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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Lighted Way - Chapter 15. The Red Signet Ring
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The Lighted Way - Chapter 15. The Red Signet Ring Post by :markbc Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :May 2012 Read :1875

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The Lighted Way - Chapter 15. The Red Signet Ring

CHAPTER XV. THE RED SIGNET RING

The few minutes which followed inspired Arnold with an admiration for his companion which he never wholly lost. Sabatini recognized in a moment his sister's state, but he did no more than shrug his shoulders.

"My dear Fenella!" he said, in a tone of gentle reproof.

"You haven't heard?" she gasped.

Sabatini drew out a chair and seated himself. He glanced around at the house and then began slowly to unbutton his white kid gloves.

"I did not buy an evening paper," he remarked. "Your face tells me the news, of course. I gather that Starling has been arrested."

"He was arrested at five o'clock!" she exclaimed. "He will be charged before the magistrates to-morrow."

"Then to-morrow," Sabatini continued calmly, "will be quite time enough for you to begin to worry."

She looked at him for a moment steadfastly. She had ceased to tremble now and her own appearance was becoming more natural.

"If one had but a man's nerve!" she murmured. "Dear Andrea, you make me very much ashamed. Yet this is serious--surely it is very serious?"

Arnold had withdrawn as far as possible out of hearing, but Sabatini beckoned him forward.

"You are missing the ballet," he said. "You must take the front chair there. You, too, will be interested in this news which my sister has been telling me. Our friend Starling has been arrested, after all. I was afraid he was giving himself away."

"For the murder of Mr. Rosario?" Arnold asked.

"Precisely," Sabatini replied. "A very unfortunate circumstance. Let us hope that he will be able to prove his innocence."

"I don't see how he could have done it," Arnold said slowly. "We saw him only about ten minutes or a quarter of an hour later coming up from the restaurant on the other side of the hotel."

"Oh! he will come very near proving an alibi, without a doubt," Sabatini declared. "He is quite clever when it comes to the point. I wonder what sort of evidence they have against him."

"Is there any reason," Arnold asked, "why he should kill Mr. Rosario?"

Sabatini studied his program earnestly.

"Well," he admitted, "that is rather a difficult question to answer. Mr. Rosario was a very obstinate man, and he was certainly persisting in a course of action against which I and many others had warned him, a course of action which was certain to make him exceedingly unpopular with a good many of us. I am not sure, however, whether the facts were sufficiently well known--"

Fenella interrupted. She rose hurriedly to her feet.

"I am afraid, after all, that you will have to excuse me," she declared, moving to a seat at the back of the box. "I do not think that I can stay here."

Sabatini nodded gravely.

"Perhaps you are right," he said. "For my own part, I, too, wish I had more faith in Starling. As a matter of fact, I have none. When they caught Crampton, one could sleep in one's bed; one knew. But this man Starling is a nervous wreck. Who knows what story he may tell--consciously or unconsciously--in his desperate attempts to clear himself? You see," he continued, looking at Arnold, "there are a great many of us to whom Mr. Rosario was personally, just at this moment, obnoxious."

Fenella swayed in her chair.

"I am going home," she murmured.

"As you will," Sabatini agreed. "Perhaps Mr. Chetwode will be so kind as to take you back? I have asked a friend to call here this evening."

She turned to Arnold.

"Do!" she pleaded. "I am fit for nothing else. You will come with me?"

Arnold was already standing with his coat upon his arm.

"Of course," he replied.

Her brother helped her on with her cloak.

"For myself," he declared, "I shall remain. I should not like to miss my friend, if he comes, and they tell me that the second ballet is excellent."

(Illustration: "For myself," he declared, "I remain." _Page 139_.)

She took his hands.

"You have courage, dear one," she murmured.

He smiled.

"It is not courage," he replied, "it is philosophy. If to-morrow were to be the end, would you not enjoy to-day? The true reasonableness of life is to live as though every day might be one's last. We shall meet again very soon, Mr. Chetwode."

Arnold held out his hands. The whole affair was intensely mysterious, and there were many things which he did not understand in the least, but he knew that he was in the presence of a brave man.

"Good night, Count Sabatini," he said. "Thank you very much for our dinner. I am afraid I am an unconverted Philistine, and doomed to the narrow ways, but, nevertheless, I have enjoyed my evening very much."

Sabatini smiled charmingly.

"You are very British," he declared, "but never mind. Even a Briton has been known to see the truth by gazing long enough. Take care of my little sister, and au revoir!"

Her fingers clutched his arm as they passed along the promenade and down the corridor into the street. The car was waiting, and in a moment or two they were on their way to Hampstead. She was beginning to look a little more natural, but she still clung to him. Arnold felt his head dizzy as though with strong wine.

"Fenella," he said, using her name boldly, "your brother has been talking to me to-night. All that he said I can understand, from his point of view, but what may be well for him is not well for others who are weaker. If you have been foolish, if the love of adventure has led you into any folly, think now and ask yourself whether it is worth while. Give it up before it is too late."

"It is because I have so little courage," she murmured, looking at him with swimming eyes, "and one must do something. I must live or the tugging of the chain is there all the time."

"There are many things in life which are worth while," he declared. "You are young and rich, and you have a husband who would do anything in the world for you. It isn't worth while to get mixed up in these dangerous schemes."

"What do you know of them?" she asked, curiously.

"Not much," he admitted. "Your brother was talking to-night a little recklessly. One gathered--"

"Andrea sometimes talks wildly because it amuses him to deceive people, to make them think that he is worse than he really is," she interrupted. "He loves danger, but it is because he is a brave man."

"I am sure of it," Arnold replied, "but it does not follow that he is a wise one."

She shrugged her shoulders.

"Tell me one of those many ways of living which are worth while!" she whispered. "Point out one of them only. Remember that I, too, have the spirit of restlessness in my veins. I must have excitement at any cost."

He sighed. She was, indeed, in a strange place.

"It seems so hopeless," he said, "to try and interest you in the ordinary things of life."

"No one could do it," she admitted. "I was not made for domesticity. Sometimes I think that I was not made to be wife to any man. I am a gambler at heart. I love the fierce draughts of life. Without them I should die."

"Yet you married Samuel Weatherley!" Arnold exclaimed.

She laughed bitterly.

"Yes, I was in a prison house," she answered, "and I should have welcomed any jailer who had come to set me free. I married him, and sometimes I try to do my duty. Then the other longings come, and Hampstead and my house, and my husband and my parties and my silly friends, seem like part of a dream. Mr. Chetwode--Arnold!"

"Fenella!"

"We were to be friends, we were to help one another. To-night I am afraid and I think that I am a little remorseful. It was my doing that you dined to-night with Andrea. I have wanted to bring you, too, into the life that my brother lives, into the life where I also make sometimes excursions. It is not a wicked life, but I do not know that it is a wise one. I was foolish. It was wrong of me to disturb you. After all, you are good and solid and British, you were meant for the other ways. Forget everything. It is less than a week since you came first to dine with us. Blot out those few days. Can you?"

"Not while I live," Arnold replied. "You forget that it was during those few days that I met you."

"But you are foolish," she declared, laying her hand upon his and smiling into his face, so that the madness came back and burned in his blood. "There is no need for you to be a gambler, there is no need for you to stake everything upon these single coups. You haven't felt the call. Don't listen for it."

"Fenella," he whispered hoarsely, "what was I doing when Samuel Weatherley was shipwrecked on your island!"

She laughed.

"Oh, you foolish boy!" she cried. "What difference would it have made?"

"You can't tell," he answered. "Has no one ever moved you, Fenella? Have you never known what it is to care for any one?"

"Never," she replied. "I only hope that I never shall."

"Why not?"

"Because I am a gambler," she declared; "because to me it would mean risking everything. And I have seen no man in the whole world strong enough and big enough for that. You are my very dear friend, Arnold, and you are feeling very sentimental, and your head is turned just a little, but after all you are only a boy. The taste of life is not yet between your teeth."

He leaned closer towards her. She put his arm gently away, shaking her head all the time.

"Do not think that I am a prude," she said. "You can kiss me if you like, and yet I would very much rather that you did not. I do not know why. I like you well enough, and certainly it is not from any sense of right or wrong. I am like Andrea in that way. I make my own laws. To-night I do not wish you to kiss me."

She was looking up at him, her eyes filled with a curious light, her lips slightly parted. She was so close that the perfume in which her clothes had lain, faint though it was, almost maddened him.

"I don't think that you have a heart at all!" he exclaimed, hoarsely.

"It is the old selfish cry, that," she answered. "Please do not be foolish, Arnold. Do not be like those silly boys who only plague one. With you and me, things are more serious."

The car came to a standstill before the portals of Pelham Lodge. Arnold held her fingers for a moment or two after he had rung the bell. Then he turned away. She called him back.

"Come in with me for a moment," she murmured. "To-night I am afraid. Mr. Weatherley will be in bed. Come in and sit with me for a little time until my courage returns."

He followed her into the house. There seemed to Arnold to be a curious silence everywhere. She looked in at several rooms and nodded.

"Mr. Weatherley has gone to bed," she announced. "Come into my sitting-room. We will stay there for five minutes, at least."

She led the way across the hall towards the little room into which she had taken Arnold on his first visit. She tried the door and came to a sudden standstill, shook the handle, and looked up at Arnold in amazement.

"It seems as though it were locked," she remarked. "It's my own sitting-room. No one else is allowed to enter it. Groves!"

She turned round. The butler had hastened to her side.

"What is the meaning of this?" she asked. "My sitting-room is locked on the inside."

The man tried the handle incredulously. He, too, was dumbfounded.

"Where is your master?" Mrs. Weatherley asked.

"He retired an hour ago, madam," the man replied. "It is most extraordinary, this."

She began to shiver. Groves leaned down and tried to peer through the keyhole. He rose to his feet hastily.

"The lights are burning in the room, madam," he exclaimed, "and the key is not in the door on the other side! It looks very much as though burglars were at work there. If you will allow me, I will go round to the window outside. There is no one else up."

"I will go with you," Arnold said.

"If you please, sir," the man replied.

They hurried out of the front door and around to the side of the house. The lights were certainly burning in the room and the blind was half drawn up. Arnold reached the window-sill with a spring and peered in.

"I can see nothing," he said to Groves. "There doesn't seem to be any one in the room."

"Can you get in, sir?" the man asked from below. "The sash seems to be unfastened."

Arnold tried it and found it yielded to his touch. He pushed it up and vaulted lightly into the room. Then he saw that a table was overturned and a key was lying on the floor. He picked it up and fitted it into the door. Fenella was waiting outside.

"I can see nothing here," he announced, "but a table has been upset."

She pointed to the sofa and gripped his arm.

"Look!" she cried. "What is that?"

Arnold felt a thrill of horror, and for a moment the room swam before his eyes. Then he saw clearly again. From underneath the upholstery of the sofa, a man's hand was visible stretching into the room almost as far as his elbow. They both stared, Arnold stupefied with horror. On the little finger of the hand was a ring with a blood-red seal!

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