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Alias The Lone Wolf
by Louis Joseph Vance
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"But no, messieurs!" she insisted with temper as Monk and Phinuit simultaneously flew signals of resentment. "I mean what I say. I wish I had never seen any of you, I am sick of you all! What did I tell you when you insisted on coming here to see Monsieur Lanyard? That you would gain nothing and perhaps lose much. But you would not listen to me, you found it impossible to believe there could be in all the world a man who keeps his word, not only to others but to himself. You are so lost in admiration of your own cleverness in backing that poor little ship off the rocks and letting her fill and sink, so that there could be no evidence of wrong-doing against you, that you must try to prove your wits once more where they have always failed"—she illustrated with a dramatic gesture—"against his! You say to yourselves: Since we are wrong, he must be wrong; and since that is now clearly proved, that he is as wrong in every way as we, then it follows naturally that he will heed our threats and surrender to us those jewels...Those jewels!" she declared bitterly, "which we would have been fortunate never to have heard of!"

She threw herself back in her chair and showed them a scornful shoulder, compressing indignant lips to a straight, unlovely line, and beating out the devil's tattoo with her slipper.

Lanyard watched her with a puzzled smile. How much of this was acting? How much, if anything, an expression of true feeling? Was she actually persuaded it was waste of time to contend against him? Or was she shrewdly playing upon his not unfriendly disposition toward her in the hope that it would spare her in the hour of the grand debacle?

He could be sure of one thing only: since she was a woman, he would never know...

Monk had been making ominous motions with the eyebrows, but Phinuit made haste to be beforehand with him.

"You said one thing, mademoiselle, one thing anyway that meant something: that Monsieur Lanyard would give up those jewels to us. That's all arranged."

Lanyard turned to him with genuine amusement. "Indeed, monsieur?"

"Indeed and everything! We don't want to pull any rough stuff on you, Lanyard, and we won't unless you force us to—"

"Rough stuff, monsieur? You mean, physical force?"

"Not exactly. But I think you'll recall my telling you I stand in well with the Police Department in the old home town. Maybe you thought that was swank. Likely you did. But it wasn't. I've got a couple of friends of mine from Headquarters waiting downstairs this very minute, ready and willing to cop out the honour of putting the Lone Wolf under arrest for stealing the Montalais jewels."

"But is it possible," Lanyard protested, "you still do not understand me? Is it possible you still believe I am a thief at heart and interested in those jewels only to turn them to my own profit?"

He stared unbelievingly at the frosty eyes of Monk beneath their fatuously stubborn brows, at the hard, unyielding eyes of Phinuit.

"You said it," this last replied with brevity.

"It was a good bluff while it lasted, Monsieur Lanyard," Monk added; "but it couldn't last forever. You can't get away with it. Why not give in gracefully, admit you're licked for once, be a good fellow?"

"My God!" Lanyard pronounced in comic despair—"it passes understanding! It is true, then—and true especially of such as you are to-day, as I was in my yesterday—that 'Whom Fortune wishes to destroy she first makes mad'! For, I give you my word of honour, you seem to me quite mad, messieurs, too mad to be allowed at large. And in proof of my sincerity, I propose that you shall not longer remain at large."

"What's that?" Monk demanded, startled.

"Why, you have not hesitated to threaten me with the police. So now I, in my turn, have the honour to inform you that, anticipating this call, I have had relays of detectives waiting in this hotel day and night, with instructions to guard the doors as soon as you were shown up to my rooms. Be advised, Mr. Phinuit, and forget your pistol. Even to show it in this city would make matters infinitely worse for you than they are."

"He's lying," Monk insisted, putting a restraining hand on Phinuit's arm as that one started from his chair in rage and panic. "He wouldn't dare."

"Would I not? Then, since you believe nothing till it is proved to you, messieurs, permit me..."

Lanyard crossed rapidly to the hall door and flung it open—and fell back a pace with a cry of amazement.

At the threshold stood, not the detective whom he had expected to see, but a woman with a cable message form in one hand, the other lifted to knock.

"Madame!" Lanyard gasped—"Madame de Montalais!"

The cable-form fluttered to the floor as she entered with a gladness in her face that was carried out by the impulsive gesture with which she gave him her hands.

"My dear friend!" she cried happily—"I am so glad! And to think we have been guests of the same hotel for three livelong days and never knew it. I arrived by La Touraine Saturday, but your message, telegraphed back from Combe-Redonde, reached me not five minutes ago. I telephoned the desk, they told me the number of your room and—here I am!"

"But I cannot believe my senses!"

With unanimous consent Jules, Phinuit and Monk uprose and made for the door, only to find it blocked by the substantial form of a plain citizen with his hands in his pockets and understanding in his eyes.

"Steady, gents!" he counselled coolly. "Orders are to let everybody in and nobody out without Mr. Lanyard says so."

For a moment they hung in doubt and consternation, consulting one another with dismayed stares. Then Phinuit made as if to shoulder the man aside. But for the sake of the moral effect the latter casually exhibited a pistol; and the moral effect of that was stupendous. Mr. Phinuit disconsolately slouched back into the room.

Grasping the situation, Eve de Montalais turned to the quartet eyes that glimmered in a face otherwise quite composed.

"But how surprising!" she declared. "Madame la Comtesse de Lorgnes—Monsieur Monk—Mr. Phinuit—how delightful to see you all again!"

The civility met with inadequate appreciation.

"Nothing could be more opportune," Lanyard declared; "for it is to this lady, Madame de Montalais, and to these gentlemen that you owe the recovery of your jewels."

"Truly?"

"As I am telling you. But for them, their charming hospitality in inviting me to cruise aboard their yacht, but for the assistance they lent me, though sometimes unconsciously, I admit—I should never have been able to say to you to-day: Your jewels are in a safe place, madame, immediately at your disposal."

"But how can I thank them?"

"Well," said Lanyard, "if you ask me, I think we have detained them long enough, I believe they would be most grateful to be permitted to leave and keep their numerous and pressing appointments elsewhere."

"I am entirely of your mind, monsieur."

Lanyard nodded to the man in the doorway—"All right, Mr. Murray"—and he stood indifferently aside.

In silence the three men moved to the door and out, Phinuit with a brazen swagger, Jules without emotion visible, Monk with eyebrows adroop and flapping.

But Lanyard interposed when Liane Delorme would have followed.

"A moment, Liane, if you will be so good."

She paused, regarding him with a sombre and inscrutable face while he produced from his coat-pocket a fat envelope without endorsement.

"This is yours."

The woman murmured blankly: "Mine?"

He said in a guarded voice: "Papers I found in the safe in your library, that night. I had to take them for use in event of need. Now...they are useless. But you are unwise to keep such papers, Liane. Good-bye."

The envelope was unsealed. Lifting the flap, the woman half withdrew the enclosure, recognised it at a glance, and crushed it in a convulsive grasp, while the blood, ebbing swiftly from her face, threw her rouge into livid relief. For an instant she seemed about to speak, then bowed her head in dumb acknowledgment, and left the room.

Lanyard nodded to Mr. Murray, who amiably closed the door, keeping himself on the outside of it.

Eve de Montalais was eyeing him with an indulgent and amused glance. As he turned to her, she shook her head slowly in mockery of reproof.

"That woman loves you, monsieur," she stated quietly.

He succeeded admirably in looking as if the thought was strange to him.

"One is sure madame must be mistaken."

"Ah, but I am not!" said Eve de Montalais. "Who should know better the signs that tell of woman's love for you, my dear?"

THE END

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