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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Lighted Way - Chapter 31. A Luncheon-Party
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The Lighted Way - Chapter 31. A Luncheon-Party Post by :markbc Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :May 2012 Read :1259

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The Lighted Way - Chapter 31. A Luncheon-Party

CHAPTER XXXI. A LUNCHEON-PARTY

It seemed to Arnold that he had passed, indeed, into a different world as he followed Count Sabatini's austere looking butler across the white stone hall into the cool dining-room, where the little party which he had come to join was already at luncheon. Outside, an unexpected heat seemed to have baked the streets and drained the very life from the air. Here the blinds were closely drawn; the great height of the room with its plain, faultless decorations, its piles of sweet-smelling flowers, and the faint breeze that came through the Venetian blinds, made it like a little oasis of coolness and repose. The luncheon-party consisted of four people--Count Sabatini himself, Lady Blennington, Fenella, and a young man whom Arnold had seen once before, attached to one of the Legations. Fenella held out both her hands.

"I'm afraid I am late," Arnold said.

"It is my fault for not mentioning the hour," Sabatini interposed. "We are continental in our tastes and we like to breakfast early."

"In any case, you would be forgiven," Fenella declared, "for this, as you know, is our party of reconciliation."

"What, have you two been quarreling?" Lady Blennington exclaimed. "You don't deserve to have admirers, Fenella. You always treat them badly. How is it you've never been to see me, Mr. Chetwode?"

"Not because I have forgotten your kind invitation," Arnold replied, taking the chair by Fenella's side which the butler was holding for him. "Unfortunately, I am at work nearly every afternoon."

"Mr. Chetwode is my husband's secretary now, you must remember," Fenella remarked, "and during his absence he naturally finds a great deal to do."

"Well, I am sure I am only too glad," Lady Blennington said, "to hear of a young man who does any work at all, nowadays. They mostly seem to do nothing but hang about looking for a job. When you told me," she continued, "that you were really in the city, I wasn't at all sure that you were in earnest."

Sabatini sighed.

"I can assure you, Lady Blennington," he declared, "that so far as my sex is represented here to-day, we are very strenuous people indeed. Signor di Marito here carries upon his shoulders a burden, just at the present moment, which few of the ambassadors would care to have to deal with. Mr. Chetwode I have visited in his office, and I can assure you that so far as his industry is concerned there is no manner of doubt. As for myself--"

Lady Blennington interrupted gayly.

"Come," she said, "I believe it of these two others, if you insist, but you are not going to ask us to believe that you, the personification of idleness, are also among the toilers!"

Sabatini looked at her reproachfully.

"One is always misunderstood," he murmured. "This morning, as a matter of fact, I have been occupied since daybreak."

"Let us hear all about it," Lady Blennington demanded.

"My energies have been directed into two channels," Sabatini announced. "I have been making preparations for a possible journey, and I have been trying to find a missing man."

Arnold looked up quickly. Fenella paused with her glass raised to her lips.

"Who is the missing man?" Lady Blennington asked.

"Mr. Weatherley," Sabatini replied. "We can scarcely call him that, perhaps, but he has certainly gone off on a little expedition without leaving his address."

"Well, you amaze me!" Lady Blennington exclaimed. "I never thought that he was that sort of a husband."

"Did you make any discoveries?" asked Arnold.

Sabatini shook his head.

"None," he confessed. "As an investigator I was a failure. However, I must say that I prosecuted my inquiries in one direction only. It may interest you to know that I have come to the conclusion that Mr. Weatherley's disappearance is not connected in any way with the matters of which we spoke this morning."

"Then it remains the more mysterious," declared Arnold.

"Fenella, at any rate, is not disposed to wear widow's weeds," remarked Lady Blennington. "Cheer up, dear, he'll come back all right. Husbands always do. It is our other intimate friends who desert us."

Fenella laughed.

"I am quite sure that you are right," she admitted. "I am not really worried at all. It is a very annoying manner, however, in which to go away, this,--a desertion most unceremonious. And now Andrea here tells me that at any moment he may leave me, too."

They all looked at him. He inclined his head gravely.

"Nothing is decided," he said. "I have friends abroad who generally let me know when things are stirring. There is a little cloud--it may blow over or it may be the presage of a storm. In a day or two we shall know."

"You men are to be envied," Lady Blennington sighed, speaking for a moment more seriously. "You have the power always to roam. You follow the music of the world wherever you will. The drum beats, you pull up your stakes, and away you go. But for us poor women, alas! there is never any pulling up of the stakes. We, too, hear the music--perhaps we hear it oftener than you--but we may not follow."

"You have compensations," Sabatini remarked.

"We have compensations, of course," Lady Blennington admitted, "but what do they amount to, after all?"

"You have also a different set of instincts," Signor di Marito interposed. "There are other things in the life of a woman than to listen always to the wander-music."

"The question is as old as the hills," Fenella declared, "and it bores me. I want some more omelette. Really, Andrea, your chef is a treasure. If you get your summons, I think that I shall take him over. Who will come to the theatre with me to-night? I have two stalls for the _Gaiety_."

"I can't," Lady Blennington remarked. "I am going to a foolish dinner-party, besides which, of course, you don't want to be bothered with a woman."

"Nor can I," Sabatini echoed. "I have appointments all the evening."

"I, alas!" Signor di Marito sighed, "must not leave my post for one single moment. These are no days for theatre-going for my poor countrymen."

"Then the duty seems to devolve upon you," Fenella decided, smiling toward Arnold.

"I am sorry," he replied, "but I, too, seem to be unfortunate. I could not possibly get away from the city in time."

"Absurd!" she answered, a little sharply. "You are like a boy with a new hobby. It is I who wish that you leave when you choose."

"Apart from that," Arnold continued, "I am sorry, but I have an engagement for the evening."

She made a little grimace.

"With your invalid friend?"

Arnold assented.

"I should not like to leave her alone this evening. She has been in a great deal of trouble lately."

There was a moment's silence. A slight frown had gathered on Fenella's forehead.

"I noticed that she was dressed wholly in black," she remarked. "Perhaps she is in trouble because she has lost a relative lately?"

"She appears to have no relatives in the world," Arnold declared, "except an uncle, and he, I am afraid, is a little worse than useless to her."

Sabatini, who had been listening, leaned a little forward.

"She lives entirely alone with the uncle of whom you have spoken?" he asked.

"Up till yesterday she has done so," Arnold answered gravely. "Just at present, as you know, he has gone away. I only wish that I could find him."

"Going away, as you put it," Fenella murmured, "seems to be rather the fashion just now."

Arnold glanced up quickly but her expression was entirely innocent. He looked across the table, however, and found that Sabatini was watching him pensively. Fenella leaned towards him. She spoke almost in a whisper, but her tone was cold, almost unfriendly.

"I think," she said, "that with regard to that young woman you carry chivalry too far."

Arnold flushed slightly. Then Sabatini, with a little murmur of words, changed the conversation. Once more it became entirely general, and presently the meal drew towards a pleasant termination. Fenella and Lady Blennington left together. At the moment of departure, the former turned towards Arnold.

"So I cannot induce you to become my escort for to-night?" she asked.

There was appeal, half humorous, half pathetic in her eyes. Arnold hesitated, but only for a moment.

"I am sorry," he said, "but indeed I shall not be able to leave the office until after the time for the theatre."

"You will not obey my orders about the office?"

"I could not, in any case, leave Ruth alone this evening," he replied.

She turned away from him. The little gesture with which she refused to see his hand seemed to be one of dismissal.

"Signor di Marito, you will take us to the automobile, will you not?" she said. "Perhaps we can drop you somewhere? Good-bye, Andrea, and thank you very much for your charming luncheon. If the message comes, you will telephone, I know?"

Arnold lingered behind while Sabatini showed his guests to the door. When he, too, would have left, however, his host motioned him to resume his chair.

"Sit down for a few minutes," he begged. "You have probably seen enough of me for to-day, but I may be called away from England at any moment and there is a question I want to ask you before I go."

Arnold nodded.

"You are really in earnest, then, about leaving?" he asked.

"Assuredly," Sabatini replied. "I cannot tell you exactly how things may go in my country, but if there is a rising against the reigning house, a Sabatini will certainly be there. I have had some experience in soldiering, and I have a following. It is true that I am an exile, but I feel that my place is somewhere near the frontier."

Arnold glanced enviously at the man who lounged in the chair opposite him. He seemed to carry even about his person a flavor from the far-off land of adventures.

"What I want to ask you is this," Sabatini said. "A few minutes ago you declared that you were anxious to discover the whereabouts of your little friend's uncle. Tell me why?"

"I will tell you, with pleasure," Arnold answered. "You see, she is left absolutely alone in the world. I do not grumble at the charge of her, for when I was nearly starving she was kind to me, and we passed our darkest days together. On the other hand, I know that she feels it keenly, and I think it is only right to try and find out if she has no relatives or friends who could possibly look after her."

"It is perfectly reasonable," Sabatini confessed. "I can tell you where to find Isaac Lalonde, if you wish."

Arnold's little exclamation was one almost of dismay.

"You know?" he cried.

"Naturally," Sabatini admitted. "You have a tender conscience, my young friend, and a very limited knowledge of the great necessities of the world. You think that a man like Isaac Lalonde has no real place in a wholesome state of society. You have some reason in what you think, but you are not altogether right. In any case, this is the truth. However much it may horrify you to know it, and notwithstanding our recent differences of opinion, communications have frequently taken place between the committee who are organizing the outbreak in Portugal, among which you may number me, and the extreme anarchists whom Isaac represents."

"You would not really accept aid from such?" Arnold exclaimed.

Sabatini smiled tolerantly.

"There are many unworthy materials," he said, "which go to the building of a great structure. Youth rebels at their use but age and experience recognize their necessity. The anarchist of your halfpenny papers and _Police News is not always the bloodthirsty ruffian that you who read them are led to suppose. Very often he is a man who strenuously seeks to see the light. It is not always his fault if the way which is shown him to freedom must cross the rivers of blood."

Arnold moved uneasily in his chair. His host spoke with such quiet conviction that the stock arguments which rose to his lips seemed somehow curiously ineffective.

"Nevertheless," he protested, "the philosophy of revolutions--"

"We will not discuss it," Sabatini declared, with a smile. "You and I need not waste our time in academic discussion. These things are beside the mark. What I had to say to you is this. If you really wish to speak with Isaac Lalonde, and will give me your word to keep the knowledge of him to yourself, I can tell you where to find him."

"I do wish to speak to him for the reasons I have told you," Arnold replied. "If he were to disappear from the face of the earth, as seems extremely probable at the present moment, Ruth would be left without a friend in the world except myself."

Sabatini wrote an address upon a slip of paper.

"You will find him there," he announced. "Go slowly, for the neighborhood is dangerous. Can I drop you anywhere?"

Arnold shook his head.

"Thank you," he said, "I must go straight back to the office. I will take the tube from the corner."

Sabatini escorted his guest to the door. As they stood there together, looking down into the quiet street, he laid his hand upon the young man's shoulder.

"I will not say good-bye," he declared, "because, although I am here waiting all the time, I do not believe that the hour has come for me to go. It will be soon but not just yet. When we first met, I thought that I should like to take you with me. I thought that the life in what will become practically a new country, would appeal to you. Since then I have changed my mind. I have thought of my own career, and I have seen that it is not the life or career for a young man to follow. The adventures of the worker in the cities are a little grayer, perhaps, than those which come to the man who is born a wanderer, but they lead home just as surely--perhaps more safely. Au revoir!"

He turned away abruptly. The door was softly closed. Arnold went down the steps and set his face citywards.

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