FROM THE COLLECTION OF
By ANTHONY HOPE
IT was characteristic of the Duke of Belleville—and to many the trait will seem a graceful one—to attach no exaggerated importance to the antiques and curiosities which he had inherited from his ancestors or himself acquired by purchase. Indeed, he was accused of holding too lightly even things of real beauty or historic interest. For example, he gave the Queen Bess Flagon to a pretty girl whom he had never seen before and never saw again, just to please her—and himself. ("And two people better worth pleasing I can't imagine," reflected the Duke.) He presented his cousin, Lady Anastasia Vieilleroche—the name is pronounced Veelrock—with the shoes discarded by Marie Antoinette on her wedding-day as being too tight, though he well knew that her ladyship, having the family temperament and the smallest foot in London, would wear them—and wear them out—at her next dance, as in fact she did. And—but there is really no need to multiply instances of his good-nature, carelessness, or caprice, excusable only by the reflection that man's well-being lies not in the multitude of his possessions, but in the free play of the human spirit.
Yet he did attach a sentimental value to the sapphire which the Medici had in unredeemed pledge from Constantine Palaeologos, and Lorenzo the Magnificent gave to Simonetta Cattaneo for her wedding-gift. Since that time—but never mind the est of its history. The Duke valued it for Simonetta's sake, and dreamed, perhaps, in those idle fancies of his, that some day he would find another lady whose wearing of it should not seem sacrilege.
At seven o'clock on a December evening the Duke roused himself from a brief but well-earned repose. In the afternoon he had attended a charitable meeting at the Mansion House, which had been addressed by ministers of all—the Duke thought it must be all—denominations and other eminent persons.
"Frank," said he, "plain clothes, my Ribbon, Simonetta's Sapphire, and the revolver with the ivory butt."
"Yes, your Grace," said Frank, placing a whisky-and-Nocera-water on an adjacent table. "But may I suggest that your Grace's new Browning is a more useful weapon?"
"Not in all ways, Frank." The Duke smiled reflectively. "The old one comes in very handy sometimes, and—— No, I think I won't drink that stuff to-night."
Frank retired to the dressing-room adjoining. The Duke took a note from his pocket. It was signed "Stasy," and ran as follows: "Don't forget to-night. You promised, you know you did! She's perfectly charming, and he's—— Oh, by the way, he thinks he's a cousin of the King of Spain, so call him Highness. And please wear your Blue Ribbon. I know you hate it, but do! Be there eight-fifteen sharp, and don't forget the sapphire."
"She's charming, and he thinks he's a cousin of the King of Spain! And I think—well, I don't quite know what I think," mused the Duke, as he smoked a cigarette. "However, I like to please Stasy, and it's some weeks since anything happened." He was still a little drowsy, and fell to thinking lazily in how odd a fashion people "bobbed up" in town for a season or two and then disappeared again, were somebody's cousins and very charming, gave and ate dinners, went away, and weren't missed. "So I dare say these people are all right," he ended charitably, as he shook himself out of his chair and repaired to his dressing-room.
At twenty minutes past eight a small but swift electric brougham, driven by Monsieur Ferdinand—his Grace's chief chauffeur—in person, was at the door. The Duke, having forgotten nothing—neither Ribbon, revolver, nor Simonetta's Sapphire—came out.
"Good evening, Ferdinand. To the Comtesse de Montcorné's place." He paused on the pavement, smiling at Ferdinand.
"Certainly, your Grace." Ferdinand, however, indulged in a slight lift of his bushy brows.
"You know her address? Ferdinand, it's wonderful how you keep up with things."
"She's taken Meldart Lodge for two months, your Grace, and she's been there six weeks already."
"Regent's Park, your Grace."
"I know it, Ferdinand. A very quiet, rural situation."
"Rather remote, your Grace." Ferdinand liked the centres of life, a taste which may have accounted for a certain emphasis which he laid on the word "remote."
"Yes, Ferdinand, rather—er—remote. Well, go there." The Duke got into his brougham and seated himself so that the revolver with the ivory butt, which rested in his hip-pocket, might cause him no inconvenience.
They reached Meldart Lodge—a house with which the Duke was well acquainted—at twenty-five minutes to nine.
"You needn't come back, Ferdinand. I'll find my own way home. Good night," said the Duke.
"It's sometimes convenient to have a car handy, your Grace."
"Yes." The Duke gave a smile of reminiscence. "Well, I may telephone," he conceded, "but not after eleven-thirty."
Monsieur Ferdinand drove off. The Duke watched him go, walked up the steps, and rang the bell. "Stasy will be before me, I expect," he said to himself.
He was received by a butler and two footmen, all very tall men. The butler wore knee-breeches; the footmen were in somewhat elaborate liveries, full-bottomed coats descending over plush breeches, and had their hair powdered. The butler took his hat, one footman removed his overcoat, the other laid hold of the tails of his evening-coat and gave them a discreetly gentle pull, presumably in case the coat should have rucked up at the collar while the Duke sat in his brougham. This delicate operation the second footman performed with his left hand.
What did he do with his right? Well, if he did anything—and really the Duke could not at the moment have sworn to that—it was most deftly and swiftly done. The faintest perceptible touch, yet enough to make the Duke wheel quickly round. The three tall men faced him, all silent, all expressionless and impassive, all with hands behind their backs. For a moment the Duke looked at them, a quizzical smile hovering about his lips. They stood there, pictures of deferential immobility; there, the three tall men, between him and the hall-door.
"Is it upstairs?" inquired the Duke.
"If your Grace pleases," answered the butler. With a bow, he preceded the Duke. The two footmen remained in the hall. As the Duke turned at the half-landing, and thereby became invisible from the hall, with a rapid movement he put his hand to his hip-pocket. The revolver with the ivory butt was gone.
"Well, I couldn't have tackled the lot. Besides, Stasy's here, I suppose," thought the Duke. And, abandoning a momentary impulse to try to recover the missing revolver, he followed the butler to the top of the stairs. He was frowning slightly, though the smile still played about his mouth. "That's why their coats are so baggy," he said to himself, with a nod of appreciation, as the butler threw open the door and proclaimed his name with a perfectly correct pronunciation. (Bevvle, it is, of course.)
With outstretched hands and a bright smile, with a decided touch—as he imagined—of Southern effusiveness, his hostess advanced to meet him.
For a moment the Duke's manner may have been somewhat absent—he was still thinking—but he recovered himself and took the offered hand. It was small and plump, as indeed was its owner, a little woman with very fair hair, a turned-up nose, and a pathetic expression. She was not pretty, but she was essentially appealing.
"It is kind of you to come, Duke," she said, "but, oh, what a disappointment about dear Lady Anastasia!"
"About——" The Duke's eyes travelled round the room, but he failed to perceive his cousin.
"I've just had a telephone from her—at least, it was her maid who spoke. Such neuralgia, poor child! She can't possibly come out."
"Neuralgia is very unusual in our family," the Duke remarked. "May I call her up and——"
"She's gone to bed, poor dear. I am sorry, but won't you put up with us? Oh, let me present you to his Highness Prince——"
She mentioned a name, but, on careful consideration, it seems more discreet not to mention it here. After all, the thick-set gentleman with bluish cheeks, raspy hair, and twinkling black eyes, may have been right in thinking himself cousin to the Catholic King, and no mere desire for actuality must tempt us to risk giving pain in Exalted Quarters. Let us just call him "The Prince," or—as the Countess called him—"Monseigneur."
The Duke made his bow—a rather reserved sort of bow—to the Prince, who, gave his hand a hearty shake.
"Delighted to meet you, Duke, but I am desolated—desolated—about your charming cousin." By the way, both Prince and Countess spoke English very well, though with a foreign accent, and both with the same sort of foreign accent, as the Duke observed. The Duke bowed again. Folding-doors on the side of the room opposite to that from which he had entered were noiselessly opened. Dinner was served in a room which was, as the Duke knew, ordinarily the back drawing-room. The Countess gave her arm to the Prince, the Duke followed them, passing the tall butler and the two tall footmen. On the second footman he bestowed a searching yet unobtrusive glance.
"But you'll show us the Simonetta Sapphire, all the same, won't you?" the Countess pursued over the oysters. "His Highness is so interested in it because it once nearly belonged to him."
"Perhaps it may some day," smiled the Duke. "These things pass from hand to hand, you know."
"Oh, you—you'll never sell!" She laughed merrily. "No, you're too rich! But, you remember, when poor Simonetta died——"
"No, no, dear Countess, when her husband died," corrected the Prince.
"Oh, yes! I'm so stupid! When her husband died, the Medici got it again——"
"Trust them!" The Prince chuckled jovially.
"And Catherine de Medici——"
"Marie, my dear Countess, Marie." The Prince's voice hinted at annoyance. Certainly the Countess was not telling the story well.
"Took it to France," she went on, raising her brows mockingly at her friend, "and Louis XIII.——"
"Fourteenth," sighed the Prince. His annoyance seemed to give place to despair.
"Gave it to his grandson, Philip IV.——"
"Fifth," said both the Prince and the Duke, exchanging a smile.
"Didn't I say Fifth? And he gave it to Monseigneur's—to the lady who——"
"Who later on married my great-great-great-grandfather and——" The Prince here interrupted himself. "But the Duke knows all this," he said. And he added, smiling "Really better than you seem to, Countess!"
"Of course," the Duke agreed. "Only I don't know its history from the time Philip V. got it till it turned up at Antwerp in 1813. I should be most interested to hear from your Highness——"
"Oh, but show it to us first!" laughed the Countess.. "Then all the history will seem so much more interesting."
Dinner had been served with-remarkable smoothness and rapidity. The second footman—who seemed to devote himself particularly to the Duke—was one of the most gifted waiters the Duke had ever met. ("And what a gift it is!" he reflected.) They were already at the quails when the Countess asked to be shown Simonetta's Sapphire.
"Show it you now?, Oh, with pleasure," said the Duke.
The table was square and quite small. The three sat on three sides of it; on the vacant side, nearest the doors, stood a large and beautiful bowl full of apples. At this moment the butler was filling the Countess's glass, the first footman was handing Monseigneur dry toast, and the second footman was proffering red pepper to the Duke. To the latter it seemed, somehow, as though a rigidity fell on all the three—nay, on all the five, for the Prince and the Countess sat motionless. The Duke eyed the red pepper. He had a queer feeling that a commodity possessing the properties of red pepper would be better in his own possession, but, fearing to create suspicion, he refrained from seizing it.
"Dear Anastasia said you were always so good-natured about showing it."
"It's no trouble to show a thing if you happen to have it with you," laughed the Duke, as he put his hand into his waistcoat pocket.
A stillness that seemed as though it could be felt settled on the room. The Duke had read about this kind of stillness, and had no difficulty in recognising it.
"Other pocket, I suppose," smiled the Duke. He tried it; he shrugged his shoulders, and, with a little frown, dived both hands into his trousers pockets. Both hands came up empty. "Really, it's very funny!" He dived into his coat-pockets, explored again the pockets he had searched before, shook his head, and leant forward to the Countess. "I swear I had it, Countess," he said.
"But if you had it——" she cried.
"Of course I had it, Countess. Why, I promised Anastasia, and that's a thing I should never forget." He smiled deprecatingly. "I must have had my pocket picked."
The Prince drummed on the table with his fingers. A flash of red mingling with his bluish tint turned his cheeks to purple. "I refused an important invitation—addressed to a person differently placed from myself, it would have been a command—for to-night, on the faith of your Grace's promise, as conveyed to me by Lady Anastasia Vieilleroche. It seems incredible that——"
"Won't you look again, Duke?" the Countess interposed pleadingly.
The Prince's pompousness did not avail to hide his anger and disappointment. In them the Duke found food for fresh thought.
"Cayenne pepper, your Grace?" asked the second footman patiently.
"No, thank you."
The second footman went to the sideboard, put down the pepper, and returned to his chosen place by the Duke's chair. The other two attendants did not move.
The Duke had, by now, little doubt of the nature of his company. "It all comes of letting that article about the sapphire appear in the magazine," he reflected ruefully. "Then these people got at Stasy—which isn't difficult—and dear Stasy always likes to exhibit me at the end of a string." He felt his position critical. If he searched himself too thoroughly, though he might not find the jewel, he was bound to miss the revolver! To miss the revolver and yet to exhibit no suspicion—would that be plausible? To miss it and exhibit suspicion—would that be safe? Meldart Lodge was remote, and the three servants very tall. But, if he searched any more, miss it he must. The second footman at least—probably all of them—knew that.
"Of course I'll search again," he said, as good-humouredly as the somewhat peculiar circumstances allowed. "But it's no use." He dived into all his pockets again—all except the hip-pocket. "It's not there," he said, looking round at them.
"Look again," said the Prince. His tone was imperative.
Then the Duke knew that the Prince knew that he had a hip-pocket; somehow the Prince had been informed of that. Probably they all knew it. There would be a signal arranged; anything would do—the bowl of apples, the handling of the pepper-pot. Such a code was child's play to his friends of this evening, no doubt. As these thoughts passed quickly through his mind, the butler and the first footman, apparently in despair of securing any attention, carried off their respective burdens, and, returning to the vacant side of the table, stood there in attentive silence; they were thus well disposed to prevent any movement towards the doors on the Duke's part.
The Duke looked for a moment at the Countess. She appeared to be nervous and uncomfortable. The Prince looked purple and impatient.
"Well, of course," said the Duke, "it's just conceivable that, in absence of mind, I dropped it into my hip-pocket"—his hand moved slowly in that direction—"with my revolver." He gave a sudden and violent start. "By Heaven, the revolver's gone, too!" he cried, with an admirably simulated air of surprise and consternation.
"Revolver! Surely you didn't bring——" began the Countess.
But the second footman interposed.
"Your Grace forgets," said he, with a deferential smile, "that, on removing your overcoat, your Grace placed your revolver in the pocket of it."
"That is so, my lady," added the butler, also permitting himself a deferential smile.
The Duke permitted himself a smile. The Countess and even the purple Prince allowed themselves a similar liberty.
"Your Grace will find it when you leave," pursued the second footman.
"Did I place a jewel-case there, too, I wonder?" asked the Duke.
"I perceived no other article—only the revolver, your Grace."
"Now that the revolver's off your mind, let's have the sapphire," said the Prince. He seemed hardly to care about keeping up appearances now; he spoke with a rude sneer.
The Countess suddenly laid her small plump hand on the Duke's arm and raised her appealing eyes to his. "You really may as well," she murmured, with a blush. "What's the use of a fuss?"
Something in her voice touched the Duke with a sense of that sympathy which all adventurous people have for one another, however widely different the sphere and method of their activities may be. He pressed the Countess's hand for a moment, and laughed.
"The last thing I want is a fuss," said he, "especially as I dare say other people aren't as careless with their revolvers as I seem to have been with mine. But I haven't got the sapphire, and that's the fact. Search me if you like."
The Prince lost control of himself. Half rising from his chair, he cried: "Hang it, we will!"
But the Countess's plump little hand was on his arm now. "Oh, your temper!" she murmured, patting his coat-sleeve soothingly. "So dangerous! So bad!"
The Prince, very purple, seemed, all the same, to acknowledge the justice of her rebuke. He sank back into his seat again.
"You should exercise common-sense, Monseigneur," she pursued. "If the Duke had suspicions of us——"
"Oh, madame!" protested the Duke, with a smile.
"He wouldn't bring the sapphire. If he had no suspicions, he wouldn't hide it. If he had brought it, it was to show to ladies. Well, then"—she blushed more markedly—"he wouldn't have it in—well, in a place that was not convenable."
The Duke admired her common-sense; but it is, after all, characteristic of common-sense to confine itself to obvious alternatives.
"Why didn't you bring it, mon ami?" she went on, turning to the Duke.
"Well, really, I—I feel a bit awkward, and"—he indicated the tall servants—"we are not alone."
"Oh, yes, we are—quite enough alone," said she, with a smiling nod. "You're the only stranger here, Duke."
"Madame, I will be as candid as you are, if candour is to be the order of the day. The sapphire is valuable. I never take it anywhere without consulting the police."
"There, now, what did I say? I told you he wasn't a fool!" exclaimed the Countess. The Duke may have been mistaken, but he certainly thought that the remark was addressed, primarily at all events, to the second footman. "And what did the police say when you consulted them?"
"You'll excuse me? You know it's their business to be suspicious. They said that I knew too little of your—your ménage, Countess, and that they——"
"Knew too much?"
The Duke waved his hands. "I might tell you that. It would sound well. If I had wanted to bluff, I should have said that. But I prefer to tell you the truth. They said they knew nothing at all, but that, if I wished, they would make inquiries." At this point the Duke flattered himself that he was lying with a pretty discretion.
"And you said?" pursued the Countess, with that appealing persistence of hers.
"Oh, I said," laughed the Duke, "that I should be better able to tell them about that if they'd call at my place to-morrow morning." He lit a cigarette. "Which," he added, through the first puffs of it, "they agreed to do."
With this the Duke rose to his feet, not being, however, quite sure how the company would receive his movement. The immediate result of it was a sudden turn of all heads towards the second footman. He, for his part, looked at the Countess and then held up his hand. Nobody moved.
"It's all quite understood between us," the Duke went on, assuming now an air of some authority. "You are to sacrifice my cousin's acquaintance and the remainder of your tenancy of this house—fortunately, only a fortnight."
"How do you know that?" blurted out the Prince.
The Duke took no heed of him. He knew now who were the leading spirits of the party, and Monseigneur was not among them. "On my part I agree to forget this evening, except so far as may be necessary to satisfy my cousin's curiosity. You may wonder that I make you this offer. You will hardly hesitate to accept it." He pushed his chair back from the table and, turning round, came face to face with the second footman. Their eyes met, the Duke's alert yet confident, the second footman's ruminative, puzzled, searching his opponent's face.
Looking into the second footman's eyes—which were of the shade commonly called china blue—the Duke realised that he was not out of the wood yet. The second footman—whatever might be the case with his associates—was not satisfied. Then he must tread very warily; he must, above all, show no eagerness and no anxiety.
"You look thoughtful, my friend," he remarked. As he spoke, the little Countess rose suddenly from her chair, came to the second footman, and put her arm through his. The next moment the butler and the first footman took the two empty chairs and helped themselves, the butler to an apple, the footman to port. The Duke looked at his watch. "Masks off at ten-thirty, is it?" he asked the Countess, with a smile.
"You have puzzled my husband, and he's a very clever man," she said.
"Happy to make the Count's acquaintance, in a new and, I'm sure, much more pleasant capacity," remarked the Duke, smiling at the second footman.
"I'm wondering how it is that your Grace risked disappointing Lady Anastasia," said the second footman, who preserved throughout a pensive gravity.
"Prudence before politeness sometimes? No?"
"I hardly think so, with your Grace. It doesn't accord with what I've heard of you."
"You think I've contrived to hide the thing since I came into the house?"
"Not since you've been in this room, I'm sure of that. But I'll do myself the honour of escorting you to the front door. If you have hidden it, I should wish it to remain where it is for the present."
The Duke laughed. "Let it remain where it is, by all means. I've no quarrel with that."
"Come, Duke," said the Countess. "Give me your arm. My husband will follow us."
The Duke obeyed, though clearly the act of courtesy would cripple his actions in case he wished to pick up Simonetta's Sapphire from an improvised hiding-place. Perhaps the Countess was awake to that consideration. They passed through the drawing-room, followed by the second footman three or four paces behind.
"I'm afraid," said the Countess, as they went downstairs, "that you think very badly of us."
"I beg your pardon?" The Duke had been thinking, but not of the moral character of his hosts.
"I mean—that we should adopt this—this mode of life."
"Oh, on the contrary. It must be extremely interesting. I myself have always found a pleasure in evading the law—in the matter of motor-cars, for instance."
"Oh, but we never take those! That's very vulgar!" cried the Countess, genuinely shocked.
"I don't think I meant exactly what you do," smiled the Duke.
They were at the bottom of the stairs. The hall-door, the way of escape, lay before the Duke; it would be affectation to deny that he felt somewhat excited.
On approaching the door, still arm-in-arm with the Countess, still followed by the second footman, the Duke perceived his hat and coat on the table; and not in the pocket of the coat, but lying beside it, gleamed the ivory butt of his revolver. The Duke's first impulse was to disengage himself, rush forward, and seize it. The wisdom of "second thoughts" restrained him. He knew that the look of questioning was still in the second footman's eyes. Much as the Duke valued Simonetta's Sapphire, his keenest desire at that moment was the second footman's defeat.
The little Countess let go his arm and took up his coat. "Let me help you on with it," she said.
Apparently the second footman had satisfied himself with regard to the coat at an earlier stage. At any rate, he paid no heed to it now. He took up the revolver and stood turning it over idly in his hands and frowning thoughtfully. Not looking at him, the Duke busied himself in adjusting his scarf and buttoning his coat. Then he took his hat in his left hand and held out his right to the Countess.
"I'll give your remembrances to my cousin," he said. "Of course you put her off to-night?"
The Countess nodded, the Duke smiled, the Countess opened the hall-door.
"Oh, but I hope I may have my revolver?" added the Duke. "It's an old friend." And on this spoken sentence there came into his head, urgent, vivid, charged with overpowering anxiety, the silent questions: "How did I say that? Was it right? Was it wrong? Was it too anxious? Was it over-careless? How, in Heaven's name, did I say that?"
The second footman raised his eyes to the Duke's face again and held the butt of the revolver towards him. "I'm afraid I've taken the liberty of removing the cartridges, your Grace."
"I thought that possible," said the Duke, smiling, as he put out his hand to take the weapon.
That sounds a simple thing to do. But if his hand trembled, if he snatched eagerly, if his eyes lit up with premature exultation? The second footman was—or seemed—a long time handing over the revolver.
"You felt me take it, didn't you?" he asked. "When you came in, I mean?"
"I thought I felt you—just felt you."
"I thought you did, too. Clumsy of me! Here it is."
"If I'd had the sapphire, you would certainly have put me on my guard. But that wouldn't have been much use."
Not till he had said this did he put out his hand to take the revolver—a perfectly steady hand. Indeed, the Duke always declared—and, if his word were doubted, maintained with something more than his usual warmth—that nothing whatever in his demeanour, neither hand, nor mouth, nor eyes, in the least betrayed him. "No, he thought of it himself," the Duke would say, "but, as the gods would have it, just too late."
However that may be—and the Duke was not accustomed to claim credit undeserved—just as he had restored the revolver to his hip-pocket and had backed politely to the door, which the Countess still held open for him, the second footman raised his hands high above his head for an instant, uttered a loud cry of "By Heaven!" and hurled himself forward towards the Duke.
The Duke sprang back, seizing the outside handle of the door, and thus wrenching the inside one from the Countess's grasp. He had time—time, and not a second more—to slam the door behind him, and he took the five steps that led down from it in a flying leap. Landed in the winding avenue which ran from the house to the road, he made the best speed he could.
He had need. He heard the door open again behind him, he heard the Countess shout: "Don't shoot, dear, don't shoot!" he heard the second footman's feet land on the gravel of the drive with a thud far heavier than his own had made. Distrusting the effect of the Countess's appeal, the Duke ran for life—and Simonetta's Sapphire.
The drive was perhaps a hundred yards long. The Duke had too big a start to be caught in that space—except by a bullet. The second footman ran well, but he did not gain much. "But he may catch me on the road—it's very quiet at night. And there are lamps on the road—they'll give him a better aim!" To run the hundred yards took him, perhaps, eleven seconds, but there is plenty of time for thought in that.
But suddenly he came to a stop. Suddenly, too, the pursuing feet behind him ceased to beat the gravel. A long, low, cautious whistle had sounded through the stillness of the grounds of remote Meldart Lodge. The Duke cast one look into the murky drive behind him, then he walked forward easily, a smile on his lips. He knew that whistle.
Outside the gate was Monsieur Ferdinand, not in the small electric brougham, but in a powerful touring car. He touched his cap respectfully.
"I didn't call you up, Ferdinand," remarked the Duke.
"No, your Grace," said Ferdinand; "but the fact is, happening to be in a public-house the other day, I happened to hear a man say that the lady at Meldart Lodge was no better than——"
"Mere gossip, Ferdinand," said the Duke, getting in beside him. "There was no reason for you to come."
Ferdinand looked up at him. "Your Grace seems a trifle out of breath." Ferdinand touched him on the arm; a slow, heavy, retreating step echoed from the avenue. Ferdinand chuckled softly.
"Have it your own way, Ferdinand," smiled the Duke. "I think I'll take a whisky-and-seltzer at the Blenheim Club."
"Very good, your Grace. I shouldn't wonder if you want it!"
The Duke finished his narrative—and his chocolate. Lighting a cigar, he leant back in his chair and regarded his cousin with appreciative eyes. She had looked in on the way back from her morning ride. She wore a dark blue habit and a broad-brimmed black hat; her feet, in top boots, entirely warranted the disposal of the shoes that had proved too small for Marie Antoinette. Besides all this—to say nothing of the tilt of her nose, which, however, the Duke never failed to observe—her cheeks wore a bright flush, not entirely attributable to her recent exercise.
"That's all very well, Basil," said Lady Anastasia. "I dare say I ought to have tumbled to what they were, and I dare say you were very clever, as, indeed, you seem to think yourself——"
"Rather fortunate than clever," suavely interposed the Duke.
"But if the people had been all right, and if they hadn't put me off, and if I had gone——" The Duke smiled slightly, and Lady Anastasia looked haughty. "All of which are quite—quite—er——"
"Probable hypotheses, dear Anastasia," the Duke suggested, with a nod.
"Just what I was going to say—quite probable hypotheses. Well, then, I should have been very disappointed and ashamed, because I'd promised them that you'd bring the sapphire, and you'd promised me that you'd bring it. I should have looked a fool, and you—well, it's the first time you ever broke a promise to me in your life."
"Talking of the revolver with the ivory butt," said the Duke, "here it is." He took it from the table. "It began life as a single-barrelled pistol, and the story goes—I give it for what it's worth—that it was made for Napoleon during the Hundred Days, and that he carried it at Waterloo—in case of accidents. However that may be"—the Duke smiled—"he made no use of it."
"You see the little round gold plaque on the top, with a crowned N and three tiny bees? Well, of course, that would be an obvious fake, if they were faking, wouldn't it? All the same, it does do this, you see."
As the Duke spoke, the little gold plaque with the three bees and the crowned N rose slowly on four tiny golden legs, and formed, as it were, a little tabernacle on the top of the ivory butt. "Room for a small bottle of poison, you see," remarked the Duke, "and just nice room for——"
"Why, I never thought of that!"
"No more did the second footman—till a moment too late."
An oblong ball of cotton-wool lay in the tabernacle, carefully attached to the four legs by fine twine.
"It wouldn't have done for it to rattle," the Duke pursued, as he broke the twine and took out the little bundle. Then the legs slowly sank down again, and the gold plaque fitted neatly, impeccably, into its place. The Duke laid the ball of cotton-wool on the table by him.
"How does that work?" asked Lady Anastasia, naturally curious.
"Just a spring," answered the Duke, smiling. "Would you like to see if you can find it?"
She shook her head, and, taking up the ball of cotton-wool, disengaged the sapphire from its wrappings. It lay in her hand, and she regarded it for a long while. At last she raised her eyes to the Duke's.
"It was a shame to make you risk it," she said. "Is anything else in the world blue—really blue—except this?" She held it out towards him on the palm of her hand.
"Just some eyes," said the Duke.
At this moment Frank entered. The Duke's air indicated surprise, if not displeasure. Frank carried a small antique leather case, open and empty, in his hand. He looked sadly flustered. The Duke turned to him, but Lady Anastasia's eyes were still set on the sapphire in the palm of her hand.
"I beg your Grace's pardon, but I—I can't see Simonetta's Sapphire anywhere this morning, your Grace."
"Oh, yes, you can, Frank, if you look in the right place," said the Duke.
Copyright, 1913, by the Curtis Publishing Company, in the United States of America. All rights reserved.