Lady's Moresby Secret
From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
Illustrated by Albert Bailey.
Lady's Moresby Secret
"You mean that blonde woman in green ? That is Lady Moresby, wife of Sir William Moresby, the coal magnate. Rather lovely creature, what ? She's the proud possessor of the Moresby emeralds. I've only seen them once. A most vulgar looking string!" He clawed across the bar at the decanter.
"Do they live in town ?" the tall young man asked carelessly.
"Who? Oh, the Moresbys. Well, they've got a big place on the river. Give most elaborate parties. I'll introduce you, if you like. You're such a damned enquiring bloke, you'd better ask her all these questions yourself."
He led the way across the room and bent over the woman's hand.
"It's so nice to see you, again, Lady Moresby. You may not remember me. I'm Jerry Gillingham, and I had the pleasure of meeting you at a party which your husband gave at your home last year."
"Oh, yes." The lovely eyes took in the rather vacuous-faced young man with an utter lack of interest.
"Er — may I introduce a friend of mine, Basil Ridley?"
The blue eyes met the grey and held for a moment.
Then the tall man bowed and Jerry Gillingham scuttled back to his whisky.
"I've wanted to meet you for a long time," the man smiled at her.
"Have we crossed trails so often?" she asked.
"No. I have never seen you before to-night!"
"But I have been here only a few minutes!"
"Minutes can sometimes seem a long time."
A shadow of interest showed in her face and a half-smile warmed her lips. She glanced up at him and their eyes met and held again.
"Do you always flatter every woman you meet?" she asked lightly.
"No. You are entirely to blame. They're dancing in the next room. Shall we also?"
She nodded and rose to lead the way. He noticed that she moved gracefully, beautifully. They danced and committed the unforgivable sin of talking while they wafted about the floor.
She was feminine, warmly feminine, and the subtle beauty of her white shoulders quickened his senses and, perhaps, his audacity.
"London has been so dull up to now," he murmured. "But somehow I feel that it is going to be less so in the future."
"You sound a very jaded person. What do you do with yourself?"
"Nothing.... Monte Carlo, Biarritz, Rome: the usual silken web."
"But what a waste of time! Don't you ever work at anything?"
"Certainly! At doing nothing! It's quite a skilful task sometimes. But now will you be very sweet and help to break the monotony?"
They danced for a moment in silence and then she looked at her companion.
"How?" she asked.
"By having lunch with me at the new Blue Room on Wednesday. So that you and I can know each other a little better than we do."
"That's hardly a conventional suggestion to a married woman whom you have known for less than half an hour!" she said with a ripple of laughter.
"Of course not. Conventions are made for those who cannot think for themselves. I may also add that you are very lovely. I admire all beautiful things, whether they are in flesh, bronze or ivory, and I have a right to pay a tribute to Nature."
She smiled at him—" Nice man! I wonder how many women you have said these things to before? You must be one of those people with a terrible reputation."
"Morality, when it is really innate, is a scarce and priceless gem," he answered. "But the convenient skirt of Respectability is too often a somewhat hypocritical garment. It doesn't suit me. By the way, you dance delightfully."
"Thank you, fair sir! But, if I may ask, why are you giving me these opinions? They're rather risqué, you know."
He laughed. "Because you happen to be that rather rare thing, a really charming woman. I feel that we are — shall I say ? — en rapport?"
"I'm not sure that I take that as a compliment to my morals."
"On the contrary, it is meant as a compliment to your mentality. You're a most delightful companion. But you have not yet answered my question. Will you lunch with me on Wednesday?"
She looked up at him. His eyes were very grey and very steady. She was on the point of refusing — meant to do so, in fact ; and then, the sudden impulse flashed into her mind. Why not? It might be amusing and it certainly would be a change, with this strangely outspoken young man.
"Perhaps," she said.
"Bless you, my dear," he murmured in her ear, and led her to the cocktail bar.
Wednesday came and they met in the lounge of the Blue Room. Tactful place, that lounge, plenty of alcoves, plenty of spreading palms and a softly graduated orchestra that did not interfere with one's personal conversation, but formed a melodious wall against the prying ears of one's neighbours. She was charming. The dove-grey toque made a perfect setting for her fair hair and the half-veil added glamour of those deep blue eyes. He told her how delightful she looked, while she took in, with pleasure, his well-knit figure, that keen, living face and his expressive hands. He knew how to talk with his hands, that man.
"I suppose that I really should not have accepted your invitation," she said. "But I have always thought that — well, that people have a right to make new friendships, even married people. Especially if they have the sense to let that friendship remain just a friendship. All I ask is that you will not mis-construe this meeting."
"You may put that fear out of your mind," he replied. I wonder if you realise what infinite satisfaction a man may find in the companionship of a woman's brain and understanding. If a man leads a rather rapid existence, he obtains many new angles on life because he has the power of comparison. And, consequently, his hopes — may I use a somewhat sentimental word? — his dreams become more vivid, more unattainable. As I look at you now, I realise just how much you can give to me" — he paused ; his eyes were deep, intense ; then added—" by speaking with your lips and by listening with your eyes."
She leant slightly across the table towards him. An elusive wisp of scent wafted about his nostrils. Bolodgia, fascinating, intriguing. Perfume can be a very dangerous thing, sometimes.
"I think that I understand," she said. "I could see from the very first that you were dissatisfied with all the things that seemed part of yourself. But it will be so difficult to meet and talk. My husband would misunderstand."
"Is he so bad a judge of women?"
"Yes. I may as well be frank with you. My husband and I have little in common. I suppose that I realised that when I married him ; but he had much to offer, and one cannot waste one's whole life hoping for romance. He judges everyone by his own standard. I know perfectly well that he is — well, I think that I could even forgive that, if he was a graceful roué. But he's not. He is just ponderously immoral."
"Then why do you continue with him."
"Don't be ridiculous, my dear! As a husband he may be a failure, but as a man he is a great success. A woman does not sacrifice everything for a vague ideal."
He looked at her for a moment, while one hand beat a thoughtful tattoo on the tablecloth.
"Ideals, in this life, are too often the parents of illusion," he said.
The grey eyes had become hard, the slight smile a mask upon his face. He studied the woman's features ; the soft, firm throat, a truant curl that peeped from beneath the chic little hat. Then his gaze wandered down and rested upon her white hand, idly playing with a fork, a slim, charming hand emphasised by the sullen beauty of the black pearl which glowed on one pale finger.
"Why so thoughtful?" she asked.
"I was thinking that Life is only a play and wishing that I could add one more act to yours and mine. To be your husband for twenty-four hours."
"And just what would that represent?" she smiled at him.
"Happiness Twenty-four hours of happiness for you and me. Then the world would go on once more."
She looked at him steadily. "In other words, you mean that you would like me to become your mistress for twenty-four hours."
"Brutal; my dear, brutal," be laughed. "No, I don't mean just that. It's too commonplace. I want you. Your thoughts, your mind, the real you that your husband has never known, has never seen."
He leant towards her; a firm hand closed on her soft fingers and their eyes met and tried to understand.
She was puzzled, perplexed. "Strange man! I wonder if these are really your thoughts?"
"If they offend you, my dear, then they are not my thoughts. Whispers, shall we, call them, merely whispers."
The waiter brought coffee and they lit cigarettes. Smoke swirled upwards, empty, vapid spirals, and her gaze followed those blue wisps.
"My dear, you know well enough that you do not offend me. I want to give you friendship, comradeship. I feel that we can both supply that to each other.
But, as I told you before, it is going to be difficult, because of my husband. Perhaps an occasional meeting...."
"It means so much," he said. "If we cannot actually meet often, then we can at least write our thoughts and opinions. It would give me something real, something sincere in my life. You could write to me at my address and, if it was more convenient to you, I could write to you, c/o your club, instead of your home." He stared down at the cigarette smouldering between his fingers and his voice became very soft, almost embarrassed: " I wonder, dear lady, if you really understand how much, how very much, sunshine you could bring to me ? Just your thoughts. Everything has seemed so worthless, so empty, So many lies in a short life, so many mirages packed in the span of a few years. But, forgive me. You will think that I am playing upon your feelings. Let's 'talk about other things."
She touched his hand with hers, a quick, warm pressure.
"No, I always want you to be natural with me," she murmured. "My husband gives a lot of parties at our Thames house, and I would like you to be there. It will be a conventional invitation to a most unconventional guest ! " she added laughingly, as they rose to leave the table.
All during her journey home by road, her mind was busy with a new elation. a pleasant awakening of thought. Perhaps a little thrill at the possession of a secret. Forbidden adventure, however innocent, carries with it a certain amount of satisfaction, and appreciation is a key which fits many doors. She thought of her husband, self-possessed and undemonstrative. Why couldn't he realise that a woman needs the unasked for, but eagerly expected, compliment on the subject of the new gown, the glance of appreciation, so swiftly noticed, at the wave in her newly-set hair. The little touches of attention which are scales of drabness or of colour in every woman's life. She thought of her suspicions on his fidelity and wondered to herself why she could feel neither anger nor resentment. Perhaps their feelings had always been too impersonal. In his position, he needed a beautiful woman to grace his dining-table, to bear his name and, as for herself — well, money could bring many compensations, she admitted mentally, as the car swept up the drive towards the big, rambling house with the broad expanse of lawn fringing the sparkle of the Thames.
Some curious desire, almost a feeling of challenge, made her clothe herself that evening with particular care. A sheath - like gown of "oyster" satin, décolletée and perfectly moulded. Her coiffure was exquisite, a rippling wave of gold. The mirror held her lovely reflection for a while, and then she descended to the dining-room.
The big form of her husband rose from an armchair in front of the fireplace, a broad-shouldered man with an unexpressive face and an erect carriage.
He gazed at her for a moment in silence.
"Why all the glad rags?" he asked. "There is no guest expected." His words were short and clipped.
She smiled at him. "I thought that this dress might appeal to you. It's a new model, and I simply couldn't resist it."
"It's quite nice," he answered. "But let's get on with dinner. It's cold enough already."
During the meal she was bright and vivacious and listened closely to his conversation of City topics and everyday events, and her eyes watched him intently when his gaze was bent upon his plate. She thought of her lunch with Ridley. Comparison can be a dangerous thing, and Sir William Moresby was a very heavy loser.
If only he could talk on any subject which would interest her, she thought : problems which they could discuss together. A desire on his part to hear her own views would have made her feel more like a wife and less like a bought mistress.
He was too utterly material to sense the feeling of strain, of tautness, which emanated from her beneath the bright smile and soft voice. Any woman would have known. She felt that Basil Ridley would have realised it also, and a flood of resentment against the self-possession of her husband filled her mind. He looked at her suddenly.
"You're very silent. One of your queer moods again, I suppose. By the way, what did you do in town to-day?"
"Oh, I had quite a rush. My hair, for one thing ; and then I looked at Molly Beresford's new flat. It's quite small, but really charming. She has decorated the whole drawing-room in pale lavender, and when she told me about it the idea seemed too dreadful. But the actual effect is lovely. Will you come and see it with me when we go to town to-morrow?"
"No, thank you! You are better equipped, my dear, to give opinions on flats than I am. I can imagine nothing more boring than to wander about looking at other people's decorations. Did you lunch with Molly?"
"No," she replied casually. "She was engaged for lunch, so I went to the Blue Room. It's so near to her flat, and I was simply starving. By the way, Bill, I saw a man there whom I met the other night at Bob Citree's party. Rather a dull person, but he might be useful to us. Bob told me that he was a most sporting investor. Shall I ask him to our next party, and then you can talk business to him?"
"All right. If you see him again at the Citrees' ask him to come along. Incidentally, I would hardly advise you to lunch at the Blue Room when you visit Molly. You may not know it, but it hasn't the very best reputation, and people are apt to talk." He raised his wine-glass and sniffed at the bouquet, then added, " In your position, as my wife, you have to be particularly careful."
Her lips tightened. "Bill, has it ever occurred to you that, in my position as your wife, these rumours which have reached my ears about your own life are extremely distasteful to me?"
The man laughed. "My dear Helen, these rumours, however unjust, need not trouble you, if you are thinking of my good name. A man may be given a reputation for immorality, but he can still keep the respect of other men and women. But if a woman is associated with scandal or with a hint of immorality, then she is bereft of her respectability in the eyes of her friends."
"Thank you, Bill. A very charming little speech. I appreciate the fact that you waited until the servants had left the room."
She smiled as she spoke, a very sweet smile, and the gaze of her eyes had the coldness of ice. "Would you like your coffee in the library?"
The man pushed back his chair. "All right. But remember what I say. You women are too damned irresponsible." He lit a cigar and went towards the door, pausing on the way to gather up the evening papers. A thick swirl of blue smoke floated in the quiet room. It wafted, like a pale web around the woman, who stood beside the table, a look of almost satisfaction on her face, as though some subconscious resolution had woken to life within her. Then she, also, turned and passed through the doorway.
That night she wrote to Ridley, a little note, quite friendly, quite innocent. The warm scent of the wallflowers was drifting through the open windows, a cloying, delicate aroma. Perhaps she realised the sense of adventure which lay in the sheet of writing-paper before her and that accounted for the little thrill of trepidation as she chose her words with scrupulous care.
She lay awake for a long time, a graceful, silken, almost voluptuous figure, watching the stars in the mystery of night. She moved restlessly. Bill was utterly impossible. She had always realised it, but matters seemed to have come to a head without any apparent reason. He seemed to expect to receive everything from her, simply because he signed the cheques which she needed. Her youth and beauty could pass unappreciated ; her thoughts did not matter. He obviously considered that he had bought all those things with his money. Her eyes narrowed at the idea. Bill definitely needed a lesson. But, as a woman, she realised that her husband was not the type of man who would profit by any lesson. If he discovered the least hint of a scandal, he would ruin her utterly, ruthlessly. Well, she must use her wits, and Bill must not even suspect such a thing as a mild flirtation. The determination to really live, to find her own interest, was strong within her, as she snuggled down into the pillows.
For the following two days she waited, half hoping, half fearing, and then she received a letter at her club, a tactful note, charming, grateful and begging, pleading for one more meeting. Perhaps she was unwise ; perhaps she sensed, in her inner self, that Fate was for her synonymous with Basil Ridley. The heart can sometimes realise these things before the brain. Anyway, she met him, not once, but twice and three times, and some-thing seemed to have changed within her. She was more vivacious, more intense ; but there was one thing which irritated far more than before. Each night the complacency of her husband grew more and more unbearable. Sometimes she felt that she could scream at him "You fool I you poor fool! I'm falling in love with another man and you think that I am dependent upon you!"
And then, one night, she wondered for a ghastly moment, just how much Sir William Moresby knew. She had spent the afternoon with Basil and, as it is so often with love, time stood still. She arrived back very late for dinner, and pleaded the fact that she had mistaken the hour.
He gazed at her for a moment and said: "My dear, one of these days you will lose your reputation through mistaking the hands of your watch." Then he went on cracking nuts and, for the first time, his very impersonality made her afraid.
She was very attentive to him that evening, very sweet, very womanly, while she kept telling herself that his remark was merely a shot in the dark — a meaningless coincidence, and nothing more. She made up her mind that she would be more careful in future, that by no deed or word would she arouse his suspicions. But, unfortunately, in this world it is human to underestimate one's own. weaknesses, and Lady Moresby's " affair " would have become public news if it had not been for the kindly discretion of Fate. It came about in this way.
A cablegram lay on the breakfast table a few mornings later, requesting the presence of Sir William at a business conference in Sweden, much to his annoyance. However, it was unavoidable and it meant a trip of at least three days, starting that very morning. The idea of his wife accompanying him simply did not occur to him. His is the type that finds the Continent more interesting when travelling singly. She drove up to town with him and telephoned Basil an hour or so after his departure.
They had decided, early in their relations, that restaurants were too risky, and it was her habit, when lunching with him, to do so in the privacy of his flat. She went there now, and he greeted her with that warmth of feeling and adoration which sometimes seemed to leave her almost breathless. His arms tightened around her when she told him the news of her husband's departure, and he whispered to her that his dreams were coming true, one by one. Over the lunch table they were very happy. But, in every plan they made for their entertainment and enjoyment arose the same difficulty — friends and acquaintances.
Suddenly his face lit up. "Darling," he exclaimed, "we've overlooked the easiest way of all! The South of France awaits you!"
"Basil! Are you mad? My husband will be back in three days!"
"Of course, my dear," he replied. "But, among my few accomplishments, I have earned my certificate as a pilot. We could fly there — just you and I — this afternoon, arriving there early this evening. We could return to-morrow night or the morning after. It would be wonderful, unforgettable."
"No! No! It's utterly impossible. Besides, I know people at Monte Carlo and Nice, and all along the Riviera. My dear, I'm afraid that it is out of the question."
For a moment his gaze flickered appraisingly over her piquant face and softly moulded figure.
"Now, Helen, just listen to me for a while. Of course all the fashionable resorts are out of the question. But I know a place, a tiny villa-inn, high up in the hills near the Italian border. It will be gay with flowers and sunlight now. Hardly anyone ever goes there, and the ordinary tourist does not even know of its existence. Oh, my dear" — he came and knelt by her chair and lifted one hand in his — "everything would be so peaceful, so quiet. Just you and the flowers and the sea."
She bent down and kissed his lips.
"It could be wonderful, Basil; but my husband would know that I had been away for two days. One of the servants might mention it, quite naturally. There doesn't seem to be any way out, my dear."
"Is there no woman friend whom you can rely on? Someone who would say that you had been staying with her because you found the house too lonely?"
"Well, I only know one woman whom I can really trust, and that's Molly Beresford. I have known her for years and she hates Bill like poison."
"Then, my dear, there is the last of our difficulties solved. Go round and see her now. Surely, as a woman, she'll understand and help you. You can do some quick shopping with her, as we'll both have to travel pretty light, and I'll arrange to borrow or hire a plane. Helen, this means two days of utter happiness, two unearthly, beautiful days."
"Oh, Basil, it's impossible, absolutely impossible! I cannot go with you. It's out of the question completely and utterly!"
They left by plane at seven o'clock that evening.
Two days, two soft, romantic nights, with the warm air heavy in the aroma of the gardenias, mystic scent of sensuality and Death.
Long, dark hours, while the light of the moon steals quietly up the pale columns of the little villa and the fragrance of the flowers makes tender murmuring lips throb with the joy of life.
Then, England once again.
Her husband arrived just twenty-four hours later, well satisfied with his trip to the Continent ; and, rather to her own surprise, she found that she could greet him without the slightest feeling of nervousness. At tea she told him quite calmly that she had been away for two days, and went into further ecstasies about Molly Beresford's flat. He quickly became bored and changed the subject ; and she knew that the danger point was passed.
Now was her chance to get invitations for Basil to attend their future parties; for his presence would make the difference between boredom and excitement.
"By the way, Bill," she said, "I have carried out a small commission for you."
"Really? What might that be?"
"Well, Molly is a friend of that man I told you about — you know, the investor man. His name is Ridley, and I've got his address for you in case you want to ask him here to talk business. I rather hope that you won't, because it will be horribly boring for me. Why cannot these business people go to your office?"
"You leave that kind of thing to me, my dear. A good dinner and a nice brand in cigars can go a long way towards mutual satisfaction. You've met the fellow and I haven't, so you had better send him an invitation for dinner for, say, next Wednesday evening. Then we can have a chat."
"I will, if you want me to. But, Bill, don't let him stay here all the evening. I'm afraid it's going to be terribly dreary." She smiled inwardly, as she spoke. Basil and the word "dreary" were utter strangers.
She wrote him a note sending the invitation and warning him of the part he had to play. Basil came and acted his part perfectly. He showed a surprising knowledge of business, and sometimes she had the greatest difficulty not to laugh when he passed the most commonplace remarks in her direction. The evening passed slowly ; but, for her, it was of intense interest. Her admiration for Basil grew to a point of pride, and his formal English good-bye was a veritable work of art.
Bill expressed his approval afterwards, and she felt that she had gained her object. Her husband would certainly send him invitations to their various parties, and especially for the dance that they were giving at the house in a week's time.
As she lay in bed that night, she realised that she had come to accept both husband and lover as part of her present life.
They met next day and laughed together about the previous evening. Basil had summed up her husband very well and gave her every gentle little attention as an unspoken sign of his understanding. She told him of the dance to be given during the next week, and that an invitation would be sent to him.
"I'll accept with pleasure on one consideration," he replied.
"And that is?"
"That you will spare twenty minutes for me alone. I'll say good-bye to your husband just after midnight, collect my things and officially leave. Then go straight on to the terrace, where we had coffee last night, and please, dear lady, let me find you there. It will amply pay for all the acting during the earlier part of the evening, and you can easily say that you took a breath of air. A very natural thing to do on these warm summer nights. Promise me just that, my dear."
"Yes. I promise," she replied. "But it will have to be a very short twenty minutes, I'm afraid. You understand, don't you, darling?"
"Of course. Please look particularly ravishing for me that night, my dearest. I always think of you in green. Will you wear that for me?"
"I'll wear green just for you," she whispered, as his arms stole around her and his lips gently touched her eyes.
A large number of people were expected, and she dressed on the evening of the ball with that minute attention to detail which was, in itself, a compliment to Basil's taste. But the thought of her husband was in no sense an inspiration as she put the finishing touches to the wave of her hair, and studied the effect in the glass from every angle. Now came the great moment.
She reached for a black case which lay on the dressing-table, opened it, and green fire seemed to leap from within the satin. depth. There they lay, glittering, scintillating, gleaming. A string of magnificent emeralds, perfectly matched in colour and in size. The Moresby jewels!
She let them play through her fingers like a vivid cascade. Then, raising her soft arms, she placed the gems around her neck, where they seemed to glow with renewed fire against the whiteness of her skin.
A perfect colour scheme. The dainty shoes, the exquisitely modelled gown, the long pendant earrings ; all seemed to carry on the tints of the emeralds. Even the colour of her eyes seemed to be veiled in green that night. Alluring night. Bewitching eyes.
She knew that she looked superb, and for a moment her heart warmed towards Bill. After all, he had given her the emeralds. Some women would have sold their souls and their honour, she thought, just to feel that precious weight around their necks.
One last touch of perfume and the tout ensemble would be perfect; for a woman without scent is like a bird without a song. Then she went down to await the arrival of the guests.
Basil was one of the last to arrive. Quiet, suave, and just that intimate touch of possessive deference which is the diaphanous tribute of a lover to his mistress.
The dinner was a great success and, very soon, people began to drift towards the ball-room, lured by the strains of a well-syncopated dance band. Only occasionally during the evening did they both dance together, and then they merely talked of the most conventional matters in the most conventional way. Except once, when he quickly whispered:
"Remember, dear, just after twelve on the terrace!"
She scarcely nodded, and her eyes did not even lift to his face.
By twelve o'clock, two or three of the guests had already left, and a few more were preparing to depart, Basil among them. He thanked her very nicely for the evening, while his eyes, for one tiny second, smiled into her own. Then, having made his adieu to Sir William, he left the house in company with one or two other early departures. Dimly, she heard his car passing down the drive and her senses quickened with that fateful feeling of adventure.
She danced three more dances, one with her husband, and then she felt that she had allowed enough time. Choosing her moment, she slipped out to the terrace. It was gloriously desolate. The moon had etched the world in black and silver, and the mottled light fell with a wistful radiance on the marble balustrade. The faint strains of the orchestra in the ballroom seemed to emphasise the stillness.
Her heart seemed to stop beating, as a dark figure detached itself from a heavily-blossomed clump of hydrangeas and climbed swiftly on to the terrace.
In a moment Basil's arms were around her, holding her close. He whispered to her of her beauty, of the fascination of the solitude with her. Then he held her at arm's length, and gazed at her without speaking. And she realised, suddenly, so suddenly, that the orchestra had ceased to play.
"Basil — they've stopped!" she gasped. "Why have they stopped?"
He looked at her for a moment longer and his eyes were inscrutable, then turned towards the French windows; and she followed him across the moon-bathed swarth of marble.
One glance into the ballroom, and she stood like a statue carved from stone and watched, with horrified eyes, the cause of the sudden silence.
Her husband and the guests were herded in a bewildered flock against the wall, while several men, clad in dark suits and carrying in their right hands objects which gleamed like blue-black steel, hurried among them. She watched them tearing off necklaces, snatching rings. The silence was appalling. She heard the pattering cascade as a rope of pearls broke and fell to the floor.
One woman lay in a dead faint.
Then Basil's firm hand led her back into the shadows, and, wildly, she turned to him.
"Basil! My emeralds! They must not get them! Oh, what are we going to do!"
"Let me take them for you, darling," he replied.
"No! No! I'll slip them down my dress. If I stand as still as possible, they won't fall through."
"Come, Helen, it's silly to take that risk ! Let me have them!"
"No! I'd rather keep them on me. I feel that they're safer here."
"But, dear lady, I must insist!"
A pair of quick hands encircled her throat; a jerk, and the green stones, flashing in the moonlight, dangled from Basil's fingers.
"But I — I don't understand," she gasped. "Have you gone mad?"
"No! No! my dear ; you will understand. Think carefully before you say too much to the police. You looked wonderful to-night!"
He smiled at her very softly. Then, with two quick steps, he leapt over the balustrade and, swiftly crossing the moonlit lawn, vanished towards the river.
The tall, grey-eyed young man, known to some people as Basil Ridley, stood in the stern of the motor-boat, watching the brilliantly lit house, as it receded in the moon-dappled darkness of the night. A flurry of foam marked the rapid progress of the boat, and it heaved and strained to the throb of its engine.
His companion, a stockily built man clad in black, took his pipe out of his mouth. What did you do about the car, sir?" he asked.
"Tommy collected it at the entrance gate," the tall man answered. "By the way, are all the men safely on board? I can only make out seven of them."
"That's all right, sir Ginger is lying out on the bows. He never could abide the perfume these 'ere women use."
"Then that is a profitable piece of business nicely carried out," said the tall man, as he lit a cigarette.
"Ah, that's all very well, sir," the stocky man exclaimed; but what about the lady? She's seen you and they'll be hunting you from coast to coast."
"I think not, my good Fletching! You do me a deep injustice. I have here—" and he tapped his breast-pocket, "six sweet, intimate letters and they happen to be written by the lady in question. Sir William Moresby is, unfortunately, a very narrow-minded man. I cannot show them to you, as they are of a somewhat sentimental nature, and bring back most fragrant memories. I am quite certain that the lady is now describing me to the police as a short, bow-legged man, with a heavy Scotch accent!"
"I'm beginning to understand ; but I don't get it all," his companion said, in a puzzled voice.
"No, Fletching, I don't expect you to understand. But a woman's reputation is, sometimes, of even more value to her than a string of emeralds."
The tall man stood in silence for a moment ; then flicked his half-smoked cigarette into the dark water streaming by.
Motionless, he watched the lighted windows of the distant house, as it passed slowly from view around a bend of the gurgling river.