The Yellow Crayon by E. Phillips Oppenheim
So this was the man! Mr. Sabin did not neglect his luncheon, nor was he ever for a moment unmindful of the grey-headed princess who chatted away by his side with all the vivacity of her race and sex. But he watched Mr. Brott.
A man this! Mr. Sabin was a judge, and he appraised him rightly. He saw through that courteous geniality of tone and gesture; the ready-made smile, although it seemed natural enough, did not deceive him. Underneath was a man of iron, square-jawed, nervous, forceful. Mr. Brott was probably at that time the ablest politician of either party in the country. Mr. Sabin knew it. He found himself wondering exactly at what point of their lives this man and he would come into contact.
After luncheon Helene brought them together.
"I believe," she said to Mr. Brott, "that you have never met my uncle. May I make you formally acquainted? Uncle, this is Mr. Brott, whom you must know a great deal about even though you have been away for so long - the Duc de Souspennier."
The two men bowed and Helene passed on. Mr. Sabin leaned upon his stick and watched keenly for any sign in the other's face. If he expected to find it he was disappointed. Either this man had no knowledge of who he was, or those things which were to come between them were as yet unborn.
They strolled together after the other guests into the winter gardens, which were the envy of every hostess in London. Mr. Sabin lit a cigarette, Mr. Brott regretfully declined. He neither smoked nor drank wine. Yet he was disposed to be friendly, and selected a seat where they were a little apart from the other guests.
"You at least," he remarked, in answer to an observation of Mr. Sabin's, "are free from the tyranny of politics. I am assuming, of course, that your country under its present form of government has lost its hold upon you."
Mr. Sabin smiled.
"It is a doubtful boon," he said. "It is true that I am practically an exile. Republican France has no need of me. Had I been a soldier I could still have remained a patriot. But for one whose leanings were towards politics, neither my father before me nor I could be of service to our country. You should be thankful," he continued with a slight smile, "that you are an Englishman. No constitution in the world can offer so much to the politician who is strong enough and fearless enough."
Mr. Brott glanced towards his twinkling eyes.
"Do you happen to know what my politics are?" he asked.
Mr. Sabin hesitated.
"Your views, I know, are advanced," he said. "For the rest I have been abroad for years. I have lost touch a little with affairs in this country."
"I am afraid," Mr. Brott said, "that I shall shock you. You are an aristocrat of the aristocrats, I a democrat of the democrats. The people are the only masters whom I own. They first sent me to Parliament."
"Yet," Mr. Sabin remarked, "you are, I understand, in the Cabinet."
Mr. Brott glanced for a moment around. The Prime Minister was somewhere in the winter gardens.
"That," he declared, "is an accident. I happened to be the only man available who could do the work when Lord Kilbrooke died. I am telling you only what is an open secret. But I am afraid I am boring you. Shall we join the others?"
"Not unless you yourself are anxious to," Mr. Sabin begged. "It is scarcely fair to detain you talking to an old man when there are so many charming women here. But I should be sorry for you to think me hidebound in my prejudices. You must remember that the Revolution decimated my family. It was a long time ago, but the horror of it is still a live thing."
"Yet it was the natural outcome," Mr. Brott said, "of the things which went before. Such hideous misgovernment as generations of your countrymen had suffered was logically bound to bring its own reprisal."
"There is truth in what you say," Mr. Sabin admitted. He did not want to talk about the French Revolution.
"You are a stranger in London, are you not?" Mr. Brott asked.
"I feel myself one," Mr. Sabin answered. "I have been away for a few years, and I do not think that there is a city in the world where social changes are so rapid. I should perhaps except the cities of the country from which I have come. But then America is a universe of itself."
For an instant Mr. Brott gave signs of the man underneath. The air of polite interest had left his face. He glanced swiftly and keenly at his companion. Mr. Sabin's expression was immutable. It was he who scored, for he marked the change, whilst Mr. Brott could not be sure whether he had noticed it or not.
"You have been living in America, then?"
"For several years - yes."
"It is a country," Mr. Brott said, "which I am particularly anxious to visit. I see my chances, however, grow fewer and fewer as the years go by."
"For one like yourself," Mr. Sabin said, "whose instincts and sympathies are wholly with the democracy, a few months in America would be very well spent."
"And you," Mr. Brott remarked, "how did you get on with the people?"
Mr. Sabin traced a pattern with his stick upon the marble floor.
"I lived in the country," he said, "I played golf and read and rested."
"Were you anywhere near New York?" Mr. Brott asked.
"A few hours' journey only," Mr. Sabin answered. "My home was in a very picturesque part, near Lenox."
Mr. Brott leaned a little forward.
"You perhaps know then a lady who spent some time in that neighbourhood - a Mrs. James Peterson. Her husband was, I believe, the American consul in Vienna.
Mr. Sabin smiled very faintly. His face betrayed no more than a natural and polite interest. There was nothing to indicate the fact that his heart was beating like the heart of a young man, that the blood was rushing hot through his veins.
"Yes," he said, "I know her very well. Is she in London?"
Mr. Brott hesitated. He seemed a little uncertain how to continue.
"To tell you the truth," he said, "I believe that she has reasons for desiring her present whereabouts to remain unknown. I should perhaps not have mentioned her name at all. It was, I fancy, indiscreet of me. The coincidence of hearing you mention the name of the place where I believe she resided surprised my question. With your permission we will abandon the subject."
"You disappoint me," Mr. Sabin said quietly. "It would have given me much pleasure to have resumed my acquaintance with the lady in question."
"You will, without doubt, have an opportunity," Mr. Brott said, glancing at his watch and suddenly rising. "Dear me, how the time goes."
He rose to his feet. Mr. Sabin also rose.
"Must I understand," he said in a low tone, "that you are not at liberty to give me Mrs. Peterson's address?"
"I am not at liberty even," Mr. Brott answered, with a frown, "to mention her name. It will give me great pleasure, Duke, to better my acquaintance with you. Will you dine with me at the House of Commons one night next week?"
"I shall be charmed," Mr. Sabin answered. "My address for the next few days is at the Carlton. I am staying there under my family name of Sabin - Mr. Sabin. It is a fancy of mine - it has been ever since I became an alien - to use my title as little as possible."
Mr. Brott looked for a moment puzzled.
"Your pseudonym," he remarked thoughtfully, "seems very familiar to me."
Mr. Sabin shrugged his shoulders.
"It is a family name," he remarked, "but I flattered myself that it was at least uncommon."
"Fancy, no doubt," Mr. Brott remarked, turning to make his adieux to his hostess.
Mr. Sabin joined a fresh group of idlers under the palms. Mr. Brott lingered over his farewells.
"Your uncle, Lady Camperdown," he said, "is delightful. I enjoy meeting new types, and he represents to me most perfectly the old order of French aristocracy."
"I am glad," Helene said, "that you found him interesting. I felt sure you would. In fact, I asked him especially to meet you."
"You are the most thoughtful of hostesses," he assured her. "By the bye, your uncle has just told me the name by which he is known at the hotel. Mr. Sabin! Sabin! It recalls something to my mind. I cannot exactly remember what."
She smiled upon him. People generally forgot things when Helene smiled.
"It is an odd fancy of his to like his title so little," she remarked. "At heart no one is prouder of their family and antecedents. I have heard him say, though, that an exile had better leave behind him even his name."
"Sabin!" Mr. Brott repeated. "Sabin!"
"It is an old family name," she murmured.
His face suddenly cleared. She knew that he had remembered. But he took his leave with no further reference to it.
"Sabin!" he repeated to himself when alone in his carriage. "That was the name of the man who was supposed to be selling plans to the German Government. Poor Renshaw was in a terrible stew about it. Sabin! An uncommon name."
He had ordered the coachman to drive to the House of Commons. Suddenly he pulled the check-string.
"Call at Dorset House," he directed.
* * * * *
Mr. Sabin lingered till nearly the last of the guests had gone. Then he led Helene once more into the winter gardens.
"May I detain you for one moment's gossip?" he asked. "I see your carriage at the door."
"It is nothing," she declared. "I must drive in the Park for an hour. One sees one's friends, and it is cool and refreshing after these heated rooms. But at any time. Talk to me as long as you will, and then I will drop you at the Carlton."
"It is of Brott!" he remarked. "Ah, I thank you, I will smoke. Your husband's taste in cigarettes is excellent."
"Perhaps mine!" she laughed.
Mr. Sabin shrugged his shoulders.
"In either case I congratulate you. This man Brott. He interests me."
"He interests every one. Why not? He is a great personality."
"Politically," Mr. Sabin said, "the gauge of his success is of course the measure of the man. But he himself - what manner of a man is he?"
She tapped with her fingers upon the little table by their side.
"He is rich," she said, "and an uncommon mixture of the student and the man of society. He refuses many more invitations than he accepts, he entertains very seldom but very magnificently. He has never been known to pay marked attentions to any woman, even the scandal of the clubs has passed him by. What else can I say about him, I wonder?" she continued reflectively. "Nothing, I think, except this. He is a strong man. You know that that counts for much."
Mr. Sabin was silent. Perhaps he was measuring his strength in some imagined encounter with this man. Something in his face alarmed Helene. She suddenly leaned forward and looked at him more closely.
"Uncle," she exclaimed in a low voice, "there is something on your mind. Do not tell me that once more you are in the maze, that again you have schemes against this country."
He smiled at her sadly enough, but she was reassured.
"You need have no fear," he told her. "With politics - I have finished. Why I am here, what I am here for I will tell you very soon. It is to find one whom I have lost - and who is dear to me. Forgive me if for to-day I say no more. Come, if you will you shall drive me to my hotel."
He offered his arm with the courtly grace which he knew so well how to assume. Together they passed out to her carriage.