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In my rooms a surprise awaited me. Felicia was there, walking nervously up and down my little sitting-room She stopped short as I entered and came swiftly towards me. In the joy of seeing her so unexpectedly I would have taken her into my arms, but she shrank back.
"Felicia!" I exclaimed. "How did you come here?"
"Madame Muller went down for lunch," Felicia answered. "I said that I had a headache, and stole up here on the chance of seeing you."
"They are making a prisoner of you!" I exclaimed.
"It is your fault," she answered.
I looked at her in surprise. Her face was stained with tears. Her voice shook with nervousness.
"You have been making secret inquiries about my uncle," she said. "You have been seen talking to those who wish him ill."
"How do you know this, Felicia?" I asked calmly.
"Oh, I know!" she answered. "They have told me."
"Who?" I asked. "Who has told you?"
"Never mind," she answered, wringing her hands. "I know. It is enough. Capitaine Rotherby, I have come to ask you something."
"Please go on," I said.
"I want you to go away. I do not wish you to interest yourself any more in me or in any of us."
"Do you mean that, Felicia?" I asked.
"I mean it," she answered. "My uncle has a great mission to carry out here. You are making it more difficult for him."
"Felicia," I said, "I do not trust your uncle. I do not believe in his great mission. I think that you yourself are deceived."
She held her head up. Her eyes flashed angrily.
"As to that," she said, "I am the best judge. If my uncle is an adventurer, I am his niece. I am one with him. Please understand that. It seems to me that you are working against him, thinking that you are helping me. That is a mistake."
"Felicia," I said, "give me a little more of your confidence, and the rest will be easy."
"What is it that you wish to know?" she asked.
"For one thing," I answered, "tell me when your uncle left South America and when he arrived in Paris?"
"He had been in Paris ten days when you saw us first," she said, after a moment's hesitation.
"And are you sure that he came to you from South America?" I demanded.
"Certainly!" she answered.
"To me," I said slowly, "he seems to have the manners of a Parisian. Two months ago I lunched at Henry's with some old friends. Can you tell me, Felicia, that he was not in Paris then?"
"Of course not!" she answered, shivering a little.
"Then he has a wonderful double," I declared.
"What is this that is in your mind about him?" she asked.
"I believe," I answered, "that he is personating some one, or rather I have believed it. I believe that he is personating some one else, and is afraid of being recognized by those who know."
"Will it satisfy you," she said slowly, "if I tell you, upon my honor, Capitaine Rotherby, that he is indeed my uncle?"
"I should believe you, Felicia," I answered. "I should then feel disposed to give the whole affair up as insoluble."
"That is just what I want you to do," she said. "Now, listen. I tell you this upon my honor. He is my uncle, and his name is truly Delora!"
"Then why does he leave you here alone and skulk about from hiding-place to hiding-place like a criminal?" I asked.
"It is not your business to ask those questions," she answered. "I have told you the truth. Will you do as I ask or not?"
I hesitated for a moment. She was driving me back into a corner!
"Felicia," I said, "I must do as you ask me. If you tell me to go away, I will go away; but do you think it is quite kind to leave me so mystified? For instance," I added slowly, "on the night when that beast Louis planned to knock that young Brazilian on the head, and leave me to bear the brunt of it; he was up here talking to you, alone, as though you were equals."
"It is my uncle who makes use of Louis," she said.
"I'm hanged if I can see how he can make use of a fellow like that if his business is an honest one," I answered.
"It is not for you to understand," she answered. "You are not a policeman. You are not concerned in these things."
"I am concerned in you!" I answered passionately. "Felicia, you drive me almost wild when you talk like this. You know very well that it is not curiosity which has made me set my teeth, and swear that I will discover the truth of these things. It is because I see you implicated in them, because I believe in you, Felicia, because I love you!"
She was in my arms for one long, delicious moment. Then she tore herself away.
"You mean it, Austen?" she whispered.
"I mean it!" I answered solemnly. "Felicia, I think you know that I mean it!"
"Then you must be patient," she said, "for just a little time. You must wait until my uncle has finished his business. It will take a very short time now. Then you may come and call again, and remind us of your brother. You will understand everything then, and I believe that you will be still willing to ask us down to your country home."
"And if I am, Felicia?" I asked.
"We shall come," she murmured. "You know that. Good-bye, Austen! I must fly. If Madame Muller finds that I have left the room I shall be a prisoner for a week."
I opened the door. Even then I would have kept her, if only for a moment; but just as I bent down we heard the sound of footsteps outside, and she hurried away. I sat down and lit a cigarette. So it was over, then, my little attempt at espionage! My word was pledged. I could do no more.
I walked round to Claridge's later in the evening and saw my brother.
"Ralph," I said, "if your offer of the shooting is still good, I think I will take a few men down to Feltham."
"Do, Austen," he answered. "Old Heggs will be ever so pleased. It seems a shame not to have a gun upon the place. I shall come down myself later on. What about those people, the Deloras?"
"The uncle is away," I answered, "and the girl cannot very well come by herself. Perhaps we may see something of them later on."
Ralph looked at me a little curiously, but he made no remark.
"You won't be lonely up here alone?" I asked.
He shook his head.
"I have plenty to do," he answered. "I shall probably be down myself before the end of the month. Whom shall you ask?"
I made a list of a few of the men whom I knew, and who I believed were still in town, but when I sat down to write to them I felt curiously reluctant to commit myself to staying at Feltham. Even if I were not to interfere, even if I were to stand aside while the game was being played, I could not believe that the scheming of Louis and the acquiescence of Felicia went for the same thing, and I had an uncomfortable but a very persistent conviction to the effect that she was being deceived. Everything from her point of view seemed reasonable enough. What she had told me, even, seemed almost to preclude the fear of any wrong-doing. Yet I could not escape from the conviction of it. Some way or other there was trouble brewing, either between Delora and Louis, or Delora and the arbiters of right and wrong. In the end I wrote to no one. I determined to go down alone, to shoot zealously from early in the morning till late at night, but to have no house-party at Feltham,--to invite a few of the neighbors, and to be free myself to depart for London any time, at a moment's notice. It would come! somehow or other I felt sure of it. I should receive a summons from her, and I must be prepared at any moment to come to her aid.
I went into the club after I had left Claridge's, and stayed playing bridge till unusually late. It was early in the morning when I reached the Milan, and the hotel had that dimly lit, somewhat sepulchral appearance which seems to possess a large building at that hour in the morning. As I stood for a moment inside the main doors, four men stepped out of the lift on my right, carrying a long wooden chest. They slunk away into the shadows on tiptoe. I watched them curiously.
"What is that?" I asked the reception clerk who was on duty.
He shrugged his shoulders.
"It was a man who died here the day before yesterday," he whispered in my ear.
"Died here?" I repeated. "Why are they taking his coffin down at such an hour?"
"It is always done," the man assured me. "In hotels such as this, where all is life and gayety, our clients do not care to be reminded of such an ugly thing as death. Half the people on that floor would have left if they had known that the dead body of a man has been lying there. We keep these things very secret. The coffin has been taken to the undertaker's. The funeral will be from there."
"Who is the man?" I asked. "Had he been ill long?"
The clerk shook his head.
"He was a Frenchman," he said; "Bartot was his name. He had an apoplectic stroke in the cafe one day last week, and since then complications set in."
I turned away with a little shiver. It was not pleasant to reflect upon--this man's death!
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