When the baby died at Clavering Park, somebody hinted that Sir Hugh would certainly quarrel with his brother as soon as Archie should become the father of a presumptive heir to the title and property. That such would be the case those who best knew Sir Hugh would not doubt. That Archie should have that of which he himself had been robbed, would of itself be enough to make him hate Archie. But, nevertheless, at this present time, he continued to instigate his brother in that matter of the proposed marriage with Lady Ongar. Hugh, as well as others, felt that Archie’s prospects were now improved, and that he could demand the hand of a wealthy lady with more of seeming propriety than would have belonged to such a proposition while the poor child was living. No one would understand this better than Lady Ongar, who knew so well all the circumstances of the family. The day after the funeral the two brothers returned to London together, and Hugh spoke his mind in the railway carriage. “It will be no good for you to hang on about Bolton Street, off and on, as though she were a girl of seventeen,” he said.
“I’m quite up to that,” said Archie. “I must let her know I’m there, of course. I understand all that.”
“Then why don’t you do it? I thought you meant to go to her at once when we were talking about it before in London.”
“So I did go to her, and got on with her very well, too, considering that I hadn’t been there long when another woman came.”
“But you didn’t tell her what you had come about?”
“No; not exactly. You see it doesn’t do to pop at once to a widow like her. Ongar, you know, hasn’t been dead six months. One has to be a little delicate in these things.”
“Believe me, Archie, you had better give up all notions of being delicate, and tell her what you want at once — plainly and fairly. You may be sure that she will not think of her former husband, if you don’t.”
“Oh! I don’t think about him at all.”
“Who was the woman you say was there?”
“That little Frenchwoman — the sister of the man — Sophie she calls her. Sophie Gordeloup is her name. They are bosom friends.”
“The sister of that count?”
“Yes; his sister. Such a woman for talking! She said ever so much about your keeping Hermione down in the country.”
“The devil she did. What business was that of hers? That is Julia’s doing.”
“Well; no, I don’t think so. Julia didn’t say a word about it. In fact, I don’t know how it came up. But you never heard such a woman to talk — an ugly, old, hideous little creature! But the two are always together.”
“If you don’t take care you’ll find that Julia is married to the count while you are thinking about it.”
Then Archie began to consider whether he might not as well tell his brother of his present scheme with reference to Julia. Having discussed the matter at great length with his confidential friend, Captain Boodle, he had come to the conclusion that his safest course would be to bribe Madam Gordeloup, and creep into Julia’s favor by that lady’s aid. Now, on his return to London, he was about at once to play that game, and had already provided himself with funds for the purpose. The parting with ready money was a grievous thing to Archie, though in this case the misery would be somewhat palliated by the feeling that it was a bona-fide sporting transaction. He would be lessening the odds against himself by a judicious hedging of his bets. “You must stand to lose something always by the horse you mean to win,” Doodles had said to him, and Archie had recognized the propriety of the remark. He had, therefore, with some difficulty, provided himself with funds, and was prepared to set about his hedging operations as soon as he could find Madam Gordeloup on his return to London. He had already ascertained her address through Doodles, and had ascertained by the unparalleled acuteness of his friend that the lady was — a Russian spy. It would have been beautiful to have seen Archie’s face when this information was whispered into his ear, in private, at the club. It was as though he had then been made acquainted with some great turf secret, unknown to the sporting world in general.
“Ah!” he said, drawing a long breath, “no; by George, is she?”
The same story had been told everywhere in London of the little woman for the last half dozen years, whether truly or untruly I am not prepared to say; but it had not hitherto reached Archie Clavering; and now, on hearing it, he felt that he was becoming a participator in the deepest diplomatic secrets of Europe.
“By George,” said he, “is she really?”
And his respect for the little woman rose a thousand per cent.
“That’s what she is,” said Doodles, “and it’s a doosed fine thing for you, you know! Of course you can make her safe, and that will be everything.”
Archie resolved at once that he would use the great advantage which chance and the ingenuity of his friend had thrown in his way; but that necessity of putting money in his purse was a sore grievance to him, and it occurred to him that it would be a grand thing if he could induce his brother to help him in this special matter. If he could only make Hugh see the immense advantage of an alliance with the Russian spy, Hugh could hardly avoid contributing to the expense — of course on the understanding that all such moneys were to be repaid when the Russian spy’s work had been brought to a successful result. Russian spy! There was in the very sound of the words something so charming that it almost made Archie in love with the outlay. A female Russian spy too! Sophie Gordeloup certainly retained but very few of the charms of womanhood, nor had her presence as a lady affected Archie with any special pleasure; but yet he felt infinitely more pleased with the affair than he would have been had she been a man spy. The intrigue was deeper. His sense of delight in the mysterious wickedness of the thing was enhanced by an additional spice. It is not given to every man to employ the services of a political Russian lady-spy in his love-affairs! As he thought of it in all its bearings, he felt that he was almost a Talleyrand, or, at any rate, a Palmerston.
Should he tell his brother? If he could represent the matter in such a light to his brother as to induce Hugh to produce the funds for purchasing the spy’s services, the whole thing would be complete with a completeness that has rarely been equalled. But he doubted. Hugh was a hard man — a hard, unimaginative man, and might possibly altogether refuse to believe in the Russian spy. Hugh believed in little but what he himself saw, and usually kept a very firm grasp upon his money.
“That Madam Gordeloup is always with Julia,” Archie said, trying the way, as it were, before he told his plan.
“Of course she will help her brother’s views.”
“I’m not so sure of that. Some of these foreign women ain’t like other women at all. They go deeper — a doosed sight deeper.”
“Into men’s pockets, you mean.”
“They play a deep game altogether. What do you suppose she is, now?” This question Archie asked in a whisper, bending his head forward toward his brother, though there was no one else in the carriage with them.
“What she is? A thief of some kind, probably. I’ve no doubt she’s up to any roguery.”
“She’s a — Russian spy.”
“Oh, I’ve heard of that for the last dozen years. All the ugly old Frenchwomen in London are Russian spies, according to what people say; but the Russians know how to use their money better than that. If they employ spies, they employ people who can spy something.”
Archie felt this to be cruel — very cruel, but he said nothing further about it. His brother was stupid, pigheaded, obstinate, and quite unfitted by nature for affairs of intrigue. It was, alas, certain that his brother would provide no money for such a purpose as that he now projected; but, thinking of this, he found some consolation in the reflection that Hugh would not be a participator with him in his great secret. When he should have bought the Russian spy, he and Doodles would rejoice together in privacy without any third confederate. Triumviri might be very well; Archie also had heard of triumviri; but two were company, and three were none. Thus he consoled himself when his pigheaded brother expressed his disbelief in the Russian spy.
There was nothing more said between them in the railway carriage, and, as they parted at the door in Berkeley Square, Hugh swore to himself that this should be the last season in which he would harbor his brother in London. After this he must have a house of his own there, or have no house at all. Then Archie went down to his club, and finally arranged with Doodles that the first visit to the spy should be made on the following morning. After much consultation it was agreed between them that the way should be paved by a diplomatic note. The diplomatic note was therefore written by Doodles and copied by Archie.
“Captain Clavering presents his compliments to Madam Gordeloup, and proposes to call upon her to-morrow morning at twelve o’clock, if that hour will be convenient. Captain Clavering is desirous of consulting Madam Gordeloup on an affair of much importance.” “Consult me!” said Sophie to herself, when she got the letter. “For what should he consult me? It is that stupid man I saw with Julie. Ah, well; never mind. The stupid man shall come.” The commissioner, therefore, who had taken the letter to Mount Street, returned to the club with a note in which Madam Gordeloup expressed her willingness to undergo the proposed interview. Archie felt that the letter — a letter from a Russian spy addressed positively to himself — gave him already diplomatic rank, and he kept it as a treasure in his breast coat-pocket.
It then became necessary that he and his friend should discuss the manner in which the spy should be managed. Doodles had his misgivings that Archie would be awkward, and almost angered his friend by the repetition of his cautions. “You mustn’t chuck your money at her head, you know,” said Doodles.
“Of course not; but when the time comes I shall slip the notes into her hand — with a little pressure perhaps.”
“It would be better to leave them near her on the table.”
“Do you think so?”
“Oh, yes; a great deal. It’s always done in that way.”
“But perhaps she wouldn’t see them — or wouldn’t know where they came from.”
“Let her alone for that.”
“But I must make her understand what I want of her — in return, you know. I ain’t going to give her twenty pounds for nothing.”
“You must explain that at first; tell her that you expect her aid, and that she will find you a grateful friend — a grateful friend, say; mind you remember that.”
“Yes; I’ll remember that. I suppose it would be as good a way as any.”
“It’s the only way, unless you want her to ring for the servant to kick you out of the house. It’s as well understood as A B C, among the people who do these things. I should say take jewelry instead of money if she were anything but a Russian spy; but they understand the thing so well, that you may go further with them than with others.”
Archie’s admiration for Sophie became still higher as he heard this. “I do like people,” said he, “who understand what’s what, and no mistake.”
“But even with her you must be very careful.”
“Oh, yes; that’s a matter of course.”
“When I was declaring for the last time that she would find me a grateful friend, just at the word grateful, I would put down the four flyers on the table, smoothing them with my hand like that.” Then Doodles acted the part, putting a great deal of emphasis on the word ‘grateful’ as he went through the smoothing ceremony with two or three sheets of club note paper. “That’s your game, you may be sure. If you put them into her hand she may feel herself obliged to pretend to be angry; but she can’t be angry simply because you put your money on her table. Do you see that, old fellow?” Archie declared that he did see it very plainly. “If she does not choose to undertake the job, she’ll merely have to tell you that you have left something behind you.”
“But there’s no fear of that, I suppose?”
“I can’t say. Her hands may be full, you know, or she may think you don’t go high enough.”
“But I mean to tip her again, of course.”
“Again! I should think so. I suppose she must have about a couple of hundred before the end of next month if she’s to do any good. After a bit you’ll be able to explain that she shall have a sum down when the marriage has come off.”
“She won’t take the money and do nothing; will she?”
“Oh, no; they never sell you like that. It would spoil their own business if they were to play that game. If you can make it worth her while, she’ll do the work for you. But you must be careful; do remember that.” Archie shook his head, almost in anger, and then went home for his night’s rest.
On the next morning he dressed himself in his best, and presented himself at the door in Mount Street, exactly as the clock struck twelve. He had an idea that these people were very punctilious as to time. Who could say but that the French ambassador might have an appointment with Madam Gordeloup at half-past one — or perhaps some emissary from the Pope! He had resolved that he would not take his left glove off his hand, and he had thrust the notes in under the palm of his glove, thinking he could get at them easier from there, should they be wanted in a moment, than he could do from his waistcoat pocket. He knocked at the door, knowing that he trembled as he did so, and felt considerable relief when he found himself to be alone in the room to which he was shown. He knew that men conversant with intrigues always go to work with their eyes open, and, therefore, at once he began to look about him. Could he not put the money into some convenient hiding-place — now at once? There, in one corner, was the spot in which she would seat herself upon the sofa. He saw plainly enough, as with the eye of a Talleyrand, the marks thereon of her constant sitting. So he seized the moment to place a chair suitable for himself, and cleared a few inches on the table near to it, for the smoothing of the bank-notes — feeling, while so employed, that he was doing great things. He had almost made up his mind to slip one note between the pages of a book, not with any well-defined plan as to the utility of such a measure, but because it seemed to be such a diplomatic thing to do! But while this grand idea was still flashing backward and forward across his brain, the door opened, and he found himself in the presence of — the Russian spy.
He at once saw that the Russian spy was very dirty, and that she wore a nightcap, but he liked her the better on that account. A female Russian spy should, he felt, differ much in her attire from other women. If possible, she should be arrayed in diamonds, and pearl ear-drops, with as little else upon her as might be; but failing that costume, which might be regarded as the appropriate evening spy costume, a tumbled nightcap, and a dirty, white wrapper, old cloth slippers, and objectionable stockings, were just what they should be.
“Ah!” said the lady, “you are Captain Clavering. Yes, I remember.”
“I am Captain Clavering. I had the honor of meeting you at Lady Ongar’s.”
“And now you wish to consult me on an affair of great importance. Very well. You may consult me. Will you sit down — there.” And Madam Gordeloup indicated to him a chair just opposite to herself, and far removed from that convenient spot which Archie had prepared for the smoothing of the bank-notes. Near to the place now assigned to him there was no table whatever, and he felt that he would in that position be so completely raked by the fire of her keen eyes, that he would not be able to carry on his battle upon good terms. In spite, therefore, of the lady’s very plain instructions, he made an attempt to take possession of the chair which he had himself placed; but it was an ineffectual attempt, for the spy was very peremptory with him. “There, Captain Clavering; there; there; you will be best there.” Then he did as he was bid, and seated himself; as it were, quite out at sea, with nothing but an ocean of carpet around him, and with no possibility of manipulating his notes except under the raking fire of those terribly sharp eyes. “And now,” said Madam Gordeloup, “you can commence to consult me. What is the business?”
Ah; what was the business? That was now the difficulty? In discussing the proper way of tendering the bank-notes, I fear the two captains had forgotten the nicest point of the whole negotiation. How was he to tell her what it was that he wanted to do himself, and what that she was to be required to do for him? It behooved him above all things not to be awkward! That he remembered. But how not to be awkward? “Well!” she said; and there was something almost of crossness in her tone. Her time, no doubt, was valuable. The French ambassador might even now be coming. “Well?”
“I think, Madam Gordeloup, you know my brother’s sister-in-law, Lady Ongar?”
“What, Julie? Of course I know Julie. Julie and I are dear friends.”
“So I supposed. That is the reason why I have come to you.”
“Well — well — well?”
“Lady Ongar is a person whom I have known for a long times and for whom I have a great — I may say — a very deep regard.”
“Ah! yes. What a jointure she has! and what a park! Thousands and thousands of pounds — and so beautiful! If I was a man I should have a very deep regard, too. Yes.”
“A most beautiful creature, is she not?”
“Ah; if you had seen her in Florence, as I used to see her, in the long Summer evenings! Her lovely hair was all loose to the wind, and she would sit hour after hour looking, oh, at the stars! Have you seen the stars in Italy?”
Captain Clavering couldn’t say that he had, but he had seen them uncommon bright in Norway, when he had been fishing there.
“Or the moon?” continued Sophie, not regarding his answer. “Ah; that is to live! And he, her husband, the rich lord, he was dying, in a little room just inside, you know. It was very melancholy, Captain Clavering. But when she was looking at the moon with her hair all dishevelled,” and Sophie put her hands up to her own dirty nightcap —” she was just like a Magdalen; yes, just the same; just the same.”
The exact strength of the picture, and the nature of the comparison drawn, were perhaps lost upon Archie; and, indeed, Sophie herself probably trusted more to the tone of her words, than to any idea which they contained; but their tone was perfect, and she felt that if anything could make him talk, he would talk now.
“Dear me! you don’t say so. I have always admired her very much, Madam Gordeloup.”
The French ambassador was probably in the next street already, and if Archie was to tell his tale at all, he must do it now.
“You will keep my secret if I tell it you?” he asked.
“Is it me you ask that? Did you ever hear of me that I tell a gentleman’s secret? I think not. If you have a secret, and will trust me, that will be good; if you will not trust me — that will be good also.”
“Of course I will trust you. That is why I have come here.”
“Then out with it. I am not a little girl. You need not be bashful. Two and two make four. I know that. But some people want them to make five. I know that, too. So speak out what you have to say.”
“I am going to ask Lady Ongar to — to — to — marry me.”
“Ah, indeed; with all the thousands of pounds and the beautiful park! But the beautiful hair is more than all the thousands of pounds. Is it not so?”
“Well, as to that, they all go together, you know.”
“And that is so lucky! If they was to be separated, which would you take?”
The little woman grinned as she asked this question, and Archie, had he at all understood her character, might at once have put himself on a pleasant footing with her; but he was still confused and ill at ease, and only muttered something about the truth of his love for Julia.
“And you want to get her to marry you?”
“Yes; that’s just it.”
“And you want me to help you?
“That’s just it again.”
“Upon my word, if you’ll stick to me, you know, and see me through it, and all that kind of thing, you’ll find in me a most grateful friend; indeed, a most grateful friend.” And Archie, as from his position he was debarred from attempting the smoothing process, began to work with his right forefinger under the glove on his left hand.
“What have you got there?” said Madam Gordeloup, looking at him with all her eyes.
Captain Clavering instantly discontinued the work with his finger, and became terribly confused. Her voice on asking the question had become very sharp; and it seemed to him that if he brought out his money in that awkward, barefaced way, which now seemed to be necessary, she would display all the wrath of which a Russian spy could be capable. Would it not be better that he should let the money rest for the present, and trust to his promise of gratitude? Ah, how he wished that he had slipped at any rate one note between the pages of a book.
“What have you got there?” she demanded again, very sharply.
“It is not nothing. What have you got there? If you have got nothing, take off your glove. Come.”
Captain Clavering became very red in the face, and was altogether at a loss what to say or do.
“Is it money you have got there?” she asked. “Let me see how much. Come.”
“It is just a few bank-notes I put in here to be handy,” he said.
“Ah; that is very handy, certainly. I never saw that custom before. Let me look.” Then she took his hand, and with her own hooked finger clawed out the notes. “Ah! five, ten, fifteen, twenty pounds. Twenty pounds is not a great deal, but it is very nice to have even that always handy. I was wanting so much money as that myself; perhaps you will make it handy to me.”
“Upon my word I shall be most happy. Nothing on earth would give me more pleasure.”
Fifty pounds would give me more pleasure; just twice as much pleasure.” Archie had begun to rejoice greatly at the safe disposition of the money, and to think how excellently well this spy did her business; but now there came upon him suddenly an idea that spies perhaps might do their business too well. “Twenty pounds in this country goes a very little way; you are all so rich,” said the spy.
“By George, I ain’t. I ain’t rich, indeed.”
“But you mean to be — with Julie’s money?”
“Oh — ah — yes; and you ought to know, Madam Gordeloup, that I am now the heir to the family estate and title.”
“Yes; the poor little baby is dead, in spite of the pills and the powders, the daisies and the buttercups! Poor little baby! I had a baby of my own once, and that died also.” Whereupon Madam Gordeloup, putting up her hand to her eyes, wiped away a real tear with the bank-notes which she still held. “And I am to remind Julie that you will be the heir?”
“She will know all about that already.”
“But I will tell her. It will be something to say, at any rate — and that, perhaps, will be the difficulty.”
“Just so! I didn’t look at it in that light before.”
“And am I to propose it to her first?”
“Well; I don’t know. Perhaps as you are so clever, it might be as well.”
“And at once?”
“Yes, certainly; at once. You see, Madam Gordeloup, there may be so many buzzing about her.”
“Exactly; and some of them perhaps will have more than twenty pounds handy. Some will buzz better than that.”
“Of course I didn’t mean that for anything more than just a little compliment to begin with.”
“Oh, ah; just a little compliment for beginning. And when will it be making a progress and going on?”
“Making a progress!”
“Yes; when will the compliment become a little bigger? Twenty pounds! Oh! it’s just for a few gloves, you know; nothing more.”
“Nothing more than that, of course,” said poor Archie.
“Well; when will the compliment grow bigger? Let me see. Julie has seven thousands of pounds, what you call, per annum. And have you seen that beautiful park? Oh! And if you can make her to look at the moon with her hair down — oh! When will that compliment grow bigger? Twenty pounds! I am ashamed, you know.”
“When will you see her, Madam Gordeloup?”
“See her! I see her every day, always. I will be there to-day, and to-morrow, and the next day.”
“You might say a word then at once — this afternoon.”
“What! for twenty pounds! Seven thousands of pounds per annum; and you give me twenty pounds! Fie, Captain Clavering. It is only just for me to speak to you — this! That is all. Come; when will you bring me fifty?”
“By George — fifty!”
“Yes; fifty; for another beginning. What; seven thousands of pounds per annum, and make difficulty for fifty pounds! You have a handy way with your glove. Will you come with fifty pounds to-morrow?” Archie, with the drops of perspiration standing on his brow, and now desirous of getting out again into the street, promised that he would come again on the following day with the required sum.
“Just for another beginning! And now, good-morning, Captain Clavering. I will do my possible with Julie. Julie is very fond of me, and I think you have been right in coming here. But twenty pounds was too little, even for a beginning.” Mercenary wretch; hungry, greedy, ill-conditioned woman — altogether of the harpy breed! As Archie Clavering looked into her gray eyes, and saw there her greed and her hunger, his flesh crept upon his bones. Should he not succeed with Julia, how much would this excellent lady cost him?
As soon as he was gone the excellent lady made an intolerable grimace, shaking herself and shrugging her shoulders, and walking up and down the room with her dirty wrapper held close round her. “Bah,” she said. “Bah!“ And as she thought of the heavy stupidity of her late visitor she shrugged herself and shook herself again violently, and clutched up her robe still more closely. “Bah!” It was intolerable to her that a man should be such a fool, even though she was to make money by him. And then, that such a man should conceive it to be possible that he should become the husband of a woman with seven thousand pounds a year! Bah!
Archie, as he walked away from Mount Street, found it difficult to create a triumphant feeling within his own bosom. He had been awkward, slow and embarrassed, and the spy had been too much for him. He was quite aware of that, and he was aware also that even the sagacious Doodles had been wrong. There had, at any rate, been no necessity for making a difficulty about the money. The Russian spy had known her business too well to raise troublesome scruples on that point. That she was very good at her trade he was prepared to acknowledge; but a fear came upon him that he would find the article too costly for his own purposes. He remembered the determined tone in which she had demanded the fifty pounds merely as a further beginning.
And then he could not but reflect how much had been said at the interview about money — about money for her, and how very little had been said as to the assistance to be given — as to the return to be made for the money. No plan had been laid down, no times fixed, no tacilities for making love suggested to him. He had simply paid over his twenty pounds, and been desired to bring another fifty. The other fifty he was to take to Mount Street on the morrow. What if she were to require fifty pounds every day, and declare that she could not stir in the matter for less? Doodles, no doubt, had told him that these first-class Russian spies did well the work for which they were paid; and no doubt, if paid according to her own tariff, Madam Gordeloup would work well for him; but such a tariff as that was altogether beyond his means! It would be imperatively necessary that he should come to some distinct settlement with her as to price. The twenty pounds, of course, were gone; but would it not be better that he should come to some final understanding with her before he gave her the further fifty? But then, as he thought of this, he was aware that she was too clever to allow him to do as he desired. If he went into that room with the fifty pounds in his pockets, or in his glove, or, indeed, anywhere about his person, she would have it from him, let his own resolution to make a previous bargain be what it might. His respect for the woman rose almost to veneration, but with the veneration was mixed a strong feeling of fear.
But, in spite of all this, he did venture to triumph a little when he met Doodles at the club. He had employed the Russian spy, and had paid her twenty pounds, and was enrolled in the corps of diplomatic and mysterious personages, who do their work by mysterious agencies. He did not tell Doodles anything about the glove, or the way in which the money was taken from him; but he did say that he was to see the spy again to-morrow, and that he intended to take with him another present of fifty pounds.
“By George, Clavey, you are going it.” said Doodles, in a voice that was delightfully envious to the ears of Captain Archie. When he heard that envious tone he felt that he was entitled to be triumphant.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01