"Dr. Paul Rodiek."
"Personal Intelligence Bureau—confidential agent."
"What were you doing on board the Assyrian?"
Lanyard mustered enough strength to look the man squarely in the eye.
"Pardon," he said coldly. "You must know your question is indiscreet."
"I must know more about you."
"It should be enough," Lanyard ventured boldly, "to know that I set off that flare as arranged, at risk of my life."
"How came you overboard?"
"In the scuffle caused by my lighting the flare."
"So you tell me. But we found you half clothed, lacking any sort of identification. Am I to accept your unsupported word?"
"My papers are naturally at the bottom of the sea, in the garments I discarded lest their weight drag me down. If you have doubts," Lanyard continued firmly, "it is your privilege to settle them by communicating via radio with Seventy-ninth Street."
He shut his eyes wearily and turned his head aside on the pillow, confident that this reference to the headquarters and secret wireless station of the Prussian spy system in New York would win him peace for a time at least.
After a moment the commander uttered a non-committal grunt. "We shall see," he prophesied darkly, and went away.
Later, one of the crew brought Lanyard a dish of greasy stew and potatoes, lukewarm, with bread and a half-bottle of excellent champagne.
He ate all he could stomach of the first, devoured the second ravenously, and drained the bottle of its ultimate life-giving drop.
Then, immeasurably refreshed and fortified in body and spirit, he turned face to the wall, composed himself as if to sleep, shut his eyes, adjusted the tempo of his respiration, and lay quite still, wide awake and thinking hard.
After a while somebody tramped into the cubicle, bent over Lanyard inquisitively and, satisfied that he slept, retired, taking away the empty bottle and dishes.
Otherwise his meditations were disturbed only by those echoes of revelry in honour of the late manifestation of the Hun's divine right to do wanton murder on the high seas.
The rumour waxed and waned, died into dull mutterings, broke out afresh in spurts of merriment that held an hysterical note. Once a quarrel sprang up and was silenced by the commander's deep, unpleasant tones. Corks popped spasmodically. Again there were sounds much like a man's sobbing; but these were promptly blared down by a phonograph with a typically American accent. When that palled, a sentimental disciple of frightfulness sang Tannenbaum in a melting tenor.
Everything tended to effect an impression that all, commander and meanest mechanic alike, were making forlorn efforts to forget.
Devoutly Lanyard prayed they might be successful, at least until the submarine made her secret base. If too much alcohol was bad, too much brooding was infinitely worse for the German temperament. He remembered one U-boat commander who, returning to the home port after a conspicuously successful cruise, had been taken ashore in a strait-jacket.
Lanyard himself did not care to dwell upon those scenes which must have been enacted on board the Assyrian after the torpedo struck....
Deliberately ignoring all else, he set himself the task of reviewing those events which had led up to his going overboard.
One by one he considered the incidents of that night, painstakingly dissected them, examined their every phase in minute analysis, weighing for ulterior meaning every word uttered in his presence, harking even farther back to reconstruct his acquaintance with each actor from the very moment of its inception, seeking that hint which he was convinced must be somewhere hidden in the history of the affair, waiting only recognition to lead straightway out of this gloomy maze of mystery into a sunlit open of understanding.
In vain: there was an ambiguity in that business to baffle the keenest and most pertinacious investigation.
The conduct of Cecelia Brooke alone bristled with inconsistencies inexplicable, the conduct of the German spies no less.
To get better perspective upon the problem, he reduced the premises to their barest summary:
A valuable dossier brought on board the Assyrian (no matter by whom) had come into the possession of British agents, with the knowledge of Captain Osborne. Thackeray had secreted it in that fraudulent bandage. German agents, apparently under the leadership of Baron von Harden, had waylaid him, knocked him senseless, unwrapped the bandage, but somehow (probably in the first instance through the interference of the Brooke girl) had overlooked the document. Subsequently the Brooke girl had found and entrusted it to Lanyard. (No matter why!) He on his part had exerted his utmost inventiveness in hiding it away. Nevertheless it had been discovered and abstracted within an hour.
Not improbably by the Brooke girl herself. Repenting her impulsiveness, after leaving Lanyard with the captain, from whom she had doubtless learned the truth about "Monsieur Duchemin," she might well have gone directly to Lanyard's stateroom and hit upon the morphia phial as the likeliest hiding place without delay, thanks to prior acquaintance with the proportions of the paper cylinder.
But why should she have assumed that Lanyard had not disposed of the trust about his person?
Not impossibly the thing had been found by the first officer of the Assyrian, searching by order of the captain—as Lanyard assumed he had.
But, if Mr. Warde had found it, he had not reported his find when telephoning to Captain Osborne; or else the latter had gone to great lengths to mystify Lanyard.
There remained the chance that the paper had been stolen by one of the two German agents—by either without the knowledge of the other.
If Baron von Harden had found it—necessarily before Lanyard returned to the room—he had subsequently been at elaborate pains to conceal his success from both his victim and his confederate. Why? Did he distrust the latter? Again, why?
If "Karl" had been the thief, it must have been after Lanyard's return, and while the Baron was preoccupied with the task of keeping the prisoner quiet, to let the search proceed.
In that event "Karl" had lied deliberately to his superior. Why? Because the document was salable, and "Karl" intended to realize its value for his personal benefit?
Not an unlikely explanation. Nor could this be called the first instance in which the Prussian spy system, admirably organized though it was, had been betrayed by one of its own agents.
This hypothesis, too, accounted for that most perplexing circumstance of all, the murder of Baron von Harden. For Lanyard was fully persuaded that had been nothing less than premeditated murder, in no way an accident of faulty aim. Even the most nervous and unstrung man could hardly have missed six shots out of seven, point blank. A nervous man, indeed, could hardly have gained his own consent to take so hideous a chance of injuring or killing a collaborator.
It appeared, then, that one of four things had happened to the cylinder of paper:
Miss Brooke had taken it back into her own care. In which case Lanyard was no more concerned.
Captain Osborne had secured it through Mr. Warde. This, however, Lanyard did not seriously credit.
It had gone to the bottom when the Assyrian sank with the body—among others—of Baron von Harden.
Or "Karl" had stolen it.
Privately, indeed, Lanyard rather inclined to hope that the last might prove to be the true solution. He desired earnestly to meet "Karl" once more, on equal terms. And the more counts in the score, the greater his satisfaction in exacting a reckoning in full.
But he anticipated. That chapter might only too possibly have been closed forever by the hand of Death. As yet he knew nothing concerning the mortality of the Assyrian debacle. He had not enquired of the officers of the U-boat because they knew little if anything more than he. Their glasses had discovered to them trouble with the lifeboats; they had spoken of one boat capsizing, of "people going overboard like cattle." There must have been many drownings, even with a United States destroyer near by and speeding to the rescue.
A single question troubled Lanyard greatly. Officers and crew of the U-boat had betrayed profoundest consternation upon the advent of that destroyer, presumably a warship of a neutral nation. And that same ship had without hesitation fired upon the submarine.
Was it possible, then, that the United States had already declared war on Germany?
It seemed extremely probable; in such event these Germans would have been notified instantly by wireless from the New York bureau of their country's Secret Service; whereas, Captain Osborne, receiving the same advice by wireless, might reasonably have kept it quiet lest the news stir to more formidable activity those agents of the Wilhelmstrasse whose presence among the passengers he must at least have strongly suspected.
Presently the closeness of the atmosphere began to work upon Lanyard's perceptions. In spite of his long rest, a new drowsiness drugged his senses. He yielded without struggle, knowing he would soon need every ounce of strength and vitality that sleep could give him....
The din of an inferno startled him awake. Those narrow metal walls were echoing a clangour of machinery maniacal in character and overpowering in volume. Clankings, tappings, hissings, coughings, clatterings, stridulation of a wireless spark, drone of dynamos, shrewdish scolding of Diesel motors developing two thousand horsepower, individual efforts of some two thousand valves, combined—or, declined to combine—in a cacophony like nothing under the sun but the chant of a submersible under way on the surface.
Lanyard, gratefully aware of a current of fresh air sweeping through the hold, rolled out of his bunk to find that, while he slept, clothing had been provided for him, rough but adequate; heavy woollen underwear and socks, a sweater, a dungaree coat, trousers of the same stuff, all vilely damp, and a friendless pair of oil-sodden shoes: the sweepings of a dozen lockers, but as welcome as disreputable.
Dressed, he turned aft through the alleyway, entering immediately the central operating room and storm center of that typhoon of noise, a wilderness of polished machinery in active being.
Of the score or more leather-clad machinists silent at their posts, none paid him more heed than a passing, incurious glance as he crossed to a narrow steel companion ladder and ascended to the conning tower. This he found deserted; but its deck-hatch was open. He climbed out to the bridge.
The night was calm and heavily overcast, with no sea more than long, slow swells. Through its windless quiet the U-boat racketed with the raving abandon of the Spirit of Discord on a spree in a boiler factory. To the riot of its internal strife was added the remonstrance of waters sliced by the stem and flung back by the sides, a prolonged and stertorous hiss like the rending of an endless sheet of canvas.
To eyes new from the electric illumination of the hold, the blackness was positive, with the palpable quality of an element, relieved alone by the dull glow of the binnacle housing the gyroscope telltale, from which the faintest of golden reflections struck back to pick out a pair of seemingly severed fists gripping the handles of the bridge steering wheel with a singular effect of desperation.
For some moments Lanyard could see nothing more.
The mirthless chuckle of the lieutenant sounded at his elbow.
"So the good Herr Doctor thought he had better come up for air, eh? My friend, the very dead might envy you the sincerity of your slumbers. We have been half an hour on the surface, with all this uproar—and you are only just wakened!"
"Half an hour?" Lanyard repeated thoughtfully. "Then we should be close in...."
"Give us ten minutes more ... if we don't go aground in this accursed blackness!"
A broad-shouldered body passed between Lanyard and the binnacle, momentarily eclipsing its light. Down below in the operating room a bell shrilled, and of a sudden the Diesels were silenced.
The dead quiet that followed the sharp extinction of that hubbub was as startling as the detonation of high explosive had been.
Through this sudden stillness the submarine slipped stealthily, the hissing beneath her bows dying down to gentle sibilance.
From forward the calls of an invisible leadsman were audible. In response the commander uttered throaty orders to the helmsman at his elbow, and those unattached hands shifted the wheel minutely.
Lanyard started to speak, but a growl from the captain, and a touch of the lieutenant's hand on his sleeve cautioned him to silence.
There was a small pause. The vessel seemed to have lost way altogether, to swim like a spirit ship that Stygian tide. The lieutenant moved forward, leaving Lanyard alone. The voice of the leadsman was stilled. By the wheel the captain stood absolutely motionless, his body vaguely silhouetted against the glow of the binnacle. The hands that gripped the wheel so savagely were as steady as if carven out of stone. An atmosphere of suspense enveloped the boat like a cloud.
Lanyard grew conscious of something huge and formidable, a denser shadow in the darkness beyond the bows, the loom of land. Off to starboard a point of light appeared abruptly, precisely as if a golden pin had punctured the black blanket of the night. The captain growled gutturals of relief and command. The hands on the wheel shifted, steering exceeding small. A second light shone out to port, then shifted slowly into range with the first, till the two were as one. Again the bell sang in the operating room, and the vessel forged ahead quietly to the urge of electric motors alone. A third light and a fourth appeared, well apart to port and starboard, the range lights precisely equidistant between them. Between these the U-boat moved swiftly. They swam back on either hand and were abruptly extinguished as if the night, resenting their insolent trespass, had gobbled both at a gulp.
The temperature became sensibly warmer and the salt air of the sea was strongly tinctured with the sweet smell of pines and forest mould.
Up forward carbons sputtered and spat; a searchlight was unsheathed and carved the gloom as if it was butter, ranging swiftly over the tree-clad shore of a burnished black lagoon, picking out en passant several unpainted wooden structures, then steadying on a long and substantial landing stage, on which several men stood waiting.
As the U-boat, with motors dead and way lessening, glided up alongside the head of that T-shaped landing stage and was made fast, the wireless operator popped up from below, saluted the commander, and delivered a written message.
Lanyard, instinctively aware that this was the expected report from Seventy-ninth Street on Dr. Paul Rodiek, quietly pulled himself together and took quick observations.
At best his chances in the all-too-probable emergency were far from brilliant. Yet one might better perish trying, however hopelessly, than passively submit to being shot down.
The lieutenant, waspishly superintending the work of crew and base guards at the mooring lines, stood preoccupied within an arm's length; while the landing stage was a fair six feet away. From its T-head to the shore, the distance was nothing less than two hundred yards.
Desperate action and miraculous luck might take the Prussian by surprise and enable one to snatch the service automatic from its holster at his belt, leap to the stage, and shoot a way landward through the guards clustered there; after which everything would depend on swiftness of foot and the uncertain light permitting one to gain a refuge in the surrounding woodland without a bullet in one's back.
It was a sorry hope....
With catlike attention Lanyard watched the hands holding that paper to the binnacle light—large hands, heavy and muscular but tremulous with drink and nervous reaction from the long strain and cumulative horror of the cruise then ending. Their aim would not be good, except by accident. None the less, if the report were unfavourable, their first gesture would be toward the holster, signalling to Lanyard that the moment had come to initiate heroic measures.
The Bavarian was an unconscionable time absorbing the import of the message. Bending his face close to the paper, the better to make out the writing, he read with moving lips, slowly, a doltish frown of concentration clouding his congested countenance.
At length, however, he stood up, swaying a little as he folded and pocketed the paper.
Lanyard relaxed. The man was too far gone in drink to be crafty, too sure of his absolute power of life and death to imagine a need for craft. Since his hand had not immediately sought the holster, it would not.
Turbid accents uttered the name of Dr. Rodiek.
Lanyard stepped forward alertly. "Yes, Herr Captain?"
"New York says it had no knowledge of your intention to leave England on the Assyrian, but that you may well have done so. The Wilhelmstrasse will know, of course. It has already been telegraphed. Pending its reply, I am to detain you."
"How long?" Lanyard demurred.
"As you know, transatlantic communications must now go by land telegraph to the Border, by hand into Mexico, thence by radio via Venezuela to Berlin. All that takes time. Also, we may not signal New York but at stated times of night. You will be detained another twenty-four hours at least, possibly longer."
"My errand cannot wait."
"You will obstruct the business of the Imperial Government at your peril."
"I would incur still greater peril did I let you go," the commander replied nervously. "With these swine-dogs at war with the Fatherland, our lives are not worth that should this base be betrayed."
"Do I understand America has declared war?"
"Two days since. Did you not know?"
"The Assyrian's wireless room was under guard: the captain published no bulletins whatever."
The Bavarian gave a gesture of impatience.
"You will remain on board for the night," he announced heavily.
"Pardon!" Lanyard insisted with every evidence of anxious excitement. "What you tell me makes it more than ever imperative that I reach New York without an hour's avoidable delay. I warn you, think well before you hinder the discharge of my duty."
"It is not necessary that I think," the commander replied. "My thinking has all been done for me. Me, I obey my orders; it is not my part to question their wisdom. Moreover, Herr Doctor, to my mind your insistence is to say the least suspicious. Even had I discretion in the matter, I should hold you. Therefore, you will keep a civil tongue in your head, or go below in irons immediately!"
He swung on his heel, showing an insolent back while he conferred with his subaltern.
And Lanyard shrugged appreciation of the futility of more contention against such mulishness. Not that the Bavarian was not right enough! As to that, one had really hoped for no better issue; but every shift is worth trial till proved worthless; and he was no worse off now than if he had submitted without complaint. Still one had Chance to look to for aid and comfort in this stress; and Chance, the jade, is not always unkind to her audacious suitors.
Even now she flashed upon Lanyard a provoking intimation of her smile. He began to divine possibilities in this overt ill-feeling between the officers; advantage might be made of the racial hostility of Prussian and Bavarian.
The commander's attitude and tone were consistently overbearing, if his words were inaudible to Lanyard. The lieutenant quite evidently submitted only in form; his salute was punctiliously correct and curt; and as the commander lumbered off down the landing stage, he grumbled indistinctly in Lanyard's hearing:
"Dog of a Bavarian!"
"The good Herr Captain," Lanyard suggested pleasantly, "is not in the most agreeable of tempers, yes?"
The high and well-born lieutenant spat comprehensively into the darkness overside. After a moment of hesitation he moved nearer and spoke in confidential accents. And the fragrant air of the night was tainted with the vinous effluvium of his breath.
"Always he prattles of his precious duty!" the Prussian muttered. "Damn his duty! Look you, Herr Doctor: months we have been on this cruise, yes, more than three months out of Heligoland, penned together in this ramshackle stinkpot, or isolated here in this God-forgotten hole, seeing nothing of life, hearing nothing of the world but what little the radio tells us—sick of the very sight of one another's faces! And now, when we have accomplished a glorious feat and have every right to look for prompt recall and the rewards of heroes, orders come to remain indefinitely and operate against the North Atlantic fleet of the contemptible Yankee navy! The life of a dog! And that noble commander of mine pretends to welcome it, talks of one's duty to the Fatherland—as if he liked the work any better than I!—solely to spite me!"
"Because he hates me," the lieutenant snarled passionately—"hates me even as I hate him—he knows how well!"
He interrupted himself to define his conception of the commander's character in the freest vernacular of the Berlin underworld.
Lanyard laughed amiably. "They are like that," he agreed—"those Bavarians!"
Which inspired the Prussian to deliver a phosphorescent diatribe on the racial traits of the Bavarian people as comprehended by the North German junker.
"To be cooped up God knows how long in this putrescent death-trap with such cattle," he concluded mutinously—"it passes all endurance!"
"I wonder you stand it," Lanyard sympathised—"a man of spirit and good birth, as one readily perceives. Though the life of a secret agent is not altogether heavenly either, if you ask me," he added gratuitously. "Regard me now, charged with a mission of most vital moment—more than ever so since the Yankees have shown their teeth—delayed here indefinitely because your excellent Herr Captain chooses to doubt my word."
"Patience. Maybe your release comes quickly. Then he will regret—or would had he wit enough. There is no cure for a fool." The sententiousness of this aphorism was unhappily marred by a hiccough. "Anybody with eyes in his head could see you are what you are...."
The last of the operating-room crew piled up the hatchway, saluted, and hurried ashore to join in noisy jubilations. There remained on the U-boat only the lieutenant with Lanyard, and two base guards detailed as anchor watch.
"I must go," the lieutenant volunteered. "And believe me, one welcomes a change of clothing and a dry bed after a week in this reeking sieve. As for you, my friend, if it lay with me, you should receive the treatment due a gentleman." A wave of maudlin camaraderie affected him. He passed an affectionate arm through Lanyard's and was suffered, though the gorge of the adventurer revolted at the familiarity. "I am sorry to leave you. No, do not be astonished! No protestations, please! It is quite true. I know a man of the right sort when I meet one, the sort even I can associate with without loss of self-respect. It is a great pity you may not come with me and make a night of it."
"Another time, perhaps," Lanyard said. "The night may yet come when you and I shall meet at the Metropole or the Admiral's Palace.... Who knows?"
"Ah!" sighed the Prussian, enchanted. "What a night that will be, my friend!... But now, it is too bad, I really must ask you to step below. Such are my silly orders. I am made responsible for you. What do you think of that for a joke, eh?"
He laughed vacantly but loudly, and, attempting to poke a derisive thumb into Lanyard's ribs, lost his balance.
"What a responsibility!" said Lanyard gravely, holding him up.
"Nonsense, that's what it is. You have no possible chance to escape."
"Suppose I make one—tip you overboard, take to my heels—?"
"You would be shot like a rabbit before you got half way to the shore."
"Ah, but grant, for the sake of argument, that these brave fellows, the guards, aim poorly in this gloom?"
"Where would you go? Into the forest, naturally. But how far? You may believe me when I tell you, not a hundred yards. It's a true wilderness, scrub-oak and cedar and second growth choked with underbrush, almost trackless. In five minutes you would be helplessly lost, in this blackness, with no stars to steer by. We need only wait till daylight to find you walking in a circle."
"You can't mean," Lanyard pursued, learning something helpful every moment, "there is no communicating road?"
"The main woods road, yes: but that is far too well patrolled. Without the countersign, you would be caught or shot a dozen times before you reached the end of it."
"Ah, well!"—with the sigh of a philosopher—"then I presume there's no way out but by swimming."
"Over to the beach you mean? Well, what then? You have got a twenty-mile walk either way through deep sand sure to betray your footprints. At dawn we follow and bag you at our leisure."
"You are discouraging!" Lanyard complained. "I see I may as well go below and be good. It's a dull life."
"Tell you what," giggled the lieutenant, leading his prisoner to the conning-tower hatch and lowering his voice: "do just that, go below and be nice, and presently I will come back and we'll split a bottle. What do you say to that, eh?"
"Not a bad notion, is it? I like it myself. One gets weary for the society of a gentleman, you've no idea.... As soon as my commander is drunk enough, I will slip away. How's that?"
"Grossartig!" Lanyard approved, turning to descend.
"Wait. You shall see for yourself what it means to have the friendship of a man of my stamp." The lieutenant raised his voice, addressing the anchor watch: "Attention. Heed with care: this gentleman is my friend. He is detained merely as a matter of form. I do not wish him to be annoyed. Do you understand? You are to leave him to himself as long as he remains quietly below. But he is not to come on deck again till I return. Is all that clear, imbeciles?"
The imbeciles, saluting mechanically, indicated glimmerings of comprehension.
"Then below you go, Dr. Rodiek. And don't get impatient: I will rejoin you as soon as possible."
"Don't be long," Lanyard implored.
As he lowered himself through the hatch he saw the Prussian stumble down the gangplank and reel shoreward.
Well satisfied with his diplomacy, Lanyard lingered a while in the conning tower, closely studying and memorising the more salient features of the Island of Martha's Vineyard and its adjacent waters and mainland as delineated on a most comprehensive large-scale chart published by the German Admiralty from exhaustive soundings and surveys of its own navigators and typographers, with corrections of as recent date as the first part of the year 1917.
Here the breach in the south coast line which permitted the utilisation of what had formerly been an extensive fresh-water pond as this secret submarine base, was clearly shown. And a single glance confirmed the lieutenant's statement concerning its remote isolation from settled sections of the island.
Somewhat dismayed, Lanyard descended to the central operating compartment and scouted through the hold from bow bulkhead to stern, making certain he enjoyed undisputed privacy. And it was so; every man-jack of the U-boat's personnel—jaded to the marrow with its cramped accommodations, unremitting toil and care, unsanitary smells and forbidding associations—having naturally seized the earliest opportunity to escape so loathsome a prison.
Lanyard, however, was anything but resentful of condemnation to this solitary confinement. His interest in the interior arrangements of submersibles seemed all but feverish, as intense as sudden; witness the minute attention to detail which marked his second tour of inspection. On this round he took his time. He had all night in which to work out his salvation; the wildest schemes were revolving in his mind, the least fantastic utterly impracticable without accurate knowledge of many matters; and such knowledge might be gained only through patient investigation and ungrudging expenditure of time.
It was now something past ten by the chronometers. He could hardly do much before dawn, lacking the instinct of a red Indian to guide him through that night-bound waste of woodland. So he felt little need to slight his researches through haste, except in anticipation of his lieutenant's return. And as to that, Lanyard was moderately incredulous: he expected to see nothing more of this new-found friend, unless the infatuation of the Prussian proved far stronger than his head.
Turning first to the private quarters of the commander, a somewhat more commodious cubicle than that across the alleyway in which Lanyard had been berthed, his interest was attracted by a small safe anchored to the deck beneath the desk.
To this Lanyard addressed himself without hesitation, solving the secret of its combination readily through exercise of the most rudimentary of professional principles. The problem it offered, indeed, was child's play to such cunning of touch and hearing as had made the reputation of the Lone Wolf.
Open, the safe discovered to him a variety of articles of interest: some five thousand dollars in English and American banknotes of large denomination, several hundred in American gold; three distinct cipher codes, one of these wholly novel in Lanyard's experience and so, he believed, in the knowledge of the Allied secret services; the log of the U-boat and the intimate diary of its commander, both in cryptograph; a compact directory of German agents domiciled in Atlantic coast ports; a very considerable accumulation of German Admiralty orders; together with many documents of lesser moment.
Rapidly sorting out the more valuable of these, Lanyard disposed them about his person, then confiscated the banknotes as indemnity for his stolen money-belt, replaced the rejections, and reclosed and locked the safe.
His next interest was to arm himself. After several disappointments he discovered arms-lockers beneath the berths for the crew in the forward compartment just aft of that devoted to torpedo tubes. Here he selected a latest pattern German navy automatic pistol with three extra cartridge clips and, after some hesitation, a peculiarly devilish magazine rifle firing explosive bullets. The latter he placed handily, yet out of sight, near the foot of the companion ladder. The pistol fitted snugly a trousers pocket, its bulk hidden by the sag of his sweater....
Some time later the lieutenant, slipping down the ladder, found Lanyard studying with a convincing aspect of childlike bewilderment the complicated combinations of machinery which crowded the central operating compartment.
Fresh from a bath and shave and wearing a clean uniform, the Prussian showed vast improvement in looks if not in equilibrium. But his mouth twitched fitfully, his eyes wandered and disclosed a disquieting superabundance of white, and his tongue was noticeably thicker than before.
"Well, my friend!" he said—"you are truly disappointing. The watch said you had made no sound since going below. I was afraid of another of those famous naps of yours."
"With the prospect of a bottle with you? Impossible! I have been waiting and waiting, with my tongue hanging out."
"Too bad. Why did you not look around, help yourself? Why not?" the lieutenant demanded. "Have I not given you freedom of ship? It is yours, everything here 'yours!"
"I want nothing but an end to this great thirst," Lanyard protested.
"Then—God in Heaven!—why we standing here? Come!"
Releasing the handrail the Prussian took careful aim for the alleyway door, launched himself toward it, slipped on the greasy metal grating, and would have fallen heavily but for Lanyard.
Cursing pettishly, he stood up, threw off Lanyard's arms without thanks, and made a new attempt, this time shooting headlong through the alleyway, to bring up against the wing table in the third forward compartment, the kitchen and messroom in one.
"A great pity," he muttered, opening a locker and fumbling in its depths—"rotten pity...."
"Keep you waiting so long. Not my fault." The lieutenant brought forth two bottles of champagne and one of brandy. "You open them, Herr Doctor, like 'good fellow," he said, placing the three on the table. "I just wish you 'understand no discourtesy meant ... unavoidably detained ... beastly commander ... drunk. Give 'my word, hopelessly drunk. Poor fool...."
"If my judgment is sound," Lanyard said, "this noble vessel will soon need a new commander."
"True. Quite true." The Prussian placed two aluminium cups upon the table and half filled one with brandy, then brimmed it with champagne. "Try that," he said thickly, "That will keep your tail up, my friend."
"Many thanks," Lanyard protested, filling another cup with undiluted champagne. "I prefer one thing at a time."
"Unfortunate ... don't know what is good ... King's peg ... wonderful drink. No matter. To 'new commander—prosit!"
He drained his cup at a gulp.
"To the new commander!" Lanyard echoed, and drank judiciously. "Excellent.... How long can he last, do you think, at this pace?"
"No telling—not long—too long for my liking. Shall I tell 'something?" He filled his cup again, half and half, and sat down, his wicked, rat-like face more than ever pale and repulsive. "Not 'whisper of this, mind—though I think 'crew sometimes suspects: he's going mad!"
"Not that Bavarian?"
The lieutenant nodded wisely. "If 'knew him as I know him, 'never be surprised, my friend. You think too much drink. Yes, but not entirely. He keeps seeing things, hearing them, especially by night."
"What sort of things?"
"Faces." The Prussian licked his lips, glanced furtively over his shoulder, and drank. "Dead faces, eyes eaten out, seaweed in their hair.... And voices—he's forever hearing voices ... people trying to talk, 'can't make him understand because 'mouths 'full of water, you know. But they understand one another, keep discussing how to get at him.... He tells me about it ... I tell you, it is Hell to hear him talk ... especially when submerged, as last night. Then he hears them fumbling all over the hull with their stumpy fingers, trying to find 'way in, talking about him. And he tells me, and keeps insisting, till sometimes I seem to hear them, too. But I don't. Before God, I don't! You don't believe I do, do you?"
His eyes rolled wildly.
"Why should you?"
"Just so: why should I?" The lieutenant's accents rose to a shrill pitch. "I have not his record ... still in training when he sent Lusitania to the bottom. Yes: it was he, second-in-command, in charge of torpedo tubes. His own hand fired that torpedo...."
He fell silent, staring moodily into his cup, perhaps thinking of the number of torpedoes it had been his own lot to discharge upon errands of slaughter.
And the dead silence of the ship was made audible by a stealthy drip-drip of water from the seams, and the furtive slaver of the tide on the outer plates.
A shiver ran through the body of the Prussian. He pulled himself together with obvious effort, looked up with an uncertain grin, and passed a shaking hand across his writhing lips.
"All foolishness, of course, but 'gets on one's nerves ... constant association with man like that.... 'Know what he's doing now, or was, when I came away? Sitting up with doors and windows locked and blinds drawn, drinking brandy neat. He can't sleep by night if sober, or without 'light in the room. If he does, he knows they will get him ... people he hears crawling up from the sea, slopping round the house, mumbling, whimpering in the dark—"
He broke off abruptly, with a whisper more dreadful than a shriek—"God!"—and jumped to his feet, whipping the automatic from his belt.
A footfall sounded in one of the after compartments. Others followed.
Someone was coming slowly down the alleyway, someone with dragging, heavy feet.
The lieutenant waited motionless, as one petrified with terror.
The bulkhead doorway framed the figure of the commander. He paused there, louring at his subaltern with haunted eyes ablaze in a face like parchment.
"So!" he said, nodding. "As I thought. It is thus I find you, fraternising with one who may be, for all we know, an enemy to the Fatherland. You drunken, babbling fool! Get ashore!" His angry foot thumped the grating. "Get ashore, and report yourself under arrest!"
With no more warning than a strangled snarl, the lieutenant shot him through the head.
UNDER THE ROSE
Vague stupefaction replaced the scowl upon the countenance of the commander. He swayed, a hand faltering to his forehead, where dark blood was beginning to well from a cleanly drilled puncture. Then he collapsed completely, falling prone across the raised sill of the bulkhead opening. A convulsive tremor shook savagely his huge frame.
Thereafter he was quite still.
The report of that one shot had reverberated stunningly within those narrow walls of steel. Momentarily Lanyard looked to see the alarmed anchor watch appear; so too, apparently, the lieutenant, who remained immobile, pistol poised in a hand for the moment strangely steady, gaze fixed upon the mouth of the alleyway.
But through a long minute no other sounds were audible than that ceaseless dripping from frames and seams, with that muted, terrible mouthing of waters on the plates.
Unable either to fathom or forecast the workings of the drink-maddened mentality masked by that rat-like face, Lanyard waited with a hand covertly grasping the automatic in his pocket. There was no telling; at any moment that murderous mania might veer his way. And he was not content to die, not yet, not in any event by the hand of a decadent little beast of a Boche.
Slowly the arm of the lieutenant dropped, lowering the pistol till its muzzle chattered on the top of the table: a noise that broke the spell upon his senses. He looked down in dull brutish wonder, then roused and with a gesture of horror let the weapon fall clattering.
His glance shifting to the body of his commander, he started violently, backing up against the plates to put all possible distance between himself and his handiwork. His lips moved, framing phrases at first incoherent, presently articulate in part:
"... done it at last!... Knew I must soon...."
Abruptly he looked up at Lanyard.
"Bear witness," he cried: "I was provoked beyond human endurance. He insulted me in your presence ... me!... that scum!"
Lanyard said nothing, but met his gaze with a blank, non-committal stare, under which the eyes of the lieutenant wavered and fell.
Then with a start he realised anew the significance of that still figure at his feet, and tried to shake some of the swagger back into his wretched, fear-racked being.
"A good job!" he muttered defiantly. "And you will stand by me, I know.... Only there is nothing in that, of course, no justification possible before a court martial. Even your testimony could not save me ... I am done for, utterly...."
He hung his head. Lanyard heard whispered words: "degraded," "dishonour," "firing squad"....
A chronometer in the central operating compartment tolled eight bells.
With a sharp cry the lieutenant dropped to his knees. "He can't be dead!" he shrilled. "It is all play-acting, to frighten me!"
Frantically he sought to turn the body over.
Lanyard's hand shot swiftly out, capturing the automatic on the table. With rapid and sure gestures he extracted and pocketed the clip, drew back the breech, ejecting into his palm the one shell in the barrel, and replaced the weapon, all before the Prussian gave over his insane efforts to resurrect the dead.
"He is dead enough," he announced, eyeing Lanyard morosely—"beyond helping.... Look here; are you with me or against me?"
"Need you ask?"
"I count on you, then. Good. I think we can cover this up."
He checked and stood for a while lost in thought.
"How?" Lanyard roused him.
"Simply enough: I go on deck, send the watch ashore on some trumped-up errand. They suspect nothing, thinking the commander and I have you in charge. If they heard that shot, I will say one of us dropped a bottle of champagne, and it exploded.... When they are gone, I bring the dory alongside; and with your help it should be an easy matter to carry this body up, weight it, row it out to the middle of the lagoon, dump it overboard. Then we return. Our story is, the commander followed the anchor watch ashore; if later he wandered off, got lost in the woods in his alcoholic delirium, that is no affair of ours. Do you understand?"
"Perfectly," said Lanyard with a look of fatuous innocence. "But how about the water—is it deep enough?"
The Prussian took no pains to dissemble his scorn of this question, seemingly so witless. "To cover the body? Why, even here there is sufficient depth at low tide for us to submerge completely, barring the periscopes. And it is deeper yet in the middle."
"Thanks," Lanyard replied meekly.
"Have another drink? No?" The Prussian tossed off a half cupful of undiluted brandy, and shuddered. "Then stop here. I'll be back in a—"
"Half a minute." The lieutenant halted in the act of stepping across the body. Lanyard levelled a hand at the automatic. "Do you mind taking that with you? I have no desire to be found here with it and a dead man, should anything prevent your return."
With a sickly grimace the murderer snatched up the weapon, thrust it in its holster, and hurriedly departed.
Lanyard watched him pass through the alleyway and turn toward the companion ladder, then followed quietly.
As the lieutenant climbed out on deck, Lanyard ascended to the conning tower and waited there, listening. He could not quite make out what was said; but after a few brusque words of command two pair of boots rang on the gangplank and thumped away down the stage. At the same time Lanyard let himself noiselessly out through the hatch.
As soon as his vision grew reconciled to the change from light to darkness, he discovered the slender figure of the lieutenant skulking on tip-toe after the retreating anchor watch; about midway on the landing stage, however, he paused and bent over one of the piles, apparently fumbling with the painter of a small boat moored in the black shadows below.
At this Lanyard began to move along the deck, one by one working the mooring lines clear of their cleats and dropping them gently overboard, till but two were left to hold the U-boat in place.
Throughout he kept watch upon the manoeuvres of the lieutenant—saw him drop over the side of the stage, heard a thump of feet as he landed in a boat, and a subsequent creak of oar-locks.
The small boat was rounding the bows of the submarine when the adventurer ducked back through conning tower to hold.
He was standing where he had been left when the lieutenant came below.
"It's all right," this last announced with shabby bravado as he stepped over the body in the doorway. "We are rid of that damned watch for a time. They won't return within half an hour at least. I have the dory moored amidships. If we are lively, this dirty job will be over in no time at all."
Lanyard nodded. "I am ready."
"No need to hurry—plenty of time for one more drink." The Prussian splashed brandy into the cup, filling it to the brim. "And God knows I need it!"
Lanyard watched critically as, with head well back, he drained that staggering dose of raw spirit gulp by gulp without once removing the cup from his lips. No mortal man could drink like that and stand up under it: it was now a mere question of time....
Hardly that: the hand of the murderer shook and wavered widely as he put down the cup. For a moment he swayed with eyes fixed and glazing, features visibly losing plasticity, then lurched forward, knocking the brandy bottle to the floor, swung around a full half turn in blind effort to re-establish equilibrium, fell backward upon the table, and lay racked from head to foot with savage spasms, hands clawing empty air, chest labouring vainly to win sufficient oxygen to combat the poison with which his system was saturated.
Moving to his side, Lanyard laid a hand upon the left breast. The man's heart was hammering his ribs with agonizing blows, at first rapid, by degrees more slow and feeble.
No power on earth could save him now: he had committed suicide as surely as murder.
Wasting not another glance or thought upon him Lanyard hurried aft to the central operating room.
The time he had spent there, an hour earlier, was by no means lost in purposeless marvelling. He boasted a certain aptitude for mechanics, perhaps legitimately inherited from that obscure origin of his, largely fostered by the requirements of his craft; into the bargain, he had been privileged ere now to gain some slight insight into the principles of submersible operation. If obliged to work swiftly and in some instances upon the advice of intuition rather than practical knowledge, he went not unintelligently about his task, made few false moves.
Turning first to the diving controls, he adjusted the hydroplanes to their extreme downward inclination, then made the rounds of the vent valves, opening all wide. With a sharp hissing and whistling the air from the auxiliary tanks was driven inboard, and as Lanyard manipulated the wheels operating the forward and aft groups of Kingston valves, to the hissing was added the suck and gurgle of water flooding the main and auxiliary ballast and adjusting tanks.
Immediately the U-boat began to sink. Lanyard delayed only to close the switches which controlled the electric motors. As their drone gained volume he grasped the rifle and swarmed up the companion-ladder, passing through the conning tower to deck with little or nothing to spare—with, in fact, barely time to throw off the two mooring lines and jump into the small boat before water, sweeping hungrily up over deck and bridge, began to cascade through conning tower and torpedo hatchways.
Constrained to cut the painter lest the dory be drawn down with the fast-sinking submarine, he fitted oars to locks and put his back to them, swinging the small boat hastily clear of whirlpools which formed as the waves closed over the spot where the U-boat had rested.
From first to last less than five minutes' activity had been needed for the task of scotching this water-moccasin of the salt seas and putting its keepers at the mercy of the country whose hospitality they had too long abused.
Well content, after a little, Lanyard lay on his oars and contemplated with much interest what the night permitted to be visible: the landing stage, no more than a dark, vague mass in the darkness; the land picked out with but few lights, mainly at windows of the base buildings, painting dim ribbons upon the polished floor of the lagoon.
Methodically these were eclipsed as a moving figure passed before them.
Listening intently, Lanyard could distinguish the slow footfalls of an unsuspecting sentry—no other sounds, more than gentle voices of the night: murmurs of blind wavelets, the plaintive whisper of a little breeze belated amid the tree-tops of that dark forest, and a slow, weary soughing of swells upon the distant ocean shore.
Perceiving as yet not the slightest indication of an alarm ashore, Lanyard ventured to continue rowing, but with utmost caution, lifting and dipping his blades as gingerly as though they were fashioned of brittle glass, and for want of a better guide keeping the stern of the dory square to the shank of the T-stage.
In time the bows grounded lightly on sand. The melancholy voice of the sea now seemed a heavier sighing in the stillness. He pushed off and rowed on parallel with a dark shore line, so close in that his starboard oar touched bottom at each stroke.
At intervals he paused and rested, striving vainly to garner some clue to his bearings. Inexorably the blackness forbade that. He might have failed ere dawn to grope a way out of that trap had not the disappearance of the submarine been discovered within the hour.
A sudden clamour rose in the quarter of the landing stage, first one great shout of dismay, then two voices bellowing together, then others. Several rifle-shots were fired in the air. More lights broke out in windows ashore. Many feet drummed resoundingly upon the stage, and the confusion of voices attained a pitch of wild, hysteric uproar. Of a sudden a flare was lighted and tossed far out upon the bosom of the lagoon.
Surprised by that sharp and merciless blue glare, Lanyard instinctively shipped oars and picked up the rifle. He could see so clearly that huddle of figures upon the head of the landing stage that he confidently apprehended being fired upon at any moment; but minutes lengthened and he was not. Either the Germans were looking for bigger game than a dory adrift, or the dazzling flare hindered more than aided their vision.
At length persuaded that he had not been detected, Lanyard put aside the rifle and resumed the oars. Now his course was made beautifully clear to him: the blue light showed him that outlet to the sea which he sought within a hundred yards' distance.
Presently the flare began to wane. It was not renewed. Altogether unseen, unsuspected, Lanyard swung the dory into the breach, and drove it seaward with all his might.
Swiftly the lagoon was shut out by narrow closing banks. The blue glare died out behind a black profile of rounded dunes. Lanyard turned the bow eastward, rowing broadside to the shore.
After something more than an hour of this mode of progress, he struck in toward the beach, disembarked in ankle-deep waters, slung the rifle over his shoulder by its strap and, pushing the dory off, abandoned it to the whim of the sea.
Then again he set his face to the east, following the contour of the beach just within the wash of the tide: thereby making sure that there should be no trail of footprints in the sand to guide a possible pursuit in the morning.
The rising sun found him purposefully splashing on, weary but enheartened by the discovery that he had left behind the more thickly wooded section of the island.
Presently, turning in to the dry beach for the first time, he climbed to the summit of a dune somewhat higher than its fellows, and took observations, finding that he had come near to the eastern extremity of the island.
At some distance to his right a wagon road, faintly rutted in sand and overgrown with beach grass, struck inland.
Following this at a venture, he came, at about eight o'clock, upon the outskirts of a waterside community.
Before proceeding he hid the magazine rifle in a thicket, then made a wide detour, and picked up a roadway which entered the village from the north.
If his disreputable appearance was calculated to excite comment, readiness in disbursing money to remedy such shortcomings made amends for Lanyard's taciturnity. Within two hours, shaved, bathed, and inconspicuously dressed in a cheap suit of ready-made clothing, he was breakfasting famously upon the plain fare of a commercial tavern.
The town, he learned, was the one-time important whaling port of Edgartown. He would be able to leave for the mainland on a ferry steamer sailing early in the afternoon.
Ten minutes before going abroad he filed a long telegram in code addressed to the head of the British Secret Service in New York....
Consequences manifold and various ensued.
When the telegram had been delivered and decoded—both transactions being marked by reasonable promptitude—the head of the British Secret Service in New York called the British Embassy in Washington on the long distance telephone.
Shortly thereafter an attache of the British Embassy jumped into a motor-car and had himself driven to one of the cardinal departments of the Federal Government.
When he had kicked his heels in an antechamber upward of an hour, he was received, affably enough, by the head of the department, a smug, open-faced gentleman whose mood was largely preoccupied with illusions of grandeur, who was, in short, interested far more in considering how splendid it was to be himself than in hearing about any mare's-nest of a German U-boat base on the south shore of Martha's Vineyard.
He was, however, indulgent enough to promise to give the matter his distinguished consideration in due course.
He even went so far as to have his secretary make a note of what alleged information this young Englishman had to impart.
During the night he chanced to wake up and recall the matter, and concluded that, all things considered, it would do no harm to give the United States Navy a little amusement and exercise, even if it should turn out that the rumour of this submarine base was a canard.
So, the next morning, he went to his desk some time before noon, and issued a lot of orders. One of them had to do with the necessity for absolute secrecy.
During the day several minor officials of the department might have been, and indeed were, observed going about their business with painfully tight-lipped expressions.
Also many messages were transmitted by wireless, telephone, and telegraph, to various persons charged with the defense of the Atlantic Coast; some of these were code messages, some were not.
That same night a great forest fire sprang up on the south shore of Martha's Vineyard, both preceded and accompanied by a series of heavy explosions.
The first United States vessel to reach the lagoon found only charred remains of a landing stage and several buildings and, at the bottom of the lagoon, an incoherent mass of wreckage, a twisted and shattered chaos of steel plates and framework that might possibly have been a perfectly sound submarine, though sunken, had somebody not been warned in ample time to permit its destruction through the agency of trinitrotoluene, that enormously efficient modern explosive nicknamed by British military and naval experts "T.N.T.," and by the Germans "Trotyl."
The early editions of those New York evening newspapers which Lanyard purchased in Providence, when he changed trains there en route from New Bedford to New York, carried multi-column and most picturesque accounts of the Assyrian disaster.
But the whole truth was in none.
Lanyard laid aside the last paper privately satisfied that, for no-doubt praiseworthy reasons of its own, Washington had seen fit to dictate the suppression of a number of extremely pertinent circumstances and facts which could hardly have escaped governmental knowledge.
Already, one inferred, a sort of censorship was at work, an effective if comparatively modest precursor to that noble volunteer committee which was presently with touching spontaneity to fasten itself upon an astonished Ship of State before it could gather enough way to escape such cirripede attachments.
Presumably it was not thought wise to disconcert a great people, in the complacence of its awakening to the fact that it was remotely at war with the Hun, with information that a Boche submersible was, or of late had been, operating in the neighbourhood of Nantucket.
Unanimously the sinking of the Assyrian was ascribed to an internal explosion of unknown origin. No paper hinted that German secret agents might possibly have figured incogniti among her passengers. There was mention neither of the flare which had burned on her after deck to make the Assyrian a conspicuous target in the night, nor of any of the other untoward events which had led up to the explosion. Nothing whatever was said of the shot fired at the submerging U-boat by a United States torpedo-boat destroyer speeding to the rescue.
Still, the bare facts alone were sufficiently appalling. Reading what had been permitted to gain publication, Lanyard experienced a qualm of horror together with the thought that, even had he drowned as he had expected to drown, such a fate had almost been preferable to participation in those awful ten minutes precipitated by that pale messenger of death which had so narrowly missed Lanyard himself as he rested on the bosom of the sea.
Within ten minutes after receiving her coup de grace the Assyrian had gone under; barely that much time had been permitted a passenger list of seventy-two and a personnel of nearly three hundred souls in which to rouse from dreams of security and take to the lifeboats.
Thanks to the frenzied haste compelled by the swift settling of the ship, more than one boat had been capsized. Others had been sunk—literally driven under—by masses of humanity cascading into them from slanting decks. Others, again, had never been launched at all.
The utmost efforts of the destroyer, fortuitously so near at hand, had served to rescue but thirty-one passengers and one hundred and eighty of the crew.
In the list of survivors Lanyard found these names:
Becker, Julius—New York Brooke, Cecelia—London Crane, Robert T.—New York Dressier, Emil—Geneva O'Reilly, Edmund—Detroit Putnam, Bartlett—Philadelphia Velasco, Arturo—Buenos Aires
Among the injured, Lieutenant Lionel Thackeray, D.S.O., was listed as suffering from concussion of the brain, said to have been contracted through a fall while attempting to aid the launching of a lifeboat.
In the long roster of the drowned these names appeared:
Bartholomew, Archer—London Duchemin, Andre—Paris Von Harden, Baron Gustav—Amsterdam Osborne, Captain E. W.—London
Of all the officers, Mr. Sherry was a solitary survivor, fished out of the sea after going down with his ship.
No list boasted the name "Karl."
Lacking accommodations for the rescued, it was stated, the destroyer had summoned by wireless the east-bound freight steamship Saratoga, which had trans-shipped the unfortunates and turned back to New York....
Throughout the best part of that journey from Providence to New York Lanyard sat blankly staring into the black mirror of the window beside his chair, revolving schemes for his immediate future in the light of information derived, indirectly as much as directly, from these newspaper stories.
Retrospective consideration of that voyage left little room for doubt that the designs of the German agents had been thoughtfully matured. They had been quiet enough between their first stroke in the dark and their last, between the burglary of Cecelia Brooke's stateroom the first night out and those murderous attacks on Bartholomew and Thackeray. Unquestionably, had they bided their time pending that hour when, according to their information, the submersible would be off Nantucket, awaiting their signal to sink the Assyrian—a signal which would never have been given had their plans proved successful, had they not made the ship too hot to hold them, and finally had they not made every provision for their own escape when the ship went down.
Lanyard was confident that all of their company had been warned to hold themselves ready, and consequently had come off scot free—all, that is, save that victim of treachery, the unhappy Baron von Harden.
If the number of that group which Lanyard had selected as comprising a majority of his enemies, those nine who had discussed the Lone Wolf in the smoking room, was now reduced to five—Becker, Dressier, O'Reilly, Putnam, and Velasco—or four, eliminating Putnam, of whose loyalty there could be no question—Lanyard still had no means of knowing how many confederates among the other passengers these four might not have had.
And even four men who appreciated what peril to their plans inhered in the Lone Wolf, even four made a ponderable array of desperate enemies to have at large in New York, apt to be encountered at any corner, apt at any time to espy and recognise him without his knowledge.
This situation imposed upon him two major tasks of immediate moment: he must hunt down those four one by one and either satisfy himself as to their innocence of harmful intent or put them permanently hors de combat; and he must extinguish utterly, once and for all time, that amiable personality whose brief span had been restricted to the decks of the Assyrian, Monsieur Andre Duchemin.
That one must be buried deep, beyond all peradventure of involuntary resurrection.
Fortunately the last step toward the positive metamorphosis indicated had been taken that very morning, when the Gallic beard of Monsieur Duchemin was erased by the razor of a New England barber, whose shears had likewise eradicated every trace of a Continental mode of hair-dressing. There remained about Lanyard little to remind of Andre Duchemin but his eyes; and the look of one's eyes, as every good actor knows, is something far more easy to disguise than is commonly believed.
But it was hardly in human nature not to mourn the untimely demise of so useful a body, one who carried such beautiful credentials and serviceable letters of introduction, whose character boasted so much charm with a solitary fault—too facile vulnerability to the prying eyes of those to whom Paris meant those days and social strata in which Michael Lanyard had moved and had his being. Witness—according to Crane—the demoniac cleverness of the Brazilian in unmasking the Duchemin incognito.
Suspicion was taking form in Lanyard's reflections that he had paid far too little attention to Senor Arturo Velasco of Buenos Aires, whose avowed avocation of amateur criminologist might easily be synonymous with interests much less innocuous.
Or why had Velasco been so quick to communicate recognition of Lanyard to an employee of the United States Secret Service?
For that matter, why had he felt called so publicly to descant upon the natural history of the Lone Wolf? In order to focus upon that one the attentions of his enemies? Or to put him on guard?
It was altogether perplexing. Was one to esteem Velasco friend or foe?
Lanyard could comfort himself only with the promise he should one day know, and that without undue delay.
Alighting in Grand Central Terminus late at night, he made his way to Forty-second Street and there, in the staring headlines of a "Late Extra," read the news that the steamship Saratoga had suffered a crippling engine-room accident and was limping slowly toward port, still something like eighteen hours out.
Wondering if it were presumption to construe this as an omen that the stars in their courses fought for him, Lanyard went west to Broadway afoot, all the way beset with a sense of incredulity; it was difficult to believe that he was himself, alive and at large in this city of wonder and space, where people moved at leisure and without fear on broad streets that resembled deep-bitten channels for rivers of light. He was all too wont with nights of dread and trembling, with the mediaeval gloom that enwrapped the cities of Europe by night, their grim black streets desolate but for a few, infrequent, scurrying shapes of fright.... While here the very beggars walked with heads unbowed, and men and women of happier estate laughed and played and made love lightly in the scampering taxis that whisked them homeward from restaurants of the feverish midnight.
A people at war, actually at grips with the Blond Beast, arrayed to defend itself and all humanity against conquest by that loathsome incubus incarnate, a people heedless, carefree, irresponsible, refusing to credit its peril....
Here and there a recruiting poster, down the broad reaches of Fifth Avenue a display of bunting, no other hint of war-time spirit and gravity....
Longacre Square, a weltering lake of kaleidoscopic radiance, even at this late hour thronged with carnival crowds, not one note of sobriety in the night....
Lanyard lifted a wondering gaze to the livid sky whose far, clear stars were paled and shamed by the up-flung glare, like eyes of innocence peering down into a pit of hell.
Yet one could hardly be numb to the subtle, heady intoxication of those cool, immaculate, sea-sweet airs which swept the streets, instilling self-confidence and lightness of spirit even in heads shadowed with the woe of war-worn Europe.
Lanyard had not crossed the Avenue before he found himself walking with a brisker stride, holding his own head high....
On impulse, despite the lateness of the hour, albeit with misgivings justified in the issue, he hailed a taxicab and had himself driven to the headquarters of the British Secret Service in America, an unostentatious dwelling on the northwest corner of West End Avenue at Ninety-fifth Street.
Here a civil footman answered the door and Lanyard's enquiries with the information that Colonel Stanistreet had unexpectedly been called out of town and would not return before evening of the next day, while his secretary, Mr. Blensop, had gone to a play and might not come home till all hours.
More impatient than disappointed, Lanyard climbed back into his cab, and in consequence of consultation with its friendly minded chauffeur, eventually put up for the night in an Eighth Avenue hotel of the class that made Senator Raines famous, a hostelry brazenly proclaiming accommodations "for gentlemen only," whereas it offered entertainment for both man and beast and catered rather more to beast than to man.
However, it served; it was inconspicuous and made no demands upon a shabby traveller sans luggage, more than payment in advance.
Early abroad, Lanyard breakfasted with attention fixed to the advertising columns of the Herald, and by mid-morning was established as sub-tenant of a furnished bachelor apartment on Fifty-eighth Street near Seventh Avenue, a tiny nest of few rooms on the street level, with entrances from both the general lobby and the street direct: an admirable arrangement for one who might choose to come and go without supervision or challenge.
Lacking local references as to his character, Lanyard was obliged to pay three months' rent in advance in addition to making a substantial deposit to cover possible damage to the furnishings.
His name, a spur-of-the-moment selection, was recorded in the lease as Anthony Ember.
At noon he brought to his lodgings two trunks salvaged from a storage warehouse wherein they had been deposited more than three years since, on the eve of his flight with his family from America, an affair of haste and secrecy forbidding the handicap of heavy impedimenta.
Thus Lanyard became once more possessor of a tolerably comprehensive wardrobe.
But, those trunks released more than his personal belongings; intermingled were possessions that had been his wife's and his boy's. As he unpacked, memories peopled those perfunctorily luxurious lodgings of the transient with melancholy ghosts as sweet and sad as lavender and rue.
For hours on end the man sat idle, head bowed down, hands plucking aimlessly at small broidered garments.
And if in the sweep and turmoil of late events he seemed to have forgotten for a little that feud which had brought him overseas, he roused from this brief interlude of saddened dreaming with the iron of deadly purpose newly entered into his soul, and in his heart one dominant thought, that now his hour with Ekstrom could not, must not, be long deferred.
In the street there rose an uproar of inhuman bawling. Lanyard went to the private door, hailed one of the husky authors of the din, an itinerant news-vendor, and disbursed a nickel coin for one cent's worth of spushul uxtry and four cents' worth of howling impudence.
He found no more of interest in the newspaper than the information that the Saratoga had been sighted off Fire Island and was expected to dock in New York not later than eight o'clock that night.
This, however, was acceptable reading. Lanyard had work to do which were better done before "Karl" and his crew found opportunity to communicate directly with their collaborators ashore, work which it were unwise to initiate before nightfall lent a cloak of shadows to hoodwink the ever-possible adventitious German spy.
Nor was he so fatuous as to fancy it would profit him to call before nine o'clock at the house on West End Avenue. No earlier might he hope to find Colonel the Honourable George Fleetwood-Stanistreet near the end of his dinner, and so in a mood approachable and receptive.
But there could be no harm in reconnaissance by daylight.
He whiled away the latter part of the afternoon in taxicabs, by dint of frequent changes contriving in the most casual fashion imaginable to pass the Seventy-ninth Street branch of the Wilhelmstrasse no less than four times.
Little rewarded these tactics other than a fairly accurate mental photograph of the building and its situation—and a growing suspicion that the United States Government had profited nothing by England's lessons of early war days in respect of the one way to cope with resident enemy aliens.
The house stood upon a corner, occupying half of an avenue block—the northern half of which was the site of a towering apartment house in course of construction—and loomed over its lesser neighbours a monumental monstrosity of architecture, as formidable as a fortress, its lower tiers of windows barred with iron, substantial iron grilles ready to bar its main entrance, even heavier gates guarding the carriage court in the side street. In all a stronghold not easy for the most accomplished house-breaker to force; yet the heart of it was Lanyard's goal; for there, he believed, Ekstrom (under whatever nom de guerre) lay hidden, or if not Ekstrom, at least a clear lead to his whereabouts.
Certainly that one could not be far from the powerful wireless station secretly maintained on the roof of this weird jumble of architectural periods, its aerials cunningly hidden in the crowning atrocity of its minaret: a station reputedly so powerful that it could receive Berlin's nightly outgivings of news and orders, and, in emergency, transmit them to other secret stations in Cuba, Mexico, and Venezuela.
Yet the shrewdest scrutiny of eyes trained to detect police agents at sight, however well disguised, failed to espy one sign of any sort of espionage upon this nest of rattlesnakes.
Apparently its tenants came and went as they willed, untroubled by and contemptuous of governmental surveillance.
A handsome limousine car pulled up at its carriage block as Lanyard drove by, one time, and a pretty woman, exquisitely gowned, alighted and was welcomed by hospitable front doors that opened before she could ring: a woman Lanyard knew as one of the most daring, diabolically clever, and unscrupulous creatures of the Wilhelmstrasse, one whose life would not have been worth an hour's purchase had she ventured to show herself in Paris, London, or Petrograd at any time since the outbreak of the war.
He drove on, deep in amaze.
Indications were not wanting, on the other hand, that enemy spies maintained close watch upon the movements of those who frequented the house on West End Avenue. A German agent whom Lanyard knew by sight was strolling by as his taxi rounded its corner and swung on down toward Riverside Drive.
This more modest residence possessed a brick-walled garden at the back, on the Ninety-fifth Street side. And if the top of the wall was crusted with broken glass in a fashion truly British, it had a door, and the door a lock. And Lanyard made a note thereon.
And when he went home to dress for dinner, he opened up the false bottom of one of his trunks and selected from a store of cloth-wrapped bundles therein one which contained a small bunch of innocent-looking keys whose true raison d'etre was anything in the world but guileless.
Later he did himself very well at Delmonico's, enjoying for the first time in many years a well-balanced dinner faultlessly cooked and served amid quiet surroundings that carried memory back half a decade to the Paris that was, the Paris that nevermore will be....
At nine precisely he paid off a taxicab at the corner of Ninety-fifth Street.
While waiting on the doorstep of the corner house, he raked the street right and left with searching glances, and was somewhat reassured. Apparently he called at an hour when the Boche pickets were off duty; at the moment there was no pedestrian visible within a block's distance on either hand, nobody that he could see skulked in the areas of the old-fashioned brownstone houses across the way.
The neighbourhood was, indeed, quiet even for an upper West Side residential quarter. A block over to the east Broadway was strident in the flood of its nocturnal traffic; a like distance to the west Riverside Drive hummed with pleasure cars taking advantage of the first bland night of that belated spring. But here, now that the taxi had wheeled away, there was never a car in sight, nor even a strolling brace of sidewalk lovers.
The door opened, revealing the same footman.
"Colonel Stanistreet? I will see, sir."
"If you will be kind enough to be seated," the footman suggested, indicating a small waiting room. "And what name shall I say?"
It had been Lanyard's intention to have himself announced simply as the author of that telegram from Edgartown. Obscure impulse made him change his mind, some premonition so tenuous as to defy analysis.
"Mr. Anthony Ember."
"Thank you, sir."
After a little the footman returned.
"If you will come this way, sir...."
He led toward the back of the house, introducing Lanyard to a spacious apartment, a library uncommonly well furnished, rather more than comfortably yet without a trace of ostentation in its complete luxury, a warm room, a room intimately lived in, a room, in short, characteristically British in atmosphere.
Waist-high bookcases lined the walls, broken on the right by a cheerful fireplace with a grate of glowing cannel coal, in front of it a great club lounge upholstered, like all the chairs, in well-used leather. Opposite the chimney-piece, a handsome thing in carved oak, a door was draped with a curtain that swung with it. In the back of the room two long and wide French windows stood open to the night, beyond them that garden whose wall had attracted Lanyard's attention. There were a number of paintings, portraits for the most part, heavily framed, with overhead picture-lights. In the middle of the room was a table-desk, broad and long, supporting a shaded reading lamp. On the far side of the table a young man sat writing, with several dockets of papers arranged before him.
As Lanyard entered, this one put down his pen, pushed back his chair, and came round the table: a tallish, well-made young man, dressed a shade too foppishly in spite of an unceremonious dinner coat, his manner assured, amiable, unconstrained, perhaps a little over-tolerant.
"Mr. Ember, I believe?" he said in a voice studiously musical.
"Yes," Lanyard replied, vaguely annoyed with himself because of an unreasoning resentment of this musical quality. "Mr. Blensop?"
"I am Mr. Blensop," that one admitted gracefully. "And how may I have the pleasure of being of service?"
He waved a hand toward an easy chair beside the table, and resumed his own. But Lanyard hesitated.
"I wished to see Colonel Stanistreet."
Mr. Blensop looked up with an indulgent smile. His face was round and smooth but for a perfectly docile little moustache, his lips full and red, his nose delicately chiselled; but his eyes, though large, were set cannily close together.
"Colonel Stanistreet is unfortunately not at home. I am his secretary."
"Yes," said Lanyard, still standing. "In that case I'd be glad if you would be good enough to make an appointment for me with Colonel Stanistreet."
"I am afraid he will not be home till very late to-night, but—"
Mr. Blensop smiled patiently. "Colonel Stanistreet is a very busy man," he uttered melodiously. "If you could let me know something about the nature of your business...."
"It is the King's," said Lanyard bluntly.
The secretary went so far as to betray well-bred surprise. "You are an Englishman, Mr. Ember?"
And for all he knew to the contrary, so Lanyard was.
"I am Colonel Stanistreet's secretary," the young man again suggested hopefully.
"That is precisely why I ask you to make an appointment for me with your employer," Lanyard retorted politely.
"You won't say what you wish to see him about?"
A trace of asperity marred the music of those tones; Mr. Blensop further indicated distaste of the innuendo inherent in Lanyard's use of the word "employer" by delicately wrinkling his nose.
"I am sorry," Lanyard replied sufficiently.
The door behind him opened, and the footman intruded.
"Beg pardon, Mr. Blensop...."
The servant advanced to the table and proffered a visiting card on a tray. Mr. Blensop took it, arched pencilled brows over it.
"To see me, Walker?"
"The gentleman asked for Colonel Stanistreet, sir."
"H'm.... You may show him in when I ring."
The footman retired. Mr. Blensop looked up brightly, bending the card with nervous fingers.
"You were saying your business was...?"
"I was not," Lanyard replied with disarming good humour. "I'm afraid that is something much too important and confidential to reveal even to Colonel Stanistreet's secretary, if you don't mind my saying so."
Mr. Blensop did mind, and betrayed vexation with an impatient little gesture which caused the card to fly from his fingers and fall face uppermost on the table. Almost instantly he recovered it, but not before Lanyard had read the name it bore.
"Of course not," said the secretary pleasantly, rising. "But you understand my instructions are rigid ... I'm sorry."
"You refuse me the appointment?"
"Unless you can give me an inkling of your business—or perhaps bring a letter of introduction."
"I can do neither, Mr. Blensop," said Lanyard earnestly. "I have information of the gravest moment to communicate to the head of the British Secret Service in this country."
The secretary looked startled. "What makes you think Colonel Stanistreet is connected with the British Secret Service?"
"I don't think so; I know it."
After a moment of hesitation Mr. Blensop yielded graciously. "If you can come back at nine to-morrow morning, Mr. Ember, I'll do my best to persuade Colonel Stanistreet—"
"I repeat, my business is of the most pressing nature. Can't you arrange for me to see your employer to-night?"
"It is utterly impossible."
Lanyard accepted defeat with a bow.
"To-morrow at nine, then," he said, turning toward the door by which he had entered.
"At nine," said Mr. Blensop, generous in triumph. "But do you mind going out this way?"
He moved toward the curtained door opposite the chimney-piece. Lanyard paused, shrugged, and followed. Mr. Blensop opened the door, disclosing a vista of Ninety-fifth Street.
"Thank you, Mr. Ember. Good-night," he intoned.
The door closed with the click of a spring latch.
Lanyard stood alone in the street, looking swiftly this way and that, his hand closing upon that little bunch of keys in his pocket, his humour lawless.
For the name inscribed on that card which Mr. Blensop had so carelessly dropped was one to fill Lanyard with consuming anxiety for better acquaintance with its present wearer.
Written in pencil, with all the individual angularity of French chirography, the name was Andre Duchemin.
It took a little time and patience but, on his third essay, Lanyard found a key which agreed with the lock. He permitted himself a sigh of relief; Ninety-fifth Street was bare, the door set flush with the outside of the wall afforded no concealment to the trespasser, while the direct light of a street lamp at the corner made his lonely figure uncomfortably conspicuous.
Apparently, however, he had not been observed.
Gently pushing the door open, he slipped in, as gently closed it, then for a full minute stood stirless, spying out the lay of the land.
Fitting precisely his anticipations, the garden discovered a fine English flavour; it was well-kept, modest, fragrant and, best of all, quite dark, especially so in the shadow of the street wall. Only a glimmer of starlight enabled him to pick out the course of a pebbled footpath. A border of deep turf between this and the wall muffled his footsteps as he moved toward the back of the house.
The library windows, deeply recessed, opened on a low, broad stoop of concrete, with a pergola effect above, and a few wicker pieces upon a grass mat underfoot.
Noiselessly Lanyard stepped across the low sill and paused in the cover of heavy draperies, commanding a tolerably full view of the library if one somewhat unsatisfactory, since the light within was by no means bright. Still, this circumstance had its advantages for him; with his dark topcoat buttoned to the throat and its collar turned up to hide his linen, he was confident he would not be detected unless he gave his presence away by an abrupt movement—something which the Lone Wolf never made.
At the moment Mr. Blensop seemed to be engaged in the surprising occupation of discoursing upon art to his caller.
The latter occupied that chair which Lanyard had refused, on the far side of the table. Thus placed, the lamplight masked more than revealed him, throwing a dull glare into Lanyard's eyes. His man sat in a pose of earnest attention, bending forward a trifle to follow the exposition of Mr. Blensop, who stood beneath a portrait on the wall between the chimney-piece and the windows, his attitude incurably graceful, a hand on the switch controlling the picture-light. Apparently he had just finished speaking, for he paused, looking toward his guest with a quiet and intimate smile as he turned off the light.
"And that's all there is to it," he declared, moving back to the table.
"I see," said the other thoughtfully.
Lanyard felt himself start almost uncontrollably: rage swept through him, storming brain and body, like a black squall over a hill-bound lake. For the moment he could neither see or hear clearly nor think coherently.
For the voice of this latest incarnation of Andre Duchemin was the voice of "Karl."
When the tumult of his senses subsided he heard Blensop saying, "I'll write it out for you," and saw him pick up a pad and pencil and jot down a memorandum.
"There you are," he added, ripping off the sheet and passing it across the table. "Now you can't go wrong."
"I precious seldom do," his caller commented drily.
"I think—" Blensop began, and checked sharply as the man Walker came into the room.
"Beg pardon, Mr. Blensop—"
There was an accent of impatience in those beautifully modulated tones: "Well, what is it now?"
"A lady to see you, sir."
Blensop took the card from the proffered salver. "Never heard of her," he announced brusquely at a glance. "She asked for Colonel Stanistreet or for me?"
"Colonel Stanistreet, sir. But when I said he was not at home, she asked to see his secretary."
"Any idea what she wants?"
"She didn't say, sir—but she seemed much distressed."
"They always are. H'm.... Young and good-looking?"
"Dessay I may as well see her," said Mr. Blensop wearily. "Show her in when I ring."
Walker shut himself out of the room.
"It's just as well," Blensop added to his caller. "You understand, my clear fellow—?"
"Assuredly." The man got up; but Blensop contrived exasperatingly to keep between him and the windows. "I'm to be back at midnight?"
"Twelve sharp; you'll be sure to find him here then. Mind leaving by this emergency exit?"
"Not in the least."
"Then good-night, my dear Monsieur Duchemin!"
Was there a hint of irony in Blensop's employment of that style? Lanyard half fancied there was, but did not linger to analyse the impression. Already the secretary had opened the side door.
In a bound Lanyard cleared the stoop, then ran back to the door in the wall. But with all his quickness he was all too slow; already, as he emerged to Ninety-fifth Street, his quarry was rounding the Avenue corner.
Defiant of discretion, Lanyard gave chase at speed but, though he had not thirty yards to cover, again was baffled by the swiftness with which "Karl" got about.
He had still some distance to go when the peace of the quarter was shattered by a door that slammed like a pistol shot, and with roaring motor and grinding gears a cab swung away from the curb in front of the Stanistreet residence and tore off down the Avenue.
Swearing petulantly in his disappointment, Lanyard pulled up on the corner. The number on the license plate was plainly revealed as the vehicle showed its back to the street lamp. But what good was that to him? He memorised it mechanically, in mutinous appreciation of the fact that the taxi was setting a pace with which he could not hope to compete afoot.
The rumble of another motor-car caught his ear, and he looked round eagerly. A second taxicab—undoubtedly that which had brought the young woman now presumably closeted with Mr. Blensop—was moving up into the place vacated by the first.
In two strides Lanyard was at its side.
"Follow that taxi!" he cried—"number seventy-six, three-eighty-five. Don't lose sight of it, but don't pass it—don't let them know we're following!"
"Engaged," the driver growled.
"Hang your engagement! Here"—Lanyard pressed a golden eagle into the fellow's palm—"there will be another of those if you do as I say!"
"Le's go!" the driver agreed with resignation.
If the cab was moving before Lanyard could hop in and shut the door, the other had already established a killing lead; and though Lanyard's man demonstrated characteristic contempt for municipal regulations governing the speed of motor-driven vehicles, and racketed his own madly down the Avenue, he was wholly helpless to do more than keep the tail-lamp of the first in sight.
More than once that dull red eye seemed sardonically to wink.
Still, Lanyard did not think "Karl" knew he was pursued. His conveyance had passed the corner before Lanyard emerged from the side street. There being no reason that Lanyard knew of why the spy should believe himself under suspicion, his haste seemed most probably due to natural desire to avoid adventitious recognition, coupled with, no doubt, other urgent business.