The Yellow Crayon by E. Phillips Oppenheim
At eight o'clock in the evening Lucille knocked at the door of Lady Carey's suite of rooms at the hotel. There was no answer. A chambermaid who was near came smiling up.
"Miladi has, I think, descended for dinner," she said.
Lucille looked at her watch. She saw that she was a few minutes late, so she descended to the restaurant. The small table which they had reserved was, however, still unoccupied. Lucille told the waiter that she would wait for a few moments, and sent for an English newspaper.
Lady Carey did not appear. A quarter of an hour passed. The head waiter came up with a benign smile.
"Madam will please to be served?" he suggested, with a bow.
"I am waiting for my friend Lady Carey," Lucille answered. "I understood that she had come down. Perhaps you will send and see if she is in the reading-room."
"With much pleasure, madam," the man answered.
In a few minutes he returned.
"Madam's friend was the Lady Carey?" he asked.
The man was gently troubled.
"But, Miladi Carey," he said, "has left more than an hour ago."
Lucille looked up, astonished.
"Left the hotel?" she exclaimed.
"But yes, madam," he exclaimed. "Miladi Carey left to catch the boat train at Calais for England."
"It is impossible," Lucille answered. "We only arrived at midday."
"I will inquire again," the man declared. "But it was in the office that they told me so."
"They told you quite correctly," said a familiar voice. "I have come to take her place. Countess, I trust that in me you will recognise an efficient substitute."
It was the Prince of Saxe Leinitzer who was calmly seating himself opposite to her. The waiter, with the discretion of his class, withdrew for a few paces and stood awaiting orders. Lucille looked across at him in amazement.
"You here?" she exclaimed, "and Muriel gone? What does this mean?"
The Prince leaned forward.
"It means," he said, "that after you left I was in torment. I felt that you had no one with you who could be of assistance supposing the worst happened. Muriel is all very well, but she is a woman, and she has no diplomacy, no resource. I felt, Lucille, that I should not be happy unless I myself saw you into safety."
"So you followed us here," Lucille remarked quietly.
"Exactly! You do not blame me. It was for your sake - as well as my own."
"And Muriel - why has she left me without farewell - without warning of any sort?"
The Prince smiled and stroked his fair moustache.
"Well," he said, "it is rather an awkward thing for me to explain, but to tell you the truth, Muriel was a little - more than a little - annoyed at my coming. She has no right to be, but - well, you know, she is what you call a monopolist. She and I have been friends for many years."
"I understand perfectly what you have wished to convey," Lucille said. "But what I do not understand are the exact reasons which brought you here."
The Prince took up the carte de jour.
"As we dine," he said, "I will tell you. You will permit me to order?"
Lucille rose to her feet.
"For yourself, certainly," she answered. "As for me, I have accepted no invitation to dine with you, nor do I propose to do so."
The Prince frowned.
"Be reasonable, Lucille," he pleaded. "I must talk with you. There are important plans to be made. I have a great deal to say to you. Sit down."
Lucille looked across at hi m with a curious smile upon her lips.
"You have a good deal to say to me?" she remarked. "Yes, I will believe that. But of the truth how much, I wonder?"
"By and bye," he said, "you will judge me differently. For hors d'oeuvres what do you say to oeufs de pluvier? Then - "
"Pardon me," she interrupted, "I am not interested in your dinner!"
"In our dinner," he ventured gently.
"I am not dining with you," she declared firmly. "If you insist upon remaining here I shall have something served in my room. You know quite well that we are certain to be recognised. One would imagine that this was a deliberate attempt on your part to compromise me."
"Lucille," he said, "do not be foolish! Why do you persist in treating me as though I were your persecutor?"
"Because you are," she said coolly.
"It is ridiculous," he declared. "You are in the most serious danger, and I have come only to save you. I can do it, and I will. But listen - not unless you change your demeanour towards me."
She laughed scornfully. She had risen to her feet now, and he was perforce compelled to follow her example.
"Is that a challenge?" she asked.
"You may take it as such if you will," he answered, with a note of sullenness in his tone. "You know very well that I have but to lift my finger and the gendarmes will be here. Yes, we will call it a challenge. All my life I have wanted you. Now I think that my time has come. Even Souspennier has deserted you. You are alone, and let me tell you that danger is closer at your heels than you know of. I can save you, and I will. But I have a price, and it must be paid."
"If I refuse?" she asked.
"I send for the chief of the police."
"She looked him up and down, a measured, merciless survey. He was a tall, big man, but he seemed to shrink into insignificance.
"You are a coward and a bully," she said slowly. "You know quite well that I am innocent of any knowledge even concerning Duson's death. But I would sooner meet my fate, whatever it might be, than suffer even the touch of your fingers upon my hand. Your presence is hateful to me. Send for your chief of the police. String your lies together as you will. I am satisfied."
She left him and swept from the room, a spot of colour burning in her cheeks, her eyes lit with fire. The pride of her race had asserted itself. She felt no longer any fear. She only desired to sever herself at once and completely from all association with this man. In the hall she sent for her maid.
"Fetch my cloak and jewel case, Celeste," she ordered. "I am going across to the Bristol. You can return for the other luggage."
"But, madam - "
"Do as I say at once," Lucille ordered.
The girl hesitated and then obeyed. Lucille found herself suddenly addressed in a quiet tone by a man who had been sitting in an easy-chair, half hidden by a palm tree.
"Will you favour me, madam, with a moment's conversation?"
Lucille turned round. She recognised at once the man with whom she had conversed upon the steamer. In the quietest form of evening dress, there was something noticeable in the man's very insignificance. He seemed a little out of his element. Lucille had a sudden inspiration, The man was a detective.
"What do you wish to say?" she asked, half doubtfully.
"I overheard," he remarked, "your order to your maid. She had something to say to you, but you gave her no opportunity."
"And you?" she asked, "what do you wish to say?"
"I wish to advise you," he said, "not to leave the hotel."
She looked at him doubtfully.
"You cannot understand," she said, "why I wish to leave it. I have no alternative."
"Nevertheless," he said, "I hope that you will change your mind."
"Are you a detective?" she asked abruptly.
"Madam is correct!"
The flush of colour faded from her cheeks.
"I presume, then," she said, "that I am under your surveillance?"
"In a sense," he admitted, "it is true."
"On the steamer," she remarked, "you spoke as though your interest in me was not inimical."
"Nor is it," he answered promptly. "You are in a difficult position, but you may find things not so bad as you imagine. At present my advice to you is this: Go upstairs to your room and stay there."
The little man had a compelling manner. Lucille made her way towards the elevator.
"As a matter of fact," she murmured bitterly, "I am not, I suppose, permitted to leave the hotel?"
"Madam puts the matter bluntly," he answered; "but certainly if you should insist upon leaving, it would be my duty to follow you."
She turned away from him and entered the elevator. The door of her room was slightly ajar, and she saw that a waiter was busy at a small round table. She looked at him in surprise. He was arranging places for two.
"Who gave you your orders?" she asked.
"But it was monsieur," the man answered, with a low bow. "Dinner for two."
"Monsieur?" she repeated. "What monsieur?"
"I am the culprit," a familiar voice answered from the depths of an easy-chair, whose back was to her. "I was very hungry, and it occurred to me that under the circumstances you would probably not have dined either. I hope that you will like what I have ordered. The plovers' eggs look delicious."
She gave a little cry of joy. It was Mr. Sabin.