of the pastry.  Let me once get Lefroy under my thumb like that,
and I’ll make a pocket borough of Koordstan.  Leave your Aaron alone for
business, my dear.  Now let us see what we can do in the way of rubies,
though I am a great fool to——"

"It’s too late in the day to think of that," Isa said sharply.  "Turn
them out."

The shabby cases began to yield their glittering contents.  The
electrics glowed upon the piled-up mass of rubies, bracelets, brooches,
tiaras, armlets—the loot of the East, it seemed to be.  Isa’s slim
fingers played with the shining strings lovingly.

"This is even better than I expected," she murmured.  "I shall be able
to trim my dress with them, I can have them all over my skirt, I can
cover my bodice.  I am going simply as ’rubies.’  Give me that tiara."

She placed the glittering crown on her head, she draped her neck and
arms with the beautiful stones.  Benstein gasped, and his little eyes
watered.  Was there ever so lovely a woman before? he wondered.  When
Isa looked at him like that he could refuse her nothing.  It was
criminally weak, but——

"The thing is almost complete," Isa said. "Now haven’t you got something
out of the common, some black swan amongst rubies that I could attach to
the centre of my forehead, something to blaze like the sun?  Aaron,
you’ve got it; you are concealing something from me."

The financier laughed weakly, still dazzled by that show of beauty.  In
a dazed way he unlocked a little compartment and took a huge stone from
a leather bag.  His hands trembled as he handed it to his wife.

"You can try it," he said hoarsely; "you can see how it goes.  But you
can’t have that to wear, no, no.  If anything happened to it, they would
make an international business of it, my life wouldn’t be worth a day’s
purchase.  You are not to ask me for that, no, no."

He meandered on in a senile kind of way. With a low cry Isa fastened on
the gem.  She pressed it to her white forehead, where it blazed and
sparkled.  The effect was electric, wonderful. She stood before a mirror
fascinated and entranced by her own beauty.

"I shall have it," she said.  "I couldn’t go without this, Aaron.  You
are going to have it set into the finest of gold wires for me.  Come, I
won’t even ask you where you got it from.  And from what you say, nobody
in England is likely to recognise it.  Aaron, do, do."

Her smile was subtle and pleading.  Nobody could have withstood it.
Benstein gabbled something, his cheeks shook.

"Oh, Lord," he groaned.  "If anything does happen!  Well, well, my
darling!  Unlock the door and stay here till I come back.  What artful
creatures you women are!  My dear, my dear. Positively I must go into
the dining-room and treat myself to a liqueur-brandy!"

                            *CHAPTER XIII.*

                       *THE QUEEN OF THE RUBIES.*

The faint sobbing of violins sounded from somewhere, giving the artistic
suggestion of being far off, the dominant note of the leader hung high
on the air.  Now and then a door opened somewhere, letting in the
splitting crack of Piccadilly, the raucous voices of news-boys more or
less mendaciously.  Sir Clement Frobisher stood before the glass in his
smoking-room setting his white tie.  Over his shoulder he could see the
dark, smileless face of Lopez looking in.

"What do you want here to-night?" he asked. "What are you thinking about

"I’d give a good round sum—if I had it—to know what you are thinking
about," Lopez retorted.

"Money isn’t worth it.  I was wondering if I really looked like a
waiter, after all."

"Well, you don’t.  There is something too infernally sardonic and
devilish about your head for that.  May I take a cigarette?  I dare say
you wonder how I got here to-night?  I—well, I just walked in.  That
kind of audacity always pays.  Also you wonder why I came."

"Indeed I don’t.  You want me to lend you one hundred pounds.  What do
you do with your money, friend Lopez?  Not that it is any business of

"That being so, you have answered your own question," Lopez said dryly.
"Every man has his weakness, even the strongest chain has its
breaking-point.  Let me have one hundred pounds.  And pay yourself ten
times over, as you always do for your accommodation.  Did I earn my last
five hundred pounds?"

"Indeed you did," Frobisher said frankly.  "A wonderful woman, Mrs.

"About the most wonderful I ever met.  None of your dark schemers about
her, none of your flashing eyes and figures drawn up to their full
height.  But there is the rare mind in its beautiful setting.  You are
going to make use of that woman?  We shall see."

Both men smiled meaningly.  The plaintive wail of the violins rose and
fell, from the great hall beyond came the murmur of voices.  Lady
Frobisher’s great function had commenced. Frobisher glanced
significantly at the clock.  He was in no fancy-dress himself,
presumedly he was disguised as an honest man, as Lopez suggested. He
laughed heartily at the gibe, and pushed Lopez outside the door with a
cheque in his pocket.

Quite a crowd of cloaked and dominoed women had gathered there.  Lady
Frobisher had reverted to the old idea of a masked ball and the
uncovering after the last dance before supper. The masks appeared to be
walking about as they generally did, for Shepherd strolled up to Chloe
and Adonis to Aphrodite in a manner that might have suggested collusion
to the sophisticated mind.  One tall woman, closely draped, touched
Frobisher on the arm as he threaded between the silken mysteries.

"I have no flowers," she said.  "My man stupidly dropped mine and
somebody trod on them.  Take me to your conservatory, Sir Clement, and
give me my choice."

Frobisher offered his arm; he did not need to ask who the speaker was.
Those low, thrilling tones, with the touch of power in them, could only
have belonged to Isa Benstein.  There was nobody in the conservatory
which was devoted to orchids, and nobody was likely to be, for that part
of the house was forbidden ground. Mrs. Benstein looked out from under
her cloud—only her eyes and nose could be seen.

"May I not be privileged to see your dress?" Frobisher pleaded.

"Certainly not," Isa Benstein laughed.  "Why should you be specially
favoured?  Get me two long sprays of orchid.  I shall be content with
nothing less than the Cardinal Moth."

It was something in the nature of extracting a tooth, but Frobisher
mounted the steps and tore down the two sprays asked for.  Isa Benstein
whipped them under the folds of her cloak.  There was a subtle fragrance
about her that a younger man than Frobisher would have found heady.

"I must fly to the dressing-room," she said. "And then to pay my
respects to my hostess. Do you think that she is likely to recognise

Frobisher thought not.  He lingered over his cigarette, making not the
slightest attempt to play the host, though the dance was in full swing
now, and the house echoed to the thud of feet in motion.  At the same
time, Frobisher was looking forward to plenty of amusement presently,
before supper, when everybody unmasked.  He grew a little tired of his
own company presently and strolled into the ballroom.  There the
electrics were festooned and garlanded with ropes of roses, the
plaintive band could not be seen behind a jungle of feathery ferns, a
bewildering kaleidoscope of colour looped and twisted and threaded in a
perfect harmony.

A few of the younger and consequently more _blasé_ men lined the walls.
A cavalier of sorts with a long, thin scar on the side of his lean head
was watching the proceedings.  Frobisher touched him on the arm.

"Not dancing, Lefroy?" he said.  "Are you past all those fleeting joys?"

"It’s an old wound in my thigh," Lefroy explained.  He was just a little
chagrined to discover that his host had so easily detected him.
Frobisher’s superior cleverness always angered him.  "It is my amusement
to spot the various women, and I have located most of them.  But there
is one!  Ciel!"

"One that even meets with your critical approval!  Good.  She must be a
pearl among women.  Point her out to me and let us see if our tastes

Lefroy’s eyes glittered behind their mask as they swept over the reeling
crowd.  A moment or two later and he just touched Frobisher on the arm.

"Here she comes," he whispered.  "On the arm of General Marriott.  No
mistaking his limp, and his white hair like a file of soldiers on
parade. What a costume and what a cost!  That scarlet band across her
brow over the mask is wonderfully effective.  That woman is an artist,
Frobisher. And she has the most perfect figure in Europe. Who is she?"

Frobisher made no reply; he was studying Isa Benstein’s costume—lustrous
black from head to foot, with white seams fairly covered with rubies.
There were rubies all over her corsage, bands of them up her arm, a
serpent necklace round the milky way of her throat.  The whole thing was
daring, bizarre, and yet artistic to a point.  The scarlet band across
the brows struck a strong and vivid note.  The rubies were not so bright
as the woman’s eyes.  As she came nearer the tangle of blossom across
her bosom showed up clearly.  Lefroy gasped.

"A mystery in a mystery," he said.  "She is wearing the Cardinal Moth.
Who is she?"

Frobisher laughed, and protested that each must solve the problem for
himself.  He liked to puzzle and bewilder Lefroy, and he was doing both
effectively at the present moment.  The Count would have liked to take
the little man by the shoulders and shake him heartily.

"I believe you know who she is," he growled. "Come, Frobisher, gratify
my curiosity."

"I will refresh it if you like," Frobisher said with one of his sudden
grins.  "I am not positively sure, but I fancy I can give a pretty
shrewd guess as to the identity of Madame Incognita.  But would it be
fair to give her secret away before supper-time?  Patience, my

The lady of the rubies passed along leaning on the arm of her companion.
She gave one glance in Frobisher’s direction, and Lefroy looked eagerly
for some sign of recognition.  But the dark eyes were absolutely blank
so far as the master of the house was concerned.

Lefroy turned and followed the couple in front. As Frobisher lounged
back to the smoking-room for another cigarette, he almost ran into his

As hostess she was wearing no mask.  Her beautiful face was just a
little set and tired.

"Seems to be all right," Frobisher croaked. "They appear to be enjoying
themselves.  And yet half of them would like better to come to my
funeral.  Some pretty dresses here, but one head and shoulders over the

"You mean the ruby guise," Lady Frobisher exclaimed, with some
animation.  "Is it not superb!  So daring, and yet in the best of taste.
Everybody is asking who she is and nobody seems to know.  I declare I
feel quite proud of my mystery."

"An angel unawares," Frobisher laughed silently.  "You never can tell.
And you mean to say that you can’t guess who it is that is exciting all
this attention?"

Lady Frobisher looked swiftly down into the face of her husband.  The
corrugated grin, the impish mischief told her a story.  It seemed very
hard that the woman she most desired to keep in the background was
actually creating the sensation of the evening.

"Mrs. Benstein," she whispered.  "Clement, do you really think so?"

"My dear, I am absolutely certain of it.  And why not?  Isn’t Mrs.
Benstein as well-bred as a score of American women here to-night?
Doesn’t she carry a long pedigree in that lovely face of hers?  Some
folks here to-night suffer from a pedigree so old that even their
grandfathers are lost in the mists of antiquity.  What short-sighted
creatures you women are!  Can’t you see that a creature so rich and
daring and clever as Mrs. Benstein will be riding on the crest of the
wave within a year?  And you will gain kudos from the mere fact that
your house saw her début into ’society’—Heaven save the mark!"

Lady Frobisher had no more to say.  There was a great deal of cynical
truth in Frobisher’s words. Mrs. Benstein was going to be a brilliant
success as far as the men were concerned, therefore her presence at the
assemblies of the smart set would become almost necessary.  Lefroy came
back at the same time, having learnt little or nothing in the
refreshment room.  Lady Frobisher might have gratified his curiosity if
he had asked her, only she gave him no opportunity.  She detested the
man thoroughly; with her fine instinct she had detected the tiger under
his handsome, swaggering exterior.

"No luck?" Frobisher laughed.  "Well, it is nearly twelve o’clock, and
then you will know. Come with me and smoke a cigarette till the clock
strikes.  It will soothe your nerves.  A small soda and a drop of 1820
brandy, eh?  Don’t give my general run of guests that liqueur."

Lefroy nodded carelessly.  He would have it appear that he had dismissed
the matter from his mind.  But he had finished his cigarette and brandy
as the clock chimed the midnight hour, and then, with a fine assumption
of indifference, he returned to the ballroom.  The band was playing
something weird from Greig, the guests stopped just where they stood,
and each cast their masks upon the floor.

The swashbuckler was in luck, so it seemed to him, for the lady of the
rubies stood smiling by the side of her military escort just opposite.
The scarlet band had gone with the mask, revealing a fillet of rubies
round the smooth white brow, a fillet with one huge ruby in the middle,
so large and blazing that Lefroy stood aghast.  He staggered back, and
something like a stammering oath escaped him.  The vulgarism was lost
for the moment, and people congregated round the stranger.  That many
people there did not know who Mrs. Benstein was only gave piquancy to
the situation.

"My God!" Lefroy muttered, "who is she? Where did she get it from?  It’s
the real thing.  I would swear to it amongst a million imitations. And I
dare swear that, despite his air of mystery, Frobisher——  But he must
not see it, I must prevent that, anyway."

Lefroy hastened back to the smoking-room. His limbs were trembling under
him now, a little moisture broke out on his forehead and trickled down
his face.  He had made a discovery that wrenched even his iron nerves.
And at any cost Frobisher must not know.

He was smoking and sipping brandy as Lefroy entered.  If he saw anything
strange or strained about the face of Count Lefroy, he did not betray
the fact.  He looked up gaily.

"Come to fetch me?" he asked.  "Want me to see the lady of the rubies?
Well, was the face worthy of the setting?  Did you recognise her?"

"Never saw her in my life before," Lefroy said hoarsely.  He stammered
on, saying anything to gain time, anything to keep Frobisher where he
was.  "I’ve lost interest in the whole thing. Let’s stay here and smoke,
and talk about old times.  What do you say?"

Frobisher said nothing.  He studied Lefroy’s white face intently.
Outside was a babel of laughter and chatter and the swish of drapery. A
clear, calm voice announced a late visitor.

"His Highness the Shan of Koordstan," the footman said.

Frobisher glanced at Lefroy’s face.  In itself it was a tragedy.

                             *CHAPTER XIV.*

                       *"UNEASY LIES THE HEAD——"*

As a matter of fact, His Highness the Shan of Koordstan had not intended
to go to Lady Frobisher’s dance at all, though he had been graciously
pleased to accept the invitation.  His present intention was to go to
bed early and be a little more careful for the future. There was a
shakiness about the ruler of Koordstan that told its own tale, a
shakiness that would not have conduced to his popularity with his
subjects in the Far East.

An interview with a recently-arrived minister of his had changed his
plans entirely.  In place of bed he had a cold bath and a cup of strong
coffee, and sat down, as far as his aching head would allow him, to
review the situation.  The final outcome was a fit of utter despair and
an express letter to Harold Denvers, who fortunately was at home and
ready to respond to the invitation.

The Eastern potentate was smoking moodily as he arrived.  Harold
significantly declined the offer of refreshment of a spirituous

"Meaning that I have had enough already," the Shan said moodily.  "But
I’m sober as a judge now, had enough to make me.  The shocking luck I’ve
had lately!"

He tossed a cigarette across to Denvers, and lighted a fresh one of his

"So I sent you to give me a leg up if you can. You are the only honest
man of the lot.  Denvers, I’m in a fine mess over the Blue Stone.  If I
don’t produce it at once I’m done for.  It would be madness for me to
show my face at home again."

"Somebody has discovered that your Highness has parted with it?"

"That’s it.  Lefroy is the rogue in the play. The game is Koordstan; for
years he has been trying to get rid of me and put my cousin in my place.
Even my own ministers are against me. And now I feel positive that
Lefroy has given me away.  They don’t ask me to show the stone, or
accuse me of parting with it—they are too deep for that.  A minister
comes with a lot of literature which he calls important documents of
State which require to be sealed immediately.  That rascal has been in
my cousin’s pay for years. And the worst of it is, the whole thing looks
so natural and straightforward that I can’t refuse, especially as
everything has my sanction."

"The document must be sealed with the Blue Stone?" Harold asked.

"Inevitably.  It has been the custom for generations.  Any deviation
from this rule would do for me at once.  Hamid Khan was here this
afternoon, and I put him off this time by saying I was ill, which was no
more than the truth. What shall I say when he comes back presently? If
my confounded head did not ache so, I might find some way out of the
difficulty, but as it is——"

The Shan smote his fist passionately on the table.  Nothing was any
good, nothing could save the situation but the immediate production of
the twenty thousand pounds needed to recover the jewel from Benstein.
At the present moment the Shan had no resources whatever; he had always
mortgaged his income, and most of his personal property had been
dissipated in his brilliant pursuit of pleasure.

"But that’s more or less beyond the point," he groaned.  "The stone must
be redeemed at once.  I could not possibly put Hamid Khan off after
to-night, even if I can manage that."

"That will give us time to think," said Harold. "Let your man know that
you don’t keep so sacred a jewel at your hotel.  You have heard of
Chancery Lane Safe Deposit?"

The Shan’s eyes twinkled.  His subtle mind rose to the suggested
deception.  For the present, at any rate, he saw his way to a pleasing
subterfuge.  He was pondering over the matter when there came a timid
knock at the door, and a slim brown figure came humbly in.

"Hamid Khan," the Shan explained.  "Why do you worry me again to-night?
Didn’t I say I was too ill to be troubled with state business?"

Hamid prostrated himself at his master’s feet. He was desolate and
heart-broken; might any number of dogs defile his father’s grave for his
presumption, but the thing had to be done.

"I haven’t got the stone," the Shan said, "I haven’t been well enough to
fetch it myself, and I dare not trust anybody else.  Dog, do you suppose
I should keep the jewel here?  There is a place of vaults and steel
chambers and strong rooms guarded night and day by warders, where the
wealthy keep their valuables.  The place is called the Safe Deposit, and
is hard by where the learned lawyers argue.  That is where the stone is,
in proof of which I show you the key."

The Shan gravely held up a latch-key.  Acting though he was, there was a
dignity about him that quite impressed Denvers.  Hamid was impressed
also, or his face belied him.  He was sorry to have offended his royal
master, but he was only obeying orders.  Should he come again on the

"Ay, at midday," the Shan said loftily.  "Now take your miserable body
from my presence."

The Shan’s dignity collapsed as the door closed behind Hamid Khan.  He
looked to Harold for assistance.  He had not more than fourteen hours or
so—and most of them the hours of the night—to find salvation.  All the
time Harold was leisurely turning over matters in his mind.  If he could
manage this thing for the Shan his future was made.  He had his finger
on the centre of an international intrigue almost.  The Shan had always
been favourable to England, his tastes and inclinations, his very vices,
were English, whereas the new aspect leant towards Russia.  The British
Government doubtless would have stood by the Shan at this juncture had
they known.

"There’s only one thing for it," Harold said after a long pause.  "We
must try and work on Benstein’s cupidity.  He knows you, he is well
aware that your name is good for a large sum of money, only he will have
to wait for it.  And of your integrity there is no doubt."

"Your Foreign Secretary does not think so," the Shan groaned.

"I am not speaking of morals now, but stability. For the time you are
hard up.  If you will eschew champagne for a time, not to mention other
things, you could make it worth Benstein’s while to wait for a few
weeks.  Ask him to let you have the Blue Stone for a few days, after
which it will be returned to him until it is properly redeemed. For this
accommodation you are prepared to pay a further two thousand pounds."

The Shan nodded greedily.  He was prepared to promise anything.  His
lips were twitching with excitement.  He rose and put on his coat.

"Let us go at once," he said.  "But stop, do you know where Benstein
lives?  And if we do find him it’s long odds that stone is deposited
with his bankers."

"Benstein lives in Berkeley Square," Denvers explained.  "He is growing
old and senile, he has come to that cunning stage when he does not trust
anybody.  He keeps all his valuables in a big strong-room at his house.
That I know for certain.  He is sure to be at home."

"Then we’ll go at once.  It’s a forlorn hope, but still—come along."
Denvers checked his impulsive companion.  Common prudence must not be

"Your Highness forgets that you are certain to be watched," he said.
"Your friend Hamid or some of his spies are sure to be pretty close.
I’ll go away from the hotel and wait for you in Piccadilly.  Then you
steal out by the side door and meet me."

The Shan nodded approval.  His head was too bad for him to think for
himself.  Harold stood on the steps of Gardner’s Hotel, and hailed the
first taxi that passed.  The cabman was to drive to Piccadilly and there

Progress in Piccadilly was slow in consequence of the block of carriages
before Frobisher’s house. The guests were arriving in a steady stream,
and Denvers amused himself by identifying most of them.  One of the last
comers was Lord Rashburn, Foreign Secretary, and his wife.  Harold
smiled to himself as he wondered what his lordship would give for his
own private information. It might be necessary to appeal to Rashburn
presently, and it was a good thing to know where to find him.  Only it
would be useless for Denvers to try and obtain admission to Frobisher’s

The Shan came up presently, and Berkeley Square was reached at length.
Benstein was at home, and the footman had no doubt that he would see his
visitors, late as it was.  Many a bit of business with people who needed
money in a desperate hurry had Benstein done between the dinner-hour and
midnight.  He was seated in his library now with a fat cigarette between
his teeth and poring over a mass of accounts.  To reckon up his money
and to gloat over his many securities was the one pleasure of Benstein’s

"Glad to see you, gentlemen—glad to see you," he said, rubbing his puffy
hands together.  "If there is anything that I can do for your Highness,
it will be a pleasure."

"His Highness wants to put two thousand pounds into your pocket,"
Denvers said.  "It is the matter of the Blue Stone of——"

A queer sound came from Benstein’s lips, and his mottled face turned as
pale as it was possible.

"You don’t mean to say that you want the stone to-night?" he gasped.

"Why else are we here?" Harold demanded. The air was full of suspicion
and he had caught some of it.  "It is absolutely necessary that we
should have it back, for a time at least.  It was distinctly understood,
I think, that the stone was to be returned at any hour of the day or
night that we required it?"

Benstein’s big head swayed backwards and forwards pendulously, his thick
lips were wide apart, and showing the gaps in the yellow teeth beyond.
Harold’s suspicions became a certainty. Benstein had parted with the

"Do you want it now?" Benstein said, as if the words had been dragged
from him.

Harold intimated that he did want the stone immediately.  Slowly
Benstein was recovering. The rich red blood was creeping into his face

"It is impossible," he said.  "Usually I keep most of my valuables here.
But I recognised the political as well as the pecuniary value of the
Blue Stone, and I did not dare.  The stone is at the Bank of England,
and I cannot get it before ten to-morrow.  It is very unfortunate."

"Very," Harold said dryly.  "But we must make the best of it.  I have a
pretty shrewd idea where the stone is, but my guess would not have been
the Bank of England.  We don’t propose to redeem the gem; we suggest
that you should let the Shan have it for two or three days on the
understanding that when the business is completed your charge is
increased by the sum of two thousand pounds."

"But this is not business," Benstein pleaded. "Under the peculiar

"Precisely," Harold interrupted dryly.  "Under the peculiar
circumstances you are going to accommodate us.  Mr. Benstein, I fancy
that you and I understand one another."

Benstein’s eyes dropped, and the fat cigarette between his fingers
trembled.  He muttered the talisman word "business" again; but he was
understood to agree to the terms offered.  He was shakily eager to offer
his distinguished guests refreshments of some kind, but Denvers dragged
the Shan away.  Once in the street, the latter stopped and demanded to
know what the pantomime meant.

"It’s pretty plain," Harold said.  "Old Benstein hasn’t got your jewel
at this moment."

"Hasn’t got it?  Do you mean to say that he...? Preposterous!  But in
the morning——"

"In the morning it will be all right again. In the morning you will see
quite another Benstein—a Benstein who has changed his mind, and will
refuse to part with the Blue Stone so long as a single penny remains
unpaid.  I startled him to-night.  I got astride of that figment of a
conscience of his.  But I am going to help you to clench the business.
Come along."

"Where are you going to?" the Shan asked feebly.

"Back to your hotel.  You are going to dress up in your State war-paint
and proceed at once to Lady Frobisher’s dress-ball.  I suppose you’ve
any amount of dresses and that kind of thing—I mean you could rig out a
staff, if necessary?"

"I’ve got all the mummery for going to Court, if that is what you mean."

"Good," Harold cried.  "I’ll just step into this chemist’s and get a few
pigments necessary to the successful performance of my little comedy.
You are going to the dance as the Shan of Koordstan, and I am going
carefully disguised as Aben Abdullah, your suite."

                             *CHAPTER XV.*

                          *HUNT THE SLIPPER.*

A fine perspiration stood out on Lefroy’s face, he swayed to and fro
like one in an advanced stage of intoxication, the Count was utterly
unmanned for the moment.  As his brain and eye cleared presently,
Frobisher came out of the mist in the semblance of a man who was
manifestly enjoying himself.

"I pray you sit down," he said in his silkiest manner.  "My dear Count,
the heat has been too much for you.  The hero of a thousand adventures
succumbs to a high thermometer—it is possible to choke a Hercules with
an orange pip.  A little of the old brandy, eh?"

Frobisher’s face was perfectly grave now, only the dilation of his
pupils and the faint quivering of his lips denoted his amusement.
Lefroy forced a smile in reply.  He was conscious of the fact that that
little demon opposite was reading his inmost thoughts.

"Just a little of the brandy," Frobisher said coaxingly.  "The kind that
I keep for my very dear friends.  Ah, I am sure that is better.  Now let
us sit down and smoke, and forget the giddy side outside."

Lefroy nodded.  The course suggested suited him admiringly.  When he was
best pleased Frobisher chatted most, and he seemed to be exceedingly
pleased about something now.  Lefroy would have time to recover his
scattered thoughts and define some line of action.

"You have solved the problem of the lady of the rubies?" Sir Clement

"I have," Lefroy replied carelessly.  "From a romantic point of view the
solution is disappointing.  I expected to see a regal personage at the
very least, whereas——"

The speaker shrugged his shoulders insolently. The other smiled

"Go on, my dear Lefroy.  I am all attention, I assure you.  The lady of
the rubies is——?"

It was on the tip of Lefroy’s tongue to snarlingly reply that Frobisher
knew perfectly well, but that was bad policy under the circumstances.

"You are typical of the spirit of the age," he said.  "All the same, I
hardly expected to see the wife of a moneylender under your roof. Lady

"Has progressed rapidly of late in the cult of the proletariat.  So Mrs.
Benstein is the lady of the rubies.  I half expected it from the
first—only the wife of a moneylender could sport jewels like that.  But
she is a beautiful woman, Lefroy, and she is going to make a great
social success."

Lefroy could only mutter something in reply. He had one great aim in
view at the present moment—to get back to the ballroom and persuade
Frobisher to remain where he was.  Did the Count but know it, Frobisher
was just as eager to reverse the order of the procedure.  But no
suggestion of this escaped him, he sat there smiling as if he and a
double meaning were strangers.

"I am very partial to rubies myself," he said. "In a modest way I am a
collector, and my uncut stones are worth an inspection.  My wife also
has the same weakness, which is another of the many strong bonds that
bind us together.  I’ll show them to you."

"Don’t trouble," Lefroy said hastily.  "Any other time will do.  If you
have to fetch them——"

"Sit down.  Positively you must have another drop of the brandy.  Your
nerves are better, but not what the nerves of a bold warrior should be."

So saying, Frobisher produced a case from a drawer and laid the contents
before Lefroy’s eyes. In spite of himself he could not but admire. He
did not see the keen, alert look on the face of his host as he bent down
to examine the gems. People were passing the open door; there was a
light ripple of laughter and conversation. Frobisher darted into the

"This way a moment," he whispered, as he caught his wife by the arm.
"Come with me and do as I tell you.  You are to keep Lefroy in yonder
room for half an hour."

He was back again before Lefroy had missed him.  Lady Frobisher’s
scornful eyes softened as they fell upon the tray of gems.

"We have a taste in common, then, Count," she said.

Lefroy replied suitably enough.  He had a strong admiration for the
white, cold beauty of this woman; he watched her slim fingers as she
toyed with the gems.  Some of them were unnamed, whilst others had
histories of their own.  Frobisher pitched his cigarette into the grate.

"You can amuse the Count, my dear," he said. "He has had some little
touch of illness, and should be kept quiet.  The gems will interest him.
Meanwhile, I will endeavour to take your place."

It was all done so quickly and naturally that Lefroy could do or say
nothing.  Did Frobisher really know anything or not, he began to wonder.
If there was any conspiracy Lady Frobisher knew nothing of it, it only
needed a glance at that scornful, beautiful face to feel that.  She was
talking now easily and naturally enough with one of the stones in her
pink palm, and Lefroy had perforce to listen.  To leave the room now
would have been an unpardonable rudeness—a _gaucherie_ Lefroy never
allowed himself to commit.

Meanwhile Frobisher had mingled with his guests.  He was in no hurry.
Lefroy was safely out of the way for a time, and Frobisher always
preferred to hunt his game leisurely.  Besides, the crush of dancers and
guests generally was so great that progression was a matter of some
difficulty.  He came across Angela presently attired in white and with a
pair of gauze wings suggestive of Peace or something of that kind.

"Stop a bit," he said, "and tell me all about it. Upon my word, you are
looking exceedingly nice. By common consent, who is the success of the

"Oh, Mrs. Benstein, without doubt," Angela replied, with sincere
admiration.  "She is lovely, and those rubies are simply superb.
Everybody is talking about them."

"And the fortunate woman herself?  How does she wear her blushing

"Very well indeed.  You know, I rather like her.  Everybody is asking
for an introduction now, but at first people held aloof.  I have had a
long chat with Mrs. Benstein, and she quite fascinated me.  She is going
to be a great success."

"Of course she is with her cleverness and audacity, to say nothing of
her beauty and her jewels, it could not be otherwise.  I must go and pay
my respects to her.  Where is she?"

But Angela had not the slightest idea.  Something like a thousand people
were scattered about the long suite of rooms, and there were shady
alcoves and dim corners for easy conversation _à deux_.  Mingled with
the brilliant throng of uniform and fancy dresses the jewelled turban of
the Shan of Koordstan stood out.  He came up with his companion
similarly attired, and held out his hand.

"This is an unexpected pleasure, your Highness," said Frobisher.  "I
heard that you were not quite——"

"Sober," the Shan said frankly.  "I have been leading a deuce of a life
lately, Frobisher. My servant here, Aben Abdullah, insisted upon my
putting in an appearance here to-night. He has been bullying me as he
would never dare to do at home.  When we get back I shall have to
bowstring him gently.  He is a very valuable servant, but he knows too

Aben Abdullah bowed and smiled.  The Shan extended his patronage to

"My servant knows a little English," he said. "My dear young lady, would
it be too great a trespass on your kindness to ask you to act as his
cicerone for a time?  I have a little business to discuss with Sir
Clement.  Aben is very intelligent, and he is a noble in his own

Angela expressed her pleasure.  She was always ready to sacrifice
herself to others; besides, she had rather taken a fancy to this
handsome young foreigner, who reminded her somehow of Harold Denvers.

"What would you like to do?" she asked, as they strolled off together.

Aben murmured something about the flowers that he had heard so much
about.  Could he see them?  Angela would be delighted.  They stood in a
large conservatory at length in the dim light, and then Aben smiled down
into Angela’s face.

"I feel sure of my disguise now, darling," he whispered.  "If I could
deceive you, I am not in the least afraid that Sir Clement will find me

"But what does it mean, Harold?" Angela asked.  "You certainly reminded
me of yourself; but I should never have penetrated your disguise.  But
the Shan must know all about it."

"Of course he does.  It is a little scheme that we have hatched
together.  I have no time to tell you everything now; indeed, with so
clever a man to deal with as Frobisher it is far better that you should
not know.  But the Shan has done a very foolish thing, and his very
throne is in danger.  Both Frobisher and Lefroy know this, and they will
do all they can to keep him under their control.  If I can defeat that
plot and free the Shan, then I need not trouble about the future."

Angela’s eyes lighted up eagerly.  All her quick sympathies had been

"You will let me help you?" she exclaimed. "Harold, I am quite sure that
you want my assistance.  I am a great deal stronger and braver than you
imagine.  Try me."

"I am going to try you, my dear little girl," Harold whispered.  "I
should like to kiss you at this moment, but I dare not take any risks.
For the present your task is a very simple one. I want you to get a
certain lady in here and sit under the shaded lamp yonder.  You must get
here and keep her talking till I come back.  If I hold up my two hands
your task is finished; if I come forward, you must know that I want to
speak to the lady alone."

"It all sounds very mysterious, Harold.  Who is the lady?"

"They have christened her the lady of the rubies here.  I was very
pleased just now to hear that you had, so to speak, made friends with
her. Will you go at once?"

Angela made off hurriedly, and, for the time being, Harold returned to
the ballroom.  On the whole, he was not particularly enamoured of the
part he was playing: the idea of forcing himself into a house where he
had been forbidden by the host was repugnant to his finer feelings; but,
on the other hand, any scheme was worthy which had for its end the
defeat of a scoundrel.  As the Shan caught Harold’s warning eye he left
Frobisher and moved towards his ally.

"So far there is not much the matter," Harold replied.  "Miss Lyne knows
exactly what she has to do, and she will do it well.  You are going to
have a pretty big surprise just now, but whether it will turn out a
pleasant one or the reverse I cannot say as yet.  Stand here and pretend
to be interested in the pictures."

Angela had been more successful in her search than Frobisher.  A prosy
peer had buttonholed his host and the latter could not get away for the
present without using actual violence.  Angela had found the lady of the
rubies sitting in a dim corner alone.  She looked a little dazed and

"I am not used to it," she said frankly.  "And I can’t stand all their
silly folly.  I sent my partner for an ice on purpose to get rid of him.
My dear young lady, you are very kind, and I’ve taken a great fancy to
you because you are the first person I have spoken to to-night who is
honest and true.  All the same, I really want that ice, and if you can
find some quiet corner——"

"I know the very thing," Angela cried eagerly, delighted at the way fate
was playing into her hands.  "Come along.  There, what do you think of
that?  Sit down near the light and I’ll go and get the ice."

Mrs. Benstein protested, but Angela was already out of earshot.  The
Shan and his companion were deeply engrossed in a pair of Romneys as
Angela passed them.

"I have secured your bird," she whispered. "She is exactly where you
asked me to place her."

Harold touched his companion on the arm, and they strolled away
leisurely in the direction of the great conservatory.  It was fairly
quiet here, with few people about.  Under the lamp sat a rarely
beautiful woman whose dress from head to foot was one mass of rubies.
Another one flamed across her forehead.

"What do you think of her?" Harold whispered.  "And what do you think of
that big stone that is attached to her forehead by those thin gold

The Shan started violently.  He rubbed his hands across his red
bloodshot eyes.

"The Blue Stone of Ghan," he whispered hoarsely.  "By Allah, she is
wearing the sacred jewel!"

                             *CHAPTER XVI.*


As the Shan stood there watching the graceful, unconscious form of Mrs.
Benstein, a great rage seized him.  In one moment his thin veneer of
Western civilisation had vanished.  He was Baserk, savage, hard and
cruel, from his glittering eyes and long fingers that crooked as if on
the woman’s throat.  He swayed against Denvers with the passion that
thrilled him.

"Close in on her," he hissed.  "Drag the jewel away.  If you steal
behind her and hold her by the throat——"  He could say no more for the
present.  There was safety and freedom close to his hand, and only a
frail woman between himself and his desires.

"Oh, rubbish!" Harold said coolly.  "My good sir, you will kindly forget
that you are the Shan of Koordstan for a moment, and recollect that you
are a guest here.  I can give a pretty shrewd guess how the stone came
here—indeed, I should have been disappointed had I not seen it.
Benstein is old and feeble, and he dotes on his wife.  But there is a
better way than yours.  Can I trust you?"

The Shan nodded.  He was recovering himself slowly.

"Then stay here, but do not be seen.  Miss Lyne will be back presently,
and she is on our side.  Ah, here she comes.  I have a few words to say
to her."

Angela came up at the same moment, her eyes shining blue interrogation
points.  Harold drew her aside a little way and rapidly whispered a few
words in her ear.

"Questions presently," he smiled.  "We have only time for action now.
Ask Mrs. Benstein to remain where she is, and say you will be back in a
moment.  Meanwhile, I must get you to present me to Lord Rashburn, the
Foreign Secretary.  Can you manage this?"

Angela was under the impression that she could manage this quite well.
Rashburn was a close connection of Lady Frobisher, and a great admirer
of her own; indeed, the handsome, courtly Foreign Secretary was an
avowed admirer of the sex generally.  It was some little time before
Angela contrived to get possession of the great man and it required all
her fascination to induce him to listen to the handsome young man who
represented the Shan’s suite.

"I’ll give him five minutes," he said.  "Where is the intelligent young

Harold came up at a sign from Angela.  Lord Rashburn was courtly as
usual, but bored.  He particularly disliked intelligent young
foreigners. He hoped that Aben Abdullah knew some English.

"I am English, my lord," Harold said coolly. "I assure you that I shall
not bore you; indeed, I propose to interest you extremely.  I heard your
lordship in a recent speech observe that you derived a lot of good from
reading healthy fiction; indeed, you went on to say that, under altered
circumstances, you would have been an author yourself.  I should like to
discuss a little plot with you."

Rashburn was unaffectedly interested.  Mystery and intrigue of any kind
appealed to him; he was fond of building up stories from conventional
surroundings.  And there was some mystery here.

"Go on," he said, courteously.  "I feel I shall be interested.  In the
first place, is the plot a—er—murder one?"

"Eventually, my lord.  We will begin here in this very room, describing
the house and the occasion, not forgetting the host.  Our host, my lord,
should make a fascinating study of a character given to—shall we say—to
diplomatic methods?"

"Why not stretch a point and make him an unscrupulous rascal?" Lord
Rashburn said dryly.

"That is a most excellent suggestion, my lord. We will go on to say that
he has designs against my master; that he desires certain concessions
that my master has promised elsewhere, say to a young Englishman who
knows the past, and who, under an assumed name, is part of his suite.
Sir Clement has a hold on my master, and I want to save him.  In virtue
of his office my master has in his possession a precious jewel
called—called anything you like."

"The Blue Stone of Ghan!" Rashburn cried incautiously.  "I know all
about that."

"Let us call it a magic diamond," Harold smiled.  "We must not be too
realistic.  After all said and done, this is no more than the plot of a

"To be sure," Rashburn said hastily.  "I had forgotten that.  Pray go

"My master is extravagant, which is a mild way of putting it.  At the
risk of losing everything, his head included, he raises money on the—er,
diamond, pledges it, in fact, with a miserly old moneylender, who has a
wife that he fairly dotes on.  My master’s enemies, including Sir
Clement, and another called Count Lefroy, find this out.  They cook up
some story to the effect that the sacred—er, diamond is wanted to seal
certain State papers.  There, for the present, we must leave my master
in the dilemma into which he has got himself and go forward, merely
premising that he has promised to produce the stone and seal those
documents to-morrow morning."

"One of the most ingenious plots I have heard of for a long while,"
Rashburn murmured.

"I flatter myself that the best part is to come," Harold proceeded.  "My
suggestion is that the moneylender should be seen and asked to let us
have the stone for an hour or two, and add two thousand pounds to his
charges.  We called for that purpose, and the old man thinks we want the
gem back.  He is in such a state of pitiable terror when we call, that
instantly I know that he has parted with the stone.  From what he says
its recovery is only a question of a few hours.  He says something about
the stone and the Bank of England, but that is all nonsense.  I guess
what he has done.  He has lent the stone to somebody, and I also have a
shrewd guess who that somebody is.  Then I suggest that we come here."

"Capital!" Rashburn cried.  "You are interesting me exceedingly.  Go

"We come here.  And here we find that a great sensation has been created
by a lady who is dubbed the lady of the ru—I mean the queen of the
diamonds.  She is the wife of the great financier my master and I have
been so recently interviewing.  Remember he is old and senile, and dotes
on her.  It is inevitable that he has lent her the great diamond as a
kind of glorious finish to her toilette."

"In fact, we may assume that you have seen it blazing on her—shall we
say forehead?" Rashburn asked.

"You have guessed it exactly, my lord," Harold went on.  "Here, then, is
a beautiful complication—my master has to get the gem back, and
incidentally is ready to commit murder to do so; here is the host who
may come along at any time, and recognise the gem.  That is as far as I
have developed the story as yet, but I might at this point bring in
yourself and your Government and make an international matter of it. If
this thing leaks out, the Shan, who is favourable to England, goes, and
his cousin, who is from Russia, steps on to the throne.  Would it be
fair to ask the Government to lend my master two hundred thousand pounds
under the circumstances?"

Lord Rashburn glanced admiringly into the face of his companion, and
shook his head.

"It would be a foolish thing to mention the affair directly to the
Foreign Secretary at all. Officially I could not listen to you for a
moment. I can only listen to you now because I am interested in stories
of any light kind.  But if you are asking my advice purely to get your
local colour right——"

"That’s it," Harold said eagerly.  "If it were true, which is the proper
course to pursue?"

"I see you are a born novelist," Rashburn smiled shrewdly.  "Well, in
these matters there are intermediaries, rich men who are ready to
sacrifice their purse for their country.  Most of these men have strong
claims on the Government of the day.  Some of them become Commissioners,
of this, that, and the other, and have letters after their names.  Some
become baronets, or even members of the Upper House.  There is Mr.
Gerald Parkford, for instance.  He is over there talking to the lady in
the yellow satin.  I understand that he is deeply interested in problems
of this kind, and has frequently done the State some service, at a
considerable loss to himself.  Some day his wife will wear a coronet.
Purely out of regard for your story I will introduce you to Parkford,
and then you will be able to bring the tale to a logical conclusion.  Of
course you will see that if this were anything but fiction it would have
been a gross impertinence of you to have mentioned it to me."

"Of course, my lord," Harold said humbly, and carefully avoiding
Rashburn’s eyes.  "If your lordship will be so kind as to make me known
to Mr. Parkford——"

"I will do that with the greatest possible pleasure.  I shall catch his
eye presently.  Ah, I thought so."

The little keen, brown-faced man opposite looked up presently, and at a
sign from Rashburn excused himself to his fair companion, and crossed
the floor.  Rashburn explained the situation in a few words.

"I understand you are fond of adventures of this kind," he said.  "For
the sake of my friend here, and for the sake of his book, you will give
him the benefit of your advice.  My dear young friend, I am quite
fascinated by your interesting story.  Good night."

Rashburn turned upon his heel in the most natural manner, and plunged at
once into a flirtation with a pretty girl in pink.  Nobody would have
guessed that he had just listened to a thrilling piece of information
that might mean a new move for him in his Eastern policy.  The little
keen-eyed man looked at Harold and nodded his head interrogatively.

"Of course, Rashburn has to play his game," he said.  "It would never do
for him to know anything about the thing officially, unless the Shan
approached him personally, which is not in the least likely.  Because,
you see, we have got to get that ruby back—no reason to split hairs
between you and I—and by fair means or foul.  Personally, I should
prefer to settle the business on prosaic business lines—go to Benstein
very late, tell him we know everything, and tender him a cheque for the
money and bring away the ruby on an authority from the Shan to do so."

"Not a written authority," Harold said hastily.

"Of course not.  You could come along if you liked.  That’s one way of
settling the business out of hand.  A day or two after, Rashburn would
ask me how the story was going on, and I should say that I had showed
you a flaw in it, and that as the money had been forthcoming the affair
was finished on much too matter-of-fact lines to give an interesting
finish.  He would understand."

"And his diplomacy would be unspotted," Harold smiled.  "But I fancy we
are not going to be allowed to finish quite in this light-hearted way.
We have Frobisher to deal with—Frobisher who suggested that Mrs.
Benstein should appear in the role of the Queen of the Rubies.  He knew
that Benstein had the Blue Stone; he knew that Mrs. Benstein is in the
habit of borrowing gems left with her husband for security; and he
calculated on her borrowing that pearl amongst rubies for to-night.  Do
you suppose, knowing Frobisher’s character, that he means that stone to
leave the house?"

"I know that he is an utterly unscrupulous scoundrel," Parkford said
freely.  "Oh, he is quite capable of this kind of thing.  Do you happen
to know anything of Miss Lyne?"

"I am engaged to be married to her," Harold said quietly.

The little brown-faced man whistled softly, but his features expressed
no astonishment.

"I thought your English was uncommonly good for a native," he said.  "Of
course, I know all about you now.  My wife, who knows the history of
everybody in London, I believe, told me about Harold Denvers and Miss
Lyne, and how you had been forbidden the house and all that kind of
thing.  I seem to remember, too, that at one time your father and
Frobisher were by the way of being friends."

"To my father’s cost," Harold said with some little bitterness.  "He
robbed and ruined my father, and he died a broken man.  That was before
Frobisher put money in his purse by so shamefully abusing his position
in the diplomatic service.  As to Miss Lyne——"

"Miss Lyne may be of the greatest possible service to us," Parkford

"She is of use at the present moment," Harold said.  "Of course she
knows I am here and why, though I should be kicked out of the house if
discovered.  Miss Lyne is keeping Mrs. Benstein out of the way for the
moment—out of Frobisher’s way, that is."

Parkford jerked his thumb over his right shoulder and nodded.  As Harold
looked up he saw the shifting figure of Frobisher passing through the
crowd.  His eyes were narrow and eager, he seemed to be looking
furtively and greedily for some one.

"The bloodhound is astir," Parkford muttered. "We must cross his trail
without delay."

                            *CHAPTER XVII.*

                          *A FRIEND IN NEED.*

Angela took her place by Mrs. Benstein’s side as if they had been
friends of standing.  She had a game to play, and not too many
instructions as to how it was to be played, but, at the same time, she
was strangely moved to the financier’s wife.  In spite of her beauty and
intelligence there was an atmosphere about her that was just a little
pathetic.  She reminded Angela of some white mountain-peak stretching
away far above its fellows, solitary, beautiful and alone.

The light shimmered upon her jewels as they gently heaved upon her
breast.  Her fine eyes were just a little interrogative as they turned
upon Angela.

"It is very good of you to interest yourself in me," she said.  "I
wonder why you do it?"

Angela coloured slightly; after all, her attentions were not quite

"Perhaps it is because you fascinate me," Angela said frankly.  "I have
never seen any one like you before.  I love character.  And yet, you
seem quite lonely, as if you were apart from the rest."

"Well, so I am," Isa Benstein replied.  "The men on occasions like this
count for nothing. I never see a lot of men crowded round a pretty woman
without a strong temptation to laugh. They look so foolish.  And yet
your women here rather avoid me—they are not quite sure of my position.
But I could lead the whole lot of them if I chose to do so."

Angela did not doubt it.  She had only to look in that beautiful face
and see that the boast was no idle one.  The brilliant light died out of
the speaker’s eyes.

"But what is the good of it?" she said.  "I don’t believe there is any
society worthy of the name to-day.  Money seems to be everything. Your
poor aristocrat sneers at the monied people. But ain’t they just as
ostentatious themselves! Don’t they rob their creditors and neglect
their bills to appear like other people?  It seems such a dreadfully
snobbish thing to do."

The fine eyes were looking round contemptuously, the breastplate of
rubies heaved slowly. The words sounded strange from one so superbly
attired, and Mrs. Benstein laughed as she caught Angela’s smile.

"You are thinking that I am no better than the rest," she went on.
"Well, perhaps not. But, then, my plumes are borrowed ones.  You see my
husband is what is called a money-lender. There are lots of great ladies
here to-night who come to him for assistance, they bring their jewels
and he lends them money.  I am wearing nearly all borrowed plumes

Angela gave a little gasp at the audacity of the confession.

"Oh, of course it is wrong," Mrs. Benstein proceeded.  "It’s like a
laundress who keeps back a silk blouse from somebody else’s washing to
wear on a Sunday.  I’ve done that myself."

Angela listened in dazed fascination.  Such a confession from one so
stately and beautiful was amazing.

"You have learnt the art of jesting with a perfectly serious face," she

"My dear, I am telling you the exact truth.  I suppose it is the impish
spirit in my blood that prompts me to do such things.  In the day of my
early Sunday holidays things were different. But you can’t expect a high
morality in a little Shoreditch second-hand clothes shop."

"You will tell me that you served in one next," Angela laughed.

"My dear, I did," was the reply.  "Do you know, I have not the slightest
idea who my parents are.  All I know is that I am not a Jewess, though I
was brought up as one.  I used to run about the streets.  I grew up
somehow.  And then I drifted into that shop.  I educated myself pretty
well, for the simple reason that I cannot forget anything.  My husband
took me away and married me.  I would have married any one to get away
from that blighting desolation.  I was going mad for the want of colour
and brightness in my life. And—and there you are."

"Nobody could possibly tell that you have not been used to this life
always," Angela said. "There have been jealous eyes round you to-night,
but they found no flaw."

"I had no intention of them finding a flaw," Mrs. Benstein said coolly.
"I have intuition and observation.  And yet, till this very night, I
have never sat and chatted with a lady before.  I like you, Miss Lyne,
and I would do anything for you. I like your kind face and those
thoughtful eyes."

Angela was glad to hear it.  The confession made her task all the

"I am going to ask you to help me," she said. "I felt sure from the
first that I could rely upon you.  May I not be personal just for a
little longer?  You say your plumes are borrowed ones.  Have you any
idea of the identity of the ruby you are wearing on your forehead?"

"Not the least.  My husband never mentions his clients by name—or, at
least, very seldom.  I took a fancy to this stone as a kind of climax to
my costume, and with great reluctance my husband let me have it.  Your
eyes are telling me strange things, Miss Lyne."

"My tongue is going to tell you stranger," Angela whispered.  "To think
that you should be ignorant of the fact that you are wearing the sacred
Blue Stone of Ghan."

"The Shan of Koordstan’s Royal gem!" Mrs. Benstein exclaimed.  "Oh, I
know all about that. There is very little underground political history
that I don’t know.  Koordstan and the Cardinal Moth and the—the rest of
it.  Our host to-night would give me something for the stone."

"Our host of to-night means to have it," Angela said under her breath.

"I see, I see.  What an intellect the man has! It was he who persuaded
me to come as Queen of the Rubies.  For his own ends he got me invited
here.  He felt pretty sure that my husband would let me have the Blue
Stone to wear.  I am in danger."

"I don’t think you are exactly in danger," Angela said.

"Oh, yes, I am.  You don’t know everything, I can see.  The Shan of
Koordstan is here to-night."

"He is here with one of his suite called Aben Abdullah, who, by the way,
is my beloved one in disguise.  He is Harold Denvers, who is aiding the

"A romance, a veritable romance, with danger and difficulties clinging
to it like an aroma.  So I am to play the part of one of Sir Clement’s
puppets!  We shall see.  Now tell me everything."

Angela proceeded to explain that she was going much beyond Harold
Denvers’ hurried instructions.  But from the first her instinct had told
her that she could make a friend of the woman. She concealed nothing,
she spoke of the difficult position of the Shan, and what Harold had to
gain by a recovery of the sacred jewel.

"I’m glad you told me," Mrs. Benstein said slowly.  "Very glad.  But
there is more danger here than you anticipate, danger to me and to all
of us.  Sir Clement Frobisher is one of the greatest scoundrels on
earth; he is cunning into the bargain, a perfect master of trickery and
intrigue. Do you know anything of the Cardinal Moth?"

Angela shook her head.  She was practically ignorant on that point.
Mrs. Benstein indicated the nodding, trembling spray of blossom on her

"These flowers are in it," she said.  "The Cardinal Moth must play its
part with the rest. There will be no rest until the Moth is back again
over the altar in the temple of Ghan.  You wonder perhaps how I know all
these things, but the blood of all nations contrives to make the mystery
that is called Isa Benstein.  Now I want you to bring General Pearson to
me; I want you to stay here whilst we go away for a dance together. Sir
Clement, and perhaps another man, will be looking for me.  Say that I
shall be back here in ten minutes to see you.  You need say no more than

Angela went away, wondering but obedient. The handsome old soldier would
be delighted.  He had been looking for his next partner for a long time.
He was quite distracted by her absence. They walked away together,
leaving Angela behind.  Presently in the distance she could see the
figure of Frobisher wandering in and out of the crowd.  Angela walked
smiling up to him.

"Hide-and-seek," she cried gaily.  "You are looking for somebody?"

"Even the Queen of the Rubies," Frobisher responded in a similar strain.
"A handsome reward will be paid to anybody giving information as to her
present whereabouts."

"You may keep your beloved money," Angela said.  "I am above such
things.  Mrs. Benstein is dancing with General Pearson, and in ten
minutes she has asked me to meet her under the lamps yonder.  And here
comes Count Lefroy, as if he were looking for somebody, too."

Angela slipped away as Lefroy came up, showing his teeth in a queer,
uneasy smile.  He was trembling, too, as if he had run a long distance.
Frobisher suppressed a disposition to snarl.

"You have finished, then?" he asked.  "My rubies were worthy of a closer

"And would have had the closer inspection only Lady Frobisher was called
away," Lefroy replied. "Her ladyship would have left me alone with them
but I implored her not to place so fierce a temptation in my way.  She
does not know that I share your passion for those stones, especially
large ones."

"Like the Blue Stone of Ghan, for instance?" said Frobisher, with a
sharp indrawing of his breath.  "It would be good to get hold of that,

Lefroy’s eyes grew a trifle harder and more uneasy.  He seemed to be
miserably uncertain in his mind, divided in opinion as to whether he
should stay where he was or go away on some errand of his own.  The
crowd became slightly more thick as the strains of music ceased and the
dance came to an end.  In spite of everything, the rooms were growing
unpleasantly warm, and the guests were seeking cool corners.  Mrs.
Benstein came presently, leaning on the arm of her military escort.  Her
face was turned away, so that neither of the two men watching her could
see her features.

Lefroy drew a deep, long breath.  The time had come, he would have to
stand up and fight Frobisher, the secret that he had half deemed his own
was on the verge of exposure.

"Mrs. Benstein is going into the conservatory," he said meaningly.  "I
propose to follow her wise example and do the same thing.  A sybarite
like you does not care for robust air.  I presume, therefore, that you
are going to stay where you are."

Frobisher hooked his arm quite affectionately through that of his

"On the contrary, I feel that a tonic would do me good," he said
sweetly.  "I am distressed for your sake.  There is a nervousness about
you to-night that alarms me; I could not enjoy myself thinking about it.
What should I do, where should I be without my Lefroy?  Orestes and
Pylades, Damon and Pythias _et hoc_, where are you all alongside of
Lefroy and Frobisher?"

He led the way into the conservatory close to where Mrs. Benstein and
her companion were seated.  By accident or design, Isa Benstein had her
back to them.  She seemed to be chatting gaily and without a trouble in
the world to the General, who rose presently and proceeded back in the
direction of the ballroom on ices bent. Then Mrs. Benstein rose and
sauntered to the door of the conservatory.  Both the men there watched
her breathlessly—the time had come, and they both of them knew it.

She wheeled round suddenly as if conscious of their presence and smiled

"I am admiring the flowers," she said.  "They are exquisite.  But I must
have a word with Miss Lyne, whom I see in the distance.  If my
distracted General misses me, pray tell him that I shall be back at
once.  I trust you to do this for me, Sir Clement?"

Frobisher nodded with his mouth wide open, even he felt at a loss for
words.  There stood the lady of the rubies, her dress glistening with
the gems, but her fair broad brow was clear as day, there was no vestige
of a stone to mar its pure symmetry.

"It’s a wonderfully warm night," Frobisher gasped.

"Sultry," Lefroy said meaningly, "very sultry. Deprives you of your
wits, doesn’t it?  Weren’t you saying something just now about the Blue
Stone of Ghan?  Or did I dream it?  Come along."

"Where to?" Frobisher asked, like a man in a dream.

"Why, to the smoking-room, to be sure," Lefroy said with polite mockery.
"As you told me just now with such tender consideration for others, you
are not quite yourself.  A little brandy, the brandy you know, and a
small soda. You seem to want it badly."

"Egad," Frobisher burst out bitterly; "egad, I fancy we both do!"

                            *CHAPTER XVIII.*

                        *A DEFENSIVE ALLIANCE.*

Lefroy’s face, on the whole, was the more composed of the two.  It was
not often, in public at any rate, that Frobisher allowed his passion to
get the better of him, but for the moment he was utterly taken aback. He
had planned his scheme so neatly, the whole cunning skein had reeled off
so splendidly that the startling disappointment was all the more

"Nothing like the old brandy," Lefroy sneered. "You will find it a
sovereign cure."

But Frobisher was recovering himself slowly. He was not the man to show
his hand for long. The dry, hard smile was on his face now, the
passionate desire to hurt something had passed away.  Ignoring Lefroy’s
remark, he passed on in the direction of Mrs. Benstein.

"I have been looking for you everywhere," he said.  "One does not
usually have to hunt for the sun, but in this case the planet would seem
to be a retiring one.  Does my house afford such poor attraction that
you should bore yourself in this lovely spot?"

"I am not in the least bored," Mrs. Benstein said, with one of her most
brilliant smiles.  "On the contrary, I have been enjoying myself
immensely.  I am merely resting."

Frobisher said something appropriate.  Nobody could do that kind of
thing better when the mood was upon him.  At the same time, his deep-set
eyes were looking for signs, that might be conspired into something
useful.  Lefroy contented himself by standing behind and smiling

"Your gems are all I expected them to be," Frobisher went on.  "I felt
certain that rubies would suit you to perfection.  But you want
something, a certain finish.  A star or cluster on the forehead to
finish.  Don’t you agree with me, Count?"

He flashed a wicked grin at Lefroy, who said nothing.  Isa Benstein gave
no sign.  She smiled as she arranged the flowers, the Crimson Moth that
seemed to fascinate Lefroy.

"I thought so at first," she said.  "In fact, I was wearing something of
the kind when I came here.  But on mature consideration I decided that
it looked too overpowering.  Several of your splendid mirrors confirmed
that impression; consequently, I removed it."

"It is in a safe place, I trust?" Lefroy said carelessly.

"Really, I suppose so.  Not that it matters, seeing that it is of no
particular value.  It was the only sham thing that I had about me.  It
is with my fan somewhere."

Lefroy urged the point no further.  It was not policy to say too much.
The two men went off together presently, as Isa Benstein was claimed for
another dance.

"The man who finds that fan will be lucky," the Count said meaningly.

"The man who finds that fan will find nothing else," Frobisher replied.
"How on earth it has happened I don’t know, but that woman has
discovered everything.  Did you see her face as we were leaving?  I did.
She came here in blissful ignorance of the little comedy or tragedy, or
whatever you like to call it; but she has had a warning from somebody
since supper.  Lord bless you, she knows all about it.  We couldn’t ask
any prying questions without arousing her suspicions, though I am of
opinion that she is quite aware of the way that she has baffled us. Oh,
she is a clever woman."

"Clever as they make them.  But she is only a woman, after all, my
friend, and liable to make mistakes like the rest of her sex.  She has
got that stone about her."

Frobisher’s eyes gleamed.  He had been thinking much the same thing.
Followed by Lefroy, he repaired to the smoking-room and proffered his
hospitality.  For some time the Count smoked and drank in silence,
waiting for a lead from his host. There was bound to be some kind of
explanation between them, and Lefroy preferred the lead to come from the

"Silence is golden," Frobisher said, with one of his sudden grins.

"In this case," the other said.  "Perhaps you would like to deal the
first hand.  I shall sit tight for the present."

"I fancy it is my play," Frobisher said thoughtfully.  "Fate and the
other players push us a long way off our line of policy sometimes.  For
instance, I never imagined that I should be dragged into an offensive
and defensive alliance with you. But for the present it is absolutely
necessary. We must get that precious gew-gew——"

"Call it the sacred Blue Stone of Ghan and have done with it," Lefroy

"Very well, though it is hardly diplomacy. Mrs. Benstein came here
wearing the Blue Stone. You found it out quite by accident, and it was
your game to prevent me from knowing.  You tried very hard, but you were
a little too much taken by surprise, especially when the Shan was

"That was a very awkward moment for me," Lefroy admitted.

"It was.  Directly you came in here I guessed exactly what had happened.
As a matter of fact, I had not the least intention of your coming here
to-night, indeed I didn’t know you were coming. As a matter of fact,
also, my wife cordially dislikes you, and I suppose she only asked you
out of compliment to me."

"We’ll let that pass," Lefroy said.  "I was startled when Mrs. Benstein
dropped her mask and the Blue Stone stood revealed.  Of course, I knew
that the stone was pledged to Benstein, and that Mrs. Benstein having it
was natural enough. The doting old fool had been wheedled out of it for
the evening.  But I didn’t know that you knew that, and I was most
anxious to keep the information from you.  But directly I came face to
face with you here, I knew that you had some deep scheme, and that you
guessed that I had got wind of it.  I have worked that out."

Frobisher smoked and sipped his brandy with infinite relish.

"I always like to study a subtle mind, Count," he said.  "Will you
explain your meaning?"

"Certainly, especially as I shall lose nothing by so doing.  Why did you
get your wife to ask that woman here at all?  I knew you had to use
something like force to bring it about.  You did it because you knew
where the Blue Stone was. You advised Mrs. Benstein as to her dress, you
gave her hints on that head.  You were quite aware of the extent of
Benstein’s senile devotion to his wife.  And you calculated that if she
adopted the ruby suggestion she would borrow the Blue Stone."

"Excellent," Frobisher said cordially.  "A capital piece of reasoning.
And a very pretty scheme, though I say it myself.  It came off, and only
your presence prevented my coup.  Pray go on."

"There isn’t much more to say.  Once Mrs. Benstein was here wearing the
Blue Stone, you had no intention of her leaving with the gem in her
possession.  I don’t mean to say that you would have used brutal force
to get it, but I do mean to say that you would not have hesitated at
that if needs must.  Once you had the stone you would have forced those
concessions from the Shan."

"And exposed the forged ones that you deposited with Benstein,"
Frobisher said sweetly.

Lefroy winced, and the glass chattered against his teeth.  He had not
expected that stroke, and his dark face indicated the fact for a brief

"That is certainly one to you," he said.  "Only that is not the point
for the present.  The point is, that your plot has failed, that the
woman who came here to-day wearing the Blue Stone out of pure vanity and
with no kind of _arrière pensée_ whatever, has been warned of her
danger, which she has promptly removed.  She knows pretty well
everything—the way she received us showed that.  She is an exceedingly
clever woman, and has a shrewd idea how to take care of herself. Has she
got the stone still?"

Frobisher nodded gravely.  Lefroy’s point was worthy of consideration.

"You mean, has she passed it on to somebody else?" he said.  "She might
have done that, but I don’t fancy so, and I’ll tell you why.  She has
seen enough of the world to teach her not to trust anybody.  Naturally
enough, she does not want her husband to be ruined, as would be the case
unless the stone was restored to Benstein’s safe keeping without delay,
and so she would trust to her own shrewdness to get away without
robbery.  On the whole, she has not parted with the stone."

A little reflection assured Lefroy of the soundness of this reasoning.
The thing resolved itself into a game of hide-and-seek with a fortune at
the end of it with any luck.  Up to a certain point these men were
compelled to act together, but the alliance might end at any time.

"I can’t very well abduct Mrs. Benstein till she parts with the gem," he

"No, we can’t do it, but we might find somebody who could," Frobisher
smiled.  "There’s the Shan’s minister and treacherous servant, Hamid
Khan, for instance.  He has scant respect for the laws of this or any
other country, and he knows quite well that his master has parted with
the stone.  If we could put our hands upon the amiable Hamid at this

"Nothing is easier.  Hamid is watching in Piccadilly at this very

"So you have got a little scheme afoot, too," Frobisher laughed.  "Upon
my word I need all my wits to enable me to get the better of you, Count.
How long has this been going on?"

"Ever since the stone left the Shan’s possession. Ever since then he has
been dogged and watched. Let me go and call Hamid in to our discussion.
He knows what has happened, for I scribbled a few lines on a sheet of
paper just now when I left your wife, and handed it to one of the
smaller spies who are loafing outside.  The night is hot, and our
absence will not be noticed.  Now slip on our coats and assume to be
going to smoke a cigar in the garden.  From thence we reach Piccadilly
by the back way, and surprise Hamid in his dreary vigil.  Then he comes
back with us here.  What do you say?"

Frobisher nodded gleefully; it was an intrigue after his own heart.
They passed into the cool air of the garden, and from thence into the
narrow lane at the back of the house.  It was very late now, and
Piccadilly was growing quiet, so that the few lounging figures there
were easily seen.  A slender, brown-faced man in a dust coat and evening
dress came along smoking a cigarette. He did not appear to be in the
least interested in anything only for his restless eyes.

"I want you," Lefroy said.  "There’s work to be done, Hamid."

"Indeed, I am glad to hear that," said the other in a remarkably English
tone of voice.  "I’m getting sick to death of this eternal loafing.  But
Sir Clement Frobisher and Count Lefroy together! My dear Count, what are
you doing in that galley?"

"Any galley is good enough when your own has been temporarily wrecked,"
Lefroy growled. "But ask no questions for the present and come with us."

They went back again presently in the smoking-room without having
attracted the least attention, or so at least Sir Clement Frobisher
flattered himself.  It would never do for the Shan to know of Hamid
Khan’s presence in the house.  But there were other watchful eyes
besides those of the Shan of Koordstan.  Mrs. Benstein had seen the two
men go into the garden, and she had seen three return.  She was not
quite quick enough to get sight of the third, but she had a pretty
shrewd idea who he was.  She waited till she could have a word with

"I want you to do something for me, at once," she said.  "Sir Clement
Frobisher and Count Lefroy are in the private smoking-room with a third
person.  I want you to open the door and rush in with Sir Clement’s name
upon your lips as if you are in a hurry for something.  Then you can
stammer an apology and close the door behind you.  The great thing is to
get a quick mental photograph of the third person."

Angela nodded, she wasted no time in idle questions.  In the most
natural fashion she burst open the door and fluttered into the
smoking-room, calling upon Frobisher as she did so.  Then she stammered
an apology and gently closed the door again.  The third person had been
seated directly opposite to her so that she had a perfect view of his

"I see you were perfectly successful," Mrs. Benstein said.

"Oh, absolutely," Angela replied.  "It is a slender man with a deep
mahogany face and curly hair, quite a handsome Asiatic, in fact; but
what struck me more were his eyes, which are a clear light blue.  Fancy,
blue eyes in a face like that!"

"Capital," Mrs. Benstein murmured.  "It is exactly as I expected.  No, I
am not going to say any more for the present, because I don’t want to
spoil your enjoyment.  Now go off and flirt with that handsome young
fraud, called Aben Abdullah, when you have the chance.  Only don’t go
where I shall have to hunt for you in case of dire necessity."

                             *CHAPTER XIX.*

                          *WHAT DID SHE MEAN?*

Harold was on the look out for Angela, so that she had not much trouble
in finding him.  His stolid Asiatic indifference was admirably feigned,
and showed nothing of the anxiety within.  There was just an
interrogative gleam in his eyes for the moment.

"Isn’t there somewhere where we can be really quiet for a few minutes?"
he said.  "I have successfully disposed of my royal rascal for the time,
and I want badly to speak to you.  Unless I am greatly mistaken, you can
give me a good deal of information, Angela."

Angela’s smile indicated that she could.  There was a small passage
behind some heavy curtains leading to a suite of rarely-used rooms, and
Angela led the way there.  She put the light up for a few moments and
disclosed a cosy corner lounge, then she snapped off the switch again.

"I’ve pulled the curtain back so that it is possible to see without
being seen," she explained. "We must not stay long, Harold—I am sure
that Mrs. Benstein will want me before long."

Harold slipped his arm round the girl’s waist, and kissed her.  Stolen
moments like this were very sweet.  There was just an interval of
blissful silence.

"Now tell me what you know," Harold asked presently, "about the Blue

"I know nothing about the Blue Stone," Angela explained.  "Mrs. Benstein
has done something with it.  All the mischief arose from the fact that
she had no idea of the traditional value of the gem. She had not asked
her husband about it.  As a matter of fact a cunning idea of Sir

"I know all about that," Harold interrupted. "It was very cunning, and
came near success, only I nicked in, and you and I spoilt it between us.
Lefroy spotted the stone first and tried to keep the knowledge from
Frobisher, which was practically impossible.  Then luck conspired to
force those fellows to make an offensive and defensive alliance.  But
where is the stone?"

"My dear boy, I haven’t the remotest idea.  All I know is that it has
disappeared from Mrs. Benstein’s forehead, and that she seems to be
enjoying the comedy."

Harold listened uneasily.  He knew perfectly well that Frobisher and
Lefroy would not stick at murder even to regain possession of the Blue
Stone.  If the sacred gem was still in Mrs. Benstein’s possession she
would never be allowed to reach home with the thing intact.

"I suppose we must wait on events," he said after a pause.  "For the
present the Shan is not likely to interfere.  I have placed him safely
at a bridge-table, and there he will sit so long as there is a game,
though his kingdom was toppling about his ears.  Still, it keeps him
sober, and that is the main thing.  I suppose Mrs. Benstein did not tell
you what she proposed to do?"

"I didn’t ask her, Harold.  She is so marvellously cool and clever that
I felt quite easy in my mind.  But there is another foe to fight. I
quite forgot to tell you about him."

"Did Mrs. Benstein tell you, or did you find it out yourself?"

"No.  It was Mrs. Benstein.  She said somebody was closeted in the
private smoking-room with Sir Clement and Count Lefroy.  I was to
pretend that I didn’t know, and blunder into the room, taking care to
get a good sight of the stranger before apologising.  I did it very

Harold squeezed Angela’s waist affectionately. She laid a loving hand on

"Perhaps you know the man," she went on. "He looks like a true Asiatic,
but at the same time he has blue eyes.  It struck me as such a singular

"I know him perfectly well," Harold muttered. "This thing goes deeper
than I expected.  The man who is still plotting with these two rascals
is Hamid Khan, who calls himself one of the Shan’s ministers.  He is
perhaps the most dangerous foe my pseudo-master has.  If he can only
prove that the Blue Stone had been out of the Shan’s possession there
will be a change of dynasty in Koordstan.  This is the worst piece of
news I have heard to-night."

"I don’t quite see why you should be so deeply interested," Angela said

"My darling, there is a good deal of self at the bottom of it," Harold
admitted candidly.  "I shouldn’t take all this trouble and run all this
risk for a worthless creature like the Shan, unless I could see some
benefit in it.  I want to pin him down over those concessions, which
will make my fortune.  They will give me control over one of the richest
tracts of land in Koordstan.  In a year or two I shall be wealthy."

"Just as if it mattered," Angela whispered, rubbing her cheek against
Harold’s, "just as if it mattered, when I shall have so much.  But don’t
forget that you have Mr. Benstein to deal with. You can’t rob him of the
stone which he has come by honestly in the way of business."

"Oh, I know that.  And we must have the stone by ten o’clock to-morrow.
But I have found a way out of that difficulty.  Between ourselves, Lord
Rashburn showed me the way.  We have a rich Englishman who will advance
the money and benefit politically and secretly at the same time. He runs
no risks of losing his capital either, because he is certain to get it
back from the Shan in time. When Mrs. Benstein has gone home we shall
follow and settle the business out of hand.  I wish she would go now."

"I should trust her," Angela said thoughtfully. "She will go in her own
time and her own way; she will baffle those scoundrels yet, I am certain
of it.  My dear boy, do be careful.  If you are found out——"

Angela paused significantly.  There was a risk of the mine being fired
at any moment.  There was no more dangerous or cunning foe in Europe
than Sir Clement Frobisher, all the more dangerous in that he had Count
Lefroy for an ally.  And the time before the Shan was getting perilously

"Wait upon events a little longer," Angela urged as she arose.  "We must
go back again, it is not wise to stay here any longer. Mrs. Benstein may
want me."

Harold made no demur, pleasant as it was to linger by Angela’s side.
She held his face between her hands and kissed him, then he walked
towards the curtain.  The band was playing some passionate love waltz;
there were murmurs of conversation and light laughter.  It seemed almost
impossible to identify intrigue and danger with so fair a scene.

The two wandered on together past the dancers and the couples sitting
out, talking quietly together as if they had been no more than casual
acquaintances.  Harold was a dull-dogged Asiatic again, but he kept his
eyes about him.  The crowd grew less; it was more quiet in the region of
the card-rooms.  Several parties were deep in bridge here, the Shan of
Koordstan amongst the number.  There was a pile of gold before him; from
the satisfied glitter in his eyes he was winning heavily.  Harold gave a
sigh of relief.  He was free still to follow his own plans without the
added responsibility of keeping the Shan away from the champagne.  He
had a passion for wine, but a deeper passion for play, and so long as
the cards were on the green baize, he would think of nothing else.

"His whole soul seems to be wrapped up in it," Angela whispered.

"Of course it is," Harold said contemptuously. "If I went to him now and
told him that he had only to step across the room to recover his sacred
gem he would ask me to come back in an hour. Doubtless he has quite
forgotten why he came here. Look, here comes Frobisher."

Frobisher came into the room rubbing his hands together and smiling
softly.  A glance at him told Harold that he had not only made his
plans, but was perfectly satisfied with them. Somebody hailed Frobisher
with a suggestion that he should come in and make up a table, but he
excused himself.  He strolled off down the corridor, and as he did so
Angela caught sight of Mrs. Benstein’s flashing gems in the distance.

"I’ll follow her," she whispered.  "She’s gone towards the big

But Frobisher was on the same errand.  He caught Mrs. Benstein up and
made some remark. She smiled back at him as if there was nothing hidden
under the surface.

"Oh, yes, the orchids," she said.  "I have been promising myself a treat
with your orchids.  I will conveniently forget that I am engaged for the
next dance.  I want to see your Cardinal Moth in full bloom."

"I want to know how you are so _au fait_ with the Moth," Frobisher

"That is my secret, sir," Isa Benstein laughed. "There is Eastern blood
in my veins.  But I know all about it.  You will certainly be murdered
if you keep that orchid long enough."

"That, to my mind, is just the added charm," Frobisher said coolly
enough.  "I love the flower passionately.  But the Cardinal Moth is
unique, it has such a cruel, bloody history.  Still I am not going to
part with it for all the priests of Ghan."

Isa Benstein was forced to admit that there was something in Frobisher’s
fascination as she looked up at the graceful ropes of blossoms.  There
had been one of the periodical bursts of steam which had just cleared
away, so that the cloud of delicate white-pink bloom with its fluttering
red satellites overshone in refulgent perfection.

"It is indeed the queen of flowers," a deep voice came from behind.

Mrs. Benstein looked round into the dark, inscrutable face of Lefroy.
She and her host and the Count were alone in the big conservatory. The
door was open, but they were too far away for any one to hear or to hear
any one else.  That she had been lured there Isa Benstein knew without
anybody to tell her.  She had the Blue Stone of Ghan in her possession,
both these men knew it, and they were both desirous of gaining
possession, but they were both utterly unscrupulous in their methods.

If it came to a personal struggle they were equal to that.  They would
both declare afterwards that the story of violence was a pure
fabrication, and that it had existed in a hysterical woman’s
imagination.  And for the sake of her husband Mrs. Benstein would say
nothing.  How could she stand up and tell the world that she had been
wearing the Blue Stone at Lady Frobisher’s dance, when the thing had
been pledged to cover a money advance?

These thoughts flashed through the woman’s nimble brain like lightning.
But the smile never left her face; she did not show for a moment that
she knew or felt anything.  She was quite ready.

"They are lovely," she said.  "I am filled with envy, though I have some
perfect orchids of my own.  Miss Lyne, won’t you come and worship at the
shrine of Flora?"

Isa Benstein raised her voice in the hope that Angela might be near.  It
was a sort of danger signal and might prove efficacious.  The next
moment Angela walked in.  She understood perfectly, but she made no
sign.  Just for a moment Frobisher’s eyes flashed like electric points.

"I don’t care for orchids," Angela said.  "There is something uncanny
about them."

"Not all," said Mrs. Benstein, as she bent and broke off a spray of deep
blue blossom.  Frobisher winced as if somebody had struck him a painful
blow.  "Look at these blooms; they are sweet and tender enough.  Count
Lefroy, I want you to arrange this spray in Miss Lyne’s hair.  You can
reach better than I can, and I can trust your taste. Place this flat
under the coil at the side."

Angela made no demur, though she would far rather have done it herself.
Lefroy did his work gracefully enough and stepped back to admire the
effect, as did Isa Benstein.  Frobisher, still snarling for the loss of
his beloved flowers, looked on with his teeth bared in an uneasy grin.

"Perfect!" Mrs. Benstein cried, as if she had only one thought in her
mind.  "All this evening I have been racking my brains to know what
little final touch was lacking.  I beg of you as a personal favour not
to remove those flowers till you go to bed.  Now will you promise me?"

Angela gave the promise lightly enough.  Lefroy drew Frobisher a little
on one side.

"We are wasting valuable time," he growled. "Get rid of that girl."

"One moment.  Her presence here is quite an accident.  Our fair friend
has no suspicion.  I shall find a good pretext to get rid of Angela in a
moment.  Yes, it is a fine flower and quite unique."

The last few words were spoken aloud.  But if Lefroy had seized his
chance for a word with Frobisher, Isa Benstein had not lost her
opportunity.  "I am going to make a remark," she said, "though I only
dare to give you a hint. Sir Clement has ears like a hare.  When I speak
you are to give a laugh as if I had made a brilliant joke.  You are
quite sure neither of these men are really listening to us?"

"I think you can venture to go on," Angela murmured.  "I am quite ready
to laugh."

She broke out into a rippling, amused smile as Mrs. Benstein slightly
bent her head and Said:

"Be sure that you take down and brush out your hair to-night!"

                             *CHAPTER XX.*

                         *CHECK TO FROBISHER.*

The whole thing struck Angela as strangely unreal.  It hardly seemed
possible that this swiftly-moving drama could be played amongst the
settings of her daily life in this fashion. There was the dreamy music
of the band—the Scarlet Bavarian Band of so many big social
functions—the familiar fuss and flutter of drapery, the sound of
well-known voices.  Mrs. Benstein was smiling in the most natural way,
the two men appeared to be quite at their ease.  And yet here was a
moving drama that any one moment might flare into tragedy.  Still,
Angela played the game mechanically.

A light laugh rippled from her lips so naturally that she was quite
surprised.  She had not the slightest idea what Isa Benstein meant by
the strange caution, but she had every intention of carrying it out to
the letter.  Frobisher sauntered back to his beautiful guest’s side.
Angela lingered, waiting for the next move.  She saw Mrs. Benstein’s
eyes glance towards the door with a significant look.  As she made some
excuse for leaving the others together she saw a flickering smile of

"May we smoke?" Frobisher asked, as he closed the door behind Angela.
"We are all enthusiasts, and we don’t want any dilettantes here."

"You may do just as you please," Mrs. Benstein said.  "Probably you
would follow that course in any case.  You are a bold man to keep the
Cardinal Moth here."

"What do you know about it?" Frobisher asked.

There was a dry chuckle in his voice as he put the question.  Mrs.
Benstein looked up at the cloud of glorious blossoms over her head.

"I know a great deal," she replied.  "I have lived with some strange
people in my time and I have heard some strange things.  There are
certain quarters in the East End where they speak queer languages and
where they know things that would startle the authorities.  Amongst
these people I was brought up.  I learnt their ways and their methods.
Ah, it was a good school for a girl who has a treacherous world to

The speaker flung herself into a chair and hung her long white arms by
her side.  The light gleamed upon her sparkling jewels and the dark eyes
that sparkled more brightly still.  Frobisher watched her with something
more than artistic admiration; his thin blood was stirred.

"You speak like a Sibyl," he laughed.  "If you know all about the
Cardinal Moth you also know all about the Blue Stone of Ghan, I

Frobisher’s voice was low and hoarse and persuasive.  He had flung down
the challenge, and Isa Benstein was ready to receive it.  She raised her
large dark eyes slowly, and they seemed to float over the faces of her
antagonists.  She noted the leering grin on Frobisher’s features, the
truculent bullying expression of Lefroy’s.

"I have heard of that also," she said in the same level tones.  "The two
are inseparable."

"Or ought to be," Frobisher went on. Evidently he was to be the
spokesman.  "But if the Moth has flown far, why not the sacred jewel?
Have you ever seen it, fair lady?"

The question was a direct threat, and Isa Benstein rose to it.  She sat
there swinging her long arms idly, and glancing with perfect
self-possession at her companions.  They meant to have that jewel, as
she knew; they were not going to stick at anything to gain possession of

"I have seen it," she said quietly; "in fact, I wore it here on my
forehead to-night."

Frobisher started.  He fairly beamed with admiration.  What a woman!
What a nerve! he thought.  Anybody else would have denied the thing
point blank.  But here was a woman prepared for any emergency.  There
was going to be a battle of wits here, and Frobisher rose to the fray.

"Surely a rash thing to do," he murmured.

"Wasn’t it?" Isa Benstein asked with a swift and glorious smile.  "But
ignorance is bliss, you say.  That being so, there ought to be a great
deal more happiness in the world than there is.  Count Lefroy, won’t you
sit down?  No, in that other chair, so that I can see your face."

Lefroy bowed and complied.  All this waste of time annoyed him, but
Frobisher, on the other hand, was enjoying himself exceedingly.  Nothing
that was straight or open ever appealed to him. He would rather have
obtained a shilling by crooked means than a sovereign by holding out his
hand for it.

"You came here wearing the Blue Stone without knowing it?" he asked.  "I
am interested, fascinated, and amazed.  Incidentally, I am a little
amused into the bargain."

"Possibly," Isa Benstein smiled brilliantly. "But you are not half so
amused as I am."

Frobisher grinned at the way in which his challenge had been flaunted
back into his teeth. With the quick subtlety of the polyglot the woman
had grasped his scheme and what he wanted.

"It is good to feel that my guests are thoroughly enjoying themselves,"
he said politely.  "I should like to know how the Blue Stone came into
your possession at all."

"Problems seem to be in the air," Isa Benstein murmured.  "Your
flattering interest is very soothing to my vanity.  You know what a
conjurer means when he speaks of forcing a card on a spectator?  Of
course you do.  The expert with his quickness and his patter can make
the spectator he selects draw any card he chooses. The conjurer in this
case chose me to force his card upon.  But all the same when I came here
I had no notion that I was wearing anything half so historic as the Blue
Stone of Ghan."

"But you tound it out after you got here?" Frobisher said keenly.

"Yes.  That was a piece of good luck.  And when I did so I removed it.
That was a piece of caution."

"Then you had worked it all out in your mind, I suppose?"

"Yes.  I worked it out in the best possible way—backwards.  I worked it
out so completely that I was in a position to read another person’s
mind.  Shall I read that other person’s mind?"

Frobisher bowed and smiled in one of his quick grins.  Lefroy shifted
uneasily in his chair.  Isa Benstein’s lips were parted, her arms played
idly by the side of her chair, there was no sign of fear in her eyes.
When she spoke again it was quite calmly and slowly.

"We will begin with the conjurer," she said. "After all, he has
succeeded in forcing the card that is destined to lead up to the
brilliant trick that dazzles and astonishes everybody.  We will assume,
for the sake of argument, that you are the conjurer and I am the silly
heedless spectator who is marked out as the involuntary accomplice."

"The mind could not grasp you in that senile capacity," Frobisher

"Then give your vivid imagination free run for once, Sir Clement.  The
card in this case represents something that you very much desired, call
it the Blue Stone of Ghan.  The sacred jewel is hidden in a certain
place.  Your great idea is to conjure that somewhere else, and being a
master of your trade, you have to make use of a third party who shall
make the transfer for you without knowing anything of the matter.  Only
a prince among conjurers could hope to bring off so brilliant a coup as
that, but there is no great success without great audacity.  But Count
Lefroy is looking at his watch.  I am afraid that he is not interested."

"It matters nothing about Lefroy," Frobisher said.  "I am deeply
interested.  Pray go on."

"Of course, our conjurer knows where the stone is.  It is in the custody
of an old man who has a young wife.  The old man with the young wife has
countless gems for safe custody. From time to time he lends these gems
to his wife to wear, though, with the characteristic caution of his
tribe, he never says anything to the owners. Well, here is the
conjurer’s card forced from him, so to speak.  All he has to do now is
to design an occasion when the transfer may be made.  We will say it is
to be at a brilliant party—a fancy-dress ball, where gems may play a
leading part.  The victim will be there.  As the Blue Stone of Ghan is a
ruby, he naturally suggests rubies, much as the common conjurer with his
magic bottle induces his assistant on the stage to choose the kind of
liquid he wants to dispense.  Says he to himself, that old man will
offer his young wife the Blue Stone as a kind of crown of glory, and she
will take it, not knowing what it is.  Once she arrives at the
fancy-dress ball the rest is easy.  Do I interest you so far?"

"Wonderfully," Frobisher croaked.  "Fancy finding the conjurer out like
that.  But though you have spoiled the trick, he must have the forced
card, in this case represented by the—but why complete the phrase?"

"Why, indeed?" Isa Benstein asked serenely. "The brilliant trick as a
brilliant trick has failed, for the simple reason that the involuntary
medium has been too clever for her part.  But I see that the conjurer is
not so disconcerted as he might be, because he can always fall back upon
his bully method whereby he sometimes disguises failure and leads up to
a success in a fresh line.  Is it to be the bullying policy, Sir

Sir Clement bent forward and nodded eagerly. His yellow teeth were all
exposed in a wide grin. Lefroy sat regarding him with open contempt.  A
clock somewhere struck two; the strains of the band floated in.

"I should like to borrow the Blue Stone," Frobisher said hoarsely.

"We will discuss that presently," Isa Benstein went on.  "Perhaps I had
better finish my train of logical reasoning.  There was danger of the
trick failing, in so much as the Blue Stone might have been recognised.
And here was a further resource open to the conjurer.  It was open to
him to put aside the tricks of his trade and take the stone, take it
with violence, if necessary.  He would argue that his victim dared not
speak, that she would put up with the loss rather than tell a story that
nobody would believe.  The idea of a man robbing his guest with violence
under his own roof—and such a roof!—would be scouted by any common-sense
person.  Again, the unconscious medium would have her husband to
consider.  If the true facts of the case came out he would be ruined;
there would be a scandal that might end in a gaol.  Of course, when the
desired mischief had been worked, the stone would be restored again,
discreetly found before it was lost. Really, gentlemen, my imagination
makes me nervous.  As I sit opposite you, I am inwardly alarmed lest you
should fall upon me and despoil me of a thing I would not have touched
had I been aware of the true history of the case.  I know I am

"Madame," said Frobisher, rising with a bow. "You cruelly malign
yourself.  I have had some experience of clever people, and you are by
far the cleverest woman I have ever met.  Your insight is amazing, of
your courage there can be no doubt.  But don’t carry your courage too

Mrs. Benstein had risen in her turn, the critical moment had come, but
she gave no sign.  Frobisher stood also, shaking his head doggedly.

"You deem discretion to be the better part of valour," the woman said.
"The English profess never to know when they are beaten!  Surely that is
carrying the thing too far.  The man who knows when he is beaten is the
most valorous foe, for the god of war is always on the side of heavy
battalions.  You want the stone?"

"I must have it," said Frobisher.

"Must is not a nice word, but——"

"But it’s got to be used," Lefroy spoke for the first time.  "All these
words are so much air. Will you be so good as to lend us the Blue Stone
for a time, or——"

"Stop!" Mrs. Benstein cried.  "Let us quite understand one another.  If
I do not lend you the stone you are prepared to go to extreme measures
to get it?"

Frobisher nodded and grinned till his teeth flashed again.  He advanced
with his hands outstretched and a look of greed in his eyes.  Lefroy
stood by as if apart from the discussion.

"A few more words," Mrs. Benstein said, with a steady smile, "a few more
words, and then you may do as you please.  I am forced to allude to the
conjurer again and his forced card. That card is in the possession of
the involuntary medium.  The success of the experiment depends upon the
ability of the conjurer to force the card when and how he will.  But
suppose the involuntary ally determines to frustrate the trick, and say
that he has lost the card or changed it for another, what then?"

A wicked, brutish oath sprang from Frobisher’s lips.  All his pretty
cynicism and flippant hardness had gone and the original savage looked
out of his eyes.  Just for a moment he panted with a rage that was
unconquerable.  He was a murderer in his heart at that moment.

"You mean," he gasped—"you mean to say that you——"

"Precisely.  As I said before, I had thought the matter out.  Am I the
woman to be any man’s puppet?  The card has disappeared, the conjurer is
baffled.  If you can find the card, well and good; if not, the trick
fails.  The card is no longer in my possession."

And Frobisher, looking into her eyes, knew that she spoke the truth.

                             *CHAPTER XXI.*

                      *DENVERS LEARNS SOMETHING.*

Frobisher was first to recover himself. There were beads of moisture on
his forehead, his teeth were ground together, but he forced a smile to
his lips.  Then he laughed in a low chuckling fashion, as if something
subtle had greatly amused him.  Lefroy stood there, glowering.

"I’m not going to be put off like that," he said. "The thing’s

Isa Benstein ignored the speaker altogether. She was lying back in her
chair as if bored with the whole proceedings.  The lights were gleaming
on her jewels and her beautiful, tranquil face.

"Don’t lose your head," Frobisher said, still laughing in the same
noiseless way.  "Surely you’re not so accomplished a liar that you
haven’t learned to know the truth when you see it.  I pay Mrs. Benstein
the compliment of believing every word that she says.  We have exposed
our hands for nothing, and been outwitted by a very clever woman.
You’ll gain nothing by losing your temper."

"Who could she have passed the jewel on to?" Lefroy growled.

"Ah, that is the point!  Knowing nobody here and all!  Madame, I kiss
your hand.  You have made Clement Frobisher look and feel like a fool.
It is a sensation I have not experienced since I left school.  I believe
every word that you say, nay, if I let myself go I could be furiously
angry with myself.  Lefroy, you had better go, there is nothing to be
gained by staying here.  After all——"

Frobisher paused, and Mrs. Benstein, with her head serenely tilted
upwards, finished the sentence.

"After all, the Shan of Koordstan is in no better plight than he was
before.  Whoever has possession of the stone, it is assuredly not the

Lefroy strode off and clanged the door behind him.  Frobisher lighted a
fresh cigarette.  He had been found out in a singularly rascally action,
but that did not disturb his equanimity in the least.

"You must be having a particularly pleasant evening," he said.

"The most enjoyable I ever remember."  Isa Benstein smiled frankly.  "In
the first place, I have created a sensation and scored a most decided
success.  To a woman that is like a foretaste of Paradise.  Then, again,
I have been involuntarily forced to become the central figure of a most
exciting intrigue.  I love intrigues and mystery to my finger-tips.  I
was to have been the puppet, and yet I have beaten you all along the
line.  Oh, yes, I am likely to remember this evening for some time to

"I suppose so," Frobisher grinned.  "If I had known I would have lent
you a prize ruby and the Blue Stone might have remained where it was.
If I had made you my ally——"

"Impossible," Isa Benstein said, curtly.  "I should never have trusted

Frobisher laughed as if the candour appealed to him.

"I bear no malice," he said.  "I love a strong foe.  But I wish I had
lent you my big ruby, all the same.  You must accept a souvenir of that
kind in memory of this eventful evening.  I’ll fetch you some uncut
stones from which I shall be proud for you to make your choice.
Meanwhile I shall leave you to admire my orchids.  You can’t very well
run off with my Cardinal Moth."

"I should like to examine it closer," Isa Benstein said.

It was easily done.  Frobisher merely pulled a lever and the framework
upon which the Cardinal Moth was roped came down to within a few feet of
the ground.

Mrs. Benstein caressed the blossoms tenderly. Such a wealth of bloom had
never been seen before.  She stood with them all about her like the
goddess Flora, the ropes touched her bare arms, the flowers nodded in
her face.

"I’ll not be long," Frobisher croaked as he stooped and touched one of
the shining taps near the floor.  "My word, what a picture for an artist
you make!"

He crept away gently, leaving his guest amidst the nodding blooms.  They
were so fascinating that Mrs. Benstein could think of nothing else for
the moment.  She had quite forgotten the events of the evening.  She
turned her lips to a cluster of the glorious blooms.

"They are like beautiful, fascinating snakes," she said to herself.  "No
wonder the man dares run the risk of having this bewildering beauty in
his house.  Like lovely snakes, the hiss and all complete."

There was a sudden hiss of escaping steam, and the whole of the dropped
trellis-work was enveloped in mist.  The mass seemed to move as if it
had been endowed with life or as if a strong breeze had swept over it.
Then without the slightest warning a grip like a vice caught Isa
Benstein below and above the elbow, pressing her forearm and causing her
to wince with the horrible pain.

So tight was the grip that she could not turn or move.  She stood there
writhing in agony, and yet too fascinated to call out.  The bones
creaked and cracked, and still the pain grew greater; it seemed
impossible that any human fingers could grip flesh and blood like that.
Were all the weird legends clinging round the Cardinal Moth true, Isa
Benstein caught herself wondering in a faint, dizzy way?

Then she braced herself up and struggled violently.  It was
characteristic of the woman that she uttered no cry.  As she drooped and
her eyes grew cloudy she had a faint vision of a face under a turban,
and then there came a sound of swiftly rushing feet.  The platform
seemed to rise with a sudden jerk.  Isa Benstein was wrenched from her
feet, the weight of her body told, the arm came away with a cruel drag
from the vice-like grip, and she fell a huddled, shimmering heap on the

"I hope you are not much hurt," a voice whispered in her ear.  "It was

Isa Benstein scrambled to her feet breathless, dizzy, and writhing with
pain.  But her quick eyes were clear now, and she recognised the Shan’s
companion, whom she knew to be Angela’s lover. His face was white and
quivering; there was a nameless horror in his eyes.

"You saw it," Mrs. Benstein said.  "What was it?"

"I cannot tell you yet," Harold said.  "It was too dreadful, too awful.
The shock of discovery almost unmanned me for a moment.  We will speak
about that presently.  How did you happen to be just where you stood?"

"I was admiring the flowers.  Sir Clement pulled down the frame for me,
so that I could see better.  He went away to get something that he
wanted to show me, then there was that sudden grip."

"Which seemed to come out of a vapouring mist, did it not?" Harold asked
hoarsely.  "By accident I loosened the spring, and as the frame rose
your weight released you.  Is not that so?"

Mrs. Benstein nodded; she had no words just for the moment.  Now that
the reaction had come she was feeling sick and faint with the pain.
Harold’s eyes were still distended with the horror of some awful

"It is very strange," he said.  "Sir Clement did not mean to come back
to you, for he has just left the house.  He slipped out with some
companion whose face I did not see.  But your arm is painful.  Nothing
broken, I hope?"

Isa Benstein raised her lovely white arm to prove that such was not the
case.  But there was a round red band, and here and there a thin red
stream came from the broken skin.

"Would you mind keeping this to yourself for the present?" Harold asked.
"Believe me, there are urgent reasons why you should do so, reasons so
urgent that I cannot go into them now.  If you are silent we shall bring
one of the greatest scoundrels to the gallows.  If not——"

"I will be silent," Mrs. Benstein said, between her white set teeth.
"But if you could get me away to see a doctor, or if there is a doctor
here whom I could trust——"

"Of course there is, I must have been a fool not to have thought of it
before.  Sir James Brownsmith is the very man, and he is interested in
the case too.  Nobody is likely to come in here."

Harold hurried away in search of Brownsmith, whom he had seen a little
while before.  He found Angela and explained what he desired to her.  He
had hardly got back to the great conservatory before the great surgeon
bustled in.  Coolly enough Harold locked the door.  There was no chance
of Sir Clement coming back yet.  In a few words he gave a brief outline
of what had happened.

"It’s part of the mystery," he said.  "The same horrible mysterious
force that brought that poor fellow at Streatham and Manfred to their

"Good God!" Sir James cried.  "Do you mean to say that you have solved
that mystery?"

"Certainly I have.  That is why I wanted you above all men to see Mrs.
Benstein.  Oh, never mind who I am for the present.  To the world I am
merely Aben Abdullah attached to the suite of the Shan of Koordstan, and
I am popularly supposed to know very little English.  Look to your
patient, man."

Sir James passed the rudeness from a young man to one of his exalted
position.  Very tenderly and gently he examined the wounded arm.  But
his vivid interest was more than strictly professional.

"This is very strange," he said.  "There are no bones broken, I am glad
to say—nothing worse than a severe bruise.  But I could not believe, I
should utterly refuse to believe that a human hand could make such a
mark like that.  Why, it would have to be as large as a shoulder of
mutton to grip the forearm and deltoid like that. Did you see your
assailant, Mrs. Benstein?"

"I saw nothing at all," Mrs. Benstein said, with a faint smile.  "There
was nobody to see."

Sir James shook his head, but Harold nodded as if he quite approved of
the remark.  Sir James was still carefully examining the round white

"The thing tallies," he said.  "There are the same cruel marks, the same
indentations as from a coarse cloth.  And also we have the same great
force used.  In the name of God, what is it, sir?"

Brownsmith spoke with a sudden horror upon him.  Harold shook his head.

"I can sympathize with your feelings, Sir James," he said.  "I came very
near to fainting myself when the full force of the thing dawned upon me.
But for the present I prefer to keep silence.  And I will ask you to be
silent also.  You would be playing into the hands of an utter scoundrel
if the slightest inkling of Mrs. Benstein’s accident were to leak out."

Brownsmith pursed up his lips and nodded.

"Then the best thing Mrs. Benstein can do is to go home," he said.
"Plenty of hot water fomentations for the present and something to
follow.  I’ll see that it is delivered to-night.  But, seeing that Mrs.
Benstein has to say good-night to her hostess, and seeing that her dress
is so low in the sleeves——"

Isa Benstein solved the problem in her own swift, characteristic
fashion.  She tore her dress from the shoulder so that the gauzy fabric
hung over and hid the cruel red seam on her arm.

"Ask Lady Frobisher to come here," she said. "Then call my car and fetch
my wraps.  I quite see the necessity of making the thing look as natural
as possible."

It was all done so smoothly and easily that no suspicion was aroused.
Mrs. Benstein had simply had an accident with her dress, an accident
that necessitated her immediate return home.  She had had a charming
evening, one that she was likely to remember for a long time.  Her
manner was easy and natural; she gave no impression of one who has
escaped a nameless horror, perhaps a cruel death.

"I can slip away, thank you very much," she said.  "Perhaps the
gentleman who has been so kind will see me to my car.  May I ask your

Harold bowed profoundly.  It was just the opportunity he required.  They
threaded their way through the guests along the brilliantly-lighted
corridor into the street where the car was waiting.  Isa Benstein held
out her hand in a warm and friendly grip.

"I am going to help you and Miss Lyne, if I can," she said.  "Ask Miss
Lyne to come and see me the first thing in the morning.  After she has
gone to bed to-night she will know and appreciate my request.  Have you
really solved the mystery of the two tragedies?"

"I am absolutely certain of it," Harold replied. "See, there is Sir
Clement and that fellow—Hamid Khan, the man who was in the smoking-room,
you know."

Mrs. Benstein looked eagerly out of the window. Her big eyes gleamed.
"It is as I expected," she said.  "I have made a discovery also, Mr.
Denvers. If you will call on me after eleven to-morrow you will hear of
something greatly to your advantage.  Strange how fate seems to be
playing into our hands to-night."

The car moved forward, the speaker was gone.

                            *CHAPTER XXII.*

                         *STRANDS OF THE ROPE.*

Denvers returned to the ballroom with a feeling that he would be glad to
get away. The whole thing sickened him, the light laughter and frivolous
chatter jarred upon his nerves.  He had been very near to a dreadful
tragedy; he had learnt a hideous truth, and he had not got himself in
hand yet.  He wanted to know the whole truth without delay.  Angela
awaited him anxiously.

"My aunt tells me that Mrs. Benstein is gone," she said.  "She had an
accident with her dress. Harold, you look as if you had seen a ghost."

"I have seen the devil, which is much the same thing," Harold murmured.
"My dear girl, never again shall I flatter myself that I have no nerves.
I dare not go into the refreshment-room and demand strong drink, but I
shall be more than grateful if you will smuggle me a glass of champagne
into the little alcove where we first met to-night.  There I can tell
you something."

But it was not very much that Harold had to tell.  The terrible
discovery he had made must be kept to himself as far as Angela was
concerned. Mrs. Benstein would like to see Angela in the morning.  She
had a new design for a costume that might suit the girl, so that she was
to be sure and wear the blue orchids that Angela had at present in her

"It sounds very mysterious," Angela smiled.

"Well, it does," Harold admitted.  "But I’m sure Mrs. Benstein has good
reasons for the request.  Taking her all in all, she is the most
brilliantly intellectual woman I have ever met, and if I mistake not she
can supply the missing piece of the puzzle.  Now I really must say
good-night, dear old girl, and drag my master home.  I have much to do
before I go to bed."

"What did Mrs. Benstein do with the ruby?" Angela asked.

"I don’t know.  She utterly baffled Frobisher and Lefroy.  At first it
occurred to me that she had passed it on to you, but she would argue
that your tell-tale face would give you away.  I expect she acted as the
hero of Poe’s ’Purloined Letter’ did—place the gem in a place so simple
and commonplace, that nobody would ever dream of looking for it there.
However, I am quite sure that the jewel is safe."

In the card-room the Shan was just finishing a rubber of bridge.  He had
won a considerable sum of money, and was in the best of spirits.  As two
of the players quitted the table, Harold drew his pseudo-master aside.

"You are not going to play again," he said, curtly, "you are coming
home.  If you refuse to come home I shall take no further interest in
your affairs.  Do you hear?"

The Shan nodded sulkily.  Like the spoilt child that he was, he had no
heed for the morrow.  But Denvers’ stern manner was not without its
effect. He wanted a glass or two of champagne first, but Denvers fairly
dragged him into the street.  There was no car waiting, so perforce they
had to walk.

"You’re carrying it off with a high hand," the Shan growled.  "Anybody
would think you had the Blue Stone safe in your pocket.  Have you done

"I have done a great deal; on the whole, it has been a most exciting
evening.  Still, so far as things go I am quite satisfied with myself.
The rest depends upon you.  It will be your own fault if you don’t see
your own back to-morrow.  No drink, mind; you are to go to bed quite

"Confound you!" the Shan flashed out, passionately.  "Do you know who I
am?  A servant like yourself——"

"I am no servant of yours," Harold replied. "And I know quite well who
you are.  You are a dissolute, drunken fool, who is doing his best to
bring himself to ruin.  And I am doing my best to save you at a price.
If you like to go your own way you can."

The Shan muttered something that sounded like an apology.

"You see, I am greatly worried about the Stone," he said.  "The Stone
and the Moth.  You promised to tell me to-night where the Moth had
vanished to."

"The Moth is hanging up in Sir Clement Frobisher’s conservatory," Harold
Denvers said. "Frobisher would have shown it to you to-night only he had
a more interesting game to play.  It is the very plant that was stolen
from Streatham. You can imagine the price Frobisher would ask for its
restoration.  You would grant the price, and then he would have found
some way to repudiate all the wicked story of that infernal flower."

"Of course I do, my dear chap," said the Shan, now thoroughly restored
as to his temper.  "It has been whispered fearsomely round firesides in
Koordstan for a thousand years.  The Cardinal Moth guarded the roof of
the Temple of Ghan. All the great political criminals were sentenced to
climb to the roof and pick a flower from the Moth. The door was closed
and the temple seen to be empty.  When the priests outside had finished
their prayer the door was open and the criminal lay on the floor dead
with the marks of great hairy hands about him.  Sometimes it was the
neck that was broken, sometimes the chest was all crushed in as if a
great giant had done it, but it was always the same.  Ay, they dreaded
that death more than any other.  It was so mysterious, horrible."

"And you have no idea how it was done?" Harold asked.

"Not a bit of it.  The priests kept that secret. Of course they pretend
to something occult, but I have been in the West too long to believe
that. Still, it is pretty horrible."

"You would perhaps like to know how it is done?"

"Of course I should, Denvers.  The priests are too cunning for that."

"Doubtless.  All the same, I know how it is done, and, what is more to
the point, Frobisher knows.  It was the way that Manfred died, also that
poor fellow at Streatham.  And, but for a miracle, Mrs. Benstein, with
your sacred jewel presumedly in her possession, would have been a
further victim.  Frobisher deliberately planned the last thing to close
the mouth of a woman."

The Shan’s eyes fairly rippled with curiosity, but Harold shook his

"Not yet," he said.  "I must be absolutely certain of my facts first.
Now I am going to see you into bed, and come round to keep you out of
mischief in the morning.  Meanwhile, I am going to restore myself to a
Christian garb and call up Sir James Brownsmith, late as it is.  Between
us we might be able to put all the pieces together."

To his great satisfaction, Harold saw his dusky friend not only in bed,
but fast asleep before he had finished his own change.  Everything
seemed to promise fair for the morrow.  It was past two, and Harold
hurried along in the direction of Harley Street, and he was glad to see
a gleam over the fanlight of the surgeon’s front door.  He was pulling
the bell for the second time when Sir James Brownsmith appeared.

"What do you want?" he asked, testily.  "A consulting physician like

"How is Mrs. Benstein?" Harold asked coolly. The question was quite
effective.  "When I saw you a little time ago, Sir James, I passed as
one of the Shan’s suite.  Clothed and in my right mind, I am Mr. Harold
Denvers, at your service.  I have the solution of the Manfred mystery in
my pocket."

"And altogether I have no doubt that you are a most remarkable young
man," Sir James said. "Pray come in.  I ought to be in bed, but I have
not the faintest inclination for sleep.  Come in."

Brilliant lights gleamed in Brownsmith’s cosy study, where books and
scientific instruments made up the bulk of the furniture.  The famous
surgeon proffered cigarettes what time he looked keenly into the face of
his younger companion. He lighted one of the thin paper tubes himself.

"I am just from Mrs. Benstein’s house," he explained.  "I saw her alone,
her husband knows nothing; it is her great desire that he should know
nothing, that the matter should be kept a profound secret, in fact."

"It must be," Harold exclaimed.  "Not a word of it must leak out.  You
made a certain examination of the wound.  What did you find? Was there
any blood?"

"I’m not quite sure.  When I came to wash the arm there was no blood
there.  But there were the fibres of the rope, and they seemed to be
impregnated with blood the same as those from the throat of Manfred, and
the body of that poor fellow who was strangled at Streatham."

"Are you quite sure that it is blood, Sir James?"

"Well, I could hazard the suggestion, though I have not made a careful
analysis yet.  No blood on the victim, but blood on the strands of the
rope.  Strange, isn’t it?"

"If it were true, yes," Harold said, dryly. "But it isn’t.  Look here,
Sir James."

From the vest-pocket of his dress-clothes Harold took one wilted bloom
of the Cardinal Moth.  He crushed it between his fingers, and
immediately they were covered with a rosy sticky bright red substance
exactly like blood.  No paint or pigment of any kind could have
counterfeited the original so well.

"Well, that’s interesting," Sir James cried.  "I see your meaning.  When
the victim was strangled one or two of those amazing blooms must have
been twisted round the rope."

"In other words, the rope that did the mischief was the rope that held
up the Cardinal Moth," Harold said.  "It was the same at Streatham; it
was the same with poor Manfred; according to your own showing, Mrs.
Benstein met with her accident under precisely similar circumstances."

Sir James rose and walked up and down the room in a fit of unusual

"You mean to infer that it was not an accident at all?" he asked.

"You have precisely taken in my meaning, Sir James.  The Cardinal Moth
is at the bottom of the whole thing.  I must tell you a little of its
history. The Cardinal Moth is unique amongst flowers; for centuries it
guarded, or was supposed to guard, the Temple of Ghan.  It had magical
powers: it was used for the destruction of political prisoners. They
were shut in with it to pick a flower, and always were they found dead,
crushed to death. This part is no legend, as the Shan of Koordstan will
tell you.

"The fame of the orchid got whispered about, and many were the tries to
get it.  At last a party of three men managed it; they divided the
orchid in three parts and fled.  Frobisher was with one part, and
narrowly got off with his life at Stamboul.  Lefroy got away with
another part, but he lost it and almost his life as well in a fire at
Turin, a fire that was no accident.  The third man vanished, but his
orchid remained intact till I came across it and brought it to
Streatham, when it was stolen.  My idea was to give it back to the Shan
of Koordstan in exchange for certain concessions."

"Do you know who stole the plant from Streatham?" Sir James asked.

"I have a very shrewd idea," Harold said. "But that we can go into
later.  At the present moment I want to show you a little experiment,
and when I have done so you will know as much as I do about the mystery.
I am going to prove to you that the Cardinal Moth has been a terrible
power in the hands of the priests of Ghan, but I am also going to prove
that the power is exercised in quite a mechanical way.  To-night I
managed to bring away a very small piece of the rope that sustains the
Cardinal Moth.  You see, it is exceedingly dry and hard, and yet under
certain conditions it thickens up like a cheap sponge.  We will tie this
end to this leg of the table and that end to the other leg, leaving it
to sway a little, and not making it too tight."

Harold tied the rope as he had indicated under the eyes of Sir James,
who watched him with breathless attention.  The thing looked so simple,
and yet there was a strange mystery behind it all, a mystery that was
about to be explained.  The two knots were made tight at length.

"Now, despite the warmth of the night, I shall have to get you to light
a fire," Harold said.  "It is absolutely necessary that we should boil a

"No occasion to do that," Sir James said. "You shall have your kettle in
five minutes. See here."

From under the table he produced a copper electric kettle, filled it,
and plunged the plug into the wall.  In a little less than five minutes
a long trail of steam issued from the spout.  By reason of the long flex
Harold could carry the kettle from place to place without cutting off
the connection, so that the water continued all the time to boil and

"Now watch this," he said.  "I place this jet of steam under the rope
here, and there you are! The effect is practically instantaneous.  See
what a simple thing it is."  Sir James jumped back, horror and
enlightenment in his eyes.  His voice shook as he spoke.

"Infernal!  Diabolical!" he cried hoarsely. "And you mean to say that
Frobisher knew this! Damnable scoundrel; he is not fit to live, still
less to die."

                            *CHAPTER XXIII.*

                       *A LUNCH AT THE BELGRAVE.*

Mrs. Benstein received Denvers as arranged the next morning as if the
events of the previous night had been forgotten. She was looking
wonderfully fresh and bright; a tailor-made gown fitted her figure to
perfection. She motioned Denvers to a chair.

"I am glad you came," she said.  "Now you are to please listen to me
carefully and put the past out of your mind altogether.  Since I saw you
last night I have learnt a great deal touching the history of the Blue
Stone of Ghan."

"Which I trust is quite safe," Harold murmured.

"Oh quite," Mrs. Benstein said, with a queer little smile.  "I have even
satisfied my husband on that point, though he has not yet recovered from
the shock of your visit—I mean the visit of yourself and the Shan last
night.  You want to borrow the stone for a day or so?"

"That was the suggestion we ventured to make, Mrs. Benstein."

"For the purpose of throwing dust in the eyes of certain persons who are
interested in an attempt to deprive the Shan of his throne.  Mind, that
is merely surmise, but I fancy it is correct.  But I may tell you that
my husband could never have hardened his heart to that extent."

"It doesn’t matter now," Harold explained. "We are in a position to
redeem the gem.  Of course, under the circumstances, I need not conceal
anything from your Mr. Gerald Parkford——"

"Capital!" Mrs. Benstein cried.  "His name is good enough for anything.
Now the path is quite clear.  I want you and Miss Lyne to lunch with me
at two o’clock at the Belgrave.  The Shan must come along, that is
imperative.  He is to leave a note for his minister Hamid Khan to join
him there at that meal, and bring the document that requires sealing
along.  Also I am going to ask Sir Clement Frobisher; only I want Hamid
Khan to be a little late.  Do you understand?"

"Most brilliant of mysteries; I’ll try to," Harold smiled.  "And the
Blue Stone——"

"The Blue Stone will be in evidence when the time comes.  See Mr.
Parkford and ask him to bring that cheque along.  My husband is too ill
to attend to business to-day, so I shall transact it for him."

"He has had a great deal on his mind the last few hours," Harold smiled.

"That is it, Mr. Denvers.  A corner in rubies, so to speak.  Now will
you go and settle up this business for me without delay?  I understand
that the Shan wants looking after if one desires to keep him in a
condition to bestow his mind on business affairs."

"I’ll take the hint and my departure," Harold laughed.  "I suppose you
have written all your notes.  And I quite forgot to ask if you feel any
the worse for last night’s adventure."

Mrs. Benstein had written all her notes, and on the whole she felt
little inconvenience from her accident.

"Not that I am at all satisfied," she said. "Mr. Denvers, I was in great
danger last night?"

"Terrible danger!" Harold said gravely. "But I have got to the bottom of
the mystery now, and the same thing is not likely to happen again.  I
can’t tell you now; in fact, if I did there would be no luncheon-party
at the Belgrave to-day.  But your curiosity will not be unduly tried."

By the use of the telephone and a cab, Harold managed to carry out Mrs.
Benstein’s desires. Parkford was waiting in his chambers, having just

"I expected you," he said.  "Any news of the ruby?"

"Mrs. Benstein says it is all right," Harold replied.  "She wants you to
lunch with her at two at the Belgrave, and I was to ask you to put the
cheque in your pocket.  It sounds flighty and very unbusinesslike, but
there are other matters mixed up with this one, and Mrs. Benstein is not
the woman to do a thing of this kind without some very good reason.
Will you come?"

"With pleasure," Parkford replied, "and bring the cheque along.  Before
very long an invitation from Mrs. Benstein will confer a mark of

The ruler of Koordstan was dressing as Denvers arrived, and suggesting
something in the way of champagne and soda-water as a means of an
appetite for breakfast.  He had gone to bed painfully sober for him, and
he resented the interference of Harold accordingly.

"’Pon my word, you seem to forget yourself," he said.  "If a man can’t
do as he likes in my position——"

"It is precisely a man in your position who cannot do as he likes,"
Harold said coolly.  "Leave that stuff alone till after lunch, when you
can do as you please.  If you want your stone back——"

"I had forgotten all about the confounded thing!" the Shan growled.
"Let me see, what had you arranged?  I was so interested in my bridge
last night that I forgot all about it.  Wasn’t there a man called
Parkford who promised to do something to get me out of my scrape?"

"He promised a cheque," Harold explained. "He is ready to redeem the
stone for us, and Mrs. Benstein has promised that it shall be produced
at the proper time.  I have seen her already this morning, and she wants
you to join her luncheon-party at the Belgrave at two."

"Count me in!" the Shan said eagerly.  "A monstrous fine woman, Denvers;
and a beautiful one, into the bargain.  But you forget I promised to see
Hamid Khan here in an hour’s time."

"Well, you are not going to meet him here," Harold said.  "Mrs. Benstein
has got some little scheme on, and I am here an involuntary ally in the
matter.  You will be good enough to leave a note here for Hamid Khan,
explaining that you have been called out on business, or pleasure, or
whatever you like; so that Hamid Khan is to meet you at the Belgrave at
two for luncheon, after which you will seal his papers.  This is not my
idea, but Mrs. Benstein’s.  I am looking forward to a very pretty comedy

The Shan scrambled off his note and presently departed with Harold, who
had no intention of losing sight of his dusky friend till the
luncheon-party was over.  To the Shan’s suggestion of the club and
billiards he assented, but to a feeble suggestion of modest liquids he
turned a deaf ear. On the whole, Denvers was glad to find himself on his
way to the Belgrave.

Mrs. Benstein had already arrived, accompanied by Angela.  She had
fetched the latter, she explained, so that she would have no time for an
excuse.  A spray of the Cardinal Moth flashed and trembled on Mrs.
Benstein’s breast; the same spray of purple orchid that Angela had worn
the night before in her hair, was tucked into her belt. Mrs. Benstein
was frank and easy and charming as usual, but there was just a touch of
colour in her cheeks, and her eyes had a brighter sparkle than usual.

"I have managed everything myself," she cried, gaily.  "I have even
arranged the flowers on the table.  A strange thing, is it not, that we
English people can arrange flowers!"

"Ah, here is Mr. Parkford."

Parkford came up, alert, quick, and self-possessed as usual.  Denvers
gave him an inquiring glance, at which he smiled and tapped his
breast-pocket significantly.

"No flowers, any of you!" Mrs. Benstein cried in affected surprise.
"Here is one for Mr. Parkford, and there is one for Mr. Denvers.
Positively, I see nothing of the shade to suit the colouring of His
Highness the Shan.  Ah, here is the very thing!  Excuse me, Miss Lyne."

The speaker bent down and broke off a little spray of one blossom of the
purple orchid from Angela’s belt, and herself fixed it in the lapel of
the Shan’s immaculate coat.

"Who can say that it is not in perfect taste?" she cried.  "It is the
very shade.  We will sit down, and unless Sir Clement Frobisher turns up
in time we will proceed without him."

Angela looked a little disappointed at the mention of Frobisher’s name.
A couple of waiters busied themselves over the table, a basket of
gold-foiled bottles attracted the Shan’s admiring gaze.  As the big
Empire clock over the doorway of the great red and gold saloon struck
the hour Frobisher appeared.  He drew up grinning and smiling with
perfect self-possession; even the presence of Denvers did not disconcert
him.  He affected to ignore Harold altogether.  But though he smiled,
there was just the suggestion of a puzzled pucker between his eyes.
There was something going on that he did not understand. He made a
mental note of the fact that Angela and Denvers were not to meet again.

"A pleasant party," he murmured, "and full of sweet surprises.  But I
always was partial to a dainty salad.  Do you expect any further guests,
dear lady?"

"I understand that His Highness the Shan is waiting for someone," Mrs.
Benstein murmured.  "It is a matter of business, I believe.  Is not
somebody hunting for you over there, your Highness?"

"Hamid Khan, sure enough," the Shan exclaimed.  "He sees us at last.  He
is coming this way."

Hamid came leisurely along, smiling deferentially as he caught sight of
his master. The Shan introduced his minister more or less _en bloc_ as
Hamid murmured something.  Then his face suddenly changed, a sickly
yellow showed under his tan as he looked up and met the slightly-mocking
glance of his hostess.

"Hamid Khan and I have met before," Mrs. Benstein said serenely.  "It
was some years ago, but I have not forgotten."

"Egad, our friend does not duly appreciate his blessings," Frobisher
chuckled as his keen eye detected the sickly pallor of the newcomer.
"Try one of these liqueurs."

"The heat, the walk in the sun," Hamid murmured.  "London often affects
me in this way.  If my master will excuse me, I will get my business
done and go away.  My unworthy presence——"

"Luncheon first," Mrs. Benstein gaily cried. "For the sake of old times,
I cannot be refused. I confess I am very curious to see that Blue Stone
and the way State documents are sealed.  You will perform the operation
in our presence after luncheon, will you not, Shan?"

The Shan nodded stolidly.  If some play was going on he might take his
part, he thought, especially with so brilliant a lady to lead him.
Frobisher’s restless little eyes roved from face to face, but he could
read nothing.  The meal proceeded gaily enough, the only silent person
being Hamid Khan, who seemed restless and ill at ease. Hardly was the
coffee on the table before he rose.

"Mrs. Benstein must excuse me," he said. "But I have much to do.  If
your Highness will produce the stone I will lay out the necessary papers

He shrugged his shoulders.  The Shan put down his glass and nodded.  It
was impossible from his stolid features to guess that he was as utterly
puzzled as Frobisher, which was saying a great deal.  A sudden silence,
a burst of expectation had fallen on the party.  A burst of laughter
from an adjoining table seemed out of place, incongruous. The papers
were crackling under Hamid Khan’s shaky hand.

"Has anybody a wax-match?" he asked. "Thank you, sir.  I will get the
seals ready."

He proceeded with the aid of a vesta to melt a piece of white wax on a
plate.  These he laid neatly on a round patch on the paper before him.

"And now for the seal," Mrs. Benstein cried gaily.  "Pray produce it,
your Highness.  I hope you are not so indiscreet as to carry it loose in
your pocket."

"I have too many enemies for that," the Shan said, carelessly.  "I have
to hide it carefully—in fact, I ought not to be in the street with it at
all.  Now guess where it is?"

Mrs. Benstein’s eyes fairly caressed the speaker. He wanted an opening
lead, and he had contrived to ask for it in such a manner as to utterly
throw Frobisher off the scent.

"I fancy I can tell," Mrs. Benstein went on. "Yes, you are not so clever
as you imagine.  You are like the man who hid his bank-note in his tie,
and called the attention of the thieves who dogged him to the fact by
tapping the tie nervously all the time.  I have seen you glance
frequently at the purple orchid in your coat.  I guess that the Blue
Stone is fixed in the calyx of the orchid."

"A most amazing and clever woman," the Shan murmured as he removed the
flower from his coat and looked gravely into the calyx of the bloom.
"By the prophet, there is some foreign substance here!  I remove it
between my thumb and forefinger, and behold the Blue Stone."

A queer cry broke from Frobisher, who instantly suppressed it.  Hamid
Khan looked up with dilating eyes and shot a glance almost murderous at
Frobisher.  As to the Shan, he smiled with the air of a man who has
brought off some new and brilliant feat of conjuring.

"One of Frobisher’s orchids too," he said. "Frobisher, if you drink so
fast you’ll choke yourself."

                            *CHAPTER XXIV.*

                            *A WOMAN’S WAY.*

Frobisher sat there grinning with his teeth showing in a kind of smiling
snarl.  The shining dome of his head exuded a beady moisture, his hand
crooked upon the haft of a dessert-knife, as if it had been a dagger of
melodrama.  A dog sometimes looks like that when he is being whipped on
the chain.  Nobody spoke for the moment.

There was not the faintest shadow of triumph on Mrs. Benstein’s face.
She merely smiled with the delighted air of a child who watched some new
and fascinating game.  In a businesslike way the Shan reached for Hamid
Khan’s document and called for the wax.

"That is a very pretty and ingenious hiding-place," Mrs. Benstein said
at length.  "No enemy would think of looking for it there.  Your
Highness has many enemies?"

"Ask Hamid Khan yonder," the Shan said crisply.  "He can tell you."

The wretched Hamid wriggled and bowed.  It was evident that he had been
taken quite by surprise.  The Shan sealed the documents and carelessly
tossed them across the table.  The Blue Stone glittered there well
within the reach of Frobisher, and his fingers itched for it.

"Put the jewel away," he said hoarsely.  "It is dangerous to leave it

"A fresh hiding-place," the Shan laughed.  "I feel quite nervous.
Suppose that I get Parkford to take care of it for me until I get home.
He is a man to be trusted, and not a man lightly to molest.  Sir, will
you do me the favour?"

Parkford coolly dropped the gem into his waistcoat pocket.  At the same
time he passed a folded strip of paper to Mrs. Benstein and nodded
significantly.  Then he rose.

"I am desolated," he said, "but really I have to leave.  Denvers, a word
with you."

The luncheon-party broke up upon this, Mrs. Benstein alone remaining.
She had arranged to wait here for a friend, she explained.  Frobisher
slid away, followed by Hamid Khan, and outside Denvers put Angela into a
passing taxi.  He had work before him this afternoon.

"That was very neatly done," Parkford said to the Shan.  "It was a
pleasure to see Frobisher’s face.  You saw me pass my cheque over to
Mrs. Benstein, who will hand it to her husband.  If you take my advice
you will allow me to deposit the Blue Stone with my bankers for the
present. I am going that way, and I shall see that it is all safe."

"Put it where you like," the Shan said, recklessly.  "It’s all the same
to me, knowing as I do that I have an honest man to deal with. This
rigid virtue of mine is undermining my constitution.  I’ll go off to the
club, and try and get a game of bridge.  Dine with me to-night,

Denvers excused himself on the plea of urgent business; besides, it was
strongly probable that His Highness of Koordstan would be beyond
entertaining by dinner-time.

"You’ve got our dusky friend out of a tight place," Harold suggested.

"So I suppose," Parkford said, indifferently. "I like this kind of
intrigue, and I have a fancy for acting unofficially for the Government.
Sometimes the hobby proves expensive, sometimes the information is
valuable.  In this case I am going to make a good thing out of it.  I am
very glad, for your sake, that you told Lord Rashburn all about it.
It’s given me a grip upon the Shan, and I’ll see that you get your
concessions.  But we must discuss that another time."

Harold went on his way with hope rising high within him.  He began to
see his way clear now, once the mystery of the Cardinal Moth was
fathomed.  Lefroy passed him presently, and turned into the Belgrave.
Harold wondered if this was the friend whom Mrs. Benstein was expecting.

It was.  Lefroy came up to the table where Mrs. Benstein was seated and
took a chair by her side.  There was no smile of welcome on her face.

"I am charmed to come at your summons," the Count said, placidly.

"That is very good of you," Mrs. Benstein said.  "Whether you remain in
that frame of mind is quite another matter.  I asked you to meet me here
because my time is limited, and I have business close by.  As you see
from the table I have had guests to luncheon."

"I envy them from the bottom of my soul," Lefroy murmured.

"I would not waste envy on some of them, Count.  For instance, Frobisher
and Hamid Khan. The Shan of Koordstan came here as my guest; he put off
important affairs of State to please me. But I was thoughtful.  I said
that Hamid Khan should come on here and bring the papers that he
required sealing with him."

"The documents that required the impress of the Blue Stone?" Lefroy

"The same.  Here is the wax cool and hard now upon the Limoges plate,
and with which the deed was done.  On the whole it was an interesting
ceremony, and nobody was more interested than Clement Frobisher.  Never
has that most beautiful smile been so much in evidence."

Lefroy coloured slightly.  He was not so obviously at his ease now.

"Hamid Khan was also deeply moved," Mrs. Benstein went on.  "Really, I
believe that both of the men I have mentioned expected that the Blue
Stone would not be produced in evidence. But it was.  And where do you
think it came from? You can never guess, of course."

Lefroy muttered something to the effect that his talents did not lie in
that direction.  He was conscious of a steely glitter in the eyes of the
woman he was near.

"Then I had better tell you," she went on.  "He took the stone out of a
great purple orchid he was wearing.  It was all the more strange that
just before I broke that very flower from a cluster worn by Miss Lyne.
Do you remember placing a cluster of those flowers in her hair at my
request last night?"

"I remember that circumstance perfectly well, Mrs. Benstein."

"Well, it was one of the same cluster of flowers. And I feel quite
certain now that when at my request you adorned Miss Lyne last night in
the conservatory, the Blue Stone was hidden in that very blossom.  Does
that intelligence appeal to you in any way, Count Lefroy?"

"You are an exceedingly clever woman," the Count said hoarsely, but with
sincere admiration. "So that is the way you baffled us last night. And
all the time I had actually the Blue Stone in my hand.  And I’ll swear
that Miss Lyne was not in the secret."

"She was not; her face would have betrayed her.  Now you can imagine the
pleasure with which I watched Sir Clement and Hamid Khan across the
luncheon-table.  And you call Frobisher a clever man!"

"He is by far and away the cleverest man I ever met, Madame."

"He is nothing of the kind," Mrs. Benstein said contemptuously.  "For
depth and cunning he has no equal, I admit.  But intellect he has
little, and imagination none at all.  The fellow generally scores
because his plots, as a rule, are laid against honest people.  But I saw
through him from the first.  He was going to make use of me—me!  I would
pit myself against him and win every time.  If he had not been prepared
to play the bully and the coward last night I would have spared him, but
not now.  Before long that man will stand in the dock, and take heed
lest you stand there by his side."

Mrs. Benstein’s voice had sunk to a hissing whisper, her eyes flashed
with passion.

"It is hard to know what I have done," Lefroy murmured.

"It would be hard to say what you have not done," was the swift reply.
"You, too, were ready last night to apply force to a desperate woman.
But I beat you, and it is part of my revenge to tell you how the trick
was done.  You will never have another chance to get possession of the
Blue Stone and ruin the Shan by your plots together with Hamid Khan.
You would have made use of me, now I am going to make use of you.  Here
comes my husband.  When he has done with you I shall dictate my terms.
Meanwhile, if your nerves are not equal to the strain there are many
kinds of wines here."

Lefroy declined the proffered hospitality.  He began to feel like one of
his own puppets as Benstein nodded ponderously and sat down.  The
interview had evidently been arranged for.

"I am glad of this opportunity for a little chat," Benstein said,
ponderously.  His fat cheeks were shaking, his hand was not quite so
steady as it might have been.  He seemed to be fumbling for something in
the capacious pocket of a coat far too large for his bulky figure.  "I
was going to look you up, but my wife said she would arrange the

"We have had a lot of business transactions together," Lefroy suggested.

"But there is going to be no more, my friend," Benstein said.  "You are
too dangerous—you are too many for the old man whose sight is not what
it used to be.  It is about those Koordstan possessions that you pledged
with me for a large sum of money.  I keep them by me, I regard them as
good business, until one day I show them to my wife.  And what does she

"It is impossible to hazard the suggestion what so clever a woman would
say," Lefroy murmured.

"She says that the whole thing is forgery. Then I look quietly into the
matter, and surely enough I find that the whole thing is a forgery. I
stand to lose ten thousand pounds.  My first impulse is to go off to the
police and ask for a warrant to issue against you.  When you take my
money you take part of my body.  Still, if you pay me the money now, I
say nothing further."

Lefroy nodded thoughtfully.  He was not in the least abashed; he made no
attempt to deny the truth of Aaron Benstein’s accusation.  He would have
to find the money, but how, was quite another matter.

"If you give me a little time," he said, "I shall hope to see my way."

"Ah! ah!—a little time—seven years perhaps the Judge will say.  But I
leave it to my wife—she is the clever one.  My dear, what shall I do?"

"At the present moment put on your hat and go back to the City," Mrs.
Benstein said.  "I fancy I shall know how to deal with Count Lefroy. You
can’t have your money back and your revenge as well.  I fancy you can
safely leave me to settle matters."

Aaron Benstein was certain of it.  He beamed proudly at his wife and
kissed his fingers as he put on his hat and most obediently waddled out
of the room.  For a long while neither party at the table spoke.

"I’m afraid that I don’t quite understand you," Lefroy ventured at

"You are not meant to understand me," Isa Benstein retorted.  "For the
present you are going to be my puppet and dance when I pull the strings.
Play me fair, and you shall not suffer for the wrong you have done my
husband; play me false, and you shall stand in the dock within an hour
after.  Come, sir, it is the turn of the woman towards whom you and
another scoundrel last night would have shown personal violence had you
dared.  For the present I shall be content with plain replies to plain
questions.  Do you know from whence Frobisher obtained the Cardinal

"I am not quite sure, but I can give a pretty good guess," Lefroy said.

"We shall come to that presently.  Was Manfred well acquainted with the
properties of that accursed flower?"

"I should say not.  Of course he had a good idea of its value and what
one could do with it."

"Quite so.  Then I suppose that I am correct in assuming that on the
night of his death Manfred was party to a conspiracy to steal the orchid
from Sir Clement Frobisher; in other words, he acted as your agent, and
he was killed in the act of purloining the flower?"

Lefroy wriggled uneasily and muttered something. But Mrs. Benstein
pinned him firmly down.

"I shall abandon you to your fate unless you speak frankly," she said.
"Was Manfred trying to steal the Cardinal Moth when he met with his

"You may take that for a fact," Lefroy said, as if the words were
dragged from him.

"Very good.  Manfred was going to steal the Moth which previously had
been stolen by Sir Clement’s agent from somebody else.  Who sold the
Moth to Sir Clement?"

"I am not quite certain, but I believe it was Paul Lopez," said Lefroy.

Mrs. Benstein rose from her seat, and flicked a solitary crumb from her
dress.  On the whole she did not seem displeased with the day’s work.

"Enough for the present," she said, "Take me out and see me into a swift

                             *CHAPTER XXV.*

                         *A STRIKING LIKENESS.*

Frobisher had passed a bad night, and he looked as if he were likely to
have an equally unpleasant morning.  A small dealer out St. Alban’s way
claimed to have found three new orchids in his last speculative parcel,
and Frobisher had set his mind on seeing them before some other soulless
and selfish collector stepped in.  But a slip of blue paper, humorously
accompanied by a shilling, told him that his presence was imperative at
the adjourned inquest on the body of the man unknown, who had been found
murdered in the greenhouse at Streatham.

"Now what possible connection can I have with that?" he grumbled, as he
ate his breakfast. "It was bad enough for Manfred to thoughtlessly lose
his life in my conservatory: And here’s a letter from George Arnott.  He
has a great deal of complaint about you, Angela."

"I am properly flattered by his consideration," Angela said coldly.

"Oh, that’s all very well, young lady.  But you are going to marry
George Arnott all the same. That young scoundrel Denvers had better make
the most of his time."

"He will do that without any encouragement from you," Angela replied.
"Mr. Arnott is an unspeakable little cad, and I would as soon marry your
butler.  Indeed, I insult the butler by comparison."

An ugly smile crossed Frobisher’s face, but he carried the conversation
no further.  He was puzzled and bewildered, and neither feeling was
palatable.  He had been outgeneralled by a woman, and the reflection was
bitter.  But he was going to have his own way over this matter, as
Angela would discover.

"Mr. Arnott to see you, sir," the butler announced.  "In the library,

Arnott seemed to be anxious about something. He was fussing up and down
the library with a mass of papers in his hand.  His manner was hardly

"Well, you have made a nice mess of it," he said, "you and Lefroy
between you.  He’s bolted." Frobisher chuckled for the first time since
he rose.

"Bet you a penny old Benstein had found out all about those forgeries,"
he said.  "Lefroy didn’t know that I was _au fait_ as to that
transaction.  So Lefroy has retired discreetly—urgent business on behalf
of the master, and all that kind of thing, eh?  That leaves the field
clear for us."

"To a certain extent, perhaps.  But you won’t get the concessions.
Hamid Khan has been utterly beaten by Mrs. Benstein and your friend
Harold Denvers.  It appears that Mrs. Benstein knew Hamid Khan years
ago, he being no more of a Koord than you or I.  The Shan has dismissed
him, and at the present moment is on his way to Paris with Denvers."

A round rasping oath shot from Frobisher’s lips. "So that young
blackguard was in it," he exclaimed.  "I fancied so."

"In it!  In it up to his neck.  I bribed one of the Shan’s servants.
Why, Denvers, calling himself Aben Abdullah or some such name, and
beautifully disguised, was in your house the night before last at your
wife’s dance.  It was he who stopped your little game and enabled Mrs.
Benstein to turn the tables on you.  Those concessions are as good as in
Denvers’ pocket."

"But where did the money come from to get that gem out of Benstein’s
clutches?  I know for a fact that the Shan is desperately hard up for
the moment."

"What does that matter?" Arnott asked irritably.  "You were at Mrs.
Benstein’s luncheon-party at the Belgrave yesterday.  Who was there
besides the actors in the game?  You are losing your wits, Frobisher.
What do you suppose Parkford was doing there?"

Frobisher slapped his bald head helplessly.

"I never thought of that," he said blankly. "I’d go to Paris myself,
only I’ve got to attend an inquest.  Come and dine quietly to-night and
discuss the plan of campaign.  I shall find some way out yet.  Now just
you toddle off and keep your tongue between your teeth."

"And what about Miss Lyne?" Arnott asked.

"That’s going to be all right—you can safely trust the young lady to me.
She doesn’t realise what I am capable of.  Though why you should want to
marry a girl who hates you and despises you from the bottom of her heart
is more than I can comprehend.  Eight o’clock sharp to-night."

Frobisher travelled down to Streatham a little later, and devoutly hoped
that his own evidence would be a matter of form.  But the hall in which
the inquest was to be held was crammed with curious onlookers, for the
dual sensation caused by two mysterious deaths under similar
circumstances had not been forgotten by the public.  Frobisher but
rarely glanced at the newspapers except _The Times_, or he would have
known that "the orchid mystery," as it had been called, was the
sensation of the hour.  Only by the aid of two friendly policemen did he
reach a seat in court.

The proceedings were drawing on, evidence of a formal nature only being
called at present. Frobisher nodded to Inspector Townsend, whom he
recognized as an old acquaintance.

"Something horribly nasty about perspiring humanity," he said.  "I
should like to turn a garden-hose on to the gallery yonder.  What on
earth do you want me for, Townsend?"

Townsend admitted that there might be one or two points on which Sir
Clement’s evidence might prove material.  He was not quite sure what the
barrister for the authorities had in his mind. Frobisher glanced at his
watch from time to time impatiently; he had forgotten his surroundings
utterly, when the sound of his own name brought him back to the present
with a start.  Leisurely and with perfect self-possession he entered the
box and was sworn.

"I want to ask you a few questions," the Crown counsel said.  "You have
read something of the case, Sir Clement?"

"I have heard of it, though I am afraid I shall be of very little use to

"We shall see.  This man, whom I shall call the unknown for the reason
that he has not yet been identified, was found dead, murdered in a
greenhouse at Streatham.  He had been strangled by means of a hair rope
twisted about his neck and pulled tight with great force from behind."

"That you are perfectly sure of?" Frobisher said with a suggestion of a

"At any rate, it will serve for a theory at present.  In that
greenhouse, upon the authority of Thomas Silverthorne, was a valuable
orchid which had been placed there by a stranger some time before.
After the murder of the unknown that orchid had absolutely disappeared."

"Very strange," Frobisher said indifferently, "but of no particular
interest to me."

"Perhaps we shall make it more interesting presently," Counsel retorted.
"We are inclined to believe that two people were after the orchid—the
man who was killed and the man who killed him and took the orchid away.
The plant must have been singularly valuable and possibly unique in its
way to induce a crime like this.  The whole thing is very strange and
singular, and it is rendered more so by the fact that a precisely
similar crime was committed in your conservatory the same night.  You
have valuable orchids, Sir Clement?"

Frobisher nodded.  He was not quite so cool now, and an irritating lump
was working at the back of his throat.  His quick mind began to see what
was behind these apparently innocent questions.

"I have probably the finest collection in England," he replied.

"Many of them would tempt a thief, I suppose?"

"Well, I dare say.  There are orchid collectors all over the world, you
see.  Once a man gets hold of that passion it seldom leaves him.  A
valuable stolen orchid would be a marketable commodity."

"The same as stolen books or prints, eh?  The commercial morality of all
collectors is supposed to be low.  What you mean to say is that an
orchid of repute would be bought by some collectors well knowing that it
had been obtained by questionable means?"

"I’ve no doubt about it," Frobisher admitted. "I have known such cases."

"Then here we have a motive for the crime. Let me refer to your own case
for a moment. What do you suppose Mr. Manfred was doing in your
conservatory at the time he died?  He refused to dine under plea of a
headache; he was supposed to be lying down, and yet he was found dead
near your flowers.  Do you think he was after one of them?"

"The inference is a fair one," Frobisher said, guardedly.

Counsel smiled as he stroked his moustache.  He was getting to the point

"Did you or do you suspect Mr. Manfred was after a particular plant?" he

Frobisher started.  He saw the trap instantly. The smiling little man
with the bland questions knew a great deal more than he had told as yet.
He was not so much asking questions as inviting the witness to make
admissions.  He had been primed doubtless by Mrs. Benstein and Denvers.
The lump in the back of Frobisher’s throat grew large, the easy smile
flickered and died on his face.

"I have a score that are almost unique," he said.  "Under the

Counsel waved the point aside.  His experience told him that he was
alarming his witness.  He started on another tack which was destined to
be even more disturbing to Frobisher’s peace of mind.

"Let me put it another way," he said in his silkiest manner.  "We are
pretty certain that a valuable orchid was stolen from Streatham.  You
tell me that commercial morality among collectors is not high, and that
a plant like that would be a marketable commodity.  Would you buy it,
for example?"

"I would go a long way in that direction," Frobisher said with a touch
of his old cynicism.

"You would!  Now I am going to ask you a direct question.  I need not
tell you the hour at which the unknown was murdered at Streatham because
you know that as well as I do.  Now since that time have you added to
your collection an orchid of extraordinary interest?"

Frobisher gasped.  He had not expected the question.  He was like a man
who suddenly sees before him a deep and yawning precipice in the path of
flowers.  And the chasm was so deep and yawning that he could not see to
the bottom of it. He hesitated and stammered.

"I certainly bought a valuable orchid the same night," he admitted.

"Ah!  Now we are getting on, indeed.  The orchid you bought was unique!"

"Well, that is a fair description of it.  Nothing like it has been seen

"An orchid the like of which has never been seen before!  Come, this is
very interesting.  Can you tell us if the plant in question has any
particular name?"

"It is called ’The Cardinal Moth,’" Frobisher admitted slowly.  The
words seemed to be dragged from him; he half wondered what had become of
his voice.  "It came originally from Koordstan."

"Stolen," the Counsel cried.  "The orchid, sir, is unique.  It was used
to guard the Temple of Ghan.  It is supposed to possess certain sinister
qualities.  Criminals who were sent into the place where the Moth hung
never came out alive, they always died, as the two unhappy men whose
cases we have under consideration perished.  The sentence was to pluck a
flower from the Cardinal Moth.  The flowers were plucked, and when the
great gates were thrown back the criminal was dead, strangled.  Sir
Clement, I presume that you knew all about this before you purchased the
Cardinal Moth the other night."

"Every collector of intelligence knows the story," Frobisher admitted.

"So when the treasure came in your way you could not resist the
temptation of purchase.  Now, pray be careful.  Did you not buy the
Cardinal Moth about an hour or two, say, after the unknown was found
murdered in that conservatory at Streatham?"

Frobisher wiped his shining head; his hand was shaking slightly.

"If you put it that way, I did," he said.  "It was brought to me and
offered for sale that night and I bought it."

"What did you give for it?"

Frobisher gaped open-mouthed at the question. It came back to him with
sudden force that he had not given anything for the Moth at all, he had
only promised for Lopez’s sake to tell a lie and stick to it.  Counsel
rapped sharply on the table before him.

"I asked you what you gave for the Cardinal Moth?" he exclaimed.

"A trifle," Frobisher admitted.  "Well, nothing in money at all.  You
see, the man who sold it to me——"

"Can you see the man in court?  Look round and let us know if he is

Frobisher slowly looked round the court, not so much to find Lopez as to
regain his own scattered wits.

                            *CHAPTER XXVI.*

                      *A BAD QUARTER OF AN HOUR.*

Frobisher passed a handkerchief over his shining head slowly, with a
feeling that he was going through the ordeal of a Turkish bath.  It was
a long time before he was quite sure that the vendor of the Cardinal
Moth was not in court.  The little questioner smiled as Frobisher shook
his head.  Evidently he had a powerful reserve behind him.  He switched
off on to another track presently.

"You know all about the history of the Cardinal Moth?" he asked.

"Every collector does," Frobisher replied.  "It has been known for
centuries.  Times out of number adventurers have tried to obtain the
whole plant, or, at any rate, a small portion of it, but without
success.  Generally the attempt has ended in disaster to the

"You mean that usually they have been killed?"

"Precisely.  They have died of strangulation as—as Mr. Manfred did."

"Quite so.  You don’t suggest that there is anything Satanic or
diabolical about the Moth? No cruel force from an unseen world, or
anything of that kind?"

"Certainly not," Frobisher said with the suspicion of a sneer.
"Although such a thing is firmly believed in Koordstan and elsewhere."

"Then there is some trick, some danger.  Now, Sir Clement, listen to me
carefully.  You knew all about this strange fatality that clings to the
Cardinal Moth, you know that Mr. Manfred met his death by that terrible
way, and that tragedy at Streatham was more or less a repetition of the
thing that happened under your roof.  You can’t deny that."

"Have I made any attempt to do so?" Frobisher retorted.

"I didn’t suggest anything of the kind," Counsel snapped.  "But I do say
that you suppressed, deliberately suppressed, what you knew to be facts
of the deepest import.  Why did you not tell all this to the police?
Why didn’t you mention it to Sir James Brownsmith and other friends?"

Frobisher mumbled something in reply.  It came to him suddenly that he
was older than he ought to be, that his nerve was no longer what it once
had been.  He called to mind the many brilliant knaves who had from time
to time stepped jauntily into a witness-box contemptuous of the
inferiority of the cross-questioner, and who had an hour later tottered
from the court a broken man.  How much did this little keen-eyed man
know? he asked himself.  He would have given half his fortune to be
quite clear on that point. But he could not answer the question

"Nothing could have been gained by that course," he said.

"And you want the court to believe that?" Counsel cried.  "Here were you
with something like a correct solution in your mind and you keep
silence.  When did you buy the Cardinal Moth?"

"It was on the night of the Streatham tragedy," Frobisher admitted.

"Indeed!  Was the man you purchased that plant from a stranger to you?"

"No.  On the contrary, I have known him for years.  He was with me the
night before as well."

"Worse and worse," Counsel protested.  "Tell me, Sir Clement, have you
ever made an attempt to raid the Cardinal Moth in person or in
conjunction with others?"

"I laid a plot to get possession of it," Frobisher admitted coolly
enough.  He felt that he could afford to be cynical and frank on this
point. "But my plans miscarried.  The plant was divided into three
portions.  One was lost sight of, in America, I fancy; the other was
lost at Stamboul, where I came very near to losing my life as well. And
the third plant was burned at Turin."

"Was that by accident or design?"

"Design, doubtless.  The hotel was deliberately set on fire."

"Interesting," Counsel murmured.  "What was the name of your ally at

"I’m sorry I cannot remember.  In the many busy incidents in a life like

"One moment, if you please.  And don’t forget that you are on your oath.
Now wasn’t the name of your partner who got as far as Turin Count

Frobisher snarled out something that sounded between an affirmative or
an oath.  He was clinging to the rail of the witness-box now; there was
a perceptible stoop in his shoulders and his lips quivered.  The little
man went on with his merciless questions, smiling as he scored one point
after another.

"Count Lefroy has been your partner in many a financial venture?" he
asked.  "But you have dissolved partnership of recent years; you could
not trust one another?"

"The steel was too finely tempered in us both," said Frobisher, with a
touch of his old humour.

"And so you parted.  Now let us get on a little further.  Of late you
have been very anxious to obtain certain concessions from the Shan of
Koordstan.  Count Lefroy was equally anxious. And the Shan, not being so
very popular with his subjects at present, would have liked to get the
Cardinal Moth back again.  Now were you prepared to change the Moth for
the concessions?"

"I confess that some such idea was in my mind," Frobisher admitted.

"In which case was it not dangerous to ask Count Lefroy to your house?
I mean to luncheon to show him the Moth, and afterwards the invitation
to the fatal dinner?"

"I can’t say," Frobisher replied.  "I really can’t see what——"

"Oh, yes you can; a clever man like yourself can see everything.  The
Count was as anxious to have the Moth as you were, also with an eye to
these concessions.  He was more anxious because he had already mortgaged
the so-called concession to Mr. Aaron Benstein for a large sum of money.
Did you know of that?"

Frobisher hesitated a long time before he replied. He had grown
singularly hot and confused; he could see no more than that a trap was
being laid for him, but the bait was invisible.  There was nothing for
it but to tell the truth and trust to chance.

"I was quite aware of what Count Lefroy had done," he said.

"And yet you showed him the Cardinal Moth. He was very angry and he
struck Manfred in your presence.  He gave you to infer that he had by
the merest chance lost the Moth itself.  In other words, the man who had
stolen it brought it to you instead of to Count Lefroy."

Frobisher nodded.  He was smiling recklessly and a little hysterically
now, wondering how many hours he had been standing there under the rigid
fire of questions.  As he glanced up at a big clock over the coroner’s
head, to his intense surprise he saw that it was barely twenty minutes.

"Count Lefroy had made up his mind to steal that plant," Counsel went
on.  "Didn’t you guess that?"

"I felt pretty sure that he would make the attempt, yes."

"As a matter of fact, we contend that the attempt was made.  It was all
arranged.  The night of your dinner, Mr. Manfred sat out under the
pretence of a bad headache.  The house was quiet and you were engaged
with your guests, and Manfred knew exactly where to go.  He made the
attempt, and in doing so lost his life."

"It looks very much like it," Frobisher said, hoarsely.

"Do you know exactly how he lost his life?" Counsel asked.

The question came quick and short like the snapping of a steel trap.
Frobisher understood the import of it, nobody else practically did.  He
glanced at Townsend, who appeared to be deeply interested in a
newspaper; the Coroner was gazing at the painted ceiling.  An
unconquerable rush of rage possessed the witness.

"Hang you, find out," he cried.  "To the devil with you and your
questions.  How should I know the secret that the priests of Ghan have
kept so closely all these centuries?  All I know is, that anybody who
tampers with the Moth under certain conditions dies, and——"

The Coroner suddenly woke up and sternly rebuked the witness.  He
listened humbly enough now, for he was spent and broken again, only
longing passionately to be away.

"I am truly sorry, sir, but the question irritated me," he said.
"Anybody would think that I had a hand in the death of poor Manfred."

"Nobody has suggested anything of the kind," Counsel went on as smoothly
as if nothing had happened.  "All I contend is, that you can practically
solve the problem if you choose.  But let us hark back a little way
again.  What is the name of the man who sold you the orchid?"

"His name is Paul Lopez," Frobisher said in a tone so low that he was
asked to repeat it again. He passed his tongue over his dry lips.  "I
can tell you no more than that."

"Is he a stranger to you, or have you known him a long time?"

Sorely tempted to lie, Frobisher hesitated a moment.  But once more the
cruel uncertainty of the knowledge possessed by the little man opposite
forced the truth from him.

"I have known Paul Lopez for years," he said.  "He has done many little
things for me. But I swear to you now—as I am prepared to swear
anywhere—that the Cardinal Moth came to me as a complete surprise.  I
never expected it, and I was absolutely astonished when I saw it."

"Then you have no idea whence it came?"

"Not the slightest.  It never occurred to me to ask any questions."

"The wise man does not ask questions," Counsel said dryly.  "Possibly
your curiosity would not have been gratified, in any case.  But I
suppose that you had an idea, eh?  You feel pretty sure now that the
plant was stolen from Streatham?"

"That is mere conjecture on your part," Frobisher replied.

"Oh, no, it isn’t.  I shall be in a position to prove the fact when the
time comes.  You can step down for the moment, Sir Clement, though I
shall have to trouble you again.  Call Paul Lopez."

Townsend put down his paper and stood up.

"It will be quite useless, sir," he said.  "Lopez has disappeared.  My
information tells me that he has gone in the first instance as far as
Paris. Perhaps later on we may be able to produce him, but that will
require more than the usual subpoena."

The Coroner woke up again, and his eyes came down from the ceiling.  Yet
he had missed nothing of what was going on, as his next question showed.

"That is rather unfortunate, Inspector," he said.  "What do you propose
to do now?"

"Ask for an adjournment till Thursday, sir," Townsend said.  "Then I
hope to call Sir James Brownsmith, who I am sure will have a great deal
to say.  If that course is quite convenient to you——"

The Coroner snapped out a few words, and the crowd in the gallery began
to fade away.  In a kind of walking dream Sir Clement Frobisher found
himself outside.  He felt as if many years had been added to his life;
he was shaking from head to foot.  The gold sign of a decent hotel
caught his eye.  The white legend, "Wines and spirits," allured him.
Somebody was speaking to him, but he did not heed.

Then he became conscious that Mrs. Benstein was standing before him.
She had been in court, but he had not seen her.  He muttered some
commonplaces now, he tottered across the street and into a bar which was
empty.  The smart girl behind looked at him curiously as he ordered a
large brandy-and-soda.  The soda he almost discarded, he poured the
strong spirit down his throat, and a little life crept into his
quivering lips.

Meanwhile Mrs. Benstein stood by the door of her car.  She appeared to
be waiting for somebody.  From the bar window the now resuscitated
Frobisher watched and wondered.  He saw Townsend come out of court; he
saw Mrs. Benstein stop him as he touched his cap.

"I’d give a trifle to hear what they are saying," Frobisher muttered.
"I wish I had never seen that confounded woman.  I am growing senile.
Fancy being beaten by a woman!"

Mrs. Benstein had very little to say to Townsend, but that little was to
the point.

"If you can lay hands on Lopez, what shall you do?" she asked.

"Arrest him on suspicion of the Streatham murder," Townsend said

"Which he never committed.  Still, it is the proper thing to do.  Now
tell me where I can give you a call upon the telephone about ten o’clock

                            *CHAPTER XXVII.*

                      *MRS. BENSTEIN INTERVENES.*

Mrs. Benstein was dining alone and early, for Benstein had an important
engagement later, and usually he made a point of being in bed betimes.
He had had a good day, which was no uncommon thing for him, and he was
loquacious and talkative as usual.  From the head of the table Mrs.
Benstein smiled and nodded, but, as a matter of fact, she had not the
least idea what her husband was talking about.  Not until the coffee was
on the table and the cigarettes going round did she speak.  She always
liked her coffee in that perfect old Tudor dining-room—the dark oak and
the silver and the shaded lights all made so restful a picture.

"Now I want to give you half an hour," she said.  "You will be in plenty
of time to see Lord Rayfield afterwards.  Did you read the account of
the Streatham inquest in the _Evening Standard_ as I asked you?"

"Read every word of it whilst I was dressing," Benstein said.

Mrs. Benstein smiled.  From the way her husband was dressed, the paper
in question had monopolized most of his attention.  At any rate, he
seemed to have grasped the case.

"What did you think of it?" she asked.

"Well, it’s a queer business," Benstein said, thoughtfully.  "Seems to
me to be a lot of fuss to make about a paltry flower that any accident
might destroy.  Never could understand Frobisher wasting his money over
that sort of trash."

"No, you wouldn’t," Mrs. Benstein said, quietly. "But mind you, that
flower is more or less of a sacred thing, and the Shan of Koordstan
would have given his head to get it.  He’s Oriental through and through,
despite his thin veneer of polish and his Western vices.  I suppose
those concessions that the Shan has to dispose of are valuable?"

Benstein’s deep-set little eyes twinkled.

"Give a million for ’em and chance it," he said.  "So you think that

"Precisely.  Much as he loves orchids, he didn’t want the Cardinal Moth
for keeping, as the Americans say.  With that lever he meant to get hold
of those concessions.  Now I have discovered that it was young Harold
Denvers who found the Cardinal Moth and brought it to England.  He took
it down to Streatham, thinking that it would be safe there.  But Paul
Lopez got to know about it, and so did another man, apparently—I mean
the man who was murdered."

"You think that he was murdered by Lopez, Isa?"

Mrs. Benstein made no reply, but smiled significantly.  She might have
startled her husband with some strange information, but she did not care
to do so at present.

"That will be the general impression after to-day’s proceedings," she
said.  "And Paul Lopez has disappeared.  But I feel pretty sure that he
has not left England."

"I am certain of it," Benstein chuckled. "Lopez has never got any money.
He tried me for a loan only yesterday to take him away. Guess I could
put my hand upon him in an hour."

"You think he is to be found at that gambling club you are so interested

"Certain of it, my dear.  Lopez is friendly enough with old Chiavari,
who has found him a bed and food before now.  Rare good customer to
Chiavari he has been.  If Lopez is not hiding at 17, Panton Street, I’m
no judge.  Do you want to see him?"

Mrs. Benstein intimated that she did, at which Benstein said nothing and
evinced no surprise. He had the most profound, almost senile confidence
in his wife and her intelligence, and she did exactly as she liked, and
her obedient husband asked no questions.

"Very well, my dear," he said, as he rose and looked at the clock.  "I’m
going past Chiavari’s and I’ll look in.  If Lopez is there, expect him
in half an hour."

Benstein waddled out of the room and presently left the house.
Something seemed to amuse Mrs. Benstein as she sat in the drawing-room
before her piano.  Half an hour passed, the clock was striking nine, and
the footman opened the door to admit a stranger.

"A gentleman to see you, madame," he murmured. "He says you would not
know his name."

Isa Benstein signalled assent.  She closed the door as Lopez came in and
led the way to a small room beyond, furnished as a library more or less.
There was an American roll-top desk and a telephone over it.  Isa
Benstein pushed a box of cigarettes towards her companion.

"How did you guess where to find me?" he asked.

"I didn’t guess," Isa Benstein said, quietly. "I never guess anything.
You were near the Coroner’s court this morning, because I saw you.  You
did not deem it prudent to appear, so you had a friend who gave you the
news _en passant_. After that you would deem it prudent to go away for a
little while beyond the range of the police. But unfortunately as usual
you have no money."

"Correct and logical in every detail," Lopez cried.  "What a couple we
should have made."

"You indeed!  The brilliant wife and the equally brilliant husband who
would have gambled everything away as soon as it was made.  Strange,
too, a man so clever could be such a fool.  So here you are stranded in
London without a feather to fly with."

"Correct again.  Unless you are going to help me."

"Why should I help you?  You are friendless as well as penniless.  There
is only one man in London who would be glad for his own sake to supply
you with funds, and that is Sir Clement Frobisher.  But you dare not go
near him or write to him or have any communication with him for fear of
the police."

"Once more absolutely correct, Isa.  Truly a wonderful woman.  If you
fail me——"

"We shall come to that presently.  What do you know of that Streatham

"Very little indeed.  If you want me to swear on my oath that I had
nothing to do with the crime I am prepared to do so."

"But you know perfectly well who the man is. He was lying dead on the
floor of the conservatory at Streatham, at the very time when you stole
the Crimson Moth placed there by Mr. Denvers."

Lopez started and turned colour slightly.  He did not know that this was
mere conjecture on the part of his questioner, but it was.  Speaking
from her intimate knowledge and calculating by time she felt sure that
she had not been far wrong.  And here was the face of Lopez confirming
her impressions.

"You need not trouble to deny it," she went on.  "I know pretty well
everything. Mr. Denvers had not left many minutes before the accident
happened.  Was there an automatic steam-pipe in the conservatory?"

"Of course.  And you may be quite certain that—but do you really know
everything, Isa?"

"Absolutely.  I can speak from experience. I did not know till the night
of Lady Frobisher’s party, but I found out then.  If you don’t believe
me, look here."

Mrs. Benstein bared her arm, and displayed the cruel circular wound
above the elbow.  She was very pale now, and her eyes were dark.  Very
slowly she pulled her sleeve down again.

"Now you can tell how much I know," she said. "Who was the man who lost
his life at Streatham?"

"I don’t know his name, but he appeared very familiar to me.  He was a
Greek, a tool of Lefroy’s and that queer fellow Manfred.  He was too
adventurous, and he died."

"And Manfred was too adventurous and he died also.  I was a little
curious, and I nearly met the same fate.  That fate was deliberately
planned for me by Frobisher; in intent that scoundrel is as guilty of
murder as if he had fired at me from behind cover.  He thought to trick
me, to make me his puppet and tool, and by flattering my vanity obtain
possession of the Blue Stone."

"Only the scheme did not come off," Lopez grinned.

"It failed, because I have ten times Sir Clement’s brains and none of
his low cunning. But the scheme would never have been tried at all had
you not suggested it."

"I!" Lopez stammered.  "Do you mean to say——"

"You suggested it; you told Frobisher where the Blue Stone was.  His
quick brain did the rest. Now perhaps you begin to guess why I sent for
you to-night."

"I thought perhaps you intended to help me," Lopez said with his eyes on
the carpet.

"Why should I help you?  To put money into your purse you did not
hesitate to ruin me and my husband, knowing that my one poor vanity
induced me to deck myself out in borrowed plumes.  As a girl you asked
for my heart and I gave it you; I gave all the love I had for any man.
I have never been able to feel the same since.  Don’t flatter yourself
that I care the least for you; the flower has been dead many years. I
forgave you that.  I did not get you crushed and broken, as I could
easily have done.  And now you dare drag me once again into your net. I
sent for you to-night to make conditions; the whole truth must be told.
You are to stay in London, and on Friday you are to give your evidence
at the adjourned inquest."

"You are never going to have it all out?" Lopez said blankly.

"Indeed I am.  Whether you and Frobisher are actually guilty of crime in
the eyes of the law I don’t know or care.  But you both have a deal to
answer for.  Don’t you play me false."

Lopez looked up and down again swiftly. He was thinking how he could
turn this thing to advantage and go his own course at the same time. He
did not hear the tinkle of the telephone-bell behind him; he took no
heed as Mrs. Benstein placed the receiver to her ear.

"Yes," she said.  "I am home.  See you in ten minutes.  Ask him to wait
outside the drawing-room door.  Oh, yes, the messenger came quite
safely.  Good night."

If Lopez heard all this it was quite in a mechanical way.  He spoke
presently, urging the uselessness of the proceedings that Isa Benstein
suggested.  She said something in reply, something cold and cutting, but
she was taking no further interest in the matter.  She was listening for
something, the ring of the front-door bell and a step outside.  It came
at length, and she rose.

"My mind is quite made up," she said.  "And I am not going to give you a
chance to go back upon me.  Will you open that door, please? I thank
you.  Inspector Townsend, will you be so good as to step in?  As I told
you over the telephone, the messenger arrived quite safely."

Lopez’s hand shot swiftly behind him; then he dropped it to his side and
smiled.  He had been beaten, but he showed no emotion or the slightest
sign of anger.

"I think you had better come quietly," he said. "I have plenty of
assistance outside.  The charge is wilful murder over that affair at
Streatham. Shall I call a cab for you?"

Lopez nodded.  As he passed out of the house Isa Benstein went to the
telephone again, and called up the office of the _Evening Banner_. There
was a hurried conversation, then the communication was cut off.  It
seemed to Mrs. Benstein that she had every reason to be pleased with her
evening’s work.  "It would be good to see Frobisher’s face when he knows
that," she said.  "And he will know to-night."

It was getting late now, but some of the evening papers were running
extra specials.  There had been a big railway accident in the North, and
there was a little capital out of that.  Frobisher heard the raucous cry
of the boys as he came out of his club.  He was restless and ill at
ease; he could not sit down and contemplate the beauty of his orchids

"Terrible accident," a boy screamed as he passed.  "More about the
Streatham ’orror. Arrest of Paul Lopez to-night.  Arrest of the missing
witness.  Speshul."

"Here, boy, let me have a paper," Frobisher called out.  "Never mind the
confounded change. Give me a paper, quick."  His hand trembled as he
took the still damp sheet, his legs shook as he made his way back to the
quietude of the conservatory.  He must see to this at once.

Yes, there it was, a few short pregnant lines to the effect that Paul
Lopez had been arrested by Inspector Townsend a little after nine that
night. It looked cold and bald enough in print, but it thrilled the
reader to his marrow.

"The fool!" he hissed.  "The fool had no money to get away with.  Why
didn’t he come to me or send?  I’d have given him all he wanted if it
had been half my fortune."

                           *CHAPTER XXVIII.*


Frobisher raged furiously up and down the conservatory for a time.
Everything seemed to have gone wrong with him all at once.  His
favourite clay pipe would not draw; as he jammed a cleaner down the stem
angrily it came away in his hand.  The case of spare pipes he could not
find anywhere.  It crossed his imagination suddenly that some of the
more delicate orchids in the roof were looking a little stale.  He
touched the gauge of the automatic steam-pipe that threw off vapour at
regulated intervals and found it out of order.  He shook the spring tap
angrily as a terrier might shake a rat.

"Confound the thing," he cried.  "Everything seems to be wrong to-night.
Here is a job for Hafid."

Hafid came in trembling at the long ring of the electric bell.  He had
not seen his master in such a dark mood for many a day.  Why had he not
come before?  Where had the fool been? Hafid bowed before the storm.

"I’m going out, you congenial idiot," Frobisher muttered.  "Something
has gone wrong with the automatic steam-tap in the conservatory.  Turn
it on for a minute at eleven o’clock and again at twelve if I am not
back.  As you value your skin, don’t forget it."

Hafid bowed again, and his lips formed hoarse words that Frobisher could
just hear.

"Take it and burn it, and destroy it," he said. "Take it and burn it,

"You chattering simian," Frobisher cried.  He sprang on Hafid and shook
him till his teeth chattered.  "You besotted ass.  Are you going to do
what I say or not?"

Hafid abased himself and promised by the name of the Prophet.  There was
a slight hiss in the conservatory beyond that Frobisher did not notice.
There was nothing wrong with the steam-valve, after all; perhaps it had
stuck somewhere for a moment, but at any rate it was working again now.
But Frobisher was too passionately angry to see that.

"Eleven o’clock," he commanded.  "Don’t forget the time.  Now find my
pipes for me.  Find them in a minute, or I’ll kick you from here to your

Hafid was fortunate enough to discover the cases of pipes precisely
where his master had placed them.  Then he slipped away discreetly
enough before worse befell him.  For some time Frobisher smoked on
moodily.  He looked like being beaten all along the line, and he hated
that worse than losing his money.  If the whole truth came out, and it
could be proved that he tacitly permitted these tragedies, no decent man
would ever speak to him again.  Also, he was a little uneasy as to
whether the law held any precedent for murder by proxy.  Again, if Lopez
was forced to speak to save his own skin, the Cardinal Moth would have
to go.  There was torture in the thought beyond the bitter humiliation
of defeat. Beyond doubt, Mrs. Benstein was at the back of all this.
Frobisher wondered if she quite knew everything.  At any rate, if he
could see her he might pick up a useful hint or two.  Women always talk
if properly encouraged, and a triumphant woman could never quite keep
her triumph to herself.

"I’ll go to-night," Frobisher muttered as he laid aside his pipe.  "I
dare say I can invent some ingenious excuse for calling at this time of

He passed from the conservatory into the hall and from thence to the
drawing-room.  Lady Frobisher was there, and Angela standing before the
fire-place drawing on a long pair of gloves. The big Empire clock over
the mantel chimed the three-quarters past ten.

"Where are you going at this time of the night?" Frobisher asked.

"Lady Warrendale’s," Lady Frobisher said without looking up from her
paper.  "We are waiting for Nelly Blyson.  We shall not start before

"Then you can take me and put me down at the corner of Belgrave Square,"
Frobisher said. "I’ve got a little business in that direction. Didn’t I
hear Arnott’s voice?"

Lady Frobisher said nothing; she seemed to be deeply engrossed in her
paper.  Angela lifted her dainty head just a little bit higher.

"He certainly called," she said, "to see me. But he is not likely to
come again."

Frobisher’s teeth showed behind one of his sudden grins.  He wanted to
grip those white arms, to leave the small marks of his fingers behind.
But there were better ways than that.

"So you mean that you have refused him?" he asked.

"Definitely and finally," Angela replied.  "I paid him the compliment of
treating him like a gentleman, but I might have spared myself the
trouble.  If you ask that man here again when I am present, I shall be
compelled to leave the house and take up my quarters elsewhere."

Frobisher grinned again.  He could pretty well picture to himself the
way in which Arnott would take his rejection.  And the man was not a
gentleman.  Frobisher’s own breeding showed him that.

"Very well," he said.  "Go your own way for the present.  Ask Parsons to
give me a call when the car comes round.  I shall be amongst my

He strode back to the conservatory, hating everybody in the world,
himself most of all. Hafid was crossing in the direction of the
conservatory, a big old clock in the hall was close on the hour of

"Where are you going to, you black thief?" Frobisher demanded.

"My master gave certain directions for eleven o’clock," Hafid said,
timidly.  "I was going to——"

"I’ll do it myself.  But don’t you forget twelve o’clock if I have not
returned.  Go back to your room."

The black shadow departed, Frobisher went on muttering.  There was time
for half a pipe, and then—then a brilliant idea came to him.  He grinned
and laughed aloud.

"I’ll do it," he said.  "I’ll take the Cardinal Moth down and hide it.
The thing will dry and shrivel for a time, and come back to all its
beauty when it feels the grateful moist warmth again. Denvers shall not
have the laugh on me.  I’ll be robbed.  It shall go out to the world
that the famous Cardinal Moth has been stolen from my conservatory.  And
I’ll do it now, by Jove."

Then, with this design, Frobisher pulled up the extending steps.  A
minute later and his body was thrust into a tangle of looped ropes on
which the Cardinal Moth hung.  It was like untying a multitude of loose
knots.  The folds were all about Frobisher like a snake.  So intent was
he upon his work that he did not hear the hiss of the steam-valve below.
The air was growing suddenly warmer and moister, but Frobisher did not
seem to heed.  Then, without any warning, something caught him by the
wrists and held him as in handcuffs.  He struggled and looked down.  A
cloud of steam was slowly ascending.

"My God!" Frobisher burst out.  "That valve was all right, after all.
Here, Hafid, help!"

But Hafid was some way off, and nobody seemed to notice.  Frobisher
struggled, then another loop caught him round the chest, as he fought
frantically, slipped up and pinned him round the throat. A thousand
stars danced before his eyes; he could hear voices in the distance.  In
the hour of his peril he caught the sound of Harold Denvers’ voice and
wondered what he was doing here.

There was a last despairing cry, a choke and a snort and a long shudder
of the powerful limbs. The thousand stars went out as if suddenly swept
off the face of the heavens by a passing cloud; it was dark with patches
of red in it, and Frobisher grew still after a long shuddering sigh.
Then he hung for the space of a few minutes—ten, at the outside—before
the strain relaxed and he fell crashing to the floor.

There was light laughter in the hall, the fresh sound of a young girl’s
voice, the firm tones of Harold Denvers demanding to see Sir Clement
Frobisher on urgent business.  Hafid came forward like a shadow.

"My master is going out," he said.  "The car is waiting."

"Tell him I must see him at once," Harold said curtly.  "Lady Frobisher,
you had better go without your husband, as our business is likely to
take some time."

"I must hear my lord and master say so," Lady Frobisher replied.  "What
is that?"

A long wailing cry from the conservatory, a yell of horror in Hafid’s
voice.  A strange light leapt into Harold’s eyes as he dashed forward.
He had guessed by instinct what had happened. Hafid was bending over the
dead form of his master muttering to himself.

"Take it and burn it, and destroy it," he wailed. "Ah, if they had taken
and burnt, and——"

"Hush," Harold commanded sternly with a hand over Hafid’s mouth.  "I see
that you know quite as well as myself what has happened.  Stay here a
moment and be silent."

Harold hastened back to the hall just in time to intercept Lady
Frobisher and Angela.  From the expression of his face they knew that
some tragedy had happened.

"It is my husband," Lady Frobisher said, quietly.  "He is dead.  Do not
be afraid to speak the truth."

"I—I am afraid so," Harold stammered, "He—he has fallen from the roof of
the conservatory.  He must have died on the spot.  Lady Frobisher, I
implore you to go back to your room. Angela, will you go along!  If you
will leave it to me, I will do everything that is necessary."

Lady Frobisher went away quite calmly. The sudden shock had left her
white and shaking, but after all she had nothing but contempt and
loathing for the man who had fascinated her into matrimony.  Harold drew
all the servants away with the exception of Hafid, and hurried to the
telephone.  He gave a minute, and a voice replied.

"Is that you, Sir James?" he asked.  "I am very glad to hear it.  I am
Harold Denvers, speaking to you from the residence of Sir Clement
Frobisher.  He is dead.  I found him dead in the conservatory a few
minutes ago.  What?  Oh, yes, he died in precisely the same manner as
poor Manfred.  Will you come at once, please?  Thank you very much.  I
am going to ring up Inspector Townsend now."

Inspector Townsend was at Scotland Yard, and would be there immediately.
Harold turned to Hafid, and led him back to the conservatory again.

"How did it happen?" he asked, sternly. "Tell me the truth."

"All I know," Hafid muttered.  "My master thought the steam-valve was
wrong.  I was to turn on the tap at eleven o’clock, but my master said
that he would do it himself.  He must have been up with the Moth when
the valve worked. The rest you know, sir.  The rest I could not tell
you.  The tap was not out of order, after all, and my master is dead."

"It was a fitting end for such a scoundrel," Harold said, sternly.

He glanced up to where the Cardinal Moth still danced and nodded.  Some
of the long sprays nearly reached the ground.  The clinging spirals were
untwisted here and there.  And Harold understood.

"He was removing the Moth," he told himself. "He was going to take it
away and hide it, possibly to pretend that he also had been the victim
of a robbery.  He knew that I should claim it soon.  Knave and trickster
to the last!  What a sensation this will make."

Sir James Brownsmith came presently, followed by Townsend.  There was
nothing to be said, nothing to be done beyond certifying that Sir
Clement was dead, and that he had perished in the same mysterious manner
as Manfred and the still unrecognised victim at Streatham.

"It’s a mystery to me, and yet not a mystery," Townsend said.  "I’ve
pretty well worked it out.  But how did Sir Clement manage to get caught
like that?"

"An accident," Harold exclaimed.  "He thought that the steam-pipe was
not in working order, and he was mistaken.  But all England will have
the explanation of this amazing mystery to-morrow.  We will have the
inquest here, and I shall be in a position to show the jury exactly what
has happened.  But, knowing what Frobisher knew, he was morally guilty
of the death of Mr. Manfred."

There was no more to be said and nothing to be done beyond laying the
body decently out, and locking the door of the conservatory, which
Townsend proceeded to do.  As Harold was going out Angela stopped him.

"Was it murder again?" she asked.

"It has not been murder at all, dearest," Harold said.  "To-morrow you
will know everything.  Before long I shall hope to take you from this
dreadful house altogether."

Angela murmured something.  Her eyes were steady, but her face was very

"I shall be ready, Harold," she whispered. "Only not yet, not till my
aunt....  And indeed it is a merciful release for her.  Only I know what
she has suffered.  Good night."

She touched her lips to Harold’s and was gone.

                            *CHAPTER XXIX.*

                         *THE TIGHTENED CORD.*

London had seldom had a more thrilling hour over the morning paper.  The
sensational section of the press had lost nothing in the making of what
was called the orchid mystery; some of them had even obtained more than
an inkling of the true history of the Cardinal Moth, and many were the
ingenious theories propounded as to the mysterious deaths at Streatham
and in Frobisher’s conservatory.

And here was another victim in the person of Sir Clement himself.  As
the thousands of business men poured into London by trains, ’buses and
trams, nothing else was talked about.  It became known presently that
there would be an inquest at ten o’clock, and some time before the hour
traffic opposite Frobisher’s house was practically stopped.  But people
who had gathered there hoping to get in were disappointed.  Doubtless
the inquest would be adjourned to some more suitable place, but the
public were rigidly excluded from a private house.

Nevertheless the conservatory was pretty well full at the time the
inquest commenced.  The pressmen were quite a large body in themselves,
to say nothing of the jury and the police and a sprinkling of doctors.
Both Sir James Brownsmith and Harold Denvers had arrived early.

Angela came down to meet Denvers, looking white and subdued by contrast
with her black dress.

"Lady Frobisher is well, I hope?" he asked.

"My aunt is satisfactory," Angela replied.  "She slept fairly well, and
she is getting over the shock. Of course it is absurd to say that she is
overwhelmed with sorrow; it would be mere hypocrisy to say so.  Nobody
knows what a life she has had."

"Why did she marry him?" Harold asked.

"Why, indeed?  She was not happy at home, and Sir Clement had an
extraordinary fascination when he cared to exercise it.  It was a
miserable business altogether.  Harold, is there ever going to be a
solution of this terrible mystery?  It gets on my nerves."

"The whole thing is going to be solved within the next hour," Harold
replied.  "There is nothing very terrible to hear, so that you can be
present if you choose.  We shan’t want Lady Frobisher."

In the big conservatory the proceedings had already commenced.  The
Coroner had addressed the rather frightened-looking jury, and then had
waited for Inspector Townsend to call the witnesses.  Hafid dragged
himself into the box and was sworn on a Koran.  He had very little to
say except that he had heard a cry and found the body of his unfortunate
master as he had found the body of Mr. Manfred.  Beyond that he knew
nothing.  For the way he looked around him he might have been the
criminal himself.

"Take it and burn it, and destroy it," he said. "Take it and burn it,
and destroy it."

"And what do you mean by that remark?" the Coroner asked sharply.

"We can explain that presently, sir," Sir James Brownsmith said,
suddenly breaking off the whispered conversation with Townsend.  "The
poor fellow is half beside himself with terror.  I know I am quite
irregular, sir, but this is an extraordinary case.  If I may make a

"Would it not be better to call the next witness?" the Coroner asked.
"Inspector Townsend tells me he has a full solution of this strange

There was a visible flutter among the pressmen present.  Without further
ado Harold Denvers was called.  From his place he could see Angela’s
black figure in the doorway.  The same barrister who had represented the
Crown at the inquiry into the Streatham affair faced Harold with a
smile.  It was quite evident that he knew the whole history.

"You were present here last night when Sir Clement’s body was found?" he

"Yes, sir.  I had called to see Sir Clement on important business.  I
called here to desire the return of the Crimson Moth you see close above

All eyes were turned upwards to where the scarlet crowd of blossoms
hovered.  The stranded ropes sagged and bagged now so that some of the
blooms were almost in reach.  A little later there was a hiss of steam,
and the cords tightened to the moisture as if some human hand had raised
the beautiful garlands.  As to the loveliness of the Cardinal Moth there
was only one opinion.

"So that is the strange bloom," Counsel said.  "Do orchids of that class
require constant moisture?"

"Some of them do," Harold explained.  "You see the Cardinal Moth came
originally from a hot swamp, probably in Borneo or on the West Coast of
Africa.  You see that is on a very coarsely-woven Manilla rope."

"Are we not wandering from the point?" the Coroner suggested.

"On the contrary, sir, we are sticking very closely to it," the
barrister retorted.  "Now tell me, is not this same Cardinal Moth
supposed to be endowed with magic powers?"

"That is the idea.  Perhaps I had better say once more what I have
already stated elsewhere. For generations the Cardinal Moth guarded or
was supposed to guard the inner temple of Ghan in Koordstan.  The form
and beauty of the Moth travelled until it was known to most collectors.
Two or three people made up their minds to steal it; it matters little
who they were.  They did steal it and divided it into three portions.
Two of these portions were lost, and the third came into my hands.  The
plant above your head is the one that was stolen from the greenhouse at
Streatham, where I put it for safe custody."

"Have you any idea who stole it?"

"Yes, it was taken away by Paul Lopez after the death of Count Lefroy’s
representative, who had nearly stolen a march on Lopez."

"But Lopez never murdered that man."

"You think somebody else did?"

"Indeed, I don’t.  That man was not murdered at all, neither was
Manfred, or Sir Clement Frobisher."

A murmur of astonishment followed this speech. It seemed hard to
believe, but Harold spoke quietly, though in tones absolutely emphatic.

"Perhaps I had better explain," he went on. "I told you that the Moth
used to guard the inner temple at Ghan.  It was the punishment of high
political criminals that they should go into the inner temple and pluck
from the trail a single blossom.  They went in, but they never came out
alive.  When the gates were thrown back they lay dead with strange marks
about their throats or their breast bones broken.  It was a terrible and
awesome punishment, and one that gave the priests immense power.  Nobody
knew how death came, nobody was meant to know, but we shall all in the
room know in a few minutes.  It was the work of the Moth."

Again the murmur of astonishment arose. Harold signed to the policemen
to open the window; As a dry air came in the long strands of the Manilla
rope stretched as the moisture warmed out of it, a climber of the Moth
dangled over the head of an inspector who pushed it aside, as if it had
been poison.  Harold produced something that looked like an oblong sack
filled with firewood.  He proceeded to tangle it in the loops and folds
of the rope.

"We will suppose that is a man," he said, "a man who has climbed up to
the roof to steal the Moth which is all tangled up.  He puts his arm
through one loop and his head through another, thinking no evil, when
suddenly the steam-hose is turned on.  Now watch."

Harold crossed the room and touched the steam-tap.  As the moisture
struck the very coarse Manilla rope it suddenly tightened with the
moisture till it hummed again.  The same effect was to be seen with a
clothes-line after a shower of rain.  But the almost diaphanous
character of the rope and the heavy discharge of moisture brought the
strands up so tight that they seemed to hum in the air.

"There!" Harold cried, "there is the mystery—there is the secret of the
priests.  The man climbs until he is in a maze of loose rope; the steam
is discharged and he is strangled—the life pressed out of him by those
cruel cords; one cry and all is over.  Listen."

As the rope drew up the wood within the sack was heard to crack as if a
vice had a grip on it. Gradually at the same time the whole mass lifted
higher and higher.  Presently as the air dried the loops again slackened
and the sack came to the ground.  Nobody said anything for a long time.
But practically the proceedings were over; there was very little to say
or do.

The gentlemen of the pencil began to file out. After all, the
extraordinary tragedy that had thrilled London as it had not been
thrilled since the days of Jack the Ripper had resolved itself into a
mere accident.  One or two of the more fanciful element stayed, for they
could see the making of a fine story here.  After all, there was never a
murder or a set of murders planned like this before.

"The explanation is quite satisfactory," the Coroner said.  "If you
propose to go any further—"

Inspector Townsend shook his head.  There was no occasion to rake up any
mud.  Sir Clement was dead, and the other two men had lost their lives
in attempted robbery.  But that the trap had been deliberately laid for
Manfred, and that Sir Clement was morally guilty of murder, the
Inspector did not doubt.  Then the proceedings collapsed almost before
they had begun, and the usual prosaic verdict was returned.

"I’m glad it was so simple," Angela said when everybody had gone.  "But
how Sir Clement——"

"He was going to take the Moth away," Harold hastened to explain, "so
that I should not recover possession of it.  He thought the steam-cock
was out of order, and it wasn’t.  That is the bald truth.  That plant
belongs to me, and I have no doubt that Lady Frobisher will let me take
it away.  Ask her on the first favourable opportunity.  It’s no time to
talk of business, but the sooner I can hand that accursed thing over to
the Shan, the sooner I shall have those concessions. And now, is there
anything I can do for you, sweetheart?"

It was late before Harold saw the Shan.  He had been reading the
morning’s proceedings in the early edition of some evening paper.  He
welcomed Harold effusively.

"Glad to see you," he said.  "Upon my word, you are the only honest and
straightforward one of the lot.  By the way, if you don’t want the

"I came here to offer it you," Harold said, "but after the way the trick
has been exposed——"

"Bless you, that will not make any difference in Koordstan.  Nobody
reads papers there, and the priests will be pretty sure to keep their
mouths shut.  Besides, I shall have them on my side now that I know the
whole game.  Now sit down and we’ll settle the business of those

                     *      *      *      *      *

It was a month later, and the season was drawing to an end.  Lady
Frobisher was back in town for a few days, to make arrangements for her
trip abroad, and Angela had come along. Harold had been dining there.
He was prosperous now, and pretty certain to become a rich man.

"When is Lady Frobisher going?" he asked.

"Not till August," Angela replied.  "That is nearly two months.  And in
the meantime——"

"In the meantime we are going to be married and have a long honeymoon,"
Harold said.  "Then I have to go out to Koordstan for a spell, and Lady
Frobisher can come along.  It is a lovely country, and it will be a
complete change for her. What do you say to that, Angela?"

Angela smiled and did not draw herself away as Harold kissed her.  She
appreciated his kindness and thought for others.

"Always unselfish," she murmured.  "Harold, it shall be as you say."

Harold stooped and kissed Angela again, and then there was silence
between them, the blissful silence of a perfect understanding.

           *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *

                          *SUCCESSFUL NOVELS*


                            *FRED M. WHITE*

                              PUBLISHED BY

                         WARD, LOCK & CO., LTD.

"Mr. White is a master of the breathless pace which whirls a reader
along whether he will or not."—_Yorkshire Observer_.


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