“Good—I’ll start after it at once. Any further orders, madame?”
“None till evening,” again holding out her hand—and again smiling him into kissing it adoringly.
“A useful man, Marston!” she reflected when the door closed behind him. “And one who never presumes. A smile pays him for anything, and keeps him devoted to me. Yes, a very useful and satisfactory man. His idea of corrupting Carpenter may be rather futile; and he may get into a snarl by trying it, but,” with a shrug of her shapely shoulders, “that is his affair and won’t involve me. And if he should prove successful, the new French key-word which the Count, the dear Count, gave me just before I left Paris, may turn the trick.”
The Count de M—— was confidential secretary to the Foreign Minister, and he had slipped her the bit of paper containing the key-word at a ball, two evenings before she sailed on her present mission. He was not aware that she was sailing, nor was she; the order came so suddenly that she and her maid had barely time to fling a few things in a couple of steamer trunks and catch the last train. She had fascinated the Count; for a year he had been one of her most devoted, but most discreet, admirers. He also was exceedingly serviceable. Hence she took pains to hold him.
Languidly she reached for her little gold mesh bag—the one thing that never left her—and from a secret pocket took several slips of paper.
“Why, where is it!” she exclaimed, looking again with greater care.... “The devil! I’ve lost it!”
However, after a moment of thought, she recalled the key-word, and the rule that he whispered to her—also the squeeze he gave her hand, and the kiss with the eyes. The Count had fine eyes—he could look much, very much.... She smiled in retrospection.... Yet how did she drop that bit of paper—and where?... Or did she drop it?... All the rest were there. It was very peculiar.... She had referred to the De Neviers slip on last Saturday—and she distinctly remembered that the Count’s was there at that time. Consequently she must have dropped it on Sunday when she was studying the Rosny matter, and then she was in this room—and Marston and Crenshaw and Sparrow were in the next room.—H-u-m.... Well, the Count wrote in a woman’s hand; and the finder cannot make anything out of the words:
A l’aube du jour.
So it happened, that on the same day and practically at the same hour Carpenter gave instructions looking to the pilfering of the French private diplomatic cipher, Marston began to lay plans to test Carpenter’s venality, and Madeline Spencer betook herself to Union Station to meet the man-in-the-case, whose face she had never seen, and whose name she did not know.