Poems & Short Stories: 4,271
Forum Members: 70,634
Forum Posts: 1,033,546
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
Julian entered the drawing-room hurriedly a few minutes later. He glanced around quickly, conscious of a distinct feeling of disappointment. His mother, who was arranging a bridge table, called him over to her side.
"You have the air, my dear boy, of missing some one," she remarked with a smile.
"I want particularly to speak to Miss Abbeway," he confided.
Lady Maltenby smiled tolerantly.
"After nearly two hours of conversation at dinner! Well, I won't keep you in suspense. She wanted a quiet place to write some letters, so I sent her into the boudoir."
Julian hastened off, with a word of thanks. The boudoir was a small room opening from the suite which had been given to the Princess and her niece a quaint, almost circular apartment, hung with faded blue Chinese silk and furnished with fragments of the Louis Seize period, - a rosewood cabinet, in particular, which had come from Versailles, and which was always associated in Julian's mind with the faint fragrance of two Sevres jars of dried rose leaves. The door opened almost noiselessly.
Catherine, who was seated before a small, ebony writing table, turned her head at his entrance.
"You?" she exclaimed.
Julian listened for a moment and then closed the door. She sat watching him, with the pen still in her fingers.
"Miss Abbeway," he said, "have you heard any news this evening?"
The pen with which she had been tapping the table was suddenly motionless. She turned a little farther around.
"News?" she repeated. "No! Is there any?"
"A man was caught upon the marshes this morning and shot an hour ago. They say that. he was a spy.
She sat as though turned to stone.
"The military police are still hunting for his companion. They are now searching the garage here to see if they can find a small, grey, coupe car."
This time she remained speechless, but all those ill-defined fears which had gathered in his heart seemed suddenly to come to a head. Her appearance had changed curiously during the last hour. There was a hunted, almost a desperate gleam in her eyes, a drawn look about her mouth as she sat looking at him.
"How do you know this?" she asked.
"The Colonel of the regiment stationed here has just arrived. He is down in the garage now with my father."
"Shot!" she murmured. "Most Dieu!"
"I want to help you," he continued.
Her eyes questioned him almost fiercely.
"You are sure?"
"I am sure."
"You know what it means?"
"How did you guess the truth?"
"I remembered your mouth," he told her. "I saw your car last night, and I traced it up the avenue this morning."
"A mouth isn't much to go by," she observed, with a very wan smile.
"It happens to be your mouth," he replied.
She rose to her feet and stood for a moment as though listening. Then she thrust her hand down into the bosom of her gown and produced a small roll of paper wrapped in a sheet of oilskin. He took it from her at once and slipped it into the breast pocket of his coat.
"You understand what you are doing?" she persisted.
"Perfectly;" he replied.
She crossed the room towards the hearthrug and stood there for a moment, leaning against the mantelpiece.
"Is there anything else I can do?" he asked.
She turned around. There was a wonderful change in her face.
"No one saw me," she said. "I do not think that there is any one but you who could positively identify the car. Neither my aunt nor the maid who is with us has any idea that I left my room last night."
"Absolutely destroyed," she assured him with a smile. "Some day I hope I'll find courage to ask you whether you thought them becoming."
"Some day," he retorted, a little grimly, "I am going to have a very serious talk with you, Miss Abbeway."
"Shall you be very stern?"
He made no response to her lighter mood. The appeal in her eyes left him colder than ever.
"I wish to save your life," he declared, "and I mean to do it. At the same time, I cannot forget your crime or my complicity in it."
"If you feel like that, then," she said a little defiantly, "tell the truth. I knew the risk I was running. I am not afraid, even now. You can give me back those papers, if you like. I can assure you that the person on whom they are found will undoubtedly be shot."
"Then I shall certainly retain possession of them," he decided.
"You are very chivalrous, sir," she ventured, smiling.
"I happen to be only selfish," Julian replied. "I even despise myself for what I am doing. I am turning traitor myself, simply because I could not bear the thought of what might happen to you if you were discovered."
"You like me, then, a little, Mr. Orden?" she asked.
"Twenty-four hours ago," he sighed, "I had hoped to answer that question before it was asked."
"This is very tantalising," she murmured. "You are going to save my life, then, and afterwards treat me as though I were a leper?"
"I shall hope," he said, "that you may have explanations - that I may find - "
She held out her hand and stopped him. Once more, for a moment, her eyes were distended, her form was tense. She was listening intently.
"There is some one coming," she whispered - "two or three men, I think. What fools we have been ! We ought to have decided - about the car."
Her teeth came together for a moment. It was her supreme effort at self-control. Then she laughed almost naturally, lit a cigarette, and seated herself upon the arm of an easy-chair.
"Yo are interfering shockingly with my correspondence," she declared, "and I am sure that they want you for bridge. Here comes Lord Maltenby to tell you so," she added, glancing towards the door.
Lord Maltenby was very pompous, very stiff, and yet apologetic. He considered the whole affair in which he had become involved ridiculous.
"Miss Abbeway," he said, "I beg to present to you Colonel Henderson. An unfortunate occurrence took place here last night, which it has become the duty of - er - Colonel Henderson to clear up. He wishes to ask you a question concerning - er - a motor-car."
Colonel Henderson frowned. He stepped a little forward with the air of wishing to exclude the Earl from further speech.
"May I ask, Miss Abbeway," he began, "whether the small coupe car, standing about a hundred yards down the back avenue, is yours?"
"It is," she assented, with a little sigh. "It won't go."
"It won't go?" the Colonel repeated.
"I thought you might know something about cars," she explained. "They tell me that two of the sparking plugs are cracked. I am thinking of replacing them tomorrow morning, if I can get Mr. Orden to help me."
"How long has the car been there in its present condition, then?" the Colonel enquired.
"Since about five o'clock yesterday afternoon," she replied.
"You don't think it possible that it could have been out on the road anywhere last night, then?"
"Out on the road!" she laughed. "Why, I couldn't get it up to the garage! You go and look at it, Colonel, if you understand cars. Fellowes, the chauffeur here, had a look at the plugs when I brought it in, and you'll find that they haven't been touched."
"I trust," the Earl intervened, "that my chauffeur offered to do what was necessary?"
"Certainly he did, Lord Maltenby," she assured him. "I am trying hard to be my own mechanic, though, and I have set my mind on changing those plugs myself to-morrow morning."
"You are your own chauffeur, then, Miss Abbeway?" her inquisitor asked.
"You can change a wheel, perhaps?"
"Theoretically I can, but as a matter of fact I have never had to do it.'"
"Your tyres," Colonel Henderson continued, "are of somewhat unusual pattern."
"They are Russian," she told him. "I bought them for that reason. As a matter of fact, they are very good tyres."
"Miss Abbeway," the Colonel said, "I don't know whether you are aware that my police are in search of a spy who is reported to have escaped from the marshes last night in a small motor-car which was left at a certain spot in the Salthouse road. I do not believe that there are two tyres such as yours in Norfolk. How do you account for their imprint being clearly visible along the road to a certain spot near Salthouse? My police have taken tracings of them this morning."
Catherine remained perfectly speechless. A slow smile of triumph dawned upon her accuser's lips. Lord Maltenby's eyebrows were upraised as though in horror.
"Perhaps," Julian interposed, "I can explain the tyre marks upon the road. Miss Abbeway drove me down to Furley's cottage, where I spent the night, late in the afternoon. The marks were still there when I returned this morning, because I noticed them."
"The same marks?" the Colonel asked, frowning.
"Without a doubt the same marks," Julian replied. "In one place, where we skidded a little, I recognized them."
Colonel Henderson smiled a little more naturally.
"I begin to have hopes," he acknowledged frankly, "that I have been drawn into another mare's nest. Nevertheless, I am bound to ask you this question, Miss Abbeway. Did you leave your room at all during last night?"
"Not unless I walked in my sleep," she answered, "but you had better make enquiries of my aunt, and Parkins, our maid. They sleep one on either side of me."
"You would not object," the Colonel continued, more cheerfully still, "if my people thought well to have your things searched?"
"Not in the least," Catherine replied coolly, "only if you unpack my trunks, I beg that you will allow my maid to fold and unfold my clothes."
"I do not think," Colonel Henderson said to Lord Maltenby, "that I have any more questions to ask Miss Abbeway at present."
"In which case we will return to the drawing-room," the Earl suggested a little stiffly. "Miss Abbeway, you will, I trust, accept my apologies for our intrusion upon you. I regret that any guest of mine should have been subjected to a suspicion so outrageous."
Catherine laughed softly.
"Not outrageous really, dear Lord Maltenby," she said. "I do not quite know of what I have been suspected, but I am sure Colonel Henderson would not have asked me these questions if it had not been his duty."
"If you had not been a guest in this house, Miss Abbeway," the Colonel assured her, with some dignity, "I should have had you arrested first and questioned afterwards."
"You come of a race of men, Colonel Henderson, who win wars," she declared graciously. "You know your own mind."
"You will be joining us presently, I hope?" Lord Maltenby enquired from the door.
"In a very few minutes," she promised.
The door closed behind them. Catherine waited for a moment, then she sank a little hysterically into a chair.
"I cannot avoid a touch of melodrama, you see," she confessed. "It goes with my character and nationality. But seriously, now that that is over, I do not consider myself in the slightest danger. The poor fellow who was shot this morning belongs to a different order of people. He has been a spy over here since the beginning of the war."
"And what are you?" he asked bluntly.
She laughed up in his face.
"A quite attractive young woman," she declared, - "at least I feel sure you will think so when you know me better."
|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.