“I do not understand you, Ducaine,” Lord Chelsford said slowly. “You have been a faithful and valuable servant to your country, and you know very well that your services are not likely to be forgotten. I want you only to be consistent. I must know from whom you received this packet.”
“I cannot tell you, sir,” I answered. “It was a terribly dark night, and it is not easy to identify a hand. Besides, it was snatched away almost at once.”
“In your own mind, Ducaine,” Chelsford said, “have you hazarded a guess as to who that unseen person might be?”
“It is too serious a matter to hazard guesses about, sir,” I answered.
“Nevertheless,” Lord Chelsford continued, eyeing me closely, “in your own mind you know very well who that person was. You are a bad liar, Ducaine. There was something about the hand which told you the truth—a ring, perhaps. At any rate, something.”
“I had no time to feel for such things, sir,” I answered.
“Ducaine,” Lord Chelsford said, “I am forced to connect your refusal to hazard even a surmise as to the identity of that hand with your sudden desire to break off all connection with this matter. I am forced to come to a conclusion, Ducaine. You have discovered the truth. You know the traitor!”
“On the contrary, Lord Chelsford,” I answered, “I know nothing.”.
Later in the day he came to me again. I could see that he had made no fresh discovery.
“Ducaine,” he said, “what time did you say that you left here last night?”
“At midnight, sir.”
“And you were back?”
“That corresponds exactly with Grooton’s statement,” Lord Chelsford said. “And yet I have certain information that from a few minutes before eleven till two o’clock not one member of the Military Board quitted the library.”
“That is conclusive,” I remarked.
“It is remarkably inconclusive to me,” Lord Chelsford remarked grimly. “Whom else save one of your friends who are all upon the Board could you possibly wish to shield?”
“That I even wish to do so,” I answered, “is purely an assumption.”
“You are fencing with me, young man,” Lord Chelsford said grimly, “and it is not worth while. Hush!”
There was a rap at the door downstairs. We heard the Duke’s measured tones.
“I understood that Lord Chelsford was here,” he said.
“Lord Chelsford has left, your Grace,” Grooton answered.
“And Mr. Hill?”
“He has been at the house all day, your Grace.”
The Duke appeared to hesitate for a moment.
“Grooton,” he said, “I rely upon you to see that Lord Cheisford has this note shortly. I am going for a little walk, and shall probably return this way. I wish you to understand that this note is for Lord Chelsford’s own hand.”