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I have known her to take as much and more from
any man who would offer it to her. She recog
nizes no obligation in it. She sees it merely
as tribute paid to her superlative beauty and wit.
She would take the Kohinoor from the devil him
self ten minutes after they had been introduced."

Mrs. Durham laughed. " It s no use caution
ing her, then, concerning Valdeck. As far as I
can see, the French consul is the person for you


to notify; let him take charge of the case. If
it s a question of extradition, it s up to him;
but you will have to be absolutely sure of your
quarry. Where is Sonia? "

" In Paris."

" Do you think he recognized you? "

Victoria paused. " I m sure I don t know. If
he did, he hid it well. But I noticed that he
didn t come anywhere near me after he once saw
me staring at him, and I m morally certain that
the card the man brought Philippa was from him,
accounting for his desertion of her, and making
a rendezvous. Oh ! Philippa would go anywhere
if you made the situation sufficiently dramatic."

" Well," and Mrs. Durham put down the di
lapidated magazine, " I wouldn t fret, dear. To
morrow I d call on the consul and lay the matter
before him. He will probably have the man
watched, perhaps get an order to search his
apartments. More probably he ll do nothing at
all until he cables to the chief of police. If the
Vernon-Latours-what-you-may-call-ums are of
sufficient importance, they ll follow the matter up,
if not, they ll drop it anyway, you will have



done all that can be expected of you. It s a
curious coincidence, though I ll use it in my
next novel."

The mere statement of the case had relieved
Victoria s feelings, the events sunk to their proper
proportion with reference to herself; the shock of
recognition was past, and the world was pro
ceeding much as usual.

" I m glad I told you about it," she went on.
" One cannot see a thing in one s mind as clearly
as a thing taken out, concreted and put into
words; it then becomes an entity you can turn
over and consider. When it s jammed inside
your skull it takes up all the available room."

She stretched herself and relaxed with the
graceful completeness of a cat, nerves and mus
cles let down from their tension.

" Anne," she spoke again, " I now understand
why you keep your workroom so bare and plain.
It makes one clear and concise in thought. I
could never have stated my case so quickly
pardon a little bouquet that I throw myself -
or so well at Madame Despard s, for instance.



There is nothing like large, bare spaces to make
one clear-sighted and simple."

Mrs. Durham rose and looked at her watch.
" Perfectly right, my dear Victoria. I ve often
wanted to hire a prairie."


L HILIPPA thrust Valdeck s card into her
bosom as she left the studio, and with a beating
heart descended to her rendezvous. She found
Valdeck apparently absorbed in the study of the
index-board in the lower hall.

"Were you recognized?" she asked, in her
deepest conspirator voice.

He started. " No, I think not, and, besides,
he really knows nothing, but I am anxious to
keep away from all possibly hostile observation."

" Of course," said Philippa, rather disappointed
that the danger was not more imminent. She
glanced at him sharply as they emerged into
the street, and her quick intuition told her that
Valdeck had been more disturbed than he was
willing to own. " You are not telling me all,"
she said, reproachfully. " You have had a shock
oh, yes, I can see it ! you can t deceive me


and can t you trust me? I thought you said
you did, implicitly."

He appeared to hesitate, then abruptly signalled
a passing hansom.

" You will drive with me, Philippa? " he said,
with sudden authority. " I will tell you, but we
must be alone. You can spare me an hour? It s
now half-past five."

Philippa considered a moment. " Very well.
Tell him to drive round the Park; it s so dark
we won t be noticed."

She stepped lightly into the carriage, putting
her skirts into place as she settled back and affec
tionately making room for him. He gave his
orders and leaped in beside her with the athletic
ease she so much admired.

"Now, what is it?" she demanded, as the
hansom jerked forward.

" Not yet. It s a horrid story, and I hate to
say anything."

" Get it over with then," she suggested, archly.

" I am going away soon," he said, slowly,
" very soon. There are so many reasons why I
should. I wonder I have stayed so long. Wis-



dom and duty bid me depart, and yet, I have not
the courage to go."

Philippa experienced one of the few real sensa
tions of her life. The stab of this announcement
so surprised her by its acute pain that she turned
white to the lips, and the jarring of the carriage
having displaced her hat, she did not think to
readjust it an oversight not to be credited by
those who knew her well. She was silent a
moment, unwilling to trust her voice. At last
she moistened her lips and managed to ask
" Why? " with a poor semblance of carelessness.

" First my work, my duty, then because
as you must have realized, dear, because I love
you, and I must not interfere with your life and
your future. I have nothing to offer ; my fortune
is pledged to the cause. I am practically banished,
I live a life of forced concealment and intrigue
that must make me everywhere, sooner or later,
an object of suspicion. I can never hope for any
real position to offer you. Besides, I have made
you my ideal. I want to see you realize the hopes
I have of you. I must see you queen among
women, the courted, feted, admired leader of your


world. You will marry ah ! yes, I have even
dwelt on that, and it must be with one who will
appreciate you and surround your beautiful body
with the luxuries it deserves; who will supply
the wants of your wonderful mind with the best
that literature, art, and social intercourse can
offer; who will give you the opportunity to
develop into the wonderful woman you will be
for you are yet only a promise of what I hope
for you."

He paused and gazed on her white profile,
softened in the dusk till it toned into the dark
background like some delicately painted minia
ture. This wholesale burning of incense at her
shrine was as meat and drink to Philippa. From
any man it would have been welcome; but com
ing from Valdeck it was food celestial. More
over, a sense of relief filled her. She would not
be obliged to refuse him; he was advancing
from his standpoint the arguments she might
have been forced gently to insinuate into his mind
from hers. All she had to do now was play her
game, a beautiful, heart-broken game. He need
not know or guess her engagement to Morton



Conway. The pang of his announced determina
tion to depart had passed away, leaving her once
more her old calculating self.

But he wouldn t go. She should manage that.
Of course he must leave sooner or later, but
later much later.

He took her hand and held it. She did not
resist, but turned her blue eyes on his.

" I often wonder," she said, softly, " whether
it would have been better had we never met."

He entered a vigorous protest. " No. This
meeting is, and always will be, the crown of my
life, the jewel in my heart. Whatever the cost,
it cannot cost too much."

A long silence ensued in which the hansom
jangled gaily through the dim poem of the twi
light, punctuated at intervals by the staring lamps
of the driveway or the passing flash of carriage

"Will you do me a great favor?" he asked,
suddenly. " Dine with me to-night. You can
manage it; I know you can, you are so clever."

Philippa jumped. " Suppose we should be


" I ll manage that, if you will trust me."

She pressed his hand gently. " Trust you,
of course; but it s awfully improper."

" I know it s not conventional ; that s why
I called it a great favor. But I can t let you
go yet, dear. You see I have no ambitions or
hopes for myself, only for you. I am to live
by the crumbs that fall from the rich man s table,
only by such scraps of your time as you will throw
to me. You need never fear that I shall impor
tune you. But to-night when I have just told
you my secret, when you have been so kind and
patient I want this one evening with you to
cherish and remember. Just to break bread with
you alone, to clink glasses with you alone, sit
opposite you, as if I had the right to sit there
always yes, just to hear you called madame
by the waiter," he laughed, sadly.

Philippa hesitated. " Are you sure we won t
be seen ? "

" Positive ! Why, I would give my life sooner
than have one word said against you, and I
know as well as you what the world is. The
world never believes in a pure and disinterested



love it does not wish to it has itself to
excuse by the faults of others."

"How true!" she murmured. Then she
brightened with glee at thought of the forbidden
pleasure of the tete-a-tete dinner. " Listen. Tell
the man to drive to West 57th Street ; that s
Laura Crosse s. They have a telephone. I ll
call Aunt Lucy up and tell her I m staying to
dinner and going to the play. She ll ask to
speak to Laura to verify oh ! she s horribly
suspicious ! but I ll fix Laura, for I ve helped
her out lots of times when she was engaged
to Tom. You must promise to get me home
by half-past ten or eleven, for Auntie is going
to dine at the Bishops , and she ll be home early
they are such bores."

" You are the best girl in the world." His
voice choked a little. " I shall never forget your
kindness to me, a poor beggar whom you hardly
know in point of time."

" What is time? " she demanded, with fine
scorn ; " only what we make it. I knew you as
soon as I saw you. I am never mistaken in



character, and you were doubly clear to me
through sympathy."

He pushed up the little door of communication
with the driver, and gave his orders. The han
som paused, wheeled, and started off once more
into the darkness. The rest of the way they
said little, but sat staring into the gloaming world
outside, still hand in hand, till the glare of wink
ing arc lights startled them into formality.

In the excitement of the declaration, Philippa
had forgotten the trouble he had promised to
reveal, but the recollection smote her and she
questioned him suddenly. This abruptness of at
tack was the result of years of experiment. She
had discovered that by firing a point-blank ques
tion or stating a good guess with decision, the
truth was forthcoming in nine cases out of ten.
The questioned persons were startled either into
spoken admissions and explanations, or they
showed symptoms easy for a shrewd person to
interpret. To her surprise she learned nothing
further from his face or voice.

" Later," was all he answered.

If there had been any wavering in her decision



to dine with him, it was past now ; her curiosity
had pushed down the balance in his favor.

The cab drew up before a handsome house at
which Philippa glanced knowingly, collecting her
forces before going into action.

" Wait round the corner," she ordered, as she
stepped to the pavement and turned to mount
the wide stone steps.

The driver obeyed, and Valdeck laughed si
lently as he noticed the force of habit back of
the command. Evidently, " Wait round the cor
ner " was a familiar phrase with this Philippa.

Meanwhile the object of his plans had been
admitted to the elaborate hall by an elaborate
butler who invited her to be seated in a parlor
whose elaborateness was of the newest and most
gorgeous variety, of the sort that secretly filled
Philippa with delight, though openly she pro
fessed to scorn the upholsterer s style of fur
nishing as a sort of Cook s personally conducted
tour in house decoration.

Mrs. Denison entered, all smiles and rustle.
She matched her abode perfectly from the curled
and undulated erection of her pale hair to the


belaced and bejewelled gray brocade of her tea-

" My dearest girl! " she exclaimed, "are you
going to stay to dinner? I m delighted. You
are so good to think of our mourning and how
housed we are."

Philippa embraced her friend rapturously.
" How sweet you do look ! These grays and
blacks are so becoming. You ought to kill off an
uncle every few months."

" You dreadful girl ! " smiled Mrs. Denison.

" But I m not going to dine with you to-night,
dear," Philippa continued, " for I want to dine
at a love of a little Bohemian restaurant oh,
it s quite proper with a party, you know, but
Aunt Lucy wouldn t hear of it, you see. So I
thought you might let me telephone from here,
and tell her I was dining with you won t you,
dear? Auntie is such a stickler for etiquette,
and I can t make her understand that everybody
nice is going to such places now."

" Why, of course," Mrs. Denison volunteered,
completely deceived by the excuse. " I ll tele
phone to Mrs. Ford myself; that will be better



yet. But do come in and dine any evening when
you have nothing to do. It s so lonesome all
by ourselves, and as we inherited so much by
old Mr. Ventimore s will we positively can t go
about, it looks so heartless."

" But think how you would have really
mourned if he hadn t left you anything, you
ungrateful girl! You re a dear, just the same,
and I m everlastingly obliged to you. You ll
telephone at once, won t you ? Auntie dines with
the Bishops, and she ll leave the house by seven,
they live so far up-town."

" At once, of course. Run on and have a good
time, dearie. When we are able to go about,
Tom and I are going to give some really Bo
hemian things ourselves, a tamale party or a cake-
walk, you know; so get all the points you can
for us."

Mrs. Denison conducted her guest to the por
tieres, where the elaborate butler took her in
hand and ceremoniously opened the doors as she
passed out. She walked decorously down the steps
till she heard the bang of both doors; then she
hurried with joyful anticipation to the waiting


carriage. She jumped in gaily and settled her

" I ve fixed it," she announced, with childish

Valdeck looked his thanks, and called to the
driver, who awaited instructions. " To Ga-
gano s."

Philippa started. " Oh ! " she asked, " do you
think that s quite safe?"

He nodded. " Quite. We ll have a private
room, and I ll manage it so you won t be seen."

The hansom rattled on, taking, by his direction,
an unfashionable, smaller vein in the city s sys
tem of circulation, in preference to the greater
and more frequented arteries. Philippa had by
this time turned to her muttons with intent to
shear to the very last thread of wool. Curiosity
stalked hungry through her mind.

" Do tell me what was wrong. It troubles
me to see you troubled, and we must get it over
with ; otherwise it will lie between us and make
us both uncomfortable."

He was not ready to divulge, and turned to
his love for her and descriptions of her loveliness



and how it affected him divining that her own
adored person was the only subject likely to dis
tract her curiosity. In this he sufficiently ab
sorbed her till the cab turned down a quiet side
street and drew up before an unpretentious door,
over which an illuminated sign announced " Ga-
gano s Restaurant."

Delighted excitement thrilled Philippa as she
pulled up her collar and drew down her hat, with
the traditional gestures of disguise.

Valdeck restrained her as she gathered her
belongings preparatory to alighting. " Stay
here," he said, quietly. " I ll go up and arrange
so you won t have to wait in hallways." He paid
the driver, ran up the steps, and disappeared be
tween the ground-glass doors.

Several minutes elapsed, during which Philippa,
from the darkness of her shelter, looked out with
fear and curiosity at the men and women who
passed in the street or hurried into the restaurant.
At last Valdeck came rapidly down the steps,
glancing sharply up and down the street as he
did so, assisted her to alight, and escorted her
into the house. A narrow corridor opened before


her, stairs loomed upward, with an obsequious
waiter bowing on the landing. A door to the
right gave a glimpse of the main dining-room.
It stood ajar, and, annoyed at the oversight, she
turned her face away, and fled up the stairs. The
floor above showed another narrow hall, where
busy servants ran to and fro. To Philippa it was
all evil and mysterious, and filled her with de
lighted trepidation. The sound of smothered
laughter, the faint chink of glasses and plates,
the sight of champagne bottles cooling in the
silver-plated buckets on the floor, all impressed
her with a sense of delicious naughtiness. The
obsequious waiter ushered them into a tiny room,
and discreetly closed the door.

Philippa looked about her with interest. Before
her stood a table, neatly set for two, adorned with
a scanty bunch of carnations. Everything was
worn. The mirror was scratched, the velvet of
the upholstery showed the nap, the carpet was
dulled by the frequent upsetting of viands. The
air was hot, the only ventilation being a small
electric fan, now motionless, fixed in one corner
near the lights. A room attractive and repellent



enough, but to Philippa, soaked in French novels,
it was the realization of the baleful and belauded
cabinet particidier. Valdeck apologized for the
shabbiness of his hospitality, but pointed out the
fact that a meeting with any of their acquaint
ances would be practically out of the question.

The waiter, after discreetly knocking, entered
with cocktails on a silver waiter, and presented
the bill of fare and wine-card with a gesture
worthy of Lord Chesterfield.

Valdeck acquitted himself of the task of selec
tion, ordered the champagne to be brut and
frappe, and by his evident knowledge of things
culinary, went up several points in his guest s

Left alone once more, he seated Philippa on the
divan, took his place on the chair opposite, per
suaded her to remove not only her wraps but her
hat, and showed himself a thoughtful and atten
tive host. Presenting her with the cocktail, he
bowed gravely.

" A vos beaux yeux," he murmured, tenderly.

She drank the beverage, and as its glow began



to course through her veins, she raised her smil
ing eyes to his.

" What would our friends think of this? " she
asked, again with that delightful ingenue blush
of hers.

"Just at present I don t in the least care," he
answered, gaily ; " but I promise you they won t
be able to say anything."

The waiter appeared with oysters.

" Are you still determined to go away ? " she
asked, after a moment s silence.

" I ought to " he answered, uncertainly.

" But that s not the question. Are you, I
said ? " and she raised her violet eyes to his
face, half-wistful, half-mocking.

" To explain just why," he said, gravely, " I
must tell you. I was taken aback when I saw
you this afternoon sitting with a girl I never
expected to see again, a girl whom I saw last
in Europe ; whose gray eyes I shall never forget."

Philippa dropped her oyster-fork, and her eyes

" Victoria Claudel ! For goodness sake, what
do you mean ? "



He appeared to hesitate, and the conversation
ceased as the servant served the soup.

" My dear girl," he resumed, after a moment,
" I must, to protect myself and your good opinion
of me, do a thing that is considered, and rightly
considered, dastardly among men. I must speak
ill of a woman to whom I am indebted, more than

Philippa turned scarlet, her heart beat heavily.
Here, indeed, was a dramatic situation.

" She is, I know, from your manner toward
her, your very dear friend," he went on, " and
you must not only forgive me for what I have
to say, but both for my sake and hers, promise
me the most rigid secrecy, the most absolute
silence "

" I swear ! " said Philippa, her cheeks crim
soning with excitement.

" even to her. She must not know that I
have told you. But I know what a woman s
jealousy can be and is. I know that Victoria
would do all in her power to harm me. She is
vindictive beyond belief, and all her intelligence,
her strength and will go into her plans. I do not


know that she followed me, but I fear it. Now
that she has found me, she undoubtedly will do
her best to oust me from my position here. What
stories she will circulate I cannot guess as yet;
but I know from past experience what she can
do. Has not one of your poets said, Hell hath
no fury like a woman scorned ? And to you,
Philippa, to you she will certainly come with her
accusations, for she will inevitably see that you
have absorbed my life. Whatever I am, whatever
I may have been, you know that you are my
love, my only love, and I cannot bear that she
should turn you from me."

Philippa was splendid. Holding out her hand
across the table, she took his in a firm and friendly
grasp. You were right to trust me with your
secret. She cannot hurt you in my eyes. But
what shall we do if she -tries to circulate anything
against you among others? She has the advan
tage she is known here, you are not. You
cannot tell the reason of her hatred of you ; that
would be unforgivable in every one s eyes. Yet
if you go away she may wither your reputation
at her ease."



" If you stand my friend," he went on, " it
is all I ask of fate."

" But she must not injure you."

Again the waiter interrupted, but Philippa was
beyond paying any attention to his presence.
Valdeck shrugged his shoulders.

" It can t be helped, unless, perhaps, you find
out and tell me in what direction her enmity will
show itself. I might plan to meet it. But that
would entail too much on you. You could never
play the ignorant; let her confide in you and
show her hand. You are too open and clear a
nature to meet the wiles of a woman of her

" Indeed I can trust me. I ll know every
plan, I ll fathom her every thought, I ll not leave
her for a moment. If she doesn t come directly
to me, and she is quite clever enough to work
through other people, if she imagines I know
anything or suspect her honesty, why, then
I ll go to her. I ll give you my word that you
shall know just what is afoot as soon as she
does herself. It will be a little thing to do in
return for your friendship."


Valdeck lost himself in a maze of thanks and
adoring admiration.

" Isn t it strange," she murmured, " isn t it
wonderful, that things should work out this way ?
I understand it all now. She pretended to be
puzzled as to where she had seen you before
asked me who you were, to sound me, you see,
concerning our relations. She seemed absent-
minded and ill at ease. And then, when I left
her, she happened to see the pin you gave me.
She was really overcome, turned pale, and fairly
shook me, demanding where I got it."

" Yes," he nodded, reminiscently. " She knew
how much I thought of that trinket. I remem
ber she once asked me to let her wear it, and
I refused. She never quite forgave me. Of
course when she saw it in your possession she
was enraged. What did you say? "

Philippa colored. " Well, I couldn t tell her
the truth, you know. I said it was an old thing
of my mother s, but I saw she knew better."

He laughed, shortly. " Knew better ! " In
wardly he congratulated himself on his judgment
in taking the bull by the horns. He was certain


now to be informed of whatever danger threat
ened him, of what steps would be taken. Another
week, and it made little difference what came out.
Till then he must play the game carefully. He
looked at Philippa, and felt grateful to his lucky
stars that she was so fair to look on and so
pliable to his will. It enabled him to throw
himself heartily into his part. He always was
fortunate with his women confederates, conscious
or unconscious, he commented. There was Eu
genia, what a jewel the woman was. It was
unfortunate that the police had suspected her,
it prevented his seeing her as often as he would

Squab and salad were served, and Valdeck
came over to the divan and sat beside Philippa.

" Let s drop all this for the present," he said,
gently taking her hand ; " let s talk of you, it s
a pleasanter subject; only tell me that this con
fidence hasn t completely barred me from your
respect. What can you know of a man s life

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Online LibraryEthel Watts Mumford GrantWhitewash → online text (page 6 of 13)