Captain Monk filled in that pause with an impressive arrangement of eyebrows. Then, fixing his gaze, not upon Lanyard, but upon the point of a pencil with which his incredibly thin fingers traced elaborate but empty designs upon the blotter, he opened his lips, hemmed in warning that he was about to speak, and seemed tremendously upset to find that Liane was inconsiderately forestalling him.
Her voice was at its most musical pitch, rather low for her, fluting, infinitely disarming and seductive.
"Let me say to you, mon ami, that—naturally I know what is coming—I disapprove absolutely of this method of treating with you."
"But it is such an honour to be considered important enough to be treated with at all!"
"You have the true gift for sarcasm: a pity to waste it on an audience two-thirds incapable of appreciation."
"Oh, you're wrong!" Phinuit declared earnestly. "I'm appreciative, I think the dear man's immense."
"Might I suggest"—the unctuous tones of Captain Monk issued from under mildly wounded eyebrows—"if any one of us were unappreciative of Monsieur Lanyard's undoubted talents, he would not be with us tonight."
"You might suggest it," Phinuit assented, "but that wouldn't make it so, it is to mademoiselle's appreciation that you and I owe this treat, and you know it. Now quit cocking those automatic eyebrows at me; you've been doing that ever since we met, and they haven't gone off yet, not once."
Irrepressible, Liane's laughter pealed; and though he couldn't help smiling, Lanyard hastened to offer up himself on the altar of peace.
"But—messieurs!—you interest me so much. Won't you tell me quickly what possible value my poor talents can have found in your sight?"
"You tell him, Monk," Phinuit said irreverently—"I'm no tale-bearer."
Monk elevated his eyebrows above recognition of the impertinence, and offered Lanyard a bow of formidable courtesy.
"They are such, monsieur," he said with that deliberation which becomes a diplomatic personage—"your talents are such that you can, if you will, become invaluable to us."
Phinuit chuckled outright at Lanyard's look of polite obtuseness.
"Never sail a straight course—can you skipper?—when you can get there by tacking. Here: I'm a plain-spoken guy, let me act as an interpreter. Mr. Lanyard: this giddy association of malefactors here present has the honour to invite you to become a full-fledged working member and stockholder of equal interest with the rest of us, participating in all benefits of the organization, including police protection. And as added inducement we're willing to waive initiation fee and dues. Do I make myself clear?"
"It's like this: I've told you how we came together, the five of us, including Jules and Monsieur le Comte de Lorgnes. Now we expect this venture, our first, to pan out handsomely. There'll be a juicy melon cut when we get to New York. There's a lot more—I think you understand—than the Montalais plunder to whack up on. We'll make the average get-rich-quick scheme look like playing store in the back-yard with two pins the top price for anything on the shelves. And there isn't any sane reason why we need stop at that. In fact, we don't mean to. The Sybarite will make more voyages, and if anything should happen to stop it, there are other means of making the U. S. Customs look foolish. Each of us contributes valuable and essential services, mademoiselle, the skipper, my kid-brother, even I—and I pull a strong oar with the New York Police Department into the bargain. But there's a vacancy in our ranks, the opening left by the death of de Lorgnes, an opening that nobody could hope to fill so well as you. So we put it up to you squarely: If you'll sign on and work with us, we'll turn over to you a round fifth share of the profits of this voyage as well as everything that comes after. That's fair enough, isn't it?"
"But more than fair, monsieur."
"Well, it's true you've done nothing to earn a fifth interest in the first division..."
"Then, too, I am here, quite helpless in your hands."
"Oh, we don't look at it that way——"
"Which," Liane sweetly interrupted, "is the one rational gesture you have yet offered in this conference, Monsieur Phinuit."
"Meaning, I suppose, Mr. Lanyard is far from being what he says, helpless in our hands."
"Nor ever will be, my poor friend, while he breathes and thinks."
"But, Liane!" Lanyard deprecated, modestly casting down his eyes—"you overwhelm me."
"I don't believe you," Liane retorted coolly.
For some moments Lanyard continued to stare reflectively at his feet. Nothing whatever of his thought was to be gathered from his countenance, though eyes more shrewd to read than those of Phinuit or Monk were watching it intently.
"Well, Mr. Lanyard, what do you say?"
Lanyard lifted his meditative gaze to the face of Phinuit. "But surely there is more...." he suggested in a puzzled way.
"I find something lacking.... You have shown me but one side of the coin. What is the reverse? I appreciate the honour you do me, I comprehend fully the strong inducements I am offered. But you have neglected—an odd oversight on the part of the plain-spoken man you profess to be—you have forgotten to name the penalty which would attach to a possible refusal."
"I guess it's safe to leave that to your imagination."
"There would be a penalty, however?"
"Well, naturally, if you're not with us, you're against us. And to take that stand would oblige us, as a simple matter of self-preservation, to defend ourselves with every means at our command."
"Means which," Lanyard murmured, "you prefer not to name."
"Well, one doesn't like to be crude."
"I have my answer, monsieur—and many thanks. The parallel is complete."
With a dim smile playing in his eyes and twitching at the corners of his lips, Lanyard leaned back and studied the deck beams. Liane Delorme sat up with a movement of sharp uneasiness.
"Of what, my friend, are you thinking?"
"I am marvelling at something everybody knows—that history does repeat itself."
The woman made a sudden hissing sound, of breath drawn shortly between closed teeth. "I hope not!" she sighed.
Lanyard opened his eyes wide at her. "You hope not, Liane?"
"I hope this time history will not altogether repeat itself. You see, my friend, I think I know what is in your mind, memories of old times...."
"True: I am thinking of those days when the Pack hunted the Lone Wolf in Paris, ran him to earth at last, and made him much the same offer as you have made to-night.... The Pack, you should know, messieurs, was the name assumed by an association of Parisian criminals, ambitious like you, who had grown envious of the Lone Wolf's success, and wished to persuade him to run with them."
"And what happened?" Phinuit enquired.
"Why it so happened that they chose the time when I had made up my mind to be good for the rest of my days. It was all most unfortunate."
"What answer did you give them, then?"
"As memory serves, I told them they could all go plumb to hell."
"So I hope history will not repeat, this time," Liane interjected.
"And did they go?" Monk asked.
"Presently, some of them, ultimately all; for some lingered a few years in French prisons, like that great Popinot, the father of monsieur who has caused us so much trouble."
"Why," Lanyard laughed, "I have managed to keep out of jail, so I presume I must have kept my vow to be good."
"And no backsliding?" Phinuit suggested with a leer.
"Ah! you must not ask me to tell you everything. That is a matter between me and my conscience."
"Well," Phinuit hazarded with a good show of confidence, "I guess you won't tell us to go plumb to hell, will you?"
"No; I promise to be more original than that."
"Then you refuse!" Liane breathed tensely.
"Oh, I haven't said that! You must give me time to think this over."
"I knew that would be his answer," Monk proclaimed, pride in his perspicuity shaping the set of his eyebrows. "That is why I was firm that we should wait no longer. You have four days in which to make up your mind, monsieur."
"I shall need them."
"I don't see why," Phinuit argued: "it's an open and shut proposition, if ever there was one."
"But you are asking me to renounce something upon which I have set much store for many years, monsieur. I can't be expected to do that in an hour or even a day."
You shall have your answer, I promise you, by the time we make our landfall—perhaps before."
"The sooner, the better."
"Are you sure, monsieur? But one thought it was the tortoise who won the famous race."
"Take all the time you need," Captain Monk conceded generously, "to come to a sensible decision."
"But how good you are to me, monsieur!"
Singular though the statement may seem, when one remembers the conditions that circumscribed his freedom of action on board the Sybarite, that he stood utterly alone in that company of conspirators and their creatures, alone and unarmed, with never a friend to guard his back or even to whisper him one word of counsel, warning or encouragement, with only his naked wits and hands to fortify and sustain his heart: it is still no exaggeration to say that Lanyard got an extraordinary amount of private diversion out of those last few days.
From the hour when Liane Delorme, Phinuit and Captain Monk, in conclave solemnly assembled at the instance of the one last-named, communicated their collective mind in respect of his interesting self, the man was conscious of implicit confidence in a happy outcome of the business, with a conscientiousness less rational than simply felt, a sort of bubbling exhilaration in his mood that found its most intelligible expression in the phrase, which he was wont often to iterate to himself: Ca va bien—that goes well!
That—the progressive involution of this insane imbroglio—went very well indeed, in Lanyard's reckoning; he could hardy wish, he could not reasonably demand that it should go better.
He knew now with what design Liane Delorme had made him a party to this sea adventure and intimate with every detail of the conspiracy; and he knew to boot why she had offered him the free gift of her love; doubt as to the one, scruples inspired by the other—that reluctance which man cannot but feel to do a hurt to a heart that holds him dear, however scanty his response to its passion—could no longer influence him to palter in dealing with the woman. The revelation had in effect stricken shackles from Lanyard's wrists, now when he struck it would be with neither hesitation nor compunction.
As to that stroke alone, its hour and place and fashion, he remained without decision. He had made a hundred plans for its delivery, and one of them, that seemed the wildest, he thought of seriously, as something really feasible. But single-handed! That made it difficult. If only one could devise some way to be in two places at one time and the same! An impossibility? He wouldn't deny that. But Lanyard had never been one to be discouraged by the grim, hard face of an impossibility. He had known too many such to dissipate utterly, vanish into empty air, when subjected to a bold and resolute assault. He wouldn't say die.
Never that while he could lift hand or invent stratagem, never that so long as fools played their game into his hands, as this lot wished to and did. What imbecility! What an escape had been his when, in that time long since, he had made up his mind to have done with crime once and for all time! But for that moment of clear vision and high resolve he might be to-day even as these who had won such clear title to his contempt, who stultified themselves with vain imaginings and the everlasting concoction of schemes whose sheer intrinsic puerility foredoomed them to farcical failure.
Lanyard trod the decks for hours at a time, searching the stars for an answer to the question: What made the Law by whose decree man may garner only punishment and disaster where he has husbanded in iniquity? That Law implacable, inexorable in its ordained and methodic workings, through which invariably it comes to pass that failure and remorse shall canker in the heart even of success ill-gained....
But if he moralized it was with a cheerful countenance, and his sermons were for himself alone. He kept his counsel and spoke all men fairly, giving nowhere any manner of offense: for could he tell in what unlikely guise might wait the instrument he needed wherewith to work out his unfaltering purpose?
And all the while they were watching him and wondering what was in his mind. Well, he gave no sign. Let them watch and wonder to their heart's content; they must wait until the time he had appointed for the rendering of his decision, when the Sybarite made her landfall.
Winds blew and fell, the sea rose and subsided, the Sybarite trudged on into dull weather. The sky grew overcast; and Lanyard, daily scanning the very heavens for a sign, accepted this for one, and prayed it might hold. Nothing could be more calculated to nullify his efforts than to have the landfall happen on a clear, calm night of stars.
He went to bed, the last night out, leaving a noisy gathering in the saloon, and read himself drowsy. Then turning out his light he slept. Sometime later he found himself instantaneously awake, and alert, with a clear head and every faculty on the qui vive—much as a man might grope for a time in a dark strange room, then find a door and step out into broad daylight.
Only there was no light other than in the luminous clarity of his mind. Even the illumination in the saloon had been dimmed down for the night, as he could tell by the tarnished gleam beneath his stateroom door.
Still, not everyone had gone to bed. The very manner of his waking informed him that he was not alone; for the life Lanyard had led had taught him to need no better alarm than the entrance of another person into the place where he lay sleeping. All animals are like that, whose lives hang on their vigilance.
Able to see nothing, he still felt a presence, and knew that it waited, stirless, within arm's-length of his head. Without much concern, he thought of Popinot, that "phantom Popinot" of Monk's derisive naming.
Well, if the vision Liane had seen on deck had taken material form here in his stateroom, Lanyard presumed it meant another fight, and the last, to a finish, that is to say, to a death.
Without making a sound, he gathered himself together, ready for a trap, and as noiselessly lifted a hand toward the switch for the electric light, set in the wall near the head of the bed. But in the same breath he heard a whisper, or rather a mutter, a voice he could not place in its present pitch.
"Awake, Monsieur Delorme?" it said. "Hush! Don't make a row, and never mind the light."
His astonishment was so overpowering that instinctively his tensed muscles relaxed and his hand fell back upon the bedding.
"Who the deuce——?"
"Not so loud. It's me—Mussey."
Lanyard echoed witlessly: "Mussey?"
"Yes. I don't wonder you're surprised, but if you'll be easy you'll understand pretty soon why I had to have a bit of a talk with you without anybody's catching on."
"Well," Lanyard said, "I'm damned!"
"I say!" The subdued mutter took on a note of anxiety. "It's all right, isn't it? I mean, you aren't going to kick up a rumpus and spill the beans? I guess you must think I've got a hell of a gall, coming in on you like this, and I don't know as I blame you, but... Well, time's getting short, only two more days at sea, and I couldn't wait any longer for a chance to have a few minutes' chin with you."
The mutter ceased and held an expectant pause. Lanyard said nothing. But he was conscious that the speaker occupied a chair by the bed, and knew that he was bending near to catch his answer; for the air was tainted with vinous breath. Yes: one required no stronger identification, it was beyond any doubt the chief engineer of the Sybarite.
"Say it's all right, won't you?" the mutter pleaded.
"I am listening," Lanyard replied—"as you perceive."
"I'll say it's decent of you—damned decent. Blowed if I'd take it as calm as you, if I waked up to find somebody in my room."
"I believe," said Lanyard pointedly, "you stipulated for a few minutes' chin with me. Time passes, Mr. Mussey. Get to your business, or let me go to sleep again."
"Sharp, you are," commented the mutter. "I've noticed it in you. You'd be surprised if you knew how much notice I've been taking of you."
"And flattered, I'm sure."
"Look here..." The mutter stumbled. "I want to ask a personal question. Daresay you'll think it impertinent."
"If I do, be sure I shan't answer it."
"Well... it's this: Is or isn't your right name Lanyard, Michael Lanyard?"
This time it was Lanyard who, thinking rapidly, held the pause so long that his querist's uneasiness could not contain itself.
"Is that my answer? I mean, does your silence—?"
"That's an unusual name, Michael Lanyard," cautiously replied its proprietor. "How did you get hold of it?"
"They say it's the right name of the Lone Wolf. Guess I don't have to tell you who the Lone Wolf is."
"'They say'? Who, please, are 'they'?"
"Oh, there's a lot of talk going around the ship. You know how it is, a crew will gossip. And God knows they've got enough excuse this cruise."
This was constructively evasive. Lanyard wondered who had betrayed him. Phinuit? The tongue of that plain-spoken man was hinged in the middle; but one couldn't feel certain. Liane Delorme had made much of the chief engineer; though she seemed less likely to talk too much than anyone of the ship's company but Lanyard himself. But then (one remembered of a sudden) Monk and Mussey were by reputation old cronies; it wasn't inconceivable that Monk might have let something slip...
"And what, Mr. Mussey, if I should admit I am Michael Lanyard?"
"Then I'll have something to say to you, something I think'll interest you."
"Why not run the risk of interesting me, whoever I may be?"
Mussey breathed heavily in the stillness: the breathing of a cautious man loath to commit himself.
"No," he said at length, in the clearest enunciation he had thus far used. "No. If you're not Lanyard, I'd rather say nothing more—I'll just ask you to pardon me for intruding and clear out."
"But you say there is some gossip. And where there is smoke, there must be fire. It would seem safe to assume I am the man gossip says I am."
"Michael Lanyard?" the mutter persisted—"the Lone Wolf?"
"Yes, yes! What then?"
"I suppose the best way's to put it to you straight..."
"I warn you, you'll gain nothing if you don't."
"Then... to begin at the beginning... I've known Whit Monk a good long time. Years I've known him. We've sailed together off and on ever since we took to the sea; we've gone through some nasty scrapes together, and done things that don't bear telling, and always shared the thick and the thin of everything. Before this, if anybody had ever told me Whit Monk would do a pal dirt, I'd've punched his head and thought no more about it. But now..."
The mutter faltered. Lanyard preserved a sympathetic silence—a silence, at least, which he hoped would pass as sympathetic. In reality, he was struggling to suppress any betrayal of the exultation that was beginning to take hold of him. Premature this might prove to be, but it seemed impossible to misunderstand the emotion under which the chief engineer was labouring or to underestimate its potential value to Lanyard. Surely it would seem that his faith in his star had been well-placed: was it not now—or all signs failed—delivering into his hand the forged tool he had so desperately needed, for which he had so earnestly prayed?
A heavy sigh issued upon the stillness, freighted with a deep and desolating melancholy. For, it appeared, like all cynics, Mr. Mussey was a sentimentalist at heart. And in the darkness that disembodied voice took up its tale anew.
"I don't have to tell you what's going on between Whit and that lot he's so thick with nowadays. You know, or you wouldn't be here."
"Isn't that conclusion what you Americans would call a little previous?"
"Previous?" The mutter took a moment to con the full significance of that adjective. "No: I wouldn't call it that. You see, on a voyage like this—well, talk goes on, things get about, things are said aloud that shouldn't be and get overheard and passed along; and the man who sits back and listens and sifts what he hears is pretty likely to get a tolerably good line on what's what. Of course there's never been any secret about what the owner means to do with all this wine he's shipped. We all know we're playing a risky game, but we're for the owner—he isn't a bad sort, when you get to know him—and we'll go through with it and take what's coming to us win or lose. Partly, of course, because it'll mean something handsome for every man if we make it without getting caught. But if you want to know what I think... I'll tell you something..."
"But truly I am all attention."
"I think Whit Monk and Phinuit and mam'selle have framed the owner between them."
"Can't say I quite follow..."
"I think they cooked up this smuggling business and kidded him into it just to get the use of his yacht for their own purposes and at the same time get him where he can't put up a howl if he finds out the truth. Suppose he does..." The mutter became momentarily a deep-throated chuckle of malice. "He's in so deep on the booze smuggling side he dassent say a word, and that puts him in worse yet, makes him accessory before the fact of criminal practices that'd made his hair stand on end. Then, suppose they want to go on with the game, looting in Europe and sneaking the goods into America with the use of his yacht: what's he going to say, how's he going to stop them?"
Accepting these questions as purely rhetorical, Lanyard offered no comment. After a moment the mutter resumed:
"Well, what do you think? Am I right or am I wrong?"
"Who knows, Mr. Mussey? One can only say, you seem to know something."
"I'll say I know something! A sight more than Whit Monk dreams I know—as he'll find out to his sorrow before he's finished with Tom Mussey."
"But"—obliquely Lanyard struck again at the heart of the mystery which he found so baffling—"you seem so well satisfied with the bona fides of your informant?"
There was a sound of stertorous breathing as the intelligence behind the mutter grappled with this utterance. Then, as if the hint had proved too fine—"I'm playing my hand face up with you, Mr. Lanyard. I guess you can tell I know what I'm talking about."
"But what I cannot see is why you should talk about it to me, monsieur."
"Why, because I and you are both in the same boat, in a manner of speaking. We're both on the outside—shut out—looking in."
In a sort of mental aside, Lanyard reflected that mixed bathing for metaphors was apparently countenanced under the code of cynics.
"Does one gather that you feel aggrieved with Captain Monk for not making you a partner in his new associations?"
"For trying to put one over on me, an old pal... stood by him through thick and thin... would've gone through fire for Whit Monk, and in my way I have, many's the time. And now he hooks up with Phinuit and this Delorme woman, and leaves me to shuffle my feet on the doormat... and thinks I'll let him get away with it."
The voice in the dark gave a grunt of infinite contempt: "Like hell..."
"I understand your feelings, monsieur; and I ask you to believe in my sympathy. But you said—if I remember—that we were in the same boat, you and I; whereas I assure you Captain Monk has not abused my friendship, since he has never had it."
"I know that well enough," said the mutter. "I don't mean you've got my reasons for feeling sore; but I do mean you've got reason enough of your own—"
"On what grounds do you say that?"
Another deliberate pause prefaced the reply: "You said a while ago I knew something. Well—you said it. I and you've both been frozen out of this deal and we're both meaning to take a hand whether they like it or not. If that don't put us in the same boat I don't know..."
Perceiving he would get no more satisfaction, Lanyard schooled himself to be politic for the time being.
"Say it is so, then... But I think you have something to propose."
"It's simple enough: When two people find themselves in the same boat they've got to pull together if they want to get anywhere."
"You propose, then, an alliance?"
"That's the answer. Without you I can't do anything but kick over the applecart for Whit Monk; and that sort of revenge is mighty unsatisfactory. Without me—well: what can you do? I know you can get that tin safe of Whit's open, when you feel like it, get the jewels and all; but what show do you stand to get away with them? That is, unless you've got somebody working in with you on board the ship. See here..."
The mutter sank into a husky whisper, and in order to be heard the speaker bent so low over Lanyard that fumes of whiskey almost suffocated the poor man in his bed.
"You've got a head, you've had experience, you know how... Well, go to it: make your plans, consult with me, get everything fixed, lift the loot; I'll stand by, fix up everything so's your work will go through slick, see that you don't get hurt, stow the jewels where they won't be found; and when it's all over, we'll split fifty-fifty. What d'you say?"
"Extremely ingenious, monsieur, but unfortunately impracticable."
"That's the last thing," stated the disappointed whisper, "I ever thought a man like you would say."
"But it is obvious. We do not know each other."
"You mean, you can't trust me?"
"For that matter: how can you be sure you can trust me?"
"Oh, I guess I can size up a square guy when I see him."
"Many thanks. But why should I trust you, when you will not even be quite frank with me?"
"How's that? Haven't I——"
"One moment: you refuse to name the source of your astonishingly detailed information concerning this affair—myself included. You wish me to believe you simply assume I am at odds with Captain Monk and his friends. I admit it is true. But how should you know it? Ah, no, my friend! either you will tell me how you learned this secret, or I must beg you to let me get my sleep."
"That's easy. I heard Whit and Phinuit talking about you the other night, on deck, when they didn't think anybody was listening."
Lanyard smiled into the darkness: no need to fret about fair play toward this one! The truth was not in him, and by the same token the traditional honour that obtains among thieves could not be.
He said, as if content, in the manner of a practical man dismissing all immaterial considerations:
"As you say, the time is brief..."
"It'll have to be pulled off to-morrow night or not at all," the mutter urged with an eager accent.
"My thought, precisely. For then we come to land, do we not?"
"Yes, and it'll have to be not long after dark. We ought to drop the hook at midnight. Then"—the mutter was broken with hopeful anxiety—"then you've decided you'll stand in with me, Mr. Lanyard?"
"But of course! What else can one do? As you have so fairly pointed out: what is either of us without the other?"
"And it's understood: you're to lift the stuff, I'm to take care of it till we can slip ashore, we're to make our getaway together—and the split's to be fifty-fifty, fair and square?"
"I ask nothing better."
"Where's your hand?"
Two hands found each other blindly and exchanged a firm and inspiring clasp—while Lanyard gave thanks for the night that saved his face from betraying his mind.
Another deep sigh sounded a note of apprehensions at an end. A gruff chuckle followed.
"Whit Monk! He'll learn something about the way to treat old friends." And all at once the mutter merged into a vindictive hiss: "Him with his airs and graces, his fine clothes and greasy manners, putting on the lah-de-dah over them that's stood by him when he hadn't a red and was glad to cadge drinks off spiggoties in hells like the Colonel's at Colon—him!"
But Lanyard had been listening only with his ears; he hadn't the slightest interest in Mr. Mussey's resentment of the affectations of Captain Monk. For now his mad scheme had suddenly assumed a complexion of comparative simplicity; given the co-operation of the chief engineer, all Lanyard would need to contribute would be a little headwork, a little physical exertion, a little daring—and complete indifference, which was both well warranted and already his, to abusing the confidence of Mr. Mussey.
"But about this affair to-morrow night," he interrupted impatiently: "attend to me a little, if you please, my friend. Can you give me any idea where we are, or will, approximately, at midnight to-night?"
"What's that go to do——?"
"Perhaps I ask only for my own information. But it may be that I have a plan. If we are to work together harmoniously, Mr. Mussey, you must learn to have a little confidence in me."
"Beg your pardon," said an humble mutter. "We ought to be somewhere off Nantucket Shoals Lightship."
"And the weather: have you sufficient acquaintance with these latitudes to foretell it, even roughly?"
"Born and brought up in Edgartown, made my first voyage on a tramp out of New Bedford: guess I know something about the weather in these latitudes! The wind's been hauling round from sou'west to south all day. If it goes on to sou'east, it'll likely be thick to-morrow, with little wind, no sea to speak of, and either rain or fog."
"So! Now to do what I will have to do, I must have ten minutes of absolute darkness. Can that be arranged?"
"Absolute darkness?" The mutter had a rising inflexion of dubiety. "How d'you mean?"
"Complete extinguishing of every light on the ship."
"My God!" the mutter protested. "Do you know what that means? No lights at night, under way, in main-travelled waters! Why, by nightfall we ought to be off Block Island, in traffic as heavy as on Fifth Avenue! No: that's too much."
"Too bad," Lanyard uttered, philosophic. "And the thing could have been done."
"Isn't there some other way?"
"Not with lights to hamper my operations. But if some temporary accident were to put the dynamoes out of commission—figure to yourself what would happen."
"There'd be hell to pay."
"Ah! but what else?"
"The engines would have to be slowed down so as to give no more than steerage-way until oil lamps could be substituted for the binnacle, masthead, and side-lights, also for the engine room."
"And there would be excitement and confusion, eh? Everybody would make for the deck, even the captain would leave his cabin unguarded long enough..."
"I get you"—with a sigh. "It's wrong, all wrong, but—well, I suppose it's got to be done."
Lanyard treated himself to a smile of triumph, there in the darkness.
It would have been ungrateful (Lanyard reflected over his breakfast) to complain of a life so replete with experiences of piquant contrast.
It happened to one to lie for hours in a cubicle of blinding night, hearkening to a voice like that of some nightmare weirdly become articulate, a ghostly mutter that rose and fell and droned, broken by sighs, grunts, stifled oaths, mean chuckles, with intervals of husky whispering and lapses filled with a noise of wheezing respiration, all wheedling and cajoling, lying, intimating and evading, complaining, snarling, rambling, threatening, protesting, promising, and in the end proposing an unholy compact for treachery and evil-doing—a voice that might have issued out of some damned soul escaped for a little space of time from the Pits of Torment, so utterly inhuman it sounded, so completely discarnate and divorced from all relationship to any mortal personality that even that reek of whiskey in the air, even that one contact with a hard, hot hand, could not make it seem real.
And then it ceased and was no more but as a thing of dream that had passed. And one came awake to a light and wholesome world furnished with such solidly comforting facts as soaps and razors and hot and cold saltwater taps; and subsequently one left one's stateroom to see, at the breakfast table, leaden-eyed and flushed of countenance, an amorphous lump of humid flesh in shapeless garments of soiled white duck, the author of that mutter in the dark; who, lounging over a plate of broken food and lifting a coffee cup in the tremulous hand of an alcoholic, looked up with lacklustre gaze, gave a surly nod, and mumbled the customary matutinal greeting:
"'Morning, Monseer Delorme."
It was all too weird....
To add to this, the chief engineer paid Lanyard no further heed at all, though they were alone at table, and having noisily consumed his coffee, rubbed his stubbled lips and chin with an egg-stained napkin, rose, and without word or glance rolled heavily up the companionway.
The conduct of a careful man, accustomed to mind his eye. And indisputably correct. One never knew who might be watching, what slightest sign of secret understanding might not be seized upon and read. Furthermore, Mr. Mussey had not stilled his mutter in the night until their joint and individual lines of action had been elaborately mapped out and agreed upon down to the smallest detail. It now remained only for Lanyard to fill in somehow the waste time that lay between breakfast and the hour appointed, then take due advantage of the opportunity promised him.
He found the day making good Mr. Mussey's forecast. Under a dull, thick sky the sea ran in heavy swells, greasy and grey. The wind was in the south, and light and shifty. The horizon was vague. Captain Monk, encountered on the quarterdeck, had an uneasy eye, and cursed the weather roundly when Lanyard made civil enquiry as to the outlook. Ca va bien!
Lanyard killed an hour or two in the chartroom, acquainting himself with the coast they were approaching and tracing the Sybarite's probable course toward the spot selected from the smuggling transaction. His notion of the precise location of the owner's estate was rather indefinite; he had gathered from gossip that it was on the Connecticut shore of Long Island Sound, between New London and New Haven, where a group of small islands—also the property of Mister Whitaker Monk—provided fair anchorage between Sound and shore as well as a good screen from offshore observation.
It was not vital to know more: Lanyard had neither hope nor fear of ever seeing that harbour. It was the approach alone that interested him; and when he had puzzled out that there were only two practicable courses for the Sybarite to take—both bearing in a general north-westerly direction from Nantucket Shoals Light Vessel, one entering Block Island Sound from the east, between Point Judith and Block Island, the other entering the same body of water from the south, between Block Island and Montauk Point—and had satisfied himself that manifold perils to navigation hedged about both courses, more especially their prolongation into Long Island Sound by way of The Race: Lanyard told himself it would be strange indeed if his plans miscarried ... always providing that Mr. Mussey could be trusted to hold to his overnight agreement.
But as to that, one entertained few fears. One felt quite sure that Mr. Mussey would perform duly to the letter of his covenant. It had required only an hour of weighing and analysing with a clear head his overtures and utterances as a whole, to persuade Lanyard that he himself, no less than the chief engineer, in the phrase of the latter's boast, "knew something."
It seemed unbelievably stupid and childish, what he imagined was behind the gratuitous intermeddling of Mr. Mussey; but then, he reminded himself, if there is anything more stupid than to plot a criminal act, it is to permit oneself to be influenced by that criminal stupidity whose other name is jealousy.
Well, whether he were right or wrong, the night would declare it; and in any event there was no excuse whatever for refusing to profit by the stupidity of men whose minds are bent on vicious mischief....
The weather thickened as the day grew older. Towards noon the wind, as if weary and discouraged with vain endeavour to make up its mind to blow from this quarter or that, died away altogether. At the same time the horizon appeared to close in perceptibly; what little definition it had had in earlier hours was erased; and the Sybarite, shearing the oily and lifeless waters of a dead calm, seemed less to make progress than to struggle sullenly in a pool of quicksilver at the bottom of a slowly revolving sphere of clouded glass, mutinously aware that all her labouring wrought no sort of gain.
After an hour of this, Captain Monk, on the bridge with Mr. Swain, arrived at a decision of exasperation. Through the engine-room ventilators a long jingle of the telegraph was heard; and directly the Sybarite's pulses began to beat in quicker tempo, while darker volutes of smoke rolled in dense volume from her funnel and streamed away astern, resting low and preserving their individuality as long as visible, like a streak of oxidization on a field of frosted silver. For the first time since she had left the harbour of Cherbourg the yacht was doing herself something like justice in the matter of speed—and this contrary to all ethics of seamanship, on such a day.
At the luncheon table, Phinuit ventured a light-headed comment on this dangerous procedure; whereupon Monk turned on him in a cold fury.
"As long as I'm master of this vessel, sir, I'll sail her according to the counsels of my own discretion—and thank you to keep your animadversions to yourself!"
"Animadversions!" Phinuit echoed, and made round, shocked eyes. "Oh, I never! At least, I didn't mean anything naughty, skipper dear."
Monk snorted, and grumbled over his food throughout the remainder of the meal; but later, coming upon a group composed of Liane Delorme, Lanyard and Phinuit, in the saloon, he paused, looked this way and that to make sure none of the stewards was within eavesdropping distance, and graciously unbent a little.
"I'm making the best time we can while we can see at all," he volunteered. "No telling when this misbegotten fog will close in and force us to slow down to half-speed or less—in crowded waters, too!"
"And very sensible, I'm sure," Phinuit agreed heartily. "Whatever happens, we musn't be late for our date with Friend Boss, must we?"
"We'll keep it," Monk promised grimly, "if we have to feel every inch of our way in with the lead. I don't mind telling you, this fog may save our skins at that. Wireless has been picking up chatter all morning between a regular school of revenue cutters patrolling this coast on the lookout for just such idiots as we are. So we'll carry on and trust to luck till we make Monk Harbour or break our fool necks."
Liane Delorme gave a start of dismay.
"There is danger, then?"
"Only if we run afoul of a cutter, Liane." Monk tried to speak reassuringly. "And that's not likely in this weather. As for the fog, it's a dirty nuisance to any navigator but, as I said, may quite possibly prove our salvation. I know these waters like a book, I've sailed them ever since I was old enough to tell a tiller from a mainsheet. I can smell my way in, if it comes to that, through the blindest fog the Atlantic ever brewed."
"Then you do things with your nostrils, too?" Phinuit enquired innocently. "I've often wondered if all the intellect was located in the eyebrows."
Monk glared, growled, and hastily sought the air of the deck. Liane Delorme eyed Phinuit with amused reproach.
"Really, my young friend!"
"I can't help it, mademoiselle," Phinuit asserted sulkily. "Too much is enough. I've watched him making faces with the top of his head so long I dream of geometrical diagrams laid out in eyebrows—and wake up screaming. And they call this a pleasure craft!"
With an aggrieved air he sucked at his pipe for a few minutes. "Besides," he added suddenly, "somebody's got to be comic relief, and I don't notice anybody else in a sweat to be the Life and Soul of the ship."
He favoured Lanyard with a morose stare. "Why don't you ever put your shoulder to the wheel, Lanyard? Why leave it all to me? Come on; be a sport, cut a caper, crack a wheeze, do something to get a giggle!"
"But I am by no means sure you do not laugh at me too much, as it is."
"Rot!... Tell you what." Phinuit sat up with a gleaming eye of inspiration. "You can entertain mademoiselle and me no end, if you like. Spill the glad tidings."
"Now don't monkey with the eyebrows—please! It gives me the willies... I merely mean to point out, to-day's the day you promised to come through with the awful decision. And there's no use waiting for Monk to join us; he's too much worried about his nice little ship. Tell mademoiselle and me now."
Lanyard shook his head, smiling. "But the time I set was when we made our landfall."
"Well, what's the matter with Martha's Vineyard over there? You could see if it was a clear day."
"But it is not a clear day."
"Suppose it gets thicker, a sure-enough fog? We may not see land before midnight."
"Then till midnight we must wait. No, Monsieur Phinuit, I will not be hurried. I have been thinking, I am still thinking, and there is still much to be said before I can come to any decision that will be fair to you, mademoiselle, the captain on the one hand, myself on the other."
"But at midnight, if the skipper's promise holds good, we'll be going ashore."
"The objection is well taken. My answer will be communicated when we see land or at eleven o'clock to-night, whichever is the earlier event."
Some further effort at either persuasion or impudence—nobody but Phinuit ever knew which—was drowned out by the first heart-broken bellow of the whistle sounding the fog signal.
Liane Delorme bounded out of her chair, clapping hands to ears, and uttered an unheard cry of protest; and when, the noise suspending temporarily, she learned that it was to be repeated at intervals of two minutes as long as the fog lasted and the yacht was under way, she flung up piteous hands to an uncompassionate heaven and fled to her stateroom, slamming the door as if she thought thereby to shut out the offending din.
One fancied something inhumanly derisive in the prolonged hoot which replied.
Rather than languish under the burden of Mr. Phinuit's spirited conversation for the rest of the afternoon, Lanyard imitated Liane's example, and wasted the next hour and a half flat on his bed, with eyes closed but mind very much alive. Now and again he consulted his watch, as one might with an important appointment to keep. At two minutes to four he left his stateroom, and as the first stroke of eight bells rang out—in one of the measured intervals between blasts of the whistle—ending the afternoon watch, he stepped out on deck, and paused for a survey of the weather conditions.
There was no perceptible motion in the air, witnessing that the wind had come in from astern, that is to say approximately from the southeast, and was blowing at about the speed made by the yacht itself. The fog clung about the vessel, Lanyard thought, like dull grey cotton wool. Yet, if the shuddering of her fabric were fair criterion, the pace of the Sybarite was unabated, she was ploughing headlong through that dense obscurity using the utmost power of her engines. From time to time, when the whistle was still, the calls of seamen operating the sounding machine could be heard; but their reports were monotonously uniform, the waters were not yet shoal enough for the lead to find bottom at that pace.
The watch was being changed as Lanyard started forward, with the tail of an eye on the bridge. Mr. Collison relieved Mr. Swain, and the latter came down the companion-ladder just in time to save Lanyard a nasty spill as his feet slipped on planking greasy with globules of fog. There's no telling how bad a fall he might not have suffered had not Mr. Swain been there for him to catch at; and for a moment or two Lanyard was, as Mr. Swain put it with great good-nature, all over him, clinging to the first officer in a most demonstrative manner; and it was with some difficulty that he at length recovered his equilibrium. Then, however, he laid hold of the rail for insurance against further mishaps, thanked Mr. Swain heartily, added his apologies, and the two parted with expressions of mutual esteem.
The incident seemed to have dampened Lanyard's ardour for exercise. He made a rather gingerly way back to the quarterdeck, loafed restlessly in a deck-chair for a little while, then went below once more.
Some time after, supine again upon his bed, he heard Mr. Swain in the saloon querulously interrogating one of the stewards. It appeared that Mr. Swain had unaccountably mislaid his keys, and he wanted to know if the steward had seen anything of them. The steward hadn't, he said; and Lanyard for one knew that he spake sooth, since at that moment the missing keys were resting on the bottom of the sea several miles astern—all but one.
There was no dressing for dinner that night. Liane Delorme, her nerves rasped almost beyond endurance by the relentless fog signal, preferred the seclusion of her stateroom. Lanyard wasn't really sorry; the bosom of a white shirt is calculated to make some impression upon the human retina even on the darkest night; whereas his plain lounge suit of blue serge was sure to prove entirely inconspicuous. So, if he missed the feminine influence at table, he bore up with good fortitude.
And after dinner he segregated himself as usual in his favourite chair near the taffrail. The fog, if anything denser than before, manufactured an early dusk of a peculiarly depressing violet shade. Nevertheless, evenings are long in that season of the year, and to Lanyard it seemed that the twilight would never quite fade out completely, true night would never come.
Long before it did, speed was slackened: the yacht was at last in soundings; the calls of the leadsmen were as monotonous as the whistle blasts, and almost as frequent. Lanyard could have done without both, if the ship could not. He remarked a steadily intensified exacerbation of nerves, and told himself he was growing old and no mistake. He could remember the time when he could have endured a strain of waiting comparable to that which he must suffer now, and have turned never a hair.
How long ago it seemed!...
Another sign that the Sybarite had entered what are technically classified as inland waters, where special rules of the road apply, was to be remarked in the fact that the fog signal was now roaring once each minute, whereas Lanyard had grown accustomed to timing the intervals between the sounding of the ship's bell, upon which all his interest hung, at the rate of fifteen blasts to the half hour.
If you asked him, once a minute seemed rather too much of a good thing, even in busy lanes of sea traffic. Still, it was better perhaps than unpremeditated disaster; one was not keen about having the Sybarite ground on a sandbank, pile up on a rock, or dash her brains out against the bulk of another vessel—before eleven o'clock at earliest.
In retrospect he counted those two hours between dinner and ten-thirty longer than the fortnight which had prefaced them. So is the heart of man ever impatient when the journey's-end draws near, though that end be but the beginning, as well, of that longer journey which men call Death.
Lest he betray his impatience by keeping the tips of his cigarette too bright (one never knows when one is not watched) he smoked sparingly. But on the twenty-eighth blare of the whistle after the ringing of four bells, he drew out his cigarette case and, as the thirtieth raved out, synchronous with two double strokes and a single on brazen metal, he placed a cigarette between his lips.
At the same time he saw Captain Monk, who had been on the bridge with the officer of the watch for several hours, come aft with weary shoulders sagging, and go below by the saloon companionway. And Lanyard smiled knowingly and assured himself that went well—ca va bien!—his star held still in the ascendant.
There remained on the bridge only Mr. Collison and the man at the wheel.
At the fourth blast after five bells Lanyard put a match to his cigarette. But he did not puff more than to get the tobacco well alight. He even held his breath, and felt his body shaken by the pulsations of his anxious heart precisely as the body of the Sybarite was shaken by the pulsations of her engines.
With the next succeeding fog signal darkness absolute descended upon the vessel, shrouding it from stem to stern like a vast blanket of blackness.
Mr. Mussey had not failed to keep his pact of treachery.
Lanyard was out of his chair before the first call of excited remonstrance rang out on deck—to be echoed in clamour. His cigarette stopped behind, on the taffrail, carefully placed at precisely the height of his head, its little glowing tip the only spot of light on the decks. No matter whether or not it were noted; no precaution is too insignificant to be important when life and death are at issue.
There was nothing of that afternoon's unsureness of foot in the way Lanyard moved forward. Passing the engine-room ventilators he heard the telegraph give a single stroke; Mr. Collison had only then recovered from, his astonishment sufficiently to signal to slow down. A squeal of the speaking-tube whistle followed instantly; and Lanyard set foot upon the bridge in time to hear Mr. Collison demanding to know what the sanguinary hades had happened down there. Whatever reply he got seemed to exasperate him into incoherence. He stuttered with rage, gasped, and addressed the man at the wheel.
"I've got a flash-lamp in my cabin. That'll show us the compass card at least. Stand by while I run down and get it."
The man mumbled an "Aye, aye, sir." Retreating footsteps were just audible.
Neither speaker had been visible to Lanyard. By putting out a hand he could have touched the helmsman, but his body made not even the shadow of a silhouette against the sky. The fog was rendering the night the simple and unqualified negation of light.
And in that time of Stygian gloom violence was done swiftly, surely, and without mercy; with pity, yes, and with regret. Lanyard was sorry for the man at the wheel. But what was to be done could not be done in any other way.
The surprise aided him, for the fellow offered barely a show of opposition. His astounded faculties had no more than recognised the call for resistance when he was powerless in Lanyard's hands. Swung bodily away from the wheel, he went over the rail to the forward deck like a bag of sugar. Immediately Lanyard turned to the binnacle.
Sensitive fingers located the key-hole in the pedestal, the one key saved from the ring which Mr. Swain had so unfortunately and unaccountably lost opened the door—the key, of course, that Mr. Swain had used under Lanyard's eyes when demonstrating the functions of the binnacle to Liane Delorme.
Thrusting a hand into the opening, Lanyard groped for the adjustable magnets in their racks, and one by one removed and dropped them to the grating at the foot of the binnacle.
He worked with hands amazingly nimble and sure, and was closing and relocking the door when Mr. Collison tumbled up the ladder with his flash-light. So when the second mate arrived upon the bridge, Lanyard was waiting for him; and in consequence of a second act of deplorable violence, Mr. Collison returned to the deck backwards and lay quite still while Lanyard returned to the wheel.
Collecting the abstracted magnets he carried them to the rail, cast them into the sea and threw in the key to the little door to keep them company. Then, back at the binnacle, he unscrewed the brass caps of the cylindrical brass tube which housed the Flinders bar, removed that also, replaced the caps, and consigned the bar to the sea in its turn.
By choice he would have made a good job of it and abolished the quadrantal correctors as well; but he judged he had done mischief enough to secure his ends, as it was. The compass ought now to be just as constant to the magnetic pole as a humming-bird to one especial rose.
Guiding himself by a hand that lightly touched the rail, Lanyard regained his chair, carefully composing himself in the position in which he had been resting when the lights went out. His cigarette was still aglow; good Turkish has this virtue among many others, that left to itself it will burn on to the end of its roll.
The next instant, however, he was on his feet again. A beam of light had swept across the saloon skylight, coming from below, the beam of a portable electric torch. It might have been the signal for the first piercing scream of Liane Delorme. A pistol shot with a vicious accent cut short the scream. After a brief pause several more shots rippled in the saloon. A man shouted angrily. Then the torch-light found and steadied upon the mouth of the companionway. Against that glare, a burly figure was instantaneously relieved, running up to the deck. As it gained the topmost step a final report sounded in the saloon, and the figure checked, revolved slowly on a heel, tottered, and plunged headforemost down the steps again.
A moment later (incredible that the stipulated ten minutes should have passed so swiftly!) the lights came on, and with a still-fuming stump of cigarette between his fingers Lanyard went below.
His bewildered gaze discovered first Liane Delorme, drawn up rigidly—she seemed for some reason to be standing tiptoe—against the starboard partition, near her stateroom door. Her fingers were clawing her cheeks, her eyes widely dilate with horror and fright, her mouth was agape, and from it issued, as by some mechanical impulse, shriek upon hollow shriek—cries wholly flat and meaningless, having no character of any sort, mere automatic reflexes of hysteria.
On the opposite side of the saloon, not far from the door to his own quarters, Monk lay semi-prone with a purple face and protruding eyeballs, far gone toward death through strangulation. Phinuit, on his knees, was removing a silk handkerchief that had been twisted about that scrawney throat.
At the foot of the companionway steps, Popinot, no phantom but the veritable Apache himself, was writhing and heaving convulsively; and even as Lanyard looked, the huge body of the creature lifted from the floor in one last, heroic spasm, then collapsed, and moved no more.
Viewing this hideous tableau, appreciating what it meant—that Popinot, forearmed with advice from a trusted quarter, had stationed himself outside the door to Monk's stateroom, to waylay and garotte the man whom he expected to emerge therefrom laden with the plunder of Monk's safe—Lanyard appreciated further that he had done Mr. Mussey a great wrong.
For he had all the time believed that the chief engineer was laying a trap for him on behalf of his ancient shipmate, that unhappy victim of groundless jealousy, Captain Whitaker Monk.
CA VA BIEN!
Fearful lest, left to herself, Liane Delorme would do an injury to his eardrums as well as to her own vocal chords, Lanyard stepped across the dead bulk of the Apache and planted himself squarely in front of the woman. Seizing her forearms with his two hands, he used force to drag them down to the level of her waist, and purposely made his grasp so strong that his fingers sank deep into the soft flesh. At the same time, staring fixedly into her vacant eyes, he smiled his most winning smile, but with the muscles of his mouth alone, and said quietly:
"Shut up, Liane! Stop making a fool of yourself! Shut up—do you hear?"
The incongruity of his brutal grasp with his smile, added to the incongruity of an ordinary conversational tone with his peremptory and savage phrases had the expected effect.
Sanity began to inform the violet eyes, a shrill, empty scream was cut sharply in two, the woman stared for an instant with a look of confusion; then her lashes drooped, her body relaxed, she fell limply against the partition and was quiet save for fits of trembling that shook her body from head to foot; still, each successive seizure was sensibly less severe. Lanyard let go her wrists.
"There!" he said—"that's over, Liane. The beast is done for—no more to fear from him. Now forget him—brace up, and realise the debt you owe good Monsieur Phinuit."
With a grin, that gentleman looked up from his efforts to revive Captain Monk.
"I'm a shy, retiring violet," he stated somewhat superfluously, "but if the world will kindly lend its ears, I'll inform it coyly that was some shootin'. Have a look, will you, Lanyard, like a good fellow, and make sure our little friend over there isn't playing 'possum on us. Seems to me I've heard of his doing something like that before—maybe you remember. And, mademoiselle, if you'll be kind enough to fetch me that carafe of ice water, I'll see if we can't bring the skipper to his senses, such as they are."
His tone was sufficiently urgent to rouse Liane out of the lassitude into which reaction from terror had let her slip. She passed a hand over still dazed eyes, looked uncertainly about, then with perceptible exertion of will power collected herself, stood away from the partition and picked up the carafe.
Lanyard adopted the sensible suggestion of Phinuit, dropping on a knee to rest his hand above the heart of Popinot. To his complete satisfaction, if not at all to his surprise, no least flutter of life was to be detected in that barrel-like chest.
A moment longer he lingered, looking the corpse over with inquisitive eyes. No sign that he could see suggested that Popinot had suffered hardship during his two weeks of close sequestration; he seemed to have fared well as to food and drink, and his clothing, if nothing to boast of in respect of cut or cloth, and though wrinkled and stretched with constant wear, was tolerably clean—unstained by bilge, grease, or coal smuts, as it must have been had the man been hiding in the hold or bunkers, those traditional refuges of your simon-pure stowaway.
No: Monsieur Popinot had been well taken care of—and Lanyard could name an officer of prestige ponderable enough to secure his quarters, wherein presumably Popinot had lain perdu, against search when the yacht has been "turned inside out," according to its commander.
So this was the source of Mr. Mussey's exact understanding of the business!
As to the question of how the Apache had been smuggled aboard, and when, Lanyard never learned the truth. Circumstances were to prevent his interrogating Mr. Mussey, and he could only assume that—since Popinot could hardly have been in the motor car wrecked on the road from Paris—he must have left that pursuit to trusted confreres, and, anticipating their possible failure, have hurried on to Cherbourg by another route to make precautionary arrangements with Mr. Mussey.
Ah, well! no fault could be found with the fellow for lack of determination and tenacity. On the point of rising, Lanyard reconsidered and, bending over the body, ran clever hands rapidly through the clothing, turning out every pocket and heaping the miscellany of rubbish thus brought to light upon the floor—with a single exception; Popinot had possessed a pistol, an excellent automatic. Why he hadn't used it to protect himself, Heaven only knew. Presumably he had been too thoroughly engrossed in the exercise of his favourite sport to think of the weapon up to the time when Phinuit had opened fire on him; and then, thrown into panic, he had been able to entertain one thought only, that of escape.
Lanyard entertained for a moment a vivid imaginary picture of the scene in the saloon when Phinuit had surprised the Apache in the act of strangling Monk; a picture that Phinuit subsequently confirmed substantially in every detail....
One saw the garroter creeping through the blackness of the saloon from his hiding place, forward in the cabin of the chief engineer; stationing himself at the door to Monk's quarters, with his chosen weapon, that deadly handkerchief of his trade, ready for the throat of the Lone Wolf when he should emerge, in accordance with his agreement with Mr. Mussey, the spoils of the captain's safe in his hands. Then one saw Monk, alarmed by the sudden failure of the lights, hurrying out to return to the bridge, the pantherish spring upon the victim's back, the swift, dextrous noosing of the handkerchief about his windpipe, the merciless tightening of it—all abruptly illuminated by the white glare of Phinuit's electric torch. And then the truncated crimson of the first pistol flash, the frantic effort to escape, the hunting of that gross shape of flesh by the beam of light and the bullets as Popinot doubled and twisted round the saloon like a rat in a pit, the last mad plunge for the companionway, the flight up its steps that had by the narrowest margin failed to save him...
Phinuit and Liane Delorme were too busy to heed; quietly Lanyard slipped the pistol into a pocket and got to his feet. Then Swain came charging down the steps to find out what all the row was about, and to report—which he did as soon as Monk was sufficiently recovered to understand—those outrageous and darkly mysterious assaults upon the helmsman and Mr. Collison. Both men, he stated, were unfit for further duty that night, though neither (Lanyard was happy to learn) had suffered any permanent injury.
But what—in the name of insanity!—could have inspired such a meaningless atrocity? What could its perpetrator have hoped to gain? What—!
Monk, stretched out upon a leather couch in his sitting-room, levelled eyebrows of suspicion at Lanyard, who countered with a guilelessness so perfect as to make it appear that he did not even comprehend the insinuation.
"If I may offer a suggestion..." he said with becoming diffidence.
"Well?" Monk demanded with a snap, despite his languors. "What's on your mind?"
"It would seem to a benevolent neutral like myself... You understand I was in my deck-chair by the taffrail throughout all this affair. The men at the sounding machine nearby can tell you I did not move before the shots in the saloon——"
"How the devil could they know that in the dark?"
"I was smoking, monsieur; they must, if they looked, have seen the fire of my cigarette... As I was about to suggest: It would seem to me that there must be some obscure but not necessarily unfathomable connection between the three events; else how should they synchronise so perfectly? How did Popinot know the lights would go out a few minutes after five bells? He was prepared, he lost no time. How did the other miscreant, whoever he was, know it would be safe to commit that wickedness, whatever its purpose, upon the bridge at precisely that time? For plainly he, too, was prepared to act upon the instant—that is, if I understand Mr. Swain's report correctly. And how did it happen that the dynamo went out of commission just then? What did happen in the engine-room? Does anybody know? I think, messieurs, if you find out the answer to that last question you will have gone some way toward solving your mystery."
Captain Monk addressed Mr. Swain curtly: "It's the chief's watch in the engine-room?"
"I'll have a talk with him presently, and go further into this affair. In the meantime, how does she stand?"
"Under steerage way only"—Mr. Swain consulted the tell-tale compass affixed to the deck-beam overhead—"sou'west-by-south, sir."
"Must've swung off during that cursed dark spell. When I came below, two or three minutes before, we were heading into The Race, west-nor'west, having left Cerberus Shoal whistling buoy to port about fifteen minutes earlier. Get her back on that course, if you please, Mr. Swain, and proceed at half-speed. Don't neglect your soundings. I'll join you as soon as I feel fit."
"Very good, sir."
Mr. Swain withdrew. Captain Monk let his head sink back on its pillows and shut his eyes. Liane Delorme solicitously stroked his forehead. The captain opened his eyes long enough to register adoration with the able assistance of the eyebrows. Liane smiled down upon him divinely. Lanyard thought that affection was a beautiful thing, but preserved a duly concerned countenance.
"I could do with a whiskey and soda," Monk confessed feebly. "No, not you, please"—as Liane offered to withdraw the compassionate hand—"Phin isn't busy."
Mr. Phinuit hastened to make himself useful.
A muted echo of the engine-room telegraph was audible then, and the engines took up again their tireless chant. Lanyard cocked a sly eye at the tell-tale; it designated their course as west-by-north a quarter west. He was cheered to think that his labours at the binnacle were bearing fruit, and grateful that Monk was so busy being an invalid waited upon and pitied by a beautiful volunteer nurse that he was willing to trust the navigation to Mr. Swain and had no time to observe by the tell-tale whether or not the course he had prescribed was being followed.
Liane's exquisite and tender arm supported the suffering head of Captain Monk as he absorbed the nourishment served by Phinuit. The eyebrows made an affectingly faint try at a gesture of gratitude. The eyes closed, once more Monk's head reposed upon the pillow. He sighed like a weary child.
From the saloon came sounds of shuffling feet and mumbling voices as seamen carried away all that was mortal of Monsieur Popinot.
Between roars of the fog signal, six bells vibrated on the air. Phinuit cocked his head intelligently to one side, ransacked his memory, and looked brightly to Lanyard.
"Ar-har!" he murmured—"the fatal hour!"
Lanyard gave him a gracious smile.
In attenuated accents Captain Monk, without opening his eyes or stirring under the caresses of that lovely hand, enquired:
"What say, Phin?"
"I was just reminding Monsieur Lanyard the fatal hour has struck, old thing."
The eyebrows knitted in painful effort to understand. When one has narrowly escaped death by strangulation one may be pardoned some slight mental haziness. Besides, it makes to retain sympathy, not to be too confoundedly clear-headed.
"The dear man promised to turn in his answer to our unselfish little proposition at six bells to-night and not later."
"Really?" The voice was interested, and so were the eyebrows; but Monk was at pains not to move. "And has he?"
"Not yet, old egg."
Monk opened expectant eyes and fixed them upon Lanyard's face, the eyebrows acquiring a slant of amiable enquiry.
"There is much to be said," Lanyard temporised. "That is, if you feel strong enough..."
"Oh, quite," Monk assured him in tones barely audible.
"Must it be a blow to the poor dear?" Phinuit enquired.
"I hope not, very truly."
(The tell-tale now betrayed a course northwest-by-north. Had the binnacle compass, then, gone out of its head altogether, on finding itself bereft of its accustomed court of counter-attractions?)
"Well, here we all are, sitting forward on the edges of our chairs, holding onto the seats with both hands, ears pricked forward, eyes shining... The suspense," Phinuit avowed, "is something fierce!"
"I am sorry."
"What d'you mean, you're sorry? You're not going to back out?"
"Having never walked into the arrangement you propose, it would be difficult to back out—would it not?"
Monk forgot that he was suffering acutely, forgot even the beautiful and precious hand that was soothing his fevered brow, and rudely shaking it off, sat up suddenly. The eyebrows were distinctly minatory above eyes that loosed ugly gleams.
Lanyard slowly inclined his head: "I regret I must beg to be excused."
"You damned fool!"
A look of fury convulsed Liane's face. Phinuit, too, was glaring, no longer a humourist. Monk's mouth was working, and his eyebrows had got out of hand altogether.
"I said you were a damned fool—"
"But is not that a matter of personal viewpoint? At least, the question would seem to be open to debate."
"If you think arguments will satisfy us—!"
"But, my dear Captain Monk, I am really not at all concerned to satisfy you. However, if you wish to know my reasons for declining the honour you would thrust upon me, they are at your service."
"I'll be glad to hear them," said Monk grimly.
"One, I fancy, will do as well as a dozen. It is, then, my considered judgment that, were I in the least inclined to resume the evil ways of my past—as I am not—I would be, as you so vividly put it, a damned fool to associate myself with people of a low grade of intelligence, wanting even enough to hold fast that which they have thieved!"
"By God!" Monk brought down a thumping fist. "What are you getting at?"
"Your hopeless inefficiency, monsieur.... Forgive my bluntness."
"Come through," Phinuit advised in a dangerous voice. "Just what do you mean?"
"I mean that you, knowing I have but one object in submitting to association with you in any way, to wit, the recovery of the jewels of Madame de Montalais and their restoration to that lady, have not had sufficient wit to prevent my securing those jewels under your very noses."
"You mean to say you've stolen them?"
Lanyard nodded. "They are at present in my possession—if that confesses an act of theft."
Monk laughed discordantly. "Then I say you're a liar, Monsieur the Lone Wolf, as well as a fool!" His fist smote the desk again. "The Montalais jewels are here."
"When did you lift them?" Phinuit demanded with sarcasm. "Tell us that!"
Lanyard smiled an exasperating smile, lounged low in his chair, and looked at the deck beams—taking occasion to note that the tell-tale had swung to true northwest. Ca va bien!
"Why, you insane impostor!" Monk stormed—"I had that box in my own hands no later than this afternoon."
Without moving, Lanyard directed his voice toward the ceiling.
"Did you by any chance open it and see what was inside?"
There was no answer, and though he was careful not to betray any interest by watching them, he was well aware that looks of alarm and suspicion were being exchanged by those three. So much for enjoying the prestige of a stupendously successful criminal past! A single thought was in the mind of Liane Delorme, Captain Monk, and Mr. Phinuit: With the Lone Wolf, nothing was impossible.
Liane Delorme said abruptly, in a choking voice: "Open the safe, please, Captain Monk."
"I'll do nothing of the sort."
"Go on," Phinuit advised—"make sure. If it's true, we get them back, don't we? If it isn't, we show him up for a pitiful bluff."
"It's a dodge," Monk declared, "to get the jewels where he can lay hands on them. The safe stays shut."
"Open it, I beg you!" Liane implored in tremulous accents.
"Why not?" Phinuit argued. "What can he do? I've got him covered."
"And I," Lanyard interjected softly, "as you all know, am unarmed."
"Please!" Liane insisted.
There was a pause which ended in a sullen grunt from Monk. Lanyard smiled cheerfully and sat up in his chair, watching the captain while he unlocked the door in the pedestal and with shaking fingers manipulated the combination dial. Liane Delorme left her chair to stand nearby, in undissembled anxiety. Only Phinuit remained as he had been, lounging back and watching Lanyard narrowly, his automatic pistol dangling between his knees.
Lanyard offered him a pleasant smile. Phinuit scowled forbiddingly in response.
Monk swung open the safe-door, seized the metal despatch-box by the handle, and set it upon the desk with a bang. Then, extracting his pocket key-ring, he selected the proper key and made several attempts to insert it in the slot of the lock. But his confidence was so shaken, his morale so impaired by Lanyard's sublime effrontery added to his recent shocking experience, that the gaunt hands trembled beyond his control, and it was several seconds before he succeeded.
Lanyard gave no sign, but his heart sank. He had exhausted his last resource to gain time, he was now at his wits' ends. Only his star could save him now....
Monk turned the keys, but all at once forgot his purpose, and with hands stayed upon the lid of the box paused and cocked his ears attentively to rumours of excitement and confusion on the deck. The instinct of the seafaring man uppermost, Monk stiffened, grew rigid from head to foot.
One heard hurried feet, outcries, a sudden jangle of the engine-room telegraph...
"Monsieur! monsieur!" Liane implored. "Open that box!"
The words were on her lips when she was thrown off her feet by a frightful shock which stopped the Sybarite dead in full career, before the screw, reversed in obedience to the telegraph, could grip the water and lessen her momentum. The woman cannoned against Monk, shouldering him bodily aside. Instinctively snatching at the box, Monk succeeded only in dragging it to the edge of the desk before a second shock, accompanied by a grinding crash of steel and timbers, seemed to make the yacht leap like a live thing stricken mortally. She heeled heavily to starboard, the despatch-box went to the floor with a thump lost in the greater din, Liane Delorme was propelled headlong into a corner, Monk thrown to his knees, Phinuit lifted out of his chair and flung sprawling into the arms of Lanyard, who, pinned down by the other's weight in his own chair, felt this last slide backwards to starboard and bring up against a partition with a bang that drove the breath out of him in one enormous gust.
He retained, however, sufficient presence of mind neatly to disarm Phinuit before that one guessed what he was about.
After that second blow, the Sybarite remained at a standstill, but the continued beating of her engines caused her to quiver painfully from trucks to keelson, as if in agonies of death such as those which had marked the end of Popinot. Of a sudden the engines ceased, and there was no more movement of any sort, only an appalling repose with silence more dreadful still.
Lanyard had no means to measure how long that dumb suspense lasted which was imposed by the stunned faculties of all on board. It seemed interminable. Eventually he saw Monk pick himself up and, making strange moaning noises, like a wounded animal, throw himself upon the door, jerk it open, and dash out.
As if he had only needed that vision of action to animate him, Lanyard threw Phinuit off, so that he staggered across the slanting floor toward the door. When he brought himself up by catching hold of its frame, he was under the threat of his own pistol in Lanyard's hands. He lingered for a moment, showing Lanyard a distraught and vacant face, then apparently realising his danger faded away into the saloon.
With a roughness dictated by the desperate extremity, Lanyard strode over to Liane Delorme, where she still crouched in her corner, staring witlessly, caught her by one arm, fairly jerked her to her feet, and thrust her stumbling out into the saloon. Closing the door behind her, he shot its bolts.
He went to work swiftly then, in a fever of haste. In his ears the clamour of the shipwrecked men upon the decks was only a distant droning, hardly recognised for what it was by him who had not one thought other than to make all possible advantage of every precious instant; and so with the roar of steam from the escape-valves.
Stripping off coat and waistcoat, he took from the pocket of the latter the wallet that held his papers, then ripped open his shirt and unbuckled the money belt round his waist. Its pockets were ample and fitted with trustworthy fastenings; and all but one, that held a few English sovereigns, were empty. The jewels of Madame de Montalais went into them as rapidly as his fingers could move.
Thus engaged, he heard a pistol explode in the saloon, and saw the polished writing-bed of the captain's desk scored by a bullet. His gaze shifting to the door, he discovered a neat round hole in one of its rosewood panels. At the same time, to the tune of another report, a second hole appeared, and the bullet, winging above the desk, buried itself in the after-bulkhead, between the dead-lights. A stream of bullets followed, one after another boring the stout panels as if their consistency had been that of cheese.
Lanyard stepped out of their path and hugged the partition while he finished stuffing the jewels into the belt and, placing the thin wallet beneath it, strapped it tightly round him once more....
That would be Phinuit out there, no doubt, disdaining to waste time breaking in the door, or perhaps fearing his reception once it was down. An innocent and harmless amusement, if he enjoyed it, that it seemed a pity to interrupt. At the same time it grew annoying. The door was taking on the look of a sieve, and the neighbourhood of the deadlights, Lanyard's sole avenue of escape, was being well peppered. Something would have to be done about it...
Lanyard completed his preparations by kicking off his shoes and taking up another notch in the belt that supported his trousers. If the swim before him proved a long one, he could get rid of his garments in the water readily enough; if on the other hand the shore proved to be close at hand, it would be more convenable to land at least half clothed.
Then—the fusillade continuing without intermission save when the man outside stopped long enough to extract an empty clip and replace it with one loaded—Lanyard edged along the partition to the door, calculated the stand of the lunatic in the saloon from the angle at which the bullets were coming through, and emptied the pistol he had taken from Phinuit at the panels as fast as he could pull trigger.
There was no more firing...
He tossed aside the empty weapon, made sure of Popinot's on his hip, approached one of the deadlights, placed a chair, climbed upon it, and with infinite pains managed to wriggle and squirm head and shoulders through the opening. It was very fortunate for him indeed that the Sybarite happened to have been built for pleasure yachting, with deadlights uncommonly large for the sake of air and light, else he would have been obliged to run the risk of opening the door to the saloon and fighting his way out and up to the deck.
As it was, the business was difficult enough. He had to work one of his arms out after his shoulders and then, twisting round, strain and claw at the smooth overhang of the stern until able to catch the outer lip of the scuppers above.
After that he had to lift and drag the rest of him out through the deadlight and, hanging by fingertips, work his way round, inch by inch, until it seemed possible to drop into the sea and escape hitting the screw.
In point of fact, he barely missed splitting himself in two on the thing, and on coming to the surface clung to it while taking such observations as one might in that befogged blackness.
Impossible to guess which way to strike out: the fog hung low upon the water, greying its smooth, gently heaving black surface, he could see nothing on either beam.
At length, however, he heard through the hissing uproar of escaping steam a mournful bell somewhere off to port, which he at first took for a buoy, then perceived to be tolling with a regularity inconsistent with the eccentric action of waves. Timed by pulsebeats, it struck once every fifteen seconds or thereabouts: undoubtedly the fog signal of some minor light-house.
In confirmation of this conclusion, Lanyard heard, from the deck above, the resonant accents of Captain Monk, clearly articulate in that riot of voices, apparently storming at hapless Mr. Swain.
"Don't you hear that bell, you ass? Doesn't that tell you what you've done? You've piled us on the rocks off the eastern end of Plum Island. And God in Heaven only knows how you managed to get so far off the course!"
Breathing to the night air thanks which would have driven Captain Monk mad could he have heard them, Lanyard let go the bronze blade and struck out for the melancholy bell.
Ten minutes later the fingers of one hand—he was swimming on his side—at the bottom of its stroke touched pebbles.
He lowered his feet and waded through extensive shallows to a wide and sandy beach.
The window of the living-room in his suite at the Walpole, set high in cliff-like walls, commanded a southward vista of Fifth Avenue whose enchantment, clothed in ever changing guises of light and shade, was so potent that Lanyard, on the first day of his tenancy, thought it could never tire. Yet by noon of the third he was viewing it with the eyes of soul-destroying ennui, though the disfavour it had so quickly won in his sight was, he knew, due less to cloying familiarity than to the uncertainty and discontent that were eating out his heart.
Three days before, immediately on arriving in New York and installing himself in this hotel, to whose management he was well known from other days, he had cabled Eve de Montalais and Wertheimer.
The response to the latter—a cheerful request that credit be arranged for him by cable—was as prompt and satisfactory as he had expected it to be.
But from Madame de Montalais he heard nothing.
"Mission successful," he had wired—"returning France by La Savoie in five days having arranged safe transportation your property—please advise if you can meet me in Paris to receive same or your commands otherwise."
And to this, silence only!—silence to him to whom words of her dictation, however few and terse and filtered through no matter how many indifferent mediums of intelligence, would have been precious beyond expression.
So it was that, as hour followed hour and the tale of them lengthened into days, he fell into a temper of morbid brooding that was little like the man, and instead of faring abroad and seeking what amusement he might find in the most carefree city of the post-War world, shut himself up in his rooms and moped, indifferent to all things but the knocks at his door, the stridulation of the telephone bell that might announce the arrival of the desired message.
And so it was that, when the telephone did ring—at last!—towards noon of that third day, he fairly stumbled over himself in his haste to reach the instrument. But the animation with which he answered the professional voice at the other end of the wire faded very quickly, the look of weariness returned, his accents voiced an indifference fairly desolating.
"Yes?...Oh, yes...Very well...Yes, at once."
He returned to his view from the window, and was hating it with all his heart when a stout knuckling on his door announced his callers.
They filed into the room with a cheerfulness of mien in striking contrast to the weary courtesy with which Lanyard received them: Liane Delorme first, then Monk, then Phinuit, rather bleached of colour and wearing one arm in a sling; all very smart in clothes conspicuously new and as costly as the Avenue afforded, striking figures of contentment in prosperity.
"It is a pleasure indeed," Lanyard gravely acknowledged their several salutations—"not, I must confess, altogether unexpected, but a pleasure none the less."
"So you didn't think we'd be long spotting you in the good little old town?" Phinuit enquired. "Had a notion you thought the best way to lose us would be to put up at this well-known home of the highest prices."
"No," Lanyard replied. "I never thought to be rid of you without one more meeting—"
"Then there's good in the old bean yet," Phinuit interrupted in wasted irony.
"One cherishes that hope, monsieur....But the trail I left for you to follow! I would be an ass indeed if I thought you would fail to find it. When one borrows a rowboat at Plum Island Light without asking permission—government property, too—and leaves it moored to a dock on the Greenport waterfront; when one arrives in Greenport clothed in shirt and trousers only, and has to bribe its pardonably suspicious inhabitants with handfuls of British gold—which they are the more loath to accept in view of its present depreciation—in order to secure a slopchest coat and shoes and transportation by railway to New York; when a taxicab chauffeur refuses a sovereign for his fare from the Pennsylvania Station to this hotel, and one is constrained to borrow from the management—why, I should say the trail was fairly broad and well blazed, mes amis."
"Be that as it may," said Phinuit—"here in a manner of speaking we all are, at least, the happy family reunited and ready to talk business."
"And no hard feelings, Monsieur Phinuit?"
"There will be none"—Monk's eyebrows were at once sardonic and self-satisfied; which speaks volumes for their versatility—"at least, none on our side—when we are finished."
"That makes me more happy still. And you, Liane?"
The woman gave a negligent movement of pretty shoulders.
"One begins to see how very right you are, Michael," she said wearily—"and always were, for that matter. If one wishes to do wrong, one should do it all alone... and escape being bored to death by the... Oh! the unpardonable stupidity of associates.