“A—a hold upon her?” Helene repeated vaguely.
“It is all I can tell you. You must suppose an extreme case. You may take my word for it that under certain circumstances Lucille would have no power to deny them anything.”
“But—without a word of farewell. They could not insist upon her leaving you like that! It is incredible!”
“It is quite possible,” Mr. Sabin said.
Helene caught herself looking at him stealthily. Was it possible that this wonderful brain had given way at last? There were no signs of it in his face or expression. But the Duchess of Dorset! Lady Carey! These were women of her own circle—Londoners, and the Duchess, at any rate, a woman of the very highest social position and unimpeached conventionality.
“This sounds—very extraordinary, uncle!” she remarked a little lamely.
“It is extraordinary,” he answered drily. “I do not wonder that you find it hard to believe me. I—”
“Not to believe—to understand!”
“We will not distinguish! After all, what does it matter? Assume, if you cannot believe, that Lucille’s leaving me may have been at the instigation of these people, and therefore involuntary. If this be so I have hard battle to fight to win her back, but in the end I shall do it.”
She nodded sympathetically.
“I am sure,” she said, “that you will not find it difficult. Tell me, cannot I help you in any way? I know the Duchess very well indeed—well enough to take you to call quite informally if you please. She is a great supporter of what they call the Primrose League here. I do not understand what it is all about, but it seems that I may not join because my husband is a Radical.”
Mr. Sabin looked for a moment over his clasped hands through the faint blue cloud of cigarette smoke, and sundry possibilities flashed through his mind to be at once rejected. He shook his head.
“No!” he said firmly. “I do not wish for your help at present, directly or indirectly. If you meet the Countess I would rather that you did not mention my name. There is only one person whom, if you met at Dorset House or anywhere where Lucille is, I would ask you to watch. That is Mr. Brott!”
It was to be a conversation full of surprises for Helene. Mr. Brott! Her hand went up to her forehead for a moment, and a little gesture of bewilderment escaped her.
“Will you tell me,” she asked almost plaintively, “what on earth Mr. Brott can have to do with this business—with Lucille—with you—with any one connected with it?”
Mr. Sabin shrugged his shoulders.
“Mr. Brott,” he remarked, “a Cabinet Minister of marked Radical proclivities, has lately been a frequent visitor at Dorset House, which is the very home of the old aristocratic Toryism. Mr. Brott was acquainted with Lucille many years ago—in Vienna. At that time he was, I believe, deeply interested in her. I must confess that Mr. Brott causes me some uneasiness.”