Somehow on the Baron’s tongue the escapade became insidious duplicity. Philip flushed, acutely conscious of a significant stirring of his conscience.
“I may fly with Sherrill this afternoon,” he said with marked reluctance.
“And at sunset?”
“I may walk,” said Philip, shrugging.
“Permit me,” said the Baron gratefully as he rose, “to thank you. The service is—ah—invaluable.”
Uncomfortably Philip accepted his release and went lightly up the stairs.
“I am a fool,” said Philip. “But surely Walt Whitman must have understood for he said it all in verse. ’I am to wait, I do not doubt, I am to meet you again,’” quoted Philip under his breath; “’I am to see to it that I do not lose you!’”
The door which led into the Baron’s bedroom from his own was slightly ajar. Philip, about to close it, fancied he heard the stealthy rustle of paper beyond and swung it noiselessly back, halting in silent interest upon the threshold.
Themar, the Baron’s Houdanian valet, was intently transcribing upon his shirt-cuff, the contents of a paper which lay uppermost in the drawer of a small portable desk.
Catlike, Philip stole across the room. The man’s hand was laboriously reproducing upon the linen an intricate message in cipher.
“Difficult, too, isn’t it?” sympathized Philip smoothly at his elbow.
With a sharp cry, Themar wheeled, his small, shifting eyes black with hate. They wavered and fell beneath the level, icy stare of the American. Philip’s fingers slipped viselike along the other’s wrists and Philip’s voice grew more acidly polite.
“My dear Themar,” he regretted, falling unconsciously into the language of his chief, “I must spoil the symmetry of your wardrobe. The hieroglyphical cuff, if you please.”
Themar’s snarl was unintelligible. Smiling, Philip unbuttoned the stiff band of linen and drew it slowly off.
“A pity!” said he with gentle, sarcastic apology in his eyes. “Such perfect work! And after all that infernal bother of stealing the key!”
Philip lightly dropped the cuff into the pocket of his coat.
“And the key, Themar,” he reminded gently, “the key to the Baron’s desk? . . . Ah, so it’s still here. Excellent! And now that the drawer is locked again—”
The hall door creaked. Simultaneously Themar and Philip wheeled. The Baron stood in the doorway.
Philip smiled and bowed.
“Excellency,” said he, “Themar in an over-zealous desire to rearrange your private papers has acquired your private key and I have taken the liberty of confiscating it, knowing that you prize its possession. Permit me to return it now.”
“Thank you, Poynter!” said the Baron and glanced keenly at Themar. “It is but now that I had missed it.”