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Felicia looked at me for a moment with wide-open eyes. Then a little stream of color rushed into her cheeks, her lips slowly parted, and she laughed, not altogether without embarrassment.
"Capitaine Rotherby," she said, "you must not say such things--so suddenly!"
"Last time we met," I reminded her, "you called me Austen."
"Austen, then, if I must," she said. "You know very well that you should not be here. You are breaking a promise. It is very, very nice to see you," she continued. "Indeed, I do feel that. But I am afraid!"
"I have sufficient reasons for breaking my promise, dear," I said, taking her hand in mine. "I will explain them to you by and by. In the meantime, please answer my question."
"You are serious, then?" she asked, looking at me with wide-open eyes, and lips which quivered a little--whether with laughter or emotion I could not tell.
"I am serious," I answered. "You want taking care of, Felicia, and I am quite sure that I should be the best person in the world to do it."
Her eyes fell before mine. She seemed to be studying the point of her long patent shoe. As usual she was dressed delightfully, in a light fawn-colored tailor-made gown and a large black hat. Nevertheless she seemed to me to be thinner and frailer than when I had first seen her--too girlish, almost, for her fashionable clothes.
"Do you think that you would take care of me?" she said softly. "I am afraid I am a very ignorant little person. I do not know much about England or English ways, and every one says that things are so different here."
"There is one thing," I declared, "which is the same all the world over, and that is that when two people care for one another, the world becomes not such a very difficult place to live in, Felicia. I wonder if you could not try and care a little for me?"
"I do," she murmured, without looking up.
"Enough?" I asked.
She sighed. Suddenly she raised her eyes, and I saw things there which amazed me. They were no longer the eyes of a frightened child. I was thrilled with the passion which seemed somehow or other to have been born in their deep blue depths.
"Dear Austen," she said, "I think that I care quite enough. But listen. How can I say, 'Yes,' to you? Always my uncle has been kind, in his way. I know now that he is worried, harassed to death, afraid, even, of what may happen hour by hour. I could not leave him. He would think that I had lost faith, that I had gone over to his enemies."
"Felicia dear," I said, "I do not wish to be the enemy of any one who is your friend. Indeed, your uncle and his doings mean so little to me. If they are honest, I might be able to help him. If he is engaged in transactions of which he is ashamed, then it is time that you were taken away."
"I will never believe that," she declared.
"Felicia," I said, "I will tell you why I have broken my promise and come to London. I believe I told you that I had a brother out in Brazil?"
"Yes!" she answered,--"Dicky, you called him."
"He wrote, you know, and said that he had been staying with the Deloras on their estate, and he begged that I should call upon your uncle here. Now I have had a cable from him. Felicia, there is something wrong. You shall read the cable for yourself."
I gave it to her. She read it word by word. Then she read it again, aloud, very softly to herself, and finally gave it back to me.
"I do not understand," she whispered. "I do not know why my uncle has not communicated with his brother."
"I am beginning to believe, Felicia," I said, "that I know more than you. I tell you frankly I believe that your uncle has kept silence because he is not honestly carrying out the business on which he was sent to England. Tell me exactly, will you? When did he arrive from America?"
She shook her head.
"Austen," she said, "you know there were some things which I promised to keep silent about, and this is one."
"At any rate," I said, half to myself, "he could not have been in Paris more than three weeks. I do not understand how in that three weeks he could have obtained such a hold upon you that you should come here and do his bidding blindly, although you must know that some of the things he does are extraordinary and mysterious."
She was obviously distressed.
"There is something," she said, "of course, which I am not telling you,--something which I promised to keep secret. But, Austen," she went on, laying her fingers upon my coat sleeve, "let me tell you this. I am getting more and more worried every day. I understand nothing. The explanations which I have had from my uncle grow more and more extraordinary. Why we are here, why he is still in hiding, why he lives in the shadow of such fear day by day, I cannot imagine. I am beginning to lose heart. Through the telephone last night I told him that I must see him. He has half promised that I shall, to-day or to-morrow. I shall tell him, Austen, that I must know more about the reasons for all this mystery, or I will go back to Madame Quintaine's. I wrote to her soon after I came here, when I was frightened, and she told me that she would gladly have me back. My uncles have always paid her a good deal of money," she went on, "for taking care of me."
I drew a long breath of relief.
"Felicia," I said, "you are talking like a dear, sensible little woman. But," I added, "you have not answered my question!"
She looked away, laughing.
"Of course you are not in earnest!" she exclaimed.
"Of course I am!" I persisted.
"You must know," she said softly, "that I could not do a thing like that. My uncle has always been so kind to me--"
"But you have only seen him three weeks," I interrupted. "Before that he was in Brazil!"
She was silent for several moments.
"Well," she said, "even if it were so, he could be very kind to me, couldn't he, even if he was in Brazil and I was in Paris? You see, my father was the poor one of the family, who died without any money at all, yet I have always had everything in the world I want, and when I come of age they are going to give me a great sum of money. It is not that I think about," she went on, "but they write to me always, and they treat me as though I were their own daughter. Often they have said how they would love to have had me out in Brazil. I think that it is really their own kindness that they let me stay in Paris."
"Felicia," I said, "tell me really how much you do know of your uncle--the one who is with you now?"
She shook her head.
"No!" she said. "I cannot do that. I made a promise and I must keep it. But I will promise you this, if you like. If I find that it is not the truth which I have been told I will come to you if you want me."
I held her hands tightly in mine.
"You are beginning to have doubts, are you not?" I asked.
"Oh, I don't know!" she answered. "I don't know! There are times when I am frightened. Austen, I must go now."
I looked at the clock. It was almost two o'clock.
"We couldn't have lunch together, I suppose?" I asked.
She shook her head, laughing.
"I had lunch more than an hour ago," she said, "and I have to meet madame at a dress-maker's. I must go, really, Austen."
"Can't I see you again, dear?"
"I will come into this room, if I can, about five," she said. "Don't come out with me now. It is the luncheon time in the cafe, and I am afraid of Louis."
She flitted away, leaving behind a faint odor of violets shaken from the skirts she had lifted so daintily as she had hurried down the few steps. I watched her out of sight. Then I opened the door myself and passed out into the cafe....
Louis, for the first few minutes, was not visible, but one of the other maitres d'hotel procured for me a table in a somewhat retired corner of the room. My luncheon was already served before Louis appeared before me. For the second time his impassive countenance seemed to be disturbed.
"Back in London, Captain Rotherby," he remarked, with the ghost of his usual welcoming smile.
"Back again, Louis," I answered cheerfully.
Louis bent over my table.
"I thought," he said, "that an English gentleman never broke his promise!"
"Nor does he, Louis," I answered, "unless the circumstances under which it was given themselves change. I came up from the country this morning."
"Upon private business?" Louis asked.
"No!" I answered. "Upon the business in which you and Mr. Delora are both interested. Did you know, Louis, that I had a brother in Brazil?"
"What of it, monsieur?" Louis asked sharply.
For once I had the best of matters. Louis was evidently in a highly nervous state, from which I imagined that things connected with their undertaking, whatever it might be, had reached a critical stage. There were lines underneath his eyes, and he looked about him every now and then nervously.
"My brother," I remarked, "first wrote to me to be sure and look up Mr. Delora, and to be civil to him. I have done this to the best of my ability!"
"Go on," he said.
"Last night," I continued, speaking very deliberately, "my brother who is in London rang me up in Norfolk. He told me that he had just received a cable from Dicky concerning Mr. Delora. It was at his earnest request that I came to London this morning. By the bye, Louis," I added, "I think that I should like some Riz Diane."
Louis looked for a moment as though he were about to consign my innocent desire for Riz Diane to the bottommost depths. The effort with which he recovered himself was really magnificent. He drew a long breath, and bowed his acquiescence.
"By all means, monsieur!"
He called to a waiter, and was particular in his instructions as to my order. Then he turned back to me.
"Monsieur," he said, "you will tell me what was in that cable?"
"I think not, Louis," I answered. "You see I really cannot recognize you in this matter at all. I must find Mr. Delora at once. It is important."
"But if he cannot be found?" Louis asked quickly.
"Then I think that the best thing I can do," I continued, after a moment's pause, "is to call at the Brazilian embassy."
I had a feeling, the feeling for a moment that, notwithstanding the crowded room and Louis' attitude of polite attention, my life was in danger. There flashed something in his eyes indescribably venomous. I seemed to see there his intense and passionate desire to sweep me from the face of the earth.
"Of course," I continued, "if I can find Mr. Delora, that is what I would really prefer. There is a certain matter upon which I must have an explanation from him."
"Monsieur will not have finished his luncheon for twenty minutes or so," Louis said calmly. "At the end of that time I will return."
"Always glad to have a chat with you, Louis," I declared.
"You will not leave," he asked, "before I come back?"
"Not if you return in a reasonable time," I answered.
Louis bowed and hurried off. I saw him disappear for a moment into the service room. When he came out into the restaurant he was once more discharging his duties, moving about amongst his clients, supervising, suggesting, bidding farewell to departing guests, and welcoming new arrivals. A very busy man, Louis, for the cafe was crowded that day. I wondered, as I saw him pass backwards and forwards, with that eternal and yet not displeasing smile upon his lips, what lay at the back of his head concerning me!
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