THE next morning Philippa lay in her elaborate bed with the violet hangings, and ruminated. She was charming in a white silk negligée, her yellow hair softly framing the interesting pallor of her face and the not unbecoming lustre of her weary, sleep-hungry eyes. She was conscious of it, but was too miserable to feel satisfied. For the first time in her life she admitted a doubt of her talent as a diplomat, and a dawn of real conditions vaguely lighted her mind. She realized that her conceit, her belief in her own social invulnerability, had led her into a terrible impasse.
She twisted uncomfortably and drew the bed-clothes round her as she contemplated the situation. She strove to collect her wits and think clearly; but memories of the previous day rose suddenly before her, visioned with insistent terror. She flushed crimson with mortification and rage.
She was loath to admit it, but she had bungled, bungled fearfully. And worst of all, what must Valdeck think of her! She had talked too much for either his plans or hers. And she began to realize in what dangerous places she had spread her fatal information. She had left her tracks uncovered. She moaned aloud and twisted anew, recalling a thousand insinuations she had let fall, a thousand confidences rawly made. She had committed herself, and must take the blame or openly throw it on Valdeck—where it belonged. Here she buried her face in the pillow in agony. She could not do that; she must shield him.
The one spark of womanhood in her false and selfish nature was awake at last in his service. She loved him! She knew it now! Loved him! loved him!
She lay still for some moments, buried in a blissful misery. Then she shivered convulsively. And what of her dinner with him at Gagano's? She had been seen—by whom? Mrs. Durham had the story straight enough. But Valdeck would deny it; she would deny it. Mrs. Denison would substantiate her story of dinner with her. But the husband—Philippa's conceit lifted its humbled head—he would have to be won over. Morton would never believe it. But heavens! how near she had been to betraying herself when the mine was sprung. She congratulated herself on her fainting fit, the first well-managed move of her disastrous campaign.
She glanced at the little silver clock on the table by her bedside, sat up and rubbed her face, stiff from the night's visions and vigil.
"Come what would," she thought, "she must fulfil her duty to Valdeck. She had his secret in her keeping. More than that, concealed under the bed lay a despatch-box that contained the trust moneys of the 'Polish Educational Society.' A glow of returning self-respect passed over her, as she thought of the confidence he reposed in her. "Hers was the hand he had selected to help him in his hour of need." She recalled the momentous interview when he had begged her to keep his treasure for him until such time as she should be able safely to transfer it, and the directions she had received for its disposal.
She was on the point of getting out of bed to make sure that the box was still there, when she distinguished her aunt's step in the hall, and quickly sank back among her lace-frilled pillows.
Mrs. Ford did not give herself the trouble of knocking, but marched magnificently into the sanctuary of beauty. She was clad in a walking-suit of a military cut and many brass buttons, and was even more than usual the drum-major. Her face suggested court-martial, however, and Philippa winced. The aunt stood for a moment by the bed, and regarded the niece with cold-blooded appraisal.
"You are a good-looking girl," she remarked, at length; "and I have made considerable sacrifices of my comfort, as a speculation on your chances. But it seems you are a fool!—and so am I, for believing in you."
Philippa rolled over, and presented a view of her back.
"I am informed that there was a scene here yesterday, in which Miss Claudel, Mrs. Durham, Morton Conway, and that Valdeck participated."
"You have been gossiping with the servants, I see," commented her listener.
Mrs. Ford flushed, but continued, icily:
"Never mind how I secured my information; I have secured it—that is the principal thing. But from what I heard yesterday in several houses I expected some trouble. There are many unpleasant stories afoot concerning Victoria Claudel, and every one quotes you as authority."
Philippa groaned inwardly.
"Who told you such an extraordinary thing? I can guess, if the world can not. And it strikes me that your intimacy with Valdeck must have reached a remarkable pass before he would confide to you his love-affairs, real or invented. Now if you give Valdeck as authority for this scandal, the world will say what I have said. If you do not quote Valdeck, you must answer for the story yourself. Now what will you do?"
There was silence in the abode of beauty.
"There is only one way for you to clear the board. Get Morton to marry you at once, quietly, and go abroad. You haven't sense enough to think of that for yourself, so I came to tell you. And another thing. If you want to save yourself, drop that scallawag Pole. Furthermore, if the worst happens, you needn't come to me—with a slander suit on your hands, your engagement broken off by Morton, and the open secret of your affection for a man whose popularity is entirely mushroom, and of whom nothing is known except a few letters of introduction care lessly given."
Mrs. Ford rose without relaxing the austere anger of her face, and sailed majestically from the room.
"Devil! devil! devil! devil!" said Philippa, under her breath, as the door closed upon her.
Philippa endured another half-hour of agonized contemplation of her life's chessboard. At the end of that time she rose, fagged and worn, and looked about her miserably. Her aunt was right. She must sacrifice Valdeck, marry Morton, and go abroad. Her hand sunk limply in her lap as she seated herself on the edge of her bed.
"Sacrifice Valdeck! Never see him again—never again!" For a moment she sat staring in the mirror before her, for the first time in her life blind to her own image.
Suddenly something deep within her seemed to break. She heard a sob, realized that it came from her own aching throat, and throwing her self on her bed again, she gave herself up to a passion of weeping—not tears such as she had shed before, but tears that seemed to swell and rise from the very depths of her heart, and to find their way to her eyes in hopeless agony.
How long she lay crying she did not know, but at last, realizing that action would soon be required of her, she washed her red and swollen eyes and proceeded to her toilet, which had somehow lost its usual charm. She dispensed with the services of the maid, preferring solitude and the difficulties of hooking her own collar. She selected the plainest tailor gown and most sad-colored blouse, theatrical to the last. As the final hook was fastened, and the last pin adjusted, a timid knock called her attention.
The maid entered, with such an assumed look of unconcern that Philippa was unpleasantly conscious of the inevitable talk below-stairs, occasioned by yesterday's storm. The woman presented the silver tray on which lay her mistress's morning mail. Philippa collected it quickly and nodded dismissal. She had hoped for a word from Valdeck. There was only a wedding-card, a note from the dressmaker, and a plain envelope with a typewritten address, that she left to the last, thinking it an advertisement or a bill. Its contents, however, stopped her heart and then set it going violently.
A few lines in the well-known handwriting:
"My beloved Lady Philippa: One last service I beg of you. Go to the Germanic, which sails to-morrow, Wednesday, at two. Give the box to a lady who will meet you there in State room 148. She will wear a tan ulster with blue velvet collar and hold a bunch of carnations. Address her in French as Madame Tollé. I am watched too carefully to trust putting in an appearance; but I trust you even as I would myself. God reward you, my beloved, my own, for your goodness to me and a just and noble cause."
Obviously this had been written before the scene of the previous afternoon. She consulted the postmark and found she was right.
"Two o'clock!" She glanced at her watch. "Half-past twelve already!" Hastily pinning on her toque and selecting a blue chiffon veil that disguised while it enhanced her charm, she pulled out the despatch-box from its place of concealment. It was very heavy. Wrapping it about in thick paper till it resembled a large package of books, she addressed it to Mme. Tollé, Room 148, S. S. Germanic, in case anything should prevent her interview with the mysterious woman. Going down-stairs, she notified the butler that she would not be home to lunch. Then she ate a cracker and drank a glass of sherry, for her emotions had consumed her strength. This done, she started on her journey.
At the door a qualm of fear caught her. Her aunt's words rang in her ears: "Drop that scallawag Pole if you want to save yourself." But the warning passed unheeded. Her love, now watered by her tears, had grown in strength and luxuriance. She would serve him in this last request. She would save him and the cause he loved, even if she must put him out of her life forever, after this one last effort to play his providence.
She called a cab, and sank upon its cushions restfully. The jangle of harness and the rattle of wheels made a soothing music to her strained and quivering nerves.
When she reached the long wharf, Philippa woke from her apathy, and telling the man to wait, made her way under the huge shed, among the throng of travellers, agents, baggage-men, and teamsters. All was bustle and confusion, swinging crates and banging trunks. The gangways were thronged by hurrying men, people hung over the rail and talked to others on the dock. Stewards flew by, carrying hand-luggage, marked "Wanted"; steamer-trunks bumped along toward the second deck, where busy men lined them up for the sloping gang way of the first cabin. She went directly to the saloon, all mahogany and gold, plate-glass and shimmering brass-work. There were heaps of flowers, books, and candy-boxes lying on the long, stationary tables. Excited people were claiming their belongings, or holding high-voiced conversations. The stewards rushed madly by, beset with countless questions, and unable or unwilling to answer any. Philippa had to wait. A hasty exploration of the corridor near at hand showed her that, numerically, she was far from her destination. A fair-haired, stupid-eyed, German cabin-boy, who hugged a trumpet and gazed vacantly on her, was at last persuaded to inform her that 148 would be on the other side, and "oop-stairs."
Following his directions, Philippa at last found the cabin numbers dwindling—180, 176. She came out of one of the side aisles, and came face to face with Victoria Claudel. The shock was so great that she almost dropped the treasure-box. But Victoria, who was bidding an affectionate farewell to a girl friend, merely turned her back and proceeded with her conversation.
Philippa had to pass them to reach her number, and a dull fear crossed her heart as if she had neared something baneful. Again her aunt's words rang in her ears: "Drop that scallawag Pole if you want to save yourself!"
She was on the brink of a nervous collapse, but blind to her danger. An open door attracted her attention. Over it was the number 148. The light from the port-hole showed the simple, yet luxurious cabin furnishings. On the sofa bunk, with her back to the light, sat a tall woman, wearing a modish, forward-tilted hat and a tan ulster, and holding loosely in her lap a bunch of red carnations.
Philippa mustered her courage, and assumed the manner of an old acquaintance.
"I have come to wish you a pleasant trip, Madame Tollé, and to bring you some books to lighten your journey." She spoke in French, with an affected ease, but in spite of herself her voice was thin, excited, and broken.
The woman rose gracefully, and greeted her.
"You are very good," she said; and she closed the cabin door sharply.
Philippa, with a sigh of relief, deposited her burden on the sofa, and stood awkwardly.
"So," the woman continued, with a strange tone of irony and bitterness, placing herself in front of the door. "So you are the creature who has taken his fancy now, are you? Let me ask you this, madame, do you think I have risked my life and freedom for him, that he may spend his love on such as you, hein? It is to the death between us, I warn you. Not yet, for we are not in a position, but later—later!"
"Let me pass!" Philippa demanded, hysterically, frightened out of her self-control. "I have done my duty—let me go! I don't know you, and I don't understand."
The Frenchwoman laughed, jeeringly.
"Oh, no. How should you understand!"
A sound of voices in the corridor made her lower her tone. "Oh, no. But wait, wait till we are out of the woods; then come to France if you dare, and see what the end will be."
Philippa's nerves were giving way. She felt ill and dizzy; but her glance fell on the call-bell, and her face lighted up.
"I shall ring," she said, with all the dignity she could muster.
Madame Tollé caught her hand just as the door she had defended swung open. In the narrow passage stood two men, their eyes fastened on the occupants of 148, and Philippa, seeing relief in their presence, sprang forward.
Her antagonist turned quickly, and caught sight of the faces before her. The change that came over her was terrible. She seemed to shrink as in the fire of a furnace. She backed away slowly, till her foot caught on the protruding corner of her bag. She stumbled against the wash-stand and clung to it for support.
Philippa, having no key to the situation, looked astonishment not unmixed with relief. She hurried across the raised threshold, trembling and pale.
"That woman is mad!" she said, brokenly.
One of the men stepped to her side and caught her with a detaining hand.
"You cannot go, madame—pardon me. You had better say nothing," he added, in a lower tone. "Anything you might say would be used against you."
"What do you mean?" Philippa demanded, fiercely.
But there was no leisure for questions or answers.
A smothered exclamation sounded from within, a quick rush, and through the open door they saw the other man close with the tall figure of the woman. Her hand was slowly forced above her head. In it she held a small revolver. The fingers clinched, there was a sharp report, a whiff of smoke—a hole in the ceiling.
Philippa moved as if to run out. The grip on her arm was tightened.
Down the main corridor a confusion of hastening feet and frightened voices announced the panic caused by the shot. She saw the steel handcuffs slip over the helpless hands of Madame Tollé. A third man slipped by them and quickly gathered up the scattered baggage, the despatch-box, and two hand-bags. In another instant they were surrounded by anxious, inquiring faces. She was being conducted to the main corridor; presently they would be in the saloon.
Philippa staggered and gasped.
"Brace up," said her captor, not unkindly. "I'll take you through as if you had nothing to do with it. You're not an old hand." He looked at her admiringly. "Bad company, my girl, bad company."
Her tongue clove to the roof of her mouth. There in the crowd stood Victoria, looking at her. She tried to raise her head and walk haughtily by, but she could not. Her eyes would fix themselves on the face of her former friend. She saw an expression of the utmost amazement cross Victoria's face, saw those fine, fearless gray eyes travel back to her with sudden comprehension.
Victoria slipped from her place with a matter-of-fact air, and quietly joined her.
"Permit me to accompany this lady," she said, leaning across and addressing the detective in a low voice. "There is some mistake."
He looked at her sharply, and nodded.
"Every one is leaving the ship," she continued, gently, in Philippa's ear. "Lower your veil, walk easily, and nobody will guess—talk to me; seem interested."
Philippa turned her tortured eyes to Victoria, but her paralyzed tongue could form no sound.
They reached the gangplank and the dock, conscious that the attention of the crowd was centred on the figures that followed them. There was a confused murmur of voices and exclamations.
"Turn round and look as if you, too, were interested," commanded Victoria, and the helpless Philippa obeyed.
"This way," directed their conductor, indicating a waiting cab. "We have two, for we expected to land the gentleman himself—not this lady, though. The whole affair is a pretty rum go."
"I'm coming with you," Victoria observed, determinedly. "This lady can prove her innocence, I am sure. And she should be protected."
Without waiting for consent or refusal, she entered the cab and assisted Philippa, who was spent and trembling.
The detective let down the little seat in front of them, slammed the door, and the cab lurched forward toward the police-station.