But she went on speaking, resolutely, as though to purge her soul, for all time, of explanation and excuse.
"That next-of-kin agency was a dingy little office up two dingy stairs in Chancery Lane. For a few days their work seemed bearable enough, though it hurt me to see that all their income was being squeezed out of miserably poor people—always the miserably poor, the submerged souls with romantic dreams of impending good fortune, which, of course, always just escaped them. That, I could endure. But when I found that the agency was branching out, and was actually trying to present me for inspection as a titled heiress, in sore need of a secret and immediate marriage, I revolted, at once. Then they calmly proposed that I embark for America, as some sort of bogus countess—and while they were still talking and debating over what mild and strictly limited extravagances they would stand for, and just what expenses they would allow, I bolted! But their scheming and plotting had given me the hint, for I knew, if the worst came to the worst, I would not be altogether under the thumb of Lord Boxspur. So when I came South from Paris I simply assumed the title—it simplified so many things. It both gave me opportunities and protected me. If, to gain my ends and to reconnoitre my territory, I became the occasional guest—remember, Jim, the most discreet and guarded guest!—of Count Anton Szapary—who carried a hundred thousand crowns away from the Vienna Jockey Club a month or two ago—you must simply try to make the end justify the means. I was still trying to get in touch with you. One of his automobiles was always politely placed at my disposal. It was a chance, well, scarcely to be missed. For, you see, it was my intention to meet His Highness, the Prince Ignace Slevenski Pobloff, under slightly different circumstances than would prevail if he and his valet should quietly step through that door at the present moment!"
She laughed, a little bitterly, with a reckless shrug of the shoulders. Durkin, nettled by the sound of tragedy in her voice, did not like the sound of that laugh. Then, as he looked at her more critically, he saw that she was white and worn and tired. But it was the words over which she had laughed which sent him abruptly hurrying into the next room with a lighted match, to read the hour from the little Swiss clock above the cabinet.
"If we're after anything here we've got to get it!" he said, with conscious roughness. "It's later than I thought."
"Very well," she answered, quietly enough.
Then she turned to him, as he waited with his hand on the bedroom light-button, before switching it off.
"You need never be afraid that I will bother you with any more of my hesitations, and scruples, and half-timid qualms, as I once did. All that is over and done with. I feel, now, that we're both in this sort of work from necessity, and not by accident. It has gripped and engulfed us, now, for good."
He raised a hand to stop her, stung to the quick by the misery and bitterness of her voice, still asking himself if it was not only the bitter cry of love for some neglectful love's reply. But she swept on, abandonedly.
"There's no use quibbling and fighting against it. We've got to keep at it, and wring out of it what we can, and always go back to it, and bend to it, and still keep at it, to the bitter end!"
"Frank, you mustn't say this!" he cried.
"But it's truth, pure truth. We're only going to live once. If we can't be happy without doing the things we ought not to do—then we'll simply have to be criminals. But I want my share of the joy of living—I want my happiness! I want you! I lost you once, and almost forever, by hoping it could be the other way—but it's too late!"
"Frank!" he pleaded.
"I want you to see where we are," she said, with slow and terrible solemnity. "If I am to be saved from it, now, or ever again, you must do it—you—you!"
She drew herself together, with a little shiver.
"Come," she said, "we've got our work to do!"
He looked at her white face for one moment, in silence, bewildered, and then he snapped shut the button.
"We had better look through the safe at once," she went on apathetically. Something in her tone, if not her words themselves, as she had spoken, sent a wave of what was more than startled misery through her husband. He once more felt, although he felt it vaguely, the note of impending tragedy which she was so premonitarily sounding. It brought to him a dim and hurried vision of that far-off but inevitable catastrophe which lay, somewhere, at the end of the road they were traveling. Their only hope and solace, it seemed to him, must thereafter lie in feverish and sustained activity. They must lose themselves in the dash and whirl of daring moments. And it was not from pleasure or from choice, now; it was to live. They must act or perish; they must plot and counterplot, or be submerged. Yet he would do what he could to save himself, as she, in turn, must do what she could for herself—if they came to the end of their rope.
A minute later they were bending together over the contents of the dismantled safe. He was striking matches. By this time they were both on their knees.
"You run through these papers, while I see what can be done with the despatch box," he whispered to her. Then he put the little package of vestas between them, so they might work by their own light. From time to time the soft spurt of the lighting match broke the silence, as Frank hurriedly ran her eye over the different packets, and as hurriedly flung them back into the safe.
It was a relief to Durkin to think that he at least had someone beside him who could read French. Busy as he was, he incongruously recalled to his mind how he once used to study the little printed announcements in his hotel rooms, wondering, ruefully, if the delphic text meant that lights and fires were extra, and if baths must be paid for, and vainly trying to discover what his last basket of wood might cost.
Yes, he told himself, he was a hunter out of his domain. He would always feel intimidated and insecure in this land of aliens and unknowns. He even sympathetically wondered who it was that had said: "Foreigners are fools!" Then a sudden, irrational, inconsequential sense of gratitude took possession of him, as he felt and heard the woman at work so close beside him. There was a feeling of companionship about it that made the double risk worth while.
"There's nothing here!" Frank was saying, under her breath.
"Then it must be the box!" he told her.
Durkin knew it was already too late to file and fit a skeleton key. His first impulse was to bury the box under a muffling pile of bedding and send a bullet or two through the lock. But his wandering eye caught sight of a Morocco sheath-knife above them on the wall, and a moment later he had the point of it under the steel-bound lid, and as he pried it flew open with a snap.
He waited, listening, and lighting matches, while Frank went through the papers, with nervous and agile fingers, mumbling the inscriptions as she hurriedly read and cast them away from her.
"I thought so!" she said at last, crisply.
The packet held half a dozen blueprints, together with some twelve or fourteen sheets of plans and specifications, on tinted "flimsy." Durkin noticed they were drawn up in red and black ink, and that at the bottom of each document were paragraphs of finely-penned, scholarly-looking writing. One glance was enough for them both.
Frank refolded them and caught them together with a rubber band. Then she thrust them into the bosom of her dress. Both rose to their feet, for both were filled with the selfsame sudden passion to get into the open once more.
"That must go back, now!" whispered Frank, for Durkin was stooping down again, over the leather bag that held the napoleons.
"Thank heaven," he answered gratefully, "it's not that!"
"Not yet!" she whispered back, bitterly, as she heard the chink and rattle of metal in the darkness. But some day it might be.
Then she heard another sound, which caused her to catch quickly at Durkin's arm. It was the sound of a key turning in the lock, followed by an impatient little French oath, and the weight of a man's body against the resisting door. Then the oath was repeated, and a second key was turned, this time in the nearer door.
"It's Pobloff!" she whispered.
She had felt the almost galvanic, precautionary response of Durkin's body; now she could hear his whispered ejaculation as he clutched at her and thrust her back.
"You must get away, quick, whatever happens," he said hurriedly. There was a second tremor and rattle of the door; it might come in at any moment.
"Don't think of me," she whispered. "It's you!"
"But, my God, how'll you get out of this?" he demanded, in a quick whisper. He was trying to force her back into the little anteroom.
"No, no; don't!" she answered him. "I can manage it—more easily than you!"
He was still crowding and elbowing her back, as though mere retreat meant more assured safety.
"No, no!" she expostulated, under her breath. "I can shift for myself. It's you—you must get away!"
She was forcing the packet from her bosom into his hands.
"Take care of these, quick! Now here's the window ready. Oh, Jim, get away while you've got the chance!"
"I can't do it!" he protested.
"You must, I tell you. I wouldn't lie to you! On my honor, I promise you I'll come out of this room, unharmed and free! But quick, or we'll both lose!"
Even in that moment of peril the thought that she was still ready to face this much for him filled his shaken body with a glow that was more keenly exhilarating than wine itself. There was no time for words or demonstration: the action carried its own eloquence.
He was already halfway through the opened window, but he turned back.
"Do you care, then?" he panted.
He could hear the quick catch of her breath.
"Good or bad, I love you, Jim! You know that! Now, hurry, oh, hurry!"
He caught her hand in his—that was all there was time for—while with his free hand Durkin thrust the packet down into his pocket.
"If it turns out wrong—I mean if anything should happen to me, go straight to the Embassy with them, in Rome. Good-bye!"
"Ah, then you do expect danger!" he retorted, already back at the window again.
"No—no!" she whispered, resolutely, barring his ingress. "Hurry! Good-bye!"
"Good-bye," he whispered, as he slipped down on his hands and knees and crawled along the balcony, like a cat, through the darkness.
Then the woman closed the window, and waited.
"FOREIGNERS ARE FOOLS"
Frances Durkin, as she turned back into the darkness of the room, desperately schooled herself to calmness. She warned herself that, above all, she must remain clear-headed and collected, and act coolly and decisively, when the moment for action arrived.
But as the seconds slipped by, and the silence remained unbroken, a shred of forlorn hope came back to her. Each moment meant more assured safety to her husband—he, at least, was getting away unscathed and unsuspected. And that left her almost satisfied.
She still waited and listened. Perhaps, after all, the Prince had taken his departure. Perhaps he had gone back to the portier's office, for explanations. Perhaps it had not even been Pobloff—merely a drunken stranger, mistaken in his room number, or servants with a message or with linen.
She groped softly across the room, until she came to the door. She found it draped and covered with a heavy blanket. Holding this back, she slipped under it, and peered through the keyhole into the illuminated hallway. There seemed to be nobody outside.
"It is a rule of the game, I believe, never to shoot the rabbit until it is on the run!"
The words, spoken in excellent English, and barbed with a touch of angry cynicism, smote on her startled ears like an Alpine thunderclap.
She emerged from under the blanket, slowly, ignominiously, ashamed of even her Peeping-Tom abandonment of dignity.
As she did so she saw herself being looked at with keen but placid eyes. The owner of the eyes in one hand held a lighted bedroom lamp. In his other hand he held a flat, short-barreled pocket revolver, of burnished gun-metal, and she could see the lamplight glimmer along its side as it menaced her.
She did not gasp—nor did she shrink away, for with her the situation was not so novel as her antagonist might have imagined. Indeed, as she gazed back at him, motionless, she saw the look of increasing wonder which crept, almost involuntarily, over his white, lean, Slavic-looking face.
Frances Durkin knew it was Pobloff. He was tall, exceptionally tall, and she noticed that he carried off his faultlessness of attire with that stiff but tranquil hauteur which seems to come only with a military training. The forehead was high and white and prominent, with oddly marked depressions, now thrown into shadow by the lamp light, above and behind the highly-arched eyebrows, on each extremity of the frontal bone. The nose was long and narrow-bridged, and the face itself was unusually long and narrow, and now quite colorless. This gave a darker hue to the thin mustache and the trim imperial, through which she caught a glint of white teeth, in what seemed half a smile and half a snarl. The hair was parted almost in the centre, a little to the right, and but for the pebbled shadows about the sunken, yet still bright eyes, he would be called a youthful-looking man. She understood why women would always speak of him as a handsome man.
"I am sorry, but I was compelled to force the bolt," he said, slowly, with his enigmatic smile.
She still looked at him in silence, from under lowered brows. Her fingers were locking and unlocking nervously.
"And to what do I owe this visit?" he demanded mockingly. He was quite close to her by this time.
She took a step backward. She could even smell brandy on his breath.
"Your English is admirable!" she answered, as mockingly.
"As your energy!" he retorted, taking a step nearer the still open door. Then he looked about the room, slowly and comprehensively. On his face, in the strong sidelight, she could see mirrored each fresh discovery, as step by step he covered the course of the completed invasion. She followed his gaze, which now rested on the rifled safe.
A little oath, in Russian, suddenly escaped his lips.
Then he turned and strode into the anteroom, and she could hear him making fast and locking the outer hall door. Then he withdrew the key, and came back to her.
"I must still regard you, of course, as my guest," he said slowly, with his easy menace.
"You Europeans always give us lessons in the older virtues!" she retorted, as mockingly as before, in her soft contralto.
He looked at her, for a moment, in puzzled wonder. Then he held the lamp closer to her face. He nursed no illusions about women. Frances Durkin knew that for years now he had made them his tools and his accomplices, never his dictators and masters. But as he looked into the pale face, with the shadowy, almost luminous violet eyes, and the soft droop of the full red lips, and the still girlish tenderness of line about the brow and chin, and then at the betraying fulness of throat and bosom, the mockery died out of his smile.
It was supplanted by a look more ominously purposeful, more grimly determined.
"What, madam, did you come here for?" he demanded.
She shrugged an apparently careless shoulder.
"His Highness, the Prince Ignace Slevenski Pobloff, has always been the recipient of much flattering attention!" She found it still safest to mock him.
"We have had enough of this! What is it? Money? Or jewelry?"
She spurned the leather bag on the floor with the toe of her shoe. He could hear the clink and rattle of the napoleons that followed the movement. He started suddenly forward and bent over the broken despatch box. His long white fingers were running dexterously through the once orderly little packets.
"Or something more important?" he went on, as he came to the end of his stock.
Then he gave a little half-cry, half-gasp; and from the look on his face the woman saw that he realized what was missing. He peered at her, with alert and narrow eyes, for a full minute of unbroken silence. Then, with a little movement of finality, he turned away and put down the lamp.
"I regret it, but I must ask you for this—this document, without equivocation and without delay."
She opened her lips to speak, but he cut in before any sound fell from them.
"Let there be no misunderstanding between us. I know precisely what you have taken; and it will be in my hands before you ever leave this room!"
She had a sense of destiny shaping itself before her, while she stood a helpless and disinterested spectator of the vague but implacable transformation which, in the end, must in one way or the other so vitally concern her.
"I have nothing," she answered simply.
He waved her protest aside.
"Madam, have you thought, or do you now know, what the cost of this will be to you?"
He was towering over her now. She was wondering whether or not there was a ghost of a chance for her to snatch at his pistol.
"I can pay only what I owe," she maintained evasively.
He looked at her, and then at the locked door. His face took on a sudden and crafty change. The rage and anger ebbed out of him. He placed the lamp on the dressing-table of polished rosewood. Then his lean, white fingers meditatively adjusted his tie, and even more meditatively stroked at the narrow black imperial, before he spoke again.
"What greater crown may one hope for, in any activity of life, than a beautiful woman?" he asked quietly.
There was a moment of unbroken silence.
For the first time a touch of fear came to her shadowy eyes, and they were veiled by a momentary look of furtiveness.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, madam, simply that you will now remain with me!"
"That is absurd!"
She noticed, for the first time, that he had put away his revolver.
"It is not absurd; it is essential. Permit me. In my native country we have a secret order which I need not name. If the secrets of this order came to be known by an individual not already a member, one of two things happened. He either became a member of the order, or he became a man who—who could impart no information!"
"And that means——?"
"It means, practically, that from this hour you are, either willing or unwilling, a partner in my activities, as you now are in my possession of certain papers. Pardon me. The penalty may seem heavy, but the case, you will understand, is exceptional. Also, the nature of your visit, and the thoroughness of your preparations"—he swept the dismantled room with his grim but mocking glance—"have already convinced me that the partnership will not be an impossible one."
"But I repeat, this is theatrical, and absurd. You cannot possibly keep me a—a prisoner here, forever!"
He looked at her, and suddenly she shrank back from his glance, white to the lips.
"You will not be a prisoner!"
"I am quite aware of that!"
"You will not be a prisoner, for then you would not be a partner. The coalition between us must be as silent as it is essential. But first, permit me!"
She still shrank back from his touch, consumed with a new and unlooked-for fear of him. And all the while she was telling herself that she must remain calm, and make no mistake.
The remembrance came to her, as she stood there, of how she had once thought it possible to approach him in a more indirect and adroit fashion, as the wayward and life-loving Lady Boxspur. She shuddered a little, as she recalled that foolish mistake, and pictured the perils into which it might have led her. She could detect more clearly now the odor of brandy on his quickening breath. His face, death-like in its pallor, flashed before and above her like a semaphoric sign of imminent danger. Action of some sort, however obvious, was necessary.
"I want a drink," she gasped, with a movement toward the cabinet.
He turned and caught up the heavy glass brandy-decanter, emitting a nervous and irresponsible laugh.
In one hand he held the decanter, in the other the half-filled tumbler. That, at least, implied an appreciable space of time before those hands could be freed. In that, she felt, lay her hope.
Quicker than thought she darted to the door over which still swung the shrouding blanket. She knew the key had already been turned in the lock, from the outside; the only thing between her and the freedom of the open hall was one small bolt shaft.
But before she could open the door Pobloff, with a little grunt of startled rage, was upon her. She fought and scratched like a cat. The blanket tumbled down and curtained them, the plumed hat fell from the woman's disheveled head, a chair was overturned. But he was too strong and too quick for her. With one lithe arm he pinioned her two hands close down to her sides, crushing the very breath out of her body. With his other he beat off the muffling blanket, and dragged her away from the door. Then he shook her, passionately, and held her off from him, and glared at her.
One year earlier in her career she knew she would surely have fainted from terror and exhaustion. Even as it was, she seemed about to school herself for some relieving and final surrender to the inevitable, only, her vacantly staring eyes, looking past him, by accident caught sight of a little movement which brought her drooping courage into life again.
For she had seen the window-shutter slowly widen, and then a cautious hand appear on the ledge. She watched the shutter swing in, further and further, and then the stealthy figure, with its padded feet, emerge out of the darkness into the half-lighted room. She could even see the pallor of the intruder's face, and his quick movement of warning that reminded her of the part she must play.
"I give up!" she gasped, in simulated surrender, falling and drooping with all her weight in Pobloff's arms.
He caught her and held her, bewildered, triumphant.
"You mean it?" he cried, searching her face.
"Yes, I mean it!" she murmured. Then she shuddered a little, involuntarily, for she had seen Durkin catch up one of his shoes, hammer-like, where it protruded from the side pocket of his coat—and she knew only too well how he would make use of it.
As Pobloff bent over her, unwarned, unsuspecting, almost wondering for what she was waiting with such confidently closed eyes, Durkin crossed the carpeted floor. It was then that the woman flung up her own arms and encircled the stooping Russian in a fierce and passionate grasp. He laughed a little, deep in his throat. She told herself that she was at least imprisoning his hands.
Durkin's blow caught the bending figure just at the base of the skull, behind the ear. The impact whipped the head back, and sent the relaxing body forward and down. It struck the floor, and lay there, huddled, face down. The woman scrambled to her feet, breathing hard.
"Close the shutters!" said Durkin quickly.
Then he turned the unconscious man over on his back. Then he caught up a couple of towels and securely tied, first the inert wrists and then the feet. Quickly knotting a third towel, he wedged and drilled a sharp knuckle joint into the flesh of the colorless cheek, between the upper and lower incisors. When the jaw had opened he thrust the knot into the gaping mouth, securely tying the ends of the towel at the back of the neck.
"Have you everything?" whispered Frank, who had once more pinned on the plumed hat, and was already listening at the panel of the hall door. There was no time to be lost in talk.
"Yes, I think so."
"My baggage will have to be left, but, God knows, there's little enough of it!"
He wiped his forehead, and looked down at the bound figure, already showing signs of returning consciousness. They heard laughter, and the sound of footsteps passing down the hall without.
Durkin stood beside his wife, and they listened together behind the closed door.
"Not for a minute—not yet," he whispered. Then he looked at her curiously.
"I wonder if you know just what a close call that was!"
"Yes, I know," she said, with her ear against the panel.
He peered back at the figure, and took a deep breath.
"And this is only an intermission—this is only an overture, to what we may have to face! Now's our chance. For the love of heaven, let's get out of here. We've got hard work ahead of us, at Genoa—and we've got only till Friday to get there!"
He did not notice her look, her momentary look of mingled reproof and weariness and disdain.
"Now, quick!" she merely said, as she flung the door open and stepped out into the hall. Luckily, it was empty, from end to end.
Durkin, with assumed nonchalance, walked quietly away. She waited to turn the key in the door, and withdrew it from the lock. Then she followed her husband down the corridor, and a minute or two later rejoined him in the fragrant and balmy midnight air of Monaco.
THE LARK IN THE RUINS
It was not until Frances Durkin and her husband were installed in an empty first-class compartment, twining and curling and speeding on their way to Genoa, that even a comparative sense of safety came to them. It was Durkin's suggestion that it might not be amiss for them to give the impression of being a newly-married couple, on their honeymoon journey; and, to this end, he had half-filled the compartment with daffodils and jonquils, with carnations and violets and roses, purchased with one turn of the hand from a midnight flower-vender, on his way down from the hills for any early morning traffic that might offer.
So as they sped toward the Italian frontier, in the white and mellow Mediterranean moonlight, threading their way between the tranquil violet sea bejeweled with guardian lights and the steep and silent slopes of the huddled mountains, they lounged back on their hired train-pillows, self-immured, and unperturbed, and quietly contented with themselves and their surroundings. At least, so it seemed to the eyes of each scrutinizing guard and official, who, after one sharp glance at the flower-filled compartment and the crooning young English lovers, passed on with a laugh and a shrug or two.
Yet, at heart, Durkin and Frank were anything but happy. As they sped on, and his wife pointed out to him that the selfsame road they were taking between confining rock and sea was the same narrow passage, so time-worn and war-scarred, once taken by Greeks and Ligurians, Romans and Saracens, it seemed to Durkin that his first fine estimate of the life of war and adventure had been a false one. His old besetting doubts and scruples began to awake. It was true that the life they had plunged into would have its dash and whirl. But it would be the dash of a moment, and the whirl of a second. Then, as it always must be, there would come the long interval of flight and concealment, the wearying stretch of inactivity. He felt, as he gazed out the car window and saw town and village and hamlet left behind them, that the same wave of excitement that cast him up would forever in turn drag him down—and it all resulted, he told himself, in his passing distemper of fatigue and anxiety, in a little further abrasion, in a little sterner denudation of their tortured souls!
It was at Ventimiglia that the capostazione himself appeared at the door of their compartment, accompanied by a uniformed official. The two fugitives, with their hearts in their mouths, leaned back on their cushions with assumed unconcern, cooing and chattering hand in hand among their flowers, while a volley of quick and angry questions, in Italian, was flung in at them from the opened compartment door. To this they paid not the slightest attention, for several moments. Frank turned to her interrogators, smiled at them gently and impersonally, and then shook her head impatiently, with an outthrust of the hands which was meant to convey to them that each and every word they uttered was quite incomprehensible to her.
The capostazione, who, by this time, had pushed into their compartment, was heatedly demanding either their passports or their tickets.
Frank, who had buried her face raptly in her armful of jonquils, looked up at him with gentle exasperation.
"We are English," she said blankly. "English! We can't understand!" And she returned to her flowers and her husband once more.
The two uniformed intruders conferred for a moment, while the conduttore, on the platform outside, naturally enough expostulated over the delay of the train.
"These fools—these aren't the two!" Frank heard the capostazione declare, in Italian, under his breath, as they swung down on the station platform. Then the shrill little thin-noted engine-whistle sounded, the wheels began to turn, and they were once more speeding through the white moonlight, deeper and deeper into Italy.
"I wonder," said Frank, after a long silence, "how often we shall be able to do this sort of thing? I wonder how long luck—mere luck, will be with us?"
"Is it luck?" asked her husband. She was still leaning back on his shoulder, with her hand clasping his. Accompanying her consciousness of escape came a new lightness of spirit. There seemed to come over her, too, a new sense of gratitude for the nearness of this sentient and mysterious life, of this living and breathing man, that could both command and satisfy some even more mysterious emotional hunger in her own heart.
"Yes," she answered, as she laughed a little, almost contentedly; "we're like the glass snake. We seem to break off at the point where we're caught, and escape, and go on again as before. I was only wondering how many times a glass snake can leave its tail in its enemy's teeth, and still grow another one!"
And although she laughed again Durkin knew how thinly that covering of facetiousness spread over her actual sobriety of character. It was like a solitary drop of oil on quiet water—there was not much of it, but what there was must always be on the surface.
In fact, her mood changed even as he looked down at her, troubled by the shadow of utter weariness that rested on her colorless face.
"What would we do, Jim," she asked, after a second long and unbroken silence, "what would we do if this thing ever brought us face to face with MacNutt again?"
"But why should we cross that bridge before we come to it?" was Durkin's answer.
She seemed unable, however, to bar back from her mind some disturbing and unwelcome vision of that meeting. She felt, in a way, that she possessed one faculty which the rapid and impetuous nature of her husband could not claim. It was almost a weakness in him, she told herself, the subsidiary indiscretion of a fecund and grimly resourceful mind. Like a river in flood, it had its strange and incongruous back currents, born of its very oneness of too hurrying purpose. It considered too deeply the imminent and not the remoter and seemingly more trivial contingency.
"But can't you see, Jim, that the further we follow this up the closer and closer it's bringing us to MacNutt?"
"MacNutt is ancient history to us now! We're over and done with him, for all time!"
"You are wrong there, Jim. You misjudge the situation, and you misjudge the man. That is one fact we have to face, one hard fact; MacNutt is not over and done with us!"
"But haven't you made a sort of myth of him? Isn't he only a fable to us now? And haven't we got real facts to face?"
"Ah," she said protestingly, "there is just the trouble. You always refuse to look this fact in the face!"
"Well, what are the facts?" he asked conciliatingly, coercing his attention, and demanding of himself what allowance he must make for that morbid perversion of view which came of a too fatigued body and mind.
"The facts are these," she began, with a solemnity of tone that startled him into keener attentiveness. "You found me in MacNutt's office when he was planning and plotting and preparing for the biggest wire-tapping coup in all his career. You were dragged into that plot against your will, almost, just as I had been. But MacNutt gave us our parts, and we worked together there. Then—then you made love to me—don't deny it, Jim, for, after all, it was the happiest part of all my life!—and we both saw how wrong we were, and we both wanted to fight for our freedom. So I followed you when you revolted against MacNutt and his leadership."
"No, Frank, it was you who led—if it hadn't been for you there would never have been any revolt!" he broke in.
"We fought together, then, tooth and nail, and in the end we surrendered everything but our own liberty—just to start over with free hands. But it wasn't our mere escape to freedom that maddened MacNutt; it was the thought that we had beaten him at his own game, that we had stalked him while he was so busy stalking Penfield. Then he trapped us, for a moment, and it was sheer good luck that he didn't kill me that afternoon in his dismantled operating-room, before Doogan and his men attacked the house. But, as you know, he kept after us, and he cornered you again, and you would have killed him, in turn, if I hadn't saved you from the sin of it, and the disgrace of it. Then we thought we were safe, just because the world was big and wide; because we had made our escape to Europe we thought that we were out of his circuit, that we were beyond his key-call—but here we are being led and dragged back to him, through Keenan. But now, just because there is still an ocean between us, you begin to believe that he has given up every thought of getting even!"
"Well, isn't it about time he did? We've beaten him twice, at his own game, and I see no reason why we shouldn't do it again!"
"But how often can we be the glass snake? I mean, how many times can we afford to leave something behind, and break away, and hope to grow whole and sound again? And when will MacNutt get us where we can't break away? I tell you, Jim, you don't know this man as I know him! You haven't understood yet what a cruelly designing and artful and vindictive and long-waiting enemy he can be. You haven't seen him break and crush people, as I once did. It's the memory of that makes me so afraid of him!"
"There's just the trouble, Frank," cried Durkin. "The man has terrified and intimidated you, until you think he is the only enemy you have. I don't deny he isn't dangerous, but so is Pobloff, and so is Doogan, for that matter, and this man Keenan as well!"
"But they would never crush and smash you, as MacNutt will, if the chance comes!" she persisted passionately. "You don't see and understand it, because you are so close to it and so deep in it. It's like traveling along this little Riviera railway. It's so crooked and tunneled and close under the mountains that even though we went up and down it, for a year, from Nice to Nervi, we could never say that we had seen the Riviera!"
Durkin looked out at the terraced hills, at the undulating fields and the heaped masses of blue mountains under the white Italian moonlight, and did not speak for several seconds.
He had always carried, while with her, the vague but sustained sense of being shielded. Until then her hand had always seemed to guard him, impersonally, as the hand of a busy seeker guards and shelters a candle. Now, for some mysterious reason, he felt her brooding guardianship to be something less passive, to be something more immediate and personal. He knew—and he knew it with a full appreciation of the irony that lurked in the situation—that her very timorousness was now endowing him with a new and reckless courage. So he took her hand, gratefully, before he spoke again.
"Well, whatever happens, we are now in this, not from choice, as you said before, but from necessity. If it has dangers, Frank, we must face them."
"It is nothing but danger!"
"Then we must grin and bear it. But as I said, I see no reason why we should cross our bridges before we come to them. And we'll soon have a bridge to cross, and a hard one."
"I mean Keenan, and everything that will happen in Genoa!"
THE TIGHTENING COIL
Henry Keenan, of New York, had leisurely finished his cigar, and had as leisurely glanced through all the three-day-old London papers. He had even puzzled, for another half-hour, over the pages of a Tribuna. Then, after gazing in an idle and listless manner about the empty and uninviting hotel reading-room, he decided that it was time for him to go up to his room. He made his leisurely way to the lift, ascended to the fourth floor, stepped out, and drew his room-key from his pocket, as he walked down the hall, in the same idle and listless manner.
As he turned the corner the listlessness went from his face, and a change came in his languid yet ever-restless and covert eyes.
For a young woman was standing before his door, trying to fit a key to the lock. This, he decided as he paused three paces from her and studied her back, she was doing quite openly, with no slightest sense of secrecy. She wore a plumed hat, and a dark cloth tailor-made suit that was unmistakably English. She still struggled with the key, unconscious of his presence. His tread on the thick carpet had been light; he had intended to catch her, beyond equivocation, in the act. But now something about the lines of her stooping figure caused Henry Keenan to remove his hat, respectfully, before speaking to her.
"Could I assist you, madam?" he asked, close to her side by this time.
She turned, with a start, though her loss of self-possession lasted but a moment. But as she turned her startled eyes to him Keenan's last doubt as to whether or not it was a mere mistake withered away from his mind. He knew, from the hot flush that mounted to her cheeks and from the mellow contralto of her carefully modulated English voice, that she belonged to that vaguely denominated yet rigidly delimited type that would always be called a woman of breeding.
"If you please," she said shortly, stepping back from the door.
He bent over the key which she had left still in the lock.
As he did so he glanced at the number which the key, protruding from the lock, bore stamped on its flat brass bow. The number was Thirty-seven, while the number which stood before his eyes on the door was Forty-one.
Under ordinary circumstances the apparent accident would never have given him a second thought. But all that day he had been oppressed by a sense of hidden yet continual espionage. This feeling had followed him from the moment he had landed in Genoa. He had tried to argue it down, inwardly protesting that such must be merely the obsession of all fugitives. And now, even to find an unknown and innocent-appearing young woman trying to force an entrance into his room aroused all his latent cautiousness. Yet a moment later he felt ashamed of his suspicions.
"Why, this is room Forty-one," she cried, over his shoulder. He withdrew the key and looked at it with a show of surprise.
"And your key, I see, is Thirty-seven," he explained.
She was laughing now, a little, through her confusion. It was a very pleasant laugh, he thought. She looked a frank and companionable woman, with her love for the merriment of life touched with a sort of autumnal and wistful sobriety that in no way estranged it from a sense of youth. But, above all, she was a beautiful woman, thought the listless and lonely man. He looked at her again. It was his suspicion of being spied upon, he felt, that had first blinded him to the charm of her appearance.
"It was the second turn in the corridor that threw me out," she explained. He found himself walking with her to her door.
She had thought to find some touch of the Boweryite about him, some outcropping of the half-submerged bunco-steerer. Instead of that, both his look and his tone carried some tinge of quiet yet dominant gentility, reminding her, as she had so often been taught before, that the criminal is not a type in himself, that only fanciful and far-stretched generalizations could detach him as a species, or immure and mark him off from the rest of his kind.
She glanced at him still again, at the seemingly melancholic and contemplative face, that strangely reminded her of Duerer's portrait of himself. As she did so there was carried to her memory, and imprinted on it, the picture of a wistful and lonely man, his countenance touched, for all its open Irish smile, with some wordless sorrow, some pensive isolation of soul, lean and gaunt with some undefined hunger, a little furtive and covert with some half-concealed restlessness.
"Aren't you an American?" he was asking, almost hopefully, it seemed to her.
"Oh, no," she answered, with her sober, slow smile. "I'm an Englishwoman!"
He shook his head, whimsically.
"Indeed, I'm sorry for that!" said the Celt.
She joined in his laugh.
"But I've lived abroad so much!" she added.
"Then you must know Italy pretty well, I suppose?"
"Oh, yes; I've traveled here, winter after winter."
She picked out a card from her pocket-book, on which was inscribed, in Spencerian definiteness of black and white, "Miss Barbara Allen." It had been the card of Lady Boxspur's eminently respectable maid—and Frances Durkin had saved it for just such a contingency.
He read the name, slowly, and then placed the card in his vest pocket. If he noticed her smile, he gave no sign of it.
"And you like Genoa? I mean, is there anything to like in this place?" he asked companionably. "I'll be hanged if I've seen anything but a few million mementoes of Christopher Columbus!"
"There's the Palazzo Bianco, and the Palazzo Rosso, and, of course, there's the Campo Santo!"
"But who cares for graveyards?"
"All Europe is a graveyard, of its past!" she answered lightly. "That was what I thought you Americans always came to see!"
He laughed a little, in turn, and she both liked him better for it and found it easier to go on. She felt, from his silences, that no great span of his life had been spent in talking with women. And she was glad of it.
"I like the Riggi," she added pregnantly.
"The Riggi—what's that, please?"
"That's the restaurant up on the hill." She hesitated and turned back, before unlocking her door. "It's charming!"
He was on the point, she knew, of making the plunge and asking if they might not see the Riggi together, when something in her glance, some precautionary chilliness of look, checked him. For she had seen that even now things might advance too hurriedly. It would be wiser, and in the long run it would pay, she warned herself, to draw in—for as she still lingered and chatted with him she more and more felt that she was face to face with a resourceful and strong-willed opponent. She noticed, through all the outward Celtic gentleness, the grim and passionate mouth, the keenness of the shifty yet penetrating hazel-gray eyes, the touch of almost bull-dog tenaciousness about the loose-jointed, high-shouldered figure, and, above all, the audacity of the careless Irish-American smile. That smile, she felt, trailed like a flippant and fluttering tail to the kite of his racial solemnity and stubbornness of purpose, enabling it to rise higher even while seeming to weigh it down.
"And you always travel alone?" he finally asked, shaking off the last of his reserve.
"Oh, I'm a bit of a globe-trotter—that's what you'd call me on your side of the ocean, isn't it? You see, I go about Southern Europe picking up things for a London art firm!"
"And where do you go next?"
"Oh, perhaps to Milan, perhaps to Naples; it may even be to Rome, or it might turn out to be Syracuse or Taormina. With me, everything depends, first on the weather, and, next, on what instructions are sent on."
She inwardly marveled at the glibness and spontaneity with which the words fell from her tongue. She even took a sort of secret joy in the dramatic values which that scene of play-acting presented to her.
"And do you ever go to New York?"
"Yes, such a thing might happen, any time."
It was as well, she told herself, to leave the way well paved.
"That's the city for you!" he declared, with a commending shake of the head.
Of the truth of that fact Frances Durkin was only too well aware; but this was a conviction to which she did not give utterance.
As they stood chatting together in the deserted hallway, a man, turning the corner, brushed by them. He merely gave them one casual glance of inquiry, and then looked away, apparently at the room-numbers on the lintels.
The young woman chanced to be tapping half-carelessly, half-nervously, with her key on the panel of her door. It meant nothing to her comrade, but to the passing man it resolved itself into an intelligible and coherent message. For it was in Morse, and to his trained and adept ear it read: "This—is—Keenan—keep—away!"
THE INTOXICATION OF WAR
It was two days later,—and they had been days of blank suspense for him,—that Durkin made his way to Frank's room, unobserved. His first resolution had been to wait for a clearer coast, but his anxiety overcame him, and he could hold off no longer.
As he opened the door and stepped noiselessly inside he caught sight of her by the window, her face ruminative and in repose. It looked, for the moment, unhappy and tired and hard. She seemed to stand before him with a mask off, a designing and disillusioned woman, no longer in love with the game of life. Or it was, he imagined, as she would look ten years later, when her age had begun to tell on her, and her still buoyant freshness was gone. It was the same feeling that had come to him on the Angiolina steps, at Abbazia. He even wondered if in the stress of the life they were now following she would lose the last of her good looks, if even her ever-resilient temperament would deaden and harden, and no longer rise supreme to the exacting moment. Or could it be that she was acting a part for him? that all this fine bravado was an attitude, a role, a pretense, taken on for his sake? Could it be—and the sudden thought stung him to the quick—that she was deliberately and consciously degrading herself to what she knew was a lower plane of thought and life, that the bond of their older companionship might still remain unsevered?
But, as her startled eyes caught sight of him, a welcoming light came into her relaxed face. With her first spoken word some earlier touch of moroseness seemed to slip away from her. If it required an effort to shake herself together, she gave no outward sign of it. She had promised that there should be no complaining and no hesitations from her; and Durkin knew she would adhere to that promise, to the bitter end.
She went to him, and clung to him, a little hungrily. There seemed something passionate in her very denial of passion. For when he lifted her drooping head, with all its wealth of chestnut shot through with paler gold, and gazed at her upturned face between his two hands, with a little cry of endearment, she shut her mouth hard, on a sob.
"You're back—and safe?" he asked.
She forced a smile.
"Yes, back safe and sound!"
"But tired, I know?"
"Yes—a little. But—"
She broke off, and he could see that she was rising from her momentary luxury of relaxation as a fugitive rises after a minute's breathing-spell.
"Well?" he asked anxiously.
"Pobloff has found us!" she said, in her quiet contralto.
"He's here, you mean?"
"He's in Genoa. I caught sight of him in a cab, hurrying from the French Consulate to the Cafe Jazelli. I slipped into a silversmith's shop, as he raced past, and escaped him."
"And then what?"
"Then several things happened. But first, tell me this: did you get a chance to look over Keenan's room?"
"I was bolted inside twenty minutes after you and he had left the hotel. His trunk was even unlocked; I looked through everything!"
"Which, of course, was charming work!" she interpolated, with not ungentle scorn.
He shrugged his shoulders deprecatively. "Not quite as charming as dining with your new friend!"
"I almost like him!" admitted the woman frankly, femininely rejoicing at the note of jealousy in the other's voice.
"And no worse than some of the work we've done, or may soon have to do!"
Then he went on, with rising passion: "And I'll tell you this, Frank whatever we do, and whatever we have to go through, we've got to get those securities out of Keenan! We've got to have them, now! We've got to pound at it, and dog him, and fight him, and outwit him, until we either win or lose and go under! It's a big game, and it has big risks, but we're in it too deep, now, to talk about drawing back, or to complain about the dirty work it leads to!"
"I wasn't complaining," she reproved, in her dead voice. "I only spoke a bald truth. But you don't tell me what you've found."
"I got nothing—absolutely nothing; not one shred of information even. There's nothing in the room. It stands to reason, then, as I told you from the first, that he is carrying the papers about with him!"
"That will make it harder," she murmured monotonously. "And you're sure your telegram has sent the Scotland Yard men to Como?"
"It must have, or we'd be running into them. The New Yorker is a Pinkerton man."
He started pacing back and forth in front of her, frowning with mingled irritation and impatience.
"Then what about Pobloff?" he suddenly asked.
"Five minutes after we had stepped out of the hotel he met us, face to face. With Keenan, I had no chance of getting away. So I simply faced it out. Then Pobloff shadowed us to the Riggi, watched us all through luncheon, and followed us down to the city again. And here's the strange part of it all. Keenan saw that we were being shadowed, from the first, and I could see him fretting and chafing under it, for he imagines that it's all because of what he's carrying with him. So, on the other hand, Pobloff has concluded Keenan and I are fellow-conspirators, for he let me go to the lift alone, just to keep his eye on Keenan, who told me he had business at the steamship agency."
"But why should we be afraid of Pobloff, then?"
"It's a choice of two evils, I should venture to say. But that's not all. As soon as I was free from each of them, and had left them there, carrying out that silent and ridiculous advance and retreat between them, I had to think both hard and fast. I decided that the best thing for me to do would be to slip down to Rome, at once, and make my visit to the Embassy."
"Yes, I found your note, telling me that."
"When I saw that I was being followed at the station I bought a ticket for Busalla, as a blind, and went in one door of my compartment and then out the other. My wagon lit was standing on the next track. I didn't change from the one train to the other until the train for Rome started to move. Then I slipped out, and jumped for the moving platform, and was bundled into my right carriage by a guard, who thought I was trying to commit an Anna Karenina suicide—until I gave him ten francs. Whether I got away unnoticed or not I can't say for sure. But Pobloff will have resources here that we know nothing of. From now on, you may be sure, he will have Keenan watched by one of his agents, night and day!"
"Then, good heavens, we've got to step in and save Keenan from Pobloff!"
"It amounts to that," admitted Frank. "Yet, in some way, if we could only manage it, the two of them ought to fight our battle out for us, between themselves!"
"That's true—but did you get to Rome?"
"Yes, without trouble."
"And you got the money?"
"Only half of it. They hedged, and said the other half could not be paid until Pobloff's arrest. Jim, we must be on our guard against that man."
"Pobloff doesn't count!" ejaculated Durkin impatiently. "It's Keenan we have to have our fight with—he's the man, the offender, we want!—that means only two hundred and fifty pounds!"
"But that is money honestly made!"
"And so will this be money honestly made. The one was legalized by the government authority; the other, in the end, will be recognized as—well, as detectional and punitive expediency. That's why I say Pobloff doesn't count!"
"But Pobloff does count," persisted Frank. "He's a vindictive and resourceful man, and he has a score against us to wipe out. Besides all that, he's a master of intrigue, and he has the entire secret service of France behind him, and he knows underground Europe as well as any spy on the Continent. He will keep at us, I tell you, until he thinks he is even!"
"Then let him—if he wants to," scoffed Durkin. "My work is with Keenan. If Pobloff tries interfering with us, the best thing we can do is to get the British Foreign Office after him. They ought to be big enough for him!"
"It's not a matter of bigness. He won't fight that way. He would never fight in the open. He knows his chances, and the country, and just where to turn, and just how far to go—and where to hide, if he has to!"
"That's true enough, I suppose. But oh, if I only had him in New York, I'd fight him to a finish, and never edge away from him and keep on the run this way!"
"Of course; but, as you say, is it worth while? After all, he's only an accident in the whole affair now, though a disagreeable one. And, what's more, Pobloff will never follow us out of Europe. This is his stamping ground. He had misfortune in America, and he's afraid of it. As I said before, Pobloff and Keenan are the acid and the alkali that ought to make the neutral salts. I mean, instead of trying to save them from each other, we ought to fling them together, in some way. Let Pobloff do the hunting for us—then let us hunt Pobloff!"
"But Keenan is wary, and shrewd, and far-seeing. How is he to be caught, even by a Pobloff?"
"That only time and Pobloff can tell. It will never be by brigandage—Keenan will never go far enough afield to give him a chance for that. But I feel it in my bones—I feel that there is danger impending, for us all."
Durkin turned and looked at her, wondering if her woman's intuition was to penetrate deeper into the unknown than his own careful analysis.
"What danger?" he asked.
"Impending dangers cease to be dangers when they can be defined. It's nothing more than a feeling. But the strangest part of the whole situation is the fact that not one of us, from any corner of the triangle, dares turn to the police for one jot of protection. None of us can run crying to the arms of constituted authority when we get hurt!"
A consciousness of their lonely detachment from their kind, of their isolation, crept through Durkin's mind. He felt momentarily depressed by a sense of friendlessness. It was like reverting to primordial conditions, wherein it was ordained that each life, alone and unassisted, should protect and save itself. He wondered if primitive man, or if even wild animals, did not always walk with that vague consciousness of continual menace, where lupine viciousness seemed eternally at war with vulpine wariness.
"Then what would you suggest?" he asked the woman, who sat before him rapt in thought.
"That we watch Keenan, continuously, night and day. He has been hunted and followed now for over two months, and he is only waiting for a clear field to take to his heels. And when he goes he is going for America. That I know. If we lose sight of him, we lose our chance."
Durkin walked to the window, and looked out at the tiled roofs and the squat chimney-pots, above which he could catch a glimpse of bursting sky-rockets and the glow of Greek fire from the narrow canyons of the streets below.
"What are all the fireworks for?" he asked her casually.
"It's a Saint's Day, of some sort, they told me at the office," she explained.
He was about to turn and speak to her again, after a minute's silence, when a low knock sounded on the door. He remained both silent and motionless, and the knock was repeated.
"In a moment!" called the woman, as she motioned Durkin to the door of her clothes-closet. He drew back, with a shake of the head. He revolted momentarily against the ignominy of the movement. But she caught him by the arm and thrust him determinedly in, closing the door on him. Then she hurriedly let her wealth of chestnut hair tumble about her shoulders. Then she answered the knock, with the loosened strands of chestnut in one abashed hand.
It was Keenan himself who stood in the hall before her.
THE DOORWAY OF SURPRISE
"May I speak to you a moment?" asked Keenan, taking a step nearer to her as he spoke. She seemed able, even under his quiet composure, to detect some note of alarm.
"Will you come in?" she asked, holding the door wide for him.
"If you don't mind the intrusion."
She had closed the door, and stood facing him, interrogatively.
"What I am going to ask you, Miss Allen, is something unusual. But this past week has shown me that you are an unusual woman." He hesitated, in doubt as to how to proceed.
"In America," she said, laughing a little, to widen his avenue of approach, "you would call me emancipated, wouldn't you?"
He bowed and laughed a little in return.
"But let me explain," he went on. "I am in what you might call a dilemma. For some reason or other certain persons here are watching and following me, night and day. In America—which, thank God, is a land of law and order—this sort of thing wouldn't disturb me. But here"—he gave a little shrug—"well, you know what they say about Italy!"
"Then I wasn't mistaken!" she cried, with a well-rung note of alarm.
He looked at her, narrowly.
"Ah, I suspected you'd have an inkling! But what I have here makes the case exceptional—and, perhaps, a little dangerous!"
He drew from his pocket a yellow-tinted manila envelope, of "legal" size. Frank's quick glance told her that it was by no means empty.
"It may sound theatrical, and you may laugh at me, but will you take possession of these papers for me, for a few days? No, let me explain first. They are important, I confess, for, although valueless commercially, they contain personal and private letters that are worth a good deal to me!"
"But this means a great responsibility," demurred Frank.
"Yes; but no danger—at least to you, since you are in no way under suspicion. You said that in five days you would probably be in Naples. Supposing that I arrange to meet you at, say, the Hotel de Londres there, and then repay you for your trouble."
"But it's so unusual; so almost absurd," still demurred the acting woman. The eavesdropper from the closet felt that it was an instance of diamond cutting diamond. How hard and polished and finished, he thought, actor and actress confronted each other.
"Will you take the risk?" the man was asking.
She looked from him to the packet and then back to him again.
"Yes, if you insist—if it is really helping you out!" she replied, with still simulated bewilderment.
He thanked her with something more than his professional, placid crispness, and put the packet in her outstretched hand.
"Is that all?"
"In Naples, in five days?"
"Yes; the Hotel de Londres. And now I must leave you."
He startled her by taking her hand and wringing it. She was still looking down at the packet as he withdrew, and the door closed behind him.
She listened for a moment, and then turned the key in the lock. Durkin, stepping from his place of concealment, confronted her. They stood gazing at each other in blank astonishment.
Frank's first impulse was to tear open the envelope. But on second thoughts she flew to her alcohol tea-lamp and lighted the flame. It was only a minute or two before a jet of steam came from the tiny kettle spout. Over this she shifted and held the gummed envelope-flap, until the mucilage softened and dissolved. Then, holding her breath, she peeled back the flap, and from the envelope drew three soiled but carefully folded copies of the London Daily Chronicle. The envelope held nothing more.
A little cry of disappointment escaped Durkin, while Frank turned the papers over in her fingers, in speechless amazement. The very audacity of the man swept her off her feet.
It was both a warning and a challenge, grim with its suggestiveness, eloquent with careless defiance. That was her first thought.
"The fool—he's making fun of you!" said Durkin, with a second passionate oath.
Frank was slowly refolding the papers, and replacing them in the envelope.
"I don't believe that's it," she said, meditatively. "I believe he is trying me—making this a test!"
She carefully moistened the gum and resealed the envelope, so that it bore no trace of having revealed its contents. She stood gazing at her husband with studious and unseeing eyes.
"If he comes back I'll know that I am right," she cried, with sudden conviction. "If he finds that I am still here, and that his packet is still intact and safe, he'll do what he wants to do. And that is, he'll trust me with the whole of his securities!"
She quenched the alcohol flame and replaced the lamp in its case.
"If he comes back," mocked Durkin. "Do you know what you and I ought to be doing, at this moment? We ought to be following that man every step he takes."
"But where?" She shook her head, slowly, in dissent.
"That's for us to find out. But can't you feel that he's left us in the lurch, that we're shut up here, while he's giving us the laugh and getting away?"
"Jim, listen to me. During this past week I've seen more of Keenan than you have."
"Yes, a vast sight more!" he interjected, heatedly.
"And I feel sure," she went on evenly, "that he is more frightened and worried than he pretends to be. He is, after all, only a tricky and ferrety Irish lawyer, who is afraid of every power outside his own little circuit of experience. He's afraid of Italy. I suppose he has nightmares about brigantaggio, even! He's afraid of foreigners—afraid of this sort of conspiracy of silence that seems surrounding him. He's even afraid to take his precious documents and put them in a safe-deposit vault in any one of the regularly established institutions here in Genoa. There are plenty of them, but he isn't big and bold enough to do his business that way. He's been a fugitive so long his only way of warfare now is flight. And besides, he can never forget that his work is underground and illicit. That is why he carries his documents about with him, on him, in his pockets, like a sneak thief with a pocketful of stolen goods. I don't mean to say that he isn't smooth and crafty, and that he won't fight like a rat when he's cornered! But I do believe that if he and Penfield could get in touch today, here in Genoa, he would hand over every dollar of those securities, and give up the job, and get back to his familiar old lairs among the New York poolrooms and wardheelers and petty criminals where he knows his enemies and his friends!"
Durkin strode toward the door impatiently. He hesitated for a moment, but had already stretched out his hand to turn the key when he drew back, silently, step by step.
For a second time, on the panel, without, the low knock was sounding.
Frank watched the closet door draw to and close on Durkin; then she called out, with assumed and cheery unconcern, "Come in."
She did not look up for a moment, for she was still busy with her hair.
The door opened and closed.
"I trust I do not intrude?"
Frank's brush fell from her hand, before she even slowly wheeled and looked, for it was the suave and well-modulated baritone of Pobloff.
"What does this mean?" she demanded vacantly, retreating before his steady and scornful gaze.
"Simply, madam, that you and I seem seldom able to anticipate each other's calls!"
She made a pretense of going to the electric signal.
"It is quite useless," explained the Russian quietly. "The wires are disconnected."
He took out his watch and glanced at it. "Indeed, as a demonstration that others enjoy privileges which you sometimes exert, in two minutes every light in this room will be cut off!"
The woman was panting a little by this time, for her thoughts were of Durkin and his danger, as much as of herself. She struggled desperately to regain her self-possession, for there was no mistaking the quiet but grim determination written on the Russian's pallid face. And she knew he was not alone in whatever plot he had laid.
She would have spoken, only the sudden flood of blackness that submerged her startled her into silence. The lights had gone out.
She demanded of herself quickly, what should be her first move.
While she stood in momentary suspense, a knock sounded still once more on her door.
"Come in," she called out quickly, loudly, now alert and alive to every movement.
It was Keenan who stepped in from the half-lighted hall. He would have paused, in involuntary amazement, at the utter darkness that greeted him, only footsteps approaching and passing compelled him to act quickly.
He stepped inside and closed and locked the door.
She had not been mistaken. He had come back.
"THE FOLLY OF GRANDEUR"
There flashed through Frances Durkin's mind, in the momentary silence that fell over that strange company, the consciousness that the triangle was completed; that there, in one room, through a fortuitousness that seemed to her more factitious than actual, stood the three contending and opposing forces. The thought came and went like a flash, for it was not a time for meditation, but for hurried and desperate action. The sense of something vast and ominous seemed to hang over the darkness, where, for a second or two, the silence of absolute surprise reigned.
The last-comer, too, seemed to feel this sense of something impending, for a moment later his voice rang out, clear and unhesitating, with a touch of challenge in it.
"Miss Allen, are you here? And is anything wrong?"
"Stand where you are!" the voice of the woman answered, through the darkness, firm and clear. "Yes. I am here. But there is another person in this room. He is a man who means harm, I believe, to both of us!"
"Ah!" said the voice near the door.
The woman was speaking again, her voice high and nervous, from the continued suspense of that darkness and silence combined, a dual mystery from which any bolt might strike.
"Above all things," she warned him, "you must watch that door!"
Her straining ears heard a quiet click-click; she had learned of old the meaning of that pregnant sound. It was the trigger of a revolver being cocked.
"All right—I'm ready," said the man at the door, grimly. Then he laughed, perhaps a little uneasily. "But why are we all in darkness this way?"
"The wires have been cut—that is a part of his plan!"
Keenan took a step into the room and addressed the black emptiness before him.
"Will the gentleman speak up and explain?"
No answer came out of the darkness. Frank knew, by this time, that Keenan would make no move to desert her.
"Have you a lamp, or a light of any kind, Miss Allen?" was the next curt, businesslike question.
"Oh, be careful, sir!" she warned him, now in blind and unreasoning terror.
"Have you a light?" repeated Keenan authoritatively.
"I have only an alcohol lamp; it gives scarcely any light—it is for boiling a teapot!"
"Then light it, please!"
"Oh, I dare not!" she cried, for now she was possessed of the unreasoning fear that one step in any direction would bring her in contact with death itself.
"Light it, please!" commanded Keenan. "Nothing will happen. I have in my hand here, where I stand, a thirty-eight calibre revolver, loaded and cocked. If there is one movement from the gentleman you speak of, I will empty it into him!"
Both Keenan and Frank started, and peered through the blackness. For a careless and half-derisive, half-contemptuous laugh sounded through the room. Pobloff, obviously, had never moved from where he stood.
Frank slowly groped to the wall of her room, and felt with blind and exploring hands until she came to her bureau. Then sounded the clink of nickel as the lamp was withdrawn from its case and the dry rattle of German safety-matches. Then the listeners heard the quick scrape and flash of the match against the side of the little paper box, and the puff of the wavering blue flame as the match-end came in contact with the alcohol.
After all, it was good to have a light! Incongruously it flashed through her mind, as wayward thoughts and ideas would at such moments, how relieved primitive man amid his primitive night must have been at the blessed gift of the first fire.
The wavering blue flame widened and heightened. In a moment the inky room was pallidly suffused with its trembling half-light. Outside, through the night, sounded muffled street noises, and the boom and hiss and spurt of fireworks.
The two peering faces turned slowly, until their range of vision had swept the entire room. Then they paused, for motionless against the west wall, between the closet door and the corner, stood Pobloff. His arms were folded, and he was laughing a little.
Frank drew nearer Keenan, instinctively, wondering what the next movement would be.
It was Pobloff's voice that first broke the silence.
"This woman lies," he said, in his suavely scoffing baritone. "This woman——"
"Why don't you say something—why don't you do something!" cried Frank, hysterically, turning to Keenan.
"Ring the bell!" commanded Keenan.
"It's useless—the wires are cut," she panted. She could see that, above and beyond all his craftiness, his latent Irish fighting-blood was aroused.
"Then, by God, I'll put him out myself. If there's any fight between him and me "—he turned on Pobloff—"we won't drag a woman into it!"
The tall, gaunt Russian against the wall was no longer laughing.
"Pardon me," he said, advancing a step. "This woman has in her possession a packet of papers—of personal and private papers, which concern neither you nor her!"
"But what if it does concern me?" demanded Keenan.
"The gentleman is talking nonsense," said Pobloff, unperturbed. Yet he leaned forward and studied him more closely, through the half-light, studied him as the deliberating terrier might study the captured rat that had dared to bite back at him. "This woman, I repeat, has certain papers about her!"
"And what of that?" cried Keenan blindly. Frank saw, to her joy, that he was misled.
"Simply this: that if the lady I speak of hands those papers to me, here, the matter is closed, for all time!"
"And if she doesn't?"
"Then she will do so later!"
A grunt of sheer rage broke from Keenan's lips. But he checked it, suddenly, and wheeled on the woman.
"Give him the package," he ordered. She hesitated, for at the moment the thought of Keenan's trust had passed from her mind.
"Do as I say," he repeated curtly.
Frank, remembering, drew the yellow manila envelope from her bosom, and with out-stretched arm handed it to Pobloff.
The Russian took it in silence. Then with a few quick strides he advanced to the alcohol lamp. As he did so both Keenan and Frank noticed for the first time the blunt little gun-metal revolver he held in his right hand.
"Again you will pardon me," said Pobloff, with his ever-scoffing courtliness. "A mere glance will be necessary, to make sure that we are not—mistaken!"
He tore open the envelope with one long forefinger, and stooped to draw forth the contents.
It was then that Keenan sprang at him. Frank at the moment, was marveling at the unbroken continuity of evidence linking her with her uncomprehending opponent.
The sudden leap and cry of Keenan sent a tingle of apprehension up and down her body. She asked herself, vaguely, if all the rest of her life was to be made up of this brawling and fighting in unlighted chambers of horror; if, now that they were in the more turgid currents for which they had longed, there were to come no moments of peace amid all their tumult and struggling.
Then she drew in her breath with a little gasp, for she saw Pobloff, with a quick writhe of his thin body, free his imprisoned right arm, and strike with the metal butt of his revolver.
He struck twice, three times, and the sound of the metal on the unprotected head was sickening to the listening woman. She staggered to the closet door as the man fell to the floor, stunned.
"Jim! Oh, Jim, quick!—he's killing him!—I tell you he's killing him!"
Durkin said "'Ssssh!" under his breath, and waited.
For in the dim half-light they could see that the Russian had ripped open Keenan's coat and vest, and from a double-buttoned pocket on the inside of the inner garment was drawing out a yellow manila envelope, the fellow to that which had already been thrust into his hands. It was then that Durkin sprang forward.
Pobloff saw him advance. He had only time to reverse his hold on the little gun-metal revolver and fire two shots.
The first shot went wide, tearing deep into the plastered wall. The second cut through the flap of his assailant's coat-pocket, just over the left hip, scattering little flecks of woollen cloth about. But there was no time for a third shot.
It seemed brutal to Frank, but she allowed herself time for neither thought nor scruples. All she remembered was that it was necessary—though once again she asked herself if all her life, from that day on, was to be made up of brawling and fighting.
For Durkin had brought down on the half-turned head the up-poised bedroom chair with all his force. Pobloff, with a little inarticulate cry that was almost a grunt, buckled and pitched forward.
"That settles you!" the stooping man said, heartlessly, as he watched him relax and half roll on his side.
Frank watched him, too, but with no sense of triumph or success, with no emotion but slowly awakening disgust, against which she found it useless to struggle. She watched him with a sense of detachment and aloofness, as if looking down on him from a great height, while he tore upon the manila envelope and gave vent to a little cry of satisfaction. They at last possessed the Penfield securities. Then she went over and replenished the waning flame in the alcohol lamp.
"We've got to get away from here now," said Durkin quickly. "And the sooner the better!"
She looked about her, a little helplessly. Then she glanced at Keenan. "See, he's coming to!"
"Are you ready?" Durkin demanded sharply.
"Yes," she answered, in her dead and resigned voice, as she took up her hat and coat. "But where are we going?"
"I'll tell you on the way down. Only you must get what you want, and hurry!"
"But is it safe now?" she demurred, "and for you?"
He thought for a moment, with his hand on the doorknob. Then he turned back.
"You'd better keep this, then, until I find what we have to face, outside here!"
He passed into her hand the manila envelope, and stepped out into the hall.
A moment later she had secreted the packet, along with Pobloff's revolver, which she picked up from the floor. Then she ran to the door, and locked it. She would fight like a hornet, now, she inwardly vowed, for what she held.
Then she caught her breath, behind the locked door, for the sounds that crept in from the hallway told her that her fear had not been groundless.
She heard Durkin's little choked cry of pain and surprise, for he had been seized, she knew, and pinned back against the door. It was Pobloff's men, she told herself. They had him by the throat, she knew by the sound of the guttural oaths which they were trying to choke back. She could hear the kick and scrape of feet, the movement of his writhing and twisting body against the door, as on a sounding-board. She surmised that they had his arms held, otherwise he would surely have used his revolver. She was conscious of a sort of wild joy at the thought that he could not, for they were going through him, from the quieted sounds, pocket by pocket, and she knew he would have shot them if he could.
"There's nothing here!" said a voice in French. Frank, listening so close to them, could hear the three men breathe and pant.
"Then the woman has it!" answered the other voice, likewise in French.
"Shut up! She'll get on!" And Frank could hear them tear and haul at Durkin as they dragged him down the hall—just where, she could not distinguish.
She ran over to Keenan and shook him roughly. He looked at her a little stupidly, but did not seem able to respond to her entreaties.
"Quick!" she whispered, "or it will be too late!"
She flung her pitcher of water in his face and over his head, and poured brandy from her little leather-covered pocket-flask down his throat.
That seemed to revive him, for he sat up on the carpeted floor, mumblingly, and glowered at her. Then he remembered; and as she bathed his bruised head with a wet towel he caught at her hand foolishly.
"Have we lost them?" he asked huskily, childishly.
"No, they are here! See, intact, and safe. But you must take them back. Neither of us can go through that hall with them!"
"We're watched—we're prisoners here!"
"Then what'll we do?" he asked weakly, for he was not yet himself.
"You must take them, and get out of this room. There is only one way!"
"What is it?"
"You see this rope. It's meant for a fire-escape. You must let yourself down by it. You'll find yourself in a court, filled with empty barrels. That leads into a bake-shop—you can see the oven lights and smell the bread. Give the man ten lira, and he's sure to let you pass. Can you do it? Do you understand?"
"Yes," he said, still a little bewildered. "But where will I meet you?"
She pondered a moment.
"In Trieste, a week from tomorrow. But can you manage the rope?"
He laughed a little. "I ought to! I've been through a poolroom raid or two, over home!"
"In Trieste then, a week from morrow!"
She handed him her brandy-flask.
"You may need it," she explained. He was on his feet by this time, struggling to pull himself together.
"But you can't face that alone," he remonstrated, with a thumb-jerk toward the hall. "I won't see you touched by those damned rats!"
"'Ssssh!" she warned him. "They can't do anything to me now, except search me for those papers!"
"But even that!"
"I'll wait until I see you're safely down, then I'll run for the stairs. They've shut off all the lights outside, in this wing, but if they in any way attempt to ill-treat me, before I get to the main corridor, I'll scream for help!"
"But even to search you"—began Keenan again.
"Yes, I know!" she answered evenly. "It's not pleasant. But I'll face it"—she turned her eyes full upon him—"for you!"
They listened for a moment together at the opened window. The red lights were still burning here and there about the city in the streets below, and the carnival-like cries and noises still filled the air.
And she watched him anxiously as he and his packet of documents went down the dangling hemp rope, reached the stone paving of the little court, and disappeared in the square of light framed by the bake-shop window.
Then she turned back into the room, startled by a weak and wavering groan from Pobloff. She went to him, and tried to lift him up on the bed, but he was too heavy for her overtaxed strength. She wondered, as she slipped a pillow under his head, why she should be afraid of him in that comatose and helpless state—why even his white and passive face looked so vindictive and sinister in the dim light of the room.
But as he moved a little she started back, and caught up what things she could fling into her Gladstone bag, and put out the light, and groped her way across the room once more.
Then she flung open the door and stepped out into the hall, with a feeling that her heart was in her mouth, choking her.
She ceased running as she came to the bend in the hall, for she heard the sound of voices, and the light grew stronger. She would have dodged back, but it was too late.
Then she saw that it was Durkin, beside three jabbering and gesticulating Guardie di Pubblica Sicurezza.
"Oh, there you are!" said his equable and tranquil voice, as he removed his hat.
She did not speak, accepting silence as safer.
"I brought these gentlemen, for someone told me there was a drunken Englishman in the halls, annoying you, and I was afraid we might miss our train!"
She looked at the gendarmes and then on to the excited servants at their heels, in bewilderment. She was to escape, then, in safety!
"Explain to these gentlemen just what it was," she heard the warningly suave voice of her husband saying to her, "while I hurry down and order the carriage!"
She was nervous and excited and incoherent, yet as they followed at her side down the broad marble staircase she made them understand dimly that their protection was now unnecessary. No, she had not been insulted; not directly. But she had been affronted. It was nothing—only the shock of seeing a drunken quarrel; it had alarmed and upset her. She paused, caught at the balustrade, then wavered a little; and three solicitous arms in dark cloth and metal buttons were thrust out to support her. She thanked them, in her soft contralto, gratefully. The drive through the open air, she assured them, would restore her completely.
But all the while she was thinking how needlessly and blindly and foolishly she had surrendered and lost a fortune. Her path of escape had been an open one.
* * * * * *
"Won't they find out, and everything be known, before we can get to the station?" she asked, as the fresh night air fanned her throbbing face and brow.
"Of course they will!" said Durkin. "But we're not going to the station. We're going to the waterfront, and from there out to our steamer!"
"For where?" she asked.
"I scarcely know—but anywhere away from Genoa!"
Frances Durkin's memory of that hurried flight from Genoa always remained with her a confusion of incongruous and quickly changing pictures. She had a recollection of stepping from her cab into a crowded sailors' cafe chantant, of pushing past chairs and tables and hurrying out through a side door, of a high wind tearing at her hair and hat, as she and Durkin still hurried down narrow, stone-paved streets, of catching the smell of salt water and the musky odor of shipping, of a sharp altercation with an obdurate customs officer in blue uniform and tall peaked cap, who stubbornly barred their way with a bare and glittering bayonet against her husband's breast, while she glibly and perseveringly lied to him, first in French, and then in English, and then in Italian.
She remembered her sense of escape when he at last reluctantly allowed them to pass, while they stumbled over railway tracks, and the rough stones of the quay pavement, and the bundles of merchandise lying scattered about them. Then she heard the impatient lapping of water, and the outside roar of the waves, and saw the harbor lights twinkling and dancing, and caught sight of the three great white shafts of light that fingered so inquisitively and restlessly along the shipping and the city front and the widening bay, as three great gloomy Italian men-of-war played and swung their electric searchlights across the night.
Then came a brief and passionate scene with a harbor ferryman, who scorned the idea of taking his boat out in such a sea, who eloquently waved his arms and told of accidents and deaths and disasters already befallen the bay that night, who flung down his cap and danced on it, in an ecstasy of passionate argumentation. She had a memory of Durkin almost as excited as the dancing harbor orator himself, raging up and down the quay with a handful of Italian paper money between his fingers, until the boatman relented. Then came a memory of tossing up and down in a black and windy sea, of creeping under a great shadow stippled with yellow lights, of grating and pounding against a ship's ladder, of an officer in rubber boots running down to her assistance, of more blinking lights, and then of the quiet and grateful privacy of her own cabin, smelling of white-lead paint and disinfectants.
She slept that night, long and heavily, and it was not until the next morning when the sun was high and they were well down the coast, that she learned they were on board the British coasting steamer Laminian, of the Gallaway & Papyani Line. They were to skirt the entire coast of Italy, stopping at Naples and then at Bari, and then make their way up the Adriatic to Trieste. These stops, Durkin had found, would be brief, and the danger would be small, for the Laminian was primarily known as a freighter, carrying out blue-stone and salt fish, and on her return cruise picking up miscellaneous cargoes of fruit. So her passenger list, which included, outside of Frank and Durkin, only a consumptive Welsh school-teacher and a broken-down clergyman from Birmingham, who kept always to his cabin, was in danger of no over-close scrutiny, either from the Neapolitan Guardie Municipali on the one hand, or from any private agents of Keenan and Penfield on the other.
Even one short day of unbroken idleness, indeed, seemed to make life over for both Frank and Durkin. Steeping themselves in that comfortable sense of security, they drew natural and easy breath once more. They knew it was but a momentary truce, an interregnum of indolence; but it was all they asked for. They could no longer nurse any illusions as to the trend of their way or the endlessness of their quest. They must now always keep moving. They might alter the manner of their progression, they might change their stroke, but the continuity of effort on their part could no more be broken than could that of a swimmer at sea. They must keep on, or go down.
So, in the meantime, they plucked the day, with a touch of wistfulness born of their very distrust of the morrow.
The glimmering sapphire seas were almost motionless, the days and nights were without wind, and the equable, balmy air was like that of an American mid-summer, so that all of the day and much of the night they spent on deck, where the Welsh schoolmaster eyed them covertly, as a honeymoon couple engulfed in the selfish contentment of their own great happiness. It reminded Frank of earlier and older days, for, with the dropping away of his professional preoccupations, Durkin seemed to relapse into some more intimate and personal relationship with her. It was the first time since their flight from America, she felt, that his affection had borne out the promise of its earlier ardor. And it taught her two things. One was that her woman's natural hunger for love was not so dead as she had at times imagined. The other was that Durkin, during the last months, had drifted much further away from her than she had dreamed. It stung her into a passionate and remorseful self-promise to keep closer to him, to make herself always essential to him, to turn and bend as he might bend and turn, but always to be with him. It would lead her downward and still further downward, she told herself. But she caught solace from some blind belief that all women, through some vague operation of their affectional powers, could invade the darkest mires of life, if only it were done for love, and carry away no stain. In fact, what would be a blemish in time would almost prove a thing of joy and pride. And in the meantime she was glad enough to be as happy as she was, and to be near Durkin. It was not the happiness she had once looked for, but it sufficed.
They caught sight of a corner of Corsica, and on the following night could see the glow of the iron-smelting fires on Elba, and the twinkle of the island shore-lights. From the bridge, too, through one of the officers' glasses, Frank could see, far inland across the Pontine Marshes, the gilded dome of St. Peter's, glimmering in the pellucid morning sunlight.
She called Durkin, and pointed it out to him.
"See, it's Rome!" she cried, with strangely mingled feelings. "It's St. Peter's!"
"I wish it was the Statue of Liberty and New York," he said, moodily.
She realized, then, that he was not quite so happy as he had pretended to be. And she herself, from that hour forward, shared in his secret unrest. For as time slipped away and her eye followed the heightening line of the Apennines, she knew that tranquil Tyrrhenian Sea would not long be left to her.
It was evening when they rounded the terraced vineyards of Ischia. A low red moon shone above the belching pinnacle of Vesuvius. Frank and Durkin leaned over the rail together, as they drifted slowly up the bay, the most beautiful bay in all the world, with its twilight sounds of shipping, its rattle of anchor chains, its far-off cries and echoes, and its watery, pungent Southern odors.
They watched the ship's officer put ashore to obtain pratique, and the yellow flag come down, and heard the signal-bells of the engine-room, as the officer returned, with a great cigar in one corner of his bearded mouth.
There was nothing amiss. There were neither Carabinieri nor Guardie di Pubblica Sicurezza to come on board with papers and cross-questions. Before the break of day their discharged cargo would be in the lighters and they would be steaming southward for the Straits of Messina.
That night, on the deserted deck, at anchor between the city and the sea, they watched the glimmering lights of Naples, rising tier after tier from the Immacolatella Nuova and its ship lamps to the Palazzo di Capodimonte and its near-by Osservatorio. And when the lights of the city thinned out and the crowning haze of gold melted from its hillsides, with the advancing night, Frank and Durkin sat back in their steamer-chairs and looked up at the stars, talking of Home, and of the future.
Yet the beauty of that balmy and tranquil night seemed to bring little peace of mind to Durkin. There were reasons, of late, when moments of meditation were not always moments of contentment to him. His wife had noticed that ever-increasing trouble of soul, and although she said nothing of it, she had watched him narrowly and not altogether despondently. For she knew that whatever the tumult or contest that might be taking place within the high-walled arena of his own Ego, it was a clash of forces of which she must remain merely a spectator. So she went below, leaving him in that hour of passive yet troubled thought, to stare up at the tranquil southern stars, as he meditated on life, and the meaning of life, and what lay beyond it all. She knew men and the world too well to look for any sudden and sweeping reorganization of Durkin's disturbed and restless mind. But she nursed the secret hope that out of that spiritual ferment would come some ultimate clearness of vision.
It was late when he called her up on deck again, ostensibly to catch a glimpse of Vesuvius breaking and bursting into flame, above Barra and Portici. She knew, however, that slumbering and subterranean fires other than Vesuvius had erupted into light and life. She could see it by the new misery on his moonlit face, as she sat beside him. Yet she sat there in silence; there was so little that she could say.
"Do you know, you've changed, Frank, these last few months!" he at last essayed.
"Haven't there been reasons enough for it?" she asked, making no effort to conceal the bitterness of her tone.
"You're not happy, are you?"
"Are you?" she asked, in turn.
"Who can be happy, and think?"
She waited, passively, for him to go on again.
"You said you didn't much care what happened, so long as it kept us together, and left us satisfied."
"Isn't that enough?" she broke in, hotly, yet thrilling with the thought that he was about to tear away the mockery behind which she had tried to mask herself.
"No, it isn't enough! And now we're out of the dust of it, these last few days, I can see that it never can be enough. I've just been wondering where it leads to, and what it amounts to. I've had a feeling, for days, now, that there's something between us. What is it?"
"Ourselves!" she answered, at last.
"Exactly! And that is what makes me think you're wrong when you cry that you'll stoop every time I stoop. Every single crime that seems to be bringing us together is only keeping us apart. It's making you hate yourself, and because of that, hate me as well!"
"I couldn't do that!" she protested, catching at his hands.
"But I can see it with my own eyes, whether you want to or not. It can't be helped. It's beginning to frighten me, this very willingness of yours to do the things we oughtn't to. Why, I'd be happier, even, if you did them under protest!"
"But what is the difference, if I still do them?"
"It would show me that you weren't as bad as I am—that you hadn't altogether given up."
"I couldn't altogether give up, and live!" she cried, with sudden passion.
"But you told me as much, that night in Monte Carlo?"
"I didn't mean it. I was tired out that night; I was embittered, and insane, if you like! I want to be good! No woman wants sin and wrongdoing! But, O Jim, can't you see, it's you, you, I want, before everything else!"
He smote the palms of his hands together, in a little gesture of impotent misery.
"That's just it—you tried to make me save myself for my own sake,—and it couldn't be done. It was a failure. And now you're trying to make me save myself for your sake——"
"It's not your salvation I want—it's you!"
"But it's only through being honest that I can hold and keep you; can't you see that? If I can't trust myself, I can't possibly trust you!"
"Couldn't we try—once more?" Her voice was little more than a whisper.
He looked up at the soft and velvet stars that peered down so voluptuously from a soft and velvet sky. He looked at them for many moments, before he spoke again.
"If I got back to my work again, my right and honest work, I could be honest!" he declared, vehemently.
"But we are going back," she assuaged.
"Yes, but see what we have to go through, first!"
"I know," she admitted, unhappily. "But even then, we could say that it was to be for the last time."
"As we said before—and failed!"
"But this time we needn't fail. Think what it will mean if you have your work on your transmitting camera waiting for you—months and years of hard and honest work—work that you love, work that will lead to bigger things, and give you the time, yes, and the money, you need to perfect your amplifier. But outside of that, even to have your work—surely that's enough!"
"I'd have to have you, as well!" he said, out of the silence that had fallen upon them.
"You always will, Jim, you know that!"
"But I'm afraid of myself! I'm afraid of my moods—I'm afraid of my own distrust. I have a feeling that it may hurt you, sometime, almost beyond forgiveness!"
"I'll try to understand!" she murmured. And again silence fell over them.
"I'm afraid of making promises," he said, half whimsically, half weakly, after many minutes of thought.
"I don't want you to promise—only try!" she pleaded, swept by a wave of gratitude that seemed to fling her more intimately than ever before into her husband's arms. Yet it was a wave, and nothing more. For it receded as it came, leaving her, a moment later, chilled and apprehensive before their over-troubled future. With a little muffled cry of emotion, almost animal-like in its inarticulate intensity, she turned to her husband, and strained him in her arms, in her human and unhappy and unsatisfied arms.
"Oh, love me!" she pleaded, brokenly. "Love me! Love me—for I need it!"
They seemed strangely nearer to each other, after that night, and the peacefulness of their cruise to Bari remained uninterrupted. And once clear of that port Durkin's nervousness somewhat lightened, for he had figured out that they would be able to connect with one of the Cunard liners at Trieste. From there, if only they escaped attention and detection in the harbor, they would be turning homeward in two days.
One thing, and one thing only, lay between Frank and her husband: She had not yet found courage to tell him of the loss of the Penfield papers. And the more she thought of it, the more she dreaded it, teased and mocked by the very irony of the situation, disquieted and humiliated at the memory of her own pleadings for honesty while she herself was so far astray from the paths she was pointing out.
That sacrifice of scrupulosity on the altar of expediency, trivial as it was, was the heritage of her past life, she told herself. And she felt, vaguely, that in some form or another it would be paid for, and dearly paid for, as she had paid for everything.
It was only as they steamed into the harbor of Trieste, in the teeth of a bora and a high-running sea, that this woman who longed to be altogether honest allowed herself any fleeting moment of self-pity. For as she gazed up at the bald and sterile hills behind that clean and wind-swept Austrian city, she remembered they had been thus denuded that their timbers might make a foundation for Venice. She felt, in that passing mood, that her own life had been denuded, that all its softening and shrouding beauties had been cut out and carried away, that from now on she was to be torn by winds and scorched by open suns—while the best of her slept submerged, beyond the reach of her unhappy hands.
But Durkin, at her side, through the driving spray and rain, pointed out to her the huge rolling bulk and the red funnels of the Cunarder.
"Thank heaven!" he said, with a sigh of relief, "we'll be in time to catch her!"
The Laminian dropped anchor to the windward of the liner, and as dusk settled down over the harbor Frank took a wordless pleasure in studying the shadowy hulk which was to carry her back to America, to her old life and her old associations. But she was wondering how she should tell him of the loss of the Penfield securities. It was true that the very crimes that should have bound them together were keeping them apart!