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HOME > Classical Novels > A Traitor in London > CHAPTER XVIII. EXIT VAN ZWIETEN.
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As Lady Jenny had expected, Mr. van Zwieten proved himself to be a wise man by presenting himself in her drawing-room at the appointed hour. He was in evening dress, calm and composed as usual, and greeted her with a low bow. She could not help admiring his self-possession. His reputation, his liberty even, was at stake, and yet he never turned a hair. And with these feelings uppermost, she received him more kindly, perhaps, than she would otherwise have done. The Dutchman, taking his cue from her, that the conversation, despite its probable sensational character, was not to be conducted on melodramatic lines, reciprocated her politeness. Any one seeing the pair might have imagined that they were discussing nothing of more importance than "Shakespeare and the musical glasses," rather than a subject which, to one of them, at least, meant life or death.

The hostess, in a black silk dinner dress, with a few well-chosen jewels, looked unusually pretty in the light of the lamps, and Van Zwieten was an admirer of pretty women, and knew well how to make himself agreeable to them. Had the subject-matter of their conversation been only less serious, he would have enjoyed himself. As it was, he did not find the hour he spent with her irksome. For a few moments the two antagonists discussed general topics, and then Lady Jenny came suddenly to the point. The man watched her warily. Pretty she might be, but that was no reason why he should allow her to get the better of him. It was a duel of words, and the combatants were well matched.

"Well, Mr. van Zwieten," began the widow, "I suppose you were somewhat astonished at my invitation."

"I cannot deny that I was, my dear lady. It is, perhaps, a trifle disconcerting to find one\'s rooms robbed, and then to receive an invitation from the robber!"

"Oh, come, that is rather harsh, is it not? It was what I should call simple justice."

"Indeed!" replied the other, dryly. "It would interest me to learn how you make that out."

"Oh, easily. I can give you two reasons. In the first place, you threatened--did you not?--to accuse a man of a crime which you knew he had not committed. In the second, you are a spy, to put it plainly, and both Wilfred Burton and I felt it was our duty to secure proofs of your guilt. We are not all fools in this country!"

"That is a charge one would hardly bring against you," returned Van Zwieten, with emphasis, "nor against that young man. Had I suspected him of so much cleverness, I should have taken more elaborate precautions."

"Ah! you should never undervalue your enemies! Well, I suppose you know that you are in my power?"

"And in Wilfred Burton\'s also!"

"No. I can manage him. He has left the decision of this matter in my hands. I am sure you ought to be pleased at that!"

"I am. Because I see you mean to let me off."

"That depends!" she said, and shot a keen glance at him. "I asked you to come here because it was necessary that I should see you, sir--but I despise you none the less for that. You are a spy!--the meanest of all created creatures."

Van Zwieten held up his hand. He was quite unmoved. "My dear lady, let us come to business. Believe me, preaching of that kind has very little effect on me. I might defend myself by saying that I have every right to use craft on behalf of the Transvaal fox against the mighty English lion, but I will content myself with holding my tongue. I would remind you that I have very little time to spare. I intend to leave this country to-morrow morning."

"How do you know that I shall allow you to go?"

"You would hardly have invited me to this interview else," Van Zwieten said cunningly. "You have something you want from me. Well, I will give it in exchange for my safety--and that includes, of course, your silence."

"It is clever of you to put it that way," responded the widow, coolly. "It so happens that you are right. I intend to make a bargain with you."

"Always provided that I agree."

"Of course," said she, airily; "but in this case I really think you will agree."

"I am not so sure of that." Van Zwieten narrowed his eyes and blinked wickedly. "You forget that I also know something."

"For that reason I asked you here. Let me advise you not to pit yourself against me, my good man, or you may get the worst of it. A word from me and you would be kicking your heels in jail this very night."

"Probably." Van Zwieten had too much to gain to notice her threat. "But you will never say that word."

"You can\'t be quite sure of that yet. Well, let us get to business. I am not anxious to spend any more time in your company than is necessary."

"I assure you the feeling is mutual. May I ask how you found my rooms in Westminster?"

"I think you know that very well after the visitor you received last night. I was told about them and you by Mr. Wilfred Burton. He knew long ago that you were a spy, and he has been watching you for many months."

"He is not so very clever then. All these months--and yet he has got no further than this!"

"How much further do you want him to go? He has the box with all your papers--your treasonable papers--your orders from Dr. Leyds. Really, Mr. van Zwieten, you should have taken a little more care of that box! The top of a press was hardly a safe place to hide it. But perhaps you had been reading Poe\'s story of the \'Purloined Letter.\'"

"Never mind what I read," he said, evidently annoyed at her flippancy. "Let us confine ourselves to business. The idea of the disguised policeman was yours, I suppose?"

"Yes, sir, it was. I felt sure that the landlady would not let us enter your room to make the search unless she was thoroughly frightened, so I suggested that he should get himself up as a member of the force. Our little stratagem succeeded to perfection. Mrs. Hicks--that is her name, I believe--was terrified and let us in at once. Then we found your box, and I sent Wilfred away with it while I stayed and wrote my note to you. Oh, what a time we had over your papers! You really are very clever, Mr. van Zwieten. What a lot the Foreign Secretary would give to see what we saw and, as it happens, he is a personal friend of mine. I might sell it, you know," she went on coolly. "I am poor enough now, and they would give me a good price."

"Not such a price as would recompense you for what I could say about your husband," retorted the Dutchman.

She laughed gaily. "Oh, that? My good man, I know all about that! Do you think I should have taken the trouble to talk to you if I had not known that my husband had been doing all your dirty work?"

"Yes, he did my work," Van Zwieten said viciously. "He was my creature--paid by me with Transvaal gold. You call me a spy, Lady Jane Malet. Your own husband was one--and not only a spy, but a traitor!"

"I know it," she said, and her face was very pale, "and for that reason I am glad he is dead, terrible though his end was."

"I dare say you helped him out of the world!" sneered Van Zwieten.

"That is false, and you know it. I had no idea of what my husband was until I found his papers after his death. Had I known that when he was yet alive, I might have killed him!" She clenched her hand. "Yes, I might have shot him, the mean, cowardly hound! He spoke against the Boers, and yet he took their money!"

"Oh, you must not blame him for that. That was my idea."

"It is worthy of you. Oh!"--she started up and paced the room in a fury--"to think that I should have been married to such a creature! To think that I should have lived on gold paid for the betrayal of my country! The cur! The Judas! Thank God he is dead." And then, turning abruptly on the Dutchman, "How did you gain him over to your side?" she asked. "Gilbert was a man once--a man and a gentleman. How did you contrive to make him a--a--thing?"

"Easily enough," he said placidly. He could not understand why she made all this fuss. "Two years ago I met him at Monte Carlo. I watched him gamble and lose. I heard he was in the War Office, or had some connection with it, so I made his acquaintance and induced him to play still higher. We became intimate enough to discuss money matters--his, of course--and he told me that he was very hard up. He blamed you."

"I dare say," returned Lady Jenny, coldly. "Go on."

"Well, I put the matter to him delicately. I asked him to find out certain details connected with your military organization, and I told him he would be well paid for the information. I am bound to say he kicked at first, but I went on tempting him with bigger sums; and he was so desperately hard up that he closed with me in the end. He soon did all I wanted, and, once in my power, I trained him to be most useful, but I kept on paying him well--oh, yes, I paid him very well."

He made this villainous confession in so cool a tone that Lady Jenny could have struck him. It was horrible to think that sh............
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