Chapter 4




THE FACE AT THE WINDOW


Mr. Weatherley laid his hand upon his young companion's arm as they crossed the hall on their way from the dining-room.

"We are going to play bridge in the music-room," he announced. "Things are different, nowadays, than when I was a boy. The men and the women, too, have to smoke cigarettes all the time while they play cards. A bad habit, Chetwode! A very bad habit indeed! I've nothing to say against a good Havana cigar in the dining-room or the smoking-room, but this constant cigarette smoking sickens me. I can't bear the smell of the things. Here we are. I don't know what table my wife has put you at, I'm sure. She arranges all these things herself."

Several guests who had arrived during the last few minutes were already playing at various tables. Mrs. Weatherley was moving about, directing the proceedings. She came across to them as soon as they entered, and, laying her hand upon Arnold's arm, drew him on one side. There was a smile still upon her lips but trouble in her eyes. She looked over her shoulder a little nervously and Arnold half unconsciously followed the direction of her gaze. Rosario was standing apart from the others, talking earnestly with Starling.

"I want you to stay with me, if you please," she said. "I am not sure where you will play, but there is no hurry. I myself shall not sit down at present. There are others to arrive."

Her brother, who had been talking languidly to Lady Blennington, came slowly up to them.

"You, Andrea, will wait for the baccarat, of course?" she said. "I know that this sort of bridge does not amuse you."

He answered her with a little shrug of the shoulders and, leaning towards her, spoke a few words in some tongue which Arnold did not at once recognize. She looked again over her shoulder at Rosario and her face clouded. She replied in the same tongue. Arnold would have moved away, but she detained him.

"You must not mind," she said softly, "that my brother and I talk sometimes in our native language. You do not, by chance, know Portuguese, Mr. Chetwode?"

"Not a word," he replied.

"I am going to leave all these people to amuse themselves," she continued, dropping her voice slightly. "I want you to come with me for a moment, Mr. Chetwode. You must take care that you do not slip. These wooden floors are almost dangerous. I did give a dance here once," she continued, as they made their way across the room, talking a little vaguely and with an obvious effort. "I did not enjoy it at all. To me the style of dancing in this country seems ungraceful. Look behind, Mr. Chetwode. Tell me, is Mr. Rosario following us?"

Arnold glanced over his shoulder. Rosario was still standing in the same place, but he was watching them intently.

"He is looking after us, but he has not moved," Arnold announced.

"It is better for him that he stays there," Mrs. Weatherley said softly. "Please come."

At the further end of the apartment there was a bend to the left. Mrs. Weatherley led the way around the corner into a small recess, out of sight of the remainder of the people. Here she paused and, holding up her finger, looked around. Her head was thrown back, the trouble still gleamed in her eyes. She listened intently to the hum of voices, as though trying to distinguish those she knew. Satisfied, apparently, that their disappearance had not occasioned any comment, she moved forward again, motioned Arnold to open a door, and led him down a long passage to the front of the house. Here she opened the door of an apartment on the left-hand side of the hall, and almost pushed him in. She closed the door quickly behind them. Then she held up her finger.

"Listen!" she said.

They could hear nothing save the distant murmur of voices in the music-room. The room which they had entered was in complete darkness, through which the ivory pallor of her arms and face, and the soft fire of her eyes, seemed to be the only things visible. She was standing quite close to him. He could hear her breathing, he could almost fancy that he heard her heart beat. A strand of hair even touched his cheek as she moved.

"I do not wish to turn the light up for a moment," she whispered. "You do not mind?"

"I mind nothing," Arnold answered, bewildered. "Are you afraid of anything? Is there anything I can do?"

A sense of excitement was stirring him.

"Just do as I ask, that is all," she murmured. "I want to look outside a moment. Just do as I ask and keep quiet."

She stole from him to the window and, moving the curtain a few inches, knelt down, peering out. She remained there motionless for a full minute. Then she rose to her feet and came back. His eyes were becoming more accustomed to the gloom now and he could see the outline of her figure as she moved towards him.

"Take my place there," she whispered. "Look down the drive. Tell me whether you can see any one watching the house?"

He went down on his knees at the place she indicated and peered through the parted curtain. For a few seconds he could see nothing; then, as his eyes grew accustomed to the gloom, he discerned two motionless figures standing on the left-hand side of the drive, partly concealed by a tall laurel bush.

"I believe," he declared hoarsely, "that there are two men standing there."

"Tell me, are they moving?" she demanded.

"They seem to be simply watching the house," he replied.

She was silent. He could hear her breath come and go.

"They still do not move?" she asked, after a few seconds.

He shook his head, and she turned away, listening to some footsteps in the hall.

"Remember," she whispered, "I am standing where I can turn on the light in a moment. If any one comes, you are here to see my South American curios. This is my own sitting-room. You understand?"

"I understand," he assented. "Whatever you tell me to say, I will say."

She seemed to be gathering courage. She laughed very softly, as though amused at his earnestness. There was little enough of mirth in her laughter, yet somehow it gave him heart.

"What do these men want?" he asked. "Would you like me to go out and send them away?"

"No," she replied. "I do not wish you to leave me."

"But they are terrifying you," he protested. "What right have they in your garden? They are here, perhaps, as thieves."

"Hush!"

She sprang away from him. The room was suddenly flooded with light. She was leaning with her arm upon the mantelpiece, a statuette of black ivory in her hand.

"If you are really fond of this sort of thing," she began, "you should come with me to the South Kensington Museum one day--Who is that?"

The door had opened. It was Mr. Weatherley who appeared. Mr. Weatherley was distinctly fussy and there was some return of his pompous manner.

"My dear Fenella!" he exclaimed. "What on earth are you doing in here, with half your bridge tables as yet unarranged? Your guests are wondering what has become of you."

"Has any one fresh turned up?" she asked, setting down the statuette.

"A Lady Raynham has just arrived," Mr. Weatherley replied, "and is making herself very disagreeable because there is no one to tell her at which table she is to play. I heard a young man who came with her, too, asking Parkins what time supper was. I do not wish to criticize the manners of your guests, but really, my dear Fenella, some of them do seem to have strange ideas."

"Lady Raynham," she remarked, coldly, "is a person who should be glad to find herself under any respectable roof without making complaints. Mr. Chetwode," she continued, turning to him, "it is my wish to finish showing you my treasures. Therefore, will you wait here, please, for a short time, while I go and start another bridge table? I shall return quite soon. Come, Samuel."

Mr. Weatherley coughed. He seemed unwilling to leave Arnold behind.

"I dare say young Chetwode would like a hand at bridge himself, my dear," he protested.

"Mr. Chetwode shall have one later on," she promised. "I think that very likely he will play at my table. Come."

They left the room together. She looked back for a moment before, they disappeared and Arnold felt his heart give a little jump. She was certainly the most beautiful creature he had ever seen, and there was something in her treatment of him, the subtle flattery of her half appealing confidence, which went to his head like wine. The door closed and he was left alone. He listened to their departing footsteps. Then he looked around him, for the first time forming some idea of his surroundings. He was in a very charming, comfortable-looking apartment, with deep easy-chairs, a divan covered with luxurious cushions, numbers of little tables covered with photographs and flowers, a great bowl of hot-house roses, and an oak cabinet with an oak background in the further corner of the room, which was packed with curios. After his first brief inspection, however, he felt scarcely any curiosity as to the contents of the room. It was the window which drew him always towards It. Once more he peered through the chink of the curtains. He had not cared to turn out the lights, however, and for several moments everything was indistinguishable. Then he saw that the two figures still remained in very nearly the same position, except that they had drawn, if anything, a little closer to the house.

A tiny clock upon the mantelpiece was ticking away the seconds. Arnold had no idea how long he remained there watching. Suddenly, however, he received a shock. For some time he had fancied that one of the two figures had disappeared altogether, and now, outside on the window-sill, scarcely a couple of feet from the glass through which he was looking, a man's hand appeared and gripped the window-sill. He stared at it, fascinated. It was so close to him that he could see the thin, yellow fingers, on one of which was a signet ring with a blood-red stone; the misshapen knuckles, the broken nails. He was on the point of throwing up the window when a man's face shot up from underneath and peered into the room. There was only the thickness of the glass between them, and the light from the gas lamp which stood at the corner of the drive fell full upon the white, strained features and the glittering black eyes which stared into the room. The chink of the curtain through which Arnold was gazing was barely an inch wide; but it was sufficient. For a moment he stared at the man. Then he threw the curtains open and stooped to unfasten the window. It was the affair of a few seconds only to throw it up. To his surprise, the man did not move. Their faces almost touched.

"What the devil do you want?" Arnold exclaimed, gripping him by the arm.

The man did not flinch. He inclined his head towards the interior of the room.

"Rosario, the Jew," he answered thickly. "He is in the house there. Will you take him a message?"

"Ring at the door and bring it yourself," Arnold retorted.

The man laughed contemptuously. He stared at Arnold for a moment and seemed to realize for the first time that he was a stranger.

"You are a fool to meddle in things you know nothing of!" he muttered.

"I know you've no right where you are," said Arnold, "and I shall keep you until some one comes."

The intruder made a sudden dive, freeing himself with an extraordinary turn of the wrist. Arnold caught a glimpse of his face as he slunk away. While he hesitated whether to follow him, he heard the door open and the soft rustle of a woman's skirts.

"What are you doing out there, Mr. Chetwode?"

He turned around. Mrs. Weatherley was standing just behind him, leaning also out of the window, with a little halo of light about her head. For a moment he was powerless to answer. Her head was thrown back, her lips parted. She seemed to be listening as well as watching. There was fear in her eyes as she looked at him, yet she made the most beautiful picture he had ever seen. He pulled himself together.

"Well?" she asked, breathlessly.

"I was waiting here for you," he explained. "I looked through the curtains. Then I saw a man's hand upon the sill."

Her hand shot to her side.

"Go on," she whispered.

"I saw his face," Arnold continued. "It was pressed close to the window. It was as though he meant to enter. I threw the curtains back, opened the window, and gripped him by the arm. I asked him what he wanted."

She sat down in a chair and began to tremble.

"He said he wanted Rosario, the Jew," Arnold went on. "Then, when he found that I was a stranger, he got away. I don't know how he managed it, for my fingers are strong enough, but he wrenched himself free somehow."

"Look out once more," she implored. "See if he is anywhere around. I will speak to him."

He stood at the window and looked in every direction.

"There is no one in sight," he declared. "I will go to the corner of the street, if you like."

She shook her head.

"Close the window and bolt it, please," she begged. "Draw the curtains tight. Now come and sit down here for a moment."

He did as he was bidden with some reluctance.

"The man was a villainous-looking creature," he persisted. "I don't think that he was up to any good. Look! There's a policeman almost opposite. Shall I go and tell him?"

She put out her hand and clasped his, drawing him down to her side. Then she looked steadfastly into his face.

"Mr. Chetwode," she said slowly, "women have many disadvantages in life, but they have had one gift bestowed upon them in which they trust always. It is the gift of instinct. You are very young, and I know very little about you, but I know that you are to be trusted."

"If I could serve you," he murmured,--

"You can," she interrupted.

Then for a time she was silent. Some new emotion seemed to move her. Her face was softer than he had ever seen it, her beautiful eyes dimmer. His mind was filled with new thoughts of her.

"Mrs. Weatherley," he pleaded, "please do believe in me, do trust me. I mean absolutely what I say when I tell you there is nothing in the world I would not do to save you from trouble or alarm."

Her moment of weakness was over. She flashed one wonderful smile at him and rose to her feet.

"It is agreed," she declared. "When I need help--and it may be at any moment--I shall call upon you."

"I shall be honored," he assured her, gravely. "In the meantime, please tell me--are we to speak of this to Rosario?"

"Leave it to me," she begged. "I cannot explain to you what all this means, but I think that Mr. Rosario can take care of himself. We must go back now to the bridge-room. My husband is annoyed with me for coming away again."

Mr. Weatherley met them in the passage. He was distinctly irritable.

"My dear Fenella!" he exclaimed. "Your guests do not understand your absence. Mr. Rosario is most annoyed and I cannot imagine what is the matter with Starling. I am afraid that he and Rosario have had words."

She turned her head as she passed, and smiled very slightly.

"I have no concern," she said, "in the quarrel between Mr. Starling and Mr. Rosario. As for the others--Mr. Chetwode and I are quite ready for bridge now. We are going in to do our duty."




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