The Yellow Crayon by E. Phillips Oppenheim
The Prince dined carefully, but with less than his usual appetite. Afterwards he lit a cigarette and strolled for a moment into the lounge. Celeste, who was waiting for him, glided at once to his side.
"Monsieur!" she whispered. "I have been here for one hour."
"Monsieur le Duc has arrived."
The Prince turned sharply round.
"Monsieur le Duc de Souspennier. He calls himself no longer Mr. Sabin."
A dull flush of angry colour rose almost to his temples.
"Why did you not tell me before?" he exclaimed.
"Monsieur was in the restaurant," she answered. "It was impossible for me to do anything but wait."
"Where is he?"
"Alas! he is with madam," the girl answered.
The Prince was very profane. He started at once for the elevator. In a moment or two he presented himself at Lucille's sitting-room. They were still lingering over their dinner. Mr. Sabin welcomed him with grave courtesy.
"The Prince is in time to take his liqueur with us," he remarked, rising. "Will you take fin champagne, Prince, or Chartreuse? I recommend the fin champagne."
The Prince bowed his thanks. He was white to the lips with the effort for self-mastery.
"I congratulate you, Mr. Sabin," he said, "upon your opportune arrival. You will be able to help Lucille through the annoyance to which I deeply regret that she should be subjected."
Mr. Sabin gently raised his eyebrows.
"Annoyance!" he repeated. "I fear that I do not quite understand."
The Prince smiled.
"Surely Lucille has told you," he said, "of the perilous position in which she finds herself."
"My wife," Mr. Sabin said, "has told me nothing. You alarm me."
The Prince shrugged his shoulders.
"I deeply regret to tell you," he said, "that the law has proved too powerful for me. I can no longer stand between her and what I fear may prove a most unpleasant episode. Lucille will be arrested within the hour."
"Upon what charge?" Mr. Sabin asked.
"The murder of Duson."
Mr. Sabin laughed very softly, very gently, but with obvious genuineness.
"You are joking, Prince," he exclaimed.
"I regret to say," the Prince answered, "that you will find it very far from a joking matter."
Mr. Sabin was suddenly stern.
"Prince of Saxe Leinitzer," he said, "you are a coward and a bully."
The Prince started forward with clenched fist. Mr. Sabin had no weapon, hut he did not flinch.
"You can frighten women," he said, "with a bogie such as this, but you have no longer a woman to deal with. You and I know that such a charge is absurd - but you little know the danger to which you expose yourself by trifling with this subject. Duson left a letter addressed to me in which he announced his reasons for committing suicide."
"Yes. He preferred suicide to murder, even at the bidding of the Prince of Saxe Leinitzer. He wrote and explained these things to me - and the letter is in safe hands. The arrest of Lucille, my dear Prince, would mean the ruin of your amiable society."
"This letter," the Prince said slowly, "why was it not produced at the inquest? Where is it now?"
"It is deposited in a sealed packet with the Earl of Deringham," Mr. Sabin answered. "As to producing it at the inquest - I thought it more discreet not to. I leave you to judge of my reasons. But I can assure you that your fears for my wife's safety have been wholly misplaced. There is not the slightest reason for her to hurry off to America. We may take a little trip there presently, but not just yet."
The Prince made a mistake. He lost his temper.
"You!" he cried, "you can go to America when you like, and stay there. Europe has had enough of you with your hare-brained schemes and foolish failures. But Lucille does not leave this country. We have need of her. I forbid her to leave. Do you hear? In the name of the Order I command her to remain here."
Mr. Sabin was quite calm, but his face was full of terrible things.
"Prince," he said, "if I by any chance numbered myself amongst your friends I would warn you that you yourself are a traitor to your Order. You prostitute a great cause when you stoop to use its machinery to assist your own private vengeance. I ask you for your own sake to consider your words. Lucille is mine - mine she will remain, even though you should descend to something more despicable, more cowardly than ordinary treason, to wrest her from me. You reproach me with the failures of my life. Great they may have been, but if you attempt this you will find that I am not yet an impotent person."
The Prince was white with rage. The sight of Lucille standing by Mr. Sabin's side, her hand lightly resting upon his, her dark eyes full of inscrutable tenderness, maddened him. He was flouted and ignored. He was carried away by a storm of passion. He tore a sheet of paper from his pocket book, and unlocking a small gold case at the end of his watch chain, shook from it a pencil with yellow crayon. Mr. Sabin leaned over towards him.
"You sign it at your peril, Prince," he said. "It will mean worse things than that for you."
For a second he hesitated. Lucille also leaned towards him.
"Prince," she said, "have I not kept my vows faithfully? Think! I came from America at a moment's notice; I left my husband without even a word of farewell; I entered upon a hateful task, and though to think of it now makes me loathe myself - I succeeded. I have kept my vows, I have done my duty. Be generous now, and let me go."
The sound of her voice maddened him. A passionate, arbitrary man, to whom nothing in life had been denied, to be baulked in this great desire of his latter days was intolerable. He made no answer to either of them. He wrote a few lines with the yellow crayon and passed them silently across to Lucille.
Her face blanched. She stretched out an unwilling hand. But Mr. Sabin intervened. He took the paper from the Prince's hand, and calmly tore it into fragments. There Was a moment's breathless silence.
"Victor!" Lucille cried. "Oh, what have you done!"
The Prince's face lightened with an evil joy.
"We now, I think," he said, "understand one another. You will permit me to wish you a very pleasant evening, and a speedy leave-taking."
Mr. Sabin smiled.
"Many thanks, my dear Prince," he said lightly. "Make haste and complete your charming little arrangements. Let me beg of you to avoid bungling this time. Remember that there is not in the whole of Europe to-day a man more dangerous to you than I."
The Prince had departed. Mr. Sabin lit a cigarette and stood on the hearthrug. His eyes were bright with the joy of fighting.
"Lucille," he said, "I see that you have not touched your liqueur. Oblige me by drinking it. You will find it excellent."
She came over to him and hung upon his arm. He threw his cigarette away and kissed her upon the lips.
"Victor," she murmured, "I am afraid. You have been rash!"
"Dearest," he answered, "it is better to die fighting than to stand aside and watch evil things. But after all, there is no fear. Come! Your cloak and dressing case!"
"You have plans?" she exclaimed, springing up.
"Plans?" He laughed at her a little reproachfully. "My dear Lucille! A carriage awaits us outside, a special train with steam up at the Gard de L'ouest. This is precisely the contingency for which I have planned."
"Oh, you are wonderful, Victor," she murmured as she drew on her coat. "But what corner of the earth is there where we should be safe?"
"I am going," Mr. Sabin said, "to try and make every corner of the earth safe."
She was bewildered, but he only laughed and held open the door for her. Mr. Sabin made no secret of his departure. He lingered for a moment in the doorway to light a cigarette, he even stopped to whisper a few words to the little man in plain dinner clothes who was lounging in the doorway. But when they had once left the hotel they drove fast.
In less than half an hour Paris was behind them. They were traveling in a royal saloon and at a fabuulous cost, for in France they are not fond of special trains. But Mr. Sabin was very happy. At least he had escaped an ignominious defeat. It was left to him to play the great card.
"And now," Lucille said, coming out from her little bed-chamber which the femme de chambre was busy preparing, "suppose you tell me where we are going."
Mr. Sabin smiled.
"Do not be alarmed," he said, "even though it will sound to you the least likely place in the world. We are going to Berlin."