Love's Logic and Other Stories/The Lady and the Flagon
THE LADY AND THE FLAGON
THE DUKE OF BELLEVILLE—which name, by the way, you must pronounce by no means according to its spelling, if you would be in the fashion; for as Belvoir is Beevor, and Beauchamp is Beecham, even so on polite lips Belleville is Bewle—the Duke of Belleville shut the hall door behind him, and put his latchkey into the pocket of his trousers. It was but ten in the evening, yet the house was as still as though it had been two in the morning. All was dark, save for a dim jet of gas in the little sitting-room; the blinds were all down; from without the villa seemed uninhabited, and the rare passer-by—for rare was he in the quiet lane adjoining but not facing Hampstead Heath—set it down as being to let. It was a whim of the Duke's to keep it empty; when the world bored him, he fled there for solitude; not even the presence of a servant was allowed, lest his meditations should be disturbed. It was long since he had come; but to-night weariness had afflicted him, and, by a sudden change of plan, he had made for his hiding-place in lieu of attending a Public Meeting, at which he had been advertised to take the chair. The desertion sat lightly on his conscience, and he heaved a sigh of relief, as, having turned up the gas, he flung himself into an arm-chair and lit a cigar. The Duke of Belleville was thirty years of age; he was unmarried: he had held the title since he was fifteen; he seemed to himself rather old. He was at this moment yawning. Now when a man yawns at ten o'clock in the evening something is wrong with his digestion or his spirits. The Duke had a perfect digestion.
"I should define wealth," murmured the Duke, between his yawns. "as an unlimited command of the sources of ennui, rank as a satirical emphasizing of human equality, culture as a curtailment of pleasures, knowledge as the death of interest." Yawning again, he rose, drew up the blind, and flung open the window. The summer night was fine and warm. Although there were a couple of dozen other houses scattered here and there about the lane, not a soul was to be seen. The Duke stood for along while looking out. His cigar burned low and he flung it away. Presently he heard a church clock strike eleven. At the same moment he perceived a tall and burly figure approaching from the end of the lane. Its approach was slow and interrupted, for it paused at every house. A moment's further inspection revealed in it a policeman on his beat.
"He‘s trying the windows and doors," remarked the Duke to himself. Then his eyes brightened. "There are possibilities in a door always." he murmured, and his thoughts flew off to the great doors of history and fiction—the doors that were locked when by all laws human and divine they should have been open, and the even more interesting doors that proved to be open and yielded to pressure when any man would have staked his life on their being boiled, barred, and impregnable. "A door has the interest of death," said he. "For how can you know what is on the other side till you have passed through it? Now suppose that fellow found a door open, and passed through it, and turning the rays of his lantern on the darkness within, saw revealed to him—"'Heavens!" cried the Duke, interrupting himself in great excitement, "is all this to be wasted on a policeman?" And without a moment's hesitation, he leaned out of the window and shouted, "Constable, constable!"—which is, as all the world knows, the politest mode of addressing a policeman.
The policeman, perceiving the Duke and the urgency of the Duke’s summons, left his examination of the doors in the lane and ran hastily up to the window of the villa.
"Did you call, sir?" he asked.
"Don’t you know me?" inquired the Duke, turning a little, so that the light within the room should fall on his features.
"I beg your Grace's pardon," cried the policeman. "Your Grace gave me a sovereign last Christmas. The Duke of Belle-ville, isn't it, your Grace?"
"You will know," said the Duke patiently, "how to pronounce my name when I tell you that it rimes with 'Devil.' Thus: 'Dewle, Bewle.'"
"Yes, your Grace. You called me?"
"I did. Do you often find doors open when they ought to be shut?"
"Almost every night, your Grace."
"What do you do?"
"Knock, your Grace."
"Good heavens," murmured the Duke, "how this man throws away his opportunities!" Then he leaned forward, and laying his hand on the policeman's shoulder drew him nearer, and began to speak to him in a low tone.
"I couldn't, your Grace," urged the policeman. "If I was found out I should get the sack."
"You should come to no harm by that."
"And if your Grace was found out——"
"You can leave that to me," interrupted the Duke.
Presently the policeman, acting on the Duke's invitation, climbed into the window of the villa, and the conversation was continued across the table. The Duke urged, produced money, gave his word to be responsible for the policeman's future; the policeman's resistance grew less strong.
"I am about your height and build," said the Duke. "It is but for a few hours, and you can spend them very comfortably in the kitchen. Before six o'clock I will be back."
"If the Inspector comes round, your Grace?"
"You must take a little risk for twenty pounds," the Duke reminded him.
The struggle could end but one way. A quarter of an hour later the policeman, attired in the Duke's overcoat, sat by the kitchen hearth, while the Duke, equipped in the policeman's garments, prepared to leave the house and take his place on the beat.
"I shall put out all lights and shut the door," said he. "The window of this kitchen looks out to the back, and you will not be seen. You will particularly oblige me by remaining here and taking no notice of anything that may occur till I return and call you."
"But, your Grace, if there's murder done——"
"We can hardly expect that," interrupted the Duke, a little wistfully. Yet, although, remembering how the humdrum permeates life, he would not pitch his anticipations too high, the Duke started on the expedition with great zest and lively hopes. The position he had assumed, the mere office that he discharged vicariously, seemed to his fancy a conductor that must catch and absorb the lightning of adventurous incident. His big-buttoned coat, his helmet, the lantern he carried, his deftly hidden truncheon, combined to make him the center of anything that might move, and to involve him in coils of crime or of romance. He refused to be disappointed although he tried a dozen doors and found all securely fastened. For never till the last, till fortune was desperate and escape a vanished dream, was wont to come that marvelous Door that gaped open-mouthed. Ah! The Duke started violently, the blood rushing to his face and his heart beating quick. Here, at the end of the lane most remote from his own villa, at a small two-storied house bright with green paint and flowering creepers, here, in the most unlikely, most inevitable place, was the open door. Barred? It was not even shut, but hung loose, swaying gently to and fro, with a subdued bang at each encounter with the doorpost. Without a moment's hesitation the Duke pushed it open. He stood in a dark passage. He turned the glare of his bull's-eye on the gloom, which melted as the column of light pierced it, and he saw——
"There is nothing at all," said the Duke of Belleville with a sigh.
Nor, indeed, was there, save an umbrella-rack, a hat-stand, and an engraving of the Queen's Coronation—things which had no importance for the Duke.
"They are only what one might expect," said he.
Yet he persevered and began to mount the stairs with a silent, cautious tread. He had not felt it necessary to put on the policeman's boots, and his thin-soled, well-made boots neither creaked nor crunched as he climbed, resting one hand on the balustrade and holding his lantern in the other. Yet suddenly something touched his hand, and a bell rang out, loud, clear and tinkling. A moment later came a scream; the Duke paused in some bewilderment. Then he mounted a few more steps till he was on the landing. A door to his right was cautiously opened; an old gentleman's head appeared.
"Thank heaven, it's the police!" cried the old gentleman. Then he pulled his head in and said, "Only the police, my dear." Then he put his hand out again and asked, "What in the world is the matter? I thought you were burglars when I heard the alarm."
"Your hall door was standing open," said the Duke accusingly.
"Tut, tut, tut! How very careless of me, to be sure! And I thought I locked it! Actually open! Dear me! I'm much obliged to you."
A look of disappointment had by now spread over the Duke's face.
"Didn't you leave it open on purpose?" he asked. "Come now! You can trust me."
"On purpose? Do you take me for a fool?" cried the old gentleman.
"A man who leaves his door open on purpose may or may not be a fool," said the Duke. "But there is no doubt about a man who leaves it open without a purpose," and, so saying, the Duke turned, walked down-stairs, and, going out, slammed the door behind him. He was deeply disgusted.
When, however, he had recovered a little from his chagrin, he began to pace up and down the lane. It was now past midnight, and all was very quiet. The Duke began to fear that Fortune, never weary of tormenting him, meant to deny all its interest to his experiment. But suddenly, when he was exactly opposite his own house, he observed a young man standing in front of it. The stranger was tall and well made; he wore a black cloth Inverness, which, hanging open at the throat, showed a white tie and a snowy shirt front. The young man seemed to be gazing thoughtfully at the Duke's villa. The Duke walked quietly up to him, as though he meant to pass by. The young man, however, perceiving him, turned to him and said:
"It's very annoying, but I have lost my latchkey, and I don't know how to get into my house."
"Indeed, sir?" said the Duke sympathetically. "Which is your house?"
"This," answered the young man, pointing to the Duke's villa.
The Duke could not entirely repress a slight movement of surprise and pleasure.
"This your house? Then you are—?" he began.
"Yes, yes, the Duke of Belleville," interrupted the young man. "But there's nobody in the house. I'm not expected——"
"I suppose not," murmured the Duke.
"There are no servants, and I don't know how to get in. It's very awkward, because I'm expecting a—a friend to call."
"With my assistance," said the Duke deferentially, "your Grace might effect an entry by the window."
"True!" cried the young man. "Bring your lantern and give me a light. Look here, I don't want this talked about."
"It is a matter quite between ourselves, your Grace," the Duke assured him, as he led the way to the window.
"By-the-by, you might help me in another matter if you like. I'll make it worth your while."
"I shall be very glad," said the Duke.
"Could you be spared from your beat for an hour?"
"It might be possible."
""Good. Come in with me, and we'll talk it over."
The Duke had by this time opened the window of his villa; he gave the young man a leg-up, and afterwards climbed in himself.
"Shut the window again," commanded the stranger. "Oh, and you might as well just close the shutters."
"Certainly, your Grace," said the Duke, and he did as he was bid.
The young man began to move round the room, examining the articles that furnished the side-tables and decorated the walls. The Duke of Belleville had been for a year or two an eager collector of antique plate, and had acquired some fine specimens in both gold and silver. Some of these were now in the villa, and the young man scrutinized them with close attention.
"Dear me," said he in a vexed tone, as he returned to the hearth, "I thought the Queen Bess flagon was here. Surely I sent it here from Belleville Castle!"
The Duke smiled; the Queen Bess flagon had never been at Belleville Castle, and it was now in a small locked cabinet which stood on the mantelpiece. He made no remark; a suspicion had begun to take shape in his mind concerning this strange visitor. Two thousand seven hundred and forty guineas was the price that he had paid for the Queen Bess flagon; all the other specimens in the little room, taken together, might be worth perhaps a quarter as much.
"Your Grace spoke of some other matter in which I might assist you?" he suggested, for the young man seemed to have fallen into a reverie.
"Why, yes. As I tell you, I expect a friend; and it looks very absurd to have no servant. You're sure to find a suit of dress clothes in my bedroom. Pray put them on and represent my valet. You can resume your uniform afterwards."
The Duke bowed and left the room. The moment the door closed behind him he made the best of his way to the kitchen. A few words were enough to impart his suspicions to the policeman. A daring and ingenious scheme was evidently on foot, its object being the theft of the Queen Bess flagon. Even now, unless they acted quickly, the young man might lay hands on the cabinet in which the treasure lay and be off with it. In a trice the Duke had discarded the police uniform, its rightful owner had resumed it, and the Duke was again in the convenient black suit which befits any man, be he duke or valet. Then the kitchen window was cautiously opened, and the policeman crawled silently round to the front of the house; here he lay in waiting for a summons or for the appearance of a visitor. The Duke returned immediately to the sitting-room.
On entering, he perceived the young man standing in front of the locked cabinet, and regarding it with a melancholy air. The Duke's appearance roused him, and he glanced with visible surprise at the distinguished and aristocratic figure which the supposed policeman presented. But he made no comment and his first words were about the flagon.
"Now I come to remember," said he, "I put the Queen Bess flagon in this cabinet. It must be so, although, as I have left my key at my rooms in St. James' Street, I can't satisfy myself on the point."
The Duke, now perfectly convinced of the character of his visitor, waited only to see him lay his hands on the cabinet. Such an action would be the signal for his instant arrest. But before the young man had time either to speak again or to put out his hand toward the cabinet, there came the sound of wheels quickly approaching the villa. A moment later a neat brougham rolled up to the door. The young man darted to the window, tore open the shutters, and looked out. The Duke, suspecting the arrival of confederates, turned toward the cabinet and took his stand in front of it.
"Go and open the door," ordered the young man, turning round. "Don't keep the lady waiting outside at this time of night."
Curiosity conquered prudence; the Duke set more value on a night's amusement than on the Queen Bess flagon. He went obediently and opened the door of the villa. On the step stood a young and very handsome girl. Great agitation was evident in her manner.
"Is—is the Duke here?" she asked.
"Yes, madame. If I lead you to the sitting-room, you will find him there," answered the Duke gravely; and with a bow he preceded her along the passage.
When they reached the room, the lady, passing by him, darted forward and flung herself affectionately into the young man's arms. He greeted her with equal warmth, while the Duke stood in the doorway in some natural embarrassment.
"I escaped so successfully!" cried the lady. "My aunt went to bed at eleven; so did I. At twelve I got up and dressed. Not a soul heard me come down-stairs, and the brougham was waiting at the door just as you said."
"My darling!" murmured the young man fondly. "Now, indeed, is our happiness certain. By to-morrow morning we shall be safe from all pursuit." Then he turned to the Duke. "I need not tell you," said he, "that you must observe silence on this matter. Oblige me now by going to my room and packing a bag; you'll know what I shall want for two or three days; I can give you a quarter of an hour."
The Duke stood in momentary hesitation. He was bewildered at the sudden change in the position caused by the appearance of this girl. Was he assisting, then, not at a refined and ingenious burglary, but at another kind of trick? The disguise assumed by the young man might have for its object the deception of a trustful girl, and not an abduction of the Queen Bess flagon.
"Well, why don't you obey?" asked the young man sharply; and, stepping up to the Duke, he thrust a ten-pound note into his hand, whispering, "Play your part, and earn your money, you fool."
The Duke lingered no longer. Leaving the room, he walked straight, rapidly, and with a firm tread, up-stairs. When he reached the top he paused to listen. All was still! Stay! A moment later he heard a slight noise—the noise of some metal instrument turning, proceeding from the room which he had just left. The Duke sat down on the landing and took off his boots. Then with silent feet he crept cautiously down-stairs again. He paused to listen for an instant outside the sitting-room door. Voices were audible, but he could not hear the words. The occupants of the room were moving about. He heard a low amused laugh. Then he pursued his way to the hall door. He had not completely closed it after admitting the lady, and he now slipped out without a sound. The brougham stood in front of the door. The Duke dodged behind it, and the driver, who was leaning forward on his seat, did not see him. The next moment he was crouching down by the side of his friend the policeman, waiting for the next development in the plot of this comedy, or crime, or whatever it might turn out to be. He put out his hand and touched his ally. To his amusement the man, sitting there on the ground, had fallen fast asleep.
"Another proof," mused the Duke in whimsical despair, "that it is impossible to make any mode of life permanently interesting. How this fellow would despise the state of excitement which I, for the moment, am so fortunate as to enjoy! Well, I won't wake him unless need arises."
For some little while nothing happened. The policeman slept on, and the driver of the brougham seemed sunk in meditation, unless, indeed, he also were drowsy. The shutters of the sitting-room were again closely shut, and no sound came from behind them. The Duke crouched motionless but keenly observant.
Then the hall door creaked. The policeman snored quietly, but the Duke leaned eagerly forward, and the driver of the brougham suddenly sat up quite straight, and grasped his reins more firmly. The door was cautiously opened: the lady and the young man appeared on the threshold. The young man glanced up and down the lane; then he walked quickly toward the brougham, and opened the door. The lady followed him. As she went she passed within four or five feet of where the Duke lay hidden. And, as she went by, the Duke saw—what he half-expected, yet what he could but half-believe—the gleam of the gold of the Queen Bess flagon, which she held in her gloved hands.
As has been hinted, the Duke attached no superstitious value to this article. The mad fever of the collector had left him long ago; but amidst the death of other emotions and more recondite prejudices there survives in the heart of man the primitive dislike of being "done." It survived in the mind of the Duke of Belleville, and sprang to strong and sudden activity when he observed his Queen Bess flagon in the hands of the pretty unknown lady.
With a sudden and vigorous spring he was upon her; with a roughness which the Duke trusted that the occasion to some extent excused, he seized her arm with one hand, and with the other violently twisted the Queen Bess flagon out of her grasp. A loud cry rang from her lips. The driver threw down the reins and leaped from his seat. The young man turned with an oath and made for the Duke. The Duke of Belleville, ignoring the mere prejudice which forbids timely retreat, took to his heels, hugging the Queen Bess flagon to his breast, and heading, in his silk socks, as hard and as straight as he could for Hampstead Heath. After him pell-mell came the young man, the driver, and the lady, amazed, doubtless, at the turn of events, but resolved on the recapture of the flagon. And just as their figures vanished round the corner, the policeman rubbed his eyes and looked round, exclaiming, "What's the row?"
In after days the Duke of Belleville was accustomed to count his feelings as he fled barefooted (for what protection could silk socks afford?) across Hampstead Heath, with three incensed pursuers on his track, among the keenest sensations of his life. The exhilaration of the night air and the chances of the situation in which he found himself combined to produce in him a remarkable elation of spirits. He laughed as he ran, till shortening breath warned him against such extravagant wasting of his resources; then he settled down to a steady run, heading across the Heath, up and down, over dip and hillock. Yet he did not distance the pack. He heard them close behind him; a glance round showed him that the lady was well up with her friends, in spite of the impediment of her skirts. The Duke began to pant; his feet had grown sore and painful; he looked round for a refuge. To his delight he perceived, about a hundred yards to his right, a small and picturesque red-brick house. It was now between one and two o'clock, but he did not hesitate. Resolving to appeal to the hospitality of this house, hoping, it may be, again to find a door left open, he turned sharp to the right, and with a last spurt made for his haven.
Fate seemed indeed kind to him; the door was not only unbarred, it stood ajar. The Duke's pursuers were even now upon him; they were no more than five or six yards behind when he reached the little red-tiled porch and put out his hand to push the door back.
But at the same instant the door was pulled open, and a burly man appeared on the threshold. He wore a frock-coat embellished with black braid and a peaked cap. The Duke at once recognized in him an inspector of police. Evidently he was, when surprised by the Duke's arrival, about to sally out on his round. The Duke stopped and, between his pants, made shift to address the welcome ally; but before he could get a word out the young man was upon him.
"Inspector," said the young man in the most composed manner, "I give this fellow in charge for stealing my property."
"I saw him take the tankard," observed the driver, pointing toward the Queen Bess flagon.
The lady said nothing but stood by the young man, as though ready with her testimony in case it were needed.
The Inspector turned curious eyes on the Duke of Belleville; then he addressed the young man respectfully.
"May I ask, sir, who you are?"
"I am the Duke of Belleville," answered the young man.
"The Duke of Belle-ville!" cried the Inspector, his manner showing an increased deference. "I beg your Grace's——"
"The name," said the Duke, "is pronounced Bewle—to rime with devil."
The Inspector looked at him scornfully.
"Your turn will come, my man," said he, and, turning again to the young man, he continued: "Do you charge him with stealing this cup?"
"Certainly I do."
"Do you know who he is?"
"I imagine you do," said the young man, with a laugh. "He's one of your own policeman."
The Inspector stepped back and turned up the gas in his passage. Then he scrutinized the Duke's features.
"One of my men?" he cried. "Your Grace is mistaken. I have never seen the man."
"Yes, yes," cried the young man, and, in his eagerness to convince the Inspector, he stepped forward, until his face fell within the range of the passage light. As this happened, the Inspector gave a loud cry:
"Hallo, Joe Simpson!" And he sprang at the young man. The latter did not wait for him: without a word he turned; the Inspector rushed forward, the young man made for the Heath, and the driver, after standing for a moment apparently bewildered, faced about, and made off in the opposite direction to that chosen by his companion. The three were thirty yards away before the Duke of Belleville could realize what had happened. Then he perceived that he stood in the passage of the Inspector's house, alone save for the presence of the young lady, who faced him with an astonished expression on her pretty countenance.
"It is altogether a very remarkable night," observed the Duke.
"It is impossible that you should be more puzzled than I am," said the young lady.
"Excuse me," said the Duke, "but you run very well."
"I belonged to my college football club," said the young lady modestly.
"Precisely!" cried the Duke. "I suppose this door leads to our good friend's parlor. Shall we sit down while you tell me all about it? I must ask you to excuse the condition of my feet."
Thus speaking, the Duke led the way into the Inspector's parlor. Placing the Queen Bess flagon on the table, he invited the lady to be seated, and took a chair himself. Perceiving that she was somewhat agitated, he provided her with an interval in which to regain her composure by narrating to her the adventures of the evening. She heard him with genuine astonishment.
"Do you say that you are the Duke of Belleville?" she cried.
"Don't I look like it?" asked the Duke, smiling, but at the same time concealing his feet under the Inspector's dining-table.
"But he—he said he was the Duke."
"He said so to me also," observed the Duke of Belleville.
The lady looked at him long and keenly; there was, however, a simple honesty about the Duke's manner that attracted her sympathy and engaged her confidence.
"Perhaps I'd better tell you all about it," said she, with a sigh.
"Not unless you desire to do so, I beg," said the Duke, with a wave of his hand.
"I am nineteen," began the lady. The Duke heaved an envious sigh. "I live with my aunt," she continued. "We live a very retired life. Since I left college—which I did prematurely owing to a difference of opinion with the Principal—I have seen hardly any one. In the course of a visit to the seaside I met the gentleman who—who——"
"From whom we have just parted?" suggested the Duke.
"Thank you, yes. Not to weary you with details——"
"Principles weary me, but not details," interposed the Duke.
"In fact," continued the young lady, "he professed to be in love with me. Now my aunt, although not insensible to the great position which he offered me (for of course he represented himself as the Duke of Belleville) entertains the opinion that no girl should marry till she is twenty-one. Moreover she considered that the acquaintance was rather short."
"May I ask when you first met the gentleman?"
"Last Monday week. So she forbade the marriage. I am myself of an impatient disposition."
"So am I," observed the Duke of Belleville, and in the interest of the discussion he became so forgetful as to withdraw his feet from the shelter of the table and cross one leg comfortably over the other. "So am I," he repeated, nodding his head.
"I therefore determined to live my own life in my own way——"
"I think you said you had been to college?"
"Yes, but I had a difference of——"
"Quite so. Pray proceed," said the Duke courteously.
"And to run away with my fiancé. In pursuance of this plan, I arranged to meet him to-night at his villa at Hampstead. He sent a brougham to fetch me, I made my escape successfully, and the rest you know."
"Pardon me, but up to this point the part played by the flagon which you see on the table before you is somewhat obscure."
"Oh, when you'd gone to pack his things, he took out a curious little instrument—he said he had forgotten his key—and opened the cabinet on the mantelpiece. Then he took out that pretty mug and gave it to me as my wedding present. He told me that it was very valuable, and he would carry it for me himself, but I declared that I must carry it for myself or I wouldn't go. So he let me. And then you——"
"The whole thing is perfectly plain," declared the Duke with emphasis. "You, madame, have been the victim of a most dastardly and cold-blooded plot. This fellow is a swindler. I daresay he wanted to get hold of you, and thus extort money from your aunt, but his main object was no other than to carry off the famous cup which you see before you—the Queen Bess flagon." And the Duke, rising to his feet, began to walk up and down in great indignation. "He meant to kill two birds with one stone!" said he, in mingled anger and admiration.
"It is pretty!" said the young lady, taking up the flagon. "Oh, what is this figure?"
The Duke, perceiving that the lady desired an explanation, came and leaned over her chair. She turned her face up to his in innocent eagerness; the Duke could not avoid observing that she had very fine eyes. Without making any comment on the subject, however, he leaned a little lower and began to explain the significance of the figure on the Queen Bess flagon.
The Duke has been known to say that, in a world so much the sport of chance as ours, there was no reason why he should not have fallen in love with the young lady and offered to make her in very truth what she had dreamed of becoming—the Duchess of Belleville.
Her eyes were very fine, her manner frank and engaging. Moreover the Duke hated to see people disappointed. Thus the thing might just as well have happened as not. And on so narrow a point did the issue stand that to this day certain persons declare that it—or part of it—did happen; for why, and on what account, they ask, should an experienced connoisseur (and such undoubtedly was the Duke of Belleville) present a young lady previously unknown to him (or, for the matter of that, any young lady at all, whether known or not known to him) with such a rare, costly, and precious thing as the Queen Bess flagon? For the fact is—let the meaning and significance of the fact be what they will—that when the young lady, gazing fondly the while on the flagon, exclaimed, "I never really cared about him much, but I should have liked the beautiful flagon!" the Duke answered (he was still leaning over her chair, in order the better to explain and trace the figure on the flagon):
"Of him you are well rid. But permit me to request your acceptance of the flagon. The real Duke of Belleville, madame, must not be outdone by his counterfeit."
"Really?" cried the young lady.
"Of course," murmured the Duke, delighted with the pleasure which he saw in her eyes.
The young lady turned a most grateful and almost affectionate glance on the Duke. Although ignorant of the true value of the Queen Bess flagon, she was aware that the Duke had made her a very handsome present.
"Thank you," said she, putting her hands into the Duke's.
At this moment a loud and somewhat strident voice proceeded from the door of the room.
"Well, I never! And how did you come here?"
The Duke, looking round, perceived a stout woman, clad in a black petticoat and a woolen shawl; her arms were akimbo.
"We came in, madame," said he, rising and bowing, "by the hall door, which we chanced to find open."
The stout woman appeared to be at a loss for words. At length, however, she gasped out:
"Be off with you. Don't let the Inspector catch you here!"
The Duke looked doubtfully at the young lady.
"The woman probably misunderstands," he murmured. The young lady blushed slightly. The Inspector's wife advanced with a threatening demeanor.
"Who are you?" she asked abruptly.
"I, madame," began the Duke, "am the——"
"I don't see that it matters who we are," interposed the young lady.
"Possibly not," admitted the Duke, with a smile.
The young lady rose, went to a little mirror that hung on the wall, and adjusted the curls which appeared from under the brim of her hat.
"Dear me," said she, turning round with a sigh, "it must be nearly three o'clock, and my aunt always likes me to be in before daybreak."
The stout woman gasped again.
Because of the neighbors, you know," said the young lady with a smile.
"Just so," assented the Duke, and possibly he would have added more, had not the woman uttered an inarticulate cry and pointed to his feet.
"Really, madame," remarked the Duke, with some warmth, "it would have been in better taste not to refer to the matter." And with a severe frown he offered his arm to the young lady. They then proceeded toward the doorway. The Inspector's wife barred the passage. The Duke assumed a most dignified air. The woman reluctantly gave way. Walking through the passage, the young lady and the Duke found themselves again in the open air. There were signs of approaching dawn.
"I really think I had better get home," whispered the young lady.
At this moment—and the Duke was not in the least surprised—they perceived four persons approaching them. The Inspector walked with his arm through the arm of the young man who had claimed to be the Duke of Belleville; following, arm-in-arm with the driver of the brougham, came the policeman whose uniform the Duke had borrowed. All the party except the Inspector looked uneasy. The Inspector appeared somewhat puzzled. However he greeted the Duke with a cry of welcome.
"Now we can find out the truth of it all!" he exclaimed.
"To find out truth," remarked the Duke, "is never easy and not always desirable."
"I understand that you are the Duke of Belleville?" asked the Inspector.
"Certainly," said the Duke.
"Bosh!" said the young man. "Oh, you know me. Inspector Collins, and I know you, and I'm not going to try and play it on you any more. But this chap's no more the Duke than I am, and I should have thought you might have known one of your own policemen!"
The Inspector turned upon him fiercely.
"None of your gab, Joe Simpson," said he. Then turning to the Duke, he continued, "Do you charge the young woman with him, your Grace?" And he pointed significantly to the Queen Bess flagon, which the young lady carried in an affectionate grasp.
"This lady," said the Duke, "has done me the honor of accepting a small token of my esteem. As for these men, I know nothing about them." And he directed a significant glance at the young man. The young man answered his look. The policeman seemed to grow more easy in his mind. "Then you don't charge any of them?" cried the Inspector, bewildered.
"Why, no," answered the Duke. "And I suppose they none of them charge me?"
Nobody spoke. The Inspector took out a large red handkerchief and mopped his brow.
"Well, it beats me," he said. "I know pretty well what these two men are; but if your Grace don't charge 'em, what can I do?"
"Nothing, I should suppose," said the Duke blandly. And, with a slight bow, he proceeded on his way, the young lady accompanying him. Looking back once, he perceived the young man and the driver of the brougham going off in another direction with quick furtive steps, while the Inspector and the policeman stood talking together outside the door of the house.
"The circumstances, as a whole, no doubt appear peculiar to the Inspector," observed the Duke, with a smile.
"Do you think that we can find a hansom cab?" asked the young lady a little anxiously. "You see, my aunt——"
"Precisely," said the Duke, and he quickened his pace.
They soon reached the boundary of the Heath, and, having walked a little way along the road, were so fortunate as to find a cab. The young lady held out her left hand to the Duke: in her right she still grasped firmly the Queen Bess flagon.
"Good-by," she said. "Thank you for the beautiful present."
The Duke took her hand and allowed his glance to rest for a moment on her face. She appeared to see a question in his eyes.
"Yes, and for rescuing me from that man," she added with a little shudder.
The Duke's glance still rested on her face,
"Yes, and for lots of fun," she whispered with a blush.
The Duke looked away, sighed, released her hand, helped her into the cab, and retired to a distance of some yards. The young lady spoke a few words to the cabman, took her seat, waved a small hand, held up the Queen Bess flagon, kissed it, and drove away.
"If," observed the Duke with a sigh, "I were not a well-bred man, I should have asked her name," and he made his way back to his house in a somewhat pensive mood.
On reaching home, however, he perceived the brougham standing before his door. A new direction was thus given to his meditations. He opened the gate of his stable-yard, and, taking the horse's head, led it in. Having unharnessed it, he put it in the stable and fed and watered it; the brougham he drew into the coach-house. Then he went indoors, partook of some brandy mixed with water, and went to bed.
At eleven o'clock the next morning Frank, the Duke's man, came up to Hampstead to attend to his Grace's wants. The Duke was still in bed, but, on breakfast being ready, he rose and came down-stairs in his dressing-gown and a pair of large and very easy slippers.
"I hope your Grace slept well?" said Prank.
"I never passed a better night, thank you. Frank," said the Duke as he chipped the top off his egg.
"Half-an-hour ago, your Grace," Frank continued, "a man called."
"To see me?"
"It was about—about a brougham, your Grace."
"Ah! What did you say to him?"
"I said I had no orders about a brougham from your Grace."
"Quite right, Frank, quite right," said the Duke with a smile. "What did he say to that?"
"He appeared to be put out, but said that he would call again, your Grace."
"Very good," said the Duke, rising and lighting a cigarette.
Frank lingered uneasily near the door.
"Is anything the matter, Frank?" asked the Duke kindly.
"Well, your Grace, in—in point of fact, there is—there is a strange brougham and a strange horse in the stables, your Grace."
"In what respect," asked the Duke, "are the brougham and the horse strange, Frank?"
"I—I should say, your Grace, a brougham and a horse that I have not seen before in your Grace's stables."
"That is a very different thing, Frank," observed the Duke with a patient smile. "I suppose that I am at liberty to acquire a brougham and a horse if it occurs to me to do so?"
"Of course, your Grace," stammered Prank.
"I will drive into town in that brougham to-day, Frank," said the Duke.
Frank bowed and withdrew. The Duke strolled to the window and stood looking out as he smoked his cigarette.
"I don't think the man will call again," said he. Then he drew from his pocket the ten-pound note that the young man had given him, and regarded it thoughtfully. "A brougham, a horse, ten pounds, and a very diverting experience," he mused. "Yes, I am better in spirits this morning!"
As for the Queen Bess flagon, he appeared to have forgotten all about it.