"What's your name? No—don't answer! I saw your eyes waver, and I'm not interested in a makeshift alias. But it's the stock question, you know.... Do you care for a cigar?"
She opened a mahogany humidor on the desk.
"Right—according to Hoyle: the criminal always refuses to smoke in these scenes. But let's forget the book and write our own lines. I'll ask you an original question: Why were you acting just now?"
"Acting?" Lanyard repeated, intrigued by the acuteness of this masterful woman's mentality.
"Precisely—pretending you were a common thief. For a moment you actually made me think you afraid of me. But you're neither the one nor the other. How do I know? Because you're unarmed, your voice has changed in the last two minutes to that of a cultivated man, you've stopped cringing and started thinking, and the way you walked across the floor and handled that chair showed how powerfully you're made. If I didn't have this revolver, you could overpower me in an instant—and I'm no weakling, as women go. So—why the acting?"
Studying his captor with narrow interest, Lanyard smiled faintly and shrugged, but made no answer. He could do no more than this—no more than spare for time: the longer he indulged madame in her whim, the better Lucy's chances of scot-free escape. By this time, he reckoned, she would have found her way through the service gate to the street. But he was on edge with unending apprehension of mischance.
"Come, come!" Madame Omber insisted. "You're hardly civil, my man. Answer my question!"
"You don't expect me to—do you?"
"Why not? You owe me at least satisfaction of my curiosity, in return for breaking into my house."
"But if, as you suggest, I am—or was—acting with a purpose, why expect me to give the show away?"
"That's logic. I knew you could think. More's the pity!"
"Pity I can think?"
"Pity you can get your own consent to waste yourself like this. I'm an old woman, and I know men better than most; I can see ability in you. So I say, it's a pity you won't use yourself to better advantage. Don't misunderstand me: this isn't the conventional act; I don't hold with encouraging a fool in his folly. You're a fool, for all your intelligence, and the only cure I can see for you is drastic punishment."
"Meaning the Sante, madame?"
"Quite so. I tell you frankly, when I'm finished lecturing you, off you go to prison."
"If that's the case I don't see I stand to gain much by retailing the history of my life. This seems to be your cue to ring for servants to call the police."
A trace of anger shone in the woman's eyes. "You're right," she said shortly; "I dare say Sidonie isn't asleep yet. I'll get her to telephone while I keep an eye on you."
Bending over the desk, without removing her gaze from the adventurer, his captor groped for, found, and pressed a call-button.
From some remote quarter of the house sounded the grumble of an electric bell.
"Pity you're so brazen," she observed. "Just a little less side, and you'd be a rather engaging person!"
Lanyard made no reply. In fact he wasn't listening.
Under the strain of that suspense, the iron control which had always been his was breaking down—since now it was for another he was concerned. And he wasted no strength trying to enforce it. The stress of his anxiety was both undisguised and undisguisable. Nor did Madame Omber overlook it.
"What's the trouble, eh? Is it that already you hear the cell door clang in your ears?"
As she spoke, Lanyard left his chair with a movement in the execution of which all his wits co-operated, with a spring as lithe and sure and swift as an animal's, that carried him like a shot across the two yards or so between them.
The slightest error in his reckoning would have finished him: for the other had been watching for just such a move, and the revolver was nearly level with Lanyard's head when he grasped it by the barrel, turned that to the ceiling, imprisoned the woman's wrist with his other hand, and in two movements had captured the weapon without injuring its owner.
"Don't be alarmed," he said quietly. "I'm not going to do anything more violent than to put this weapon out of commission."
Breaking it smartly, he shot a shower of cartridges to the door, and tossed the now-useless weapon into a wastebasket beneath the desk.
"Hope I didn't hurt you," he added abstractedly—"but your pistol was in my way!"
He took a stride toward the door, pulled up, and hung in hesitation, frowning absently at the woman; who, without moving, laughed quietly and watched him with a twinkle of malicious diversion.
He repaid this with a stare of thoughtful appraisal; from the first he had recognized in her a character of uncommon tolerance and amiability.
"Pardon, madame, but——" he began abruptly—and checked in constrained appreciation of his impudence.
"If that's permission to interrupt your reverie," Madame Omber remarked, "I don't mind telling you, you're the most extraordinary burglar I ever heard of!"
Footfalls became audible on the staircase—the hasty scuffling of slippered feet.
"Is that you, Sidonie?" madame called.
The voice of the maid replied: "Yes, madame—coming!"
"Well—don't, just yet—not till I call you."
"Very good, madame."
The woman returned complete attention to Lanyard.
"Now, monsieur-of-two-minds, what is it you wish to say to me?"
"Why did you do that?" the adventurer asked, with a jerk of his head toward the hall.
"Tell Sidonie to wait instead of calling for help? Because—well, because you interest me strangely. I've got a theory you're in a desperate quandary and are about to throw yourself on my mercy."
"You are right," Lanyard admitted tersely.
"Ah! Now you do begin to grow interesting! Would you mind explaining why you think I'll be merciful?"
"Because, madame, I've done you a great service, and feel I can count upon your gratitude."
The Frenchwoman's eyebrows lifted at this. "Doubtless, monsieur knows what he's talking about——"
"Listen, madame: I am in love with a young woman, an American, a stranger and friendless in Paris. If anything happens to me tonight, if I am arrested or assassinated——"
"Is that likely?"
"Quite likely, madame: I have enemies among the Apaches, and in my own profession as well; and I have reason to believe that several of them are in this neighbourhood tonight. I may possibly not escape their attentions. In that event, this young lady of whom I speak will need a protector."
"And why must I interest myself in her fate, pray?"
"Because, madame, of this service I have done you ... Recently, in London, you were robbed——"
The woman started and coloured with excitement: "You know something of my jewels?"
"Everything, madame: it was I who stole them."
"You? You are, then, that Lone Wolf?"
"I was, madame."
"Why the past tense?" the woman demanded, eyeing him with a portentous frown.
"Because I am done with thieving."
She threw back her head and laughed, but without mirth: "A likely story, monsieur! Have you reformed since I caught you here——?"
"Does it matter when? I take it that proof, visible, tangible proof of my sincerity, more than a meaningless date, would be needed to convince you."
"No doubt of that, Monsieur the Lone Wolf!"
"Could you ask better proof than the restoration of your stolen property?"
"Are you trying to bribe me to let you off with an offer to return my jewels?"
"I'm afraid emergency reformation wouldn't persuade you——"
"You may well be afraid, monsieur!"
"But if I can prove I've already restored your jewels——?"
"But you have not."
"If madame will do me the favour to open her safe, she will find them there—conspicuously placed."
"Am I wrong in assuming that madame didn't return from England until quite recently?"
"But today, in fact——"
"And you haven't troubled to investigate your safe since returning?"
"It had not occurred to me——"
"Then why not test my statement before denying it?"
With an incredulous shrug Madame Omber terminated a puzzled scrutiny of Lanyard's countenance, and turned to the safe.
"But to have done what you declare you have," she argued, "you must have known the combination—since it appears you haven't broken this open."
The combination ran glibly off Lanyard's tongue. And at this, with every evidence of excitement, at length beginning to hope if not to believe, the woman set herself to open the safe. Within a minute she had succeeded, the morocco-bound jewel-case was in her hand, and a hasty examination had assured her its treasure was intact.
"But why——?" she stammered, pale with emotion—"why, monsieur, why?"
"Because I decided to leave off stealing for a livelihood."
"When did you bring these jewels here?"
"Within the week—four or five nights since——"
"And then—repented, eh?"
"I own it."
"But came here again tonight, to steal a second time what you had stolen once?"
"That's true, too."
"And I interrupted you——"
"Pardon, madame: not you, but my better self. I came to steal—I could not."
"Monsieur—you do not convince. I fail to fathom your motives, but——"
A sudden shock of heavy trampling feet in the reception-hall, accompanied by a clash of excited voices, silenced her and brought Lanyard instantly to the face-about.
Above that loud wrangle—of which neither had received the least warning, so completely had their argument absorbed them—Sidonie's accents were audible:
"Madame—madame!"—a cry of protest.
"What is it?" madame demanded of Lanyard.
He threw her the word "Police!" as he turned and flung himself into the recess of the window.
But when he wrenched it open the voice of a picket on the lawn saluted him in sharp warning; and when, involuntarily, he stepped out upon the balcony, a flash of flame split the gloom below, a loud report rang in the quiet of the park, and a bullet slapped viciously the stone facing of the window.
With as little ceremony as though the bullet had lodged in himself, Lanyard tumbled back into the room, tripped, and fell sprawling; while to a tune of clattering boots two sergents de ville lumbered valiantly into the library and pulled up to discover Madame Omber standing calmly, safe and sound, beside her desk, and Lanyard picking himself up from the floor by the open window.
Behind them Sidonie trotted, wringing her hands.
"Madame!" she bleated—"they wouldn't listen to me, madame—I couldn't stop them!"
"All right, Sidonie. Go back to the hall. I'll call you when needed.... Messieurs, good morning!"
One of the sergents advanced with an uncertain salute and a superfluous question: "Madame Omber——?" The other waited on the threshold, barring the way.
Lanyard measured the two speculatively: the spokesman seemed a bit old and fat, ripe for his pension, little apt to prove seriously effective in a rough-and-tumble; but the other was young, sturdy, and broad-chested, with the poise of an athlete, and carried in addition to his sword a pistol naked in his hand, while his clear blue eyes, meeting the adventurer's, lighted up with a glint of invitation.
For the present, however, Lanyard wasn't taking any. He met that challenge with a look of utter stupidity, folded his arms, lounged against the desk, and watched Madame Omber acknowledge, none too cordially, the other sergent's query.
"I am Madame Omber—yes. What can I do for you?"
The sergent gaped. "Pardon!" he stammered, then laughed as one who tardily appreciates a joke. "It is well we are arrived in time, madame," he added—"though it would seem you have not had great trouble with this miscreant. Where is the woman?"
He moved a pace toward Lanyard: hand-cuffs jingled in his grasp.
"But a moment!" madame interposed. "Woman? What woman?"
Pausing, the older sergent explained in a tone of surprise:
"But his accomplice, naturally! Such were our instructions—to proceed at once to madame's hotel, come in quietly by the servants' entrance— which would be open—and arrest a burglar with his female accomplice."
Again the stout sergent moved toward Lanyard; again Madame Omber stopped him.
"But one moment more, if you please!"
Her eyes, dense with suspicion, questioned Lanyard; who, with a significant nod toward the jewel-case still in her hands, gave her a glance of dumb entreaty.
After brief hesitation, "It is a mistake," madame declared; "there is no woman in this house, to my certain knowledge, who has no right to be here... But you say you received a message? I sent none!"
The fat sergent shrugged. "That is not for me to dispute, madame. I have only my orders to go by."
He glared sullenly at Lanyard; who returned a placid smile that (despite such hope as he might derive from madame's irresolute manner) masked a vast amount of trepidation. He felt tolerably sure Madame Omber had not sent for police on prior knowledge of his presence in the library. All this, then, would seem to indicate a new form of attack on the part of the Pack. He had probably been followed and seen to enter; or else the girl had been caught attempting to steal away and the information wrung from her by force majeure.... Moreover, he could hear two more pair of feet tramping through the salons.
Pending the arrival of these last, Madame Omber said nothing more.
And, unceremoniously enough, the newcomers shouldered into the library—one pompous uniformed body, of otherwise undistinguished appearance, promptly identified by the sergents de ville as monsieur le commissaire of that quarter; the other, a puffy mediocrity, known to Lanyard at least (if apparently to no one else) as Popinot.
At this confirmation of his darkest fears, the adventurer abandoned hope of aid from Madame Omber and began quietly to reckon his chances of escape through his own efforts.
But he was quite unarmed, and the odds were heavy: four against one, all four no doubt under arms, and two at least—the sergents—men of sound military training.
"Madame Omber?" enquired the commissaire, saluting that lady with immense dignity. "One trusts that this intrusion may be pardoned, the circumstances remembered. In an affair of this nature, involving this repository of so historic treasures—"
"That is quite well understood, monsieur le commissaire," madame replied distantly. "And this monsieur is, no doubt, your aide?"
"Pardon!" the official hastened to identify his companion: "Monsieur Popinot, agent de la Surete, who lays these informations!"
With a profound obeisance to Madame Omber, Popinot strode dramatically over to confront Lanyard and explore his features with his small, keen, shifty eyes of a pig; a scrutiny which the adventurer suffered with superficial calm.
"It is he!" Popinot announced with a gesture. "Messieurs, I call upon you to arrest this man, Michael Lanyard, alias 'The Lone Wolf.'"
He stepped back a pace, expanding his chest in vain effort to eclipse his abdomen, and glanced triumphantly at his respectful audience.
"Accused," he added with intense relish, "of the murder of Inspector Roddy of Scotland Yard at Troyon's, as well as of setting fire to that establishment—"
"For this, Popinot," Lanyard interrupted in an undertone, "I shall some day cut off your ears!" He turned to Madame Omber: "Accept, if you please, madame, my sincere regrets ... but this charge happens to be one of which I am altogether innocent."
Instantly, from lounging against the desk, Lanyard straightened up: and the heavy humidor of brass and mahogany, on which his right hand had been resting, seemed fairly to leap from its place as, with a sweep of his arm, he sent it spinning point-blank at the younger sergent.
Before that one, wholly unprepared, could more than gasp, the humidor caught him a blow like a kick just below the breastbone. He reeled, the breath left him in one great gust, he sat down abruptly—blue eyes wide with a look of aggrieved surprise—clapped both hands to his middle, blinked, turned pale, and keeled over on his side.
But Lanyard hadn't waited to note results. He was busy. The fat sergent had leaped snarling upon his arm, and was struggling to hold it still long enough to snap a hand-cuff round the wrist; while the commissaire had started forward with a bellow of rage and two hands extended and itching for the adventurer's throat.
The first received a half-arm jab on the point of his chin that jarred his entire system, and without in the least understanding how it happened, found himself whirled around and laid prostrate in the commissaire's path. The latter tripped, fell, and planted two hard knees, with the bulk of his weight atop them, on the apex of the sergent's paunch.
At the same time Lanyard, leaping toward the doorway, noticed Popinot tugging at something in his hip-pocket.
Followed a vivid flash, then complete darkness: with a well-aimed kick—an elementary movement of la savate—Lanyard had dislocated the switch of the electric lights, knocking its porcelain box from the wall, breaking the connection, and creating a short-circuit which extinguished every light in that part of the house.
With his way thus apparently cleared, the police in confusion, darkness aiding him, Lanyard plunged on; but in mid-stride, as he crossed the threshold, his ankle was caught by the still prostrate younger sergent and jerked from under him.
His momentum threw him with a crash—and may have spared him a worse mishap; for in the same breath he heard the report of a pistol and knew that Popinot had fired at his fugitive shadow.
As he brought one heel down with crushing force on the sergent's wrist, freeing his foot, he was dimly conscious of the voice of the commissaire shouting frantic prayers to cease firing. Then the pain-maddened sergent crawled to his knees, lunged blindly forward, knocked the adventurer back in the act of rising, and fell on top of him.
Hampered by two hundred pounds of fighting Frenchman, Lanyard felt his cause was lost, yet battled on—and would while breath was in him.
With a heave, a twist and a squirm, he slipped from under, and swinging a fist at random barked his knuckles against the mouth of the sergent. Momentarily that one relaxed his hold, and Lanyard struggled to his knees, only to go down as the indomitable Frenchman grappled yet a second time.
Now, however, as they fell, Lanyard was on top: and shifting both hands to his antagonist's left forearm, he wrenched it up and around. There was a cry of pain, and he jumped clear of one no longer to be reckoned with.
Nevertheless, as he had feared, the delay had proved ruinous. He had only found his feet when an unidentified person hurled himself bodily through the gloom and wrapped his arms round Lanyard's thighs. And as both went down, two others piled up on top....
For the next minute or two, Lanyard fought blindly, madly, viciously, striking and kicking at random. For all that—even with one sergent hors de combat—they were three to one; and though with the ferocity of sheer desperation he shook them all off, at one time, and gained a few yards more, it was only again to be overcome and borne down, crushed beneath the weight of three.
His wind was going, his strength was leaving him. He mustered up every ounce of energy, all his wit and courage, for one last effort: fought like a cat, tooth and nail; toiled once more to his knees, with two clinging to him like wolves to the flanks of a stag; shook one off, regained his feet, swayed; and in one final gust of ferocity dashed both fists repeatedly into the face of him who still clung to him.
That one was Popinot; he knew instinctively that this was so; and a grim joy filled him as he felt the man's clutches relax and fall away, and guessed how brutal was the damage he had done that fat, evil face.
At length free, he made off, running, stumbling, reeling: gained the hall; flung open the door; and heedless of the picket who had fired on him from below the window, dashed down the steps and away....
Three shots sped him through that intricate tangle of night-bound park. But all went wide; the pursuit—what little there was—blundered off at hap-hazard and lost itself, as well.
He came to the wall, crept along in shelter of its shadow until he found a tree with a low-swung branch that jutted out over the street, climbed this, edged out over the wall, and dropped to the sidewalk.
A shout from the quarter of the carriage gates greeted his appearance. He turned and ran again. Flying footsteps for a time pursued him; and once, with a sinking heart, he heard the rumble of a motor. But he recovered quickly, regained his wind, and ran well, with long, steady, ground-consuming strides; and he doubled, turned and twisted in a manner to wake the envy of the most subtle fox.
In time he felt warranted in slowing down to a rapid walk.
Weariness was now a heavy burden upon him, and his spirit numb with desperate need of rest; but his pace did not flag, nor his purpose falter from its goal.
It was a long walk if a direct one to which he set himself as soon as confident the pursuit had failed once more. He plodded on, without faltering, to the one place where he might feel sure of finding his beloved, if she lived and were free. He knew that she had not forgotten, and in his heart he knew that she would never again of her own will fail him....
Nor had she: when—weary and spent from that heartbreaking climb up the merciless acclivity of the Butte Montmartre—he staggered rather than walked past the sleepy verger and found his way through the crowding shadows to the softly luminous heart of the basilica of the Sacre-Cour, he found her there, kneeling, her head bowed upon hands resting on the back of the chair before her: a slight and timid figure, lost and lonely in the long ranks of empty chairs that filled the nave.
Slowly, almost fearfully, he went to her, and silently he slipped into the chair by her side.
She knew, without looking up, that it was he....
After a little her hand stole out, closed round his fingers, and drew him forward with a gentle, insistent pressure. He knelt then with her, hand in hand—filled with the wonder of it, that he to whom religion had been nothing should have been brought to this by a woman's hand.
He knelt for a long time, for many minutes, profoundly intrigued, his sombre gaze questioning the golden shadows and ancient mystery of the distant choir and shining altar: and there was no question in his heart but that, whatever should ensue of this, the unquiet spirit of the Lone Wolf was forevermore at rest.
WINGS OF THE MORNING
About half-past six Lanyard left the dressing-room assigned him in the barracks at Port Aviation and, waddling quaintly in the heavy wind-resisting garments supplied him at the instance of Ducroy, made his way between two hangars toward the practice field.
Now the eastern skies were pulsing with fitful promise of the dawn; but within the vast enclosure of the aerodrome the gloom of night lingered so stubbornly that two huge search-lights had been pressed into the service of those engaged in tuning up the motor of the Parrott biplane.
In the intense, white, concentrated glare—that rippled oddly upon the wrinkled, oily garments of the dozen or so mechanics busy about the machine—the under sides of those wide, motionless planes hung against the dark with an effect of impermanence: as though they were already afloat and needed but a breath to send them winging skyward....
To one side a number of young and keen-faced Frenchmen, officers of the corps, were lounging and watching the preparations with alert and intelligent interest.
To the other, all the majesty of Mars was incarnate in the person of Monsieur Ducroy, posing valiantly in fur-lined coat and shining top-hat while he chatted with an officer whose trim, athletic figure was well set off by his aviating uniform.
As Lanyard drew near, this last brought his heels together smartly, saluted the Minister of War, and strode off toward the flying-machine.
"Captain Vauquelin informs me he will be ready to start in five minutes, monsieur," Ducroy announced. "You are in good time."
"And mademoiselle?" the adventurer asked, peering anxiously round.
Almost immediately the girl came forward from the shadows, with a smile apologetic for the strangeness of her attire.
She had donned, over her street dress, an ample leather garment which enveloped her completely, buttoning tight at throat and wrists and ankles. Her small hat had been replaced by a leather helmet which left only her eyes, nose, mouth and chin exposed, and even these were soon to be hidden by a heavy veil for protection against spattering oil.
"Mademoiselle is not nervous?" Ducroy enquired politely.
Lucy smiled brightly.
"I? Why should I be, monsieur?"
"I trust mademoiselle will permit me to commend her courage. But pardon! I have one last word for the ear of Captain Vauquelin."
Lifting his hat, the Frenchman joined the group near the machine.
Lanyard stared unaffectedly at the girl, unable to disguise his wonder at the high spirits advertised by her rekindled colour and brilliant eyes.
"Well?" she demanded gaily. "Don't tell me I don't look like a fright! I know I do!"
"I daren't tell you how you look to me," Lanyard replied soberly. "But I will say this, that for sheer, down right pluck, you—"
"Thank you, monsieur! And you?"
He glanced with a deprecatory smile at the flimsy-looking contrivance to which they were presently to entrust their lives.
"Somehow," said he doubtfully, "I don't feel in the least upset or exhilarated. It seems little out of the average run of life—all in the day's work!"
"I think," she said, judgmatical, "that you're very like the other lone wolf, the fictitious one—Lupin, you know—a bit of a blagueur. If you're not nervous, why keep glancing over there?—as if you were rather expecting somebody—as if you wouldn't be surprised to see Popinot or De Morbihan pop out of the ground—or Ekstrom!"
"Hum!" he said gravely. "I don't mind telling you now, that's precisely what I am afraid of."
"Nonsense!" the girl cried in open contempt. "What could they do?"
"Please don't ask me," Lanyard begged seriously. "I might try to tell you."
"But don't worry, my dear!" Fugitively her hand touched his. "We're ready."
It was true enough: Ducroy was moving impressively back toward them.
"All is prepared," he announced in sonorous accents.
A bit sobered, in silence they approached the machine.
Vauquelin kept himself aloof while Lanyard and a young officer helped the girl to the seat to the right of the pilot, and strapped her in. When Lanyard had been similarly secured in the place on the left, the two sat, imprisoned, some six feet above the ground.
Lanyard found his perch comfortable enough. A broad band of webbing furnished support for his back; another crossed his chest by way of provision against forward pitching; there were rests for his feet, and for his hands cloth-wound grips fixed to struts on either side.
He smiled at Lucy across the empty seat, and was surprised at the clearness with which her answering smile was visible. But he wasn't to see it again for a long and weary time; almost immediately she began to adjust her veil.
The morning had grown much lighter within the last few minutes.
A long wait ensued, during which the swarm of mechanics, assistants and military aviators buzzed round their feet like bees.
The sky was now pale to the western horizon. A fleet of heavy clouds was drifting off into the south, leaving in their wake thin veils of mist that promised soon to disappear before the rays of the sun. The air seemed tolerably clear and not unseasonably cold.
The light grew stronger still: features of distant objects defined themselves; traces of colour warmed the winter landscape.
At length their pilot, wearing his wind-mask, appeared and began to climb to his perch. With a cool nod for Lanyard and a civil bow to his woman passenger, he settled himself, adjusted several levers, and flirted a gay hand to his brother-officers.
There was a warning cry. The crowd dropped back rapidly to either side. Ducroy lifted his hat in parting salute, cried "Bon voyage!" and scuttled clear like a startled rooster before a motor-car. And the motor and propeller broke loose with a mighty roar comparable only, in Lanyard's fancy, to the chant of ten thousand rivetting locusts.
He felt momentarily as if his ear-drums must burst with the incessant and tremendous concussions registered upon them; but presently this sensation passed, leaving him with that of permanent deafness.
Before he could recover and regain control of his startled wits the aviator had thrown down a lever, and the great fabric was in motion.
It swept down the field like a frightened swan; and the wheels of its chassis, registering every infinitesimal irregularity in the surface of the ground, magnified them all a hundred-fold. It was like riding in a tumbril driven at top-speed over the Giant's Causeway. Lanyard was shaken violently to the very marrow of his bones; he believed that even his eyes must be rattling in their sockets....
Then the Parrott began to ascend. Singularly enough, this change was marked, at first, by no more than slight lessening of the vibration: still the machine seemed to be dashing over a cobbled thoroughfare at breakneck speed; and Lanyard found it difficult to appreciate that they were afloat, even when he looked down and discovered a hundred feet of space between himself and the practice-field.
In another breath they were soaring over housetops.
Momentarily, now, the shocks became less frequent. And presently they ceased almost altogether, to be repeated only at rare intervals, when the drift of air opposing the planes developed irregularities in its velocity. There succeeded, in contrast, the sublimest peace; even the roaring of the propeller dwindled to a sustained drone; the biplane seemed to float without an effort upon a vast, still sea, flawed only occasionally by inconsiderable ripples.
Still rising, they surprised the earliest rays of the sun; and in their virgin light the aeroplane was transformed into a thing of gossamer gold.
Continually the air buffeted their faces like a flood of icy water.
Below, the scroll of the world unrolled like some vast and intricately illuminated missal, or like some strange mosaic, marvellously minute....
Lanyard could see the dial of the compass, fixed to a strut on the pilot's left. By that telltale their course lay nearly due northeast. Already the weltering roofs of Paris were in sight, to the right, the Eiffel Tower spearing up like a fairy pillar of gold lace-work, the Seine looping the cluttered acres like a sleek brown serpent, the Sacre-Coeur a dream-palace of opalescent walls.
Versailles broke the horizon to port and slipped astern. Paris closed up, telescoped its panorama, became a mere blur, a smoky smudge. But it was long before the distance eclipsed that admonitory finger of the Eiffel.
Vauquelin manipulating the levers, the plane tilted its nose and swam higher and yet higher. The song of the motor dropped an octave to a richer tone. The speed was sensibly increased.
Lanyard contemplated with untempered wonder the fact of his equanimity: there seemed nothing at all strange in this extraordinary experience; he was by no means excited, remained merely if deeply interested. And he could detect in his physical sensations no trace of that qualmish dread he always experienced in high places: the sense he had of security, of solidity, was and ever remained wholly unaccountable in his understanding.
Of a sudden, surprised by a touch on his arm, he turned to see through the mica windows of the wind-mask the eyes of the aviator informed with importunate doubt. Infinitely mystified and so an easy prey to sickening fear lest something were going wrong with the machine, Lanyard shook his head to indicate lack of comprehension. With an impatient gesture the aviator pointed downward. Appreciating the fact that speech was impossible, Lanyard clutched the struts and bent forward. But the pace was now so fast and their elevation so great that the landscape swimming beneath his vision was no more than a brownish plain fugitively maculated with blots of contrasting colour.
He looked up blankly, but only to be treated to the same gesture.
Piqued, he concentrated attention more closely upon the flat, streaming landscape. And suddenly he recognized something oddly familiar in an approaching bend of the Seine.
"St.-Germain-en-Laye!" he exclaimed with a start of alarm.
This was the danger point....
"And over there," he reminded himself—"to the left—that wide field with a queer white thing in the middle that looks like a winged grub—that must be De Morbiban's aerodrome and his Valkyr monoplane! Are they bringing it out? Is that what Vauquelin means? And if so—what of it? I don't see ..."
Suddenly doubt and wonder chilled the adventurer.
Temporarily Vauquelin returned entire attention to the management of the biplane. The wind was now blowing more fitfully, creating pockets—those holes in the air so dreaded by cloud pilots—and in quest of more constant resistance the aviator was swinging his craft in a wide northerly curve, climbing ever higher and more high.
The earth soon lost all semblance of design; even the twisted silver wire of the Seine vanished, far over to the left; remained only the effect of firm suspension in that high blue vault, of a continuous low of iced water in the face, together with the tuneless chanting of the motor.
After some forty minutes of this—it may have been an hour, for time was then an incalculable thing—Lanyard, in a mood of abnormal sensitiveness, began to divine additional disquiet in the mind of the aviator, and stared until he caught his eye.
"What is it?" he screamed in futile effort to lift his voice above the din.
But the Frenchman understood, and responded with a sweep of his arm toward the horizon ahead. And seeing nothing but cloud in the quarter indicated, Lanyard grasped the nature of a phenomenon which, from the first, had been vaguely troubling him. The reason why he had been able to perceive no real rim to the world was that the earth was all a-steam from the recent heavy rains; all the more remote distances were veiled with rising vapour. And now they were approaching the coast, to which, it seemed, the mists clung closest; for all the world before them slept beneath a blanket of dull grey.
Nor was it difficult now to understand why the aviator was ill at ease facing the prospect of navigating a Channel fog.
Several minutes later, he startled Lanyard with another peremptory touch on his arm followed by a significant glance over his shoulder.
Lanyard turned quickly.
Behind them, at a distance which he calculated roughly as two miles, the silhouette of a monoplane hung against the brilliant firmament, resembling, with its single spread of wings, more a solitary, soaring gull than any man-directed mechanism.
Only an infrequent and almost imperceptible shifting of the wings proved that it was moving.
He watched it for several seconds, in deepening perplexity and anxiety, finding it impossible to guess whether it were gaining or losing in that long chase, or who might be its pilot.
Yet he had little doubt but that the pursuing machine had risen from the aerodrome of Count Remy de Morbihan at St.-Germain-en-Laye; that it was nothing less, in fact, than De Morbihan's Valkyr, reputed the fastest monoplane in Europe and winner of a dozen International events; and that it was guided, if not by De Morbihan himself, by one of the creatures of the Pack—quite possibly, even more probably, by Ekstrom!
But—assuming all this—what evil could such pursuit portend? In what conceivable manner could the Pack reckon to further its ends by commissioning the monoplane to overtake or distance the Parrott? They could not hinder the escape of Lanyard and Lucy Shannon to England in any way, by any means reasonably to be imagined.
Was this simply one more move to keep the pair under espionage? But that might more readily have been accomplished by telegraphing or telephoning the Pack's confreres, Wertheimer's associates in England!
Lanyard gave it up, admitting his inability to trump up any sane excuse for such conduct; but the riddle continued to fret his mind without respite.
From the first, from that moment when Lucy's disappearance had required postponement of this flight, he had feared trouble; it hadn't seemed reasonable to hope that the Parrott could be held in waiting on his convenience for many days without the secret leaking out; but it was trouble to develop before the start from Port Aviation that he had anticipated. The possibility that the Pack would be able to work any mischief to him, after that, had never entered his calculations. Even now he found it difficult to give it serious consideration.
Again he glanced back. Now, in his judgment, the monoplane loomed larger than before against the glowing sky, indicating that it was overtaking them.
Beneath his breath Lanyard swore from a brimming heart.
The Parrott was capable of a speed of eighty miles an hour; and unquestionably Vauquelin was wheedling every ounce of power out of its willing motor. Since drawing Lanyard's attention to the pursuer he had brought about appreciable acceleration.
But would even that pace serve to hold the Valkyr if not to distance it?
His next backward look reckoned the monoplane no nearer.
And another thirty minutes or go elapsed without the relative positions of the two flying machines undergoing any perceptible change.
In the course of this period the Parrott rose to an altitude, indicated by the barograph at Lanyard's elbow, of more than half a mile. Below, the Channel fog spread itself out like a sea of milk, slowly churning.
Staring down in fascination, Lanyard told himself gravely: "Blue water below that, my friend!"
It seemed difficult to credit the fact that they had made the flight from Paris in so short a time.
By his reckoning—a very rough one—the Parrott was then somewhere off Dieppe: it ought to pick up England, in such case, not far from Brighton. If only one could see...!
By bending forward a little and staring past the aviator Lanyard could catch a glimpse of Lucy Shannon.
Though all her beauty and grace of person were lost in the clumsy swaddling of her makeshift costume, she seemed to be comfortable enough; and the rushing air, keen with the chill of that great altitude, moulded her wind-veil precisely to the exquisite contours of her face and stung her firm cheeks until they glowed with a rare fire that even that thick dark mesh could not wholly quench.
The sun crept above the floor of mist, played upon it with iridescent rays, shot it through and through with a warm, pulsating glow like that of a fire opal, and suddenly turned it to a tumbled sea of gold which, apparently boundless, baffled every effort to surmise their position, whether they were above land or sea.
None the less Lanyard's rough and rapid calculations persuaded him that they were then about Mid-Channel.
He had no more than arrived at this conclusion when a sharp, startled movement, that rocked the planes, drew his attention to the man at his side.
Glancing in alarm at the aviator's face, he saw it as white as marble—what little of it was visible beyond and beneath the wind-mask.
Vauquelin was holding out an arm, and staring at it incredulously; Lanyard's gaze was drawn to the same spot—a ragged perforation in the sleeve of the pilot's leather surtout, just above the elbow.
"What is it?" he enquired stupidly, again forgetting that he could not be heard.
The eyes of the aviator, lifting from the perforation to meet Lanyard's stare, were clouded with consternation.
Then Vauquelin turned quickly and looked back. Simultaneously he ducked his head and something slipped whining past Lanyard's cheek, touching his flesh with a touch more chill than that of the icy air itself.
"Damnation!" he shrieked, almost hysterically. "That madman in the Valkyr is firing at us!"
THE FLYING DEATH
Steadying himself with a splendid display of self-control and sheer courage, Captain Vauquelin concentrated upon the management of the biplane.
The drone of its motor thickened again, its speed became greater, and the machine began to rise still higher, tracing a long, graceful curve.
Lanyard glanced apprehensively toward the girl, but apparently she remained unconscious of anything out of the ordinary. Her face was still turned forward, and still the wind-veil trembled against her glowing cheeks.
Thanks to the racket of the motor, no audible reports had accompanied the sharp-shooting of the man in the monoplane; while Lanyard's cry of horror and dismay had been audible to himself exclusively. Hearing nothing, Lucy suspected nothing.
Again Lanyard looked back.
Now the Valkyr seemed to have crept up to within the quarter of a mile of the biplane, and was boring on at a tremendous pace, its single spread of wings on an approximate level with that of the lower plane of the Parrott.
But this last was rising steadily....
The driver's seat of the Valkyr held a muffled, burly figure that might be anybody—De Morbihan, Ekstrom, or any other homicidal maniac. At the distance its actions were as illegible as their results were unquestionable: Lanyard saw a little tongue of flame lick out from a point close beside the head of the figure—he couldn't distinguish the firearm itself—and, like Vauquelin, quite without premeditation, he ducked.
At the same time there sounded a harsh, ripping noise immediately above his head; and he found himself staring up at a long ragged tear in the canvas, caused by the bullet striking it aslant.
"What's to be done?" he screamed passionately at Vauquelin.
The aviator shook his head impatiently; and they continued to ascend; already the web of gold that cloaked earth and sea seemed thrice as far beneath their feet as it had when Vauquelin made the appalling discovery of his bullet-punctured sleeve.
But the monoplane was doggedly following suit; as the Parrott rose, so did the Valkyr, if a trace more slowly and less flexibly.
Lanyard had read somewhere, or heard it said, that monoplanes were poor machines for climbing. He told himself that, if this were true, Vauquelin knew his business; and from this reflection drew what comfort he might.
And he was glad, very glad of the dark wind-veil that shrouded his face, which he believed to be nothing less than a mask of panic terror.
He was, in fact, quite rigid with fright and horror. It were idle to argue that only unlikely chance would wing one of the bullets from the Valkyr to a vital point: there was the torn canvas overhead, there was that hole through Vauquelin's sleeve....
And then the barograph on the strut beside Lanyard disappeared as if by magic. He was aware of a slight jar; the framework of the biplane quivered as from a heavy blow; something that resembled a handful of black crumbs sprayed out into the air ahead and vanished: and where the instrument had been, nothing remained but an iron clamp gripping the strut.
And even as any one of these bullets might have proved fatal, their first successor might disable the aviator if it did not slay him outright; in either case, the inevitable result would be death following a fall from a height, as recorded on the barograph dial an instant before its destruction, of more than four thousand feet.
They were still climbing....
Now the pursuer was losing some of the advantage of his superior speed; the Parrott was perceptibly higher; the Valkyr must needs mount in a more sweeping curve.
None the less, Lanyard, peering down, saw still another tongue of flame spit out at him; and two bullet-holes appeared in the port-side wings of the biplane, one in the lower, one in the upper spread of canvas.
White-lipped and trembling, the adventurer began to work at the fastenings of his surtout. After a moment he plucked off one of his gloves and cast it impatiently from him. A-sprawl, it sailed down the wind like a wounded sparrow. He caught Vauquelin's eye upon him, quick with a curiosity which changed to a sudden gleam of comprehension as Lanyard, thrusting his hand under the leather coat, groped for his pocket and produced an automatic pistol which Ducroy had pressed upon his acceptance.
They were now perhaps a hundred feet higher than the Valkyr, which was soaring a quarter of a mile off to starboard. Under the guidance of the Frenchman, the Parrott swooped round in a narrow circle until it hung almost immediately above the other—a manoeuvre requiring, first and last, something more than five minutes to effect.
Meanwhile, Lanyard rebuttoned his surtout and clutched the pistol, trying hard not to think. But already his imagination was sick with the thought of what would ensue when the time came for him to carry out his purpose.
Vauquelin touched his arm with urgent pressure; but Lanyard only shook his head, gulped, and without looking surrendered the weapon to the aviator....
Bearing heavily against the chest-band, he commanded the broad white spread of the Valkyr's back and wings. Invisible beneath these hung the motor and driver's seat.
An instant more, and he was aware that Vauquelin was leaning forward and looking down.
Aiming with what deliberation was possible, the aviator emptied the clip of its eight cartridges in less than a minute.
The vicious reports rang out against the drum of the motor like the cracking of a blacksnake-whip.
Momentarily, Lanyard doubted if any one bullet had taken effect. He could not, with his swimming vision, detect sign of damage in the canvas of the Valkyr.
He saw the empty automatic slip from Vauquelin'p numb and nerveless fingers. It vanished....
A frightful fascination kept his gaze constant to the soaring Valkyr.
Beyond it, down, deep down a mile of emptiness, was that golden floor of tumbled cloud, waiting ...
He saw the monoplane check abruptly in its strong onward surge—as if it had run, full-tilt, head-on, against an invisible obstacle—and for what seemed a round minute it hung so, veering and wobbling, nuzzling the wind. Then like a sounding whale it turned and dived headlong, propeller spinning like a top.
Down through the eighth of a mile of space it plunged plummet-like; then, perhaps caught in a flaw of wind, it turned sideways and began to revolve, at first slowly, but with increasing rapidity in its fatally swift descent.
Toward the beginning of its revolutions, something was thrown off, something small, dark and sprawling ... like that glove which Lanyard had discarded. But this object dropped with a speed even greater than that of the Valkyr, in a brace of seconds had diminished to the proportions of a gnat, in another was engulfed in that vast sea of golden vapour.
Even so the monoplane itself, scarcely less precipitate, spun down through the abyss and plunged to oblivion in the fog-rack....
And Lanyard was still hanging against the chest-band, limp and spent and trying not to vomit, when, of a sudden and without any warning whatever, the stentorian chant of the motor ceased and was blotted up by that immense silence, by the terrible silence of those vast solitudes of the upper air, where never a sound is heard save the voices of the elements at war among themselves: a silence that rang with an accent as dreadful as the crack of Doom in the ears of those three suspended there, in the heart of that unimaginably pellucid and immaculate radiance, in the vast hollow of the heavens, midway between the deep blue of the eternal dome and the rose and golden welter of the fog—that fog which, cloaking earth and sea, hid as well every vestige of the tragedy they had wrought, every sign of the murder that they had done that they themselves might not be murdered and cast down to destruction.
And, its propeller no longer gripping the air, the aeroplane drifted on at ever-lessening speed, until it had no way whatever and rested without motion of any sort; as it might have been in the cup of some mighty and invisible hand, held up to that stark and merciless light, under the passionless eye of the Infinite, to await a Judgment....
Then, with a little shudder of hesitation, the planes dipped, inclined slightly earthwards, and began slowly and as if reluctantly to slip down the long and empty channels of the air.
At this, rousing, Lanyard became aware of his own voice yammering wildly at Vauquelin:
"Good God, man! Why did you do that?"
Vauquelin answered only with a pale grimace and a barely perceptible shrug.
Momentarily gathering momentum, the biplane sped downward with a resistless rush, with the speed of a great wind—a speed so great that when Lanyard again attempted speech, the breath was whipped from his lips and he could utter no sound.
Thus from that awful height, from the still heart of that immeasurable void, they swept down and ever down, in a long series of sickening swoops, broken only by negligible pauses. And though they approached it on a long slant, the floor of vapour rose to meet them like a mighty rushing wave: in a trice the biplane was hovering instantaneously before plunging on down into that cold, grey world of fog.
In that moment of hesitation, while still the adventurer gasped for breath and pawed at his streaming eyes with an aching hand, pierced through and through with cold, the fog showed itself as something less substantial than it had seemed; blurs of colour glowed through its folds of gauze, and with these the rounded summit of a brownish, knoll.
Then they plunged on, down out of the bleak, bright sunshine into cool twilight depths of clinging vapours; and the good green earth lifted its warm bosom to receive them.
Tilting its nose a trifle, fluttering as though undecided, the Parrott settled gracefully, with scarcely a Jar, upon a wide sweep of untilled land covered with short coarse grass.
For some time the three remained in their perches like petrified things, quite moveless and—with the possible exception of the aviator—hardly conscious.
But presently Lanyard became aware that he was regularly filling his lungs with air sweet, damp, wholesome, and by comparison warm, and that the blood was tingling painfully in his half-frozen hands and feet.
He sighed as one waking from a strange dream.
At the same time the aviator bestirred himself, and began a bit stiffly to climb down.
Feeling the earth beneath his feet, he took a step or two away from the machine, reeling and stumbling like a drunken man, then turned back.
"Come, my friend!" he urged Lanyard in a voice of strangely normal intonation—"look alive—if you're able—and lend me a hand with mademoiselle. I'm afraid she has fainted."
The girl was reclining inertly in the bands of webbing, her eyes closed, her lips ajar, her limbs slackened.
"Small blame to her!" Lanyard commented, fumbling clumsily with the chest-band. "That dive was enough to drive a body mad!"
"But I had to do it!" the aviator protested earnestly. "I dared not remain longer up there. I have never before been afraid in the air, but after that I was terribly afraid. I could feel myself going—taking leave of my senses—and I knew I must act if we were not to follow that other... God! what a death!"
He paused, shuddered, and drew the back of his hand across his eyes before continuing: "So I cut off the ignition and volplaned. Here—my hand. So-o! All right, eh?"
"Oh, I'm all right," Lanyard insisted confidently.
But his confidence was belied by a look of daze; for the earth was billowing and reeling round him as though bewitched; and before he knew what had happened he sat down hard and stared foolishly up at the aviator.
"Here!" said the latter courteously, his wind-mask hiding a smile—"my hand again, monsieur. You've endured more than you know. And now for mademoiselle."
But when they approached the girl, she surprised both by shivering, sitting up, and obviously pulling herself together.
"You feel better now, mademoiselle?" Vauquelin enquired, hastening to loosen her fastenings.
"I'm better—yes, thank you," she admitted in a small, broken voice—"but not yet quite myself."
She gave a hand to the aviator, the other to Lanyard, and as they helped her to the ground, Lanyard, warned by his experience, stood by with a ready arm.
She needed that support, and for a few minutes didn't seem even conscious of it. Then gently disengaging, she moved a foot or two away.
"Where are we—do you know?"
"On the South Downs, somewhere?" Lanyard suggested, consulting Vauquelin.
"That is probable," this last affirmed—"at all events, judging from the course I steered. Somewhere well in from the coast, at a venture; I don't hear the sea."
"Near Lewes, perhaps?"
"I have no reason to doubt that."
A constrained pause ensued. The girl looked from the aviator to Lanyard, then turned away from both and, trembling with fatigue and enforcing self-control by clenching her hands, stared aimlessly off into the mist.
Painfully, Lanyard set himself to consider their position.
The Parrott had come to rest in what seemed to be a wide, shallow, saucer-like depression, whose irregular bounds were cloaked in fog. In this space no living thing stirred save themselves; and the waste was crossed by not so much as a sheep track. In brief, they were lost. There might be a road running past the saucer ten yards from its brim in any quarter. There might not. Possibly there was a town or village immediately adjacent. Quite as possibly the Downs billowed away for desolate miles on either hand.
"Well—what do we do now?" the girl demanded suddenly, in a nervous voice, sharp and jarring.
"Oh, we'll find a way out of this somehow," Vauquelin asserted confidently. "England isn't big enough for anybody to remain lost in it—not for long, at all events. I'm sorry only on Miss Shannon's account."
"We'll manage, somehow," Lanyard affirmed stoutly.
The aviator smiled curiously. "To begin with," he advanced, "I daresay we might as well get rid of these awkward costumes. They'll hamper walking—rather."
In spite of his fatigue Lanyard was so struck by the circumstances that he couldn't help remarking it as he tore off his wind-veil.
"Your English is remarkably good, Captain Vauquelin," he observed.
The other laughed shortly.
"Why not?" said he, removing his mask.
Lanyard looked up into his face, stared, and fell back a pace.
"Wertheimer!" he gasped.
The Englishman smiled cheerfully in response to Lanyard's cry of astonishment.
"In effect," he observed, stripping off his gauntlets, "you're right, Mr. Lanyard. 'Wertheimer' isn't my name, but it is so closely identified with my—ah—insinuative personality as to warrant the misapprehension. I shan't demand an apology so long as you permit me to preserve an incognito which may yet prove somewhat useful."
"Incognito!" Lanyard stammered, utterly discountenanced. "Useful!"
"You have my meaning exactly; although my work in Paris is now ended, there's no saying when it may not be convenient to be able to go back without establishing a new identity."
Before Lanyard replied to this the look of wonder in his eyes had yielded to one of understanding.
"Scotland Yard, eh?" he queried curtly.
Wertheimer bowed. "Special agent," he added.
"I might have guessed, if I'd had the wit of a goose!" Lanyard affirmed bitterly. "But I must admit..."
"Yes," the Englishman assented pleasantly; "I did pull your leg—didn't I? But not more than our other friends. Of course, it's taken some time: I had to establish myself firmly as a shining light of the swell mob over here before De Morbihan would take me to his hospitable bosom."
"I presume I'm to consider myself under arrest?"
With a laugh, the Englishman shook his head vigorously.
"No, thank you!" he declared. "I've had too convincing proof of your distaste for interference in your affairs. You fight too sincerely, Mr. Lanyard—and I'm a tired sleuth this very morning as ever was! I would need a week's rest to fit me for the job of taking you into custody—a week and some able-bodied assistance!... But," he amended with graver countenance, "I will say this: if you're in England a week hence, I'll be tempted to undertake the job on general principles. I don't in the least question the sincerity of your intention to behave yourself hereafter; but as a servant of the King, it's my duty to advise you that England would prefer you to start life anew—as they say—in another country. Several steamers sail for the States before the end of the week: further details I leave entirely to your discretion. But go you must," he concluded firmly.
"I understand..." said Lanyard; and would have said more, but couldn't. There was something suspiciously like a mist before his eyes.
Avoiding the faces of his sweetheart and the Englishman, he turned aside, put forth a hand blindly to a wing of the biplane to steady himself, and stood with head bowed and limbs trembling.
Moving quietly to his side, the girl took his other hand and held it tight....
Presently Lanyard shook himself impatiently and lifted his head again.
"Sorry," he said, apologetic—"but your generosity—when I looked for nothing better than arrest—was a bit too much for my nerves!"
"Nonsense!" the Englishman commented with brusque good-humour. "We're all upset. A drop of brandy will do us no end of good."
Unbuttoning his leather surtout, he produced a flask from an inner pocket, filled its metal cup, and offered it to the girl.
"You first, if you please, Miss Shannon. No—I insist. You positively need it."
She allowed herself to be persuaded, drank, coughed, gasped, and returned the cup, which Wertheimer promptly refilled and passed to Lanyard.
The raw spirits stung like fire, but proved an instant aid to the badly jangled nerves of the adventurer. In another moment he was much more himself.
Drinking in turn, Wertheimer put away the flask. "That's better!" he commented. "Now I'll be able to cut along with this blessed machine without fretting over the fate of Ekstrom. But till now I haven't been able to forget——"
He paused and drew a hand across his eyes.
"It was, then, Ekstrom—you think?" Lanyard demanded.
"Unquestionably! De Morbihan had learned—I know—of your bargain with Ducroy; and I know, too, that he and Ekstrom spent each morning in the hangars at St. Germain, after your sensational evasion. It never entered my head, of course, that they had any such insane scheme brewing as that—else I would never have so giddily arranged with Ducroy—through the Surete, you understand—to take Vauquelin's place.... Besides, who else could it have been? Not De Morbihan, for he's crippled for life, thanks to that affair in the Bois; not Popinot, who was on his way to the Sante, last I saw of him; and never Bannon—he was dead before I left Paris for Port Aviation."
"Oh, quite!" the Englishman affirmed nonchalantly, "When we arrested him at three this morning—charged with complicity in the murder of Roddy—he flew into a passion that brought on a fatal haemorrhage. He died within ten minutes."
There was a little silence....
"I may tell you, Mr. Lanyard," the Englishman resumed, looking up from the motor, to which he was paying attentions with monkey-wrench and oil-can, "that you were quite off your bat when you ridiculed the idea of the 'International Underworld Unlimited.' Of course, if you hadn't laughed, I shouldn't feel quite as much respect for you as I do; in fact, the chances are you'd be in handcuffs or in a cell of the Sante, this very minute.... But, absurd as it sounded—and was—the 'Underworld' project was a pet hobby of Bannon's—who'd been the brains of a gang of criminals in New York for many years. He was a bit touched on the subject: a monomaniac, if you ask me. And his enthusiasm won De Morbihan and Popinot over ... and me! He took a wonderful fancy to me, Bannon did; I really was appointed first-lieutenant in Greggs' stead.... So you first won my sympathy by laughing at my offer," said Wertheimer, restoring the oil-can to its place in the tool-kit; "wherein you were very wise.... In fact, my personal feeling for you is one of growing esteem, if you'll permit me to say so. You've most of the makings of a man. Will you shake hands—with a copper's nark?"
He gave Lanyard's hand a firm and friendly grasp, and turned to the girl.
"Good-bye, Miss Shannon. I'm truly grateful for the assistance you gave us. Without you, we'd have been sadly handicapped. I understand you have sent in your resignation? It's too bad: the Service will feel the loss of you. But I think you were right to leave us, the circumstances considered.... And now it's good-bye and good luck! I hope you may be happy.... I'm sure you can't go far without coming across a highroad or a village; but—for reasons not unconnected with my profession—I prefer to remain in ignorance of the way you go."
Releasing her hand, he stepped back, saluted the lovers with a smile and gay gesture, and clambered briskly to the pilot's seat of the biplane.
When firmly established, he turned the switch of the starting mechanism.
The heavy, distinctive hum of the great motor filled that isolated hollow in the Downs like the purring of a dynamo.
With a final wave of his hand, Wertheimer grasped the starting-lever.
Its brool deepening, the Parrott stirred, shot forward abruptly. In two seconds it was fifty yards distant, its silhouette already blurred, its wheels lifting from the rim of the hollow.
Then lightly it leaped, soared, parted the mists, vanished....
For some time Lanyard and Lucy Shannon remained motionless, clinging together, hand-in-hand, listening to the drone that presently dwindled to a mere thread of sound and died out altogether in the obscurity above them.
Then, turning, they faced each other, smiling a trace uncertainly, a smile that said: "So all that is finished! ... Or, perhaps, we dreamed it!"...
Suddenly, with a low cry, the girl gave herself to Lanyard's arms; and as this happened the mists parted and bright sunlight flooded the hollow in the Downs.