It was like Liane's impudence, too. Lanyard smiled at the thought as he studied the mansion from the backwards of a dark doorway in the diagonally opposed block of dwellings. Her kind was always sure to seek, once its fortunes were on firm footing, to establish itself, as here, in the very heart of an exclusive residential district; as if thinking to absorb social sanctity through the simple act of rubbing shoulders with it; or else, as was more likely to be the case with a woman of Liane Delorme's temper, desiring more to affront a world from which she was outcast than to lay siege to its favour.
It seemed, however, truly deplorable that Liane should have proved so conventional-minded in this particular respect. It rendered one's pet project much too difficult of execution. Earnestly as one desired to have a look at the inside of that house without the knowledge of its inmates, its aspect was forbidding and discouraging in the utmost extreme.
Heavy gates of wrought bronze guarded the front doors. The single side or service-door was similarly protected if more simply. And stout grilles of bronze barred every window on the level of the street.
Now none of these could have withstood the attack of a man of ingenuity with a little time at his disposal. But Lanyard could count on only the few remaining minutes of true night. Retarded though it might be by shrouded skies, dawn must come all too soon for his comfort. Yet he was conscious of no choice in the matter: he must and in spite of everything would know to-night what was going on behind that blank screen of stone. To-morrow night would be too late. Tonight, if there were any warrant for his suspicions, the jewels of Eve de Montalais lay in the dwelling of Liane Delorme; or if they were not there, the secret of their hiding was. But to-morrow both, and more than likely Liane as well, would be on the wing; or Lanyard had been sorely mistaken in seeing in her as badly frightened a woman as he had ever known, when she had learned of the assassination of de Lorgnes.
It was possible, he thought it extremely probable, that Liane Delorme was as powerful as Athenais Reneaux had asserted; influential, that is, with the State, with the dealers in its laws and the dispensers of its protection. But now she had not to reckon with such as these, but with enemies of her own sort, with an antagonism as reckless of law and order as she herself. And she was afraid of that, infinitely more disturbed in mind and spirit than she would have been in the face of any threat on the part of the police. The Prefecture was a known and measured force, an engine that ran as it were on mapped lines of rail; its moves might be forecast, guarded against, watched, evaded. But this other force worked in the dark, this hostile power personified in the creature who had called himself Albert Dupont; the very composition of its being was cloaked in a secrecy impenetrable and terrifying, its intentions and its workings could not be surmised or opposed until it struck and the success or failure of the stroke revealed its origin and aim.
Liane—or one misjudged her—would never sit still and wait for the blow to fall. She was too high-strung, too much in love with life. She must either strike first in self-defence—and, in such case, strike at what?—or remove beyond the range of the enemy's malice. Lanyard was confident she would choose the latter course.
But confidence was not knowledge....
He transferred his attention from the formidable defences of the lower storey to the second. Here all the windows were of the type called french, and opened inward from shallow balconies with wrought bronze railings. Lanyard was acquainted with every form of fastening used for such windows; all were simple, none could resist his persuasions, provided he stood upon one of those balconies. Nor did he count it a difficult matter for a man of his activity and strength to scale the front of the house as far as the second storey; its walls were builded of heavy blocks of dressed stone with deep horizontal channels between each tier. These grooves would be greasy with rain; otherwise one could hardly ask for better footholds. A climb of some twelve or fifteen feet to the balcony: one should be able to make that within two minutes, granted freedom from interruption. The rub was there; the quarter seemed quite fast asleep; in the five minutes which had elapsed since Lanyard had ensconced himself in the doorway no motor car had passed, not a footfall had disturbed the stillness, never a sound of any sort had come to his attention other than one distant blare of a two-toned automobile horn from the neighbourhood of the Arc de Triomphe. But one dared not count on long continuance of such conditions. Already the sky showed a lighter shade above the profile of the roofs. And one wakeful watcher at a nearby window would spell ruin.
Nevertheless he must adventure the consequences....
Poised to leave his shelter and dart across the street, with his point of attack already selected, his thoughts already busy with consideration of steps to follow—he checked and fell still farther back into the shadow. Something was happening in the house across the way.
A man had opened the service-door and paused behind the bronze gate. There was no light behind him, and the gloom and intervening strips of metal rendered his figure indistinct. Lanyard's high-keyed perceptions had none the less been instant to remark that slight movement and the accompanying change in the texture of the darkness barred by the gate.
Following a little wait, it swung slowly out, perhaps eighteen inches, the man advancing with it and again halting to peer up and down the street. Then quickly, as if alarmed, he withdrew, shut the gate, and disappeared, closing the service-door behind him.
Listening intently, Lanyard heard no click of latch, such as should have been audible in that dead hour of hush. Evidently the fellow had neglected to make fast the gate. Possibly he had been similarly remiss about fastening the door. But what was he up to? Why this furtive appearance, why the retreat so abruptly executed?
By way of answer came the soft drone of a high-powered motor; then the car itself rolled into view, a stately limousine coming from the direction of the avenue de Friedland. Before the corner house it stopped. A lackey alighted with an umbrella and ran to hold the door; but Liane Delorme would not wait for him. The car had not stopped when she threw the door open; on the instant when its wheels ceased to turn she jumped down and ran toward the house, heedless of the rain.
At the same time one side of the great front doors swung inward, and a footman ran out to open the gates. The lackey with the umbrella, though he moved briskly, failed to catch up with Liane before she sped up the steps. So he closed the umbrella and trotted back to his place beside the chauffeur. The footman shut gates and door as the limousine moved away: it had not been sixty seconds at rest. In fifteen more street and house were both as they had been, save that a light now shone through the plate glass of the latter's great doors. And that was soon extinguished.
Conceiving that the man who had appeared at the service entrance was the same who had admitted Liane, Lanyard told himself he understood: impatient for his bed, the fellow had gone to the service gate to spy out for signs of madame's return. Now if only it were true that he had failed to close it securely——!
It proved so. The gate gave readily to Lanyard's pull. The knob of the small door turned silently. He stepped across the threshold, and shut himself into an unlighted hall, thoughtfully apeing the negligence of the servant and leaving the door barely on the latch by way of provision against a forced retreat.
So far, good. He felt for his pocket torch, then sharply fell back into the nearest corner and made himself as inconspicuous as might be. Footsteps were sounding on the other side of an unseen wall. He waited, breathless, stirless.
A latch rattled, and at about three yards' distance a narrow door opened, marked by a widening glow of light. A liveried footman—beyond a doubt he who admitted the mistress of the house—entered, carrying an electric candle, yawned with a superstitious hand before his mouth and, looking to neither right nor left, turned away from Lanyard and trudged wearily back to the household offices. At the far end of the long hallway a door closed behind him—and Lanyard moved swiftly.
The door which had let the footman into the hall admitted to a spacious foyer which set apart the entrance and—as the play of the electric torch disclosed—a deep and richly furnished dining-room. To one side a broad flight of stairs ascended: Lanyard went up with the activity of a cat, making no more noise.
The second floor proved to be devoted mainly to a drawing-room, a lounge, and a library, all furnished in a weird, inchoate sort of magnificence, with money rather than with taste, if one might judge fairly by the fitful and guarded beam of the torch. The taste may have been less questionable than Lanyard thought; but the evidences of luxurious tendencies and wealth recklessly wasted in their gratification were irrefutable.
Lights were burning on the floor above, and a rumour of feminine voices drifted down, interrupted by an occasional sibilant rustle of silk, or a brief patter of high-heeled feet: noises which bore out the conjecture that madame's maid was undressing and putting her to bed; a ceremony apt to consume a considerable time with a woman of Liane's age and disposition, passionately bent on preserving to the grave a semblance of freshness in her charms. Lanyard reckoned on anything from fifteen minutes to an hour before her couching would be accomplished and the maid out of the way. Ten minutes more, and Liane ought to be asleep. If it turned out otherwise—well, one would have to deal with her awake. No need to be gravely concerned about that: to envisage the contingency was to be prepared against it.
Believing he must possess his soul in patience for an indeterminable wait, he was casting about for a place to secrete himself, when a change in the tenor of the talk between mistress and maid was conveyed by a sudden lift of half an octave in the latter's voice, sounding a sharp note of protest, to be answered by Liane in accent of overbearing anger.
One simply could not rest without knowing what that meant: Lanyard mounted the second flight of stairs as swiftly, surely, and soundlessly as he had the first. But just below a landing, where the staircase had an angle, he paused, crouching low, flat to the steps, his head lifted just enough to permit him to see, above the edge of the topmost, a section of glowing, rose-pink wall—it would be rose-pink!
He could see nothing more; and Liane had already silenced the maid, or rather reduced her to responses feebly submissive, and, consonant with the nature of her kind, was rubbing it in.
"And why should you not go with me to that America if I wish it?" Lanyard heard her say. "Is it likely I would leave you behind to spread scandal concerning me with that gabbling tongue in your head of an overgrown cabbage? It is some lover, then, who has inspired this folly in you? Tell him from me, if you please, the day you leave my service without my consent, it will be a sorry sweetheart that comes to him."
"It is well, madame. I say no more. I will go."
"I believe it well—you will go! You were mad ever to dream otherwise. Fetch my jewel-case—the large one, of steel, with the American lock."
"Madame takes all her jewels, then?" the maid enquired, moving about the room.
"But naturally. What do you think? That I leave them here for the scullery-maids to give their maquereaux? I shall pack them tonight, before I sleep."
("Damnation!"—from Lanyard, beneath his breath. More delay!)
"And we leave to-morrow, madame, at what time?"
"It matters not, so we are in Cherbourg by midnight. I may decide to make the trip by automobile."
"And madame's packing?"
"You know well what to pack, better than I. Get my boxes up the first thing in the morning and use your own judgment. If there are questions to be asked, save them until I wake up. I shall sleep till noon."
"That is all, madame?"
"That is all. You may go."
The stairway was no place to stop. Lanyard slipped like a shadow to the floor below, and took shelter behind a jog in the wall of the grand salon where, standing in deep darkness, he commanded a view of the hall.
The maid came down, carrying an electric candle like the footman's. Its rays illumined from below one of those faces of crude comeliness common to her class, the face of an animal not unintelligent but first and last an animal. With a hand on the lower newel-post she hesitated, looking up toward the room of her mistress, as if lost in thought. Poised thus, her lifted face partly turned away from Lanyard, its half-seen expression was hopelessly ambiguous. But some secret thought amused the woman, a shadow deepened in the visible corner of her full-lipped mouth. One fancied something sardonic in that covert smile.
She went on down. A latch on the ground floor clicked as the door to the service hallway was gently closed. Lanyard came out of hiding with a fresh enterprise abrew.
One must kill time somehow, Liane would be at least another half an hour busy with her jewellery, and the thought presented itself that the library, immediately beneath her room, should be worthy an investigation. In such establishments it is a tradition that the household safe shall be located somewhere in the library; and such strong-boxes are apt to be naive contrivances. Lanyard did not hope to find the Montalais jewels stored away in such a place, Liane would surely take better care of them than that; assuming they were in her possession they would be under her hand, if not confused with her own treasures; still it could do no harm to make sure.
Confident of being warned at need by his hearing, which was normally supersensitive and, when he was engaged as now, keyed to preterhuman acuteness, he went coolly about the business, and at his first step found a portable reading-lamp on a long cord and coolly switched on its hooded light.
The library was furnished with bulky old Italian pieces of carved oak, not especially well selected, but suitable enough with one exception, a ponderous buffet, an exquisite bit of workmanship both in design and in detail but completely out of place in a room of that character. At least nine feet in length, it stood out four from the wall. Three heavy doors guarded by modern locks gave access to the body beneath its tier of drawers. But—this drew a frowning stare—there was a key in the lock of the middle door.
"There's such a thing as too much luck," Lanyard communed. "First the service gate and door, and now this, ready to my hand——!"
He swung sharply round and searched every shadow in the room with the glare of the portable lamp; but that was work of supererogation: he had already made sure he was alone on that floor.
Placing the lamp on the floor and adjusting its hood so that it focussed squarely upon the middle section of the buffet, he turned the key and discovered, behind the door, a small safe.
The run of luck did not hold in respect to this; there was no key; and the combination dial was smug with ill-grounded confidence in its own inviolable integrity. Still (Lanyard told it) it could hardly be expected to know, it had yet to be dealt with by the shade of the Lone Wolf.
Amused by the conceit, Lanyard laid hold of the knob with steady, delicate fingertips that had not yet, in spite of years of honourable idleness, forgotten their cunning. Then he flattened an ear to the cold face of the safe. To his informed manipulation the dial whirled, paused, reversed, turned all but imperceptibly, while the hidden mechanism clicked, ground and thudded softly, speaking a living language to his hearing. In three minutes he sat back on his heels, grasped the T-handle, turned it, had the satisfaction of hearing the bolts slide back into their sockets, and opened the door wide.
But the racked pigeonholes held nothing to interest him whose one aim was the recovery of the Montalais jewels. The safe was, in fact, dedicated simply to the storage of documents.
"Love letters!" Lanyard mused with a grimace of weariness. "And each believed, no doubt, she cared too much for him to hold her power to compromise him. Good Lord! what vanity is man's!"
Then the consideration offered that property of real value might be hidden behind those sheaves of papers. He selected a pigeonhole at hazard, and emptied it of several bundles of letters, all neatly bound with tape or faded ribbon and clearly docketed. It held nothing else whatever. But his eye was caught by a great name endorsed on the face of one of the packages; and reading what else was written there his brows rose high while his lips shaped a soundless whistle. If an inference were fair, Liane had kept not only such documents as gave her power over others. Lanyard wondered if it were possible he held in his hand an instrument to bend the woman to his will....
Suddenly he put out a hand and switched off the light, a gesture quite involuntary, simple reaction to the muffled thump of a chair overturned on the floor above.
Sounds of scuffling followed, as if Liane were dancing to no music with a heavy-footed partner. Then a groan....
His hands moved so rapidly and deftly that, although he seemed to rise without a second's delay, the safe was closed and the combination locked when he did so, the buffet door was shut and its key in his pocket.
This time Lanyard ascended the stairs without heeding what noise he made. Nevertheless his actions were never awkward or ill-timed; his approach was not heard, his arrival on the upper landing was unnoticed.
In an instantaneous pause he looked into the rose-pink room and saw Liane Delorme, in a negligee like a cobweb over a nightdress even more sheer, kneeling and clawing at her throat, round which a heavy silk handkerchief was slowly tightening; her face already purple with strangulation, her eyes bulging from their sockets, her tongue protruding between swollen lips.
A thick knee was planted between her shoulder-blades. The ends of the handkerchief were in the sinewy hands of Albert Dupont.
Conceivably even a journeyman strangler may know the thrill of professional pride in a good job well done: Dupont was grinning at his work, and so intent upon it that his first intimation of any interference came when Lanyard took him from behind, broke his hold upon the woman (and lamentably failed to break his back at the same time) whirled him round with a jerk that all but unsocketed an arm and, before the thug could regain his balance, placed surely on the heel of his jaw, just below the ear, a blow that, coming straight from the shoulder and carrying all Lanyard had of weight and force and will to punish, in spite of Dupont's heaviness fairly lifted him from his feet and dropped him backwards across a chaise-longue, from which he slipped senseless to the floor.
It was just like that, a crowded, breathless business....
With bruised and aching knuckles to prove that the blow had been one to stun an ox, Lanyard believed it safe to count Dupont hors de combat, for a time at least. In any event, the risk had to be chanced: Liane Delorme was in a plight demanding immediate relief.
In all likelihood she had lost consciousness some moments before Lanyard's intervention. Released, she had fallen positively inert, and lay semi-prostrate on a shoulder, with limbs grotesquely slack and awry, as if in unpleasant mimicry of a broken doll. Only the whites of bloodshot eyes showed in her livid and distorted countenance. Arms and legs twitched spasmodically, the ample torso was violently shaken by labouring lungs.
The twisted handkerchief round her throat had loosened, but not enough to give relief. Lanyard removed it, turned her over so that she lay supine, wedged silken pillows from the chaise-longue beneath her head and shoulders, then reached across her body, took from her dressing table a toilet-water flask of lovely Italian glass, and drenched her face and bosom with its pungent contents.
She gasped, started convulsively, and began to breathe with less effort. That dreadful rattling in her throat was stilled. Heavy lids curtained her eyes.
Lanyard continued to apply the scented water with a lavish hand. In time the woman shuddered, sighed profoundly, and looked up with a witless stare.
Man is measurably a creature of gestures stereotyped when the world was young: Lanyard patted the woman's hand as one might comfort an abused child. "It is all right now, Liane," he said in a reassuring voice. "Rest tranquilly. You will soon be yourself again. But wait: I will find you a drink."
She said nothing, her look continued cloudy; but the dazed eyes followed him as he got up and cast about for a glass of water.
But then he remembered Dupont, and decided that Liane could wait another minute while he made it impossible for the Apache to do more mischief.
He moved round the chaise-longue and paused, looking down thoughtfully. Since his fall Dupont had made neither moan nor stir. No crescent irides showed beneath the half-shut lids. He was so motionless, he seemed scarcely to breathe. Lanyard dug the toe of a boot into his ribs none too gently, but without satisfaction of any doubts. The fellow gave no sign of sensibility, but lay utterly relaxed, with the look of one dead.
Lanyard frowned uneasily. He had seen men drop dead from blows less powerful than his, and though this one had well earned a death swift and merciless, Lanyard experienced a twinge of horror at the thought. Often enough it had been his lot in times of peace and war to be forced to fight for life, and more than once to kill in defence of it; but that had never happened, never could happen, without his suffering the bitterest regret. Even now, in the case of this bloody-handed butcher, this ruthless garroter....
Dropping to his knees, Lanyard bent over the body to search for symptoms of animation. He perceived them instantly. With inconceivable suddenness Dupont demonstrated that he was very much alive. An arm like the flexible limb of a tree wound itself affectionately round Lanyard's neck, clipped his head to Dupont's yearning bosom, ground his face into the flannel folds of a foul-scented shirt. Simultaneously the huge body heaved prodigiously, and after a brief interval of fantastic floppings, like a young mountain fell on top of Lanyard.
But that was the full measure of Dupont's success in this stratagem. If hopelessly victimized and taken by surprise, Lanyard should have been better remembered by the man who had fought him at Montpellier-le-Vieux and again, with others assisting, on the road to Nant; though it is quite possible, of course, that Dupont failed to recognise his ancient enemy in clean-shaven Monsieur Paul Martin of the damp and bedraggled evening clothes.
However that may have been, in the question of brute courage Dupont had yet to prove lacking. His every instinct was an Apache's: left to himself he would strike always from behind, and run like a cur to cover. But cornered, or exasperated by opposition to his vast powers—something which he seemed quite unable to understand—he could fight like a maniac. He was hardly better now, when he found himself thrown off and attacked in turn at a time when he believed his antagonist to be pinned down, helpless, at the mercy of the weapon for which he was fumbling. And the murderous fury which animated him then more than made up for want of science, cool-headedness and imagination.
They fought for their most deeply-rooted passions, he to kill, Lanyard to live, Dupont to batter Lanyard into conceding a moment of respite in which a weapon might be used, Lanyard to prevent that very thing from happening. Even as animals in a pit they fought, now on their knees straining each to break the other's hold, now wallowing together on the floor, now on their feet, slogging like bruisers of the old school.
Dupont took punishment in heroic doses, and asked for more. Shedding frightful blows with only an angry shake of his head, he would lower it and charge as a wild boar charges, while his huge arms flew like lunatic connecting-rods. The cleverest footwork could not always elude his tremendous rushes, the coolest ducking and dodging could not wholly escape that frantic shower of fists.
Time and again Lanyard suffered blows that jarred him to his heels, time and again was fain to give ground to an onslaught that drove him back till his shoulders touched a wall. And more than once toward the end he felt his knees buckle beneath him and saw his shrewdest efforts fail for want of force. The sweat of his brows stung and dimmed his eyes, his dry tongue tasted its salt. He staggered in the drunkenness of fatigue, and suffered agonies of pain; for his exertions had strained the newly knitted tissues of the wound in his side, and the hurt of this was wholly hellish.
But always he contrived somehow, strangely to him, to escape annihilation and find enough in reserve to fly back at Dupont's throat upon the first indication of desire on the part of the latter to yield the offensive. To do less were to permit him to find and use his weapon, whatever it might be—whether knife or pistol was besides the issue.
Chairs, the chaise-longue, tables were overturned and kicked about. Priceless bits of porcelain and glass, lamps, vases, the fittings of the dressing-table were cast down in fragments to the floor.
Constrained to look to herself or be trampled underfoot, and galvanized with terror, the woman struggled up and tottered hither and yon like a bewildered child, in the beginning too bemused to be able to keep out of the way of the combatants. If she crouched against a wall, battling bodies brushed her away from it. Did she take refuge in a corner she must abandon it else be crushed. Once she stumbled between the two, and before Lanyard could thrust her aside Dupont had fallen back half a dozen feet and worried a pistol out of his clothing.
He fired first from the hip, and the shot shattered the mirror of the dressing-table. Trying for better aim, he lifted and levelled the weapon with a trembling arm which he sought to steady by cupping the elbow in his left hand. But the second bullet ploughed into the ceiling as Lanyard in desperation executed a coup de pied in la savate, and narrowly succeeded in kicking the pistol from Dupont's grasp.
Bereft thus of his last hope—they were too evenly matched, and both too far spent for either to force a victory with his naked hands—the Apache swung round and ran, at the same time throwing a heavy chair over on its back in the path of pursuit. Unable to avoid it, Lanyard tried to hurdle it, caught a foot on one of its legs and, as Dupont threw himself headlong down the stairs, crashed to the floor with an impact that shook its beams.
Main will-power lifted him to his knees before he collapsed, his last ounce of endurance wasted. Then the woman, with flying draperies, a figure like a fury, sped to the banister rail and leaning over emptied the several shots remaining in Dupont's automatic down the well of the staircase. It is doubtful if she saw anything to aim at or accomplished more than to wing the Apache's flight. Dupont had gained the second storey while Lanyard was still fighting up from his fall. The last report and the crash of the front door slammed behind Dupont were as one heartbeat to the next.
Lanyard pillowed his head on a forearm and lay sobbing for breath. Liane Delorme turned and ran to the front of the house.
Presently she came back drooping, sank into a chair and with lacklustre eyes regarded the man at her feet.
"He got away," she said superfluously, in a faint voice. "I saw him in the street ... staggering like a sot..."
At that moment Lanyard could not have mustered a show of interest had he been told Dupont was returning at the head of a horde. He closed his tired eyes and envied the lucky dead whose rest was independent of bruised flesh and aching bones. Neither, he supposed, were dreams poisoned by chagrin when what was mortal no longer mattered.... Three times had he come to grips with Dupont and, though he had been outnumbered on the road to Nant, in Lanyard's sight the honours were far from easy. Neither would they be while yet the other lived or was at large...
The bitterness of failure and defeat had so rank a flavour in his thoughts that nothing else in life concerned him now. He had forgotten Liane Delorme for minutes when her arm passed beneath his shoulders and tried to lift them from the floor. He looked up then with listless eyes, and saw her on one knee by his side, giving him in his turn that confident and reassuring smile with which he had greeted her reviving senses ... a long, long time ago, it seemed.
"Come!" she said—"sit up, monsieur, and take this drink. It will lend you strength. You need it."
God knew he did! His throat was like a furnace flue, his mouth held the taste of leather. But for that thirst, indeed, he could hardly have found the energy to aid her efforts and lurch upon an elbow. A white-hot lancet pierced his wound, and though he locked his teeth against it a groan forced out between them. The woman cried out at the rapid ebb of colour from his face.
"But you are suffering!"
He forced a grey smile. "It is nothing," he whispered hoarsely—"it will pass. If you please—that drink——"
She put a knee behind his shoulders for support, and he rested his head back upon it and drank deep from the glass which she held to his lips. Nectar of Olympus was never more divine than that deep draught of brandy and soda. He thought he quaffed Life itself in its distilled quintessence, its pure elixir. His look of gratitude had almost the spirit and the vigour of himself renewed.
"My thanks, mademoiselle..."
"Your thanks!"—she laughed with indulgent scorn—"your thanks to me!"
He offered to rise, but was restrained by kindly hands.
"No: rest there a little longer, give yourself a little time before you try to get up."
"But I shall tire you..."
"No. And if you did, what of that? It seems to me, my friend, I owe to you my life."
"To me it seems you do," he agreed. "But such a debt is always the first to be forgotten, is it not?"
"You reproach me?"
"No, mademoiselle; not you, but the hearts of men... We are all very much alike, I think."
"No," the woman insisted: "you do reproach me. In your heart you have said: 'She has forgotten that, but for me, she would have been dead long years ago. This service, too, she will presently forget.' But you are wrong, my friend. It is true, the years between had made that other time a little vague with old remoteness in my memory; but to-night has brought it all back and—a renewed memory never fades."
"So one is told. But trust self-interest at need to black it out."
"You have no faith in me!" she said bitterly.
Lanyard gave her a weary smile. "Why should I not? And as for that: Why should I have faith in you, Liane? Our ways run leagues apart."
"They can be one."
She met his perplexed stare with an emphatic nod, with eyes that he could have sworn were abrim with tenderness. He shook his head as if to shake off a ridiculous plaguing notion, and grinned broadly. "That was a drink!" he declared. "I assure you, it was too much for my elderly head. Let me up."
The cruel agony stabbed his side again and again as he—not unaided—got upon his feet; and though he managed to gulp down his groans, no grinding of his teeth could mitigate his recurrent pallor or the pained contractions of his eyes. Furthermore, he wavered when he tried to walk, and was glad to subside into a chair to which the woman guided him. Then she fetched him another brandy and soda, put a lighted cigarette between his lips, picked up a chair for herself, and sat down, so close to him that their elbows almost touched.
"It is better, that pain, monsieur?"
He replied with an uncertain nod, pressing a careful hand to his side. "... wound that animal gave me a month ago."
"Monsieur of the garotte, Liane; recently the assassin of de Lorgnes; before that the ex-chauffeur of the Chateau de Montalais."
"As you say, it is not a name."
"The same?" Her old terror revived. "My God! what have I ever done to that one that he should seek my life?"
"What had de Lorgnes?"
Her eyes turned away, she sat for a moment in silent thought, started suddenly to speak but checked the words before one passed her lips, and—as Lanyard saw quite plainly—hastened to substitute others.
"No: I do not understand at all! What do you think?"
Lanyard indicated a shrug with sufficient clearness, meaning to say, she probably knew as much as if not more than he.
"But how did he get in? I had not one suspicion I was not alone until that handkerchief——"
"And you, my friend?"
"I saw him enter, and followed."
This was strictly within the truth: Lanyard had now no doubt Dupont and the man who had reconnoitered from the service-door were one. But it was no part of his mind to tell the whole truth to Liane. She might be as grateful as she ought to be, but she was still ... Liane Delorme ... a woman to be tested rather than trusted.
"I must tell you. But perhaps you knew there were agents de police in the restaurant to-night?"
Liane's head described a negative; her violet eyes were limpid pools of candour.
"I am so much a stranger in Paris," Lanyard pursued, "I would not know them. But I thought you, perhaps——"
"No, no, my friend, I have nothing to do with the police, I know little about them. Not only that, but I was so interested in our talk, and then inexpressibly shocked, I paid attention to nothing else."
"I understand. Otherwise you must have noticed who followed me."
"You were followed?"
And she had found the effrontery to chide him for lack of faith in her! He was in pain: for all that, the moment seemed amusing.
"We are followed, I assure you," Lanyard replied gravely. "One man or two—I don't know how many—in a town-car."
"But you are sure?"
"All we could get was a hansom drawn by a snail. The automobile, running without lights, went no faster, kept a certain distance behind us all the way from the Place Pigalle to the apartment of Mademoiselle Reneaux. What have you to say to that? Furthermore, when Mademoiselle Reneaux had persuaded me to take refuge in her apartment—who knew what they designed?—one man left the automobile as it passed her door and stood on watch across the way. Could one require proof that one was followed?"
"Then you think somebody of the Prefecture recognized Duchemin in you?"
"Who knows? I know I was followed, watched. If you ask me, I think Paris is not a healthy place for me."
"But all that," Liane objected, "does not bring you here!"
"Patience: I am well on my way."
Lanyard paused to sip his brandy and soda, and, under cover of that, summon ingenuity to the fore; here a little hand-made fabrication was indicated.
"We waited till about half an hour ago. So did the spy. Mademoiselle Reneaux then let me out by a private way. I started to walk to my hotel, the Chatham. There wasn't a taxi to be had, you understand. Presently I looked back and saw I was being followed again. To make sure, I ran—and the spy ran after me. I twisted and doubled all through this quarter, and at last succeeded in shaking him off. Then I turned down this street, hoping to pick up a cab in the Champ-Elysees. Of a sudden I see Dupont. He is crossing the street toward this house. He does not know me, but quickens his pace, and hastily lets himself in at the service entrance.... Incidentally, if I were you, Liane, I would give my staff of servants a bad quarter of an hour in the morning. The door and gate were not locked; I am sure Dupont used no key. Some person of this establishment was careless or—worse."
"Trust me to look into that."
"Enfin! in his haste, Dupont leaves the door as he found it. I take a moment's thought; it is plain he is here for no good purpose. I follow him in... The state of this room tells the rest."
"It is no matter." The woman reviewed the ruins of her boudoir with an apathetic glance which was, however, anything but apathetic when she turned it back to Lanyard's face. Bending forward, she closed a hand upon his arm. Emotion troubled her accents. "My friend, my dear friend: tell me what I can do to repay you?"
"Help me," said Lanyard simply, holding her eyes.
"How is that—help you?"
"To make my honour clear." Speaking rapidly and with unfeigned feeling, he threw himself upon her generosity: "You know I am no more what I was once, in this Paris—when you first knew me. You know I have given up all that. For years I have fought an uphill fight to live down that evil fame in which I once rejoiced. Now I stand accused of two crimes."
"Two in one, I hardly know which is the greater: that of stealing, or that of violating the hospitality and confidence of those good ladies of the Chateau de Montalais. I cannot rest while they think me guilty... and not they alone, but all my friends, and I have made good friends, in France and England. So, if you think you owe me anything, Liane, help me to find and restore the Montalais jewels."
Liane Delorme sat back, her hand lifted from his arm and fell with a helpless gesture. Her eyes mirrored no more guile than a child's. Yet her accent was that of one who remonstrates, but with forbearance, against unreasonable demands.
"How can I do that?"
And she had protested her gratitude to him! He knew that she was lying. Anger welled in Lanyard's heart, but he was able to hold it in leash and let no sign of it show in manner or expression.
"You have much influence," he suggested, "here in Paris, with people of many classes. A word from you here, a question there, pressure exerted in certain quarters, will help me more than all the powers of Prefecture and Surete combined. You know that."
"Let me think." She was staring at the floor. "You must give me time. I will do what I can, I promise you that. Perhaps"—she met his gaze again, but he saw something crafty in her smile—"I have a scheme already in mind. We will discuss that in the morning, when I have slept on it."
"You give me new hope." Lanyard finished his drink and made as if to rise, but relapsed, a spasm of pain knotting his face. "Afraid I must have a cab," he said in a low voice. "And if you could lend me a coat of some sort to cover these rags...."
And indeed his ready-made evening clothes had fared badly in their first social adventure.
"But if you think I dream of letting you leave this house—in pain and perhaps to run into the arms of the police—you little know me, Monsieur Michael Lanyard!"
"Paul Martin, if you don't mind."
"The guest rooms are there." She waved a hand to indicate the front part of the house on that floor. "You will find everything you need to make you comfortable for to-night, and in the morning I will send to the Chatham for your things.... Or perhaps it would be wiser to wait till we are sure the police are not watching there for your return. But if they are, it will be a simple matter to find suitable clothing for you. Meanwhile we will have arrived at an understanding.... You comprehend, monsieur, I am resolved, this affair is now arranged?"
"I am well content, Liane."
And that was true enough; whatever she had in mind for him, she was only playing into his hands when she proposed to keep him near her. He managed to get out of the chair, and accepted the offer of her arm, but held back for a moment.
"But your servants..."
"Well, monsieur, what of them?"
"For one thing, they sleep sincerely."
"There are sound-proof walls between their part of the house and this. More than that, they are forbidden to intrude, no matter what may happen, unless I summon them."
"But in the morning, Liane, when they regard this wreckage... I am afraid they will think me a tempestuous lover!"
"They will find me a tempestuous mistress," promised Liane Delorme, "when I question them about that open door."
BROTHER AND SISTER
The storm had passed off, an ardent noonday sun was collaborating with a coquettish breeze to make gay the window awnings of the chamber where Lanyard, in borrowed pyjamas and dressing-gown of silk, lay luxuriously bedded, listening to the purr of wide-awake Paris and, with an excellent cigar to chew on, ruminating upon the problematic issue of his latest turn of fortune, and not in the least downhearted about it.
Before turning in he had soaked and steamed most of the ache out of bone and muscle in the hottest water his flesh would suffer; and six hours unbroken slumber had done wonders toward lessening the distress his exertions last night had occasioned in the frail new tissues of his wound. Now, fresh from a cold shower following a second hot bath, and further comforted by a petit dejeuner served in bed, he felt measurably sane again, and sound in wind and limb as well, barring a few deep bruises whose soreness would need several days to heal.
A pleasant languour, like a light opiate, infused his consciousness; yet he was by no means mentally inactive.
The morning papers were scattered over the counterpane. Lanyard had diligently scanned all the stories that told of the identification of the murdered man of the Lyons rapide as the Comte de Lorgnes; and inasmuch as these were of one voice in praising the Prefecture for that famous feat of detective work, and not one line suggested that it did not deserve undivided credit, Lanyard had nothing to complain of there.
As for the Montalais robbery it was not even mentioned. The restricted size imposed upon French newspapers by the paper shortage of those days crowded out of their columns everything but news in true sense, and there could be none of that in connection with the Montalais affair until either Andre Duchemin had been arrested or the jewels recovered from the real thief or thieves. And Lanyard was human enough to be almost as willing to have the first happen as the last, if it were not given to him to be the prime factor in their restoration.
For the time being—if he must confess the truth—he was actually rather enjoying himself, rather exhilarated than otherwise by the swiftly shifting scenes and characters of his unfolding investigations and by the brisk sword-play of wits in which he was called upon constantly to engage; both essential ingredients of the wine of life according to the one recipe he knew.
And then a review of recent events seemed to warrant the belief that, all things considered, he had thus far made fair progress toward his goal.
While it was true he did not as yet know what had become of the Montalais jewels, he had gathered together an accumulation of evidence which, however circumstantial and hypothetical, established acceptably to his intelligence a number of interesting inferences, to wit:
That Dupont had not left the neighbourhood of the Chateau de Montalais, after haunting it for upwards of a month, without definite knowledge that he would gain nothing by staying on, or without an equally definite objective, some motive more inspiring than such simple sensuousness as he might find in assassinating inoffensive folk indiscriminately.
That his attempt upon the life of Liane Delorme within twenty-four hours of the murder of de Lorgnes indicated conviction on his part that the two were coupled in some enterprise inimical to his personal interests.
That in spite of his mask of a stupid pig Dumont was proving himself mentally as well as physically an adversary worthy of all respect, and was—what was worse—still to be reckoned with.
That, as Lanyard had suspected all along, the Monk party had been visited upon the Chateau de Montalais through no vagary of chance whatever but as part of a deliberate design whose ulterior motive had transpired only with the disappearance of the jewels—to Dupont's vast but understandable vexation of spirit.
That the several members of the Monk party had been working in entire accord, as a close corporation; in which case the person whom the Comte de Lorgnes had expected to meet in Lyons must have been Monk Phinuit or Jules.
Consequently that at least one of the three last named had been the actual perpetrator of the robbery; and by the same token, that Liane had lied in asserting that Monk and retinue had sailed for America nearly a week prior to its commission.
That Liane herself had not so suddenly decided to leave France, where she was after a fashion somebody, and journey to America, where she would be nobody, except in stress of mortal fear lest the fate that had befallen de Lorgnes befall her in turn—as would surely have been the case last night but for Lanyard.
That she must therefore have had a tolerably accurate knowledge either of Dupont's identity or of the opposition interests which that one so ably represented; and thus was better informed than poor de Lorgnes, to whom Dupont had been unknown; which argued that Liane's role in the intrigue was that of a principal, whereas de Lorgnes had figured only as a subordinate.
That even if the woman did mean well toward Lanyard she was bound by stronger ties to others, whom she must consider first, and who were hardly likely to prove so well disposed; that her protestations of friendship and gratitude must be valued accordingly.
Summing up, Lanyard told himself he could hardly be said to have let grass grow under his feet since leaving Chateau de Montalais.
Now he found himself with a solitary care to nurse, the question: What had her pillow advised Liane Delorme?
He was going to be exceedingly interested to learn what she, in the maturity of her judgement, had decided to do about this man who ingenuously suggested that she requite him for saving her life by helping him recover the Montalais jewels.
On the other hand, since Lanyard had quite decided what he meant to do about Liane in any event, her decision really didn't matter much; and he refused to fret himself trying to forecast it. Whatever it might turn out to be, it would find him prepared, he couldn't be surprised. There Lanyard was wrong. Liane was amply able to surprise him, and did. Ultimately he felt constrained to concede a touch to genius in the woman; her methods were her own and never poor in boldness and imagination.
It was without ceremony that she walked in on him at length, having kept him waiting so long that he had begun to wonder if she meant to try on anything as crude as abandoning him, and posting off to Cherbourg without a word to seek fancied immunity in New York, while he remained in an empty house without money, papers of identification, or even fit clothing for the street; for, on coming out of his bath, Lanyard had found all of these things missing, the valet de chambre presumably having made off with his evening clothes, to have them pressed and repaired.
Liane was dressed for travelling, becomingly if with a sobriety that went oddly with her cultivated beaute du diable, and wore besides a habit of preoccupation which, one was left to assume, excused the informality of her unannounced entrance.
"Well, my dear friend!" she said gravely, halting by the bedside.
"It's about time," Lanyard retorted.
"I was afraid you might be growing impatient," she confessed. "I have had so much to do..."
"No doubt. But if you had neglected me much longer I should have come to look for you regardless of consequences."
"How is that?" she enquired with knitted brows—"regardless of what consequences?"
"Any damage one might do to the morale of your menage by toddling about in the voluptuous deshabille in which you behold me—my sole present apology for a wardrobe."
She found only the shadow of a smile for such frivolity. "I have sent for clothing for you," she said absently. "It should be here any minute now. We only wait for that."
"You mean you have sent to the Chatham for my things?"
"But certainly not, monsieur!" Liane Delorme lied without perceptible effort. "That would have been too injudicious. It appears you were not mistaken in thinking you were recognized as Andre Duchemin last night. Agents of the Prefecture have been all day watching at the Chatham, awaiting your return."
"How sad for them!" In as much as he had every reason to believe this to be outright falsehood, Lanyard didn't feel called upon to seem downcast. "But if my clothing there is unavailable, I hardly see..."
"But naturally I have commissioned a person of good judgement to outfit you from the shops. Your dress clothes—which seemed to suit you very well last night—gave us your measurements. The rest is simplicity; my orders were to get you everything you could possibly require."
"It's awfully sporting of you," Lanyard insisted. "Although it makes one feel—you know—not quite respectable. However, if you will be so gracious as to suggest that your valet de chambre return my pocketbook and passports..."
"I have them here." The woman turned over the missing articles. "But," she demanded with an interest which was undissembled if tardy in finding expression, "how are you feeling to-day?"
"Oh, quite fit, thank you."
"In good spirits, I know. But that wound—?"
Lanyard chose to make more of that than it deserved; one couldn't tell when an interesting disability might prove useful. "I have to be a bit careful," he confessed, covering the seat of injury with a tender hand, "but it's nothing like so troublesome as it was last night."
"I am glad. You feel able to travel?"
"Travel?" Lanyard made a face of dismay. "But one is so delightfully at ease here, and since the Prefecture cannot possibly suspect... Are you then in such haste to be rid of me, Liane?"
"Not at all. It is my wish and intention to accompany you."
"Well, let us trust the world will be broad-minded about it. And—pardon my not rising—won't you sit down and tell me what it is all about."
"I have so little time, so many things to attend to."
Nevertheless, Liane found herself a chair and accepted a cigarette.
"Does one infer that we start on our travels to-day?"
"Within the hour; in fact, as soon as you are decently clothed."
"And where do we go, mademoiselle?"
"To Cherbourg, there to take steamer for New York."
Fortunately it was Lanyard's cue to register shock; it would have cost him something to have kept secret his stupefaction. He sank back upon his pillows and waggled feeble hands, while his respect for Liane grew by bounds. She had succeeded in startling and mystifying him beyond expression.
What dodge was this that cloaked itself in such anomalous semblance of good faith? She had not known he was acquainted with her plan to leave France; he had discounted a hundred devices to keep it from his knowledge. And now she not only confessed it openly, but invited him to go with her! In the name of unreason—why? She knew, for he had owned, his possessing purpose. He did not for an instant believe Liane Delorme would fly France and leave behind the Montalais jewels. Did she think he did not suspect her of knowing more about them than she had chosen to admit? Did she imagine that he was one of those who can see only that which is in the distance? Did she do him the injustice to believe him incapable of actually smelling out the jewels if ever he got within range of them?
But conjecture was too idle, Liane was too deep for him; her intent would declare itself when she willed it, not before, unless he could lull her into a false sense of faith in him, trick her into betraying herself by inadvertence.
"But, my dear friend, why America?"
"You recall asking me to help you last night? Did I not promise to do what I could? Well, I am not one to forget my promise. I know something, monsieur."
"I believe you do!"
"You gave me credit for having some little influence in this world of Paris. I have used it. What I have learned—I shall not tell you how, specifically—enables me to assure you that the Montalais jewels are on their way to America."
"And I am to believe you make this journey to help me regain them?"
"What do you think, then?"
"I do not know what to think, mademoiselle. I am overwhelmed—abashed and humbled by contemplation of such generosity."
"You see, you do not know me, monsieur. But you shall know me better before we are finished."
"One does not question that." Nor did one! "But if I am to sail for America to-day—"
"To-morrow, from Cherbourg, at eight in the morning."
"Well, to-morrow, then: but how am I to get my passport vised?"
"I have seen to that. If you will look over your papers, monsieur, you will see that you are no longer Paul Martin alias Andre Duchemin, but Paul Delorme, my invalid brother, still suffering from honourable wounds sustained in the Great War and ordered abroad for his health."
To this Lanyard, hastily verifying her statement by running an eye through the passport, found nothing more appropriate than a wondering "Mon dieu!"
"So you see, everything is arranged. What have you to say?"
"Only that mademoiselle sweeps one off one's feet."
"Do you complain about that? You no longer doubt my devotion, my gratitude?"
"Do not believe me capable of such stupidity!"
"That is very well, then. Now I must run." Liane Delorme threw away her cigarette and rose. "I have a thousand things to do.... And, you understand, we leave as soon as you are dressed?"
"Perfectly. By what train?"
"By no train. Don't you know there is a strike to-day? What have you been reading in those newspapers? It is necessary that we motor to Cherbourg."
"That is no little journey, dear sister."
"Three hundred and seventy kilometres?" Liane Delorme held this equivalent of two-hundred and thirty English miles in supreme contempt. "We shall make it in eight hours. We leave at four at latest, possibly earlier; at midnight we are in Cherbourg. You shall see."
"If I survive..."
"Have no fear. My chauffeur drives superbly."
She was at the door when Lanyard stayed her with "One moment, Liane!" With fingers resting lightly on the knob she turned.
"Speak English," he requested briefly. "What about Dupont?"
Simple mention of the man was enough to make the woman wince and lose colour. Before she replied Lanyard saw the tip of her tongue furtively moisten her lips.
"Well, and what of him?"
"Do you imagine he has had enough?"
"Who knows? I for one shall feel safe from him only when I knew he is in the Sante or his grave."
"Suppose he tries to follow us to Cherbourg or to stop us on the way..."
"How should he know?"
"Tell me who left the doors open for him last night, and I will answer that question." The woman looked more than ever frightened, but shook her head. "You didn't fail to question the servants this morning, yet learned nothing?"
"It was impossible to fix the blame..."
"Have you used all your intelligence, I wonder?"
"What do you mean?"
"Have you reflected that, since Dupont got in after you came home, his accomplice in your household is most probably one of those who were up at that hour. Who were they?"
"Only two. The footman, Leon..."
"You trust him?"
"Not altogether. Now you make me think, I shall discharge him when I leave, without notice."
"Wait. Who else?"
"Marthe, my maid."
"You have confidence in her loyalty?"
"Implicit. She has been with me for years."
Lanyard said "Open that door!" in a tone sharp with such authority that Liane Delorme instinctively obeyed, and the woman whom Lanyard had seen that morning coming down the stairs with the lighted candle entered rather precipitately, carrying over one arm an evening wrap of gold brocade and fur.
"Pardon, madame," she murmured, and paused. Aside from the awkwardness of her entrance, she betrayed no confusion. "I was about to knock and ask if madame wished me to pack this..."
"You know very well I shall need it," Liane said ominously. A look from Lanyard checked a tirade, or more exactly compressed it into a single word: "Imbecile!"
Marthe hinted at rather than executed a courtesy and withdrew. Liane shut the door behind her, and reapproached the bed, trembling with an anger that rendered her forgetful, so that she relapsed into French.
"You think she was listening?"
"English, please!" To this Lanyard added a slight shrug..
"It is hard to believe," Liane averred unhappily. "After all these years... I have been kind to that one, too!"
"Ah, well! At least you know now she will bear watching. You mean to take her with you?"
"I did, until this happened. We quarrelled about it, last night. I think she has a lover here in Paris and doesn't want to leave him."
"And now will you tell me that Dupont knows nothing of your intention to motor to Cherbourg today?"
"No..." Disconsolate, Liane sank down into the chair and, resting an elbow on the arm, clipped her chin in one hand. "Now I dare not go," she mused aloud. "Yet I must!... What am I to do?"
"Courage, little sister! It is I who have an idea." Liane lifted a gaze of mute enquiry. "I think we are now agreed it rests between Marthe and the footman Leon, this treachery." She assented. "Very well. Then let them run the risks any further disloyalty may have prepared for us."
"I do not understand..."
"What automobile are you using for our trip this afternoon?"
"My limousine for you and me."
"And Marthe: how is she to make the journey?"
"In the touring car, which follows us with our luggage."
"It is fast, this touring car?"
"The best money can buy."
"Now tell me what you know about the chauffeur who drives the limousine?"
"He is absolutely to be trusted."
"You have had him long in your employ?"
The woman hesitated, looked aside, bit her lip.
"As a matter of fact, monsieur," she said hastily, trying to cover her loss of countenance with rapid speech—"it is the boy who drove us through the Cevennes. Monsieur Monk asked me to keep him pending his return to France, You understand, he is not to be away long—Monsieur Monk—only a few weeks; so it would have been extravagant to take Jules back to America for that little time. You see?"
Lanyard had the grace to keep a straight face. He nodded gravely.
"You make it all perfectly clear, little sister. And the driver of the touring car: are you sure of him?"
"I think so. But you do not tell me what you have in mind."
"Simply this: At the last moment you will decide to take Leon with you. Give him no more time than he needs to pack a handbag. Trump up some excuse and let him follow with Marthe..."
"No difficulty about that. He is an excellent driver, Leon; he served me as chauffeur—and made a good one, too—for a year before I took him into the house, at his request; he said he was tired of driving. But if the man I had meant to use is indisposed—trust me to see that he is—I can call on Leon to take care of Marthe and our luggage in the touring car."
"Excellent. Now presuming Dupont to be well informed, we may safely bank on his attempting nothing before nightfall. Road traps can be too easily perceived at a distance by daylight. Toward evening then, we will let the touring car catch up. You will express a desire to continue in it, because—because of any excuse that comes into your head. At all events, we will exchange cars with Marthe and Leon, leaving the latter to bring on the limousine while Jules drives for us. Whatever happens then, we may feel sure the touring car will get off lightly; for whether they're involved with Dupont or not, Leon and Marthe are small fry, not the fish he's angling for."
"But will not Leon and Marthe suspect and refuse to follow?"
"Perhaps they may suspect, but they will follow out of curiosity, to see how we fare, if for nothing else. You may lose a limousine, but you can afford to risk that as long as you are not in it—eh, little long-lost sister?"
"My dear brother!" Liane cried, deeply moved. She leaned forward and caressed Lanyard's hand with sisterly warmth, in her admiration and gratification loosing upon him the full candle-power of the violet eyes in their most disastrous smile. "What a head to have in the family!"
"Take care!" Lanyard admonished. "I admit it's not half bad at times, but if this battered old headpiece of mine is to be of any further service to us, Liane, you must be careful not to turn it!"
SIX BOTTLES OF CHAMPAGNE
Once decided upon a course of action, Liane Delorme demonstrated that she could move with energy and decision uncommon in her kind. Under her masterly supervision, preparations accomplished themselves, as it were, by magic.
It was, for example, nearer three than four o'clock when the expedition for Cherbourg left the door of her town-house and Paris by way of the Porte de Neuilly; the limousine leading with that polished pattern of a chauffeur, Jules, at its wheel, as spick and span, firm of jaw and imperturbable of eye as when Lanyard had first noticed him in Nant; the touring car trailing, with the footman Leon as driver, and not at all happy to find himself drafted in that capacity, if one might judge by a sullen sort of uneasiness in his look.
Nothing was to be expected in the streets or suburbs, neither speed nor any indication of the intentions (if any) of Dupont. Lanyard spared himself the thankless trouble of watching to see if they were followed—having little doubt they were—and took his ease by the side of Liane Delorme.
Chatting of old times, or sitting in grateful silence when Liane relapsed into abstraction—something which she did with a frequency which testified to the heavy pressure of her thoughts—he kept an appreciative eye on Jules, conceding at length that Liane's adjective, superb, had been fitly applied to his driving. So long as he remained at the wheel, they were not only in safe hands but might be sure of losing nothing on the road.
It was in St. Germain-en-Laye that Lanyard first noticed the grey touring car. But for mental selection of St. Germain as the likeliest spot for Dupont to lay in waiting, and thanks also to an error of judgment on the part of that one, he must have missed it; for there was nothing strikingly sinister in the aspect of that long-bodied grey car with the capacious hood betokening a motor of great power. But it stood incongruously round the corner, in a mean side street, as if anxious to escape observation; its juxtaposition to the door of a wine shop of the lowest class was noticeable in a car of such high caste; and, what was finally damning, the rat-faced man of Lyons was lounging in the door of the wine shop, sucking at a cigarette and watching the traffic with an all too listless eye shaded by the visor of a shabby cap.
Lanyard said nothing at the time, but later, when a long stretch of straight road gave him the chance, verified his suspicions by looking back to see the grey car lurking not less than a mile and a half astern; the Delorme touring car driven by Leon keeping a quarter of a mile in the rear of the limousine.
These relative positions remained approximately unchanged during most of the light hours of that long evening, despite the terrific pace which Jules set in the open country. Lanyard, keeping an eye on the indicator, saw its hand register the equivalent of sixty English miles an hour more frequently than not. It seldom dropped below fifty except when passing through towns or villages. And more often than he liked Lanyard watched it creep up to and past the mark seventy.
With such driving he was quite willing to believe that they would see Cherbourg or Heaven by midnight if not before; always, of course, providing...
For the first three hours Leon stood the pace well. Then nerves or physical endurance began to fail, he dropped back, and the Delorme touring car was thereafter seldom visible.
No more, for that matter, was the grey shadow. Lanyard's forecast seemed to be borne out by its conduct: Dupont was biding his time and would undoubtedly attempt nothing before nightfall. In the meantime he was making no effort to do more than keep step with the limousine, but at a decent distance. Only occasionally when, for this reason or that, Jules was obliged to run at reduced speed for several minutes on end, the grey car would draw into sight, always, however, about a mile behind the Delorme touring car.
At about seven they dined on the wing, from the hamper which, with Liane's jewel case in its leather disguise of a simple travelling bag, constituted all the limousine's load of luggage. Lanyard passed sandwiches through the front window to Jules, who munched them while driving like a speed maniac, and with the same appalling nonchalance washed them down with a tumbler of champagne. Then he discovered some manner of sorcerous power over matches in the wind, lighted a cigarette, and signalised his sense of refreshment by smoothly edging the indicator needle up toward the eighty notch, where he held it stationary until Lanyard and Liane with one accord begged him to consider their appetites.
At eight o'clock they were passing through Lisieux, one hundred and eighteen miles from Paris.
Lanyard made mental calculations.
"The light will hold till after nine," he informed Liane. "By that time we shall have left Caen behind."
"I understand," she said coolly; "it will be, then, after Caen."
"Another hour of peace of mind!" She yawned delicately. "I think—I am bored by this speed—I think I shall have a nap."
Composedly she arranged pillows, put her pretty feet upon the jewel case and, turning her face from Lanyard, dozed.
"I think," he reflected, "that the world is more rich in remarkable women than in remarkable men!"
A luminous lilac twilight vied with the street lamps of Caen when the limousine rolled through the city at moderate speed. Lanyard utilized this occasion to confer with Jules through the window.
"Beyond the town," he said, "you will stop just round the first suitable turning, so that we can't be seen before the corner is turned. Draw off to the side of the road and—I think it would be advisable to have a little engine trouble."
"Very good, sir," said Jules without looking round. Then he added in a voice of complete respect: "Pardon, sir, but—madame's orders?"
"If they are not"—Lanyard was nettled—"she will countermand them."
"Quite so, sir. And—if you don't mind my asking—what's the idea?"
"I presume you set some value on your skin?"
"Plumb crazy about it."
"Mademoiselle Delorme and I are afflicted with the same idiosyncrasy. We want to save our lives, and we don't mind saving yours at the same time."
"That's more than fair with me. But is that all I'm to know?"
"If the information is any comfort to you: in a grey car which has been following us ever since we left St. Germain, is the man who—I believe—murdered Monsieur le Comte de Lorgnes on the Lyons rapide, and who—I know—tried last night to murder Mademoiselle Delorme."
"And I suppose that, in his big-hearted, wholesaler's way, he wouldn't mind making a bag of the lot of us tonight."
"I'm afraid you have reason..."
"If you're planning to put a crimp in his ambitions, sir, I've got a pistol I know how to use."
"Better have it handy, though I don't think we'll need it yet. Our present plan is merely to change cars with Leon and Marthe; the grey car will pass and go on ahead before we make the shift; then you, mademoiselle and I follow in the touring car, the others in the limousine. If there's a trap, as we have every reason to anticipate there will, the touring car will get through—or we'll hope so."
"Ah-h!" Jules used the tone of one who perceives enlightenment as a blinding flash. "Marthe and Leon are in on the dirty work too, eh?"
"What makes you think that?"
"Putting two and two together—what you've just told me with what I've been noticing and wondering about."
"Then you think those two—"
"Marthe and Leon," Jules pronounced with deliberation, "are two very bad eggs, if you ask me. I shan't shed a solitary tear if something sad happens to them in this 'bus to-night."
There was no time then to delve into his reasons for this statement of feeling. The outskirts of Caen were dropping behind. Providentially, the first bend in the road to Bayeux afforded good cover on the side toward the town. Jules shut off the power as he made the turn, and braked to a dead stop in lee of a row of outhouses. Lanyard was on the ground as soon as the wheels ceased to turn, Jules almost as quickly.
"Now for your engine trouble," Lanyard instructed. "Nothing serious, you understand—simply an adjustment to excuse a few minutes' delay and lend colour to our impatience."
"Got you the first time," Jules replied, unlatching and raising one wing of the hood.
Lanyard moved toward the middle of the road and flagged the Delorme touring car as it rounded the turn, a few seconds later, at such speed that Leon was put to it to stop the car fifty yards beyond the limousine. The man jumped down and, followed by the maid, ran back, but before he reached the limousine was obliged to jump aside to escape the grey car which, tooled by a crack racing hand, took the corner on two wheels, then straightened out and tore past in a smother of dust, with its muffler cut out and the exhaust bellowing like a machine-gun.
Lanyard counted four figures, two on the front seat, two in the tonneau. More than this, the headlong speed and the failing light rendered it impossible to see—though had the one been less and the other stronger, he could have gained little more information from inspection of those four shapes shrouded in dust coats and masked with goggles.
Watching its rear light dwindle, he fancied that the grey shadow was slowing down; but one could not be sure about that.
"There is something wrong, monsieur?"
The man Leon was at his elbow. Lanyard replied with the curt nod of a disgruntled motorist.
"Something—Jules can tell you," he said shortly.
"Meanwhile, Mademoiselle Delorme and I have decided not to wait. We've got no time to spare. We will take your car and go on."
"But, monsieur, I—" Leon began to expostulate.
The icy accents of Liane Delorme cut it: "Well, Leon: what is your objection?"
"Objection, madame?" the fellow faltered. "Pardon—but it is not for me to object. I—I was merely startled."
"Then get over that at once," he was advised; "and bring my jewelcase—Marthe will point it out to you—to the touring-car."
"Yes, madame, immediately."
"Also the lunch-hamper, if you please."
Leon departed hastily for the limousine, where Marthe joined him, while Lanyard and Liane Delorme proceeded to the touring car.
"But what on earth do you want with that hamper, monsieur?"
"Hush, little sister, not so loud! Brother thinks he has another idea."
"Then Heaven forbid that I should interfere!"
Staggering under its weight, Leon shouldered the jewelcase and carried it to the touring car, where Liane superintended its disposal in the luggage-jammed tonneau. A second trip, less laborious, brought them the hamper. Liane uttered perfunctory thanks and called to Jules, who was still tinkering at the limousine engine with the aid of an electric torch.
"Come, Jules! Leave Leon to attend to what is required there."
"Very good, madame."
Jules strolled over to the touring car and settled down at the wheel. Liane Delorme had the seat beside him.
Lanyard had established himself in a debatable space in the tonneau to which his right was disputed by bags and boxes of every shape, size and description.
"How long, Jules, will Leon need—?"
"Five minutes, madame, if he takes his time about it."
"Then let us hasten."
They drew away from the limousine so quickly that in thirty seconds its headlights were all that marked its stand.
Lanyard studied the phosphorescent dial of his wristwatch. From first to last the transaction had consumed little more than three minutes.
Liane slewed round to talk over the back of the seat.
"What time is it, monsieur?"
"Ten after nine. In an hour precisely the moon will rise."
"It will be in this hour of darkness, then..."
A bend in the road blotted out the stationary lights of the limousine. There was no tail-light visible on the road before them. Lanyard touched Jules on the shoulder.
"Switch off your lights," he said—"all of them. Then find a place where we can turn off and wait till Leon and Marthe pass us."
In sudden blindness the car moved on slowly, groping its way for a few hundred yards. Then Jules picked out the mouth of a narrow lane, overshadowed by dense foliage, ran past, stopped, and backed into it.
In four minutes by Lanyard's watch the pulse of the limousine began to beat upon the stillness of that sleepy countryside. A blue-white glare like naked and hungry steel leapt quivering past the bend, swept in a wide arc as the lamps themselves became visible, and lay horizontal with the road as the car bored past.
"Evidently Leon feels quite lost without us," Lanyard commented. "Shoot, Jules—follow his rear lamp, and don't cut out your muffler. Can you manage without headlights for a while?"
"I drove an ambulance for four years, sir."
The car swung out into the main highway. Far ahead the red sardonic eye in the rear of the limousine leered as if mocking their hopes of keeping it in sight. Jules, however, proved unresentful; and he was marvellously competent.
"To anybody who's ever piloted a load of casualties through eighteen inches of mud, dodging shell holes and shells on their way to make new holes, in a black rainstorm at midnight—this sort of thing," Jules announced—"a hard, smooth road under a clear sky—is simple pie."
So it may have seemed to him. But to Lanyard and Liane Delorme, hurled along a road they could not see at anywhere from forty to sixty miles an hour, with no manner of guidance other than an elusive tail-lamp which was forever whisking round corners and remaining invisible till Jules found his way round in turn, by instinct or second sight or intuition—whatever it was, it proved unfailing—it was a nervous time.
And there was half an hour of it...
They were swooping down a long grade with a sharp turn at the bottom, as they knew from the fact that the red eye had just winked out, somewhere on ahead, there sounded a grinding crash, the noise of a stout fabric rent and crushed with the clash and clatter of shivered glass.
"Easy," Lanyard cautioned—"and ready with the lights!"
Both warnings were superfluous. Jules had already disengaged the gears. Gravity carried the car round the curve, slowly, smoothly, silently; under constraint of its brakes it slid to a pause on a steep though brief descent, and hung there like an animal poised to spring, purring softly.
Below, at the foot of the hill, the headlights of another car, standing at some distance and to the right of the road, furnished lurid illumination to the theatre of disaster.
Something, its nature just then mysterious, had apparently caused Leon to lose control of the heavy car, so that it had skidded into a ditch and capsized. Four men, crude shapes of nightmare in enveloping dust-coats and disfiguring goggles, were swarming round the wreck. Two were helping the driver out, two others having their gallantry in performing like service for the maid rewarded by a torrent of vituperative denunciation, half hysterical and wholly infuriated.
By the freedom of her gestures, which was rivalled only by that of her language, the dishevelled, storming figure of Marthe was manifestly uninjured. And in another moment it was seen, as Leon found his feet and limped toward the others, that he had suffered only slight damage at the worst.
Lanyard drew attention to a dark serpentine line that lay like a dead snake upon the lighted surface of the road. Jules grunted in token of comprehension. Liane Delorme breathlessly demanded: "What is it?"
"An old trick," Lanyard explained: "A wire cable stretched between trees diagonally across the road, about as high as the middle of the windshield. The impetus of the limousine broke it, but not before it had slewed the car off toward the ditch, wrenching the wheel out of the driver's hands."
He fondled the pistol which Jules had handed him, slipped the safety catch, and said: "Now before they wake up, Jules—give her all she's got!"
Jules released the brakes and, as the car gathered way, noiselessly slipped the gear shift into the fourth speed and bore heavily on the accelerator. They were making forty miles an hour when they struck the level and thundered past the group.
A glimpse of startled faces, the scream of a man who had strayed incautiously into the roadway and stopped there, apparently petrified by the peril that bore down upon him without lights or any other warning, until one of the forward fenders struck and hurled him aside like a straw—and only the night of the open road lay before them. Jules touched the headlight switch and opened the exhaust. Above the roaring of the latter Lanyard fancied he could hear a faint rattling sound. He looked back and smiled grimly. Sharp, short flames of orange and scarlet were stabbing the darkness. Somebody had opened fire with an automatic pistol.... Sheer waste of ammunition!
The pace waxed terrific on a road, like so many roads of France, apparently interminable and straight. On either hand endless ranks of poplars rattled like loose palings of some tremendous picket fence. And yet, long before the road turned, Lanyard, staring astern as he knelt on the rear seat with arms crossed on the folded top, saw the two white eyes of the grey car swing into view and start in pursuit. Quick work, he called it.
He crawled forward and communicated his news, shouting to make himself heard.
"Don't ease up unless you have to," he counselled; "don't think we dare give them an inch."
Back at his post of observation, he watched, hoping against hope, while the car lunged and tore like a mad thing through the night, snoring up grades, screaming down them, drumming across the levels, clattering wildly through villages and hamlets; while the moon rose and gathered strength and made the road a streaming river of milk and ink; while his heart sank as minute succeeded minute, mile followed mile, and ever the lights of the pursuing car, lost to sight from time to time, reappeared with a brighter, fiercer glow, and conviction forced itself home that they were being gradually but surely overhauled.
He took this intelligence to the ear of Jules. The chauffeur answered only with a worried shake of his head that said too plainly he was doing his best, extracting every ounce of power from the engine.
Ill luck ambushed them in the streets of a sizable town, its name unknown to Lanyard, where another car, driven inexpertly, rolled out of a side street and stalled in their path. The emergency brake saved them a collision; but there were not six inches between the two when the touring car stopped dead; and minutes were lost before the other got under way and they were able to proceed.
Less than three hundred yards separated pursued and pursuer as they raced out through open fields once more. And foot by foot this lead was being inexorably cut down.
In the seat beside the driver of the grey car a man rose and, steadying himself by holding onto the windshield, poured out the contents of an automatic, presumably hoping to puncture the tires of the quarry. A bullet bored a neat hole through the windshield between the heads of Liane Delorme and Jules. The woman slipped down upon the floor and Jules crouched over the wheel. Lanyard fingered his automatic but held its fire against a moment when he could be more sure of his arm.
Instead, he turned to the lunch hamper and opened it. Liane's provisioning had been ample for a party thrice their number. In the bottom of the basket lay six pint bottles of champagne, four of them unopened. Lanyard took them to the rear seat—and found the grey car had drawn up to within fifty yards of its prey. Making a pace better than seventy miles per hour, it would not dare swerve.
The first empty bottle broke to one side, the second squarely between the front wheels. He grasped the first full bottle by the neck and felt that its weight promised more accuracy, but ducked before attempting to throw it as a volley of shots sought to discourage him. At the first lull he rose and cast the bottle with the overhand action employed in grenade throwing. It crashed fairly beneath the nearer forward wheel of the grey car, but without effect, other than to draw another volley in retaliation. This he risked; the emergency had grown too desperate for more paltering; the lead had been abridged to thirty yards; in two minutes more it would be nothing.
The fourth bottle went wild, but the fifth exploded six inches in front of the offside wheel and its jagged fragments ripped out the heart of the tire. On the instant of the accompanying blow-out the grey car shied like a frightened horse and swerved off the road, hurtling headlong into a clump of trees. The subsequent crash was like the detonation of a great bomb. Deep shadows masked that tragedy beneath the trees. Lanyard saw the beam of the headlights lift and drill perpendicularly into the zenith before it was blacked out.
He turned and yelled in the ear of Jules: "Slow down! Take your time! They've quit!"
Liane Delorme rose from her cramped position on the floor, and stared incredulously back along the empty, moonlit road.
"What has become of them?"
Lanyard offered a vague gesture."... tried to climb a tree," he replied wearily, and dropping back on the rear seat began to worry the cork out of the last pint bottle of champagne.
He reckoned he had earned a drink if anybody ever had.
Without disclaiming any credit that was rightly his due for making the performance possible, Lanyard felt obliged to concede that Liane's Delorme's confidence had been well reposed in the ability of Jules to drive by the clock. For when the touring car made, on a quayside of Cherbourg's avant port, what was for its passengers its last stop of the night, the hour of eight bells was being sounded aboard the countless vessels that shouldered one another in the twin basins of the commercial harbour or rode at anchor between its granite jetties and the distant bulwark of the Digue.
Nor was Jules disposed to deny himself well-earned applause. Receiving none immediately when he got down from his seat and indulged in one luxurious stretch, "I'll disseminate the information to the terrestrial universe," he volunteered, "that was travelling!"
"And now that you have done so," Liane Delorme suggested, "perhaps you will be good enough to let the stewards know we are waiting."
If the grin was impudent, the salute she got in acknowledgment was perfection; Jules faced about like a military automaton, strode off briskly, stopped at some distance to light a cigarette, and in effect faded out with the flame of the match.
Lanyard didn't try to keep track of his going. Committed as he stood to follow the lead of Liane Delorme to the end of this chapter of intrigue (and with his mind at ease as to Monsieur Dupont, for the time being at least) he was largely indifferent to intervening developments.
He had asked no questions of Liane, and his knowledge of Cherbourg was limited to a memory of passing through the place as a boy, with a case-hardened criminal as guide and police at their heels. But assuming that Liane had booked passages for New York by a Cunarder, a White Star or American Line Boat—all three touched regularly at Cherbourg, west bound from Southampton—he expected presently to go aboard a tender and be ferried out to one of the steamers whose riding lights were to be seen in the roadstead. Meanwhile he was lazily content....
Mellow voices of bell metal swelled and died on the midnight air while, lounging against the motor car—with Liane at his side registering more impatience than he thought the occasion called for—Lanyard listened, stared, wondered, the breath of the sea sweet in his nostrils, its flavour in his throat, his vision lost in the tangled web of masts and cordage and funnels that stencilled the moon-pale sky: the witching glamour of salt water binding all his senses with its time-old spell.
It was quiet there upon the quay. Somewhere a winch rattled drowsily and weary tackle whined; more near at hand, funnels were snoring and pumps chugging with a constant, monotonous noise of splashing. On the landward side, from wine shops across the way, came blurred gusts of laughter and the wailing of an accordeon. The footfalls of a watchman, or perhaps a sergent de ville, had lonely echoes. The high electric arcs were motionless, and the shadows cast by their steel-blue glare lay on the pave as if painted in lampblack.
Dupont, the road to Paris, seemed figments of some dream dreamed long ago...
The tip of a pretty slipper, tapping restlessly, continued to betray Liane's temper. But she said nothing. Privately Lanyard yawned. Then Jules, tagged by three men with the fair white jackets and shuffling gait of stewards, sauntered into view from behind two mountains of freight, and announced: "All ready, madame." Liane nodded curtly, lingered to watch the stewards attack the jumble of luggage, saw her jewel case shouldered, and followed the bearer, Lanyard at her elbow, Jules remaining with the car.
The steward trotted through winding aisles of bales and crates, turned a corner, darted up a gangplank to the main-deck of a small steam vessel, so excessively neat and smart with shining brightwork that Lanyard thought it one uncommon tender indeed, and surmised a martinet in command. It seemed curious that there were not more passengers on the tender's deck; but perhaps he and Liane were among the first to come aboard; after all, they were not to sail before morning, according to the women. He apprehended a tedious time of waiting before he gained his berth. He noticed, too, a life ring lettered SYBARITE, and thought this an odd name for a vessel of commercial utility. Then he found himself descending a wide companionway to one of the handsomest saloons he had ever entered, a living room that, aside from its concessions to marine architecture, might have graced a residence on Park Lane or on Fifth avenue in the Sixties.
Lanyard stopped short with his hand on the mahogany handrail.
"I say, Liane! haven't we stumbled into the wrong pew?"
"Wrong pew?" The woman subsided gracefully into a cushioned arm-chair, crossed her knees, and smiled at his perplexity. "But I do not know what is that 'wrong pew.'"
"I mean to say... this is no tender, and it unquestionably isn't an Atlantic liner."
"I should hope not. Did I promise you a—what do you say?—tender or Atlantic liner? But no: I do not think I told you what sort of vessel we would sail upon for that America. You did not ask."
"True, little sister. But you might have prepared me. This is a private yacht."
"Are you disappointed?"
"I won't say that..."
"It is the little ship of a dear friend, monsieur, who generously permits... But patience! very soon you shall know."
To himself Lanyard commented: "I believe it well!" A door had opened in the after partition, two men had entered. Above a lank, well-poised body clothed in the white tunic and trousers of a ship's officer, he recognised the tragicomic mask of the soi-disant Mr. Whitaker Monk. At his shoulder shone the bland, intelligent countenance of Mr. Phinuit, who seemed much at home in the blue serge and white flannels of the average amateur yachtsman.
From this last Lanyard received a good-natured nod, while Monk, with a great deal of empressement, proceeded directly to Liane Delorme and bowed low over the hand which she languidly lifted to be saluted.
"My dear friend!" he said in his sonorous voice. "In another hour I should have begun to grow anxious about you."
"You would have had good reason, monsieur. It is not two hours since one has escaped death—and that for the second time in a single day—by the slenderest margin, and thanks solely to this gentleman here."
Monk consented to see Lanyard, and immediately offered him a profound salute, which was punctiliously returned. His eyebrows mounted to the roots of his hair.
"Ah! that good Monsieur Duchemin."
"But no!" Liane laughed. "It is true, the resemblance is striking; I do not say that, if Paul would consent to grow a beard, it would not be extraordinary. But—permit me, Captain Monk, to present my brother, Paul Delorme."
"Your brother, mademoiselle?" The educated eyebrows expressed any number of emotions. Monk's hand was cordially extended. "But I am enchanted, Monsieur Delorme, to welcome on board the Sybarite the brother of your charming sister."
Lanyard resigned limp fingers to his clasp.
"And most public-spirited of you, I'm sure, Captain Monk... I believe I understood Liane to say Captain Monk?" The captain bowed. "Captain Whitaker Monk?" Another bow. Lanyard looked to Liane: "Forgive me if I seem confused, but I thought you told me Mister Whitaker Monk had sailed for America a week ago."
"And so he did," the captain agreed blandly, while Liane confirmed his statement with many rapid and emphatic nods. "Mr. Monk, the owner, is my first cousin. Fortune has been less kind to me in a worldly way; consequently you see in me merely the skipper of my wealthy kinsman's yacht."
"And your two names are the same—yours and your cousin's? You're both Whitaker Monks?"
"It is a favourite name in our family, monsieur."
Lanyard wagged his head in solemn admiration.
Phinuit had come to his side, and was offering his hand in turn.
"It's all gospel, Mr. Lanyard," he declared, with a cheerful informality which Lanyard found more engaging than Monk's sometimes laboured mannerisms. "He's sure-enough Captain Whitaker Monk, skipper of the good ship Sybarite, Mister Whitaker Monk, owner. And my name is really Phinuit, and I'm honest-to-goodness secretary to Mr. Monk. You see, the owner got a hurry call from New York, last week, and sailed from Southampton, leaving us to bring his pretty ship safely home."
"That makes it all so clear!"
"Well, anyway, I'm glad to meet you to your bare face. I've heard a lot about you, and—if it matters to you—thought a lot more."
"If it comes to that, Mr. Phinuit, I have devoted some thought to you."
"Oh, daresay. And now—if mademoiselle is agreeable—suppose we adjourn to the skipper's quarters, where we can improve one another's acquaintance without some snooping steward getting an unwelcome earful. We need to know many things you alone can tell us—and I'll wager you could do with a drink. What?"
"But I assure you, monsieur, I find your reception sufficiently refreshing."
"Well," said Phinuit, momentarily but very slightly discountenanced—"you've been uncommon' damn' useful, you know... I mean, according to mademoiselle."
"Useful?" Lanyard enquired politely.
"He calls it that," Liane Delorme exclaimed, "when I tell him you have saved my life!" She swept indignantly through the door by which Monk and Phinuit had come to greet them. Two ceremonious bows induced Lanyard to follow her. Monk and Phinuit brought up the rear. "Yes," the woman pursued—"twice he has saved it!"
"In the same place?" Phinuit enquired innocently, shutting the door.
"But no! Once in my home in Paris, this morning, and again to-night on the road to Cherbourg. The last time he saved his life, too, and Jules's."
"It was nothing," said the modest hero.
"It was nothing!" Liane echoed tragically. "You save my life twice, and he calls it 'useful,' and you call it 'nothing!' My God! I tell you, I find this English a funny language!"
"But if you will tell us about it..." Monk suggested, placing a chair for her at one end of a small table on which was spread an appetising cold supper.
Lanyard remarked that there were places laid for four. He had been expected, then. Or had the fourth place been meant for Jules? One inclined to credit the first theory. It seemed highly probable that Liane should have telegraphed her intentions before leaving Paris. Indeed, there was every evidence that she had. Neither Monk nor Phinuit had betrayed the least surprise on seeing Lanyard; and Phinuit had not even troubled to recognise the fiction which Liane had uttered in accounting for him. It was very much as if he had said: That long-lost brother stuff is all very well for the authorities, for entry in the ship's papers if necessary; but it's wasted between ourselves, we understand one another; so let's get down to brass tacks... An encouraging symptom; though one had already used the better word, refreshing....
Spacious, furnished in a way of rich sobriety, tasteful in every appointment, the captain's quarters were quite as sybaritic as the saloon of the Sybarite. A bedroom and private bath adjoined, and the open door enabled one to perceive that this rude old sea dog slept in a real bed of massive brass. His sitting-room, or private office, had a studious atmosphere. Its built-in-bookcases were stocked with handsome bindings. The panels were, like those in the saloon, sea-scapes from the hands of modern masters: Lanyard knew good painting when he saw it. The captain's desk was a substantial affair in mahogany. Most of the chairs were of the overstuffed lounge sort. The rug was a Persian of rare lustre.
Monk was following with a twinkle the journeys of Lanyard's observant eye.
"Do myself pretty well, don't you think?" he observed quietly, in a break in Liane's dramatic narrative; perforce the lady must now and again pause for breath.
Lanyard smiled in return. "I can't see you've much to complain of."
The captain nodded, but permitted a shade of gravity to become visible in his expression. He sighed a philosophic sigh:
"But man is never satisfied..."
Liane had got her second wind and was playing variations on the theme of the famous six bottles of champagne. Lanyard lounged in his easy chair and let his bored thoughts wander. He was weary of being talked about, wanted one thing only, fulfillment of the promise that had been implicit in Phinuit's manner. He was aware of Phinuit's sympathetic eye.
The woman sent the grey car crashing again into the tree, repeated Lanyard's quaint report of the business, and launched into a vein of panegyric.
"Regard him, then, sitting there, making nothing of it all—!"
"Sheer swank," Phinuit commented. "He's just letting on; privately he thinks he's a heluva fellow. Don't you, Lanyard?"
"But naturally," Lanyard gave Phinuit a grateful look. "That is understood. But what really interests me, at present, is the question: Who is Dupont, and why?"
"If you're asking me," Monk replied, "I'll say—going on mademoiselle's story—Monsieur Dupont is by now a ghost."
"One would be glad to be sure of that," Lanyard murmured.
"By all accounts," said Phinuit, "he takes a deal of killing."
"But all this begs my question," Lanyard objected. "Who is Dupont, and why?"
"I think I can answer that question, monsieur." This was Liane Delorme. "But first, I would ask Captain Monk to set guards to see that nobody comes aboard this ship before she sails."
"Pity you didn't think of that sooner," Phinuit observed in friendly sarcasm. "Better late than never, of course, but still—!"
The woman appealed to Monk directly, since he did not move. "But I assure you, monsieur, I am afraid, I am terrified of that one! I shall not sleep until I am sure he has not succeeded in smuggling himself on board—"