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Title: Elusive Isabel
Author: Jacques Futrelle
Release Date: February 4, 2004 [EBook #10943]
Character set encoding: ASCII
*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK ELUSIVE ISABEL ***
Produced by Steven desJardins and PG Distributed Proofreaders
WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY
THE WONDERFUL WOMAN
I MISS ISABEL THORNE
II MR. CAMPBELL AND THE CABLE
III THE LANGUAGE OF THE FAN
IV THE FLEEING WOMAN
V A VISIT TO THE COUNT
VII THE SIGNAL
VIII MISS THORNE AND NOT MISS THORNE
IX FIFTY THOUSAND DOLLARS
X A SAFE OPENING
XI THE LACE HANDKERCHIEF
XII THE VANISHING DIPLOMATIST
XIII A CONFERENCE IN THE DARK
XIV A RESCUE AND AN ESCAPE
XV MASTER OF THE SITUATION
XVI LETTERS FROM JAIL
XVII A CALL ON THE WARDEN
XVIII NOTICE TO LEAVE
XIX BY WIRELESS
XX THE LIGHT IN THE DOME
XXI A SLIP OF PAPER
XXII THE COMPACT
XXIII THE PERCUSSION CAP
XXIV THE PERSONAL EQUATION
XXV WE TWO
XXVI IN WHICH THEY BOTH WIN
MISS ISABEL THORNE
All the world rubs elbows in Washington. Outwardly it is merely a city of evasion, of conventionalities, sated with the commonplace pleasures of life, listless, blase even, and always exquisitely, albeit frigidly, courteous; but beneath the still, suave surface strange currents play at cross purposes, intrigue is endless, and the merciless war of diplomacy goes on unceasingly. Occasionally, only occasionally, a bubble comes to the surface, and when it bursts the echo goes crashing around the earth. Sometimes a dynasty is shaken, a nation trembles, a ministry topples over; but the ripple moves and all is placid again. No man may know all that happens there, for then he would be diplomatic master of the world.
“There is plenty of red blood in Washington,” remarked a jesting legislative gray-beard, once upon a time, “but it’s always frozen before they put it in circulation. Diplomatic negotiations are conducted in the drawing-room, but long before that the fight is fought down cellar. The diplomatists meet at table and there isn’t any broken crockery, but you can always tell what the player thinks of the dealer by the way he draws three cards. Everybody is after results; and lots of monarchs of Europe sit up nights polishing their crowns waiting for word from Washington.”
So, this is Washington! And here at dinner are the diplomatic representatives of all the nations. That is the British ambassador, that stolid-faced, distinguished-looking, elderly man; and this is the French ambassador, dapper, volatile, plus-correct; here Russia’s highest representative wags a huge, blond beard; and yonder is the phlegmatic German ambassador. Scattered around the table, brilliant splotches of color, are the uniformed envoys of the Orient—the smaller the country the more brilliant the splotch. It is a state dinner, to be followed by a state ball, and they are all present.
The Italian ambassador, Count di Rosini, was trying to interpret a French bon mot into English for the benefit of the dainty, doll-like wife of the Chinese minister—who was educated at Radcliffe—when a servant leaned over him and laid a sealed envelope beside his plate. The count glanced around at the servant, excused himself to Mrs. Quong Li Wi, and opened the envelope. Inside was a single sheet of embassy note paper, and a terse line signed by his secretary:
“A lady is waiting for you here. She says she must see you immediately, on a matter of the greatest importance.”
The count read the note twice, with wrinkled brow, then scribbled on it in pencil:
“Impossible to-night. Tell her to call at the embassy to-morrow morning at half-past ten o’clock.”
He folded the note, handed it to the servant, and resumed his conversation with Mrs. Wi.
Half an hour later the same servant placed a second sealed envelope beside his plate. Recognizing the superscription, the ambassador impatiently shoved it aside, intending to disregard it. But irritated curiosity finally triumphed, and he opened it. A white card on which was written this command was his reward:
“It is necessary that you come to the embassy at once.”
There was no signature. The handwriting was unmistakably that of a woman, and just as unmistakably strange to him. He frowned a little as he stared at it wonderingly, then idly turned the card over. There was no name on the reverse side—only a crest. Evidently the count recognized this, for his impassive face reflected surprise for an instant, and this was followed by a keen, bewildered interest. Finally he arose, made his apologies, and left the room. His automobile was at the door.
[Illustration: The handwriting was unmistakably that of a woman.]
“To the embassy,” he directed the chauffeur.
And within five minutes he was there. His secretary met him in the hall.
“The lady is waiting in your office,” he explained apologetically. “I gave her your message, but she said she must see you and would write you a line herself. I sent it.”
“Quite correct,” commented the ambassador. “What name did she give?”
“None,” was the reply. “She said none was necessary.”
The ambassador laid aside hat and coat and entered his office with a slightly puzzled expression on his face. Standing before a window, gazing idly out into the light-spangled night, was a young woman, rather tall and severely gowned in some rich, glistening stuff which fell away sheerly from her splendid bare shoulders. She turned and he found himself looking into a pair of clear, blue-gray eyes, frank enough and yet in their very frankness possessing an alluring, indefinable subtlety. He would not have called her pretty, yet her smile, slight as it was, was singularly charming, and there radiated from her a something—personality, perhaps—which held his glance. He bowed low, and closed the door.
“I am at your service, Madam,” he said in a tone of deep respect. “Please pardon my delay in coming to you.”
“It is unfortunate that I didn’t write the first note,” she apologized graciously. “It would at least have saved a little time.