There was a rustle of skirts, and the door slammed.
Colonel Musgrave went to his own room, where he spent an interval in meditation. He opened his desk and took out a small packet of papers, some of which he read listlessly. How curiously life re-echoed itself! he reflected, for here, again, were castby love-letters potent to breed mischief; and his talk with Polly Ashmeade had been peculiarly reminiscent of his more ancient talk with Clarice Pendomer. Everything that happened seemed to have happened before.
But presently he shook his head, sighing. Chance had put into his hands a weapon, and a formidable weapon, it seemed to him, but the colonel did not care to use it. He preferred to strike with some less grimy cudgel.
Then he rang for one of the servants, questioned him, and was informed that Mr. Charteris had gone down to the beach just after luncheon. A moment later, Colonel Musgrave was walking through the gardens in this direction.
As he came to the thicket which screens the beach, he called Charteris’s name loudly, in order to ascertain his whereabouts. And the novelist’s voice answered—yet not at once, but after a brief silence. It chanced that, at this moment, Musgrave had come to a thin place in the thicket, and could plainly see Mr. Charteris; he was concealing some white object in the hollow of a log that lay by the river. A little later, Musgrave came out upon the beach, and found Charteris seated upon the same log, an open book upon his knees, and looking back over his shoulder wonderingly.
“Oh,” said John Charteris, “so it was you, Rudolph? I could not imagine who it was that called.”
“Yes—I wanted a word with you, Jack.”
Now, there are five little red-and-white bath-houses upon the beach at Matocton; the nearest of them was some thirty feet from Mr. Charteris. It might have been either imagination or the prevalent breeze, but Musgrave certainly thought he heard a door closing. Moreover, as he walked around the end of the log, he glanced downward as in a casual manner, and perceived a protrusion which bore an undeniable resemblance to the handle of a parasol. Musgrave whistled, though, at the bottom of his heart, he was not surprised; and then, he sat down upon the log, and for a moment was silent.
“A beautiful evening,” said Mr. Charteris.
Musgrave lighted a cigarette.
“Jack, I have something rather difficult to say to you—yes, it is deuced difficult, and the sooner it is over the better. I—why, confound it all, man! I want you to stop making love to my wife.”
Mr. Charteris’s eyebrows rose. “Really, Colonel Musgrave——.” he began, coolly.
“Now, you are about to make a scene, you know,” said Musgrave, raising his hand in protest, “and we are not here for that. We are not going to tear any passions to tatters; we are not going to rant; we are simply going to have a quiet and sensible talk. We don’t happen to be characters in a romance; for you aren’t Lancelot, you know, and I am not up to the part of Arthur by a great deal. I am not angry, I am not jealous, nor do I put the matter on any high moral grounds. I simply say it won’t do—no, hang it, it won’t do!”