Read CHAPTER VIII of The Devil's Paw , free online book, by E. Phillips Oppenheim, on ReadCentral.com.

According to plans made earlier in the day, a small shooting party left the Hall immediately after luncheon and did not return until late in the afternoon.  Julian, therefore, saw nothing more of Catherine until she came into the drawing-room, a few minutes before the announcement of dinner, wearing a wonderful toilette of pale blue silk, with magnificent pearls around her neck and threaded in her Russian headdress.  As is the way with all women of genius, Catherine’s complete change of toilette indicated a parallel change in her demeanour.  Her interesting but somewhat subdued manner of the previous evening seemed to have vanished.  At the dinner table she dominated the conversation.  She displayed an intimate acquaintance with every capital of Europe and with countless personages of importance.  She exchanged personal reminiscences with Lord Shervinton, who had once been attached to the Embassy at Rome, and with Mr. Hannaway Wells, who had been first secretary at Vienna.  She spoke amusingly of Munich, at which place, it appeared, she had first studied art, but dilated, with all the artist’s fervour, on her travellings in Spain, on the soft yet wonderfully vivid colouring of the southern cities.  She seemed to have escaped altogether from the gravity of which she had displayed traces on the previous evening.  She was no longer the serious young woman with a purpose.  From the chrysalis she had changed into the butterfly, the brilliant and cosmopolitan young queen of fashion, ruling easily, not with the arrogance of rank, but with the actual gifts of charm and wit.  Julian himself derived little benefit from being her neighbour, for the conversation that evening, from first to last, was general.  Even after she had left the room, the atmosphere which she had created seemed to linger behind her.

“I have never rightly understood Miss Abbeway,” the Bishop declared.  “She is a most extraordinarily brilliant young woman.”

Lord Shervinton assented.

“To-night you have Catherine Abbeway,” he expounded, “as she might have been but for these queer, alternating crazes of hers ­art and socialism.  Her brain was developed a little too early, and she was unfortunately, almost in her girlhood, thrown in with a little clique of brilliant young Russians who attained a great influence over her.  Most of them are in Siberia or have disappeared by now.  One Anna Katinski ­was brought back from Tobolsk like a royal princess on the first day of the revolution.”

“It is strange,” the Earl pronounced didactically, “that a young lady of Miss Abbeway’s birth and gifts should espouse the cause of this Labour rabble, a party already cursed with too many leaders.”

“A woman, when she takes up a cause,” Mr. Hannaway Wells observed, “always seeks either for the picturesque or for something which appeals to the emotions.  So long as she doesn’t mix with them, the cause of the people has a great deal to recommend it.  One can use beautiful phrases, can idealise with a certain amount of logic, and can actually achieve things.”

Julian shrugged his shoulders.

“I think we are all a little blind,” he remarked, “to the danger in which we stand through the great prosperity of Labour to-day.”

The Bishop leaned across the table.

“You have been reading Fiske this week.”

“Did I quote?” Julian asked carelessly.  “I have a wretched memory.  I should never dare to become a politician.  I should always be passing off other people’s phrases as my own.”

“Fiske is quite right in his main contention,” Mr. Stenson interposed.  “The war is rapidly creating a new class of bourgeoisie.  The very differences in the earning of skilled labourers will bring trouble before long ­the miner with his fifty or sixty shillings, and the munition worker with his seven or eight pounds ­men drawn from the same class.”

“England,” declared the Earl, indulging in his favourite speech, “was never so contented as when wages were at their lowest.”

“Those days will never come again,” Mr. Hannaway Wells foretold grimly.  “The working man has tasted blood.  He has begun to understand his power.  Our Ministers have been asleep for a generation.  The first of these modern trades unions should have been treated like a secret society in Italy.  Look at them now, and what they represent!  Fancy what it will mean when they have all learnt to combine! ­when Labour produces real leaders!”

“Can any one explain the German democracy?” Lord Shervinton enquired.

“The ubiquitous Fiske was trying to last week in one of the Reviews,” Mr. Stenson replied.  “His argument was that Germany alone, of all the nations in the world, possessed an extra quality or an extra sense ­I forget which he called it ­the sense of discipline.  It’s born in their blood.  Generations of military service are responsible for it.  Discipline and combination ­that might be their motto.  Individual thought has been drilled into grooves, just as all individual effort is specialised.  The Germans obey because it is their nature to obey.  The only question is whether they will stand this, the roughest test they have ever had ­whether they’ll see the thing through.”

“Personally, I think they will,” Hannaway Wells pronounced, “but if I should be wrong ­if they shouldn’t ­the French Revolution would be a picnic compared with the German one.  It takes a great deal to drive a national idea out of the German mind, but if ever they should understand precisely and exactly how they have been duped for the glorification of their masters ­well, I should pity the junkers.”

“Do your essays in journalism,” the Bishop asked politely, “ever lead you to touch upon Labour subjects, Julian?”

“Once or twice, in a very mild way,” was the somewhat diffident reply.

“I had an interesting talk with Furley this morning,” the Prime Minister observed.  “He tells me that they are thinking of making an appeal to this man Paul Fiske to declare himself.  They want a leader ­they want one very badly ­and thank heavens they don’t know where to look for him!”

“But surely,” Julian protested, “they don’t expect necessarily to find a leader of men in an anonymous contributor to the Reviews?  Fiske, when they have found him, may be a septuagenarian, or a man of academic turn of mind, who never leaves his study.  ‘Paul Fiske’ may even be the pseudonym of a woman.”

The Earl rose from his place.

“This afternoon,” he announced, “I read the latest article of this Paul Fiske.  In my opinion he is an exceedingly mischievous person, without the slightest comprehension of the forces which really count in government.”

The Bishop’s eyes twinkled as he left the room with his hand on his godson’s arm.

“It would be interesting,” he whispered, “to hear this man Fiske’s opinion of your father’s last speech in the House of Lords upon land interests!”

It was not until the close of a particularly unsatisfactory evening of uninspiring bridge that Julian saw anything more of Catherine.  She came in from the picture gallery, breathless, followed by four or five of the young soldiers, to whom she had been showing the steps of a new dance, and, turning to Julian with an impulsiveness which surprised him, laid her fingers imperatively upon his arm.

“Take me somewhere, please, where we can sit down and talk,” she begged, “and give me something to drink.”

He led the way into the billiard room and rang the bell.

“You have been overtiring yourself,” he said, looking down at her curiously.

“Have I?” she answered.  “I don’t think so.  I used to dance all through the night in Paris and Rome, a few years ago.  These young men are so clumsy, though ­and I think that I am nervous.”

She lay back in her chair and half closed her eyes.  A servant brought in the Evian water for which she had asked and a whisky and soda for Julian.  She drank thirstily and seemed in a few moments to have overcome her fatigue.  She turned to her companion with an air of determination.

“I must speak to you about that packet, Mr. Orden,” she insisted.

“Again?”

“I cannot help it.  You forget that with me it is a matter of life or death.  You must realise that you were only entrusted with it.  You are a man of honour.  Give it to me.”

“I cannot.”

“What are you thinking of doing with it, then?”

“I shall take it to London with me to-morrow,” he replied, “and hand it over to a friend of mine at the Foreign Office.”

“Would nothing that I could do or say,” she asked passionately, “influence your decision?”

“Everything that you do or say interests and affects me,” he answered simply, “but so far as regards this matter, my duty is clear.  You have nothing to fear from my account of how it came into my possession.  It would be impossible for me to denounce you for what I fear you are.  On the other hand, I cannot allow you the fruits of your enterprise.”

“You consider me, I suppose,” she observed after a moment’s pause, “an enemy spy?”

“You have proved it,” he reminded her.

“Of Overman ­my confederate,” she admitted, “that was true.  Of me it is not.  I am an honest intermediary between the honest people of Germany and England.”

“There can be no communication between the two countries during wartime, except through official channels,” he declared.

Her eyes flashed.  She seemed in the throes of one of those little bursts of tempestuous passion which sometimes assailed her.

“You talk ­well, as you might be supposed to talk!” she exclaimed, breaking off with an effort.  “What have official channels done to end this war?  I am not here to help either side.  I represent simply humanity.  If you destroy or hand over to the Government that packet, you will do your country an evil turn.”

He shook his head.

“I am relieved to hear all that you say,” he told her, “and I am heartily glad to think that you do not look upon yourself as Overman’s associate.  On the other hand, you must know that any movement towards peace, except through the authorised channels, is treason to the country.”

“If only you were not the Honourable Julian Orden, the son of an English peer!” she groaned.  “If only you had not been to Eton and to Oxford!  If only you were a man, a man of the people, who could understand!”

“Neither my birth nor my education,” he assured her, “have affected my present outlook upon life.”

“Pooh!” she scoffed.  “You talk like a stiffened sheet of foolscap!  I am to leave here to-morrow, then, without my packet?”

“You must certainly leave ­when you do leave ­without that,” he assented.  “There is one thing, however, which I very sincerely hope that you will leave behind you.”

“And that?”

“Your forgiveness.”

“My forgiveness for what?” she asked, after a moment’s pause.

“For my rashness this morning.”

Her eyes grew a little larger.

“Because you kissed me?” she observed, without flinching.  “I have nothing to forgive.  In fact,” she went on, “I think that I should have had more to forgive if you had not.”

He was puzzled and yet encouraged.  She was always bewildering him by her sudden changes from the woman of sober thoughtfulness to the woman of feeling, the woman eager to give, eager to receive.  At that moment it seemed as though her sex possessed her to the exclusion of everything outside.  Her eyes were soft and filled with the desire of love, her lips sweet and tremulous.  She had suddenly created a new atmosphere around her, an atmosphere of bewildering and passionate femininity.

“Wont you tell me, please, what you mean?” he begged.

“Isn’t it clear?” she answered, very softly but with a suspicion of scorn in her low tones.  “You kissed me because I deliberately invited it.  I know that quite well.  My anger ­and I have been angry about it ­is with myself.”

He was a little taken aback.  Her perfect naturalness was disarming, a little confusing.

“You certainly did seem provocative,” he confessed, “but I ought to have remembered.”

“You are very stupid,” she sighed.  “I deliberately invited your embrace.  Your withholding it would simply have added to my humiliation.  I am furious with myself, simply because, although I have lived a great part of my life with men, on equal terms with them, working with them, playing with them, seeing more of them at all times than of my own sex, such a thing has never happened to me before.”

“I felt that,” he said simply.

For a moment her face shone.  There was a look of gratitude in her eyes.  Her impulsive grasp of his hand left his fingers tingling.

“I am glad that you understood,” she murmured.  “Perhaps that will help me just a little.  For the rest, if you wish to be very kind, you will forget.”

“If I cannot do that,” he promised, “I will at least turn the key upon my memories.”

“Do more than that,” she begged.  “Throw the key into the sea, or whatever oblivion you choose to conjure up.  Moments such as those have no place in my life.  There is one purpose there more intense than anything else, that very purpose which by some grim irony of fate it seems to be within your power to destroy.”

He remained silent.  Ordinary expressions of regret seemed too inadequate.  Besides, the charm of the moment was passing.  The other side of her was reasserting itself.

“I suppose,” she went on, a little drearily, “that even if I told you upon my honour, of my certain knowledge, that the due delivery of that packet might save the lives of thousands of your countrymen, might save hearts from breaking, homes from becoming destitute ­even if I told you all this, would it help me in my prayer?”

“Nothing could help you,” he assured her, “but your whole confidence, and even then I fear that the result would be the same.”

“Oh, but you are very hard!” she murmured.  “My confidence belongs to others.  It is not mine alone to give you.”

“You see,” he explained, “I know beforehand that you are speaking the truth as you see it.  I know beforehand that any scheme in which you are engaged is for the benefit of our fellow creatures and not for their harm.  But alas! you make yourself the judge of these things, and there are times when individual effort is the most dangerous thing in life.”

“If you were any one else!” she sighed.

“Why be prejudiced about me?” he protested.  “Believe me, I am not a frivolous person.  I, too, think of life and its problems.  You yourself are an aristocrat.  Why should not I as well as you have sympathy and feeling for those who suffer?”

“I am a Russian,” she reminded him, “and in Russia it is different.  Besides, I am no longer an aristocrat.  I am a citizeness of the world.  I have eschewed everything in life except one thing, and for that I have worked with all my heart and strength.  As for you, what have you done?  What is your record?”

“Insignificant, I fear,” he admitted.  “You see, a very promising start at the Bar was somewhat interfered with by my brief period of soldiering.”

“At the present moment you have no definite career,” she declared.  “You have even been wasting your time censoring.”

“I am returning now to my profession.”

“Your profession!” she scoffed.  “That means you will spend your time wrangling with a number of other bewigged and narrow-minded people about uninteresting legal technicalities which lead nowhere and which no one cares about.”

“There is my journalism.”

“You have damned it with your own phrase ’hack journalism’!”

“I may enter Parliament.”

“Yes, to preserve your rights,” she retorted.

“I am afraid,” he sighed, “that you haven’t a very high opinion of me.”

“It is within your power to make me look upon you as the bravest, the kindest, the most farseeing of men,” she declared.

He shook his head.

“I decline to think that you would think any the better of me for committing a dishonourable action for your sake.”

“Try me,” she begged, her hand resting once more upon his.  “If you want my kind feelings, my everlasting gratitude, they are yours.  Give me that packet.”

“That is impossible,” he declared uncompromisingly.  “If you wish to alter my attitude with regard to it, you must tell me exactly from whom it comes, what it contains, and to whom it goes.”

“You ask more than is possible..  You make me almost sorry ­”

“Sorry for what?”

“Sorry that I saved your life,” she said boldly.  “Why should I not be?  There are many who will suffer, many who will lose their lives because of your obstinacy.”

“If you believe that, confide in me.”

She shook her head sadly.

“If only you were different!”

“I am a human being,” he protested.  “I have sympathies and heart.  I would give my life willingly to save any carnage.”

“I could never make you understand,” she murmured hopelessly.  “I shall not try.  I dare not risk failure.  Is this room hot, or is it my fancy?  Could we have a window open?”

“By all means.”

He crossed the room and lifted the blind from before one of the high windows which opened seawards.  In the panel of the wall, between the window to which he addressed himself and the next one, was a tall, gilt mirror, relic of the days, some hundreds of years ago, when the apartment had been used as a drawing-room.  Julian, by the merest accident, for the pleasure of a stolen glance at Catherine, happened to look in it as he leaned over towards the window fastening.  For a single moment he stood rigid.  Catherine had risen to her feet and, without the slightest evidence of any fatigue, was leaning, tense and alert, over the tray on which his untouched whisky and soda was placed.  Her hand was outstretched.  He saw a little stream of white powder fall into the tumbler.  An intense and sickening feeling of disappointment almost brought a groan to his lips.  He conquered himself with an effort, however, opened the window a few inches, and returned to his place.  Catherine was lying back, her eyes half-closed, her arms hanging listlessly on either side of her chair.

“Is that better?” he enquired.

“Very much,” she assured him.  “Still, I think that if you do not mind, I will go to bed.  I am troubled with a very rare attack of nerves.  Drink your whisky and soda, and then will you take me into the drawing-room?”

He played with his tumbler thoughtfully.  His first impulse was to drop it.  Intervention, however, was at hand.  The door opened, and the Princess entered with Lord Shervinton.

“At last!” the former exclaimed.  “I have been looking for you everywhere, child.  I am sure that you are quite tired out, and I insist upon your going to bed.”

“Finish your whisky and soda,” Catherine begged Julian, “and I will lean on your arm as far as the staircase.”

Fate stretched out her right hand to help him.  The Princess took possession of her niece.

“I shall look after you myself,” she insisted.  “Mr. Orden is wanted to play billiards.  Lord Shervinton is anxious for a game.”

“I shall be delighted,” Julian answered promptly.

He moved to the door and held it open.  Catherine gave him her fingers and a little half-doubtful smile.

“If only you were not so cruelly obstinate!” she sighed.

He found no words with which to answer her.  The shock of his discovery was still upon him.

“You’ll give me thirty in a hundred, Julian,” Lord Shervinton called out cheerfully.  “And shut that door as soon as you can, there’s a good fellow.  There’s a most confounded draught.”