“That’s part of my point,” said the other. “If I knew him less well than I do I should say he was the man cut out by Providence for the work. He has been to the place, he knows the ropes of travelling, he is exceedingly well-informed, and he is uncommonly clever. But he is badly off colour. The thing might be the saving of him, or the ruin—in which case, of course, he would also be the ruin of the thing.”
“As risky as that?” Beauregard asked. “I have heard something of him, but I thought it merely his youth. What’s wrong with him?”
“Oh, I can’t tell. A thousand things, but all might be done away with by a single chance like this. I tell you what I’ll do. After to-night I can be spared for a couple of days. I feel rather hipped myself, so I shall get up to the north and see my man. I know the circumstances and I know Lewis. If the two are likely to suit each other I have your authority to give him your message?”
“Certainly, my dear Wratislaw. I have all the confidence in the world in your judgment. You will be back the day after to-morrow?”
“I shall only be out of the House one night, and I think the game worth it. I need not tell you that I am infernally anxious both about the business and my friend. It is just on the cards that one might be the solution of the other.”
“You understand everything?”
“Everything. I promise you I shall be exacting enough. And now I had better be looking after my own work.”
Beauregard stared after him as he went out of the room and remained for a few minutes in deep thought. Then he deliberately wrote out a foreign telegram form and rang the bell.
“I fancy I know the man,” he said to himself. “He will go. Meantime I can prepare things for his passage.” The telegram was to the fugitive Gribton at Florence, asking him to meet a certain Mr. Haystoun at the Embassy in Paris within a week for the discussion of a particular question.
THE BRINK OF THE RUBICON
The next evening Wratislaw drove in a hired dogcart up Glenavelin from Gledsmuir just as a stormy autumn twilight was setting in over the bare fields. A wild back-end had followed on the tracks of a marvellous summer. Though it was still October the leaves lay heaped beneath the hedgerows, the bracken had yellowed to a dismal hue of decay, and the heather had turned from the purple of its flower to the grey-blue of its passing. Rain had fallen, and the long road-side pools were fired by the westering sun. Glenavelin looked crooked and fantastic in the falling shadows, and two miles farther the high lights of Etterick rose like a star in the bosom of the hills. Seen after many weeks’ work in the bustle and confinement of town, the solitary, shadow-haunted world soothed and comforted.
He found Lewis in his room alone. The place was quite dark for no lamp was lit, and only a merry fire showed the occupant. He welcomed his friend with crazy vehemence, pushing him into a great armchair, offering a dozen varieties of refreshment, and leaving the butler aghast with contradictory messages about dinner.