“Have coffee and liqueur served here, Groves, and bring some cigarettes. Then you can send the servants away and leave us alone.”
The man bowed.
“Very good, your lordship.”
Lord Arranmore looked around at his guests.
“The entertainment,” he said, “will incur no greater hardship upon you than a little patience. I am going to tell you a story.”
THE CONFIDENCE OF LORD ARRANMORE
The servants had left the room, and the doors were fast closed. Lord Arranmore sat a little forward in his high-backed chair, one hand grasping the arm, the other stretched flat upon the table before him. By his side, neglected, was a cedar-wood box of his favourite cigarettes.
“I am going,” he said, thoughtfully, “to tell you a story, of whom the hero is—myself. A poor sort of entertainment perhaps, but then there is a little tragedy and a little comedy in what I have to tell. And you three are the three people in the world to whom certain things were better told.”
They bent forward, fascinated by the cold directness of his speech, by the suggestion of strange things to come. The mask of their late gaiety had fallen away. Lady Caroom, grave and sad-eyed, was listening with an anxiety wholly unconcealed. Under the shaded lamplight their faces, dominated by that cold masterly figure at the head of the table, were almost Rembrandtesque.
“You have heard a string of incoherent but sufficiently damaging accusations made against me to-day by a young lady whose very existence, I may say, was a surprise to me. It suited me then to deny them. Nevertheless they were in the main true.”
The announcement was no shock. Every one of the three curiously enough had believed the girl.
“I must go a little further back than the time of which she spoke. At twenty-six years old I was an idle young man of good family, but scant expectations, supposed to be studying at the Bar, but in reality idling my time about town. In those days, Lady Caroom, you had some knowledge of me.”
“Up to the time of your disappearance—yes. I remember, Arranmore,” she continued, her manner losing for a moment some of its restraint, and her eyes and tone suddenly softening, “dancing with you that evening. We arranged to meet at Ranelagh the next day, and, when the next day came, you had vanished, gone as completely as though the earth had swallowed you up. For weeks every one was asking what has become of him. And then—I suppose you were forgotten.”
“This,” Lord Arranmore continued, “is the hardest part of my narrative, the hardest because the most difficult to make you understand. You will forgive my offering you the bare facts only. I will remind you that I was young, impressionable, and had views. So to continue!”
The manner of his speech was in its way chillingly impressive. He was still sitting in exactly the same position, one hand upon the arm of his high-backed chair, the other upon the table before him. He made use of no gestures, his face remained as white and emotionless as a carved image, his tone, though clear and low, was absolutely monotonous. But there was about him a subtle sense of repression apparent to all of them.