“Disappointment! You think, after all, then—”
“No, that is not what I meant,” she interrupted. “I am sure that you will be offered the post, and I am sure that you will not hesitate to accept it. But nevertheless I think that it will bring with it great disappointments. I will tell you this. Already three young men whom I knew very well have held this post, and each in turn has been dismissed. They have lost the confidence of their employers, and though each, I believe, was ambitious and meant to make a career, they have now a black mark against their name.”
“You are very mysterious, Lady Angela,” I said, doubtfully.
“It is of necessity,” she answered. “Perhaps I take rather a morbid view of things, but one of them was the brother of a great friend of mine, and they fear that he has lost his reason. There are peculiar and painful difficulties in connection with this post, Mr. Ducaine, and I think it only fair to give you this warning.”
“You are very kind,” I said. “I only wish that the whole thing was clearer to me.”
She smiled a little sadly.
“At least,” she said, “let me give you one word of advice. You will be brought into contact with many people whose integrity will seem to you a positive and certain thing. Nevertheless, treat every one alike. Trust no one. Absolutely no one, Mr. Ducaine. It is your only chance. Now go.”
Her gesture of dismissal was almost imperative. I scrambled down the path and gained the sands. When I looked up she was still standing there. The wind blew her skirts around her slim young limbs, and her hair was streaming behind her. Her face seemed like a piece of delicate oval statuary, her steady eyes seemed fixed upon some point where the clouds and sea meet. She took no heed of, she did not even see, my gesture of farewell. I left her there inscrutable, a child with the face of a Sphinx. She had set me a riddle which I could not solve.
COLONEL RAY’S RING
The ring lay on the table between us. Colonel Ray had not yet taken it up. In grim silence he listened to my faltering words. When I finished he smiled upon me as one might upon a child that needed humouring.
“So,” he said, slipping the ring upon his finger, “you have saved me from the hangman. What remains? Your reward, eh?”
“It may seem to you,” I answered hotly, “a fitting subject for jokes. I am sorry that my sense of humour is not in touch with yours. You are a great traveller, and you have shaken death by the hand before. For me it is a new thing. The man’s face haunts me! I cannot sleep or rest for thinking of it—as I have seen it dead, and as I saw it alive pressed against my window that night. Who was he? What did he want with me?”
“How do you know,” Ray asked, “that he wanted anything from you?”