“Couldn’t you prove your translation by giving him the key to the cipher?” she asked.
“My dear madame,” the Marquis smiled, “such a thing would be unprecedented—and would mean my instant dismissal from the service, and trial for treason.”
She made a gesture of defeat. “Well, you can at least have the letter repeated by cable.”
“Also we can cable the government to dispatch another letter,” the Ambassador soothed. “There are plenty of ways out of the difficulty, so don’t give yourself any concern—and the United States is welcome to the letter. It will be a far day, I assure you, ere its cipher bureau translates it.”
He glanced at the clock. Mrs. Clephane arose.
“I’m sorry for the mess I have made,” she said.
“Don’t give it a thought,” he assured her. “If you can help us, you will be where?”
“I will be at the Chateau until this matter is straightened out—and subject to your instant call.”
“Good—you are more than kind; France appreciates it.”
He took her hand, escorted her with gracious courtesy to the door, and bowed her out.
Then he stepped to his desk and rang twice.
The First Secretary entered.
“Did you hear her entire story?” the Marquis asked.
“I did, sir,” the First Secretary replied.
“You believe it?”
“Then set Pasquier to work to ascertain what this Madame Spencer is about. Let him report as quickly as he has anything definite. I’ll cable Paris at once as to the letter.”
THE SLIP OF PAPER
Madeline Spencer, leaning languidly against the mahogany table in the corner of the drawing-room, drummed softly with her finger tips as she listened.
“What is the use of it all?” Marston was asking. “We can’t get the letter. Harleston evidently told the truth; he has turned it over to the State Department, so why not be content that it’s there, and let well enough alone?”
“I’ve been letting well enough alone by occupying them with the notion that the letter is the thing most desired,” Mrs. Spencer returned. “Muddying the water, as it were, so as to obscure the main issue and get away with the trick. Direct your attention here, if you please, gentlemen! Meanwhile we escape from the other end.”
“Mrs. Clephane was at the French Embassy this afternoon,” he observed.
“At last she had a glimmering of sense!” Mrs. Spencer laughed. “Why she didn’t beat it there direct from the train I can’t imagine. Such ignorance is a large asset for those of us who know. I had thought of impersonating her and amusing myself with d’Hausonville, but I concluded it wasn’t worth while. It riles me, however, that the affair was so atrociously bungled by Crenshaw and the others. What possessed them to release Mrs. Clephane once they had her?—and what in Heaven’s name made them overlook the letter in the cab?”