“What for?”

“Well,” said Sapt, puffing away, “it wouldn’t be exactly inconvenient for Black Michael if you disappeared. With you gone, the old game that we stopped would be played—or he’d have a shot at it.”

“I can take care of myself.”

“De Gautet, Bersonin, and Detchard are in Strelsau; and any one of them, lad, would cut your throat as readily—as readily as I would Black Michael’s, and a deal more treacherously. What’s the letter?”

I opened it and read it aloud:

If the King desires to know what it deeply concerns the King to know, let him do as this letter bids him. At the end of the New Avenue there stands a house in large grounds. The house has a portico, with a statue of a nymph on it. A wall encloses the garden; there is a gate in the wall at the back. At twelve o’clock tonight, if the King enters alone by that gate, turns to the right, and walks twenty yards, he will find a summerhouse, approached by a flight of six steps. If he mounts and enters, he will find someone who will tell him what touches most dearly his life and his throne. This is written by a faithful friend. He must be alone. If he neglects the invitation his life will be in danger. Let him show this to no one, or he will ruin a woman who loves him: Black Michael does not pardon.”

“No,” observed Sapt, as I ended, “but he can dictate a very pretty letter.”

I had arrived at the same conclusion, and was about to throw the letter away, when I saw there was more writing on the other side.

“Hallo! there’s some more.”

If you hesitate,” the writer continued, “consult Colonel Sapt—”

“Eh,” exclaimed that gentleman, genuinely astonished. “Does she take me for a greater fool than you?”

I waved to him to be silent.

Ask him what woman would do most to prevent the duke from marrying his cousin,and therefore most to prevent him becoming king? And ask if her name begins with—A?”

I sprang to my feet. Sapt laid down his pipe.

“Antoinette de Mauban, by heaven!” I cried.

“How do you know?’asked Sapt.

I told him what I knew of the lady, and how I knew it. He nodded.

“It’s so far true that she’s had a great row with Michael,” said he, thoughtfully.

“If she would, she could be useful,” I said.

“I believe, though, that Michael wrote that letter.”

“So do I, but I mean to know for certain. I shall go, Sapt.”

“No, I shall go,” said he.

“You may go as far as the gate.”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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