Poems & Short Stories: 4,435
Forum Members: 67,986
Forum Posts: 1,216,101
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
IN WHICH I SPEAK OUT
The door was thrown open. Lord Chelsford and Colonel Ray entered together. The Commander-in-Chief accompanied them, and there was also present a person who sat a little apart from the others, and who, I learned afterwards, was a high official in the secret service. More than ever, perhaps, I realized at that moment in the presence of these men the strangeness of the events which for a short space of time, at any rate, had brought me into association with persons and happenings of such importance.
Lord Chelsford seated himself at the open desk opposite to the Duke. As was his custom, he wasted no time in preliminaries.
"We wish for a few minutes' conversation with you, Mr. Ducaine," he said, "on the subject of this recent leakage of news concerning our proceedings on the Council of Defence. I need not tell you that the subject is a very serious one."
"I quite appreciate its importance, sir," I answered.
"The particular documents of which we have news from Paris," Lord Chelsford continued, "are those having reference to the proposed camp at Winchester and the subway at Portsmouth. I understand, Mr. Ducaine, that these were drafted by you, and placed in a safe in the library of Rowchester on the evening of the eighteenth of this month."
"That is so, sir," I answered. "And early the next morning I reported to the Duke that the papers had been tampered with."
There was a dead silence for several moments. Lord Chelsford glanced at the Duke, who sat there imperturbable, with a chill, mirthless smile at the corner of his lips. Then he looked again at me, as though he had not heard aright.
"Will you kindly repeat that, Mr. Ducaine?" he said.
"Certainly, sir," I answered. "I had occasion to go to the safe again early on the morning of the nineteenth, and I saw at once that the documents in question had been tampered with. I reported the matter at once to his Grace."
The eyes of every one were bent upon the Duke. He nodded his head slowly.
"Mr. Ducaine," he said, "certainly came to me and made the statement which he has just repeated. I considered the matter, and I came to the conclusion that he was mistaken. I was sure of it then. I am equally sure of it now."
"Tell us, Mr. Ducaine," Lord Chelsford said, "what your reasons were for making such a statement."
I took a piece of red tape and a newspaper from the table before which I stood. I folded up the newspaper and tied the tape around it.
"When I put those documents away," I said, "I tied them up with a knot like this, of my own invention, which I have never seen used by anybody else. In the morning I found that my knot had been untied, and that the tape around the papers had been re-tied in an ordinary bow."
"Will you permit me for a moment," the Duke interposed. "The safe, I believe, Mr. Ducaine, was secured with a code lock, the word of which was known to-whom?"
"Yourself, sir, Colonel Ray, and myself."
The Duke nodded.
"If I remember rightly," he said, "the code word was never mentioned, but was written on a piece of paper, glanced at by each of us in turn, and immediately destroyed."
"That is quite true, sir."
"Now, do you believe, Mr. Ducaine," the Duke continued, "that it was possible for any one else except us the to have attained to the knowledge of that word."
"I do not sir," I admitted.
"Do you believe that it was possible for any one to have opened the safe without the knowledge of that word?"
"Without breaking it open, no, sir."
"There were no signs of the lock having been tampered with when you went to it in the morning?" "None, sir."
"It was set at the correct word, the word known only to Colonel Ray, myself, and yourself?" "Yes, sir."
The Duke leaned back in his chair and addressed Lord Cheisford.
"For the reasons which you have heard from Mr. Ducaine himself," he said drily, "I came to the conclusion that he was mistaken in his suggestion. I think that you will probably be inclined to agree with me."
These men had learnt well the art of masking their feelings. From Lord Chelsford's polite bow I could gather nothing.
"I am forced to admit," he said, "that no other conclusion seems possible. Now, Mr. Ducaine, with regard to the execution of your work. It is carried out altogether, I believe, at the 'Brand'?"
"Your only servant is the man Grooton, for whom the Duke and I myself are prepared to vouch. You are also watched by detectives residing in the village, as I dare say you know. I also understand that you have no private correspondence, and receive practically no visitors. Now tell me the only persons who, to your knowledge, have entered the 'Brand' since you have been engaged in this work."
I answered him at once.
"Colonel Ray, Lady Angela Harberly, Lord Blenavon, the Prince of Malors, and a young lady called Blanche Moyat, the daughter of a farmer in Braster at whose house I used sometimes to visit."
Lord Chelsford referred to some notes in his hand. Then he leaned back in his chair, and looked at me steadfastly.
"Is there any one," he asked, "whom you suspect to have visited you for the purpose, either direct or indirect, of gaining information as to your work?"
"Yes, sir," I answered promptly.
A little exclamation escaped from the Commander-in-Chief. Lord Chelsford never removed his eyes from my face, the Duke had still the appearance of a tolerant but slightly bored listener.
"Who?" Lord Chelsford asked.
"The Prince of Malors," I answered.
There was a moment's silence. Lord Cheisford turned again to his notes. Then he looked up at me.
"Your reasons?" he asked.
I told them the story carefully and circumstantially. When I had finished Colonel Ray left his seat and whispered something in Lord Chelsford's ear. The Duke interposed.
"I wish," he said, "to add a brief remark to the story which you have just heard. I have known Malors since he was a boy, my father knew his father, and, as you may know, our families have been frequently connected in marriage. I do not wish to impugn the good faith of this young man, but the Prince of Malors was my guest, and the accusation against him is one which I cannot believe."
"The story, as I have told it, sir, is absolutely true," I said to Lord Cheisford. "There was no room for any mistake or misapprehension on my part. I am afraid that I haven't been a great success as your secretary. Colonel Ray gave me to understand, of course, that your object in engaging an utterly unknown person was to try and stop this leakage of information. It is still going on, and I cannot stop it. I am quite prepared to give up my post at any moment."
Lord Chelsford nodded towards the door.
"Will you be so good as to step into the next room for a few minutes, Mr. Ducaine?" he said. "We will discuss this matter together."
I departed at once, and found my way into a bare waiting-room, hung with a few maps, and with uncarpeted floor. The minutes dragged along slowly. I hated the thought of dismissal, I rebelled against it almost fiercely. I had done my duty, I had told the truth, there was nothing against me save this obstinate and quixotic loyalty of the Duke to an old family friend. Yet I scarcely dared hope that there was a chance for me.
At last I heard the door open, and the sound of friendly adieux in the passage. Lord Cheisford came in to me alone. He took up a position with his back to the fire, and looked at me thoughtfully.
"Well, Mr. Ducaine," he said, "we have discussed this matter thoroughly, and we are all practically agreed that there is no reason why we should ask you to give up your position."
I was almost overcome. It was a wonderful relief to me.
"But surely the Duke--" I faltered.
"The Duke is very loyal to his friends, Mr. Ducaine," he said, "but he is also a man with a nice sense of justice. You and he regard two incidents from entirely different points of view, but he does not for a moment suggest that your account of them is not an honest one. He looks upon you as a little nervous and overstrung by your responsibilities and disposed to be imaginative. He will not hear anything against the Prince of Malors."
"My story is as true as God's Word," I declared.
"I am inclined to believe in it myself, Mr. Ducaine," said Lord Chelsford. "There are indications of a strong revival of Royalist sentiment amongst the French people, and it is very possible that the Prince of Malors may wish to ingratiate himself by any means with the French army. This sort of thing scarcely sounds like practical politics, but one has to bear in mind the peculiar temperament of the man himself, and the nation. I personally believe that the Prince of Malors would consider himself justified in abusing the hospitality of his dearest friend in the cause of patriotism. At any rate, this is my view, and I am acting upon it. All danger from that source will now be at an end, for in an hour's time the Prince will be under the surveillance of detectives for the remainder of his stay in England."
I breathed a sigh of relief.
"I am to go back to Braster, then?" I asked.
"To-night, if possible," Lord Chelsford answered. "Go on living as you have been living. And, listen! If you should have further cause to suspect the Prince of Malors or anybody else, communicate with me or with Ray. The Duke is, of course, a man of ability and an honourable man, but he is prejudiced in favour of his friends. Some of us others have had to learn our lessons of life, and men, in a sharper school. You understand me, Mr. Ducaine, I am sure."
"I perfectly understand, sir," I answered.
"There is nothing more which you wish to ask me?"
"There is a suggestion I should like to make, sir, with regard to the disposal of my finished work," I told him.
"Go on, Mr. Ducaine. I shall be glad to listen to it."
There was a knock at the door. Lord Chelsford held up his finger.
"Send it me in writing," he said in a low tone, "to-morrow.--Come in!"
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.