The Yellow Crayon by E. Phillips Oppenheim
Mr. Sabin was deep in thought. He sat in an easy-chair with his back to the window, his hands crossed upon his stick, his eyes fixed upon the fire. Duson was moving noiselessly about the room, cutting the morning's supply of newspapers and setting them out upon the table. His master was in a mood which he had been taught to respect. It was Mr. Sabin Who broke the silence.
"I have always, as you know, ignored your somewhat anomalous position as the servant of one man and the slave of a society. The questions which I am about to ask you you can answer or not, according to your own apprehensions of what is due to each."
"I thank your Grace!"
"My departure from America seemed to incite the most violent opposition on the part of your friends. As you know, it was with a certain amount of difficulty that I reached this country. Now, however, I am left altogether alone. I have not received a single warning letter. My comings and goings, although purposely devoid of the ~lightest secrecy, are absolutely undisturbed. Yet I have some reason to believe that your mistress is in London."
"Your Grace will pardon me," Duson said, "but there is outside a gentleman waiting to see you to whom you might address the same questions with better results, for compared with him I know nothing. It is Monsieur Felix."
"Why have you kept him waiting?" Mr. Sabin asked.
"Your Grace was much absorbed," Duson answered.
Felix was smoking a cigarette, and Mr. Sabin greeted him with a certain grim cordiality.
"Is this permitted - this visit?" he asked, himself selecting a cigarette and motioning his guest to a chair.
"It is even encouraged," Felix answered.
"You have perhaps some message?"
"I am glad to see you," Mr. Sabin said. "Just now I am a little puzzled. I will put the matter to you. You shall answer or not, at your own discretion."
"I am ready," Felix declared.
"You know the difficulty with which I escaped from America," Mr. Sabin continued. "Every means which ingenuity could suggest seemed brought to bear against me. And every movement was directed, if not from here, from some place in Europe. Well, I arrived here four days ago. I live quite openly, I have even abjured to some extent my incognito. Yet I have not received even a warning letter. I am left absolutely undisturbed."
Felix looked at him thoughtfully.
"And what do you deduce from this?" he asked.
"I do not like it," Mr. Sabin answered drily.
"After all," Felix remarked, "it is to some extent natural. The very openness of your life here makes interference with you more difficult, and as to warning letters - well, you have proved the uselessness of them."
"Perhaps," Mr. Sabin answered. "At the same time, if I were a superstitious person I should consider this inaction ominous."
"You must take account also," Felix said, "of the difference in the countries. In England the police system, if not the most infallible in the world, is certainly the most incorruptible. There was never a country in which security of person and life was so keenly watched over as here. In America, up to a certain point, a man is expected to look after himself. The same feeling does not prevail here."
Mr. Sabin assented.
"And therefore," he remarked, "for the purposes of your friends I should consider this a difficult and unpromising country in which to work."
"Other countries, other methods!" Felix remarked laconically.
"Exactly! It is the new methods which I am anxious to discover," Mr. Sabin said. "No glimmering of them as yet has been vouchsafed to me. Yet I believe that I am right in assuming that for the moment London is the headquarters of your friends, and that Lucille is here?"
"If that is meant for a question," Felix said, "I may not answer it."
Mr. Sabin nodded.
"Yet," he suggested, "your visit has an object. To discover my plans perhaps! You are welcome to them."
Felix thoughtfully knocked the ashes off his cigarette.
"My visit had an object," he admitted, "but it was a personal one. I am not actually concerned in the doings of those whom you have called my friends."
"We are alone," Mr. Sabin reminded him. "My time is yours."
"You and I," Felix said, "have had our periods of bitter enmity. With your marriage to Lucille these, so far as I am concerned, ended for ever. I will even admit that in my younger days I was prejudiced against you. That has passed away. You have been all your days a bold and unscrupulous schemer, but ends have at any rate been worthy ones. To-day I am able to regard you with feelings of friendliness. You are the husband of my dear sister, and for years I know that you made her very happy. I ask you, will you believe in this statement of my attitude towards you?"
"I do not for a single moment doubt it," Mr. Sabin answered.
"You will regard the advice which I am going to as disinterested?"
"Then I offer it to you earnestly, and with my whole heart. Take the next steamer and go back to America."
"And leave Lucille? Go without making any effort to see her?"
Mr. Sabin was for a moment very serious indeed. The advice given in such a manner was full of forebodings to him. The lines from the corners of his mouth seemed graven into his face.
"Felix," he said slowly, "I am sometimes conscious of the fact that I am passing into that period of life which we call old age. My ambitions are dead, my energies are weakened. For many years I have toiled - the time has come for rest. Of all the great passions which I have felt there remains but one - Lucille. Life without her is worth nothing to me. I am weary of solitude, I am weary of everything except Lucille. How then can I listen to such advice? For me it must be Lucille, or that little journey into the mists, from which one does not return."
Felix was silent. The pathos of this thing touched him.
"I will not dispute the right of those who have taken her from me," Mr. Sabin continued, "but I want her back. She is necessary to me. My purse, my life, my brains are there to be thrown into the scales. I will buy her, or fight for her, or rejoin their ranks myself. But I want her back."
Still Felix was silent. He was looking steadfastly into the fire.
"You have heard me," Mr. Sabin said.
"I have heard you," Felix answered. "My advice stands,"
"I know now," Mr. Sabin said, "that I have a hard task before me. They shall have me for a friend or an enemy. I can still make myself felt as either. You have nothing more to say?"
"Then let us part company," Mr. Sabin said, "or talk of something more cheerful. You depress me, Felix. Let Duson bring us wine. You look like a death's head."
Felix roused himself.
"You will go your own way," he said. "Now that you have chosen I will tell you this. I am glad. Yes, let Duson bring wine. I will drink to your health and to your success. There have been times when men have performed miracles. I shall drink to that miracle."
Duson brought also a letter, which Mr. Sabin, with a nod towards Felix, opened. It was from Helene.
"15 Park Lane, London, "Thursday Morning.
"My DEAR UNCLE, -
"I want you to come to luncheon to-day. The Princess de Catelan is here, and I am expecting also Mr. Brott, the Home Secretary - our one great politician, you know. Many people say that he is the most interesting man in England, and must be our next Prime Minister. Such people interest you, I know. Do come.
Mr. Sabin repeated the name to himself as he stood for a moment with the letter in his hand.
"Brott! What a name for a statesman! Well, here is your health, Felix. I do not often drink wine in the morning, but - "
He broke off in the middle of his sentence. The glass which Felix had been in the act of raising to his lips lay shattered upon the floor, and a little stream of wine trickled across the carpet. Felix himself seemed scarcely conscious of the disaster. His cheeks were white, and he leaned across the table towards Mr. Sabin.
"What name did you say - what name?"
Mr. Sabin referred again to the letter which he held in his hand.
"Brott!" he repeated. "He is Home Secretary, I believe."
"What do you know about him?"
"Nothing," Mr. Sabin answered. "My niece, the Countess of Camperdown, asks me to meet him to-day at luncheon. Explain yourself, my young friend. There is a fresh glass by your side."
Felix poured himself out a glass and drank it off. But he remained silent.
Felix picked up his gloves and stick.
"You are asked to meet Mr. Brott at luncheon to-day?"
"Are you going?"
"Very good," he said. "I should advise you to cultivate his acquaintance. He is a very extraordinary man."
"Come, Felix," Mr. Sabin said. "You owe me something more lucid in the way of explanations. Who is be?"
"A statesman - successful, ambitious. He expects to be Prime Minister."
"And what have I to do with him, or he with me?" Mr. Sabin asked quietly.
Felix shook his head.
"I cannot tell you," he said. "Yet I fancy that you and he may some time be drawn together."
Mr. Sabin asked no more questions, but he promptly sat down and accepted his niece's invitation. When he looked round Felix had gone. He rang the bell for Duson and handed him the note.
"My town clothes, Duson," he ordered. "I am lunching out."
The man bowed and withdrew. Mr. Sabin remained for a few moments in deep thought.
"Brott!" he repeated. "Brott! It is a singular name.