Into the swinging movement of that antiquated waltz Lanyard fell without a qualm of doubt, all ignorant as he was of his benighted ignorance; and instantly, with the ease and gracious assurance of a dancer born, Cecelia Brooke adapted herself to his step and guidance, with rare pliancy made her every movement exquisitely synchronous with his.
No need to lead her, no need for more than the least of pressures upon her yielding waist, no need for anything but absolute surrender to the magic of the moment....
Effortless, like creatures of the music adrift upon its sounding tides, they circled the floor once, twice, and again, before reluctantly Lanyard brought himself to shatter the spell of that enchantment.
Looking down with an apologetic smile, he asked:
"Mademoiselle, do you know you can be an excellent actress?"
As if in resentment the girl glanced upward sharply, with clouded eyes.
"So can most women, in emergency."
"I mean ... I have something serious to say; nobody must guess your thoughts."
She said simply: "I will do my best."
"You must—you must appear quite charmed. Also, should you catch me smirking like an infatuated ninny, remember I am only doing my own indifferent best to act."
Laughter trembled deliciously in her voice: "I promise faithfully to bear in mind your heartlessness!"
"I am an ass," he enunciated with the humility of conviction. "But that can't be helped. Attend to me, if you please—and do not start. This place turns out to be a nest of Prussian spies. I was brought here by a trick. I understand the order is I may not leave alive."
Playing her part so well as almost to embarrass Lanyard himself, the girl smiled daringly into his eyes.
"Because of that packet?" she breathed.
"Because of that, mademoiselle."
"Where is it?"
For an instant Lanyard lost countenance absolutely. Through sheer good fortune the girl was now dancing with face averted, her head so nearly touching his shoulder that it seemed to rest upon it.
Nevertheless, it was at cost of an heroic struggle that he fought down all signs of that shock with which it had been borne in upon him that he dared not assure the girl her packet was in safe hands.
If he had failed in his efforts to restore the thing to her, that she might consign it as she saw fit and so discharge her personal trust, till now Lanyard had solaced himself with a hazy notion that she would in turn be comforted when she learned the document was in the keeping of her country's Secret Service.
Impossible to tell her that: his own act had rendered it impossible, that act the outcome of wilful trifling with his infirmity, his itch for thieving.
Of a sudden the pilfered necklace secreted in an inner pocket of his waistcoat, above his heart, seemed to have gained the weight of so much lead. The hideous consciousness of the thing stung like the bite of live coals.
This woman was in distress; he yearned to lighten her burden; he could do that with half a dozen words; his guilt prohibited.
Now indeed the Lone Wolf tasted shame and realized its bitterness....
Puzzled by his constraint, the girl's eyes again sought his; and warned in time by the movement of her head, he mustered impudence to meet their question with the look of tenderness that went with the role she suffered him to play.
"What is the matter?"
"I am ashamed that I have failed you...."
"Don't think of that. I know you did your best. Only tell me what became of it."
"It was stolen; when I returned to my stateroom that night I was held up and robbed. The thief shot at me, killed his confederate, decamped by way of the port. I pursued. Another aided him to overpower and cast me overboard."
"Yet you escaped...!"
Strange she should seem more intrigued by that than concerned about her loss!
"I escaped, no matter how...."
"You don't know who stole the packet?"
"I don't recall the man among the passengers, but he may have been in one of the boats, a fellow of about my stature, with a flowing beard...."
He sketched broadly Ekstrom as he had seen him in the Stanistreet library.
Her eyes quickened.
"One such escaped in our boat, the second steward; I think his name was Anderson."
"Doubtless the same."
"Then it is gone!"
For once in his acquaintance with her, that brave spirit seemed to falter: she became a burden, bereft for a little of all grace and spontaneity.
He was constrained to swing her forcibly into time.
Almost instantly she recollected herself, covered her lapse with a little laugh innocent of any hint of its forced falsity, and showed him and the room as well a radiant countenance: all with such address and art that the incident might well have escaped notice, otherwise have passed for a bit of natural by-play.
Yet distress was too eloquent in the broken query: "What am I to do?"
Heartsick, self-sick to boot, he essayed to suggest that she consult Colonel Stanistreet, but lacking so much effrontery, stammered and fell silent.
Perhaps misinterpreting, she cried in quick contrition: "I am forgetting! Forgive me. I should have said: what are you to do?"
He whipped his wits together.
"Look down, turn your face aside, smile.... I have a plan, a desperate remedy, but the best I can contrive. When next the lift comes up, we must try to be near it. There is one row of tables which we must break through by main force. Leave that to me, follow as I clear a way, go straight into the lift. If anything happens, run down the stairway on the left. The ground floor is two flights below. If I am any way detained, don't stop—go on, get your wraps, take the first taxi you see, return directly to the Knickerbocker. I will telephone you later."
"If you live," she breathed.
"Never fear for me...."
"But if I do? Do you imagine I could rest if I thought you had sacrificed yourself for me?"
"You must not think that. I am far too selfish—"
"That is not so. And I refuse positively to do as you wish unless you tell me how I may communicate with you."
Resigned to humour her, he recited his address and the number of the house telephone, and when she had memorized both by iteration, resumed:
"Once outside, if anybody tries to hinder you, don't let them intimidate you into keeping quiet, but scream, scream at the top of your lungs. These beasts abominate a screaming woman, or any other undue noise. Not only will that frighten them off, but it will fetch the nearest policeman."
The music ceased. She stood flushed, smiling, adorably pretty, eyes star-like for him alone.
"We are not far from the lift now," she said just audibly.
"But the door is shut. Hush. Here comes the encore. Once more around...."
They drifted again into that witching maze of melody and movement made one.
"You are silent," she said, after a little. "Why?"
Lanyard answered with a warning pressure on her hand.
The elevator was stationary at the floor, its door wide, the maitre d'hotel engaged in a far quarter of the room, while those four formidable guardians of the exit were gossiping with animation over their glasses.
"Steady. Now is our time."
Abruptly they stopped. A couple that had been following them avoided collision by a close margin. Over his partner's head the man scowled portentously—and dissipated his display of temper on Lanyard's indifferent back.
Upon those guests who sat between the dancing floor and elevator, Lanyard wasted no consideration. Pushing roughly between two adjoining tables, he lifted one chair with its astonished occupant bodily out of the way, then turned, swung an arm round the girl's waist, all but threw her through the lane he had created, followed without an instant's pause.
It was all so quickly accomplished that the girl was in the car before another person in the room appreciated what was happening. And Lanyard, in the act of slamming the door shut without heed for the protesting operator, saw only a room full of amazed faces with gaping mouths and rounded eyes—and one man of the four at the near-by table in the act of rising uncertainly, with a stupefied look.
Elbowing the boy aside, he seized the operating lever and thrust it to the notch labelled "Descend." An instant of pause followed: like its attendant the elevator seemed stalled in inertia of stupefaction.
Beyond the door somebody loosed an infuriated screech. Angry hands drummed on the glass panel. With a premonitory shudder the car started spasmodically, moved downward at first gently, then with greater speed, coming to an abrupt stop at the street level with a shock that all but threw its passengers from their feet.
Up the shaft that senseless punishment of the panel continued. Some other intelligence conceived the notion for ringing for the car to return: its annunciator buzzed stridently, continuously.
Unlatching the lower door, Lanyard threw it back, stepped out, finding the lobby deserted but for a simpering group of coat-room girls, to one of whom he flipped a silver dollar.
"Find this lady's wraps—be quick!"
Deftly catching the coin, the girl snatched the check from Cecelia Brooke, and darted into the women's dressing room.
Throughout a wait of agonising suspense, the elevator boy remained cowering in a corner of the car, staring at Lanyard as at some shape of terror, while the ignored buzzer droned without cessation to persistent pressure from above.
Out of the dark entrance to the lower dining room the bearded diplomatist popped with the distracted look of a jack-in-the-box about to be ravished of its young.
"Monsieur is not leaving?" he expostulated shrilly, darting forward.
Lanyard stopped him with a look whose menace was like a kick.
"I am seeing this lady to her cab," he said in a cold and level voice.
The coat-room girl emerged from her lair with an armful of wraps and furs.
Again the bearded one made as if to block the doorway.
Lanyard caught the fellow's arm and sent him spinning like a top.
"Out of the way, you rat!" he snapped; then to the girl: "Be quick!"
As she shouldered into a compartment of the revolving door incoherent yells began to echo down the staircase well. At length it had occurred to those above to utilize that means of descent.
Wedged in the wheeling door, a final glimpse of the lobby showed Lanyard the startled, putty-like mask of the maitre d'hotel at the head of the stairway with, beyond him, the head of one who, though in shadow, uncommonly resembled Ekstrom—but Ekstrom as he was in the old days, without his beard.
That picture passed like a flash on a cinema screen.
They were on the sidewalk, and the girl was running toward a taxicab, the only vehicle of its sort in sight, at the curb just above the entrance.
Coatless and bareheaded, Lanyard swung to face the door porter, a towering, brawny animal in livery, self-confident and something more than keen to interfere; but his mouth, opening to utter some sort of protest, shut suddenly without articulation when Lanyard displayed for his benefit a .22 Colt's automatic. And he fell back smartly.
Jerking open the cab door, the girl stumbled into the far corner of the seat. The motor was churning in promising fashion, the chauffeur settling into place at the wheel. Into his hand Lanyard thrust a ten-dollar bill.
"The Knickerbocker," he ordered. "Stop for nobody. If followed steer for the nearest policeman. There'll be no change."
He closed the door sharply, leaned over it, dropped the little pistol into the girl's lap.
"Chances are you won't want that—but you may."
She bent forward quickly, eyes darkly lustrous with alarm, and placed a hand upon his arm.
"It is I whom they want, not you. I won't subject you to the hazard of my company."
Gently Lanyard lifted the hand from his sleeve, brushed it gallantly with his lips, released it.
"Good-night!" he laughed, then stepped back, waved a hand to the chauffeur—"Go!"
The taxicab shot away like a racing hound unleashed. With a sigh of relief Lanyard gave himself wholly to the question of his own salvation.
The rank of waiting motor-cars offered no hope: all but one were private town cars and limousines, operated by liveried drivers. A solitary roadster at the head of the line tempted and was rejected; even though it had no guardian chauffeur, something of which he could not be sure, he would be overhauled before he could start the motor and get the knack of its gear-shift mechanism. Even now Au Printemps was in frantic eruption, its doors ejecting violently a man at each wild revolution.
Down Broadway an omnibus of the Fifth Avenue line lumbered, at no less speed than twenty miles an hour, without passengers and sporting an illuminated "Special" sign above the driver's seat.
Dashing out into the roadway, Lanyard launched himself at the narrow platform of the unwieldy vehicle and, in spite of a yell of warning from the guard, landed safely on the step and turned to repel boarders.
But his manoeuvre had been executed too swiftly and unexpectedly. The group before Au Printemps huddled together in ludicrous inaction, as if stunned. Then one raged through it, plying vicious elbows. As he paused against the light Lanyard identified unmistakably the silhouette of Ekstrom.
So that one had, after all, escaped the net of his own treachery!
The 'bus guard was shaking Lanyard's arm with an ungentle hand.
"Here, now, you got no business boardin' a Special."
From his pocket Lanyard whipped the first bank-note his fingers encountered.
"Divide that with the chauffeur," he said crisply—"tell him to drive like the devil. It's life or death with me!"
The protruding eyeballs of the guard bore witness to the magnitude of the bribe.
"You're on!" he breathed hoarsely, and ran forward through the body of the conveyance to advise the driver.
Swarming up the curved stairway to the roof, Lanyard dropped into the rear seat, looking back.
The group round the doorway was recovering from its stupefaction. Three struck off from it toward the line of waiting cars. Of these the foremost was Ekstrom.
Simultaneously the 'bus, lumbering drunkenly, lurched into Columbus Circle, and the roadster left the curb carrying in addition to the driver two passengers—Ekstrom on the running-board.
Tardily Lanyard repented of that impulse which had moved him to bestow his one weapon upon Cecelia Brooke.
The night air had a biting edge. A chill rain had begun to drizzle down in minute globules of mist, which both lent each street light its individual nimbus of gold and dulled deceitfully the burnished asphaltum, rendering its surface greasy and treacherous. More than once Lanyard feared lest the 'bus skid and overturn; and before the old red brick building between Broadway and Eighth Avenue shut out the western sector of the Circle, he saw the roadster, driven insanely, shoot crabwise toward the curb, than answer desperate work at the wheel and whirl madly, executing a volte-face so violent that Ekstrom's hold was broken and he was hurled a dozen feet away. And Lanyard's chances were measurably advanced by the delay required in order to pick up the sprawling one, start the engine anew, and turn more cautiously to resume the pursuit.
Striking diagonally across Broadway the 'bus swung into Fifty-seventh Street at the moment when the roadster turned the corner of Columbus Circle.
The head of the guard lifted above the edge of the roof. Clinging to the supports of the stairway, he addressed Lanyard in accents of blended suspicion and respect.
"Lis'n, boss: is this all right, on the level, now?"
"Absolutely, unless that racing-car catches up with us, in which case you'll have a dead man—myself—on your hands."
"Well ... we don't wanna lose our jobs, that's all."
"You won't unless I lose my life."
"Anything you'd like me to do?"
"Go down, wait on the platform, if anybody attempts to get aboard kick him in the act."
"Sure I will!"
The guard disappeared.
Wallowing like a barge in a strong seaway, the omnibus crossed Seventh Avenue and sped downhill toward Sixth with dangerous momentum. Shortly, however, this began to be modified by the brakes, a precaution against mishap which even the fugitive must approve. Ahead loomed the gaunt structure of the Sixth Avenue "L," bridging the roadway at so low an elevation as to afford the omnibus little more than clear headroom. Once beneath it a single bounce up from the surface-car tracks must mean a wreck.
But the pursuit was less than half a block astern and gaining swiftly, even as the speed of the omnibus was growing less and desperately less.
At what seemed little better than a snail's pace it began to pass beneath the span of the Elevated.
Like a racing thoroughbred the roadster swept up alongside, motor chanting triumphantly, running-board level with the platform step.
Ekstrom, poised to leap aboard, hesitated; a pistol in his hand exploded; a shattered window fell crashing.
There was a yell from the guard, not of pain but of fright. Apparently he executed a von Hindenburg retreat. Without more opposition Ekstrom gained the platform.
In the same breath Lanyard stood up. The lowermost girder of the "L" was immediately overhead. He grasped it, doubled his legs beneath him, swung clear. The omnibus shot from under him, the roadster convoying.
Drawing himself up, he seized a round iron upright of guard-rail and heaved his body in over the edge of the platform round the switching-tower, which was at this hour dark and untenanted.
In the street below a police whistle shrieked, and a fusillade of pistol shots woke scandalised echoes.
Bending almost double Lanyard moved rapidly northward on the footway beside the western tracks, and so gained the old station on the west side of Fifty-eighth Street, for years dedicated to the uses of desuetude. Through this he crept, then down the stairs, encountering at the lower landing an iron gate which obliged him to climb over and jump.
Not a soul paid the least attention to this matter of a gentleman in evening dress without hat or top coat dropping from the stairway of a disused elevated station at two o'clock in the morning.
In New York anything can happen, and most things do, without stirring up meddlesome impulses in innocent bystanders.
This visit to his rooms was the briefest of the several Lanyard made that night, considerations of mortal urgency dictating its drastic abbreviation.
If the events of the last few hours had meant anything whatever they had demonstrated two truths which shone like beacon lights: that Manhattan Island was overpopulated as long as both he and Ekstrom remained on it; that Ekstrom had been goaded to the verge of aberration by the discovery that Lanyard had come safely through the Assyrian debacle to take up anew his self-appointed office of Nemesis to the Prussian spy system in general and to the genius of its American bureau in particular.
Henceforth that one would know no more rest while Lanyard lived.
Thus that little street-level apartment forfeited whatever attractions it originally had possessed in the adventurer's estimation. Not only was the address known to Ekstrom's associates, and so open to him, but its peculiar characteristics, its facilities for access from the street direct, rendered it a highly practicable death-trap for a hunted man.
Lanyard was well persuaded he need only wait there long enough to receive a deputation from Seventy-ninth Street. And with any assurance that Ekstrom would come alone, he might have been content to wait. Not only had he through too intimate acquaintance with his methods every assurance that Ekstrom would never brave alone what he could induce another to risk with him, but Lanyard was never one willing to play the passive part.
A banal axiom of all warfare applied: The advantage is with him who fights upon the offensive.
Since midnight the offensive had shifted from Lanyard's grasp to the enemy's. He was determined to recapture it; and that was something never to be accomplished by sitting still and waiting for events to unfold, but only by carrying the war into the enemy's camp.
He delayed, then, only long enough to change his clothing and to conceal about him certain properties which it seemed unwise to expose to chance discovery on the part of Ekstrom or in the ever-possible event of police intervention.
Within five minutes from the time of his return he was closing behind him the private door.
Wearing a quiet lounge suit but no top coat, with a hat not so soft as to lack character but soft enough to stick upon one's head in time of action, and carrying a stick neither brutishly stout nor ineffectively slender, he strolled up to Seventh Avenue, turned north, entered Central Park—and strolled no more.
Kindly shadows enfolded him, engulfed him altogether. One minute after he had passed through the gateway he would have defied unaided apprehension by the most zealous officer of the peace. He went swiftly and secretly, avoiding all lighted ways.
Not till then did conscience stir and remind him of his slighted promise to call up Cecelia Brooke.
No time now for that; the errand that engaged him was of a nature to brook no more procrastination. The girl must wait. He was sorry if, as she had protested, solicitude for his welfare must interfere with her night's rest. But what must be, must: until he saw the end of this adventure he could be influenced by no minor consideration whatsoever.
Not that he seriously believed Cecelia's sleep would be uneasy because of him. That was too much.
His temper was grim and skeptical. The resentment roused by the trap that had so nearly laid him by the heels, together with the subsequent effort to assassinate him out of hand, had settled into a phase of smouldering fury whose heat consumed like misty vapours every lesser emotion, every humane consideration.
Some by-thought recalling the Weringrode's innuendo that he was in love without his knowledge, moved him to laugh outright if strangely, an unpleasant laugh that held as much of pain as of derision.
What room in that dark heart of his for love?... the heart of a thief and a potential assassin, the heart of the Lone Wolf!...
How was he to know he had hardly left his lodgings before their hush was interrupted by the grumble of the house telephone?
Intermittently for upward of three minutes that sound persisted. When at length it discontinued the quiet of the untenanted rooms reigned undisturbed for a brief time only.
An odd metallic stridor became audible, a succession of scrapings of stealthy accent at the private entrance. Its latch clicked. The door swung back against the wall with a muffled bump. Two pairs of furtive feet padded in the little private hallway. The flash of an electric hand-lamp flickered hither and yon like a searching poignard, picked out the door to the one bedchamber and vanished. There was guarded whispering, then a thud as one of the intruders gained the middle of the bedchamber in a bound. An instant later a switch snapped, and the room was flooded with light.
Beneath the chandelier stood a man in evening dress the worse for misadventure, one knee of his trousers cut open, both legs caked with a film of half-dry mud, his linen dingy with mud-stains, his top coat shockingly bedraggled. He was bareheaded, apparently having lost his hat; a black smear across one cheek added emphasis to the pallor of newly shaven jowls; and his eyes were blazing.
"Stole away!" he muttered briefly in disgust, then called: "Ed!"
As quietly as a shadow a second man joined him, greeting him with a "Hush!"
This gentleman was in far more presentable repair and a more equable frame of mind. There was even a glint of amusement in his hard blue eyes. His countenance had an Irish cast.
"Hush?" the other iterated with contempt. "What for? The hound's not here."
"No, Karl," Ed admitted; "but there are others in the house. If it's known to them that Lanyard's out, they may turn in a police alarm; and I for one have had enough of bulls for one night."
Karl grunted disdainfully. "I told you this would be a waste of time...."
"And I agreed with you entirely. But you would come."
"Lanyard's no such fool as to stick round a place he knows I know about." Karl's hands twitched and his features worked nervously. "He knows me too well, knows that if ever I lay hands on him again—"
His voice was rising to an hysterical pitch when the other checked him with a sibilant hiss. At the same time his hand darted out and switched off the light. Karl uttered a startled ejaculation.
"Sssh!" his companion repeated.
In the street a motor-car was rumbling, stationary before the door. Then the remote grinding of the house door-bell was heard.
"Let's get out of this," suggested the Irishman. "It's no good waiting, anyway."
"Hold hard! We won't go till we have a clear field."
The Prussian stole out into the sitting room and stood listening at the door to the public hallway, his companion standing by with a mutinous air.
"Oh, come along!" he insisted, in a stage whisper.
"Shut up! Listen...."
Shuffling footfalls traversed the hallway. The front door was opened. The clear voice of an Englishwoman was answered in the slurring patois of a negro.
"No'm, he ain't in."
The next enquiry was intelligible: the speaker had entered the hallway.
"Are you sure?"
"Yas'm. Sumbody done call him up 'bout ten min'tes ago, an' I rung an' rung an' he don' answer. He ain't in or he don' mean to answer nobody, tha's all."
"I am very anxious about him. Have you a key to his rooms?"
"Yas'm, I got a pass-key, but—"
"Please use it. Take this. Go in and make sure he is out, or if at home that he is all right."
"Yas'm, thanky ma'am, but—"
"Do as I tell you. I will see that you don't get into trouble."
"All right, ma'am." The negro chuckled, probably over his tip. "Yo' sho' has got the p'suadin'est way...."
The Irishman caught the German's arm. "Come out of this," he pleaded.
"No fear. I'll see it through. That's the Brooke girl the fool got in with on the boat. She may know something...."
"Leave this to me. You look out for the negro. I'll take care of Miss Cecelia Brooke."
Swearing unhappily, the Irishman flattened against the wall to one side of the door. Karl waited behind it as it admitted the hall attendant, who made directly toward the central chandelier.
"Yo' jes' wait, ma'am, an' I'll mek a light an'—"
But the girl had impetuously followed him in.
The light went up, and Karl put a heavy shoulder against the door, closing it with a slam. The negro turned and stood with gaping mouth and staring eyes, dumb with terror. The girl recognised Karl with a little cry, and darted back toward the door. Immediately he caught her in his arms. Her lips opened, but their utterance was stifled by a handkerchief thrust between them with the dexterity of a practised hand.
Without one word of warning the Irishman stepped forward and struck the negro brutally in the face. The boy reeled, whimpering. Two more blows delivered with murderous ferocity silenced him altogether. He collapsed like a broken puppet, insensible on the floor, his face a curious ashen colour beneath its glossy skin of brown.
The drizzle had grown thicker, the night blacker, the early morning air still more chill. But Lanyard was moving too swiftly to be affected by this last circumstance; the first he anathematised with the perfunctory bitterness of a skilled artisan who sees his work in a fair way to be obstructed by elemental depravity. Another of his trade would have termed such weather conditions ideal, and so might the Lone Wolf on an everyday job; but the prospect of a footing rendered insecure by rain trebled the hazards attending a plan of campaign that would brook neither revision nor delay.
There was only one way to break into the house on Seventy-ninth Street; this Lanyard had appreciated upon his first reconnaissance of the previous afternoon. He could have wished for more time in which to prepare and assemble tested equipment instead of relying upon chance to supply the requisite gear; but with all time at his disposal the mechanical difficulties of the problem would remain. Far from indifferent to these, Lanyard addressed himself to their conquest doggedly and with businesslike economy of motion.
Shunning the public paths he went over the park wall like a cat, sped across town through Eightieth Street, and so came to that plot of land upon which an apartment building was in process of erection, immediately to the north of the American headquarters of the Prussian spy system.
Walled in with stone two storeys deep, its gaunt skeleton of steel had been joined together as far as the seventh level. How much higher it was destined to rise was immaterial; for Lanyard's purpose it was enough that the frame had already outgrown its neighbour on the south.
A litter of lumber, huge steel girders, and other material narrowed the side street to half its normal width. The sidewalk space was trampled earth roofed with heavy planks for the protection of pedestrian heads, a passage lighted by electric bulbs widely spaced; midway in this an entrance to the structure was flanked by a wooden shanty, by day a tool house, after working hours a shelter for the night watchman. This boasted one glazed window dull with orange light.
Approaching with due precaution, Lanyard peered in. The light came from a single electric bulb and a potbellied sheet-iron stove, glowing red. Near by, in a chair tipped against the wall, sat the watchman, corncob pipe in hand, head drooping, eyes closed, mouth ajar. A snore of the first magnitude seemed to vibrate the very walls. On the floor beside the chair stood a two-quart tin pail full of arid emptiness.
Dismissing further consideration of the watchman as a factor, satisfied that the entire neighbourhood as well was sound asleep, Lanyard darted up the plank walk that led into the building, then paused to get his bearings.
Effluvia of mortar and damp lumber saluted him in an uncanny place whose darkness was slightly qualified by a faint refracted glow from the low canopy of cloud and by equally dim shafts of diffused street light. There was more or less flooring of a temporary character over a sable gulf of cellars, and overhead a sullen, weeping sky cross-hatched with stark black ironwork.
With infinite patience Lanyard groped his way through that dark labyrinth to the foot of a ladder ascending an open shaft wherein a hoisting tackle dangled.
Here he stumbled over what he had been seeking, a great coil of one-inch hempen cable, from which he measured off roughly what he would require, if his calculations were correct, and something over. This length he re-coiled and slung over his shoulder: an awkward, weighty handicap. Nevertheless he began to climb.
Above the third level there was merely steel framework; he had somewhat more light to guide him, with a view of the north wall of the Seventy-ninth Street house, bright in the glare of avenue lamps.
The wall was absolutely blank.
At the seventh level the ladders ended. He stepped off upon a foot-wide beam, paused to make sure of his poise, and began to walk the girders with a sureness of foot any aviator might have envied.
At regular intervals he encountered uprights: between these he had to depend upon his sense of direction and equilibrium to guide him safely across those narrow walks of steel made slippery by rain.
But, thanks to forethought, his footwork was faultless: he wore shoes old, well-broken, very soft, flexible, and silent.
The building was in the shape of a squat E, with two courts facing south. On this seventh level the first court was bridged by a single girder, the middle of which was Lanyard's immediate objective. Since it lacked uprights he took it cautiously on hands and knees until approximately equidistant from both ends, when he straddled it, took the cable from his shoulders, uncoiled a length and made it fast round the girder with a clove hitch: giddy work, in that darkness, on that greasy span, fashioning by simple sense of touch the knot upon which his life was to depend, half of the time prone upon the girder and fishing blindly beneath it for the rope's end, with nothing but a seventy—foot drop between him and eternity, not even another girder to break a fall....
He was now immediately opposite the minaret, at an elevation of about twenty feet above the roof he wished to reach, and as far away, or perhaps a trifle farther.
Still he detected no signs of life about that nest of spies: if the wireless were in operation its apparatus was well-housed; there was no sound of the spark, never a glimmer of its violet flash.
Laboriously—the knot completed to his satisfaction—Lanyard returned via the eastern arm of the E, paying out the coiled cable as he progressed, working round to the north side of the court.
Once again pausing opposite the minaret, he knotted the end of the cable loosely round an upright connecting with the sixth level, let it slide down, followed it, repeated the process, and rested finally on the fifth.
Now his ordeal approached a climax which he contemplated with what calmness he could while securing the rope beneath the arms.
In another sixty seconds or less it must be demonstrated whether his dead reckoning would set him down safe and sound on the roof or dash him against the walls of the Seventy-ninth Street house, to swing back and dangle impotently in mid-air till daylight and police discovered him—unless, escaping injury, he were able to pull himself up hand over hand to the girder.
With one arm round the upright to prevent the sag of rope from dragging him over prematurely, he essayed a final survey.
Either the murk deceived or Lanyard had judged shrewdly. His feet were on an approximate level with the coping round the roof, and he stood about as far from the upper girder to which the rope was hitched as that was distant from the coping.
One look up and round at those louring skies, duskily flushed by subdued city lights: with no more ceremony Lanyard released the upright and committed his body to space.
If the downward sweep was breathless, what followed was breath-taking: once past the nadir of that giant swing, he was borne upward by an impetus steadily and sensibly slackening.
Instant followed leaden-winged instant while the wall, looming like a mountainside, seemed to be toppling, insensately bent upon his annihilation; even so his momentum, decreasing with frightful swiftness, seemed possessed of demoniac desire to frustrate him.
After an age-long agony of doubt it became evident he was not destined to crash into the wall, but not that he was to gain the coping: through fractions of a second hideously protracted this last drew near, nearer, slowly, ever more slowly.
And he was twisting dizzily....
With frantic effort he crooked an arm over the coping at a juncture when, had he not acted instantly, he must have swung back. There was a racking wrench, as though his arm were being torn from its socket.
At the end of a struggle even more wearing he flung his other arm across the ledge, and for some time hung there, at the end of an almost taut rope, unable to overcome its resistance and pull himself in over the coping, stubbornly refusing to loose his grasp.
Presently, grown desperate, he let go with his right hand, holding fast only with the left, fumbled in a pocket, found his knife, opened it with his teeth, and began, to saw at the rope round his chest.
Strand after strand parted grudgingly till it fell away altogether and reaction from its tension threw him against the coping with such violence that he all but lost his hold. Dropping the knife, he swept his right arm up and once more hooked his fingers over the inside of the ledge.
Far down the knife clinked suggestively upon stone.
Breathing deep, Lanyard braced knees and feet against the wall, worried, heaved, hauled, squirmed like a mad thing, in the end rolled over the top and fell at length upon the roof, panting, trembling, bathed in sweat, temporarily tormented by impulses to retch.
By degrees regaining physical control, he sat up, took his bearings, and crept toward the foot of the minaret.
A small, narrow doorway in its base was on the latch. He passed through to the landing of a dark winding stairway with a dim light at the bottom of its circular well.
While he stood attentive, intermittent stridor troubled the stillness, originating at some point on the floors below: the proscribed wireless was at work.
Hearing no other sounds, Lanyard went on down the steps, at their foot pausing to spy out through a half-open doorway to the topmost storey.
Nobody moved in the corridor. He saw nothing but a line of closed doors, presumably to servants' quarters. Now, however, the vibrant rasp of the radio spark was perceptibly stronger and had a background of subdued noise, echoes of distant voices, deadened sounds of hasty footfalls, now and again a heavy thump or the bang of a door.
Moving out, he commanded the length of the corridor. Toward one end a door stood open. He could see no more of the room beyond than a narrow patch of wall fitfully illuminated by a play of violet light.
Then a man stepped out of this operating room, turning on the threshold to utter some parting observation; and Lanyard retired hastily to the shaft of the minaret stairway, but not before recognising Velasco.
A moment later the Brazilian passed his lurking-place, walking with bended head, a worried frown darkening his swarthy countenance; and Lanyard emerged in time to see his head and shoulders vanish down a stairway at the far end of the corridor.
Following with discretion, Lanyard leaned over the head of the main staircase well, looking down three flights to the ground floor, to which Velasco was descending.
The house seemed veritably to hum with secret and, to judge by the pitch of its rumour, well-nigh panic activity. One divined a scurrying as of rats about to desert a sinking ship. Untoward events had thrown this establishment into a state of excited confusion: their nature Lanyard could not surmise, but their conjunction with his designs was exasperatingly inopportune. To search this place and find his man—if he were there at all—without being discovered, while its inmates buzzed about like so many startled hornets, was a fair impossibility; to attempt it was to court death.
None the less he was inflexible in determination to go on, to push his luck to its extremity, by sheer force to bend fortuity to his service and suffer without complaint whatever the consequences of its recoil.
Yet even as he advanced a foot to begin the descent, he withdrew it.
On the ground floor, a door closing with a resounding crash had proved the signal for an outburst of expostulant, acrimonious voices: some half a dozen men giving angry tongue at one and the same time, their roars of polysyllabic gutturalisms fusing into utterly unintelligible clamour.
One thought of a mutiny in a German madhouse.
Moment after moment passed, the squall persisting with unmitigated viciousness. If now and again it subsided momentarily, it was only into uglier growls and swiftly to rise once more to high frenzy of incoherence.
Two of the disputants appeared in the square frame of the staircase well, oddly foreshortened figures brandishing wild arms, one of them Velasco, the other a man whom Lanyard failed to identify, seemingly united in common anger directed at the head of some person invisible.
Abruptly, with a gesture of almost homicidal fury, the Brazilian darted out of sight. The other followed.
Then the object of their wrath took to the stairs, stopping at the rail of the first landing and gesticulating savagely over the heads of his audience, Velasco and the others returning amid a knot of fellows to bay round the newel post.
His voice, full-throated, cried them all down—Ekstrom's deep and resonant voice, domineering over the uproar, hectoring one after another into sullen silence.
In the beginning employing nothing but terms and phrases of insolence and objurgation untranslatable, when he had secured a measure of attention he delivered a short address in tones of unqualified contempt.
"I will have obedience!" he stormed. "Let no one misunderstand my status here: I am come direct from His Majesty the Emperor with full power and authority to command and direct affairs which you have, individually, collectively, proved yourselves either unfit or unable to cope with. What I do, I do in my absolute discretion, with the full sanction and confidence of the Kaiser. He who questions my judgment or my actions, questions the wisdom of the All-Highest. Let it be clearly understood I am answerable to no one under God but myself and my Imperial master. Henceforth be good enough to hold your tongues or take the consequences—and be damned to you all!"
Briefly he stood glowering down at their upturned faces, then sneered, and turned away.
"Come along, O'Reilly," he said. "Fetch the woman, and give no more heed to swine-dogs!"
His hand slipped up the rail to the first floor, vanished.
If O'Reilly followed with the woman mentioned, both kept back from the rail and so out of Lanyard's field of vision.
The group at the foot of the stairs moved away, grumbling profanely.
At once Lanyard began to descend, rapidly and without care to avoid detection.
One flight down he met face to face a manservant, evidently a footman, with an armful of clothing which he was conveying from one chamber to another. The fellow stopped short, jaw dropping, eyes popping; whereupon Lanyard paused and addressed him in German with a manner of overbearing contempt, that is to say, in character.
"You're wanted upstairs in the radio room," he said—"at once!"
The servant bleated one word of protest: "But—!"
"Be silent. Do as I bid you. It is an emergency. Drop those things and go! Do you hear, imbecile?"
Completely cowed and cheated, the man obeyed literally, letting his burden of garments fall to the floor and bounding hurriedly up the stairs.
Another flight was negotiated without misadventure; on this floor as well servants were flitting busily to and fro, but none favoured the adventurer with the least attention.
Midway down the third flight he pulled up to one side of the landing, and reconnoitred. It was on the next floor below, the first above the street, that Ekstrom had stopped. But in what quarter thereof? The exigency forbade the risk of one false turn. If Lanyard were to take Ekstrom unawares it must be at the first cast.
From the ground floor came semi-coherent snatches of surly comment, like growls of a thunderstorm passing off into the distance:
"At a time such as this...."
"... Secret Service snapping at our heels ..."
"... base on the Vineyard discovered ..."
"... Au Printemps raided, Sophie Weringrode under arrest. God knows whether she will hold her tongue!"
"Trust her! But this ass ..."
"Bringing a woman here, putting all our necks into a halter ..."
Immediately opposite the foot of the stairway, on the first storey, a door opened. O'Reilly came alertly forth, closed the door behind him, paused, fished in his pocket for a cigarette case, lighted and inhaled with deep appreciation, meantime eavesdropping on the utterances below with his head cocked to one side and a malicious smile shadowing his handsome Irish face.
In his own good time he shrugged an indifferent shoulder, thrust his hands into his pockets, and sauntered coolly on down the stairs.
The moment he disappeared, Lanyard went into action, in two bounds cleared landing and stairs, in another threw himself upon the door. It opened readily. Entering, he put his back to it, with his left hand groped for, found and turned a key, his right holding ready the automatic pistol he had taken from the lockers of the U-boat.
The room was a combination of administrative bureau and study, very handsomely if somewhat over-decorated and furnished, with an atmosphere as distinctively German as that of a Bierstube, the sombreness of its colour scheme lending weight to its array of massive desks, tables, chairs, bookcases, and lounges.
Between great draped windows and an impressive chimney-piece opposite, beside a broad, long desk, in a straight-backed chair sat a woman, gagged, bound as to her wrists, strips of cloth which had but lately bound ankles as well on the floor about her feet.
That woman was Cecelia Brooke.
Ekstrom stood behind her, in the act of loosening the knots which held the gag secure.
For a space of thirty seconds, transfixed by the apparition of his enemy, he did not stir other than to raise weaponless hands in deference to the pistol trained upon his head. But the blood ebbed from his face, leaving it a ghastly mask in which shone the eyes of a man who sees certain death closing in upon him and is powerless to combat it, even to die fighting for life. And his lips curled back in a snarl neither of contempt nor of hatred but of terror.
And for as long Lanyard remained as motionless, rooted in a despondency of thwarted hopes no less profound than the despair of the Prussian, apprehending what that one could not yet guess, that once more, and now certainly for the last time, vengeance was denied him, the fulfilment of all his labours and their sole purpose snatched from his grasp.
The instincts of a killer were not his. Barring injudicious attempt to summon aid or take the offensive, Ekstrom was safe from injury at the hands of Michael Lanyard. His cunning, his favour in the countenance of fortune, or whatever it was that had enabled him to make the girl his prisoner and bring her here, bade fair to prove his salvation.
Deep in Lanyard's consciousness an echo stirred of half-forgotten words: "Vengeance is mine...."
The sense of frustration brewed a hopelessness as stark as that of a brow-beaten child. A blackness seemed to be settling down upon his faculties. A mist wavered momentarily before his eyes. He gulped convulsively, swallowing what had almost been a sob.
But he spoke in a voice positively dispassionate.
"Keep your hands up."
Lanyard removed and pocketed the key, crossed to the middle of the room without once letting his gaze waver from the face of the Prussian, passed behind him, planted the muzzle of the pistol beneath Ekstrom's shoulder-blade, and methodically searched him, finding and putting aside on the desk one automatic, nothing else.
The almost puerile measure of his disappointment was betrayed in the thrust with which he shouldered Ekstrom out of the way, so forcibly that the man was sent staggering wildly half a dozen paces.
"Don't move, assassin!... Pardon, mademoiselle: one moment," Lanyard muttered, with his one free hand undoing the gag.
He made slow work of that, fumbling while watching Ekstrom with unremitting intentness, hoping against hope that his enemy might make one false move, one only, by some infatuate endeavour to turn the tables excuse his killing.
But Ekstrom would not. Recovery of his equilibrium had been coincident with the shock administered to his hardihood and sense of security by Lanyard's entrance. He stood now in a pose of insouciant grace, hands idly clasped before him, disdain glimmering in languid-lidded eyes, contempt in the set of his lips—an ensemble eloquent of brazen effrontery, the outgrowth of perception of the fact that Lanyard, being what he was, could neither shoot him down in cold blood nor, with the Brooke girl present, even attempt to injure him: compunctions unassembled in the make-up of the Boche, therefore when discovered in men of other races at once despicable and ridiculous....
The gag came away.
"Mademoiselle has not been injured?" Lanyard enquired, solicitous.
The girl coughed and gasped, shaking her head, enunciating with difficulty in little better than a husky whisper: "... roughly handled, nothing worse."
Lanyard's face burned as if his blood were molten mercury. "Nothing worse!" Appreciation of what handling she must have suffered, if she had resisted at all, before those beasts could have bound her, excited an indignation from whose light, as it blazed in Lanyard's eyes, even Ekstrom winced.
The hand was tremulous with which he sought to loose her wrists, so much so that she could not but notice.
"Don't mind me—look to that man!" she begged. "Leave me to unfasten these with my teeth. He can't be trusted for a single instant."
"Mademoiselle," Lanyard mumbled, instinctively employing the French idiom—"you have reason."
For an instant only he hesitated, swayed this way and that by the maddest of impulses, then resigned himself absolutely to their ascendancy.
"This goes beyond all bounds," he said in an undertone.
Deliberately leaving the Englishwoman to free herself according to her suggestion—forgetful, indeed, for the moment, that she was not altogether free—he moved to the desk and left his own automatic there beside Ekstrom's.
"Mademoiselle," he said mechanically, without looking at the girl, without power to perceive aught else in the world but the white, evil face of his enemy, "for what I am about to do, I beg you forgive me, of your charity. I can endure no more. It is too much...."
He strode past her.
She twisted in her chair, then rose, following him with wide eyes of alarm above her hands, whose bonds her teeth worried without rest.
Ekstrom had not stirred, though one flash of pure exultation had transfigured his countenance on comprehension of Lanyard's purpose: thanks to the silly scruples of this animal, one more chance for life was granted him.
Nor would the Prussian give an inch when Lanyard paused, confronting him squarely, within arm's length.
"Ekstrom," the adventurer began in a voice lacking perceptible inflection ... "what is between you and me needs no recounting. You know it too well—I likewise. It is my wish and my intention to kill you with my two hands. Nothing can prevent that, not even what you count upon, my reluctance—to you incomprehensible—to commit an act of violence in the presence of a woman. But because Miss Brooke is here, because you have brought her here by force, because you are what you are and so have treated her insolently ... before we come to our final accounting, you shall get down upon your knees and ask her pardon."
He saw no yielding in the eyes of the Prussian, only arrogance; and when he paused, he was answered in one phrase of the gutters of Berlin, couched in the imagery of its lowest boozing-kens, so unspeakably vile in essence and application that Lanyard heard it with an incredulity almost stupefying—almost, not altogether.
It was barely spoken when those lips that framed it were crushed by a blow of such lightning delivery that, though he must have been prepared for it, Ekstrom's guard was still lowered as he reeled back, lost footing, and went to his knees.
Panting, snarling, uttering teeth and blasphemy, the Prussian recoiled like a serpent, gathered himself together and launched headlong at Lanyard, only to be met full tilt by a second blow and a third, each more merciless than its predecessor, beating him down once more.
This time Lanyard did not wait for him to come back for punishment, but closed in, catching him as he strove to rise, meeting each fresh effort with ruthless accuracy, battering him into insanity of despair, so that Ekstrom came back again and again without thought, animated only by frenzied brute instinct to find the throat of his tormenter, and ever and ever failing; till at length he crumpled and lay crushed and writhing, then subsided into insensibility, was quite still but for heaving lungs and the spasmodic clutchings of his broken and ensanguined fingers....
With a start, a broken sigh, a slight movement of the hand interpreting a crushing sense of the futility of human passion, Lanyard relaxed, drew back from standing over his antagonist, abstractedly found a handkerchief and dried his hands, of a sudden so inexpressibly shamed and degraded in his own sight that he dared not look the girl's way, but stood with hang-dog air, avoiding her regard.
Yet, could he have mustered up heart, he might have surprised in her eyes a light to lift him out from this slough of humiliation, to obliterate chagrin in a flood of wonder and—misgivings.
When, however, he did after a moment turn to her, that look was gone, replaced by one that reflected something of his own apprehension; for a heavy hand was hammering on the study door, and more than one voice on the other side was calling on "Karl" to open.
Either the servant whom Lanyard had met and victimised on his way downstairs had given the alarm, or else the noise of the encounter within the study had brought that pack of spies to the door, wildly demanding admission.
Steadied by one swift exchange of alarmed glances with the girl, Lanyard hastily reviewed the room, seeking some avenue of escape. None offered but the windows. He ran to them, tore back their draperies, and found them closed with shutters of steel and padlocked.
Simultaneously the din at the door redoubled.
With a worried shake Lanyard crossed to the chimney-piece, ducked his head, and stepped into its huge fireplace. One upward glance sufficed to dash his hopes: here was no way out, arduous though feasible; immediately above the fireplace the flue narrowed so that not even the most active man of normal stature might hope to negotiate its ascent.
He returned with only a gesture of disconcertion to answer the girl's look of appeal.
"Can we do nothing?" she asked, raising her voice a trifle to make it heard above the tumult in the corridor.
"There's no help for it, I'm afraid," he said, going to the desk and taking up the pistols—"nothing to do but shoot our way out, if we can. Take this," he added, offering her one of the weapons, which she accepted without spirit. "If you can't get your own consent to use it, give it to me when I've emptied the other."
She breathed a dismayed "Yes ..." and wonderingly consulted his face, since he did not stir other than thoughtfully to replace his pistol on the desk, then stood staring at his soot-smeared palms.
"What is it?" she demanded nervously. "Why do you hesitate?"
As one fretted by inconsequential questions, he merely shook his head, glancing sidelong once at the unconscious Prussian, again with calculation toward the door.
This he saw quivering under repeated blows.
With brusque decision he said: "Get a chair—brace it beneath the door-knob, please!"—and leaving her without more explanation turned back to the fireplace.
Motionless, in dumb confusion, the girl stood staring after him till roused by a blow of such splintering force as to suggest that an axe had been brought into play upon the door, then ran to a ponderous club chair and with considerable exertion managed to trundle it to the door and tip it over, wedging its back beneath the knob.
By this time it had become indisputably patent that an axe was battering the panels. But the door, in character with the room, was a substantial piece of workmanship and needed more than a few blows, even of an axe, to break down its barrier of solid oak.
She looked round to discover Lanyard kneeling beside Ekstrom, insanely—so it seemed to the girl—engaged in blackening the upper half of the man's face with a handful of soot.
Unconsciously uttering a little cry of distress she sped to his side and caught his shoulder with an importunate hand.
"In Heaven's name, Monsieur Duchemin, what are you doing? Is this a time for childishness—?"
He responded with a smile of boyish mischief so genuine that her doubts of his reason seemed all too well confirmed.
"Making up my understudy," he said simply. And brushing his hands over the rug to rid them of superfluous soot, Lanyard rose. "Please go back and stand by the door—on the side of the hinges. I'll be with you in one minute."
Resigned to humour this lunatic whim—what else could she do?—the girl retreated to the position designated, and watched with ever darker doubts of his sanity, while Lanyard hurriedly drew the shells from his automatic and carefully placed its butt in the slack grasp of Ekstrom's fingers.
Then, lifting from a near-by table a great cut-glass bowl of flowers, the adventurer inverted it over Ekstrom's body.
Expending its full force upon the man's chest, that miniature deluge splashed widely, wetting his face, half filling his open mouth. Some of the soot was washed away, but not a great deal: enough stuck fast to suit Lanyard's purpose.
Roused by that cool shock, half strangled as well, Ekstrom coughed violently, squirmed, spat out a mouthful of water, and lifted on an elbow, still more than half dazed.
Joining the girl by the door, Lanyard saw the Prussian sit up and glare blankly round the room, a figure of tragic fun, drenched, woefully disfigured, eyes rolling wildly in the wide spaces round them which Lanyard had left unblackened.
Swinging the club chair away from the door, the adventurer placed it with its back to the room.
"Get down behind that," he indicated shortly, and drew the key from his pocket. "Don't show yourself for your life. And let me have that pistol, please."
A bright triangular wedge of steel broke through one of the panels as he fitted and turned the key in the lock.
His wits clearing, Ekstrom saw him and with a howl of fury staggered to his feet, clutching the unloaded pistol and endeavouring to level it for steady aim.
Simultaneously Lanyard turned the knob and let the door fly open, remaining beside the chair that hid the girl.
A knot of spies, O'Reilly and Velasco among them, whirled into the room, pulled up at sight of that strange, grim figure, disguised beyond all recognition by its half-mask of black, facing and menacing them with a pistol.
O'Reilly fired in the next breath, his shot echoed by half a dozen so closely bunched as to resemble the rattle of a mitrailleuse.
At the first report the pistol dropped from Ekstrom's grasp. He carried a hand vaguely to his throat, staggered a single step, uttered a strangled moan, and fell forward, his body fairly riddled, his death little short of instantaneous.
While the fusillade was still resounding Lanyard, seizing the girl's wrist, unceremoniously dragged her from behind the chair and thrust her through the door, retreating after her with his face to the roomfull, his pistol ready.
None of that lot paid him any heed, the attention of all wholly absorbed by the tragedy their violent hands had wrought. Velasco, the first to stir, ran forward and dropped to his knees beside the dead man. Others followed.
Gently Lanyard drew the door to, locked it on the outside, and at the sound of a choking cry from Cecelia Brooke, whirled smartly round, prepared if need be to make good his promise to clear with gun-play a way to the street though opposed by every inmate of the establishment.
But the first face he saw was Crane's.
The Secret Service man stood within a yard. To him as to a rock of refuge Cecelia Brooke had flown, to his hand she was clinging like a frightened child, trying to speak, failing because she choked on sobs and gasps of horror.
Behind him, on the landing at the head of the staircase, running up from below, ascending to the upper storeys, were a score' or more of men of sturdy and business-like bearing and indubitably American stamp. Of these two were herding into a corner a little group of frightened German servants.
Lanyard's stare of astonishment was met by Crane's twisted smile.
"My friend," he said, as quietly as anyone could with his accent of a quizzical buzz-saw, "I sure got to hand it to you. Every time I try to pull anything off on the dead quiet you beat me to it clean. Everywhere I think you ain't and can't be, that's just where you are. But I ain't complaining; I got to admit, if you hadn't staged your act to occupy the minds of those gents in there, we might've had a lot more difficulty raiding this joint."
Quickly he wound an arm round the waist of Cecelia Brooke when, without warning, she swayed blindly and would have fallen.
"Here, now!" he protested. "That's no way to do.... Why, she's flickered out! Well, Monsieur Duchemin-Lanyard-Ember, to a man up a tree this looks like your job. You take this little lady off my hands and see her home, and I'll just naturally try and finish what I started—or what you did. For, son, I got to give you credit: you sure are one grand li'l trouble-hound!"
Through the breathing hush of that dark hour which foreruns the dawn, that hour in which the head that knows a wakeful pillow is prone to sudden and disquieting apprehension of its insignificance and it's soul's dread isolation, the cab sped swiftly south upon the Avenue, shadowed reaches of the park upon its right, upon its left the dull, tired faces of those homes whose tenants lay wrapped in the cotton-wool of riches.
The rain had ceased. A little wind was blowing up. There was a fresh smell in the air. Sidewalks began to be maculated with spreading areas of dryness, but the roadway was still wet and shining, the wide black mirror of a myriad lights.
Through the windows of the speeding cab an orderly procession of street lamps, marching past, threw each its fugitive and pallid glimmer. Periods of modified darkness intervened, when the face of the girl in her corner seemed a vision subtle and wraithlike. But ever the recurrent lights revealed her sweetly incarnate if deep in enervation of crushing weariness.
Once she stirred and sighed profoundly; and Lanyard, bending toward her, asked if he could be in any way of service.
She replied in an undertone scarcely better than a whisper: "Thank you, I am quite comfortable.... Please—what time is it?"
The cab was passing Sixtieth Street. Lanyard caught a fleeting glimpse of a street clock with a dial like a little golden moon.
"It's just four."
He had the maddest notion that her head inclined to droop toward his shoulder. Perhaps the motion of the cab.... If so, she recovered easily.
"Can I do anything?"
"No, thank you, only ..." An ungloved hand stirred from her lap and for the merest instant rested lightly above his own, or hovered rather, barely touching it with a touch tenuous and elusive, no sooner realised than gone. "I mean," she murmured, "I am a bit too overwrought, too tired, to talk."
"I quite understand," he said. "Please forget I'm here; just rest."
Perhaps she smiled drowsily. Or was that, too, a freak of his imagination? Lanyard assured himself it was, in excess of consideration even tried to persuade himself he had dreamed that ghost of a caress upon his hand. It seemed so little like her.
Not that anything had happened more than a gesture of transient inadvertence due to fatigue. It could not have been intentional, that act of intimacy, when the girl was altogether engrossed in young Thackeray.
There was something one must not forget, something that gave the lie flatly to that innuendo of the Weringrode's. Ignorant of the circumstances the intrigante had leaped blindly at conclusions, after the habit of her kind.
True, Sophie had not implied that this girl cared for him, but vice versa: either supposition, however, was as absurd as the other. As if Lanyard could love a woman who loved another! As if the name of love meant aught to him but the memory of a sweetness like a vagrant air of Spring that had breathed fitfully for a season upon the Winter of his heart!
A corner of Lanyard's mouth lifted in a sneer. That precious heart of his! the heart of a thief upon which even now the fruits of his thieving weighed....
Irritated, he wrenched his thoughts into another channel, and began to piece together inconsecutive snatches of information gained from Crane in the confusion of the quarter hour just past, while the Secret Service operatives were busy rounding up the inmates of that spy-fold and searching for evidences of their impudent activities.
It appeared that Washington had at length, however tardily, roused out of its inertia and at midnight had telegraphed instructions to arrest out of hand every enemy alien in the land against whom there was evidence of conspiracy or even a ponderable suspicion.
So unexpected was this order that Crane had volunteered to show Cecelia Brooke that midnight rendezvous of the Prussian spy system without the least notion that he might be required before morning to lead a raiding force against the establishment; and even when a messenger stopped him as he turned to enter Au Printemps, he was not advised concerning the cause of this demand for his immediate presence at headquarters.
The first cast of what Crane aptly termed the dragnet had brought in the management and service staff to a man, with a number of the restaurant's habitues, including Sophie Weringrode and her errand-boy, the exquisite Mr. Revel.
Velasco, however, had somehow mysteriously managed to slip through the meshes and had straightway hastened to spread the alarm.
As for O'Reilly and Dressier, they had left with Ekstrom in pursuit of Lanyard less than five minutes before, and so had escaped not only arrest but all knowledge of the raid prior to their return to Seventy-ninth Street.
The second cast of the net had been made at the latter place as soon as the watchers were able to assure Crane that Ekstrom and O'Reilly had returned—Dressier having anticipated them there by something like half an hour.
By daybreak, then, these gentry would be interned on Ellis Island....
And break of day impended visibly in grayish shades that stole westward through the cross-town streets like clouds of secret agents spying out the city against invasion by the serried lances of the sun.
A garish twilight washed Forty-second Street from wall to wall by the time the car swung round in front of the Knickerbocker. As yet, however, there was little evidence that the town was growing restive in its sleep with premonition of the ardour of another day.
Lanyard stepped down and offered the girl a hand in whose palm her slender fingers rested lightly for an instant ere she passed on, while he turned to bid the driver wait. Following, he overtook her in the entrance, where by tacit consent both paused and lingered in an odd constraint. There was so much to be said that was impossible to say just then.
Visibly the woman drooped, betraying physical exhaustion in every line of her pose, seeming scarcely strong enough to lift the silken lashes that trembled upon cheeks a little drawn and pale, with the faintest of bluish rings beneath the eyes.
"I must not keep you," Lanyard broke the silence. "I merely wished to say good-night and ... I am sorry."
"Sorry?" she echoed.
"That you had such an unhappy experience," he explained—"thanks to your thoughtfulness for me. I do not deserve so much consideration; and that only makes me feel all the more regretful."
"It was silly of me," she admitted with a shadowy, rueful smile. "I'm afraid my silliness makes too much trouble...."
He commented honestly: "I don't understand."
"If I had only been patient enough to wait for you to call me...."
"Forgive that oversight. I was pressed for time, as you may imagine."
"Oh, it all comes back to my own stupidity. I might have known you had come through all right."
"How should you?"
"Why not?—when you turn up here in New York safe and sound after being drowned on the Assyrian!—as if that were not proof enough that you bear a charmed life!"
"Charmed!" he laughed.
"And you haven't yet told me how you survived that adventure."
"You are kind to be interested, and I am unfortunate in never seeing you save under circumstances unfavourable for yarn-spinning."
"You might be more fortunate."
"Only tell me how!"
"If you cared to ask me to dine with you to-morrow—I mean, to-night—"
He was distressed by consciousness that his voice had thrilled impetuously. But perhaps she had not noticed; there was no change in the even friendliness of her tone.
"I'm as inquisitive as any woman that ever lived. Even if I wished to, I'm afraid I shouldn't be able to resist an invitation to hear your Odyssey."
"Delmonico's at eight?"
"Thank you," she said primly.
"You make me too happy. May I call for you?"
"Please." She offered a hand whose touch he found cool, steady, and impersonal. "Good morning, Mr. Ember."
He stood in a stare while she went quickly through the lobby to a waiting elevator, then roused and went back to his cab.
It was by daylight that he reentered his rooms and found them tenanted by a negro boy bound and gagged, bruised and sore, and scared beyond intelligible expression.
Freeing him and salving his injuries bodily and spiritual with a liberal douceur, Lanyard exacted an oath of silence, then turned him out.
He had approximately five hours to put in somehow before his appointment with Colonel Stanistreet at nine, and was too well versed in the lore of late hours to think of giving any part of that time to sleep. By so doing he would only insure a mutinous awakening, with mind and body sluggish and unrested. If, on the other hand, he remained awake, he would go to that interview in a state of supernormal animation exceedingly to be desired if he were to round out this adventure without discredit.
For its end was not yet. He had still a part to play whose lines were not yet written, whose business remained to be invented. He neither dared shirk that appointment, for reasons of policy, nor wished to, while there remained reparation to be accomplished, a wrong to be righted, justice to be done, a question to be answered.
Only when these matters had been put in order would he feel his honour discharged of its burdens, himself free once more to drop out and go in peace his lonely ways in life, ways henceforth to be both lonely and aimless.
For, when he strove to peer into the future, only an emptiness confronted him. With Ekstrom accounted for finally and forevermore, there was nothing to come but the final accounting of the Lone Wolf with that civilization which had bred and suffered him.
One way presented itself to make that reckoning even. The Foreign Legion of France asks no embarrassing questions of its recruits, and enlistment in its ranks offers with anonymity a consoling certainty.
Thus alone might he find his way home to the heart of that enigma whence he had emerged, a nameless waif astray in grim Parisian by-ways....
This vision of his end contenting him, he began to scheme a campaign for the day that was simple enough in prospect: a little chicanery with Stanistreet, a personal appeal to Crane to restore the passports of Monsieur Andre Duchemin which must have been found on Ekstrom's body, a berth on some steamer sailing for Europe, then the last evanishment.
One detail alone troubled him, his promise to the Brooke girl that she should dine with him that night.
Reminded of this obligation, figuratively he seized Michael Lanyard by the scruff of his neck and shook him with a savage hand. What insensate folly was ever his, what want of wit and strength to keep out of temptation's ways! Why must he have fallen in so readily with her suggestion? Why this infatuate thirst for sympathy, this eagerness to violate the seals of reticence at the wish of a strange woman? Was there any reasonable explanation of the strange lack of his wonted self-sufficiency in the company of Cecelia Brooke?
No matter. If he might not contrive somehow to squirm out of that engagement, he could at all events school himself to decent reticence. He promised himself to make his account of the submarine adventure drearily bald and trite, to minimize to the last degree his part therein, above all things to refrain from painting the Lone Wolf in romantic colours.
She was much too good a sort, too straight, sincere, fair-minded, honest—the sort of girl who deserved the Thackeray sort of man, never a thief.
If she even dreamed....
Lanyard brought forth from its hiding place the necklace, weighed it in his hand, examined it minutely. Granting its marvellous perfection, he recognized no more its beauty, dispassionately reviewed in turn each stone of matchless loveliness, no more susceptible to their seductive purity, perceiving in them nothing but hard, bright, translucent pebbles, cold, soulless, cruel.
One by one they slipped through his fingers like beads of an unholy rosary.
At length, crushing them together in the hollow of his palm, he stood a while in thought, then turning to his writing-desk bundled the necklace in wrappings of white tissue secured with rubber bands, counted carefully the sheaf of bills he had taken from Ekstrom, sealed the whole amount in a plain, long envelope, and put this aside in company with the necklace.
Already two hours had passed and, since he meant to call at the house on West End Avenue well in advance of the hour when Cecelia Brooke might be there—presuming Blensop to have given her the same appointment as he had given "Mr. Ember," that is, nine o'clock—it was now time to prepare.
Returning to his bedchamber, he laid out a carefully selected change of clothing, shaved, parboiled himself in a hot bath, chilled him to the pith in one of icy coldness, and dressed with scrupulous heed to detail, studiously effacing every sign of his sleepless night.
That experience was in no way to be surmised from his appearance when he sallied forth to breakfast at the Plaza.
At eight precisely, presenting himself at the Stanistreet residence, he desired the footman to announce him as the author of a certain telegram from Edgartown.
He was obliged to wait less than a minute, the footman returning in haste to request him to step into the library.
This apartment—which he found much as he had last seen it, eight hours ago, its window shattered, the portieres down, the furniture in some disorder—was, on his introduction, occupied by two persons, one an elderly, iron-gray gentleman of untidy dress and unobtrusive habit in spite of a discerning cool, gray eye, the other Mr. Blensop in the neatest of one-button morning-coat effects, with striped trouserings neither too smart nor too sober for that state of life unto which it had pleased God to call him, and fair white spats.
If his attire was radiant, so was the temper of the secretary sunny. He tripped forward in sprightliest fashion, offering cordial hands to the caller till he recognized him, and even then was discountenanced only for the briefest moment.
"My dear Mr. Ember!" he purred soothingly—"why didn't you tell me last night it was you who had sent that telegram? If I had for a moment suspected the truth you should have had your appointment with Colonel Stanistreet at any hour you might have cared to name, no matter how ungodly!"
Lanyard bowed gravely. "Thank you," he said. "And Colonel Stanistreet—?"
"Is just finishing breakfast. He will be down directly. Please be seated, make yourself entirely at ease. And will you excuse me—?"
"With pleasure," Lanyard assured him, his gravity unbroken.
A doubt clouded Mr. Blensop's bright eyes, but its transit was instantaneous. He turned forthwith to join the iron-gray man before the portrait which concealed the safe.
"And now, Mr. Stone," said Mr. Blensop, with indulgence.
"Well, sir," said Mr. Stone quietly, "if you'll be good enough to show me how this contraption works, maybe I'll find out something interesting, maybe not."
Mr. Blensop proceeded to oblige by operating the lever and sliding aside the portrait.
"Thanks," said Mr. Stone, producing a magnifying glass from a waistcoat pocket and beginning to peer myopically at the face of the safe. "I take it nobody's been pawing over this since the late, as you might say, unpleasantness?"
"Not a soul has touched it. By Colonel Stanistreet's order it was covered as soon as we found it had been tampered with."
"Um-m," Mr. Stone acknowledged, bending close to his work.
Partially, perhaps, by way of administering an urbane rebuke to Lanyard for his readiness to dispense with his society, Mr. Blensop remained in the neighbourhood of Mr. Stone, hovering round him like a domesticated humming-bird.
"Do you find anything?" he enquired, when Stone straightened up.
"Fingerprints a-plenty," Mr. Stone admitted with a hint of temper—"a slew of the damn things. Looks like you must've called in the neighbours to help make a good show. However, we'll see what we can make of 'em."
He conjured from some recess in his clothing a squat bottle, from another a stopper in which was fitted a blowpipe, joined the two together, approached the safe with one end of the pipe between his lips and sprayed it with a thin film of white powder, the contents of the bottle.
"I say, do tell me what that's for?"
"That," said Mr. Stone patiently, "is to make the fingerprints stand out, so we can get a good likeness of 'em."
He put the bottle aside, blinked at the safe approvingly, and by further exercise of powers of legerdemain materialized a pocket kodak and a flashlight pistol.
"Can't I help you?" Blensop offered eagerly. "I used to be rather a dab at amateur photography, you know."
"Well, I'm kind of stuck on pressing the button myself," Stone confessed, adjusting the focus. "But if you want to work that flashlight, I don't mind."
"Delighted," Mr. Blensop asserted. "How does it go, now?"
"Like this." Stone set his camera down to demonstrate. "Now just stand behind me," he concluded, "and pull the trigger when I say 'now'."
"I'll do my best, but—I say—will it bang?"
Stone had taken up the camera once more. His sole answer was a grunt upon which his hearers placed two distinct interpretations—Lanyard's affording him considerable gratification.
"If you're ready," said Stone—"now"
Mr. Blensop squinted unbecomingly and pressed the trigger. A vivid flare lifted from the pan of the pistol, and winked out in a cloud of vapour, slowly dissipating.
"Is that all?"
"Yes, sir—that's all of that." Stone stowed the camera away about his person and from another cranny produced a small cardboard box of glass slides, one of which he offered. "Now if you'll just run your fingers through your hair and rest them on this slide, light but steady...."
"What for?" Blensop demanded with a giggle of nervous reluctance. "You don't think I'm the thief, do you?"
"No, sir, I don't. But if I haven't got your fingerprints, how am I going to tell them from the thief's?"
"Oh, I see," Blensop said with a note of allayed apprehension, and put himself on record.
The door opening to admit Colonel Stanistreet, Lanyard rose. At sight of him the Englishman checked and stared enquiringly, his eyes shadowed by careworn brows; for it was apparent that, if the events of the night had not depressed the spirits of the secretary, his employer had known little sleep or none since the burglary.
"Colonel Stanistreet," Blensop said melodiously, abandoning Stone to his unsupervised devices, "this is Mr. Ember, the gentleman who called last night before you got home. It appears he is the person who sent us that telegram from Edgartown day before yesterday."
"Indeed? Ember is not the name with which the message was signed."
"The message was purposely left unsigned," Lanyard explained.
Stanistreet nodded approval. "I am glad to meet you, Mr. Ember," he said, offering a hand. "Be seated. I am most anxious first to express our gratitude, next to learn how you came by your information."
"You will find it an interesting story."
"No doubt of that." Stanistreet took the desk chair, opened a cigar humidor, and offered it. "I shall be even more interested, however," he said with an evanescent trace of humour, "to know who the devil you are, sir."
"That is something I am prepared to prove to your satisfaction."
"If you will be so good.... But excuse me for one moment." Stanistreet turned in his chair. "Mr. Stone?"
"Have you finished with the safe? If so, I want my secretary to check over its contents carefully and make sure nothing else is missing."
"I'm all through with it, Colonel Stanistreet. Now, if you don't mind, I'm going to mouse around and see if I can nose out anything else that's useful."
"That shall be entirely as you will. Now, Blensop"—Stanistreet nodded to the secretary—"let us make certain...."
Blithely Mr. Blensop addressed himself to the safe.
"There has been an accident of some sort, Colonel Stanistreet?" Lanyard enquired civilly, nodding toward the shattered French window.
"A burglary, sir."
"The criminal escaped—?"
Stanistreet nodded. "Our watchman surprised him, and was shot for his pains—not seriously, I'm happy to say. The burglar got himself tangled up in that window, but extricated in time, and went over the garden wall before we could determine which way he had taken."
"I trust you lost nothing of value?"
Stanistreet shrugged. "Unhappily, we did—a diamond necklace, the property of my sister-in-law, and—ah—a document we could ill afford to part with.... But you offered to show me credentials, I believe."
"Such as they are," Lanyard replied. "My passports and letters were stolen from me. But these, I think, should serve as well to prove my bona fides."
He laid out in order upon the desk his plunder from the safe aboard the U-boat—all but the money—the three cipher codes, the log, the diary of the commander, the directory of German secret agents, and such other documents as he had selected.
The first Colonel Stanistreet took up with a dubious frown which swiftly lightened, yielding, as he pursued his examination into the papers and began to recognize their surpassing value to the Allied cause, to a subdued glimmer of gratulatory excitement.
But he was at pains to satisfy himself as to the authenticity of each paper in turn, providing a lull for which Lanyard was not ungrateful since it gave him a chance to adjust his understanding to an unexpected development in the affair.
He lounged at ease, smoking, his eyes, half-veiled by lowered lids, keenly reviewing the room and its tenants.
Stone, the detective (an operative, Lanyard rightly inferred, of the American Secret Service, loaned to the British in order to keep the burglary out of police records and newspapers), had wandered out into the garden that glowed with young April sunlight beyond the windows. From time to time he was to be seen stooping and inspecting the earth with the gravity of an earnest, efficient, sober-sided sleuth of the old school.
Blensop was busy before the safe, extracting the contents of each pigeonhole in turn, thumbing its dockets of papers, checking each off upon a typewritten list several pages in length.
To that lithe and debonair figure Lanyard's gaze oftenest reverted.
So not only had the necklace been stolen but "a document" which the British Secret Service "could ill afford to part with"!
Lanyard entertained no least doubt as to the identity of the document in question. There could be but one, he felt, which Stanistreet would so characterize.
That document had not been in the safe when Lanyard had opened it at midnight.
After a moment Mr. Blensop uttered a musical note of vexation. The lead of his pencil had broken. He threw it pettishly aside, came over to the desk, took up a penholder, dipped it in the ink-well, and returned to his task.
Colonel Stanistreet put down the last of the papers and slapped his hand upon it resoundingly.
"This is one of the most remarkable collections of data, I venture to assert, that has ever come into the hands of the British Government. Have you any idea of its value?"
Lanyard lifted a whimsical eyebrow. "Some," he admitted drily.
"And what do you ask for it, sir?"
The gaze of the Englishman bored into his eyes; but he met their challenge with an unshaken countenance, smiling.
"My dear sir," Stanistreet demanded—"who are you?"
"The name under which I sailed for New York on board the Assyrian," Lanyard announced quietly, "was Andre Duchemin."
Disturbed by a startled exclamation, together with a sound of shuffling and a slight thump, he looked round in mild curiosity to see Blensop staggered and astare, standing over a litter of documents which had slipped from his grasp to the floor. Mastering his emotion quickly enough, the secretary knelt with a mumbled apology and began to pick up the papers.
With no more notice of the incident Lanyard returned undivided attention to Colonel Stanistreet.
"I had another name," he confessed, "and a reputation none too savoury, as, I daresay, you know. Through the courtesy of the British Intelligence Office I was permitted to disguise these; but on the Assyrian I was recognized—in short, ran afoul of German Secret Service agents who knew me, but whom I did not know. On the sixth night out circumstances conspired to make me seem a serious obstacle to their schemes. Consequently I was waylaid, robbed, and thrown overboard. Within the next few minutes a torpedo struck the ship and the submarine which fired it came up under me as I struggled to keep afloat. By passing myself off as a Boche spy, I succeeded in inducing the commander to take me below, and so reached the Martha's Vineyard base. There chance played into my hands: I contrived to sink the U-boat and escape, as reported in my telegram."
During a brief silence he found opportunity to observe that Mr. Blensop was working with hands that trembled singularly.
"Incredible!" Stanistreet commented.
"Yet here is proof," Lanyard asserted, indicating the papers beneath Stanistreet's hand.
"My dear sir, I didn't mean—"
"Pardon!" Lanyard smiled, with a lifted hand. "I never thought you did, Colonel Stanistreet. But it is your duty to make sure you are not imposed upon by plausible adventurers. Therefore—since my papers have been stolen—I am glad to be able to prove my identity with Andre Duchemin by referring to survivors of the Assyrian disaster, among others Mr. Sherry, the second officer, Mr. Crane of the United States Secret Service, and a countrywoman of yours, a Miss Cecelia Brooke, whose acquaintance I was fortunate enough to make."
Stanistreet nodded heavily, and consulted his watch. "Miss Brooke," he said, "should be here shortly. Blensop made an appointment with her last night, which I confirmed by telephone this morning."
"Then, with permission, I shall remain and ask her to vouch for me," Lanyard suggested in resignation, since it appeared he was not to be permitted to escape this girl, that destiny was not yet finished with their entanglement.
"I shall be glad if you will, sir.... Monsieur Duchemin," Stanistreet began, but hesitated—"or do you prefer another style?"
"I am content with Duchemin."
"That is a matter for your own discretion, but I should warn you it may already have acquired an evil odour on this side. To my knowledge it has been used within the last twenty-four hours, and the pretensions of its wearer supported by your stolen credentials."
"I am not surprised," Lanyard stated reflectively. "A chap with a beard, perhaps?"
"Anderson," the adventurer nodded: "that, at least, was his alias when he jockeyed himself into the second steward's berth aboard the Assyrian."
He glanced idly across the room, discovered Blensop once more at pause in a stare, and grinned amiably.
"He came here last night," Stanistreet volunteered deliberately— "representing himself as Andre Duchemin—to sell me a certain paper, the same which subsequently, I am convinced, he returned to steal."
"And did," Lanyard added.
"And did," the Briton conceded. "Now you have told me who he is, I promise you every effort shall be made to apprehend him and prevent further misuse of the name you have assumed."
"It has," Lanyard said tersely.
"I beg your pardon?"
"I say every effort has been made—and successfully—to accomplish the ends you mention."
"What's that you say?" Blensop demanded shrilly, crossing to the desk.
"My secretary," Stanistreet explained, "was present at the interview, and is naturally interested."
"And very good of him, I'm sure," Lanyard agreed. "I was about to explain, Mr. Blensop, that Ekstrom, alias Anderson, was killed in the course of a raid on the Prussian spy headquarters in Seventy-ninth Street this morning."
"Amazing!" Blensop gasped. "I am glad to hear it," he added, and went slowly back to his task.
"I may as well tell you, sir," Lanyard pursued, "I have every reason to believe the document sold you last night was one of those stolen from me."
Stanistreet wagged a contentious head.
"I cannot conceive how it could have come into your possession, sir."
"Simply enough. Miss Brooke requested me to take care of it for her."
The eyes of the Englishman grew stony. "Miss Brooke!" he repeated testily. "I don't understand."
"It was a document—I do not seek to know its nature from you, sir—of vital importance in this present crisis, with the United States newly entered into the war."
Stanistreet affirmed with an inclination of his head.
"I may tell you this much, Monsieur Duchemin: if it had not reached this country safely.... What am I saying? If it be not recovered without delay, the chances of America's early and efficient participation in the war will suffer a tremendous setback ... Blensop, be good enough to call up the American Secret Service at once and ask whether the document in question was found on the body of this—ah—Ekstrom."
"Pardon," Lanyard interposed as Blensop hesitantly approached the telephone. "It would be a waste of time. I happen to know, because I was there, that no such document was found on Ekstrom's body."
"The devil!" Stanistreet grumbled. "What can have become of it? This business grows only the blacker the deeper one seeks to fathom it. I must own myself completely at a loss. How it came into the hands of Miss Brooke—"
"I can explain that, I think. The document was in the care of two gentlemen, Mr. Bartholomew and Lieutenant Thackeray. The former was murdered by the Huns in search of it, Lieutenant Thackeray murderously assaulted. But for Miss Brooke's intervention the assassins must have succeeded. As it was, the young woman herself found it and, one presumes, took charge of it because her fiance was incapacitated, and possibly with the notion that she might thereby prevent further mischief of the same nature."
"Her fiance?" Stanistreet echoed blankly.
"Her brother, sir!" the Briton laughed. "Thackeray was his nom de service."
It was Lanyard's turn to stare. "Ah!" he murmured. "A light begins to dawn...."
"Upon me as well," Stanistreet confessed. "Miss Brooke and her brother are orphans and, before the war, were inseparable companions. I do not doubt that, learning he had been commissioned with an uncommonly perilous errand, she booked passage by the Assyrian without his consent, in order to be near him in event of danger."
"This explains much," Lanyard conceded—"much that perplexed more than one can say."
"But in no way advances us on the trail of the purloined document."
"I am afraid, sir," Lanyard lied deliberately, "you may as well abandon all hope of ever seeing it again. Ekstrom made away with it: no question about that. There was time enough and to spare between his exploit here and his death for him to deliver it to safe hands. It is doubtless decoded by this time, a copy of it already well on the way to the Wilhelmstrasse."
"I am afraid," Stanistreet echoed—"I am very much afraid you are right."
His thick, spatulate fingers of an executive drummed heavily upon the desk.
Stone's figure darkened the windows.
"Colonel Stanistreet?" he called diffidently.
"Yes, Mr. Stone?"
"There's something here I'd like to consult you about, sir, if you can spare a minute."
"Certainly." The Englishman rose. "If you will excuse me, Monsieur Duchemin...." Half way to the windows he hesitated. "By the bye, Blensop, I wish you'd call up Apthorp and ask after Howson's condition."
"Very good, sir," Blensop intoned cheerfully.
"And do it without delay, please. I don't like to think of the poor fellow suffering."
As his employer passed out into the garden with Stone, the secretary discontinued his checking and came over to the desk, drawing up a chair and sitting down to telephone. At the same time Lanyard got up and began to pace thoughtfully to and fro.
"Howson is the wounded night watchman, I take it, Mr. Blensop?"
"Yes—an excellent fellow.... Schuyler nine, three hundred," Blensop cooed into the transmitter.
Conceivably that ostensible discomfiture whose symptoms Lanyard had remarked had been a transitory humour. Mr. Blensop was now in what seemed the most equable and blithe of tempers. His very posture at the telephone eloquently betokened as much: he had thrown himself into the chair with picturesque nonchalance, sitting with body half turned from the desk, his right hand holding the receiver to his ear, his left thrust carelessly into his trouser pocket, thus dragging back the lapel of that impeccable morning-coat and exposing the bright cap of his gold-mounted fountain pen.
Something in that implement seemed to possess for Lanyard overpowering fascination. His gaze yearned for it, returned again and again to it.
He changed his course to stroll up and down behind Blensop, between him and the safe.
"I understood Colonel Stanistreet to say the watchman was not seriously injured, I believe," he observed, with interest.
"Shot through the shoulder, that is all.... Schuyler nine, three hundred? Dr. Apthorp, please. This is Mr. Blensop speaking, secretary to Colonel Stanistreet.... Are you there, Dr. Apthorp?"
With professional dexterity Lanyard en passant dropped a hand over the young man's shoulder and lightly lifted the pen from its place in the pocket of Blensop's waistcoat; the even tempo of his step unbroken, he tossed it toward the safe, where it fell without sound upon a heavy Persian rug.
"Yes—about Howson," the musical accents continued, "Colonel Stanistreet is most solicitous...."
Swiftly Lanyard moved toward the safe, glanced through the French windows to assure himself that Stanistreet and Stone were safely preoccupied, whipped out the envelope he had prepared, and thrust it into a file of papers which did not crowd its pigeonhole; accomplishing the complete manoeuvre with such adroitness that, like the business of the pen, it passed utterly without the knowledge of the secretary.