The Yellow Crayon by E. Phillips Oppenheim
They sat together at a small table, looking upon a scene which was probably unique in the history of the great restaurant. The younger man was both frankly interested and undoubtedly curious. Mr. Sabin, though his eyes seemed everywhere, retained to the full extent that nonchalance of manner which all his life he had so assiduously cultivated.
"It is wonderful, my dear Felix," he said, leisurely drawing his cigarette-case from his pocket, "wonderful what good fellowship can be evolved by a kindred interest in sport, and a bottle or so of good champagne. But, after all, this is not to be taken seriously."
"Shamrock the fourth! Shamrock the fourth!"
A tall young American, his thick head of hair, which had once been carefully parted in the middle, a little disheveled, his hard, clean-cut face flushed with enthusiasm, had risen to his feet and stood with a brimming glass of champagne high over his head. Almost every one in the room rose to their feet. A college boy sprang upon a table with extended arms. The Yale shout split the room. The very glasses on the table rattled.
It was an Englishman now who had leaped upon a vacant table with upraised glass. There was an answering roar of enthusiasm. Every one drank, and every one sat down again with a pleasant thrill of excitement at this unique scene. Felix leaned back in his chair and marveled.
"One would have imagined," he murmured, "that America and England together were at war with the rest of the world and had won a great victory. To think that this is all the result of a yacht race. It is incredible!"
"All your life, my dear Felix," Mr. Sabin remarked, "you have underrated the sporting instinct. It has a great place amongst the impulses of the world. See how it has brought these people together."
"But they are already of the same kin," Felix remarked. "Their interests and aims are alike. Their destinies are surely identical."
Mr. Sabin, who had lit his cigarette, watched the blue smoke curl upwards, and was thoughtful for a moment.
"My dear Felix!" he said. "You are very, very young. The interests of two great nations such as America and England can never be alike. It is the language of diplomacy, but it is also the language of fools."
Their conversation was for the moment interrupted by a fresh murmur of applause, rising above the loved hum of conversation, the laughter of women, and the popping of corks. A little troop of waiters had just wheeled into the room two magnificent models of yachts hewn out of blocks of solid ice and crowned with flowers. On the one were the Stars and Stripes, on the other the Shamrock and Thistle. There was much clapping of hands and cheering. Lady Carey, who was sitting at the next table with her back to them, joined in the applause so heartily that a tiny gold pencil attached to her bracelet became detached and rolled unobserved to Mr. Sabin's side. Felix half rose to pick it up, but was suddenly checked by a quick gesture from his companion.
"Leave it," Mr. Sabin whispered. "I wish to return it myself."
He stooped and picked it up, a certain stealthiness apparent in his movement. Felix watched him in amazement.
"It is Lady Carey's, is it not?" he asked.
"Yes. Be silent. I will give it back to her presently."
A waiter served them with coffee. Mr. Sabin was idly sketching something on the back of his menu card. Felix broke into a little laugh as the man retired.
"Mysterious as ever," he remarked.
Mr. Sabin smiled quietly. He went on with his sketch.
"I do not want," Felix said, "to seem impatient, but you must remember that I have come all the way from Europe in response to a very urgent message. As yet I have done nothing except form a very uncomfortable third at a luncheon and tea party, and listen to a good deal of enigmatic conversation between you and the charming Lady Carey. This evening I made sure that I should be enlightened. But no! You have given me a wonderful dinner - from you I expected it. We have eaten terrapin, canvas-back duck, and many other things the names of which alone were known to me. But of the reason for which you have summoned me here - I know nothing. Not one word have you spoken. I am beginning to fear from your avoidance of the subject that there is some trouble between you and Lucille. I beg that you will set my anxiety at rest."
Mr. Sabin nodded.
"It is reasonable," he said. "Look here!"
He turned the menu card round. On the back he had sketched some sort of a device with the pencil which he had picked up, and which instead of black-lead contained a peculiar shade of yellow crayon. Felix sat as though turned to stone.
"Try," Mr. Sabin said smoothly, "and avoid that air of tragedy. Some of these good people might be curious.
Felix leaned across the table. He pointed to the menu card.
"What does that mean?" he muttered.
Mr. Sabin contemplated it himself thoughtfully. "Well," he said, "I rather thought that you might be able to explain that to me. I have an idea that there is a society in Europe - sort of aristocratic odd-fellows, you know - who had adopted it for their crest. Am I not right?"
Felix looked at him steadfastly.
"Tell me two things," he said. "First, why you sent for me, and secondly, what do you mean - by that?"
"Lucille," Mr. Sabin said, "has been taken away from me."
"Lucille! Great God!"
"She has been taken away from me," Mr. Sabin said, "without a single word of warning."
Felix pointed to the menu card.
"By them?" he asked.
"By them. It was a month ago. Two days before my cable."
Felix was silent for several moments. He had not the self-command of his companion, and he feared to trust himself to speech.
"She has been taken to Europe," Mr. Sabin continued. "I do not know, I cannot even guess at the reason. She left no word. I have been warned not to follow her."
"I sail to-morrow."
"And I?" Felix asked.
Mr. Sabin looked for, a moment at the drawing on the back of the menu card, and up at Felix. Felix shook his head.
"You must know," he said, "that I am powerless."
"You may be able to help me," Mr. Sabin said, "without compromising yourself."
"Impossible!" Felix declared. "But what did they want with Lucille?"
"That," Mr. Sabin said, "is what I am desirous of knowing. It is what I trust that you, my dear Felix, may assist me to discover."
"You are determined, then, to follow her?"
Mr. Sabin helped himself to a liqueur from the bottle by his side.
"My dear Felix," he said reproachfully, "you should know me better than to ask me such a question."
Felix moved uneasily in his chair.
"Of course," he said, "it depends upon how much they want to keep you apart. But you know that you are running great risks?"
"Why, no," Mr. Sabin said. "I scarcely thought that. I have understood that the society was by no means in its former flourishing condition."
Felix laughed scornfully.
"They have never been," he answered, "richer or more powerful. During the last twelve months they have been active in every part of Europe."
Mr. Sabin's face hardened.
"Very well!" he said. "We will try their strength."
"We!" Felix laughed shortly. "You forget that my hands are tied. I cannot help you or Lucille. You must know that."
"You cannot interfere directly," Mr. Sabin admitted. "Yet you are Lucille's brother, and I am forced to appeal to you. If you will be my companion for a little while I think I can show you how you can help Lucille at any rate, and yet run no risk."
The little party at the next table were breaking up at last. Lady Carey, pale and bored, with tired, swollen eyes - they were always a little prominent - rose languidly and began to gather together her belongings. As she did so she looked over the back of her chair and met Mr. Sabin's eyes. He rose at once and bowed. She cast a quick sidelong glance at her companions, which he at once understood.
"I have the honour, Lady Carey," he said, "of recalling myself to your recollection. We met in Paris and London not so very many years ago. You perhaps remember the cardinal's dinner?"
A slight smile flickered upon her lips. The man's adroitness always excited her admiration.
"I remember it perfectly, and you, Duke," she answered. "Have you made your home on this side of the water?"
Mr. Sabin shook his head slowly.
"Home!" he repeated. "Ah, I was always a bird of passage, you remember. Yet I have spent three very delightful years in this country."
"And I," she said, lowering her tone and leaning towards him, "one very stupid, idiotic day."
Mr. Sabin assumed the look of a man who denies any personal responsibility in an unfortunate happening.
"It was regrettable," he murmured, "but I assure you that it was unavoidable. Lucille's brother must have a certain claim upon me, and it was his first day in America."
She was silent for a moment. Then she turned abruptly towards the door. Her friends were already on the way.
"Come with me," she said. "I want to speak to you."
He followed her out into the lobby. Felix came a few paces behind. The restaurant was still full of people, the hum of conversation almost drowning the music. Every one glanced curiously at Lady Carey, who was a famous woman. She carried herself with a certain insolent indifference, the national deportment of her sex and rank. The women whispered together that she was "very English."
In the lobby she turned suddenly upon Mr. Sabin.
"Will you take me back to my hotel?" she asked pointedly.
"I regret that I cannot," he answered. "I have promised to show Felix some of the wonders of New York by night."
"You can take him to-morrow."
"To-morrow," Mr. Sabin said, "he leaves for the West."
She looked closely into his impassive face.
"I suppose that you are lying," she said shortly.
"Your candour," he answered coldly, "sometimes approaches brutality."
She leaned towards him, her face suddenly softened.
"We are playing a foolish game with one another," she murmured. "I offer you an alliance, my friendship, perhaps my help."
"What can I do," he answered gravely, "save be grateful - and accept?"
"Then - "
She stopped short. It was Mr. Sabin's luck which had intervened. Herbert Daikeith stood at her elbow.
"Lady Carey," he said, "they're all gone but the mater and I. Forgive my interrupting you," he added hastily.
"You can go on, Herbert," she added. "The Duc de Souspennier will bring me."
Mr. Sabin, who had no intention of doing anything of the sort, turned towards the young man with a smile.
"Lady Carey has not introduced us," he said, "but I have seen you at Ranelagh quite often. If you are still keen on polo you should have a try over here. I fancy you would find that these American youngsters can hold their own. All right, Felix, I am ready now. Lady Carey, I shall do myself the honour of waiting upon you early to-morrow morning, as I have a little excursion to propose. Good-night."
She shrugged her shoulders ever so slightly as she turned away. Mr. Sabin smiled - faintly amused. He turned to Felix.
"Come," he said, "we have no time to lose."