“Can’t you?” Ralph answered. “I have been thinking over what you told me, Austen, and I fancy, perhaps, I can give you a hint. Do you know that at the present moment the two most powerful battleships in the world are being built on the Tyne for Brazil?”
“I know that,” I admitted. “Go on.”
“What does Brazil want with battleships of that class?” my brother continued. “Obviously they would be useless to her. She could not man them. It would be a severe strain to her finances even to put them into commission. I am of opinion that the order to build them was given as a speculation by a few shrewd men in the Brazilian Government who foresaw unsettled times ahead, and they are there to be disposed of to the highest European or Asiatic bidder!”
I saw Ralph’s point at once.
“By Jove!” I exclaimed. “You think, then, that Delora is over here to arrange for the sale of them to some other Government—presumably to China?”
“Why not?” Ralph asked. “It is feasible, and to some extent it explains a good deal of what has seemed to you so mysterious. There could be no more possible purchaser of the battleships than China, except, perhaps, Russia, and transactions of that sort are always attended with a large amount of secrecy.”
“Of course, if you are on the right track,” I admitted, “everything is explained, and Delora is justified. There is just one thing which I do not understand, and that is why he should have associated with such a pack of thieves as the people at the Cafe des Deux Epingles, and why he should be forced to make an ally—I had almost said accomplice—of Louis.”
“Well, you can’t understand everything all at once,” Ralph answered. “At the same time, if I were you, I would try and see if the hint I have given you fits in with the rest of the puzzle.”
“I’ll get the truth out of Delora to-night!” I declared. “And, Ralph!”
“Well?” he asked.
“I have asked Felicia Delora to marry me,” I continued.
Ralph looked at me for a moment, doubtfully.
“Wouldn’t it have been better to have had this matter cleared up first?” he asked.
“I couldn’t help it,” I answered. “The child is all alone, and it makes my heart ache to think what a poor little pawn she is in the game these men are playing. I’d like to take her right away from it, Ralph, but she is staunch. She fancies that she is indebted to her uncle, and she will obey his orders.”
“You can’t think any the worse of her for that,” Ralph remarked.
“I don’t,” I answered, sighing, “but it makes the position a little difficult.”
“Come and see me to-morrow morning,” Ralph said, “and tell me exactly what passes between you and Delora. We must cable Dicky some time soon.”
“I will,” I promised, taking up my hat. “Good-day, Ralph!”