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قراءة كتاب A Cabinet Secret

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‏اللغة: English
A Cabinet Secret

A Cabinet Secret

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
الصفحة رقم: 8

and she would be at the mercy of the yelping mob that had once only dared to bark and snap at her from a distance. "O God! grant that such a thing may never come to pass," I muttered, and, as the prayer escaped my lips, there shaped themselves in the darkness in front of me, the eyes that had haunted me all the afternoon and evening. As I gazed into their soulless depths, a sensation of icy coldness passed over me.

"This will never do," I said to myself. "If I go on like this I shall have to see a doctor; and yet how ridiculous it is. Why that woman's eyes should haunt me so I cannot understand. In all probability I shall never see her again, and if I do, it will only be to discover that she is very beautiful, but in no respect different to other people."

But while I endeavoured to convince myself that it was all so absurd, I had the best of reasons for knowing that it was not so silly as I was anxious to suppose. At any rate, I did not go to bed again, and when, some hours later, my servant came to call me, he found me seated at my table, busily engaged writing letters. Years seemed to have elapsed since I had bade him good-night.

The last day of my stay in Paris had dawned, and, after my experience of the night, I began to think that I was not altogether sorry for it. A cold tub, however, somewhat revived me, and when I left my room I was, to all intents and purposes, myself once more.

It is one of those little idiosyncrasies in my character which afford my friends such an excellent opportunity for making jokes at my expense, that when I go to Rome, Paris, Berlin, St Petersburg, or any other city I may be in the habit of visiting, that I invariably stay at the same hotel and insist on being given the same bedroom I have occupied on previous occasions. For some reason a strange room is most obnoxious to me. In Paris, worthy Monsieur Frezmony is good enough to let me have a suite of apartments at the end of a long corridor on the first floor. They boast an excellent view from the windows, of the gardens of the Tuileries, and the whole suite is, above all, easy of access at any hour of the day or night. On this particular occasion, having dressed, I left my room and passed along the corridor in order to descend to the hall below. I was only a few paces from the head of the stairs when a door directly opposite opened, and a lady emerged and descended the stairs in front of me. She was dressed for going out, but, for the reason that my letters had just been handed to me and I was idly glancing at the envelopes, beyond noticing this fact, I bestowed but little more attention on her. She had reached the first landing, and I was some few steps behind her, when the chink of something falling caught my ears. Surely enough when I, in my turn, reached the landing I discovered a small bracelet lying upon the carpet. I immediately picked it up with the intention of returning it. But the lady was too quick for me and had reached the courtyard before I could set foot in the hall. A carriage was awaiting her coming at the foot of the steps, and she had already taken her place in it when I approached her. For the reason that she was putting up her parasol, it was impossible for me to see her face, but when she lifted it on hearing my voice, I discovered, to my amazement, that she was none other than the lady whose arrival I had witnessed on the previous afternoon, and whose eyes had had such a strange effect upon me ever since.

"Permit me to ask if this is your property, madam?" I began, holding out the bracelet as I spoke. "I had the good fortune to discover it on the stairs just after you passed."

"Ah, yes, it is mine," she answered in excellent French, and in a voice that was low and musical. "I would not have lost it for anything. It was careless of me to have dropped it. I thank you most heartily."

She bowed, and at a signal from the Commissionaire, the coachman started his horses, and a moment later the carriage had left the courtyard.

For some moments after it had passed out of sight I stood looking in the direction it had taken. Then turning to the Commissionaire who stood before me, I enquired if it were in his power to tell me the name of the lady to whom I had rendered so small a service.

"She is Madame la Comtesse de Venetza," the man replied.

"The Countess de Venetza?" said I to myself, "that tells me nothing. It sounds Italian. At the same time it might be almost anything else."

Circumstances forbade me that I should question the man further, though the temptation was sufficiently great. Nothing remained, therefore, but to withdraw and to derive what consolation I could from the fact that I had spoken to her and knew her name.

"The Countess de Venetza," I repeated, as I made my way up the steps once more. The name had suddenly come to have a strange fascination for me. I found myself repeating it again and again, each time deriving a new sensation from it.

Having procured a morning paper, I returned to the verandah, seated myself in the place I had occupied on the previous afternoon, when I had first seen the Countess, and turned my attention to the English news. If the information set forth there were to be believed, there could be no sort of doubt that we were distinctly nearer the trouble which had been brewing for so long. The wildest rumours were afloat, and the versions printed in the Parisian papers were not of a nature calculated to allay my fears. If what they said were correct there could be no doubt that England was standing face to face with one of the greatest dangers that had threatened her in her life as a nation. And yet it was impossible to believe that the Might, Majesty, Dominion, and power of Great Britain could be successfully defied by a rabble horde such as we knew the Boers to be. But had we not the remembrance of '81 continually with us to remind us that on another lamentable occasion we had been too sanguine? This time, I told myself, it was vitally necessary that it should be all going forward and no drawing back. If we set our hands to the plough, it must be with a rigorous determination not to remove them until the task we had set ourselves should be accomplished.

At last I threw down my paper in disgust. An overwhelming desire to thrash every journalistic cur who yelped at the heels of the British Lion was fast taking possession of me. For the first time since I had known her, Paris was positively distasteful to me.

"Perhaps monsieur will pardon me if I ask permission to glance at the paper he has just thrown down," said a polite voice at my elbow. "I have tried to obtain one at the hotel, but without success."

Turning, I saw beside me the taller of the two men I had seen with the Countess de Venetza on the preceding afternoon—the man with the bushy eyebrows who had driven up with her in the carriage, and who was lame.

"Take it by all means," I replied, handing it to him as I spoke. "I doubt, however, if you will find anything in it but a series of insults to England and her soldiers. That seems to be the metier of the Parisian Press just now."

"It is a thousand pities," the stranger replied, slowly and solemnly; "and the more to be regretted for the reason that it does not voice the public sentiment."

I had no desire to be drawn into a political controversy with a man who, for all I knew to the contrary, might be an anarchist, a police spy, or an equally undesirable acquaintance. I accordingly allowed him to seat himself at some little distance from me and to peruse his paper in peace. He was still reading it when a carriage drove up, bringing the