The Yellow Crayon by E. Phillips Oppenheim
Felix, after an uneventful voyage, landed duly at Liverpool. To his amazement the first person he saw upon the quay was Mr. Sabin, leaning upon his stick and smoking a cigarette.
"Come, come, Felix!" he exclaimed. "Don't look at me as though I were a ghost. You have very little confidence in me, after all, I see."
"But - how did you get here?"
"The Campania, of course. I had plenty of time. It was easy enough for those fellows to arrest me, but they never had a chance of holding me."
"But how did you get away in time?"
Mr. Sabin sighed.
"It was very simple," he said. "One day, while one of those wonderful spies was sleeping on my doormat I slipped away and went over to Washington, saw the English Ambassador, convinced him of my bonafides, told him very nearly the whole truth. He promised if I wired him that I was arrested to take my case up at once. You sent the despatch, and he kept his word. I breakfasted on Saturday morning at the Waldorf, and though a great dray was driven into my carriage on the way to the boat, I escaped, as I always do - and here I am."
"Unhurt!" Felix remarked with a smile, "as usual!"
Mr. Sabin nodded.
"The driver of my carriage was killed, and Duson had his arm broken," he said. "I stepped out of the debris without a scratch. Come into the Customs House now and get your baggage through. I have taken a coupe on the special train and ordered lunch."
Before long they were on the way to London. Mr. Sabin, whilst luncheon was being served, talked only of the lightest matters. But afterwards, when coffee was served and be had lit a cigarette, he leaned over towards Felix.
"Felix," he said, "your sister is dear to you?"
"She is the only creature on earth," Felix said, "whom I care for. She is very dear to me, indeed."
"Am I right," Mr. Sabin asked, "in assuming that the old enmity between us is dead, that the last few years has wiped away the old soreness
"Yes," Felix answered. "I know that she was happy with you. That is enough for me."
"You and I," Mr. Sabin continued, "must work out her salvation. Do not be afraid that I am going to ask you impossibilities. I know that our ways must lie apart. You can go to her at once. It may be many, many months before I can catch even a glimpse of her. Never mind. Let me feel that she has you within the circle, and I without, with our lives devoted to her."
"You may rely upon that," Felix answered. "Wherever she is I am going. I shall be there. I will watch over her."
Mr. Sabin sighed.
"The more difficult task is mine," he said, "but I have no fear of failure. I shall find her surrounded by spies, by those who are now my enemies. Still, they will find it hard to shake me off. It may be that they took her from me only out of revenge. If that be so my task will be easier. If there are other dangers which she is called upon to face, it is still possible that they might accept my service instead."
"You would give it?" Felix exclaimed.
"To the last drop of blood in my body," Mr. Sabin answered. "Save for my love for her I am a dead man upon the earth. I have no longer politics or ambition. So the past can easily be expunged. Those who must be her guiding influence shall be mine.
"You will win her back," Felix said. "I am sure of it."
"I am willing to pay any price on earth," Mr. Sabin answered. "If they can forget the past I can. I want you to remember this. I want her to know it. I want them to know it. That is all, Felix."
Mr. Sabin leaned back in his seat. He had left this country last a stricken and defeated man, left it with the echoes of his ruined schemes crashing in his ears. He came back to it a man with one purpose only, and that such a purpose as never before had guided him - the love of a woman. Was it a sign of age, he wondered, this return to the humanities? His life had been full of great schemes, he had wielded often a gigantic influence, more than once he had made history. And now the love of these things had gone from him. Their fascination was powerless to quicken by a single beat his steady pulse. Monarchy or republic - what did he care? It was Lucille he wanted, the woman who had shown him how sweet even defeat might be, who had made these three years of his life so happy that they seemed to have passed in one delightful dream. Were they dead, annihilated, these old ambitions, the old love of great doings, or did they only slumber? He moved in his seat uneasily.
At Euston the two men separated with a silent handshake. Mr. Sabin drove to one of the largest and newest of the modern hotels de luxe. He entered his name as Mr. Sabin - the old exile's hatred of using his title in a foreign country had become a confirmed habit with him - and mingled freely with the crowds who thronged into the restaurant at night. There were many faces which he remembered, there were a few who remembered him. He neither courted nor shunned observation. He sat at dinner-time at a retired table, and found himself watching the people with a stir of pleasure. Afterwards he went round to a famous club, of which he had once been made a life member, but towards midnight he was wearied of the dull decorum of his surroundings, and returning to the hotel, sought the restaurant once more. The stream of people coming in to supper was greater even than at dinner-time. He found a small table, and ordered some oysters. The sight of this bevy of pleasure-seekers, all apparently with multitudes of friends, might have engendered a sense of loneliness in a man of different disposition. To Mr. Sabin his isolation was a luxury. He had an uninterrupted opportunity of pursuing his favourite study.
There entered a party towards midnight, to meet whom the head-waiter himself came hurrying from the further end of the room, and whose arrival created a little buzz of interest. The woman who formed the central figure of the little group had for two years known no rival either at Court or in Society. She was the most beautiful woman in England, beautiful too with all the subtle grace of her royal descent. There were women upon the stage whose faces might have borne comparison with hers, but there was not one who in a room would not have sunk into insignificance by her side. Her movements, her carriage were incomparable - the inherited gifts of a race of women born in palaces.
Mr. Sabin, who neither shunned nor courted observation, watched her with a grim smile which was not devoid of bitterness. Suddenly she saw him. With a little cry of wonder she came towards him with outstretched hands.
"It is marvelous," she exclaimed. "You? Really you?"
He bowed low over her hands.
"It is I, dear Helene," he answered. "A moment ago I was dreaming. I thought that I was back once more at Versailles, and in the presence of my Queen."
She laughed softly.
"There may be no Versailles," she murmured, "but you will be a courtier to the end of your days."
"At least," he said, "believe me that my congratulations come from my heart. Your happiness is written in your face, and your husband must be the proudest man in England."
He was standing now by her side, and he held out his hand to Mr. Sabin.
"I hope, sir," he said pleasantly, "that you bear me no ill - will."
"It would be madness," Mr. Sabin answered. "To be the most beautiful peeress in England is perhaps for Helene a happier fate than to be the first queen of a new dynasty."
"And you, uncle?" Helene said. "You are back from your exile then. How often I have felt disposed to smile when I thought of you, of all men, in America.
"I went into exile," Mr. Sabin answered, "and I found paradise. The three years which have passed since I saw you last have been the happiest of my life."
"Lucille!" Helene exclaimed.
"Is my wife," Mr. Sabin answered.
"Delightful!" Helene murmured. "She is with you then, I hope. Indeed, I felt sure that I saw her the other night at the opera."
"At the opera!" Mr. Sabin for a moment was silent. He would have been ashamed to confess that his heart was beating strongly, that a crowd of eager questions trembled upon his lips. He recovered himself after a moment.
"Lucille is not with me for the moment," he said in measured tones. "I am detaining you from your guests, Helene. If you will permit me I will call upon you."
"Won't you join us?" Lord Camperdown asked courteously. "We are only a small party - the Portuguese Ambassador and his wife, the Duke of Medchester, and Stanley Phillipson."
Mr. Sabin rose at once.
"I shall be delighted," he said.
Lord Camperdown hesitated for a moment.
"I present Monsieur le Due de Souspennier, I presume?" he remarked, smiling.
Mr. Sabin bowed.
"I am Mr. Sabin," he said, "at the hotels and places where one travels. To my friends I have no longer an incognito. It is not necessary."
It was a brilliant little supper party, and Mr. Sabin contributed at least his share to the general entertainment. Before they dispersed he had to bring out his tablets to make notes of his engagements. He stood on the top of the steps above the palm-court to wish them good-bye, leaning on his stick. Helene turned back and waved her hand.
"He is unchanged," she murmured, "yet I fear that there must be trouble."
"Why? He seemed cheerful enough," her husband remarked.
She dropped her voice a little.
"Lucille is in London. She is staying at Dorset House."