At Seventy-second Street the chase turned east, with Lanyard two blocks behind, and for a few agonizing moments was altogether lost to him. But at Broadway the tide of southbound traffic hindered it momentarily, and it swung into that stream with its pursuer only a block astern.
Thereafter through a ride of another mile and a half, the distance between the two was augmented or abbreviated arbitrarily by the rules of the road.
At one time less than two cab-lengths separated them; then a Ford, driven Fordishly, wandered vaguely out of a crosstown street and hesitated in the middle of the thoroughfare with precisely the air of a staring yokel on a first visit to the city; and Lanyard's driver slammed on the emergency brake barely in time to escape committing involuntary but justifiable flivvercide.
When he was able once more to throw the gears into high, the chase was a long block ahead.
They were entering Longacre Square before he made up that loss.
And at Forty-fourth Street, again, a stream of east-bound cars edged in between the two, reducing Lanyard's driver to the verge of gibbering lunacy.
A car resembling "Karl's" was crossing Broadway at Forty-second Street when Lanyard was still on Seventh Avenue north of the Times Building.
But only a minute later his driver pulled up in front of the Hotel Knickerbocker, and Lanyard, peering through the forward window, saw the number 76-385 on the license plate of a taxicab drawing away, empty, from the curb beneath the hotel canopy.
He tossed the second gold piece to the driver as his feet touched the sidewalk, and shouldered through a cluster of men and women at the main entrance to the lobby.
That rendezvous of Broadway was fairly thronged despite the slack mid-evening hour, between the dinner and the supper crushes; but Lanyard reviewed in vain the little knots of guests and loungers; if "Karl" were among them, he was nobody whom Lanyard had learned to know by sight on board the Assyrian.
With as little success he searched unobtrusively all public rooms on the main floor.
It was, of course, both possible and probable that "Karl," himself a guest of the hotel, had crossed directly to the elevators and been whisked aloft to his room.
With this in mind, Lanyard paused at the desk, asked permission to examine the register and, being accommodated, was somewhat consoled; if his chase had failed of its immediate objective, it now proved not altogether fruitless. A majority of the Assyrian survivors seemed to have elected to stop at the Knickerbocker. One after another Lanyard, scanning the entries, found these names:
Edmund O'Reilly—Detroit Arturo Velasco—Buenos Aires Bartlett Putnam—Philadelphia Cecelia Brooke—London Emil Dressier—Geneve
Half inclined to commit the imprudence of sending a name up to Miss Brooke—any name but Andre Duchemin, Michael Lanyard, or Anthony Ember—together with a message artfully worded to fix her interest without giving comfort to the enemy, should it chance to go astray, the adventurer hesitated by the desk; and of a sudden was satisfied that such a move would be not only injudicious but waste of time; for, now that he paused to think of it, he surmised that the young woman—"young and good-looking", on Walker's word—who had called to see Colonel Stanistreet was none other than this same Cecelia Brooke.
What more natural than that she should make early occasion to consult the head of the British Secret Service in America?
A pity he had not waited there in the window! If he had, no doubt the mystery with which the girl had surrounded herself would be no more mystery to Lanyard; he would have learned the secret of that paper cylinder as well as the part the girl had played in the intrigue for its possession, and so be the better advised as to his own future conduct.
But in his insensate passion for revenge upon one who had all but murdered him, he had forgotten all else but the moment's specious opportunity.
With a grunt of impatience Lanyard turned away from the desk, and came face to face with Crane.
The Secret Service man was coming from the direction of the bar in company with Velasco, O'Reilly, and Dressier.
Of the three last named but one looked Lanyard's way, O'Reilly, and his gaze, resting transiently on the countenance of Andre Duchemin minus the Duchemin beard, passed on without perceptible glimmer of recognition.
Why not? Why should it enter his head that one lived and had anticipated his own arrival in New York by twenty hours whom be believed to be buried many fathoms deep off Nantucket?
As for Crane, his cool gray, humorous eyes, half-hooded with their heavy lids, favoured Lanyard with casual regard and never a tremor of interest or surprise; but as he passed his right eye closed deliberately and with a significance not to be ignored.
To this Lanyard responded only with a look of blankest amaze.
Chatting with an air of subdued self-congratulation pardonable in such as have come safe to land through many dangers of the deep, the quartet strolled round the desk and boarded one of the elevators.
Not till its gate had closed did Lanyard stir. Then he went away from there with all haste and cunning at his command.
The route through the cafe to Broadway offered the speediest and least conspicuous of exits. From the side door of the hotel he plunged directly into the mouth of the Subway kiosk and, chance favouring him, managed to purchase a ticket and board a southbound local train an instant before its doors ground shut.
Believing Crane would take the next elevator down, once he had seen the others safely in their rooms, Lanyard was content to let him find the lobby destitute of ghosts, to let him fume and wonder and think himself perhaps mistaken.
The last thing he desired was entanglement with the American Secret Service. For Crane he entertained personal respect and temperate liking, thought the man socially an amusing creature, professionally a deadly peril to one who had a feud to pursue.
Leaving the train at Grand Central, the adventurer passed through the back ways of the Terminus, into the Hotel Biltmore, upstairs to its lobby, thence out by the Vanderbilt Avenue entrance, walking through Forty-fourth Street to Fifth Avenue, where he chartered a taxicab, gave the address of his lodgings, and lay back in the corner of its seat satisfied he had successfully eluded pursuit and very, very grateful to the Subway system for the facilities it afforded fugitives like himself through its warren of underground passages.
One thing troubled him, however, without respite: the Brooke girl was on his conscience. To her he owed an accounting of his stewardship of that trust which she had reposed in him. It was intolerable in his understanding that she should be permitted to go one unnecessary hour in ignorance of the truth about that business—the truth, that is, as far as he himself knew it.
If through Crane or in some unforseeable fashion she were to learn that Andre Duchemin lived, she would think him faithless. If she knew that Duchemin had been one with Michael Lanyard, the Lone Wolf, she would not be surprised. But that, too, was intolerable; even the Lone Wolf had his code of honour.
Again, if she remained in ignorance of the fact that Lanyard had escaped drowning, she would continue to believe her secret at the bottom of the sea with him; whereas, in the hands of the enemy, in the possession of "Karl" and his, confederates, it was potentially Heaven only knew how dangerous a weapon.
Abruptly Lanyard reflected that at least one doubt had been eliminated by that encounter in the Knickerbocker. It was barely possible that "Karl" had gone to the bar on entering and added himself to Crane's party, but it was hardly creditable in Lanyard's consideration. He was convinced that, whether or not Velasco, O'Reilly, and Dressier were parties to the Hun conspiracy, none of these was "Karl."
As for the Brooke matter, he felt it incumbent upon him immediately to find some safe means of communicating with the girl. She could be trusted not to betray him to the police, however much she might at first incline to doubt him. But he would persuade her of his sincerity, never fear!
The telephone offered one solution of his difficulty, an agency non-committal enough, provided one were at pains not to call from one's private station, to which the call might be traced back.
With this in mind he stopped and dismissed his taxicab at Fifty-seventh Street and Sixth Avenue, and availed himself of a coin-box telephone booth in the corner druggist's.
The experience that followed was nothing out of the ordinary. Lanyard, connected with the Knickerbocker promptly, with the customary expenditure of patience laboriously spelled out the name B-r-double-o-k-e, and was told to hold the wire.
Several minutes later he began to agitate the receiver hook and was eventually rewarded with the advice that the Knickerbocker operator, being informed his party was in the rest'runt, was having her paged.
Still later the central operator told him his five minutes was up and consented to continue the connection only on deposit of an additional nickel.
Eventually, in sequel to more abuse of the hook, he received this response from the Knickerbocker switchboard: "Wait a min'te, can't you? Here's your party."
Lanyard was surprised at the eagerness with which he cried: "Hello!"
A click answered, and a bland voice which was not the voice he had expected to hear: "Hello? That you, Jack?"
He said wearily: "I am waiting to speak with Miss Cecelia Brooke."
"Oh, then there must be some mistake. This is Miss Crooke speaking."
Lanyard uttered a strangled "Sorry!" and hung up, abandoning further effort as hopeless.
That matter would have to stand over till morning.
Time now pressed: it was nearly eleven; he had a rendezvous with Destiny to keep at midnight, and meant to be more than punctual.
Walking to his apartment house, he proceeded to establish an alibi by entering through the public hallway and registering with the telephone attendant a call for seven o'clock the next morning.
In the course of the next half hour Lanyard let himself quietly out of the private door, slipped around the block and boarded a Riverside Drive bus.
Alighting at Ninety-third Street, he walked two blocks north on the Drive, turned east, and without misadventure admitted himself a second time to the Stanistreet garden.
It was hardly possible to watch Mr. Blensop functioning in his vocational capacity without reflecting on that cruel injustice which Nature only too often practises upon her offspring in secreting most praiseworthy qualities within fleshy envelopes of hopelessly frivolous cast.
The flowing gestures of this young man, his fluting accents, poetic eyes, and modestly ingratiating moustache, the preciosity of his taste in dress, assorted singularly with an austere devotion to duty rare if unaffected.
Beyond question, whether or not naturally a man of studious and conscientious temper, Mr. Blensop figured to admiration in the role of such an one.
Seated, the shaded lamplight an aureole for his fair young head, he wrought industriously with a beautiful gold-mounted fountain pen for fully five minutes after Lanyard had stolen into the draped recess of the French window, pausing only now and again to take a fresh sheet of paper or consult one of the sheaves of documents that lay before him.
At length, however, he hesitated with pen lifted and abstracted gaze focussed upon vacancy, shook a bewildered head, and rose, moving directly toward the windows.
For as long as thirty breathless seconds Lanyard remained in doubt; there was the barest chance that in his preoccupation Blensop might pass through to the garden without noticing that dark figure flattened against the inswung half of the window, in the dense shadow of the portiere. Otherwise the game was altogether up; Lanyard could see no way to avoid the necessity of staggering Blensop with a blow, racing for freedom, abandoning utterly further effort to learn the motive of "Karl's" impersonation of Duchemin.
He gathered himself together, waited poised in readiness for any eventuality—and blessed his lucky stars to find his apprehensions idle.
Three paces from the windows, Mr. Blensop made it plain that he was after all not minded to stroll in the garden. Pausing, he swung a high-backed wing chair round to face the corner of the room, switched on a reading lamp, sat down and selected a volume of some work of reference from the well-stocked book shelves.
For several minutes, seated within arm's length of the trespasser, he studied intently, then with a cluck of satisfaction replaced the volume, extinguished the light, and went back to his writing.
But presently he checked with a vexed little exclamation, shook his pen impatiently, and fixed it with a frown of pained reproach.
But that did no good. The cussedness of the inanimate was strong in this pen: since its reservoir was quite empty it mulishly refused more service without refilling.
With a long-suffering sigh, Mr. Blensop found a filler in one of the desk drawers, and unscrewed the nib of the pen.
This accomplished, he paused, listened for a moment with head cocked intelligently to one side, dropped the dismembered implement, and got up alertly. At the same moment the door to the hallway opened, and two women entered, apparently sisters: one a lady of mature and distinguished charm, the other an equally prepossessing creature much her junior, the one strongly animated with intelligent interest in life, the other a listless prey to habitual ennui.
To these fluttered Mr. Blensop, offering to relieve them of their wraps.
"Permit me, Mrs. Arden," he addressed the elder woman, who tolerated him dispassionately. "And Mrs. Stanistreet ... I say, aren't you a bit late?"
"Frightfully," assented Mrs. Stanistreet in a weary voice. "It must be all of midnight."
"Hardly that, Adele," said Mrs. Arden with a humorous glance.
"Dinner, the play, supper, and home before twelve!" commented Blensop, shocked. "I say, that is going some, you know."
"George would insist on hurrying home," the young wife complained. "Frightfully tiresome. We were so comfy at the Ritz, too...."
"The Crystal Room?" Dissembled envy poisoned Blensop's accents.
"Frightfully interestin'—everybody was there. I did so want to dance—missed you, Arthur."
"I say, you didn't, did you, really?"
"Poor Mr. Blensop!" Mrs. Arden interjected with just a hint of malice. "What a pity you must be chained down by inexorable duty, while we fly round and amuse ourselves."
"I must not complain," Blensop stated with humility becoming in a dutiful martyr, a pose which he saw fit quickly to discard as another man came briskly into the room. "Ah, good evening, Colonel Stanistreet."
With a brusque nod, Colonel Stanistreet went straightway to the desk, stopping there to take up and examine the work upon which his secretary had been engaged: a gentleman considerably older than his wife, of grave and sturdy cast, with the habit of standing solidly on his feet and giving undivided attention to the matter in hand.
"Anything of consequence turned up?" he enquired abstractedly, running through the sheets of pen-blackened paper.
"Three persons called," Blensop admitted discreetly. "One returns at midnight."
Stanistreet threw him a keen look. "Eh!" he said, making swift inference, and turned to his wife and sister-in-law. "It is nearly twelve now. Forgive me if I hurry you off."
"Patience," said Mrs. Arden indulgently. "Not for worlds would I hinder your weighty affairs, dear old thing, but I sleep more sound o' nights when I know my trinkets are locked up securely in your safe."
With a graceful gesture she unfastened a magnificent necklace and deposited it on the desk.
"Frightful rot," her sister commented from the doorway. "As if anybody would dare break in here."
"Why not?" Mrs. Arden enquired calmly, stripping her fingers of their rings.
"With a watchman patrolling the grounds all night—"
"Letty is sensible," Stanistreet interrupted. "Howson's faithful enough, and these American police dependable, but second-storey men happen in the best-guarded neighbourhoods. Be advised, Adele: leave your things here with Letty's."
"No fear," his wife returned coolly. "Too frightfully weird...."
She drifted across the threshold, then hesitated, a pretty figure of disdainful discontent.
"But really, Colonel Stanistreet is right," Blensop interposed vivaciously. "What do you imagine I heard to-night? The Lone Wolf is in America!"
"What is that you say?" Mrs. Arden demanded sharply.
"The Lone Wolf ... Fact. Have it on most excellent authority."
"The Lone Wolf!" Mrs. Stanistreet drawled. "If you ask me, I think the Lone Wolf nothing in the world but a scapegoat for police stupidity."
"You wouldn't say that," Mrs. Arden retorted, "if you had lived in Paris as long as I. There, in the dear old days, we paid that rogue too heavy a tax not to believe in him."
"Frightful nonsense," insisted the other. "I'm off. 'Night, Arthur. Shall you be long, George?"
"Oh, half an hour or so," her husband responded absently as she disappeared.
With a little gesture consigning her jewellery, heaped upon the desk, to the care of her brother-in-law, Mrs. Arden uttered good-nights and followed her sister.
Blensop bowed her out respectfully, shut the door and returned to the desk.
"What's this about the Lone Wolf?" Stanistreet enquired, sitting down to con the papers more intently.
"Oh!" Blensop laughed lightly. "I was merely repeating the blighter's own assertion. I mean to say, he boasted he was the Lone Wolf."
"Who boasted he was the Lone Wolf?"
"Chap who called to-night, giving the name of Duchemin—Andre Duchemin. Had French passports, and letters from the Home Office recommending him rather highly. Useful creature, one would fancy, with his knowledge of the right way to go about the wrong thing. What? Ought to be especially helpful to us in hunting down the Hun over here."
"Is this the man who returns at midnight?"
"Yes, sir. I thought it best to make the appointment."
"He said he had crossed on the Assyrian, said it significantly, you know. I fancied he might be the person you have been expecting."
Stanistreet looked up with a frown. "Hardly," he said—"if, that is, he is really what he claims to be. I wonder how he came by those letters."
"Does seem odd, doesn't it, sir? A confessed criminal!"
"An extraordinary man, by all accounts.... Those other callers—?"
"Nobody of importance, I should say. A man who gave his name as Ember and got a bit shirty when I asked his business. Told him you might consent to see him at nine in the morning."
"And the other?"
"A young woman—deuced pretty girl—also reticent. What was her name? Brooke—that was it: Cecelia Brooke."
"The devil!" Stanistreet exclaimed, dropping the papers. "What did you say to her?"
"What could I say, sir? She refused to divulge a word about her business with us. I told her—"
Warned by a gesture from Colonel Stanistreet, Blensop broke off. Walker was opening the door.
"A Mr. Duchemin, sir, says Mr. Blensop made an appointment with you for twelve to-night."
"Show him in, please."
The footman shut himself out. Blensop clutched nervously at Mrs. Arden's jewels.
"Hadn't I better put these in the safe first?"
"No—no time." Stanistreet opened a drawer of the desk—"Here!"—and closed it as Blensop hastily swept the jewellery into it. "Safe enough there—as long as he doesn't know, at all events. But don't forget to put them away after he goes."
Again the door opened. Walker announced: "Mr. Duchemin." Stanistreet rose in his place. A man strode in with the assurance of one who has discounted a cordial welcome.
Through the gap which he had quietly created between the portiere and the side of the window, Lanyard stared hungrily, and for the second time that night damned heartily the inadequate light in the library.
The impostor's face, barely distinguishable in the up-thrown penumbra of the lampshade, wore a beard—a rather thick, dark beard of negligent abundance, after a mode popular among Frenchmen—above which his features were an indefinite blur.
Lanyard endeavoured with ill success to identify the fellow by his carriage; there was a perceptible suggestion of a military strut, but that is something hardly to be termed distinctive in these days. Otherwise, he was tall, quite as tall as Lanyard, and had much the same character of body, slender and lithe.
But he was "Karl" beyond question, confederate and murderer of Baron von Harden, the man who had thrown the light bomb to signal the U-boat, the brute with whom Lanyard had struggled on the boat deck of the Assyrian—though the latter, in the confusion of that struggle, had thought the German's beard a masking handkerchief of black silk.
Now by that same token he was no member of that smoking-room coterie upon which Lanyard's suspicions had centered.
On the other hand, any number of passengers had worn beards, not a few of much the same mode as that sported by this nonchalant fraud.
Vainly Lanyard cudgelled his wits to aid a laggard memory, haunted by a feeling that he ought to know this man instantly, even in so poor a light. Something in his habit, something in that insouciance which so narrowly escaped insolence, was at once strongly reminiscent and provokingly elusive....
Pausing a little ways within the room, the fellow clicked heels and bowed punctiliously in Continental fashion, from the hips.
"Colonel Stanistreet, I believe," he said in a sonorous voice—"Karl's" unmistakable voice—"chief of the American bureau of the British Secret Service?"
"I am Colonel Stanistreet," that gentleman admitted. "And you, sir—?"
"I have adopted the name of Andre Duchemin," the impostor stated. "With permission I retain it."
Colonel Stanistreet inclined his head slightly. "As you will. Pray be seated."
He dropped back into his chair, while "Karl" with a murmur of acknowledgment again took the armchair on the far side of the desk, where the lamp stood between him and the secret watcher.
"My secretary tells me you have letters of introduction...."
"Here." Calmly "Karl" produced and offered those purloined papers.
"You will smoke?" Stanistreet indicated a cigarette-box and leaned back to glance through the letters.
During a brief pause Blensop busied himself with collecting together the documents which had occupied him and began reassorting them, while "Karl," helping himself to a cigarette, smoked with manifest enjoyment.
"These seem to be in order," Stanistreet observed. "I note from this code letter that your true name is Michael Lanyard, you were once a professional French thief known as 'The Lone Wolf', but have since displayed every indication of desire to reform your ways, and have been of considerable use to the Intelligence Office. I am desired to employ your services in my discretion, contingent—pardon me—upon your continued good behaviour."
"Precisely," assented "Karl."
"Proceed, Monsieur Duchemin."
"It is an affair of some delicacy.... Do we speak alone, Colonel Stanistreet?"
"Mr. Blensop is my confidential secretary...."
"Oh, no objection. Still—if I may venture the suggestion—those windows open upon a garden, I take it?"
"Yes. Blensop, be good enough to close the windows."
Stepping delicately, Blensop moved toward the end of the room.
Again Lanyard was confronted with the alternatives of incontinent flight or attempting to remain undetected through the adoption of an expedient of the most desperate audacity. He had prepared against such contingency, he did not mean to go; but the feasibility of his contemplated manoeuvre depended entirely upon chance, its success in any event was forlornly problematic.
"Karl" remained hidden from him by the lamp, so he from "Karl." Colonel Stanistreet, facing his caller, sat half turned away from the windows. Everything rested with Blensop's choice, which of the two windows he would elect first to close.
A right-handed man, he turned, as Lanyard had foreseen, to the right, and momentarily disappeared in the recess of the farther window.
In the same instant Lanyard slipped noiselessly from behind the portiere, and dropped into that capacious wing chair which Blensop had thoughtfully placed for him some time since.
Thus seated, making himself as small and still as possible, he was wholly concealed from all other occupants of the library but Blensop; and even this last was little likely to discover him.
He did not. He closed and latched the farther window, then that wherein Lanyard had lurked, and ambled back into the room with never a glance toward that shadowed corner which held the wing chair.
And Lanyard drew a deep breath, if a quiet one. Behind him the conversation had continued without break. It was true, he could see nothing; but he could hear all that was said, he had missed no syllable, and now every second was informing him to his profit....
"Your secretary, no doubt, has told you I am a survivor of the Assyrian disaster."
"You were, I believe, expecting a certain communication of extraordinary character by the Assyrian, to be brought, that is, by an agent of the British Secret Service."
After an almost imperceptible pause Stanistreet said evenly: "It is possible."
"A communication, in fact, of such character that it was impossible to entrust it to the mails or to cable transmission, even in code."
"And if so, sir...?"
"And you are aware that, of the two gentlemen entrusted with the care of this document, one was drowned when the Assyrian went down, and the other so seriously injured that he has not yet recovered consciousness, but was transferred directly from the pier to a hospital when the Saratoga docked."
"What then, Monsieur Duchemin?"
"Colonel Stanistreet," said the impostor deliberately, "I have that communication. I will ask you not to question me too closely as to how it came into my possession. I have it: that is sufficient."
"If you possess any document which you conceive to be so valuable to the British Government, monsieur, and consequently to the Allied cause, I have every confidence in your intention to deliver it to me without delay."
A note of mild derision crept into the accents of "Karl."
"I have every intention of so doing, my dear sir.... But you must appreciate I have incurred considerable personal danger, hardship, and inconvenience in taking good care of this document, in seeing that it did not fall into the wrong hands; in short, in bringing it safely here to you to-night."
A slightly longer pause prefaced Stanistreet's reply, something which he delivered in measured tones: "I am able to promise you the British Government will show due appreciation of your disinterested services, Monsieur—Duchemin."
"Not disinterested—not that!" the cheat protested. "Gentlemen of my kidney, sir, seldom put themselves out except in lively anticipation of favours to come."
"Be good enough to make yourself more clear."
"Cheerfully. I possess this document. I understand its character is such that Germany would pay a round price for it. But I am a good patriot. In spite of the fact that nobody knew I possessed it, in spite of the fact that I need only have quietly taken it to Seventy-ninth Street to-night—"
"Monsieur Duchemin!" Stanistreet's voice was icy. "Your price?"
"Sorry you feel that way about it," said "Karl" with ill-concealed insincerity. "You must know thieving is no more what it once was. Even I, too, often am put to it to make both ends—"
"If you please, sir—how much?"
"Ten thousand dollars."
Silence greeted this demand, a lull that to Lanyard seemed endless. For in his fury he was trembling so that he feared lest his agitation betray him. The very walls before his eyes seemed to quake in sympathy. He was aware of the ache of swollen veins in his temples, his teeth hurt with the pressure put upon them, his breath came heavily, and his nails were digging painfully into his palms.
"How much have we on hand, in the emergency fund?"
"Between ten and twelve thousand dollars, sir."
"Intuition, monsieur, is an indispensable item in the equipment of a successful chevalier d'Industrie. So, at least, the good novelists tell us...."
"Open the safe, Blensop, and fetch me ten thousand dollars."
"Very good, sir."
"I presume you won't object to satisfying me that you really have this document, before I pay you your price."
"It is this which makes it a pleasure to deal with an Englishman, monsieur: one may safely trust his word of honour."
"Permit me: here is the document. Use that magnifying glass I see by your elbow, monsieur; take your time, satisfy yourself."
"Thanks; I mean to."
Another break in the dialogue, during which the eavesdropper heard an odd sound, a sort of muffled swishing ending in a slight thud, then the peculiar metallic whine of a combination dial rapidly manipulated, finally the dull clank of bolts falling back into their sockets.
"Your coffre-fort—what do you say?—strong-box—safe—is cleverly concealed, Colonel Stanistreet."
There was no direct reply, but after a moment Stanistreet announced quietly: "This seems to be an authentic paper.... Monsieur Duchemin, what knowledge precisely have you of the nature of this document?"
"Surely monsieur cannot have overlooked the circumstance that its seals were intact."
"True," Stanistreet admitted. "Still...."
"I trust Monsieur does not question my good faith?"
"Why not?" Stanistreet enquired drily.
"Oh, damn your play-acting, sir! If you can be capable of one infamy, you are capable of more. None the less, you are right about an Englishman's word: here is your money. Count it and—get out!"
"Thanks"—the impostor's tone was an impertinently exact imitation of Stanistreet's—"I mean to."
"Permit me to excuse myself," Stanistreet added; and Lanyard heard the muffled scrape of chair-legs on the rug as the Englishman got up.
"Gladly," the spy returned—"and ten thousand thanks, monsieur!"
The secretary intoned melodiously: "This way, Monsieur Duchemin, if you please."
"Pardon. Is it material which way I leave?"
"What do you mean?" Stanistreet demanded.
"I should be far easier in my mind if monsieur would permit me to go by way of his garden, rather than run the risk of his front door."
"In these little affairs, monsieur, I try to make it a rule to avoid covering the same ground twice."
"You have the insolence to imply I would lend myself to treachery!"
"I beg monsieur's pardon very truly for suggesting such a thing. Nevertheless, one cannot well be overcautious when one is a hunted man."
"Blensop ... be good enough to see this man out through the garden."
"Again, monsieur, my thanks."
"Good-night," said Stanistreet curtly.
Blensop passed Lanyard's chair, unlatched and opened the window and stood aside. An instant later "Karl" joined him, swung on a heel, facing back, clicked heels again and bowed mockingly. Apparently he got no response, for he laughed quietly, then turned and went out through the window, Blensop mincing after.
With a struggle Lanyard mastered the temptation to dash after the spy, overtake and overpower him, expose and give him up to justice. Only the knowledge that by remaining quiescent, by biding his time, he might be enabled to redeem his word to the Brooke girl, gave him strength to be still.
But he suffered exquisitely, maddened by the defamation imposed upon his nick-name of a thief by this brazen impostor.
Nor was wounded amour-propre mended by an exclamation in the room behind his chair, the accents of Colonel Stanistreet thick with contempt:
"The Lone Wolf! Faugh!"
Presently Blensop came back, closed the window, and passed blindly by Lanyard, his reappearance saluted by Stanistreet in tones that shook with contained temper.
"You saw that animal outside the walls?"
Mildly injured surprise was indicated in the reply: "Surely, sir!"
"And locked the door after him?"
"Howson anywhere about?"
"I didn't see him. Daresay he's prowling somewhere within call. Do you wish to speak to him?"
"No.... But you might, if you see anything of him, tell him to keep an extra eye open to-night. I don't trust this self-styled Lone Wolf."
"Naturally not, sir, under the circumstances."
Stanistreet acknowledged this with an irritated snort. "No matter," he thought aloud; "if it has cost us a pretty penny, we have got this safe in hand at last. I've not had too much sleep, I can promise you, since the report came through of Bartholomew's death and Thackeray's disablement. Nor am I satisfied that this Monsieur Duchemin came by the document fairly—confound his impudence! If he hadn't put me on honour, tacitly, I'd not hesitate an instant about informing the police."
"Rather chancy course to take in this business, what?"
"I don't know.... That Yankee invention known as the 'frame-up' would easily make America too small for the Lone Wolf without the British Secret Service ever being mentioned in the matter."
"Yes; but suppose the beast knows the contents of this paper, suspects the authorship of the 'frame-up'—as he instinctively would—and blabs? Messages have been unsealed and copied and resealed before this."
"That one consideration ties my hands.... Here, my boy: take this and put it in the safe—and don't forget Mrs. Arden's things, of course. Good-night."
"Trust me, sir. Good-night."
A door closed with a slight jar, and for half a minute the room was so positively quiet that Lanyard was beginning to wonder if Blensop himself had gone out with his employer, when he heard a low and musical chuckle, followed by a soft clashing as the secretary scooped Mrs. Arden's jewellery out of the desk drawer.
Itching with curiosity, Lanyard turned with infinite care and peered round the wing of the chair, thus gaining a view of the wall farthest from the street.
Blensop remaining invisible, Lanyard's interest centred immediately upon the safe the ingenuity of whose concealment had excited "Karl's" favourable comment, and with much excuse.
One of the portraits—that upon whose merits Blensop had descanted to "Karl" earlier in the night—was, Lanyard saw, so mounted upon a solid panel of wood that, by means of hidden mechanism, it could be moved sidelong from its frame, uncovering the face of a safe built into the wall.
This last now stood open, its door, swung out toward Lanyard, showing a simple arrangement of dials and locks with which he was on terms of contemptuous familiarity; only the veriest tyro of a cracksman would want more than a good ear and a subtle sense of touch in order to open it without knowledge of the combination.
With all its reputation for efficiency and astuteness the British Secret Service entrusted its mysteries to an antiquated contraption such as this!
Humming a blithe little air, Blensop moved into Lanyard's field of vision and stopped between him and the safe, deftly pigeonholing therein the docketed papers and Mrs. Arden's jewels. Then, closing the door, he shot its bolts, gave the dial a brisk twirl, located a lever in the side of the frame and thrust it into its socket.
With the same swish and thud which had puzzled Lanyard at first hearing, the portrait slipped back into place.
Rounding on a heel, Blensop paused, head to one side, a slight frown shadowing his bland countenance, and stood briefly rooted in some perplexity of obscure origin. Twice he shook a peevish head, then smiled radiantly and brought his hands together in an audible clap.
"I have it!" he cried in delight and, dancing briskly toward the desk, once more disappeared.
Now what was this which Mr. Blensop so spontaneously had, and from the having of which he derived so much apparently innocent enjoyment? Wanting an answer, Lanyard settled back in disgust, then sat sharply forward, gaze riveted to the near sash of the adjacent window.
In showing "Karl" out, Blensop had moved the portieres, exposing more glass than previously had been visible. Now this mirrored darkly to the adventurer a somewhat distorted vision of Blensop standing over the desk, seemingly employed in no more amusing occupation than filling his fountain-pen. But undoubtedly he was in the highest spirits; for the lilt of his humming rose sweet and clear and ever louder.
To this accompaniment he pocketed his pen, two-stepped to the windows, drew the portieres jealously close, returned to the desk, switched off the reading lamp, and left the room completely dark but for a dim glow from the ash-filmed embers of the fire.
But before he went out the secretary interrupted his humming to laugh with a mischievous elan which completely confounded Lanyard. He was not unacquainted with the Blensop type, but the secret glee which seemed to animate this specimen was something far beyond his comprehension.
As the door softly closed Lanyard moved silently across the room and bent an ear to its panels, meanwhile drawing over his hands a pair of thin white kid gloves.
From beyond came no sound other than a faint creaking of stair-treads quickly silenced.
Opening the door, Lanyard peered out, finding the hallway deserted and dimly lighted by a single bulb of little candle-power at its far end, then scouted out as far as the foot of the stairs, listened there for a little, hearing no sounds above, and reconnoitred through the other living rooms, at length returning to the library persuaded he was alone on the ground floor of the house.
A Yale lock was fixed to the library side of the door. Lanyard released its catch, insuring freedom from interruption on the part of anybody who lacked the key, crossed to the other side door, left this on the latch and, having thus provided an avenue for escape, turned attention to business, in brief, to the safe.
Turning on the picture-light he found and operated the lever, with his other hand so restraining the action of the panel that it moved aside without perceptible jar.
Then with an ear to that smooth, cold face of enamelled steel, he began to manipulate the combination. From within the door a succession of soft clicks and knocks punctuated the muted whine of the dial, speaking a language only too intelligible to the trained hearing of a thief; synchronous breaks and resistance in the action of the dial conveyed additional information through the medium of supersensitive finger tips. Within two minutes he had learned all he needed to know, and standing back twirled the knob right and left with a confident hand. At its fourth stop he heard the dull bump of released tumblers, grasped the handle, and twisted it strongly. The door swung open.
Systematically Lanyard searched the pigeonholes, emptying all but one, examining minutely their contents without finding that slender roll of paper.
Mystified, he hesitated. The thing, of course, was somewhere there, only hidden more cunningly than he had hoped. It was possible, even probable, that Blensop had stowed the cylinder away in a secret compartment.
But the interior arrangement was disconcertingly simple. Lanyard saw no sign of waste space in which such a drawer might be secreted. Unless, to be sure, one of the pigeonholes had a false back....
He began a fresh examination, again emptying each pigeonhole and sounding its rear wall without result till there remained only that in which Blensop had placed the Arden jewels.
It was necessary to move these, but Lanyard long withheld his hand, reluctant to touch them, for that same reason which had influenced him to avoid them in his first search.
Jewels such as these he both worshipped and desired with the passionate adoration of connoisseur and lover in one. He feared violently the temptation of physical contact with such stuff.
For his was no thief's errand to-night, but a matter, as he conceived it, of his private honour, something apart and distinct from the code of rogue's ethics which guided his professional activities. He had pledged his word to Cecelia Brooke to keep safe for her that cylinder of paper, to return it upon her demand for whatsoever disposition she might choose to make of it. It was no concern of his what that choice might turn out to be, any more than it was his affair if the document were a paper of international importance. But she must and should, if act of his could compass it, be given opportunity to redeem her word of honour if, as one believed, that likewise were involved in the fate of the document.
He had stolen into this house like a thief because he had given his pledge and perforce had been made false to that pledge, because he had been despoiled of the concrete evidence of the trust reposed unasked in him, and because he had learned that his spoiler was to meet Stanistreet in this room at midnight.
He was here solely to make good his word, to take away that cylinder, could he find it, and to return it to the girl ... not to thieve....
Slowly, reluctantly, inevitably he put forth his hand and selected from among those brilliant symbols of his soul's profound damnation the necklace, a rope of diamonds consummately matched, a rivulet of frozen fire, no single stone less lovely than another.
"Admirable!" he whispered. "Oh, admirable!"
Hesitant to do this thing which to him, by the strange standard of his warped code, spelled dishonour, he would and he would not; and while he paltered, was visited by an oddly vivid memory of the clear and candid eyes of Cecelia Brooke, seemed veritably to see them searching his own with their look of grieving wonder ... the eyes of one woman who had reckoned him worthy of her trust....
Almost he won victory in this fight he was foredoomed to lose. Under the level and steadfast regard of those eyes his hand went out to replace the necklace, moved unsteadily, faltered....
Beyond the windows an incautious footfall sounded. In the darkness out there someone blundered into a piece of wicker furniture and disturbed it with a small scraping sound, all but inaudible, but to the thief as loud as the blast of a police whistle.
Instantly and instinctively, in two simultaneous gestures, Lanyard dropped the necklace into an inner pocket of his coat and switched off the picture-light.
With hands now as steady and sure as they had been vacillant a moment since, he closed the safe door noiselessly, shot its bolts, and was yards away, crouching behind an armchair, before the man outside had ceased to fumble with the window fastenings.
If this were the watchman Howson, doubtless he would be satisfied with finding the room dark and apparently untenanted, and would go off upon his rounds unsuspecting. If he did not, or if he noticed the displaced panel, then would come Lanyard's time to break cover and run for it.
With a faint creak one of the windows swung inward. Curtain-rings clashed dully on their poles. Someone came through the portieres and paused, pulling them together behind him. The beam of an electric flash-lamp lanced the gloom and its spotlight danced erratically round the walls.
Now there was no more thought of flight in Lanyard's humour, but rather a firm determination to stand his ground. This was no night watchman, but a housebreaker, one with no more title to trespass upon those premises than himself; and at that an unskilled hand at such work, the rawest of amateurs practising methods as clumsy and childish as any actor playing at burglary on a stage before a simple-minded audience.
The noise he made on entering alone proved that, then this fatuous business with the flash-lamp. And as he moved inward from the windows it became evident that he had not even had the wit to close the portieres completely; a violet glimmer of starlight shone in through a deep triangular gap between them at the top.
For all that, the intruder seemed to know what he wanted and where to seek it, betrayed a nice acquaintance with the room, proceeding directly to the safe picked out by his lamp.
Arrived beneath it he uttered a low sound which might have been interpreted as surprise due to finding the panel already out of place. If so, surprise evidently roused in him no suspicion that all might not be well. On the contrary, he quite calmly located and turned the switch controlling the picture-light.
Immediately, as its rays gushed down and disclosed the man, Lanyard rose boldly from his place in hiding. Now there was no more need for concealment; now was his enemy delivered into his hands.
The man was "Karl."
His back to Lanyard, unconscious of that one's catlike approach, the spy put up his flash-lamp, searched in a waistcoat pocket and produced a slip of paper, and bent his face close to the combination dial, studying its figures; but abruptly, like a startled animal, whirled round to face the windows.
One of the sashes was thrown back roughly, and a figure clad in the gray livery of a private watchman parted the portieres and entered the library.
"Everything all right in here, Mr. Blensop?"
Lanyard saw the sheen of blue steel in the hands of "Karl," and leaped too late: even as he fell upon the spy's shoulders, the pistol exploded.
The watchman reeled back with a choking cry, caught wildly at the portieres, and dragged them down with him as he fell.
His screams of agony made hideous the night. And the second cry was no more than uttered when Lanyard, even in the heat of his struggle, heard sounds indicating that already the household was alarmed.
But the door would hold for a while; it was not probable that the first to come downstairs would think to bring with him the key. Time enough to think of escape when Lanyard had settled his score with this one: no light undertaking; not only was the score a long one, longer than Lanyard then dreamed, but, as he had learned to his cost, the man was an antagonist of skill and strength not to be despised.
Nevertheless, aided by the surprise of his onslaught, Lanyard succeeded in disarming the spy, forcing him to drop the pistol at the outset, and through attacking from behind had him at a further disadvantage. For all that he found his hands full till, by a trick of jiu-jitsu, he wrenched one of the fellow's arms behind him so roughly as almost to dislocate it at the shoulder and, forcing the forearm up toward his shoulder blades, held him temporarily helpless.
"Be still, you murderous canaille!" he growled—"or must I tear your arm from its socket? Still, I say!"
"Karl" uttered a grunt of pain and ceased to struggle.
Pinning him against the bookcase, Lanyard hastily rifled his pockets, at the first dip bringing forth a thin sheaf of American bank-notes with the figures $1000 conspicuous on the uppermost.
"Ten thousand dollars," he said grimly—"precisely my fee for the use of my name—to say nothing of its abuse!"
A torrent of untranslatable German blasphemy answered him. Intelligible was the half-frantic demand: "Who the devil are you?"
"Take a look, assassin—see for yourself!" Lanyard twisted the spy around to face him, holding him helpless against the wall with a knee in his middle and a hand gripping his throat inexorably. "Do you know me now—the man you thought you'd drowned a hundred fathoms deep?"
Blows thundered on the hallway door. Neither heeded. The spy was staring into Lanyard's face, his eyes starting with horror and affright.
"Lanyard!" he gasped. "Good God! will you never die?"
"Never by your hand—" Lanyard began, but stopped sharply.
For a moment he glared incredulously, and in that moment knew his enemy.
"Ekstrom!" he cried; and the man at his mercy winced and quailed.
The din in the hallway grew louder. Voices cried out for the key. Somebody threw himself against the door so heavily that it shook.
The emergency forced itself upon Lanyard's consciousness, would not be denied. Its dilemma seemed calculated to unseat his reason. If he lingered, he was lost. Either he must grant this creature new lease of life, or be caught and pay the penalty of murder for an execution as surely just as any in the history of mankind.
It was bitter, too bitter to have come to this his hour so long desired, so long deferred, so arduously sought, and have the fruits of it snatched from his craving grasp.
He could not bring himself to this renunciation; slowly his fingers tightened on the other's throat.
Driven to desperation by the light of madness that began to flicker in Lanyard's eyes, the Prussian abruptly put all he had of might and fury into one final effort, threw Lanyard off, and in turn attacked him, fighting like a lunatic for footroom, for space enough to turn and make for the windows.
In spite of all he could do Lanyard saw the man work away from the wall and manoeuvre his back toward the windows; then he flew at him with redoubled fury, driving home blow after blow that beat down Ekstrom's guard and sent him staggering helplessly, till an uppercut, swinging in under his uplifted forearms, put an end to the combat. Ekstrom shot backward half a dozen feet, stumbled over the prostrate body of the watchman, and crashed headlong into the windows, going down in a shower of shattered glass.
In one and the same instant Lanyard darted back and dropped upon his knees in the shadow of the club lounge, and the door to the hallway slammed open. A knot of men, to the number of half a dozen, tumbling into the library, saw that figure floundering amid the ruins of the window, and made for it, passing on the other side of the lounge, between it and the fireplace.
Unseen, Lanyard rose, ran crouching across the room; found the side door, opened it just far enough to permit the passage of his body, and drew it to behind him.
Ninety-fifth Street was a lonely lane of midnight quiet. He sped across it like the shadow of a cloud wind-hunted.
In those days New York nights were long; this was still young when Lanyard sauntered sedately from a side street and stopped on a corner of Broadway in the Nineties; he had not long to wait ere a southbound taxicab hove in sight and sheered over to the curb in answer to his signal.
It was still something short of one o'clock when he was set down at his door.
Wearily he let himself in by the private entrance, made a light, and without troubling even to discard his overcoat threw himself into a chair. Leaden depression weighed down his heart, and the flavour of failure was as aloes in his mouth. Thrice within an hour he had fallen short of his promises, to Cecelia Brooke, to himself, to his idee fixe. His three chances, to redeem his word to the girl, to measure up to his queer criterion of honour, to rid his world of Ekstrom, all had slipped through fingers seemingly too infirm to profit by them.
He felt of a sudden old; old, and tired, and lonely.
The uses of his world, how weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable! What was his life? An emptiness. Himself? A shuttlecock, the helpless sport of his own failings, a vain thing alternately strutting and stumbling, now swaggering in the guise of an avenger self-appointed, now sneaking in the shameful habiliments of a felon self-condemned.
What had prevented his dealing out to Ekstrom the punishment he had so well earned? That insatiable lust for loot of his. But for that damning evidence against him of the stolen necklace in his pocket he might have had his will of Ekstrom, and justified himself when discovered by proving that he had merely done justice to a thief who sold what he had stolen and stole back to steal again what he had sold.
Self-contempt attacked self-conceit like an acid. He saw Michael Lanyard a sorry figure, sitting stultified with self-pity ... crying over spilt milk....
Impatiently he shook himself. What though he had to-night forfeited his chances? He could, nay, would, make others. He must....
To what end? Would life be sweeter if one found a way to restore to Cecelia Brooke her precious document and to smuggle back to Mrs. Arden her pilfered diamonds? Would this deadly ache of loneliness be less poignant with Ekstrom dead?
With lack-lustre eyes he looked round that cheerless room, reckoning its perfunctory pretense of comfort the forlornest mockery. To lodgings such as this he was condemned for life, to an interminable sequence of transient quarters, sordid or splendid, rich or mean, alike in this common quality of hollow loneliness....
His aimless gaze wandered toward the door opening on the public hallway, and became fixed upon a triangular shape of white paper, the half of an envelope tucked between door and sill.
Presently he rose and got the thing, not until he touched it quite persuaded he was not the victim of an optical hallucination.
A square envelope of creamy paper, it was superscribed simply in a hand strange to him, Anthony Ember, Esq., with the address of his apartment house.
Tearing the envelope he found within a double sheet of plain notepaper bearing a message of five words penned hastily:
"Au Printemps— "one o'clock— "Please!"
Nothing else, not another word or pen-scratch....
Opening the door Lanyard hailed the hall-attendant, a sleepy and not over-intelligent negro.
"When did this come for me?"
"'Bout anour ago, Mistuh Embuh."
"Who brought it?"
"A messenger boy done fotch it, suh—look lak th' same boy."
"What same boy?"
"Same as come in when you do, 'bout 'leven o'clock—remembuh?"
Lanyard nodded, recalling that on his way up the street from Sixth Avenue he had been subconsciously irritated by the shrill, untuneful whistling of a loutish youth in Western Union uniform, who had followed him into the house and become engaged in some minor altercation with the attendants while Lanyard was unlocking the door to his apartment.
"What of him?"
"Why, he bulge in heah an' say we done send a call, an' we tell him we don' know nuffin' 'bout no call, an' he sweah an' carry on, an' aftuh you done gone in he ast whut is yo' name, an' somebody tell him an' he go away. An' then 'bout haffanour aftuhwuds he come back with that theah lettuh—say to stick it undeh yo' do, ef yo' ain't home. Leastways he look to me lak th' same boy. Ah dunno fo' suah."
Repeated efforts failing to extract more enlightenment from this source, Lanyard again shut himself in with the puzzle.
Somebody had set a messenger boy to dog him and find out his name and address. Not Crane: Lanyard had seen that one disappear in the elevator of the Knickerbocker and had thereafter moved too quickly to permit of Crane's returning to the lobby, calling a messenger boy, and pointing out Lanyard.
For that matter, Lanyard was prepared to swear nobody had followed him from the Knickerbocker to the Biltmore.
Vaguely he seemed to recall a first impression of the boy at the time when he emerged from the drug store after his unprofitable effort to telephone Cecelia Brooke, an indefinite memory of a shambling figure with nose flattened against the druggist's window, apparently fascinated by the display of a catch-penny corn cure.
Was there a link between that circumstance and the long delay which Lanyard had suffered in the telephone booth? Had the Knickerbocker operator been less stupid and negligent than she seemed? Was the truth of the matter that Crane had surmised Lanyard would attempt communication with the Brooke girl and had set a watch on the switchboard for the call?
Assuming that the Secret Service man had been clever enough for that, it was not difficult to understand that Lanyard had purposely been kept dangling at the other end of the wire till the call could be traced back to its source and a messenger despatched from the nearest Western Union office with instructions to follow the man who left the booth, and report his name and local habitation.
Sharp work, if these inferences were reasonable. And, satisfied that they were, Lanyard inclined to accord increased respect to the detective abilities of the American.
But this note, this hurried, unsigned scrawl of five unintelligible words: what the deuce did it mean?
On the evidence of the handwriting a woman had penned it. Cecelia Brooke? Who else? Crane might well have been taken into her confidence, subsequent to the sinking of the Assyrian, and on discovering that Lanyard had survived have used this means of relieving the girl's distress of mind.
But its significance?... "Au Printemps" translated literally meant "in the springtime," and "in the springtime at one o'clock" was mere gibberish, incomprehensible. There is in Paris a department store calling itself "Au Printemps"; but surely no one was suggesting to Lanyard in New York a rendezvous in Paris!
Nevertheless that "Please!" intrigued with a note at once pleading and imperative which decided Lanyard to answer it without delay, in person.
"Au Printemps—one o'clock—please!"
Upon the screen of memory there flashed a blurred vision of an electric sign emblazoning the phrase, "Au Printemps," against the facade of a building with windows all blind and dark save those of the street level, which glowed pink with light filtered through silken hangings; a building which Lanyard had already passed thrice that night without, in the preoccupation of his purpose, paying it any heed; a building on Broadway somewhere above Columbus Circle, if he were not mistaken.
Already it was one o'clock. Fortunately he was still in evening dress, and needed only to change collar and tie to repair the disarray caused by his encounter with Ekstrom.
In two minutes he was once more in the street.
Within five a cab deposited him in front of the Restaurant Au Printemps, an institution of midnight New York whose title for distinction resided mainly in the fact that it opened its upper floors for the diversion of "members" about the time when others put up their shutters.
Lanyard's advent occurred at the height of its traffic. The dining rooms on the street level were closed and unlighted: but men and women in pairs and parties were streaming across the sidewalk from an endless chain of motor-cars and being ground through the revolving doors like grist in the hopper of an unhallowed mill, the men all in evening dress, the women in garments whose insolence outrivalled the most Byzantine nights of L'Abbaye Theleme.
Drawn in with the current through the turnstile door, Lanyard found himself in an absurdly little lobby thronged to suffocation, largely with people of the half-world—here and there a few celebrities, here and there small tight clusters of respectabilities making a brave show of feeling at ease—all waiting their turn to be lifted to delectable regions aloft in an elevator barely big enough to serve in a private residence.
For a moment Lanyard lingered unnoticed on the outskirts of this assemblage, searching its pretty faces for the prettier face he had come to find and wondering that she should have chosen for her purpose with him a resort of this character. His memory of her was sweet with the clean smell of the sea; there was incongruity to spare in this atmosphere heady with the odours of wine, flesh, scent, and tobacco. Perplexing....
A harpy with a painted leer and predacious eyes pounced upon him, tore away his hat and coat, gave him a numbered slip of pasteboard by presenting which he would be permitted to ransom his property on extortionate terms.
And still he saw no Cecelia Brooke, though his aloof attitude coupled with an intent but impersonal inspection of every feminine face within his radius of vision earned him more than one smile at once furtively provocative and unwelcome.
By degrees the crowd emptied itself into the toy elevator—such of it, that is, as was passed by a committee on membership consisting of one chubby, bearded gentleman with the look of a French diplomatist, the empressement of a head waiter and the authority of the Angel with the Flaming Sword. Personae non gratae to the management—inexplicably so in most instances—were civilly requested to produce membership cards and, upon failure to comply, were inexorably rejected, and departed strangely shamefaced. Others of acceptable aspect were permitted to mingle with the upper circles of the elect without being required to prove their "membership."
In the person of this suave but inflexible arbiter Lanyard identified a former maitre d'hotel of the Carlton who had abruptly and discreetly fled London soon after the outbreak of war.
He fancied that this one knew him and was sedulous both to keep him in the corner of his eye and never to meet his regard directly.
And once he saw the man speak covertly with the elevator attendant, guarding his lips with a hand, and suspected that he was the subject of their communication.
The lobby was still comfortably filled, a constant trickle of arrivals replacing in measure the losses by election and rejection, when Lanyard, watching the revolving doors, saw Cecelia Brooke coming in.
She was alone, at least momentarily; and in his sight very creditably turned out, remembering that all her luggage must have been lost with the Assyrian. But what Englishwoman of her caste ever permitted herself to be visible after nightfall except in an evening gown of some sort, even though a shabby sort? Not that Miss Brooke to-night was shabbily attired: she was much otherwise; from some mysterious source of wardrobe she had conjured wraps, furs, and a dancing frock as fresh and becoming as it was, oddly enough, not immodest. And with whatever cares preying upon her secret mind, she entered with the light step and bright countenance of any girl of her age embarked upon a lark.
All that was changed at sight of Lanyard.
He bowed formally at a moment when her glance, resting on him, seemed about to wander on; instead it became fixed in recognition. Instantly her smile was erased, her features stiffened, her eyes widened, her lips parted, the colour ebbed from her cheeks. And she stopped quite still in front of the door till lightly jostled by other arrivals.
Then moving uncertainly toward him, she said, "Monsieur Duchemin!" not loudly, for she was not a woman to give excuse for a scene under any circumstances, but in a tone of complete dumbfounderment.
Covering his own dashed contenance with a semblance of unruffled amiability, he bowed again, now over the hand which the girl tentatively offered, letting it rest lightly on his fingers, touching it as lightly with his lips.
"It is such a pleasant surprise," he said at a venture, then added guardedly: "But my name—I thought you knew it was now Anthony Ember."
Her eyes were blank. "I don't understand," she faltered. "I thought you ... I never dreamed.... Is it really you?"
"Truly," he averred, lips smiling but mind rife with suspicion and distrust.
This was not acting; he was convinced that her surprise was absolutely unfeigned.
So she had not expected to find him "Au Printemps" at one o'clock in the morning, till that very moment had believed him as dead as any of those poor souls who had perished with the Assyrian!
Therefore that note had not come from her, therefore Lanyard had complimented Crane without warrant, crediting him with another's cleverness. Then whose...?
And while Lanyard's head buzzed with these thoughts, an independent chamber of his mind was engaged in admiring the address with which the girl was recovering from what must have been, what plainly had been, a staggering shock. Already she had begun to grapple with the situation, to take herself in hand and dissemble; already her face was regaining its accustomed cast of self-confidence, composure, and intelligent animation. Throughout she pursued without a break the thread of conventional small talk.
"It is a surprise," she said calmly. "Really, you are a most astonishing person, Mr. Ember. One never knows where to look for you."
"That is my good fortune, since it provides me with unexpected pleasures such as this. You are with friends?"
"With a friend," she corrected quietly—"with Mr. Crane. He stopped outside to pay our taxi-driver. How odd it seems to find any place in the world as much alive as this New York!"
"It seems almost impossible," Lanyard averred—"indeed, somehow wrong. I've a feeling one has no right to encourage so much frivolity. And yet...."
"Yes," she responded quickly. "It is good to hear people laugh once more. That is why Mr. Crane suggested coming here to-night, to cheer me up. He said Au Printemps was unique, promised I'd find it most amusing."
"I'm sure...." Lanyard began as Crane entered, breezing through the turnstile and comprehending the situation in a glance.
"Hello!" he cried. "Didn't I tell you everybody alive would be here?"
Nor was Cecelia Brooke less ready. "But fancy meeting Mr. Ember here! I had no idea he was in New York—had you?"
"Perhaps a dim suspicion," Crane admitted with a twinkle, taking Lanyard's hand. "Howdy, Ember? Glad to see you, gladder'n you'd think."
"How is that?" Lanyard asked, returning the cordiality of his grasp.
Crane's penetrating accents must have been audible in the remotest corner of the ground-floor rooms: he made no effort to modulate them to a quieter pitch.
"You can help me out of a fix if you feel like it. You see, I promised Miss Brooke if she'd take me for her guide, she'd see life to-night; and now, just when we're going good, I've got to renig. Man I know held me up outside, says I'm wanted down town on special business and must go. I might be able to toddle back later, but can't bank on it. Do you mind taking over my job?"
"Chaperoning Miss Brooke's investigations into the seamy side of current social history? That will be delightful."
"Attaboy! If I'm not back in half an hour you'll see her safely home, of course?"
"And you'll excuse me, Miss Brooke? I hope you don't think—"
"What I do think, Mr. Crane, is that you have been most kind to a lonely stranger. Of course I'll excuse you, not willingly, but understanding you must go."
"That makes me a heap easier in my mind. But I' got to run. So it's good-night, unless maybe I see you later. So long, Ember!"
With a flirt of a raw-boned hand, Crane swung about, threw himself spiritedly into the revolving door, was gone.
"Amazing creature," Lanyard commented, laughing.
"I think him delightful," the girl replied, surrendering her wraps to a maid. "If all Americans are like that—"
"Shall we go up?"
She nodded—"Please!"—and turned with him.
The committee on membership himself bowed them into the elevator. Several others crowded in after them. For thirty seconds, while the car moved slowly upward, Lanyard was free to think without interruption.
But what to think now? That Crane, actuated by some motive occult to Lanyard, had engineered this apparently adventitious rencontre for the purpose of throwing him and the Brooke girl together? Or, again, that Crane was innocent of guile in this matter—that other persons unknown, causing Lanyard to be traced to his lodgings, had framed that note to entice him to this place to-night? In the latter event, who was conceivably responsible but Velasco, Dressier, O'Reilly—any one of these, or all three working in concert? The last-named had looked Lanyard squarely in the face without sign of recognition, back there in the lobby of the Knickerbocker, precisely as he should, if implicated in the conspiracies of the Boche; though it might easily have been Velasco or Dressier who had recognized the adventurer without his knowledge....
The car stopped, a narrow-chested door slid open, a gush of hectic light coloured morbidly the faces of alighting passengers, a blare of syncopated noise singularly unmusical saluted the astonished ears of Lanyard and Cecelia Brooke. She met his gaze with a smiling moue and slightly lifted eyebrows.
"More than we bargained for?" he laughed. "But there is always something new in this America, I promise you. Au Printemps itself is new, at all events did not exist when I was last in New York."
Following her out, he paused beside the girl in a constricted space hedged about with tables, waiting for the maitre d'hotel to seat those who had been first to leave the elevator.
The room, of irregular conformation, held upward of two hundred guests and habitues seated at tables large and small and so closely set together that waiters with difficulty navigated narrow and tortuous channels of communication. In the middle, upon a small dancing floor, rudely octagonal in shape, made smaller by tables crowded round its edge to accommodate the crush, a mob of couples danced arduously, close-locked in one another's arms, swaying in rhythm with the over-emphasized time beaten out by a perspiring little band of musicians on a dais in a far corner, their activities directed by an antic conductor whose lantern-jawed, sallow face peered grotesquely out through a mop of hair as black and coarse and lush as a horse's mane.
Execrable ventilation or absence thereof manufactured an atmosphere that reeked with heat animal and artificial and with ill-blended effluvia from a hundred sources. Perhaps the odour of alcohol predominated; Lanyard thought of a steam-heated wine-cellar. He observed nothing but champagne in any glass, and if food were being served it was done surreptitiously. Sweat dripped from the faces of the dancers, deep flushes discoloured all not so heavily enamelled as to preserve an inalterable complexion, the eyes of many stared with the fixity of hypnosis. Yet when the music ended with an unexpected crash of discord these dancers applauded insatiably till the jaded orchestra struck up once more, when they renewed their curious gyrations with quenchless abandon.
The Brooke girl caught Lanyard's eye, her lips moved. Thanks to the din, he had to bend his head near to hear.
She murmured with infinite expression: "Au Printemps!"
The maitre d'hotel was plucking at his sleeve.
"Monsieur had made reservations, no?" Startled recognition washed the man's tired and pasty countenance. "Pardon, monsieur: this way!" He turned and began to thread deviously between the jostling tables.
Dubiously Lanyard followed. He likewise had known the maitre d'hotel at sight: a beastly little decadent whose cabaret on the rue d'Antin, just off the avenue de l'Opera, had been a famous rendezvous of international spies till war had rendered it advisable for him to efface himself from the ken of Paris with the same expedition and discretion which had marked the departure from London of his confrere who now guarded the lower gateway to these ethereal regions of Au Printemps.
The coincidence of finding those two so closely associated worked with the riddle of that note further to trouble Lanyard's mind.
Was he to believe Au Printemps the legitimate successor in America of that less pretentious establishment on the rue d'Antin, an overseas headquarters for Secret Service agents of the Central Powers?
He began to regret heartily, not so much that he had presented himself in answer to that note, but the responsibility which now devolved upon him of caring for Miss Brooke. Much as he had wished to see her an hour ago, now he would willingly be rid of her company.
Why had he been lured to this place, if its character were truly what he feared? Conceivably because he was believed—since it now appeared he had cheated death—still to possess either that desired document or knowledge of its whereabouts.
Naturally the enemy would not think otherwise. He must not forget that Ekstrom was playing double; as yet none but Lanyard knew he had stolen the document and done a murder to cover the theft from his associates and leave him free to sell to England without exciting their suspicion.
Consequently, Lanyard believed, he had been invited to this place to be sounded, to be tempted, bribed, intimidated—if need be, and possible—somehow to be won over to the uses of the Prussian spy system.
Leading them to the farther side of the room, the maitre d'hotel paused bowing and mowing beside a large table already in the possession of a party of three.
Lanyard's eyes narrowed. One of the three was Velasco, another a young man unknown to him, a mannerly little creature who might have been written by the author of "What the Man Will Wear" in the theatre programmes. The third was Sophie Weringrode, the Wilhelmstrasse agent whom he had only that afternoon observed entering the house in Seventy-ninth Street.
He stopped short, in a cold rage. Till that moment a mirror-sheathed pillar had hidden from him Velasco and the Weringrode; else Lanyard had refused to come so far; for obviously there were no unreserved tables, indeed few vacant chairs, in that part of the room.
Not that he minded the cynical barefacedness of the dodge; that was indeed amusing; he was sanguine as to his ability to dominate any situation that might arise, and to a degree indifferent if the upshot should prove his confidence misplaced; and he did not in the least object to letting the enemy show his cards. But he did enormously resent what was, after all, something quite outside the calculations of these giddy conspirators, the fact that he must either beat incontinent retreat or introduce Cecelia Brooke to the company of Sophie Weringrode.
His face darkened, a stinging reproof for the maitre d'hotel trembled on his tongue's tip; but that one was busily avoiding his eye on the far side of the table, drawing out a chair for "mademoiselle," while Velasco and the Weringrode were alert to read Lanyard's countenance and forestall any steps he might contemplate in defiance of their designs.
At first glimpse of the Brooke girl Velasco jumped up and hastened to her, with eager Latin courtesy expressing his unanticipated delight in the prospect of her consenting to join their party. And she was suffering with quiet graciousness his florid compliments.
At the same time the Weringrode was greeting Lanyard in the most intimate fashion—and damning him in the understanding of Cecelia Brooke with every word.
"My dear friend!" she cried gayly, extending a bedizened hand. "I had begun to despair of you. Is it part of your system with women always to be a little late, always to keep us wondering?"
Schooling his features to a civil smile, Lanyard bowed over the hand.
"In warfare such as ours, my dear Sophie," he said with meaning, "one uses all weapons, even the most primitive, in sheer self-defense."
The woman laughed delightedly. "I think," she said, "if you rose from the dead at the bottom of the sea, Tony, it would be with wit upon your lips.... And you have brought a friend with you? How charming!" She shifted in her chair to face Cecelia Brooke. "I wish to know her instantly!"
Velasco was waiting only for that opening. "Dear princess," he said, instantly, "permit me to present Miss Cecelia Brooke ... Princess de Alavia...."
Completely at ease and by every indication enjoying herself hugely, the girl bowed and took the hand the Weringrode thrust upon her. Her eyes, a-brim with excitement and mischief, veered to Lanyard's, ignored their warning, glanced away.
"How do you do?" she said simply. "I didn't understand Mr. Ember expected to meet friends here, but that only makes it the more agreeable. May we sit down?"
The person in the educated evening clothes was made known as Mr. Revel. For Lanyard's benefit and his own he vacated the chair beside Sophie Weringrode, seating himself to one side of Cecelia Brooke, who had Velasco between her and the soi-disant princess.
Already a waiter had placed and was filling glasses for Lanyard and the girl.
With the best grace he could muster the adventurer sat down, accepted a cigarette from the Weringrode case, and with openly impertinent eyes inspected the intrigante critically.
She endured that ordeal well, smiling confidently, a handsome creature with a beautiful body bewitchingly gowned.
Time, he considered, had been kind to Sophie—time, the mysteries of the modern toilette, and the astonishing adaptability of womankind. Splendidly vital, like all of her sort who survive, she seemed mysteriously able to renew that vitality through the very extravagance with which she squandered it. She had lived much of late years, rapidly but well, had learned much, had profited by her lessons. To-night she looked legitimately the princess of her pretensions; the manner of the grande dame suited her type; her gesture was as impeccable as her taste; prettier than ever, she seemed at worst little more than half her age.
And her quick intelligence mocked the privacy of his reflections.
"Fair, fast, and forty," she interpreted smilingly.
He pretended to be stunned. "Never!" he protested feebly.
The woman reaffirmed in a series of rapid nods. "Have I ever had secrets from you? You are too quick for me, monsieur: I do not intend to begin deceiving you at this late day—or trying to."
"Flattery," he declared, "is meat and drink to me. Tell me more."
She laughed lightly. "Thank you, no; vanity is unbecoming in men; I do not care to make you vain."
Aware that Cecelia Brooke was listening all the while she seemed to be enchanted with the patter of Mr. Revel and the less vapid observations of Velasco, Lanyard sought to shunt personalities from himself.
"And now a princess!"
"Did you not know I had married? Yes, a princess of Spain—and with a castle there, if you must know."
"Quite a change of atmosphere from Berlin," he remarked. "But it has done you no perceptible harm."
That won him a black look. "Oh, Berlin!" she said with contemptuous lips. "I haven't been there since the beginning of the war. I wish never to see the place again. True: I was born an Austrian; but is that any reason why I should love Germany?"
She leaned forward, her fan gently tapping the knuckles of his hand.
"Pay less attention to me," she insisted, with a nod toward the middle of the room. "You are missing something. Me, I never tire of her."
The floor had been cleared. A drummer on the dais was sounding the long-roll crescendo. At the culminating crash the lights were everywhere darkened save for an orange-coloured spot-light set in the ceiling immediately above the dancing floor. Into that circular field of torrid glare bounded a woman wearing little more than an abbreviated kirtle of grass strands with a few festoons of artificial flowers. Applause roared out to her, the orchestra sounded the opening bars of an Americanised Hawaiian melody, the woman with extraordinary vivacity began to perform a denatured hula: a wild and tawny animal, superbly physical, relying with warrant upon the stark sensuality of her body to make amends for the censored phrases of the primitive dance. The floor resounded like a great drum to the stamping of her bare feet, till one marvelled at such solidity of flesh as could endure that punishment.
Sophie Weringrode lounged negligently upon the table, bringing her head near Lanyard's shoulder.
"Play fair," she said between lips that barely moved.
Without looking round Lanyard answered in the same manner: "Why ask more than you are prepared to give?"
"The police ran you out of America once. We need only publish the fact that Mr. Anthony Ember is the Lone Wolf...."
"Leave Berlin out of it before this girl."
Lanyard shrugged and laughed quietly. "What else?"
"We can't talk now. Ask me for the next dance."
The woman sat back in her chair, attentive to the posturing of the dancer, slowly fanning herself.
Lanyard's semblance of as much interest was nothing more; furtively his watchfulness alternated between two quarters of the room.
On the farther edge of the circle of tropical radiance he had marked down a table at which two men were seated, Dressier and O'Reilly. No more question now as to the personnel of the conspiracy; even Velasco had thrown off the mask. The enemy had come boldly into the open, indicating a sense of impudent assurance, indicating even more, contempt of opposition. No longer afraid, they no longer skulked in shadows. Lanyard experienced a premonition of events impending.
In addition he was keeping an eye on the door to the elevator shaft. Once already it had opened, letting a bright window into the farther wall of the shadowed room, discovering the figure of the maitre d'hotel in silhouette, anxiety in his attitude. He was waiting for somebody, waiting tensely. So were the others waiting, all that crew and their fellow workers scattered among the guests. Lanyard told himself he could guess for whom.
Only Ekstrom was wanting to complete the circle. When he appeared—if by chance he should—things ought to begin to happen.
If tolerably satisfied that Ekstrom would not come—not that night, at all events—Lanyard, none the less, continued to be jealously heedful of that doorway.
But the hula came to an end without either his vigilance or the impatience of the maitre d'hotel being rewarded. Writhing with serpentine grace to the edge of the illuminated area, the dancer leaped back into darkness and the folds of a wrap held by a maid, in which garment she was seen, bowing and laughing, when the lights again blazed up.
Without ceasing to play, changing only the time of the tune, the orchestra swung into a fox-trot. Lanyard glanced across the table to see Cecelia Brooke rising in response to the invitation of dapper Mr. Revel.
In his turn, he rose with Sophie Weringrode. "Be patient with me," he begged. "It is long since I danced to music more frivolous than a cannonade."
"But it is simple," the woman promised—"simple, at least, to one who can dance as you could in the old days. Just follow me till you catch the step. It doesn't matter, anyway; I desire only the opportunity to converse."
Yielding to his arms, she shifted into French when next she spoke.
"You do admirably, my friend. Never again depreciate your dancing. If you knew how one suffers at the feet of these Americans—!"
"Excellent!" he said. "Now that is settled: what is it you are instructed to propose to me?"
She laughed softly. "Always direct! Truly you would never shine as a secret agent."
"Not as they shine," Lanyard countered—"in the dark."
"Don't be a fraud. We are what we are, and so are you. Let us not begin to be censorious of one another's methods of winning a living."
"Agreed. But when do we begin to talk business?"
"Why do you continue so persistently antagonistic?"
"I am French."
"That is silly. You are an outlaw, a man without a country. Why not change all that?"
"And how does one effect miracles?"
"Germany offers you a refuge, security, freedom to ply your trade unhindered—within reasonable limits."
"And in exchange what do I give?"
"Your services, as and when required, in our service."
"With what specific performance?"
"We want, we must without fail have, that document you took from the Brooke girl."
"Perhaps we had better continue in English. You are speaking a tongue unknown to me."
"Don't talk rot. You know well what I mean. We know you have the thing. You didn't steal it to turn it over to England or the States. What is your price to Germany?"
"Whatever you have in mind, believe me when I say I have nothing to sell to the Wilhelmstrasse."
"But what else can you do with it? What other market—?"
"My dear Sophie, upon my word I haven't got what you want."
"Then why so keen to get the Brooke girl on the telephone as soon as you found out where she was stopping?"
"How did you learn about that, by the way?"
"Let the credit go to Senor Velasco. He saw you first."
"One thought as much.... Nevertheless, I haven't what you want."
"You gave it back to Miss Brooke?"
"Having nothing to give her, I gave her nothing."
The woman was silent throughout a round of the floor; then, "Tell me something," she requested.
"Can I keep anything from you?"
"Are you in love with the English girl?"
Lanyard almost lost step, then laughed the thought to derision. "What put that into your pretty head, Sophie?"
"Do you not know it yourself, my friend?"
"It is absurd."
She laughed maliciously. "Think it over. Possibly you have not stopped to think as yet. When you know the truth yourself, you will be the better qualified to fib about it. Also, you will not forget...."
"What?" he demanded bluntly as she paused with intention.
"That as long as she possesses the document—since you have it not—her life is endangered even more than yours."
"She hasn't got it!" Lanyard declared, as nearly in panic as he ever was.
"Ah!" the woman jeered. "So you confess to some knowledge of it after all!"
"My dear," he said, teasingly, "do you really want to know what has become of that paper?"
"I do, and mean to."
"What if I tell you?"
Her eyes lifted to his in childlike candour. "Need you ask?"
"You are irresistible.... Ask Karl."
She demanded sharply: "Whom?"
"Ah!" Again the adventuress was silent for a little. "What does he know?"
"Ask him, enquire why he murdered von Harden, then what business took him to Ninety-fifth Street twice this evening—once about nine o'clock, again at midnight."
"You must be mad, monsieur. Karl would not dare...."
"You don't know him—or have forgotten he was trained in the International Bureau of Brussels, and there learned how to sell out both parties to a business that won't bear publicity."
"I wonder," the woman mused. "Never have I wholly trusted that one."
"Shall I give you the key?"
"If you love Karl as little as I...."
"But where do you suppose the good man is, this night of nights?"
"Who knows? He was not here when I arrived at midnight. I have seen nothing of him since."
"When you do—if he shows himself at all—look him over carefully for signs of wear and tear."
"Yes, monsieur? And in what respect?"
"Look for cuts about his head and hands, possibly elsewhere. And should he confess to an affair with a wind-shield in a motor accident, ask him what happened to the study window in the house at Ninety-fifth Street."
Impish glee danced in the woman's eyes. "Your handiwork, dear friend?"
"A mere beginning.... You may tell him so, if you like."
He was subjected to a convulsive squeeze. "Never have I felt so kindly disposed toward an enemy!"
"It is true, I were a better foe to Germany if I kept my counsel and let Ekstrom continue to play double."
The music ceasing, to be followed by the inevitable clamour for more, Lanyard offered an arm upon which Sophie rested a detaining hand.
"No—wait. We dance this encore. I have more to say."
He submitted amiably, the more so since not ill-pleased with himself. And when again they were moving round the floor, she bore more heavily upon his shoulder and was thoughtful longer than he had expected. Then—
"Attention, my friend."
"I am listening, Sophie."
"If what you hint is true—and I do not doubt it is—Karl's day is done."
"More nearly than he dreams," Lanyard affirmed grimly.
"I shan't be sorry. I am German through and through; what I do, I do for the Fatherland, and in that find absolution for many things I care not to remember. If through what you tell me I may prove Karl traitor, I owe you something."
"Always it has been my fondest hope, Sophie, some day to have you in my debt."
Her fingers tightened on his. "Do not jest in the shadow of death. Since you have been unwise enough to venture here to-night, you will not be permitted to leave alive—unless you pledge yourself to us and prove your sincerity by producing that paper."
"That sounds reasonable—like Prussia. What next?"
"I have warned you, so paid off my debt. The rest is your affair."
"Do you imagine I take this seriously?"
"It will turn out seriously for you if you do not."
"How can I be prevented from leaving when I will, from a public restaurant?"
"Is it possible you don't know this place? It is maintained by the Wilhelmstrasse. Attempt to leave it without coming to a satisfactory understanding, and see what happens."
"What, for instance?"
"The lights would be out before you were half across the room. When they went up again, the Lone Wolf would be no more, and never a soul here would know who stabbed him or what became of the knife."
"Are you by any chance amusing yourself at my expense?"
Once more the woman showed him her handsome eyes: he found them frankly grave, earnest, unwavering.
"If you will not listen, your blood be on your own head."
"Forgive me. I didn't mean to be rude...."
"Still, you do not believe!"
"You are wrong. I am merely amused."
"If you understood, you could never mock your peril."
"But I don't mock it. I am enchanted with it. I accept it, and it renews my youth. This might be Paris of the days when you ran with the Pack, Sophie—and I alone!"
The woman moved her pretty shoulders impatiently. "I think you are either mad or ... the very soul of courage!"
The encore ended; they returned to the table, Sophie leaning lightly on Lanyard's arm, chattering gay inconsequentialities.
Dropping into her chair, she bent over toward Cecelia Brooke.
"He dances adorably, my dear!" the intrigante declared. "But I dare say you know that already."
The English girl shook her head, smiling. "Not yet."
"Then lose no time. You two should dance well together, for you are more of a size. I think the next number will be a waltz. We get altogether too few of them; these American dances, these one-steps and foxtrots, they are not dances, they are mere romps, favourites none the less. And there is always more room on the floor; so few waltz nowadays. Really, you must not miss this opportunity."
This playful insistence, the light stress she laid upon her suggestion that Cecelia Brooke dance with him, considered in conjunction with her recent admonition, impressed Lanyard as significantly inconsistent. Sophie was no more a woman to make purposeless gestures than she was one sufficiently wanting in finesse to signal him by pressures of her foot. There was sheer intention in that iteration: "... lose no time ... you must not miss this opportunity." Something had happened even since their dance; she had observed something momentous, and was warning him to act quickly if he meant to act at all.
With unruffled amiability, amused, urbane, Lanyard bowed his petition across the table, and was rewarded by a bright nod of promise.
Lighting another cigarette, he lounged back, poised his wine glass delicately, with the eye of a connoisseur appraised its pale amber tint, touched it lightly to his lips, inhaling critically its bouquet, sipped, and signified approval of the vintage by sipping again: all without missing one bit of business in a scene enacted on the far side of the room, directly behind him but reflected in a mirror panel of the wall he faced.
The diplomatist charged with the task of discriminating the sheep from the goats in the lower lobby had come up to confer with his colleague, the maitre d'hotel of the upper storey. When Lanyard first saw the man he was standing by the elevator shaft, none too patiently awaiting the attention of the other, who, caught by inadvertence at some distance, was moving to join him, with what speed he could manage threading the thick-set tables.
Was this what Sophie had noticed? Had she likewise, perhaps, received some secret signal from the guardian of the lower gateway?
A signal possibly indicating that Ekstrom had arrived
They met at last, those two, and discreetly confabulated, the maitre d'hotel betraying welcome mitigation of that nervous tension which had heretofore so palpably affected him; and, as the other stepped back into the elevator, Lanyard saw this one's glance irresistibly attracted to the table dedicated to the service of the Princess de Alavia. Something much resembling satisfaction glimmered in the fellow's leaden eyes: it was apparent that he anticipated early relief from a distasteful burden of responsibility.
Then, at ease in the belief that he was unobserved, he turned to a near-by table round which four sat without the solace of feminine society—four men whose stamp was far from reassuring despite their strikingly quiet demeanour and inconspicuously correct investiture of evening dress.
Two were unmistakable sons of the Fatherland; all were well set up, with the look of men who would figure to advantage in any affair calling for physical competence and courage, from coffee and pistols at sunrise in the Parc aux Princes to a battle royal in a Tenderloin dive.
Their table commanded both ways out, by the stairs and by the elevator, much too closely for Lanyard's peace of mind.
And more than one looked thoughtfully his way while the maitre d'hotel hovered above them, murmuring confidentially.
Four nods sealed an understanding with him. He strutted off with far more manner than had been his at any time since the arrival of Lanyard, and vented an excess of spirits by berating bitterly an unhappy clown of a waiter for some trivial fault.
The first bars of another dance number sang through the confusion of voices: truly, as Sophie had foretold, a waltz.
Trained in the old school of the dance, Lanyard was unversed in that graceless scamper which to-day passes as the waltz with a generation largely too indolent or too inept of foot to learn to dance.
His was that flowing waltz of melting rhythm, the waltz of yesterday, that dance of dances to whose measures a civilization more sedate in its amusements, less jealous of its time, danced, flirted, loved, and broke its hearts.