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A Cabinet Secret by Guy Newell Boothby

When I had first seen the Countess


Circumstances

forbade me that I should question the man further, though the temptation was sufficiently great. Nothing remained, therefore, but to withdraw and to derive what consolation I could from the fact that I had spoken to her and knew her name.

"The Countess de Venetza," I repeated, as I made my way up the steps once more. The name had suddenly come to have a strange fascination for me. I found myself repeating it again and again, each time deriving a new sensation from it.

Having procured a morning paper, I returned to the verandah, seated myself in the place I had occupied on the previous afternoon, when I had first seen the Countess, and turned my attention to the English news. If the information set forth there were to be believed, there could be no sort of doubt that we were distinctly nearer the trouble which had been brewing for so long. The wildest rumours were afloat, and the versions printed in the Parisian papers were not of a nature calculated to allay my fears. If what they said were correct there could be no doubt that England was standing face to face with one of the greatest dangers that had threatened her in her life as a nation. And yet it was impossible to believe that the Might, Majesty, Dominion, and power of Great Britain could be successfully defied by a rabble horde such as we knew the Boers to be. But had we not the remembrance of '81 continually with us to remind us that on another lamentable

occasion we had been too sanguine? This time, I told myself, it was vitally necessary that it should be all going forward and no drawing back. If we set our hands to the plough, it must be with a rigorous determination not to remove them until the task we had set ourselves should be accomplished.

At last I threw down my paper in disgust. An overwhelming desire to thrash every journalistic cur who yelped at the heels of the British Lion was fast taking possession of me. For the first time since I had known her, Paris was positively distasteful to me.

"Perhaps monsieur will pardon me if I ask permission to glance at the paper he has just thrown down," said a polite voice at my elbow. "I have tried to obtain one at the hotel, but without success."

Turning, I saw beside me the taller of the two men I had seen with the Countess de Venetza on the preceding afternoon--the man with the bushy eyebrows who had driven up with her in the carriage, and who was lame.

"Take it by all means," I replied, handing it to him as I spoke. "I doubt, however, if you will find anything in it but a series of insults to England and her soldiers. That seems to be the _metier_ of the Parisian Press just now."

"It is a thousand pities," the stranger replied, slowly and solemnly; "and the more to be regretted for the reason that it does not voice the public sentiment."

I had no desire to be drawn into a political controversy with a man who, for all I knew to the contrary, might be an anarchist, a police spy, or an equally undesirable acquaintance. I accordingly allowed him to seat himself at some little distance from me and to peruse his paper in peace. He was still reading it when a carriage drove up, bringing the Countess de Venetza back to the hotel. Seeing her friend she approached him, whereupon he rose to greet her, still retaining the newspaper in his hand.


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