I looked at him steadfastly.
“What manner of a swindle is this,” I asked, “In which you, Louis, poor Bartot, the Chinese ambassador, and Heaven knows how many more, are concerned?”
“You are an ignorant person to use such words!” Delora replied.
“Tell me, at least,” I begged, “whether your niece is implicated in this?”
“Why do you ask?” Delora exclaimed.
“Because I want to marry her,” I answered.
“Do nothing until the day after to-morrow, Captain Rotherby, and you shall marry her and have a dowry of fifty thousand pounds, besides what her Uncle Nicholas will leave her.”
“You overwhelm me!” I answered, turning toward the door.
He made no movement to arrest my departure. Suddenly I turned towards him. Why should I not give him the benefit of this one chance!
“Delora,” I said, “from the moment when you disappeared from Charing Cross I have had but one idea concerning you, and that is that you are engaged in some nefarious if not criminal undertaking. I believe so at this minute. On the other hand, there is, of course, the chance that you may be, as you say, engaged in carrying out some enterprise, political or otherwise, which necessitates these mysterious doings on your part. I have no wish to be your enemy, or to interfere in any legitimate operation. If you care to take me into your confidence you will not find me unreasonable.”
Delora bowed. I caught the gleam of his white teeth underneath his black moustache. I knew that he had made up his mind to fight.
“Captain Rotherby,” he said, “I am much obliged for your offer, but I am not in need of allies. Send your cable as soon as you will. You will only make a little mischief of which you will afterwards be ashamed.”
I shrugged my shoulders and turned away. No one came to let me out, but I undid the bolts myself, and stepped into my taxicab with a little breath of relief. Somehow or other I felt as though I had escaped from a danger which I could not define, and yet which I had felt with every breath I had drawn in that damp, unwholesome-looking house!
AN ABORTIVE ATTEMPT
Immediately I arrived at my brother’s hotel I rang up the hall-porter of the Milan and informed him of my whereabouts. Afterwards Ralph and I between us concocted a cable to Dicky, for which I was thankful that I had not to pay. I had now taken Ralph into my entire confidence, and I found that he took very much the same view of Delora’s behavior as I did. This is what we said,—
Have seen Delora. Behavior very mysterious. Is living apart from niece in secrecy. Seen several times with Chinese ambassador. Offered me large bribe refrain cabling you till Thursday. Fear something wrong.
“Do you think that you could give me a bed here to-night, Ralph?” I asked.