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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Great Secret - Chapter IV. A MATCH AT LORD'S
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The Great Secret - Chapter IV. A MATCH AT LORD'S Post by :gprialde Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :April 2012 Read :2088

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The Great Secret - Chapter IV. A MATCH AT LORD'S

My cousin, Gilbert Hardross, was eight years older than I, and of intensely serious proclivities. He was, I believe, a very useful member of the House, and absolutely conscientious in the discharge of what he termed his duty to his constituents. We drove down together to Lord's, and knowing him to be a person almost entirely devoid of imagination, I forbore to make any mention of the events of the previous night. One question, however, I did ask him.

"What sort of an hotel is the Universal supposed to be, Gilbert? Rather a queer lot of people staying there, I thought."

My cousin implied by a gesture that he was not surprised.

"Very cosmopolitan indeed," he declared. "It is patronized chiefly, I believe, by a certain class of Americans and gentlemen of the sporting persuasion. The restaurant, of course, is good, and a few notabilities stay there now and then. I should have thought the Carlton would have suited you better."

I changed the subject.

"How are politics?" I asked.

He looked at me as though in reproach at the levity of my question.

"You read the papers, I suppose?" he remarked. "You know for yourself that we are passing through a very critical time. Never," he added, "since I have been in the House, have I known such a period of anxiety."

Considering that Gilbert represented a rural constituency, and that his party was not even in office, I felt inclined to smile. However, I took him seriously.

"Same old war scare, I suppose?" I remarked.

"It has been a 'scare' for a good many years," he replied seriously. "People seem inclined to forget that behind the shadow all the time there is the substance. I happen to know that there is a great deal of tension just now at the Foreign Office!"

"Things seem pretty much as they were six months ago," I remarked. "There is no definite cause for alarm, is there?"

"No definite cause, perhaps, that we know of," my cousin answered; "but there is no denying the fact that an extraordinary amount of apprehension exists in the best informed circles. As Lord Kestelen said to me yesterday, one seems to feel the thunder in the air."

I was thoughtful for a moment. Perhaps, after all, I was inclined to envy my cousin. My own life was a simple and wholesome one enough, but it was far removed indeed from the world of great happenings. Just then, I felt the first premonitions of dissatisfaction.

"I believe I'm sorry after all, that I didn't go in for a career of some sort," I remarked.

My cousin looked gratified. He accepted my regret as a tribute to his own larger place in the world.

"In some respects," he admitted, "it is regrettable. Yet you must remember that you are practically the head of the family. I have the title, but you have the estates and the money. You should find plenty to do!"

I nodded.

"Naturally! That isn't exactly what I meant, though. Here we are, and by Jove, I'm late!"

My cousin cared for cricket no more than for any other sports, but because he represented Medchestershire, he made a point of coming to see his County play. He took up a prominent position in the pavilion enclosure, and requested me to inform the local reporters, who had come up from Medchester, of his presence. I changed into my flannels quickly, and was just in time to go out into the field with the rest of the team.

The morning's cricket was not particularly exciting, and I had hard work to keep my thoughts fixed upon the game. Our bowling was knocked about rather severely, but wickets fell with reasonable frequency. It was just before luncheon time that the most surprising event of the day happened to me. The captain of the M.C.C., who had just made his fifty, drove a full pitch hard towards the boundary on the edge of which I was fielding. By fast sprinting, and a lot of luck, I brought off the catch, and, amidst the applause from the pavilion within a few feet of me, I heard my cousin's somewhat patronizing congratulations:--

"Fine catch, Jim! Very fine catch indeed!"

I glanced round, and stood for a moment upon the cinder-path as though turned to stone. My cousin, who had changed his seat, was smiling kindly upon me a few yards away, and by his side, talking to him, was a young lady with golden-brown hair, a French maid dressed in black, and a Japanese spaniel. Her eyes met mine without any shadow of recognition. She looked upon me from her raised seat, as though I were a performer in some comedy being played for her amusement, in which she found it hard, however, to take any real interest. I went back to my place in the field, without any clear idea of whether I was upon my head or my heels, and my fielding for the rest of the time was purely mechanical.

In about half an hour the luncheon bell rang. I made straight for my cousin's seat, and, to my intense relief, saw that neither of them had as yet quitted their places. Gilbert seemed somewhat surprised to see me!

"Well," he remarked, "you haven't done so badly after all. Five wickets for 120 isn't it? You ought to get them out by four o'clock."

He hesitated. I glanced towards his companion, and he had no alternative.

"Miss Van Hoyt," he said, "will you allow me to introduce my cousin, Mr. Hardross Courage?"

She bowed a little absently.

"Are you interested in cricket, Miss Van Hoyt?" I asked inanely.

"Not in the least," she answered. "I have a list somewhere--in my purse, I think--of English institutions which must be studied before one can understand your country-people. Cricket, I believe, is second on the list. Your cousin was kind enough to tell me about this match, and how to get here."

"We are staying at the same hotel, I think," I remarked.

"Very likely," she answered, "I am only in London for a short time. Is the cricket over for the day now?"

I hastened to explain the luncheon arrangements. She rose at once.

"Then we will go," she said, turning to her maid and addressing her in French. "Janette, we depart!"

The maid rose with suspicious alacrity. The spaniel yawned and looked at me out of the corner of his black eye. I believe that he recognized me.

"Dare I ask you to honor us by lunching with my cousin and myself here, Miss Van Hoyt?" I asked eagerly.

She smiled very slightly, but the curve of her lips was delightful.

"And see more cricket?" she asked. "No! I think not--many thanks all the same!"

"I will put you in a hansom," my cousin said, turning towards her and ignoring me.

She looked over her shoulder and nodded. The maid looked at me out of her great black eyes, as though daring me to follow them, and, was it my fancy, or did that little morsel of canine absurdity really show me its white teeth on purpose? Anyhow, they strolled away, and left me there. I waited for Gilbert.

He reappeared in about five minutes, with a hateful smirk upon his well-cut but somewhat pasty features. I laid my hand upon his arm.

"Where did you meet her, Gilbert?" I asked. "Who is she? Where does she come from? How long have you known her?"

"Gently, my dear fellow!" he answered calmly. "I met her at Lady Tredwell's about a fortnight ago. I really know very little about her, except that she seems a charming young lady."

"Where does she come from?" I asked--"what country, I mean? She speaks like a foreigner!"

"Oh! she's American, of course," he told me--"a young American lady of fortune, I believe."

"American," I repeated vaguely, "are you sure?"

"Perfectly!" he answered.

"Any relatives here?" I asked.

"None that I know of," he admitted.

"Any connection with the stage?"

"Certainly not! I told you that I met her at Lady Tredwell's."

We walked into the luncheon room in silence. Presently my cousin showed signs of irritation.

"What the mischief are you so glum about?" he asked.

I looked up.

"I am not glum," I answered. "I was just thinking that the Hotel Universal seemed rather a queer place for a young lady with a French maid, a Japanese spaniel, and--no chaperon."

"You are an ass!" my cousin declared.

* * * * *

It was not until the evening that Gilbert unbent. When, however, he studied the menu of the dinner which I had ordered for his delectation, and learned that I had invited his particular friend, Lord Kestelen, to meet him, he invited me to descend below to the American bar and take a cocktail while we waited for our guest.

"By the bye, Jim," he remarked, slipping his arm through mine, "I thought that Miss Van Hoyt was particularly inquisitive about you this morning."

"In what way?" I asked, at once interested.

"She wanted to know what you did--how you spent your time. When I told her that you had no profession, that you did nothing except play cricket and polo, and hunt and shoot, she seemed most unaccountably surprised. She appeared almost incredulous when I told her that you seldom came to London, and still more seldom went abroad. I wonder what she had in her head?"

"I have no idea," I answered thoughtfully. "I suppose it was only ordinary curiosity. In America all the men do something."

"That must be so, no doubt," my cousin admitted, "but it didn't sound like it. I wonder whether we shall see her this evening?"

I did not wonder at all! It seemed to me that I knew!

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I was awakened at about nine o'clock the next morning by a loud and persistent knocking at the door of my room. I sat up in bed and shouted,"Come in!"A waiter entered bearing a note, which he handed to me on a salver. I looked at him, around the room, which was still in some confusion, and down at the note, which was clearly addressed to me, J. Hardross Courage, Esq. Suddenly my eyes fell upon the smashed door, and I remembered at once the events of the previous night. I tore open the note. It was typewritten and brief:--"The manager