The Yellow Crayon by E. Phillips Oppenheim
The Prince presented himself with a low bow. Lucille had a copy of the morning paper in her hand.
"I congratulate you, Countess," he said. "You progress admirably. It is a great step gained."
Lucille, who was looking pale and nervous, regarded him with anxiety.
"A step! But it is everything. If these rumours are true, he refuses the attempt to form a Cabinet. He takes a subordinate position under Letheringham. Every paper this morning says that if this is so his political career is over. It is true, is it not?"
"It is a great gain," the Prince said slowly.
"But it is everything," Lucille declared, with a rising note of passion in her tone. "It was my task. It is accomplished. I demand my release."
The Prince was silent for a moment.
"You are in a great hurry, Lucille," he said.
"What if I am!" she replied fiercely. "Do you suppose that this life of lies and deceit is pleasant to me? Do you suppose that it is a pleasant task to lure a brave man on to his ruin?"
The Prince raised his eyebrows.
"Come," he said, "you can have no sympathy with Reginald Brott, the sworn enemy of our class, a Socialist, a demagogue who would parcel out our lands in allotments, a man who has pledged himself to nothing more nor less than a revolution."
"The man's views are hateful enough," she answered, "but he is in earnest, and however misguided he may be there is something noble in his unselfishness, in his, steady fixedness of purpose."
The Prince's face indicated his contempt.
"Such men," he declared, "are only fit to be crushed like vermin under foot. In any other country save England we should have dealt with him differently."
"This is all beside the question," she declared, "My task was to prevent his becoming Prime Minister, and I have succeeded."
The Prince gave vent to a little gesture of dissent. "Your task," he said, "went a little farther than that. We require his political ruin."
She pointed to the pile of newspapers upon the table.
"Read what they say!" she exclaimed. "There is not one who does not use that precise term. He has missed his opportunity. The people will never trust him again."
"That, at any rate, is not certain," the Prince said. "You must remember that before long he will realise that he has been your tool. What then? He will become more rabid than ever, more also to be feared. No, Lucille, your task is not yet over. He must be involved in an open and public scandal, and with you."
She was white almost to the lips with passion.
"You expect a great deal!" she exclaimed. "You expect me to ruin my life, then, to give my honour as well as these weary months, this constant humiliation."
"You are pleased to be melodramatic," he said coldly. "It is quite possible to involve him without actually going to extremes."
"And what of my husband?" she asked.
'The Prince laughed unpleasantly.
"If you have not taught him complaisance," he said, "it is possible, of course, that Mr. Sabin might be unkind. But what of it? You are your own mistress. You are a woman of the world. Without him there is an infinitely greater future before you than as his wife you could ever enjoy."
"You are pleased," she said, "to be enigmatic."
The Prince looked hard at her. Her face was white and set. He sighed.
"Lucille," he said, "I have been very patient for many years. Yet you know very well my secret, and in your heart you know very well that I am one of those who generally win the thing upon which they have set their hearts. I have always loved you, Lucille, but nevermore than now. Fidelity is admirable, but surely you have done your duty. He is an old man, and a man who has failed in the great things of life. I, on the other hand, can offer you a great future. Saxe Leinitzer, as you know, is a kingdom of its own, and, Lucille, I stand well with the Emperor. The Socialist party in Berlin are strong and increasing. He needs us. Who can say what honours may not be in store for us? For I, too, am of the Royal House, Lucille. I am his kinsman. He never forgets that. Come, throw aside this restlessness. I will tell you how to deal with Brott, and the publicity, after all, will be nothing. We will go abroad directly afterwards."
"Have you finished?" she asked.
"You will be reasonable!" he begged.
"Reasonable!" She turned upon him with flashing eyes. "I wonder how you ever dared to imagine that I could tolerate you for one moment as a lover or a husband. Wipe it out of your mind once and for all. You are repellent to me. Positively the only wish I have in connection with you is never to see your face again. As for my duty, I have done it. My conscience is clear. I shall leave this house to-day."
"I hope," the Prince said softly, "that you will do nothing rash!"
"In an hour," she said, "I shall be at the Carlton with my husband. I will trust to him to protect me from you."
The Prince shook his head.
"You talk rashly," he said. "You do not think. You are forbidden to leave this house. You are forbidden to join your husband."
She laughed scornfully, but underneath was a tremor of uneasiness.
"You summoned me from America," she said, "and I came ... I was forced to leave my husband without even a word of farewell. I did it! You set me a task - I have accomplished it. I claim that I have kept my bond, that I have worked out my own freedom. If you require more of me, I say that you are overstepping your authority, and I refuse. Set the black cross against my name if you will. I will take the risk."
The Prince came a little nearer to her. She held her own bravely enough, but there was a look in his face which terrified her.
"Lucille," he said, "you force me to disclose something which I have kept so far to myself. I wished to spare you anxiety, but you must understand that your safety depends upon your remaining in this house, and in keeping apart from all association with - your husband."
"You will find it difficult," she said, "to convince me of that."
"On the contrary," he said, "I shall find it easy - too easy, believe me. You will remember my finding you at the wine-shop of Emil Sachs?"
"You refused to tell me the object of your visit. It was foolish, for of course I was informed. You procured from Emil a small quantity of the powder prepared according to the recipe of Herr Estentrauzen, and for which we paid him ten thousand marks. It is the most silent, the most secret, the most swift poison yet discovered."
"I got it for myself," she said coldly. "There have been times when I have felt that the possession of something of that sort was an absolute necessity;"
"I do not question you as to the reason for your getting it," he answered. "Very shortly afterwards you left your carriage in Pall Mall, and without even asking for your husband you called at his hotel - you stole up into his room."
"I took some roses there and left them," she said "What of that?"
"Only that you were the last person seen to enter Mr. Sabin's rooms before Duson was found there dead. And Duson died from a dose of that same poison, a packet of which you procured secretly from Emil Sachs. An empty wineglass was by his side - it was one generally used by Mr. Sabin. I know that the English police, who are not so foolish as people would have one believe, are searching now for the woman who was seen to enter the sitting-room shortly before Mr. Sabin returned and found Duson there dead."
She laughed scornfully.
"It is ingenious," she admitted, "and perhaps a little unfortunate for me. But the inference is ridiculous. What interest had I in the man's death?"
"None, of course!" the Prince said. "But, Lucille, in all cases of poisoning it is the wife of whom one first thinks!"
"The wife? I did not even know that the creature had a wife."
"Of course not! But Duson drank from Mr. Sabin's glass, and you are Mr. Sabin's wife. You are living apart from him. He is old and you are young. And for the other man - there is Reginald Brott. Your names have been coupled together, of course. See what an excellent case stands there. You procure the poison - secretly. You make your way to your husband's room - secretly. The fatal dose is taken from your husband's Wineglass. You leave no note, no message. The poison of which the man died is exactly the same as you procured from Sachs. Lucille, after all, do you wonder that the police are looking for a woman in black with an ermine toque? What a mercy you wore a thick veil!"
She sat down suddenly.
"This is hideous," she said.
"Think it over," he said, "step by step. It is wonderful how all the incidents dovetail into one another."
"Too wonderful," she cried. "It sounds like some vile plot to incriminate me. How much had you to do with this, Prince?"
"Don't be a fool!" he answered roughly. "Can't you see for yourself that your arrest would be the most terrible thing that could happen for us? Even Sachs might break down in cross-examination, and you - well, you are a woman, and you want to live. We should all be in the most deadly peril. Lucille, I would have spared you this anxiety if I could, but your defiance made it necessary. There was no other way of getting you away from England to-night except by telling you the truth."
"Away from England to-night," she repeated vaguely. "But I will not go. It is impossible."
"It is imperative," the Prince declared, with a sharp ring of authority in his tone. "It is your own folly, for which you have to pay. You went secretly to Emil Sachs. You paid surreptitious visits to your husband, which were simply madness. You have involved us all in danger. For our own sakes we must see that you are removed."
"It is the very thing to excite suspicion - flight abroad," she objected.
"Your flight," he said coolly, "will be looked upon from a different point of view, for Reginald Brott must follow you. It will be an elopement, not a flight from justice."
"And in case I should decline?" Lucille asked quietly.
The Prince shrugged his shoulders.
"Well, we have done the best we can for ourselves," he said. "Come, I will be frank with you. There are great interests involved here, and, before all things, I have had to consider the welfare of our friends. That is my duty! Emil Sachs by this time is beyond risk of detection. He has left behind a letter, in which he confesses that he has for some time supplemented the profits of his wine-shop by selling secretly certain deadly poisons of his own concoctions. Alarmed at reading of the death of Duson immediately after he had sold a poison which the symptoms denoted he had fled the country. That letter is in the hands of the woman who remains in the wine-shop, and will only be used in case of necessity. By other means we have dissociated ourselves from Duson and all connection with him. I think I could go so far as to say that it would be impossible to implicate us. Our sole anxiety now, therefore, is to save you."
Lucille rose to her feet.
"I shall go at once to my husband," she said. "I shall tell him everything. I shall act on his advice."
The Prince stood over by the door, and she heard the key turn.
"You will do nothing of the sort," he said quietly. "You are in my power at last, Lucille. You will do my bidding, or - "
"I shall myself send for the police and give you into custody!"