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I sat in Paul Harley's room. Luncheon was over, and although, as on the previous
day, it had been a perfect repast, perfectly served, the sense of tension which I
had experienced throughout the meal had made me horribly ill at ease.
That shadow of which I have spoken elsewhere seemed to have become almost
palpable. In vain I had ascribed it to a morbid imagination: persistently it lingered.
Madame de Staemer's gaiety rang more false than ever. She twirled the rings
upon her slender fingers and shot little enquiring glances all around the table.
This spirit of unrest, from wherever it arose, had communicated itself to
everybody. Madame's several bon mots one and all were failures. She delivered
them without conviction like an amateur repeating lines learned by heart. The
Colonel was unusually silent, eating little but drinking much. There was
something unreal, almost ghastly, about the whole affair; and when at last
Madame de Staemer retired, bearing Val Beverley with her, I felt certain that the
Colonel would make some communication to us. If ever knowledge of portentous
evil were written upon a man's face it was written upon his, as he sat there at the
head of the table, staring straightly before him. However:
"Gentlemen," he said, "if your enquiries here have led to no result of, shall I say,
a tangible character, at least I feel sure that you must have realized one thing."
Harley stared at him sternly.
"I have realized, Colonel Menendez," he replied, "that something is pending."
"Ah!" murmured the Colonel, and he clutched the edge of the table with his
strong brown hands.
"But," continued my friend, "I have realized something more. You have asked for
my aid, and I am here. Now you have deliberately tied my hands."
"What do you mean, sir?" asked the other, softly.
"I will speak plainly. I mean that you know more about the nature of this danger
than you have ever communicated to me. Allow me to proceed, if you please,
Colonel Menendez. For your delightful hospitality I thank you. As your guest I
could be happy, but as a professional investigator whose services have been
called upon under most unusual circumstances, I cannot be happy and I do not
thank you."
Their glances met. Both were angry, wilful, and self-confident. Following a few
moments of silence:
"Perhaps, Mr. Harley," said the Colonel, "you have something further to say?"
"I have this to say," was the answer: "I esteem your friendship, but I fear I must
return to town without delay."
The Colonel's jaws were clenched so tightly that I could see the muscles
protruding. He was fighting an inward battle; then:
"What!" he said, "you would desert me?"
"I never deserted any man who sought my aid."
"I have sought your aid."