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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Maker Of History - Book 2 - Chapter 7. Spencer Gets His Chance
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A Maker Of History - Book 2 - Chapter 7. Spencer Gets His Chance Post by :mrslita_kabila Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :May 2012 Read :3309

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A Maker Of History - Book 2 - Chapter 7. Spencer Gets His Chance

BOOK II CHAPTER VII. SPENCER GETS HIS CHANCE

Spencer tried to rise from the sofa, but the effort was too much for him. Pale and thin, with black lines under his eyes, and bloodless lips, he seemed scarcely more than the wreck of his former self.

His visitor laid his stick and hat upon the table. Then he bowed once more to Spencer, and stood looking at him, leaning slightly against the table.

"I am permitted," he asked gently, "to introduce myself?"

"Quite unnecessary!" Spencer answered.

The Baron shrugged his shoulders.

"You know me?" he asked.

The shadow of a smile flitted across Spencer's face.

"By many names, Monsieur Louis," he answered.

His visitor smiled. Debonair in dress and deportment, there seemed nothing to inspire alarm in the air of gentle concern with which he regarded the man whom he had come to visit. Yet Spencer cursed the languor which had kept him from recovering the revolver which an hour or more before had slipped from underneath his cushion.

"It saves trouble," Monsieur Louis said. "I come to you. Monsieur Spencer, as a friend."

"You alarm me," Spencer murmured.

Monsieur Louis shrugged his shoulders.

"You are pleased to be witty," he answered. "But indeed I am no such terrible person. It is permitted that I smoke?"

"Certainly," Spencer answered. "If you care for wine or liqueurs pray ring for my servant. I can assure you that it is not by my own will that you find me so indifferent a host."

"I thank you," Monsieur Louis answered. "I think that we will not ring the bell. It would be a pity to disturb an interview to which I have looked forward with so much pleasure."

"_L'affaire Poynton?_" Spencer suggested.

"Precisely!"

"You have perhaps come to complete the little affair in which so far you have succeeded so admirably?"

"Pray do not suggest such a thing," Monsieur Louis answered deprecatingly. "For one thing I should not personally run the risk. And for another have I not already assured you that I come as a friend?"

"It was then," Spencer answered, "that I began to be frightened."

Monsieur Louis smiled. He drew a gold cigarette case from his pocket, and calmly lit a cigarette.

"Since you permit, _mon ami_," he said. "Good! I speak better when I smoke. You are not so ill, I see, but that you retain that charming sense of humor your readers have learnt so well how to appreciate."

"The dose was scarcely strong enough," Spencer answered. "Or perhaps by good fortune I stumbled upon the proper antidote."

"I see that you like plain speaking," Monsieur Louis continued with a gentle smile. "Permit me to assure you then that the dose was quite as strong as we wished. Extremes are sometimes necessary, but we avoid them whenever possible."

"I wonder where it happened," Spencer said reflectively. "I have been on my guard all the time. I have watched my wine and coffee at the cafes, and I have eaten only in the restaurants that I know."

Monsieur Louis did not seem to think the matter important.

"It was bound to happen," he said. "If you had been like your friends--the English baronet and the last two, who are even more amusing--perhaps it would not have been necessary. But you understand--you were beginning to discover things."

"Yes," Spencer admitted. "I was beginning to get interested."

"Exactly! We were forced to act. I can assure you, Monsieur Spencer, that it was with reluctance. The others of whom I have spoken--Sir George Duncombe, Monsieur Pelham, and his toy detective--forgive me that I smile--walk all the time in the palm of our hand. But they remain unharmed. If by any chance they should blunder into the knowledge of things which might cause us annoyance, why, then--there would be more invalids in Paris. Indeed, Monsieur, we do not seek to abuse our power. My errand to you to-day is one of mercy."

"You make me ashamed," Spencer said, with a sarcasm which he took no pains to conceal, "of my unworthy suspicions. To proceed."

"You have sent for Sir George Duncombe to come and see you!"

Spencer was silent for a moment. His own servant unfaithful? It was not possible.

"Well?"

"Even you," the Baron continued, "have not yet solved the mystery of _l'affaire Poynton_. But you know more than Sir George. Let me recommend that you do not share your knowledge with him."

"Why not?"

"If you do Sir George will at once share your indisposition."

"I begin to understand," Spencer said.

"How otherwise? Send Sir George home. You see the delicacy of our position. It is not so much that we fear Sir George Duncombe's interference, but he again is followed and watched over by our enemies, who would easily possess themselves of any information which he might gain."

Spencer nodded.

"It is good reasoning," he admitted.

"Listen," Monsieur Louis continued. "I speak now on behalf of my friends. You know whom I mean. You have solved the mystery of our existence. We are omnipotent. The police and the secret service police and the Government itself are with us. We have license throughout the city. We may do what others may not. For us there is no crime. I kill you now perhaps. The police arrive. I am before the Commissioner. I give him the sign--it is _l'affaire Poynton_. I go free! It is a certain thing."

"Granted!" Spencer said. "Proceed with your killing, or your argument."

"With the latter, if you please," Monsieur Louis answered. "I do not choose to kill. _L'affaire Poynton_, then. Harm is not meant to either of these young people. That I assure you upon my honor. In three weeks, or say a month, we have finished. They may return to their homes if they will. We have no further interest in them. For those three weeks you must remain as you are--you, and if you have influence over him, Sir George Duncombe. The other two fools we have no care for. If they blundered into knowledge--well, they must pay. They are not our concern, yours and mine. For you, I bring you an offer, Monsieur Spencer."

"_Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes!_" Spencer murmured.

Monsieur Louis smiled.

"My gift," he answered, "will not terrify you. You are a journalist. I offer to make the fortune of your paper. You shall be the first to announce an affair of the greatest international importance since the war between Russia and Japan was declared. No, I will go further than that. It is the greatest event since Waterloo."

"_L'affaire Poynton strikes so deep?" Spencer remarked.

"So deep," the Baron answered. "It is the fools who grope their way into great places. So did the boy Poynton. You, my friend, shall be the one brilliant exception. You shall make yourself the king of journalists, and you shall be quoted down the century as having achieved the greatest journalistic feat of modern days."

Spencer turned his drawn, haggard face towards his visitor. A slight flush of color stained his cheek.

"You fascinate me," he said slowly. "I admit it. You have found the weak spot in my armor. Proceed! For whom do you speak?"

Monsieur Louis abandoned his somewhat lounging attitude. He stood by Spencer's side, and, leaning down, whispered in his ear. Spencer's eyes grew bright.

"Monsieur Louis," he said, "you play at a great game."

The Baron shrugged his shoulders.

"Me!" he answered. "I am but a pawn. I do what I am told."

"To return for a moment to _l'affaire Poynton_," Spencer said. "I am in the humor to trust you. Have I then your assurance that the boy and girl do not suffer?"

"Upon my own honor and the honor of the company to whom I belong," he answered with some show of dignity. "It is a pledge which I have never yet broken."

"I am a bribed man," Spencer answered.

Monsieur Louis threw away his second cigarette. He cast a look almost of admiration upon the man who still lay stretched upon the couch.

"You are the only Englishman I ever met, Monsieur Spencer," he said, "who was not pig-headed. You have the tenacity of your countrymen, but you have the genius to pick out the right thread from the tangle, to know truth when you meet it, even in unlikely places. I doff my hat to you, Monsieur Spencer. If you permit I will send my own physician to you. You will be yourself in a week."

"You know the antidote?" Spencer remarked grimly.

"Naturally! Accidents will happen. You wish that I should send him?"

"Without doubt," Spencer answered. "I am weary of this couch."

"You shall leave it in a week," Monsieur promised, as he left the room.

Spencer closed his eyes. Already he felt coming on the daily headache, which, with the terrible weakness, was a part of his symptoms. But there was no rest for him yet. Monsieur Louis had scarcely been gone five minutes when Duncombe arrived.

Duncombe had had no word of his friend's illness. He stood over his couch in shocked surprise.

"My dear fellow," he exclaimed. "I had no idea that you were ill. This is why I have not heard from you, then."

Spencer smiled as he held out his hand, and Duncombe, who seemed to catch some meaning in the upraised eyebrows of his friend, was shocked.

"You mean?" he exclaimed.

Spencer nodded.

"_L'affaire Poynton_" he said gently. "A very subtle dose of poison indeed, my friend. I shall not die, but I have had my little lesson. Here the individual has little chance. We fight against forces that are too many for us. I told you so at the start."

"Yet I," Duncombe answered, "have not suffered."

"My friend," Spencer answered, "it is because I am the more dangerous."

"You have discovered something?" Duncombe exclaimed.

"I came near discovering a great deal," Spencer answered. "Perhaps it would have been better for my system if I had discovered a little less. As it is I have finished with _l'affaire Poynton for the present. You see how very nearly _l'affaire Poynton finished me."

"It is not like you," Duncombe said thoughtfully, "to give anything up."

"We come face to face sometimes with unique experiences, which destroy precedent," Spencer answered. "This is one of them."

"And what," Duncombe asked, "do you advise me to do?"

"Always the same advice," Spencer answered. "Leave Paris to-day. Go straight back to Norfolk, read the newspapers, and await events."

"Well, I think that I shall do so," Duncombe answered slowly. "I have found out where Miss Poynton is, but she will not see me. I have made an enemy of my dearest friend, and I have, at any rate, interrupted your career and endangered your life. Yes, I will go back home."

"You may yet save your friend some--inconvenience," Spencer suggested. "Try to persuade him to go back with you."

"He will not listen to me," Duncombe answered. "He has brought an English detective with him, and he is as obstinate as a mule. For myself I leave at nine o'clock."

"You are well advised, exceedingly well advised," Spencer said. "Mind I do not take the responsibility of sending you away without serious reasons. I honestly believe that Miss Poynton is safe, whatever may have happened to her brother, and I believe that you will serve her best by your temporary absence."

Duncombe stood for a moment wrapped in thought. The last few months had aged him strangely. The strenuous days and nights of anxious thought had left their mark in deep lines upon his face. He looked out of the window of Spencer's room, and his eyes saw little of the busy street below. He was alone once more with this strange, terrified girl upon the hillside, with the wind in their faces, and making wild havoc in her hair. He was with her in different moods in the little room behind his library, when the natural joy of her young life had for the moment reasserted itself. He was with her at their parting. He saw half the fearful regret with which she had left his care and accepted the intervention of the Marquise. Stirring times these had been for a man of his quiet temperament, whom matters of sentiment and romance had passed lightly by, and whose passions had never before been touched by the finger of fire. And now he was going back to an empty life--a life at least empty of joy, save the hope of seeing her again. For good or for evil, the great thing had found its way into his life. His days of calm animal enjoyment were over. Sorrow or joy was to be his. He had passed into the shadows of the complex life.

He remembered where he was at last, and turned to Spencer.

"About yourself, Spencer," he said. "Have you seen a doctor?"

"Yes. I am not seriously ill," his friend answered. "The worst is over now. And, Duncombe, it's hard for you to go, I know--but look here, I believe that you will be back in a month, and taking Miss Poynton to lunch _chez Ritz. I never felt so sure of it as I do to-day."

Duncombe remembered the answer to his note, and found it hard to share his friend's cheerfulness.

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