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Lanyard and Athenais Reneaux had dawdled over dinner and coffee and cigarettes with so much tacit deliberation that, by the time Lanyard suggested they might move on, it was too late for a play and still a bit too early to begin the contemplated round of all-night restaurants. Also, it was too warm for a music-hall.
So they killed another hour at the Ambassadeurs, where they were fortunate in getting good places and the entertainment imposed no strain upon the attention; where, too, the audience, though heterogeneous, was sufficiently well-dressed and well-mannered to impart to a beautiful lady and her squire a pleasant consciousness of being left very much to themselves in an amusing expression of a civilisation cynical and self-sufficient.
But that was so wherever they went that night; and, in a sense, they went everywhere. In no city in the world is the doctrine of go-as-you-please-but-mind-your-own-business more studiously inculcated by example than in Paris, especially in its hours of relaxation. Lanyard had not been so long an exile as to have forgotten his way about entirely, and with what was new since his time Mademoiselle Reneaux was thoroughly acquainted. And if he felt himself rather a ghost revisiting glimpses of a forgotten moon, if all the odalisques were new to his vision and all the sultans strange, if never an eye that scanned his face turned back for a second look in uncertain reminiscence, he had to console him the company of a young woman whom everybody seemed to know and admire and like. In none of the resorts they visited did she fail to greet or be hailed by a handful of acquaintances. Yet they were generously let alone.
As to that, Lanyard could not complain. The truth was that, despite the dark thread of sober purpose which ran through those tolerably purple hours, he was being excellently entertained. Not by this sad business of scampering from one place of dubious fame to another; not by any reckless sense of rejuvenation to be distilled from the practice of buying champagne at each stop--and leaving every bottle barely tasted; not by those colourful, dissolving tableaux, always much the same in composition if set against various backgrounds, of under-dressed women sitting with concupiscent men and swallowing cold poisons in quantities calculated to spur them into the frenzy of semi-orgiastic dances: by none of these, but simply by the society of a woman of a type perhaps not unique but novel in his experience and intriguing to his understanding.
If there were anybody or thing a girl of her age--Athenais was about twenty-five--shouldn't know, she knew him, her or it; if there were any place she shouldn't go, she either went or had been there; if there were anything she shouldn't do or say or think or countenance, those things she--within limitations--did and said and thought and accepted or passed over as matters of fact and no consequence. And though she observed scrupulously certain self-imposed limitations she never made this obvious, she simply avoided what she chose to consider bad taste with a deftness and tact that would have seemed admirable in a woman of the great world twice her age. And with it all she preserved a sort of champagne effervescence of youthful spirits and an easy-going cameraderie incomprehensible when one took into consideration the disillusioning circumstances of her life, her vocation as a paid government spy, trusted with secrets and worthy of her trust, dedicated to days of adventure always dangerous, generally sordid, and like at any time to prove deadly.
Young, beautiful, admirably poised, accomplished and intelligent, she should by rights have been wrapped up in love of some man her peer in all these attributes. But she wasn't; or she said she wasn't in one of those moments of gravity which served to throw into higher relief the light-heartedness of her badinage with Lanyard; asserting an entirely willing disposition to stand aside and play the pensive, amused, indulgent spectator in the masque of love danced by a world mad for it, grasping for love greedily even in its cheapest shapes and guises.
"If it comes," she sighed, "it will find me waiting, and not unwilling. But it will have to come in another form than those I know about."
"My dear," said Lanyard, "be unafraid: it always does."
She called herself Athenais Reneaux, but she didn't pretend to Lanyard that she had no better title to another name. Her French was of the purest, a delight to listen to, yet she was in fact less French than English. Her paternal forebears to the third generation had lived in England and married Englishwomen, she said; and more than this much about herself, nothing; perhaps deriving some gratification from leaving such broad fields of conjecture open to the interest which an enigmatic personality never failed to excite.
"But I think you're quite as much of a mystery as you pretend to see in me. It's rather nice, don't you think? At least, it gives us an interest in each other aside from sentiment. Some day, perhaps, we'll each know All."
"Now God forbid!"
"Are you so afraid of learning my girlish secrets then? I don't believe you. I don't believe you'd even care to hear--"
"Athenais!" Lanyard protested in a hollow voice.
"Non, mon ami." She judged him shrewdly with narrowed, smiling eyes. "You flirt with far too much finish, you know. It can't be done to such perfection when the heart's truly involved. But for one thing--and if only you'd be a little more tragic about your disappointments to-night; for you haven't yet asked me a single question about anybody we've met--"
"No: thus far we've drawn every cover blank," he groaned; for it was after three in the morning.
"Very well. But for this and that, I'd be tempted to think you were sleuthing on the trail of some female fair but faithless. But you're taking all with entirely too much resignation; there's a contented glow in the back of your eyes--"
"I'm having a good time."
"It's pretty of you to tell me so. But that's not the reason for your self-complacence."
"See here," Lanyard interrupted, sitting up and signalling to the waiter for his bill: "if I let you run on the way you're heading, you'll presently be telling me something you've found out about me and I don't want to hear."
"Oh, very well," she sighed. "I'm sure I don't wish to embarrass you. But I will say this: Men of your uncertain age don't go round with such contented eyes unless they're prosperously in love."
"Oh, come along!" Lanyard growled, offering to rise. "You know too confounded much." He waited a moment, and then as she did nothing but sit and glimmer at him mischievously, he added: "Shall we go?"
"Where now?" she enquired without stirring.
He had a shrug of distaste. "Maxim's, I presume. Unless you can suggest some other place, more likely and less tedious."
"No," she replied after taking thought; "I can't. We've covered Paris pretty thoroughly to-night; all except the tourist places."
"No good wasting time on them."
"Then let's stop on here till it's time to milk the cows."
"Pre-Catelan? But there's Maxim's left--"
"Only another tourist show nowadays. And frightfully rowdy."
"Sounds like the lot I'm after. Come along."
She shook her head vigorously. "Shan't!" His eyebrows rose in mute enquiry. "Because I don't want to," she explained with childlike candour. "I'm tired of being dragged around and plied with drink. Do you realise I've had as much as two and a half glasses of champagne to-night, out of the countless bottles you've ordered? Well, I have, and they're doing their work: I feel the spirit of independence surging in my midst. I mutiny and defy you!" A peal of laughter rewarded the instinctive glance with which he sought to judge how far he was justified in taking her seriously. "Not only that, but you're neglecting me. I want to dance, and you haven't asked me in fully half an hour; and you're a heavenly dancer--and so am I!" She thrust back her end of their wall table and rose. "If you please, monsieur."
One could hardly resent such charming impertinence. Lanyard drew a long face of mock patience, sighed an heroic sigh, and followed her through the huddled tables to the dancing floor. A bewildering look rewarded him as they swung into the first movement of a tango.
"Do you know you are a dangerous man, Monsieur Paul Martin?"
"Such fortitude, such forbearance--when I ought to be slapped--enchants, disarms, makes me remember I am a woman, foredoomed always to yield. I abjure my boasted independence, monsieur, I submit. It shall be as you wish: on to Maxim's--after this one dance. You know, it's the last really good music we'll have to dance to--our last dance together, perhaps--who knows?--forever!"
She pretended to be overcome; the lithe body in his embrace sketched a fugitive seizure of sadness, drooping with a wistful languour well suited to the swooning measures to which they swayed and postured.
His hand was pressed convulsively. She seemed momentarily about to become a burden in his grasp, yet ever to recover just on the instant of failing, buoyed up by the steely resilience of her lithe and slender body. Impossible to say how much was pretence, how much impulsive confession of true feeling! Perplexed, perturbed, Lanyard gazed down into that richly tinted face which, with eyes half-curtained and lips half-parted, seemed to betray so much, yet to his next glance was wholly illegible and provoking. Aware that with such women man's vanity misleads him woefully, and aware that she was equally awake to this masculine weakness, he wondered, afraid even to guess, telling himself he were an ass to believe, a fool to deny....
Then suddenly he saw her lashes sweep up to unveil eyes at once mirthful and admonitory; her hungry mouth murmured incongruously an edged warning. "Play up, Paul--play up to me! We dance too well together not to be watched; and if I'm not mistaken, someone you're interested in has just come in. No: don't look yet, just remember we're madly enamoured, you and I--and don't care a rap who sees it."
Strung by her words into a spirit of emulation, Lanyard achieved an adequate seeming of response to the passion, feigned or real, with which the woman infused the patterned coquetry of their steps.
Between lips that stirred so little their movement must have been indiscernible, he asked: "Who?"
In the same manner, but in accents fraught with an emotion indecipherable but intense the reply came: "Don't talk! This is too divine ... Just dance!"
He obeyed, deliberately shut out of his thoughts the warning she had given him, and let himself go, body and mind, so that, a sway to the sensuous strains of that most sensuous of dances, the girl and the man for a space seemed one with music that throbbed of love and longing, desire and denial, pursuit and retreat, surrender and conquest....
On a sonorous phrase it ceased. A flutter of applause ran round the tables. Lanyard mastered a sense of daze that he saw reflected in the opening eyes of the woman as she slipped from his arms. In an instant they were themselves once more, two completely self-contained children of sophistication, with superb insouciance making nothing of their public triumph in a rare and difficult performance.
On the way to their table they were intercepted by a woman who, with two cavaliers, had since the moment of her entrance been standing near the door of the restaurant, apparently spellbound with admiration. Through a rising clatter of tongues her voice cut clearly but not at all unpleasantly.
"Athenais! It is I--Liane."
Inured as he was to the manners of an age which counts its women not dressed if they are not half undressed, and with his sensibilities further calloused by a night devoted to restaurants the entree to which, for women, seemed to be conditioned on at least semi-nudity, Lanyard was none the less inclined to think he had never seen, this side of footlights, a gown quite so daring as that which revealed the admirably turned person of the lady who named herself Liane. There was so little of it that, he reflected, its cost must have been something enormous. But in vain that scantiness of drapery: the white body rose splendidly out of its ineffective wrappings only to be overwhelmed by an incredible incrustation of jewellery: only here and there did bare hand's-breadths of flesh unadorned succeed in making themselves visible.
At the sound of her name Athenais turned with a perfectly indicated start of surprise which she promptly translated into a little, joyful cry. The living pillar of ivory, satin and precious stones ran into her arms, embraced her ardently, and kissed both her cheeks, then releasing her half-turned to Lanyard.
Glints of trifling malice winked behind the open interest of troubling, rounded eyes of violet. Lanyard knew himself known.
So he had sacrificed for nothing his beautiful beard!
He uttered a private but heartfelt "Damn!" and bowed profoundly as the woman, tapping Athenais on the arm with a fan crusted with diamonds, demanded:
"Present instantly, my dear, this gentleman who tangoes as I have never seen the tango danced before!"
Forestalling Athenais, Lanyard replied with a whimsical grimace: "Is one, then, so unfortunate as to have been forgotten by Madame la Comtesse de Lorgnes?"
With any other woman than Athenais Reneaux he would have hesitated to deal so bold an offensive stroke; but his confidence in her quickness of apprehension and her unshakable self-possession was both implicit and well-placed. For she received this overt notification of the success of his quest without one sign other than a look of dawning puzzlement.
"Madame la comtesse...?" she murmured with a rising inflection.
"But monsieur is mistaken," the other stammered, biting her lip.
"Surely one cannot have been so stupid!" Lanyard apologised.
"But this is Mademoiselle Delorme," Athenais said ... "Monsieur Paul Martin."
Liane Delorme! Those syllables were like a spoken spell to break the power of dark enchantment which had hampered Lanyard's memory ever since first sight of this woman in the Cafe de l'Univers at Nant. A great light began to flood his understanding, but he was denied time to advantage himself immediately of its illumination: Liane Delorme was quick to parry and riposte.
"How strange monsieur should think he had ever known me by a name ... What was it? But no matter! For now I look more closely, I myself cannot get over the impression that I have known Monsieur--Martin, did you say?--somewhere, sometime ... But Paul Martin? Not unless monsieur has more than one name."
"Then it would seem that mademoiselle and I are both in error. The loss is mine."
That gun spiked, Lanyard began to breathe more freely. "It is not too late to make up that loss, monsieur." Liane Delorme was actually chuckling in appreciation of his readiness, pleased with him even in the moment of her own discomfiture; her eyes twinkling merrily at him above the fan with which she hid a convulsed countenance. "Surely two people so possessed with regret at never having known each other should lose no time improving their acquaintance! Dear Athenais: do ask us to sit at your table."
While the waiter fetched additional chairs, the woman made her escorts known: Messieurs Benouville et Le Brun, two extravagantly insignificant young men, exquisitely groomed and presumably wealthy, who were making the bravest efforts to seem unaware that to be seen with Liane Delorme conferred an unimpeachable cachet. Lanyard remarked, however, that neither ventured to assume proprietorial airs; while Liane's attitude toward them was generally indulgent, if occasionally patronising and sometimes impatient.
Champagne frothed into fresh glasses. As soon as the band struck up another dance, Athenais drifted away in the arms of Monsieur Le Brun. Liane gazed round the room, acknowledged the salutations of several friends, signalled gaily to a pair of mercenaries on the far side of the dancing floor, and issued peremptory orders to Benouville.
"Go, Chu-chu, and ask Angele to dance with you. She is being left to bore herself while Victor dances with Constance. Moreover, I desire to afflict Monsieur Martin with my confidences."
With the utmost docility Benouville effaced himself.
"Eh, bien, Monsieur Duchemin!"
"Eh, bien, madame la comtesse?" Liane sipped at her champagne, making impudent eyes at Lanyard over the brim of her glass.
"By what appears, you have at last torn yourself away from the charming society of the Chateau de Montalais."
"As you see."
"That was a long visit you made at the chateau, my old one?"
"Madame la comtesse is well informed," Lanyard returned, phlegmatic.
"One hears what one hears."
"One had the misfortune to fall foul of an assassin," Lanyard took the trouble to explain.
"The same Apache who attacked--with others--the party from Montalais at Montpellier-le-Vieux."
"And you were wounded?"
Lanyard assented. The lady made a shocked face and uttered appropriate noises. "As you know," Lanyard added.
Liane Delorme pretended not to hear that last. "And the ladies of the chateau," she enquired--"they were sympathetic, one feels sure?"
"They were most kind."
"It was not serious, this wound--no?"
"Mademoiselle may judge when she knows I was unable to leave my bed for nearly three weeks."
"But what atrocity! And this Apache--?"
"Remains at large."
"Ah, these police!" And the lady described a sign of contempt that was wholly unladylike. "Still, you are well recovered, by the way you dance."
"One cannot complain."
"What an experience! Still--" Liane again buried her nose in her glass and regarded Lanyard with a look of mysterious understanding. Re-emerging, she resumed: "Still, not without its compensations, eh, mon ami?"
"That is as one regards it, mademoiselle."
"Oh! oh!" There was any amount of deep significance in these exclamations. "One may regard that in more ways than one."
"Indeed," Lanyard agreed with his most winning manner: "One may for instance remember that I recovered speedily enough to be in Paris to-night and meet mademoiselle without losing time."
"Monsieur wishes me to flatter myself into thinking he did me the honour of desiring to find me to-night?"
"Or any other. Do not depreciate the potency of your charms, mademoiselle. Who, having seen you once, could help hoping to see you again?"
"My friend," said Liane, with a pursed, judgmatical mouth, "I think you are much too amiable."
"But I assure you, never a day has passed, no, nor yet a night, that I have not dwelt upon the thought of you, since you made so effective an entrance to the chateau, a vision of radiant beauty, out of that night of tempest and fury."
Liane drooped a coy head. "Monsieur compliments me too much."
"Is one, then, to understand that monsieur is making love to me?"
Lanyard pronounced coolly: "No."
That won another laugh of personal appreciation. "What then, mon ami?"
"Figure to yourself that one may often dream of the unattainable without aspiring to possess it."
"Unattainable?" Liane repeated in a liquid voice: "What a dismal word, monsieur!" "It means what it means, mademoiselle."
"To the contrary, monsieur, it means what you wish it to mean. You should revise your lexicon."
"Now it is mademoiselle who is too flattering. And where is that good Monsieur Monk to-night?"
The woman overlooked the innuendo; or, rather, buried it under a landslide of emotional acting.
"Ah, monsieur! but I am desolated, inconsolable. He has gone away!"
"Monsieur Monk?" Lanyard opened his eyes wide.
"Who else? He has left France, he has returned to his barbarous America, with his beautiful motor car, his kind heart, and all his millions!"
"And the excellent Phinuit?"
"That one as well."
"How long ago?"
"A week to-morrow they did sail from Cherbourg. It is a week since anyone has heard me laugh."
Lanyard compassionately fished a bottle out of the cooler and refilled her glass.
"Accept, mademoiselle, every assurance of my profound sympathy."
"You have a heart, my friend," she said, and drank with the feverish passion of the disconsolate.
"And one very truly at mademoiselle's service."
Liane sniffed mournfully and dabbed at her nose with a ridiculous travesty of a handkerchief. "Be so kind," she said in a tearful voice, though her eyes were quite dry and, if one looked closely, calculating--"a cigarette."
One inferred that the storm was over. Lanyard tendered his cigarette case, and then a match, wondering what next. What he had reason to anticipate was sure to come, the only question was when. Not that it mattered when; he was ready for it at any time. And there was no hurry: Athenais, finding herself paired with an un-commonly good dancer in Le Brun, was considerately making good use of this pretext for remaining on the floor--there were two bands to furnish practically continuous music--and leave Lanyard to finish uninterrupted what she perfectly understood to be a conversation of considerable moment.
As for Benouville, he was much too well trained to dream of returning without being bidden by Liane Delorme.
"But it is wonderful," murmured that one, pensive.
And there was that in her tone to make Lanyard mentally prick forward his ears. He sketched a point of interrogation.
"To encounter so much understanding in one who is a complete stranger."
("'Complete'?" Lanyard considered. "I think it's coming...")
"Monsieur must not think me unappreciative."
"Ah, mademoiselle!" he protested sadly--"but you forget so easily."
"That we have met before, when I term you a complete stranger?"
"It is because I would not be in monsieur's debt!"
"I will repay sympathy with sympathy. I have already forgotten that I ever visited the Chateau de Montalais. So how should I remember I met monsieur there under the name of... but I forget."
"The name of Duchemin?"
"I never knew there was such a name--I swear!--before I saw it in type to-day."
"Monsieur does not read the papers?"
"Not all of them, mademoiselle."
"It appeared in Le Matin to-day, this quaint name Duchemin, in a despatch from Millau stating that a person of that name, a guest of the Chateau de Montalais, had disappeared without taking formal leave of his hosts."
"One gathers that he took something else?"
"Nothing less than the world-known Anstruther collection of jewels, the property of Madame de Montalais nee Anstruther."
"But I am recently from the Chateau de Montalais, and in a position to assure mademoiselle that this poor fellow, Duchemin, is unjustly accused."
"Oh, ho, ho!"
He heard again that laugh of broad derision which had seemed so out of character with a great lady when he had heard it first, that night now nearly a month old.
"Mademoiselle does not believe?"
"I think monsieur must be a good friend to this Monsieur Duchemin."
"I confess I entertain a sneaking fondness for his memory."
"You can hardly call yourself an impartial judge--"
"It is nevertheless true he did not steal the jewels."
"Then tell me who did take them."
"Unfortunately for Duchemin, that remains a mystery."
"Rather, I should say, fortunately for him."
"You would wrong him, then."
"But why, if innocent, did he run away?"
"I imagine, because he knew he would surely be accused, in which case ancient history would be revived to prove him guilty beyond a question in the mind of any sane court."
"Does one understand he had a history?"
"I have heard it intimated such was the case."
"But I remain in the dark. The theft presumably was not discovered till after his disappearance. Yet, according to your contention, he must have known of it in advance. How do you account for that?"
"Mademoiselle would make a famous juge d'instruction."
"That does not answer my argument."
"How is one to answer it? Who knows how Duchemin discovered the theft before the ladies of the chateau did?"
"Do you know what you make me think? That he was not as innocent as you assert."
"Mademoiselle will explain?"
"I have a suspicion that this Monsieur Duchemin was guilty in intention; but when it came to put his intention into execution, he found he had been anticipated."
"Mademoiselle is too clever for me. Now I should never have thought of that."
"He would have been wiser to stay and fight it out. The very fact of his flight confesses his guilt."
"Perhaps he did not remember that until too late."
"And now nothing can clear him. How sad for him! A chance meeting with one who is not his friend, a whispered word to the Prefecture, or the nearest agent de police, and within an hour he finds himself in the Sante."
"Poor chap!" said Lanyard with a doleful shake of the head.
"I, too, pity him," the woman declared. "Monsieur: against my prejudice, your faith in Duchemin has persuaded me. I am convinced that he is innocent."
"How good you are!" "It makes me glad I have so well forgotten ever meeting him. I do not believe I should know him if I found him here, in this very restaurant, even seated by my side."
"It is mademoiselle now whose heart is great and kind."
"You may believe it well."
"And does mademoiselle's forgetfulness, perhaps, extend even farther into the so dead past?"
"But, monsieur, I was a mere child when I first came to Paris, before the War. How could anyone reasonably expect my memory of those innocent girlish days to be exact? Regard that, even then, I met people by hundreds, as a young girl studying for the stage must. Is it likely one face would stand out in my memory more than another?"
"Quite, if you ask me," said Lanyard dryly--"quite likely, if any circumstance connected with that face were at all memorable."
"But I assure you I was in those days much too self-absorbed to pay much attention to others. It is that way, you know, in maiden days."
"Mademoiselle does injustice to her memory," Lanyard insisted in polite astonishment. "In some ways it is wonderful."
The woman looked suddenly aside, so that he could not see her face; but he perceived, with an astonishment which he made no attempt to hide, that she was quaking bodily with some unconfessed emotion. And when she faced again his unbroken look of grave bewilderment, he discovered that she was really capable of tears.
"Monsieur," she gasped, "believe it or not, never before have I met one with whom I was so completely en rapport. And instantaneously! It is priceless, this! We must see more of one another."
"Much more," Lanyard assented gravely. "A great deal more," she supplemented with significance. "I am sure we shall get along together famously."
"Mademoiselle offers me great honour--"
"Nothing less than my friendship."
"I would be indeed an ingrate to refuse it. But a question: Will not people talk?"
"What!" Amusement shook her again. "How talk? What more can they say about Liane Delorme?"
"Ah!" said Lanyard--"but about Madame la Comtesse de Lorgnes..."
"My friend: that was a good joke once; but now you must forget that name as utterly as I have forgotten another."
"What do you say?" She frowned a little. "Is it possible you misunderstood? De Lorgnes was nothing to me."
"I never thought he was."
"You had reason. Because we were thrown together, and our names were something alike in sound, it amused us--not the two of us alone, but all our party--to pretend I was madame la comtesse."
"He was really a count?"
"Who knows? It was the style by which he had always passed with us."
"Alas!" sighed Lanyard, and bent a sombre gaze upon his glass.
Without looking he was aware of a questioning gesture of the woman's head. He said no more, but shook his own.
"What is this?" she asked sharply. "You know something about de Lorgnes?"
"Had you not heard?" he countered, looking up in surprise.
"Heard--?" He saw her eyes stabbed by fear, and knew himself justified of his surmises. All day she had been expecting de Lorgnes, or word from him, all day and all this night. One could imagine the hourly augmented strain of care and foreboding; indeed its evidence were only too clearly betrayed in her face and manner of that moment: she was on the rack.
But there was no pity in Lanyard's heart. He knew her of old, what she was, what evil she had done; and in his hearing still sounded the echoes of those words with which, obliquely enough but without misunderstanding on the part of either, she had threatened to expose him to the police unless he consented to some sort of an alliance with her, a collaboration whose nature could not but be dishonourable if it were nothing more than a simple conspiracy of mutual silence.
And purposely he delayed his answer till her patience gave way and she was clutching his arm with frantic hands.
"What is the matter? Why do you look at me like that? Why don't you tell me--if there is anything to tell--?"
"I was hesitating to shock you, Liane."
"Never mind me. What has happened to de Lorgnes?"
"It is in all the evening newspapers--the murder mystery of the Lyons rapide."
Lanyard inclined his head. The woman breathed an invocation to the Deity and sank back against the wall, her face ghastly beneath its paint.
"You know this?"
"I was a passenger aboard the rapide, and saw the body before it was removed."
Liane Delorme made an effort to speak, but only her breath rustled harshly on her dry lips. She swallowed convulsively, turned to her glass, and found it empty. Lanyard hastened to refill it. She took the wine at a gulp, muttered a word of thanks, and offered the glass to be filled anew; but when this had been done sat unconscious of it, staring witlessly at nothing, so lost to her surroundings that all the muscles of her face relaxed and her years peered out through that mask of artifice which alone preserved for her the illusion and repute of beauty.
Thus the face of an evil woman of middle-age, debauched beyond hope of redemption, was hideously revealed. Lanyard knew a qualm at seeing it, and looked hastily away.
Beyond the rank of tables which stood between him and the dancing floor he saw Athenais Reneaux with Le Brun sweeping past in the suave movement of a waltz. The girl's face wore a startled expression, her gaze was direct to the woman at Lanyard's side; then it shifted enquiringly to him. With a look Lanyard warned her to compose herself, then lifted an eyebrow and glanced meaningly toward the doors. The least of nods answered him before Le Brun swung Athenais toward the middle of the floor and other couples intervened.
Liane Delorme stirred abruptly.
"The assassin?" she demanded--"is there any clue?"
"I believe he is known by description, but missing."
"But you, my friend--what do you know?"
"As much as anybody, I fancy--except the author of the murder."
Quietly, briefly, Lanyard told her of seeing the Comte de Lorgnes at dinner in Lyons; of the uneasiness he manifested, and the cumulative feeling of frustration and failure he so plainly betrayed as the last hours of his life wore on; of the Apaches who watched de Lorgnes in the cafe and the fact that one of them had contrived to secure a berth in the same carriage with his victim; of seeing the presumptive murderer slinking away from the train at Laroche; and of the discovery of the body, on the arrival of the rapide at the Gare de Lyon.
Absorbed, with eyes abstracted and intent, and a mouth whose essential selfishness and cruelty was unconsciously stressed by the compression of her lips: the woman heard him as he might have been a disembodied voice. Now and again, however, she nodded intently and, when he finished, had a pertinent question ready.
"You say a description of this assassin exists?"
"Have I not communicated it to you?"
"But to the police--?"
"Is it likely?" The woman gave him a blank stare.
"Pardon, mademoiselle: but is it likely that the late Andre Duchemin would have more to do with the police than he could avoid?"
"You would see a cold-blooded crime go unavenged--?"
"Rather than dedicate the remainder of my days to seeing the world through prison bars? I should say yes!--seeing that this assassination does not concern me, and I am guiltless of the crime with which I myself am charged. But you who were a friend to de Lorgnes know the facts, and nothing hinders your communicating them to the Prefecture.... Though I will confess it would be gracious of you to keep my name out of the affair."
But Lanyard was not dicing with Chance when he made this suggestion: he knew very well Liane Delorme would not go to the police.
"That for the Prefecture!" She clicked a finger-nail against her teeth. "What does it know? What does it do when it knows anything?"
"I agree with mademoiselle entirely."
"Ah!" she mused bitterly--"if only we knew the name of that sale cochon!"
"I, at least, know one of the many names doubtless employed by the assassin."
"And you hesitate to tell me!"
"Why should I? No, but an effort of memory..." Lanyard measured a silence, seeming lost in thought, in reality timing the blow and preparing to note its effect. Then, snapping his fingers as one who says: I have it!--"Albert Dupont," he announced abruptly.
Unquestionably the name meant nothing to the woman. She curled a lip: "But that is any name!" Then thoughtfully: "You heard his companion of the cafe call him that?"
"No, mademoiselle. But I recognised the animal as Albert Dupont when he boarded the train at Combe-Rendonde that morning and, unnoticed by him, travelled with him all the way to Lyons."
"You recognised him?"
"I believe it well."
"When had you known him?"
"First when I fought with him at Montpellier-le-Vieux, later when he sought to do me in on the outskirts of Nant. He was the fugitive chauffeur of the Chateau de Montalais."
"But--name of a sacred name!--what had that one to do with de Lorgnes?"
"If you will tell me that, there will be no more mystery in this sad affair."
The woman brooded heavily for a moment. "But if it had been you he was after, I might understand..." He caught the sidelong glimmer of her eye upon him, dark with an unuttered question.
But the waltz was at an end, Athenais and Le Brun were threading their way through the intervening tables.
The interruption could not have been better timed; Lanyard was keen to get away. He had learned all that he could reasonably have hoped to learn from Liane Delorme in one night. He knew that she and de Lorgnes had been mutually interested in the business that took the latter to Lyons. He had the testimony of his own perceptions to prove that news of the murder had come as a great shock to her. On that same testimony he was prepared to swear that, whatever the part, if any, she had played in the robbery, she knew nothing of "Albert Dupont," at least by that name, and nothing of his activities as chauffeur at the Chateau de Montalais.
Yet one thing more Lanyard knew: that Liane suspected him of knowing more than he had told her. But he wasn't sorry she should think that; it gave him a continuing claim upon her interest. Henceforth she might be wary of him, but she would never lose touch with him if she could help it.
Now Athenais was pausing beside the table, and saying with a smile as weary as it was charming:
"Come, Monsieur Paul, if you please, and take me home! I've danced till I'm ready to drop."
Annoyed by the prospect of being obliged to let Lanyard out of her sight so soon, before she had time to mature her plans with respect to him, Liane Delorme pulled herself together.
"Go home?" she protested with a vivacity so forced it drew a curious stare even from the empty Le Brun. "So early! My dear! what are you thinking of?" "I've been on the go all day long," Athenais explained sweetly; "and now I've got nothing left to keep up on."
"Zut!" the Delorme insisted. "Have more champagne and--"
"Thank you, no, dearest. My head is swimming with it already. I really must go. Surely you don't mind?"
But Liane did mind, and the wine she had drunk had left her only a remnant of sobriety, not enough for good control of her temper.
"Mind?" she echoed rudely. "Why should I mind whether you stay or go? It's your affair, not mine." She made a scornful mouth; and the look with which she coupled Lanyard and Athenais in innuendo was in itself almost actionable. "But me," she pursued with shrill vivacity--"I shan't go yet, I'm not drunk enough by half. Get more champagne, Fred"--this to Le Brun as she turned a gleaming shoulder to the others--"quantities of it--and tell Chu-chu to bring Angele over, and Constance and Victor, too. Thanks to the good God, they at least know they are still alive!"
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