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   Chapter 28 THE INTERVIEWING OF PHYLLIS

A Maker of History By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 11100

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


THE Marquise made a wry face at his departing figure, which changed swiftly into a smile as she turned to the young Vicomte.

"Ah, these Englishmen!" she exclaimed. "These dull, good, obstinate, stupid pigs of Englishmen! If they would lose their tempers once-get angry, anything. Do they make love as coldly, I wonder?"

"Dear cousin," he answered, "I do not know. But if you will permit me I will show you--"

"Henri!"

He sighed.

"You are so adorable, Angèle," he murmured.

"And you," she answered, "are so indiscreet. It is not your day, and I am expecting Gustav at any moment, I have left word that he is to be shown up here. There, my hand for one moment, not so roughly, sir. And now tell me why you came."

"On a diplomatic errand, my dear cousin. I must see Miss Poynton."

She touched a bell.

"I will send for her," she said. "I shall not let you see her alone. She is much too good-looking, and you are far too impressionable!"

He looked at her reproachfully.

"Angèle," he said, "you speak so of a young English miss-to me, Henri de Bergillac-to me who have known-who knows--"

She interrupted him laughing. The exaggerated devotion of his manner seemed to amuse her.

"My dear Henri!" she said. "I do not believe that even a young English miss is safe from you. But attend! She comes."

Phyllis entered the room and came towards them. She was dressed in black, and she was still pale, but her eyes and mouth were wholly without affinity to the class of young person whom Henri had expected to see. He rose and bowed, and Phyllis regarded him with frank interest.

"Phyllis," the Marquise said, "this is the Vicomte de Bergillac, and he brings you messages from some one or other. Your affairs are quite too complicated for my little head. Sit down and let him talk to you."

"If Monsieur le Vicomte has brought me messages from the right person," Phyllis said with a smile, "he will be very welcome. Seriously, Monsieur, I seem to have fallen amongst friends here whose only unkindness is an apparent desire to turn my life into a maze. I hope that you are going to lead me out."

"I can conceive, Mademoiselle," the Vicomte answered with his hand upon his heart, "no more delightful undertaking."

"Then I am quite sure," she answered, laughing softly, "that we are both going to be very happy. Please go on!"

"Mademoiselle speaks delightful French," he murmured, a little surprised.

"And, Monsieur, I can see," she answered, "is an apt flatterer. Afterwards as much as you please. But now-well, I want to hear about Guy."

"Mademoiselle has commanded," he said with a little gesture. "To proceed then. Monsieur Guy is well, and is my constant companion. He is with friends who wish him well, and this morning, Mademoiselle, the President himself has given written orders to the police to proceed no further in the unfortunate little affair of which Mademoiselle has knowledge."

Phyllis had lost all her pallor. She smiled delightfully upon him. Madame la Marquise rose with a little impatient movement, and walked to the further end of the room.

"How nice of you to come and tell me this," she exclaimed, "and what a relief! I am sure I think he is very fortunate to have made such good friends."

"Mademoiselle," he declared with emphasis, "one at least of those friends is more than repaid."

She laughed back into his eyes, frankly amused by his gallantry.

"And now," she said, "we come to the beginning of the riddles. Why is it necessary for him to be supposed drowned, if he is no longer in danger from the police?"

"Ah, Mademoiselle," he said, "I must speak to you now of strange things. But, first, I must implore you to promise me this, and remember it always. Every word that I am going to say to you now must remain for the present a profound secret. That is agreed?"

"Certainly!" she answered.

"Your brother," he continued, "in his travels on the Continent stumbled by chance upon a State secret of international importance. He had himself no idea of it, but a chance word which he let fall, on the first evening I met him, gave the clue to myself and some friends. In his enforced retirement we-that is, my uncle and others-learned from him the whole story of his adventure. It has placed the Government of this country under great obligations. This, together with your service to us, has secured his pardon."

"This is wonderful!" she murmured.

"It is not all," he continued. "The spies of the country where he learnt this secret have followed him to Paris. They are to-day searching for him everywhere. If they knew that he realized the importance of what he had seen, and had communicated it to the proper persons here, our advantage in knowing it would be largely lost. So far they have not traced him. Now, I think that you have the key to what must have puzzled you so much."

"This is wonderful!" she murmured. "Let me think for a moment."

"You are naturally anxious," the Vicomte continued, "to see your brother. Before very long, Mademoiselle, I trust that it may be my pleasure to bring you together. But when I tell you that you are watched continually in the hope that, through you, your brother's hiding-place may be found, you will understand the wisdom which for the present keeps you apart."

"I suppose so," she answered dubiously. "But now that his death is reported?"

"Exactly, Mademoiselle. The affair has been arranged so that the search for your brother will be abandoned and the espionage on you removed. If the s

tory of his doings in Paris, and the tragic sequel to them, be believed by those whom we wish to believe it, then they will also assume that his secret has died with him, and that their schemes move on towards success. You understand?"

"Yes, Monsieur le Vicomte, I understand," she answered slowly. "What, then, do you wish me to do?"

"Mademoiselle," the Vicomte answered, fixing his dark eyes impressively upon her, "for you there remains the hardest of all tasks-inaction. Believe me that when I came here, it was not my intention to put the truth of the matter so plainly before you. Neither was it the will of those whose orders I carry out. But I, Mademoiselle, before all things, I believe in inspiration. I find in Mademoiselle"-he bowed once more-"qualities which alter the situation. I-a judge of faces as I venture to believe myself-have looked into yours, and many things have happened."

She laughed delightfully. Her eyes were lit with humor.

"Ah, Monsieur!" she protested.

"With you, Mademoiselle," he continued, "reposes now a secret of great importance to your country and mine. I ask for no pledge of discretion, but I rely upon it. And, especially, Mademoiselle, may I warn you against your friends?"

"I understand," she answered. "You wish me to share this confidence with no one."

"With no one," the Vicomte repeated impressively. "Not even, Mademoiselle, if I may venture to mention a name, with your very persistent admirer, Sir George Duncombe, whom I saw here a few moments since."

She sighed, and the Vicomte's face became one of pale anxiety.

"I have not been permitted to see him," she answered. "He was here a few minutes ago."

"It is wiser so, Mademoiselle," the Vicomte said. "I wonder," he added, "whether Mademoiselle will pardon the impertinence of a purely personal question?"

"I will try," she answered demurely.

"This Englishman-Sir George Duncombe-are you perhaps-how you say, betrothed to him?"

A certain bluntness in the question, and the real or affected anxiety of the young man's tone brought the color streaming into her cheeks.

"Monsieur," she exclaimed, "you really must not--"

"Ah, but, Mademoiselle," he interrupted, "so much depends upon your answer."

"Absurd!" she murmured. "I really do not see why I should answer such a question at all."

"You will be merciful?" he begged, lowering his tone.

"I will," she answered. "I hope you will appreciate my confidence. I am not engaged to Sir George Duncombe."

His sigh of relief was marvellous. She found it harder than ever to keep the laughter from her eyes.

"Mademoiselle," he declared, "it makes me happy to have you say this."

"Really, Vicomte!" she protested.

"The situation, too," he said, "becomes less complex. We can very easily deal with him now. He shall annoy you no more!"

"But he doesn't annoy me," she answered calmly. "On the contrary I should like to see him very much, if I were permitted."

"Mademoiselle will understand well the indiscretion," he said earnestly.

She sighed a little wearily.

"I am afraid," she said, "that I find it a little hard to understand anything clearly, but you see that I trust you. I will not see him."

"Mademoiselle is very wise," he answered. "Indeed, it is better not. There remains now a question which I have come to ask."

"Well?"

"Mademoiselle did not by chance whilst waiting for her brother think of examining his luggage?"

She nodded.

"I did look through it," she admitted.

"There was a paper there, which is missing now-a sheet of paper with writing on it-in German. It is not possible that Mademoiselle took possession of it?" he demanded eagerly.

She nodded.

"That is just what I did do," she said. "I could read a few words, and I could not understand how it came to be in his bag. It seemed to be part of an official agreement between two countries."

"You have it now?" he cried eagerly. "You have it in your possession?"

She shook her head

"I gave it to some one to take care of," she said, "when I was over in England. I got frightened when we were nearly caught at Runton, and I did not want it to be found upon me."

"To whom?" he cried.

"To Sir George Duncombe!"

The Vicomte was silent for a moment.

"You believe," he asked, "that Sir George Duncombe would guard it carefully?"

"I am sure he would," she answered.

"Mademoiselle," he said, "this is very important. Your brother's luggage has been searched, and we came to the conclusion that the paper had been taken by those who had followed him here, and may possibly have been aware that he had it. If we can get possession of it, it will be very much to the advantage of your country and mine. I scarcely dare say more. Will you give me a letter to Sir George instructing him to deliver it up to me?"

She leaned a little forward and looked steadily into his eyes.

"Monsieur le Vicomte," she said, "I do not know you very well, and it is very hard indeed for me to tell who are my friends here. Can I trust you?"

"Mademoiselle," he answered, "I will not say 'like your brother,' for it is a relationship I have no wish to bear. Let me say like the person to whom your welfare is dearer even than his own."

Phyllis felt her lips curve into a smile. Despite his youth and manner, which seemed to her a little affected, there was nevertheless undoubted earnestness in the admiration which he took no pains to conceal.

"Very well, Monsieur le Vicomte," she said, "I will give you the letter."

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