THE GREY ROOM

Pat Claremanagh floated in a grey sea, under a grey sky. It seemed to
him that the grey sea and sky were part of some existence after death.
He vaguely remembered that he had died. If it were not for the
constant, heavy pain in his head, he thought that he could recall the
whole incident.

Yes, that was the word–“incident”. It hardly mattered now, and wasn’t
worth while racking his brain over. That tin hat of his was too
tight–much too tight. But he was too weak to lift his hands and take
it off. Strange, though, that he should be wearing it when he was dead!

He must have been killed in the war. Yet, how long ago the war seemed!
He had thought that a great many things had happened to him after the
war. No doubt they were part of this dream–this long, floating
dream–after death. But they were not grey like the leaden sea and the
sky that hung so low over his head. They were beautiful, colourful
things. Just straining to remember brought rainbow flashes across his
brain. Out of these lights a girl’s face looked at him.

“Juliet!” he heard himself mutter, in a thick, tongue-tied voice.

Instantly another face appeared, and blotted out that of the girl.
This one was solid and very real. It bent over him in the greyness: a
man’s face, somehow familiar, as if he had known it long ago–long ago
disliked it: a fleshy bulk surrounded with hair. He loathed it for
itself, and hated it for shutting out the vision of Juliet, so he
closed his eyes.

For a moment consciousness died down like a fading flame. Only a vast,
vague greyness was left, and the tight pain of the tin hat. But when a
few moments or a few years had passed, a voice spoke. It beat upon his
dulled intelligence like the strokes of a clock in the dark, telling an
hour. Pat was suddenly keyed up to listening, because it was a woman’s
voice, and far down within himself he was aware that a woman’s voice–a
certain woman’s voice–was what he yearned to hear.

Strange! He was wide awake, and knowledge came to him that he was not
dead, after all, though he might be close to death. But he did not
open his eyes, because he could not bear to see the living mass of
flesh and hair again. He lay quite still. And he listened.

“You are always hanging over him like that whenever I turn my back!”
said the woman.

“Why not? I do no harm,” answered a man’s voice, with a rather soft,
monotonous foreign accent.

Pat knew that the voice belonged to the face. It also had association
with long past things which were somehow important. A scene began
forming in his tired mind, like bits of an old picture being matched
together. A room with tables, and men drinking and smoking; a cleared
space; a kind of stage; a girl dancing–slim, lovely, light as a fawn;
long red hair waving back and forth–Lyda!–that was her name.
Lyda–something. He was at one of the tables, very young, only a boy.
And the hairy man sat with him, talking, praising the girl. Markoff!

He stopped, remembering, and listened again.

“You’d do harm if you dared to,” the woman said. “You’d like to kill
him.”

“I tink it will be better for us all if he die,” said the man. “Much
better! Much safer. But no violence. Let him go–fade away. I
tought it would soon be finished wiz him. Zen he open his eyes and
look at me. You hear him speak–some word.”

“Yes, I heard him,” the woman answered. “It’s the first time he’s made
a sound–_since_, except a sort of groaning. I’m jolly glad. _We_
don’t want him to drop off the hooks. Not _much_!”

“You are ver’ foolish, Madam. He can give your ‘usband and ze ozzers
away. It is only me who ‘ave nozzing to fear. He do not see me zere.
Yet I am witness agains’ any ones who treat me wrong.”

“Pooh!” said the woman. “You’re always harping on your power to hurt
us. It’s nil. The hunt’s out for you, Mr. Markoff or Halbin, or
whatever you like to be. If we’re keeping you for our own sakes
because you haven’t paid up, anyhow it’s your game to lie low. You
daren’t show your nose outside this door. But for heaven’s sake, let’s
stop arguing. I’m for nothing in that part of the business.”

“You ‘ave all got some plan you try to work behin’ my back,” growled
the man. “I tell you enough times, ze money will come!”

“When it comes, you’ll get the pearls: if it comes in time. That’s the
rub!”

The word “pearls” was like a key. It unlocked the door of Pat’s
memory, and impressions flowed in. But they were confused, without
beginning or end; and he lay motionless, hoping for more clues. He was
conscious that the woman leaned over him. She brought with her a heavy
oriental perfume, and he felt a waft of warm breath on his face.

“Are you awake?” she asked, speaking slowly. “Do you know what
happened to hurt you–eh?”

Pat did not show by the quiver of an eyelid that he had heard.

“Wen ‘e come back to himself, bineby, ‘e will remember everything
per’aps, an’ zen w’ere will you all be?” the man wanted to know.

“He never will remember, unless there’s someone to give him the tip.
People _don’t_ remember with concussion,” the woman said.

So that was what he had–_concussion_ of the brain! Pat wondered how
he had got it. One of the impressions filtering back was of hitting a
man, and hearing him squeal. What had followed was a blank, like
everything since. Maybe some other man had hit him–from behind.

The woman moved away, and cautiously Pat opened his eyes. The greyness
was still there, but it was more definite, more commonplace, as if
belonging to earth and things of everyday life. He thought that he
must be lying on his back in a bed, looking straight up at a low grey
ceiling. There were grey walls, too, but he could not turn his head to
see more, as his neck was stiff and painful. The light was so dim that
he imagined it must be drawing toward dusk in a room with small windows
partly covered with curtains.

More talking went on at a distance, between the man and woman.
Sometimes it sounded so far off that Pat wondered if there was an
adjoining room with an open door. Presently, when all had been silent
for so long that he had almost dozed off, there was a sudden explosion
of voices. The listener fancied that there were two new ones, both
voices of men, and one he recognized, though irritatingly he could not
attach the right name label.

He kept his eyes closed, because he was sure that the latecomers would
look at him, and his caution was rewarded. Someone turned on a light.
The two new voices mumbled in sick-bed whispers across his pillow. He
caught a word here and there: again “the pearls,” “Markoff,” and “the
Duchess.” The last gave him an odd thrill. _Juliet_! She had been
angry. How was she feeling now? Was she seeking for him? Or did she
give him credit for running off with the pearls–or Lyda? or–both
together?

The thought that this might be so–probably was so–made him long to
spring up and fight his way to his wife, somehow. And perhaps he could
not have resisted attempting to move had not a sudden noise snapped the
thread of his thought.

A quarrel had broken out over something between the men. All three
voices rose sharply. The woman intervened, and was rebuked. Then came
a squall of rage, instantly stifled. The woman screamed, and drew in
her breath with a gasp. All was still again.

“Hark!” whispered someone.

The light went out.

In place of the greyness, blackness fell.

Pat could hear the pounding of his own heart, and another sound almost
hidden by the noise in his breast.

He thought that stairs were squeaking under a stealthy foot.

“Have you an appointment, Madam?” asked the elderly woman who opened
the door of Madame Veno’s flat for Juliet.

She was a person of almost oppressively respectable appearance, with
grey hair parted in the middle, gold-rimmed _pince nez_ resting on a
thin nose, and a neat body clad in black silk. If Madame Veno needed a
chaperon, her door opener was ideal!

Juliet had run upstairs so fast that she was breathing hard. Passing
the office of the _Inner Circle_ had disgusted her. She felt
contaminated, almost ill; but the sight of this woman was like a dash
of cool water on a hot forehead.

“I have no appointment,” she answered. “But–I came because of a
message. I’m the Duchess of Claremanagh.”

“Please to walk in, Madam,” said the woman, without any evidence of
being impressed. “I will give you a private room to wait in.”

They stood in a hall, white-panelled, carpeted with red. The spruce
black silk figure threw open a door, and Juliet entered a tiny room,
hardly more than a closet. The only furnishing consisted of a
luxurious easy chair, a table on which were magazines and a box of
cigarettes, and on the wall a mirror. This mirror was opposite the
chair; and behind the chair was a second door. Any one opening that
door would see a reflected image of the sitter in the chair.

As Juliet sank into chintz-covered depths the murmur of voices reached
her. She thought, in fact, that she heard sounds from two rooms, one
on each side of the tiny cubicle in which she had been put to wait.

“This little hole is for special visitors,” she told herself.
“Probably that woman was ordered to bring me here if I came. Madame
Veno’s room must be on the right of this, and it’s her voice I hear on
that side, talking to a client. On the left, I suppose, it’s the
ordinary waiting room, full of people–jabbering to each other about
Madame Veno and the wonderful things they’ve heard about her from their
friends! Or else it’s a room where they keep up the practice by
manicuring clients’ nails. But I’m sure she means to sneak me in ahead
of them.”

Juliet was right. In less than ten minutes there was the click of a
latch, and the door opposite the mirror opened. In the long glass her
eyes met the smiling ones of a pale, dark woman with a clever, somewhat
common face. There was nothing mystic about her appearance, but on the
other hand there was nothing meretricious, no attempt at Eastern
allurements. Juliet had already guessed from the ordinary furnishing
of the flat that Madame Veno’s _metier_ was clean, straightforward
frankness, as opposed to the cult of dim rooms, purple curtains, and
incense. Now this impression was confirmed. The one false note was a
heavy perfume such as some women adore and are unable to resist.

“I’m glad to see you, Duchess,” said the woman. “I hoped you would
call, and I’m going to slip you in before the others who are waiting
their turn. They won’t know, so no harm’s done! Will you come into my
room?”

She spoke cheerfully, briskly, rather more like an Englishwoman than an
American, and Juliet wondered if she were an English Jewess.

The door led into an alcove of a fair-sized room decorated in green.
It was as little as possible like the mysterious sanctum of an ordinary
“fortune teller” or crystal gazer. Juliet had seen two or three of
these in several countries. They had always been Egyptian, or at least
reminiscent of Leon Bakst. This might have been any woman’s boudoir:
but when Madame Veno had drawn the thin green curtains, the place
seemed to fill with an emerald dusk, like the dusk of dreams, or the
green dimness under sea.

“I suppose you think I’m not very ‘psychic’,” the mistress of the room
remarked, placing a chair for her visitor at a table covered with a
square of green velvet. “People _do_ think that! Then, when they’ve
consulted me, they’re surprised sometimes. They get better results
than from those who go in for what I call ‘scenery’. You know what I
mean?”

“Yes,” said Juliet, “I suppose I do know.”

“All I want to put me in the right frame of mind is _green_,” explained
Madame Veno, “this kind of green twilight.”

She switched away the velvet covering from the table. Underneath was a
cushion, and a crystal which reflected the prevailing colour. Then she
sat down opposite the Duchess.

“The Countess told you what happened when I was looking into the
crystal for her?” she asked.

“Madame de Saintville said that you saw something which concerned me.
But how did you _know_ it concerned me?”

“Your face came into the crystal. I’d seen your photograph, and
recognized you. Besides, I felt–I _felt_ that you were in great
trouble.”

“What else did you see in the crystal?”

“Let me look again, now you are here, and see if the same thing comes.”
As she spoke, Madame Veno bent forward and gazed closely into the
transparent ball on a black base.

Some moments passed in dead silence. Juliet watched the woman’s
features, which became fixed and masklike. Suddenly Madame Veno
started slightly and began to speak.

“I see–a handsome young man–very charming. It is your husband,
Duchess. He is lying ill in a poor room. It seems to be a kind of
cellar. He tosses about. He is delirious. He calls for you. I know
that, because at the same time I see the picture I hear his voice. The
name is ‘Juliet!’ I think he has had an accident. But I can’t see
what it was, I only know that he has hurt his head. I feel the pain
myself. And I feel what he is thinking about: you–and something else.
Ah, a rope of pearls! Now I get a whisper! It comes to me from his
thoughts. He went in search of something that was lost–a thing of
great value. Yes, the pearls!”

“Did he get them?” Juliet asked, mechanically. She had little if any
faith in the woman, but a faint thrill ran through her. She could not
help being slightly impressed by the seeress’s change of manner, and
the hypnotized look in her eyes.

“He got them–and then they were taken away. But they are in the house
where he is. It is not a good house. It is a house of thieves. Ah, I
_must_ find out where it is, or I can do you no good. Or else–if I
cannot find the house I must will the man who has got the pearls to
communicate with me. I see him plainly.”

“Why shouldn’t he communicate with _me_?” asked Juliet.

“Will power doesn’t act like that,” exclaimed Madame Veno. “I could
create a cord between another intelligence and my own, not between two
outside intelligences. Ah, the picture has faded from the crystal!
But it will come again. And for the moment we’ve seen enough. I have
the man’s face clearly before my eyes. I will concentrate upon him as
I have never concentrated before! I feel sure of the power to draw him
to me.”

“How?” Juliet enquired.

“I can’t tell yet. He may be impelled to consult me about his future,
to have his ‘luck’ foretold. That’s the line I will work on, in
exerting influence. I shall remember his face from the crystal. I
can’t make a mistake! Once I get him here I shan’t hesitate to use
hypnotism. If that succeeds, I’ll ‘phone you to come round at once.”

“With a detective,” said Juliet.

Madame Veno’s face changed, flushing slightly over its sallowness.
“Oh, no, Duchess!” she exclaimed, emphatically. “_That_ wouldn’t do at
all. Women in my profession can’t encourage detectives to come spying
into their methods. So far I’ve never had any trouble. But I’ve had
to be very careful. Detectives are the Enemy! I shall be very sorry
indeed to be disobliging, but I’m afraid I must let this business drop
unless you give me your word not to bring a detective into it. Indeed,
I think I must ask you not to bring in any third party. If you promise
this, I don’t think I’m conceited in saying I can positively make you
an important promise in return. By my will power I will do for you
what no detective on this earth could do. I’ll draw into your circle
the man who has got your husband lying helpless in his house–and who
has got your pearls. Do you believe I am able to do this, or do you
not?”

“I–can’t say I quite believe,” Juliet confessed. She might have been
more definite, yet not have gone beyond the truth. She might have
said, “What I think is, that you’re a trickster. If there’s anything
in this at all beyond mere nonsense, you know where my husband is, and
you’re playing a deep game for money.” But something warned the girl
not to say this. She was _afraid_ to say it–afraid to make the
seeress afraid!

If Pat had been kidnapped, and this woman were a catspaw of those who
wanted a ransom, Juliet was willing to pay. If only Pat were
_true_–if only he hadn’t left her of his own free will for love of
Lyda, she would give every penny she had in the world to get him back,
and not grudge it!

She reflected hastily that, if Madame Veno took her for a fool, it
would be better to let it go at that rather than risk losing a
chance–possibly the only chance–of saving Pat. As for telling Jack
and Sanders secretly, this course must be decided later. There was
surely no more harm in deceiving such a woman than in tricking a
dangerous animal, so far as moral principles were concerned. The one
question was, could Madame Veno safely be deceived, or would she find a
way of _forcing_ a promise to be kept?

That question was answered at once.

“I don’t blame you,” said Madame, with a good-natured smile. “These
great forces of Nature are beyond belief to those who haven’t tested
them. But I know by experience what I can do. I know also what I
can’t do. I can do nothing if the people whose interests I serve work
against me consciously or unconsciously. Now, I read your mind as I
read the crystal. I see you’re thinking whether or not to make a
mental reservation about that promise! Well, I don’t want to control
you, Duchess, though I _could_ do so. But if you bring any one into
this, the whole effort will be vain. I might get the man we want here.
I might hypnotize him to the point of speaking out. I might ‘phone
you. And yet, if you weren’t alone, or if someone were spying outside,
my power over him would break like–that!” she snapped her fingers
together, her black eyes holding Juliet’s. “Now,” she went on when
she’d got her effect, “I’m going to give you a proof of good faith. My
fee for a consultation–just an ordinary one, not a special like
this–is twenty-five dollars. No, don’t take out your purse, Duchess!
I won’t accept a cent unless I bring off the stunt. The rest–is up to
you.”

“Very well,” said Juliet on a sudden resolution. “Let it be so. I’ll
promise what you ask, and–I’ll keep my promise. If you send for me,
I’ll come alone. And I’ll tell nobody. But–I’m not a child. I must
protect myself in some way. When I start for your place next time, I
shall leave a letter for my cousin, Captain Manners, to be delivered by
hand if I’m not back in two hours after leaving home. In the letter I
shall tell him everything. But it won’t be sent if all goes right. So
if you play fair you’ve nothing to dread.”

“Unless the letter should be sent to your cousin by mistake.”

“My maid is a very intelligent woman,” said Juliet. “She doesn’t make
mistakes.”

“Oh, you’ll leave the letter with your maid!” echoed Madame Veno.

“Yes. Do you agree to the arrangement?”

“I do,” returned Madame.

Juliet rose to go. She was feeling intensely excited, if not really
hopeful. Even if there were a plot, it seemed as if this might be the
best way of setting to work, and she saw herself beating Sanders as a
detective. So far he had made only trifling discoveries: fingerprints
on the safe which told nothing, since they were Pat’s and Lyda
Pavoya’s; there were no clues which might solve the mystery of Pat’s
disappearance, or lead to finding the lost pearls.

As for Jack, he was _Lyda’s_ man now! He believed the story which
explained the fingerprints. She, Juliet, might soon show these two men
that alone she had accomplished more than either in solving the double
mystery.

Two days passed; and small as was Juliet’s faith in Madame Veno, she
did not stir from the house lest the woman should telephone in her
absence.

The strain of constant suspense was like a screw tightening her nerves
to breaking point. Her irritation grew against Jack, who persisted in
warning her that she would repent her suspicions of Lyda Pavoya. To
his mind apparently the dancer’s story accounted for everything. Lyda
had volunteered a statement that she had touched the safe after
Claremanagh opened it, and she had offered to give Sanders her own
fingerprints in order that they might be identified with those taken on
the door of the safe, the only ones found there with the exception of
the Duke’s. Even this fact–that there should be no other marks
visible–didn’t prejudice Jack against the Siren. According to
him–and (_he_ said) to Sanders–the _real_ thief or thieves had used
rubber gloves.

As for Sanders, he tried to calm the Duchess’s impatience by assuring
her that everything possible was being done. He even had a theory.
But, of what comfort was that to her, as he refused to tell her what it
was until–or if–he could obtain positive proof? It hardly interested
Juliet that he should have cabled Monsieur Mayen and learned in reply
that there was no scratch on the duplicate ring given Mayen by Pat.
She hadn’t for a moment supposed there would be! Of course it merely
made matters worse that Mayen should be left-handed, and that a
specimen seal he sent by cabled request should have an entirely
different appearance from those on the covering of the packet. Also,
it seemed stupid rather than intelligent that Defasquelle should be
watched. The detective admitted that the Frenchman seemed above
suspicion. He had begged the Duke to open the packet in his presence,
which alone proved his innocence, as Sanders couldn’t help seeing.
Besides, the French police had replied to a wired demand for
Defasquelle’s _dossier_, by saying that he was a person of unblemished
character. He appeared to deserve the trust reposed in him by Monsieur
Mayen; had saved up a little money and was engaged to a pretty girl
with a good _dot_, the daughter of a hotel keeper in Marseilles. Not
only that, Defasquelle was remaining in New York for the purpose of
giving what aid he could. Altogether, Juliet considered that Sanders’
activities were disappointing, and Jack’s no better.

She refused to meet Lyda and talk with her in person as Jack advised
her to do, and between her sense of being deserted and her desperate
anxiety for the truth about Pat, she found more and more that her
thoughts clung to the broken reed of hope held out by Madame Veno.

At last, when she was making up her mind to see the woman again without
waiting longer, the message came.

Juliet was in the act of answering a letter from Nancy Van Esten,
begging her to be at the dress rehearsal for the “great show” which was
to benefit the Armenians. There was an undertone of friendly
insistence which Juliet understood very well. Nancy knew what people
were saying about Pat and Pavoya and the pearls. If
she–Juliet–refused to attend this rehearsal to which all her most
intimate “pals” were going, everyone would draw certain conclusions.
She hated to go, but had written to say that she’d “drop in about five
o’clock”–the rehearsal had to be in the afternoon, as the roof garden
theatre was wanted in the evening for the last night of a revue–when
the telephone bell rang almost in her ear. She picked up the receiver
from the writing table, and her heart leaped at the sound of Madame
Veno’s voice.

“Is that you yourself, Duchess? Yes? Well, _he’s here_! Can you come
around at once?”

“Yes,” said Juliet, and putting down the receiver had begun to get
ready, when she remembered the letter which ought to be left for Jack.
There was no time, after all, to write details. She ought to have had
the note ready for emergencies, but it hadn’t occurred to her till now.
Hurriedly she jotted down the address of Madame Veno and a request to
Jack to send there. Then, when she had scrawled “Captain Manners,
Tarascon Hotel,” and sealed the envelope, the Duchess rang for her maid.

“I’m going out, Simone,” she said. “It’s now four-thirty. If I’m not
back by six-thirty it will mean that–that I must miss an appointment
with Captain Manners; so at that time take this to his hotel yourself.
He tells me that he’s always at home between six-thirty and
seven-thirty, so he’s sure to be there. But if not, you can ring up
Mr. Sanders at his private address, which I’ll jot down for you, and
ask him to call for Captain Manners’ letter which concerns his business
as well. I expect to come in much sooner, however–in which case you
will simply hand this envelope back to me. You quite understand?”

“I quite understand, _Madame la Duchesse_,” echoed Simone, pinning on
her mistress’s hat, and handing her a pair of gloves.

So well did she understand that, the moment Juliet was out of the house
(the car having been ordered), she examined the back of the said
envelope. In her hurry Juliet had not sealed it firmly. The flap was
still wet, and came loose with almost ridiculous ease.

Simone had been somewhat surprised by the Duchess’s instructions (her
reason for wishing to acquaint herself with the contents of the letter)
but she was still more surprised by the letter itself.

The Duchess was going to Madame Veno’s, evidently to keep an engagement
already made, and it would seem that she considered herself in some
danger. Could Madame Veno mean to give away Mademoiselle Amaranthe’s
connection with the _Inner Circle_?

Simone told herself that this was an absurd and far-fetched suspicion,
because it was not probable that Madame Veno knew anything about her
activities. Besides, why should the woman–even if she knew
them–betray valuable secrets of the paper and its best correspondents?
It was but an idea born of an uncomfortable conscience–another name
for fear.

Juliet was admitted to Madame Veno’s flat by the respectable creature
in black silk who had impressed her so favourably two days before.
Again she was taken into the cubicle of a private waiting-room, and
there Madame came at once, from her own room.

“He’s still here!” she announced, having closed the door. “Everything
is wonderful–but different from what I expected.”

“Who is the man?” Juliet abruptly asked.

“I don’t know. I haven’t been able yet to make him tell me that. He
seemed so obstinate that I thought I’d better extract more important
details first, in case in his struggles not to obey I should lose
mind-control of him–which does happen now and then in such
experiments.”

“You mean to tell me that this man–whoever he is–actually came to you
from heaven knows where because you willed him to come, and that you
hypnotized him to find out about my husband?”

“I mean just that,” answered Madame Veno, triumphantly. “I’ve done
this sort of thing before. It’s the secret of my success over other
psychics. I’ve found out that your husband was kidnapped, just as I
thought. As for the pearls, so far as I can understand, he had them on
him. Anyhow, they’re in these people’s possession. But you’d better
come into my room and talk to the man.”

“Is he still hypnotized?” Juliet wanted to know, irritated by her
feeling that she was being deceived, yet eager and curious.

“No, not now. I’ve released him from the influence. He was going pale
about the lips, which shows a weak heart, and I was scared. I can’t
take big risks of that sort! But when I explained what I’d got out of
him, and when I’d even made him put on paper a short statement of his
own handwriting, he saw that he might as well be frank—-”

“If the statement was signed, you must have got his name. And if not,
what use is it?”

“He _thinks_ he’s signed it, for I covered up the place where the name
should be as if accidentally, and snatched the paper away as though I
was afraid he’d grab it from me. It was when I was willing him so hard
to sign that he began to look queer. So I had to give it up.”

“I see,” said Juliet. “Well, take me into the next room, and let me
try what _I_ can get out of him!”

“You can get everything out of him, Duchess, and you can get back your
husband and your pearls. That is, if you’re willing to pay the price
this man asks. Even in his sleep he was firm about that, and he hasn’t
told where the Duke is.”

Juliet did not believe that the man knew where the Duke was. It was so
much more likely that the whole business was a trick to extract money
and–give nothing of value in return! Still, she was more eager to see
the occupant of Madame Veno’s room than she had ever been to see any
one–except Pat, in the blessed old days.

The green curtains were drawn, and though twilight was falling out of
doors the only lamp was a small green-shaded one on the table of the
crystal. The man who stood facing the two women as they entered was in
shadow, all except his hands, which showed white and large, crossed on
folded arms.

It was an instant before Juliet realized that something more than
shadow obscured the features. Then her piercing eyes made out that a
layer of black crape was drawn across them as far up as the forehead,
as far down as the mouth. Beneath this mask a beard protruded like a
fringe, but Juliet told herself it might be false.

“Oh, you have masked yourself!” exclaimed Madame Veno. “He wasn’t
masked when I left him, Duchess!”

Juliet made no comment, though if the man and woman were in collusion
it was probable that Madame lied.

“There’s no objection to my being masked, I suppose?” said the man. “I
have a right to protect myself.”

“Does he speak rather like an Englishman, or do I imagine it?” Juliet
wondered.

“_I_ don’t object,” she said aloud. “I don’t care who you are if you
can give me news of my husband, and if–if you can bring him back to
me.”

“I can give you news now,” the man replied. “And you can have him back
to-morrow night if you choose.”

“What are your conditions?” Juliet asked.

“One million dollars for the Duke and the pearls.”

“Oh!” said the Duchess. “And what for the Duke without the pearls?”

“We don’t treat separately.”

“Indeed! And what if I refuse to treat at all?”

“In that case, you’ll never see your husband again on this side the
grave.”

“You mean you’ll murder him if I don’t pay ransom!”

“Not at all. This is the Duke’s own affair. He’s in it with us. That
is”–the man spoke quickly, when anger flamed on Juliet’s face and he
must have feared that she would cease bargaining for a man capable of
“holding up” his wife–“that is, he’s in it to this extent: he’s taken
an oath not to give us away. He was hurt in an accident–an affair
neither he nor you would like to have come out–and I and a friend of
mine saved his life. When we’d done that, as we’re poor men we didn’t
see why we shouldn’t get something for ourselves. We’re amateurs at
these things, my mate and I, and we were at odds how to approach you,
Madam, without risking trouble. Then I had a ‘hunch’ to consult this
lady. Dreamed about her, felt I _must_ come!” Madame Veno gave Juliet
a look. “Now I find she was mesmerizing me or something of the sort.
But she’s given me good advice, and she’s brought you and me together,
so maybe all’s well that ends well.”

“Where’s my husband?” asked Juliet.

“Where I live. And you could have me followed all around New York
without finding out where that is. I’m up to every dodge of that kind,
I can tell you! But what my friend and I–the Duke standing by us
because of what we’ve done for him–what we propose, is this: you get
hold of a million dollars without telling any one what the money’s for.
We’ll know if you play us false. We have our spies. It _must_ be all
in notes. Then, if this lady–Madame Veno–is willing to see the thing
through, you’ll bring to her flat the whole sum, only with the _notes
cut in two_. That plan is to prove my good faith. An hour after the
Duke shall arrive–with the pearls, in an auto–at your own house. And
the remaining halves of the notes shall be handed to the chauffeur by
you in person before your husband leaves the car. Does that scheme
look good to you?”

Juliet paused for an instant, but not to consider the money question,
for she would have given not one million but all the millions she
possessed to have Pat with her, alive and safe. Nor did she now care a
straw whether or not these two creatures were in a plot together. She
hesitated only because it seemed too good to be true that Pat should be
given back to her so easily. She had suffered so much, had realized so
bitterly her need of him–guilty or innocent–that she was actually
dazzled by the man’s offer. And when she had calmed herself by drawing
a deep breath or two, she answered:

“Yes, it _seems_ good to me!”

“Then it is good, all right!”

“How soon–can you do this?”

“How soon can you get hold of the money?”

“To-morrow. Of course it’s too late to-day.”

“To-morrow then. Come here at this same time. Can you manage that?”

“I will manage it,” Juliet said. She remembered that she had written
to Nancy van Esten, meaning to attend the rehearsal. The letter wasn’t
posted yet, but she would send it, and go to the theatre for a few
minutes. From there, she would come here to Madame Veno’s. No one
could think then that she had avoided meeting Lyda Pavoya, but if she
had a pressing engagement to keep, it wouldn’t be _her_ fault if there
were no time for introductions!

Besides, Jack Manners and Sanders were supposed to be coming to-morrow
afternoon, to discuss some new detail in the Duke’s study–what, Juliet
didn’t know. The rehearsal would give her an excuse for absence while
they were there, and as it was to meet Lyda, Jack would be pleased to
have her go.

“Remember, Madam, if you don’t keep this business strictly to yourself,
the Duke won’t materialize,” the man in the mask went on. “I assure
you–not on my honour, because that’s a minus quantity to you, but on
your husband’s–you can take my word for this. And furthermore, if you
attempt to trick us you’ll never have a chance again.”

“If there were as little chance of your tricking me, as of my tricking
you,” Juliet exclaimed, “I should be happy.”

“_Be_ happy then!” retorted the man. “The thing’s settled. I’m off.
And I’ll tell the Duke that you send him a good message.”

He was out of the room before Juliet had realized that he meant to suit
his action to his word! With a wild impulse she would have sprung
after him to ask other questions, but the door slammed in her face.
She was too late. And besides, what would have been gained by keeping
the man a moment more?

“I don’t think there’s anything further to do or say. But let him go
quietly,” Madame Veno advised.

Juliet turned upon her. “I believe you’re in this!” she cried.

The elder woman smiled indulgently, as at a petulant child. “My dear,
I’m _not_!” she said. “But I can’t prove that, if you don’t want to
take my word.”

“Oh, well, it doesn’t matter!” Juliet sighed. “What do I owe you
for–your services?”

“What you think they’re worth. Pay me to-morrow,” Madame replied.

To-morrow! It seemed that Juliet could not live till then!