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THE GLEAM OF STEEL
At the Milan, Arnold found himself early for luncheon. He chose a table quite close to the entrance, ordered his luncheon with some care, and commenced his watch. A thin stream of people was all the time arriving, but for the first half-hour there was no one whom he could associate in any way with his commission. It was not until he had actually commenced his lunch that anything happened. Then, through the half-open door, he heard what he recognized instantly as a familiar voice. The manager of the restaurant hurried toward the entrance and he heard the question repeated.
"Is Mr. Rosario here?"
"We have a table for him, madame, but he has not yet arrived," the maître d'hôtel replied. "If madame will allow me to show her the way!"
Arnold rose to his feet with a little start. Notwithstanding her fashionable outdoor clothes and thick veil, he recognized Mrs. Weatherley at once as she swept into the room, following the maître d'hôtel. She came up to him with slightly upraised eyebrows. It was clear that his presence there was a surprise to her.
"I scarcely expected to see you again so soon," she remarked, giving him her fingers. "Are you lunching alone?"
"Quite alone," Arnold answered.
She glanced half carelessly around, as though to see whether she recognized any acquaintances. Arnold, however, was convinced that she was simply anxious not to be overheard.
"Tell me," she inquired, "has my husband sent you here?"
Arnold admitted the fact.
"I have a message," he replied.
"For Mr. Rosario?"
"For Mr. Rosario."
"You have not seen anything of him yet, then?" she asked quickly.
"He has not been here," Arnold assured her. "I have kept my eyes glued upon the door."
"Tell me the message quickly," she begged.
Arnold did not hesitate. Mr. Weatherley was his employer but this woman was his employer's wife. If there were secrets between them, it was not his concern. It seemed natural enough that she should ask. It was certainly not his place to refuse to answer her question.
"I was to tell him that on no account was he to lunch here to-day," Arnold said. "He was to go instead to the grill room at Prince's in Piccadilly, and remain there until two o'clock."
Mrs. Weatherley made no remark. Her face was emotionless. Closely though he was watching her, Arnold could not himself have declared at that moment whether indeed this message had any import to her or not.
"I find my husband's behavior exceedingly mysterious," she said thoughtfully. "I cannot imagine how he became concerned in the matter at all."
"I believe," Arnold told her, "that some one telephoned Mr. Weatherley this morning. He was asked for privately several times and he seemed very much disturbed by some message he received."
"Some one telephoned him," she repeated, frowning. "Now I wonder who that person could be."
She sat quite still for a moment or two, looking through the glass-paneled door. Then she shrugged her shoulders.
"In any case," she declared, "I am here to lunch and I am hungry. I will not wait for Mr. Rosario. May I sit here?"
He called a waiter and the extra place was very soon prepared.
"If Mr. Rosario comes," she said, "we can see him from here. You can then give him your message and he can please himself. I should like some Omelette aux Champignons, please, and some red wine--nothing more. Perhaps I will take some fruit later. And now, please, Mr. Arnold Chetwode, will you listen to me?"
She undid her ermine cloak and laid aside her muff. The collection of costly trifles which she had been carrying she threw carelessly upon the table.
"Last night," she continued, softly, "we agreed, did we not, to be friends? It is possible you may find our friendship one of deeds, not words alone."
"There is nothing I ask for more sincerely," he declared.
"To begin with, then," she went on, "I do not wish that you call me Mrs. Weatherley. The name annoys me. It reminds me of things which at times it is a joy to me to forget. You shall call me Fenella, and I shall call you Arnold."
"Fenella," he repeated, half to himself.
"Well, then, that is arranged. Now for the first thing I have to ask of you. If Mr. Rosario comes, I do not wish that message from my husband to be delivered."
Arnold frowned slightly.
"Isn't that a little difficult?" he protested. "Mr. Weatherley has sent me up here for no other reason. He has given me an exact commission, has told me even the words I am to use. What excuse can I possibly make?"
"You shall be relieved of all responsibility," she declared. "If I tell my husband that I do not wish you to obey his bidding, that will be sufficient. It is a matter of which my husband understands little. There are people whose interest it is to protect Rosario. It is they who have spoken, without a doubt, this morning through the telephone, but my husband does not understand. Rosario must take care of himself. He runs his own risks. He is a man, and he knows very well what he is doing."
Arnold looked at her thoughtfully.
"Do you seriously suppose, then," he asked, "that the object of my message is to bid Mr. Rosario keep away from here because of some actual danger?"
"Why not? Mr. Rosario has chosen to interfere in a very difficult and dangerous matter. He runs his own risks and he asks for a big reward. It is not our place to protect him."
She raised her veil and he looked at her closely. She was still as beautiful as he had thought her last night, but her complexion was pallid almost to fragility, and there were faint violet lines under her eyes.
"You have not slept," he said. "It was the fear of last night."
"I slept badly," she admitted, "but that passes. This afternoon I shall rest."
"I cannot help thinking," he went on, "about those men who watched the house last night. They could have been after no good. I wish you would let me go to the police-station. Or would you like me to come and watch myself, to-night or to-morrow night, to see if they come again?"
She shook her head firmly.
"No!" she decided. "It wouldn't do any good. Just now, at any rate, it is Rosario they want."
Their conversation was interrupted for several moments while she exchanged greetings with friends passing in and out of the restaurant. Then she turned again to her companion.
"Tell me," she asked, a little abruptly, "why are you a clerk in the city? You do not come of that order of people."
"Necessity," he assured her promptly. "I hadn't a sovereign in the world when your husband engaged me."
"You were not brought up for such a life!"
"Not altogether," he admitted. "It suits me very well, though."
"Poor boy!" she murmured. "You, too, have had evil fortune. Perhaps the black hand has shadowed us both."
"A man makes his own life," he answered, impulsively, "but you--you were made for happiness. It is your right."
She glanced for a moment at the rings upon her fingers. Then she looked into his eyes.
"I married Mr. Weatherley," she reminded him. "Do you think that if I had been happy I should have done that? Do you think that, having done it, I deserve to know, or could know, what happiness really means?"
It was very hard to answer her. Arnold found himself divided between his loyalty towards the man who, in his way, had been kind to him, and the woman who seemed to be stepping with such fascinating ease into the empty places of his life.
"Mr. Weatherley is very much devoted to you," he remarked.
A shadow of derision parted her lips.
"Mr. Weatherley is a very worthy man," she said, "but it would have been better for him as well as for me if he had kept away from the Island of Sabatini. Tell me, what did Lady Blennington say about us last night?"
His eyes twinkled.
"She told me that Mr. Weatherley was wrecked upon the Island of Sabatini, and that your brother kept him in a dungeon till he promised to marry you."
"And you? What did you think of that?"
"I thought," he replied, "that if adventures of that sort were to be found in those seas, I would like to beg or borrow the money to sail there myself and steer for the rocks."
"For a boy," she declared, "you say very charming things. Tell me, how old are you?"
"You would not look so old if it were not for that line. You know, I read characters and fortunes. All the women of my race have done so. I can tell you that you had a youth of ease and happiness and one year of terrible life. Then you started again. It is true, is it not?"
"Very nearly," he admitted.
She never finished her sentence. From their table, which was nearest to the door, they were suddenly aware of a commotion of some sort going on just outside. Through the glass door Rosario was plainly visible, his sleekness ruffled, his white face distorted with terror. The hand of some unseen person was gripping him by the throat, bearing him backwards. There was a shout and they both saw the cloakroom attendant spring over his counter. Something glittered in the dim light--a flash of blue polished steel. There was a gleam in the air, a horrible cry, and Rosario collapsed upon the floor. Arnold, who was already on his feet and half-way to the door, caught one glimpse of the upstretched hand, and all his senses were thrilled with what he saw. Upon the little finger was a signet ring with a scarlet stone!
The whole affair was a matter of seconds, yet Arnold dashed through the door to find Rosario a crumpled-up heap, the cloakroom attendant bending over him, and no one else in the vestibule. Then the people began to stream in--the hall porter, the lift man, some loiterers from the outer hall. The cloakroom attendant sprang to his feet. He seemed dazed.
"Stop him!" he shouted. "Stop him!"
The little group in the doorway looked at one another.
"He went that way!" the cloakroom attendant cried out again. "He passed through that door!"
Some of them rushed into the street. One man hurried to the telephone, the others pressed forward to where Rosario lay on his back, with a thin stream of blood finding its way through his waistcoat. Arnold was suddenly conscious of a woman's arm upon his and a hoarse whisper in his ear.
"Come back! Take me away somewhere quickly! This is no affair of ours. I want to think. Take me away, please. I can't look at him."
"Did you see the man's hand?" Arnold gasped.
"What of it?"
"It was the hand I saw upon your window-sill last night. It was the same ring--a scarlet signet ring. I could swear to it."
She gave a little moan and her whole weight lay upon his arm. In the rush of people and the clamor of voices around, they were almost unobserved. He passed his arm around her, and even in that moment of wild excitement he was conscious of a nameless joy which seemed to set his heart leaping. He led her back through the restaurant and into one of the smaller rooms of the hotel. He found her an easy-chair and stood over her.
"You won't leave me?" she begged.
He held her hand tightly.
"Not until you send me away!"
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