"Be tranquil, mademoiselle," Monk begged. "What you ask is already done. I gave the orders you ask as soon as I received your telegram, this morning. You need not fear that even a rat has found his way aboard since then, or can before we sail, without my knowledge."
"Thank God!" Liane breathed—and instantly found a new question to fret about. "But your men, Captain Monk—your officers and crew—can you be sure of them?"
"You haven't signed on any new men here in Cherbourg?" Lanyard asked.
Monk worked his eyebrows to signify that the question was ridiculous. "No such fool, thanks," he added.
"Yet they may have been corrupted while here in port," Liane insisted.
"That is what I would have said of my maid and footman, twenty-four hours ago. Yet I now know better."
"I tell you only what I know, mademoiselle. If any of my officers and crew have been tampered with, I don't know anything about it, and can't and won't until the truth comes out."
"And you sit there calmly to tell me that!" Liane rolled her lovely eyes in appeal to the deck beams overhead. "But you are impossible!"
"But, my dear lady," Monk protested, "I am perfectly willing to go into hysterics if you think it will do any good. As it happens, I don't. I haven't been idle or fatuous in that matter, I have taken every possible precaution against miscarriage of our plans. If anything goes wrong now, it can't be charged to my discredit."
"It will be an act of God," Phinuit declared: "one of the unavoidable risks of the business."
"The business!" Liane echoed with scorn. "I assure you I wish I were well out of 'the business'!"
"And so say we all of us," Phinuit assured her patiently; and Monk intoned a fervent "Amen!"
"But who is Dupont?" Lanyard reiterated stubbornly.
"An Apache, monsieur," Liane responded sulkily—"a leader of Apaches."
"Thank you for nothing."
"Patience: I am telling you all I know. I recognised him this morning, when you were struggling with him. His name is Popinot."
"Why do you say 'Ah!' monsieur?"
"There was a Popinot in Paris in my day; they nicknamed him the Prince of the Apaches. But he was an older man, and died by the guillotine. This Popinot who calls himself Dupont, then, must be his son."
"That is true, monsieur."
"Well, then, if he has inherited his father's power—!"
"It is not so bad as all that. I have heard that the elder Popinot was a true prince, in his way, I mean as to his power with the Apaches. His son is hardly that; he has a following, but new powers were established with his father's death, and they remain stronger than he."
"All of which brings us to the second part of my question, Liane: Why Dupont?"
Liane shrugged and studied her bedizened fingers. The heavy black brows circumflexed Monk's eyes, and he drew down the corners of his wide mouth. Phinuit fixed an amused gaze on a distant corner of the room and chewed his cigar.
"Why did Dupont—or Popinot," Lanyard persisted—"murder de Lorgnes? Why did he try to murder Mademoiselle Delorme? Why did he seek to prevent our reaching Cherbourg?"
"Give you three guesses," Phinuit offered amiably. "But I warn you if you use more than one you'll forfeit my respect forever. And just to show what a good sport I am, I'll ask you a few leading questions. Why did Popinot pull off that little affair at Montpellier-le-Vieux? Why did he try to put you out of his way a few days later?"
"Because he wanted to steal the jewels of Madame de Montalais, naturally."
"I knew you'd guess it."
"You admit, then, you have the jewels?"
"Why not?" Phinuit enquired coolly. "We took trouble enough to get them, don't you think? You're taking trouble enough to get them away from us, aren't you? You don't want us to think you so stupid as to be wasting your time, do you?"
His imperturbable effrontery was so amusing that Lanyard laughed outright. Then, turning to Liane, he offered her a grateful inclination of the head.
"Mademoiselle, you have kept your promise. Many thanks."
"Hello!" cried Phinuit. "What promise?"
"Monsieur Lanyard desired a favour of me," Liane explained, her good humour restored; "in return for saving me from assassination by Popinot this morning, he begged me to help him find the jewels of Madame de Montalais. It appears that he—or Andre Duchemin—is accused of having stolen those jewels; so it becomes a point of honour with him to find and restore them to Madame de Montalais."
"He told you that?" Monk queried, studiously eliminating from his tone the jeer implied by the words alone.
"But surely. And what could I do? He spoke so earnestly, I was touched. Regard, moreover, how deeply I am indebted to him. So I promised I would do my best. Et voila! I have brought him to the jewels; the rest is—how do you say—up to him. Are you satisfied with the way I keep my word, monsieur?"
"It's hard to see how he can have any kick coming," Phinuit commented with some acidity.
Lanyard addressed himself to Liane: "Do I understand the jewels are on this vessel?"
"In this room."
Lanyard sat up and took intelligent notice of the room. Phinuit chuckled, and consulted Monk in the tone of one reasonable man to his peer.
"I say, skipper: don't you think we ought to be liberal with Monsieur Lanyard? He's an awfully good sort—and look't all the services he has done us."
Monk set the eyebrows to consider the proposition.
"I am emphatically of your mind, Phin," he pronounced at length, oracular.
"It's plain to be seen he wants those jewels—means to have 'em. Do you know any way we can keep them from him?"
Monk moved his head slowly from side to side: "None."
"Then you agree with me, it would save us all a heap of trouble to let him have them without any more stalling?"
By way of answer Monk bent over and quietly opened a false door, made to resemble the fronts of three drawers, in a pedestal of his desk. Lanyard couldn't see the face of the built-in safe, but he could hear the spinning of the combination manipulated by Monk's long and bony fingers. And presently he saw Monk straighten up with a sizable steel dispatch-box in his hands, place this upon the desk, and unlock it with a key on his pocket ring.
"There," he announced with an easy gesture.
Lanyard rose and stood over the desk, investigating the contents of the dispatch-box. The collection of magnificent stones seemed to tally accurately with his mental memoranda of the descriptions furnished by Eve de Montalais.
"This seems to be right," he said quietly, and closed the box. The automatic lock snapped fast.
"Now what do you say, brother dear?"
"Your debt to me is fully discharged, Liane. But, messieurs, one question: Knowing I am determined to restore these jewels to their owner, why this open handedness?"
"Cards on the table," said Phinuit. "It's the only way to deal with the likes of you."
"In other words," Monk interpreted: "you have under your hand proof of our bona fides."
"And what is to prevent me from going ashore with these at once?"
"Nothing," said Phinuit.
"But this is too much!"
"Nothing," Phinuit elaborated, "but your own good sense."
"Ah!" said Lanyard—"ah!"—and looked from face to face.
Monk adjusted his eyebrows to an angle of earnestness and sincerity.
"The difficulty is, Mr. Lanyard," he said persuasively, "they have cost us so much, those jewels, in time and money and exertion, we can hardly be expected to sit still and see you walk off with them and say never a word in protection of our own interests. Therefore I must warn you, in the most friendly spirit: if you succeed in making your escape from the Sybarite with the jewels, as you quite possibly may, it will be my duty as a law-abiding man to inform the police that Andre Duchemin is at large with his loot from the Chateau de Montalais. And I don't think you'd get very far, then, or that your fantastic story about meaning to return them would gain much credence. D'ye see?"
"But distinctly! If, however, I leave the jewels and lay an information against you with the police——?"
"To do that you would have to go ashore...."
"Do I understand I am to consider myself your prisoner?"
"Oh, dear, no!" said Captain Monk, inexpressibly pained by such crudity. "But I do wish you'd consider favourably an invitation to be our honoured guest on the voyage to New York. You won't? It would be so agreeable of you."
"Sorry I must decline. A prior engagement...."
"But you see, Lanyard," Phinuit urged earnestly, "we've taken no end of a fancy to you. We like you, really, for yourself alone. And with that feeling the outgrowth of our very abbreviated acquaintance—think what a friendship might come of a real opportunity to get to know one another well."
"Some other time, messieurs...."
"But please!" Phinuit persisted—"just think for one moment—and do forget that pistol I know you've got in a handy pocket. We're all unarmed here, Mademoiselle Delorme, the skipper and I. We can't stop your going, if you insist, and we know too much to try. But there are those aboard who might. Jules, for instance: if he saw you making a getaway and knew it might mean a term in a French prison for him.... And if I do say it as shouldn't of my kid brother, Jules is a dead shot. Then there are others. There'd surely be a scrimmage on the decks; and how could we explain that to the police, who, I am able to assure you from personal observation, are within hail? Why, that you had been caught trying to stow away with your loot, which you dropped in making your escape. D'ye see how bad it would look for you?"
To this there was no immediate response. Sitting with bowed head and sombre eyes, Lanyard thought the matter over a little, indifferent to the looks of triumph being exchanged above his head.
"Obviously, it would seem, you have not gone to all this trouble—lured me aboard this yacht—merely to amuse yourselves at my expense and then knock me on the head."
"Absurd!" Liane declared indignantly. "As if I would permit such a thing, who owe you so much!"
"Or look at it this way, monsieur," Monk put in with a courtly gesture: "When one has an adversary whom one respects, one wisely prefers to have him where one can watch him."
"That's just it," Phinuit amended: "Out of our sight, you'd be on our nerves, forever pulling the Popinot stunt, springing some dirty surprise on us. But here, as our guest—!"
"More than that," said Liane with her most killing glance for Lanyard: "a dear friend."
But Lanyard was not to be put off by fair words and flattery.
"No," he said gravely: "but there is some deeper motive..."
He sought Phinuit's eyes, and Phinuit unexpectedly gave him an open-faced return.
"There is," he stated frankly.
"Then why not tell me—?"
"All in good time. And there'll be plenty of that; the Sybarite is no Mauretania. When you know us better and have learned to like us..."
"I make no promises."
"We ask none. Only your pistol..."
"Well, monsieur: my pistol?"
"It makes our association seem so formal—don't you think?—so constrained. Come, Mr. Lanyard! be reasonable. What is a pistol between friends?"
Lanyard shrugged, sighed, and produced the weapon.
"Really!" he said, handing it over to Monk—"how could anyone resist such disarming expressions?"
The captain thanked him solemnly and put the weapon away in his safe, together with the steel despatch-box and Liane Delorme's personal treasure of precious stones.
With characteristic abruptness Liane Delorme announced that she was sleepy, it had been for her a most fatiguing day. Captain Monk rang for the stewardess and gallantly escorted the lady to her door. Lanyard got up with Phinuit to bow her out, but instead of following her suit helped himself to a long whiskey and soda, with loving deliberation selected, trimmed and lighted a cigar, and settled down into his chair as one prepared to make a night of it.
"You never sleep, no?" Phinuit enquired in a spirit of civil solicitude.
"Desolated if I discommode you, monsieur," Lanyard replied with entire amiability—"but not to-night, not at least until I know those jewels have no more chance to go ashore without me."
He tasted his drink with open relish. "Prime Scotch," he judged. "One grows momentarily more reconciled to the prospect of a long voyage."
"Make the most of it," Phinuit counselled. "Remember our next port of call is the Great American Desert. After all, the despised camel seems to have had the right idea all along."
He gaped enormously behind a superstitious hand. Monk, returning, published an elaborate if silent superciliary comment on the tableau.
"He has no faith at all in our good intentions," Phinuit explained, eyeing Lanyard with mild reproach. "It's most discouraging."
"Monsieur suffers from insomnia?" Monk asked in his turn.
"Under certain circumstances."
"Ever take anything for it?"
"To-night it would require nothing less than possession of the Montalais jewels to put me to sleep."
"Well, if you manage to lay hands on them without our consent," Phinuit promised genially, "you'll be put to sleep all right."
"But don't let me keep you up, messieurs."
Captain Monk consulted the chronometer. "It's not worth while turning in," he said: "we sail soon after day-break."
"Far be it from me to play the giddy crab, then." Phinuit busied himself with the decanter, glasses and siphon. "Let's make it a regular party; we'll have all to-morrow to sleep it off in. If I try to hop on your shoulder and sing, call a steward and have him lead me to my innocent white cot; but take a fool's advice, Lanyard, and don't try to drink the skipper under the table. On the word of one who's tried and repented, it can not be done."
"But it is I who would go under the table," Lanyard said. "I have a poor head for whiskey."
"Thanks for the tip."
"I mean to say," Phinuit explained, "I'm glad to have another weakness of yours to bear in mind."
"You are interested in the weaknesses of others, monsieur?"
"They're my hobby."
"Knowledge," Monk quoted, sententious, "is power."
"May I ask what other entries you have made in my dossier, Mr. Phinuit?"
"You won't get shirty?"
"But surely not."
"Well ... can't be positive till I know you better.... I'm afraid you've got a tendency to overestimate the gullibility of people in general. It's either that, or.... No: I don't believe you're intentionally hypocritical, or self-deceived, either."
"But I don't understand...."
"Remember your promise.... But you seem to think it easy to put it over on us, mademoiselle, the skipper and me."
"But I assure you I have never had any such thought."
"Then why this funny story of yours—told with a straight face, too!—about wanting to get hold of the Montalais loot simply to slip it back to its owner?"
Lanyard felt with a spasm of anger constrict his throat; and knew that the restraint he imposed upon his temper was betrayed in a reddened face. Nevertheless his courteous smile persisted, his polite conversational tone was unchanged.
"Now you remind me of something. I presume, Captain Monk, it's not too late to send a note ashore to be posted?"
"Oh!" Monk's eyebrows protested violently—"a note!"
"On plain paper, in a plain envelope—and I don't in the least mind your reading it."
The eyebrows appealed to Phinuit, and that worthy ruled: "Under those conditions, I don't see we can possibly object."
Monk shrugged his brows back into place, found paper of the sort desired, even went so far as to dip the pen for Lanyard.
"You will sit at my desk, monsieur?"
Under no more heading than the date, Lanyard wrote:
"Dear Madame de Montalais:"
"I have not forgotten my promise, but my days have been full since I left the chateau. And even now I must be brief: within an hour I sail for America, within a fortnight you may look for telegraphic advices from me, stating that your jewels are in my possession, and when I hope to be able to restore them to you."
"Believe me, dear madame,"
"Devotedly your servant,
Monk read and in silence passed this communication over to Phinuit, while Lanyard addressed the envelope.
"Quite in order," was Phinuit's verdict, accompanied by a yawn.
Lanyard folded the note, sealed it in the envelope, and affixed a stamp supplied by Monk, who meanwhile rang for a steward.
"Take this ashore and post it at once," he told the man who answered his summons.
"But seriously, Lanyard!" Phinuit protested with a pained expression.... "No: I don't get you at all. What's the use?"
"I have not deceived you, then?"
"Not so's you'd notice it."
"Alas!"—Lanyard affected a sigh—"for misspent effort!"
"Oh, all's fair outside the law. We don't blame you for trying it on. Only we value your respect too much to let you go on thinking we have fallen for that hokum."
"You see," Monk expounded—solemn ass that he was beneath his thin veneer of pretentiousness—"when we know how the British Government kicked you out of its Secret Service as soon as it had no further use for you, we can understand and sympathise with your natural reaction to such treatment at the hands of Society."
"But one didn't know you knew so much, monsieur le capitaine."
"And then," said Phinuit, "when we know you steered a direct course from London for the Chateau de Montalais, and made yourself persona grata there—Oh, persona very much grata, if I'm any judge!—you can hardly ask us to believe you didn't mean to do it, it all just happened so."
"Monsieur sees too clearly...."
"Why, if it comes to that—what were you up to that night, pussyfooting about the chateau at two in the morning?"
"But this is positively uncanny! Monsieur knows everything."
"Why shouldn't I know about that?" Vanity rang in Phinuit's self-conscious chuckle. "Who'd you think laid you out that night?"
"Monsieur is not telling me——!"
"I guess I owe you an apology," Phinuit admitted. "But you'll admit that in our situation there was nothing else for it. I'd have given anything if we'd been able to get by any other way; but you're such an unexpected customer.... Well! when I felt you catch hold of my shirt sleeve, that night, I thought we were done for and struck out blindly. It was a lucky blow, no credit to me. Hope I didn't jar you too much."
"No," said Lanyard, reflective—"no, I was quite all right in the morning. But I think I owe you one."
"Afraid you do; and it's going to be my duty and pleasure to cheat you out of your revenge if fast footwork will do it."
"But where was Captain Monk all the while?"
"Right here," Monk answered for himself; "sitting tight and saying nothing, and duly grateful that the blue prints and specifications of the Great Architect didn't design me for second-storey work."
"Then it was Jules——?"
"No; Jules doesn't know enough. It was de Lorgnes, of course. I thought you'd guess that."
"How should I?"
"Didn't you know he was the premier cracksman of France? That is, going on Mademoiselle Delorme's account of him; she says there was never anybody like that poor devil for putting the comether on a safe—barring yourself, Monsieur le Loup Seul, in your palmy days. And she ought to know; those two have been working together since the Lord knows when. A sound, conservative bird, de Lorgnes; very discreet, tight-mouthed even when drunk—which was too often."
"But—this is most interesting—how did you get separated, you and de Lorgnes?"
"Bad luck, a black night, and—I guess there's no more question about this—your friend, Popinot-Dupont. I'll say this for that blighter: as a self-made spoil-sport, he sure did give service!"
Phinuit gave his whiskey and soda a reminiscent grin.
"And we thought we were being bright, at that! We'd figured every move to the third decimal point. The only uncertain factor in our calculations, as we thought, was you. But with you disposed of, dead to the world, and Madame de Montalais off in another part of the chateau calling the servants to help, leaving her rooms wide open to us—the job didn't take five minutes. The way de Lorgnes made that safe give up all its secrets, you'd have thought he had raised it by hand! We stuffed the loot into a grip I'd brought for the purpose, and beat it—slipped out through the drawing-room window one second before Madame de Montalais came back with that doddering footman of hers. But they never even looked our way. I bet they never knew there'd been a robbery till the next morning. Do I lose?"
"No, monsieur; you are quite right."
"Well, then: We had left our machine—we had driven over from Millau—just over the brow of the hill, standing on the down-grade, headed for Nant, with the gears meshed in third, so she would start without a sound as soon as we released the emergency brake. But when we got there, it wasn't. The frantic way we looked for it made me think of you pawing that table for your candle, after de Lorgnes had lifted it behind your back. And then of a sudden they jumped us, Popinot and his crew; though we didn't know who in hell; it might have been the chateau people. In fact, at first I thought it was....
"I lost de Lorgnes in the shuffle immediately, never did know what had become of him till we got Liane's wire this morning. I was having all I could do to take care of myself, thank you. I happened to be carrying the grip, and that helped a bit. Somebody's head got in the way of its swings, and I guess the guy hasn't forgotten it yet. Then I slipped through their fingers—I'll never tell you how; it was black as pitch, that night—and beat it blind. I'd lost my flashlamp and had no more idea where I was heading than an owl at noon of a sunny day. But they—the Popinot outfit—seemed to be able to see in the dark all right; or else I was looney with fright. Every once in a while somebody or something would make a pass at me in the night, and I'd duck and double and run another way.
"After a while I found myself climbing a steep, rocky slope, and guessed it must be the cliff behind the chateau. It was a sort of zig-zag path, which I couldn't see, only guess at. I was scared stiff; but they were still after me, or I thought they were, so I floundered on. The path, if it was a path, was slimy with mud, and about every third step I'd slip and go sprawling. I can't tell you how many times I felt my legs shoot out into nothing, and dug my fingers into the muck, or broke my nails on rocks and caught clumps of grass with my teeth, to keep from going over ... and all the while that all-gone feeling in the pit of my stomach....
"However, I got to the top in the end, and crawled into a hollow and lay down behind some bushes, and panted as if my heart would break, and hoped I'd die and get over with it. But nobody came to bother me, so I got up when the first streak of light showed in the sky—there'd been a young cloud-burst just before that, and I was soaked to my skin—and struck off across the cause for God-knew-where. De Lorgnes and I had fixed that, if anything did happen to separate us, we'd each strike for Lyons and the one who got there first would wait for the other at the Hotel Terminus. But before I could do that, I had to find a railroad, and I didn't dare go Millau-way, I thought, because the chances were the gendarmes would be waiting there to nab the first bird that blew in all covered with mud and carrying a bag full of diamonds.
"I'd managed to hold onto the grip through it all, you see; but before that day was done I wished I'd lost it. The damned thing got heavier and heavier till it must have weighed a gross ton. It galled my hands and rubbed my legs till they were sore.... I was sore all over, anyway, inside and out....
"Sometime during the morning I climbed one of those bum mounds they call couronnes to see if I could sight any place to get food and drink, preferably drink. The sun had dried my clothes on my back and then gone on to make it a good job by soaking up all the moisture in my system. I figured I was losing eleven pounds an hour by evaporation alone, and expected to arrive wherever I did arrive, if I ever arrived anywhere looking like an Early Egyptian prune....
"The view from the couronne didn't show me anything I wanted to see, only a number of men in the distance, spread out over the face of the causse and quartering it like beagles. I reckoned I knew what sort of game they were hunting, and slid down from that couronne and travelled. But they'd seen me, and somebody sounded the view-halloo. It was grand exercise for me and great sport for them. When I couldn't totter another yard I fell into a hole into the ground—one of those avens—and crawled into a sort of little cave, and lay there listening, to the suck and gurgle of millions of gallons of nice cool water running to waste under my feet, and me dying the death of a dog with thirst.
"After a while I couldn't stand it any longer. I crawled out, prepared to surrender, give up the plunder, and lick the boots of any man who'd slip me a cup of water. But for some reason they'd given up the chase. I saw no more of them, whoever they were. And a little later I found a peasant's hut, and watered myself till I swelled up like a poisoned pup. They gave me a brush-down, there, and something to eat besides, and put me on my way to Millau. It seemed that I was a hundred miles from anywhere else, so it was Millau for mine if it meant a life sentence in a French prison.
"I sneaked into the town after dark, and took the first train north. Nobody took any notice of me. I couldn't see the use of going all round Robin Hood's barn, as I'd have had to in order to make Lyons. By the time I'd got there, de Lorgnes would have given up and gone on to Paris."
Phinuit finished his drink. "I'll say it was a gay young party. The next time I feel the call to crime, believe me! I'm going out and snatch nursing bottles from kids asleep in their prams.... But they must be asleep."
Monk lifted himself by sections from his chair.
"It was a good yarn first time I heard it," he mused aloud. "But now, I notice, even the Sybarite is getting restless."
In the course of Phinuit's narrative the black disks of night framed by the polished brass circles of the stern ports had faded out into dusky violet, then into a lighter lilac, finally into a warm yet tender blue. Now the main deck overhead was a sounding-board for thumps and rustle of many hurried feet.
"Pilot come aboard, you think?" Phinuit enquired; and added, as Monk nodded and cast about for the visored white cap of his office: "Didn't know pilots were such early birds."
"They're not, as a rule. But if you treat 'em right, they'll listen to reason."
The captain graphically rubbed a thumb over two fingers, donned his cap, buttoned up his tunic, and strode forth with an impressive gait.
"Still wakeful?" Phinuit hinted hopefully.
"And shall be till we drop the pilot, thanks."
"If I hadn't seen de Lorgnes make that safe sit up and speak, and didn't know you were his master, I'd be tempted to bat an eye or two. However...." Phinuit sighed despondently. "What can I do now to entertain you, dear sir?"
"You might have pity on my benighted curiosity...."
"Meaning this outfit?" Lanyard assented, and Phinuit deliberated over the question. "I don't know as I ought in the absence of my esteemed associates.... But what's bothering you most?"
"I have seen something of the world, monsieur, and as you are aware not a little of the underside of it; but never have I met with a combination of such peculiar elements as this possesses. Regard it, if you will, from my view-point, that of an outsider, for one moment."
Phinuit grinned. "It must give you furiously to think—as you'd say."
"But assuredly! Take, for example, yourself, a man of unusual intelligence, such as one is not accustomed to find lending himself to the schemes of ordinary criminals."
"But you have just admitted that we're anything but ordinary."
"Then Mademoiselle Delorme. One knows what the world knows of her, that she has for many years meddled with high affairs, that she had been for many years more a sort of queen of the demi-monde of Paris; but now you tell me she has stopped to profit by association with a professional burglar."
"Profit? I'll say she did. According to my information, it was she who mapped out the campaigns for de Lorgnes; she was G.H.Q. and he merely the high private in the front line trenches; with this difference, that in this instance G.H.Q. was perfectly willing to let the man at the front cop all the glory.... She took the cash and let the credit go, nor heeded rumblings of the distant drum!"
"Then your picturesque confrere, Captain Monk; and the singular circumstance that he owns a wealthy cousin of the same name; and this beautiful little yacht which you seem so free to utilize for the furtherance of your purposes. Is it strange, then, that one's curiosity is provoked, one's imagination alternately stimulated and baffled?"
"No; I suppose not," Phinuit conceded thoughtfully. "Still, it's far simpler than you'd think."
"One has found that true of most mysteries, monsieur."
"I don't mind telling you all I feel at liberty to.... You seem to have a pretty good line on mademoiselle, and I've told you what I know about de Lorgnes. As for the skipper, he's the black sheep of a good old New England family. Ran away to sea as a boy, and was disowned, and grew up in a rough school. It would take all night to name half the jobs he's had a hand in, mostly of a shady nature, in every quarter of the seven seas: gun running, pearl poaching, what not—even a little slaving, I suspect, in his early days. He's a pompous old bluff in repose, but nobody's fool, and a bad actor when his mad is up. He tells me he fell in with the Delorme a long time ago, while acting as personal escort for a fugitive South American potentate who crossed the borders of his native land with the national treasury in one hand and his other in Monk's, and of course—they all do—made a bee line for Paris. That's how we came to make her acquaintance, my revered employer, Mister Monk, and I—through the skipper, I mean."
Phinuit paused to consider, and ended with a whimsical grimace.
"I'm talking too much; but it doesn't matter, seein's it's you. Strictly between ourselves, the said revered employer is an annointed fraud. Publicly he's the pillar of the respectable house of Monk. Privately, he's not above profiteering, foreclosing the mortgage on the old homestead, and swearing to an odoriferous income-tax return. And when he thinks he's far enough away from home—my land, how that little man do carry on!
"The War made him more money than he ever thought there was; so he bought this yacht ready-made and started on the grand tour, but never got any farther than Paris—naturally his first stop. News from home to the effect that somebody was threatening to do him out of a few nickels sent him hightailing back to put a stop to it. But before that happened, he wanted to see life with a large L; and Cousin Whitaker gave him a good start by introducing him to little ingenue Liane. And then she put the smuggling bee in his bonnet."
Lanyard began to experience glimpses....
"Champagne. If ever all the truth comes out, I fancy it will transpire that Liane's getting a rake-off from some vintner. You see, Friend Employer was displaying a cultivated taste in vintage champagnes, but he'd been culpably negligent in not laying down a large stock for private consumption before the Great Drought set in. The Delorme found that out, then that his ancestral acres bordered on Long Island Sound, and finally that the Sybarite was loafing its head off. What could be more simple, she suggested, than that monsieur should ballast his private yacht with champagne on the homeward voyage, make his landfall some night in the dark of the moon, and put the stuff ashore on his own property before morning. Did he fall for it? Well, I just guess he did!"
"This is all most interesting, monsieur, but...." "Where do Monk and I come in? Oh, like master, like men. Liane was too wise to crab her act by proposing anything really wicked to the Owner, and wise enough to know nothing could shock the skipper. And I was wise enough not to let him get away with anything unless I sat in on the deal.
"Mademoiselle played all her cards face upwards with us. She and de Lorgnes, she said, were losing money by disposing of their loot this side, especially with European currency at its present stage of depreciation. And so long as the owner was doing a little dirty work, why shouldn't we get together and do something for ourselves on the side? If champagne could be so easily smuggled into the States, why not diamonds? We formed a joint-stock company on the spot."
"And made your first coup at the Chateau de Montalais!"
"Not the first, but the biggest. De Lorgnes' mouth had been watering for the Montalais stuff for a long time, it seems. My boss had private business of a nature we won't enter into, in London, and gave me a week off and the use of his car. We made up the party, toured down the Rhone valley, and then back by way of the Cevennes, just to get the lay of the land. I don't think there can be much more you need to know."
"Monsieur is too modest."
"Oh, about me? Why, I guess I'm not an uncommon phenomenon of the times. I was a good citizen before the War, law-abiding and everything. If you'd told me then I'd be in this galley to-day, I'd probably have knocked you for a goal. I had a flourishing young business of my own and was engaged to be married... When I got back from hell over here, I found my girl married to another man, my business wrecked, what was left of it crippled by extortionate taxation to support a government that was wasting money like a drunken sailor and too cynical to keep its solemn promises to the men who had fought for it. I had to take a job as secretary to a man I couldn't respect, and now... Well, if I can get a bit of my own back by defrauding the government or classing myself with the unorganised leeches on Society, nothing I know is going to stop my doing it!"
Phinuit knocked the ashes out of a cold pipe at which he had been sucking for some time, rose, and stretched.
"The worst of it is," he said in a serious turn—"I mean, looking at the thing from my bourgeois viewpoint of 1914—the War, but more particularly the antics of the various governments after the War, turned out several million of men in my frame of mind the world over. We went into the thing deluded by patriotic bunk and the promise that it was a war to end war; we came out to find the old men more firmly entrenched in the seats of the mighty than ever and stubbornly bent on perpetuating precisely the same rotten conditions that make wars inevitable. What Germany did to the treaty that guaranteed Belgium's neutrality was child's-play compared to what the governments of the warring nations have done to their covenants with their own people. And if anybody should ask you, you can safely promise them that several million soreheads like myself are what the politicians call 'a menace to the established social order'."
Clear daylight filled the ports. The traffic on deck nearly deserved the name of din. Commands and calls were being bawled in English, French, and polyglot profanity. A donkey-engine was rumbling, a winch clattering, a capstan-pawl clanking. Alongside a tug was panting hoarsely. The engine room telegraph jangled furiously, the fabric of the Sybarite shuddered and gathered way.
"We're off," yawned Phinuit. "Now will you be reasonable and go to bed?"
"You may, monsieur," said Lanyard, getting up. "For my part, I shall go on deck, if you don't mind, and stop there till the pilot leaves us."
"But one moment more. You have been extraordinarily frank, but you have forgotten one element, to me of some importance: you have not told me what my part is in this insane adventure."
"That's not my business to tell you," Phinuit replied promptly. "When anything as important as that comes out, it won't be through my babbling. Anyhow, Liane may have changed her mind since last reports. And so, as far as I'm concerned, your present status is simply that of her pet protege. What it is to be hereafter you'll learn from her, I suppose, soon enough.... Le's go!"
OUT OF SOUNDINGS
When finally Lanyard did consent to seek his stateroom—with the pilot dropped and the Sybarite footing it featly over Channel waters to airs piped by a freshening breeze—it was to sleep once round the clock and something more; for it was nearly six in the afternoon when he came on deck again.
The quarterdeck, a place of Epicurean ease for idle passengers, was deserted but for a couple of deckhands engaged in furling the awning. Lanyard lounged on the rail, revelling in a sense of perfect physical refreshment intensified by the gracious motion of the vessel, the friendly, rhythmic chant of her engines, the sweeping ocean air and the song it sang in the rigging, the vision of blue seas snow-plumed and mirroring in a myriad facets the red gold of the westering sun, and the lift and dip of a far horizon whose banks of violet mist were the fading shores of France.
In these circumstances of the sea he loved so well there was certain anodyne for those twinges of chagrin which he must suffer when reminded of the sorry figure he had cut overnight.
Still there were compensations—of a more material nature, too, than this delight which he had of being once again at sea. To have cheapened himself in the estimation of Liane Delorme and Phinuit and Monk was really to his advantage; for to persuade an adversary to under-estimate one is to make him almost an ally. Also, Lanyard now had no more need to question the fate of the Montalais jewels, no more blank spaces remained to be filled in his hypothetical explanation of the intrigues which had enmeshed the Chateau de Montalais, its lady and his honour.
He knew now all he needed to know, he could put his hand on the jewels when he would; and he had a fair fortnight (the probable duration of their voyage, according to Monk) in which to revolve plans for making away with them at minimum cost to himself in exertion and exposure to reprisals.
Plans? He had none as yet, he would begin to formulate and ponder them only when he had better acquaintance with the ship and her company and had learned more about that ambiguous landfall which she was to make (as Phinuit had put it) "in the dark of the moon."
Not that he made the mistake of despising those two social malcontents, Phinuit and Jules, that rogue adventurer Monk, that grasping courtesan Liane Delorme.
Individually and collectively Lanyard accounted that quartet uncommonly clever, resourceful, audacious, unscrupulous, and potentially ruthless, utterly callous to compunctions when their interests were jeopardised. But it was inconceivable that he should fail to outwit and frustrate them, who had the love and faith of Eve de Montalais to honour, cherish, and requite.
Growing insight into the idiosyncrasies of the men left him undismayed. He perceived the steel of inflexible purpose beneath the windy egotism of Phinuit. The pompous histrionism of Monk, he knew, was merely a shell for the cold, calculating, undeviating selfishness that too frequently comes with advancing years. Nevertheless these two were factors whose functionings might be predicted.
It was Liane Delorme who provided the erratic equation. Her woman's mind was not only the directing intelligence, it was as eccentric as quicksilver, infinitely supple and corrupt, Oriental in its trickishness and impenetrability. Already it had conceived some project involving him which he could by no means divine or even guess at without a sense of wasting time.
Trying to put himself in her place, Lanyard believed that he would never have neglected the opportunity that, so far as she knew, had been hers, to steal away from Paris while he slept and leave an enemy in his way quite as dangerous as "Dupont" to gnaw his nails in the mortification of defeat. Why she had not done so, why she had permitted Monk and Phinuit to play their comedy of offering him the jewels, passed understanding.
But of one thing Lanyard felt reasonably assured: now that she had him to all intents and purposes her foiled and harmless captive aboard the Sybarite, Liane would not keep him waiting long for enlightenment as to her intentions.
He had to wait, however, that night and the next three before the woman showed herself. She was reported ill with mal-de-mer. Lanyard thought it quite likely that she was; before she was out of the Channel the Sybarite was contesting a moderate gale from the Southwest. On the other hand, he imagined that Liane might sensibly be making seasickness an excuse to get thoroughly rested and settled in her mind as to her course with him.
So he schooled himself to be patient, and put in his time to good profit taking the measures of his shipmates and learning his way about ship.
The Sybarite seemed unnecessarily large for a pleasure boat. Captain Monk had designated her a ship of nine hundred tons. Certainly she had room and to spare on deck as well as below for the accommodation of many guests in addition to the crew of thirty required for her navigation and their comfort. A good all-weather boat, very steady in a seaway, her lines were nevertheless fine, nothing in her appearance in the least suggested a vessel of commercial character—"all yacht" was what Monk called her.
The first mate, a Mr. Swain, was a sturdy Britisher with a very red face and cool blue eyes, not easily impressed; if Lanyard were not in error, Mr. Swain entertained a private opinion of the lot of them, Captain Monk included, decidedly uncomplimentary. But he was a civil sort, though deficient in sense of humour and inclined to be a bit abrupt in a preoccupied fashion.
Mr. Collison, the second mate, was another kind entirely, an American with the drawl of the South in his voice, a dark, slender man with eyes quick and shrewd. His manners were excellent, his reserve notable, though he seemed to derive considerable amusement from what he saw of the passengers, going on his habit of indulging quiet smiles as he listened to their communications. He talked very little and played an excellent game of poker.
The chief engineer was a Mr. Mussey, stout, affable, and cynic, a heavy drinker, untidy about his person and exacting about his engine-room, a veteran of his trade and—it was said—an ancient croney of Monk's. There was, at all events, a complete understanding evident between these two, though now and again, especially at table, when Monk was putting on something more than his customary amount of side, Lanyard would observe Mussey's eyes fixed in contemplation upon his superior officer, with a look in them that wanted reading. He was nobody's fool, certainly not Monk's, and at such times Lanyard would have given more than a penny for Mussey's thoughts.
Existing in daily contact, more or less close, with these gentlemen, observing them as they went to and fro upon their lawful occasions, Lanyard often speculated as to their attitude toward this lawless errand of the Sybarite's, of which they could hardly be unsuspicious even if they were not intimate with its true nature. And remembering what penalties attach to apprehension in the act of smuggling, even though it be only a few cases of champagne, he thought it a wild risk for them to run for the sake of their daily wage.
Something to this effect he intimated to Phinuit.
"Don't worry about this lot," that one replied. "They're wise birds, tough as they make 'em, ready for anything; hand-picked down to the last coal-passer. The skipper isn't a man to take fool chances, and when he recruited this crew, he took nobody he couldn't answer for. They're more than well paid, and they'll do as they're told and keep their traps as tight as clams'."
"But, I take it, they were signed on before this present voyage was thought of; while you seem to imply that Captain Monk anticipated having to depend upon these good fellows in unlawful enterprises."
"Maybe he did, at that," Phinuit promptly surmised, with a bland eye. "I wouldn't put it past him. The skipper's deep, and I'll never tell you what he had in the back of his mind when he let Friend Boss persuade him to take command of a pleasure yacht. Because I don't know. If it comes to that, the owner himself never confided in me just what the large idea was in buying this ark for a plaything. Yachting for fun is one thing; running a young floating hotel is something else again."
"Then you don't believe the grandiose illusions due to sudden wealth were alone responsible?"
"I don't know. That little man has a mind of his own, and even if I do figure on his payroll as confidential secretary, he doesn't tell me everything he knows."
"Still," said Lanyard drily, "one cannot think you can complain that he has hesitated to repose his trust in you."
To this Phinuit made no reply other than a non-committal grunt; and presently Lanyard added:
"It is hardly possible—eh?—that the officers and crew know nothing of what is intended with all the champagne you have recently taken aboard."
"They're no fools. They know there's enough of the stuff on board to do a Cunarder for the next ten years, and they know, too, there's no lawful way of getting it into the States."
"So, then! They know that. How much more may they not know?"
Phinuit turned a startled face to him. "What's that?" he demanded sharply.
"May they not have exercised their wits as well on the subject of your secret project, my friend?"
"What are you getting at?"
"One is wondering what these 'wise birds, as tough as they make them' would do if they thought you were—as you say—getting away with something at their expense as well as the owner's."
"What have you seen or heard?"
"Positively nothing. This is merely idle speculation."
"Well!" Phinuit sighed sibilantly and relaxed. "Let's hope they never find out."
By dawn of the fourth day the gale had spent its greatest strength; what was left of it subsided steadily till, as the seafaring phrase has it, the wind went down with the sun. Calm ensued. Lanyard woke up the next morning to view from his stateroom deadlights vistas illimitable of flat blue flawed by hardly a wrinkle; only by watching the horizon was one aware of the slow swell of the sea, its sole perceptible motion. And all day long the Sybarite trudged on an even keel with only the wind of her way to flutter the gay awnings of the quarterdeck, while the waters sheared by her stem ran down her sides hissing resentment of this violation of their absolute tranquillity.
Also, the sun made itself felt, electric fans buzzed everywhere, and perspiring in utter indolence beneath the awnings, one thought in sympathy of those damned souls below, in the hell of the stoke-hole.
At luncheon Liane Delorme appeared in a summery toilette that would have made its mark on the beach of Deauville.
Voluntary or enforced, her period of retreat had done her good. Making every allowance for the aid of art, the woman looked years younger than when Lanyard had last seen her. Nobody would ever have believed her a day older than twenty-five, no one, that is to say, who had not watched youth ebb from her face and leave it grey and waste with premature winter, as Lanyard had that morning when he told her of the death of de Lorgnes in the restaurant of the Buttes Montmartre.
Liane herself had long since put quite out of mind that mauvais quart d'heure. Her present serenity was as flawless as the sea's, though, unlike the sea, she sparkled. She was as gay as any school-girl—though any school-girl guilty, or even capable, of a scintilla of the amusing impropriety of her badinage would have merited and won instant expulsion.
She inaugurated without any delay a campaign of conquest extremely diverting to observe. To Lanyard it seemed that her methods were crude and obvious enough; but it did something toward mitigating the long-drawn boredom of the cruise to watch them work out, as they seemed to invariably, with entire success; and then remark the insouciance with which, another raw scalp dangling from her belt, Liane would address herself to the next victim.
Mr. Swain was the first to fall, mainly because he happened to be present at luncheon, it being Mr. Collison's watch on the bridge. Under the warmth of violet eyes which sought his constantly, drawn by what one was left to infer was an irresistible attraction, his reserve melted rapidly, his remote blue stare grew infinitely less distant; and though he blushed furiously at some of the more audacious of Liane's sallies, he was quick to take his cue when she expressed curiosity concerning the duties of the officer of the watch. And coming up at about two bells for a turn round the deck and a few breaths of fresh air before dressing for dinner, Lanyard saw them on the bridge, their heads together over the binnacle—to the open disgust of the man at the wheel.
Liane hailed him, with vivacious gestures commanded his attendance. As a brother in good standing, one could hardly do less than humour her gracefully; so Lanyard trotted up to the companion ladder, and Liane, resting a hand of sisterly affection upon his arm, besought him to make clear to her feminine stupidity Swain's hopelessly technical explanation of the compass and binnacle.
Obligingly Mr. Swain repeated his lecture, and Lanyard, learning for himself with considerable surprise what a highly complicated instrument of precision is the modern compass, and that the binnacle has essential functions entirely aside from supporting the compass and housing it from the weather, could hardly blame his sister for being confused.
Indeed, he grew so interested in Swain's exposition of deviation and variation and magnetic attraction and the various devices employed to counteract these influences, the Flinders bars, the soft-iron spheres, and the system of adjustable magnets located in the pedestal of the binnacle, that he had to be reminded by a mild exhibition of sisterly temper that she hadn't summoned him to the bridge for his private edification.
"So then!" he said after due show of contrition—"it is like this: the magnetic needle is susceptible to many attractions aside from that of the pole; it is influenced by juxtaposition to other pieces or masses of magnetized metal. The iron ship itself, for example, is one great magnet. Then there are dissociated masses of iron within the ship, each possessing an individual power of magnetism sufficient to drag the needle far from its normal fidelity to the pole. So the scientific mariner, when he installs a compass on board his ship, measures these several forces, their influence upon the needle, and installs others to correct them—on the principle of like cures like.
"Let us put it in a figure: The compass is the husband, the pole the wife. Now it is well known that husbands are for all that human beings, able to perceive attractions in persons other than those to whom they are married. The wise wife, then, studies the charms of mind or person which in others appeal to her husband, and makes them her own; or if that is impossible cultivates other qualities quite as potent to distract him. It results from this, that the wise wife becomes, as they say 'all women to one man.' Now here the binnacle represents the arts by which that wise wife, the pole, keeps her husband true by surrounding him with charms and qualities—these magnets—sufficiently powerful to counteract the attractions of others. Do I make myself clear?"
"But perfectly!" Liane nodded emphatically. "What a mind to have in the family!" she appealed to Mr. Swain. "Do you know, monsieur, it happens often to me to wonder how I should have so clever a brother?"
"It is like that with me, too," Lanyard insisted warmly.
He made an early excuse to get away, having something new to think about.
Mr. Mussey put up a stiffer fight than Mr. Swain, since an avowed cynic is necessarily a Man Who Knows About Women. He gave Liane flatly to understand that he saw through her and couldn't be taken in by all her blandishments. At the end of twenty-four hours, however, the conviction seemed somehow to have insidiously penetrated that only a man of his ripe wisdom and disillusionment could possibly have any appeal to a woman like Liane Delorme. It wasn't long after that the engine room was illuminated by Liane's pretty ankles and Mr. Mussey was beginning to comprehend that there was in this world one woman at least who could take an intelligent interest in machinery.
Mr. Collison succumbed without a struggle. True to the tradition of Southern chivalry, he ambled up to the block, laid his head upon it, and asked for the axe. Nor was he kept long waiting...
On the seventh day the course pricked on the chart placed the Sybarite's position at noon as approximately in mid-Atlantic. Contemplating a prospect of seven days more of such emptiness, Lanyard's very soul yawned.
And nothing could induce Captain Monk to hasten the passage. Mr. Mussey asserted that his engines could at a pinch deliver twenty knots an hour; yet day in and day out the Sybarite poked along at little better than half that speed. It was no secret that Liane Delorme's panic flight from Popinot had hurried the yacht out of Cherbourg harbour four days earlier than her proposed sailing date, whereas the Sybarite had a rendezvous to keep with her owner at a certain hour of a certain night, an appointment carefully calculated with consideration for the phase of the moon and the height of the tide, therefore not readily to be altered.
After dinner on that seventh day, a meal much too long drawn out for Lanyard's liking, and marked to boot by the consumption of much too much champagne, he left the main saloon the arena of an impromptu poker party, repaired to the quarterdeck, and finding a wicker lounge chair by the taffrail subsided into it with a sigh of gratitude for this fragrant solitude of night, so soothing and serene.
The Sybarite, making easy way through a slight sea, with what wind there was—not much—on the port bow, rolled but slightly, and her deliberate and graceful fore-and-aft motion, as she swung from crest to crest of the endless head-on swells, caused the stars to stream above her mast-heads, a boundless river of broken light. The pulsing of the engines, unhasting, unresting, ran through her fabric in ceaseless succession of gentle tremors, while the rumble of their revolutions resembled the refrain of an old, quiet song. The mechanism of the patent log hummed and clicked more obtrusively. Directly underfoot the screw churned a softly clashing wake. From the saloon companionway drifted intermittently a confusion of voices, Liane's light laughter, muted clatter of chips, now and then the sound of a popping cork. Forward the ship's bell sounded two double strokes, then a single, followed by a wail in minor key: "Five bells and all's well!" ... And of a sudden Lanyard suffered the melancholy oppression of knowing his littleness of body and soul, the relative insignificance even of the ship, that impertinent atom of human organization which traversed with unabashed effrontery the waters of the ages, beneath the shining constellations of eternity. In profound psychical enervation he perceived with bitterness and despair the enormous futility of all things mortal, the hopelessness of effort, the certain black defeat that waits upon even what men term success.
He felt crushed, spiritually invertebrate, destitute of object in existence, bereft of all hope. What mattered it whether he won or lost in this stupid contest whose prize was possession of a few trinkets set with bits of glittering stone? If he won, of what avail? What could it profit his soul to make good a vain boast to Eve de Montalais? Would it matter to her what success or failure meant to him? Lanyard doubted it, he doubted her, himself, all things within the compass of his understanding, and knew appalling glimpses of that everlasting truth, too passionless to be cynical, that the hopes of man and his fears, his loves and hates, his strivings and passivity, are all one in the measured and immutable processes of Time....
The pressure of a hand upon his own roused him to discover the Liane Delorme had seated herself beside him, in a chair that looked the other way, so that her face was not far from his; and he could scarcely be unaware of its hinted beauty, now wan and glimmering in starlight, enigmatic with soft, close shadows.
"I must have been dreaming," he said, apologetic. "You startled me."
"One could see that, my friend."
The woman spoke in quiet accents and let her hand linger upon his with its insistent reminder of the warm, living presence whose rich colouring was disguised by the gloom that encompassed both.
Four strokes in duplicate on the ship's bell, then the call: "Eight bells and a-a-all's well!"
Lanyard muttered: "No idea it was so late."
A slender white shape, Mr. Collison emerged from his quarters in the deck-house beneath the bridge and ran up the ladder to relieve Mr. Swain. At the same time a seaman came from forward and ascended by the other ladder. Later Mr. Swain and the man whose trick at the wheel was ended left the bridge, the latter to go forward to his rest, Mr. Swain to turn into his room in the deck-house.
The hot glow of the saloon skylights became a dim refulgence, aside from which, and its glimmer in the mouth of the companionway, no lights were visible in the whole length of the ship except the shuttered window of Mr. Swain's room, which presently was darkened, and odd glimpses of the binnacle light to be had when the helmsman shifted his stand.
A profound hush closed down upon the ship, whose progress across the face of the waters seemed to acquire a new significance of stealth, so that the two seated by the taffrail, above the throbbing screws and rushing torrent of the wake, talked in lowered accents without thinking why.
"It is that one grows bored, eh, cher ami?"
"Or perhaps that one's thought are constantly with one's heart, elsewhere?"
"You think so?"
"At the Chateau de Montalais, conceivably."
"It amuses you, then, to shoot arrows into the air?"
"But naturally, I seek the reason, when I see you distrait and am conscious of your neglect."
"I think it is for me to complain of that!"
"How can you say such things?"
"One has seen what one has seen, these last few days. I think you are what that original Phinuit would call 'a fast worker,' Liane."
"What stupidity! If I seek to make myself liked, you know well it is with a purpose."
"One hardly questions that."
"You judge harshly ... Michael."
Lanyard spent a look of astonishment on the darkness. He could not remember that Liane had ever before called him by that name.
"Do I? Sorry...." His tone was listless. "But does it matter?"
"You know that to me nothing else matters."
Lanyard checked off on his fingers: "Swain, Collison, Mussey. Who next? Why not I, as well as another?"
"Do you imagine for an instant that I class you with such riffraff?"
"Why, if you really want to know what I think, Liane: it seems to me that all men in your sight are much the same, good for one thing only, to be used to serve your ends. And who am I that you should hold me in higher rating than any other man?"
"You should know I do," the woman breathed, so low he barely caught the words and uttered an involuntary "Pardon?" before he knew he had understood. So that she iterated in a clearer tone of protest: "You should know I do—that I do esteem you as something more than other men. Think what I owe to you, Michael; and then consider this, that of all men whom I have known you alone have never asked for love."
He gave a quiet laugh. "There is too much humility in my heart."
"No," she said in a dull voice—"but you despise me. Do not deny it!" She shifted impatiently in her chair. "I know what I know. I am no fool, whatever you think of me.... No," she went on with emotion under restraint: "I am a creature of fatality, me—I cannot hope to escape my fate!"
He was silent a little in perplexed consideration of this. What did she wish him to believe?
"But one imagines nobody can escape his fate."
"Men can, some of them; men such as you, rare as you are, know how to cheat destiny; but women never. It is the fate of all women that each shall some time love some man to desperation, and be despised. It is my fate to have learned too late to love you, Michael——"
"Ah, Liane, Liane!"
"But you hold me in too much contempt to be willing to recognise the truth."
"On the contrary, I admire you extremely, I think you are an incomparable actress."
"You see!" She offered a despairing gesture to the stars. "It is not true what I say? I lay bare my heart to him, and he tells me that I act!"
"But my dear girl! surely you do not expect me to think otherwise?"
"I was a fool to expect anything from you," she returned bitterly—"you know too much about me. I cannot find it in my heart to blame you, since I am what I am, what the life you saved me to so long ago has made me. Why should you believe in me? Why should you credit the sincerity of this confession, which costs me so much humiliation? That would be too good for me, too much to ask of life!"
"I think you cannot fairly complain of life, Liane. What have you asked of it that you have failed to get? Success, money, power, adulation——"
"The world would find it difficult to believe that."
"Ah, love of a sort, yes: the love that is the desire to possess and that possession satisfies."
"Have you asked for any other sort?"
"I ask it now. I know what the love is that longs to give, to give and give again, asking no return but kindness, understanding, even toleration merely. It is such love as this I bear you, Michael. But you do not believe...."
Divided between annoyance and distaste, he was silent. And all at once she threw herself half across the joined arms of their chairs, catching his shoulders with her hands, so that her half-clothed body rested on his bosom, and its scented warmth assailed his senses with the seduction whose power she knew so well.
"Ah, Michael, my Michael!" she cried—"if you but knew, if only you could believe! It is so real to me, so true, so overwhelming, the greatest thing of all! How can it be otherwise to you?... No: do not think I complain, do not think I blame you or have room in my heart for any resentment. But, oh my dear! were I only able to make you understand, think what life could be to us, to you and me. What could it withhold that we desired? You with your wit, your strength, your skill, your poise—I with my great love to inspire and sustain you—what a pair we should make! what happiness would be ours! Think, Michael—think!"
"I have thought, Liane," he returned in accents as kind as the hands that held her. "I have thought well..."
"Yes?" She lifted her face so near that their breaths mingled, and he was conscious of the allure of tremulous and parted lips. "You have thought and.... Tell me your thought, my Michael."
"Why, I think two things," said Lanyard: "First, that you deserve to be soundly kissed." He kissed her, but with discretion, and firmly put her from him. "Then"—his tone took on a note of earnestness—"that if what you have said is true, it is a pity, and I am sorry, Liane, very sorry. And, if it is not true, that the comedy was well played. Shall we let it rest at that, my dear?"
Half lifting her, he helped her back into her chair, and as she turned her face away, struggling for mastery of her emotion, true or feigned, he sat back, found his cigarette case, and clipping a cigarette between his lips, cast about for a match.
He had none in his pockets, but knew that there was a stand on one of the wicker tables nearby. Rising, he found it, and as he struck the light heard a sudden, soft swish of draperies as the woman rose.
Moving toward the saloon companionway, she passed him swiftly, without a word, her head bended, a hand pressing a handkerchief to her lips. Forgetful, he followed her swaying figure with puzzled gaze till admonished by the flame that crept toward his fingertips. Then dropping the match he struck another and put it to his cigarette. At the second puff he heard a choking gasp, and looked up again.
The woman stood alone, en silhouette against the glow of the companionway, her arms thrust out as if to ward off some threatened danger. A second cry broke from her lips, shrill with terror, she tottered and fell as, dropping his cigarette, Lanyard ran to her.
His vision dazzled by the flame of the match, he sought in vain for any cause for her apparent fright. For all he could see, the deck was as empty as he had presumed it to be all through their conversation.
He found her in a faint unmistakably unaffected. Footfalls sounded on the deck as he knelt, making superficial examination. Collison had heard her cries and witnessed her fall from the bridge and was coming to investigate.
"What in blazes——!"
Lanyard replied with a gesture of bewilderment: "She was just going below. I'd stopped to light a cigarette, saw nothing to account for this. Wait: I'll fetch water."
He darted down the companionway, filled a glass from a silver thermos carafe, and hurried back. As he arrived at the top of steps, Collison announced: "It's all right. She's coming to."
Supported in the arms of the second mate, Liane was beginning to breathe deeply and looking round with dazed eyes. Lanyard dropped on a knee and set the glass to her lips. She gulped twice, mechanically, her gaze fixed to his face. Then suddenly memory cleared, and she uttered a bubbling gasp of returning dread.
"Popinot!" she cried, as Lanyard hastily took the glass away. "Popinot—he was there—I saw him—standing there!"
A trembling arm indicated the starboard deck just forward of the companion housing. But of course, when Lanyard looked, there was no one there ... if there had ever been....
Lanyard found himself exchanging looks of mystification with Collison, and heard his own voice make the flat statement: "But there is nobody...." Collison muttered words which he took to be: No, and never was. "But you must have seen him from the bridge," Lanyard insisted blankly, "if...."
"I looked around as soon as I heard her call out," Collison replied; "but I didn't see anybody, only mademoiselle here—and you, of course, with that match."
"Please help me up," Liane Delorme asked in a faint voice. Collison lent a hand. In the support and shelter of Lanyard's arm the woman's body quivered like that of a frightened child. "I must go to my stateroom," she sighed uncertainly. "But I am afraid..."
"Do not be. Remember Mr. Collison and I... Besides, you know, there was nobody..."
The assertion seemed to exasperate her; her voice discovered new strength and violence.
"But I am telling you I saw ... that assassin!"—she shuddered again—"standing there, in the shadow, glaring at me as if I had surprised him and he did not know what next to do. I think he must have been spying down through the skylight; it was the glow from it that showed me his red, dirty face of a pig."
"You came aft on the port side, didn't you?" Lanyard enquired of the second mate.
Collison nodded. "Running," he said—"couldn't imagine what was up."
"It is easy not to see what one is not looking for," Lanyard mused, staring forward along the starboard side. "If a man had dropped flat and squirmed along until in the shelter of the engine-room ventilators, he could have run forward—bending low, you know—without your seeing him."
"But you were standing here, to starboard!"
"I tell you, that match was blinding me," Lanyard affirmed irritably. "Besides, I wasn't looking—except at my sister—wondering what was the matter."
Collison started. "Excuse me," he said, reminded—"if mademoiselle's all right, I ought to get back to the bridge."
"Take me below," Liane begged. "I must speak with Captain Monk."
Monk and Phinuit were taking their ease plus nightcaps in the captain's sitting-room. A knock brought a prompt invitation to "Come in!" Lanyard thrust the door open and curtly addressed Monk: "Mademoiselle Delorme wishes to see you." The eloquent eyebrows indicated surprise and resignation, and Monk got up and inserted himself into his white linen tunic. Phinuit, more sensitive to the accent of something amiss, hurried out in unceremonious shirt sleeves. "What's up?" he demanded, looking from Lanyard's grave face to Liane's face of pallor and distress. Lanyard informed him in a few words.
"Impossible!" Phinuit commented.
"Nonsense," Monk added, speaking directly to Liane. "You imagined it all."
She had recovered much of her composure, enough to enable her to shrug her disdain of such stupidity.
"I tell you only what my two eyes saw."
"To be sure," Monk agreed with a specious air of being wide open to conviction. "What became of him, then?"
"You ask me that, knowing that in stress of terror I fainted!"
The eyebrows achieved an effect of studied weariness. "And you saw nobody, monsieur? And Collison didn't, either?"
Lanyard shook his head to each question. "Still, it is possible——."
Monk cut him short impatiently. "All gammon—all in her eye! No man bigger than a cockroach could have smuggled himself aboard this yacht without my being told. I know my ship, I know my men, I know what I'm talking about."
"Presently," Liane prophesied darkly, "you may be talking about nothing."
At a loss, Monk muttered: "Don't get you...."
"When you find yourself, some fine morning, with your throat cut in your sleep, like poor de Lorgnes—or garroted, as I might have been."
"I'm not going to lose any sleep....." Monk began.
"Lose none before you have the vessel searched," Liane pleaded, with a change of tone. "You know, messieurs, I am not a woman given to hallucinations. I saw ... And I tell you, while that assassin is at liberty aboard this yacht, not one of our lives is worth a sou—no, not one!"
"Oh, you shall have your search." Monk gave in as one who indulges a childish whim. "But I can tell you now what we'll find—or won't."
"Then Heaven help us all!" Liane went swiftly to the door of her room, but there hesitated, looking back in appeal to Lanyard. "I am afraid...."
"Let me have a look round first."
And when Lanyard had satisfied himself there was nobody concealed in any part of Liane's suite, and had been rewarded with a glance of gratitude—"I shall lock myself in, of course," the woman said from the threshold—"and I have my pistol, too."
"But I assure you," Monk commented in heavy sarcasm, "our intentions are those of honourable men."
The door slammed, and the sound of the key turning in the lock followed. Monk trained the eyebrows into a look of long-suffering patience.
"A glass too much... Seein' things!"
"No," Lanyard voiced shortly his belief; "you are wrong. Liane saw something."
"Nobody questions that," Phinuit yawned. "What one does question is whether she saw a man or a figment of her imagination—some effect of the shadows that momentarily suggested a man."
"Shadows do play queer tricks at night, at sea," Monk agreed. "I remember once—"
"Then let us look the ground over and see if we can make that explanation acceptable to our own intelligences," Lanyard cut in.
"No harm in that."
Phinuit fetched a pocket flash-lamp, and the three reconnoitred exhaustively the quarters of the deck in which the apparition had manifested itself to the woman. By no strain of credulity could the imagination be made to accept the effect of shadows at the designated spot as the shape of somebody standing there. On the other hand, when Phinuit obligingly posed himself between the mouth of the companionway and the skylight, it had to be admitted that the glow from either side provided fairly good cover for one who might wish to linger there, observing and unobserved.
"Still, I don't believe she saw anything," Monk persisted—"a phantom Popinot, if anything."
"But wait. What is it we have here?"
Lanyard, scrutinising the deck with the flashlamp, stooped, picked up something, and offered it on an outspread palm upon which he trained the clear electric beam.
"Cigarette stub?" Monk said, and sniffed. "That's a famous find!"
"A cigarette manufactured by the French Regie."
"And well stepped on, too," Phinuit observed. "Well, what about it?"
"Who that uses this part of the deck would be apt to insult his palate with such a cigarette? No one of us—hardly any one of the officers or stewards."
"Some deck-hand might have sneaked aft for a look-see, expecting to find the quarterdeck deserted at this hour."
"Even ordinary seamen avoid, when they can, what the Regie sells under the name of tobacco. Nor is it likely such a one would risk the consequences of defying Captain Monk's celebrated discipline."
"Then you believe it was Popinot, too?"
"I believe you would do well to make the search you have promised thorough and immediate."
"Plenty of time," Monk replied wearily. "I'll turn this old tub inside out, if you insist, in the morning."
"But why, monsieur, do you remain so obstinately incredulous?"
"Well," Monk drawled, "I've known the pretty lady a number of years, and if you ask me she's quite up to playing little games all her own."
"Pretending, you mean—for private ends?"
The eyebrows offered a gesture urbane and sceptical.
Whether or not sleep brought Monk better counsel, the morning's ransacking of the vessel and the examination of her crew proved more painstaking than Lanyard had expected. And the upshot was precisely as Monk had foretold, precisely negative. He reported drily to this effect at an informal conference in his quarters after luncheon. He himself had supervised the entire search and had made a good part of it in person, he said. No nook or cranny of the yacht had been overlooked.
"I trust mademoiselle is satisfied," he concluded with a mockingly civil movement of eyebrows toward Liane.
His reply was the slightest of shrugs executed by perfect shoulders beneath a gown of cynical transparency. Lanyard was aware that the violet eyes, large with apprehension, flashed transiently his way, as if in hope that he might submit some helpful suggestion. But he had none to offer. If the manner in which the search had been conducted were open to criticism, that would have to be made by a mind better informed than his in respect of things maritime. And he avoided acknowledging that glance by even so much as seeming aware of it. And in point of fact, coldly reviewed in dispassionate daylight, the thing seemed preposterous to him, to be asked to believe that Popinot had contrived to secrete himself beyond finding on board the Sybarite.
Without his participation the discussion continued.
He heard Phinuit's voice utter in accents of malicious amusement: "Barring, of course, the possibility of connivance on the part of officers or crew."
"Don't be an ass!" Monk snapped.
"Don't be unreasonable: I am simply as God made me."
"Well, it was a nasty job of work."
"Now, listen." Phinuit rose to leave, as one considering the conference at an end. "If you persist in picking on me, skipper, I'll ravish you of those magnificent eyebrows with a safety razor, some time when you're asleep, and leave you as dumb as a Wop peddler who's lost both arms."
Liane followed him out in silence, but her carriage was that of a queen of tragedy. Lanyard got up in turn, and to his amazement found the eyebrows signalling confidentially to him.
"What the devil!" he exclaimed, in an open stare.
Immediately the eyebrows became conciliatory.
"Well, monsieur, and what is your opinion?"
"Why, to me it would seem there might be something in the suggestion of Monsieur Phinuit."
"Ridiculous!" Monk dismissed it finally. "Do you know, I rather fancy my own.... Liane's up to something," he added, explanatory; and then, as Lanyard said nothing—"You haven't told me yet what she was talking to you about last night just before her—alleged fright."
Lanyard contrived a successful offensive with his own eyebrows.
"Oh?" he said, "haven't I?" and walked out.
Here was a new angle to consider. Monk's attitude hinted at a possible rift in the entente cordiale of the conspirators. Why else should he mistrust Liane's sincerity in asserting that she had seen Popinot? Aside from the question of what he imagined she could possibly gain by making a scene out of nothing—a riddle unreadable—one wondered consumedly what had happened to render Monk suspicious of her good faith.
The explanation, when it was finally revealed to Lanyard by the most trivial of incidents, made even his own blindness seem laughable.
For three more days the life of the ship followed in unruffled tranquillity its ordered course. Liane Delorme was afflicted with no more visions, as the captain would have called them; though by common consent the subject had been dropped upon the failure of the search, and to all seeming was rapidly fading from the minds of everybody but Liane herself and Lanyard. This last continued to plague himself with the mystery and, maintaining always an open mind, was prepared at any time to be shockingly enlightened; that is, to discover that Liane had not cried wolf without substantial reason. For he had learned this much at least of life, that everything is always possible.
As for Liane, she made no secret of her unabated timidity, yet suffered it with such fortitude as could not fail to win admiration. If she was a bit more subdued, a trifle less high-spirited than was her habit, if she refused positively to sit with her back to any door or to retire for the night until her quarters had been examined, if (as Lanyard suspected) she was never unarmed for a moment, day or night, she permitted no signs of mental strain to mar the serenity of her countenance or betray the studied graciousness of her gestures.
Toward Lanyard she bore herself precisely as though nothing had happened to disturb the even adjustment of their personal relations; or, perhaps, as if she considered everything had happened, so that their rapport had become absolute; at all events, with a pleasing absence of constraint. He really couldn't make her out. Sometimes he thought she wished him to believe she was not as other women and could make rational allowance for his poor response to her naive overtures. But that seemed so abnormal, he felt forced to fall back on the theory that her declaration had been nothing more than a minor gambit in whatever game she was playing, and that consequently she bore no malice because of its failure. No matter which explanation was the true one, no matter which keyed her temper toward him, Lanyard found himself liking the woman better, not as a woman but as another human being, than he had ever thought to. Say what you liked, in this humour she was charming.
But he never for an instant imagined she was meekly accepting defeat at his hands instead of biding her time to resume the attack from a new quarter. So he wasn't at all surprised when, one evening, quite early after dinner, she contrived another tete-a-tete, and with good conversational generalship led their talk presently into a channel of amiable personalities.
"And have you been thinking about what we said—or what I said, my friend—that night—so long ago it seems!—three nights ago?"
"But inevitably, Liane."
"You have not forgotten my stupidity, then."
"I have forgotten nothing."
She made a pretty mouth of doubt. "Would it not have been more kind to forget?"
"Such compliments are not easily forgotten."
"You are sure, quite sure it was a compliment?"
"No-o; by no means sure. Still, I am a man, and I am giving you the full benefit of every doubt."
She laughed, not ill-pleased. "But what a man! how blessed of the gods to be able to laugh at yourself as well as at me."
"Undeceive yourself: I could never laugh at you, Liane. Even if one did not believe you to be a great natural comedienne at will, one would always wonder what your purpose was—oh yes! with deep respect one would wonder about that."
"And you have been wondering these last three days? Well, tell me what you think my purpose was in abandoning all maidenly reserve and throwing myself at your head."
"Why," said Lanyard with a look of childlike candour, "you might, you know, have been uncontrollably swayed by some passionate impulses of the heart."
"But otherwise—?" she prompted, hugely amused.
"Oh, if you had a low motive in trying to make a fool of me, you know too well how to hide your motive from such a fool."
In a fugitive seizure of thoughtfulness the violet eyes lost all their impishness. She sighed, the bright head drooped a little toward the gleaming bosom, a hand stole out to rest lightly upon his once again.
"It was not acting, Michael—I tell you that frankly—at least, not all acting."
"Meaning, I take it, you know love too well to make it artlessly."
"I'm afraid so, my dear," said Liane Delorme with another sigh. "You know: I am afraid of you. You see everything so clearly..."
"It's a vast pity. I wish I could outgrow it. One misses so many amusing emotions when one sees too clearly."
During another brief pause, Lanyard saw Monk come on deck, pause, and search them out, in the chairs they occupied near the taffrail, much as on that other historic night. Not that he experienced any difficulty in locating them; for this time the decklights were burning clearly. Nevertheless, Captain Monk confessed emotion at sight of those two in a quite perceptible start; and Lanyard saw the eyebrows tremendously agitated as their manipulator moved aft.
Unconscious of all this, Liane ended her pensive moment by leaning toward Lanyard and making demoralizing eyes, while the hand left his and stole with a caressing gesture up his forearm.
"Is love, then, distasteful to you unless it be truly artless, Michael?"
"There's so much to be said about that, Liane," he evaded.
Monk was standing over them, a towering figure in white with the most forbidding eyebrows Lanyard had ever seen.
"Might one suggest," he did suggest in iced accents, "that the quarter-deck is a fairly conspicuous place for this exhibition of family affection?"
Liane Delorme turned up an enquiring look, tinged slightly with an impatience which all at once proved too much for her.
"Oh, go to the devil!" she snapped in that harsh voice of the sidewalks which she was able to use and discard at will.
For a moment Monk made no reply; and Lanyard remarked a curious quivering of that excessively tall, excessively attenuated body, a real trembling, and suddenly understood that the absurd creature was being shaken by jealousy, by an enormous passion of jealousy, quite beyond his control, that shook him very much as a cat might shake a mouse.
It was too funny to be laughable, it was comic in a way to make one want to weep. So that Lanyard, who refused to weep in public, could merely gape in speechless and transfixed rapture. And perhaps this was fortunate; otherwise Monk must have seen that his idiotic secret was out, the sport of ribald mirth, and the situation must have been precipitated with a vengeance and an outcome impossible to predict. As it was, absorbed in his inner torment, Monk was insensible to the peril that threatened his stilted but precious dignity, which he proceeded to parade, as it were underlining it with the eyebrows, to lend emphasis to his words.
"So long as this entertaining fiction of brother-and-sister is thought worth while," he said with infuriated condescension, "it might be judicious not to indulge in inconsistent and unseemly demonstrations of affection within view of my officers and crew. Suppose we..." He choked a little. "In short, I came to invite you to a little conference in my rooms, with Mr. Phinuit."
"Conference?" Liane enquired coolly, without stirring. "I know nothing of this conference."
"Mr. Phinuit and I are agreed that Monsieur Lanyard is entitled to know more about our intentions while he has time to weigh them carefully. We have only four more days at sea..."
Unable longer to contain himself, Lanyard left his chair with alacrity. "But this is so delightful! You've no idea, really, monsieur, how I have looked forward to this moment." And to Liane: "Do come, and see how I take it, this revelation of my preordained fate. It will be, I trust sincerely, like a man."
With momentary hesitation, and in a temper precluding any sympathy, with his humour, the woman rose and silently followed with him that long-legged figure whose stalk held so much dramatic significance as he led to the companionway.
After that it was refreshing to find unromantic Mr. Phinuit lounging beside the captain's desk with crossed feet overhanging one corner of it and mind intent on the prosaic business of paring his fingernails. Lanyard nodded to him with great good temper and—while Phinuit lowered his feet and put away his penknife—considerately placed a chair for Liane in the position in which she preferred to sit, with her face turned a little from the light. Nor would his appreciation of the formality which seemed demanded by Monk's solemn manner, permit him to sit before the captain had taken his own chair behind the desk.
Then, however, he discovered the engaging spontaneity of a schoolboy at a pantomime, and drawing up a chair sat on the edge of it and addressed himself with unaffected eagerness to the most portentous eyebrows in captivity.
"Now," he announced with a little bow, "for what, one imagines, Mr. Phinuit would term the Elaborate Idea!"
Phinuit grinned, then smothered a little yawn. Liane Delorme gave a small, disdainful movement of shoulders, and posed herself becomingly, resting an elbow on the arm of her chair and inclining her cheek upon two fingers of a jewelled hand. Thus she sat somewhat turned from Monk and Phinuit, but facing Lanyard, to whom her grave but friendly eyes gave undivided heed, for all the world as if there were no others present: she seemed to wait to hear him speak again rather than to care in the least what Monk would find to say.