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قراءة كتاب A Cabinet Secret

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A Cabinet Secret

A Cabinet Secret

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
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difference."

"What makes you think I am so clever, pray?" she enquired, looking up at him with innocent eyes.

"Oh, I don't know," he replied; "I've noticed it on lots of occasions. Do you remember the day that plausible Greek beggar worried us so in Constantinople, and you whispered something to him that sent him off about his business like a shot out of a gun. And in Algiers, when that Frenchman made himself so objectionable and you managed to send him to the right-about after a few moments' conversation. How you did it I never could understand, but it was jolly clever all the same."

The Countess regarded him attentively for a moment. Was he really as innocent as he made out to be, or had he noticed anything else? No; one moment's examination was sufficient to convince her that, so far as he was concerned, all was as it should be. Strolling to the port side of the bridge, she looked down at the boat-load of musicians who were strumming guitars, and bawling "Finiculi Finicula," with all the strength of their Southern lungs.

"What a way in which to spend one's life," said the Duke, as he joined her, and tossed some silver into the boat. "Fancy shouting that wretched thing, week after week, and year after year! Italy is a funny country—all bandits, soldiers, beggars and musicians. I suppose, if the truth were known, each of those men belongs to some secret society or another. Either the Cammoristi, or the Mafia, or some such organisation. How would you like to be a conspirator, Countess, and be always in terror of being caught?"

The Countess's hand clenched the bar before her, and, for a moment, her face turned deathly pale.

"What an extraordinary question to ask," she began, fighting hard for her self-possession. "Do you want to frighten me out of my wits? I am afraid I should make the poorest conspirator imaginable. I should be too deficient in courage."

"I am not inclined to believe that," said the Duke, reflectively. "I think you would have plenty of courage when it was required."

"I am afraid you must think me an altogether remarkable person," she returned. "If you go on in this way, I shall scarcely have presence of mind enough to remain in your company. Seriously, however, Duke, I don't know how to thank you for the services you have rendered my father and myself. But for your assistance we should not be in Naples now, in which case we should have been too late to have joined the party with whom I am proceeding to England."

"You are going to England then after all?" he cried in great astonishment and delight. "I thought you were only going as far as Rome?"

"That was our original intention," she replied. "However, some letters that we received to-night have altered our plans. But why do you look so astonished? Are we poor foreigners not to be allowed to enter your country?"

"It is not that," he said. "I was so pleased to hear that you intend honouring us with a visit. When do you think you will reach England, and where will you stay while you are there?"

She shook her head.

"Those are questions I cannot at present answer," she said. "It will depend upon circumstances. As our arrangements stand at present, I think it is extremely likely that we shall be in London in less than a week's time."

"And will there be any means of learning your whereabouts?" he asked. "You will surely not be cruel enough to visit England without permitting me to call upon you?"

"Call by all means," she answered. "At present, however, I cannot tell you what our address will be, for the reason that I do not know it myself."

"But perhaps when you are settled you will let me know. You know my house, I think?"

"I will do so with pleasure," she replied. "Then you will come and see me, and I shall be able to thank you again for the kindness you have shown my father and myself in our present trouble."

"It has been a very great pleasure to me," he said, "and I cannot thank you sufficiently for honouring my yacht as you have done."

At that moment the elder man, to whom she had referred as her father, made his appearance on the bridge and came towards them.

"My dear," he began, "has it not struck you that it is time for us to be thinking of bidding His Grace farewell? Remember we have to start for Rome by the early train to-morrow morning. It behoves us, therefore, to make our preparations as soon as possible."

The Duke, however, would not hear of their leaving the yacht before dinner, and in consequence it was quite dark when the Countess de Venetza and her father, or, to be more correct, her reputed father, were rowed ashore by four stalwart yachtsmen, steered by the Duke of Rotherhithe himself. He would have accompanied them to their hotel, but this the Countess would not permit.

"You have done too much for us already," she said; "we cannot let you do more. We will not say adieu, but au revoir, since, in all probability, it will not be long before we meet again."

"I hope, with all my heart, it may not be," he replied, and then the cab they had engaged rattled away over the stones and was soon lost to view.

The Countess's stay in Naples was a short one, for next morning she left by an early train for Rome. According to the plan he had prepared, His Grace of Rotherhithe, having made enquiries as to the trains leaving Naples for the capital, was present on the platform when the first took its departure. With an eagerness that could only be accounted for by his infatuation, he scanned the faces of the passengers, but the lady for whom he had been so anxiously waiting was not among them. Greatly disappointed by his discovery, he went off in search of breakfast, only to return a quarter of an hour before the next train was due to leave. Unfortunately, on this occasion, he was no more successful than before. The train was well filled, but among the passengers there was not one who bore any sort of resemblance to the lady he was hoping to see. So anxious was he to make sure that he did not miss her, that, just before the train started, he came within an ace of being run into by an invalid chair, in which was seated a man closely muffled up with shawls. By the side of the chair walked a nurse in English hospital uniform, who wore large blue glasses, and carried more wraps and a couple of cushions upon her arm. Even had he been aware of their identity, the Duke would have found it difficult to recognise in the pair his guests of the previous day. It was not the first time in their careers that they had been compelled to adopt such disguises, and only that morning news had reached them to the effect that, if they desired to get safely out of Naples, disguises such as they had assumed would be imperative necessities. A carriage, it appeared, had been reserved for the invalid Englishman, and towards it they made their way. Having seated the old gentleman in one corner, the nurse took her seat opposite him, and busied herself preparing for the journey. It was not until Naples was far behind, however, that she removed her spectacles and the invalid discarded his wraps.

"That was as narrow an escape as we have ever had," said the former. "The Head of the Police was upon the platform, and I recognised two detectives in the crowd. However, all is well that ends well, and if Luigi's arrangements have been properly made, we should be in Paris before they know we have left Naples, and in London forty-eight hours afterwards."

"Then you still feel certain that they were aware of our presence in Naples?"

"Luigi's message said there was no doubt about it. Though he did not know it, they must have

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