“It was about three when you telephoned to me—where were you then?” he asked.
“At the Chateau. They were kind enough to release me about three o’clock, and to send me back in a private car—at least, it wasn’t a taxi. Now, have you any other questions?”
“I think not, for the present.”
“Have I satisfied you that my tale is true?”
“I am satisfied,” he replied.
“Then you will give me the letter?” she said joyfully.
“And what of the roses?”
“I presented them to you last night.”
“And of this handkerchief?” drawing it from his pocket.
She took the bit of lace, glanced at it, and handed it back.
“It is not mine,” she replied. “Probably it’s the other woman’s.” She held out her hand, the most symmetrical hand Harleston had ever seen. “My letter, please, Mr. Harleston.”
“I no longer have the letter,” said Harleston.
“Then why did you—” she exclaimed; “but you can lay your hand on it?”
“I can lay my hand on it,” he smiled—“whenever you convince me, or I ascertain, that the letter does not concern directly or indirectly the diplomatic affairs of the United States. You forget that was the concluding stipulation, Mrs. Clephane. Meanwhile the letter will not, you may feel assured, fall into the possession of the party who attempted to steal it from you.”
“What does it all mean?” she asked, leaning forward. “Who beside France are the parties concerned?”
“It means that some nation is ready to take desperate chances to prevent your letter from reaching the French Ambassador. What actuates it, whether to learn its contents or to prevent its present delivery, I naturally do not know.” Then he laughed. “Would it interest you very much to learn, Mrs. Clephane, that I was visited last night by three men, who tried, at the point of the revolver, to force the letter from me?”
“You surely don’t mean it!” she exclaimed.
And with this exclamation the last doubt in Harleston’s mind of Mrs. Clephane’s having aught to do with the night attack vanished—and having acquitted her in that respect, there was scarcely any question as to the sincerity and truth of her tale.
As it has been remarked previously, Mrs. Clephane was very good to look at—and what is more to the point with Harleston, she looked back.
“I had all sorts of adventures, beginning with the cab of the sleeping horse, three crushed roses, a bit of lace, and a letter,” he laughed; “and the adventures haven’t yet ended, and they grow more interesting as they progress.”
“They didn’t get the letter?” she asked quickly.
“They got nothing but the trouble of getting nothing,” he replied.
“Where is the letter now, Mr. Harleston—is it safe from them?”
There was a note of concern in her voice, and it puzzled him. What else did she know—or didn’t she know anything? Was it only his habit in diplomatic affairs to doubt everything that was not undoubtable.