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hope that chance might some day yield him a glimpse of her, as a gambler
clings to a faint prospect of redeeming his fortunes through some
wonderful and unexpected revulsion of luck. But the days passed without
the slightest encouragement, and his misery turned almost to despair.

At last, at his wits' end to know what to do with himself, he besought
a boon companion of his night life to come to his rescue. To this one war
had brought opportunity. His name was Bertram Trent. He had lived all
sorts of lives, had been married and divorced, and had made his
appearance more than once in the Bankruptcy Court, but he had knocked
about the world and seen service.

Offering himself at the beginning of the War, he had taken part in the
Great Retreat and had been wounded. On his recovery he had been given the
command of a battalion, and at Bobby's earnest entreaty he promised him a
commission, provided he could get it confirmed at the War Office. This
saved Bobby. He lost no time in putting in his application, and, awaiting
the Gazette, he occupied himself in ordering his kit and in getting
himself into some sort of physical condition to undertake duties for
which his previous life had ill-prepared him. Though considerably past
the age for military service, he had not contemplated the possibility of
being refused a commission.

Dropping in one day at the Carlton for lunch, he met Harold Clancey, who,
to his surprise, was wearing the Staff cap. Clancey told him that he had
been working for some time at the War Office, and had been given the rank
of captain.

"Let's have lunch together," suggested Bobby.

Bobby had met Clancey at all sorts of places, but they had never been on
intimate terms; in fact, the two men had little more than a nodding
acquaintance. Bobby had run into him the last time at Homburg, and
Clancey had given him to understand that he had some sort of vague
diplomatic appointment. He had drifted across Bobby's life afterwards in
a shadowy way, seeming to have nothing special to do, but to know a great
many people and to take life as a sort of a joke. He talked lightly and
cynically about serious things, and used foreign expressions with great
ease and fluency. It was characteristic of him that since the War he made
frequent use of German idioms, and when conversation turned upon passing
events he professed a complete contempt for English ideas, habits, and
methods, and a great admiration for those of the Germans.

"What's your job at the War Office?" asked Bobby.

"As I really don't know myself it is rather difficult to explain it to
you," answered the other, "but it seems chiefly to consist in sitting
tight and preventing other people from annexing it."

"I'm up for a commission," remarked Bobby. "Can you do anything to help
me about it?"

"Dear me, what a silly thing to do! What regiment?"

Bobby explained.

"I shall be charmed to do what I can," replied Clancey, "but as they
simply loathe me at Headquarters I don't think it will do you much good."

They fell to discussing other things. Bobby, obsessed by his recent
experiences, could not resist telling his companion something about them.
But he did not mention Ramsey. The implied admission that he had been cut
out was too humiliating. Clancey's interest was evidently aroused. He
wanted to hear all about Madame de Corantin.

"She seems to have fascinated you," he remarked.

"She'd fascinate anybody."

"And you really don't know what has become of her? How extraordinary!"

"Isn't it?"

"You mean to say you cannot trace her in any way?"

"I have no more idea than the man in the moon where she is."

Clancey reflected.

"Did you say she was French?" he asked.

"Her husband was; she herself is Russian."

Clancey looked at him.

"Oh, Russian, is she? Corantin, Corantin. Let me see. I seem to remember
the name somehow."

"No, do you?" Bobby's voice betrayed his interest.

"I must think about it," said Clancey. He pulled out his watch. "I think
it is time I got back to the War Office. I'll see about the commission,
Froelich, and let you know."

"This is where I live," said Bobby, handing him a card. "Do look me up. I
do want that commission, and as quickly as possible."

They went out of the restaurant and separated in the street, Bobby taking
his way towards his rooms in Down Street. He was wondering whether
perhaps luck had come his way, and whether Clancey would reveal to him
some means of finding Madame de Corantin. If he did, damn the commission!

That evening, as on all others, Bobby was bored to death; the habits of
twenty years were not to be thrown off in a day. It was impossible for
him to go to bed before the small hours, and not knowing how else to kill
time he dropped in at the Savoy restaurant. It was late when he got
there, and he strolled through the foyer, stopping at various tables to
talk to acquaintances. He had no intention of taking supper, but just
wanted to see who was there.

Of a sudden, for no reason that he could possibly have explained, an
impulse made him walk into the restaurant. In that instant he felt
positively, he could have sworn that Madame de Corantin was there. His
heart beat so that he thought it must be heard as he made his way to the
entrance, and immediately, with a strange sort of intuition, his eyes
found her.

There she was, at the table on the right. He could see her through the
glass screen, and Ramsey was with her. He stood still a moment, devouring
her with his eyes, and then she looked up and recognized him. Was she
really beckoning to him? The reaction was so great that he dared not
believe the evidence of his senses. No, there was no doubt; she was
actually beckoning. As he walked towards the table he felt as though his
legs would give way under him; and now he was by her; he held her hand.

"Ah, Bobby, my friend, I am so pleased to see you."

The familiar voice, the familiar glance! It was all too good to be true.
He was blind to the presence of Ramsey. He was alone with her; Ramsey did
not exist; the restaurant did not exist. The hum of voices, the clatter
of plates, the movements of the waiters, were distant sounds: all he knew
was that he was standing there by her.

"Sit down, Bobby."

Mechanically he seated himself, and gradually some of his equanimity
returned. He could speak, but he said nothing of what he felt.
Instinctively he knew that it was wiser to make no reference to anything
that had passed.

Ramsey's face was set and cold, but all his capacity for insolent
indifference did not enable him to conceal his annoyance. His eyes
flashed with anger.

"I think we ought to be going; it is getting rather late. We don't want
to be swept out with the dust, do we?" He addressed Madame de Corantin.

"Oh, I am in no hurry, Mr. Ramsey," she replied. "It gives me great
pleasure to see Mr. Froelich again. I was obliged to leave Paris so
suddenly, and never had an opportunity of showing him how much I
appreciated his kindness to me."

Ramsey said nothing, but he glared at Bobby vindictively.

Presently Madame de Corantin rose, but as she left the room she made a
point of keeping Bobby beside her, and in her inimitable way she asked
Ramsey to fetch her cloak. For a moment Bobby had the exquisite joy of
being alone with her.

"Only tell me one thing," he almost gasped. "Tell me that I may see you,
and when."

She thought a moment. "Not tomorrow, I fear. I should like to so much,
but I have not a moment. Come the next day to lunch. I am staying at
Claridge's."

Ramsey appeared with the cloak, and she was gone.

What the next hours meant to Bobby can be imagined. They were passing
somehow. The night, the morning, the afternoon wore away. He bought some
magnificent roses and returned to his flat to dress, determined that he
would take them himself to Claridge's, hoping that by some chance he
might catch a glimpse of her.

He was just starting out when, to his surprise, Clancey was announced.

"There is something I wanted to tell you, Froelich."

Bobby waited impatiently.

"That lady you were talking about, Madame de Corantin. I think I remember
something."

Bobby was nervously anxious to get away. What Clancey had to tell him
mattered little now.

"Oh, thanks very much, Clancey. The fact is, I've seen her."

Clancey's nonchalant manner changed instantaneously.

"Really!" he exclaimed.

"At the Savoy last night. She is here in London. She is staying at
Claridge's. In fact, to tell you the truth, I am taking these flowers
there now. I am to lunch with her to-morrow. It has been a great surprise.
I never dreamt of such a thing," Bobby stammered on excitedly.

Clancey became calm again.

"Oh, that's most interesting," he said. "You will lunch with her
to-morrow! I say, Froelich, you might introduce me. I could turn up after
lunch, you know."

Bobby's face got serious.

"Well, I tell you, Clancey, old chap, as a rule I am quite ready to
introduce my friends to any lady I know, but in this particular case it
is not quite the same. You see, the fact is - the last time I introduced a
friend of mine the result was - well, it was not exactly what I bargained
for."

"What do you mean?" asked Clancey.

"What I mean is that I introduced Alistair Ramsey to her in Paris, with
the result that I have never seen her since until yesterday."

Clancey did not immediately reply, but a curious expression overspread
his face. "Alistair Ramsey," he murmured, and then again, "Alistair
Ramsey, dear me!"

Bobby looked at him wonderingly. Clancey laughed lightly.

"That reminds me," he said. "I inquired about your commission at the War
Office. You know, I suppose, that Alistair Ramsey is private secretary to
Sir Archibald Fellowes. Old Fellowes decides upon all commissions,
and your charming friend, Mr. Ramsey, informed him you were not a fit
person to wear his Majesty's uniform."

Bobby stared.

"The dirty dog!" he exclaimed. "Well, I'm damned! That at the last, after
everything!"

"Yes, just that," remarked Clancey. "So you introduced him to Madame de
Corantin?"

"Not because I wanted to," replied Bobby.

"And she has been with him ever since?"

"Oh, I don't know that."

"But she was with him last night at the Savoy?"

"Yes. Damn him! I must be off now. Clancey, really, I'm awfully obliged
to you."

"Well, may I come to Claridge's tomorrow? I promise I won't cut you
out - I only want to make her acquaintance. She must be such a charming
woman."

"All right. Look in after lunch," Bobby answered, and, seizing the huge
parcel which contained his flowers, he led the way out of the room and
thence out of the flat to the cab which was waiting for him.

Had Bobby looked out of the window of that cab he would have been
surprised. Clancey was running down the street towards Piccadilly as fast
as his legs could carry him.

* * * * *

Another shock was in store for poor Bobby. Jumping out of his taxi, he
presented himself to the hall-porter, armed with his huge paper parcel
from the florist.

"For Madame de Corantin," he said.

The porter looked at him; he knew him well and accepted the offering
hesitatingly.

"For Madame de Corantin, you said, sir?"

"Yes," said Bobby.

"Madame de Corantin left early this afternoon, Mr. Froelich."

For a moment Bobby was speechless.

"Left?" he gasped. "Are you sure?"

"I'm perfectly certain, sir."

"But surely she is coming back again, isn't she? Why, I'm lunching with
her to-morrow."

The porter looked at him in surprise.

"Take a seat for a moment, sir, and I'll go and inquire, though to the
best of my belief she took all her luggage with her."

In a moment the man came back.

"Yes, sir, she and her maid and all her luggage left about two o'clock.
There were two cars; one was brought by a gentleman."

Bobby pulled himself together.

"Ah! Mr. Alistair Ramsey, I suppose?" He tried to put indifference into
his voice.

"Yes, sir, I think it was Mr. Alistair Ramsey."

Bobby walked out of the hotel. "Oh, damn him, damn him, damn him!" he
muttered as he threw himself into a cab.

"Go to Down Street."

Arrived at his rooms, Bobby cast his poor flowers into a corner, and,
flinging himself on to a sofa, buried his face in his hands. What was the
meaning of it, and how could she be so cruel as to play the same trick on
him again? What was the object of telling him to come and see her? It
would have been by far kinder to ignore him when she saw him at the
Savoy. And yet even now Bobby was not resentful. He was bewildered,
but far more was he humiliated at the thought of Ramsey's triumph. There
must surely be some explanation. She had greeted him so kindly; she had
shown such evident pleasure at seeing him again. Why should she have
acted that part? There was no object in it. Something must have happened,
something quite outside the range of ordinary events. As he had done a
hundred times, Bobby returned on the past and tried to piece together
consecutively all the incidents since his first meeting with Madame de
Corantin. Gradually an impression formed itself in his mind that what at
first had seemed an attractive mystery was something deeper than he had
imagined. Gradually there spread over him a vague sensation of
discomfort, of apprehension even. Still, when he thought about her it
seemed impossible to connect anything sinister with a personality so
charming, with a disposition so amiable. No, it was beyond him; it
was useless his attempting to puzzle out the problem. Only time could
explain it. As they had met at the Savoy, so sooner or later they would
meet again. He knew it was useless to try and forget her; that was
impossible, but, in the meantime, what?

Suddenly his reflections were interrupted. Some one was ringing the bell
at the entrance. Bobby went to the door. Two men were standing
outside - strangers to him.

"Are you Mr. Froelich?" one of them asked.

"Yes," answered Bobby. "Why? What do you want?"

"I should like to speak to you a moment."

"What about?" Bobby eyed them suspiciously.

"I am from Scotland Yard, Mr. Froelich. We'd better go inside to talk."

Bobby, quite bewildered, led them into his sitting-room, and shut the
door.

"My name is Inspector Groombridge," said the spokesman of the two. "I
have been instructed to place you under arrest."

"Me! Under arrest? What on earth have I done? There must be some
mistake."

Bobby was horrified.

"Those are my instructions, Mr. Froelich, and I am afraid I must ask you
to come with me. My colleague, Sub-inspector Dane, is to remain here in
possession, and I am afraid I must ask you to hand him your keys."

"My keys?" Bobby felt in his pockets. "What sort of keys do you mean?" He
pulled a gold chain out of his pocket to which were attached his latchkey
and a few others. He held them in his hand, and ticked them off one by
one mechanically. "This is the key of the cupboard where I keep my cigars
and liqueurs; this is the key of my dispatch-box. I don't think I've got
anything else locked up."

"Have you no safe, no desk or other receptacle where you keep your
papers, Mr. Froelich - documents of any kind?"

"Papers - documents?" ejaculated Bobby. "No, I haven't got any documents
or papers. What do you mean?"

"Well, I'm afraid it will be the duty of Sub-inspector Dane to search
your apartment, Mr. Froelich, and I want to save you from having anything
broken open if it can be avoided."

"There is nothing to break open. I don't lock anything up except cigars
and things of that kind, and as to my dispatch-box, there's not much
there either. I hardly know what there is - I haven't looked inside it for
ever so long. There may be a few private letters."

"What sort of letters?" asked the inspector.

To Bobby this sounded menacing.

"Oh, I don't know; perhaps there may be one or two - well, what shall I
call them? - love letters, I suppose. Anyhow, here are the keys." He
handed them over to the other man as he spoke.

"Call a cab." The inspector spoke to his subordinate.

"I say," asked Bobby apprehensively, "am I going to be locked up?"

The inspector hesitated slightly. Bobby's innocence seemed to strike him.
He was not the sort of person he was used to arresting.

"I am afraid it's more than likely, Mr. Froelich."

"Can't I change my clothes?" queried Bobby. "You see, I've got on evening
dress, and I suppose I shan't have a chance of getting out of it."

The inspector reflected a moment.

"Oh yes, Mr. Froelich. I don't see why you should not change, but I'm
afraid I must ask you to let me accompany you."

"Well, I'm - D'you think I'm going to try and escape?"

"Oh, I don't say that, Mr. Froelich, but sometimes things happen on these
occasions, and it's my duty to be on the safe side. I'm sorry to
inconvenience you."

"Come on in, then." Bobby led the way into his dressing-room, and in a
few minutes he was rolling off with his strange companion to some
destination unknown.

After the most uncomfortable night Bobby had ever spent in his life he
was escorted next morning by Sub-inspector Dane to Scotland Yard. He was
ushered into a waiting-room, and there he sat with the inspector, waiting
until he should be summoned before the Assistant Commissioner. Had he
been able to see what was going on in the adjoining room, he would have
been exceedingly surprised.

The Assistant Commissioner, one of those public servants whose quiet,
unobtrusive manner covers a strong character and a great efficiency, was
sitting at his table talking to Harold Clancey. They were in earnest
consultation.

"Then I understand, Captain Clancey," said the Assistant Commissioner,
"that this lady has got clear off?"

Clancey smiled serenely.

"Oh, rather! Address: H√іtel des Indes, The Hague - quite a comfortable
place and quite an important German espionage centre."

"I gather that our man was too late."

"By some hours, I should say," Clancey replied. "You see, we only got the
report in from France quite late. I sent your man to watch her while I
went to see Froelich. I was sure he was all right, but I wanted to
satisfy myself. By the time I reached our place I found the chief in the
deuce of a stew. Your man had got back, and reported that she'd gone.
They'd kicked up the devil's delight at Headquarters, and the chief was
out for blood. He was determined to arrest somebody, and I suggested
Ramsey, but he got purple in the face and told me he'd instructed your
people to bag Froelich. I thought this quite idiotic, but it relieved
the chief's feelings, and it was too late to do anything sensible. We
knew the ship she took; of course, she was much too clever to sail under
the English flag. Naturally we wirelessed, but they won't dare touch her.
After that last row it's hands off these Dutchmen."

"And the view of your department, Captain Clancey, is that it's useless
for us to detain Mr. Froelich?"

"Absolutely useless. I can swear to it. As I told you, I don't know him
well, but I know all about him, and I am satisfied of his complete
innocence, and that he is entirely unaware of Madame de Corantin's
objects and activities."

"Then what do you propose that we should do, Captain Clancey?"

"I propose nothing at all, Mr. Crane."

"What, after her getting those passports?"

Clancey twisted his moustache.

"That's a matter which concerns spheres altogether over my head, Mr.
Crane."

"But Mr. Ramsey says that it's entirely owing to Mr. Froelich's
introduction that he provided the lady with passports, that he'd known
her through him, and having been a friend of Mr. Froelich for many years,
he had implicitly trusted him. He was here only a few minutes before you
came, and he told me that there was no doubt at all but that he had been
the victim of a conspiracy between Froelich and this Madame de Corantin.
He admitted that he ought to have been on his guard, considering that Mr.
Froelich's name was German, and of course it was natural that he would
have German sympathies."

"Um! And what do you think, Mr. Crane?"

The Assistant Commissioner was silent for a moment.

"You see, I don't know Mr. Froelich," he said.

"But you do know Mr. Ramsey," replied Clancey.

"Not well."

"What about his chief? You know him well enough. Why not ask him?"

The Assistant Commissioner's answer was to throw a note across the table
to his questioner. It ran as follows -


WAR OFFICE.

DEAR MR. CRANE, -

I desire you to take the most rigorous measures without fear or favour
regarding this matter of the passports accorded to Madame de Corantin.
There has been a disgraceful dereliction of duty, and I intend to make an
example of the offender, whoever he may be.

Yours very truly,

ARCHIBALD FELLOWES.


Clancey whistled.

"That looks rather awkward for Master Alistair."

There was a knock on the door. It was Inspector Groombridge.

"Excuse me, sir, my man has just brought this. It was delivered by a
stranger to the hall-porter of the building where Mr. Froelich occupies a
flat." He handed a letter to the Assistant Commissioner, who read it
slowly and without comment passed it to Clancey. Clancey, read it
through, smiled, and passed it back.

"I think that settles it," he remarked, "and with your kind permission I
will now depart."

Nodding farewell to the Assistant Commissioner, Clancey withdrew by the
private exit opposite to the one which led into the room where Bobby was
miserably awaiting his fate.

"Show Mr. Froelich in, Inspector Groombridge, and, by the way, I hope you
have treated him with courtesy."

The inspector cleared his throat.

"Oh, I think so, sir. Of course, it's rather difficult in these cases to
make a gentleman comfortable, but I gave him a shake-down in my own
private room for the night and sent a man for his toilet things and so on
in the morning."

"Very well, Inspector; show him in at once."

Bobby came into the room; his expression was more bewildered than
apprehensive. The Assistant Commissioner held out his hand, which Bobby
took with a look of surprise.

"Do sit down, Mr. Froelich. I am so sorry to have troubled you. You will,
I am sure, understand that in times like these one has to be very
careful, and your acquaintance with Madame de Corantin - "

"Madame de Corantin!" Bobby, exclaimed. "What in the world - "

"One moment, Mr. Froelich. I'll try and explain it to you. Madame de
Corantin is known to us. She is a very clever emissary of the German
Government, and she has succeeded in baffling us entirely up till now
because by a chain of coincidences there has been no one who could
identify her on the various occasions that she has been in England.
Thanks to her influential connections, she has succeeded in obtaining
information of considerable value, and has also been enabled to elude
both the French authorities and ourselves. We have reason to believe that
she has secured travelling facilities and passports through her relations
with high Government officials, both French and English, whom she knew
before the War. You will understand, therefore, that your acquaintance
with her was at first sight a suspicious circumstance. I am glad to be
able to tell you, however, that on inquiry we find that you are entirely
innocent of any complicity with her plans, and this result of our
investigations is confirmed by a letter which she apparently addressed
to you."

Bobby's face had been growing longer and longer as the Assistant
Commissioner proceeded. When Mr. Crane mentioned the letter Bobby could
not restrain an exclamation.

"A letter?" he asked excitedly. "What letter?"

"This," said the Assistant Commissioner, handing him the note that
Clancey and he had previously seen.

Bobby took it eagerly and read -


DEAR BOBBY, MY FRIEND, -

Once more I fear I am causing you unhappiness. I cannot explain
everything, but I can at least tell you this. When I prevailed upon you
to introduce Mr. Ramsey to me, so much against your will, I had an
object. This object was very far from being a desire for Mr. Ramsey's
acquaintance as you supposed, for I am still, and always shall be,
devoted to that former friend of whom I told you. His name, I may now
tell you, is Prince von Waldheim und Schlangenfurst. When I came to
London I had hoped to have remained long enough to see you again, but I
had no alternative but to go at a moment's notice. To have remained would
have been dangerous.

This letter will be delivered to you by a person whom I can trust. By the
time you get it I shall be in Holland.

Some day when peace is restored I hope we may meet, and it will give me


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Online LibraryStephen HudsonWar-time Silhouettes → online text (page 5 of 7)