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- Sir Dominick Ferrand - 4/12 -
making, and this gave him a lively desire, a grateful, happy desire, to appear to have nothing to conceal. For herself, it determined her still more to put an end to her momentary visit. But before she had passed to the door he exclaimed: "All right? How can a fellow be anything else who has just had such a find?"
She paused at this, still looking earnest and asking: "What have you found?"
"Some ancient family papers, in a secret compartment of my writing- table." And he took up the packet he had left out, holding it before her eyes. "A lot of other things like that."
"What are they?" murmured Mrs. Ryves.
"I haven't the least idea. They're sealed."
"You haven't broken the seals?" She had come further back.
"I haven't had time; it only happened ten minutes ago."
"I knew it," said Mrs. Ryves, more gaily now.
"What did you know?"
"That you were in some predicament."
"You're extraordinary. I never heard of anything so miraculous; down two flights of stairs."
"ARE you in a quandary?" the visitor asked.
"Yes, about giving them back." Peter Baron stood smiling at her and rapping his packet on the palm of his hand. "What do you advise?"
She herself smiled now, with her eyes on the sealed parcel. "Back to whom?"
"The man of whom I bought the table."
"Ah then, they're not from YOUR family?"
"No indeed, the piece of furniture in which they were hidden is not an ancestral possession. I bought it at second hand--you see it's old--the other day in the King's Road. Obviously the man who sold it to me sold me more than he meant; he had no idea (from his own point of view it was stupid of him), that there was a hidden chamber or that mysterious documents were buried there. Ought I to go and tell him? It's rather a nice question."
"Are the papers of value?" Mrs. Ryves inquired.
"I haven't the least idea. But I can ascertain by breaking a seal."
"Don't!" said Mrs. Ryves, with much expression. She looked grave again.
"It's rather tantalising--it's a bit of a problem," Baron went on, turning his packet over.
Mrs. Ryves hesitated. "Will you show me what you have in your hand?"
He gave her the packet, and she looked at it and held it for an instant to her nose. "It has a queer, charming old fragrance," he said.
"Charming? It's horrid." She handed him back the packet, saying again more emphatically "Don't!"
"Don't break a seal?"
"Don't give back the papers."
"Is it honest to keep them?"
"Certainly. They're yours as much as the people's of the shop. They were in the hidden chamber when the table came to the shop, and the people had every opportunity to find them out. They didn't-- therefore let them take the consequences."
Peter Baron reflected, diverted by her intensity. She was pale, with eyes almost ardent. "The table had been in the place for years."
"That proves the things haven't been missed."
"Let me show you how they were concealed," he rejoined; and he exhibited the ingenious recess and the working of the curious spring. She was greatly interested, she grew excited and became familiar; she appealed to him again not to do anything so foolish as to give up the papers, the rest of which, in their little blank, impenetrable covers, he placed in a row before her. "They might be traced--their history, their ownership," he argued; to which she replied that this was exactly why he ought to be quiet. He declared that women had not the smallest sense of honour, and she retorted that at any rate they have other perceptions more delicate than those of men. He admitted that the papers might be rubbish, and she conceded that nothing was more probable; yet when he offered to settle the point off-hand she caught him by the wrist, acknowledging that, absurd as it was, she was nervous. Finally she put the whole thing on the ground of his just doing her a favour. She asked him to retain the papers, to be silent about them, simply because it would please her. That would be reason enough. Baron's acquaintance, his agreeable relations with her, advanced many steps in the treatment of this question; an element of friendly candour made its way into their discussion of it.
"I can't make out why it matters to you, one way or the other, nor why you should think it worth talking about," the young man reasoned.
"Neither can I. It's just a whim."
"Certainly, if it will give you any pleasure, I'll say nothing at the shop."
"That's charming of you, and I'm very grateful. I see now that this was why the spirit moved me to come up--to save them," Mrs. Ryves went on. She added, moving away, that now she had saved them she must really go.
"To save them for what, if I mayn't break the seals?" Baron asked.
"I don't know--for a generous sacrifice."
"Why should it be generous? What's at stake?" Peter demanded, leaning against the doorpost as she stood on the landing.
"I don't know what, but I feel as if something or other were in peril. Burn them up!" she exclaimed with shining eyes.
"Ah, you ask too much--I'm so curious about them!"
"Well, I won't ask more than I ought, and I'm much obliged to you for your promise to be quiet. I trust to your discretion. Good-by."
"You ought to REWARD my discretion," said Baron, coming out to the landing.
She had partly descended the staircase and she stopped, leaning against the baluster and smiling up at him. "Surely you've had your reward in the honour of my visit."
"That's delightful as far as it goes. But what will you do for me if I burn the papers?"
Mrs. Ryves considered a moment. "Burn them first and you'll see!"
On this she went rapidly downstairs, and Baron, to whom the answer appeared inadequate and the proposition indeed in that form grossly unfair, returned to his room. The vivacity of her interest in a question in which she had discoverably nothing at stake mystified, amused and, in addition, irresistibly charmed him. She was delicate, imaginative, inflammable, quick to feel, quick to act. He didn't complain of it, it was the way he liked women to be;, but he was not impelled for the hour to commit the sealed packets to the flames. He dropped them again into their secret well, and after that he went out. He felt restless and excited; another day was lost for work-- the dreadful job to be performed for Mr. Locket was still further off.
Ten days after Mrs. Ryves's visit he paid by appointment another call on the editor of the Promiscuous. He found him in the little wainscoted Chelsea house, which had to Peter's sense the smoky brownness of an old pipebowl, surrounded with all the emblems of his office--a litter of papers, a hedge of encyclopaedias, a photographic gallery of popular contributors--and he promised at first to consume very few of the moments for which so many claims competed. It was Mr. Locket himself however who presently made the interview spacious, gave it air after discovering that poor Baron had come to tell him something more interesting than that he couldn't after all patch up his tale. Peter had begun with this, had intimated respectfully that it was a case in which both practice and principle rebelled, and then, perceiving how little Mr. Locket was affected by his audacity, had felt weak and slightly silly, left with his heroism on his hands. He had armed himself for a struggle, but the Promiscuous didn't even protest, and there would have been nothing for him but to go away with the prospect of never coming again had he not chanced to say abruptly, irrelevantly, as he got up from his chair:
"Do you happen to be at all interested in Sir Dominick Ferrand?"
Mr. Locket, who had also got up, looked over his glasses. "The late Sir Dominick?"
"The only one; you know the family's extinct."
Mr. Locket shot his young friend another sharp glance, a silent retort to the glibness of this information. "Very extinct indeed. I'm afraid the subject today would scarcely be regarded as attractive."
"Are you very sure?" Baron asked.
Mr. Locket leaned forward a little, with his fingertips on his table, in the attitude of giving permission to retire. "I might consider the question in a special connection." He was silent a minute, in a
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