At Maitland's ear, incredulous, "How did you guess?" she breathed.
He took thought and breath, both briefly, and prevaricated shamelessly: "Bribed the head-clerk of the safe-manufacturer who built this."
Rising, he passed over to the center-table, the girl following. "Steady with the light," he whispered; and loosed the string around the mouth of the bag, pouring its contents, a glistening, priceless, flaming, iridiscent treasure horde, upon the table.
"Oh!" said a small voice at his side. And again and again: "Oh! Oh! Oh!"
Maitland himself was moved by the wonder of it. The jewels seemed to fill the room with a flashing, amazing, coruscant glamour, rainbow-like. His breath came hot and fast as he gazed upon the trove; a queen's ransom, a fortune incalculable even to its owner. As for the girl, he thought that the wonder of it must have struck her dumb. Not a sound came from the spot where she stood.
Then, abruptly, the sun went out: at least, such was the effect; the light of the hand-lamp vanished utterly, leaving a party-colored blur swimming against the impenetrable blackness, before his eyes.
His lips opened; but a small hand fell firmly upon his own, and a tiny, tremulous whisper shrilled in his ear.
"Steady ... some one coming ... the jewels...."
He heard the dull musical clash of them as her hands swept them back into the bag, and a cold, sickening fear rendered him almost faint with the sense of trust misplaced, illusions resolved into brutal realities. His fingers closed convulsively about her wrists; but she held passive.
"Ah, but I might have expected that!" came her reproachful whisper. "Take them, then, my—my partner that was." Her tone cut like a knife, and the touch of the canvas bag, as she forced it into his hands, was hateful to him.
"Forgive me—" he began.
For a space he obeyed, the silence at first seeming tremendous; then, faint but distinct, he heard the tinkle and slide of the brazen rings supporting the smoking-room portiere.
His hand sought the girl's; she had not moved, and the cool, firm pressure of her fingers steadied him. He thought quickly.
"Quick!" he told her in the least of whispers. "Leave by the window you opened and wait for me by the motor-car."
There was no time to remonstrate with her. Already he had slipped away, shaping a course for the entrance to the passage. But the dominant thought in his mind was that at all costs the girl must be spared the exposure. She was to be saved, whatever the hazard. Afterwards....
The tapestry rustled, but he was yet too far distant to spring. He crept on with the crouching, vicious attitude, mental and physical, of a panther stalking its prey....
Like a thunderclap from a clear sky the glare of the light broke out from the ceiling. Maitland paused, transfixed, on tiptoe, eyes incredulous, brain striving to grapple with the astounding discovery that had come to him.
The third factor stood in the doorway, slender and tall, in evening dress,—as was Maitland,—a light, full overcoat hanging open from his shoulders; one hand holding back the curtain, the other arrested on the light switch. His lips dropped open and his eyes, too, were protruding with amazement. Feature for feature he was the counterpart of the man before him; in a word, here was the real Anisty.
The wonder of it all saved the day for Maitland; Anisty's astonishment was sincere and the more complete in that, unlike Maitland, he had been unprepared to find any one in the library.
For a mere second his gaze left Maitland and traveled on to the girl, then to the rifled safe—taking in the whole significance of the scene. When he spoke, it was as if dazed.
"By God!" he cried—or, rather, the syllables seemed to jump from his lips like bullets from a gun.
The words shattered the tableau. On their echo Maitland sprang and fastened his fingers around the other's throat. Carried off his feet by the sheer ferocity of the assault, Anisty gave ground a little. For an instant they were swaying back and forth, with advantage to neither. Then the burglar's collar slipped and somehow tore from its stud, giving Maitland's hands freer play. His grasp tightened about the man's gullet; he shook him mercilessly. Anisty staggered, gasping, reeled, struck Maitland once or twice upon the chest,—feeble, weightless elbow-jabs that went for nothing, then concentrated his energies in a vain attempt to wrench the hands from his throat. Reeling, tearing at Maitland's wrists, face empurpling, eyes staring in agony, he stumbled. Mercilessly Maitland forced him to his knees and bullied him across the floor toward the nearest lounge—with premeditated design; finally succeeding in throwing him flat; and knelt upon his chest, retaining his grip but refraining from throttling him.
As it was, all strength and thought of resistance had been choked out of Anisty. He lay at length, gasping painfully.
Maitland glanced over his shoulders and saw the girl moving forward, apparently making for the switch.
"No!" he cried, peremptory. "Don't turn off the light—please!"
"But—" she doubted.
"Let me have those curtain cords, if you please," he requested shortly.
She followed his gaze to the windows, interpreted his wishes, and was very quick to carry them out. In a trice she was offering him half a dozen of the heavy, twisted silk cords that had been used to loop back the curtains.
Soft yet strong, they were excellently well adapted to Maitland's needs. Unceremoniously he swung his captive over on his side, bringing his neck and ankles in juxtaposition to the legs of that substantial piece of furniture, the lounge.
His hands the first to be secured, and tightly, behind his back, Anisty lay helpless, glaring vindictively the while gradually he recovered consciousness and strength. Maitland cared little for his evil glances; he was busy. The burglar's ankles were next bound together and to the lounge leg; and, an instant later, a brace of half-hitches about the man's neck and the nearest support entirely eliminated him as a possible factor in subsequent events.
"Those loops around your throat," Maitland warned him curtly, "are loose enough now, but if you struggle they'll tighten and strangle you. Understand?"
Anisty nodded, making an incoherent sound with his swollen tongue. At which Maitland frowned, smitten thoughtful with a new consideration.
"You mustn't talk, you know," he mused half aloud; and, whipping forth a handkerchief, gagged Mr. Anisty.
After which, breathing hard and in a maze of perplexity, he got to his feet. Already his hearing, quickened by the emergency, had apprised him of the situation's imminent hazards. It needed not the girl's hurried whisper, "The servants!" to warn him of their danger. From the rear wing of the mansion the sounds of hurrying feet were distinctly audible, as, presently, were the heavy, excited voices of men and the more shrill and frightened cries of women.
Heedless of her displeasure, Maitland seized the girl by the arm and urged her over to the open Window. "Don't hang back!" he told her nervously. "You must get out of this before they see you. Do as I tell you, please, and we'll save ourselves yet! If we both make a run for it, we're lost. Don't you understand?"
"No. Why?" she demanded, reluctant, spirited, obstinate—and lovely in his eyes.
"If he were anybody else," Maitland indicated, with a jerk of his head toward the burglar. "But didn't you see? He must be Maitland—and he's my double. I'll stay, brazen it out, then, as soon as possible, make my escape and join you by the gate. Your motor's there—what? Be ready for me...."
But she had grasped his intention and was suddenly become pliant to his will. "You're wonderful!" she told him with a little low laugh; and was gone, silently as a spirit.
The curtains fell behind her in long, straight folds; Maitland stilled their swaying with a touch, and stepped back into the room. For a moment he caught the eye of the fellow on the floor; and it was upturned to his, sardonically intelligent. But the lord of the manor had little time to debate consequences.
Abruptly the door was flung wide and a short stout man, clutching up his trousers with a frantic hand, burst into the library, brandishing overhead a rampant revolver.
"'Ands hup!" he cried, leveling at Maitland. And then, with a fallen countenance; "G-r-r-reat 'eavins, sir! You, Mister Maitland, sir!"
"Ah, Higgins," his employer greeted the butler blandly.
Higgins pulled up, thunderstruck, panting and perspiring with agitation. His fat cheeks quivered like the wattles of a gobbler, and his eyes bulged as, by degrees, he became alive to the situation.
Maitland began to explain, forestalling the embarrassments of cross-examination.
"By the merest accident, Higgins, I was passing in my car with a party of friends. Just for a joke I thought I'd steal up to the house and see how you were behaving yourselves. By chance—again— I happened to see this light through the library windows." And Maitland, putting an incautious hand upon the bull's-eye on the desk, withdrew it instantly, with an exclamation of annoyance and four scorched fingers.
"He's been at the safe," he added quickly, diverting attention from himself. "I was just in time."
"My wor-r-rd!" said Higgins, with emotion. Then quickly: "Did 'e get anythin', do you think, sir?"
Maitland shook his head, scowling over the butler's burly shoulders at the rapidly augmenting concourse of servants in the hallway—lackeys, grooms, maids, cooks, and what-not; a background of pale, scared faces to the tableau in the library. "This won't do," considered Maitland. "Get back, all of you!" he ordered sternly, indicating the group with a dominant and inflexible forefinger. "Those who are wanted will be sent for. Now go! Higgins, you may stay."
"Yes, sir. Yes, sir. But wot an 'orrid 'appenin', sir, if you'll permit me—"
"I won't. Be quiet and listen. This man is Anisty—Handsome Dan Anisty, the notorious jewel thief, wanted badly by the police of a dozen cities. You understand?... I'm going now to motor to the village and get the constables; I may," he invented desperately, "be delayed—may have to get a detective from Brooklyn. If this scoundrel stirs, don't touch him. Let him alone—he can't escape if you do. Above all things, don't you dare to remove that gag!"
"Most cert'inly, sir. I shall bear in mind wot you says——"
"You'd best," grimly. "Now I'm off. No; I don't want any attendance—I know my way. And—don't—touch—that—man—till I return."
"Very good, sir."
Maitland stepped over to the safe, glanced within, cursorily, replaced a bundle of papers which he did not recall disturbing, closed the door and twirled the combination.
"Nothing gone," he announced. An inarticulate gurgle from the prostrate man drew a black scowl from Maitland. Recovering, "Good morning," he said politely to the butler, and striding out of the house by the front door, was careful to slam that behind him, ere darting into the shadows.
The moon was down, the sky a cold, opaque grey, overcast with a light drift of cloud. The park seemed very dark, very dreary; a searching breeze was sweeping inland from the Sound, soughing sadly in the tree-tops; a chill humidity permeated the air, precursor of rain. The young man shivered, both with chill and reaction from the tension of the emergency just past.
He was aware of an instantaneous loss of heart, a subsidence of the elation which had upheld him throughout the adventure; and to escape this, to forget or overcome it, took immediately to his heels, scampering madly for the road, oppressed with fear lest he should find the girl gone—with the jewels.
That she should prove untrue, faithless, lacking even that honor which proverbially obtains in the society of criminals—a consideration of such a possibility was intolerable, as much so as the suspense of ignorance. He could not, would not, believe her capable of ingratitude so rank; and fought fiercely, unreasoningly, against the conviction that she would have followed her thievish instincts and made off with the booty.... A judgment meet and right upon him, for his madness!
Heart in mouth, he reached the gates, passing through without discovering her, and was struck dumb and witless with relief when she stepped quietly from the shadows of a low branching tree, offering him a guiding hand.
"Come," she said quietly. "This way."
Without being exactly conscious of what he was about he caught the hand in both his own. "Then," he exulted almost passionately,— "then you didn't——"
His voice choked in his throat. Her face, momentarily upturned to his, gleamed pale and weary in the dreary light; the face of a tired child, troubled, saddened; yet with eyes inexpressibly sweet. She turned away, tugging at her hand.
"You doubted me, after all!" she commented, a trifle bitterly.
"I—no! You misunderstand me. Believe me, I——"
"Ah, don't protest. What does it make or mar, whether or not you trusted me?... You have," she added quietly, "the jewels safe enough, I suppose?"
He stopped short, aghast. "I! The jewels!"
"I slipped them in your coat pocket before——"
Instantly her hand was free, Maitland ramming both his own into the side pockets of his top-coat. "They're safe!"
She smiled uncertainly.
"We have no time," said she. "Can you drive—?"
They were standing by the side of her car, which had been cunningly hidden in the gloom beneath a spreading tree on the further side of the road. Maitland, crestfallen, offered his hand; the tips of her fingers touched his palm lightly as she jumped in. He hesitated at the step.
"You wish me to?"
She laughed lightly. "Most assuredly. You may assure yourself that I shan't try to elude you again——"
"I would I might be sure of that," he said, steadying his voice and seeking her eyes.
"Procrastination won't make it any more assured."
He stepped up and settled himself in the driver's seat, grasping throttle and steering-wheel; the great machine thrilled to his touch like a live thing, then began slowly to back out into the road. For an instant it seemed to hang palpitant on dead center, then shot out like a hound unleashed, ventre-a-terre,— Brooklyn miles away over the hood.
It seemed but a minute ere they were thundering over the Myannis bridge. A little further on Maitland slowed down and, jumping out, lighted the lamps. In the seat again,—no words had passed,—he threw in the high-speed clutch, and the world flung behind them, roaring. Thereafter, breathless, stunned by the frenzy of speed, perforce silent, they bored on through the night, crashing along deserted highways.
In the east a band of pallid light lifted up out of the night, and the horizon took shape against it, stark and black. Slowly, stealthily, the formless dawn dusk spread over the sleeping world; to the zenith the light-smitten stars reeled and died, and houses, fields, and thoroughfares lay a-glimmer with ghostly twilight as the car tore headlong through the grim, unlovely, silent hinterland of Long Island City.
The gates of the ferry-house were inexorably shut against them when at last Maitland brought the big machine to a tremulous and panting halt, like that of an over-driven thoroughbred. And though they perforce endured a wait of fully fifteen minutes, neither found aught worth saying; or else the words wherewith fitly to clothe their thoughts were denied them. The girl seemed very weary, and sat with head drooping and hands clasped idly in her lap. To Maitland's hesitant query as to her comfort she returned a monosyllabic reassurance. He did not again venture to disturb her; on his own part he was conscious of a clogging sense of exhaustion, of a drawn and haggard feeling about the eyes and temples; and knew that he was keeping awake through main power of will alone, his brain working automatically, his being already a-doze.
The fresh wind off the sullen river served in some measure to revive them, once the gates were opened and the car had taken a place on the ferry-boat's forward extreme. Day was now full upon the world; above a horizon belted with bright magenta, the cloudless sky was soft turquoise and sapphire; and abruptly, while the big unwieldy boat surged across the narrow ribbon of green water, the sun shot up with a shout and turned to an evanescent dream of fairy-land the gaunt, rock-ribbed profile of Manhattan Island, bulking above them in tier upon tier of monstrous buildings.
On the Manhattan side, in deference to the girl's low-spoken wish, Maitland ran the machine up to Second Avenue, turned north, and brought it to a stop by the curb, a little north of Thirty-fifth Street.
"And now whither?" he inquired, hands somewhat impatiently ready upon the driving and steering-gear.
The girl smiled faintly through her veil. "You have been most kind," she told him in a tired voice. "Thank you—from my heart, Mr. Anisty," and made a move as if to relieve him of his charge.
"Is that all?" he demanded blankly.
"Can I say more?"
"I ... I am to go no further with you?" Sick with disappointment, he rose and dropped to the sidewalk—anticipating her affirmative answer.
"If you would please me," said the girl, "you won't insist...."
"I don't," he returned ruefully. "But are you quite sure that you're all right now?"
"Quite, thank you, dear Mr. Anisty!" With a pretty gesture of conquering impulse she swept her veil aside, and the warm rose-glow of the new-born day tinted her wan young cheeks with color. And her eyes were as stars, bright with a mist of emotion, brimming with gratitude—and something else. He could not say what; but one thing he knew, and that was that she was worn with excitement and fatigue, near to the point of breaking down.
"You're tired," he insisted, solicitous. "Can't you let me——?"
"I am tired," she admitted wistfully, voice subdued, yet rich and vibrant. "No, please. Please let me go. Don't ask me any questions—now."
"Only one," he made supplication. "I've done nothing——"
"Nothing but be more kind than I can say!"
"And you're not going to back out of our partnership?"
"Oh!" And now the color in her cheeks was warmer than that which the dawn had lent them. "No ... I shan't back out." And she smiled.
"And if I call a meeting of the board of management of Anisty and Wentworth, Limited, you will promise to attend?"
"Will it be too early if I call one for to-day?"
"Say at two o'clock this afternoon, at Eugene's. You know the place?"
"I have lunched there——"
"Then you shall again to-day. You won't disappoint me?"
"I will be there. I ... I shall be glad to come. Now— please!"
"You've promised. Don't forget."
He stepped back and stood in a sort of dreamy daze, while, with one final wonderful smile at parting, the girl assumed control of the machine and swung it out from the curb. Maitland watched it forge slowly up the Avenue and vanish round the Thirty-sixth Street corner; then turned his face southward, sighing with weariness and discontent.
At Thirty-fourth Street a policeman, lounging beneath the corrugated iron awning of a corner saloon, faced about with a low whistle, to stare after him. Maitland experienced a chill sense of criminal guilt; he was painfully conscious of those two shrewd eyes, boring gimlet-like into his back, overlooking no detail of the wreck of his evening clothes. Involuntarily he glanced down at his legs, and they moved mechanically beneath the edge of his overcoat, like twin animated columns of mud and dust, openly advertising his misadventures. He felt in his soul that they shrieked aloud, that they would presently succeed in dinning all the town awake, so that the startled populace would come to the windows to stare in wonder as he passed by. And inwardly he groaned and quaked.
As for the policeman, after some reluctant hesitation, he overcame the inherent indisposition to exertion that affects his kind, and, swinging his stick, stalked after Maitland.
Happily (and with heartfelt thanksgiving) the young man chanced upon a somnolent and bedraggled hack, at rest in the stenciled shadows of the Third Avenue elevated structure. Its pilot was snoring lustily the sleep of the belated, on the box. With some difficulty he was awakened, and Maitland dodged into the musty, dusty body of the vehicle, grateful to escape the unprejudiced stare of the guardian of the peace, who in another moment would have overtaken him and, doubtless, subjected him to embarrassing inquisition.
As the ancient four-wheeler rattled noisily over the cobbles, some of the shops were taking down their shutters, the surface cars were beginning to run with increasing frequency, and the sidewalks were becoming sparsely populated. Familiar as the sights were, they were yet somehow strangely unreal to the young man. In a night the face of the world had changed for him; its features loomed weirdly blurred and contorted through the mystical grey-gold atmosphere of the land of Romance, wherein he really lived and moved and had his being. The blatant day was altogether preposterous: to-day was a dream, something nightmarish; last night he had been awake, last night for the first time in twenty-odd years of existence he had lived....
He slipped unthinkingly one hand into his coat pocket, seeking instinctively his cigarette case; and his fingers brushed the coarse-grained surface of a canvas bag. He jumped as if electrified. He had managed altogether to forget them, yet in his keeping were the jewels, Maitland heirlooms—the swag and booty, the loot and plunder of the night's adventure. And he smiled happily to think that his interest in them was Fifty-percent depreciated in twenty-four hours; now he owned only half....
Suddenly he sat up, with happy eyes and a glowing face. She had trusted him!
At noon, precisely, Maitland stirred between the sheets for the first time since he had thrown himself into his bed—stirred, and, confused by whatever alarm had awakened him, yawned stupendously, and sat up, rubbing clenched fists in his eyes to clear them of sleep's cobwebs. Then he bent forward, clasping his knees, smiled largely, replaced the smile with a thoughtful frown, and in such wise contemplated the foot of the bed for several minutes,—his first conscious impression, that he had something delightful to look forward to yielding to a vague recollection of a prolonged shrill tintinnabulation—as if the telephone bell in the front room had been ringing for some time.
But he waited in vain for a repetition of the sound, and eventually concluded that he had been mistaken; it had been an echo from his dreams, most likely.
Besides, who should call him up? Not two people knew that he was in town: not even O'Hagan was aware that he had returned to his rooms that morning.
He gaped again, stretching wide his arms, sat up on the edge of the bed, and heard the clock strike twelve.
Noon and.... He had an engagement at two! He brightened at the memory and, jumping up, pressed an electric call-button on the wall. By the time he had paddled barefoot to the bath-room and turned on the cold-water tap, O'Hagan's knock summoned him to the hall door.
"Back again, O'Hagan; and in a desperate rush. I'll want you to shave me and send some telegrams, please. Must be off by one-thirty. You may get out my grey-striped flannels"—here he paused, calculating his costume with careful discrimination,—"and a black-striped negligee shirt; grey socks; russet low shoes; black and white check tie—broad wings. You know where to find them all?"
"Shure yiss, sor."
O'Hagan showed no evidence of surprise; the eccentricities of Mr. Maitland could not move him, who was inured to them through long association and observation. He moved away to execute his instructions, quietly efficient. By the time Maitland had finished splashing and gasping in the bath-tub, everything was ready for the ceremony of dressing.
In other words, twenty minutes later Maitland, bathed, shaved, but still in dressing-gown and slippers, was seated at his desk, a cup of black coffee steaming at his elbow, a number of yellow telegraph blanks before him, a pen poised between his fingers.
It was in his mind to send a wire to Cressy, apologizing for his desertion of the night just gone, and announcing his intention to rejoin the party from which the motor trip to New York had been as planned but a temporary defection, in time for dinner that same evening. He nibbled the end of the pen-holder, selecting phrases, then looked up at the attentive O'Hagan.
"Bring me a New Haven time-table, please," he began, "and—"
The door-bell abrupted his words, clamoring shrilly.
"What the deuce?" he demanded. "Who can that be? Answer it, will you, O'Hagan?"
He put down the pen, swallowed his coffee, and lit a cigarette, listening to the murmurs at the hall door. An instant later, O'Hagan returned, bearing a slip of white pasteboard which he deposited on the desk before Maitland.
"'James Burleson Snaith,'" Maitland read aloud from the faultlessly engraved card. "I don't know him. What does he want?"
"Wouldn't say, sor; seemed surprised whin I towld him ye were in, an' said he was glad to hear it—business pressin', says he."
"'Snaith'? But I never heard the name before. What does he look like?"
"A gintleman, sor, be th' clothes av him an' th' way he talks."
"Well.... Devil take the man! Show him in."
"Very good, sor."
Maitland swung around in his desk chair, his back to the window, expression politely curious, as his caller entered the room, pausing, hat in hand, just across the threshold.
He proved to be a man apparently of middle age, of height approximating Maitland's; his shoulders were slightly rounded as if from habitual bending over a desk, his pose mild and deferential. By his eyeglasses and peering look, he was near-sighted; by his dress, a gentleman of taste and judgment as well as of means to gratify both. A certain jaunty and summery touch in his attire suggested a person of leisure who had just run down from his country place, for a day in town.
His voice, when he spoke, did nothing to dispel the illusion.
"Mr. Maitland?" he opened the conversation briskly. "I trust I do not intrude? I shall be brief as possible, if you will favor me with a private interview."
Maitland remarked a voice well modulated and a good choice of words. He rose courteously.
"I should be pleased to do so," he suggested, "if you could advance any reasons for such a request."
Mr. Snaith smiled discreetly, fumbling in his side pocket. A second slip of cardboard appeared between his fingers as he stepped over toward Maitland.
"If I had not feared it might deprive me of this interview, I should have sent in my business card at once," he said. "Permit me."
Maitland accepted the card and elevated his brows. "Oh!" he said, putting it down, his manner becoming perceptibly less cordial. "I say, O'Hagan."
"I shall be busy for—Will half an hour satisfy you, Mr. Snaith?"
"You are most kind," the stranger bowed.
"In half an hour, O'Hagan, you may return."
"Very good, sor." And the hall door closed.
"So," said Maitland, turning to face the man squarely, "you are from Police Headquarters?"
"As you see." Mr. Snaith motioned delicately toward his business card—as he called it.
"Well?"—after a moment's pause.
"I am a detective, you understand."
"Perfectly," Maitland assented, unmoved.
His caller seemed partly amused, partly—but very slightly—embarrassed. "I have been assigned to cover the affair of last night," he continued blandly. "I presume you have no objection to giving me what information you may possess."
The man's amusement was made visible in a fugitive smile, half-hidden by his small and neatly trimmed mustache. Mutely eloquent, he turned back the lapel of his coat, exposing a small shield; at which Maitland glanced casually.
"Very well," he consented, bored but resigned. "Fire ahead, but make it as brief as you can; I've an engagement in"—glancing at the clock—"an hour, and must dress."
"I'll detain you no longer than is essential.... Of course you understand how keen we are after this man, Anisty."
"What puzzles me," Maitland interrupted, "is how you got wind of the affair so soon."
"Then you have not heard?" Mr. Snaith exhibited polite surprise.
"I am just out of bed."
"Anisty escaped shortly after you left Maitland Manor."
Mr. Snaith knitted his brows, evidently at a loss whether to ascribe Maitland's exclamation as due to surprise, regret, or relief. Which pleased Maitland, who had been at pains to make his tone noncommittal. In point of fact he was neither surprised nor regretful.
"Thunder!" he continued slowly. "I forgot to 'phone Higgins."
"That is why I called. Your butler did not know where you could be found. You had left in great haste, promising to send constables; you failed to do so; Higgins got no word. In the course of an hour or so his charge began to choke,—or pretended to. Higgins became alarmed and removed the gag. Anisty lay quiet until his face resumed its normal color and then began to abuse Higgins for a thick-headed idiot."
Mr. Snaith interrupted himself to chuckle lightly.
"You noticed a resemblance?" he resumed.
Maitland, too, was smiling. "Something of the sort."
"It is really remarkable, if you will permit me to say so." Snaith was studying his host's face intently. "Higgins, poor fellow, had his faith shaken to the foundations. This Anisty must be a clever actor as well as a master burglar. Having cursed Higgins root and branch, he got his second wind and explained that he was—Mr. Maitland! Conceive Higgins' position. What could he do?"
"What he did, I gather."
"Once loosed, he knocked Higgins over with the butt of a revolver, jumped out of the window, and vanished. By the time the butler got his senses back, Anisty, presumably, was miles away ... Mr. Maitland!" said Snaith sharply.
"Yes?" responded Maitland, elevating his brows, refusing to be startled.
"Why," crisply, "didn't you send the constables from Greenfields, according to your promise?"
Maitland laughed uneasily and looked down, visibly embarrassed, acting with consummate address, playing the game for all he was worth; and enjoying it hugely.
"Why.... I.... Really, Mr. Snaith, I must confess—"
"A confession would aid us materially," dryly. "The case is perplexing. You round up a burglar sought by the police of two continents, and listlessly permit his escape. Why?"
"I would rather not be pressed," said Maitland with evident candor; "but, since you say it is imperative, that you must know—" Snaith inclined his head affirmatively. "Why ... to tell the truth, I was a bit under the weather last night: out with a party of friends, you know. Dare say we all had a bit more than we could carry. The capture was purely accidental; we had other plans for the night and—well," laughing shortly, "I didn't give the matter too much thought, beyond believing that Higgins would hold the man tight."
"I see. It is unfortunate, but ... you motored back to town."
It was not a question, but Maitland so considered it.
"We did," he admitted.
"And came here directly?"
"Mr. Maitland, why not be frank with me? My sole object is to capture a notorious burglar. I have no desire to meddle with your private affairs, but.... You may trust in my discretion. Who was the young lady?"
"To conceal her identity," said Maitland, undisturbed, "is precisely why I have been lying to you."
"You refuse us that information?"
"Absolutely. I have no choice in the matter. You must see that."
Snaith shook his head, baffled, infinitely perturbed, to Maitland's hidden delight.
"Of course," said he, "the policeman at the ferry recognized me?"
"You are well known to him," admitted Snaith. "But that is a side issue. What puzzles me is why you let Anisty escape. It is inconceivable."
"From a police point of view."
"From any point of view," said Snaith obstinately. "The man breaks into your house, steals your jewels—"
"This is getting tiresome," Maitland interrupted curtly. "Is it possible that you suspect me of conniving at the theft of my own property?"
Snaith's eyes were keen upon him. "Stranger things have been known. And yet—the motive is lacking. You are not financially embarrassed,—so far as we can determine, at least."
Maitland politely interposed his fingers between his yawn and the detective's intent regard. "You have ten minutes more, I'm sorry to say," he said; glancing at the clock.
"And there is another point, more significant yet."
"Yes." Snaith bent forward, elbows on knees, hat and cane swinging, eyes implacable, hard, relentless. "Anisty," he said slowly, "left a tolerably complete burglar's kit in your library."
"Well—he's a burglar, isn't he?"
"Not that kind." Snaith shook his head.
"But his departure was somewhat hurried. I can conceive that he might abandon his kit—"
"But it was not his."
"Anisty does not depend on such antiquated methods, Mr. Maitland; save that in extreme instances, with a particularly stubborn safe, he employs a high explosive that, so far as we can find out, is practically noiseless. Its nature is a mystery.... But such old-fashioned strong-boxes as yours at Greenfields he opens by ear, so to speak,—listens to the combination. He was once an expert, reputably employed by a prominent firm of safe manufacturers, in whose service he gained the skill that has made him—what he is."
"But,"—Maitland cast about at random, feeling himself cornered,—"may he not have had accomplices?"
"He's no such fool. Unless he has gone mad, he worked alone. I presume you discovered no accomplice?"
"I? The devil, no!"
Snaith smiled mysteriously, then fell thoughtful, pondering.
"You are an enigma," he said, at length. "I can not understand why you refuse us all information, when I consider that the jewels were yours—"
"Are mine," Maitland corrected.
"I beg your pardon; I have them."
Snaith shook his head, smiling incredulously. Maitland flushed with annoyance and resentment, then on impulse rose and strode into the adjoining bedroom, returning with a small canvas bag.
"You shall see for yourself," he said, depositing the bag on the desk and fumbling with the draw-string. "If you will be kind enough to step over here—"
Mr. Snaith, still unconvinced, hesitated, then assented, halting a brief distance from Maitland and toying abstractedly with his cane while the young man plucked at the draw-string.
"Deuced tight knot, this," commented Maitland, annoyed.
"No matter. Don't trouble, please. I'm quite satisfied, believe me."
"Oh, you are!"
Maitland turned; and in the act of turning, the loaded head of the cane landed with crushing force upon his temple.
For an instant he stood swaying, eyes closed, face robbed of every vestige of color, deep lines of agony graven in his forehead and about his mouth; then fell like a lifeless thing, limp and invertebrate.
The soi-disant Mr. Snaith caught him and let him gently and without sound to the floor.
"Poor fool!" he commented, kneeling to make a hasty examination. "Hope I haven't done for him.... It would be the first time.... Bad precedent!... So! He's all right—conscious within an hour.... Too soon!" he added, standing and looking down. "Well, turn about's fair play."
He swung on his heel and entered the hallway, pausing at the door long enough to shoot the bolt; then passed hastily through the other chambers, searching, to judge by his manner.
In the end a closed door attracted him; he jerked it open, with an exclamation of relief. It gave upon a large bare room, used by Maitland as a trunk-closet. Here were stout leather straps and cords in ample measure. "Mr. Snaith" selected one from them quickly but with care, choosing the strongest.
In two more minutes, Maitland, trussed, gagged, still unconscious, and breathing heavily, occupied a divan in his smoking-room, while his assailant, in the bedroom, ears keen to catch the least sound from with-out, was rapidly and cheerfully arraying himself in the Maitland grey-striped flannels and accessories—even to the grey socks which had been specified.
"The less chances one takes, the better," soliloquized "Mr. Snaith."
He stood erect, in another man's shoes, squaring back his shoulders, discarding the disguising stoop, and confronted his image in a pier-glass.
"Good enough Maitland," he commented, with a little satisfied nod to his counterfeit presentment. "But we'll make it better still."
A single quick jerk denuded his upper lip; he stowed the mustache carefully away in his breast pocket. The moistened corner of a towel made quick work of the crow's-feet about his eyes, and, simultaneously, robbed him of a dozen apparent years. A pair of yellow chamois gloves, placed conveniently on a dressing table, covered hands that no art could make resemble Maitland's. And it was Daniel Maitland who studied himself in the pier-glass.
Contented, the criminal returned to the smoking-room. A single glance assured him that his victim was still dead to the world. He sat down at the desk, drew off the gloves, and opened the bag; a peep within which was enough. With a deep and slow intake of breath he knotted the draw-string and dropped the bag into his pocket. A jeweled cigarette case of unique design shared the same fate.
Quick eyes roaming the desk observed the telegram form upon which Maitland had written Cressy's name and address. Momentarily perplexed, the thief pondered this; then, with a laughing oath, seized the pen and scribbled, with no attempt to imitate the other's handwriting, a message:
"Regret unavoidable detention. Letter of explanation follows."
To this Maitland's name was signed. "That ought to clear him neatly, if I understand the emergency."
The thief rose, folding the telegraph blank, and returned to the bedroom, taking up his hat and the murderous cane as he went. Here he gathered together all the articles of clothing that he had discarded, conveying the mass to the trunk-room, where an empty and unlocked kit-bag received it all.
"That, I think, is about all."
He was very methodical, this criminal, this Anisty. Nothing essential escaped him. He rejoiced in the minutiae of detail that went to cover up his tracks so thoroughly that his campaigns were as remarkable for the clues he did leave with malicious design, as for those that he didn't.
One final thing held his attention: a bowl of hammered brass, inverted beneath a ponderous book, upon the desk. Why? In a twinkling he had removed both and was studying the impression of a woman's hand in the dust, and nodding over it.
"That girl," deduced Anisty. "Novice, poor little fool!—or she wouldn't have wasted time searching here for the jewels. Good looker, though—from what little he"—with a glance at Maitland—"gave me a chance to see of her. Seems to have snared him, all right, if she did miss the haul.... Little idiot! What right has a woman in this business, anyway? Well, here's one thing that will never land me in the pen."
As, with nice care, he replaced both bowl and book, a door slammed below stairs took him to the hall in an instant. Maitland's Panama was hanging on the hat-rack, Maitland's collection of walking-sticks bristled in a stand beneath it. Anisty appropriated the former and chose one of the latter. "Fair exchange," he considered with a harsh laugh. "After all, he loses nothing ... but the jewels."
He was out and at the foot of the stairs just as O'Hagan reached the ground floor from the basement.
"Ah, O'Hagan!" The assumption of Maitland's ironic drawl was impeccable. O'Hagan no more questioned it than he questioned his own sanity. "Here, send this wire at once, please; and," pressing a coin into the ready palm, "keep the change. I was hurried and didn't bother to call you. And, I say, O'Hagan!" from the outer door:
"If that fellow Snaith ever calls again, I'm not at home."
"Very good, sor."
Anisty permitted himself the slightest of smiles, pausing on the stoop to draw on the chamois gloves. As he did so his eye flickered disinterestedly over the personality of a man standing on the opposite walk and staring at the apartment house. He was a short man, of stoutish habit, sloppily dressed, with a derby pulled down over one eye, a cigar-butt protruding arrogantly from beneath a heavy black mustache, beefy cheeks, and thick-soled boots dully polished.
At sight of him the thief was conscious of an inward tremor, followed by a thrill of excitement like a wave of heat sweeping through his being. Instantaneously his eyes flashed; then were dulled. Imperturbable, listless, hall-marked the prey of ennui, he waited, undecided, upon the stoop, while the watcher opposite, catching sight of him, abruptly abandoned his slouch and hastened across the street.
"Excuse me" he began in a loud tone, while yet a dozen feet away, "but ain't this Mr. Maitland?"
Anisty lifted his brows and shoulders at one and the same time and bowed slightly.
"Well, my good man?"
"I'm a detective from Headquarters, Mr. Maitland. We got a 'phone from Greenfields, Long Island, this morning—from the local police. Your butler——"
"Ah! I see; about this man Anisty? You don't mean to tell me—what? I shall discharge Higgins at once. Just on my way to breakfast. Won't you join me? We can talk this matter over at our leisure. What do you say to Eugene's? It's handy, and I dare say we can find a quiet corner. By the way, have you the time concealed about your person?"
Anisty was fumbling in his fob-pocket and inwardly cursing himself for having been such an ass as to overlook Maitland's timepiece. "Deuced awkward!" he muttered in genuine annoyance. "I've mislaid my watch."
"It's 'most one o'clock, Mr. Maitland."
Flattered, the man from Headquarters dropped, into step by the burglar's side.
EUGENE'S AT TWO
"Since we don't want to be overheard," remarked Mr. Anisty, "it's no use trying the grill-room down-stairs, although I admit it is more interesting."
"Just as yeh say, sir."
Awed and awkward, the police detective stumbled up the steps behind his imperturbable guide; it was a great honor, in his eyes, to lunch in company with a "swell." Man of stodgy common-sense and limited education that he was, the glamour of the Maitland millions obscured his otherwise clear vision completely. And uneasily he speculated as to whether or not he would be able to manipulate correctly the usual display of knives and forks.
An obsequious head-waiter greeted them, bowing, in the lobby. "Good afternoon, Mr. Maitland," he murmured. "Table for two?"
"Good afternoon," responded the masquerader, with an assumed abstraction, inwardly congratulating himself upon having hit upon a restaurant where the real Maitland was evidently known. There were few circumstances which he could not turn to profit, fewer emergencies to which he could not rise, he complimented Handsome Dan Anisty.
"A table for two," he drawled Maitland-wise, "In a corner somewhere, away from the crowd, you know."
"This way, if you please, Mr. Maitland."
"By the way," suggested the burglar, unfolding his serviette and glancing keenly about the room,—which, by good chance, was thinly populated, "by the way, you know, you haven't told me your name yet."
"Hickey—John W. Hickey, Detective Bureau."
"Thank you." A languid hand pushed the pink menu card across the table to Mr. Hickey. "And what do you see that you'd like?"
"Well...." Hickey became conscious that both unwieldy feet were nervously twined about the legs of his chair; blushed; disentangled them; and in an attempt to cover his confusion, plunged madly into consideration of a column of table-d'hote French, not one word of which conveyed the slightest particle of information to his intelligence.
"Well," he repeated, and moistened his lips. The room seemed suddenly very hot, notwithstanding the fact that an obnoxious electric fan was sending a current of cool air down the back of his neck.
"I ain't," he declared in ultimate desperation, "hungry, much. Had a bite a little while back, over to the Gilsey House bar."
"Would a little drink——?"
"Thanks. I don't mind."
"Waiter, bring Mr. Hickey a bottle of Number Seventy-two. For me—let me see—cafe au lait," with a grand air, "and rolls.... You must remember this is my breakfast, Mr. Hickey. I make it a rule never to drink anything for six hours after rising." Anisty selected a cigarette from the Maitland case, lit it, and contemplated the detective's countenance with a winning smile. "Now, as to this Anisty affair last night...."
Under the stimulus of the champagne, to say naught of his relief at having evaded the ordeal of the cutlery, Hickey discoursed variously and at length upon the engrossing subject of Anisty, gentleman-cracksman, while the genial counterpart of Daniel Maitland listened with apparent but deceptive apathy, and had much ado to keep from laughing in his guest's face as the latter, perspiringly earnest, unfolded his plans for laying the burglar by the heels.
From time to time, and at intervals steadily decreasing, the hand of the host sought the neck of the bottle, inclining it carefully above the thin-stemmed glass that Hickey kept in almost constant motion. And the detective's fatuous loquacity flowed as the contents of the bottle ebbed.
Yet, as the minutes wore on, the burglar began to be conscious that it was but a shallow well of information and amusement that he pumped. The game, fascinating with its spice of daring as it had primarily been, began to pall. At length the masquerader calculated the hour as ripe for what he had contemplated from the beginning; and interrupted Hickey with scant consideration, in the middle of a most interesting exposition.
"You'll pardon me, I'm sure, if I trouble you again for the time."
The fat red fingers sought uncertainly for the timepiece: the bottle was now empty. The hour, as announced, was ten minutes to two.
"I've an engagement," invented Anisty plausibly, "with a friend at two. If you'll excuse me——? Garcon, l'addition!"
"Then I und'stand, Mister Maitland, we e'n count on yeh?"
Anisty, eyelids drooping, tipped back his chair a trifle and regarded Hickey with a fair imitation of the whimsical Maitland smile. "Hardly, I think."
"To be frank with you, I have three excellent reasons. The first should be sufficient: I'm too lazy."
Disgruntled, Hickey stared and shook a disapproving head. "I was afraid of that; yeh swells don't never seem to think nothin' of yer duties to soci'ty."
Anisty airily waved the indictment aside. "Moreover, I have lost nothing. You see, I happened in just at the right moment; our criminal friend got nothing for his pains. The jewels are safe. Reason Number Two: Having retained my property, I hold no grudge against Anisty."
"And as for reason Number Three: I don't care to have this affair advertised. If the papers get hold of it they'll cook up a lot of silly details that'll excite the cupidity of every thief in the country, and make me more trouble than I care to—ah—contemplate."
Hickey's eyes glistened. "Of course, if yeh want it kept quiet—" he suggested significantly.
Anisty's hand sought his pocket. "How much?"
"Well, I guess I can leave that to you. Yeh oughttuh know how bad yeh want the matter hushed."
"As I calculate it, then, fifty ought to be enough for the boys; and fifty will repay you for your trouble."
The end of Hickey's expensive panetela was tilted independently toward the ceiling. "Shouldn't wonder if it would," he murmured, gratified.
Anisty stuffed something bulky back into his pocket and wadded another something—green and yellow colored—into a little pill, which he presently flicked carelessly across the table. The detective's large mottled paw closed over it and moved toward his waistcoat.
"As I was sayin'," he resumed, "I'm sorry yeh don't see yer way to givin' us a hand. But p'rhaps yeh're right. Still, if the citizens'd only give us a hand onct in a while——"
"Ah, but what gives you your living, Hickey?" argued the amateur sophist. "What but the activities of the criminal element? If society combined with you for the elimination of crime, what would become of your job?"
He rose and wrung the disconsolate one warmly by the hand. "But there, I am sorry I have to hurry you away.... Now that you know where to find me, drop in some evening and have a cigar and a chat. I'm in town a good deal, off and on, and always glad to see a friend."
At another time, and with another man, Anisty would not have ventured to play his catch so roughly; but, as he had reckoned, the comfortable state of mind induced by an unexpected addition to his income and a quart of champagne, had dulled the official apprehensions of Sergeant Hickey.
Mumbling a vague acceptance of the too-genial invitation, the exalted detective rose and ambled cheerfully down the room and out of the door.
Anisty lit another cigarette and contemplated the future with satisfaction. As a diplomat he was inclined to hold himself a success. Indeed, all things taken under mature consideration, the conclusion was inevitable that he was the very devil of a fellow. With what consummate skill he had played his hand! Now the pursuit of the Maitland burglar would be abandoned; the news item suppressed at Headquarters. And it was equally certain that Maitland (when eventually liberated) would be at pains to keep his part of the affair very much in shadow.
The masquerader ventured a mystical smile at the world in general. One pictured the evening when the infatuated detective should find it convenient to drop in on the exclusive Mr. Maitland....
In a breath was self-satisfaction banished; simultaneously the masquerader brought his gaze down from the ceiling, his thoughts to earth, his vigilance to the surface, and himself to his feet, summoning to his aid all that he possessed of resource and expedient.
Trapped!—the word blazed incandescent in his brain. So long had he foreseen and planned against this very moment.
Yet panic swayed him for but a little instant; as swiftly as it had overcome him it subsided, leaving him shocked, a shade more pale, but rapidly reasserting control of his faculties. And with this shade of emotion came complete reassurance.
His name had been uttered in no stern or menacing tone; rather its syllables had been pitched in a low and guarded key, with an undernote of raillery and cordiality. In brief, the moment that he recognized the voice as a woman's, he was again master of himself, and, aware that the result of his instinctive impulse to rise and defend himself, which had brought him to a standing position, would be interpreted as only the natural action of a gentleman addressed by a feminine acquaintance, he was confident that he had not betrayed his primal consternation. He bowed, smiled, and with eyes in which astonishment swiftly gave place to gratification and complete comprehension, appraised her who had addressed him.
She seemed to have fluttered to the table, beside which she now stood, slightly swaying, her walking costume of grey shot silk falling about her in soft, tremulous petals. Dainty, chic, well-poised, serene, flawlessly pretty in her miniature fashion: Anisty recognized her in a twinkling. His perceptions, trained to observations as instantaneous as those of a snap-shot camera, and well-nigh as accurate, had photographed her individuality indelibly upon the film of his memory, even in the abbreviated encounter of the previous night.
By a similar play of educated reasoning faculties keyed to the highest pitch of immediate action, he had difficulty as scant in accounting for her presence there. What he did not quite comprehend was why Maitland had used her so kindly; for it had been plain enough that that gentleman had surprised her in the act of safe-breaking before conniving at her escape. But, allowing that Maitland's actions had been based upon motives vague to the burglar's understanding, it was quite in the scheme of possibilities that he should have arranged to meet his protegee at the restaurant that afternoon. She was come to keep an appointment to which (now that Anisty came to remember) Maitland had alluded in the beginning of their conversation.
Well and good: once before, within the past two hours, he had told himself that he was Good-enough Maitland. He would be even better now....
"But you did surprise me!" he declared gallantly, before she could wonder at his slowness to respond. "You see, I was dreaming...."
He permitted her to surmise the object round which his dreams had been woven.
"And I had expected you to be eagerly watching for me!" she parried archly.
"I was ... mentally. But," he warned her seriously, "not that name. Maitland is known here; they call me Maitland—the waiters. It seems I made a bad choice. But with your assistance and discretion we can bluff it out, all right."
"I forgot. Forgive me." By now she was in the chair opposite him, tucking the lower ends of her gloves into their wrists.
"No matter—nobody heard."
"I very nearly called you Handsome Dan." She flashed a radiant smile at him from beneath the rim of her picture hat.
A fire was kindled in Anisty's eyes; he was conscious of a quickened drumming of his pulses.
"Dan is Maitland's front name, also," he remarked absently.
"I thought as much," she responded, quietly speculative.
The burglar hardly heard. It has been indicated that he was quick-witted, because he had to be, in the very nature of his avocation. Just now his brain was working rather more rapidly than usual, even: which was one reason why the light had leaped into his eyes.
It was very plain—to a deductive reasoner—from the girl's attitude toward him that she had fallen into relations of uncommon friendliness with this Maitland, young as Anisty believed their acquaintance to be. There had plainly been a flirtation—wherein lay the explanation of Maitland's forbearance: he had been fascinated by the woman, had not hesitated to take Anisty's name (even as Anisty was then taking his) in order to prolong their intimacy.
So much the better. Turn-about was still fair play. Maitland had sown as Anisty; the real Anisty would reap the harvest. Pretty women interested him deeply, though he saw little enough of them, partly through motives of prudence, partly because of a refinement of taste: women of the class of this conquest-by-proxy were out of reach of the enemy of society. That is, under ordinary circumstances. This one, on the contrary, was not: whatever she was or had been, however successful a crackswoman she might be, her cultivation and breeding were as apparent as her beauty; and quite as attractive.
A criminal is necessarily first a gambler, a votary of Chance; and the blind goddess had always been very kind to Mr. Anisty. He felt that here again she was favoring him. Maitland he had eliminated from this girl's life; Maitland had failed to keep his engagement, and so would never again be called upon to play the part of burglar with her interest for incentive and guerdon. Anisty himself could take up where Maitland had left off. Easily enough. The difficulties were insignificant: he had only to play up to Maitland's standard for a while, to be Maitland with all that gentleman's advantages, educational and social, then gradually drop back to his own level and be himself, Dan Anisty, "Handsome Dan," the professional, the fit mate for the girl....
What was she saying?
"But you have lunched already!" with an appealing pout.
"Indeed, no!" he protested earnestly. "I was early—conceive my eagerness!—and by ill chance a friend of mine insisted upon lunching with me. I had only a cup of coffee and a roll." He motioned to the waiter, calling him "Waiter!" rather than "Garcon!"——intuitively understanding that Maitland would never have aired his French in a public place, and that he could not afford the least slip before a woman as keen as this.
"Lay a clean cloth and bring the bill of fare," he demanded, tempering his lordly instincts and adding the "please" that men of Maitland's stamp use to inferiors.
"A friend!" tardily echoed the girl when the servant was gone.
He laughed lightly, determined to be frank. "A detective, in point of fact," said he. And enjoyed her surprise.
"You have many such?"
"For convenience one tries to have one in each city."
"Oh, I have him fixed, all right. He confided to me all the latest developments and official intentions with regard to the Maitland arrest."
Her eyes danced. "Tell me!" she demanded, imperious: the emphasis of intimacy irresistible as she bent forward, forearms on the cloth, slim white hands clasped with tense impatience, eyes seeking his.
"Why ... of course Maitland escaped."
"Fact. Scared the butler into ungagging him; then, in a fit of pardonable rage, knocked that fool down and dashed out of the window—presumably in pursuit of us. Up to a late hour he hadn't returned, and police opinion is divided as to whether Maitland arrested Anisty, and Anisty got away, or vice versa."
"Excellent!" She clasped her hands noiselessly, a gay little gesture.
"So, whatever the outcome, one thing is certain: Higgins will presently be seeking another berth."
She lifted her brows prettily. "Higgins?"—with the rising inflection.
"The butler. Didn't you hear——?"
Eyes wondering, she moved her head slowly from side to side. "Hear what?"
"I fancied that you had waited a moment on the veranda," he finessed.
"Oh, I was quite too frightened...."
He took this for a complete denial. Better and better! He had actually feared that she had eaves-dropped, however warrantably; and Maitland's authoritative way with the servants had been too convincingly natural to have deceived a woman of her keen wits.
There followed a lull while Anisty was ordering the luncheon: something he did elaborately and with success, telling himself humorously: "Hang the expense! Maitland pays." Of which fact the weight in his pocket was assurance.
Maitland.... Anisty's thoughts verged off upon an interesting tangent. What was Maitland's motive in arranging this meeting? It was self-evident that the twain were of one world—the girl and the man of fashion. But, whatever her right of heritage, she had renounced it, declassing herself by yielding to thievish instincts, voluntarily placing herself on the level of Anisty. Where she must remain, for ever.
There was comfort in that reflection. He glanced up to find her eyes bent in gravity upon him. She, too, it appeared, had fallen a prey to reverie. Upon what subject? An absorbing one, doubtless, since it held her abstracted despite her companion's direct, unequivocally admiring stare.
The odd light was flickering again in the cracks-man's glance. She was then more beautiful than aught that ever he had dreamed of. Such hair as was hers, woven seemingly of dull flames, lambent, witching! And eyes!—beautiful always, but never more so than at this moment, when filled with sweetly pensive contemplation.... Was she reviewing the last twenty-four hours, dreaming of what had passed between her and that silly fool, Maitland? If only Anisty could surmise what they had said to each other, how long they had been acquainted; if only she would give him a hint, a leading word!...
If he could have read her mind, have seen behind the film of thought that clouded her eyes, one fears Mr. Anisty might have lost appetite for an excellent luncheon. For she was studying his hands, her memory harking back to the moment when she had stood beside the safe, holding the bull's-eye....
In the blackness of that hour a disk of light shone out luridly against the tapestry of memory. Within its radius appeared two hands, long, supple, strong, immaculately white, graceful and dexterous, as delicate of contour as a woman's, yet lacking nothing of masculine vigor and modeling; hands that wavered against the blackness, fumbling with the shining nickeled disk of a combination-lock.... The impression had been and remained one extraordinarily vivid. Could her eyes have deceived her so?...
She nodded alertly, instantaneously mistress of self; and let her gaze, serious yet half smiling, linger upon his the exact fractional shade of an instant longer than had been, perhaps, discreet. Then lashes drooped long upon her cheeks, and her color deepened all but imperceptibly.
The man's breath halted, then came a trace more rapidly than before. He bent forward impulsively.
... The girl sighed, ever so gently.
"I was thoughtful.... It's all so strange, you know."
His attitude was an eager question.
"I mean our meeting—that way, last night." She held his gaze again, momentarily, and——
"Damn the waiter!" quoth savagely Mr. Anisty to his inner man, sitting back to facilitate the service of their meal.
The girl placated him with an insignificant remark which led both into a maze of meaningless but infinitely diverting inconsequences; diverting, at least, to Anisty, who held up his head, giving her back look for look, jest for jest, platitude for platitude (when the waiter was within hearing distance): altogether, he felt, acquitting himself very creditably....
As for the girl, in the course of the next half or three-quarters of an hour she demonstrated herself conclusively a person of amazing resource, developing with admirable ingenuity a campaign planned on the spur of a chance observation. The gentle mannered and self-sufficient crook was taken captive before he realized it, however willing he may have been. Enmeshed in a hundred uncomprehended subtleties, he basked, purring, the while she insinuated herself beneath his guard and stripped him of his entire armament of cunning, vigilance, invention, suspicion, and distrust.
He relinquished them without a sigh, barely conscious of the spoliation. After all, she was of his trade, herself mired with guilt; she would never dare betray him, the consequences to herself would be so dire.
Besides, patently,—almost too much so,—she admired him. He was her hero. Had she not more than hinted that such was the case, that his example, his exploits, had fired her to emulation—however weakly feminine?... He saw her before him, dainty, alluring, yielding, yet leading him on: altogether desirable. And so long had he, Anisty, starved for affection!...
"I am sure you must be dying for a smoke."
"Beg pardon!" He awoke abruptly, to find himself twirling the sharp-ribbed stem of his empty glass. Abstractedly he stared into this, as though seeking there a clue to what they had been talking about. Hazily he understood that they had been drifting close upon the perilous shoals of intimate personalities. What had he told her? What had he not?
No matter. It was clearly to be seen that her regard for him had waxed rather than waned as a result of their conversation. One had but to look into her eyes to be reassured as to that. One did look, breathing heavily.... What an ingenuous child it was, to show him her heart so freely! He wondered that this should be so, feeling it none the less a just and graceful tribute to his fascinations.
She repeated her arch query. She was sure he wanted to smoke.
Indeed he did—if she would permit? And forthwith Maitland's cigarette case was produced, with a flourish.
"What a beautiful case!"
In an instant it was in her hands. "Beautiful!" she iterated, inspecting the delicate tracery of the monogram engraver's art—head bended forward, face shaded by the broad-brimmed hat.
"You like it? You would care to own it?" Anisty demanded unsteadily.
"I?" The inflection of doubtful surprise was a delight to the ear. "Oh!... I couldn't think of accepting.... Besides, I have no use for it."
"Of course you ain't—are not that sort." An hour back he could have kicked himself for the grammatical blunder; now he was wholly illuded; besides, she didn't seem to notice. "But as a little token—between us——"
She drew back, pushing the case across the cloth; "I couldn't dream...."
"But if I insist——?"
"If you insist?... Why I suppose ... it's awfully good of you." She flashed him a maddening glance.
"You do me pro—honor," he amended hastily. Then, daringly: "I don't ask much in exchange, only——"
"A cigarette?" she suggested hastily.
He laughed, pleased and diverted. "That'll be enough now—if you'll light it for me."
She glanced dubiously round the now almost deserted room; and a waiter started forward as if animated by a spring. Anisty motioned him imperiously back. "Go on," he coaxed; "no one can see." And watched, flattered, the slim white fingers that extracted a match from the stand and drew it swiftly down the prepared surface of the box, holding the flickering flame to the end of a white tube whose tip lay between lips curved, scarlet, and pouting.
There! A pale wraith of smoke floated away on the fan-churned air, and Anisty was vaguely conscious of receiving the glowing cigarette from a hand whose sheer perfection was but enhanced by the ripe curves of a rounded forearm.... He inhaled deeply, with satisfaction.
Undetected by him, the girl swiftly passed a furtive handkerchief across her lips. When he looked again she was smiling and the golden case had disappeared.
She shook her head at him in mock reproval. "Bold man!" she called him; but the crudity of it was lost upon him, as she had believed it would be. The moment had come for vigorous measures, she felt, guile having paved the way.
"Why do you call me that?"
"To appear so openly, running the gauntlet of the detectives...."
"Of course you saw," she insisted.
"Saw? No. Saw what?"
"Why.... Perhaps I am mistaken, but I thought you knew and trusted to your likeness to Mr. Maitland...."
Anisty frowned, collecting himself, bewildered. "What are you driving at, anyhow?" he demanded roughly.
"Didn't you see the detectives? I should have thought your man would have warned you. I noticed four loitering round the entrance, as I came in, and feared...."
"Why didn't you tell me, then?"
"I have just told you the reason. I supposed you were in your disguise...."
"That's so." The alarmed expression gradually faded, though he remained troubled. "I sure am Maitland to the life," he continued with satisfaction. "Even the head-waiter——"
"And of course," she insinuated delicately, "you have disposed of the loot?"
He shook his head gloomily. "No time, as yet."
Her dismay was evident. "You don't mean to say——?"
"In my pocket."
"Oh!" She glanced stealthily around. "In your pocket!" she whispered. "And—and if they stopped you——"
"I am Maitland."
"But if they insisted on searching you...." She was round-eyed with apprehension.
"That's so!" Her perturbation was infectious. His jaw dropped.
"They would find the jewels—known to be stolen——"
"By God!" he cried savagely.
"I—I beg your pardon. But ... what am I to do? You are sure——?"
"McClusky himself is on the nearest corner!"
"Phew!" he whistled; and stared at her, searchingly, through a lengthening pause.
"Dan...." said she at length.
"There is a way...."
"Last night, Dan"—she raised her glorious eyes to his—"last night, I ... I trusted you."
His face hardened ever so slightly; yet when he took thought the tense lines about his eyes and mouth softened. And she drew a deep breath, knowing that she had all but won.
"I trusted you," she continued softly. "Do you know what that means? I trusted you."
He nodded, eyes to hers, fascinated, with an odd commingling of fear and hope and satisfied self-love. "Now I am unconnected with the affair. No one knows that I had any hand in it. Besides, no one knows me—that I—steal." Her tone fell lower. "The police have never heard of me. Dan!"
"I could get away," she interrupted; "and then, if they stopped you——"
"You're right, by the powers!" He struck the table smartly with his fist. "You do that and we can carry this through. Why, lacking the jewels, I am Maitland—I am even wearing Maitland's clothes!" he boasted. "I went to his apartments this morning and saw to that, because it suited my purpose to be Maitland for a day or two."
"Then——?" Her gaze questioned his.
"Waiter!" cried Anisty. And, when the man was deferential at his elbow: "Call a cab, at once, please."
The rest of the corps of servants was at the other end of the big room. Anisty made certain that they were not watching, then stealthily passed the canvas bag to the girl. She bent her head, bestowing it in her hand-bag.
"You have made me ... happy, Dan," came tremulously from beneath the hat-brim.
Whatever doubts may have assailed him when it was too late, by that remark were effaced, silenced. Who could mistrust her sincerity?...
"Then when and where may I see you again?" he demanded.
"The same place."
It was a bold move; but she was standing; the waiter was back, announcing the cab in waiting, and he dared not protest. Yet his pat riposte commanded her admiration.
"No. Too risky. If they are watching here, they may be there, too." He shook his head decidedly. The flicker of doubt was again extinguished; for undoubtedly Maitland had escorted her home that morning; her reference had been to that place. "Somewhere else," he insisted, confident that she was playing fair.
She appeared to think for an instant, then, fumbling in her pocket-book, extracted a typical feminine pencil stub,—its business-end looking as though it had been gnawed by a vindictive rat,—and scribbled hastily on the back of a menu card:
"Mrs. McCabe, 205 West 118th Street. Top floor. Ring 3 times."
"I shall be there at seven," she told him. "You won't fail me?"
"Not if I'm still at liberty," he laughed.
And the waiter smiled at discretion, a far-away and unobtrusive smile that could by no possibility give offense; at the same time it was calculated to convey the impression that, in the opinion of one humble person, at least, Mr. Maitland was a merry wag.
"Good-by ... Dan!"
Anisty held her fingers in his hard palm for an instant, rising from his chair.
"Good-by, my dear," he said clumsily.
He watched her disappear, eyes humid, temples throbbing. "By the powers!" he cried. "But she's worth it!"
Perhaps his meaning was vague, even to himself. He resumed his seat mechanically and sat for a time staring dreamily into vacancy, blunt fingers drumming on the cloth.
"No," he declared at length. "No; I'm safe enough ... in her hands."
* * * * *
Once secure from the public gaze, the girl crowded back into a corner of the cab, as though trying to efface herself. Her eyes closed almost automatically; the curve of laughing lips became a doleful droop; a crinkle appeared between the arched brows; waves of burning crimson flooded her face and throat.
In her lap both hands lay clenched into tiny fists—clenched so tightly that it hurt, numbing her fingers: a physical pain that, somehow, helped her to endure the paroxysms of shame. That she should have stooped so low!...
Presently the fingers relaxed, and her whole frame relaxed in sympathy. The black squall had passed over; but now were the once tranquil waters ruffled and angry. Then languor gripped her like an enemy: she lay listless in its hold, sick and faint with disgust of self.
This was her all-sufficient punishment: to have done what she had done, to be about to do what she contemplated. For she had set her hand to the plow: there must now be no drawing back, however hateful might prove her task....
The voice of the cabby dropping through the trap, roused her. "This is the Martha Washington, ma'am."
Mechanically she descended from the hansom and paid her fare; then, summoning up all her strength and resolution, passed into the lobby of the hotel and paused at the telephone switchboard.
DANCE OF THE HOURS
Four P. M.
The old clock in a corner of the study chimed resonantly and with deliberation: four double strokes; and while yet the deep-throated music was dying into silence the telephone bell shrieked impertinently.
Maitland bit savagely on the gag and knotted his brows, trying to bear it. The effect was that of a coarse file rasped across raw quivering nerves. And he lay helpless, able to do no more toward endurance than to dig nails deep into his palms.
Again and again the fiendish clamor shattered the echoes. Blinding flashes of agony danced down the white-hot wires strung through his head, taut from temple to temple.
Would the fool at the other end never be satisfied that he could get no answer? Evidently not: the racket continued mercilessly, short series of shrill calls alternating with imperative rolls prolonged until one thought that the tortured metal sounding-cups would crack. Thought! nay, prayed that either such would be the case, or else that one's head might at once mercifully be rent asunder....
That anguish so exquisite should be the means of releasing him from his bonds seemed a refinement of irony. Yet Maitland was aware, between spasms, that help was on the way. The telephone instrument, for obvious convenience, had been equipped with an extension bell which rang simultaneously in O'Hagan's quarters. When Maitland was not at home the janitor-valet, so warned, would answer the calls. And now, in the still intervals, the heavy thud of unhurried feet could be heard upon the staircase. O'Hagan was coming to answer; and taking his time about it. It seemed an age before the rattle of pass-key in latch announced him; and another ere, all unconscious of the figure supine on the divan against the further study wall, the old man shuffled to the instrument, lifted receiver from the hook, and applied it to his ear.
"Well, well?" he demanded with that impatience characteristic of the illiterate for modern methods of communication. "Pwhat the divvle ails ye?"
"Rayspicts to ye, ma'am, and 'tis sorry I am I didn't know 'twas a leddy."
"Wan o'clock, there or thereabouts."
"Faith and he didn't say."
"Pwhat name will I be tellin' him?"
"Kape ut to yersilf, thin. 'Tis none of me business."
"If ye do, I'll not answer. Sure, am I to be climbin' two flights av sthairs iv'ry foive minits——"
"Good-by yersilf," hanging up the receiver. "And the divvle fly away wid ye," grumbled O'Hagan.
As he turned away from the instrument Maitland managed to produce a sound, something between a moan and a strangled cough. The old man whirled on his heel. "Pwhat's thot?"
The next instant he was bending over Maitland, peering into the face drawn and disfigured by the gag. "The saints presarve us! And who the divvle are ye at all? Pwhy don't ye spake?"
Maitland turned purple; and emitted a furious snort.
"Misther Maitland, be all thot's strange!... Is ut mad I am? Or how did ye get back here and into this fix, sor, and me swapin' the halls and polishin' the brasses fernist the front dure iv'ry minute since ye wint out?"
Indignation struggling for the upper hand with mystification in the Irishman's brain, he grumbled and swore; yet busied his fingers. In a trice the binding gag was loosed, and ropes and straps cast free from swollen wrists and ankles. And, with the assistance of a kindly arm behind his shoulders, Maitland sat up, grinning with the pain of renewing circulation in his limbs.
"Wid these two oies mesilf saw ye lave three hours gone, sor, and I c'u'd swear no sowl had intered this house since thin. Pwhat does ut all mane, be all thot's holy?"
"It means," panting, "brandy and soda, O'Hagan, and be quick."
Maitland attempted to rise, but his legs gave under him, and he sank back with a stifled oath, resigning himself to wait the return of normal conditions. As for his head, it was threatening to split at any moment, the tight wires twanging infernally between his temples; while the corners of his mouth were cracked and sore from the pressure of the gag. All of which totted up a considerable debit against Mr. Anisty's account.
For Maitland, despite his suffering, had found time to figure it out to his personal satisfaction—or dissatisfaction, if you prefer—in the interval between his return to consciousness and the arrival of O'Hagan. It was simple enough to deduce from the knowledge in his possession that the burglar, having contrived his escape through the disobedience of Higgins, should have engineered this complete revenge for the indignity Maitland had put upon him.
How he had divined the fact of the jewels remaining in their owner's possession was less clear; and yet it was reasonable, after all, to presume that Maitland should prefer to hold his own. Possibly Anisty had seen the girl slip the canvas bag into Maitland's pocket while the latter was kneeling and binding his captive. However that was, there was no denying that he had trailed the treasure to its hiding-place, unerringly; and succeeded in taking possession of it with consummate skill and audacity. When Maitland came to think of it, he recalled distinctly the trend of the burglar's inquisition in the character of "Mr. Snaith," which had all been calculated to discover the location of the jewels. And, when he did recall this fact, and how easily he had been duped, Maitland could have ground his teeth in melodramatic rage—but for the circumstance that when first it occurred to him, such a feat was a physical impossibility, and even when ungagged the operation would have been painful to an extreme.
Sipping the grateful drink which O'Hagan presently brought him, the young man pondered the case; with no pleasure in the prospect he foresaw. If Higgins had actually communicated the fact of Anisty's escape to the police, the entire affair was like to come out in the papers,—all of it, that is, that he could not suppress. But even figuring that he could silence Higgins and O'Hagan,—no difficult task: though he might be somewhat late with Higgins,—the most discreet imaginable explanation of his extraordinary conduct would make him the laughing stock of his circle of friends, to say nothing of a city that had been accustomed to speak of him as "Mad Maitland," for many a day. Unless....
Ah, he had it! He could pretend (so long as it suited his purpose, at all events), to have been the man caught and left bound in Higgins' care. Simple enough: the knocking over of the butler would be ascribed to a natural ebullition of indignation, the subsequent flight to a hare-brained notion of running down the thief. And yet even that explanation had its difficulties. How was he to account for the fact that he had failed to communicate with the police—knowing that his treasure had been ravished?
It was all very involved. Mr. Maitland returned the glass to O'Hagan and, cradling his head in his hands, racked his brains in vain for a satisfactory tale to tell. There were so many things to be taken into consideration. There was the girl in grey....
Not that he had forgotten her for an instant; his fury raged but the higher at the thought that Anisty's interference had prevented his (Maitland's) keeping the engagement. Doubtless the girl had waited, then gone away in anger, believing that the man in whom she had placed faith had proved himself unworthy. And so he had lost her for ever, in all likelihood: they would never meet again.
But that telephone call?
"O'Hagan," demanded the haggard and distraught young man, "who was that on the wire just now?"
Being a thoroughly trained servant, O'Hagan had waited that question in silence, a-quiver with impatience though he was. Now, his tongue unleashed, his words fairly stumbled on one another's heels in his anxiety to get them out in the least possible time. "Sure, an' 'twas a leddy, sor, be the v'ice av her, askin' were ye in, and mesilf havin' seen ye go out no longer ago thin wan o'clock and yersilf sayin' not a worrud about comin' back at all at all, pwhat was I to be tellin' her, aven if ye were lyin' there on the dievan all unbeknownest to me, which the same mesilf can not——"
"Help!" pleaded the young man feebly, smiling. "One thing at a time, please, O'Hagan. Answer me one question: Did she give a name?"
"She did not, sor, though mesilf——"
"There, there! Wait a bit. I want to think."
Of course she had given no name; it wouldn't be like her.... What was he thinking of, anyway? It could not have been the grey girl; for she knew him only as Anisty; she could never have thought him himself, Maitland.... But what other woman of his acquaintance did not believe him to be out of town?
With a hopeless gesture, Maitland gave it up, conceding the mystery too deep for him, his intellect too feeble to grapple with all its infinite ramifications. The counsel he had given O'Hagan seemed most appropriate to his present needs: One thing at a time. And obviously the first thing that lay to his hand was the silencing of O'Hagan.
Maitland rallied his wits to the task. "O'Hagan," said he, "this man, Snaith, who was here this afternoon, called himself a detective. As soon as we were alone he rapped me over the head with a loaded cane, and, I suspect, went through the flat stealing everything he could lay hands on.... Hand me my cigarette case, please."
"'Tis gone, sor—'tis not on the desk, at laste, pwhere I saw ut last."
"Ah! You see?... Now for reasons of my own, which I won't enter into, I don't want the affair to get out and become public. You understand? I want you to keep your mouth shut, until I give you permission to open it."
"Very good, sor." The janitor-valet had previous experiences with Maitland's generosity in grateful memory; and shut his lips tightly in promise of virtuous reticence.
"You won't regret it.... Now tell me what you mean by saying that you saw me go out at one this afternoon?"
Again the flood gates were lifted; from the deluge of explanations and protestations Maitland extracted the general drift of narrative. And in the end held up his hand for silence.
"I think I understand, now. You say he had changed to my grey suit?"
O'Hagan darted into the bedroom, whence he emerged with confirmation of his statement.
"'Tis gone, sor, an'—."
"All right. But," with a rueful smile, "I'll take the liberty of countermanding Mr. Snaith's order. If he should call again, O'Hagan, I very much want to see him."
"Faith, and 'tis mesilf will have a worrud or two to whispher in the ear av him, sor," announced O'Hagan grimly.
"I'm afraid the opportunity will be lacking: ... You may fix me a hot bath now, O'Hagan, and put out my evening clothes. I'll dine at the club to-night and may not be back."
And, rising, Maitland approached a mirror; before which he lingered for several minutes, cataloguing his injuries. Taken altogether, they amounted to little. The swelling of his wrists and ankles was subsiding gradually; there was a slight redness visible in the corners of his mouth, and a shadow of discoloration on his right temple—something that could be concealed by brushing his hair in a new way.
"I think I shall do," concluded Maitland; "there's nothing to excite particular comment. The bulk of the soreness is inside."
* * * * *
Seven P. M.
"Time," said the short and thick-set man casually, addressing no one in particular.
He shut the lid of his watch with a snap and returned the timepiece to his waistcoat pocket. Simultaneously he surveyed both sides of the short block between Seventh and St. Nicholas Avenues with one comprehensive glance.
Presumably he saw nothing of interest to him. It was not a particularly interesting block, for that matter: though somewhat typical of the neighborhood. The north side was lined with five-story flat buildings, their dingy-red brick facades regularly broken by equally dingy brownstone stoops, as to the ground floor, by open windows as to those above. The south side was mostly taken up by a towering white apartment hotel with an ostentatious entrance; against one of whose polished stone pillars the short and thick-set man was lounging.
The sidewalks, north and south, swarmed with children of assorted ages, playing with that ferocious energy characteristic of the young of Harlem; their blood-curdling cries and premature Fourth-of-July fireworks created an appalling din: to which, however, the more mature denizens had apparently become callous, through long endurance.