Nora was not wanting in appreciation.
"It's the best thing I've had to eat since I left New York, and for some time before that," she assured him. "There hasn't been much Delmonico's for me during the last few months. Too many of your lot poking about Fourteenth Street."
"After all," he said, "that was bound to come to an end when America declared war. You people did the only wise thing—brother to San Francisco, eh, your father to Chicago, and you over here?"
"You do know things," she laughed.
"I am a perfect dictionary as to your movements," he assured her.
"Have you anything to do with the fact that my rooms have been searched by the police?" she asked abruptly.
"Indirectly I fear so," he confessed. "You see, up to the present we haven't the least idea as to what has become of all those documents and plans which Mr. Jocelyn Thew so very cleverly brought over to this country."
"Don't know where he's tucked them away, eh?" she enquired.
"That's a fact," Crawshay confessed. "We discovered, a trifle too late, how they were brought over, but what has become of them since Jocelyn Thew's arrival in London we do not know. Every one concerned has been searched, no deposit has been made at any hotel or in any of the ordinary places where one might conceal securities. They have momentarily vanished."
The girl's eyes twinkled.
"Well," she exclaimed, "he does put it over you, doesn't he? I wonder whether you think that I am going to be any use to you—that you'll trap Jocelyn Thew through me?"
"Not now," he answered. "I used to think so once."
"Why have you changed your mind?"
"Because," he told her bluntly, "I used once to think that you and he cared for one another."
"I have changed my mind," he admitted. "You know him so well that I need not remind you that where women are concerned he seems to have shown few signs of weakness. Personally, I have a theory that the time has come when he is likely to go the way of all other men."
She leaned across the table. Those wonderful brown eyes of hers were lit with an indescribable interest. Crawshay for a moment lost the thread of his thoughts. They were certainly the most beautiful eyes he had ever looked into.
"You think there is anything between those two—Katharine Beverley and him?"
"The consideration of that point," Crawshay continued, resuming his usual manner, "although it lies off the track of my present investigation, presents some points of interest. She can be of no further use to him in his present scheme. She certainly would not aid him in the concealment of any of his spoils, nor could she become an intermediary in forwarding them to their destination. Yet he has sent her roses every day she has been in England, and dined with her two nights following. You, who know him better than I do, will agree that such a course is unusual with him."
"But Dick Beverley is with them to-night, you told me," she reminded him.
"That scarcely alters the situation," Crawshay pointed out, "because his coming was quite unexpected. If anything, it rather strengthens my point of view. Beverley is very much a young man of the world, and he probably knows Jocelyn Thew's reputation. He certainly would not consent to meet him in this friendly fashion, in company with his sister, unless the latter insisted."
"She doesn't need to insist," Nora said, watching the champagne poured into her glass. "Unless you're kidding me, you don't seem to be able to see much further than your nose. Katharine Beverley didn't come across the Atlantic for her health, and Dick Beverley didn't join that little dinner party for nothing to-night. They both of them did as they were told, and they had to do it."
"This, I must confess," Crawshay murmured, smoothly and mendaciously, "puzzles me. Your idea is, then, that Jocelyn Thew has some hold over them?"
She laughed at him a little contemptuously.
"You are not going to make me believe," she said, "that you are not wise about that. It isn't clever, you know, to treat me as a simpleton."
"I am afraid," he confessed humbly, "that it is I who am the simpleton. You think, then, that the red roses are more emblematic of warfare than of love?"
Nora shrugged her shoulders and was silent for several moments. Her companion changed the subject abruptly, pointed out to her several theatrical celebrities, told her an entertaining story, and talked nonsense until the smile came back to her lips. It was Nora herself who returned to the subject of the Beverleys, reopening it with a certain abruptness which showed that it had never been far from her thoughts.
"See here, Mr. Crawshay," she said, "you seem to me to be wasting a lot of time worrying round a subject, when I don't know whether a straightforward question wouldn't clear it up for you. If you want to know what there is between those three, Jocelyn Thew and the two Beverleys, I don't know that I mind telling you. It's probably what you asked me to dine with you for, anyway."
"My dear Miss Sharey!" Crawshay protested, with genuine earnestness. "I can assure you that I had only one object in asking you to spend the evening with me."
She smiled at him over the glass which she had just raised to her lips.
"The pleasure of talking to you—of being with you."
"You're easily satisfied."
"Perhaps not so easily as I seem," he whispered, leaning a little forward in his place. "If only I were sure that you were not in love with Jocelyn Thew!"
"If you think that I am," she observed, "why are you always slinging that Beverley girl at me?"
"Perhaps," he said coolly, "to make you jealous. All's fair in love and war, you know."
"I see. Then what you really want is to make love to me yourself? I'm sitting here and taking notice. Go right ahead."
Crawshay let himself go for a few moments, and his companion listened to him approvingly.
"It sounds quite like the real thing," she sighed, "but I never trust you Englishmen. You seem to acquire the habit of talking love to us girls just as easily as you drink a cocktail. You know that if I were to put my little hand in yours this moment across the table, you wouldn't know what to do with it."
"Try me," Crawshay begged.
She held it out—a long, rather thin, capable woman's hand, manicured a few hours ago in the latest fashion, but ringless. Crawshay promptly raised it to his lips. She snatched it away, half amused, half vexed, and glanced furtively around.
"If you did that in an American restaurant," she told him, "you'd stand some chance of getting yourself laughed at."
"It's quite the custom over here and on the Continent," he assured her equably. "It means—well, just as much as you want it to mean."
She sighed and looked at her fingers reflectively.
"What you'd like me to tell you, then," she suggested, raising her eyes and looking at him thoughtfully, "is that I've never wasted a thought on Jocelyn Thew, but that Mr. Reginald Crawshay is it with a capital 'I'?"
"It would make me very happy," he assured her with much conviction.
She laughed at him very softly. Little sparks seemed to flash from her eyes, and her teeth were wonderful.
"You're very nice, anyway," she declared, "although I am not sure that I believe in you as much as I'd like to. I'll just tell you as much as I know. It really doesn't amount to anything. It was just after Jocelyn Thew had come back from Nicaragua and Dick Beverley was having a flare-up of his own in New York. They came together, those two, when Dick was in a tight corner. I don't know the story, but I know that Jocelyn Thew played the white man. Dick Beverley owes him perhaps his life, perhaps only his liberty, and his sister knows it. That's how those three stand to one another."
"I ought to have puzzled that out myself," Crawshay said humbly.
"I am not so sure," she retorted drily, "that you didn't, long ago."
"Surmises are of very little interest by the side of facts," he reminded her. "I like to have something solid to build upon."
She smiled at him appreciatively.
"If I were a sentimental sort of girl," she declared, "I could take a fancy to you, Mr. Crawshay."
"Now you're laughing at me," he protested. "However, I'm going right on with it and then we will dismiss all serious subjects. Miss Beverley has certainly quit herself of any obligation to Jocelyn Thew. Richard Beverley is no longer free. Besides, he has only a couple of days in England, so there's very little chance of his being of use. Yet," he continued impressively, "I happen to know that every hour just now is of the greatest importance to Jocelyn Thew. Why does he spend another entire evening with these two?"
"Say, which of us is the detective—you or me?" she demanded.
"Professionally, I suppose I am," he admitted. "Just now, however, I consider myself as indulging in the relaxation of private life."
She leaned across the table towards him, her chin supported by her clenched hands.
"Then relax all you want to," she begged, with a smile of invitation. "We'll drop the other stunt, if you don't mind. And please remember, though I've never enjoyed a dinner more in my life, that we don't want to be too late for the Empire."
Crawshay returned to his rooms about one o'clock the next morning, with his hat a little on the back of his head, and wearing, very much against his prejudice, a white rose in his buttonhole. Brightman, who was awaiting him there, looked up eagerly at his entrance.
"Any luck, Mr. Crawshay?"
Crawshay laid his hat and coat upon the table and mixed himself a whisky and soda.
"I am not sure," he replied thoughtfully. "Are you any good at English history, Brightman?"
"I won an exhibition in my younger days," the detective replied. "I used to consider myself rather great on history."
"Who won the Wars of the Roses?"
"The Lancastrians, of course."
"They were the chaps with the red roses, weren't they?" he observed. "Brightman, I fancy we are going to reverse that. I am laying five to one that I've found out how Jocelyn Thew counts on getting his spoils into Germany."
The dinner of the red roses, as though in emulation of its rival entertainment, seemed on its way to complete success. Jocelyn Thew, from whose manner there seemed to have departed much of the austerity of the previous evening, had never been a more brilliant companion. He, who spoke so seldom of his own doings, told story after story of his wanderings in distant countries, until even Katharine lost her fears of the situation and abandoned herself to the enjoyment of the moment. His tone was kindlier and his manner more natural. He spoke with regret of Richard Beverley's departure in a couple of days, and only once did he hint at anything in the least disturbing.
"Wonderful feat, that of you flying men," he remarked, "dropping ten thousand copies of Wilson's speech over the German lines. I am not sure that it isn't rather a dangerous precedent, though."
"Why dangerous?" Katharine enquired.
"Because," he answered coolly, "it might suggest a possible means of communication with Germany to a person, say, like myself."
"But you are not a flying man," Katharine reminded him.
"It would not be necessary," he observed, "for me to be my own messenger."
There was a brief and rather a blank silence. The shadow of a new fear had arisen in Katharine's heart. The brother and sister exchanged quick glances.
"I believe I am right," their host went on, a few minutes later, "in presuming that you have told Richard here the details of our little adventure upon the City of Boston?"
"I have told him everything," Katharine acknowledged. "You don't mind that, do you? I felt that I had to."
"You were quite right," Jocelyn Thew assented. "There is no reason for you to keep anything secret from Richard."
The young man was conscious of a sudden recrudescence of anger, the flaming up again of his first resentment.
"The whole thing was a rotten business, Thew," he declared. "I should never have resented your making use of me in any way you wished, but to make a tool of Katharine—"
"My dear fellow," Jocelyn Thew interrupted, smoothly but with a dangerous glitter in his eyes, "please don't go on. I have an idea that you were going to say something offensive. Better not. Your sister came to no real harm. She never ran any real risk."
"It depends upon the way you look at these things," the young man replied gloomily. "Katharine tells me that she is watched at her hotel day and night, and that she has come under the suspicion of the Government for being concerned in this affair."
"That really isn't of much account," the other assured him. "You yourself," he went on, "came very nearly under suspicion once for something infinitely more serious."
It was a chill note in the warmth of their festivities. Katharine glanced reproachfully at her host, and he seemed to realise at once his lapse.
"Forgive me, both of you," he begged. "I fear that I am a little irritable to-night. This constant espionage gets on one's nerves. Look at them all around us,—Crawshay in the corner, trying his best to get something incriminating out of Nora Sharey; Brightman smoking a cigar out there, with his eyes wandering all the time through the glass screen towards this table; and the young man who seemed to haunt your hotel, Miss Beverley—Henshaw I believe his name is—you see him dining there with his back turned ostentatiously towards us and a little pocket mirror by his side. There are three pairs of eyes that scarcely ever leave us. I don't know whether they expect me to produce my spoils from my pocket and lay them upon the table, or whether one of them is a student of the lip language and hopes to learn the secrets of our conversation. Bah! They are very stupid, this professional potpourri of secret-service agents and detectives. Can't you hear them, how they will whisper in the lobby after we have left? 'Jocelyn Thew is entertaining a young Flying Corps man on leave from the front, the brother of Miss Beverley, who has already helped him. What does that mean?' Then they will put their fingers to their noses and you, too, will probably be watched, Dick. They will congratulate themselves upon possessing the subtlety of the Devil. They will see through my scheme. They will say—'This young man is to drop the documents behind the German lines!' Don't be alarmed, Richard, if you find a secret service man in your bedroom when you get home to-night."
Katharine laughed almost joyously.
"Then you're not going to ask Dick to do anything of that sort?" she demanded, her tone indicating an immense relief.
"I am not going to ask your brother to do anything which is so palpably obvious," he replied. "His help I am certainly going to engage, but in a manner which is very unlikely to bring trouble upon him. I promise you that."
She suddenly leaned across the table. The cloud had passed from her features, the dull weight from her heart. Her eyes were more eloquent even than her tremulous lips.
"Mr. Thew," she said, "do you know that I have always had one conviction about you, and that is that all these strange adventures in which you have taken part—some of them, as you yourself have acknowledged, more creditable than others—you have entered into chiefly from that spirit of adventure, just the spirit in which Dick here," she added with a little shiver, "made his mistake. Why can't you satisfy that part of your nature as Dick is doing? This war, upon which we Americans looked so coldly at first, has become almost a holy war, a twentieth-century crusade. Why don't you join one of these irregular forces and fight?"
Then they both witnessed what they had never before seen in Jocelyn Thew. They saw his eyes blaze with a sudden concentrated fury. They saw his lips part and something that was almost a snarl transform and disfigure his mouth.
"Fight for England?" he exclaimed bitterly. "I would sooner cut off my right hand!"
His words left them at first speechless. He, too, after his little outburst seemed shaken, lacking in his usual sangfroid. It was Katharine who first recovered herself.
"But you are English?" she protested wonderingly.
"Am I?" he replied. "Will you forgive me if I beg you to change the subject?"
The subject was effectually changed for them by the advent of some of Richard Beverley's brothers in arms. It was some time before they passed on. Then a little note almost of tragedy concluded the feast. A tall and elderly man, gaunt, with sunken cheeks, silver-white hair, complexion curiously waxen, and big, dark eyes, left the table where he had been sitting with a few Americans and came over towards them. His advance was measured, almost abnormally slow. His manner would have been melodramatic but for its intense earnestness. He stood at their table for a few seconds before speaking, his eyes fixed upon Jocelyn Thew's in a curious, almost unnatural stare.
"You will forgive me," he said. "I must be speaking to Sir Denis Cathley?"
Neither of the two young people, who were filled with wonder at the strange appearance of the newcomer, noticed Jocelyn Thew's sudden grip of the tablecloth, the tightening of his frame, the ominous contraction of his eyebrows as for a moment he sat there speechless. Then he was himself again. He shook his head courteously.
"I am afraid," he replied, "that you must be making some mistake. My name is Jocelyn Thew."
"And mine," the stranger announced, "is Michael Dilwyn. Is that name known to you?"
"Perfectly well," Jocelyn Thew acknowledged. "I was present at the production of your last play in New York. I have since read with much regret," he went on courteously, "of the losses you have sustained."
The old man's wonderful eyes flashed for a moment.
"They are losses I am proud to endure, sir," he said. "But I did not come to speak of myself. I came to speak to Sir Denis Cathley."
Jocelyn Thew shook his head.
"It is a likeness which deceives you," he declared.
"A likeness!" the other repeated. "Nine weeks ago I stood in a ruined mansion—so dilapidated, in fact, that one corner of it is open to the skies. I listened to the roar of the Atlantic as I heard it in the same place fifty years ago. A herdsman and his wife, perhaps a girl or two, live somewhere in the back quarters. The only apartment in any sort of preservation is the one sometimes called the picture gallery and sometimes the banqueting hall. You should visit this ruined mansion, sir. You should visit it before you give me the lie when I call you Sir Denis Cathley."
Jocelyn Thew's hand for a moment shielded part of his face, as though he found the electric light a little strong. From behind the shelter of his palm his eyes met the eyes of his visitor. The latter suddenly turned and bowed to Katharine.
"You will forgive an old man," he begged courteously, "who has seen much trouble lately, for his ill manners. Perhaps your friend here, your friend whose name is not Sir Denis Cathley, can explain to you why I felt some emotion at the sight of so wonderful a likeness."
He bowed, murmured some broken words in reply to Katharine's kindly little speech, and moved away. Jocelyn Thew's eyes watched him with a curious softness.
"Yes," he acknowledged, "I can tell you why, if he really saw a likeness in me to the person he spoke of, it might remind him of strange things. You know him by name, of course—Michael Dilwyn?"
"He wrote the wonderful Sinn Fein play, 'The New Green,' didn't he?" Katharine asked eagerly. "I heard you mention it to him. My aunt and I were there at the first night."
"He wrote that and some more wonderful poetry. He has spent more than half his life working for the cause of Ireland. He was the father and patriarch of the last rising. One of his sons was shot at Dublin."
"And who is Sir Denis Cathley?"
"The Cathleys are another so-called revolutionary family," Jocelyn Thew explained. "The late Sir Denis, the father of the man whom he supposed me to be, was Michael Dilwyn's closest friend. They, too, have paid a heavy price for their patriotism or their rebellious instincts, whichever way you choose to look at the matter."
"I think," Katharine declared, "that Mr. Dilwyn is the most picturesque-looking man I ever saw. I don't believe that even now he is altogether convinced as to your identity."
"He has probably reached an age," was the cool reply, "when his memory begins to suffer.—Ah! I see our friend Crawshay is taking counsel with Henshaw. They are looking in this direction. Richard, my young friend, you are in a bad way. Suspicion is beginning to fasten upon you. Believe me, one of my parasites will be on your track to-night. I can almost convince myself as to their present subject of conversation. They are preening themselves upon having seen through my subtle scheme. I am very sure they are asking themselves—'When is the transfer of documents to take place?'"
"It may all seem very humorous to you," the young man remarked, a little sullenly, "but it leaves a sort of nasty flavour in one's mouth, all the same. If they were to suspect me of trying to drop documents over the German lines except under instructions, it would mean a court-martial, even though they were unable to prove anything, and a firing party in five minutes if they were."
"Take heart, my young friend," Jocelyn Thew advised him, "and do not refuse the Courvoisier brandy which our saintly friend with the chain is proffering. If it is not indeed a relic of the Napoleonic era, it is at least drinkable. And listen—this may help you to drink it with zest—I am not going to ask you to drop any documents over the German lines."
The thankfulness in Katharine's face was reflected in her brother's.
"Thank God for that!" he exclaimed, helping himself liberally to the brandy. "You know I'd find it hard to refuse you anything, Thew, but there are limits. Besides, you are never really out of sight there. We go out in squadrons, and from the height we fly at nothing I could drop would be very likely to reach its destination."
Jocelyn Thew smiled coldly.
"My dear Richard," he said, "I am not going to make you an unwilling partner in any foolhardy scheme such as you are thinking of, because that is just the Obvious thing that our friends who take so much interest in us would expect and prepare for. All the same, there is just a trifling commission which I will ask you to undertake for me, and which I will explain to you later. When do you leave?"
"Ten o'clock train from Charing Cross on Monday night," the young man replied. "I have to fly on Tuesday morning."
"Then if it pleases you we will all dine here that night," Jocelyn Thew suggested, "and I will take you on to the Alhambra for an hour. Doctor Gant and I were there our first night in town, and we found the performance excellent. You will honour me, Miss Beverley?"
"I shall be delighted," she answered, "but I am not at all sure that you will be able to get seats at the Alhambra."
"Why not?" he asked.
"There is a great benefit performance there on Monday night," she told him. "The house is closed now for rehearsals. All the stalls have gone already, and the boxes are to be sold by auction at the Theatrical Fete."
Jocelyn Thew was for a moment grave.
"I am very glad that you told me this," he said, "but I think that I can nevertheless promise you the stage box for Monday night. I have a call on it. We must all meet once more. It is just possible that I may have a pleasant surprise for both of you."
"Do give us an idea what it is," she begged.
He shook his head. Somehow, since the coming of Michael Dilwyn, a tired look had crept into his eyes. He seemed to have lost all his old vivacity. He had paid the bill some time before and they strolled together now into the lounge. Katharine was carrying half a dozen of the roses, which the waiter had pressed into her hand.
"To-night," she said, looking up into his face and dropping her voice a little, "I am feeling so much happier—happier than I have felt for a long time. Why do you keep us both, Mr. Thew, in such a state of uneasiness? You give us so little of your real confidence, so little of your real self. Sometimes it seems as though you deliberately try to make yourself out a harder, crueller person than you really are. Why do you do that?"
For a moment she fancied that the impossible had happened, that she had penetrated the armour of that steadfast and studied indifference.
"We are all just a little the fools of circumstance," he sighed. "A will to succeed sometimes, if it is strong enough, crushes out things we would like to keep alive."
She thrust one of the blossoms which she was carrying through his buttonhole.
"I know you will hate that," she whispered, "but you can take it out the moment you have gotten rid of us. Dick and I are going on now, you know, to the Esholt House dance. Shall I thank you for your dinner?"
"Or I you for your company?" he murmured, bowing over her fingers.
They took their leave, and Jocelyn Thew, almost as though against his will, walked back into the foyer, after a few minutes of hesitation, and sat there twirling the rose between his fingers, with his eyes fixed upon the interior of the restaurant. He had the air of one waiting.
Crawshay was awakened the next morning a little before the customary hour by his servant, who held out a card.
"Gentleman would like a word with you at once, sir," the latter announced.
Crawshay glanced at the card, slipped out of bed, and, attired in his dressing gown and slippers, made an apologetic entrance into the sitting room. The young man who was waiting there received him kindly, but obviously disapproved of the pattern of his dressing gown.
"Chief wants a word with you, sir," he announced. "He is keeping from ten to ten-thirty."
"I will be there," Crawshay promised, "on the stroke of ten."
"Then I need not detain you further," his visitor remarked, making a graceful exit.
Crawshay bathed, shaved and breakfasted, and at five minutes before ten entered an imposing-looking building and sent up his card to a very great man, who had a fancy for being spoken of in his department as Mr. Brown. After a very brief delay, he was admitted to the august presence. Mr. Brown waved his secretaries from the room, shook hands kindly with Crawshay and motioned him to a chair close to his own.
"Mr. Crawshay," he said, "this is the first time I have had the pleasure of meeting you, but we have received at various times excellent reports as to your work at Washington."
"I am very pleased to hear it, sir."
"From what I gather as to the present situation, however," the great man continued, "I imagine that you were more successful in the conventional secret service work than you have been in the very grave business I have sent for you to discuss."
"I should like to point out, sir," Crawshay begged, "that that foolish journey to Halifax was undertaken entirely against my convictions. I protested at the time! Neither had I any confidence in the summons to Chicago."
Mr. Brown took the circumstance into gracious consideration.
"I am glad to hear that," he said, "and I must admit that your recovery was almost brilliant. A sense of humour," he went on, "sometimes obtrudes itself into the most serious incidents, and the idea of your boarding that steamer from a seaplane and then getting to work upon your investigations will always remain to me one of the priceless unrecorded incidents of the war. But to put the matter into plain words, our enemies got the better of you."
"Absolutely," was the honest confession.
"There is no doubt," the right honourable gentleman continued, "that the person who took charge of this affair is exceedingly clever. He appears to have resource and daring. Personally, I, like you, never believed for a moment that the whole of the records of German espionage in America for the last three years, would be found upon the same steamer as that by which the departing ambassadorial staff travelled. However, I can quite see that under the circumstances you had to yield to the convictions of those who were already in charge of the affair."
"You have had full reports, sir, I suppose?" Crawshay asked. "You know the manner in which the documents were brought into this country?"
"A ghastly business," Mr. Brown acknowledged, "ingenious but ghastly. Yes, Mr. Crawshay," he went on, "I think I have been kept pretty well posted up till now. I have sent for you because I am not sure whether one point has been sufficiently impressed upon you. As you are of course aware, there are many documents and details connected with this propaganda which are of immense value to the police of New York, but there is just one—a letter written in a moment of impulse by one great personage to another, and stolen—which might do the cause of the Allies incalculable harm if it were to fall into the wrong hands."
"I had a hint of this, sir. Mason knew of it, too. His idea was that they would be quite willing to destroy all the rest of the treasonable stuff they have, if they could be sure of getting this one letter through."
"The documents have been in England now," Mr. Brown observed, "for some days. Have you formed any theory at all as to where they may be concealed?"
"To be perfectly frank," Crawshay confessed, "I have not. Doctor Gant, Jocelyn Thew, a young woman called Nora Sharey, and Miss Beverley are the four people possibly implicated in their disappearance, although of these two I consider Miss Sharey and Miss Beverley out of the question. Nevertheless, their rooms and every scrap of property they possess have been searched thoroughly, and their movements since they arrived in London are absolutely tabulated. Not one of them has written a letter or dispatched a parcel which has not been investigated, nor have they made a call or even entered a shop without being watched. It seems absolutely impossible that they can have taken any steps towards the disposal of the documents since Jocelyn Thew arrived in London."
"Have they given any indication of their future plans?"
"Doctor Gant," Crawshay replied, "has booked a passage back in the American boat which sails for Liverpool early to-morrow morning. We shall escort him there, and his effects will be searched once more in Liverpool. Otherwise, we have no intention of detaining him. He and Miss Beverley were simply the tools of the other man."
"And the other man?"
"He has shown no signs of making any move whatsoever. He lives, to all appearance, the perfectly normal life of a man of leisure. I understand that he is entirely a newcomer to this sort of business, but he is, without a doubt, the most modern thing in secret service. He lives quite openly at a small suite in the Savoy Court. He never makes the slightest concealment about any of his movements. We know how he has spent every second of his time since we first took up the search, and I can assure you that there is not a single suspicious incident recorded against him."
"You are satisfied," Mr. Brown asked, "with the aid which you are getting from Scotland Yard?"
"Absolutely," Crawshay declared. "Brightman, too—the man who came down with me from Liverpool—has done excellent work."
"And notwithstanding all this," was the somewhat grave criticism, "you have not the slightest idea where these documents are to be found?"
"Not the slightest," Crawshay confessed. "All that I do feel convinced of is that they have not left the country."
The great man leaned back a little wearily in his chair. There were some decoded cables, lying under a paper weight by his side, imploring him in the strongest possible terms to make use of every means within his power to solve this mystery,—a personal appeal from a man whose good will might sway the balance of the future. He was used to wonderful service in every department he controlled. His present sense of impotence was galling.
"Tell me, Mr. Crawshay," he asked, "how long was the gap of time between your losing sight of Jocelyn Thew and when you picked him up in London?"
"Very short indeed," was the emphatic reply. "Jocelyn Thew must have left the City of Boston at about eight o'clock on Monday morning. He met Gant at five o'clock that evening at Crewe station. Gant had come direct from Frisby, the little village near Chester where he had left the body of Phillips. It is obvious, therefore, that Gant had the papers with him when he joined Jocelyn Thew. They travelled to London together but parted at Euston, Gant going to a cheap hotel in the vicinity of Regent Street, whilst Thew drove to the Savoy. Gant called at the Savoy Hotel at nine o'clock that evening, and the two men dined together in the grill room and took a box at a music hall—the Alhambra. Up to this time neither of them had received a visitor or dispatched a message—Thew, in fact, had spent more than an hour in the barber's shop. They returned from the Alhambra together, went up to Thew's rooms, had a drink and separated half an hour later. This, of course, is in a sense posthumous information, but Scotland Yard have it tabulated down to the slightest detail, and we are unable to find a single suspicious circumstance in connection with the movements of either man. At four o'clock the following morning, when both men were asleep in their rooms, the cordon was drawn around them. Since then they haven't had a chance."
"The fact that the papers are not in the possession of either of them," Mr. Brown said reflectively, "proves that they made some move of which you have no record."
"Precisely," Crawshay agreed, "but it must have been a move of so slight a character that chance may reveal it to us at any moment."
"Describe Jocelyn Thew to me," Mr. Brown begged.
"He has every appearance," Crawshay declared, "of being a man of breeding. He is scarcely middle-aged—tall and of athletic build. He dresses well, speaks well, and I should take him anywhere for an English public school and college man."
"Did New York give you his record?"
"In a cloudy sort of way. He seems to have had a most interesting career, ranching out West, fighting in Mexico, fighting in several of the Central American states, and fighting, I shrewdly suspect, against England in South Africa. He seems to have been a sort of stormy petrel, and to have turned up in any place where there was trouble. In New York the police always suspected him of being connected with some great criminal movements, but they were never able to lay even a finger upon him. He lived at one of the best hotels in the city, disappeared sometimes for days, sometimes for weeks, sometimes for a year, but always returned quite quietly, with apparently any amount of money to spend, and that queer look which comes to a man who has been up against big things."
"He is an Englishman, I suppose?"
"He must be. His accent and manners and appearance are all unmistakable."
"How long was he suspected of being in the pay of our enemies before this thing transpired?"
"Only a very short time. There was a little gang in New York—Rentoul, the man who had the wireless in Fifth Avenue, was in it—and they used to meet at a place in Fourteenth Street, belonging to an old man named Sharey. That's where Miss Sharey comes into the business. There were some queer things done there, but they don't concern this business, and New York has the records of them."
"Jocelyn Thew," Mr. Brown repeated slowly to himself. "Where did you say he was staying?"
"At the Savoy Court."
Mr. Brown looked fixedly at the cables, fluttering a little in the breeze which blew in through the half-open window.
"All this isn't very encouraging, Mr. Crawshay," he sighed.
"Up to the present no," the former admitted. "Yet I can promise you one thing, sir. Those papers shall not leave the country."
"I am glad to hear you speak with so much confidence," Mr. Brown observed drily. "Mr. Jocelyn Thew seems at any rate to have managed to secrete them without difficulty."
"That may be so," Crawshay acknowledged, "and yet I am convinced of one thing. They are disposed of in some perfectly obvious way, and within the next forty-eight hours he will make some effort to repossess himself of them. If he does, he will fail."
Mr. Brown glanced at his watch.
"I am very much obliged to you for coming to see me," he said. "You are doing your best, I know, and I beg you, Mr. Crawshay, never for a moment to let your efforts relax. The mechanical side of the watch that is being kept upon these people I know we can rely upon, but you must remember that you are the brains of this enterprise. Your little band of watchers will be quiet enough to see the things that happen and the things that exist. It is you who must watch for the things which don't happen."
Crawshay smiled slightly as he rose to take his leave.
"I do not as a rule suffer from over-confidence, sir," he said, "but I think I can promise you that by Wednesday night not only will the papers be in our hands, but Mr. Jocelyn Thew will be so disposed of that he will be no longer an object of anxiety to us."
"Get on with the good work, then," was Mr. Brown's laconic farewell.
Late on the following afternoon, Jocelyn Thew and Gant paced the long platform at Euston, by the side of which the special for the American boat was already drawn up. Curiously enough, in their immediate vicinity Mr. Brightman was also seeing a friend off, and on the outskirts of the little throng Mr. Henshaw was taking an intelligent interest in the scene.
"Perhaps, after all," Jocelyn Thew declared, "you are right to go. You have been very useful, and you have, without a doubt, earned your thousand pounds."
"It was easy money," the other admitted, "but even now I am nervous. I shall be glad to be back once more in my own country."
"You are certainly right to go," the other repeated. "If you had been different, if you had been one of those men after my own heart," Jocelyn Thew went on, resting his hand for a moment upon Gant's shoulder, "one of those who, apart from thought of gain or hope of profit, love adventure for its own sake, I should have begged you to stay with me. I would have sent you on bogus errands to mysterious places. I would have twisted the brains of those who have fastened upon us in a hundred different fashions. But alas, my friend, you are not like that!"
"I am not," Gant admitted, gruffly but heartily. "I have done a job for you, and you have paid me very well. I am glad to have done it, because I love Germany and I do not love England. Apart from that my work is finished. I like to go home. I am happiest with my wife and family."
"Quite so," his companion agreed. "I know your type, Gant,—in fact, I chose you because of it. You like, as you say, to do your job and finish with it,—and you have finished."
The doctor turned for a moment deliberately round and looked at his companion. He was a heavy-browed, unimaginative, quiet-living man. The things which passed before his eyes counted with him, and little else. The thousand pounds which he was taking home was more than he had been able to save throughout his life. To him it represented immense things. He would probably not spend a dollar more, or indulge in a single luxury, yet the money was there in the background, a warm, comforting thing.
"You have still," he said, "a desperate part to play. Can you tell me honestly that you enjoy it, that you have no fear?"
Jocelyn Thew repeated the word almost wonderingly.
"Fear! Do you really know me so little, my friend of few perceptions? Listen and I will confess something. I have fought for my life at least a dozen times, fought against odds which seemed almost hopeless. I have seen death with hungry, outstretched arms, within a few seconds' reach of me, but I have never felt fear. I do not know what it is. The length of one's life is purely a relative thing. It will come in ten or twenty years, if not to-morrow. Why not to-morrow?"
"If you put it like that," Gant grunted, "why not to-day?"
"Or at any moment, if you will. I am quite ready, as ready as I ever shall be. If I fail to bring off what I desire within the next few days, there will be an end of me. Do I look as though I were worrying about that?"
"You don't indeed," the doctor agreed. "You ought to have been in my profession. You might have become the greatest surgeon in the world."
Jocelyn Thew shrugged his shoulders.
"Even that is possible," he admitted. "Unfortunately, there was a cloud over my early days, a cloud heavy enough even to prevent my offering my services to the world through the medium of any of the recognized professions. So you see, Gant, I had to invent one of my own. What would you call it, I wonder?—Buccaneer? Adventurer? Explorer? Perhaps my enemies would find a more unkind word.—Now you had better step in and take your seat. Behold the creatures of our friend Brightman and the satellites of the aristocratic Crawshay close in upon us! They listen for farewell words. Is this your carriage? Very well. Here comes your porter, hungry for remuneration. Shall I give them a hint, Gant?"
There flashed in the hunted man's eyes for a moment a gleam of almost demoniacal humour.
Gant glowered at him. "You are mad!" he exclaimed.
"Not I, my dear friend," Jocelyn Thew assured him, as he gripped his hand in a farewell salute. "Believe me, it is not I who am mad. It is these stupid people who search for what they can never find. They lift up the Stars and Stripes and find nothing. They lift up the Union Jack; again nothing. They try the Tricolour; rien de tout. But if they have the sense to try the Crescent—eh, Gant?—Well, a safe voyage to you, man. Sleep in your waistcoat, and remember me to every one in New York. I can't promise when I shall be back. I have taken a fancy to England. Still, one never knows.—Good-by."
Thew watched the long train crawl out of the station, waved his hand in farewell, forced a greeting upon the reluctant Brightman, whom he passed examining the magazines upon a bookstall, and, summoning a taxi, was duly deposited at the Alhambra Theatre. He made his way to the box office.
"I have called," he explained to the young man, "to see you about Box A on Monday night. I understand that there is a benefit performance."
"Quite so, sir," the young man replied, "and I ought to have explained the matter to you at the time, when you engaged the box. If you will remember, although you took it for a week, you only paid for five nights. I omitted to tell you that for Monday night the box is not ours to dispose of."
"It isn't yet sold, I hope?"
"Not yet, sir. The boxes will be disposed of by auction to-morrow afternoon at the Theatrical Garden Party. Mr. Bobby is going to act as auctioneer."
"I see," Jocelyn Thew said thoughtfully. "The performance is, I believe, on behalf of the Red Cross?"
"That is so."
"In that case, supposing I offer you now one hundred guineas for the box?"
"Very generous indeed, sir," the young man admitted, "but we are pledged to allow all the boxes to be sold by Mr. Bobby. I think that if you are prepared to go to that sum, you will have no difficulty in securing it."
Jocelyn Thew frowned slightly.
"I wasn't thinking of going to the Theatrical Garden Party," he remarked.
"You could perhaps get a friend to bid for you, sir," the young man suggested. "We hope to get fifty guineas for the large boxes, but I should think an offer such as yours would secure any one of them."
"I rather dislike the publicity of an auction," Jocelyn Thew observed, as he turned to take his leave. "However, if charity demands it, I suppose one must waive one's prejudices."
He strolled out and hesitated for a moment on the pavement. A curious change had taken place in what a few hours ago had seemed to be a perfect summer day. The clouds were thick in the sky, a few drops of rain were already falling, and a cold wind, like the presage of a storm, was bending the trees in the square. For a single moment he was conscious of an unsuspected weakness. A wave of depression swept in upon him. An unreasoning premonition of failure laid a cold hand upon his heart. He met the careless gaze of an apparent loiterer who was studying the placards without derision, almost with apprehension. Then he ground his heel into the pavement and re-entered his taxicab.
"Savoy," he directed.
Captain Richard Beverley, on his way through the hotel smoking room to the Savoy bar, stopped short. He looked at the girl who had half risen from her seat on the couch with a sudden impulse of half startled recognition. Her little smile of welcome was entirely convincing.
"Why, it's Nora Sharey!" he exclaimed. "Nora!"
"Well, I am glad you've recognised me at last," she said, laughing. "I tried to make you see me last night in the restaurant, but you wouldn't look."
He seemed a little dazed, even after he had saluted mechanically, held her hand for a moment and sank into the place by her side.
"Nora Sharey!" he repeated. "Why, it was really you, then, dining last night with that fellow Crawshay?"
"Of course it was," she replied, "and I recognised you at once, even in your uniform."
"You know that Jocelyn Thew is here? You saw him with us last night?"
"Yes, I know."
"Stop a moment," Richard Beverley went on. "Let me think, Nora. Jocelyn Thew must have seen you dining with Crawshay. How does that work out?"
"He doesn't mind," she replied. "Let that stuff alone for a time. I want to look at you. You're fine, Dick, but what does it all mean?"
"I couldn't stick the ranch after the war broke out," he confessed. "I moved up into Canada and took on flying."
"You are fighting out there in France?"
"Have been for six months. Some sport, I can tell you, Nora. I've got a little machine gun that's a perfect daisy. Gee! I've got to pull up. The hardest work we fellows have sometimes is to remember that we mustn't talk about our job. They used to call me undisciplined. I'm getting it into my bones now, though.—Why, Nora, this is queer! I guess we're going to have a cocktail together, aren't we?"
She nodded. He called to a waiter and gave an order. Then he turned and looked at her appreciatively.
"You're looking fine," he declared.
She smiled with pleasure at the undoubted admiration in his tone. In the new and fashionable clothes which she had purchased during the last few days, the artistically coiffured hair, the smart hat and carefully-thought-out details of her toilette, she was a transformed being, in no way different from the half a dozen other young ladies who were gathered with their escorts at the further end of the room.
"I am glad you think so," she replied. "Seems to me I've had nothing else to do since I got here but buy frocks and things."
He looked at her in a puzzled fashion.
"You didn't come over with Jocelyn Thew, did you, Nora?" "Of course I didn't," she answered indignantly. "If you want to know the truth, it looked as though there was going to be trouble at Fourteenth Street. Dad made a move out West, and I had a fancy for making a little trip this way."
"Kind of lonesome, isn't it?" he asked.
"In a way," she sighed. "Still, I am going on presently to where I fancy I shall meet a few friends."
"And meanwhile," he remarked, "you are still friendly with Jocelyn Thew, and you dined last night, didn't you, with the man who has sworn to hunt him down?"
She shrugged her shoulders.
"You know what I think of Jocelyn Thew," she said. "I'm crazy about him, and always shall be, but I've never seen him look twice at a woman yet in his life, and never expect to. Dick!"
"May I ask you a question—straight?"
"Don't think I mean to say a word against Jocelyn Thew. He's a white man through and through, and I think if there was any woman in the world he cared for, she would be his slave. But he's a desperate man. Even now the police are trying to draw their net around him. It was all very well for you, when you were painting New York red, to choose your friends where it pleased you, but your sister—she's different, isn't she?—what they call over on our side a society belle. I am not saying that there is a single person in the world too good for Jocelyn Thew to sit down with, but at the present moment—well, he's hard up against it. Things might happen to him, you know, Dick."
For a moment the young man was silent. His eyes seemed to look through the walls of the room, seemed to conjure up some spectre from which a moment later he shrank.
"You see, Nora," he explained, dropping his voice a little, "there was just one time when Jocelyn Thew stood by me like a brick. I was hard up against it and he saved me."
She leaned a little closer to him.
"I have often wondered," she murmured. "That was the affair down at the Murchison country house, wasn't it?"
Richard Beverley assented silently.
"Guess we'll drink these cocktails," he said, watching the waiter approach. "Flying takes something out of you all the time, you know, Nora, and although when I am up my nerves are like a rock, I sometimes feel a little shaky at leave time."
"Drink?" she asked tersely.
"I've quit that more or less," he assured her. "Still, I have been taking some these last few days. Finding Katharine over here with Jocelyn Thew hanging around gave me kind of a shock."
"You weren't best pleased to see them together, I should think, were you?"
"No," he admitted, a little sullenly.
"You're angry with him, aren't you?"
"Kind of," he confessed. "I wouldn't have complained at anything he'd asked me to do, but it was a low-down trick to get Katharine into this trouble." His eyes shone out with a dull anger. She watched him curiously.
"Dick, you're not the boy you were," she sighed. "Guess you're sorry you ever came to that supper party at the Knickerbocker, aren't you?"
He turned and looked at her. He was only twenty-two years old, but there were things in his face from which a man might have shrunk.
"Yes, I am sorry," he confessed. "I am not blaming anybody but I shall be sorry all my life."
"Jocelyn Thew treated you very much as he did me," she went on. "He carried you off your feet. You thought him the most wonderful thing that ever lived. It was the same with me. He has never given as much of himself as his little finger, never even looked at me as though I were a human being, but I'd have scrubbed floors for him a month after we first met. It was just the same with you, only you were a man. You'd have committed murder for his sake, a week after that party."
He gave a sudden start, a start that amazed her. His hand was upon her shoulder. His eyes, red with fury, were blazing into hers.
"What's that you're saying, Nora? What's that?"
She was speechless, paralysed by that little staccato cry. A group of people near looked around. She laughed shrilly to cover the intensity of the moment.
"No need to get excited!" she exclaimed. "Pull yourself together," she went on, under her breath. "Waiter, two more cocktails." He recovered himself almost at once, but the strained look was there about his mouth.
"Nerves, you see," he muttered. "I shall be all right again when I get back to France."
She laid her hand gently upon his arm.
"Dick," she said, "you are often upon my conscience. You were such a nice boy, back in those days. Everything that's happened to you seems to have happened since you met Jocelyn Thew that night. He has got some sort of a hold, hasn't he? What is it?"
The young man moistened his dry lips. The waiter brought their cocktails and he drank his greedily.
"I'll tell you, Nora," he promised. "Perhaps it'll do me good to listen how the story sounds as I tell it. First of all, let us have the thing straight. Jocelyn Thew never helped me into trouble. I was in it, right up to the neck, when I met him."
"You kept it to yourself," she murmured curiously.
"Because I was a fool," he answered, "and because I believed I could pull things straight. But anyway, I was owing Dan Murchison seventy thousand I'd lost at poker. He was kind of shepherding me. He was a rough sort, Dan, and he had an ambitious wife, and I had a name he liked. Well, he was giving a week-end party down at that place of his on the Hudson. He asked me, or rather he ordered me down. I was only too glad to go. Then Mrs. Murchison chipped in—wanted my sister, wanted to put it in the paper. Katharine kicked, of course. So did I. Murchison for the first time showed his teeth—and we both went. Jocelyn Thew was another of the guests."
"Tough, wasn't it?"
"Hell! On the way down—I don't know why, but I was feeling pretty desperate—I told Jocelyn Thew how I stood with Murchison. He listened but he didn't say much. He never does. It was a rotten party—common people, one or two professional gamblers, a lot of florid, noisy, overdressed, giggling women. After the women were supposed to have gone to bed, we sat down to what Dan Murchison called a friendly game—a hundred dollars ante, and a thousand rise. Jocelyn Thew played, three other men, and Murchison. After about an hour of it, I'd lost over twenty thousand dollars. The others had it between them, except Jocelyn, and about his play there was a very curious thing. He put in his ante regularly when it came to him, but he never made a single bet. Murchison turned to him once.
"'Say, you must be having rotten cards, Mr. Thew,' he said.
"Jocelyn shook his head very deliberately. I can hear his reply even now. Kind of quiet it was and deliberate.
"'I don't fancy my chances of winning at this game.'
"I knew what he meant later. I didn't tumble to it at the time. We played till two o'clock. God knows how much I'd lost! Then Murchison called the game off. He locked up his winnings in a little safe let into the wall. I was standing by him, drinking, and I saw the combination. Jocelyn Thew was sitting quite by himself, as though deep in thought.—We all got up to bed somehow. I sat for some hours at the open window. Pretty soon I got sober, and I began to realise what had happened. And all the time I thought of that safe, chock full of money, and the combination ready set. I heard Katharine moving about in her room, and I knew that she was waiting for me to go and say good night. I wouldn't. I put on a short jacket instead of my dress coat, and I took an electric torch out of my dressing case and I went down-stairs. I'd made up my mind, Nora. I meant to rob that safe."
She was carried away by his narrative. He had let himself go now, speaking in short, quick sentences. Yet his plain words seemed to paint with a marvellous vividness the story he told. It seemed to her that she could see it all, could realise what he went through.
"Go on, Dick," she whispered. "I understand."
"Well, I got down into the room all right, and I got the safe open, and there was the money, and, right facing me, my letters and bonds, and pretty well a hundred thousand dollars in cash. And then I saw the lights flare up, and Murchison was there in his shirt and trousers.
"'So that's your game, is it, Richard Beverley?' he said.
"There were two of the others with him who'd been playing cards. There they were, three strong men, and I was a thief! I felt limp. I hadn't an ounce of resistance in me. Murchison stood there, showing his ugly teeth, his small eyes full of anger.
"'So you're a thief, are you, Richard Beverley?' he went on.
"I couldn't speak. At that moment they could have done just what they liked with me. And then the door opened very quietly and closed again. Jocelyn Thew came in. I saw Murchison's face. I tell you, Nora, it was something you wouldn't forget in a hurry.
"'Is anything wrong?' Jocelyn Thew asked calmly.
"One of the guests pointed to Murchison and me.
"'We heard footsteps,' he explained. 'Dan called me and I followed him down. Young Beverley there was at the safe.'
"'Probably helping himself,' Jocelyn said, in that same smooth, dangerous tone, 'to his own money.'
"'To what?' Murchison cried.
"'To his own money,' Jocelyn repeated, coming a little nearer. 'You know, Murchison, well enough what I mean—you and your two confederates here. You're nothing more nor less than common card sharpers. I took a pack of your cards up-stairs. I needn't say anything more. I think you'd better give the boy back his money. I meant to wait until to-morrow. Fate seems to have anticipated me. How much did you lose, Richard?'
"Dan Murchison strode up to him and I saw one of the other men go for his hip pocket.
"'Will you take that back?' Murchison demanded.
"'Not on your life!' Thew replied.
"Murchison went for him, but he hadn't a dog's chance. I never saw such a blow in my life. Jocelyn hit him on the point of the chin and he went over like a log—cut his head against the fender. He lay there groaning, and I—I swear to you, Nora, that I'm not a coward, but I couldn't move—my knees were shaking. The two of them went for Jocelyn, and before they could get there the door opened and a third man came in—Jake Hannaway, the most dangerous of the lot. Jocelyn kept the other two off and half turned his head towards me, where I was standing like a gibbering, nerveless lunatic.
"'I think you'd better take a hand, Richard,' he said."
Nora gasped a little and laid her hand upon his sleeve.
"Don't, Dick," she begged,—"not for a moment. I can't bear it. Just a moment."
She clutched at the side of the settee. Richard Beverley simply sat still, looking through the walls of the room. There was not the slightest change in his face. He just waited until Nora whispered to him. Then he went on.
"I won't tell you about the fight," he said. "I wasn't much use at first. Jocelyn was there, taking two of them on, and butting in sometimes against Hannaway, who'd tackled me. Then I began to get my strength back, and I think I should have settled Hannaway, but the door opened softly and I saw Katharine's face. She gave a little shriek, and Jake Hannaway got me just at the back of the head. I was pretty well done in, but Thew suddenly swung round and caught Jake Hannaway very nearly where he had hit Murchison. Down he went like a log. I stood there swaying. I can see the room now—a table overthrown, glasses and flower vases all over the floor, and those two men looking as though they meant to murder Thew. They rushed at him together. He dodged one, but his strength was going. Then for the first time he sprang clear of them, got his back to the wall.—I won't spin it out—he shot one of them through the shoulder. The other one had had enough and tried to bolt. Jocelyn Thew was just too quick for him. He flung a heavy candlestick and got him somewhere on the neck. There they all were now—Murchison sitting up and dabbing his face, half conscious, one of the others groaning and streaming with blood, the other lying—just as though he were dead. Jocelyn turned and spoke to Katharine—I can hear his voice now—I swear, Nora, there wasn't a quaver in it—
"'I am afraid, Miss Beverley,' he said, 'that your brother has unwittingly brought you into a den of thieves. I had my suspicions, and my car, instead of being at the garage, is under the shrubs there. One moment.'
"He stepped out into the hall, brought a coat and threw it around her. Then he turned to me.
"'Empty the safe, Richard,' he ordered.
"I obeyed him. There was all the money I owed Murchison there, and a lot of other stuff. We stepped out of the French windows. Jocelyn moved the leg of one of those men on one side and held the window open for Katharine to pass through. I tell you he set the switch and started his car without a tremor. Katharine was nearly fainting. I was still fogged. He drove us into New York with scarcely a word. It was daylight when we reached our house in Riverside Drive. He drove up to the front door.
"'Perhaps if you don't mind, Richard,' he said, 'you could lend me an overcoat. People are quite content to accept us as night joy-riders, but I am scarcely respectable for anything in the shape of a close examination.'
"Then I saw that he was all over blood on one side. Katharine took him away and sponged him, although he laughed at it. Then he had me in the study and together we went through the stuff we'd brought away. He made me keep what Murchison had done me out of, and the rest he made into a packet, addressed ready for posting and left it on the table.
"'For anything else that may happen, Dick,' he said, 'we must take our chance. I have had my suspicions of that man Murchison for a long time. My own opinion is that we shall hear nothing more about the matter.'"
Nora turned and looked at her companion with big, startled eyes.
"But it was Jake Hannaway," she exclaimed, "whom they accused of making a row!"
He stopped her, without impatience but firmly.
"Jake Hannaway died the next day," he said. "I must have hit him harder than I thought—or Jocelyn did! He had no relatives, no friends. Murchison put the whole trouble down to him, admitted that there was a row over a game of cards, and a free fight. The other two swore to exactly the same story. Our names—mine and Jocelyn's, were never brought in. Murchison never came near me again. I have never seen him since. That's the whole story."
"What about the police examination?" she asked curiously. "I know no more than you do," he replied. "I expect Murchison had a pull, and he was terrified of Jocelyn Thew. I—I went to Jake Hannaway's funeral," the young man went on, with a slight quiver in his tone. "I've seen his face, Nora, up in the clouds. I've seen it when I've been flying ten thousand feet up. Suddenly a little piece of black sky would open and I'd see him looking down at me!"
There was a brief silence. From somewhere through the repeatedly opened swing doors came the rise and fall of music, played from a distant orchestra. There were peals of laughter from a cheerful party at the other end of the little room. Nora patted her companion's arm gently, and his eyes and manner became more natural.
"It's done me good to tell you this," he said, half apologetically. "Katharine's the only other living creature I've dared to speak to about it, and she was there—she saw! Nora, that man can fight like a tiger!"
"Hush!" she whispered. "Here he comes."
The swing door was opened and Jocelyn Thew, back from his visit to the box office at the Alhambra, entered the room. He raised his eye brows a little as he saw the pair. Then he advanced towards them.
"Do you know, for the moment I had quite forgotten," he confided, as he sank into an easy-chair by their side. "Of course, you two are old acquaintances."
Nora murmured something. Richard Beverley rose to his feet.
"Well, I'd better be getting along," he said. "It's been fine to see you again, Nora," he added, taking her hand in his. "See you later, Thew."
He nodded with something of his old jauntiness and swung out of the room. They both watched him in silence.
"Not quite the young man he was," Jocelyn Thew observed thoughtfully. "Is it my fancy, I wonder, or does he drink a few too many cocktails when he is on leave?"
"Richard Beverley's all right," Nora answered. "He is more sensitive than he seems, and there's an ugly little corner in his life to live down. He is doing the best he can to atone. Jocelyn," she went on, with a sudden earnestness in her tone, "you're going to leave him alone, aren't you? You haven't any scheme in your head for making use of him?"
"One never knows," was the cool reply.
She looked at him curiously.
"Jocelyn," she said, "you're a hard man. You set your hand to a task and you don't care whom in the world you sacrifice to gain your end. You were a fine friend to Richard Beverley once, but surely his sister has done her best to pay his debt? Don't do anything that will make him ashamed of the uniform he wears."
"Very pretty," he murmured approvingly, "but I must take you back to your own words—they were true enough. When I have a task to perform, when I pledge myself to a certain thing, I do it, and I must make use of those whom fate puts in my way. Richard Beverley and his sister are a very attractive couple, but if circumstances decree that they are the pawns by means of which I can win the game, then I must make use of them.—Dear me," he added, "my friend Crawshay! I fear that I shall be de trop."
Nora turned to greet the newcomer, and Thew sauntered away with a little bow of farewell, quite courteous, even gracious. With the handle of the door in his hand, however, he paused and came back.
"My friend Crawshay," he said, "one word with you."
Crawshay turned around.
"Those henchmen of yours—they are so stupid, so flagrantly obvious. I am a good-tempered person, but they irritated me this afternoon at Euston."
"What can I do?" Crawshay asked. "However, you must not let them get on your nerves. They follow you about only as a matter of form. We must keep up the old legends, you know. When," he added, dropping his eyeglass and polishing it slowly, "when we really come to the end of this most fascinating little episode, I do not fancy that you will have cause to complain of our methods."
Jocelyn Thew smiled.
"Your cryptic words have struck the right note," he confessed. "The thrill of fear is in my veins. One more word, though. Miss Nora Sharey is an old friend of mine. There is a tie between us at which you could not guess. Lavish your attentions on her in the hope of hearing something which will prove to your advantage, but do not trifle with her affections. If you do, I shall constitute myself her guardian and there will be trouble, Crawshay—trouble."
Once more he turned away, with a smile at Nora and a little nod to Crawshay. He passed through the door and disappeared, erect, lithe and graceful. Nora looked after him, and her eyes were filled with admiration.
"I think," she sighed, "although I am getting fonder of you every moment, Mr. Crawshay," she added, as she saw from underneath the tissue paper the huge bunch of white roses he was carrying, "that my money will go on Jocelyn Thew."
About three-thirty on the following afternoon, in the grounds devoted to the much advertised Red Cross Sale, that eminent comedian, Mr. Joseph Bobby, mounted to the temporary rostrum which had been erected for him at the rear of one of the largest tents, amidst a little storm of half facetious applause. He repaid the general expectation by gazing steadfastly at a few friends amongst the audience in his usual inimitable fashion, and by indulging in a few minutes of gagging chaff before he proceeded to business. A little way off, a military band was playing popular selections. The broad avenues between the marquees were crowded with streams of pretty women in fancy dresses, and mankind with a little money in his pocket was having a particularly uneasy time. There was nothing to distinguish this from any other of the Red Cross fetes of the season, except, perhaps, its added magnificence.
"Ladies and gentlemen," the comedian began, "I am here to sell by auction the boxes at the Alhambra Theatre for to-night, when, as you know, there will be the greatest performance ever given by the largest number of star artistes—myself included. Owing to a slight difference of opinion with the management, who, as you are probably aware, ladies and gentlemen, are the thickest-headed set of blighters in existence—" Loud cries of "No!" from the managing director in the front row.
"—I have only the four large boxes to dispose of. I shall start with Box B. Who will make me an offer for Box B? Who will offer me, say, twenty-five guineas to start the bidding?"
Half-a-dozen offers were immediately made, and Box B was disposed of for thirty-five guineas. Boxes C and D fetched a little more.
"We now come," the auctioneer concluded impressively, "to the piece de resistance, if I may so call it. Box A is—well, you all know Box A, ladies and gentlemen, so I will simply say that it is the best box in the house. It will hold all the friends any man breathing has any use for. It would hold the largest family who ever received the Queen's bounty. Box A is one of those elastic boxes, ladies and gentlemen, which have no limit. You can fill it chock full, and if the right person knocks at the door there will still be room for another. Who will start the bidding at forty guineas?"
"I will give you fifty," Jocelyn Thew said, promptly raising his hand.
The auctioneer leaned forward, expecting to see a familiar face. He saw instead a very distinguished-looking and remarkably well-turned-out stranger, smiling pleasantly at him from the front row of the audience.
"You are a man, sir," the former declared warmly. "You are giving me a good push off. Fifty guineas is bidden, ladies and gentlemen, for Box A."
"I'll go to fifty-five," a well-known racing man called out from the rear. "Not a penny more, Joe, so don't get faking the bidding."
The comedian assumed an air of grieved surprise.
"That from you I did not expect, Mr. Mason," he said. "However, that you may have no cause for complaint, I am prepared to knock Box A down to you for fifty-five guineas, barring any advance."
"Sixty," Jocelyn Thew bid.
The auctioneer noted the advance with thanks. Then he looked towards the betting man, who shook his head. The auctioneer, who was rather wanting to get away, raised his hammer with an air of finality.
"Going at sixty guineas, then."
"Sixty-five," a new bidder intervened.
The comedian, with his hammer already poised in the air, paused in some surprise. A clean-shaven man in dark grey clothes and a bowler hat, a man who had somehow the air of being a little out of his element in this galaxy of pleasure seekers, caught his eye.
"Sixty-five you said, sir. Very good. Going at sixty-five."
"Seventy," Jocelyn Thew bid.
"One hundred guineas," Jocelyn Thew bid, turning with a good-natured smile to glance at his opponent.
The auctioneer drew himself up. The contest had begun to interest him. Every one in the room was standing on tiptoe to watch.
"One hundred guineas is bid by my friend in the front," he declared. "A very princely offer. Shall I knock it down at that?"
One hundred and twenty was promptly bidden by the newcomer. Jocelyn Thew smiled up at the auctioneer.
"Well," he said, "I've invited my party so I suppose I'll have to stick to it. I'll make it a hundred and fifty."
"A hundred and sixty."
"A hundred and seventy-five."
"Two hundred and fifty."
The comedian's flow of badinage had ceased. An intense silence reigned in the marquee. He, in common with many of the others, was beginning to recognise a note of something unusual in this duel.
"Two hundred and fifty guineas is a very handsome sum for the box," he said, leaning forward. "Perhaps some arrangement could be made, Mr. ——"
"My name is Jocelyn Thew. The two hundred and fifty guineas bid is mine. I have the notes here ready."
The auctioneer turned towards the other bidder appealingly.
"I am acting under instructions," the latter said, "and I am not at liberty to make any arrangements to share the box."
"In that case, the bid against you at the present moment is two hundred and fifty guineas," the auctioneer told him. "Of course, the more money we get, the better—the Red Cross can do with it—but it seems to me that the present bid is adequate. If no arrangement is possible, however, I must continue the auction."
"Two hundred and seventy-five guineas."
"Three hundred," Jocelyn Thew replied coolly. "One moment, Mr. Bobby."
He leaned forward and whispered in the comedian's ear. The latter nodded and turned to the rival bidder.
"Do you understand, sir," he enquired, "that this is strictly a cash affair? I must have notes for the amount at the conclusion of the sale."
"You will have to wait until I get them, then," was the anxious reply. "I only brought two hundred and fifty with me."
The comedian shook his head.
"There can be no question of waiting," he decided. "If two hundred and fifty guineas is all that you have with you, then the box must go to the other gentleman for three hundred guineas."
"If we'd only thought of mentioning the matter of cash before," Jocelyn Thew said pleasantly, "it seems to me that I might have saved a little money. However, I don't grudge it to the cause."
There was a little murmur of applause, and before any further word could be said, the auctioneer's hammer dropped. Jocelyn Thew stepped up to his side and counted out three hundred guineas in notes, receiving in return the admission ticket for the box. The comedian shook hands with him.
"A very generous contribution, sir," he declared. "I shall do myself the pleasure of remembering it to-night."
Jocelyn Thew made some suitable reply and strolled leisurely off, his eyes searching everywhere for his unsuccessful rival. He found him at last in the main avenue, on his way to the principal exit, and touched him on the shoulder.
"One moment, sir," he begged.
The young man paused. When he saw who his interlocutor was, however, he attempted to hurry on.
"You will excuse me," he began, "I am pressed for time."
"I will walk with you as far as the gate," Jocelyn Thew said. "I am very curious concerning your bidding for Box A. Can't you let me know for whom you were trying to buy it? It is possible that I might feel inclined to resell."
"My instructions were to buy the box by auction, and to go up to five hundred pounds for it," was the somewhat hesitating reply. "I am unfortunately not in a position to divulge the name of my client."
"You can at least tell me your own name, or the name of the firm whom you represent?"
The young man quickened his pace.
"I can tell you nothing," he said firmly. "Good afternoon!"
Jocelyn Thew strolled thoughtfully back, made a few purchases wherever he was accosted, but had always the air of a man who is seeking to solve some problem. Issuing from one of the tents, he came suddenly face to face with Katharine and her brother.
"You are too late for the auction," the latter declared, as they shook hands, "and you wouldn't have got your box, anyhow. Do you know what it fetched?"
"Three hundred guineas," Jocelyn Thew replied with a smile. "I bought it at that."
They both stared at him.
"For three hundred guineas?" Richard repeated.
"I was rather lucky to get it at that. There was an anonymous bidder who fortunately hadn't got the cash with him, or I gathered that he was willing to go to a great deal more."
They stood for a moment in silence. Katharine laughed a little nervously.
"What does it mean?" she asked.
"A little obstinacy on the part of a millionaire, I suppose," Jocelyn Thew replied carelessly. "By-the-by, if it suits you we will meet at the theatre this evening, instead of dining. I know that you will like to have a little time alone with your brother, as he is off to-night, Miss Beverley, and I have a business friend coming in to see me about dinner time. I shall be in the box, awaiting you, say at half-past eight. You'll be close to Charing Cross, won't you, Richard, and you won't have to leave until ten o'clock?"
"That's all right," the young man agreed. "It's a jolly good send-off for me."
Jocelyn Thew made his farewells and strolled down one of the narrow avenues which led to the exit. About half-way down, he came suddenly face to face with Nora and Crawshay. They all three stood together, talking, for a few moments. Suddenly Crawshay, who appeared to see some one in the crowd, turned away. "Will you excuse me for one moment, Miss Sharey?" he said. "Perhaps Mr. Thew will take care of you."
"Perhaps," Jocelyn Thew observed, as he watched Crawshay disappear, "you need some taking care of, eh, Nora?"
She shrugged her shoulders. Her eyes sought his. She looked at him defiantly.
"Well," she exclaimed, "London's a dull place all alone. So's life."
"I am not interfering in your choice of residence or companionship," he replied, "although it seems strange that you, whom I think I may call my friend, should choose to amuse yourself with the one person in life who is my open enemy, the one man who has sworn to bring about my downfall."
"There isn't any man in the world will ever do that," she declared, "and you know it. You are afraid of no one. You've no cause to be."
"That may be true," he agreed, "but since we have the opportunity of these few moments' conversation, Nora, there is one thing I wish to say to you. I place no embargo upon your friendship with Mr. Crawshay. I do not presume to dictate to you even as to the subjects of your conversation with him. Tell him what pleases you. Talk to him about me, if you will—you will find him always interested. But there is one thing. If your lips should ever breathe a word of that other name of mine, or of those other things connected with my personal history of which you know, I warn you, Nora, that it will be a very bad day for you. It will be the one unforgivable thing, and I never forgive." Nora shivered, although the afternoon sun was streaming down upon them. Her cheeks were a little paler.
"No," she murmured, "I know that. You would never forgive. You are as hard as the rocks. All the time since I have known you, I have tried to soften you ever so little, just because I was fool enough to like you, fool enough to believe that it was just suffering which had made you what you are. That belongs to the past. When I think of you now, my heart is like a stone, because I know that there is no love in you, nor any of those other things for which a woman craves. I should be very sorry indeed, Jocelyn Thew, for any woman who ever cared for you, and for her own sake I pray very much that there is no one at the present moment who does."
A light breeze was blowing over the place. They were standing a little apart, in the shadow of a tree, and the hum of conversation and laughter, the noisy appeals of the vendors of flowers and other trifles, the strident voices from a distant stage, the far-off strains of swaying music, seemed blended together in an insistent and not inharmonious chorus. Jocelyn Thew stood as though listening to them for a moment. His eyes were following a tall figure in white, walking, a little listlessly by her brother's side. When he spoke, his tone was unusually soft.
"I always told you what you seem to have discovered, Nora," he said. "I always told you that behind the driving force of my life was much hate but no love, nor any capacity for love. That may not have been my fault. If we were in another place," he went on, "I somehow feel that I might tell you what I have never told anybody else—the real story that lay behind the things you know of, things the memory of which was brought back to me only last night. Even now that may come, but for the present, Nora, remember. What you know of me that lies behind that curtain, must never pass your lips."
"I promise," she murmured. "Here comes Mr. Crawshay."
Jocelyn Thew raised his hat, smiled at Nora and strolled away. He smiled also a little to himself, but not so pleasantly. The man from whom Crawshay had just parted, and with whom he had been in close conversation, was the man who had been bidding against him for Box A at the Alhambra that night.
From six o'clock until half an hour before the time fixed for the commencement of the performance, a steady crowd of people elbowed and pushed their way that night into the cheaper parts of the Alhambra Music-hall. Soon afterwards, the earliest arrivals presented themselves at the front of the house. Brightman and Crawshay arrived together, and made their way at once to the manager's office, the former noticing, with a little glint of recognition which amounted to scarcely more than a droop of the eyes, two or three sturdy looking men who had the appearance of being a little unused to their evening clothes, and who were loitering about in the vestibule.
The manager greeted his two visitors without enthusiasm. He was a small, worried-looking man, with pale face, hooked nose and shiny black hair. He had recently changed his name from Jonas to Joyce, without materially affecting the impression which he made upon the stranger.
"This is Mr. Crawshay," Brightman began, "who has charge from the Government point of view, of the little matter you and I know about."
The manager shook hands limply.
"Glad to meet you, Mr. Crawshay," he said, "but a little disturbed at the cause. I must say that I hope you will find your impressions ill-founded. I don't like things of this sort happening in my house."
"Might happen anywhere," Mr. Brightman declared, with an attempt at cheerfulness. "By-the-by, Mr. Joyce, I hope you got my note?"
The manager nodded.
"Yes," he assented, "I've made all the arrangements you wished, and the box has not been entered except by the cleaner."
"Mr. Thew himself, then, has made no attempt to visit it?" Crawshay enquired.
"Not to my knowledge," was the brusque reply.
The two men took their leave, strolled along the vestibule, glanced at the closed door of the box and made their way down into the stalls.
"Our friend must be exceedingly confident," Brightman remarked musingly.
"Or else we are on the wrong tack," Crawshay put in.
"As to that we shall see! I don't like to seem over-sanguine," Brightman went on, "but my impression is that he is rather up against it."
"All I can say is that he is taking it very coolly, then!"
"To all appearance, yes. But whereas it is quite true that he has made no attempt to get at the box, Joyce didn't tell us—as a matter of fact, I don't suppose he knows—that three times Jocelyn Thew has visited the theatre under some pretext or other, and spotted my men about. From half-an-hour after his bid at the fete, that box has been as inaccessible to him as though it had been walled up."
They took their seats in the stalls, which were now rapidly filling. About five minutes later, Jocelyn Thew arrived alone. The box opener brought him from the vestibule, and an amateur programme seller accepted his sovereign—both, in view of the many rumours floating about the place, regarding him with much curiosity. Without any appearance of hurry he entered the much-discussed box, divested himself of his coat and hat, and stood for a moment in full view, looking around the house. His eyes rested for a moment upon the figures of the two men below, and a very grim smile parted his lips. He stepped a little into the background and remained for some time out of sight. Brightman's interest became intense.
"From this moment he is our man," he whispered. "All the same, I should have liked to have seen where he has hidden the papers. I went round the box myself without finding a thing."
Jocelyn Thew had hung up his coat and hat upon one of the pegs, and for a few seconds remained as though listening. Then he turned the key of the door, and, taking the heavy curtain up in his hand, searched it for a few moments until he arrived at a certain spot in one of the bottom folds. With a penknife which he drew from his pocket, he cut through some improvised stitches, thrust his hand into the opening and drew out a small packet, which he buttoned up in his pocket. In less than a minute he had let the curtain fall again and unlocked the door. Almost immediately afterwards there was a knock.
"Come in," he invited.
Katharine and her brother entered, the former in a gown of black net designed by the greatest of French modistes, and Richard in active service uniform.
"We are abominably early, of course," Katharine declared, as they shook hands, "but I love to see the people arrive, and as it is Dick's last evening he couldn't bear the thought of losing a minute of it."
Jocelyn Thew busied himself in establishing his guests comfortably. He himself remained standing behind Katharine's chair, a little in the background.
"We are going to have a great performance to-night," he observed. "Exactly what time does your train go, Richard?"
"Ten o'clock from Charing Cross."
Jocelyn Thew thrust his hand into his pocket, and Richard, rising to his feet, stepped back into the shadows of the box. Something passed between them. Katharine turned her head and clutched nervously at the programme which lay before her. She was looking towards them, and her face was as pale as death. Her host stepped forward at once and smiled pleasantly down at her.
"You will not forget," he whispered, "that we are likely be the centre of observation to-night. I see that our friends Brightman and Crawshay are already amongst the audience."
Katharine picked up her program and affected to examine it. "If only to-night were over!" she murmured.
"It is strange that you should feel like that," he observed, drawing his chair up to the front of the box and leaning towards her in conversational fashion. "Now to me half the evils of life lie in anticipation. When the time of danger actually arrives, those evils seem to take to themselves wings and fly away. Take the case of a great actress on her first night, an emotional and temperamental woman, besieged by fears until the curtain rises, and then carried away by her genius even unto the heights. Our curtain has risen, Miss Beverley. All we can do is to pray that the gods may look our way."
She studied him thoughtfully for a moment. It was obvious that he was not exaggerating. His granite-like face had never seemed more immovable. His tone was perfectly steady, his manner the manner of one looking forward to a pleasant evening. Yet he knew quite well what she, too, guessed—that his enemies were closing in around him, that the box itself was surrounded, that notwithstanding all his ingenuity and all his resource, a crisis had come which seemed insuperable. She was suddenly overwhelmed with a sense of the pity of it. All the admiration she had ever felt for his strange insouciance, his almost bravado-like coolness, his mastery over events, seemed suddenly to resolve itself into more definite and more clearly-comprehended emotion. It was the great pity of it all which suddenly appealed to her. She leaned a little forward.
"You have called this our last evening," she whispered. "Tell me one thing, won't you? Tell me why it must be?"
The softness in her eyes was unmistakable, and his own face for a moment relaxed wonderfully. Again there was that gleam almost of tenderness in his deep-blue eyes. Nevertheless, he shook his head.
"Whether I succeed or whether I fail," he said simply, "to-night ends our associations. Don't you understand," he went on, "that if I pass from the shadow of this danger, there is another more imminent, more certain?"
He hesitated for a single moment, and his voice, which had grown softer, became suddenly almost musical. Katharine, who was listening intently, realised like a flash that for the first moment the mask had fallen away.
"I have lived for many years with that other danger," he went on. "It has lain like a shadow always in front of my path. Perhaps that is why I have become what I am, why I have never dared to hope for the other things which are dear to every one."
Her hand suddenly gripped his. They sat there for a moment in a strange, disturbing silence. Then the orchestra ceased, the curtain was rung up, the performance, which was in the nature of a music-hall show, with frequent turns and changes, commenced. Popular favourites from every department of the theatrical world, each in turn claimed attention and applause. Katharine watched it all with an interest always strained, a gaiety somewhat hysterical; Jocelyn Thew with the measured pleasure of a critic; Richard with uproarious, if sometimes a little unreal merriment. The time slipped by apparently unnoticed. Suddenly Richard glanced at his wrist-watch and stood up.
"I must go," he declared. "I had no idea that it was so late." Katharine's fingers clutched the program which lay crumpled up in her hand. She looked at her brother with almost frightened eyes. Their host, too, had risen to his feet, and down-stairs in the stalls two men had slipped out of their places. Jocelyn Thew threw back his head with a little familiar gesture. The light of battle was in his eyes.
"Richard is right," he observed. "It is twenty minutes to ten."
"My servant will meet me down there with my kit and get me a seat," the young man said. "I shall have plenty of time, but I think I had better make a start."
Katharine came into the back of the box and threw her arms around her brother's neck. He stooped and kissed her on the lips and forehead.
"Cheer up, Katharine," he begged. "There is nothing to worry about."
"Nothing whatever," Jocelyn Thew echoed. "The most serious contingency that I can see at present is that you may have to find your way home alone."
"The number of the car is twenty," Beverley said, handing a ticket to his sister. "I'll send you a wire from Folkestone."
Jocelyn Thew suddenly held out his hand. His eyes were still flashing with the light of anticipated battle, but there was something else in his face reminiscent of that momentary softening.
"Mine, I fear," he murmured, "may be but a wireless message, but I hope that you will get it."
They departed, and Katharine, drawing her chair into the back of the box, faced many anxious moments of solitude. The two men made their way in leisurely fashion along the vestibule and turned upstairs towards the refreshment room. Half-way up, however, Jocelyn Thew laid his hand upon his companion's arm.
"Dick," he said, "I think if I were you I wouldn't have another. You've only just time to catch your train, as it is."
"Must have a farewell glass, old fellow," the young man protested.
His companion was firm, however, and Beverley turned reluctantly away. They walked arm in arm down the broad entrance lounge towards the glass doors. It seemed to have become suddenly evident that Jocelyn Thew's words were not without point. Richard stumbled once and walked with marked unsteadiness. Just before they reached the doors, Brightman, with a tall, stalwart-looking friend, slipped past them on the right. Another man fell almost into line upon the left, and jostled the young officer as he did so. The latter glanced at both of them a little truculently.
"Say, don't push me!" he exclaimed threateningly. "You keep clear."
Neither of the men took any notice. The nearer one, in fact, closed in and almost prevented Beverley's further progress. Brightman leaned across.
"I am sorry, Captain Beverley," he said, "but we wish to ask you a question. Will you step into the box office with us?"
"I'm damned if I will!" the young man answered. "I have a matter of ten minutes to catch my train at Charing Cross, and I'm not going to break my leave for you blighters."
Crawshay, who had been lingering in the background, drew a little nearer.
"Forgive my intervention, Captain Beverley," he said, "but the matter will be explained to the military authorities if by chance you should miss your train. I am afraid that we must insist upon your acceding to our request."
Then followed a few seconds' most wonderful pandemonium. Jocelyn Thew's efforts seemed of the slightest, yet Mr. Brightman lay on his back upon the floor, and his stalwart companion, although he himself was not ignorant of Oriental arts, lay on his side for a moment, helpless. Richard, if not so subtle, was equally successful. His great fist shot out, and the man whose hand would have gripped his arm went staggering back, caught his foot in the edge of the carpet, and fell over upon the tesselated pavement. There were two swing doors, and Richard, with a spring, went for the right-hand one. The commissionaire guarding the other rushed to help his companion bar the exit. The two plainclothes policemen, whose recovery was instantaneous, scrambled to their feet and dashed after him, followed by Crawshay. Jocelyn Thew, scarcely accelerating his walk, strolled through the left-hand door, crossed the pavement of the Strand and vanished.
Fortune was both kind and unkind to Richard in those next few breathless minutes. An old football player, his bent head and iron shoulder were sufficient for the commissionaires, and, plunging directly Across the pavement and the street, he leapt into a taxi which was crawling along in the direction of Charing Cross.
"Give you a sovereign to get to Charing Cross in three minutes," he cried out, and the man, accepting the spirit of the thing, thrust in his clutch, eagerly. For a moment it seemed as though temporarily, at any rate, Richard would get clear away. In about fifty yards, however, there was a slight block. The door of the taxicab was wrenched open, and one of the men who were chasing him essayed to enter. Richard sent him without difficulty crashing back into the street, only to find that simultaneously the other door had been opened, and that his hands were held from behind in a grip of iron. At the same time he looked into the muzzle of Crawshay's revolver.
"Sit down," the latter commanded.
Brightman, too, was in the taxicab, and one of the other men had his foot upon the step. With a shrug of the shoulders, the young man accepted the inevitable and obeyed. Brightman leaned out of the window, gave a direction to the driver, and the taxicab was driven slowly in through the assembling crowd. Richard leaned back in his corner and glared at his two companions.
"Say, this is nice behaviour to an officer!" he exclaimed truculently. "I am on my way to catch the leave train. How dare you interfere with me!"
"Perhaps," Crawshay remarked, "we may consider that the time has arrived for explanations."
"Then you'd better out with them quick," Richard continued angrily. "I am an officer in His Britannic Majesty's Service, come over to fight for you because you can't do your own job. Do you get that, Crawshay?"
"I am listening."
"I am on my way to catch the ten o'clock train from Charing Cross," Richard went on. "If I don't catch it, my leave will be broken."
"I feel sure," Crawshay remarked drily, "that the authorities will recognise the fact that you made every effort to do so. As a matter of fact, there will be a supplementary train leaving at ten-forty-five, which it is possible that you may be able to catch. Explanations such as I have to offer are not to be given in a taxicab. I have therefore directed the man to drive to my rooms, I trust that you will come quietly. If the result of our conversation is satisfactory, as I remarked before, you can still catch your train."
Richard glanced at the man seated opposite to him—a great strong fellow who was obviously now prepared for any surprise; at Brightman, who, lithe and tense, seemed watching his every movement; at the little revolver which Crawshay, although he kept it out of sight, was still holding.
"Seems to me I'm up against it," he muttered. "You'll have to pay for it afterwards, you fellows, I can tell you that."
They accepted his decision in silence, and a few minutes later they descended outside the little block of flats in which Crawshay's rooms were situated. Richard made no further attempt to escape, stepped into the lift of his own accord, and threw himself into an easy-chair as soon as the little party entered Crawshay's sitting room. There was a gloomy frown upon his forehead, but the sight of a whisky decanter and a soda-water syphon upon the sideboard, appeared to cheer him up.
"I think," he suggested tentatively, "that after the excitement of the last half-hour—"
"You will allow me to offer you a whisky and soda," Crawshay begged, mixing it and bringing it himself. "When you have drunk it, I have to tell you that it is our intention to search you."
"What the devil for?" the young man demanded, with the tumbler still in his hand.
"We suspect you of having in your possession certain documents of a treasonous nature."
"Documents?" Richard jeered. "Don't talk nonsense! And treasonous to whom? I am an American citizen."
"That," Crawshay reminded him, "is entirely contrary to your declaration when a commission in His Majesty's Flying Corps was granted to you. The immediate question, however, is are you going to submit to search or not?"
Richard glanced at that ominous glitter in Crawshay's right hand, glanced at Brightman, and at the giant who was standing barely a yard away, and shrugged his shoulders.
"I suppose you must do what you want to," he acquiesced sullenly, "but you'll have to answer for it—I can tell you that. It's a damnable liberty!"
He drank up his whisky and soda and set down the empty glass. The search which proceeded took a very few moments. Soon upon the table was gathered the usual collection of such articles as a man in Richard's position might be expected to possess, and last of all, from the inside of his vest, next to his skin, was drawn a long blue envelope, fastened at either end with a peculiar green seal. Crawshay's heart beat fast as he watched it placed upon the table. Richard seemed to have lost much of his truculence of manner.
"That packet," he declared, "is my personal property. It contains nothing of any moment whatever, nothing which would be of the least interest to you."
"In that case," Brightman promised, "it will be returned to you. Mr. Crawshay," he added, turning towards him, "I must ask you, as you represent the Government in this matter, to break these seals and acquaint yourself with the nature of the contents of this envelope, which I have reason to suppose was handed to Captain Beverley by Jocelyn Thew, a few minutes ago."