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Victoria s face hardened. " We have come to
ask you from whom you obtained this pretended
information, as we have traced most of the current
gossip to you."

Morton had held his breath for some moments.
This being in the presence of a three-cornered
woman s conflict daunted him, as it well might
any man, however stout-hearted, particularly
when one of the contestants happens to be a
fiancee, and another a lifelong friend. His loyalty
to Victoria flamed up with the hope that she might
clear herself of the accusations brought against
her. For an instant he almost hoped she would
avenge the hurt. Then the loveliness of Philippa
triumphed, and he felt only the sting of the insult
offered her. Her voice came to him cold and

" I have heard this story from more than one
reliable source; but as the information was con
fidential. I am not at liberty to give names."

20 1


" Then," broke in Mrs. Durham, " Miss Clau-
del s suit for slander will be brought against you."

"Suit for slander!" Philippa murmured,

" Suit for slander ! " Morton exclaimed, in

" Suit for slander, Miss Ford," repeated Mrs.
Durham, coolly. "What else do you expect?
You could have foreseen that from the beginning.
Such infamous lies are not put into circulation

"Lies!" hotly interrupted Morton, to whom
Philippa gladly ceded the floor. " Lies ! Let me
tell you no, Philippa, permit me to handle this
case for you; it is my right. Ladies, Miss Ford
is engaged to me, and "

He stopped short at sight of the blank sorrow
and surprise on Victoria s face.

Forgetting all but her old affection for Morton ;
forgetting the object of her visit and Philippa s
presence, she advanced to him with a sudden ges
ture as if to shield him from a blow.

" Oh, Morton ! No ! no ! You can t mean it ! "



The words were wrung from her by sudden
emotion. There was no doubting their sincerity.

Mrs. Durham was silent with surprise; but
Philippa was eloquent with mortally wounded

" You dare speak so! to my very face! " she
cried, crimson with passion. " You a notorious
woman yes, notorious ! a woman who loses her
character wilfully, and then attempts to blacken
a man s reputation with the meanest, most despic
able lies ! " She choked with anger.

Mrs. Durham turned on her fiercely. " So you
make this statement as a matter of personal knowl
edge, do you? Mr. Conway, you heard what
Miss Ford has just said not even referring to
any informant, but making a statement pure and

Philippa exploded again.

" And you ! you ! Leave this house at once ! "

Morton restrained her.

"Philippa, dear, don t! You forget yourself.
Mrs. Durham, I hardly think Miss Ford can
continue this painful interview."

" I won t be quiet ! I won t be silenced ! I



will speak out! How dare you," she cried to
Victoria, for hysteria had its grip on her, " you,
who haven t a shred of decency ! "

Mrs. Durham turned white, and her voice had
the edge of a frosted knife as it cut to the quick.

" So, Miss Ford, no shred of decency ! And
what do you say of a young woman who dines
in a private room with a foreigner whom she
scarcely knows, when it seems she is engaged to
another man dines in a private room in the
most disreputable restaurant in the city! Yes,
I mean you, Miss Ford ! "

There was a moment of awful suspense. Phi-
lippa, taken completely off her guard, saw her
world crumbling about her. Her face twitched
pitifully for an instant, and her knees bent. She
sank on the divan with a strange, broken awk

Victoria, no less astonished, looked at Mrs.
Durham blankly. But that lady stood her ground
with the calm relentlessness of an executioner.

Morton s voice was hoarse and trembling as
he turned on her.

" You shall answer to me for this."


"I shall be delighted," she replied. "My
proofs, unlike Miss Ford s, will be readily forth
coming. When would you like to see them? "

Philippa sprang to her feet.

" Morton, if you love me, don t give them the
satisfaction of listening. You know it isn t true.
Can t you see that they are trying to draw your
attention from Victoria by making this attack
on me? "

Mrs. Durham persisted, coldly. " Miss Ford,
will you mention your informant in the matter
of these accusations against Miss Claudel ? "

Philippa was infuriated.

" I will not ! I will not ! " she insisted, and then,
with a high scream of laughter, she burst into

No one had heard the bell, or the opening of
the door, and not until Valdeck was actually
ushered into the room, did any one realize the
presence of an outsider.

He took in the situation, and paled.

" Excuse me I intrude."

He was about to withdraw, when Victoria
barred his way.



" No," she cried, " you come most opportunely.
You may clear up matters. Miss Ford, or some
one else, has accused me of Heaven knows what
kind of a love-affair in Paris and with you !
Do you dare to make such a statement? "

" I understand," Valdeck answered, after a
moment s hesitation, " that you have made the
statement that I was wanted for Heaven knows
what crime in France. I have to thank you. I
think, for an investigation of my effects recently
made, and the espionage of the police the
stories balance each other."

Victoria s jaw fell. " Do you mean

" One story is as true as the other," he an
swered, lightly.

" What I said was true! " she broke in, hotly.
"I will swear to it!"

He shrugged his shoulders. " Then you cannot
expect me to deny. But I fear it will require
more than your testimony, Miss Claudel -

A sudden cessation of Philippa s tears, and a
quick exclamation from Morton broke in on them.

" She s dying ! quick, quick water a
doctor ! " Then turning savagely on Victoria and


Mrs. Durham, Morton raged, " You ve killed her
you ve killed her ! "

Mrs. Durham shrugged her shoulders. " Faint
ing is an easy way of avoiding an awkward situa
tion," she observed, sententiously.

" I will go for a doctor," volunteered Valdeck.

" You stay and see it out ! " Victoria com

But Valdeck was already in the hall and hurry
ing down the steps to his hansom.

" Go ! " commanded Morton, fiercely, " go !
You have killed her ! "

" John," said Mrs. Durham to the butler, as
she passed out, " go fetch a maid to attend Miss



A HE next morning Philippa lay in her elab
orate bed with the violet hangings, and ruminated.
She was charming in a white silk negligee, her
yellow hair softly framing the interesting pallor
of her face and the not unbecoming lustre of her
weary, sleep-hungry eyes. She was conscious of
it, but was too miserable to feel satisfied. For the
first time in her life she admitted a doubt of
her talent as a diplomat, and a dawn of real con
ditions vaguely lighted her mind. She realized
that her conceit, her belief in her own social
invulnerability, had led her into a terrible impasse.
She twisted uncomfortably and drew the bed
clothes round her as she contemplated the situa
tion. She strove to collect her wits and think
clearly; but memories of the previous day rose
suddenly before her, visioned with insistent ter-

ror. She flushed crimson with mortification and

She was loath to admit it, but she had bungled,
bungled fearfully. And worst of all, what must
Valdeck think of her! She had talked too much
for either his plans or hers. And she began to
realize in what dangerous places she had spread
her fatal information. She had left her tracks
uncovered. She moaned aloud and twisted anew,
recalling a thousand insinuations she had let fall,
a thousand confidences rawly made. She had
committed herself, and must take the blame or
openly throw it on Valdeck where it belonged.
Here she buried her face in the pillow in agony.
She could not do that ; she must shield him.

The one spark of womanhood in her false and
selfish nature was awake at last in his service.
She loved him ! She knew it now ! Loved him !
loved him !

She lay still for some moments, buried in a
blissful misery. Then she shivered convulsively.
And what of her dinner with him at Gagano s?
She had been seen by whom ? Mrs. Durham
had the story straight enough. But Valdeck



would deny it ; she would deny it. Mrs. Denison
would substantiate her story of dinner with her.
But the husband Philippa s conceit lifted its
humbled head he would have to be won over.
Morton would never believe it. But heavens !
how near she had been to betraying herself when
the mine was sprung. She congratulated herself
on her fainting fit, the first well-managed move
of her disastrous campaign.

She glanced at the little silver clock on the
table by her bedside, sat up and rubbed her face,
stiff from the night s visions and vigil.

" Come what would," she thought, " she must
fulfil her duty to Valdeck. She had his secret
in her keeping. More than that, concealed under
the bed lay a despatch-box that contained the trust
moneys of the Polish Educational Society. A
glow of returning self-respect passed over her, as
she thought of the confidence he reposed in her.
" Hers was the hand he had selected to help him
in his hour of need." She recalled the momen
tous interview when he had begged her to keep
his treasure for him until such time as she should



be able safely to transfer it, and the directions she
had received for its disposal.

She was on the point of getting out of bed
to make sure that the box was still there, when
she distinguished her aunt s step in the hall, and
quickly sank back among her lace-frilled pillows.

Mrs. Ford did not give herself the trouble of
knocking, but marched magnificently into the
sanctuary of beauty. She was clad in a walking-
suit of a military cut and many brass buttons, and
was even more than usual the drum-major. Her
face suggested court-martial, however, and Phi-
lippa winced. The aunt stood for a moment by
the bed, and regarded the niece with cold-blooded

You are a good-looking girl," she remarked,
at length ; " and I have made considerable sacri
fices of my comfort, as a speculation on your
chances. But it seems you are a fool ! and so
am I, for believing in you."

Philippa rolled over, and presented a view of
her back.

" I am informed that there was a scene here

21 I

yesterday, in which Miss Claudel, Mrs. Durham,
Morton Conway, and that Valdeck participated."

You have been gossiping with the servants,
I see," commented her listener.

Mrs. Ford flushed, but continued, icily :

" Never mind how I secured my information ;
I have secured it that is the principal thing.
But from what I heard yesterday in several
houses I expected some trouble. There are many
unpleasant stories afoot concerning Victoria Clau
del, and every one quotes you as authority."

Philippa groaned inwardly.

" Who told you such an extraordinary thing?
I can guess, if the world can not. And it strikes
me that your intimacy with Valdeck must have
reached a remarkable pass before he would con
fide to you his love-affairs, real or invented. Now
if you give Valdeck as authority for this scandal,
the world will say what I have said. If you
do not quote Valdeck, you must answer for the
story yourself. Now what will you do?"

There was silence in the abode of beauty.

" There is only one way for you to clear the
board. Get Morton to marry you at once, quietly,


and go abroad. You haven t sense enough to
think of that for yourself, so I came to tell you.
And another thing. If you want to save your
self, drop that scallawag Pole. Furthermore, if
the worst happens, you needn t come to me
with a slander suit on your hands, your engage
ment broken off by Morton, and the open secret
of your affection for a man whose popularity is
entirely mushroom, and of whom nothing is
known except a few letters of introduction care
lessly given."

Mrs. Ford rose without relaxing the austere
anger of her face, and sailed majestically from
the room.

" Devil ! devil ! devil ! devil ! " said Philippa,
under her breath, as the door closed upon her.

Philippa endured another half-hour of agonized
contemplation of her life s chessboard. At the
end of that time she rose, fagged and worn, and
looked about her miserably. Her aunt was right.
She must sacrifice Valdeck, marry Morton, and
go abroad. Her hand sunk limply in her lap as
she seated herself on the edge of her bed.

" Sacrifice Valdeck ! Never see him again



never again ! " For a moment she sat staring in
the mirror before her, for the first time in her
life blind to her own image.

Suddenly something deep within her seemed to
break. She heard a sob, realized that it came
from her own aching throat, and throwing her
self on her bed again, she gave herself up to a
passion of weeping not tears such as she had
shed before, but tears that seemed to swell and
rise from the very depths of her heart, and to find
their way to her eyes in hopeless agony.

How long she lay crying she did not know, but
at last, realizing that action would soon be re
quired of her, she washed her red and swollen
eyes and proceeded to her toilet, which had
somehow lost its usual charm. She dispensed
with the services of the maid, preferring solitude
and the difficulties of hooking her own collar.
She selected the plainest tailor gown and most
sad-colored blouse, theatrical to the last. As the
final hook was fastened, and the last pin adjusted,
a timid knock called her attention.

The maid entered, with such an assumed look
of unconcern that Philippa was unpleasantly con-


scious of the inevitable talk below-stairs, occa
sioned by yesterday s storm. The woman pre
sented the silver tray on which lay her mistress s
morning mail. Philippa collected it quickly and
nodded dismissal. She had hoped for a word
from Valdeck. There was only a wedding-card,
a note from the dressmaker, and a plain envelope
with a typewritten address, that she left to the
last, thinking it an advertisement or a bill.
Its contents, however, stopped her heart and then
set it going violently.

A few lines in the well-known handwriting:

service I beg of you. Go to the Germanic, which
sails to-morrow, Wednesday, at two. Give the
box to a lady who will meet you there in State
room 148. She will wear a tan ulster with blue
velvet collar and hold a bunch of carnations.
Address her in French as Madame Tolle. I am
watched too carefully to trust putting in an ap
pearance; but I trust you even as I would myself.
God reward you, my beloved, my own, for your
goodness to me and a just and noble cause."



Obviously this had been written before the
scene of the previous afternoon. She consulted
the postmark and found she was right.

"Two o clock!" She glanced at her watch.
" Half-past twelve already ! " Hastily pinning on
her toque and selecting a blue chiffon veil that
disguised while it enhanced her charm, she pulled
out the despatch-box from its place of conceal
ment. It was very heavy. Wrapping it about
in thick paper till it resembled a large package
of books, she addressed it to Mme. Tolle, Room
148, S. S. Germanic, in case anything should pre
vent her interview with the mysterious woman.
Going down-stairs, she notified the butler that
she would not be home to lunch. Then she ate
a cracker and drank a glass of sherry, for her
emotions had consumed her strength. This done,
she started on her journey.

At the door a qualm of fear caught her. Her
aunt s words rang in her ears : " Drop that scalla-
wag Pole if you want to save yourself." But the
warning passed unheeded. Her love, now watered
by her tears, had grown in strength and lux
uriance. She would serve him in this last re-


quest. She would save him and the cause he
loved, even if she must put him out of her life
forever, after this one last effort to play his provi

She called a cab, and sank upon its cushions
restfully. The jangle of harness and the rattle
of wheels made a soothing music to her strained
and quivering nerves.

When she reached the long wharf, Philippa
woke from her apathy, and telling the man to
wait, made her way under the huge shed, among
the throng of travellers, agents, baggage-men,
and teamsters. All was bustle and confusion,
swinging crates and banging trunks. The gang
ways were thronged by hurrying men, people
hung over the rail and talked to others on
the dock. Stewards flew by, carrying hand-
luggage* marked " Wanted " ; steamer-trunks
bumped along toward the second deck, where
busy men lined them up for the sloping gang
way of the first cabin. She went directly to the
saloon, all mahogany and gold, plate-glass and
shimmering brass-work. There were heaps of
flowers, books, and candy-boxes lying on the long,



stationary tables. Excited people were claiming
their belongings, or holding high-voiced conver
sations. The stewards rushed madly by, beset
with countless questions, and unable or unwilling
to answer any. Philippa had to wait. A hasty
exploration of the corridor near at hand showed
her that, numerically, she was far from her des
tination. A fair-haired, stupid-eyed, German
cabin-boy, who hugged a trumpet and gazed
vacantly on her, was at last persuaded to inform
her that 148 would be on the other side, and "oop-

Following his directions, Philippa at last found
the cabin numbers dwindling 180, 176. She
came out of one of the side aisles, and came face
to face with Victoria Claudel. The shock was
so great that she almost dropped the treasure-
box. But Victoria, who was bidding an affec
tionate farewell to a girl friend, merely turned
her back and proceeded with her conversation.

Philippa had to pass them to reach her number,
and a dull fear crossed her heart as if she had
neared something baneful. Again her aunt s



words rang in her ears : " Drop that scallawag
Pole if you want to save yourself! "

She was on the brink of a nervous collapse,
but blind td her danger. An open door attracted
her attention. Over it was the number 148. The
light from the port-hole showed the simple, yet
luxurious cabin furnishings. On the sofa bunk,
with her back to the light, sat a tall woman, wear
ing a modish, forward-tilted hat and a tan ulster,
and holding loosely in her lap a bunch of red

Philippa mustered her courage, and assumed the
manner of an old acquaintance.

" I have come to wish you a pleasant trip,
Madame Tolle, and to bring you some books to
lighten your journey." She spoke in French,
with an affected ease, but in spite of herself her
voice was thin, excited, and broken.

The woman rose gracefully, and greeted her.

" You are very good," she said; and she closed
the cabin door sharply.

Philippa, with a sigh of relief, deposited her
burden on the sofa, and stood awkwardly.

" So," the woman continued, with a strange



tone of irony and bitterness, placing herself in
front of the door. " So you are the creature who
has taken his fancy now, are you? Let me ask
you this, madame, do you think I have risked my
life and freedom for him, that he may spend his
love on such as you, hem? It is to the death
between us, I warn you. Not yet, for we are not
in a position, but later later ! "

"Let me pass! " Philippa demanded, hysteric
ally, frightened out of her self-control. " I have
done my duty let me go ! I don t know you,
and I don t understand."

The Frenchwoman laughed, jeeringly.

" Oh, no. How should you understand! "

A sound of voices in the corridor made her
lower her tone. " Oh, no. But wait, wait till
we are out of the woods ; then come to France
if you dare, and see what the end will be."

Philippa s nerves were giving way. She felt
ill and dizzy ; but her glance fell on the call-
bell, and her face lighted up.

" I shall ring," she said, with all the dignity
she could muster.

Madame Tolle caught her hand just as the


door she had defended swung open. In the nar
row passage stood two men, their eyes fastened
on the occupants of 148, and Philippa, seeing re
lief in their presence, sprang forward.

Her antagonist turned quickly, and caught
sight of the faces before her. The change that
came over her was terrible. She seemed to shrink
as in the fire of a furnace. She backed away
slowly, till her foot caught on the protruding
corner of her bag. She stumbled against the
wash-stand and clung to it for. support.

Philippa, having no key to the situation, looked
astonishment not unmixed with relief. She hur
ried across the raised threshold, trembling and

" That woman is mad ! " she said, brokenly.

One of the men stepped to her side and caught
her with a detaining hand.

" You cannot go, madame pardon me. You
had better say nothing," he added, in a lower tone.
" Anything you might say would be used against

"What do you mean?" Philippa demanded,



But there was no leisure for questions or an

A smothered exclamation sounded from within,
a quick rush, and through the open door they
saw the other man close with the tall figure of the
woman. Her hand was slowly forced above her
head. In it she held a small revolver. The fingers
clinched, there was a sharp report, a whiff of
smoke a hole in the ceiling.

Philippa moved as if to run out. The grip
on her arm was tightened.

Down the main corridor a confusion of hasten
ing feet and frightened voices announced the
panic caused by the shot. She saw the steel
handcuffs slip over the helpless hands of Madame
Tolle. A third man slipped by them and quickly
gathered up the scattered baggage, the despatch-
box, and two hand-bags. In another instant they
were surrounded by anxious, inquiring faces. She
was being conducted to the main corridor; pres
ently they would be in the saloon.

Philippa staggered and gasped.

" Brace up," said her captor, not unkindly.
" I ll take you through as if you had nothing to



do with it. You re not an old hand." He looked
at her admiringly. " Bad company, my girl, bad

Her tongue clove to the roof of her mouth.
There in the crowd stood Victoria, looking at her.
She tried to raise her head and walk haughtily
by, but she could not. Her eyes would fix them
selves on the face of her former friend. She
saw an expression of the utmost amazement cross
Victoria s face, saw those fine, fearless gray eyes
travel back to her with sudden comprehension.

Victoria slipped from her place with a matter-
of-fact air, and quietly joined her.

" Permit me to accompany this lady," she said,
leaning across and addressing the detective in
a low voice. " There is some mistake."

He looked at her sharply, and nodded.

" Every one is leaving the ship," she continued,
gently, in Philippa s ear. " Lower your veil, walk
easily, and nobody will guess talk to me ; seem

Philippa turned her tortured eyes to Victoria,
but her paralyzed tongue could form no sound.

They reached the gangplank and the dock, con-



scious that the attention of the crowd was centred
on the figures that followed them. There was a
confused murmur of voices and exclamations.

" Turn round and look as if you, too, were
interested," commanded Victoria, and the helpless
Philippa obeyed.

" This way," directed their conductor, indi
cating a waiting cab. " We have two, for we
expected to land the gentleman himself not
this lady, though. The whole affair is a pretty
rum go."

" I m coming with you," Victoria observed,
determinedly. " This lady can prove her inno
cence, I am sure. And she should be protected."

Without waiting for consent or refusal, she
entered the cab and assisted Philippa, who was
spent and trembling.

The detective let down the little seat in front
of them, slammed the door, and the cab lurched
forward to.ward the police-station.



OR some time Philippa, utterly dazed, lay
back among the cushions, gazing vacantly into
the face of her captor, who sat opposite, a square-
headed man, with beady eyes and a thin, deter
mined mouth, while Victoria sat and wondered
ruefully at her own quixotism. She had no
cause to love Philippa; but she had obeyed the
impulse of class. She had seen one of her own
world suddenly caught in this equivocal net, and
had turned to help, forgetting for the moment

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Online LibraryEthel Watts Mumford GrantWhitewash → online text (page 9 of 13)