The Yellow Crayon by E. Phillips Oppenheim
For once," Lady Carey said, with a faint smile, "your 'admirable Crichton' has failed you."
Lucille opened her eyes. She had been leaning back amongst the railway cushions.
"I think not," she said. "Only I blame myself that I ever trusted the Prince even so far as to give him that message. For I know very well that if Victor had received it he would have been here."
Lady Carey took up a great pile of papers and looked them carelessly through.
"I am afraid," she said, "that I do not agree with you. I do not think that Saxe Leinitzer had any desire except to see you safely away. I believe that he will be quite as disappointed as you are that your husband is not here to aid you. Some one must see you safely on the steamer at Havre. Perhaps he will come himself."
"I shall wait in Paris," Lucille said quietly, "for my husband."
"You may wait," Lady Carey said, "for a very long time."
Lucille looked at her steadily. "What do you mean?"
"What a fool you are, Lucille. If to other people it seems almost certain on the face of it that you were responsible for that drop of poison in your husband's liqueur glass, why should it not seem so to himself?"
Lucille laughed, but there was a look of horror in her dark eyes.
"How absurd. I know Victor better than to believe him capable of such a suspicion. Just as he knows me better than to believe me capable of such an act."
"Really. But you were in his rooms secretly just before."
"I went to leave some roses for him," Lucille answered. "And if you would like to know it, I will tell you this. I left my card tied to them with a message for him."
Lady Carey yawned.
"A remarkably foolish thing to do," she said. "That may cause you trouble later on. Great heavens, what is this?"
She held the evening paper open in her hand. Lucille leaned over with blanched face.
"What has happened?" she cried. "Tell me, can't you!"
"Reginald Brott has been shot in Piccadilly," Lady Carey said.
"Is he hurt?" Lucille asked.
"He is dead!"
They read the brief announcement together. The deed had been committed by a man whose reputation for sanity had long been questioned, one of Brott's own constituents. He was in custody, and freely admitted his guilt. The two women looked at one another in horror. Even Lady Carey was affected.
"What a hateful thing," she said. "I am glad that we had no hand in it."
"Are you so sure that we hadn't?" Lucille asked bitterly. "You see what it says. The man killed him because of his political apostasy. We had something to do with that at least."
Lady Carey was recovering her sang froid.
"Oh, well," she said, "indirect influences scarcely count, or one might trace the causes of everything which happens back to an absurd extent. If this man was mad he might just as well have shot Brott for anything."
Lucille made no answer. She leaned back and closed her eyes. She did not speak again till they reached Dover.
They embarked in the drizzling rain. Lady Carey drew a little breath of relief as they reached their cabin, and felt the boat move beneath them.
"Thank goodness that we are really off. I have been horribly nervous all the time. If they let you leave England they can have no suspicion as yet."
Lucille was putting on an ulster and cap to go out on deck.
"I am not at all sure," she said, "that I shall not return to England. At any rate, if Victor does not come to me in Paris I shall go to him."
"What beautiful trust!" Lady Carey answered. "My dear Lucille, you are more like a school-girl than a woman of the world."
A steward entered with a telegram for Lucille. It was banded in at the Haymarket, an hour before their departure. Lucille read it, and her face blanched. "I thank you for your invitation, but I fear that it would not be good for my health. - S."
Lady Carey looked over her shoulder. She laughed hardly.
"How brutal!" she murmured. "But, then, Victor can be brutal sometimes, can't he?"
Lucille tore it into small pieces without a word. Lady Carey waited for a remark from her in vain.
"I, too," she said at last, "have had some telegrams. I have been hesitating whether to show them to you or not. Perhaps you had better see them."
She produced them and spread them out. The first was dated about the same time as the one Lucille had received.
"Have seen S. with message from Lucille. Fear quite useless, as he believes worst."
The second was a little longer.
"Have just heard S. has left for Liverpool, and has engaged berth in Campania, sailing to-morrow. Break news to Lucille if you think well. Have wired him begging return, and promising full explanation."
"If these," Lucille said calmly, "belonged to me I should treat them as I have my own."
"What do you mean?"
"I should tear them up."
Lady Carey shrugged her shoulders with the air of one who finds further argument hopeless.
"I shall have no more to say to you, Lucille, on this subject," she said. "You are impossible. In a few days you will be forced to come round to my point of view. I will wait till then. And in the meantime, if you think I am going to tramp up and down those sloppy decks and gaze at the sea you are very much mistaken. I am going to lie down like a civilized being, and try and get a nap. You had better do the same."
"For my part," she said, "I find any part of the steamer except the deck intolerable. I am going now in search of some fresh air. Shall I send your woman along?"
Lady Carey nodded, for just then the steamer gave a violent lurch, and she was not feeling talkative. Lucille went outside and walked up and down until the lights of Calais were in sight. All the time she felt conscious of the observation of a small man clad in a huge mackintosh, whose peaked cap completely obscured his features. As they were entering the harbour she purposely stood by his side. He held on to the rail with one hand and turned towards her.
"It has been quite a rough passage, has it not?" he remarked.
"I have crossed," she said, "when it has been much worse. I do not mind so long as one may come on deck."
"Your friend," he remarked, "is perhaps not so good a sailor?"
"I believe," Lucille said, "that she suffers a great deal. I just looked in at her, and she was certainly uncomfortable."
The little man gripped the rail and held on to his cap with the other hand.
"You are going to Paris?" he asked.
They were in smoother water now. He was able to relax his grip of the rail. He turned towards Lucille, and she saw him for the first time distinctly - a thin, wizened-up little man, with shrewd kindly eyes, and a long deeply cut mouth.
"I trust," he said, "that you will not think me impertinent, but it occurred to me that you have noticed some apparent interest of mine in your movements since you arrived on the boat."
"It is true," she answered. "That is why I came and stood by your side. What do you want with me?"
"Nothing, madam," he answered. "I am here altogether in your interests. If you should want help I shall be somewhere near you for the next few hours. Do not hesitate to appeal to me. My mission here is to be your protector should you need one."
Lucille's eyes grew bright, and her heart beat quickly.
"Tell me," she said, "who sent you?"
"I think that you know," he answered. "One who I can assure you will never allow you to suffer any harm. I have exceeded my instructions in speaking to you, but I fancied that you were looking worried. You need not. I can assure you that you need have no cause."
Her eyes filled with tears.
"I knew," she said, "that those telegrams were forgeries."
He looked carefully around.
"I know nothing about any telegrams," he said, "but I am here to see that no harm comes to you, and I promise you that it shall not. Your friend is looking out of the cabin door. I think we may congratulate ourselves, madam, on an excellent passage."
Lady Carey disembarked, a complete wreck, leaning on the arm of her maid, and with a bottle of smelling salts clutched in her hand. She slept all the way in the train, and only woke up when they were nearing Paris. She looked at Lucille in astonishment.
"Why, what on earth have you been doing to yourself?" she exclaimed. "You look disgustingly fit and well."
Lucille laughed softly.
"Why not? I have had a nap, and we are almost at Paris. I only want a bath and a change of clothes to feel perfectly fresh."
But Lady Carey was suspicious.
"Have you seen any one you know upon the train?" she asked.
Lucille shook her head.
"Not a soul. A little man whom I spoke to on the steamer brought me some coffee. That is all."
Lady Carey yawned and shook out her skirts. "I suppose I'm getting old," she said. "I couldn't look as you do with as much on my mind as you must have, and after traveling all night too."
"After all," she said, "you know that I am a professional optimist, and I have faith in my luck. I have been thinking matters over calmly, and, to tell you the truth, I am not in the least alarmed."
Lady Carey looked at her curiously.
"Has the optimism been imbibed," she asked, "or is it spontaneous?"
"Unless the little man in the plaid mackintosh poured it into the coffee with the milk," she said, "I could not possibly have imbibed it, for I haven't spoken to another soul since we left."
"Paris! Here we are, thank goodness. Celeste can see the things through the customs. She is quite used to it. We are going to the Ritz, I suppose!"