“He watched so well,” Bransome answered, “and was so startled that he was knocked down and run over. The detective in charge of the case found him in a hospital.”
“These things always come out sooner or later,” the Prime Minister remarked. “As a matter of fact, I am inclined to think that our police wait too long before they make an arrest. They play with their victim so deliberately that sometimes he slips through their fingers. Very often, too, they let a man go who would give himself away from sheer fright if he felt the touch of a policeman upon his shoulder.”
“As a nation,” Bransome remarked, helping himself to the entree, “we handle life amongst ourselves with perpetual kid gloves. We are always afraid of molesting the liberty of the subject. A trifle more brutality sometimes would make for strength. We are like a dentist whose work suffers because he is afraid of hurting his patient.”
Somerfield was watching his fiancee curiously.
“Are you really very pale tonight, Penelope,” he asked, “or is it those red flowers which have drawn all the color from your cheeks?”
“I believe that I am pale,” Penelope answered. “I am always pale when I wear black and when people have disagreed with me. As a matter of fact, I am trying to make the Prince feel homesick. Tell me,” she asked him across the round table, “don’t you think that I remind you a little tonight of the women of your country?”
The Prince returned her gaze as though, indeed, something were passing between them of greater significance than that half-bantering question.
“Indeed,” he said, “I think that you do. You remind me of my country itself—of the things that wait for me across the ocean.”
The Prince’s servant had entered the dining room and whispered in the ear of the butler who was superintending the service of dinner. The latter came over at once to the Prince.
“Your Highness,” he said, “some one is on the telephone, speaking from London. They ask if you could spare half a minute.”
The Prince rose with an interrogative glance at his hostess, and the Duchess smilingly motioned him to go. Even after he had left the room, when he was altogether unobserved, his composed demeanor showed no signs of any change. He took up the receiver almost blithely. It was Soto, his secretary, who spoke to him.
“Highness,” he said, “the man Jacks with a policeman is here in the hall at the present moment. He asks permission to search this house.”
“For what purpose?” the Prince asked.
“To discover some person whom he believes to be in hiding here,” the secretary answered. “He explains that in any ordinary case he would have applied for what they call a search warrant. Owing to your Highness’ position, however, he has attended here, hoping for your gracious consent without having made any formal application.”
“I must think!” the Prince answered. “Tell me, Soto. You are sure that the English doctor has had no opportunity of communicating with any one?”