In such wise did the Lone Wolf dispose of his loot, at all events of the bulk thereof; other channels were, of course, open to him, but none so safe; and with no other receiver of stolen goods could he hope to make such fair and profitable deals.
Now inevitably in the course of this long association, though each remained in ignorance of his confederate's identity, these two had come to feel that they knew each other fairly well. Not infrequently, when their business had been transacted, Lanyard would linger an hour with the agent, chatting over cigarettes: both, perhaps, a little thrilled by the piquancy of the situation; for the young Jew was the only man who had ever wittingly met the Lone Wolf face to face....
Why then this sudden awkwardness and embarrassment on the part of the agent?
Lanyard's eyes narrowed with suspicion.
In silence he produced a jewel-case of morocco leather and handed it over to the Jew, then settled back in his chair, his attitude one of lounging, but his mind as quick with distrust as the fingers that, under cover of his cloak, rested close to a pocket containing his automatic.
Accepting the box with a little bow, the Jew pressed the catch and discovered its contents. But the richness of the treasure thus disclosed did not seem to surprise him; and, indeed, he had more than once been introduced with no more formality to plunder of far greater value. Fitting a jeweller's glass to his eye, he took up one after another of the pieces and examined them under the lamplight. Presently he replaced the last, shut down the cover of the box, turned a thoughtful countenance to Lanyard, and made as if to speak, but hesitated.
"Well?" the adventurer demanded impatiently.
"This, I take it," said the Jew absently, tapping the box, "is the jewellery of Madame Omber."
"I took it," Lanyard retorted good-naturedly—"not to put too fine a point upon it!"
"I am sorry," the other said slowly.
"It is most unfortunate..."
"May one enquire what is most unfortunate?"
The Jew shrugged and with the tips of his fingers gently pushed the box toward his customer. "This makes me very unhappy," he admitted: "but I have no choice in the matter, monsieur. As the agent of my principals I am instructed to refuse you an offer for these valuables."
Again the shrug, accompanied by a deprecatory grimace: "That is difficult to say. No explanation was made me. My instructions were simply to keep this appointment as usual, but to advise you it will be impossible for my principals to continue their relations with you as long as your affairs remain in their present status."
"Their present status?" Lanyard repeated. "What does that mean, if you please?"
"I cannot say monsieur. I can only repeat that which was said to me."
After a moment Lanyard rose, took the box, and replaced it in his pocket. "Very well," he said quietly. "Your principals, of course, understand that this action on their part definitely ends our relations, rather than merely interrupts them at their whim?"
"I am desolated, monsieur, but ... one must assume that they have considered everything. You understand, it is a matter in which I am wholly without discretion, I trust?"
"O quite!" Lanyard assented carelessly. He held out his hand. "Good-bye, my friend."
The Jew shook hands warmly.
"Good night, monsieur—and the best of luck!"
There was significance in his last words that Lanyard did not trouble to analyze. Beyond doubt, the man knew more than he dared admit. And the adventurer told himself he could shrewdly surmise most of that which the other had felt constrained to leave unspoken.
Pressure from some quarter had been brought to bear upon that eminently respectable firm of jewel dealers in Amsterdam to induce them to discontinue their clandestine relations with the Lone Wolf, profitable though these must have been.
Lanyard believed he could name the quarter whence this pressure was being exerted, but before going further or coming to any momentous decision, he was determined to know to a certainty who were arrayed against him and how much importance he need attach to their antagonism. If he failed in this, it would be the fault of the other side, not his for want of readiness to accept its invitation.
In brief, he didn't for an instant contemplate abandoning either his rigid rule of solitude or his chosen career without a fight; but he preferred not to fight in the dark.
Anger burned in him no less hotly than chagrin. It could hardly be otherwise with one who, so long suffered to go his way without let or hindrance, now suddenly, in the course of a few brief hours, found himself brought up with a round turn—hemmed in and menaced on every side by secret opposition and hostility.
He no longer feared to be watched; and the very fact that, as far as he could see, he wasn't watched, only added fuel to his resentment, demonstrating as it did so patently the cynical assurance of the Pack that they had him cornered, without alternative other than to supple himself to their will.
To the driver of the first taxicab he met, Lanyard said "L'Abbaye," then shutting himself within the conveyance, surrendered to the most morose reflections.
Nothing of this mood was, however, apparent in his manner on alighting. He bore a countenance of amiable insouciance through the portals of this festal institution whose proudest boast and—incidentally—sole claim to uniquity is that it never opens its doors before midnight nor closes them before dawn.
He had moved about with such celerity since entering his flat on the rue Roget that it was even now only two o'clock; an hour at which revelry might be expected to have reached its apogee in this, the soi-disant "smartest" place in Paris.
A less sophisticated adventurer might have been flattered by the cordiality of his reception at the hands of that arbiter elegantiarum the maitre-d'hotel.
"Ah-h, Monsieur Lanyarrr! But it is long since we have been so favoured. However, I have kept your table for you."
"Have you, though?"
"Could it be otherwise, after receipt of your honoured order?"
"No," said Lanyard coolly, "I presume not, if you value your peace of mind."
"Monsieur is alone?" This with an accent of disappointment.
"Temporarily, it would seem so."
"But this way, if you please...."
In the wake of the functionary, Lanyard traversed that frowsy anteroom where doubtful wasters are herded on suspicion in company with the corps of automatic Bacchanalians and figurantes, to the main restaurant, the inner sanctum toward which the naive soul of the travel-bitten Anglo-Saxon aspires so ardently.
It was not a large room; irregularly octagonal in shape, lined with wall-seats behind a close-set rank of tables; better lighted than most Parisian restaurants, that is to say, less glaringly; abominably ventilated; the open space in the middle of the floor reserved for a handful of haggard young professional dancers, their stunted bodies more or less costumed in brilliant colours, footing it with all the vivacity to be expected of five-francs per night per head; the tables occupied by parties Anglo-Saxon and French in the proportion of five to one, attended by a company of bored and apathetic waiters; a string orchestra ragging incessantly; a vicious buck-nigger on a dais shining with self-complacence while he vamped and shouted "Waitin' foh th' Robuht E. Lee"...
Lanyard permitted himself to be penned in a corner behind a table, ordered champagne not because he wanted it but because it was etiquette, suppressed a yawn, lighted a cigarette, and reviewed the assemblage with a languid but shrewd glance.
He saw only the company of every night; for even in the off-season there are always enough English-speaking people in Paris to make it possible for L'Abbaye Theleme to keep open with profit: the inevitable assortment of respectable married couples with friends, the men chafing and wondering if possibly all this might seem less unattractive were they foot-loose and fancy-free, the women contriving to appear at ease with varying degrees of success, but one and all flushed with dubiety; the sprinkling of demi-mondaines not in the least concerned about their social status; the handful of people who, having brought their fun with them, were having the good time they would have had anywhere; the scattering of plain drunks in evening dress.... Nowhere a face that Lanyard recognized definitely: no Mr. Bannon, no Comte Remy de Morbihan....
He regarded this circumstance, however, with more vexation than surprise: De Morbihan would surely show up in time; meanwhile, it was annoying to be obliged to wait, to endure this martyrdom of ennui.
He sipped his wine sparingly, without relish, considering the single subsidiary fact which did impress him with some wonder—that he was being left severely to himself; something which doesn't often fall to the lot of the unattached male at L'Abbaye. Evidently an order had been issued with respect to him. Ordinarily he would have been grateful: to-night he was merely irritated: such neglect rendered him conspicuous....
The fixed round of delirious divertissement unfolded as per schedule. The lights were lowered to provide a melodramatic atmosphere for that startling novelty, the Apache Dance. The coon shouted stridently. The dancers danced bravely on their poor, tired feet. An odious dwarf creature in a miniature outfit of evening clothes toddled from table to table, offensively soliciting stray francs—but shied from the gleam in Lanyard's eyes. Lackeys made the rounds, presenting each guest with a handful of coloured, feather-weight celluloid balls, with which to bombard strangers across the room. The inevitable shamefaced Englishman departed in tow of an overdressed Frenchwoman with pride of conquest in her smirk. The equally inevitable alcoholic was dug out from under his table and thrown into a cab. An American girl insisted on climbing upon a table to dance, but swayed and had to be helped down, giggling foolishly. A Spanish dancing girl was afforded a clear floor for her specialty, which consisted in singing several verses understood by nobody, the choruses emphasized by frantic assaults on the hair of several variously surprised, indignant, and flattered male guests—among them Lanyard, who submitted with resignation....
And then, just when he was on the point of consigning the Pack to the devil for inflicting upon him such cruel and inhuman punishment, the Spanish girl picked her way through the mob of dancers who invaded the floor promptly on her withdrawal, and paused beside his table.
"You're not angry, mon coco?" she pleaded with a provocative smile.
Lanyard returned a smiling negative.
"Then I may sit down with you and drink a glass of your wine?"
"Can't you see I've been saving the bottle for you?"
The woman plumped herself promptly into the chair opposite the adventurer. He filled her glass.
"But you are not happy to-night?" she demanded, staring over the brim as she sipped.
"I am thoughtful," he said.
"And what does that mean?"
"I am saddened to contemplate the infirmities of my countrymen, these Americans who can't rest in Paris until they find some place as deadly as any Broadway boasts, these English who adore beautiful Paris solely because here they may continue to get drunk publicly after half-past twelve!"
"Ah, then it's la barbe, is it not?" said the girl, gingerly stroking her faded, painted cheek.
"It is true: I am bored."
"Then why not go where you're wanted?" She drained her glass at a gulp and jumped up, swirling her skirts. "Your cab is waiting, monsieur—and perhaps you will find it more amusing with that Pack!"
Flinging herself into the arms of another girl, she swung away, grinning impishly at Lanyard over her partner's shoulder.
THE HIGH HAND
Evidently his first move toward departure was signalled; for as he passed out through L'Abbaye's doors the carriage-porter darted forward and saluted.
"Monsieur's car is waiting."
"Indeed?" Lanyard surveyed briefly a handsome black limousine that, at pause beside the curb, was champing its bits in the most spirited fashion. Then he smiled appreciatively. "All the same, I thank you for the compliment," he said, and forthwith tipped the porter.
But before entrusting himself to this gratuitous conveyance, he put himself to the trouble of inspecting the chauffeur—a capable-looking mechanic togged out in a rich black livery which, though relieved by a vast amount of silk braiding, was like the car guiltless of any sort of insignia.
"I presume you know where I wish to go, my man?"
The chauffeur touched his cap: "But naturally, monsieur."
"Then take me there, the quickest way you know."
Nodding acknowledgement of the porter's salute, Lanyard sank gratefully back upon uncommonly luxurious upholstery. The fatigue of the last thirty-six hours was beginning to tell on him a bit, though his youth was still so vital, so instinct with strength and vigour, that he could go as long again without sleep if need be.
None the less he was glad of this opportunity to snatch a few minutes' rest by way of preparation against the occult culmination of this adventure. No telling what might ensue of this violation of all those principles which had hitherto conserved his welfare! And he entertained a gloomy suspicion that he would be inclined to name another ass, who proposed as he did to beard this Pack in its den with nothing more than his wits and an automatic pistol to protect ten thousand-francs, the jewels of Madame Omber, the Huysman plans, and (possibly) his life.
However, he stood committed to his folly, if folly it were: he would play the game as it lay.
As for curiosity concerning his immediate destination, there was little enough of that in his temper; a single glance round on leaving the car would fix his whereabouts beyond dispute, so thorough was his knowledge of Paris.
He contemplated briefly, with admiration, the simplicity with which that affair at L'Abbaye had been managed, finding no just cause to suspect anyone there of criminal complicity in the plans of the Pack: a forged order for a table to the maitre-d'hotel, ten francs to the carriage-porter and twenty more to the dancing woman to play parts in a putative practical joke—and the thing had been arranged without implicating a soul!...
Of a sudden, ending a ride much shorter than Lanyard would have liked, the limousine swung in toward a curb.
Bending forward, he unlatched the door and, glancing through the window, uttered a grunt of profound disgust.
If this were the best that Pack could do...!
He had hoped for something a trifle more original from men with wit and imagination enough to plot the earlier phases of this intrigue.
The car had pulled up in front of an institution which he knew well—far too well, indeed, for his own good.
None the less, he consented to get out.
"Sure you've come to the right place?" he asked the chauffeur.
Two fingers touching the visor of his cap: "But certainly, monsieur!"
"Oh, all right!" Lanyard grumbled resignedly; and tossing the man a five-franc piece, applied his knuckles to the door of an outwardly commonplace hotel particulier in the rue Chaptal between the impasse of the Grand Guignol and the rue Pigalle.
Now the neophyte needs the introduction of a trusted sponsor before he can win admission to the club-house of the exclusive Circle of Friends of Humanity; but Lanyard's knock secured him prompt and unquestioned right of way. The unfortunate fact is, he was a member in the best of standing; for this society of pseudo-altruistic aims was nothing more nor less than one of those several private gambling clubs of Paris which the French Government tolerates more or less openly, despite adequate restrictive legislation; and gambling was Lanyard's ruling passion—a legacy from Bourke no less than the rest of his professional equipment.
To every man his vice (the argument is Bourke's, in defence of his failing). And perhaps the least mischievous vice a professional cracksman can indulge is that of gambling, since it can hardly drive him to lengths more desperate than those whereby he gains a livelihood.
In the esteem of Paris, Count Remy de Morbihan himself was scarcely a more light-hearted plunger than Monsieur Lanyard.
Naturally, with this reputation, he was always free of the handsome salons wherein the Friends of Humanity devoted themselves to roulette, auction bridge, baccarat and chemin-de-fer: and of this freedom he now proceeded to avail himself, with his hat just a shade aslant on his head, his hands in his pockets, a suspicion of a smile on his lips and a glint of the devil in his eyes—in all an expression accurately reflecting the latest phase of his humour, which was become largely one of contemptuous toleration, thanks to what he chose to consider an exhibition of insipid stupidity on the part of the Pack.
Nor was this humour in any way modified when, in due course, he confirmed anticipation by discovering Monsieur le Comte Remy de Morbihan lounging beside one of the roulette tables, watching the play, and now and again risking a maximum on his own account.
A flash of animation crossed the unlovely mask of the Count when he saw Lanyard approaching, and he greeted the adventurer with a gay little flirt of his pudgy dark hand.
"Ah, my friend!" he cried. "It is you, then, who have changed your mind! But this is delightful!"
"And what has become of your American friend?" Asked the adventurer.
"He tired quickly, that one, and packed himself off to Troyon's. Be sure I didn't press him to continue the grand tour!"
"Then you really did wish to see me to-night?" Lanyard enquired innocently.
"Always—always, my dear Lanyard!" the Count declared, jumping up. "But come," he insisted: "I've a word for your private ear, if these gentlemen will excuse us."
"Do!" Lanyard addressed in a confidential manner those he knew at the table, before turning away to the tug of the Count's hand on his arm—"I think he means to pay up twenty pounds he owes me!"
Some derisive laughter greeted this sally.
"I mean that, however," Lanyard informed the other cheerfully as they moved away to a corner where conversation without an audience was possible—"you ruined that Bank of England note, you know."
"Cheap at the price!" the Count protested, producing his bill-fold. "Five hundred francs for an introduction to Monsieur the Lone Wolf!"
"Are you joking?" Lanyard asked blankly—and with a magnificent gesture abolished the proffered banknote.
"Joking? I! But surely you don't mean to deny—"
"My friend," Lanyard interrupted, "before we assert or deny anything, let us gather the rest of the players round the table and deal from a sealed deck. Meantime, let us rest on the understanding that I have found, at one end, a message scrawled on a bank-note hidden in a secret place, at the other end, yourself, Monsieur le Comte. Between and beyond these points exists a mystery, of which one anticipates elucidation."
"You shall have it," De Morbihan promised. "But first, we must go to those others who await us."
"Not so fast!" Lanyard interposed. "What am I to understand? That you wish me to accompany you to the—ah—den of the Pack?"
"Where else?" De Morbihan grinned.
"But where is that?"
"I am not permitted to say—"
"Still, one has one's eyes. Why not satisfy me here?"
"Your eyes, by your leave, monsieur, will be blindfolded."
"Pardon—it is an essential—"
"Come, come, my friend: we are not in the Middle Ages!"
"I have no discretion, monsieur. My confreres—"
"I insist: there will be trust on both sides or no negotiations."
"But I assure you, my dear friend—"
"My dear Count, it is useless: I am determined. Blindfold? I should say not! This is not—need I remind you again?—the Paris of Balzac and that wonderful Dumas of yours!"
"What do you propose, then?" De Morbihan enquired, worrying his moustache.
"What better place for the proposed conference than here?"
"But not here!"
"Why not? Everybody comes here: it will cause no gossip. I am here—I have come half-way; your friends must do as much on their part."
"It is not possible...."
"Then, I beg you, tender them my regrets."
"Would you give us away?"
"Never that: one makes gifts to one's friends only. But my interest in yours is depreciating so rapidly that, should you delay much longer, it will be on sale for the sum of two sous."
"O—damn!" the Count complained peevishly.
"With all the pleasure in life.... But now," Lanyard went on, rising to end the interview, "you must forgive me for reminding you that the morning wanes apace. I shall be going home in another hour."
De Morbihan shrugged. "Out of my great affection for you," he purred venomously, "I will do my possible. But I promise nothing."
"I have every confidence in your powers of moral suasion, monsieur," Lanyard assured him cheerfully. "Au revoir!"
And with this, not at all ill-pleased with himself, he strutted off to a table at which a high-strung session of chemin-de-fer was in process, possessed himself of a vacant chair, and in two minutes was so engrossed in the game that the Pack was quite forgotten.
In fifteen minutes he had won thrice as many thousands of francs. Twenty minutes or half an hour later, a hand on his shoulder broke the grip of his besetting passion.
"Our table is made up, my friend," De Morbihan announced with his inextinguishable grin. "We're waiting for you."
"Quite at your service."
Settling his score and finding himself considerably better off than he had imagined, he resigned his place gracefully, and suffered the Count to link arms and drag him away up the main staircase to the second storey, where smaller rooms were reserved for parties who preferred to gamble privately.
"So it appears you succeeded!" he chaffed his conductor good-humouredly.
"I have brought you the mountain," De Morbihan assented.
"One is grateful for small miracles...."
But De Morbihan wouldn't laugh at his own expense; for a moment, indeed, he seemed inclined to take umbrage at Lanyard's levity. But the sudden squaring of his broad shoulders and the hardening of his features was quickly modified by an uneasy sidelong glance at his companion. And then they were at the door of the cabinet particulier.
De Morbihan rapped, turned the knob, and stood aside, bowing politely.
With a nod acknowledging the courtesy, Lanyard consented to precede him, and entered a room of intimate proportions, furnished chiefly with a green-covered card-table and five easy-chairs, of which three were occupied—two by men in evening dress, the third by one in a well-tailored lounge suit of dark grey.
Now all three men wore visors of black velvet.
Lanyard looked from one to the other and chuckled quietly.
With an aggrieved air De Morbihan launched into introductions:
"Messieurs, I have the honour to present to you our confrere, Monsieur Lanyard, best known as 'The Lone Wolf.' Monsieur Lanyard—the Council of our Association, known to you as 'The Pack.'"
The three rose and bowed ceremoniously, Lanyard returned a cool, good-natured nod. Then he laughed again and more openly:
"A pack of knaves!"
"Monsieur doubtless feels at ease?" one retorted acidly.
"In your company, Popinot? But hardly!" Lanyard returned in light contempt.
The fellow thus indicated, a burly rogue of a Frenchman in rusty and baggy evening clothes, started and flushed scarlet beneath his mask; but the man next him dropped a restraining hand upon his arm, and Popinot, with a shrug, sank back into his chair.
"Upon my word!" Lanyard declared gracelessly, "it's as good as a play! Are you sure, Monsieur le Comte, there's no mistake—that these gay masqueraders haven't lost their way to the stage of the Grand Guignol?"
"Damn!" muttered the Count. "Take care, my friend! You go too far!"
"You really think so? But you amaze me! You can't in reason expect me to take you seriously, gentlemen!"
"If you don't, it will prove serious business for you!" growled the one he had called Popinot.
"You mean that? But you are magnificent, all of you! We lack only the solitary illumination of a candle-end—a grinning skull—a cup of blood upon the table—to make the farce complete! But as it is.... Messieurs, you must be rarely uncomfortable, and feeling as foolish as you look, into the bargain! Moreover, I'm no child. ... Popinot, why not disembarrass your amiable features? And you, Mr. Wertheimer, I'm sure, will feel more at ease with an open countenance—as the saying runs," he said, nodding to the man beside Popinot. "As for this gentleman," he concluded, eyeing the third, "I haven't the pleasure of his acquaintance."
With a short laugh, Wertheimer unmasked and exposed a face of decidedly English type, fair and well-modelled, betraying only the faintest traces of Semitic cast to account for his surname. And with this example, Popinot snatched off his own black visor—and glared at Lanyard: in his shabby dress, the incarnate essence of bourgeoisie outraged. But the third, he of the grey lounge suit, remained motionless; only his eyes clashed coldly with the adventurer's.
He seemed a man little if at all Lanyard's senior, and built upon much the same lines. A close-clipped black moustache ornamented his upper lip. His chin was square and strong with character. The cut of his clothing was conspicuously neither English nor Continental.
"I don't know you, sir," Lanyard continued slowly, puzzled to account for a feeling of familiarity with this person, whom he could have sworn he had never met before.
"But you won't let your friends here outdo you in civility, I trust?"
"If you mean you want me to unmask, I won't," the other returned brusquely, in fair French but with a decided transatlantic intonation.
"Native-born, if it interests you."
"Have I ever met you before?"
"You have not."
"My dear Count," Lanyard said, turning to De Morbihan, "do me the favour to introduce this gentleman."
"Your dear Count will do nothing like that, Mr. Lanyard. If you need a name to call me by, Smith's good enough."
The incisive force of his enunciation assorted consistently with the general habit of the man. Lanyard recognized a nature no more pliable than his own. Idle to waste time bickering with this one....
"It doesn't matter," he said shortly; and drawing back a chair, sat down. "If it did, I should insist—or else decline the honour of receiving the addresses of this cosmopolitan committee. Truly, messieurs, you flatter me. Here we have Mr. Wertheimer, representing the swell-mobsmen across Channel; Monsieur le Comte standing for the gratin of Paris; Popinot, spokesman for our friends the Apaches; and the well-known Mr. Goodenough Smith, ambassador of the gun-men of New York—no doubt. I presume one is to understand you wait upon me as representing the fine flower of the European underworld?"
"You're to understand that I, for one, don't relish your impudence," the stout Popinot snapped.
"Sorry.... But I have already indicated my inability to take you seriously."
"Why not?" the American demanded ominously. "You'd be sore enough if we took you as a joke, wouldn't you?"
"You misapprehend, Mr.—ah—Smith: it is my first aim and wish that you do not take me in any manner, shape or form. It is you, remember, who requested this interview and—er—dressed your parts so strikingly!"
"What are we to understand by that?" De Morbihan interposed.
"This, messieurs—if you must know." Lanyard dropped for the moment his tone of raillery and bent forward, emphasizing his points by tapping the table with a forefinger. "Through some oversight of mine or cleverness of yours—I can't say which—perhaps both—you have succeeded in penetrating my secret. What then? You become envious of my success. In short, I stand in your light: I'm always getting away with something you might have lifted if you'd only had wit enough to think of it first. As your American accomplice, Mr. Mysterious Smith, would say, I 'cramp your style.'"
"You learned that on Broadway," the American commented shrewdly.
"Possibly.... To continue: so you get together, and bite your nails until you concoct a plan to frighten me into my profits. I've no doubt you're prepared to allow me to retain one-half the proceeds of my operations, should I elect to ally myself with you?"
"That's the suggestion we are empowered to make," De Morbihan admitted.
"In other words, you need me. You say to yourselves: 'We'll pretend to be the head of a criminal syndicate, such as the silly novelists are forever writing about, and we'll threaten to put him out of business unless he comes to our terms.' But you overlook one important fact: that you are not mentally equipped to get away with this amusing impersonation! What! Do you expect me to accept you as leading spirits of a gigantic criminal system—you, Popinot, who live by standing between the police and your murderous rats of Belleville, or you, Wertheimer, sneak-thief and black-mailer of timid women, or you, De Morbihan, because you eke out your income by showing a handful of second-storey men where to seek plunder in the homes of your friends!"
He made a gesture of impatience, and lounged back to wait the answer to this indictment. His gaze, ranging the four faces, encountered but one that was not darkly flushed with resentment; and this was the American's.
"Aren't you overlooking me?" this last suggested gently.
"On the contrary: I refuse to recognize you as long as you lack courage to show your face."
"As you will, my friend," the American chuckled. "Make your profit out of that any way you like."
Lanyard sat up again: "Well, I've stated your case, messieurs. It amounts to simple, clumsy blackmail. I'm to split my earnings with you, or you'll denounce me to the police. That's about it, isn't it?"
"Not of necessity," De Morbihan softly purred, twisting his moustache.
"For my part," Popinot declared hotly, "I engage that Monsieur of the High Hand, here, will either work with us or conduct no more operations in Paris."
"Or in New York," the American amended.
"England is yet to be heard from," Lanyard suggested mockingly.
To this Wertheimer replied, almost with diffidence: "If you ask me, I don't think you'd find it so jolly pleasant over there, if you mean to cut up nasty at this end."
"Then what am I to infer? If you're afraid to lay an information against me—and it wouldn't be wise, I admit—you'll merely cause me to be assassinated, eh?"
"Not of necessity," the Count murmured in the same thoughtful tone and manner—as one holding a hidden trump.
"There are so many ways of arranging these matters," Wertheimer ventured.
"None the less, if I refuse, you declare war?"
"Something like that," the American admitted.
"In that case—I am now able to state my position definitely." Lanyard got up and grinned provokingly down at the group. "You can—all four of you—go plumb to hell!"
"My dear friend!" the Count cried, shocked—"you forget—"
"I forget nothing!" Lanyard cut in coldly—"and my decision is final. Consider yourselves at liberty to go ahead and do your damnedest! But don't forget that it is you who are the aggressors. Already you've had the insolence to interfere with my arrangements: you began offensive operations before you declared war. So now if you're hit beneath the belt, you mustn't complain: you've asked for it!"
"Now just what do you mean by that?" the American drawled ironically.
"I leave you to figure it out for yourselves. But I will say this: I confidently expect you to decide to live and let live, and shall be sorry, as you'll certainly be sorry, if you force my hand."
He opened the door, turned, and saluted them with sarcastic punctilio.
"I have the honour to bid adieu to Messieurs the Council of—'The Pack'!"
Having fulfilled his purpose of making himself acquainted with the personnel of the opposition, Lanyard slammed the door in its face, thrust his hands in his pockets, and sauntered down stairs, chuckling, his nose in the air, on the best of terms with himself.
True, the fat was in the fire and well a-blaze: he had to look to himself now, and go warily in the shadow of their enmity. But it was something to have faced down those four, and he wasn't seriously impressed by any one of them.
Popinot, perhaps, was the most dangerous in Lanyard's esteem; a vindictive animal, that Popinot; and the creatures he controlled, a murderous lot, drug-ridden, drink bedevilled, vicious little rats of Belleville, who'd knife a man for the price of an absinthe. But Popinot wouldn't move without leave from De Morbihan, and unless Lanyard's calculations were seriously miscast, De Morbihan would restrain both himself and his associates until thoroughly convinced Lanyard was impregnable against every form of persuasion. Murder was something a bit out of De Morbihan's line—something, at least, which he might be counted on to hold in reserve. And by the time he was ready to employ it, Lanyard would be well beyond his reach. Wertheimer, too, would deprecate violence until all else failed; his half-caste type was as cowardly as it was blackguard; and cowards kill only impulsively, before they've had time to weigh consequences. There remained "Smith," enigma; a man apparently gifted with both intelligence and character.... But if so, what the deuce was he doing in such company?
Still, there he was: and the association damned him beyond consideration. His sorts were all of a piece, beneath the consideration of men of spirit....
At this point, the self-complacence bred of his contempt for Messrs. de Morbihan et Cie. bred in its turn a thought that brought the adventurer up standing.
The devil! Who was he, Michael Lanyard, that held himself above such vermin, yet lived in such a way as practically to invite their advances? What right was his to resent their opening the door to confraternity, as long as he trod paths so closely parallel to theirs that only a sophist might discriminate them? What comforting distinction was to be drawn between on the one hand a blackmailer like Wertheimer, a chevalier-d'industrie like De Morbihan, or a patron of Apaches like Popinot, and on the other himself whose bread was eaten in the sweat of thievery?
He drew a long face; whistled softly; shook his head; and smiled a wry smile.
"Glad I didn't think of that two minutes ago, or I'd never have had the cheek..."
Without warning, incongruously and, in his understanding, inexplicably, he found himself beset by recurrent memory of the girl, Lucia Bannon.
For an instant he saw her again, quite vividly, as last he had seen her: turning at the door of her bed-chamber to look back at him, a vision of perturbing charm in her rose-silk dressing-gown, with rich hair loosened, cheeks softly glowing, eyes brilliant with an emotion illegible to her one beholder....
What had been the message of those eyes, flashed down the dimly lighted length of that corridor at Troyon's, ere she vanished?
Adieu? Or au revoir? ...
She had termed him, naively enough, and a gentleman.
But if she knew—suspected—even dreamed—that he was what he was?...
He shook his head again, but now impatiently, with a scowl and a grumble:
"What's the matter with me anyway? Mooning over a girl I never saw before to-night! As if it matters a whoop in Hepsidam what she thinks!... Or is it possible I'm beginning to develop a rudimentary conscience, at this late day? Me!..."
If there were anything in this hypothesis, the growing-pains of that late-blooming conscience were soon enough numbed by the hypnotic spell of clattering chips, an ivory ball singing in an ebony race, and croaking croupiers.
For Lanyard's chair at the table of chemin-de-fer had been filled by another and, too impatient to wait a vacancy, he wandered on to the salon dedicated to roulette, tested his luck by staking a note of five hundred francs on the black, won, and incontinently subsided into a chair and an oblivion that endured for the space of three-quarters of an hour.
At the end of that period he found himself minus his heavy winnings at chemin-de-fer and ten thousand francs of his reserve fund to boot.
By way of lining for his pockets there remained precisely the sum which he had brought into Paris that same evening, less subsequent general disbursements.
The experience was nothing novel in his history. He rose less resentful than regretful that his ill-luck obliged him to quit just when play was most interesting, and resignedly sought the cloak-room for his coat and hat.
And there he found De Morbihan—again!—standing all garmented for the street, mouthing a huge cigar and wearing a look of impatient discontent.
"At last!" he cried in an aggrieved tone as Lanyard appeared in the offing. "You do take your time, my friend!"
Lanyard smothered with a smile whatever emotion was his of the moment.
"I didn't imagine you really meant to wait for me," he parried with double meaning, both to humour De Morbihan and hoodwink the attendant.
"What do you think?" retorted the Count with asperity—"that I'm willing to stand by and let you moon round Paris at this hour of the morning, hunting for a taxicab that isn't to be found and running God-knows-what risk of being stuck up by some misbegotten Apache? But I should say not! I mean to take you home in my car, though it cost me a half-hour of beauty sleep not lightly to be forfeited at my age!"
The significance that underlay the semi-humourous petulance of the little man was not wasted.
"You're most amiable, Monsieur le Comte!" Lanyard observed thoughtfully, while the attendant produced his hat and coat. "So now, if you're ready, I won't delay you longer."
In another moment they were outside the club-house, its doors shut behind them, while before them, at the curb, waited that same handsome black limousine which had brought the adventurer from L'Abbaye.
Two swift glances, right and left, showed him an empty street, bare of hint of danger.
"One moment, monsieur!" he said, detaining the Count with a touch on his sleeve. "It's only right that I should advise you ... I'm armed."
"Then you're less foolhardy than one feared. If such things interest you, I don't mind admitting I carry a life-preserver of my own. But what of that? Is one eager to go shooting at this time of night, for the sheer fun of explaining to sergents de ville that one has been attacked by Apaches? ... Providing always one lives to explain!"
"It's as bad as that, eh?"
"Enough to make me loath to linger at your side in a lighted doorway!"
Lanyard laughed in his own discomfiture. "Monsieur le Comte," said he, "there's a dash in you of what your American pal, Mysterious Smith, would call sporting blood, that commands my unstinted admiration. I thank you for your offered courtesy, and beg leave to accept."
De Morbihan replied with a grunt of none too civil intonation, instructed the chauffeur "To Troyon's," and followed Lanyard into the car.
"Courtesy!" he repeated, settling himself with a shake. "That makes nothing. If I regarded my own inclinations, I'd let you go to the devil as quick as Popinot's assassins could send you there!"
"This is delightful!" Lanyard protested. "First you must see me home to save my life, and then you tell me your inclinations consign me to a premature grave. Is there an explanation, possibly?"
"On your person," said the Count, sententious.
"You carry your reason with you, my friend—in the shape of the Omber loot."
"Assuming you are right—"
"You never went to the rue du Bac, monsieur, without those jewels: and I have had you under observation ever since."
"What conceivable interest," Lanyard pursued evenly, "do you fancy you've got in the said loot?"
"Enough, at least, to render me unwilling to kiss it adieu by leaving you to the mercies of Popinot. You don't imagine I'd ever hear of it again, when his Apaches had finished with you?"
"Ah!... So, after all, your so-called organization isn't founded on that reciprocal trust so essential to the prosperity of such—enterprises!"
"Amuse yourself as you will with your inferences, my friend," the Count returned, unruffled; "but don't forget my advice: pull wide of Popinot!"
"A vindictive soul, eh?"
"One may say that."
"You can't hold him?"
"That one? No fear! You were anything but wise to bait him as you did."
"Perhaps. It's purely a matter of taste in associates."
"If I were the fool you think me," mused the Count "I'd resent that innuendo. As it happens, I'm not. At least, I can wait before calling you to account."
"And meantime profit by your patience?"
"But naturally. Haven't I said as much?"
"Still, I'm perplexed. I can't imagine how you reckon to declare yourself in on the Omber loot."
"All in good time: if you were wise, you'd hand the stuff over to me here and now, and accept what I chose to give you in return. But inasmuch as you're the least wise of men, you must have your lesson."
"The night brings counsel: you'll have time to think things over. By to-morrow you'll be coming to offer me those jewels in exchange for what influence I have in certain quarters."
"With your famous friend, the Chief of the Surete, eh?"
"Possibly. I am known also at La Tour Pointue."
"I confess I don't follow you, unless you mean to turn informer."
"It's a riddle, then?"
"For the moment only.... But I will say this: it will be futile, your attempting to escape Paris; Popinot has already picketted every outlet. Your one hope resides in me; and I shall be at home to you until midnight to-morrow—to-day, rather."
Impressed in spite of himself, Lanyard stared. But the Count maintained an imperturbable manner, looking straight ahead. Such calm assurance would hardly be sheer bluff.
"I must think this over," Lanyard mused aloud.
"Pray don't let me hinder you," the Count begged with mild sarcasm. "I have my own futile thoughts...."
Lanyard laughed quietly and subsided into a reverie which, undisturbed by De Morbihan, endured throughout the brief remainder of their drive; for, thanks to the smallness of the hour, the streets were practically deserted and offered no obstacle to speed; while the chauffeur was doubtless eager for his bed.
As they drew near Troyon's, however, Lanyard sat up and jealously reconnoitered both sides of the way.
"Surely you don't expect to be kept out?" the Count asked dryly. "But that just shows how little you appreciate our good Popinot. He'll never object to your locking yourself up where he knows he can find you—but only to your leaving without permission!"
"Something in that, perhaps. Still, I make it a rule to give myself the benefit of every doubt."
There was, indeed, no sign of ambush that he could detect in any quarter, nor any indication that Popinot's Apaches were posted thereabouts. Nevertheless, Lanyard produced his automatic and freed the safety-catch before opening the door.
"A thousand thanks, my dear Count!"
"For what? Doing myself a service? But you make me feel ashamed!"
"I know," agreed Lanyard, depreciatory; "but that's the way I am—a little devil—you really can't trust me! Adieu, Monsieur le Comte."
"Au revoir, monsieur!"
Lanyard saw the car round the corner before turning to the entrance of Troyon's, keeping his weather-eye alert the while. But when the car was gone, the street seemed quite deserted and as soundless as though it had been the thoroughfare of some remote village rather than an artery of the pulsing old heart of Paris.
Yet he wasn't satisfied. He was as little susceptible to psychic admonition as any sane and normal human organism, but he was just then strongly oppressed by intuitive perception that there was something radically amiss in his neighbourhood. Whether or not the result of the Count's open intimations and veiled hints working upon a nature sensitized by excitement and fatigue, he felt as though he had stepped from the cab into an atmosphere impregnated to saturation with nameless menace. And he even shivered a bit, perhaps because of the chill in that air of early morning, perhaps because a shadow of premonition had fallen athwart his soul....
Whatever its cause, he could find no reason for this; and shaking himself impatiently, pressed a button that rang a bell by the ear of the concierge, heard the latch click, thrust the door wide, and re-entered Troyon's.
Here reigned a silence even more marked than that of the street, a silence as heavy and profound as the grave's, so that sheer instinct prompted Lanyard to tread lightly as he made his way down the passage and across the courtyard toward the stairway; and in that hush the creak of a greaseless hinge, when the concierge opened the door of his quarters to identify this belated guest, seemed little less than a profanity.
Lanyard paused and delved into his pockets, nodding genially to the blowsy, sleepy old face beneath the guardian's nightcap.
"Sorry to disturb monsieur," he said politely, further impoverishing himself in the sum of five francs in witness to the sincerity of his regret.
"I thank monsieur; but what need to consider me? It's my duty. And what is one interruption more or less? All night they come and go...."
"Good night, monsieur," Lanyard cut short the old man's garrulity; and went on up the stairs, now a little wearily, of a sudden newly conscious of his vast and enervating fatigue.
He thought longingly of bed, yawned involuntarily and, reaching his door, fumbled the key in a most unprofessional way; there were weights upon his eyelids, a heaviness in his brain....
But the key met with no resistance from the wards; and in a trice, appreciating this fact, Lanyard was wide-awake again.
No question but that he had locked the door securely, on leaving after his adventure with the charming somnambulist....
Had she, then, taken a whim to his room?
Or was this but proof of what he had anticipated in the beginning—a bit of sleuthing on the part of Roddy?
He entertained little doubt as to the correctness of this latter surmise, as he threw the door open and stepped into the room, his first action being to grasp the electric switch and twist it smartly.
But no light answered.
"Hello!" he exclaimed softly, remembering that the lights could readily have been turned off at the bulbs. "What's the good of that?"
In the same breath he started violently, and swung about.
The door had closed behind him, swiftly but gently, eclipsing the faint light from the hall, leaving what amounted to stark darkness.
His first impression was that the intruder—Roddy or whoever—had darted past him and out, pulling the door to in that act.
Before he could consciously revise this misconception he was fighting for his life.
So unexpected, so swift and sudden fell the assault, that he was caught completely off guard: between the shutting of the door and an onslaught whose violence sent him reeling to the wall, the elapsed time could have been measured by the fluttering of an eyelash.
And then two powerful arms were round him, pinioning his hands to his sides, his feet were tripped up, and he was thrown with a force that fairly jarred his teeth, half-stunning him.
For a breath he lay dazed, struggling feebly; not long, but long enough to enable his antagonist to shift his hold and climb on top of his body, where he squatted, bearing down heavily with a knee on either of Lanyard's forearms, hands encircling his neck, murderous thumbs digging into his windpipe.
He revived momentarily, pulled himself together, and heaved mightily in futile effort to unseat the other.
The sole outcome of this was a tightening pressure on his throat.
The pain grew agonizing; Lanyard's breath was almost completely shut off; he gasped vainly, with a rattling noise in his gullet; his eyeballs started; a myriad coruscant lights danced and interlaced blindingly before them; in his ears there rang a roaring like the voice of heavy surf breaking upon a rock-bound coast.
And of a sudden he ceased to struggle and lay slack, passive in the other's hands.
Only an instant longer was the clutch on his throat maintained. Both hands left it quickly, one shifting to his head to turn and press it roughly cheek to floor. Simultaneously he was aware of the other hand fumbling about his neck, and then of a touch of metal and the sting of a needle driven into the flesh beneath his ear.
That galvanized him; he came to life again in a twinkling, animate with threefold strength and cunning. The man on his chest was thrown off as by a young earthquake; and Lanyard's right arm was no sooner free than it shot out with blind but deadly accuracy to the point of his assailant's jaw. A click of teeth was followed by a sickish grunt as the man lurched over....
Lanyard found himself scrambling to his feet, a bit giddy perhaps, but still sufficiently master of his wits to get his pistol out before making another move.
The thought of Lanyard's pocket flash-lamp offering itself, immediately its wide circle of light enveloped his late antagonist.
That one was resting on a shoulder, legs uncouthly a-sprawl, quite without movement of any perceptible sort; his face more than half-turned to the floor, and masked into the bargain.
Incredulously Lanyard stirred the body with a foot, holding his weapon poised as though half-expecting it to quicken with instant and violent action; but it responded in no way.
With a nod of satisfaction, he shifted the light until it marked down the nearest electric bulb, which proved, in line with his inference, to have been extinguished by the socket key, while the heat of its bulb indicated that the current had been shut off only an instant before his entrance.
The light full up, he went back to the thug, knelt and, lifting the body, turned it upon its back.
Recognition immediately rewarded this manoeuvre: the masked face upturned to the glare was that of the American who had made a fourth in the concert of the Pack—"Mr. Smith," Quickly unlatching the mask, Lanyard removed it; but the countenance thus exposed told little more than he knew; he could have sworn he had never seen it before. None the less, something in its evil cast persistently troubled his memory, with the same provoking and baffling effect that had attended their first encounter.
Already the American was struggling toward consciousness. His lips and eyelids twitched spasmodically, he shuddered, and his flexed muscles began to relax. In this process something fell from between the fingers of his right hand—something small and silver-bright that caught Lanyard's eye.
Picking it up, he examined with interest a small hypodermic syringe loaded to the full capacity of its glass cylinder, plunger drawn back—all ready for instant service.
It was the needle of this instrument that had pricked the skin of Lanyard's neck; beyond reasonable doubt it contained a soporific, if not exactly a killing dose of some narcotic drug—cocaine, at a venture.
So it appeared that this agent of the Pack had been commissioned to put the Lone Wolf to sleep for an hour or two or more—perhaps not permanently!—that he might be out of the way long enough for their occult purposes.
He smiled grimly, fingering the hypodermic and eyeing the prostrate man.
"Turn about," he reflected, "is said to be fair play.... Well, why not?"
He bent forward, dug the needle into the wrist of the American and shot the plunger home, all in a single movement so swift and deft that the drug was delivered before the pain could startle the victim from his coma.
As for that, the man came to quickly enough; but only to have his clearing senses met and dashed by the muzzle of a pistol stamping a cold ring upon his temple.
"Lie perfectly quiet, my dear Mr. Smith," Lanyard advised; "don't speak above a whisper! Give the good dope a chance: it'll only need a moment, or I'm no judge and you're a careless highbinder! I'd like to know, however—if it's all the same to you—"
But already the injection was taking effect; the look of panic, which had drawn the features of the American and flickered from his eyes with dawning appreciation of his plight, was clouding, fading, blending into one of daze and stupour. The eyelids flickered and lay still; the lips moved as if with urgent desire to speak, but were dumb; a long convulsive sigh shook the American's body; and he rested with the immobility of the dead, save for the slow but steady rise and fall of his bosom.
Lanyard thoughtfully reviewed these phenomena.
"Must kick like a mule, that dope!" he reflected. "Lucky it didn't get me before I guessed what was up! If I'd even suspected its strength, however, I'd have been less hasty: I could do with a little information from Mr. Mysterious Stranger here!"
Suddenly conscious of a dry and burning throat, he rose and going to the washstand drank deep and thirstily from a water-bottle; then set himself resolutely to repair the disarray of his wits and consider what was best to be done.
In his abstraction he wandered to a chair over whose back hung a light dressing-gown of wine-coloured silk, which, because it would pack in small compass, was in the habit of carrying with him on his travels. Lanyard had left this thrown across his bed; and he was wondering subconsciously what use the man had thought to make of it, that he should have taken the trouble to shift it to the chair.
But even as he laid hold of it, Lanyard dropped the garment in sheer surprise to find it damp and heavy in his grasp, sodden with viscid moisture. And when, in a swift flash of intuition, he examined his fingers, he discovered them discoloured with a faint reddish stain.
Had the dye run? And how had the American come to dabble the garment in water—to what end?
Then the shape of an object on the floor near his feet arrested Lanyard's questing vision. He stared, incredulous, moved forward, bent over and picked it up, clipping it gingerly between finger-tips.
It was one of his razors—a heavy hollow-ground blade—and it was foul with blood.
With a low cry, smitten with awful understanding, Lanyard wheeled and stared fearfully at the door communicating with Roddy's room.
It stood ajar an inch or two, its splintered lock accounted for by a small but extremely efficient jointed steel jimmy which lay near the threshold.
Beyond the door ... darkness ... silence...
Mustering up all his courage, the adventurer strode determinedly into the adjoining room.
The first flash of his hand-lamp discovered to him sickening verification of his most dreadful apprehensions.
Now he saw why his dressing-gown had been requisitioned—to protect a butcher's clothing.
After a moment he returned, shut the door, and set his back against it, as if to bar out that reeking shambles.
He was very pale, his face drawn with horror; and he was powerfully shaken with nausea.
The plot was damnably patent: Roddy proving a menace to the Pack and requiring elimination, his murder had been decreed as well as that the blame for it should be laid at Lanyard's door. Hence the attempt to drug him, that he might not escape before police could be sent to find him there.
He could no longer doubt that De Morbihan had been left behind at the Circle of Friends of Harmony solely to detain him, if need be, and afford Smith time to finish his hideous job and set the trap for the second victim.
And the plot had succeeded despite its partial failure, despite the swift reverse chance and Lanyard's cunning had meted out to the Pack's agent. It was his dressing-gown that was saturate with Roddy's blood, just as they were his gloves, pilfered from his luggage, which had measurably protected the killer's hands, and which Lanyard had found in the next room, stripped hastily off and thrown to the floor—twin crumpled wads of blood-stained chamois-skin.
He had now little choice; he must either flee Paris and trust to his wits to save him, or else seek De Morbihan and solicit his protection, his boasted influence in high quarters.
But to give himself into the hands, to become an associate, of one who could be party to so cowardly a Crime as this ... Lanyard told himself he would sooner pay the guillotine the penalty....
Consulting his watch, he found the hour to be no later than half-past four: so swiftly (truly treading upon one another's heels) events had moved since the incident of the somnambulist.
This left at his disposal a fair two hours more of darkness: November nights are long and black in Paris; it would hardly be even moderately light before seven o'clock. But that were a respite none too long for Lanyard's necessity; he must think swiftly in contemplation of instant action were he to extricate himself without the Pack's knowledge and consent.
Granted, then, he must fly this stricken field of Paris. But how? De Morbihan had promised that Popinot's creatures would guard every outlet; and Lanyard didn't doubt him. An attempt to escape the city by any ordinary channel would be to invite either denunciation to the police on the charge of murder, or one of those fatally expeditious forms of assassination of which the Apaches are past-masters.
He must and would find another way; but his decision was frightfully hampered by lack of ready money; the few odd francs in his pocket were no store for the war-chest demanded by this emergency.
True, he had the Omber jewels; but they were not negotiable—not at least in Paris.
And the Huysman plans?
He pondered briefly the possibilities of the Huysman plans.
In his fretting, pacing softly to and fro, at each turn he passed his dressing-table, and chancing once to observe himself in its mirror, he stopped short, thunderstruck by something he thought to detect in the counterfeit presentment of his countenance, heavy with fatigue as it was, and haggard with contemplation of this appalling contretemps.
And instantly he was back beside the American, studying narrowly the contours of that livid mask. Here, then, was that resemblance which had baffled him; and now that he saw it, he could not deny that it was unflatteringly close: feature for feature the face of the murderer reproduced his face, coarsened perhaps but recognizably a replica of that Michael Lanyard who confronted him every morning in his shaving-glass, almost the only difference residing in the scrubby black moustache that shadowed the American's upper lip.
After all, there was nothing wonderful in this; Lanyard's type was not uncommon; he would never have thought himself a distinguished figure.
Before rising he turned out the pockets of his counterfeit. But this profited him little: the assassin had dressed for action with forethought to evade recognition in event of accident. Lanyard collected only a cheap American watch in a rolled-gold case of a sort manufactured by wholesale, a briquet, a common key that might fit any hotel door, a broken paper of Regie cigarettes, an automatic pistol, a few francs in silver—nothing whatever that would serve as a mark of identification; for though the grey clothing was tailor-made, the maker's labels had been ripped out of its pockets, while the man's linen and underwear alike lacked even a laundry's hieroglyphic.
With this harvest of nothing for his pains, Lanyard turned again to the wash-stand and his shaving kit, mixed a stiff lather, stropped another razor to the finest edge he could manage, fetched a pair of keen scissors from his dressing-case, and went back to the murderer.
He worked rapidly, at a high pitch of excitement—as much through sheer desperation as through any appeal inherent in the scheme either to his common-sense or to his romantic bent.
In two minutes he had stripped the moustache clean away from that stupid, flaccid mask.
Unquestionably the resemblance was now most striking; the American would readily pass for Michael Lanyard.
This much accomplished, he pursued his preparations in feverish haste. In spite of this, he overlooked no detail. In less than twenty minutes he had exchanged clothing with the American in detail, even down to shirts, collars and neckties; had packed in his own pockets the several articles taken from the other, together with the jointed jimmy and a few of his personal effects, and was ready to bid adieu to himself, to that Michael Lanyard whom Paris knew.
The insentient masquerader on the floor had called himself "good-enough Smith"; he must serve now as good-enough Lanyard, at least for the Lone Wolf's purposes; the police at all events would accept him as such. And if the memory of Michael Lanyard must needs wear the stigma of brutal murder, he need not repine in his oblivion, since through this perfunctory decease the Lone Wolf would gain a freedom even greater than before.
The Pack had contrived only to eliminate Michael Lanyard, the amateur of fine paintings; remained the Lone Wolf with not one faculty impaired, but rather with a deadlier purpose to shape his occult courses....
Under the influence of his methodical preparations, his emotions had cooled appreciably, taking on a cast of cold malignant vengefulness.
He who never in all his criminal record had so much as pulled trigger in self-defence, was ready now to shoot to kill with the most cold-blooded intent—given one of three targets; while Popinot's creatures, if they worried him, he meant to exterminate with as little compunction as though they were rats in fact as well as in spirit....
Extinguishing the lights, he stepped quickly to a window and from one edge of its shade looked down into the street.
He was in time to see a stunted human silhouette detach itself from the shadow of a doorway on the opposite walk, move to the curb, and wave an arm—evidently signaling another sentinel on a corner out of Lanyard's range of vision.
Herein was additional proof, if any lacked, that De Morbihan had not exaggerated the disposition of Popinot. This animal in the street, momentarily revealed by the corner light as he darted across to take position by the door, this animal with sickly face and pointed chin, with dirty muffler round its chicken-neck, shoddy coat clothing its sloping shoulders, baggy corduroy trousers flapping round its bony shanks—this was Popinot's, and but one of a thousand differing in no essential save degree of viciousness.
It wasn't possible to guess how thoroughly Popinot had picketed the house, in co-operation with Roddy's murderer, by way of provision against mischance; but the adventurer was satisfied that, in his proper guise as himself, he needed only to open that postern door at the street end of the passage, to feel a knife slip in between his ribs—most probably in his back, beneath the shoulder-blade....
He nodded grimly, moved back from the window, and used the flash-lamp to light him to the door.
Now when Lanyard had locked the door, he told himself that the gruesome peace of those two bed-chambers was ensured, barring mischance, for as long as the drug continued to hold dominion over the American; and he felt justified in reckoning that period apt to be tolerably protracted; while not before noon at earliest would any hotelier who knew his business permit the rest of an Anglo-Saxon guest to be disturbed—lacking, that is, definite instructions to the contrary.
For a full minute after withdrawing the key the adventurer stood at alert attention; but the heavy silence of that sinister old rookery sang in his ears untroubled by any untoward sound....
That wistful shadow of his memories, that cowering Marcel of the so-dead yesterday in acute terror of the hand of Madame Troyon, had never stolen down that corridor more quietly: yet Lanyard had taken not five paces from his door when that other opened, at the far end, and Lucia Bannon stepped out.
He checked then, and shut his teeth upon an involuntary oath: truly it seemed as though this run of the devil's own luck would never end!
Astonishment measurably modified his exasperation.
What had roused the girl out of bed and dressed her for the street at that unholy hour? And why her terror at sight of him?
For that the surprise was no more welcome to her than to him was as patent as the fact that she was prepared to leave the hotel forthwith, enveloped in a business-like Burberry rainproof from her throat to the hem of a tweed walking-skirt, and wearing boots both stout and brown. And at sight of him she paused and instinctively stepped back, groping blindly for the knob of her bed-chamber door; while her eyes, holding to his with an effect of frightened fascination, seemed momentarily to grow more large and dark in her face of abnormal pallor.
But these were illegible evidences, and Lanyard was intent solely on securing her silence before she could betray him and ruin incontinently that grim alibi which he had prepared at such elaborate pains. He moved toward her swiftly, with long and silent strides, a lifted hand enjoining rather than begging her attention, aware as he drew nearer that a curious change was colouring the complexion of her temper: she passed quickly from dread to something oddly like relief, from repulsion to something strangely like welcome; and dropping the hand that had sought the door-knob, in her turn moved quietly to meet him.
He was grateful for this consideration, this tacit indulgence of the wish he had as yet to voice; drew a little hope and comfort from it in an emergency which had surprised him without resource other than to throw himself upon her generosity. And as soon as he could make himself heard in the clear yet concentrated whisper that was a trick of his trade, a whisper inaudible to ears a yard distant from those to which it was pitched, he addressed her in a manner at once peremptory and apologetic.
"If you please, Miss Bannon—not a word, not a whisper!"
She paused and nodded compliance, questioning eyes steadfast to his.
Doubtfully, wondering that she betrayed so little surprise, he pursued as one committed to a forlorn hope:
"It's vitally essential that I leave this hotel without it becoming known. If I may count on you to say nothing—"
She gave him reassurance with a small gesture. "But how?" she breathed in the least of whispers. "The concierge—!"
"Leave that to me—I know another way. I only need a chance—"
"Then won't you take me with you?"
"Eh?" he stammered, dashed.
Her hands moved toward him in a flutter of entreaty: "I too must leave unseen—I must! Take me with you—out of this place—and I promise you no one shall ever know—"
He lacked time to weigh the disadvantages inherent in her proposition; though she offered him a heavy handicap, he had no choice but to accept it without protest.
"Come, then," he told her—"and not a sound—"
She signified assent with another nod; and on this he turned to an adjacent door, opened it gently, whipped out his flash-lamp, and passed through. Without sign of hesitancy, she followed; and like two shadows they dogged the dancing spot-light of the flash-lamp, through a linen-closet and service-room, down a shallow well threaded by a spiral of iron steps and, by way of the long corridor linking the kitchen-offices, to a stout door secured only by huge, old-style bolts of iron.
Thus, in less than two minutes from the instant of their encounter, they stood outside Troyon's back door, facing a cramped, malodorous alley-way—a dark and noisome souvenir of that wild mediaeval Paris whose effacement is an enduring monument to the fame of the good Baron Haussmann.
Now again it was raining, a thick drizzle that settled slowly, lacking little of a fog's opacity; and the faint glimmer from the street lamps of that poorly lighted quarter, reflected by the low-swung clouds, lent Lanyard and the girl little aid as they picked their way cautiously, and always in complete silence, over the rude and slimy cobbles of the foul back way. For the adventurer had pocketed his lamp, lest its beams bring down upon them some prowling creature of Popinot's; though he felt passably sure that the alley had been left unguarded in the confidence that he would never dream of its existence, did he survive to seek escape from Troyon's.
For all its might and its omniscience, Lanyard doubted if the Pack had as yet identified Michael Lanyard with that ill-starred Marcel who once had been as intimate with this forgotten way as any skulking tom of the quarter.
But with the Lone Wolf confidence was never akin to foolhardiness; and if on leaving Troyon's he took the girl's hand without asking permission and quite as a matter-of-course, and drew it through his arm—it was his left arm that he so dedicated to gallantry; his right hand remained unhampered, and never far from the grip of his automatic.
Nor was he altogether confident of his companion. The weight of her hand upon his arm, the fugitive contacts of her shoulder, seemed to him, just then, the most vivid and interesting things in life; the consciousness of her personality at his side was like a shaft of golden light penetrating the darkness of his dilemma. But as minutes passed and their flight was unchallenged, his mood grew dark with doubts and quick with distrust. Reviewing it all, he thought to detect something too damnably adventitious in the way she had nailed him, back there in the corridor of Troyon's. It was a bit too coincidental—"a bit thick!"—like that specious yarn of somnambulism she had told to excuse her presence in his room. Come to examine it, that excuse had been far too clumsy to hoodwink any but a man bewitched by beauty in distress.
Who was she, anyway? And what her interest in him? What had she been after in his room?—this American girl making a first visit to Paris in company with her venerable ruin of a parent? Who, for that matter, was Bannon? If her story of sleep-walking were untrue, then Bannon must have been at the bottom of her essay in espionage—Bannon, the intimate of De Morbihan, and an American even as the murderer of poor Roddy was an American!
Was this singularly casual encounter, then, but a cloak for further surveillance? Had he in his haste and desperation simply played into her hands, when he burdened himself with the care of her?
But it seemed absurd; to think that she... a girl like her, whose every word and gesture was eloquent of gentle birth and training...!
Yet—what had she wanted in his room? Somnambulists are sincere indeed in the indulgence of their failing when they time their expeditions so opportunely—and arm themselves with keys to fit strange doors. Come to think of it, he had been rather willfully blind to that flaw in her excuse.... Again, why should she be up and dressed and so madly bent on leaving Troyon's at half-past four in the morning? Why couldn't she wait for daylight at least? What errand, reasonable duty or design could have roused her out into the night and the storm at that weird hour? He wondered!
And momentarily he grew more jealously heedful of her, critical of every nuance in her bearing. The least trace of added pressure on his arm, the most subtle suggestion that she wasn't entirely indifferent to him or regarded him in any way other than as the chance-found comrade of an hour of trouble, would have served to fix his suspicions. For such, he told himself, would be the first thought of one bent on beguiling—to lead him on by some intimation, the more tenuous and elusive the more provocative, that she found his person not altogether objectionable.
But he failed to detect anything of this nature in her manner.
So, what was one to think? That she was mental enough to appreciate how ruinous to her design would be any such advances? ...
In such perplexity he brought her to the end of the alley and there pulled up for a look round before venturing out into the narrow, dark, and deserted side street that then presented itself.
At this the girl gently disengaged her hand and drew away a pace or two; and when Lanyard had satisfied himself that there were no Apaches in the offing, he turned to see her standing there, just within the mouth of the alley, in a pose of blank indecision.
Conscious of his regard, she turned to his inspection a face touched with a fugitive, uncertain smile.
"Where are we?" she asked.
He named the street; and she shook her head. "That doesn't mean much to me," she confessed; "I'm so strange to Paris, I know only a few of the principal streets. Where is the boulevard St. Germain?"
Lanyard indicated the direction: "Two blocks that way."
"Thank you." She advanced a step or two, but paused again. "Do you know, possibly, just where I could find a taxicab?"
"I'm afraid you won't find any hereabouts at this hour," he replied. "A fiacre, perhaps—with luck: I doubt if there's one disengaged nearer than Montmartre, where business is apt to be more brisk."
"Oh!" she cried in dismay. "I hadn't thought of that.... I thought Paris never went to sleep!"
"Only about three hours earlier than most of the world's capitals.... But perhaps I can advise you—"
"If you would be so kind! Only, I don't like to be a nuisance—"
He smiled deceptively: "Don't worry about that. Where do you wish to go?"
"To the Gare du Nord."
That made him open his eyes. "The Gare du Nord!" he echoed. "But—I beg your pardon—"
"I wish to take the first train for London," the girl informed him calmly.
"You'll have a while to wait," Lanyard suggested. "The first train leaves about half-past eight, and it's now not more than five."
"That can't be helped. I can wait in the station."
He shrugged: that was her own look-out—if she were sincere in asserting that she meant to leave Paris; something which he took the liberty of doubting.
"You can reach it by the Metro," he suggested—"the Underground, you know; there's a station handy—St. Germain des Pres. If you like, I'll show you the way."
Her relief seemed so genuine, he could have almost believed in it. And yet—!
"I shall be very grateful," she murmured.
He took that for whatever worth it might assay, and quietly fell into place beside her; and in a mutual silence—perhaps largely due to her intuitive sense of his bias—they gained the boulevard St. Germain. But here, even as they emerged from the side street, that happened which again upset Lanyard's plans: a belated fiacre hove up out of the mist and ranged alongside, its driver loudly soliciting patronage.
Beneath his breath Lanyard cursed the man liberally, nothing could have been more inopportune; he needed that uncouth conveyance for his own purposes, and if only it had waited until he had piloted the girl to the station of the Metropolitain, he might have had it. Now he must either yield the cab to the girl or—share it with her.... But why not? He could readily drop out at his destination, and bid the driver continue to the Gare du Nord; and the Metro was neither quick nor direct enough for his design—which included getting under cover well before daybreak.
Somewhat sulkily, then, if without betraying his temper, he signalled the cocher, opened the door, and handed the girl in.
"If you don't mind dropping me en route..."
"I shall be very glad," she said ... "anything to repay, even in part, the courtesy you've shown me!"
"Oh, please don't fret about that...."
He gave the driver precise directions, climbed in, and settled himself beside the girl. The whip cracked, the horse sighed, the driver swore; the aged fiacre groaned, stirred with reluctance, crawled wearily off through the thickening drizzle.
Within its body a common restraint held silence like a wall between the two.
The girl sat with face averted, reading through the window what corner signs they passed: rue Bonaparte, rue Jacob, rue des Saints Peres, Quai Malquais, Pont du Carrousel; recognizing at least one landmark in the gloomy arches of the Louvre; vaguely wondering at the inept French taste in nomenclature which had christened that vast, louring, echoing quadrangle the place du Carrousel, unliveliest of public places in her strange Parisian experience.
And in his turn, Lanyard reviewed those well-remembered ways in vast weariness of spirit—disgusted with himself in consciousness that the girl had somehow divined his distrust....
"The Lone Wolf, eh?" he mused bitterly. "Rather, the Cornered Rat—if people only knew! Better still, the Errant—no!—the Arrant Ass!"
They were skirting the Palais Royal when suddenly she turned to him in an impulsive attempt at self-justification.
"What must you be thinking of me, Mr. Lanyard?"
He was startled: "I? Oh, don't consider me, please. It doesn't matter what I think—does it?"
"But you've been so kind; I feel I owe you at least some explanation—"
"Oh, as for that," he countered cheerfully, "I've got a pretty definite notion you're running away from your father."
"Yes. I couldn't stand it any longer—"
She caught herself up in full voice, as though tempted but afraid to say more. He waited briefly before offering encouragement.
"I hope I haven't seemed impertinent...."
Than this impatient negative his pause of invitation evoked no other recognition. She had subsided into her reserve, but—he fancied—not altogether willingly.
Was it, then, possible that he had misjudged her?
"You've friends in London, no doubt?" he ventured.
"I shall manage very well. I shan't be there more than a day or two—till the next steamer sails."
"I see." There had sounded in her tone a finality which signified desire to drop the subject. None the less, he pursued mischievously: "Permit me to wish you bon voyage, Miss Bannon... and to express my regret that circumstances have conspired to change your plans."
She was still eyeing him askance, dubiously, as if weighing the question of his acquaintance with her plans, when the fiacre lumbered from the rue Vivienne into the place de la Bourse, rounded that frowning pile, and drew up on its north side before the blue lights of the all-night telegraph bureau.
"With permission," Lanyard said, unlatching the door, "I'll stop off here. But I'll direct the cocher very carefully to the Gare du Nord. Please don't even tip him—that's my affair. No—not another word of thanks; to have been permitted to be of service—it is a unique pleasure, Miss Bannon. And so, good night!"
With an effect that seemed little less than timid, the girl offered her hand.
"Thank you, Mr. Lanyard," she said in an unsteady voice. "I am sorry—"
But she didn't say what it was she regretted; and Lanyard, standing with bared head in the driving mist, touched her fingers coolly, repeated his farewells, and gave the driver both money and instructions, and watched the cab lurch away before he approached the telegraph bureau....
But the enigma of the girl so deeply intrigued his imagination that it was only with difficulty that he concocted a non-committal telegram to Roddy's friend in the Prefecture—that imposing personage who had watched with the man from Scotland Yard at the platform gates in the Gare du Nord.
It was couched in English, when eventually composed and submitted to the telegraph clerk with a fervent if inaudible prayer that he might be ignorant of the tongue.
"Come at once to my room at Troyon's. Enter via adjoining room prepared for immediate action on important development. Urgent. Roddy."
Whether or not this were Greek to the man behind the wicket, it was accepted with complete indifference—or, rather, with an interest that apparently evaporated on receipt of the fees. Lanyard couldn't see that the clerk favoured him with as much as a curious glance before he turned away to lose himself, to bury his identity finally and forever under the incognito of the Lone Wolf.
He couldn't have rested without taking that one step to compass the arrest of the American assassin; now with luck and prompt action on the part of the Prefecture, he felt sure Roddy would be avenged by Monsieur de Paris.... But it was very well that there should exist no clue whereby the author of that mysterious telegram might be traced....
It was, then, not an ill-pleased Lanyard who slipped oft into the night and the rain; but his exasperation was elaborate when the first object that met his gaze was that wretched fiacre, back in place before the door, Lucia Bannon leaning from its lowered window, the cocher on his box brandishing an importunate whip at the adventurer.
He barely escaped choking on suppressed profanity; and for two sous would have swung on his heel and ignored the girl deliberately. But he didn't dare: close at hand stood a sergent de ville, inquisitive eyes bright beneath the dripping visor of his kepi, keenly welcoming this diversion of a cheerless hour.
With at least outward semblance of resignation, Lanyard approached the window.
"I have been guilty of some stupidity, perhaps?" he enquired with lip-civility that had no echo in his heart. "But I am sorry—"
"The stupidity is mine," the girl interrupted in accents tense with agitation. "Mr. Lanyard, I—I—"
Her voice faltered and broke off in a short, dry sob, and she drew back with an effect of instinctive distaste for public emotion. Lanyard smothered an impulse to demand roughly "Well, what now?" and came closer to the window.
"Something more I can do, Miss Bannon?"
"I don't know.... I've just found it out—I came away so hurriedly I never thought to make sure; but I've no money—not a franc!"
After a little pause he commented helpfully: "That does complicate matters, doesn't it?"
"What am I to do? I can't go back—I won't! Anything rather. You may judge how desperate I am, when I prefer to throw myself on your generosity—and already I've strained your patience—"
"Not much," he interrupted in a soothing voice. "But—half a moment—we must talk this over."
Directing the cocher to drive to the place Pigalle, he reentered the cab, suspicion more than ever rife in his mind. But as far as he could see—with that confounded sergo staring!—there was nothing else for it. He couldn't stand there in the rain forever, gossiping with a girl half-hysterical—or pretending to be.
"You see," she explained when the fiacre was again under way, "I thought I had a hundred-franc note in my pocketbook; and so I have—but the pocketbook's back there, in my room at Troyon's."
"A hundred francs wouldn't see you far toward New York," he observed thoughtfully.
"Oh, I hope you don't think—!"
She drew back into her corner with a little shudder of humiliation.
As if he hadn't noticed, Lanyard turned to the window, leaned out, and redirected the driver sharply: "Impasse Stanislas!"
Immediately the vehicle swerved, rounded a corner, and made back toward the Seine with a celerity which suggested that the stables were on the Rive Gauche.
"Where?" the girl demanded as Lanyard sat back. "Where are you taking me?"
"I'm sorry," Lanyard said with every appearance of sudden contrition; "I acted impulsively—on the assumption of your complete confidence. Which, of course, was unpardonable. But, believe me; you have only to say no and it shall be as you wish."
"But," she persisted impatiently—"you haven't answered me: what is this impasse Stanislas?"
"The address of an artist I know—Solon, the painter. We're going to take possession of his studio in his absence. Don't worry; he won't mind. He is under heavy obligation to me—I've sold several canvasses for him; and when he's away, as now, in the States, he leaves me the keys. It's a sober-minded, steady-paced neighbourhood, where we can rest without misgivings and take our time to think things out."
"But—" the girl began in an odd tone.
"But permit me," he interposed hastily, "to urge the facts of the case upon your consideration."
"Well?" she said in the same tone, as he paused.
"To begin with—I don't doubt you've good reason for running away from your father."
"A very real, a very grave reason," she affirmed quietly.
"And you'd rather not go back—"
"That is out of the question!"—with a restrained passion that almost won his credulity.
"But you've no friends in Paris—?"
"And no money. So it seems, if you're to elude your father, you must find some place to hide pro tem. As for myself, I've not slept in forty-eight hours and must rest before I'll be able to think clearly and plan ahead....And we won't accomplish much riding round forever in this ark. So I offer the only solution I'm capable of advancing, under the circumstances."
"You are quite right," the girl agreed after a moment. "Please don't think me unappreciative. Indeed, it makes me very unhappy to think I know no way to make amends for your trouble."
"There may be a way," Lanyard informed her quietly; "but we'll not discuss that until we've rested up a bit."
"I shall be only too glad—" she began, but fell silent and, in a silence that seemed almost apprehensive, eyed him speculatively throughout the remainder of the journey.
It wasn't a long one; in the course of the next ten minutes they drew up at the end of a shallow pocket of a street, a scant half-block in depth; where alighting, Lanyard helped the girl out, paid and dismissed the cocher, and turned to an iron gate in a high stone wall crowned with spikes.
The grille-work of that gate afforded glimpses of a small, dark garden and a little house of two storeys. Blank walls of old tenements shouldered both house and garden on either side.
Unlocking the gate, Lanyard refastened it very carefully, repeated the business at the front door of the house, and when they were securely locked and bolted within a dark reception-hall, turned on the electric light.
But he granted the girl little more than time for a fugitive survey of this ante-room to an establishment of unique artistic character.
"These are living-rooms, downstairs here," he explained hurriedly. "Solon's unmarried, and lives quite alone—his studio-devil and femme-de-menage come in by the day only—and so he avoids that pest a concierge. With your permission, I'll assign you to the studio—up here."
And leading the way up a narrow flight of steps, he made a light in the huge room that was the upper storey.
"I believe you'll be comfortable," he said—"that divan yonder is as easy a couch as one could wish—and there's this door you can lock at the head of the staircase; while I, of course, will be on guard below.... And now, Miss Bannon... unless there's something more I can do—?"
The girl answered with a wan smile and a little broken sigh. Almost involuntarily, in the heaviness of her fatigue, she had surrendered to the hospitable arms of a huge lounge-chair.
Her weary glance ranged the luxuriously appointed studio and returned to Lanyard's face; and while he waited he fancied something moving in those wistful eyes, so deeply shadowed with distress, perplexity, and fatigue.
"I'm very tired indeed," she confessed—"more than I guessed. But I'm sure I shall be comfortable.... And I count myself very fortunate, Mr. Lanyard. You've been more kind than I deserved. Without you, I don't like to think what might have become of me...."
"Please don't!" he pleaded and, suddenly discountenanced by consciousness of his duplicity, turned to the stairs. "Good night, Miss Bannon," he mumbled; and was half-way down before he heard his valediction faintly echoed.
As he gained the lower floor, the door was closed at the top of the stairs and its bolt shot home with a soft thud.
But turning to lock the lower door, he stayed his hand in transient indecision.
"Damn it!" he growled uneasily—"there can't be any harm in that girl! Impossible for eyes like hers to lie!... And yet ... And yet!... Oh, what's the matter with me? Am I losing my grip? Why stick at ordinary precaution against treachery on the part of a woman who's nothing to me and of whom I know nothing that isn't conspicuously questionable?... All because of a pretty face and an appealing manner!"
And so he secured that door, if very quietly; and having pocketed the key and made the round of doors and windows, examining their locks, he stumbled heavily into the bedroom of his friend the artist.
Darkness overwhelmed him then: he was stricken down by sleep as an ox falls under the pole.
It was late afternoon when Lanyard wakened from sleep so deep and dreamless that nothing could have induced it less potent than sheer systemic exhaustion, at once nervous, muscular and mental.
A profound and stifling lethargy benumbed his senses. There was stupor in his brain, and all his limbs ached dully. He opened dazed eyes upon blank darkness. In his ears a vast silence pulsed.
And in that strange moment of awakening he was conscious of no individuality: it was, for the time, as if he had passed in slumber from one existence to another, sloughing en passant all his three-fold personality as Marcel Troyon, Michael Lanyard, and the Lone Wolf. Had any one of these names been uttered in his hearing just then it would have meant nothing to him—or little more than nothing: he was for the time being merely himself, a shell of sensations enclosing dull embers of vitality.
For several minutes he lay without moving, curiously intrigued by this riddle of identity: it was but slowly that his mind, like a blind hand groping round a dark chamber, picked up the filaments of memory.
One by one the connections were renewed, the circuits closed....
But, singularly enough in his understanding, his first thought was of the girl upstairs in the studio, unconsciously his prisoner and hostage—rather than of himself, who lay there, heavy with loss of sleep, languidly trying to realize himself.
For he was no more as he had been. Wherein the difference lay he couldn't say, but that a difference existed he was persuaded—that he had changed, that some strange reaction in the chemistry of his nature had taken place during slumber. It was as if sleep had not only repaired the ravages of fatigue upon the tissues of his brain and body, but had mended the tissues of his soul as well. His thoughts were fluent in fresh channels, his interests no longer the interests of the Michael Lanyard he had known, no longer self-centred, the interests of the absolute ego. He was concerned less for himself, even now when he should be most gravely so, than for another, for the girl Lucia Bannon, who was nothing to him, whom he had yet to know for twenty-four hours, but of whom he could not cease to think if he would.
It was her plight that perturbed him, from which he sought an outlet—never his own.
Yet his own was desperate enough....
Baffled and uneasy, he at length bethought him of his watch. But its testimony seemed incredible: surely the hour could not be five in the afternoon!—surely he could not have slept so close upon a full round of the clock!
And if it were so, what of the girl? Had she, too, so sorely needed sleep that the brief November day had dawned and waned without her knowledge?
That question was one to rouse him: in an instant he was up and groping his way through the gloom that enshrouded bed-chamber and dining-room to the staircase door in the hall. He found this fast enough, its key still safe in his pocket, and unlocking it quietly, shot the beam of his flash-lamp up that dark well to the door at the top; which was tight shut.
For several moments he attended to a taciturn silence broken by never a sound to indicate that he wasn't a lonely tenant of the little dwelling, then irresolutely lifted a foot to the first step—and withdrew it. If she continued to sleep, why disturb her? He had much to do in the way of thinking things out; and that was a process more easily performed in solitude.
Leaving the door ajar, then, he turned to one of the front windows, parted its draperies, and peered out, over the little garden and through the iron ribs of the gate, to the street, where a single gas-lamp, glimmering within a dull golden halo of mist, made visible the scant length of the impasse Stanislas, empty, rain-swept, desolate.
The rain persisted with no hint of failing purpose....
Something in the dreary emptiness of that brief vista deepened the shadow in his mood and knitted a careworn frown into his brows.
Abstractedly he sought the kitchen and, making a light, washed up at the tap, then foraged for breakfast. Persistence turned up a spirit-stove, a half-bottle of methylated, a packet of tea, a tin or two of biscuit, as many more of potted meats: left-overs from the artist's stock, dismally scant and uninviting in array. With these he made the discovery that he was half-famished, and found no reason to believe that the girl would be in any better case. An expedition to the nearest charcuterie was indicated; but after he had searched for and found an old raincoat of Solon's, Lanyard decided against leaving the girl alone. Pending her appearance, he filled the spirit-stove, put the kettle on to boil, and lighting a cigarette, sat himself down to watch the pot and excogitate his several problems.
In a fashion uncommonly clear-headed, even for him, he assembled all the facts bearing upon their predicament, his and Lucia Bannon's, jointly and individually, and dispassionately pondered them....
But insensibly his thoughts reverted to their exotic phase of his awakening, drifting into such introspection as he seldom indulged, and led him far from the immediate riddle, by strange ways to a revelation altogether unpresaged and a resolve still more revolutionary.
A look of wonder flickered in his brooding eyes; and clipped between two fingers, his cigarette grew a long ash, let it fall, and burned down to a stump so short that the coal almost scorched his flesh. He dropped it and crushed out the fire with his heel, all unwittingly.
Slowly but irresistibly his world was turning over beneath his feet....
The sound of a footfall recalled him as from an immeasurable remove; he looked up to see Lucia at pause upon the threshold, and rose slowly, with effort recollecting himself and marshalling his wits against the emergency foreshadowed by her attitude.
Tense with indignation, quick with disdain, she demanded, without any preface whatever: "Why did you lock me in?"
He stammered unhappily: "I beg your pardon—"
"Why did you lock me in?"
"Why did you—"
But she interrupted herself to stamp her foot emphatically; and he caught her up on the echo of that:
"If you must know, because I wasn't trusting you."
Her eyes darkened ominously: "Yet you insisted I should trust you!"
"The circumstances aren't parallel: you're not a notorious malefactor, wanted by the police of every capital in Europe, hounded by rivals to boot—fighting for life, liberty and"—he laughed shortly—"the pursuit of happiness!"
She caught her breath sharply—whether with dismay or mere surprise at his frankness he couldn't tell.
"Are you?" she demanded quickly.
"Am I what?"
"What you've just said—"
"A crook—and all that? Miss Bannon, you know it!"
"The Lone Wolf?"
"You've known it all along. De Morbihan told you—or else your father. Or, it may be, you were shrewd enough to guess it from De Morbihan's bragging in the restaurant. At all events, it's plain enough, nothing but desire to find proof to identify me with the Lone Wolf took you to my room last night—whether for your personal satisfaction or at the instigation of Bannon—just as nothing less than disgust with what was going on made you run away from such intolerable associations.... Though, at that, I don't believe you even guessed how unspeakably vicious those were!"
He paused and waited, anticipating furious denial or refutation; such would, indeed, have been the logical development of the temper in which she had come down to confront him.
Rather than this, she seemed calmed and sobered by his charge; far from resenting it, disposed to concede its justice; anger deserted her expression, leaving it intent and grave. She came quietly into the room and faced him squarely across the table.
"You thought all that of me—that I was capable of spying on you—yet were generous enough to believe I despised myself for doing it?"
"Not at first.... At first, when we met back there in the corridor, I was sure you were bent on further spying. Only since waking up here, half an hour ago, did I begin to understand how impossible it would be for you to lend yourself to such villainy as last night's."
"But if you thought that of me then, why did you—?"
"It occurred to me that it would be just as well to prevent your reporting back to headquarters."
"But now you've changed your mind about me?"
He nodded: "Quite."
"But why?" she demanded in a voice of amazement. "Why?"
"I can't tell you," he said slowly—"I don't know why. I can only presume it must be because—I can't help believing in you."