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AN OLD FRIEND
It was perhaps as well for Andrew Pelham that he could not see Phyllis' look as she entered the room. An English gentleman, she had been told, was waiting to see her, and she had thought of no one but Duncombe. It was true that she had sent him away, but only an hour ago the Marquise had told her that her emancipation was close at hand. He too might have had a hint! The little smile, however, died away from her lips as she saw who was waiting for her with such manifest impatience.
"You, Andrew!" she exclaimed in amazement. "Why, however did you find me out?"
He took both her hands in his. The look upon his face was transfiguring.
"At last! At last!" he exclaimed. "Never mind how I found you! Tell me, what does it all mean? Are you here of your own free will?"
"Absolutely!" she answered.
"It was you at Runton?"
"Under a false name--with a man who committed robbery!"
She shrugged her shoulders a little wearily.
"My dear Andrew!" she said, "I will admit that I have been doing all manner of incomprehensible things. I couldn't explain everything. It would take too long. What I did, I did for Guy's sake, and of my own free will. It will be all over in a day or two now, and we shall be coming back to Raynesworth. Then I will tell you tales of our adventures which will make your hair stand on end."
"It isn't true about Guy, then?" he exclaimed.
She hesitated for a moment.
"Andrew," she said, "I cannot tell you anything. It must sound rather horrid of me, but I cannot help it. I want you to go away. In a day or two I will write."
He looked at her in pained bewilderment.
"But, Phyllis," he protested, "I am one of your oldest friends! You ask me to go away and leave you here with strangers, without a word of explanation. Why, I have been weeks searching for you."
"Andrew," she said, "I know it. I don't want to be unkind. I don't want you to think that I have forgotten that you are, as you say, one of my oldest friends. But there are times when one's friends are a source of danger rather than pleasure. Frankly, this is one of them."
His face darkened. He looked slowly around the magnificent room. He saw little, but what he could distinguish was impressive.
"Your riddles," he said gravely, "are hard to read. You want me to go away and leave you here."
"You must," she said firmly.
"Did you treat Duncombe like this?" he asked in a blind fit of jealousy.
"You have not the right to ask me such a question," she answered coldly.
"Not the right! Not the right!" he repeated. "Who else has, then? Haven't I watched you grow from a beautiful, capricious child into the woman you are? Haven't I taught you, played with you, done your bidding blindly ever since you came into your kingdom? Haven't I felt the pain and the joy of you in my heart? Who else has a better right, then? Duncombe, who came here, a stranger to you--or is it one of your new friends?"
She came close to him, and laid her hand upon his shoulder.
"Don't be foolish, Andrew!" she said softly.
His whole expression changed. The bitterness left his tone.
"Ah, Phyllis!" he said. "That is more like yourself."
"And I want you," she said, "to be like your old self. You have always been my best friend, Andrew. I hope you will always be that."
He tried to look into her face. It seemed to him that there was a little unnecessary emphasis in her words.
"I am not a child now, you know," she continued. "I am quite old enough to take care of myself. You must believe that, Andrew. You must go away, and not worry about me. You will do this, please, because I ask you!"
"If I must," he said reluctantly. "I will go away, but not to worry about you--that is impossible. You seem to be surrounded by all the mediæval terrors which confronted the emancipation of princesses in our fairy books. Only a short time ago Duncombe implored me to follow his example, and leave you and Paris alone. The detective whom I brought with me has been shadowed ever since we left Paris. Last night he left me for a few hours, and this morning comes a note from the hospital. He is lying there with the back of his head beaten in--garotters, of course, the police say, looking for plunder. How can you ask me to be easy in my mind about you?"
She smiled reassuringly.
"No harm will come to me here, I can promise you," she said. "It is you who run the most risk if you only knew it. Sir George Duncombe gave you the best advice when he tried to get you to return to England."
"I cannot leave Lloyd now until he has recovered," Andrew answered. "Tell me, Phyllis, has Duncombe found you out? Has he been here?"
"Yes," she answered. "I sent him away--as I am sending you."
"Has he ever told you," Andrew asked, "why he was willing in the first instance to come to Paris in search of you?"
"No," she answered. "Wasn't it because he was your friend?"
He shook his head.
"It is his affair, not mine," he said with a sigh. "Ask him some day."
"You won't tell me, Andrew?"
"No! I will go now! You know where to send for me if you should need help. I can find my way down, thank you. I have a guide from the hotel outside."
The Marquise swept into the room as he passed out, an impression of ermine and laces and perfume.
"Another of your English lovers, ma belle?" she asked.
"Scarcely that," Phyllis answered. "He is a very old friend, and he was rather hard to get rid of."
"I think," the Marquise said, "you would get rid of all very willingly for the sake of one, eh?"
The Marquise stared insolently into the girl's face. Phyllis only laughed.
"One is usually considered the ideal number--in our country," she remarked demurely.
"But the one?" the Marquise continued. "He would not be one of these cold, heavy countrymen of yours, no? You have learnt better perhaps over here?"
It was a cross-examination, but Phyllis could not imagine its drift.
"I have not had very much opportunity over here, have I, to amend my ideals?" she asked. "I think the only two Frenchmen I have met are the Marquis and that languid young man with the green tie, the Vicomte de Bergillac, wasn't it?"
The Marquise watched her charge closely.
"Well," she said, "he is comme il faut, is he not? You find him more elegant, more chic than your Englishmen, eh?"
Phyllis shook her head regretfully.
"To me," she admitted, "he seemed like an exceedingly precocious spoilt child!"
"He is twenty-three," the Marquise declared.
Phyllis laughed softly.
"Well," she said, "I do not think that I shall amend my ideals for the sake of the Vicomte de Bergillac!"
The Marquise looked at her doubtfully.
"Tell me, child," she said, "you mean, then, that of the two--your English Sir George Duncombe and Henri--you would prefer Sir George?"
Phyllis looked at her with twinkling eyes.
"You would really like to know?" she asked.
"Sir George Duncombe--infinitely!"
The Marquise seemed to have recovered her good spirits.
"Come, little one," she said, "you lose color in the house. I will take you for a drive!"
* * * * * * *
Andrew, conscious that he was being followed, sat down outside a café on his way homewards, and bade his guide leave him for a little time. Instantly there was the soft rustle of feminine skirts by his side, and a woman seated herself on the next chair.
"Monsieur has not been up to the Café Montmartre lately!"
Pelham turned his head. It was the young lady from Vienna.
"No!" he answered. "I have not been there since I had the pleasure of seeing Mademoiselle!"
"Monsieur has discovered all that he wanted to know?"
He nodded a little wearily.
"Yes, I think so!"
She drew her chair quite close to his. The sable of her turban hat almost brushed his cheek, and the perfume of the violets at her bosom was strong in his nostrils.
"Monsieur has seen the young lady?"
"I have seen her," he answered.
"Monsieur is indebted to me," she said softly, "for some information. Let me ask him one question. Is it true, this story in the newspapers, of the finding of this young man's body? Is Monsieur Guy Poynton really dead?"
"I know no more than we all read in the newspapers," he answered.
"His sister spoke of him as dead?" she asked.
"I cannot discuss this matter with you, Mademoiselle," he answered.
"Monsieur is ungrateful," she declared with a little grimace. "It is only that which I desire to know. He was such a beau garçon, that young Englishman. You will tell me that?" she whispered.
He shook his head.
"Mademoiselle will excuse me," he said. "I am going to take a carriage to my hotel!"
"It is on the way to leave me at my rooms, if you will be so kind," she suggested, laying her hand upon his arm.
"Mademoiselle will excuse me," he answered, turning away. "Good afternoon."
Mademoiselle also took a carriage, and drove to a large house at the top of the Champs Élysées. She was at once admitted, and passed with the air of one familiar with the place into a small room at the back of the house, where a man was sitting at a table writing. He looked up as she entered.
She threw herself into a chair.
"I have been following the Englishman, Pelham, all day," she said in German. "He has seen Miss Poynton. I have talked with him since at a café, but he would tell me nothing. He has evidently been warned."
The man grumbled as he resumed his writing.
"That fact alone should be enough for us," he remarked. "If there is anything to conceal we can guess what it is. These amateurs who are in league with the secret service are the devil! I would as soon resign. What with them and the regular secret service, Paris is an impossible city for us. Where we would watch we are watched ourselves. The streets and cafés bristle with spies! I do not wonder that you find success so difficult, Mademoiselle!"
"I haven't done so badly!" she protested.
"No, for you have not been set easy tasks. Can you tell me, though, where that young Englishman disappeared to when he left the Café Montmartre before your very eyes? Can you tell me whether the secret service got hold of his story, how much the French Government believed of it, whether they have communicated with the English Government, and how much they know? Beyond these things, it is not your province to see, or mine, Mademoiselle, and it is not for us to guess at or inquire into the meaning of things. Tell me, is it worth while to have this man Pelham put out of the way for a time?"
She shook her head.
"I do not think so," she answered. "He is quite stupid. The other, Sir George Duncombe, he was different. If he had stayed in Paris he would have been worth watching."
A bell rang. The man rose.
"The chief!" he said. "Be at the café to-night."
Mademoiselle went away thoughtfully.
"It is over this affair," she said to herself. "Carl knows everything!"
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